Thursday, June 30, 2011

Hayfields I Have Known

Meadows I've mowed

Around Christian County, KY, the first cutting of hay has been taken, and across the nation, many farmers and ranchers are making hay. If you pass a hayfield, you should slow down, open your window, and breathe in the sweet scent of fresh-cut, sun-warmed hay. Ahhh. Hay has smelled like that for thousands and thousands of years -- there's a nice thought to enjoy.

I grew up on a cattle ranch in some of the best hay-producing country in the world -- Rock County in the Nebraska Sandhills. Making hay was the main work of the ranch every summer. All of my family's energy and focus was directed toward harvesting enough hay to feed the cattle during the next winter.

I spent seven summers mowing in the hayfield. The first year, I had a little tractor with a six-foot bar. It broke down a lot, so the next year, my dad put me on a better tractor with a new mowing machine that had a nine-foot bar. Don Saar, a grown-up neighbor boy, ran the double-bar mowing machine, and I followed him -- together, we did the mowing. A few years later, my dad got a self-propelled windrower, and on it, I became the only mower of our haying crew.

This rig predates my mowing years.

Several areas of the ranch were primarily hay-lands, and we always hayed them in a set order. First we cut the Little Meadow. just east of our house. (I am capitalizing because this name was just as official as the Black Hills or the Platte River. We never called that meadow by any other name.)  We always made haystacks on the Little Meadow. In the fall, my dad moved the stacks to a "stack yard" (a fenced enclosure) near the house. He saved those stacks for feeding the cattle on the very worst days of winter, because they were closest to home.

"Under the 1785 [Federal land surveying] ordinance, section 16 of each township was set aside for school purposes, and as such was often called the school section. Section 36 was also subsequently added as a school section in western states. The various states and counties ignored, altered or amended this provision in their own ways, but the general (intended) effect was a guarantee that local schools would have an income and that the community schoolhouses would be centrally located for all children."  (Quoted from Wikipedia)
After we finished the Little Meadow, we moved the hay equipment across the ranch road to a piece of land we called the "School Section". (In the early 1960s, the State of Nebraska sold the school sections in Rock County, and my dad bought a tract of the local school section that he had previously leased. I think it was about a third of the section.) Bloody Creek ran through that piece of land, and it always produced a lot of hay.

When we were done making haystacks on the School Section, we stacked the Big Meadow, which adjoined the south end of the School Section. Then, we went to the west side of the ranch, and mowed the meadows along Skull Creek. I think we always baled (made hay bales on) the west side of Skull Creek, because the bridge was not wide enough to pull the stacker across.

And finally, we went back to the extreme east side of the ranch and baled the Long Quarter. The Long Quarter was so named because it was 1/4 of a mile wide and l mile long (a quarter section of land). We had to cross John Dearmont's long quarter to get to our Long Quarter, so we always waited until John had finished haying before taking our equipment across his meadow.

There, on the Long Quarter, was Bloody Creek again, somewhat bigger and wetter than it had been on the School Section. And there were the angriest bumblebees of all the meadows on the ranch! They had been building their nests and hoarding their honey all summer long, and they didn't appreciate any disturbances. Someone nearly always had a bad encounter with them!

This photo of my brother was probably taken before I was born.
It was always exciting to mow around the sloughs (or "wetlands" as people say now) of the Skull and the Bloody. The challenge was to mow as much lush grass as possible without getting your tractor stuck in the mud. There were no set boundaries for what could be mowed. It varied from year to year. Sometimes I got off the tractor and waded through the grass ahead to feel how wet the ground was. And I always watched the tractor tires. If water started dripping off them or they were muddy (bad news!), it was time to get back to higher ground! And another bad omen was when the ground beneath the tractor tires began to quiver. (The soil was so saturated just below the surface that it was like a huge pudding with a slightly hardened crust.)

My dad hated "streaks" -- narrow strips of grass left unmowed because the person on the mowing machine was being careless. I had plenty of time to think while I was driving my tractor around the endless patches of grass, but every time I let my attention wander too far, I left evidence. And once a streak has been left, it's quite difficult to back up, drop the mower bar into all that loose hay, and mow that little narrow strip. Mower bars like nothing better than clogging up in loose hay.

Looking back now at the summers I worked in the hayfield, I realize that was my first experience with work responsibilities. I particularly remember being disgusted one Saturday when I wanted to spend the day at the rodeo. It was good haying weather, and my dad didn't want to let me off my windrower. I had to mow as late as possible the night before and mow a while in the morning before I could leave. I hadn't thought my hayfield job was that essential -- but of course it was.

I understand it all much better now. Our very livelihood depended on the hay.

