You Don't Know About Lonely


Richard Bishop

© Copyright 2011 by Richard Bishop 


Photo of the inside of an empty barn.

The other day I heard a song which struck a nerve about the past as music often does. It was the kind of tune that my Mother, Laura Lucille (Crays) Bishop, used to call “sad and woebegone” and the oft repeated heartrending sentiment in a line was: “You don't know about lonely. . . ”.  On the contrary, yes, I do --- and double lonely at that!

I was raised on a Farm in southern Michigan in Kalamazoo County, on Rural Route # 7, about 5 miles southwest of the City of Kalamazoo. It was a medium-sized spread at 240 acres (about 3/8ths of a one mile square Section). In 1939 the Farmhouse (built in the late 1800’s) was renovated and all the outbuildings and barns were straightened-up and braced (they originally had been constructed and held together with wooden pegs). The connection for Electricity also was made in 1939. It was really convenient for the house, but most remote structures got only a couple of 60 watt light-bulbs apiece.

The time I’m writing about was a few years later just after WW II in the very cold winter of 1946/1947 when I was 16 and a senior at Mattawan Consolidated High School over in Van Buren County about 15 miles west of Kalamazoo. My brother (6 years older) had Graduated from College and moved to California. My sister (3 years older) was away pursuing her goal of becoming a Registered Nurse. That left only me, the youngest, living at home with my Parents, impatiently waiting for graduation from High School, so I also could go out and “see the World.”

In addition to cash-crops and Alfalfa for hay, the Farm usually ran beef cattle --- Herefords; 35 or 40 of them were acquired when they were partially-grown and they were trucked-in from some place in Iowa. In the summer, they ran to pasture like dairy cows. But in the cold winter season, there were quite a few chores connected with this business.

The “Shorthorns” had to have fresh bedding often. This required bringing straw into the sheltering barn and spreading it around. This came from a straw-stack (a by-product of last summer’s “threshing” of wheat). This job was always done during the daylight hours on a non-school day like Saturday, since the stock had to be run outside (out of the way) and into the cold. Also, the straw-stack was some distance away from the barn and required a lot of trips back and forth --- not something you would want to do on a School-day in the dark. A Straw-Saw was used to loosen up the straw when it was frozen.

Naturally, the “Whitefaces” had to be fed. In the fall of the year field-corn was chopped; ears, stalks and all, and was blown up into a “Silo” with a Silo-Filler where, after aging, it acquired a natural sour taste from light fermenting and was called “ensilage.” There were two Silos (both without roofs; thereby exposing the contents to the weather); one on each end of the most distant barn about 150 yards from the House. The ensilage was dumped into the troughs with a basket. The stock also was fed a store-bought ground-up grain supplement in the same troughs mixed together with the ensilage. Altogether, these chores took about an hour twice a day; at 0530 hours in the morning and at 1800 hours in the evening. The second feeding was simpler; hay thrown down from the haymow above. Normally, my Father and I jointly performed these duties.

The lonely part came when my Parents visited Relatives in Illinois a couple of times a year for a week or ten days leaving me to care for the property and the stock. At such times, my routine included fixing breakfast for myself, re-banking the previously overnight banked coal-fire in the basement furnace for my all-day absence, and getting cleaned-up for School. The School Bus pick-up was prompt at 0745 hours for the one hour zigzag ride to Mattawan Consolidated High School which was 10 miles further west of the Farm.

Just picture plowing 150 yards through knee-deep snow before dawn in the pitch-black darkness to the remote barn with a Kerosene-lantern for light (until you arrived at the Barn’s electric light switch). The slumbering animals heard you and started arising in the murkiness after the dim light was turned on. It never ceased to amaze me how warm the barn remained just from the body-heat of the animals. That’s why the water in the inside tanks always stayed unfrozen.

With one dim outside light bulb to guide you, and the Kerosene-lantern on a short sling hanging from your shoulder (so that you could keep two hands free), you climbed up the icy iron ladder-type rungs to the ensilage level in the Silo, set the Kerosene-lantern down inside the Silo to illuminate your work area, then using a flat-bladed pitch-fork, pitched the ensilage down the chute and when back down again, carted it off to the troughs with a basket. The ground-feed supplement was added from a burlap sack about half full (50 lbs.) balanced on the back and shoulder and distributed by slowly walking along the trough and letting it run out in a controlled way.

When the ensilage was frozen, the pitch-fork just couldn’t do the job. You had to use the Straw-Saw (cited above) to loosen it. If you had misjudged just how cold it was and had previously forgotten to place it somewhere handy, you had to climb down and go get it. Often, it was ‘way out there by the straw-stack where you had left it on Saturday.

When the ensilage level inside the Silo got too low, you had to remove a wooden Silo-door from behind the iron rungs and throw it down the chute. This job was best left for Saturday and daylight (without a Kerosene lantern hanging on you). All this had to be done safely, without falling. When you’re all alone and not very careful, you could lie there for days at the bottom of the chute before someone found you. The nearest neighbors were a quarter of a mile away.

This was eerie enough in the wee morning hours but seemed even more weird in the evening (after being away all day at School) and more and more unearthly as the night closed in. This was because the entire property was without chain-fence or gates and any itinerant man or beast could have hidden in the buildings. I wasn’t really a
“fraidy-cat” (but I did shun Horror movies in the theaters of Kalamazoo during these times). Even so, many times my hair stood on end from strange (and loud) snapping or popping sounds given out by the creaky old buildings; probably because of temperature changes, I kept telling myself.

Thus, all in all, I thought that performing these duties, together with the hair-raising, easily qualified for the “Blue-Ribbon” for “lonely” for the week or 10 days that my Parents were gone.

But, that was the least of it. For then the day came when the stock had been sold to the market-place, and the feed-lots were empty, the inside water tanks were dry, the sheltering barns were vacant and cold, the straw-stack was gone and the shiny Straw-saw was beginning to rust. Yeah, I was there once while the Folks were away and when the Farm was in this barren condition.

There were no chores, thank goodness. For sure, I was happy that I didn’t have to move around “out there” in the cold and the dark. But, by night (or daytime too, for that matter), it seemed worse. It was uncanny, even scary, for nothing is more desolate or lonesome than a Farm totally without living, breathing animal life --- that situation makes it double lonely.

All over the world, ask any Farmer about this. I’m sure they will agree --- I reiterate --- nothing is more desolate or lonesome than a Crop-Farm, a Dairy-Farm, a Ranch, a Ferme, a Bauernhof, a Fattoria, an Estancia, or a Fazenda totally without living, breathing animal life. I guess that’s why the word “livestock” was coined.

Anything is better than nothing at all; a dog, a cat, a Canary (or Parrot), chickens or maybe a milk-cow --- each of its kind could qualify as something more worthwhile than just a mere pet and would be exalted as “company.” Of course, they would add to the chores, but I believe that most people would gladly put out the extra effort.
And so, to empathize with the degrees of loneliness endured in rural areas on farms of all kinds everywhere, the mourning sentiment borrowed from the line of the song should be ended with:
You don't know about lonely,” til the livestock’s all gone!

Addendum:  This sorrowful expression describing these particular circumstances not only would have been especially poignant for those victims of the long ago U. S. Depression, but they would hold special meaning for any recent victims of weak Markets wherein, sadly, the livestock had to be sold at a foreclosure auction.

Contact Richard
(Unless you type the author's name
in the subject line of the message
we won't know where to send it.)

Richard Bishop's Biography and Story List

Book Case

Home Page

The Preservation Foundation, Inc., A Nonprofit Book Publisher