Elaine Ila Preston
Elaine Ila Preston was born July 12, 1928 in Shefield, Illinois. Her father was William Franklin Preston. Her mother was Edith Phillips.
Excerpts from Living on the Farm...
We had a yellow tomcat and he was so mean. Mother would be down on her hands and
knees weeding and he would nm and jump on her back. Dad said enough. One Sunday
evening we put him in a gunny sack, put him in the trunk, and drove him way on
the other side of Buda and let him go. One week to the day, here on the back
porch sat the cat. Very thin and bedraggled but very much alive. Dad and Charles
castrated him and he turned into a very gentle and loving cat. Dad would laugh
at him. Dad would be getting corn for the pigs and here would be the cat right
beside him hoping Dad would find a nest of mice.
Every Spring Mom would go to the Wyanet Hatchery and buy baby chickens. They had to be kept warm because they only had fuzz and not feathers. Mom would lay papers on the kitchen floor near the stove. Then she would use the leaves from the dining room table to make a pen for them in case one escaped. Inside the pen she placed the boxes of chickens. By laying coats over the top of the boxes, the baby chicks stayed nice and warm.
The baby pigs were often born on cold windy Spring nights. If the mama pig had a large litter, the small ones many times were pushed aside by the larger ones. When Daddy would find them, they would be cold and hungry .He would gather them up in an old coat and bring them to the house and they would be placed on the oven door of the old cook stove to warm up. It wouldn't take long and they would be starting to stir around and grunting. Mother would laugh as she reminisced about trying to feed the poor little things with a bottle-a slow and slippery job! She soon learned, though, that all she had to do was put a saucer of milk on the floor and direct their snouts. They were hungry and they ate. They were so cute, pink, and soft. Yes, even baby pigs are cute.
One morning Dad commented he was going to go and kill a baby pig because he had scurvy and worms. Mom said, "Let me see if l can raise him." She put lye water in his food and every wash day he got a good soaping with the hot, soapy wash water. He was so mad! He would run around the house and stop by us and shake so that water would fly all over us. Then around the house he would go again. He would do this 3 or 4 times. We named him Porky and all we would have to do was call, "Here Porky" and he would come grunting, eager for the attention. Even our cousins thought he was great and would insist on seeing him when they came to the farm.
We would often have a calf in the house. It would be cold and many times after a good rub down it would be returned to the barn. But once in a while a calf would have to spend the night in the dining room in a pen made out of chairs. By morning he would be up and about, so to the barn he would go.
It seems that one day the family was riding in a car with some friends. They decided to stop somewhere for "eats and drinks." In asking what the friends preferred, they said "hamburgers or hot dogs." Elaine was only about two years old. When they bought and handed her a hot dog, she said, "Oh, it's not a hot dog! It's just a wiener." -Another time they were going to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and must have mentioned the name of the city several times. When they arrived, a disappointed little voice from the back seat said, "But, I don't see any rabbits!!!" --One last cute story. Edith said, "Oh, be quiet or I'll go right up in smoke!" Everything was quiet for a minute and then Elaine said, "Say, you stay down here!"
Dad rented the farm that I grew up on. The
only way to get water was to go out with a bucket and pump it. Mom used a
wringer washing machine and two tubs to rinse the clothes. Even in the winter
she hung all of the clothes outside. When it was below freezing the clothes came
in the house stiff as boards. It was a funny sight to see bed sheets, towels,
everything standing on chairs around the coal stove until they dried. It sure
added moisture to the room And the wonderful fresh smell is something I'll never
There was a pair of peach trees in the barnyard that had never grown one peach. A visitor told my Dad that they needed iron and to pound some nails in the trunks. It seemed like a silly thing to do but what did we have to lose. The next year we had beautiful peaches from those trees. (Helen)
Every Spring Dad would plow up our large vegetable garden. Much of it was planted with potatoes. Then there were beans, peas, radishes, onions, etc. which Mom would can or freeze at harvest time. Meanwhile it was my job to keep it all weeded. And when I was done with that garden. it was time to weed Mom's flower garden. I grumbled and complained because I would have much rather been curled up in a chair with a good book. But I'm glad that I was taught the discipline of work..