My dad welded the hydraulic arm that's
 lifting the hay -- and built the tractor cab too!
Newport, Nebraska: Hay Town
Horse-drawn Hay Sweep Rake
Horse-drawn Hay Rake
The Hayfield 

Great photo of an old-time hay crew on Flickr

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Short Feed

Thwarting the thieves

If you are an e-mail or feed subscriber, I apologize, but you'll have to click on the link and come to the blog to read the complete articles for now. Once again, someone has set up the Prairie Bluestem feed so it automatically posts to his blog. Every time I post something here, it's posted there, too. I don't like that, so until the situation is remedied, Prairie Bluestem will have a short feed rather than a full feed.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Interesting Times

Boring is better!

Last week was exciting for my family, and not in a pleasant way.  Two bad things happened on Tuesday, June 14:

  • Keely's knitting bag was stolen from her (unlocked) car while she was home for lunch. A thief opened the car door and took it, apparently thinking it was a purse. Keely had all her knitting needles in her bag, some special yarn, and the project that she's been working on. She was outraged and traumatized, in the way that you are when someone steals something that is dear to you and part of your life.
  • Isaac drove to Lexington, KY, to visit a friend, and had a car accident. He was driving on a busy street and glanced down at his speedometer. In those few seconds, a car ahead of him (four cars up) came to an abrupt stop. Everyone was slamming on their brakes, but Isaac didn't slam quick enough and he rear-ended the car ahead of him. He was unhurt, except that the impact did extremely bend his toes on his driving foot. He was also a little bruised from the airbag. No one else was injured, either. We are very thankful!!
Isaac called home from the accident scene to tell me what happened, and I was absolutely weak in the knees when I heard about it. His friend rescued him from the roadside and took him to the emergency room to see about his foot. It was numb after the accident, but it began to hurt as feeling returned. They determined that it was not broken, so that was a good thing.

When I got my wits about me, a few minutes after talking to Isaac, I realized that there was no point in driving to Lexington until the next day. It was already 4 pm in the Eastern Time Zone, and Lexington is a three hour drive from where we live. 

Dennis was enroute to Kansas City that afternoon, to visit his mother. He was a little weak in the knees when he heard the news, too! He volunteered to turn around and come back home, but I urged him to go on and visit his mom. (This is a summary of several excited telephone calls between us!)

And poor Keely! I had planned to go to Clarksville with her that evening when she got off work. When I called her to tell her about Isaac's accident and my change of plans, she was already distraught about the theft of her knitting bag. And, just to add to the stress, Keely's house was crowded with boxes and displaced furniture all last week.  Their landlady was having some repairs done, so Keely and Taurus had to completely empty one of the rooms in their house, and then a few days later, another room.

I went to Lexington the next day and got Isaac. We found his car at the towing service and cleaned it out. I took the photo below at that time. The insurance company couldn't decide whether to transfer the car to a Lexington adjuster or tow it back to Hopkinsville. After dithering for a few days, they totaled it and left it in Lexington. Dennis arrived home safe and sound from his trip, and he has been taking care of all the details with the insurance company, thank goodness.

A few days after the fact, Keely went to the police station and filed a report on the theft of her knitting bag. The police department called her back within an hour and said, "Ma'am, we think we have your missing property." A homeowner on a neighboring street had found it in the ditch in front of his house. He realized that it was probably stolen and turned it into the police. The bag was wet inside, but all of the knitting needles, etc. were still in it.

This week is going better. The repairs at Keely and Taurus's house are finished, so they are moving their furniture back and restoring order. We're looking for a suitable replacement car for Isaac, and his foot is feeling better. Keely has been washing the mildew smell out of her bag and yarn, and she's back to knitting. And I have finally written in my blog again.

One of Keely's recent projects (future gifts). These little
critters are ba-bombs which are characters in  the Mario
video games. I hope I am identifying them correctly!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Cupboard Bed

Dutch bed in a wall

Isaac and I recently spent a few hours in the antique stores in the riverfront area of Paducah, KY. I bought this picture postcard at one of the shops, because it reminded me of the cupboard beds of Dutch children in my storybooks, when I was a little girl.

Oh, I would have loved a cozy bed in the wall like those little Dutch children always had. I thought it would be the perfect place for reading all day or playing with dolls or giggling with my sister. And I imagined that at night, I would climb into my bed, close the doors, nestle down in the blankets, and enjoy the most perfect and delicious sleep.

I looked at a few websites about cupboard beds tonight and found a very nice little cushioned cubbyhole that someone built.It doesn't have doors that close, but it does have a cool, round entrance. The lucky little girl whose bed it is looks happy with it. And here's another cupboard bed project that turned out well.

During my brief research, I read that in Holland and other European countries, entire families sometimes slept together, sitting up, in the home's single cupboard bed. Sometimes all the children slept in one cupboard bed, and the parents slept in another one. It seems that in real life, some children were a lot less private and a lot more snug in their little Dutch beds than I imagined!

