CGP Community Stories

Helen Shillieto, November 16, 2011

Title

Helen Shillieto, November 16, 2011

Subject

Dairy farming
Immigration & society
Chicken industry
Retirement

Description

Helen Shillieto was born Helen Green in Huntington on Long Island, New York on September 28, 1928. Growing up the daughter of Danish immigrants, as a young girl she worked as her father’s assistant on the family’s two hundred acre farm on Clock Hill in Burlington, New York. Shillieto recounts getting an education during the 1940s when she attended a one-room schoolhouse with only one other person. Both before and after school, she worked on the farm. She recounts the first time she met her husband. She was only fourteen and laughs at how embarrassed she was to have a man fourteen years older picking her up by the seat of her pants.

After marrying Stanley Shillieto at age 19, she found herself again immersed in farm work. Living on a one hundred and fifty acre farm, the Shillietos raised dairy cows, turkeys, and enough crops to feed their main harvest, chicken eggs. One of the largest and only egg producers in the area, the Shillieto farm had 2,200 eggs at full-scale production. Doing everything from milking cows and dressing turkeys to washing chicken eggs, Shillieto explains her life experiences in a relaxed and interesting manner.

While farming was her profession, Shillieto is most proud of being a mother to four children whom she put through school with the income from all those eggs. Fiscally responsible, Shillieto speaks in detail about her family’s money policies. She recalls many great memories with her husband Stanley and reminisces about their travels in retirement from farming in the 1980s. While commenting on changes in farming in Central New York, Shillieto remains an advocate for “changing with the times” and gives insight into the practices of the small farming community of Burlington.

The interviewer has edited the transcription for reading capabilities and per the interviewee’s corrections. In the background, noise from State Hwy 80 can be heard at times. The abrupt banging often heard is from construction on her garage roof. Through a technical error, the interview ends prematurely, but the interviewee was thanked for her participation.

Creator

Haley Gard

Publisher

Cooperstown Graduate Program, State University of New York-College of Oneonta

Date

2011-11-16

Rights

New York State Historical Association Library, Cooperstown, NY

Format

audio/mpeg
28.8 mB
audio/mpeg
28.8 mB
audio/mpeg
18.3 mB
image/gif
2.9mB

Language

en-US

Type

Sound
Image

Identifier

11-070

Coverage

Upstate New York
1928-2011
Burlington, NY

Online Submission

No

Interviewer

Haley Gard

Interviewee

Helen Shillitieo

Location

3117 State Hwy 80
Burlington, NY

Transcription

HS= Helen Shillieto
HG= Haley Gard

[START OF TRACK 1, 0:00]

HG:
This is the November 16th, 2011 interview of Helen Shillieto by Haley Gard for the Cooperstown Graduate Program’s Research and Fieldwork course recorded at 3117 State Hwy 80 Burlington, NY 13315

Ok, Helen, tell me about where and when you were born?

HS:
I was born in Queens, NY, actually Huntington, Long Island in 1928. Do you need the exact date?

HG:
Sure. Why not?

HS:
September 28, 1928

HG:
Excellent. How would you describe your parents?

HS:
Very hard working, my father especially. My mother was his second wife because his first wife died from tuberculosis young, and back then they didn't have the ways of curing it or getting it better.

HG:
Ok and what where their names?

HS:
My father was Carl Green and my mother was Ellen Madsen Green

HG:
I know that they came from Denmark. Can you tell me your understanding of how they came to the United States?

HS:
Yes, my father came from a very large family and Denmark being a small country, they kind of had to go other places, some of them, so he had an older brother in Nebraska who sponsored him and that’s how he got into this country and he went to Nebraska and farmed it with his older brother. That is where he met his first wife.

HG:
Ok and your mother?


HS:
My mother, she was a nurse. I don't really know why she came to the United States. I don't really know, I just know that she came and they met.

HG:
Ok, and do you believe there are any other reasons your father came to the United States other than for work?

HS:
No, I don't think so.

HG:
Ok, and do you know how they decided on farming in Central New York?

HS:
Well that’s what he knew, my father was a farmer, but when he went to New York City to try to get help for his first wife, he became a bricklayer. You know that was a common laborer, and that kept him going. So he got to be a pretty good bricklayer too.

HG:
Ok and do you have any traditions that they passed down to you from Denmark?

HS:
Traditions? The usual, I don't know just anything different. We celebrated Christmas on Christmas Eve more so than the Americans do. But I don't know. There aren’t too many different traditions.

HG:
Ok, and did they retain their language at all?

HS:
Yes, actually I spoke Danish until I went to school, and my mother never did catch on to the English as good as she should have. She stayed at home on the farm, and she talked Danish. My father talked both languages.


HG:
Interesting. Do you have any notion of if they really enjoyed being Americans?

HS:
Yes, I think so. I know my father loved this country, but my mother I don't know. I’m sure she did, but she was sort of isolated on the farm.

HG:
Ok, and I know you where born during the Great Depression. Growing up in that environment, how do you think your parents coped with that event having children?

HS:
Well, like I said my father was such a hard worker, he would do anything, hard labor, and he got by ok.

HG:
Interesting, tell me more about your schooling.

