A family memoir in which the author (the family matriach) relates her life story, from 1920's rural New York to her elderly years in Virginia Beach.
I was born during the Roaring Twenties on July 10, 1926. Most people in the United States had been dancing on the prosperity of the last fifty years. My parents were no exception. Their farm had evolved from orchards and a few milk cows into the huge production known as "The Vince Farm Dairy." My father was a successful businessman; they were milking over sixty cows, as well as bottling and selling milk in Niagara Falls, New York. My mother and my father were instrumental in the early development of many immigrant social clubs having their roots in Niagara Falls.
The city of Niagara Falls had a population of 87,000, and the waterfalls generated cheap electricity for industry, which was booming all through the 1920s. Sometime around the end of 1929, they finished paving Packard Road, which eventually connected to Lockport just to the east, which had become a center for business due to the Erie Canal. Packard Road ended at the back entrance to the Niagara Falls Airport, which brought additional business to my parents' farm.
It's important for me to discuss my family origin before and after I was born. I'm proud to say that we Vinces were farmers. Both of my parents migrated to the United States from Czechoslovakia. My mother, Agnes Ambro Vince (1892-1951), came from the town of Velke Levare in 1906, when she was fourteen years old. My father, Martin Vince III (1882-1972), came from Mele Levare in 1909 at the age of twenty-five. These towns were agricultural communities. I know this because my husband Max and I visited my mother's family at Velke Levare in 1970. Just recently, I received an Easter Card from my cousin Anton Blakeh, the son of my mother's sister. Anton still lives in the home we visited in the 1970s.
I am the youngest of six children, and I have two sisters and three brothers: Mary (1912-1986), who married William; Agnes (1914-1975), who married George; Michael (1916-2006), who married Frances and Marylou; Joseph Vince (1918-1928); and Martin Vince IV (1921-2008), who married Marylin. My brother Martin and I were born in the old stone house, called the Packard House. My parents rented the house and farm, which once made up the large Packard Motor Company Estate. This was located on Packard Road, which was then the city line of Niagara Falls. Everyone who knew my parents referred to them as Pa and Ma Vince. The only time I remember hearing their first names was when friends and relatives visited on Sundays, holidays, and special occasions like wedding and funerals.
All the kids loved to run around the apple orchard and the dairy barn. Everything on the farm was entertaining to my young mind. Our farm had one of the original gasoline hiss-and-pop engines that ran the vacuum pump. I used to watch Dad get it running and sometimes fix it when it didn't want to start. Dad and my brother Mike could fix about everything on the farm.
My father had worked on large sugar beet farms in Austria, worked in the coalmines in Pennsylvania, and was a rigger in the steel mills and foundries in Niagara Falls. He and my mother also were caretakers of the Niagara Falls Country Club and Golf Course prior to leasing the farm and building their dairy business.
Pa was the brains behind the farm operation. The only thing bad was that Pa had a bit of a temper, and sometimes he drank too much of his own hard cider. He and I were best of friends; he would allow me to ride on the horse-drawn wagons when my mother was out of sight. I remember her saying I was too young to be around the farm machinery and livestock. My brother Martin was only five years older, and he was always with me, even when I tagged along with Dad.
My mother and older brother Mike would arrive at the barn early to heat the water in a furnace-like hot water tank. I can't remember what fueled the water heater: it might have been kerosene located in a separate stone building near the milk house, or it could have been heated at the stone house. This hot water was essential in sterilizing the milking equipment before and after milking. This began what we called doing chores. As I said before, the gas engine ran the vacuum system and special advanced milking apparatus that allowed my parents to milk fifteen to twenty cows per hour, which was unheard of on most dairy farms in that era of horse drawn equipment and windmills. The old way of milking was by hand.