This photo was taken in the Netherlands, so I presume that it shows an authentic, typical cupboard bed. I don't know the purpose of the open area beneath the bed. Isaac theorized that it might have been a place to set a pan of coals or some hot bricks that would warm the bed from beneath. It does look like there is a grate of some sort there.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Death of a Hermit

A man "who lived inside himself"

I came across a rather sad story in a hundred-year-old issue of the Kentucky New Era:


One of the County's Most Eccentric Characters

Strange Boyd Griffey, of South Christian, Succumbs to Pneumonia

Boyd Griffey, a very eccentric character of near Howell, Ky., died a day or two ago. He was Southern Kentucky's hermit, says the Clarksville Chronicle.

He lived on a small farm within three miles of Howell, on the Clarksville and Princeton branch of the Louisville and Nashville, R.R., but there are persons of Howell who, it is said, have never seen this strange individual. Griffey never visited in the neighborhood in which he was so long a resident, and never allowed himself to be observed. Possibly this was the main cause of his death.

On November 3rd hard-working Democrats were making an endeavor to get all the voters to the polls possible, and the name of the old hermit, Griffey, was suggested. He was sent for and finally prevailed upon to come to the voting place and cast his ballot. But no one deemed it would be the last time he would ever venture from his humble home.

He contracted cold, which developed into pneumonia, and he died alone at his farm-house.

His age, nor anything connected with his life, except that he lived within himself, could be learned regarding this strange man.

Source: Weekly Kentucky New Era, page 3 of the November 27, 1896, edition.

I ran Boyd Griffey's name through the search engine on and found that he had lived in Christian County, KY, for over 65 years. His family tree shows that he had family all over this general area. It strikes me as untrue that "nothing could be learned regarding this strange man." Surely at least one of his many relatives remembered his existence? I think the newspaper writer was striving for dramatic effect.

George Griffey Sr. (Boyd's father) is listed on the 1840 census for Christian County, KY. In that census, only the name of the head of household was recorded, so we must use our powers of reason a little. The Griffey household included 9 white people and 7 slaves. The summary for the Griffey family included:
Free White Persons - Males - 10 thru 14: 1
Free White Persons - Males - 15 thru 19: 2
Free White Persons - Males - 20 thru 29: 4
Free White Persons - Males - 50 thru 59: 1
Free White Persons - Females - 50 thru 59: 1

Working from the birthdates given in the family tree, it's safe to say that Boyd Griffey was the "Free White Person - Male - 10 thru 14." The female between 50 and 59 years of age was certainly his mother, and most or all of the other six young men in the household were surely his brothers.

In 1850, the first census on which Boyd Griffey's name appears, he was 21 years old. The household was much smaller than in the previous census-- now only Boyd, his father (George Griffey, age 63) and his brother (George Griffey, age 26) were in the home. Boyd's mother had passed away. George Sr.'s occupation was reported as "Farmer", George Jr.'s occupation was "Overseer", and Boyd's occupation was "Schoolteacher."

Ten years later (1860 Federal census), Boyd and his brother George are listed as separate farmers, but side by side on the page, as if living in the same house. Both are still bachelors, and George Sr. has passed away. Between Boyd and George, they own 15 slaves.

An 1861 marriage record shows that George D. Griffey (age 38) married Catherine. A. Rives (age 23). A Rives family is in the neighborhood with the Griffeys on several of the census pages, so his bride may have been a neighbor girl. 

In the 1870 census, Boyd Griffey has several black people listed as members of his household -- Thomas Wall (age 62, farm worker), Ellen Griffey (age 12, domestic servant), Jack Griffey (age 10, farm worker), Anderson Griffey (age 17, farm worker), and Ben Griffey (age 7).  Kentucky was in a period of upheaval and transition following the Civil War, and child labor was common across the nation, but still, does this group of children strike you as unusual? I wonder what the circumstances were.

Following the listing for Boyd's household, Brother George was listed as the next household. He was the only member of his household -- no wife recorded. Information for several black families follows George's name. They were probably working on the Griffey farms.

In 1880, Boyd Griffey was alone in the Garretsburg township of Christian County. His fondness for solitude may have been deepening. The next two households on the page (his nearest neighbors) were families of black people who were probably living and working on his farm. Clearly, Boyd and his brother George had parted ways. George was listed in District 11 of the Garretsburg township, but Boyd was in District 16. This census notes that George was divorced and Boyd was widowed. I wonder if the latter was accurate.

 All but a few pages of the nation's 1890 census records were lost in a Treasury Department fire, so nothing is available for that year. By then, Boyd may have avoided the census taker anyway, if the newspaper article about his self-imposed isolation is to be believed.

It is a curious and sad thing how a young man capable of teaching school became a recluse as he aged.  Maybe he suffered from depression or a more severe form of mental illness. And it's ironic that his desire for solitude moved me to draw attention to him.