HS:
Alright, because we moved up here to the country when I was six, I didn't get to start school until I was almost seven. September 1st. I went to a one-room schoolhouse and had a wonderful teacher named Gladys Simmons, and there were two of us in the first grade, one little boy and myself. And we were able to do the first and second grade in one year, and we caught up that way. And then for the third grade, my father moved from that farm to the farm he actually bought up on Clock Hill and we ended up in district number seven Burlington for the third grade. Third and fourth grade. And the fifth grade we went to the big centralized school, brand new and went on busses.

HG:
And what kind of busses did they use? Was it a large…?

HS:
They were buses like they have now but they looked a little more old fashioned.

HG:
Interesting. And can you describe for me what you remember your school looking like other than just one room?

HS:
No, the school that I started out in is now on display at the Morris Fair Grounds, and that’s the school that I took the first and second grade in. It’s just a little one room schoolhouse.

HG:
Interesting

HS:
and so was the one in Burlington. And no bathrooms, only outside bath, or outhouse.

HG:
Wow. And what kind of things did you study? What kind of subjects did you take?

HS:
Reading, Writing and Arithmetic. Geography, History, very basic.

HG:
And can you describe what a typical school day would have been like for you?

HS:
I just remember we went in and sat down at our desks and after while we'd have recess, that’s what they called it. We'd go out and run around, play and carry on and then she'd ring the school bell, in fact I have the school bell. And we'd all come in and it’s time to go back to work. Of course we brought our lunches, a sandwich or something, and they had a pail of water with a dipper in it that the schoolteacher provided. That was it.

HG:
That’s interesting. Can you tell me about growing up on your parent’s farm?

HS:
Yeah. Of course I was an only child there because my brother was ten years older but that was from his first wife and he was grown up and gone. I had to milk cows. I had to get up and milk eight cows in the morning before I went to school, I was a little older then. And then get the stink off, get cleaned up, and be ready to go to school. And then of course, in the summer I helped with the hay and I worked right along with my father all the time in the summer. We raised a few pigs, and we had a dairy for milk, we had some chickens for eggs, that’s about it.

HG:
Interesting, and what kinds of work did your father do?

HS:
Farming.

HG:
Was it just dairy and chickens? No field work?

HS:
Well yeah, you had to plant your crops and do all the haying. And then harvest the corn and buckwheat and oats in the fall.

HG:
Ok, and how did he acquire that land?

HS:
He bought it and I know he paid for it on time, but he worked very hard and never missed a payment I know that.

HG:
And at that time did you all have any other hired help?

HS:
No.

HG:
And what did you do with the product that he made?

HS:
Well, the milk was picked up by the milk truck, and it went in cans, these forty-quart cans to the milk plant in Edmeston, New York to be processed or whatever they did with it. And oats and things like that were used for feed for the animals; all the other crops pretty much. Of course you always had a big garden back then everybody did. You didn't go to the supermarket every five minutes.

HG:
And what kind of things were in the garden?

HS:
All the usual vegetables, potatoes and tomatoes and carrots and beets and all lettuce and all sorts, corn, all the usual things. And then we had an apple orchard so we always had lots of apples

HG:
Wow that’s a lot of food to have. And now can you tell me how you met your husband?

HS:
Oh my. Well he lived on the farm just down here, and I don't remember the first time I met him but I was real small. I know my father was a little short of hay one year so he bought some from a couple houses up here and we came down with the horses and the wagon to get the hay and I was a young girl. And then when the hay was all loaded on that wagon about as high as this room probably, I needed to get up on the top to ride home. And my husband took me by the nape of my neck and the seat of my pants and threw me up there and I was mortified. I could have killed him, I was about twelve. I think that’s the first I had any real interaction with him

HG:
[Laughs] That’s great, and was he much older than you were?

HS:
Yes, fourteen years older.

HG:
Oh my, I can see why you would have been mortified.

HS:
[Laughs]

HG:
And how long did y’all date for?

HS:
Well we started dating when I was 15, and we got married when I was nineteen.


HG:
And when and where did you guys get married?

HS:
We got married, we went to the parsonage in Gilbertsville, New York and were married. Just a quiet little wedding.

HG:
Was that common for your era?

HS:
Yeah, they didn't spend money on weddings back then like they do now. A lot of people just went to the parsonage.

HG:
Interesting. And did your family farms come together once you were married or did you buy your own land?

HS:
The back fence joined. Up on the hill was me, and down here was Stanley’s, my husband’s. But when my father was very sick, he offered to give my husband his farm and he refused it. He didn't want to take it. He said it was too much work for him; he had all he could do. And I guess he felt uneasy about taking it. So they never did actually join.

HG:
And so you moved onto your husband’s farm?

HS:
Yeah, well... actually no. When we got married, we went for a little while, tried a job in Cobleskill, but the home farm was too much for Stanley's father and mother alone, and so we ended up coming back here to Burlington. I don’t think we were gone but a few months, I don't remember just how long. Anyway, we bought the place over in front of the church and we lived there for a long time. And then when his parents passed away, we moved down on the farm and lived there for 15 years and then it was time for my husband to retire and he was getting pretty old so then this place came up for sale. The lady that lived here willed it to the church and they sold it to us. It needed a lot of work and so this became our retirement place right here. We’ve been here since about 1990.

