Christmas memories mean more than gifts

This photo from a bygone era sparked Christmas memories for the author. (Photo submitted)


Note: The following reader submission, inspired by the photograph at right and based on real life events, provides a glimpse of winter life on an Iowa farm in another era.

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A middle-aged lady looks through an old photo album and reflects on a bygone era.  Her father was a full-time hired man for a farmer who had four farms within a five-mile radius. She recalls that the whole family was expected to help out at different times of the year.

When Catherine, called Kat, was three or four years of age, she had to help water and feed the baby chickens. They were kept in the house for several weeks in a big metal tub. Newspapers were put in the bottom and had to be changed often.

Her two brothers, older by 10 and 12 years, helped with the chores and other jobs. Their biggest job was pulling volunteer corn from the soybean fields and putting up the square bales of hay.

A hired man got paid once a month. Benefits were one beef and one hog a year. One half of the heating fuel was paid, and the family lived in a house rent-free. Most of the houses were big, old and drafty. Every other Sunday you didn't have to do chores, so they went to visit relatives for dinner.

This particular picture brings to mind Christmas time in the 1970s — not really that long ago. It was a very different Christmas for the family. There was a lot of sickness, and many families had someone down with the flu. The neighbor lady had just died. The old-timers said it was because there wasn't much snow and the temperatures were below zero. Kat had a very bad cold and used her dad's big white handkerchief.

Her parents had come from Missouri in the early fifties where farming was still done with horses. The horse collar on the wall was a keepsake from that part of their life. Her dad and brothers had found this little tree while rabbit hunting. Kat was excited to have a tree for her mom and her to trim. They made a shining topper for the tree from a piece of foil. The rocking chair was obtained by saving S & H green stamps, 645 of them. The record player and old 45 records were their only entertainment. Her stripped pajamas were hand-me-downs from a cousin.

On this Christmas morn, her dad and brothers went to the farms to do chores. They were having trouble keeping the cattle waterers from freezing. Christmas gifts had to wait until everyone was at home.

It was a slower time, and life was blessed with togetherness more than gifts. — D.E.W.

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