There was 4 years age difference between my brother Charles and my sister Barbara. Also 4 years between Barbara and Elaine. Mom and Dad thought their family was complete but then 12 years later they got a surprise: me. But Mom said it had been a blessing because it had kept her young. In those days, there were Parent Teacher Association (PT A) Meetings and Mom was faithful about attending. Elaine graduated from High School in June and I started First Grade in September. Mom never had a break from PT A. Charles was 20 years old when Mom was expecting me. He was embarrassed that his Mother was going to have a baby. Not one person told l2-year-old Elaine until one day when she exclaimed, "Mother, your stomach!"
In July it would be time to cut the oats and place them in shocks to dry. A shock was made by placing four bundles standing on end against each other and one across the top. I can't recall why Dad was laid up but he couldn't run the binder so Bobbie drove the tractor and I rode the binder. We got the oats done and we even put them in shocks. Gosh, the oat stubble was hard on the ankles. The neighbors, 16 of them I believe, had an old engine, Iron Horse, and a separator. They had to hire 2 engineers to operate them and they would travel to each of these eight farms to thresh the oats. Charles always pitched the oat bundles into the separator. Dad would run the water wagon. And all those men had to be fed. In July it was hot to have that old cook stove going starting in early morning. Pies had to be made, meat roasted, and potatoes boiled. Being young my job was to churn the butter on the front porch in a pan of cold water. But Bobbie had to help Mom inside. The Roberts and the Hand girls thought it was fun to come out and help wait on tables.
It is a wonder we didn't have trouble with migrants since we lived close to the Rock Island railroad track. One time we were all sitting around the table reading the paper and doing our lessons when the latch on the back door clicked. The door opened a little and then closed again. I remember Dad looking around the table and saw everyone was still there.
The sound of Fall was waking in the morning to the sounds of Dad yelling to the horses, "Get up" and then, "Whoa." Also the steady banging of corn hitting the back boards. It must have been overwhelming knowing you had all of the corn to pick by hand.
Charles knew early on that he didn't want to be a farmer but he knew he couldn't leave Dad to farm with the old horses. Charles was working at Breisers Farm Implement in Sheffield and had heard of a F-12 Tractor for sale. He took Dad to see it and they bought it. But Dad just knew it would pack the ground down and it wouldn't plow as deep as the horses could. Well it took one pass down the field and he was amazed at what little time it took and what a good job it did. As for the horses, Belle (who was blind) and Brownie, they were kept for small jobs. Eventually, though, Dad did sell them because it was too costly to keep them.
Dad had to carry the water from the tank across the barnyard over to the hog house. He got smart and put a barrel on skids and used the tractor to haul the water.
One year the corn in one field was flooded out so Daddy planted some watermelon seeds. We had more watermelons than we knew what to do with. I guess that was the first time I had my fill of watermelon.
Mother had put me, as an infant, in the front yard in a buggy. She saw Barbara ( 4 years old) go up and give me a slap. It must have been hard for Barbara to accept a baby in the house.
One time Mom asked Elaine to set the table which she did not want to do. Mom started chasing Elaine around the table and said, "Some day you will know what it is to be tired." After raising 4 children, Elaine does understand now.
Mom had a rooster that chased after Elaine one day (Mom chased her and now a rooster did. Hm-m!) Elaine was yelling as she ran. Dad thought he would scare the rooster so he picked up a brick and tried to throw it close to the rooster. To everyone's surprise, the brick hit the rooster in the head and killed him. Can you guess what Mom served for supper that night? That's right! Chicken and noodles.
Kids have always suffered from peer pressure. Barbara and Elaine did not want to be teased by the other kids at school. Mom would make them wear long brown stockings. They walked the quarter of a mile down the lane to the road where the bus picked them up. Before the bus came they had rolled those stockings down to their ankles. Mom never knew about it until she was told years later.
