Dakota Datebook

Pioneer Wife, Part Three

Wednesday, December 3, 2003

Today we pick up the final installment in our 3-part series about Helen Smith of Wimbledon, who won 1st prize from the Dakota Farmer for her article on living without a hired girl.

I wash Monday, or rather wash with John’s help, I get things ready for the machine. The boiler is put on right after breakfast, and I wash the dishes and get things ready for dinner while John does the machine work. Then we rinse, starch and get the clothes on the line before time to get the dinner on the table. Then I have the kitchen floor to clean and the work upstairs to do after dinner.

After school, Mary and I bring in the clothes and fold them ready to iron Tuesday. Our ironing is a small item, considering the size of the family. The children all wear long sleeved, dark aprons, and in winter they wear them over their flannel dresses. We fold away all the sheets, tea towels, outing flannel night dresses and underskirts and knit underwear without ironing. Before I start ironing I get a batch of cookies or something of the sort ready to bake while the fire is going and I do the whole thing in about three hours.

Saturday morning Mary puts in helping mama. She takes great pride in seeing how nicely she can do the work upstairs, sweeping, dusting, tidying up, and washing down the stair steps, while I do the work below. I have linoleum on my kitchen floor, which does away with scrubbing. The sweeping, dusting, and cleaning of the linoleum comes after dinner as Saturday’s baking takes most of the morning. I clean the cupboard and pantry shelves on Friday. Saturday is a busy day with but few minutes to rest. The little folks also have to be bathed and all the little extras to be done in view of Sunday being a day to read and rest, with everything cooked for the meals, dish washing being the chief work of the day.

Winter is a change of routine. We then breakfast at seven with all the children at the table. Then they do their chores and get ready for school. John takes them in winter. I take care of baby, do up my work and whatever baking there is to do. Then we take a lunch dinner, coffee, bread and butter, doughnuts, apples, milk, etc.; then when the lunch is cleared away I sit down to sew or for a little visit with John as this is his slack time too; then at half past three he goes out and hitches up the team to go for the children, while I get supper; or dinner rather; which we eat as soon as the little folks get home from school, hungry as bears. Then when supper is out of the way, they all have a general good time till half past seven. Then they all go up stairs and get ready for bed.

While John and the hired man finish the chores I set the table, grind the coffee, cut the meat and set the pancakes, and the day’s work is done, and we are all sitting down to a quiet evening by ourselves at half past eight. We often read aloud or a neighbor drops in to spend an hour or so, and altogether we spend a quiet cozy evening by the fire. John won’t abide my sewing in the evening. He says daylight is time enough to work.

I even work in my poor long-suffering John at breakfast time in winter. His mother raised nine boys and he can cook with any woman, so while I am caring for baby, getting the little ones ready for breakfast and doing the hundred and one things that mama finds to do, the hired man does the chores and John fries the meat, prepares the coffee, and bakes the pancakes and he doesn’t seem to notice the shock to his dignity at all. And so you have a picture of our years as they pass and pleasant and profitable ones they are, and oh how short a time can they last! It makes me tremble to think how soon ’twill all be changed and how lonely the house will be when they are all gone and just John and I left in the house alone. How will we keep our hands busy then? Well I guess all readers of the Dakota Farmer will be weary with this long drawn picture of our home, but if I don’t come in for a prize, which isn’t at all likely, I may have dropped some hint that will help some poor, tired, overworked mother.

Your reader and well wisher – Helen Smith, Wimbledon, ND.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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