This Ol' Town

Lew Goddard

Edited by Anne Goddard

© Copyright 2020 by Lew Goddard

Photo of an ax in a log.

Things used to be SO simple!

The creation of this story commenced when I left THIS OLí TOWN. Thatís sixty-five years ago.

In 2018 my life changed drastically when I found out that I had a life-threatening condition.

In that state I re-lived my life a number of times and decided if I couldnít do anything about the condition, I would accept it. And I did.

No, I didnít give up. I have had a good life and want for very little.

An incredible surgeon arranged to insert stents to alleviate the problem.

Hence, I decided to bring forth some of the reasons why I left that OlĒ Town..

Iím eighty-four now and I believe that growing up years were THE GOLDEN YEARS!

Why would anyone want to live their entire life in this olí town? He said to himself out loud. Someone asks you where your home town is, you answer them. You get a blank look and an Oh. Nobody knows where Sintaluta is located.

No pavement on most streets. No waste and water systems. Well, each household did have a waste disposal system. You knew how to get rid of the ďslopsĒ. Residual waste from cooking, washing dishes and bathing. The slops were stored in a pail under a homemade sink that had an actual drain. When the pail was full, it was simply poured onto some part of the earth. Usually in the ditch on the opposite side of the road.

Bathing was a laugh. You added hot water to the galvanized wash tub brought in from the dirty shed. Then you bathed in water that your parents had already bathed in. Bathed? That was questionable even if it took the dirt from a week long sojourn from any type of washing.

Now you had to figure out how you could get all that water into a pail so you could carry it out, cross the road and empty it in the ditch on the other side. Can you imagine using some kind of container, like about the size of water pitcher or empty Rogers Corn Syrup can to reduce the volume so that you could lift the tub and pour the last of the bathing water into the pail?

One thing that was instrumental was that you always spilled water in this attempt. The floor was washed whether it needed it or not.

Once you were clean for another week, Mother Nature would probably call you for a bowel movement. Now that was no big deal in the summer when it was warm. There was a wooden structure enclosed with a door at the rear of the property with what looked like a bench with a hole in it. The aperture had not been subject to sanding but over the years users had smoothed it. And another hole in the ground further down. Before you sat down you stamped your feet on the wooden floor to chase the rats that may be scavenging (Ugh), under there. When you look back on that activity, it was what we now call ďa green actioní to save the environment. Over the winter in this country the human waste was considerably reduced and the next summer, we started all over again.

Speaking of winter, you couldnít use the outdoor facilities unless you wanted to freeze your jewels. There was a receptacle not like the outdoor one. The support was a wooden box about the height of a toilet. The seat, thankfully, was a wooden that had been bought at a store in the next city. It was smooth and had been painted when it was new. Unfortunately, with a number of people using this depository, it often reached the top of the pail that was under the seat. Thatís when you had to be a contortionist to be able to escape with reasonably clean under wear. Oh, yes, it was vented to the brick chimney to make sure there was no malodorous odor left. Do you think?

Now the chore that you often had was to empty that pail by carrying it down stairs that werenít much more than a ladder and take said pail full out to the garden and empty it. You then cleaned it very carefully before putting it back in place. Not!

There was a waterworks system. It was work all right. You had to walk at least a block to get to the nearest public well. It seemed heavier than normal, probably due to the hardness in the water.

The water pail in the winter had an additional use. Your alarm was your Father breaking the ice in the drinking water pail in the morning.

Speaking of ice, there was no furnace to keep the house warm in the cold winter. Temperatures often hovered around forty below outside Father would place a couple of large pieces of hard coal in the wood and coal range and that would keep most of the house above freezing.

Speaking again about ice. Do you remember that you helped your Dad find several dugouts as close as possible to town? He would break an opening in the ice that was often more than a foot thick and then, take a long saw, (about five feet long with gigantic teeth), and cut blocks sixteen inches by sixteen inches and whatever the depth of the ice had formed. Did you ever wonder at the suction power that the remaining water produced? Lifting a lump of ice that large weighed considerably more to pull it out of the water than it would be sitting by itself. The lumps were lifted and placed on the dray. The dray was drawn by two Percheron horses. The job was not yet finished until the ice was delivered. It was stacked in an insulated building behind the Butcher shop in town. Each layer of ice was covered liberty with sawdust to help keep it frozen. The Butcher used this ice for his in-store cooler. He had no refrigerator or freezer. Believe it or not that ice would last from winter to near the end of August that year. After that it was up to the Butcher to obtain ice where he could.

I have to relate an incident that happened in the preparation and delivery of the ice.

One cold sunny afternoon with the temperature hovering around twenty below zero Fahrenheit your Dad slipped and fell into the freezing water up to his waist. You helped him out and shed your parka and wrapped it around him. You then took the bridle of one of the horses and ran beside back to town. A distance of about three quarters of a mile.
By the time he was stripped of his wet clothes and covered with warm bklankets and with his feet in the oven of the kitchen range he should warm up. Your Mother made hot tea to drink. He seemed to think everything was funny. You didnít know but that he was well into hypothermia. It took the better of a week for him to fell that he was warm.

Iím not certain whether the ice kept all meat products cold. (I ate raw hamburger meat.)

The house was comprised of a lower single room on the ground floor, and later a small TV room and small kitchen was added. It was considered a story and a half because the walls in the upper floor were on the angle of the roof on t wo sides. In one end near the brick chimney there was a small opening to allow the heat to rise from the lower floor. By morning in the winter, it was freezing upstairs. There was no insulation in the walls. In the summer it was quite the opposite. Hotter than Hell.

