This column was first published in the Tribune on Sept. 26, 2005.
When I was a girl, we lived four miles east of Columbia's intersection of South Ninth Street and Broadway. We were in the Special Road District, which was financed by the city or a merchants' organization to encourage people to come to Columbia's stores instead of ordering from the huge mail-order catalogs sent twice a year free of charge. Farmers who lived far from town were customers of Sears and Roebuck and Montgomery Ward; they sent checks with their orders and received their items in about a week. The Special Road District work crew maintained the first portion of the Fulton Gravel Road (now Route WW) by grading it with a huge machine pulled by a pair of dark-brown mules.
I loved coming down Crouch's hill and seeing the big road grader on the hill far ahead. The mule driver walked quickly or ran in the middle of the road, yelling and slapping the heavy driving lines against the mules' sweaty backsides. The second man rode on the grader and operated big wheels with levers. He raised, lowered or tilted the enormous blade, which moved creek gravel around to make the surface look as smooth as concrete. That looked like fun!
My brother and I helped in our parents' retail dairy by sterilizing the returned glass milk bottles. Jim stood in front of three whirling brushes over a tub of hot lye water. With a quart bottle in each hand, he placed the bottles on the whirling brushes to clean the insides while the third brush whirled to wash the outside. I rinsed the bottles in "BK" water and then clear water and drained them upside down.
The demand for O.D. Meyers' "Clean Milk, Fresh From My Own Cows" was greatest at the beginning of the University of Missouri school year. Professors' families were back from vacations in the cool Northern states because air conditioning was not even a dream. Classes began in mid-September. Most of the milk cows in the area were bred to be in full milk flow when students arrived suddenly in early September.
The first to arrive were the athletes, who ate at special "training tables." Nothing was too good for them!
The cows were full of milk when the college and university students rolled into town, almost all at the same time. Calves bawled for more milk. Farmers called their competitors to try to buy milk for the calves; some tried milk substitutes, but the calves bawled on. Calves were given away -- except for the heifers whose mothers were the very best milk cows. Some went to neighbors or friends, but we kids never knew what happened to the others.
My brother was working along with Dad and the hired men, but I did what was required in helping Mom and then went to the woods with a couple of buckets, depending on the season. In spring, it was wild gooseberries.
Then July brought blackberries in various patches; as the years passed, I made more money on blackberries than anything else in the woods.
Dad's milk customers told one another about my enterprises, and they told one another when I had products for sale. Blackberries, hickory nuts and black walnuts kept me busy. I was a tightwad and maintained a small bank account. I wrote my first check for a regulation, genuine leather basketball -- for $5 from Sears and Roebuck.
By the time I was in high school, Columbia had a small, privately owned swimming pool; I had to buy a bathing suit to swim there for a quarter. It was bright red and made of wool. The white-striped skirt covered the suit's short legs.
On my first trip to that real swimming pool, I wore out the seat of that $5 red bathing suit -- not by swimming, but by going down the slide all afternoon for an entry fee of a quarter!