Country Whispers

Country Ramblins'

By Tamara Hillman
Sept. 2014

Old Homesteads in Washington

September, September! Is summer really over? Is the corn comin’ on in the fields? Are the kids scurrying back to school in those new shoes that pinch?
Yes, it’s all true— we’re movin’ towards fall already. Time does fly, (especially at my age when one wants to put on the breaks.)
But September is a wonderful month I always looked forward to as a kid when farmers and ranchers could see things slow down from all the work summer brings—Hay was mostly cut and baled by now, and stored in the barn or in those tall, loose stacks covered with a tarp to protect from winter snows we knew would soon come. Shelter for livestock was secured, fences mended, gardens plowed under, and those many jars of fruit & vegetable preserves lined cellar shelves.
Dad always covered the outside of our windows with clear plastic too in order to keep the cold winds out and the heat in when he stoked up the fires for chilly months ahead. We had a good six months of cold, and six months of warm weather, so no surprises in the Methow Valley when I was young. We knew exactly what each season would bring, and went through the motions as robotically as though programmed in preparation to survive. We learned from the crib up that no matter how small or young you were—you could contribute to the family’s survival and good will. Any two hands were considered “helping hands,” and were always welcomed.
September meant chores had to be done because by Halloween, IT SNOWED every year. No time to tarry like the grasshopper or you and your livestock would be out in the cold.
Neighbors helped neighbors if for any reason you had to get a crop in early, or tend to your animals because of incumbent weather, or illness in the family that left you shorthanded.
(I remember once, Mr. Ferguson had an emergency appendectomy just about the time he had many valley residence on schedule to plow with his trusty-tractor the fresh soil in their gardens for plantin’ that spring to make extra money for his family. My dad didn’t hesitate to do the work on weekends and after hours when he’d finished his own work. He took not one dime for his efforts either. It was the right thing to do when you saw a neighbor needed help.)
I was missing my friends and school by September, so once the Sears/Roebuck clothes had all arrived, our hair was sheered, and Mom had scrubbed the deep crevassed dirt out of our bare feet to put sock and shoes back on us, I was ready to see that yellow bus come chuggin’ down the road. We never looked so curried and combed as that first day back to school each year. (I have all the “first day” pictures in albums I inherited from Mom to prove it!) All the neighborhood kids we had run and played with all summer through open fields, climbin’ tall trees, floatin’ the ditch, and swimmin’ at the hole, looked the same as us when we first glimpsed their friendly, laughing faces once we hit that top step on the bus, and the driver closed the doors behind us. Mr. Wells was our “chauffer” from the time I started school, ‘til I finished. I can see him yet.
The classroom would be hot by midday, and those wool sweaters that felt good in early morning chill would come off and be tied around our waists, arms flopping with each step, for the rest of the day. At the end of eight hours, with an armload of books, pencils, and spiral notebooks, we’d return home to start the old homework routine every night for nine long months. I enjoyed school, and didn’t struggle, (except when I reached Algebra in ninth grade) so I welcomed all that came with the September start. I can still smell the heavily-oiled oak floors in the Junior-high and High school buildings, and hear the busy feet inbetween classes as kids rushed to open lockers to exchange books for their next class. I can see the highly polished wood on the gym floor too where in tennis shoes only we would take P.E class, have sock-hops in winter months, and dance in our sock-feet at noon hour while one of the musically talented students played boogey-woogey on the piano that was kept on stage at one end of that vast play room.
This year was my fiftieth school reunion, and though I live too far away to have traveled back for it, I imagined my classmates as I last saw them—thin, no gray hair, no wrinkles, and without a care in the world. So many of those same kids have already passed on, but their faces and energy level are forever young in my mind’s eye!
My brother still lives in the Methow that was scorched by funnel fires this summer all the way up the river from where it meets the mighty Columbia, but the grass will return in spring, and trees will eventually grow tall and mighty again. So many of the old homesteads have gone up in smoke, but there again, no fire could ever burn them from my memories…
Here’s a poem I wrote some years ago about generations who came to the valley long before me and mine, and when revisiting their old, deserted homes would find all that was left were leaning out-buildings, and rat infested houses with windows broken out, and sagging porches ready to crumble to the ground…I have a feeling kids who grew up in that age, and returned to those sad sights years later felt as I do now about what has passed forever on the wind.

Granny Tam

PS…..Have a nice Labor Day!

Old Homestead in Montana

Old Homesteads by Tamara Hillman

Old Homestead in the Tetons
Passing thru’ the farmlands,
my mind begins to roam
for along the way we travel
lie abandoned country homes.

Weather-beaten, gray and leaning,
often twenty miles from town—
I wonder how they’re standing,
why they haven’t tumbled down.

Rock foundations old and crumbling,
all the windows broken out,
peeling paint and floral paper
droops from walls, I have no doubt.

Families settled in these places
in days that long have past.
Were they determined people
facing up to any task?

How many children born there
with no doctor to attend,
just neighbor helping neighbor
giving comfort to a friend?

Old Homestead Fields

I envision fields of ripened grain
blowing freely in the wind—
waiting for the harvest
to be cut and gathered in,

Cattle that were grazing
in meadows wet with dew,
orchards on the hillside
where fruits of plenty grew,

Fathers toiling for long hours
from dawn till fading light,
never stopping but for meals,
feeling weary-worn each night.

Children laughing, playing games
made up in days of old,
not minding change of season—
summer heat, nor winter cold.

Did they study by the fireplace,
or light the kerosene
to read the family Bible—
the message there to glean?

Were there deaths and many sorrows
within those walls and beams,
or did they just give up the land—
forget about their dreams?
Homestead Sunflowers
Why would they leave those places,
where did they choose to go?
Were they broken by the hardships
of life struggles, pain, and woe?

Artist scenes now left to capture,
but I wish that they could show
the years and untold stories
of those homesteads long ago.


Tamara Hillman
©2001

 

 



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