A Farm Childs Life


Farm life, before electricity and gasoline-powered engines, was very labor-intensive and physically demanding. A farm child began helping with farm and home duties very early in their life. Chores were assigned to each child according to their age and capability. In 1980 Frances Durance wrote a memoir listing the chores assigned to each child before and after school.:

Frances cleaned and trimmed the kerosene lamps each day. (The lamps were the only source of light, and became very oily and sooty).

Genevieve emptied and cleaned the chamber pots. (Before indoor plumbing chamber pots were the toilets).

Bill emptied the kitchen wood stove, and parlor stove of ashes, and refilled the stove wood boxes.

After school, the children ground bones for the chickens, and silage for the cattle. The bones were acquired free from Charlevoix meat markets, and were ground with a hand-turned machine about four feet tall.  The calcium was important for the chickens' egg shell development.  Cornstalks were fed into a corn cutter, about the size of the bone grinder, and used for cattle feed. Frances commented that her father was a very strict man, and the children were obedient and hard-working.

Older sister Margaret was her mother's principal kitchen assistant. In the attic in 2004 old cookbooks were discovered inscribed with her name, and with recipes that were handwritten in her writing.

The children attended North Ward School for grades 1-4. It was located on Petoskey Highway (on the site of the Credit Union Building diagonally across from Don's IGA). Grades 5-12 were attended at the central town school, the former middle school site (soon to become the Charlevoix Public Library). The quality of education provided the children in Charlevoix in the early 1900s was excellent. Margaret graduated as a nurse, trained at Providence Hospital, Detroit. France and Genevieve graduated from Valparaiso University (Indiana). Frances became a math and science
teacher and later, a school principal, and Genevieve became a chemist working at the Buick plant, Flint, and later, a registered pharmacist for 50 years. After serving in England in World War I , William became a teacher, and later, an attorney in Detroit until retirement. Albin worked the farm after his father's death, and during World War II worked at the Chrysler plant in Detroit until retirement.

The children also enjoyed playtime and nature. A large, lone pine tree stood in the backyard with branches so low it was the children's playhouse. Frances, Genevieve and William climbed Mt. McSauba sand hill and the Coast Guard Tower on top of the hill. There were six tiers of winding steps on the tower. "On Thanksgiving Day 1905, we saw and heard it come tumbling down with a tremendous crash" according to Frances' 1980 memoir. She also reported "A 9-hole golf grounds provided sport for Charlevoix, Petoskey, Bay View and Harbor Springs. A tee was located almost at our back door, and evenings we children would comb the grass for lost balls. If the balls were in good condition, we could resell them for 25 cents at the tee." (The farmhouse was located at the south corner of the property then, near the present Montessori Pre-school on Mercer Rd.)

"After working in the field, at 4:00 p.m., father would let us go to Lake Michigan for a swim and to bring the cows home. They were pastured on the Waller Farm part of the "Commons" before the pasture land was purchased in 1902. One cow always had a bell around her neck so we had no trouble locating them." (The children were about 7-9 years old at that time).

"As a small boy, William made a rowboat, and with the help of Adolph Novotny, was able to put it afloat in Lake Michigan. The tar and small fishing net was supplied by John O'Neil, a local fisherman. The net was set off the Mt. McSauba Point. The three of us and our dog, Collie, set off one evening to get the catch-which was two lovely fish. On the way back the boat sprung a leak, and bail as hard as we could, it was of no avail, and the boat kept filling up, so we abandoned it and waded to shore, thus ending our fishing episode."

"The big excitement for us youngsters in the early ages was the blasting of stumps to clear the land. Father would place a stick or two of dynamite under a stump, light it and run for a shelter from where we youngsters were watching. To see the fragments of stumps flying high in the air like fireworks was real thrilling to us. Our job was then to pick up these fragments and pile them for burning, which was usually a huge bonfire."