HG:
Interesting. And can you tell me some of the daily things that had to be done on your farm?

HS:
Well he put the first milking machines on at 5 a.m. and it wasn't 5:10 or 5:15 it was 5 a.m. Had to do the milking and then you came for breakfast, and then you had to go back and do the feeding and the cleaning of the barn and the spreading of the manure and like that, and then if it was crop time then you had to tend the crops, either plant or cultivate or harvest. And then 5 o’clock in the evening the machines went on the cows again, that was after we got machines. Before that, it was all hand milking. We got the machines pretty early.

HG:
Ok, and what year would you say you got the machines?

HS:
It’d be in the 50's, I don't know just when.

HG:
And how many cows did you have?


HS:
Oh gosh... probably thirty or so.

HG:
And were they housed in a barn?

HS:
Oh yes, a regular cow barn. And a lot of the work was done by horses before we got the first tractor. He loved his horses, he really did.

HG:
How many did you have?


HS:
Two work horses. That was until we retired, and then he got in the habit of going to the horse auction and buying riding horses for him and our daughter they spent a lot of time on the horses, with the horses. That was something he could do with her. Of course, she was born nine years after the last son, so she was kind of alone, so they and the horses did a lot together.


HG:
What other kinds of crops did you grow specifically?

HS:
Just oats and corn and sometimes some buckwheat and hay, alfalfa. That’s about it.

HG:
Interesting. And what kind of things were you responsible for helping with on the farm?

HS:
Well, back in those days I did a lot of canning, you know, we didn't have freezers yet. Boy they were nice when they came out; we really enjoyed getting the freezers. But it was canning, you would do your own butchering, you would butcher pigs and you would butcher cows usually, but you had to can the meat. A lot of work.

HG:
In large cans or jars?

HS:
Quart jars usually. Took the meat from the bones.

HG:
In a solution?


HS:
It depended. Some of it was plain and then some of it was brined and put down in dried beef and like that was put down in…what do you call them…


HG:
Like a barrel?

HS:
No, like a ceramic, I can't think of the name of it now.

HG:
It’s ok. Do you feel like you did a lot? I know you had a lot of chickens. Did you do a lot of egg collecting?

HS:
Yeah, after he fixed up that old barn over there he filled it full of chickens, so we had lots of eggs. We had to wash those eggs and pack them in crates to sell them in stores, and a man would come from Utica and pick them up. I think who bought them first was local but the last few years we had the chickens it was a man from up near Utica and he'd drive down with his truck and take the eggs to the stores.


HG:
So were they packaged, did you have to package them before?


HS:
Yeah, they were all packaged, either in thirty dozen cases or in the dozen, depending what they needed, but they had to be clean. That was a lot of washing.

HG:
Was there any hired help, or did you also do that?

HS:
We had, as soon as they were available, my husband bought an egg washer, and the water would bubble and you’d put the wire pails in and you’d work the eggs and take them out and get them clean and take them out to drip and they’d be clean. The soap that you used got rid of the bacteria quite a bit. They were really clean.


HG:
Were there any laws at that time for cleanliness? Or was it just commonplace?

HS:
No, but they wouldn't buy them if they weren't clean. So you do what you have to.

HG:
How many chickens did you have?

HS:
I think he had 2200 when it was full.

HG:
Oh wow.

HS:
He had a lot of chickens, it’s a lot of work.

HG:
And what kind of barn did you have for them?

HS:
Well, it’s the one that is falling down across the road and it was all chickens. And then for a while we raised turkeys for Thanksgiving. We had about fifty but, boy I tell ya, when Thanksgiving Day came and you had to have them all dressed and cleaned and ready for the people to pick them up that had ordered them, Thanksgiving was a tired time. [Laughs]

HG:
[Laughs] Yeah, I can imagine.

HS:
Usually my mother-in-law would have the dinner.

HG:
That’s interesting, and what kind of barn did they have? Did each chicken have its own little place to lay their eggs?

HS:
They had nests, but they weren't in cages so to speak. They went in the nest when they were ready to lay, shared them, and then you went and gathered the eggs out of the nest.

HG:
And how do you manage that many chickens at one time? Did you have to clean the barn a lot?

HS:
Yes, he had to bring up his manure spreader and shovel out into that and clean that a lot. And you had straw, we got straw from the oats that we grew and that was the bedding for the chickens to keep them clean. The turkeys were raised in a wire cage, a big wire cage, up on stilts. That’s how they were raised them.

HG:
To keep them from destroying things or…

HS:
I don't know, but they grew like crazy. Boy they would put on the weight fast. But they would eat like crazy too. [Laughs]. They were very good.

HG:
And what kinds of things did the chickens eat?

HS:
Well you had to get cracked corn and oats and mash. What they call mash, which is ground up grains; I don't really know what was in that. It came in burlap bags.

HG:
And you purchased that at the feed store?

HS:
Hmm?

HG:
Where did you purchase that?

HS:
In the feed stores in Edmeston.

HG:
And where did your crops go if you weren't feeding them to the chickens?

