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Turtle without a shell

Agriculture.com Staff 10/02/2006 @ 9:39am

I'm feeling like a turtle without a shell.

My shell for the last 30 years -- the beat-up old farm house my great-grandparents built -- is at present 12 feet above a hole in the ground. I climb a 16-foot ramp in order to get at my office and to find clean clothes, but that's not what I would call handy. For a week now, my new shell has been an 8' x 33' camper, and it will be for some time to come.

This experience has led me to a whole new train of thought. Looking around at the vast expanse of the prairie, I wonder "How in the world did my ancestors ever live in a homestead shack until spring?"

Let's do the math. Our trailer is 263 square feet, with all the modern conveniences and only two people and a small dog living in it. If we assume the dog only uses as much space as it actually occupies, (and the dog is roughly a foot wide and a foot and a half long), that leaves 260 square feet for the humans, or roughly 130 square feet per person. Now, the majority of the homestead shacks measured 12 x 14 feet and according to the 1890 census, the average household size was 4.6, not including chubby dogs.

That leaves us with roughly 60 square feet per person, and doesn't include a microwave or TV, not to mention an indoor toilet or a shower, all conveniences I currently enjoy.

It just makes me say, "What the hey?"

I mean, "What the hey!?!?!?"

I'm a guy who believes in family togetherness, but on the other hand, I'm also a guy who believes in avoiding manslaughter charges, particularly if I'm the man who's to be slaughtered.

Winter comes pretty early here on the prairie. I'm guessing that on average, outside living would come to a halt by mid-November and the pioneers would have started hunkering down. That hunkering probably continued until late March. That's about a 130 days of togetherness. Four and six-tenths people per shack togetherness. No iPod, no DVDs, no satellite TV, not even basic cable -- nothing except a ratty deck of cards missing the three of diamonds and a menu of pancakes and salt pork. And 4.6 people is the average. When you factor in four Norwegian bachelors per township, you can bet a few of those shacks had eight or 10 people in them.

I don't see how they did it. We've been in the camper about a week and we've already dealt with a couple of towel ownership issues, along with a certain amount of tripping over my clunky work boots. Plus, I never remember to latch the refrigerator door.

You know, on most prairie farms the barn was much bigger and more luxurious than the house. I think I know why. The old man would look around his shack, full of three point six people, not counting himself, take a deep breath and say, "Yeah, well, I better go check the cows. I might be out there a while."

Sometimes he'd stay out there until March.

Copyright 2006 Brent Olson

I'm feeling like a turtle without a shell.

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