An unexpected walk down memory lane: ultimately leading to memories of my grandparents feed store

Not even 6:am yet... the day always holds so much promise before the rest of the world wakes up and the day gets started.

First coffee in hand.  Sipping.  Hot. Strong. Black.

Just spent the previous 1 1/2 hours reading.  Finished a memoir and read a short story after that.

The memoir was of a woman born in 1944, on a little farm in Illinois.  Her parents were tenant farmers - which means they did not own the farm, but they lived there and worked it, and the money made on the crops and cattle went to the land owners, with a small portion to the family that did all the work.  This was still fairly common then; a difficult, back breaking and hard life but a life for many none-the-less.  Including some of my own extended family members.

Although I didn't realize it when I was young, my mother's extended side of the family were often tenant farmers or rented a dilapidated house for a small amount of rent and were expected to work the fields or raise the cattle, horses.  My uncles all worked as ranch-hands and farmhands for people at some point. 

My baby brother and I, and the collapsed hill in the background
As a child we would visit extended family and I had no idea of the housing situations.

A favorite memory of mine was when my parents took my brothers and me to visit a 'Great Aunt and Uncle" on their ranch in South Dakota.  A big old farmhouse, typical for the style of the area.  They had raised three boys in their home; the youngest was 17, the other two were already living 'off the farm'.  They had cattle and horses and I recall driving out to look at the fields, including a strange area where half of a rolling hill had caved in overnight.  They said the horses and cattle had refused to walk over that part of the land for a week previously.  One morning they woke to find a massive slide in had happened.  A sink hole far under the earth perhaps.  One day it was there, the next it wasn't.  But the animals seemed to have instinctively known before it happened.

They lived there the whole time I knew them, until just a few years ago (about 8 perhaps?) when their health deteriorated and they went into care facilities.  I think I asked in conversation if they had sold their ranch, only to find out they had never owned it.  "Oh, they didn't own the farm...."  apparently it was common knowledge.  I attended a family reunion about 3 years ago in which we traveled old gravel roads around the tiny town where the reunion was held, and we would all stop our vehicles, gather in the road or on a piece of land and listen to the elderly family members tell stories of our family who used to live in that area.  Many of the story-tellers were the ones who were born and raised in the area or house we were standing near.  It wasn't ancient history. It was relatively recent but most of the old homesteads were long gone and we were standing there looking at a grassy area or a field.  Some had owned their homes, but just as many were were tenant farmers, ranch hands, or rented the old houses at the time.

My mothers family had lived in similar circumstances until she was in middle school or junior high.  It was the mid 60's and my grandparents invested every penny they had into a feed store in a tiny little dot of a town on the map. The town was tiny, perhaps 3 city blocks wide and long each way.  The downtown area was one block long, and had the feed store, a tiny post office, a mechanic with a junk yard next door, and a little 'general store' about as large as an average living room today, that stocked things like soup, bread, etc. and served as the town's grocery store.  All the buildings were from the turn of the century.

My grandparents moved in to the upstairs living area of the feed store along with their 8 kids.  The building had originally been built around 1888, and was possibly the original train depot at the time.  They didn't have indoor plumbing so water was carried in from the hand pump outside, and they used an outhouse for a toilet.

My mother was a junior in high school in 1968 and the outhouse was still their 'bathroom' at that time.  She recalls how she hated to have to use the facilities in the dead of winter.  Up North, winter can mean snowdrifts 10 feet high, temperatures 50 below zero.  They always had a path to outhouse shoveled no matter how high the snow drifts.

Image of an old pop machine from google
Around that time they moved into a tiny 3 bedroom little house on the edge of town, along with all their kids; three of which were handicapped with muscular dystrophy.  I think back now to what it must have been like to live upstairs above the old feed store.  I believe there were 3 rooms upstairs along with a tiny area they made into a kitchen and a larger area they used as their living room.

As a child I have wonderful memories of hanging out at the feed store when we would visit. I'd spend hours climbing up the bags of feed that went all the way up to the ceiling, about 20 feet high.  There were poles to hold the upper half of the house up and the bags of feed around the poles made a deep square shaped tunnel from the ceiling to the floor in which I'd slide down the pole and climb back up the feed bags like a monkey.

They had a old fashioned pop machine where you would insert your coin, and then pull the glass bottles out.  The empty bottles were always put in the wood crates stacked next to the machine.  Later they got a more modern pop machine; the kind with the fake brown panel front and the bottles all lined up behind a glass door, laying on their sides with the metal caps facing you.  I loved to get the special treat of getting 'a pop' but I was so little I couldn't pull the bottles out on my own and an adult would have to pull it out for me.  I always chose "Squirt" as my soda of choice.  They also kept coffee and old fashioned "windmill" cookies and the peanut shaped cookies on hand as all the farmers and town folk would stop in to smoke cigars, drink coffee and eat cookies while they chatted about the fields, weather, cattle, etc.  The feed store was the general 'hub' of the town.

(The feed store franchise was bought out by another larger company I believe.  I know Grandpa had to give up the feed store by the mid to late 70's and the brand has long been obsolete for decades.)

The town is still there, although barely.  I went back to see it for the first time in almost 40 years about 2 or 3 years ago.  The post office, which had been functioning since the late 1800's had finally closed down about 10 years ago although the building still stands.  Long gone were the little general store and my grandparents feed store.  Even the hand pump to the well was no longer there.  A new small building of some sort had been built on the lot. The only retail building left was a large mechanic's shop but I don't know if it was still open or not.  It was closed up when we drove by.  Although the feed store is gone, I found the home my grandparents moved into when they could afford to move out of the space above the feed store.  I had a hard time making sure it was the right house as it's been added to over the years and is no longer a tiny little brown box of a home, but a two story house now and painted white.  The second home they lived in, moved into in the late 70's is still there.  Originally build in the 1920's, it now had new gray siding and the barn and garage were gone, replaced with newer buildings.

Wrapping up this long, rambling post that really, just came 'out of no where' this morning....  my grandpa died of cancer in the early 1980's.   My grandmother did a couple jobs before coming to live in our hometown so my parents could help her get on her feet and to help care for her 2 adult kids still living at home with muscular dystrophy. She went on to live an interesting life after Grandpa passed (she was in her early 50's so still quite young). She passed away just about 2 years ago, but that's all a memory for another morning.

.... don't mind me and my childhood memories... it's just the coffee talking again.

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