The Inherent Value of Memories - VisionQuest 2020Nov 23, 2020 09:11AM ● By William Clawser
Story and photographs by William Clawser
This is one of the winning essays, submitted in response to Susquehanna Life magazine publisher Erica Shames’ call for dream-ideas—VisionQuests—to pursue for 2020, toward the goal of becoming more self-actualized. William Clawser’s dream was for the memories and photographs of the Riggs family farm to be published in Susquehanna Life magazine.
Memories—what a wonderful gift! As a youngster, I worked some agricultural jobs: de-tasseling corn, processing peas at a huller and odd jobs on a farm. However, my best memories are from the time spent on the farm of Paul and Kathryn Riggs, whose daughter, Bonnie, I married in 1963.
In 1944 the Riggs family purchased a property on Turtle Creek Road, outside of Lewisburg. The Riggs children, George, Larry, Bonnie, Pamela and Philip, all grew up there and have many colorful memories. I was just an add-on who did some work from time to time, so it is best if the Riggs siblings recount the memories.
George remembers harvesting corn manually. “Dad would drive the tractor, pulling a wagon. The kids would pull the ears, husk them and throw them on the wagon, with an occasional ‘miss’ which hit the person on the other side.”
Larry recalls the time he and his brother climbed the ash trees in a grove behind the barn. When they arrived at the top they would get a grip and kick their legs out. The tree would bend gracefully and deliver them safely to the ground. “What a ride!”
Bonnie says she “liked forking manure from the sheep pen better than doing housework, a feeling she maintains to this day. As a member of 4H, she was engaged in various projects, one of which was making her own clothes. Her mother was an excellent seamstress—she made Bonnie’s wedding gown—so Bonnie had a good mentor.
Pamela recalls butchering day. This was special to all the kids since “we were allowed a day off from school. After the meat was cut, dad would hang the hams and slabs of bacon in the smokehouse.”
A very fond memory of Philip is: “One particularly stormy winter we were hit with a snowstorm that ultimately had us snowed-in for three days. Cows needed to be milked, and in those days the milk was stored in large milk cans before being taken to the dairy for processing.” A neighbor up the lane was not able to use his truck, due to the massive snowdrifts, so he loaded the cans on a wooden sleigh and pulled it with his tractor. “Eventually, we arrived at the [Sheffield Farms] Creamery building along Route 15—what a grand adventure!”
Life on the farm
While many of the activities on the farm were routine, there was one unique activity that everyone loved—the annual mincemeat stir. According to George, large 5-gallon crocks were used. The contents included meat, suet, multiple fruits, juices and spices—all according to Mother Riggs’ own special recipe. “This was, and still is, a grand treat,” says George. “We siblings get together to make a batch and share it when it’s done.”
Not all memories are pleasant, as Larry relates. “I was fond of bouncing a ball off the side of buildings and accidentally impacting windows. I found that balls had an almost magnetic attraction to glass. Dad saw to it that I learned how to fix them.”
And so it went, day after day. The circular driveway offered an excellent space to play games, including “Kick the Can,” “Mother May I” and “Hide and Seek.” Other times Pamela would snuggle down in bales of straw in the barn and read a book, with the sound of the rain on the tin roof.
All the siblings had their duties, including cracking open black walnuts; feeding the sheep, steer, cats and dogs; forking out manure; gathering eggs; and helping shear the sheep.
Over time, the farm was host to a varied collection of animals, including pigs, chickens and Toulouse geese, which were not very friendly creatures. “They had the ability to pinch one’s flesh with a twisting motion of their beak that really hurt,” recalls George. “Even worse was when they beat you with their wings: that was serious pain. But, they were oh so tasty when stuffed and roasted.”
We all know the phrase, “Like a chicken with its head cut off.” Bonnie recalls a time when her mother had just decapitated a chicken. As it flopped on the ground, it followed Bonnie far enough to make her think it knew where she was going. Not true, of course, but scary nonetheless.
One other “character” I must mention—Pago, the Brittany Spaniel. Pago was Philip’s constant companion. He was the runt of the litter, but grew up to be a “monster.” Philip believes the reason Pago grew so large was “because Mom fed him eggs and milk while he was a puppy. Pago was an excellent bird dog—pheasants were still plentiful—but he also loved to hunt groundhogs and mice.”
I could go on and on with many more Riggs farm scenarios, but this seems to be a good place to leave you to ponder any memories you have of your own young life, whether it was on a farm or not. I have enjoyed photographing the farm over the years, and hope you enjoy the results.
Bill Clawser is a former art teacher and an avid photographer.
Visit SusquehannaLife.com/WebExtras to learn more about the history of the Sheffield Farms and The Creamery Building, in Lewisburg.