I now withdraw the spotlight. Rest in peace, Boyd Griffey.

"Solitude" by Louis Rémy Mignot (1831–1870)

In 1907, a Commissioner's Sale was announced for a property along the Palmyra Road that was "known as the Boyd Griffey farm." The sale settled an estate between members of the Thweatt family. Apparently, the Thweatts bought the Griffey farm after Boyd Griffey's death.

Around Christian County, KY

Scenes of early summer

Wheat is ripening. Some fields were harvested last week.
This wheatfield is across the road from our house, and
the wheat seems to be a particularly tall variety. Our
neighbor will harvest both straw and grain.

Native daylilies are blooming in the road ditches.

Starbucks Coffee in Hopkinsville is hosting half a dozen 
bird nests, built into the big letters on the side of the building.
I suppose these cavities are the best substitute for holes in a cliff 
that the birds could find. Hurry, Mama! Baby's hungry!

Sunday, June 05, 2011

A Yard Sale Extravaganza

400-Mile Yard Sale, 2011

This weekend, Kentucky's 400-Mile Yard Sale is taking place along Highway 68/80, a route that passes through Christian County. Keely and I drove out to some sales this afternoon, along the highway east of Hopkinsville.

The Eastview Baptist Church had been advertising on their marquis for several weeks that anyone could set up a yard sale there for free. Today, their property looked like a flea market with a church in one corner. It was full of tents and tables of merchandise! When we arrived, the parking lot was packed with cars, and between sellers and buyers, there must have been 150 people (or more) on the grounds.

When we pulled into the church driveway, a lady welcomed us, invited us to use the restrooms and to get a drink of cold water in the air-conditioned church, and handed us a bright yellow packet. Inside the packet, we found a flyer about Eastview, helpful information about the garage sale, a religious tract, and a free pen.

We heard music playing as we got out of the car, and soon we saw that a band was performing. They played a rock-n-roll version of "This Little Light of Mine" that I really enjoyed. When I looked at the information in the packet this evening, I learned that the band's name is Second Coming. Two more bands -- Mark 'N' Friends and The Glovers -- performed at other times during the day.

Keely bought an entire box of books by a favorite author, and I bought a cookbook. Then we sat in the shade, where a little breeze was stirring the air, and enjoyed the band for a few minutes. Unfortunately, the temperature was in the mid-90s, so we didn't shop or listen as long as we would have liked. It was just too hot!

As a visitor to the yard sale and as a fellow Christian, I give Eastview an A+ for this event. They did a great job of personally greeting us, placing an attractive pack of information in our hands, providing adequate parking, caring about our physical needs, organizing the marketplace, and even offering entertainment to entice us to linger.

Well done, my Baptist friends! I hope you'll do this again next year!

I took several photos of the band, but I didn't get a
single one that shows every band member!

Friday, June 03, 2011

Honeysuckle and Old-time Roses

June blooms in central Kentucky

Honeysuckle and an old rose grow intertwined around the tall stump of an old cedar tree in our yard. It's June, and for now, they are making up for all their faults. The roses are a profusion of bright color, and the honeysuckle has a lovely fragrance.

This rose is an uncivilized semi-climber that probably dates back to the log cabin on this property. Some might call it an heirloom rose, but I call it an opportunist. With any encouragement, it throws out canes that are 15 feet or more in length. Wherever the canes touch dirt, they root down, and a new rose plant grows.

I once made the mistake of transplanting a cutting of this rose to a flower bed. After just one season of a softer life, thorny rose stems were sprawling off their pole teepee and rooting down everywhere.  I had to dig it out, and it took me a couple of years to fully eradicate rose sprouts from the area. I learned my lesson! This rose is doing quite well enough in the spot where it has always grown! It needs some stress and regular encounters with the lawn mower to keep it in check.

Honeysuckle is one of the most invasive non-native plants in Kentucky.  We have a big problem with it in our yard. It loves to get in the shrubbery and climb to the top where it can thrive in the sunshine. Before long, the health of the shrubs begins to suffer from sunshine-deprivation and the weight of the honeysuckle vines.

One way of controlling honeysuckle is to cut the base of the vine and spray it with Roundup. Then you can try to pull the vines down, but it's a difficult chore. Honeysuckle is a twiner, which means that the vines wind around and around whatever they're climbing.  I am sure I would never be able to separate the honeysuckle vines and rose vines that you see in the photo!
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CONTENTMENT: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry, live simply, expect little, give much, sing often, pray always, forget self, think of others and their feelings, fill your heart with love, scatter sunshine. These are the tried links in the golden chain of contentment.
(Author unknown)

IT IS STILL BEST to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasure; and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.
(Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1867-1957)

Thanks for reading.