Friday, May 22, 2009


(Story from the nursing home, told by my 90ish parents, during a visit on 5/21/09)

My mother had six brothers--four older and two younger. Even the largest, busiest farms in Carlisle couldn’t keep that many boys gainfully occupied, so my mother remembers that neighboring farmers would hire her brothers to work for them as “hired men.” Even though they were called hired men, most were actually just teenagers, anywhere from age 15 and up, when they went to work and live (room and board included with their wages) at another farm in the community.

My dad remembers that my mother’s brother Fred was hired to come and work for his family in about the late 1920s. As a little girl, my mother worshipped her older brother Fred (as did her two younger brothers). Fred was ten years older than my mother, but he always took time for the little kids. Fred had a talent for drawing, and my mother remembers that he would draw pictures and tell stories to my mother and her brothers, Art and Otto. Sometimes on Sunday afternoon, when the horses weren’t working, Fred would take the little kids down to the barn and let them help brush and curry the horses, which they loved to do.

In those days, going to high school involved moving into town. So after Fred finished eighth grade, he decided he was done with schooling and stayed home to help farm. A few years later, my dad’s father, Albert, was struggling with some health problems involving his gallbladder and appendix. My mother’s brother Fred was hired to come and help out. Even with my dad’s family, Fred took time in the evenings for the little kids (Alice, Mildred, and Al). The same stories and drawings that had entertained his younger brothers and sister at home also entertained the little kids in my dad’s family.
My Mother’s Family ( approx. 1940): Back row: Art, Elmer, Otto, Clifford, Fred, Morrill. Front row: Lena (my mother), Emma, Edward, Clara.

My mother’s younger brother Otto was the hired man for my dad’s family at the time my parents were married in 1941. Otto had a little different nature than Fred. While Fred worked quietly and diligently, if Otto didn’t want to do something, he blurted right out that he didn’t want to. My dad remembers that Otto was helping build the new house that he and my mother would move into a few months after they were married. Otto’s job was to help dig the water cistern. Unfortunately, it had been a wet spring; the deeper Otto dug, the more he ran into sloppy, heavy mud. Finally, disgusted, he climbed out of that hole, threw down his shovel, and refused to go back down. So my dad finished digging the 12-foot deep cistern himself while Otto found something a little more glamorous to do. It’s hard to fire the hired man when he’s your brother-in-law.

My mother’s brother Clifford worked mostly for his grandfather, Frank. Grandpa Frank knew that Clifford loved animals. So one spring, instead of paying Clifford in cash, he gave him a ram—a male sheep—to raise. However, Clifford loved that buck so much that he made a pet out of it, and it roamed freely around the farmyard, just like a dog. My mother learned to be very wary of Clifford’s pet because it had a mean, mischievous streak. It would sneak up behind the children when they were bent over doing their chores or playing in the yard. Bam! The buck would butt them in the behind, toppling them over, and then run away. For a year, Clifford kept that naughty pet ram until finally it grew to adulthood and he sold it. His brothers and sister were very glad to see that ram go.

Every family and every generation had their “hired men” and “hired girls,” usually in their teens or early twenties. They weren’t needed at home but were the right age to go to work for someone else until they were old enough to get married and have homes and farms of their own. And many times, the “hired man” would end up marrying one of the farmer’s daughters or the “hired girl” would catch the eye of the farmer’s son.


bd said...

Wow. Interesting story...not the men we lived with-wonder how/why they changed?

2to4aday said...

My impression from my parents is that the men who fought in World War II, who left the safe, sheltered life in their small farming communities, were never quite the same after they came home. They had seen and experienced too much to ever believe that Carlisle was still the center of the universe.