Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Thinking Back . . .

It's often in winter that I think back to our root cellar on the first piece of property we settled on when we made the move from Illinois up here to Minnesota.

The land was a piece that had been originally homesteaded in the early 1900s (when it was REALLY challenging to be a homesteader) but abandoned shortly thereafter. The man and woman who worked so hard to carve a small farm out of the wilderness had seven children so you know they grew and preserved all the food that was possible.

We were so lucky that one of the children raised on the land (by then elderly) was living nearby. She told us many stories of their short years on the homestead. The mother and father died within two years of each other so the children were sent to live with relatives and friends until they grew old enough to be on their own. Tough times those were.

When we first moved onto the property, we had noticed a depression in the side of a hill and guessed it must have been the old root cellar. Yes, it was confirmed by E that we were right. That was where their root cellar had been.

It was a natural location, overlooking a small stream and facing south. So when we could afford it, we had the hole re-excavated so the construction for our new root cellar could begin. We used timbers and lumber from a friend's sawmill a mile down the road from us, and had the same man who had dug the hole bring in his heavy machinery to cover it up with dirt once our construction was complete.

A mighty fine root cellar it was. You entered the outside door, walked down a narrow "hallway," then turned right and went through another door to the main room of the cellar. We once kept crisp and juicy Red Delicious apples in it until the next July after they had been harvested the previous fall. We can remember only one winter when we were afraid the temperature was going to fall too low inside the main room. We had had a couple weeks' stretch of 30 to 35 degrees below zero weather so we kept a lantern burning in there for a few days until the frigid spell broke.

The one glitch was that the location of the root cellar was quite a hike from where we had our house, being down on the hillside by the creek. The trek to load up on stored veggies was so much easier when Papa Pea and I did it together. It was a steep slope down to the door which often times was nearly covered with snow which had to be shoveled away. I can remember sliding down to the door on my butt and hoping I didn't keep going all the way to the creek. Coming back up with boxes or bags full of goodies was much harder. We tried to keep "steps" shoveled in the hillside, but the frequent snows made that a hard task. We had to crawl up the hill, load whatever we had managed to carry into a sled and go back down for another load before pulling the full sled back to the house.

I did try to avoid trips to the root cellar alone but every now and then I'd be unwilling to wait for Papa Pea to return home, so I'd gear up and make the trip myself.

In the winter, wolves used the frozen creek as a main thoroughfare. Having a healthy respect for majestic canis lupis, I always wondered if I would encounter a touring family of wolves. I also envisioned entering the root cellar only to have the door blow shut behind me and the outside latch fall into place. (Don't snicker, it happened to me once in the biffy.) I didn't relish the thought of being locked behind that very stout door and passing the time making conversation with potatoes and cabbages until someone came home and finally thought of looking for me in the root cellar.

That lovely cellar came to a sad end. When the heavy equipment operator was covering our newly constructed root cellar with dirt, on one pass he got too close to the back wall and, dang and drat, a huge crack shortly showed up in a main support beam. We did all we could to reinforce the weakened beam but a few years later after days of torrential rain, the whole structure collapsed. It was in the summer time so we didn't have much stored in there. And by that time we had our own alternative electrical system in place and had added more storage room on to the house so I didn't have as much need of the root cellar for preserving food as in the earlier years.

Still and all, I know we think back on that old root collar with much fondness.

22 comments:

Jane said...

I enjoyed your post abt the old root cellar, sometimes a walk down memory lane is just the thing to lighten our moods. Times were harder back then for everyone,but the memories are priceless ! Blessings Jane

Jane said...

I really wish you would write a book about all those earlier years. And the thing that stuck out to me was that is was -30 for weeks at a time and you STAYED? You are one hardy family:)

Karen L. said...

Glad to hear that you found your "groove". hehehe And how wonderful that you got to meet a family member who had lived on your land prior to you. I cannot imagine what tough times they had to go through and for the parents to die within a short time of each other leaving all those children ..... so very sad and hard to wrap my mind around. We really do have no idea how good we have it now .... except maybe for the fact that our news (political and crime-wise)comes to us almost as soon as it happens. That I could live without, mostly. PS: Don't forget Mama Pea Quilts!!!

