|Source: NMHS Newsletter Nov 1996
Special Days and Events From
MY HOOVER FAMILY STORY
by Irene Hoover Beery
Used with permission.
Rings-threshing rings, ice rings, beef rings-all were
organized among rural Hoosiers the first three or four
decades of this century to help get their harvesting
done and to help raise their standard of living.
A threshing ring was made up of several neighboring
farmers who regularly had oats and wheat to harvest in
late summer. This, of course, was before the advent of
the combine, which goes into a field and finishes the
job in one operation. Then each farmer cut his own grain
with a binder, pulled at first by horses, later a
tractor. The bundles of grain were stacked into neat
stacks to await the coming of the threshing machine.
Each farmer in the ring was committed to help all the
others in the ring. Each one had his own special job. My
dad and Uncle Louie owned the threshing rig which
consisted of a steam engine, separator and water wagon.
Dad ran the steam engine, Uncle Louie the separator, and
they hired someone to be water boy, whose job was to
keep water there at all times, since this provided the
steam which produced the power. Some men hauled bundles;
that is, they brought the bundles of grain in from the
field and with their forks pitched them into the
separator where the grain would be separated from the
straw. Other farmers hauled grain. They came with their
wagon boxes, caught the grain as it poured from the
spout and hauled it to the farmer's grain bin or took it
to a grain elevator nearby. The straw was blown into the
barn or on to a stack outside.
For many years the whole hungry threshing crew
stopped at noon to eat together at the farmer's table,
where they happened to be threshing at the time. First
they gathered around the wash tub, set up on the lawn
near the back door, and got rid of some of the grime and
dust. Then they filed inside to partake of a hearty meal
provided by the farmer's wife with the help of her good
neighbors. Tables were extended as far as they would go
and every chair and bench was put into use. Such an
array of food was set before them, always ending with
cake and a wide choice of pies. Flies were usually
abundant at harvest time, so a familiar sight was one
woman, at least, standing by the table with her fly
chaser-newspaper strips attached to a stick-keeping the
flies off the food. Another kept close watch to
replenish the mashed potatoes before the dish was quite
empty and to add more fried chicken to the meat platter.
Oh yes, the lemonade was going fast, too. Threshing was
hot hard work.
In time, the farmer's wives were relieved of this
immense culinary responsibility and the farmers began to
bring their own well-filled dinner pails and thermos
bottles, eating together in the shade of a tree while
their horses munched away at the provisions in their
At the close of the threshing season, the threshers
and their families came together at one of the farm
homes for an evening ofbusiness and fellowship. Freezers
of homemade ice cream, cakes, pies and toppings were
brought in. While the men settled their accounts the
women talked. The kids ran and played until at last it
was time to open the freezers and enjoy the feast. It is
a little difficult to recall some of these times without
experiencing a bit of nostalgia. Surely rural life lost
something when mechanization enabled the farmer to make
it alone without dependence on his neighbor.
Ice rings were similar in organization to threshing
rings. Before refrigerators appeared in farm kitchens in
the late 1930's, the icebox provided the cold storage
for milk, butter and other perishables. Our icebox was a
nice oak chest, well insulated with three compartments,
a door opening into each. One compartment was made
especially to hold a big chunk or two of ice. Our city
cousins had an ice man who delivered ice regularly-even
putting it into the icebox. (Also, according to the town
gossips, sometimes he became a bit too friendly with
some of his customers.) Seven miles out into the country
was too far for ice delivery. So in order to have a
steady, dependable source for ice in the summer, several
farmers organized an ice ring. They built an ice house
for storage at our next door neighbor's place.
In the coldest part of the winter, usually January,
when the ice on Long Lake or another nearby lake had
frozen to a depth of nine to fourteen inches, the
members of the ring were busy putting up ice. They sawed
the ice into blocks and then hauled it with their teams
and sled or wagons to the ice house. Some hauled saw
dust. They layered the sawdust and ice until the house
was filled to capacity. The whole process took several
winter days to complete. All members of the ice ring
were then permitted to use ice from this supply as long
as it lasted. Fred and I always liked going after the
ice with Dad.
Special Days and Meals
Our whole family, the Shanahans, Haineses and
Hoovers, usually came together at Grandpa and Grandma
Hoovers for Thanksgiving, Christmas and in the early
summer, about the time for the first fried chicken of
the season. Oh, how good that first fried chicken
tasted! My grandmother was so frugal she even cleaned
the chicken feet and fried them nice and crisp-not my
favorite piece. One thing I really liked about having
chicken at Grandma's was the set of bone dishes she had.
A little curved dish in which you could deposit your
chicken bones fit snugly against each dinner plate.
Besides the usual meat, potatoes and vegetables there
was always a dish of stewed dried fruit, usually prunes,
which she insisted on pronouncing "prooins" in spite of
her little granddaughter's efforts to change her. Of
course there was always cake and pie.
At Christmas my grandparents liked to surprise us
with unusual gifts. I have mentioned the little wooden
chests Grandpa made each of the three granddaughters one
year. Grandma completed them by padding them inside and
out and covering them with colorful cretonne. The little
wooden doll cribs which Grandpa made for another
Christmas were padded and lined in a soft pink fabric
and finished on the outside with a gathered white net
Christmas Eve - A Near Tragedy
It was an exciting Christmas Eve! Our family along
with the grandparents and other kin had gathered at the
home of Uncle Alvah and Aunt Grace for one of her
sumptuous meals. As usual we young children could hardly
wait after supper for the arrival of Santa and the
giving of gifts. The older folks seemed to move so
slowly after a big meal.
The Christmas tree was gorgeous, reaching almost to
the ceiling. Its branches festooned with strings of
popcorn and paper chains spread out so that it occupied
nearly half of the guest bedroom where it was placed.
Scattered over the tree were bright red candles set in
special little candelholders which clipped to the tree.
Small packages wrapped in tissue paper were tucked here
and there in the branches, with larger parcels stacked
on the floor around the tree.
I was awed by the sight of this pretty tree. We
seldom had a Christmas tree at our house. For a while we
had a little cardboard tree that could be unfolded and
made to stand up. Sometimes we had an evergreen branch
stuck in a pot of dirt (a Charlie Brown type of tree)
Often we just hung our stockings on the back of a chair
and wrote a note to Santa, telling him where to put our
At last the suspense was over. The candles on the
tree had been lit and the room was glowing with light.
In came Santa Claus with his long white beard, dressed
in his bright red suit trimmed with lots of fluffy white
cotton on his cuffs and collar. We all looked on with
anticipation as he began distributing the gifts. As
Santa reached into the tree to get a small package, he
got too close to a lighted candle. The cotton on his
sleeve caught fire and in an instant was in flames.
Uncle Alvah grabbed the heavy bedspread and threw it
quickly over the flaming Santa. Someone else grabbed a
couple rag rugs from the floor and immediately
extinguished the candles and flame in the tree. Santa
came out with only minor burns, thanks to the incredibly
fast and wise moves of my Uncle Alvah.
This was indeed a Christmas Eve to remember.