January was always a hard month when I was a boy on the farm.
Though it marked the start of a new year and fresh starts, I don’t remember much good about it.
With Christmas behind us, all we had to look forward to were the spring thaw and tonic from boiled sassafras roots. Hunting season was over, fishing a bone-chilling challenge, our wood pile dwindling and more of the floor of our hayloft emerging day-by-day.
Our unheated stanchion barn was drafty and poorly lit by a single bulb. Nearing the ends of their lactation months, our Jersey cows produced but a fraction of the milk we saw in June, though golden yellow with thick cream. We seldom had more than one 10-gallon can to carry to the road as one after the other was turned dry.
Nonetheless, we had cows to milk night and morning, no matter the weather, and cows to feed, milking or not. Rather than producing milk, they were growing spring calves.
In what seemed unrelenting cold, we had to chop holes in the pond ice daily, or do the same in the stock tank if we could run (or draw) water from the well. Either way meant wet gloves and icy fingers.
With only a woodstove to heat the house, we spent most of our evenings in a single room, retiring in our bedrooms under heavy blankets, and thus remaining until we heard Dad stoking the fire before daybreak.
Standing near the stove until we could smell our clothes baking, we warmed one side and then the other before going out to do chores and when coming back in. And whatever we wore to the barn, we generally wore to school.
Lacking running water in the house for a number of years, we bathed daily with washcloths and water boiled in a kettle on the cookstove, and when Nature called, she called us outside to a little house between the back porch and barn — an especially unpleasant trip on most January nights.
Everything that had to be done — from farm chores to just living our lives — was harder in January. Simple inconveniences in summer became hardships in January — and December and February weren’t much better.
Now, I know it wasn’t the same for everyone, but in our first years on the farm we lived a 19th century pioneers’ life.
It was hard, but I wouldn’t trade it for all the wealth and luxuries of a Vanderbilt mansion. Because I once couldn’t go to the barn without a kerosene lantern in hand, I love just flipping a switch to light my way today... and hot water with the turn of a tap, that’s luxury befitting a king.
Copyright 2024, James E. Hamilton; email firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more of his works in Ozarks RFD 2010-2015, available online from Amazon, Barnes & Noble or from the author.
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