July 24, 2010

Farmer John's Roller Coaster

Prompt: In the exurb of the great city…there was a manic/depressive…farmer…who laughed hysterically on even days…and cried miserably on odd days. John got out of bead a little fearfully, not knowing how he was going to feel today. He looked at the calendar and saw that today was July 24th. Good, he thought, today would be a good day. He quickly dressed and went merrily out to the barn. He laughed and sang happily as he milked the cows. He chortled to himself as he carried the buckets of milk into the cool milk room and poured the warm liquid through the cheesecloth lined strainers and into the large milk cans. Next, he sped up the ladder to the hay loft, quickly cutting the wires on the hay bales and tossing the hay down to the stalls for the horses to eat. He giggled while he pumped the water into what he called his aqueduct system, a series of wood channels that carried the water from the pump and delivered it to drinking tubs for all the barn animals at once. The system saved him a lot of time and effort in carrying heavy buckets of water between the pump and the barn. He grabbed a basket, filled it with dried corn from a bag in the barn, and carried it over to the henhouse. John stopped in the henyard and scattered the corn for the chickens. Once they were busy noisily contending over which one would get the best part of the breakfast, John slipped into the dim interior of the henhouse and carefully gathered the eggs, placing them into the basket which was now empty of corn. Recalling what his wife had said last night, he stopped by the smokehouse and took out one of the hams which still hung there. Although they did their smoking of meat in the autumn after harvest, they had found it was convenient to store the smoked meats in the smokehouse, once the preservation process was completed. John carried the ham and eggs to the kitchen, where his wife waited with his breakfast. When he had eaten, he took the leftover scraps in a bucket and left the house again. He knew Mary would be washing and drying the eggs, and setting them into egg cartons in dozens for them to take with them to the farmer’s market tomorrow. Tomorrow. John shivered a bit apprehensively. Since today, being an even day, was a good one, he knew tomorrow…he shivered again and pushed the dark thoughts away. No point in ruining today by worrying about tomorrow. John stirred up the coals under the pigs’ mash barrel and added a few small wood chips to keep it evenly at the right temperature. He opened the big drum holding the mixture of grain and water, and stirred it with the long wood paddle that somewhat resembled a rowboat’s oar. He lifted the huge ladle-shaped dipper from where it hung on the barrel’s rim, and dipped out enough of the mash to fill the bucket with the breakfast scraps to within an inch of the top. Hanging the dipper back in its place and replacing the lid on the mash barrel, John carried the bucket over to the pig sty and filled the trough. The mean old sow he’d named “Mama Pig” trotted over to the trough, shoving some of her newly weaned piglets out of the way. He watched for a few moments as the young pigs jostled each other as they scrambled to get their share of the food. John carried three more buckets of mash to the young family before he was finished with them for the morning. John whistled a merry tune as he turned the cows out of the barn and herded them off to the pasture where they would spend the bulk of their day. He returned to the milk room and skimmed the cream from the top of the cans. He poured the skim milk into the carefully cleaned and sterilized bottles. John opened the cooler…a hole in his barn floor that had been cut over the opening to a small cave. He reached into the hole and pulled our a small ring, with a chain attached to it. John took a hook from the ceiling and slipped it through the ring, then turned a crank to bring the metal basket up from the hole. He placed the milk into the metal basket and lowered it into the hole, hooking the rim carefully on its post near the top of the cooler hole. John poured the cream into a butter churn, and slid the lid on the churn. He attached an invention of his to the handle of the dasher, and sat on a tall stool near the churn. With a flick of his wrist on the flywheel, he began pumping the pedal. It worked like a spinning wheel or treadle-operated sewing machine; he had simply built a treadle that worked his butter churn. With his feet pumping away on the treadle, John picked up the book he was currently reading, angled it toward the window, and began reading. It usually took about two chapters to turn the cream into butter. Once it was churned, he’d check with his wife on what was needed for the house, but the rest would be taken to the farmer’s market tomorrow. He slipped the work harnesses on his pair of horses, and led them outside the barn. The hay in the south field was ready to cut today, and John hitched the horses to the mower and started off down the road to the south field. It wasn’t that he couldn’t afford a tractor, and he certainly had no moral or religious qualms regarding tractors. His was a small farm, what the government referred to as “subsistence farming”. They grew most of their own food; his wife faithfully canning the produce from their large garden. They raised pigs and chickens for meat, and harvested eggs as well. They had a well full of beautiful, clear water, and a stream they used to irrigate their crops. They owed no money for the farm, since John’s grandfather had managed to pay off the mortgage during the depression. Depression. Bad word. No, that wasn’t until tomorrow. He thrust the thought from his mind. He and his wife lived simply, in the manner His ancestors had lived on the farm since this valley was first colonized. Anything John and Mary couldn’t make, they bought with the money they earned selling their surplus vegetables, eggs, and Mary’s handcrafts at the farmer’s market. John spent most of the day working with the horses. First they mowed the hay, then raked it into neat lines to dry. They then moved to another field, which was laying fallow this year. They spread dried and composted manure over the field, and plowed it in, turning the earth over and mixing the fertilizer thoroughly with the rich, dark dirt. He returned the horses to the barn, gave them a good drink, and added a scoop of oats to their evening hay. He brushed them until their coats shone, then cleaned the leather harnesses and put them away. John returned to the house for his supper, then collected the cows for the evening milking, and fed the pigs their supper. Tired from the day’s work, he drew a bathtub full of warm water. There was one modern convenience he loved…Ten years ago he and Mary had installed a solar hot water system, and they loved not having to heat up water on the stove or fireplace. The farmhouse was the original, which had been standing for nearly a hundred and fifty years. Indoor plumbing had been added when John was a boy, but hot water from a tap…that had been his first major improvement to the house. They’d saved almost enough now to have a solar / wind dual powered electric system installed, and looked forward to having electric lights and a nice television they could enjoy in the evening. Around sunset, John went to bed, tired, and completely happy. John woke, apprehensively. Today was an odd day, and he hated the black moods that took him on these days. He grouched out to the barn for the morning chores, completing them in silent haste, even as he felt his control over his feelings deteriorating, and the tears starting to roll down his cheeks and dripping from his nose. He returned to the house for breakfast, then fed the pigs and turned out the cows. By that time, his wife had packed the truck for the farmer’s market. The truck had been his father’s contribution to the family farm, and even though it was nearly thirty years old, careful maintenance and only occasional use…they drove weekly to church and to market in the village, and a few times a year into “town”, the nearest big city. When market day was complete, they returned home and John completed the day’s chores, tucking the animals in before having his bath and going to bed himself. John’s entire day was spent with tears streaming down his face, and a terrible aching sadness possessing his entire body. Well, at least he knew tomorrow would be better. He was so tired of the alternating moods, and he had an appointment with his doctor on Monday morning up in town. Perhaps he’d be able to find a reason for the moods which, although they had plagued him for years, had been getting worse over the past year; the highs had been higher, and the lows lower, the swings were getting wider, and John was afraid he’d get stuck mid-swing on the sad side of it. Just the thought that tomorrow would be a good day was enough to raise his spirits a trifle.