By THE RAMBLER 16/03/2001
THE farmhouse kitchen where Becky cooked, washed, ironed, churned, dressed butter, darned, sewed, served meals, and mothered her family, was roomy enough when there were only James and herself, and one or two. little ones.
But little ones grow into bigger ones, and each bigger one needs his/her own space.
The inevitable occurred. The place became overcrowded.
James needed to increase his income and his immediate re-action was to increase his stock of pigs and poultry and whether he made allowances for the impact on the kitchen is doubtful, but when still more boiling had to be done, Becky rebelled. She just could not cope.
A farm boiler became a necessity and the installation of one in a corner of the potato house was magic as far as the children were concerned, for when the boiler fire was lit, there was less need to fight over a place near the kitchen fireplace.
An empty onion-box made a grand seat in the boiler house and the need to hang fewer cauldrons on the crook in the kitchen was a godsend to Becky.
As well, wet outer garments were moved out to the vicinity of the boiler, leaving the pulley line over the kitchen hearth clear for "smalls."
Never had so much benefit resulted from one single additional fire.
Becky had another headache though the first cow due to calve early in the Spring had failed to conceive first time around with the bull, and had had to be taken back, which meant a loss of a vital period of several weeks in milk supply. Shortage of milk meant shortage of butter and worst of all shortage of buttermilk to bake bread.
A breadman called only once a week and hardworking men could not work on white, i.e. loaf bread.
Becky really was in a fix. By frying bread, she managed to lessen the need for butter, but there was no way she could bake without buttermilk.
Mrs Hill, who dropped in regularly, twigged the problem when she saw Becky watering a little buttermilk to bake bread, and she immediately "ordered" Becky to send one of the wee ones over to her place when they came from school.
Becky protested but her good neighbour brow-beat her into consenting.
Mrs Hill had a big farm, and plenty of buttermilk, but Becky knew from experience that if she sent children for buttermilk they would come back with a huge slab of butter floating in the can, hence the "ordering" which Mrs Hill had to do.
When the school children had had their dinner, Becky sent them off with a sixquart can, the usual size for buttermilk, and of course when they returned there was the usual hunk of butter afloat, fuel for still another mock battle when Mrs Hill re-appeared.
The two cronies went to different churches but butter in the buttermilk can was the only principle that they fought over.
A spell of Arctic weather drove James out of the field, but there was plenty to do elsewhere.
Snow didn't hold up the shifting of manure from the haggard to the headrig of the sand field, where potatoes were to be planted and James and Johnny worked with a will, wielding four-pronged graips to load and unload cart fulls of farmyard manure.
With his eldest lad Tim nearing school-leaving age of 14, and as far as the master could put him, the teenager was becoming restless to do a man's job.
He was very handy and already better than the old man at carpentry and repairing implements.
He was even tolerably skilled at handling a pair of horses in a plough or a reaping machine.
With his family responsibilities increasing, and prices for potatoes, etc., very poor, James had decisions to make.
First, he increased his stock of fattening pigs and bought an extra cow, but he hadn't the capital to do much more.. Borrowing never entered his head.
Tim kept at him to try poultry farming and Becky was all for it, so they started in a very small way to breed chicks..
Tim knocked together old timber and sheets of corrugated iron to build a henhouse and in a few months time Becky was able to head for Job Palmers of Moira with a basket full of eggs.
By bartering these for groceries, the thrifty lady came home with much-needed provisions.
Tim had heard that hens would lay better in the winter days if light was put in the henhouse and soon he had a paraffin lamp glowing in the shed every evening.
He was proved right. With a little extra grain, Becky began to reap a reward in egg production.Tim proceeded to harass Dad to buy some sheets of sarking and nails for a proper poultry shed and with this rough timber dirt cheap, the old man gave in.
Soon Tim had an egg merchant calling regularly for a 30-dozen crate of eggs. Things began to look up.
(To be continued).