One of the jobs for the Preston children was to collect the eggs that the hens had laid out in the henhouse. If the hens were out scratching, eating, or perched somewhere, then it was easy. But if they were still on the nest, you had a problem. Elaine was good at using a corn cob to hold back the hens head so she wouldn't get pecked. One day she was practicing this art on an old hen named "Biddie." With one hand she used the corn cob. With the other one she reached under the hen. She felt something warm and fuzzy and she jumped away. She was afraid it was a snake. But as she thought about it, she knew it had to be some other kind of animal since it was fuzzy .She reached under again and found that Biddie was sitting over some baby kittens. Now that is a good mother.
When I was 12 years old Mom taught me how to drive our stick-shift car. She took us out in the middle of a field to teach me. When Dad found out, he was very upset. But he liked it when I drove myself to play practice in town all through high school. (Helen)
Back at the farm, whenever an airplane went overhead, I would run out to see if it was Chuck. One day at about 4 o'clock in the afternoon a very loud airplane came in from the East, heading to the West. Mom, Dad, and I ran outside. We knew without a doubt that it was Charles piloting that huge B24. It was so loud because the plane was so low that it was barely above the tree tops. Mom kept yelling (as though he could hear her), "Be careful of the wires." He flew off, turned around, and buzzed a couple more passes over the farm house. Then he flew off to land at Des Moines, Iowa. He phoned and said, "Dad, did you ever get the cows rounded up? They were so scared, I saw them running in all directions." Since this family loved and missed Charles so much, buzzing the farm was the best present he could ever have given us.
Saturday was the day that Mom did a thorough cleaning of the whole house. Everything was cleaned, everyone helped. My job as a little girl was to fill the kerosene lamps, trim the wicks, wash the chimneys, and wash the windows of the house.
On Saturday evenings, Dad, Mom, and I would load into the car the crates of eggs we had collected and washed during the week. It was time to sell the eggs and buy our groceries. Anderson's Store had all the food behind the counter where they stood and wrote down your order. While they piled the staples into boxes, Mom and I would browse over the rest of the store at their bolts of fabric, thread, dishes, clothes, candy, etc. Dad worked hard on the farm all week so he looked forward to playing cards with the men next door at the Pool Hall. This meant that Mom and I had to wait a couple of hours until Dad was ready. We would sit on the little stools which had no backs and turn around and around. If it was a hot summer night, the fan above us would be whirling around. And we think ceiling fans are something new .Wrong!
Mother's diversion was fancy work and Dad's was playing cards. He knew every card that had been played. The men would play poker games all Christmas afternoon. What fun they had!
The farm was directly East of Sheffield and seemed to be in the path of many storms. There was one storm that came up during chore time. Helen Kay was in her high chair in the dining room. The double doors to the living room were closed. The wind came up with a vengeance and blew the doors open with a roar. Later we found glass ground right into the piano stool. We looked out in the barn yard and saw the wind blowing the hayrack across the yard. Helen Kay was screaming and the wind was blowing. All at once, we wondered where Dad was. Mom and Barbara made their way to the barn and found Dad calmly milking. He looked up and said, "Hi." He didn't know about the storm. Poor Helen Kay. Every time the wind would blow and a have a certain pitch, Helen would cry.
The little brick Methodist Church in Sheffield was our second home. Mom taught Sunday School, was Sunday School Superintendent, directed Christmas Programs, and planned church suppers to raise money for the church. I think every person in Sheffield would come to those delicious dinners.
Father was not a religious man but he did go to a faith healer in a neighboring town one time. Dad had some kind of a skin disease on his leg and no matter what the doctor prescribed. it just kept spreading. Since he was getting desperate, he went to the faith healer. They sat facing each other and the man laid his hands on Dad's knees. He bent his head for a few minutes and then told Dad to go home. In a matter of days the skin disease had completely disappeared! After such a miracle from God, we had hoped Dad would start going to church. But he wasn't interested.