HS:
Most of our crops were self-used for feed and like that.

HG:
For the cows and horses?

HS:
Cows and the horses and the chickens.

HG:
Interesting. And I know farming is an everyday job, did you ever make time for vacations or breaks?

HS:
Yes, we were quite fortunate. We took quite a few trips, surprisingly. When the kids got a little bigger, we had three sons they would sometimes take over so we could go on a little trip or my father-in-law would take over and actually I don't remember hiring anybody too much. We managed to work it out.

HG:
Interesting. Tell me about being a mother and working at the same time.

HS:
Well, I was fortunate in that I was home, I didn't have to leave the kids anywhere like that, you know. I had my first baby in 1948, and he was 9 pounds 12 1/4 ounces.

HG:
Oh goodness.

HS:
Big baby. And I nursed all my babies; a lot of ladies around were using the bottles then, they didn't want to be bothered I guess. But I nursed my babies and they were very healthy and they grew very big and I nursed them for 6 months or 7 months and my second son was born 3 years later and he weighed 9 pounds 12 3/4 ounces.

HG:
Oh goodness.

HS:
And the third son was born 4 years later, and he only weighed 8 pounds and 15 1/2 ounces and I think this because he came out talking, and he's never stopped since. And 9 years later the daughter beat them all, she was 9 pounds and 13 ounces, and she was a red head.

HG:
Aw. So how did you balance working on the farm and being a mother?

HS:
You just did. You had a baby carriage and if you went down to the farm or somewhere you took the baby with you. And then the older kids would watch the younger kids if you had to go outside or something.

HG:
Ok, and how would you describe a typical day in the busiest time that you remember?

HS:
Well, we’d get up early, of course my husband was in the barn by 5 o’clock, milking came first, then he'd come up and go to the chicken house and take care of the eggs or sometimes one of the kids or I would do that. He would have a big breakfast, and then you'd go back out in the field or usually down to clean the barn. Had to clean the barn and then tend to your crops or whatever. He always came for lunch. Well we called it dinner back in those days, and then work and then supper, and we always ate together, all of us, which annoyed my children some because the other kids around were allowed to play outside and they'd come in and graze in their houses. Where my husband insisted we all sit down for a meal, when dinner was ready they were to come, and that kind of annoyed them but as they got older they didn't mind.

HG:
And where did your children go to school?

HS:
Edmeston. They were beyond the one room schoolhouse, by then it was all the big centralized school.

HG:
And can you tell me what type of equipment you used on the farm, after the horses?

HS:
Yeah, we bought tractors.
[START OF TRACK 2, 30:01]
HS:
And then you got the kind of machinery that the tractors would use for the mowers or the plows or whatever.

HG:
Ok, can you tell me maybe about a time when you had difficulty making ends meet? Was your farm relatively profitable if you don't mind me asking?

HS:
I can tell you this, we never and we were very unusual, we never bought a nickel’s worth of anything on time. We never paid any interest to anybody, whether it was a car or a house or machinery. We saved the money up before we bought it and we never, never bought anything on time. We never had a debt and that’s unusual. Still to this day, if you don't have the money you don't buy it.


HG:
Interesting, and was that a philosophy of your husband?

HS:
And his parents. They didn't believe in any interest. Any interest was to come your way on your savings. You weren't supposed to be paying the bank interest.

HG:
Right. [Laughs]

HS:
[Laughs]

HG:
And was farming really popular in your area?

HS:
It was all farming. It was all farming around here; it’s a shame to see it all gone. Many of the barns are falling down and it’s very different now. Now it’s all these new houses in and people get up in the morning and go to work somewhere. It’s so different.

HG:
And do you feel like that change came slowly or more rapidly? What have you noticed specifically? How do you feel about that change?

HS:
About what?

HG:
The change in the type of people that live here.

HS:
Well, you've got to go with the times. It’s a shame to see all these nice farms that we used to see, they used to be showplaces, falling down. That is a shame. You have to go with the times and make the best of it.

HG:
And what other types of farms were around this area?

HS:
It was pretty much all dairy, some chicken, chicken farms. But it was pretty much dairy country.

HG:
And were you guys one of the few large chicken farms in the area?

HS:
Yeah. They might have a small flock of chickens just for their own eggs, but not for selling like we did.

HG:
Interesting. And did the people come to your house to get eggs?

HS:
Yes, actually we had a refrigerator on the front porch and a money box and they would come and help themselves and pay so I didn't have to run to the door every minute. And I sold eggs to the store that was across the street.

HG:
Were they the same people from the area?

HS:
Yeah, course back then all the women did a lot of baking. Did a lot of their own baking and cooking so they needed eggs a lot. And then of course eggs was a big thing for breakfast back then, that’s before they were supposed to be so bad, now they are going back to saying they’re not so bad for the cholesterol.

HG:
That’s interesting, and so how did you interact with your neighbors or the community?

