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An Uncle's Journal Recalls a Bygone American Lifestyle

Recently, the uncle of a VOA reporter died at age 98. His nephew sifted through the artifacts of Uncle Mack's long and eventful life, and came upon two scrawled pages that Mack had titled Life on the Bedford County Farm. They were clipped phrases that described a tough boyhood full of endless work and not many pleasures. In fact, things were so grim that Mack had to leave home at 15 to take a factory job to support his mother and two sisters.

Mack's jottings included a list of chores that help us imagine dirt-poor Pennsylvania in the years before World War One:

“Hitching up horses to go to fields. Milking, 4 a.m., 5 p.m. Hand-catch chickens. Husking corn by lantern light. Hand planting. Listened to the turtledove and song sparrow while plowing. Milk handling: stink cheese, skim milk. Snakes. Hand-knit mittens. Fiddle lessons -- practice in barn. Work on road -- 50 cents a day. Trapping opossum, skunk with old box trap.”

Mack also noted the primitive sanitation of the day, writing: “Outhouse. Cold and snowy bedrooms.”

Later on, Mack's life would get better. He ran a packing company and had a handsome family and a big, cozy house. But way back in the Pennsylvania woods, he built a primitive cabin, from which he would watch the birds, throw a fishing line into Wolf Creek, and take off hunting. In a blizzard, snow would seep through the log walls. And out back…was an outhouse.