Wednesday, August 24, 2011
DOWN ON THE FARM Part 1
There are many minor characters in my life history who in one way or another had an impact on my life. One couple who were a part of my life in the formative years and a constant in my life from the age of nine was Frank and Eva Nadroski. They lived next door to my Aunt Emma. They operated a 100 acre dairy farm. They were siblings and were true examples of the meaning of “the salt of the earth” people. They were of Polish extraction. Frank was an average height man with a red, weather beaten face. Eva was a short round little woman that for the most part was always jolly. Eva was the oldest of four children and the only girl. She wore glasses and they were usually held together with tape.
The jobs on the farm were assigned by gender. Frank did all the manual type labor on the farm; plowing, planting, harvesting, etc. and Eva did the housework; kept the milk house, milk cans, and milkers spotless and took care of the calves. She fed the calves with a bucket with a nipple on the bottom. Sometimes she would let me help with the calves but once I got old enough to realize this was “women’s work”, I didn’t do it anymore. Eva, being a small person, was constantly being knocked about by the rambunctious calves. This resulted in the broken glasses and her walking around in a gimpy way a lot of the time. Frank and Eva never owned a car. Frank had a John Deere tractor and he would go to Amesville on it if he needed something in a hurry from the hardware store. They would go grocery shopping with their brother or his wife. Aunt Emma would also pick up necessities for them when she went shopping in Athens. They lived very basic, hard working lives. Eva died in August of 1972 at the age of 69 and Frank died at 65 in November, 1976. I recently visited their graves in the McDougal Church cemetery. On Frank’s tombstone is the following epitaph: “The face of the earth was his easel, His paint was the seed, His tools were his brushes, An artist indeed”.
I first became acquainted with them in 1952 when I first started spending my summers with Aunt Emma. They had a brother, Stanley, who with his wife, Thelma, lived about five miles away on another farm. They had three daughters, Sandy, Lynn and Rosalie. Sandy was Larry’s age, Lynn was my age and Rosie was a couple of years younger than me. More about them later. Frank and Eva had another brother, John, who was killed in the Millfield Mine Explosion. The Millfield Mine disaster, Ohio's worst mine disaster, occurred November 5, 1930, in a Sunday Creek Coal Company mine in Athens County, Ohio. According to the historical marker at the site in Millfield, the explosion killed 82 people, including the company's top executives who were in the mine inspecting new safety equipment. Nine hours after the explosion, rescuers found 19 miners alive underground, three miles from the main shaft. The disaster attracted national press coverage and international attention, and it prompted improvement of Ohio's mine safety laws in 1931. The first explosion was tremendous. Tons of slate and coal were jolted into the passageways. Bodies of many of the workers were dismembered. A short time later, there was a second blast and the mine filled with gas which penetrated masks and held back rescuers until night.
I have always been an early morning person and this served me well on the farm. I was usually the first person up and out of the house. I would go up to the barn that was located up behind Aunt Emma’s house and find Frank and Eva already in the barn. They milked about thirty cows and usually started about 5:30 am. I would go up and help them get the barn ready for the cows to come in from the pasture. I was amazed to learn that each cow had her own stall and knew just were to go. One of my jobs was to scatter a little feed in the trough in front of each stall so as the cows came in they would go up and stick their heads through the stanchions. Then Frank would go up between each cow and lock the head restraint section of the stanchion so the cows could not wander about the barn. Eva would then come out of the milk house with a bucket of warm water with some sort of orangy red disinfectant and begin washing off the cows’ udders and teats. Frank would go into the milk house and get a milking machine that Eva had put together while Frank and I brought the cows in from the pasture. There was not a lot of talking in the barn but everyone knew their job and went about it in an efficient manner. As one cow was finished, Eva had another one washed, I dumped in a scoop full of feed and Frank placed the milkers on the cow. I don’t really remember how my part in this routine came about. I just remember at an early age I helped them nearly every morning that I was staying at Aunt Emma’s. I also helped them at the evening milking but not as regularly as I did in the morning. A lot of times in the afternoon I was off wandering the hills or doing things with Aunt Emma. I didn’t get paid to do this. I just did it for the enjoyment I got associating with Frank and Eva and being a “farmer.
From my earliest memory all I ever wanted was to be a farmer. So when I was at Aunt Emma’s, I got the chance to be a sort of farmer. I loved going out in the early morning mists to bring the cows into the barn. As I got older, Frank let me do this on my own. I remember learning an important lesson that I have used often in my work with kids in school. As I would bring the dairy herd in, they would approach the gate which was closed. I would have to work my way up through the cows to open the gate. I would have to be careful not to let the cows bunch up too much at the gate. If I pressed them too close together they would begin to butt and kick one another. I learned that if I left them loosely gathered at the gate they waited peacefully and patiently for me to open the gate. Then I stood at the gate and only let through the cows that needed to be milked. There were always several cows that were not being milked for one reason or another; they were waiting to have a calf, they were too young to have had a calf yet or they were the bull or steers. I guess at this point I should explain the different types of cows found in a dairy herd. The majority of the herd were cows that were producing milk. In order for a cow to give milk they had to have had a calf in the not too distant past. At some point during the year, a cow would begin to show a decrease in milk production because they were again about to have another calf. They usually had one calf a year and about a month or two before the calf was born the cow would stop giving milk. I suppose this was so the cow’s body could devote itself to producing a strong healthy calf instead of milk. So a percentage of the herd was cows that were “dry” or not giving milk at this time. Another part of the herd consisted of heifers. Heifers are female cows that have not yet had a calf. They could be a couple of months up to a year old. It seems to me that Frank did not allow his heifers to be bred until they were a year old. Part of the time, if there was a cow ready to be bred, Frank would have the bull in the pasture with the cows. Not too long after I started helping, Frank quit keeping a bull and started using a new fangled notion, Artificial Insemination, to breed his cows. This was a vast improvement on having a bull around. With the bull you had to feed him and care for him a large part of the year when he was not needed. Also, you could keep records and know exactly when a cow was due to calve and you could keep her in a field near the barn where you could keep an eye on her. Another great plus for this method was that the company that provided the service had a catalogue of bulls that you could leaf through and pick out a sire that had a good record for producing healthy calves, cows that gave large quantities of milk and pick the breed you wanted. For example, if you had a cow that usually had male calves, you could breed her to a beef breed so you got a calf that would be raised to put meat on the table. I remember one instance where Frank chose to breed one of his cows to a Charolais Bull. This was an unheard of breed in Athens County and many people would stop by the farm to see this calf after it was born. Today Charolais cattle are pretty common. Eva named this calf Sean and this calf was a winner. He grew fast and was a big, blocky shape. His mother was a Holstein and he had the spots associated to that breed but they were a kind of gray/brown color instead of black. He was so big for his age that people were amazed. Sean ended up on the dinner table - which was his purpose in life.
I had some favorites among the cows that I still remember to this day. One was named Pansy and the other, Cindy. Pansy had big liquid blue eyes. She would see me in the pasture when I was out picking berries or hiking around and come up to me to see what I was doing. She loved having her head rubbed behind her ears. She was a brown and white spotted cross between a Holstein and a Jersey. The other, Cindy, was a brown Jersey and she also would recognize me when I was out in the field and come and see if I had something to feed her. Often I would share my snack with her. She would eat about anything I had; apples, carrots, celery or part of a peanut butter sandwich. Most of the heard were black and white Holsteins and I probably liked these cows because they were different. And for some reason the Holsteins never seemed as friendly and often were suspicious of me.