Monday, May 13, 2013

The Hired Girl

by Delores Miller

So it was the summer of 1954, the year between by sophomore and junior year of high school. In central Wisconsin a summer cash crop was a half-acre of cucumbers and young people picked the blasted pickles to earn cold hard cash.    Some  raised beans, to be picked for four cents a pound and hauled to the canning factory in Clintonville.

Being a hired girl was one step up from bending over in the hot sun.  Pickles had to be picked every day, rain or shine with mosquitoes sucking blood.

Some teenage girls migrated to the Chicago area to be nannies for rich people in the summer.  I was too frightened to get on the train to travel south that far.  So my only option was to be a Hired Girl.  This was a 12-hour a day job, with Sundays off.

It was with a  dairy farm family north of Marion.   Big Holstein cows, which produced 40 cans of milk a day, hauled to the Caroline Gold Cheese Factory. 500 acres of land.  My pay was a dollar a day, or seven precious dollars a week.  Baby sitting four  small 
mischievous whippersnappers , two in cloth diapers.  (Today in 2013 these lads have grown up, became responsible citizens of the community, nearing retirement.)  Cleaning house, scrubbing floors,   ironing.  White shirts, house dresses, children's clothes.  Cooking for that family of six, plus the multiple hired men. The Missus was a very good cook, and made delicious cakes, pies and cookies.  Some recipes I still use. The hired men got paid three dollars a day, for a 12-hour work schedule and for that they had to maintain an automobile, drink, carouse, dance at the Caroline Ballroom and court the girls.  They earned their money.  (Military draft was looming over young men's heads, hence working on farms earned deferment.  Some threw in the towel and joined the Marines anyhow.)

The task I dreaded most was cutting grass.  Half acre.  Granted even in those days they had a power mower with a rope pull starter, which I could never get started and then it would snub in the tall wet grass.   Leg cramps at night.   Small pine trees I clipped off, whoops!

This was a happy, church-going, social family and they treated me well, even though I was the hired girl.  The Mister and Missus died a few years ago, us hired men and hired girls went to their funerals, sat together in a church pew and remembered how hard we worked way back then.

It was a beautiful day to die.
Though they are gone,
The grass will grow,
The sun will shine,
The cows will be milked,
The river will flow,
Life will go on,
But we will not forget them.

copyright 2013 by Russell and Delores Miller

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