HS:
Back then you knew everybody. And you were friendly with everybody, now you know maybe a third of them that live in town. You know, it’s different. But back then everybody, maybe because… well for one thing, when the men got finished work at night, around 7 o’clock, 7 or 8 o’clock they would come up to the store and sit on the porch and visit, [all] the farmers. So they knew everybody and they knew what everybody was doing. I can remember one time they were “sitting on the store steps” as we called it and they were talking about television and they were going to have pictures come through the air into your house and they were saying they knew “…never, ever. How can you send a picture through the air!? That's just never going to happen!” Wasn't very long after that the storekeeper started selling televisions, and of course every one of them had to have one then. But you know, when you think about it, isn't that something? Those pictures from all over the world come right into your living room. It’s amazing.

HG:
Yeah, our generation takes that for granted.

HS:
You take it for granted and even telephone and things like that, you take for granted.

HG:
So what did you do to stay entertained before the television came?

HS:
Radio was a big thing. Had to get that turned on to get the news. We listened to the radio quite a bit. But then we used to go to dances a lot, round and square dances. We'd go to them every Saturday night. And after a while, the roller skating rink opened up and people would go roller-skating. My husband and I went just once, and that was his fault. Course, I think I was 15. "Oh yeah, that'd be fun to go to roller-skating," so we went roller-skating in the roller rink. And we got in there and he got his skates on and he stood up and he's pretending to fall down, pretending he can't stand and he’s pretending he can't. And I'm grabbing on to him, to help him stand up like that. All my friends are in that roller rink and they're all laughing and I don't know what’s the matter. They were having a ball. So my husband, being that much older than me, he had been there before. Next thing I know, he's going down around with one leg up in the air and he's an expert skater and I realized I'd been made a fool of. We never went skating again. [Laughs]

HG:
[Laughs] Oh gosh!

HS:
I was 15 and that was the end of the roller-skating.
But he had me convinced he couldn’t stand up on the skates.

HG:
Was that in his character to do things like that?

HS:
Yeah, he was very funny. He was full of fun.

HG:
And what other types of things did you do together? Did you like to dance?

HS:
Loved to dance. My husband was a very good dancer, yes. If the big bands came anywhere around we didn't miss them. Like Guy Lombardo and different ones. We always went to the big bands, that was something special.

HG:
Did they come often in this area?

HS:
Yeah, quite a bit. They would come to the roller rink up by Richfield Springs, that’s not there [anymore]. And the armory in Oneonta, that’s where we saw Guy Lombardo. Where the Sportsman’s Tavern was in Fly Creek, I think that was Tommy Dorsey. I can't remember for sure which one it was.

HG:
Oh goodness

HS:
And then up around Utica they would come and that was something we went to. And my mother-in-law would baby sit. Or sometimes my parents, I'd take them up there, but it was usually my mother-in-law.

HG:
And was that a common thing? Everyone from the town went?

HS:
No. There weren't that many who liked to dance as much as he did, or as we did. But the round and square dances, that was pretty common, everybody would show up there. That was the local band, little band. Ernie Russ was the main one back in those days. He would play in Grange Halls and different places like that.

HG:
And were young people there or how old were you?

HS:
Actually it would be young people up through middle age. It was family. And then after a while the rock and roll, that was mostly young people, but when it was round and square dancing it was all ages.

HG:
Interesting. What other types of things did you do? Did you go visit people during the day?

HS:
Yes, usually you had Sunday dinner with somebody, relatives, or somebody quite often. And you did, you went and visited more than they do now.

HG:
Ok, tell me about when you got out of the farming industry?

HS:
When we got finished farming? Well, that must have been when he sold his dairy in the late 80s, yes it'd had to have been. You know he was just getting too old. And then we rented the farm for a while to somebody after we had bought this place and were able to move in here. And then he and his daughter still had their horses, so he went riding all over and he'd have his little pickup truck and you'd see it going up and down the road he'd go and visit somebody, he was a great hand to visit people.

HG:
And what other types of things did you do in retirement together?

HS:
We took some trips. We took a Caribbean cruise, and for our 50th anniversary, we decided we didn't want to have a big party. He always had talked about the Panama Canal, because that was a big thing when he was a little boy, their building the Panama Canal and that would be in the newspapers and on the radio and he would like to see that so we booked a cruise for the Panama Canal, and did he love that! That was nice. And then we stopped at Costa Rica on the way back and then Florida on the way back. And we took a trip to Denmark for three weeks. My uncle Peter, who was my father’s brother, lived down in Ridgefield, Connecticut, he wanted to go over and see his son, he wanted to go back but he didn't want to go alone. His wife had died so he called us up. I was his niece, [and asked] would there be any chance we would go? Well, we thought about it and well we did. We decided to go. We went to Denmark for three weeks. We went on Pan Am [airline], a big plane, and we drove down to his house in Connecticut and then we got picked up at the house and would you believe it was the pilot of the plane that picked us up and he's walking out of there with his suitcase, because he was a friend of Uncle Peter’s. So he looked after us, got us down to the airport, got us on the airplane, took us over there, and when we got back he took us, because he lived in Ridgefield too, he provided transportation for us to get up to my uncle's house. So, that was really something. Then we took a trip to Vegas, out west, and we met our son from Florida, our third son. Well, we were flying out of Albany and I got a phone call from the airport, there were problems. Would we be willing to take the later flight? And I said yes, we could manage that, we wouldn't get into Vegas until about 8 or 9 o’clock at night but I said we could do that sure. So we went and when we got to the airport she says
"Do you realize you are in first class?" I said “How come?” She said, “Because you were willing to change your flight.” So we went out in first class, when first class was really something, the meals and oh my goodness, unbelievable. So we get to Vegas, we meet up with our son, who came in on another flight, and he is starving. He is so hungry and we are sitting there bragging about all we had to eat. [Laughs] It was so funny.

