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Kids@Work

FARM KIDS, USA, 1870s

My name is Ida.

I get up before dawn, and mostly work until dark. A lot gets done in that time. I feed the chickens, and gather the eggs while Grams, Ma, and Liz fix breakfast for all. There's Grams, Pa and Ma, my five sisters, four brothers and me. A baker's dozen.

Emma is my next younger sister and best friend. We're the middle kids, along with William and Mary Anna. The oldest are Herman and Frank and Frieda, and the youngers are Lizzie, Phillip, and Susie. When one of us girls acts up, Pa will say. "I could use one less girl and one more boy!" But if a boy misbehaves, he cuffs him.

After breakfast, Emma and I milk the cows and put them to pasture. Then we strain the milk into crocks and cool them in the springhouse. Later, we'll skim the cream off into a crock, and come Friday Ma will make butter. We make most everything we need, though if a peddler comes we may buy something.

There's no end to farm work. Chickens, eggs, and cows are all year, but many chores change with the seasons. Some chores can be dangerous. Herman lost two fingers cutting wood, and Lizzie got ribs cracked by a frisky calf. The worst was little Phillip. Ma was boiling lye and bacon grease to make soap, and the pot tipped and scalded Phillips leg terrible. Doc said it won't ever be right again.

Two cousins come from town and work here in the summer. They say we're like a small village, with such a big family and so many buildings. There's the house, and the summer kitchen to keep heat out of doors in summer. There's the barn, corncribs, pig pen, outhouse, springhouse, smokehouse, bake house, and wash house. They say all they need in town is their own house and a privy. For helping, Pa pays them with smoked meat, canned preserves, fresh vegetables and a bit on money when there is enough.

We have some fun. We all go to church events. Us middle kids go to school. The youngers can't go yet, and Pa needs the olders for work. If we're needed to help, we get excused. Once we played hooky and got caught fishing, not helping. Pa said he'd not have it, and arranged for the teacher to board at our house. Teachers don't have homes, they just travel round, and board with who will have them. We had to go to school early with her, and fire up the coal stove when it was cold, then clean up after lessons and walk home with her. No more hooky.

And we still had to do our chores.

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