November 1990

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Harpending's Corners


Edwin N. Harris

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Laura Florance

Through my early years two staunch friends, Aunt Laura Florance, my mother's sister, and her only child, Doris, were kind to me, and I spent a lot of time at their farm about a half mile north of ours on the Pre-emption road. Though we started at the same time, Doris, a more serious student than I, finished High School a year ahead of me.

Aunt Laura, a prodigious worker, forever busy, ran a neat house, prepared good food, and cared for three men, her husband and two live-in hired hands. Whenever she wasn't busy with her twice-a-day milk room chores in the basement of her house, she shared the outside farm work: driving a tractor, managing the poultry flock, or running errands in the Dodge pickup truck for the men.

The family farmed two-hundred acres of land and operated a large (for then) dairy and retail milk route that served the Dundee area. The men milked the cows by hand, carried it in buckets to the milk room, and poured it into a receiving basin on top of a stainless steel cooling tank called an aerator. The milk ran in tiny streams from small holes in the bottom of the basin down the outside of the cone-shaped aerator tank which was cooled by chunks of ice floating in water inside. The ice water chilled the surface of the cone, and the rivulets of milk running down that surface were cooled by the time they reached the collecting ring at the bottom..

Laura and her mother-in-law, Dolly Florance, took care of the milk cooling and bottling. Several hundred bottles had to be washed, filled, capped, and packed into wooden crates for delivery. Nearly everything was done with hand equipment, and most of the operations were repeated twice a day, seven days a week. Those two women could outwork any two men known to me. It was a place where, if I stood around very long, I would be told, "Edwin, you might as well be doing something—stir that aerator." The water and ice inside the cone required frequent stirring to properly chill the milk. It was stirred by a plunger with a handle that ran through a tube to the outside of the tank. The ice for cooling the milk was harvested in the winter and stored under sawdust in their ice house.

The milk sold was registered as "Grade A Raw." It was not pasteurized nor homogenized. When it became illegal to sell raw milk, the Florances gave up the business. As the deadline drew near, many of their customers bitterly opposed this bureaucratic usurpation of their freedom of choice, the accompanying increased price and the loss of flavor. I heard the protests, when I rode the route with Uncle Deak. "Nobody is going to tell me what kind of milk to use."

Many found underground sources of raw milk before they gave up, persisting with fine disregard the reports that raw milk often carried undulant fever and tuberculosis.

Aunt Laura had no need to practice jogging, nor follow televised body-building exercises at the urging of an instructor to keep trim and beautiful—the daily regimen of fourteen hours of work took care of that. Of course, television was yet unknown. She did have a radio by 1924, and with a few neighbors I listened to the broadcast of one of the Tunney - Dempsey fights.

Aunt Laura and Uncle Ernest retired to a large colonial-style house in Dundee, and he worked for a time for a federal crop program. She could not abide idleness, and until she was nearly eighty years old she found work in the local grape vineyards. Uncle Deak died in 1966; Aunt Laura lived another twenty years until August 13, 1986, when she was eighty-nine.

© 1990, Edwin N. Harris
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