HG:
That’s excellent.

HS:
And we drove down the strip, boy I'd never seen so many lights in my life. And we visited the big redwood trees. We went to Lake Tahoe, we went to California and saw the big redwoods, or wherever they are, they're out there somewhere. And we had a great trip. Then another trip in retirement, we went to Branson. We went to see my son who was in Little Rock, Arkansas, which he is now. We asked him if we came to Arkansas, would he take us up to Branson to see the shows? Well I don't think he was too enthused about it, but being the good son that he is, he's not married, he did. So we got there, and we drove up to Missouri over the Missouri border to Branson and I had I think 6 shows lined up through the man that I made the reservations with at the motel, and he had lined up and gotten us tickets for the shows. He had done such a terrific job, he had us in the front row in every one but one of them, but that was only like a third of the way back. We had, for Lawrence Welk and for Dolly Parton, and for all those wonderful guys, we had the best seats and it was just a common fella running a motel that had done that for us and our son had a wonderful time. He really enjoyed it, but I don't think he thought he was going to, ya know. He really enjoyed it. So that was one trip.


HG:
Sounds like you guys were very lucky.

HS:
Yeah.

HG:
Did you all like to travel? Was it your goal to travel when you retired?

HS:
We loved to travel. You're working seven days a week, five o’clock in the morning until seven at night you know, boy you really enjoy getting away. And we were fortunate that we were able to save up enough money to do it and pay for it and not get in trouble or in debt or anything. So that was fortunate. And that egg money pretty much paid for college educations and it went a long ways back then. And they didn't have to take out loans. My first son went to Morrisville for automobile mechanic to start with, then he ended up going to Eastern States Aero Technical School for Airplane Maintenance, the big planes, he still does that he works for FedEx. The second son, he went to Hamilton College, and he was valedictorian of his class, so he won scholarships, he won the Cooperstown Clark’s scholarship and the Regents scholarship and so he was not too bad to pay for. And four years later, that son he went to Mohawk Valley Community College, that didn't suit him. He went for a couple years but he took it upon himself, and he drove up to Clarkson College, got himself enrolled up there and he stayed there for three years, so he got an MBA, masters of business administration, and that’s what he did. Then nine years later, the girl was not too enthused about going to college; she was more interested in the horses, and having a good time around here. But I told her one day, “Linda you know, you are going to have to make your own living.” Hmph. So she did, she went to Mohawk Valley Community College and studied those newfangled computers, became a computer programmer, and she still works at that, so she got a living out of it. She works at Utica Mutual, the big company up there. Now she's what they call a computer program analyst. So she has a husband and two wonderful boys, and a beautiful place, she's a hard worker too. So they all got educated, which is good. And they all have jobs, thank goodness.

HG:
And is that all based on your saving from the farm?

HS:
Their education, yes.

HG:
That’s great. Was that your goal in making a living?


HS:
Oh yeah, you wanted them to be something besides side hill dirt farmers.

HG:
Do you feel like that’s a common idea within that generation? That a lot of people don't want to be farmers? And that’s why there is less farming in this area now.

HS:
They couldn't make a living at it. It just doesn't, it was too hard to make a living and make ends meet. So…

HG:
What other major changes have you seen in the land?

HS:
Major what?

HG:
Changes have you seen in the land since you farmed it?

HS:
Well, I'll tell you, when we first moved into the house, when we were first married, would you believe this Route 80 was a dirt road all the way through. That was a dirt road. And when my little boys were like this [puts hand about 2 feet from ground], I have a picture of them somewhere, the two oldest ones watching the big machinery building this Route 80. That was really something when they put that road through and now the traffic is unbelievable. That was a dirt road when we moved in here. That is a big change.

HG:
I can only imagine, and what did they drive up and down the road?

HS:
They had cars, there were cars, that was in the 50's.

HG:
It was just a rough road I'm sure.
Was there much traffic? Was this a main thoroughfare?

HS:
Nothing like it is now, and of course the insurance company expanded over in Edmeston, that’s a big company now. And then MIB, Bassett Hospital has kept expanding, and a lot of workers go there. And many go by here, a lot of them.

HG:
There are a lot of people in this area discussing environmental issues. Do you keep up with any of that?

HS:
Yeah, I would say they do, they're pretty aware of things like that now. Um, sometimes I think they're a little bit too much troublemakers for progress. I don't know. I know when the big highline went through that went all the way to New York City, you go under it when you go to Cooperstown. They fought that, that was going to be dangerous and they didn't want that, it’s been fine. But this fracking, with this gas drilling, it’s hard to know how dangerous that is. They make it sound like it’s horrible and then again I heard one program in Canada they do it, and in Pennsylvania some places and they did not think it was that bad because when they drill they go so far down three thousand feet or something. But it’s this water that they pump back up or something that they think it’s going to harm our water supply and like that. So I don't know. I don't know what these people know that are fighting it so. And then again the people that are pushing it, money money money, you know. But we need to not be so dependent on the Middle East for our fuel and like that. I don't know, I don't know what way to go on that yet. Some days I think they are making a mountain out of a molehill, and then other days I'm thinking it will pollute all our water. Like I said, this one program from Canada they didn't think it was too bad. So I don't know.

