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Farm Boy – Joe DeJaeghere – working on the farm

We have been learning about Joe DeJaeghere, who grew up on a farm seven miles southwest of Minneota during the 1930s and 1940s.

Public education in rural Lyon County then usually meant attending country school through the eighth grade. Joe graduated in July 1945, but not all eighth grade graduates continued to high school. Joe knew his father needed him, “I never went to high school. I had to work.”

Joe’s education shifted from the classroom to the school of life. He worked at mastering the skills required of a small, diversified farm operation. He also began sorting out relationships with neighbors, friends, places of worship, businesses, and local government.

Joe explained that his dad’s need for help went beyond farm work.

“I had to grow up fast on the farm. I started driving a car when I was 13. My sister got married in July (1945). Dad said, ‘From now on, you take Mom to buy groceries.’ She had once-a-month doctor appointments in Tyler and I took her to the grocery store in Minneota (The Big Store) every Wednesday.”

Joe recalled that his mother’s reliance on Flemish as her first language was no impediment during Minneota shopping trips.

“When you’d go in The Big Store there was half a dozen [shoppers] and all they talked was Belgian. The clerk was Belgian. My mother could order her groceries in Belgian.”

He explained that his parents varied in English proficiency.

“My dad could talk English real good. My mother wasn’t as good, but she could get by. My dad talked English fluently, but when he gave me hell, it was in Belgian,” he concluded, laughing.

Joe learned farming when horses were a main source of power. Another power source was the farmer.

“I picked corn by hand when I was 13-14 years old with a horse and wagon on my own. You had a tool on your hand that pulled the leaves — a corn-husker. Then you’d break the ear off and let her fly [into the wagon] just as fast as you could.”

Joe learned how to muck out the dairy and horse barn and haul the manure out to the fields with horses.

“At that time we had ten to eleven milk cows and about fourteen to fifteen stock cows. We cleaned every day. I remember hauling it with a horse manure spreader across this plowed field. It was froze hard and [the spreader] was bouncing. The horses went straight ahead, but you just hung with both hands on the seat so you didn’t fall off,” he ended, laughing.

Working with horse teams involved many skills, including operating the horse-drawn equipment and assessing the landscape. Like most learners, Joe’s lessons were sometimes painful.

“I was raking hay one time down a hill and I happened to fall off the seat under the wheel. I kept hollering for the horses to stop. They were a good team of horses, but it was only a split second when you fall off the seat right in front of the wheel before the wheel goes over you. The rakes had these big [steel wheels], but a rake is light. It never bothered me, but the wheel ran over me and then they stopped,” Joe concluded, laughing.

Joe continued milking and feeding their cattle, but also began feeding their hogs.

“We farrowed about 10 to 12 sows for little pigs and raised them. That was the fun part of it, boy! (Joe laughed) You always had a 50 gallon barrel of slop – ground oats with water and some milk. Your leftover milk after you separated the cream went to the hogs. Hogs loved that. You’d run for dear life after you threw it in hog troughs. They were behind you. By the time you got back with the next pail, the first one was gone.”

Joe’s dad purchased a tractor in 1940, but electricity was delayed because of wartime resource shortages.

“We didn’t get electricity until ’49. We used to do chores carrying a bushel of feed and a lamp to see where to walk. We always used 2 lamps to milk cows. You didn’t see very much, but you learned to feel your way around.”

The farm workload eased twice during the week – Saturday night for a trip to Minneota, and Sunday morning for church.

“Saturday night was the only time you could go to town on the farm. We quit early to get to the stores in time. My mother stayed home with my little brother, but Dad and I went that last 4-5 years that my mother lived. Saturday night used to be so crowded you sometimes hardly had enough room to meet and the sidewalks weren’t narrow.”

While the Saturday night trip to Minneota involved Joe and his dad, the Sunday Church trip involved everyone.

“We never missed Mass and it was always 1st Mass. We had the cows milked and the calves fed and in those days the speed limit was 45 MPH. You had to leave for church a half hour before it started. Then it was in Latin, which I couldn’t understand anyway. Those days in Minneota, you had your own pew – same pew every Sunday.”

Joe’s mom, Leonie, died in March 1950. His dad developed serious gum disease in June that year that slowed him down, often abed, for almost three years. Joe and his brother, Morris, had to shoulder more responsibilities. Additionally, Joe was eligible for the military draft.

I welcome your participation in and ideas about our exploration of prairie lives. You may reach me at prairieview pressllc@gmail.com.

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