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HOME > Classical Novels > Being a Boy > XI HOME INVENTIONS
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The winter season is not all sliding down hill for the farmer-boy by any means; yet he contrives to get as much fun out of it as from any part of the year. There is a difference in boys: some are always jolly, and some go scowling always through life as if they had a stone-bruise on each heel. I like a jolly boy.

I used to know one who came round every morning to sell molasses candy, offering two sticks for a cent apiece; it was worth fifty cents a day to see his cheery face. That boy rose in the world. He is now the owner of a large town at the West. To be sure, there are no houses in it except his own; but there is a map of it and roads and streets are laid out on it, with dwellings and churches and academies and a college and an opera-house, and you could [Pg 83] scarcely tell it from Springfield or Hartford, on paper. He and all his family have the fever and ague, and shake worse than the people at Lebanon: but they do not mind it; it makes them lively, in fact. Ed May is just as jolly as he used to be. He calls his town Mayopolis, and expects to be mayor of it; his wife, however, calls the town Maybe.

The farmer-boy likes to have winter come, for one thing, because it freezes up the ground so that he can't dig in it; and it is covered with snow, so that there is no picking up stones, nor driving the cows to pasture. He would have a very easy time if it were not for the getting up before daylight to build the fires and do the "chores." Nature intended the long winter nights for the farmer-boy to sleep; but in my day he was expected to open his sleepy eyes when the cock crew, get out of the warm bed and light a candle, struggle into his cold pantaloons, and pull on boots in which the thermometer would have gone down to zero, rake open the coals on the hearth and start the morning fire, and then go to the barn [Pg 84] to "fodder." The frost was thick on the kitchen windows; the snow was drifted against the door; and the journey to the barn, in the pale light of dawn, over the creaking snow, was like an exile's trip to Siberia. The boy was not half awake when he stumbled into the cold barn, and was greeted by the lowing and bleating and neighing of cattle waiting for their breakfast. How their breath steamed up from the mangers, and hung in frosty spears from their noses! Through the great lofts above the hay, where the swallows nested, the winter wind whistled and the snow sifted. Those old barns were well ventilated.

I used to spend much valuable time in planning a barn that should be tight and warm, with a fire in it if necessary in order to keep the temperature somewhere near the freezing point. I couldn't see how the cattle could live in a place where a lively boy, full of young blood, would freeze to death in a short time if he did not swing his arms and slap his hands, and jump about like a goat. I thought I would have [Pg 85] a sort of perpetual manger that should shake down the hay when it was wanted, and a self-acting machine that should cut up the turnips and pass them into the mangers, and water always flowing for the cattle and horses to drink. With these simple arrangements I could lie in bed, and know that the "chores" were doing themselves. It would also be necessary, in order that I should not be disturbed, that the crow should be taken out of the roosters, but I could think of no process to do it. It seems to me that the hen-breeders, if they know as much as they say they do, might raise a breed of crowless roosters, for the benefit of boys, quiet neighborhoods, and sleepy families.

There was another notion that I had, about kindling the kitchen fire, that I never carried out. It was, to have a spring at the head of my bed, connecting with a wire, which should run to a torpedo which I would plant overnight in the ashes of the fireplace. By touching the spring I could explode the torpedo, which would scatter the ashes and uncover the live coals, and at [Pg 86] the same time shake down the sticks of wood which were standing by the side of the ashes in the chimney, and the fire would kindle itself. This ingenious plan was frowned on by the whole family, who said they did not want to be waked up every morning by an explosion. And yet they expected me to wake up without an explosion. A boy's plans for making life agreeable are hardly ever heeded.

I never knew a boy farmer who was not eager to go to the district school in the winter. There is such a chance for learning, that he must be a dull boy who does not come out in the spring a fair skater, an accurate snowballer, and an accomplished slider downhill, with or without a board, on his seat, on his stomach, or on his feet. Take a moderate hill, with a foot-slide down it worn to icy smoothness, and a "go-round" of boys on it, and there is nothing like it for whittling away boot-leather. The boy is the shoemaker's friend. An active lad can wear down a pair of cowhide soles in a week so that the ice will scrape his toes. Sledding or coasting is also slow [Pg 87] fun compared to the "bareback" sliding down a steep hill ............
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