HG:
It’s hard to tell. What other types of things do you feel working on a farm taught you about life?

HS:
You had to be dependable. You couldn't skip a day, not when you had the animals in your charge. I mean, it was everyday, and sometimes if you got the flu or something, you were awful sick but you still had to do your work. That I think is good. You didn't call up somebody and say “ I don't feel good, I'm not coming in.” You just didn't do that. And hard work paid off.

HG:
Sounds like it certainly did for your family. Is that common in this area? Did a lot of your neighbors have success?

HS;
Yeah, now days most of the kids go to college, but they do come out with some awful big bills. I feel sorry for them, and now they can't get a job many of them. That boggles my mind. It’s hard to know how you can be sure you can make a living.

[START TRACK 3, 61:00]
HG:
Do you have any remnants of farm life? Do you have many pets or a garden now?

HS:
Not since my husband died. We had a big garden up until, but my knees went bad, and I decided for just for me alone I guess I can buy my food. So I couldn't do it. Other than that, we lived like most retirees, I guess.

HG:
Do you mind if I go back to the farm in questioning?

HS:
My son lives on it, we gave him the farm. But he doesn't farm it, he cuts the hay and like that, but he has his full time job for FedEx in Syracuse, so he has an eighty mile commute so he's gone a lot of hours of the day. But he lives on the farm.

HG:
How many acres was it when you farmed it?

HS:
About one hundred and fifty I believe, trying to think what my father’s farm was, that was over two hundred I know. Typical farm, small farm.

HG:
Was that small for this area?

HS:
Yes, some of them were three hundred acres

HG:
But you had a lot of things on it. How did your husband create how the land was set up? How did he decide what would be planted?

HS:
Well of course his father, my father-in-law, he had the farm all set up and then Stanley pretty much kept it the same, only improved with the times.

HG:
Just to clarify, how did you process your milk?

HS:
We just strained it. Well at first it was strained into these forty-quart milk cans and they were set into a cooler that kept them cold until they were picked up and that was it. Then we got the big bulk tank, they came into being and they were refrigerated, and you strained the milk into them and then when the milk tanker came, then they would be a tanker and they would, you know how you deliver your fuel and you have a hose, well they would suck the milk out of your bulk tank into their refrigerated trucks. That’s how it went.

HG:
And so you didn't really pasteurize it yourself?

HS:
No, that’s what was done in the milk plant in Edmeston, where all the milk came together.

HG:
And so they just paid you a fee by the gallon?

HS:
I forget, you got a milk check once a month on the 25th; you got your milk check. I'm trying to think if the truck driver gave you a receipt for how much he picked up. I believe that’s the way it was. It was measured and then once a month you got your milk check.

HG:
And is that similar to the chickens? How did the egg count go when they came to pick up the eggs?

HS:
That was according to the number of dozen.

HG:
So it was based per egg?

HS:
You had to weigh the eggs too, large, extra large, medium or pullet. Pullet eggs are small, the eggs they layed when they first started laying. You had to weigh them, every egg. And then they would pay you accordingly, so much a dozen.

HG:
And did you do that work?

HS:
Oh yeah. Eggs scale, I don't know if I have my scale around now or not, I don't think so. I think that’s gone by the way of something.

HG:
That’s interesting, and how often did they come to get eggs? Did you have to store them?

HS:
About once a week.

HG:
Oh goodness. You had quite a few chickens though, so that was a lot of eggs to manage. Where did you store it?

HS:
Well we had an egg room where we had the washer and the grader and the cases and the hooks to hang them up after you'd washed them, we had a whole room in the back of the house that was for processing the eggs.

HG:
That’s interesting. And with the turkeys, did you just sell them locally?

HS:
We just sold them locally, yeah. And they would call up and order one and then you would have to have it dressed and cleaned and ready to go. Of course you'd have to keep it cold but usually they’d come and pick it up right away and they'd keep it cold in their own refrigerator because we didn't have refrigeration for all of them. So that was the way that worked. We would have them ready when they were going to come pick them up.

HG:
And did you ever eat any of the chickens? The egg laying chickens or did you keep those separate from meat chickens? Did you have chickens that you ate?

HS:
No, we would, they were all kept in the same building, same barn. Sometimes there would be a chicken that he would figure wasn't laying anymore and then we would butcher that and have it for dinner.

HG:
That’s really interesting. Was it a self taught process, the chickens? Or was it something that your husband's father taught him how to do?

HS:
The chickens’ was my husband. He's the one that studied up on it and read up on it and he would buy the baby chickens and then he got so he would buy the pullets that were just about ready to lay, that was more economical.

HG:
Do you know why he wanted to…?

