Photograph of the Bielock farm in Holton, Michigan
written by Donna Sundblad as told by her mother Grace Stephenson
Before the war, Mom regularly trekked from Chicago to Holton, Michigan, to help on my grandparents farm. Grandma lost her first husband, Andrew Prickett, in May of 1922, when mom was young. Things were tough, and she worked odd jobs to hold her family together. She married Grandpa Mike (Bielock) while mom was still young.
During our visits to the small farm, we helped shuck corn to feed the chickens, slopped the pigs, pumped water for the workers in the field and gathered eggs. Blisters blossomed on my tender hands from the hoe while weeding Grandmas big vegetable garden, but it wasn’t so bad. She worked right there beside us while we plucked thick green worms from the rows of green leafy tomato plants and dropped them into a kerosene filled coffee can where they made a clicking noise until they died.
Once the war started my sister Fran, brother Al and I stayed at the farm for the summers while our parents saved their gas rations to visit on the weekends. We carried in kindling wood for the cast iron cook stove and helped clean sooty glass chimneys on the kerosene lamps. During these times Grandma taught me to peel potatoes very thin so as not to waste any of the potato.
Grandpa milked the cows, while Grandma strained the milk and poured it into big silver canisters, which she set in the cement block shed next to the pump house to cool in the cold well water. After the cream rose to the top, shed skim it off, and sometimes make it into butter. I couldn’t wait to take my turn at that old wooden churn, but the novelty wore off real quick when my arm started to ache. The crocks of butter were stored in the root cellar along with potatoes, apples, smoked bacon and the perishables Grandma canned, like meat, vegetables and fruit.
Up at sunrise, in bed at sunset with hard work sandwiched in between, one thing I looked forward to in the daily routine was the quarter mile walk to get the mail and a copy of the Muskegon Chronicle. One year I put my brother Richard’s name in the paper to announce his birthday. I clipped the announcement out of the Chronicle and pasted it into my diary. He was special to me, because I believed he was my birthday present. You see, in the summer of 1941, my mother told me she was bringing my birthday present on her next visit, so when she showed up with a baby I assumed he was my present.
Chores didn’t consume all our time. My sister, Fran, and I pretended that the old two-seater buggy near the fence on the other side of the barnyard transformed like Cinderellas pumpkin into our carriage, while the fence became our closet lined with princess gowns which we described in detail to each other.
Imagination transported us from one realm to another. The hay wagon became our covered wagon and cousin Andrew and I played the role of mom and dad while my younger brother, Al, took on the part of our little boy. Fran and cousin Benny were the proud parents of my cousin Victor. One day as we escaped the Indians, the hay wagon rocked so hard the bed tipped over. Grandpa wasn’t too happy with us.
When baby chicks didn’t make it, we held funerals for them, buried them in stick matchboxes and made crosses for their graves with burnt out matches. We soberly decorated their graves with pretty weeds while we sang and said prayers.
Our fun wasn’t limited to the farmyard. The big clump of trees and bushes that grew together near the fence line became a favorite place to play with our cousins while gathering sweet raspberries. We thought nothing of cutting through that sea of tall grass behind the barn to climb over that weathered rail fence.
An abandoned log cabin sat on the property; the shell of the house built by the first people who settled there. At one time the cabin housed chickens, till Grandma and Grandpa built a proper coop; it also took a turn as a pen for the pigs and a place to store grain, but to Fran and I it was our house. A wall divided the musty building down the middle. On the right was my sisters house while my half was on the left. Grandma gave us old utensils and pitchers to use in our pretend kitchens. We mixed sand pies and baked them in the sun on top of the wooden fence posts. One year we made a special sand pie for Grandpa’s birthday and were crushed when he wouldn’t eat it.
Along with our cousins, we’d dig for arrowheads in the sand dunes behind Aunt Opal’s house. One day we dug into a nest of hornets. Angry swarms filled the air, and we made a mad dash to the house. Andrew grabbed Al and ran with him tucked under his arm like a football. The rest of us lagged behind and were branded with sore red stings.
As an adult I returned to Holton each summer, along with my brood of young ones for our family vacations, and cherish a special snapshot taken there. Five generations; my mother, myself and my daughter who is cradling her infant daughter, and Grandma Mike sitting in her favorite chair, wearing a housedress, one of her print aprons made from feed sacks and a smile on her face.
We also have some 8-mm. films of times on the farm when my children were young. Grandma and Grandpa made me chuckle. At first, they couldn’t understand that it was okay to move for the camera. They stood like statues in the heat of the blaring lights attached to the movie camera, but once they caught on they hammed it up. Grandpa wanted his picture taken riding his new tractor; his pride and joy. They never did own a car.
Check out more stories from Donna at the website listed below:
U S Legacies Magazine October 2005