Faith in God was a private thing for Mom. She didn't talk about it a lot but she read her Bible and prayed and I knew her faith was deep. When her brother Howard's wife, Leona, was addicted on drugs and expecting a baby she came to live with us. Elton was born with his mother's addiction. Then when he was 9 months old, every inch of his little body was covered with boils. His screams of pain were growing weaker by the hour until he was almost too weak to whimper. And he was too weak to eat. The country doctor came out one evening and said he would be back the next day. Elton's wrinkled, withered skin was already turning blue and he was getting stiff and cold. After the doctor left, Mom picked up Elton. held him close to her body, and paced the floor. She prayed more earnestly than she ever had before. For two hours she kept up this vigil before she accidently touched his feet and found they were getting warm. The next morning the doctor came on his regular rounds. He was just amazed to see little Elton alive and said that it was a miracle.
Aunt Leona died young leaving Uncle Howard with three children of about high school age. Aunt Leona's family was from Mineral, Illinois, and they took the children. They wrote Mother one day and asked if she would take the two boys and they would keep the girl. Mother was furious that they wanted to split up the kids. She contacted Uncle Howard and told him she would take all three children. That winter there were six of us kids.
Grandmother Phillips was dying of tuberculosis but she kept right on working. She met everyone's arguments by saying, "I have faith that God will heal me. And it is not enough just to say you have faith, you have to act like it." She was such a good, humble soul that even her oldest daughter (Edith) did not know of all her good works until after she had died. Then many came and told Mother how Grandma had baked a pie or cake and taken it to someone in need. And she did that after her long day of doing washing and ironings for a living and for her big family. And she herself was so terribly poor!
Mom followed in her Mother's footsteps. At her funeral there were people telling me of all the good things she had done for them.
We don't know anything about Stillman Preston, our Great Grandfather, except that he came from New York. --Grandpa Russell Preston, Dad's father, farmed west of Sheffield. Aunt Gene said every Sunday they would go to church. Grandpa would let Grandma and the kids ride in the surrey and he would walk to church, inviting others along the way to join them.
Mom and Dad had moved to Moline where Charles was born. They lived in an apartment house where the LeClaire Hotel now stands. Dad worked in the wagon works but didn't like the inside work and having someone to tell him what to do. They farmed in West Bureau where Bobbie (Barbara) was born. Then they moved to Sheffield and farmed for Harry Barton. From there they farmed the Gebeck place for at least 30 years. It was hard work, just after the Depression. There was no running water, no inside plumbing. No electricity. In the dining room was a round coal stove to heat the whole house. When you stood in front of the stove, you were warm on one side but cold on the other side. The windows would be frosted over because we didn't have storm windows. In the kitchen was an old cookstove. It always amazed me how Mom could bake a cake in a stove with no thermostat.
Going to bed in a cold bedroom upstairs was not pleasant. Mom would heat up bricks and put in the bed. And she would pile blankets and comforters on us until we could hardly move under the weight.
We didn't have inside plumbing so, of course, we had the old outhouse. The worst part was having to go out when it was raining or freezing. How many times Charles would sneak out and throw a walnut at the outhouse and nearly scare you to death.
Bobbie loved to be inside but I loved the out-of-doors. So I spent a lot of time playing with the cats and the other animals. Dad always said I would make a pet out of all the animals. But I had just learned that all animals respond to gentleness, patience, and love.
The summers were hot, the winters were cold and grueling. It seems we were either mudded in or snowed in. One winter the snow drifts were so high, it looked like we were driving through a tunnel. I can remember walking on top of the fence posts because the snow was so high.
In the winter, on Friday nights, the neighbors would take turns hosting an evening of playing 500 cards. The Gebeck's and Eggimann's were always there.
Dad wasn't a hunter. Perhaps he would kill a rabbit once during the winter.
Being a farmer, Dad had to be home to do chores. There was no time for vacations. I believe there was only twice Mom and Dad left the farm for more than a day. One time Dad had someone to do the chores. He must have been in a hurry because he didn't secure the milk cans in the tank. When we got home the water was full of sour milk, the goldfish were all dead, and the cows were thirsty because of no fresh water. I don't believe the folks went on a vacation after that.
