By Rick Houser –
As we move on through the years we become more able to look back and think of times past that we enjoyed. I know this reaction to the action is a great way of never losing what was and is still a part of us. Many folks say you can become caught up in the past and lost to the present. To some point I agree and warn all that what has passed we are building on as we move forward through our lives and just like a book, chapter by chapter, our individual book continues to grow larger and longer as we live.
From my earliest memories, I can retell or in my mind’s eye see a time or place that stuck out in a more positive way than many that just didn’t. That I guess is why I like and love to tell what I have experienced over my years and hope that others will read and say “by golly that reminds me of a similar happening to me”, so now I am going to turn back in time and tell it again.
Growing up in an old farm house might have looked neat from the outside, but the big old brick we lived in was always in need of repair. The years will do that to a building. It seemed that each year Dad would complete at least one improvement project on the homestead. One in particular that comes to mind was replacing the floor in the kitchen. The floor joists had grown weak and were getting weaker from termites and just time rotting away at it.
The kitchen was located directly over the cellar and after more than 100 years the time had come to tear out the old floor and rebuild a new floor that would be stronger and built to last longer. (Besides Mom had told Dad she really didn’t want him to find her in the cellar from the floor giving in.)
Dad took measurements and then sat at the kitchen table with Mom at his side and drew out what his plans were to be. In replacing an entire floor, there were going to be a couple of days where the kitchen was out of order and use. So Mom and Dad had to devise and time how they were going to do the floor and how Mom was going to be able to prepare meals. Dad would remove sections at a time of the floor so Mom had access as long as possible. Then when the floor had to be gone permanently, Dad laid sheets of plywood for Mom to work over. They coordinated their times so both jobs continued.
The last part was going to be the hardest as all the floor joists needed replaced. Dad, my brother Ben and Web, our hired hand, would bring in a long piece of lumber and fit them into the sides of the room into what they called “pockets” as this was where the joist would rest its weight. Since the pockets were made in the stone laid walls and had been made way before calibrations were so fine, each pocket was just a fraction different in dimension. Several times a joist was carried in and worked on so as to fit better. The process was tiring to say the least and at that time I was more an observer than a helper. When I say handed in, I mean the joist had to be passed over a 14-foot expanse over the cellar. This took someone handing the board out over the cellar, someone in the cellar helping keep the joist high enough and helping to move it to the person on the other side waiting to receive it. (Like I said, tiring work.)
To be certain that this lumber would last Dad decided to creosote each joist, not one time or two but three coats per board. This took a lot of time as Dad wanted those boards to be as treated as he could get them so as to prevent rot and or termites. Getting to brush on the creosote was where I got to help and I did my best to cover those boards. What I didn’t realize was that I was not doing too bad a job covering me. Ben helped brush also and he wasn’t too neat either as I now recall. We had finished the brushing and were about halfway done installing the beams when out of nowhere the hay baler man showed up to bale our hay.
We had to hurry and put the tools away and lay some flooring down so Mom could walk to the stove and sink, then hook up the wagons so we could head to the field. In the rush Ben and I forgot to do a major step in preparing to work in hay. That was to wash our hands and arms and any place we could think of to remove the creosote off of ourselves. I didn’t really understand at that moment but did shortly after we began loading hay and sweating. With sweat getting in your eyes, you automatically rub the sweat out of your eyes. This is where I learned a huge lesson. Creosote in your eyes burns and burns. Once we realized what was happening, Dad took us to the house and Mom took over.
She scrubbed us down with clean wash cloths and then mixed up a boric acid and water solution to put in our eyes. Ben’s eyes were in worse shape than mine as he was pitching the hay and sweating harder than me because I was only driving the tractor. After Mom used the solution repeatedly, I began to feel relief and I knew we were going to be fine as I could see Dad beginning to relax a little. I must admit, and I’m sure my brother would agree, the thought of losing our eyesight had never felt more of a possibility than right at that time.
Needless to say the hay or the floor got put in that day and thankfully it didn’t rain, but the next day we got the floor joists completed and a su- floor down so Mom was back in business and we got the hay in the barn that afternoon. Out of all that I learned to make certain no creosote or other chemicals were on my hands before taking on a project where you sweat.
At that time this event wasn’t a pleasant memory, but now for some odd reason, I can recall that day as clearly as it was yesterday and today my mind’s eye doesn’t burn from creosote. I have a memory I will keep forever.
Rick Houser grew up on a farm near Moscow in Clermont County and loves to share stories about his youth and other topics. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.