Summertime on the farm in the 1970s

If you drove past our farm in the 1970s you would have seen two things right away in our front yard–my dad’s old B (John Deere) and our tree swing.

Summer in the 1970s was a time of absolutely nothing to keep us indoors except sickness– and even that didn’t do it sometimes. Mother would be hard pressed at days end to get us indoors as we were so busy running around in the dark, feet wet from dew, chasing lightning bugs and scaring each other. Whether it was bike riding on gravel backroads, riding to the store and buying lollies, or dipping my toes in a wading pool or better yet running through the sprinkler–seventies summers were the real thing. –A time period now only revived for period piece sitcoms or movies.  One none of us will ever really experience together again except in memory– of growing up on our family farm and summertime in the 1970s.

I grew up in a valley full of farming families in the 1970s. A time where television meant one channel for us, if we were lucky, and if our antennae wasn’t acting up due to wind—weather was our televisions greatest enemy in the 70s. Of course we only got NBC which for the most part had lots, and lots of sports–not our family’s favorite thing. Saturday mornings, bugs bunny, and after school specials were a highlight for us. We lived thirteen miles from the nearest town which for years had just a mercantile not an actual grocery store. There you could only buy the staples and most of them were limited or outdated. So we would drive over the hill and through the woods to another small town and buy groceries—again from a mercantile but this one actually had stocked shelves and a butcher shop in back. I have great memories of walking the wood plank floors of this stores three aisles and eyeballing the large barrels full of candy at checkout. If we were good we’d be allowed to go into the Rexall across the street and I’d happily browse the magazine racks–my favorite thing, buy the newest Tiger Beat, and a pack of gum if I had any change left over. On Sundays if my dad could find some free time we would take a drive up to this same town and get rootbeer floats at the local A& W.

Life in any year, every generation, has had its hardships and the 70s was no exception. Farming had some rough patches in the 70s and money was tight the whole while I was growing up. My dad had two farms, which was quite a bit of land for a small scale farmer, milk cows, beef cattle, and crops to put in and then harvest seven months out of the year. We didn’t take vacations, but sometimes we would drive to see something of interest–clock museum, steam engine museum and parade, historical marker–things like that would take all of us from the farm on a Sunday afternoon and give dad a break. An ice cream cone, hamburger, or a rootbeer float was always our treat before we headed back home.

Food in the 70s was not at all what food has been for the last 40-50 years. For most people there was no such thing as fast food. I was 18 when they built the first McDonald’s in one of the larger cities we visited to buy school supplies every year. School supplies another favorite memory of mine–also, when Levis first came out in this city and we all took a trip into it to this large warehouse style store and asked to see a pair of Levi jeans. I remember the store was owned by a family and two brothers worked in sales. When we asked to see a pair the one brother whipped out a measuring tape, measured my waist, and then from a large stack of denim jeans tossed a folded pair at me. That was all there was to it–no changing rooms at all. If they were too long, and they were, then you got your mom or grandma to hem them for you. School supplies were purchased at Osco Drug which was right next door. In grade school I think crayons, pencils, and an eraser were probably all we were required to bring. Once in high school we were then required a notebook for each class, book covers for the textbooks handed out, and pencils.

Back to 70s food- there was absolutely no such thing as prepared food until around 1979/1980. I remember this because our neighbors, whom I babysat for, began to purchase microwaves and Banquet chicken/pot pies/ and chicken dinners were introduced in local grocery stores. I loved Banquet chicken !! My mother probably had a microwave by the time I graduated high school, but never ever bought tv dinners or Banquet chicken to microwave in it. She likely used it to warm up tea or coffee as I honestly don’t ever remember it being used for anything else. Prepared foods were frowned upon by most if you were home and able to cook (as you always had been cooking) with staples, items from your garden, and of course your local butcher shop to supply you with everything you needed.

Once our garden started producing supper meals were sliced tomatoes still warm from the summer sun, cantaloupe, mac salad, and Wyler’s lemonade. When strawberries were in season there was lots of sliced berries, angel food cake, and of course everyone’s favorite–strawberry jello with sliced strawberries and cool whip on top. Lunch when we were younger was whenever we could hear my dad coming down the hill by our farm on his tractor. If it was a hot, humid day, he’d be standing up on his tractor all the way down the hill until he pulled into the driveway. Once or twice a summer my grandma and mom would put on a spread out on our picnic table and everyone would eat supper together outside. There would be a cold cut plate with cheese, white bread with butter, strawberry jello, pickles–usually watermelon pickles, and mac or potato salad. As a treat maybe a bag of plain Old Dutch potato chips. Mom would put a can of budweiser in the fridge for dad with a couple of cans of rootbeer for us to share.  Sometimes as a treat she would buy cones for ice cream cones and we would get one or two scoops of butter pecan, or neopolitan, or just plain vanilla. These were simple times and treats like this were a real luxury. Another treat was popcorn which wasn’t made very often, but when it was there were smiles all around. We tried making it in saucepans, air poppers–but what finally worked was when Jiffy made the popcorn you placed on the stove burner and moved back and forth until all the kernels were popped.

Life though busy was a slowed down version of life today. Our phone rang when one of the elders wanted to gossip. In the early days when I was nine or ten years old we still had the party line. There were certain rings that indicated when the call was for you. I’m not sure anyone ever went by that as all I remember was mom or grandma picking the phone up and then setting it back in its cradle right away. The phone was used for emergencies only unless as I said someone rang you. In our house the radio was on all the time and on a channel were there was non-stop grain reports, country music, and Paul Harvey at dinner time. By the way dinner time was the noon meal, supper was the evening meal, and lunch was the sandwich and milk dad grabbed before he went down to milk both in morning and evening.

Night time in the summer in our valley was a delightful orchestra of whipporwill, distant hound dogs barking, sometimes our dog barking, peepers (sometimes bull frogs), and cows mooing lowly. The smells ranged from fresh cut hay, to grain, to soil, rain/river, and manure. All of which I miss to this day. Every time I smell fresh cut hay I’m back home looking out my bedroom window planning my future self/life all the while smelling hay, hearing peepers, sleeping by whipporwill, and rising with the sound of a tractor start.

Just before school started it was fair time. I was in 4-H and always entered flowers, baked goods, and something from the garden. My grandma often helped me with the flower arranging and mom with the baked good. The fair was usually held a week or two before school started so if we got new clothing–which was rare, we sometimes wore it to the fair. With our new Levis, when they came into fashion, one would avoid all stains etc. as you didn’t want to wash them before the first day of school. Washing them would take some of the denim dye out and also make them less stiff–stiff dark denim was a thing once upon a time with no fringes, no holes, and absolutely no wear ! lol The fair was bright lights, lots of noise, ferris wheels, 4-H ribbons, trying to win big teddy bears– I always won the stuffed banana, and eating cotton candy. Oh and stopping in the 4-h barn for a hamburger and boy watching–lots of boy watching. Innocent, easy, summer time fun.

These are my memories of growing up on a farm and summer in the 1970s.