Friday, May 25, 2012

Baling Wire and Spit

When being conservative was a way of life and had nothing to do with political leanings.

There is an old country saying that baling wire and spit will fix anything. I can vouch for the baling wire. Anyone who has ever lived on a farm knows that all quick repairs depend on that twist of baling wire hanging on a fence.
Baling wire was made to be fed into a hay baler to hold the hay in compact bales. Two strands were tightly wrapped around each bale and were strong enough to be a hand-hold for lifting and carrying the 50-75 lb. bales. After it was removed from the hay, it was often twisted around a fence or tossed aside in what often became huge piles of bundled, rusting wire, and from there became the most used, most indispensible and multipurpose item to ever come to the aid of a farm family. 
Baling wire has mended fences, made a gate fastener, mended a piece of harness, replaced or made a bucket handle, reinforced a sagging box or basket - whatever was broken, a piece of baling wire made a quick fix that often lasted for years.
When the day came that the patched, tied together objects were beyond help even from baling wire, they were stored in the barn. Why? Because there might be something salvageable: a bolt or nut, a piece of oak, a drawer pull or a hinge. Fifty years later they may still there, waiting to be discovered by an antique or junk dealer, and used to add atmosphere to someone’s patio – or their den-or to some eating establishment.
Those were the days before recycling had to be encouraged as necessary to save our planet. It was a way of life. Newspapers were used to start fires; advertising and promotional letters came printed on only one side, making handy drawing paper or shopping lists. Bread wrappers (whenever the luxury of bought bread was affordable) were saved, string that tied paper-wrapped purchases was rolled into balls, and sometimes used to crochet attractive doilies. Magazines were never thrown away. On our farm they were saved, their pages separated and used to line baskets holding tomatoes bound for the market. In those days tomatoes had tender skins. They could even be sliced without a knife with a serrated edge.

Despite the saving and multiple uses of everything that appeared on the farm in those depression years, every farm home accumulated a junk pile. A cup could be used without a handle but a broken bowl or plate had to be trashed. Old shoes eventually were worn beyond repair, and old bottles and broken jars were taken to the junk pile. Each new resident added another layer of discards to the accumulation. Today, they are a treasure trove for bottle collectors. Back in the ‘30s, treasure hunting kids ignored their mothers, and risked snake and spider bits, and the risk of broken glass, and poked around hoping to find something pretty. My only treasures were an ornate butter knife and a sugar spoon, both made of nickel silver. Not at all valuable, but a treasure never the less. Somehow they had escaped the watchful eyes of the former resident and had landed in the junk pile. They found a safe haven with me for I seldom throw anything away. I even know where they are at this moment - I think..

 Cans were plentiful in junk piles, but although not as versatile as baling wire, they were almost as useful. They were ideal for dipping feed for the chickens, a dozen or so or nail holes in the bottom of a large can made an excellent sprinkler for watering small delicate seedlings. They were more often put into use as holders for nails, and bolts and screws – or just the junk that was being saved because someday it might be useful. A generation later, no one knows what it was originally, and it becomes an interesting relic.
If the kids had run out of chores to keep them busy, tin can stilts would help burn off some of that extra energy. Turned upside down and with a couple of holes on either side near the top for attaching a strong cord, kids put a each foot on a can, held the cords in their hands, and walked as far as they could without falling off.
Besides these ‘close to the ground’ stilts to play with, there was kick the can, and walkie-talkies or play phones made of cans.

Another multiuse item was binder twine. It was widely used for binding bundles of grain - and often the dried stalks of corn. This was a hands-on job that called for long-sleeves and gloves. The corn stalks are cut, stacked in manageable bundles, and then tied tightly with binding twine. Then they are arranged in teepee like shocks to shed the rainfall and complete the drying process. Later they would be hauled to a shed and be taken to the mill for grinding. The stalks were not bare – the leaves were still intact and would make tiny stinging cuts and were simply unpleasant to handle. The dried tassels sifted their pollen into clothing and by the time the day’s work was over a worker was an itching, stinging, miserable person.
Even the twine was rough to handle. It came in tightly wound rolls about 9” in diameter, that for some reason had a hollow core. It was  made of either Manila or Sisal hemp, rough on the hands that handled it and had a slight creosote scent. It was also insect repellant.
Those picturesque Thanksgiving photographs of shocks of corn and pumpkins, represent many hours of stingy, itching, hard work.
Like baling wire, binding twine had other uses. It was extremely strong and practically indestructible. One of the main uses was to replace the worn-out seats of straight chairs. Occasionally this was done in an intricate weaving technique, but more often in a simple crisscross design. For comfort, a thin cushion was added – one made of scraps, of course.

Today we can add duct tape and masking tape to the “fix anything” list and tin can stilts, along with other can uses, have made their way into the crafts magazines as things for the kids to do.
And we of that older generation continue to tell our tales and write our memories – and hope those days never return.