She tosses him a treat and turns her attention back to me.
"Why did you quit?" I ask.
"I didn't want to but I had no choice. My father needed me on the farm. My mother was sick and my brother well..." She nods her head and her expression is closed. There is another story here but one she is reluctant to go into.
"He arrived at the school and said, 'I need her at home to help out.'"
She nods. "That was the end of my schooling." Again she shakes her head. An intelligent woman who could easily gone on to higher education and instead spent much of her life working at low paying and often menial jobs."And that was it, at thirteen, the end of my schooling. I cried and pleaded to stay but I was needed on the farm. So I went."
"Did you have any books?" I ask.
"Books?" She looks disbelieving. "There was no money for books. I worked in the fields with my father. I was in charge of my own team. We used them to harrow and when we thrashed."
"So that was the end of school?" I persist.
"Yes," she replies. "There was too much work. I had to take care of the cattle, my team, help Dad in the fields and help Mom get the meals to the hired crews at harvest." She pauses and looks almost proud at the next statement, "I built the hip-roofed barn. At least me and Dad built the roof on that barn."
"But you were just thirteen."
"And a girl," she confirms. "But I have big bones."
As if that explains everything.
"We got water in milk cans for threshing. The men were thirsty. I was in charge of lifting the milk cans off the hay rack and carrying them to the well, filling them with water and then carrying them back and lifting them on the hay rack. Not many girls could do that."
And I'm thinking not many girls should.
"When my knee was hurt, Dad sent me to the blacksmith for axle grease."
Apparently every farm had an area in a shed or the barn where all the tools were kept. That was the blacksmith. In there was also vast quantities of axle grease as there were so many wheels and mechanical items needing grease. "So I plastered axle grease on both knees an inch thick to my thighs," she said, smiling. "Dad was furious. He gave me a lickin'."
"Lickin'?" I ask horrified. "He hit you?"
"No, he yelled but his yelling was scary. He said I used all his grease. And it was true. We couldn't afford to buy more and we needed it for lots of things." She laughs. "Worse, we had no paper towels back then, no extra rags, so what do you get it off with." She is still laughing through her words. "Well, I used the only thing available, the only thing we had lots of, prairie grass."
She takes a sip of coffee before continuing. "Axle grease isn't easy to get off you know but it sure makes your knee feel good. There's something in that grease that's good for everything."
Who would have thought?
Although times were unbelievably harsh for this senior, she partied like she was nineteen at her ninetieth birthday party and her response to the attendees at her surprise party was, "Let's have a drink".
And they did!