Enough trees have shed their leaves that I can see the neighbors’ house south of our farm, and I walked up the pond bank where I could see two more. I picked up a black-and-orange woolly worm, and it curled up into a circle in my palm. Woolly worms forecast the weather, old-timers say. Did this worm predict a long, hard winter or a mild one? The Robnetts would have known.
The Robnetts petitioned this land from the government 175 years ago. Their dilapidated log cabin was here when we bought the place - a one-room tenant house, a hay and feed shed and a two-hole toilet.
We lived about 10 miles away near Columbia and had bought the farm to transform these 160 acres from poor crop land into fertile fields for grazing. I sat a spell under the old mulberry tree, imagining Mrs. Robnett in her luxurious new log cabin long ago. It was built a few years after Smithton became Columbia and Boone County was carved out of huge Howard County. I visualize Pleas Robnett and neighbors cutting logs, dragging them uphill with horse teams, "dressing" them with broad axes and cutting special notches in the logs to erect a "hell-for-stout" luxurious cabin for the family.
What made the cabin luxurious? It was double, like two tall cabins set near each other and a log stairway in the covered "dog trot" between them. The stairway led up to sleeping quarters at mezzanine level. Only luxurious cabins had that much space, and this one also had a wooden floor. Dirt floors were the norm, and windows were small holes with oil paper tacked over them in spring and fall; handmade rugs closed the holes in winter.
Chub studied the structure and declared, "I’ll use the square room where the roof is missing for a corn crib. And no one is to ever go up those steps!"
The roof over one square room was completely gone, and the other roof "might go down at any minute," Chub said. Our Nancy was 3, and Walt was not yet crawling.
My dad and Chub were destroying old fence rows, plowing in gullies and cutting sprouts. I took the kids, and lunch for the five of us, to the farm each day. Dad and Chub stopped for a leisurely hour to eat and enjoy the children.
Although we had no intention of living there, I worked around the yard, planted some perennial flowers and set out some rose bushes - just to pass the time while the children took naps.
During the second crop season, we camped out in that one room all summer without running water, telephone or indoor toilet.
In Mrs. Robnett’s day, many women - in city and country - were pregnant soon after the previous baby was weaned. That meant washing diapers for two babies most of the time. They washed with tub and board, homemade soap, cistern water and line drying. Many a wet diaper was dried in the sun and put back on the baby.
Water was caught off the cabin roof and directed to the hole in the ground called a cistern. It was usually cleaned out every spring, but not always.
The Robnetts had a big iron dinner bell to call the men from the field for lunch. It was not difficult to distinguish that ring from a frantic call for help in case of fire or serious accident.
There being no other noise, the bell would alert people for miles around. They’d drop what they were doing and come to help.
More on cabin life some other Monday!