A strange occurrence took place every year with the oncoming cold weather. Intermittent sharp noises were heard from some section of the house. Your Father used to say that it was the railroad ties all placed on end in the outer walls contracting with the cold. The noises would stop because ice was built up in the walls and actually it helped to keep the wind out.

After a blizzard had passed through there was no snowplow to clear the streets. Streets were gravel and gravel mixed with cinders from the train dropping them between the rails and the town fathers would clean up the ashes.

You remember the winter when there was more than normal snow. It was possible to create a tunnel in it from the house to the barn. It was four feet high and six feet long. The house was about fifty feet from the barn.
During a blizzard it was common to see kids and their dog playing in the snow. Once, during a blizzard your Mother didnít want you to go downtown because you might get lost. In the dark. As if there were no street lights and store front illumination.

Your Father would order wood from the First Nation people who lived about six miles south of town. (You called them Indians then.) Poplar trees, upwards to seventy or eighty, were delivered to our back yard. It was assumed that the trees originated at the reservation but it was never explored.

The buck saw had to be sharpened to cut all these trees into lengths that would fit in the kitchen stove. Bucking took you nearly a month after school and weekends.

When the blisters healed, it was time to sharpen the axe and chop all those pieces so that they would burn better in the stove. To add to the work, kindling was split holding the log with your hand and slicing each into one to two-inch-wide shafts. All the wood had to be stored in a dry location.

The wood shed was then filled with all this chopped wood. The split logs and kindling were piled nearly six feet high, six levels from back to front and ten feet wide to fit the shed.

Your Dad brought a ton of hard chunk coal, and placed it in another shed.

The two large Percheron horses that lived in the barn and yard had to have sufficient feed and water. The water was brought from the well in two, two-gallon pails. It was amazing that each horse would drink a pail full even in cold weather.

At the beginning of summer two piglets were purchased. They were placed in a small enclosure. You noted that they were offered coal to eat. Your Dad said that the carbon was good for them. Something to do with their digestion it is guessed. It certainly allowed them to defecate at will. Then they had just disappeared usually in October There was a lot of pork on the menu for winter.

Prior to winter, usually near the end of September, the job was to unload coal from the railroad cars and place most of it in the bins beside the railway. As you grew older and more muscular, you helped. The two of you would unload twenty tons of coal in two sixteen-hour days. This was what they called lump coal or hard coal.

There were varieties of coal. The hard-lump coal would burn better and give off heat much longer than the softer coal that some people used.

Then came the stoker coal that had to be totally shoveled. It was back breaking work and your Dad was always in a hurry to unload it because there was an urgency called murage whatever that was. It somehow was helpful to hurry and create more money for the workers. You never received any more money.

About ten tons of stoker coal ended up at the school. It was loaded onto a wagon, called a dray and then shoveled on to a slide and down into the basement. How well you remember the task of crawling into the basement coal bin and spreading it about to be able to deliver as much as possible. Coal is very dusty and dirty. So was the one who had crawled into the coal bin. He actually needed a bath and he did so in clean water.

Now I ask myself, would anyone in this age go to all that trouble to stay warm? Not many will recall if born after 1960.

Then there was food! Apples and oranges were a delicacy. Some of the problem was that they were expensive for the grocer and in this miniscule town. Apples in particular, became soggy by the time they were sold. It was slightly different at Christmas. Of course, there was Pork.

Each year a garden was planted the total size of a city lot. (50 x 120 feet)

When you were old enough, your Sunday morning job was to collect a quart or two of milk. from the dairy. It was merchandised on an honor system. You had to have the right change when you entered the back door of his house and picked up what you needed.

To this day, I donít know if the milk was pasteurized. We were never ill. I donít think.

It canít be said that you starved. The grocery store that your parents supported offered bananas at a very cheap rate. Of course, one must have a receptacle after the attempt to peel. Most of the time, they outer sides were nearly black and there was no need to chew the fruit.

At this point, I wish to clarify that to this day I do not like bananas.

Of course, almost all meals were meat and potatoes style. And Pork.

With no sewage disposal system in the town, the community hall and the school developed what was called drop tube and tank operation. It was your Dadís job to empty those tanks when they became full.

Surely, you will never forget the action necessary to empty the tanks. A ďhoney wagonĒ was the vehicle to transport the effluent away from the two buildings. It was no closer to honey than lemons are to candy. It was horrible. The stench reached out and imbedded itself in your nose, hair, skin and the gloves that were worn to keep from getting this stuff on your hands. Of course, the person operating the pump, moving back and forth never became dirty or wet. Not!

On one occasion at the community hall, the pump ceased to bring the waste into the honey wagon.

What made it more interesting were the new words that you learned that day from your Father.

After the pump had been taken apart to see what the problem was, an article that looked somewhat like a filthy dirty fish was extracted. Your Father looked at you when you were twelve or thirteen years of age and said as he held up his catch, ďI donít suppose that you know what this is, but on the other hand, I think you do.Ē

It was a womanís sanitary napkin!

The honey wagon was emptied in a slough at the side of the road about a half mile from town.


The theme of the story has become a life of work with my Dad. I do not regret working with him those years. They are treasures.

I intended to expose why I would leave this OLĒ TOWN. The hardship and everything were difficult and one had to work so hard.

And of course, there was really no employment opportunities.

My Father would marvel at the conveniences we have now.

I donít think he would like them all.

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