Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
This story is from Carolyn Ringo, submitted as part of our Wisdom From Our Elders collection of self-sufficient tales from yesteryear.
We had a few people from “the city” see our “Eggs for Sale” sign and drive out to the farm. My father had a pet rooster and he would say “Sick ‘em Cockeye,” to keep the people in the car until he had a chance to check them out. The rooster would make himself large and keep them from opening the door. When they tried the other door Cockeye would hop over the car and threaten them on that side. He did once attack someone who threatened my brother. Roosters can make fierce claw marks on a person’s back.
We also had a pet chicken we told mom we would never eat. She said we’d never know when we were eating it because it would just be one out of the freezer. That turned out to be true. Mom would periodically have to wring a chicken’s neck with the broom handle and wait for it to stop flopping around the yard to dress it.
We had 80 acres of woodland, a river and two ponds behind the farm. Dad hunted squirrel, rabbits and, on occasion, deer for the dinner table. We caught fish from the river by seining for crawdads to use for bait when it was too dry to pick up earthworms. We picked wild blackberries, raspberries, and gooseberries from the forest for pies and freezing. I remember having a bucket tied around my neck and coming home all scratched up and eaten by mosquitoes, but happy for having seen the fawn, bunnies and pretty snakes.
My brother and I used to catch frogs by hand. Dad caught male and female frog specimens from 200 hundred miles south of our farm and put them in our pond. After that we had much larger frogs! I loved to eat frog legs, but every time any killing had to be done, I would hide my head under the pillow in my bed until I was called to come help clean whatever we had caught or were butchering that day. However, I did help my dad butcher many snapping turtles every summer. Mom made the best fried turtle anywhere to be found.
Life on the farm was wonderful in so many ways, and one learned to be tough in others. We all had a lot of chores to do and it took the family team to make it work. My dad worked in a factory as well as working the farm, as did my mom after I started the second grade. How they worked so hard on the farm while raising us and working full-time jobs, I’ll never know. My mother is still alive at the age of 92 and remembers the joy of it more than the hard work.
I never knew we were “poor” until I was considerably older. Restaurants, soft drinks and packaged goods were not part of life for my family. Yet life on the farm was rich for me as a child. We had homemade ice cream (that hand cranking again) all summer. I had an abundance of cats that my dad used to feed by squirting milk into their mouths straight from the cow. We had dogs and sometimes a horse to ride. We found beehives some summers and dad would smoke them out for the honey. Every year there was something different to enjoy and learn about. I remember dropping corn behind me and having a string of chickens follow me around the yard. We had huge bonfires down by the river in the summertime with the neighbors, and it was more fun than anything I can remember. It was a childhood with problems like most others, and I am extremely grateful for the teachings and the safe sanctuary nature provided.
I was born in 1953 and now live in the North Fork Valley of western Colorado which is known for its orchards and small organic farms. I spend part of my time guiding people in listening to the land.
Photo Credit: Fotolia/Wimbledon
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