It's a good thing Dad was there the day the hog house caught on fire. Evidently a sow had rubbed against the heater, tipped it over, and the straw caught fire. We don't remember how Dad got the fire out but he probably stamped it out with his shoes.
The best part of the day was in the evening, just getting dark. The lightning bugs would be out and one could hear the frogs from the slue. Dad would sit on the porch. his back against the post, and Mom in the swing, gently swinging. The end of a busy day.
Charles, being the oldest and, of course, idolized by his sisters, delighted in giving us knuckle jabs on our anns or untieing our apron strings. Of course, we would yell and Mother would just laugh. We would have been disappointed if he hadn't done these things.
At Christmas time Mom would make up pans of fudge and butterscotch candy. She kept them in the livingroom where it was cold. Every evening she would bring out the candy and we could have a piece. What a treat. I can remember the huge Christmas tree that stood in the gym at school, so tall it reached the ceiling. On the last day of school before Christmas break the firemen would come to the school, the sirens blaring. They brought a bag of candy. I didn't care for the hard candy but I loved the soft vanilla candies. They also gave each child an orange. This was a big treat because our family couldn't afford to buy oranges.
Mother did a lot of sewing and so I would learn from just watching. She had also taught Bobbie and I how to knit and crochet. Mother was always working on something such as crocheting a tablecloth, quilting, or making an apron. She would have the quilting frames set up in the living room and on days when it wasn't too cold, she would wrap up her legs and quilt for an hour or so or until she got so cold she would have to quit. I can still see Mother sitting by the table at night crocheting by a kerosene lamp.
Ironing clothes was done with flat irons. They were set on the coal cook stove to heat them up. When they were hot, you attached the walnut handle and started to iron. You would iron with it until it got cool and then you would go exchange it for another one. We had 3 or 4 of them that we rotated. It was a big job since Mom ironed sheets, dishtowels, handkerchiefs, and all our clothes. All three of us girls learned how to iron.
We didn't get electricity in our rented house until the Fall of 1946. When I came home from my job in Moline for the weekend, the dining room seemed much too bright.
Actually, Mom loved to do an kinds of sewing and crafts. She did embroidery, crocheting, knitting, tatting, and made many of our clothes. When I was a little girl, we would pick out the feed sacks that had the material we wanted to make a dress or skirt. Then she learned how to etch aluminum serving trays with acid to make beautiful pictures on them. Also, she did leatherwork. making billfolds and key cases which she stamped with designs and laced the edges. She never seemed to run out of projects that she wanted to do.
Of course, growing a large garden and canning was a large part of our summer work. After getting the vegetables ready and in jars, they would have to boil for four hours. We may have been a little poor but we were well fed.
Except for chicken, we never knew what it was like to have fresh meat. In the Fall Dad would butcher a hog and the meat would be fried and placed in fruit jars to preserve it. Dad would take the hams and cure them in the basement. The ribs would be cooked all day in that old cook stove. How wonderful they were. Mother would cut the fat from the pig into 1" cubes and boil them on the stove. The cooked down fat would be placed in crocks in the basement to be used later for pie crust, fried potatoes, and homemade donuts.
Our faith, our Heavenly Father, and the work in the church helped bring us through many rough times. One summer there was a storm with high winds and lots of thunder and lightning. We all said the Twenty-Third Psalm. There was a calmness and peace in that room. We didn't want to speak for fear of breaking the spell. Another time when I was living in Moline, I had gotten off the bus and had to walk four blocks in the dark. The streets were not lighted very well and this little farm girl was a little scared. But I started to say the Twenty- Third Psalm and again the calmness took away my fears and the peace carried me home.
Well, now the old farm house and the barn are empty. The big maple tree in the front yard that held the swings is gone. Yes, and even my dear parents are gone. But my love of the animals and the joy of sewing and canning has been with me all my life. I am thankful for my childhood memories of the farm.
At times we were cold. And we were poor and didn't have all we thought we needed. But we always had plenty to eat. And we had lots of love and we had each other. Who could ask for more?
Go to Louis and Elaine Hast
Elaine and Helen