LIFE on the CIRCLE S RANCH
by Leona May Ashby Lazio
When we moved to the Circle S Ranch in Alberton, it was a big change from living in the city. I don't remember dates but I do remember that I was in the second grade when we moved there and I just started high school when we moved away. It was a great place to spend a childhood. This story is about my Mother and how hard she had to work to raise her family and keep up the house.
Let's take quilt making for a start. First came the wool, direct from the shearing pens. Dirt, twigs, leaves, poop and all. The first thing to do is to pick out as much of that as is possible. Then the wool goes into a tube of warm soapy water where it soaks for a short while. Then it is sloshed up and down a bit and then squeezed out by the handful and put into a tub of clean rinse water, sloshed about and pressed out and into another tub of clean water. Then it is pressed out and spread to dry on big screens that are up on sawhorses. Of course, all the tubs of water are carried by the bucket full from the ditch and the water is heated in a big kettle over an open fire. The rinse tubs last for about two batches and then have to be replaced.
After the wool is dry it has to be carded. This is done with wool cards which are about four by six inches and have rows of bent metal teeth - similar to a hair brush. Each side of the card has a handle and the wool is put between the cards and combed back and forth to make small batts. There is quite a trick to this.
When that is all done then the quilt frames are set up and the quilt back is attached to the frame and the batts are laid out to cover this. Then the top is laid on and tied in a few places to hold it together and then the quilt is rolled up so it is only arms-length wide and then it is quilted by hand with fine stitches. You unroll one end and roll up the other until the entire quilt is done. When you have five or six beds to make covers for, it takes a few quilts. It is an ongoing process to make sure there is always enough bedding for an extra cold night and to replace old bedding. In the meantime, there are all the other chores to keep up - the garden, cooking, cleaning, laundry, and etc.
Another chore was to make soap. This took a lot of pre-planning. A lye barrel was set up and constantly fed - wood ashes were saved from the stoves in the house and kept in the top barrel and then rain water or ditch water was added to soak the ashes for awhile then drained down into a barrel at the bottom. This is what Mom called lye. She may have added some canned lye from the store, I don't remember for sure. All fat scraps from the meat were saved and rendered into lard and this was used too. In the end, the lye, lard, and water were put into a big round pot over an outdoor fire and cooked and stirred until Mom said it was ready. Then it was poured into soap frames to cool and set. Then it was cut into bars - soap. They were then stored in boxes and put in the pantry.
The ranch house was old and had rough wooden floors. Floor scrubbing was a big job. First the broom, then all the chairs were moved out and then a bucket of hot soapy water was sloshed across the floor and Mom, Erma and I would get brooms and start scrubbing. When that was done, it was time to sweep the soapy water out the door and get buckets of clean water from the ditch and throw them across the floor and then sweep that out the door and then more clean water and sweep some more. Then it was left to dry and it looked great. This was usually done between dinner and supper so the floor would have a chance to dry before being walked on.
Mom also had a big garden - about a half acre - that she took care of. It had to supply the food for the family. She did a lot of canning and I remember that she used a couple of wash boilers to put the jars in to boil. Boy, did that kitchen get hot! It went on all day when something was ready. I used to hate to help weed the garden, the rows seemed a mile long. In the fall the root vegetables were put in the sand bin in the root cellar to keep for the winter. It worked pretty good too. That was also where the canned goods were kept because it was built into the side of the hill and stayed cool year round.
Butchering time was a bad time for me. I usually stayed as far away as I could, but after, I remember how busy it was. Mother canned some of the meat, salted some, and some was cooked and put down in layers of lard in big crocks. Rendering out the fat for lard was another hot job with the stove going full blast. Meat from wild game was handled in about the same way, except for rendering fat - it did not have any. She used to take the neck meat and make mincemeat for pies that is still my favorite pie today, but not with store mincemeat - it is terrible!
Besides the garden, Mom had chickens and turkeys. The chickens were little bother other than feeding, gathering eggs, finding sneaked nests and such, but the turkeys were the living end. They are so dumb it would try the patience of a saint. The baby turkeys were always falling over their own feet and once they fell down, they could seldom get up and would lay on their backs. So we had to go around picking up baby turkeys and setting them back on their feet. It was also Mom's job to run the separator and to feed the weaker calves. We kids didn't mind turning the separator and feeding the calves, but I sure did hate to wash the discs. There were forty-eight in the big unit we had and that was the only part I could handle, but I never learned to like it.
Mother also did all the bread making. I loved the smell of fresh bread. She also made dumplings and fried dough rolled in sugar and cinnamon. She also tried to teach Erma and me how to cook and she must have had a much easier time with Erma as she seemed to like it and I would rather be outside. One thing she insisted on was that Dad and the boys would praise us on our efforts and not carp about it.
She really had a busy life on the ranch and must have worked form dawn to dusk. When I think about everything that she had to do, it makes me tired.
Wash day was another hard day. First you had to get the outdoor fire ready and plenty of wood stacked near, then hang the big pot over the fire and then carry enough water from the ditch to fill the pot. Then all the clothes were carried out and sorted, benches were dragged out to set the wash tubs on and they were filled with hot water, clothes, soap and the wash board. Then you rolled up your sleeves and started scrubbing. Besides the wash tub there was the rinse tub - it was scrub, wring, rinse, wring (by hand) and then hang on the line to dry. After awhile your knuckles would be red and sore from rubbing on the washboard. Every so often you would have to empty the tubs and start over and that meant carrying more water from the creek. It was an all day job and that was in good weather.
In the winter time the creek by the house froze solid and so water would have to be carried from another creek about two blocks from the house. It usually froze over and there would be a hole cut in the ice. Later in the winter the ice would be so thick that we could not reach down to the water, so the older boys would have to carry the water. On washdays we would wash in the house and clothes hung outside would freeze stiff. Then piece by piece they would be brought inside and dried.
Besides canning vegetables from the garden, she would go out and pick wild berries and can, too. Mom made syrup and canned berries for pie. I can still remember how good the chokecherry syrup was. I wish I had some today
While all this hard stuff was going on, Mom still have the usual cooking and housework and kids to tend to. Sometimes I wonder how she ever got everything done.