Preparation for winter began in the fall. It could get very cold on the farm, the furnace was fueled with wood. Bringing wood to the house was a big chore. Trees lined the perimeter of our property and dad would be looking throughout the summer for fire wood dry enough to cut. When he noticed a nip in the air, he and my uncle would get out the wood cutting saws, harness the horses to the hay wagon and off they would go. Logs were brought to the farm yard where they had set up a cross-cutting saw with which to cut those logs into lengths suitable for feeding the furnace. Several trips were necessary to fill half the basement, with some chunks of wood stored under the porch.
The basement window was removed and the wood tossed inside. My sisters and I now had the job of ranking the freshly cut pieces, which smelled like the outdoors. All winter long, the furnace kept us warm. It took my dad several daily trips down the basement stairs to "keep the home fires burning". My daily job was to bring some of the smaller pieces up the stairs to the wood box for the kitchen stove.
After dinner, when mom, dad and uncle donned their well-worn "barn jackets" and took the kerosene lantern (there was no electric power on the farm) to the barn for chores, our job was to do the dishes and tidy up the kitchen. Water needed to be pumped from the hand pump, heated on the cook stove, poured into a big pan on the kitchen table for the washing; another smaller pan of water was used for rinsing. One sister washed and rinsed, another dried, and my job was to put things away in the pantry. Sometimes we sang songs while we worked; other times the radio was tuned to programs such as "The Squeaking Door", "Inner Sanctum", "Burns and Allen", etc. In the daytime, my mother liked to listen to Kate Smith sing her heart out.
During the evening hours when my parents finally had a chance to sit down, we gathered in the dining room -- dad on his rocking chair reading the Daily News and mom sitting by the dining room table mending or crocheting by the light of kerosene lamps. This was a special time for me to sit on the warm furnace register and play "jacks". Sometimes one of my sisters would join me for a game.
Since there was not a bathroom in the house, we needed to use the "out house", which was provided with newspaper or catalogs in lieu of toilet paper. We were always glad when peaches were in season, for their paper wrapping was far superior to newspaper. In the winter months, there was always a path in the snow, which could get slippery. In the spring, a new hole was dug, the "house" was moved to a new location and a new path was worn. If one of us needed to use the facility during the night, we often woke another sister for company. One night, I decided I was big enough to go myself. On the return trip, I ran up the pathway and encountered our dog lying on the front step. I frightened him and he was not happy that I disturbed his slumbers and barked enough to rouse the whole household!
Upstairs it was always cold; there were no furnace registers on that floor and, of course, no power to run a blower. There was only a grate through which heat was intended to rise but, in the cold months, that was inadequate. Our straw mattresses were covered with feather beds and our blankets were feather beds, as well. In the morning, I would bring my clothes downstairs and dress in front of the cook stove.
Yes, I remember it being cold, but it was always warm in the kitchen which was filled with the great smell of my mother's cooking. When we came home from school she would be taking freshly baked bread from the oven; it was a warm welcome.
Laura W. Berglund
Copyright, November 2017
Laura Berglund is a former Afton area resident who writes post-depression stories of her childhood living in rural southern Minnesota. Her husband, Harold, (other than two years in the Army), has spent his entire life in the St. Croix Valley/Afton area, never more than 12 miles from his birthplace.