Less complicated, but not simpler
Less complicated, but not simpler - If the Walls Could Talk series
In If the Walls Could Talk, I have endeavored to give a glimpse of what life might have really been like on the farms, homesteads and ranches of the west before autos, grocery stores and washers and dryers. We romanticize the times, refer to them as simpler. I’ll allow that it might have been less complicated, but I wouldn’t characterize those days as simpler.
You brought your family here, to this vast, open and unforgiving place, because land is king. If you’re to get ahead in this world, you must own your land. The government has given that to you. It’s up to you to make the most of it.
You don't turn the key in the ignition and drive a couple blocks for your groceries. You tend, with great care, the garden that will produce all the vegetables your family eats for the rest of the year. You raise, and then butcher, your own chickens, hogs, and cattle for meat. You know better than to waste any of it. You keep a milk cow, and someone has to milk her every day. When circumstances require you to go to town, you hitch the mules to the wagon, or saddle your horse, if you have one.
But of course, if you settled on the plains, all that comes after you build your soddy. The whole family pitches in, anxious to move from the tents or wagons that give minimum relief from the elements in the summer months, to cut blocks of sod from prairie grass to construct your new home. Grateful for the warmth in the winter, you learn to live with the dirt, the insects, and the snakes that share your shelter. Perhaps you have prospered, and a few years later you bring in lumber or logs and build a cabin.
If you were fortunate, you settled near a river that wouldn’t go dry in the summer, far enough away to avoid flooding in the spring but close enough to carry your pails full of water back to the home and garden. Maybe you got lucky and after days or weeks of digging you had a well that produced enough sweet water for your needs and installed a hand pump. What a blessing, water just a few yards from your home. Drought is your biggest fear. Without water, your crops fail. Your family goes hungry and your animals may not survive. Every day ends with a prayer for rain.
You send the children out with a wagon to collect cow patties and buffalo chips. It will keep the home warm in the winter and provide fuel for cooking. They help with other chores, too. The youngest collect eggs and weed the garden, the older girls help with the laundry and cooking. The boys help with the animals and tending the fields. When your 10 year old daughter asks about school, you tell her she’s needed at home. Maybe next year.
The nearest town might be many miles away, and the nearest neighbor not that much closer. If your child fell ill, one of you would have to ride for help. Weather be damned. Your family burial plot would start with the first loss of a child, or the loss of your wife in childbirth.
She is still beautiful to you, so you notice but dare not mention the gray in her hair, the effects of the brutal summer sun on her skin, the way she struggles to stand straight when rising in the morning. And perhaps you ask yourself, “At what price this land?”
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