Stories of Life on a Chicken Farm

Reader Contribution by The Mother Earth News Editors
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This is part one of a selection of family stories from Patricia Schick, submitted as part of our Wisdom From Our Elders collection of self-sufficient tales from yesteryear.

My maternal grandparents, George and Ada Boudman, were born in the early 1890’s in Pennsylvania. They were married in 1912, and soon after my grandfather took a job as Director of the YMCA in Harrisburg, PA where the young couple began their family. After a couple of years, however, they decided to move back to their rural roots where they bought some acreage in Northumberland County, PA about a mile outside of a small town in central Pennsylvania. It became a dream come true as they raised their four children (my mother Florence being the eldest) and up to 10,000 chickens, in some years, on their well-maintained chicken farm.

As a couple they were tightly bound together, even with their very different personalities. They worked out their independent roles and, as my mother remembered, always had time for “us kids” – her father being the more affectionate of the two. Her mother’s even temperament, though, kept the four siblings in line as they did chores and attended the one-room school just down the road. One family story showed my grandfather’s temper as a young man. He and the family’s Model T Ford had an “off-on” relationship. One morning as the family was getting ready to go to town he was getting frustrated with cranking the thing and finally gave out a growling yell and threw the crank. It ended up stuck to the second story of the house just inches away from a bedroom window. After that my mother said she saw less and less of her father’s outbursts. She had a feeling that her parents talked over this event and decided it did not do anyone any good to see such behavior. And that was the end of that.

It was not all easy, though. With three children under the age of ten and one a budding teenager, an outhouse was certainly an inconvenience, to put it mildly. The hand pump at the kitchen sink put water in the house, but there was still the matter of heating the water for cooking, bathing, and doing dishes. In her sixties, when running water had been in the house for decades, my grandmother could still be seen sticking a “not-so-dirty” fry pan away for just one more use before she would waste water on it. Nobody ever got sick from her cooking, so I guess she had a right.

My grandfather worked hard, and from what I have been told, he ate well too. After some morning chores and my grandmother getting the woodstove going, he would enjoy a breakfast of half a dozen eggs, some fried potatoes, and a few toasted pieces of good homemade bread. For a chaser he would have a piece of chocolate cake with chocolate icing. How he moved after that, I cannot figure out, but he did. Every day he carried water from the creek that separated the chicken farm from the family home up the steep hill to the house. Fortunately, he was a pretty good carpenter and made a welcome staircase down that hill, shelves anywhere my grandmother needed them and some outdoor furniture for a “sit-down spot” he created under a big tree at the side of the house. The family would build evening campfires in the summer and fall and sit out there – just enjoying life, I suppose.

My grandparents planned to enlarge the kitchen and add a porch off the side of the house where they could sit mornings and have their breakfast and coffee together, but it never happened because at the age of 48, my grandfather died in his sleep. My grandmother discovered him in the morning lying beside her with, I would like to think, a slight smile on his face.

Photo Credit: Fotolia/Douglas Tomko  

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