Life on a
Chicken Ranch

Betty MacDonald

Part I.
Thursday was scrub day. Window washing, table leg washing, woodwork washing, cupboard cleaning in addition to the regular floor scrubbing. I indulged, somewhat unwillingly, in all of these because Bob, whom I accused of having been sired by a vacuum cleaner, was of that delightful old school of husbands who lift up the mattresses to see if the little woman has dusted the springs. I didn't dare write this to my Grandmother. She would have demanded that I get an immediate divorce.

I didn't really object too strenuously to Bob's standards of cleanliness as he set them for himself as well, and you could drop a piece of bread and butter on his premises, except the chicken houses, and I defy you to tell which side had been face down. There was just one little task which brought violent discord into our happy home. Floor scrubbing.

By the end of that first winter I vowed that my next house would have dirt floors covered with sand. In the first place Bob had chosen and laid, with great precision and care, white pine floors. Another type of floor which might possibly get as dirty as white pine, or more quickly, would be one of white velvet. Bob was very thoughtful about wiping his feet but he might as well have hiked right through the manure pile and on into the kitchen. I scrubbed the floors daily with everything but my toothbrush, yet they always looked as if we had been butchering in the house for the past four years. Advice from neighbors had been to use lye, but as many of these lye prescribers were missing an eye or portion of cheek --- which tiny scratch they laughingly said they got from falling in or over the lye bucket --- I filed it away as a last resort.

I heartily resented having to scrub my floors every day. I thought it a waste of valuable time and energy --- and accomplished nothing for posterity. I didn't see why beginning with the rainy season we didn't just let the floors go or cover them with cheap linoleum. But no, mountain farm tradition and Bob's vacuum cleaner heritage had it that I should scrub the floors every day --- it was a badge of fine housekeeping, a labor of love, a woman's duty to her husband. The more I was shown that side of the life of a farmer's good wife, the more I saw in the life of an old-fashioned mistress. "Just don't let anyone tempt me on a linoleum floor," I would growl balefully at Bob.

§     §     §

Friday. Clean lamps and lamp chimneys. I have heard a number of inexperienced romantics say that they prefer candle and lamp light. That they purposely didn't have electricity put into their summer houses. That (archly) candle and lamp light make women look beautiful. Personally I despised lamp and candle light. My idea of heaven would have been a ten million watt globe, hung from a cord in the middle of my kitchen. I wouldn't have cared if it made me look like something helped from her coffin. I could see then, And candles could go back to birthday cakes and jack-o'-lanterns and lamps to the attic.

In the first place you need a set of precision instruments and a hair level to trim a lamp wick. Even then it burns straight across for only a moment, then flares up in one corner and blackens the chimney. It's a draw whether you want to use half your light one way or the other --- either with the wick turned up and one side of the chimney black or the wick turned below the light line. According to Sears, Roebuck the finest kerosene lamp only gives off about 40 watts of light so you're a dead cinch to go blind according to Mazda.

Candle and lamp light are supposed to make your eyelashes look long and sweeping. What eyelashes? Most of the time my eyelids were as hairless as marbles from bending over the lamps to see why in hell those clouds of black smoke.

Saturday --- Market Day. In winter Bob left for "Town" while it was still dark, to sell the eggs, buy feed and groceries, and get the mail, cigarettes and some new magazines. In spring and summer I joyfully accompanied him, but in the winter driving for miles and miles in a Ford truck in the rain was not a thing of pure joy and anyway, in view of the many ordinary delays such as flat tires, broken spring, plugged gas lines, ad infinitum, I had to stay home to put the lights in the chicken house at the first sign of dusk.

Some Saturday mornings as soon as the mountains had blotted up the last cheerful sound of Bob and the truck, I, feeling like a cross between a boll weevil and a slut took a large cup of hot coffee, a hot water bottle, a cigarette and a magazine and went back to bed. Then, from six-thirty until nine or so, I luxuriated in breaking the old mountain tradition that a decent woman is in bed only between the hours of 7 P.M. and 4 A.M. unless she is in labor or dead.

--- From The Egg and I
©1945, J. P. Lippincott
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