Let me take a minute here to explain some dairy farm terms and the process of doing chores. Most dairy barns have two rows of stanchions that locked the cows' heads in place so they could be fed and milked. The cows faced the exterior walls, where grain, hay, and silage was placed in front of each cow. Between every other cow a shared water receptacle was placed between the walls and stanchion partitions. Some large barns also had a break in the middle with a wide entrance coming in from the milk-house on one side and a feed room on the opposite side. This would divide the stanchions into four equal sections. The center walkway had gutters on each side to catch urine and manure from the animals.
Once milked, the cows normally left the barn and either went into the barnyard to eat hay or was put out into the pastures to graze. This was when the barn interior was cleaned of manure, which was forked into wheelbarrows and wheeled to the manure-spreader. Once the barn was cleaned, fresh straw for bedding was put down in the winter months, when the cows might stay in the barn during bad weather. Calcium and lime was sprinkled down through the center walkway in the barn, to prevent or reduce slippage and for sanitation. In the summer, the walls and ceiling required whitewash to give a clean and sanitary look for the County Milk Inspector, who normally showed up unexpectedly for the monthly inspection.
Simultaneously, all the milking apparatus was washed in hot water, dried, and hung in the milk house. This included the stainless-steel containers that attached to the four-cup milking apparatus (held under the cows by long leather straps), which caught the milk as the vacuum cups drew the milk out of the cow's udder. These smaller containers held three gallons of milk and would be dumped into twenty-gallon pails with a strainer on the neck opening; these collection-points were positioned in the barn center walkway.
The large pails of strained milk would be carried into the milk house, dumped, and returned with clean strainers. This is where my older sisters usually worked with my parents. Everyone in the family worked on the farm. My father and brothers would feed the cows with hay, grain, and corn-silage from the feed room. The second floor of the dairy barn was used to store hay. Loose or baled hay was dropped through openings or hatches in the ceiling directly into the feed isles in front of the cows and was spread out. There was at least one opening in each stanchion section around the barn's perimeter for feeding convenience.
The corn-silage came from silos; these tall round structures had shoots that emptied directly into the feed room. Someone forked the silage out of the shoot openings from the top and worked downward as the silo emptied with usage. Each fall season, the corn stalks, including partially ripened corn-ears, were cut and bundled and transported to the silo. A large blower with a cutter-reel cut and blew the silage up a pipe and into the silo for storage.
You could say that the dairy barn was nothing short of a production center and the heartbeat of the dairy farm operation. My father purchased many of his registered Holstein cows from large farms in this area of western New York. These cows were milked early in the morning and late in the afternoon. I loved being involved in this operation while assisting my family in their work. Although danger lurked everywhere-from cows kicking over pails, to being sandwiched between two cows, or having the cows knocking me over when they moved the feed around with their heads when eating-nevertheless, I would always be rubbing some cow's head during milking and calling them by their names. Some of the cows' names were Cathy, Martha, and Mary; Betty was my favorite cow.
When filled, the large twenty-gallon milk cans were placed into a chilled-water holding tank until they were loaded onto a wagon and taken to the dairy for processing. This evolution of transporting the milk took place after morning chores. Rain or shine, the milk had to be transported to the dairy. In later years, the milk was picked up daily by truck. Eventually, the milk cans gave way to large stainless-steel holding tanks that kept the milk refrigerated at the farm. This type of system would allow for the milk to be pumped into tanker-trucks for transport.
When my mother cleaned the milking equipment, she would let me help her pour milk into a large pan for the farm cats. It was fun to watch the cats drinking the nourishing milk. The cats would rid the farm of rats and mice and other rodents. Sometimes, my mother would have to take a broom and break-up a catfight. This normally happened when the females were in heat. The young tomcats would occasionally try to move in on the farm's big-tom's territory. The hair would fly, and the young toms would scatter. No one had to teach me about the "birds and bees." Love is always in the air on a farm.
Lastly, after milking the cows, the calves were fed. If there were a new calf, the fresh-cow (mother), would get milked with a separate container. This...