Rebecca Shockley said...

I AGREE,WRITE THAT BOOK,I'LL FOLLOW -BETWEEN US WE PROBABLY HAVE THE GREATEST STORIES EVER-I CAN JUST SEE YOU HEAVE HO--HANDS ,POCKETS ,TEETH--OH WELL COULDN'T THINK OF ANOTHER WORD--FULL OF CABBAGE,CARROTS AND THE LIKE. AND I HAVE TO TELL YOU,ONCE AGAIN YOU HAVE GIVEN ME SOUND ADVISE YESTERDAY BUT I'M STILL GLAD TO BE ALIVE TO TALK TO YOU ABOUT IT-I WAS JUST 1/2 ASS JOKING ABOUT CROAKING OVER THE BANK ISSUE,BUT I SPENT ALL DAY IN THE er BECAUSE EVERYONE SAID MY MOUTH WAS DROOPING ,EVEN THE DOCTORS-SO I WITHSTOOD A CAT SCAN AND MOST HORRIBLE OF ALL BUT MOST NECESSARY WAS THE MRI-with my panic attacks ,it was so hard to sit still but i kept thinking what you told me-oh,i learned something and i promise to be very good-HUGS TO EVERYONE,I'M HANDING THEM OUT LIKE CANDY-FEELS SO GOOD TO BE ALIVE AND no STROKE

Mama Pea said...

Blessings Jane - I'm not sure the times were harder (we're in such socially difficult time right now) then, but you're right. We can even laugh about the really bad times now that they are so far in the past!

Jane - Hardy? Maybe stoopid. At the time we were living in a vintage (circa 1959) trailer that had near to no insulation and we had such a hard time staying warm in the winter. (Oh! Fodder for another blog post!) Don't know if I would ever write a book but I'm glad I'm getting some of these things down in my blog here.

Karen L. - Yes, those people were truly made of tough stock. So much to be admired.

P.S. I've been SEARCHING my blog because I was sure I had posted the recipe for my Italian Bread previously but I just can't find it so I'll make the bread again soon and do a post with pictures. I haven't forgotten. Also remembering Mama Pea Quilts . . . which will rise from the ashes once again. It really will!

judy - Oh, I'm so sorry you had to go through that medical scare yesterday! You certainly didn't need that on top of everything else. So glad everything turned out okay. You are such a strong woman. Hugs to you.

The Weekend Homesteader said...

That's a great story. Thanks for sharing. Root cellars are not very common where I live.

Chicken Mama said...

I liked the story, too, Mom. MORE STORIES LIKE THIS! MORE STORIES LIKE THIS! (As she pounds her fists on the desk in time to the chant.) And, yes, I, too, *REALLY WISH YOU WOULD WRITE A BOOK*! But, at least we have that. I'll always remember the smell in that root cellar.

Now, how about the story of getting locked in the outhouse? Was I little and at home or at school? Did you push the window out in order to escape?

Chicken Mama said...

I meant to say, "but at least we have THIS" . . . meaning you writing the blog (if you never get around to a book).

Chai Chai said...

I so wish we had a root cellar and have often dreamed of having on dug out. Unfortunately the terrain here isn't conducive but I still have my dreams.

Mama Pea said...

Weekend Homesteader - Welcome and thanks for commenting! I'm guessing actual dug-into-the-ground root cellars are about as scarce as hen's teeth these days! Too bad. Talk about low technology doing a fantastic job . . . !

Chicken Mama - If I remember correctly, the day I got locked in the biffy was when you were still pretty small. It must have been a weekend or in the summer 'cause Dad was home. I yelled and screamed for a while but because Dad insisted on building the outhouse 2-1/2 miles through the woods away from the house (slight exaggeration), no one could hear me. I finally just hit the door with my shoulder and snapped the outside latch off. It was just a piece of wood on a screw that fell down into an "L" shaped bracket.

Mama Pea said...

