As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving, I am so thankful for my wonderful new daughter-in-law and her children who have added much to our family.

It’s a time to truly count our blessings and reflect on how our lives have changed over the passing of years. I was reminded of this a few days ago while straightening out one of my bookcases and an old hand-written cookbook fell to the floor–again. As I picked up the scattered pages and put them in order once again, memories overwhelmed me as I saw the names of my precious neighbors and friends who now sing with the angels. I admit that I shed a few tears that day.

This splattered and tattered old book contains a history of my life since I married and moved to the ranch over 50 years ago. I was a town girl and got an almost ‘instant education’ from a milk cow and her new calf. I did learn how to milk that cow and feed the calf from a bucket (no nurse bottles then), and for that I had a lot of good advice from neighbors sharing their own life experiences with me as I blundered along trying to learn all the new stuff.

Most of these dear folks who shared their recipes with me were the children and grandchildren of the homesteaders who settled this part of the West in the early years. Most had no money, very little education or worldly goods, and many of their family members did not speak English. They sent their children to school to learn the language as well as other subjects and the children taught the parents at the kitchen table during homework time in the evenings. They lived in sod houses, log cabins or tar-paper covered shanties; some lived in caves they called dug-outs, with just one window for light in the entire house of one room. They had none of the modern things we take so much for granted.

Cooking was done on a wood stove using what was available for each meal.  I’ve been told of meals consisting of nothing but bread and milk, cabbage cooked in every way imaginable, potatoes in every form, corn bread, and beans–boiled, baked and even fried into bean cakes. Life was hard and absolutely nothing was wasted. Gardens were raised and any produce not consumed was ‘put away’ for winter use.  Food was a precious commodity and meals were ‘take it or leave it’. There was no place for picky eaters–if you left something on your plate, another sibling downed it! There was no such thing as snack foods, and you were living ‘high on the hog’ if you got three meals a day.

Clothing was passed down and made over until unable to be worn, and then used as pieces for a quilt to cover a bed or a rag to scrub a child or a floor. These dear folks truly ‘used’ it up, wore it out, made it do or just did without, as their main goal was to make the most of every opportunity to make a better life for themselves and their children by dint of hard work and making every last red cent count.

School was an unheard of opportunity for many of the elders, and they made sure that their children not only went to grade school but also went on to high school in nearby towns. The young folks paid their own way by taking jobs in town after school and on weekends. Some of my neighbors worked in town at hotels for their room and board, doing their homework after the chores for the day were done. The chores were a lot of hard work as there was no electricity, running water, bathrooms, etc. and the young folks did most of the ‘run and get it’ for the owners. It paid off in the long run as most went on to teach in small country schoolhouses and earned advanced degrees as time and money allowed.

Our children can learn so much from the efforts of these folks if we share their family histories as well as the history of our great nation. This year as we celebrate Thanksgiving with our families, let us ‘count our many blessings’ and be grateful to those who have gone before us for the legacy they left us.

Happy Thanksgiving!



by Paula Vogelgesang

Paula Vogelgesang is the author of the monthly column "Pennywise", and is a monthly contributor to the Farm And Livestock Directory.

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Fall Reflections, 2014

A large flock of half-grown turkey poults and hens filled the lane as I left the ranch this morning to run errands–signs of a good hatch! Food is plentiful as we’ve been inundated with grasshoppers once again. The gardens left a lot to be desired this year; bugs, and either too much rain or not enough, and hailstorms that wreaked havoc on gardens and shredded the corn and wheat crops. But we do have some tomatoes and peppers–enough for salsa and pasta sauce. And my wonderful neighbors, who did not get hail, have shared some of their bounty.

And for that, I am grateful.