HS:
Extra income. Extra Income. That’s why I say, you asked me if we ever had a problem making ends meet and I can not honestly say that we did. Because he anticipated and he was pretty thrifty. That was good but not to the point of being obnoxious. If you needed something you got it.

HG:
And did he move to mechanization as it came?

HS:
Oh yeah, if something new came out, he was pretty good about modernizing.

HG:
Thats interesting, I can't imagine that many chickens in one place.

HS:
[Laughs] No, it’s a barn full.

HG:
Did he enjoy it?

HS:
I think so,

HG:
Did you enjoy it?

HS:
[Pause] Got awful sick of it. I'd just as soon never wash another egg in my life. I don't, I buy them in the supermarket now. Cause they would lay seven days a week, it wasn't five days a week, it was work seven days a week.

HG:
And what do you, how do you feel about, is it strange now to go to the grocery store and purchase…?

HS:
No, I mean that’s just normal now. But it is different. Back then you went to your little local store for things, coffee things like that, and flour and shortening and milk, well we didn't have to get milk. You had all your own garden produce and you raised your own meat and like that. Now, you go and stock up at the big supermarkets, its different. But it’s ok.

HG:
What would you say you value most about your life as a stay at home mom and working on the farm?

HS:
[Pause] Well I never had to worry about somebody to look after my children because I was able to stay home. I never had to worry about debts, not with my husband. We always had plenty to eat and we were different than most folks, we did go dancing and like that, you know, it wasn't all drudgery. That was worth quite a lot.

HG:
Do you have any favorite memories on the farm? What do you think of when you think of the farm?

HS:
Don't know, growing up I helped my father, I was his hired man so to speak. I worked all the time out with him, I didn't spend much time in the house. So I ran the horses and then when we got tractors I drove tractors long before I could drive a car, you know, legally. [Laughs] I had lots of pets, I enjoyed my animals.

HG:
Like what? Dogs or cats?

HS:
Well we always had a farm dog because they would go and bring the cows in for milking. Always had a farm dog. We had barn cats, cause if you didn't you'd be overrun with mice and rats so we always had barn cats. Then I would always have one or two that were tame, really tame. Then we went somewhere, my dad and I, and there were some little baby goats, little nanny goats. I had to have one, I had to have one. I wanted one, so my dad bought me a baby goat and that was a real pet. Let me tell you, that thing romped and played and carried on and went everywhere I went, that was quite a pet. And let’s see, with the cats, and then my husband had a couple of parakeets, he enjoyed the birds. He always like the birds, knew what they all where. We had a pet crow. My oldest son, when he was a teenager, crawled way up in a tree and got that crow, glad I didn't know about it because I would have killed him. But he got down safe and sound and we had a pet crow and we enjoyed that crow. I'm telling you that thing could almost talk. It was something else. We had more fun with that crow, we didn't know what to feed it, it was young and Stanley says “Why don't you try a little milk and eggs, no, milk and bread. Soak some bread in some milk and see if that.” Well we soak little cubes of bread and that crow’s mouth would open and down it would go and it lived. It survived until it could eat seeds or stuff older, you know. The whole family loved that pet crow, that was quite a pet. Trying to think what else we had. Then we moved up here and we weren't gonna have any. So a cat from somewhere blessed us with a bunch of kittens under the porch, so we had all those kittens. Then other people have dropped off cats, I spent a fortune getting them spayed and neutered so we wouldn't have more cats. Now I'm down to four cats, that’s more manageable. But that was none of them by choice. They keep me company, I’ve got one that’s really, really in tune with me, really, really tame and we sit here at night in my lap. Keeps me company.

HG:
And do you think this area's going to become less farmland as time goes on? What do you think about the future?

HS:
It is very little farming right local here now, it’s not like it was. There are some farms down the road still, dairy farms, but its not like it was.

HG:
And how do you feel about that?

HS:
I don't know. Its alright if people find work and make a living. That’s the important thing, they have to raise their children. Now this cheese factory is, Chobani, over in south Ed[meston], that is expanded to beat all. That is giving a lot of folk’s jobs, thank goodness.

HG:
Did you'd ever thing you wanted to do something different?

HS:
Did I?

HG
With your career?

HS:
Well I went to nursing school for a while and my folks pushed that. But I ended up getting married at nineteen so that was the end of that. The only thing I did after that, I volunteered when they first opened the health center, the Bassett Health Center in Edmeston. I volunteered for quite a while as a receptionist and secretary and like that. Then the only paying job I ever had I worked for H&R Block in the spring doing taxes down in Oneonta. And that was when the kids were bigger. Then I was town clerk that was a paying job but not much pay. I was town clerk for several years, eight years I think. Quite a while. That’s about all I've ever done.

HG:
Did you do the finances for the farm? How did you learn how to do the farm finances?


HS:
The taxes? I don't know, I studied it on my own and it was simpler then anyway.

Duration

30:00 - Part 1
30:00- Part 2
19:01- Part 3

Bit Rate/Frequency

128 kbps

Files

Collection

Citation

Haley Gard, “Helen Shillieto, November 16, 2011,” CGP Community Stories, accessed January 22, 2018, http://cgpcommunitystories.org/items/show/103.