If we could turn back the clock to a day in the life of an Old Order Mennonite family just before Christmas in Waterloo County, Canada, in 1915, we would be transported into a world few of us can now imagine. Let us turn the pages of this discovery!
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Amos & Salina Go to Town
By Kenneth David Brubacher, Graeme MacKay
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2016 Kenneth David Brubacher
All rights reserved.
Kinna! Kumsht du yetz nunna! Kumsht du mullie rei heya! Es ist morgan! Okay, Mother. We'll come down right away!
It was still dark out on the shortest day of the year, the first official day of winter, and it was very cold. Winter had come early this year and the fire in the big kitchen stove had not gone out for weeks now.
Amos and Salina threw back the covers and jumped out of bed. They were very thankful that their mother had sent them to bed fully clothed, and with socks on too. She had wrapped a heated brick in a towel for each of their feet to help keep warm, as the only heat in the farmhouse came from the kitchen stove. There was a hole in the bedroom floor above the kitchen ceiling so some heat got upstairs, but not very much. They grabbed the bricks and ran down the stairs. The lantern hanging from the middle of the kitchen ceiling gave off light for them to see on the stairs, and made the kitchen bright too. Mother already had been up a while and the heat off the stove felt good. She had also partly warmed a basin of water and put it on the dry sink for them to wash their faces and hands. Normally the basin was up in their bedroom on the dresser, but on a morning like this they would have had to break some ice to get at it. They were so excited - today they were going to town! But before they could go, there were chores to do and eat breakfast.
While Amos buttoned his coat and pulled on his boots, Salina went out to the woodshed and fetched in more firewood for the stove. Father had split some finer wood the evening before so the fire would take faster. Mother also came out there to pump more water. They were very lucky and didn't have to go outside to get water at an outdoor well like the neighbor's did. Their well was in the near corner of the woodshed which was joined to the kitchen.
* * *
Father had been out there quite a while already. They could see the light from the coal oil lantern shining through the window of the barn. He always hung it with great care from its special place on a hook fastened to the main beam where there was no hay or straw under the lantern and a big bucket of water always close by on the floor beside the post nearest the lantern. He also made sure no cow's tail could reach it. Fire was always the worst enemy of the barn.
They could tell by the level of the milk in the second pail that Father had already made good headway with the milking of the cows. There were six to be milked these days, and he had two more to go. It was hard work and Father's hands were busy and strong.
Amos also went about his business. First, the animals needed to be fed. The pigs were the loudest demanding food so they got fed first. There were two different pens, one for the hogs that were being fattened and the other which had been divided for each of the sows, the first with her eight little piglets running around her, and the second with nine. He didn't need to worry about them because they were still suckling their mother's milk, but into the trough of the sows he poured two scoops full of chopped grain and then a liberal helping of water. This was repeated again in the trough of the hogs, at which point they went about the business of eating and drinking and quieted right down. Then came oats and hay for the horses. They had three horses, the two big Belgians with feet the size of dinner plates who did the heavy work, and one smaller horse for pulling the buggy when they went to church. Each horse also then got a pail of water.
* * *
The children knew their duties. Salina scooped half a pail of grain from the bin and went carefully up the stairs to the chicken coop in the corner beside the threshing floor. She knew the way in the manner of the blind in their homes, but was also thankful for the wee bit of moonlight shining through the cracks in the barn boards. She pulled aside the latch of the door and went in, carefully closing the door behind her. It was still dark so the hens had been asleep until they heard her come in. Then they started clucking in anticipation of their food. Salina spread it on the floor and, while the chickens flapped their way down from their perches, she felt inside each cubicle for the eggs laid since yesterday. These she carefully placed in her pail in which she had put a few handfuls of straw to cushion them. Broken eggs were good to nobody until they were in the frying pan. Then she went back down the stairs and took the eggs in to her Mother.
It was a special day and so they had a special breakfast to go with it. Mother had warmed butter in the big frying pan and shredded in last night's leftover potatoes. She had made extra because she knew that everybody liked fried potatoes on a day like this. When they were frying along nicely she broke eggs into the pan also just to one side. Amos and Salina loved fried eggs, especially when their mother had made fresh bread, which she had done the afternoon before. So they had shredded potato pancakes and fresh bread which mother had held over the fire for a little while to toast it. Strips of buttered toast were then dipped into the yolks of the fried eggs. Also mother had gone down to the root cellar and fetched up a jar of her tomato relish to put on the fried potatoes. It was washed down with fresh milk, and a great feast.
* * *
The cows also got hay and grain and water, and on top of each of their meals went a cup or two of molasses from the big barrel in the corner. While it never froze in the barn because of the heat of the animals, it was still pretty cold and the molasses took a long time to come out of the spout. Right now they had seven calves as well, so hay and water also went into their trough. They were now past drinking their mothers' milk. Then Amos and his Father went into the house for breakfast, being careful to take the lantern with them.
Excerpted from Amos & Salina Go to Town by Kenneth David Brubacher, Graeme MacKay. Copyright © 2016 Kenneth David Brubacher. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
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