Chai Chai - It's such a neat concept. And so simple. But, of course, you do need the right soil for it.

dr momi said...

I'd like an official root cellar -- wish we had put one in the new house. Neat story. Write a book :-)

Tombstone Livestock said...

Well Mama Pea, for future reference if you are ever afraid of being locked into a root cellar or outhouse put a rock or piece of wood down in the doorway so it cannot close all the way on you.

Tony said...

This is a great story. I love that you were about to put your root cellar in the same location as the original one from years ago. I wish I had a root cellar - it's on my list of things to do.

Erin said...

I love these posts, they make me wistful for my days growing up on our farm, although ours was not such a hardy existence, I still identify with those feelings you get by actually surviving those winters, waking up to do animal chores at 5 am when it's dark and -20 outside, and just plain old walks through the property in the summertime. You always have a way of bringing back my special memories along with sharing your own! Your root cellar sounds fantastic! I can only imagine how much easier it is now going from the uninsulated home of your early days to that warm and cozy house with no wind blowing through now, makes the North quiet not just bearable but something to revel in.

Akannie said...

Thanks for such a great story...we talk of digging out a root cellar, but we're here 7 years now, and it still hasn't happened.

Maybe 2012 will be the year of the root cellar!!

Sparkless said...

I love your stories. I also learn lots from them and number one is to make sure your cellar is close to your house and better yet is under your house. That way you don't even have to go outside to get anything.

Stephanie said...

Thanks for sharing about your root cellar:) It is neat to read how other people have done it. I am with you on the possibility of getting locked in, that would NOT be fun lol.
Would love to hear more about when you and Papa Pea first moved to your land, and how you got by, and did things to build your place:)

Mama Pea said...

dr momi - Problem is when building a house (such a chore!) the money doesn't go as far as we'd all like and digging a root cellar under the house seems like a "non-necessary" at the time. But it sure would be handy, wouldn't it?

Tombstone Livestock - Hunh. Some people think of all the good ideas. ;o]

Tony - Thanks for commenting! Yes, we too felt really good about constructing our root cellar right where the one on the original homestead had been. And it was such a perfect location . . . except for the distance from our house. But the exercise to and from never hurt us!

Erin - You be so right! And if we hadn't had those experiences, if we didn't have the contrasts on a daily basis, we probably wouldn't appreciate what we have now as much as we do!

Akannie - Sometimes it just has to be "the right time" to do things such as that. Once it's done, I don't think you'd ever regret going through the trouble to put one in.

Sparkless - I always think of the old homesteaders with the trap door in the kitchen floor that went down to their root cellar. That did make a lot of sense, didn't it?

Stephanie - Thanks, as always, Stephanie, for your encouraging words. So much of what I remember doesn't seem as if it would be interesting to anyone else. I was thinking that very thing when I wrote this post about the root cellar . . . but maybe it is.

Susan said...

So, did you ever meet a canis lupis by the root cellar? I have always wanted a root cellar and it's on THE LIST. What a tough time it must have been back in the day. And how great to have had a child of that homestead still nearby. I love hearing the real history behind places.

Jenyfer Matthews said...

Even if you never write a book, I hope you are saving these stories on your personal computer so they don't go "poof" along with your blog one day - this, speaking as someone whose blog is undergoing some major difficulties this week and who is deeply regretting having composed so much directly into the blog rather than on her own computer :( Once (if!) I am ever able to get back on my blog I'm going to back up all my stories of living / travel abroad so that I can keep them for myself and my children.

The root cellar sounds like it was great. Maybe you should have built some stairs (with beams) into the trail!

Mama Pea said...

Susan - No, we never did see anything other than wolf prints on our excursions to the root cellar.

For a couple of years I worked for our local historical society transcribing tapes of some of the area's "old-timers" being interviewed about what it was like growing up and/or working in this area in the early 1900s. So, so interesting!

Jen - My dear daughter has been having my blog entries printed and bound in book form for me. I really enjoy having them like that.

Yep, we should have/could have made more permanent steps in the root cellar hillside. But it always seemed there were more important things to do back then.