Old days, old ways
STRATFORD – When the third- and fourth-grade students from Stratford Elementary School arrived at Carol and Wayne Larson’s farm for the bi-annual Old Fashioned Day experience, it looked a bit like a casting call for a remake of “Little House on the Prairie” when they got off the bus.
The children, and the volunteers who were showing them what life was like on the farm 100 years ago, dressed the part.
Linda Nepereny, of Stratford, was tasked with showing the students how to shell corn. She needed little instruction from Larson on how to use the hand-cranked antique machine.
“I still shell corn,” she said. “I have chickens at home and, yes, I’m old enough to remember doing this.”
The students were less than thrilled when they found out what the corn cob would have been used for in the days before indoor plumbing.
Nepereny repeated the instructions Larson had given her.
“We’ll take them to the outhouse,” she said. “Use the red ones first, then the white ones. There’s a box for each color.”
Sometimes the old-fashioned way of doing things is all but forgotten by subsequent generations.
“Don’t laugh,” Larson said. “I had a person one year that didn’t know what to do with it.”
The antique iron has to be heated on a stove.
That’s part of the lesson that she wants to give the students.
“We want to show them that life has changed. I think it’s fun to do these things, although sometimes the helpers are not old enough to know what to do.” She said.
Bradon Bergman, of Stratford, is one of those young helpers. He’s 21 and recalled fondly his own trip to the farm in third grade.
“I just remember going into the cellar,” he said. “All those canned goods.”
It’s also the favorite winter haunt of Larson’s population of garter snakes. Volunteer Tiffany Weber, who was going to spend the day in the 1908-vintage root cellar, didn’t want to share the space with them while she showed students how to churn butter.
Larson assured her: no snakes.
“I looked three or four times and he’s not in there,” Larson told Weber.
Back above the ground, Bergman’s job for the day was demonstrating how people shaved before electric razors, disposable blades and shaving cream in an aerosol can.
Each student got to lather up with a brush and use a plastic knife instead of a straight razor – safety first, after all – to give it a try.
Morgan Paulson, 10, was among them and, apparently, was eager to give it a go and may, or may not, have already done so.
“Well I have,” she said before thinking a second or two. “But my mom would not let me.”
The experience left her with cold cheeks and a little shaving cream residue.
“It’s hard to wipe it off,” she said.
The students also had a chance to use a handsaw to cut through a piece of wood.
Mason Hansell, 8, rated the difficulty of the task.
“It’s sort of easy,” he said. “It’s sort of medium.”
He narrowed it down after a few more strokes.
“Medium,” he said.
Quiltmaking was another craft practiced by the early settlers. Nothing went to waste then and making a quilt from patches of fabric was simply practical.
Gage Smith, 9, is already familiar with the art.
“I’m making a bandanna quilt for 4-H,” he said. “I think I’m about halfway through.”
He’s using his dad’s old bandannas.
“They’re all different,” he said. “They’re just ones he’s had over the years.”
While he gets to use a sewing machine at home, the students were each given a threaded needle and shown how to use it.
After a few stitches, Smith had a little problem.
“I think I’m done,” he said. “My needle’s done.”
Amanda Johnson, an associate at Stratford Elementary, said the day on the farm is part of a unit where the students are learning about pioneer life. Among their other activities: keeping a pioneer journal, a trip to Living History Farms and learning what life was like from the 1700s to the early 1900s.
As she watched them work at pioneer tasks, the question of whether or not today’s students could make it on a turn-of-the-last-century farm had to be answered.
“No,” Johnson said. “I don’t think I would either.”
The students’ teacher, Debbie Bergman, wasn’t too sure either.
“Only because I know them,” she said. “I would say no.”
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