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TIMES HAVE CHANGED
By LEILA M. WELLS
Sister Mary Felicitas, R.S.M.
DREAMS AND MEMORIES
I had a dream the other night.
A dream that wouldn’t fade,
Of the many things that happened
When I was a little maid.
Memories came flocking in
And kept me wide awake,
So I’ve made a record of them
For future children’s sake.
Republished by Kellscraft Studio
Originally Printed by
Denton Publications Inc
My grandfather, Harvey White, was an “engineer of sorts” – meaning that he had a natural understanding of the principles necessary for road construction, though not the education needful for such work now, with all the heavy equipment available today.
Anyone today driving over the state highway from Keene to Lake Placid would never think that years ago that strip of road had been declared an impossibility, especially along the Cascade Lakes, yet grandfather White said it could be done and he did it.
The road from Keene to Lake Placid first went on the other side of the mountain over Alstered Hill but someone thought that the Cascade Lakes were so lovely that they should be available to more people.
Grandfather surveyed the route and proceeded to build the road.
At first it was a one way road. There were “turning out” places mostly in sight of each other but if two teams met between these places, the one who was nearest, backed up until he reached a safe place for the other to pass.
My father, Theodore White, grew up to manhood as “next door neighbor” to “Old Mountain Phelps” and learned woodcraft from him as assistant guide.
One time when father was driving home from Lake Placid he picked up a “hitchhiker” and as they talked the man told about climbing Mount Marcy as a college student on July 7th and having a snowball fight on a large snow bank. He was much surprised when Father identified himself as one of the guides.
When I was four or five years old my father bought a steam boat and had it moved onto Lake Placid, and he operated it to carry the “city people” around the lake. Previous to this the guides took them in rowboats or as they were called then “guide boats,” each carrying three or four persons, besides the guide who operated the oars.
As the steam boat could carry more people and thus costing less, it reduced the guides’ employment so one Sunday night a number of them burned the boat. Dismayed but not discouraged he bought another which, after a short time in service, sank at the dock and wasn’t considered worth the cost of salvage.
Still determined he went to New York and made a deal for a third boat, mortgaging our home for the purchase.
A poor season and an accident while cutting firewood during the winter cost him the loss of the boat and also our home so we moved from Lake Placid and he became a farmer and a market gardener in Lewis.
He was urged to go into bankruptcy but refused.
I was quite grown up when he came home one night, hugged my mother and said, “The last dollar is paid. Thanks, God.”
Mother was the first florist in Lake Placid.
The year that Grover Cleveland came to Lake Placid on his honeymoon, she sent Father up to his hotel with three corsages, sweet peas, nasturtiums, and double red poppies. He and Mrs. Cleveland and her mother wore them that night to the ball and the next day they came to thank her personally, so she saw the President and shook hands with him.
I’ve been told that my father’s grandmother came from Holland and belonged to the titled class. My other ancestors came from England.
THE GOOD OLD DAYS
“The good old days.” How many times we hear the expression. To different people it means many different things.
How many would like to really go back to the days of their grandparents? These are generally the days referred to.
In the “good old days” there were no bathrooms as most homes know today. A walk of several feet generally was necessary before nature’s demands could be answered and in winter or after dark it was not a pleasure promenade. Little folks required company and this wasn’t always at a convenient time. A Montgomery Ward Catalogue or one of Sears Roebuck’s was the customary toilet paper. Some of the older generations used corn cobs. How about that for the “good old days?”
A Saturday night bath was an event. If the family was large the “wash-boiler” was placed on the kitchen range and filled with water as there was no hot water tank ready and no stationary bath tub so the wash tub was brought into the kitchen and the family was banished while each one in turn took his or her bath. Who would like to return to “the good old days” when father rose from his warm feather bed to start the fire, fill the wash boiler, bring in the tubs, rub-board, and pound barrel, so that mother could be the first woman in the neighborhood to have her wash on the line?
No automatic washers and electric irons in those days. No matter what the temperature a fire had to be kept burning to heat the flatirons and no TV to watch while ironing or radio to listen to.
In those good old days candles had to be hand dipped from suet or mutton tallow and each inch was precious. When oil lamps became common it was one of the morning duties to wash the chimneys and fill the lamps.
So much of the family’s clothing was hand sewed and when one sees some of the clothing that has been kept (like baby dresses) it is a marvel of little stitches and one wonders how it could be done with only the light from a candle or kerosene lamp. Few women thought they could take time to sew during the daylight hours.
Every little girl was taught to sew and her first lessons after learning to thread a needle and tie a knot were how to sew quilt blocks and no girl could marry until she had pieced at least one quilt. How proud was a new bride if she could make up their first bed with her own hand woven sheets and pillow cases and a quilt of her own making. There were no bridal showers in those days. Nearly every girl had her “hope chest.”
In those “good old days” one had to plan time and work if one wanted to leave home for any length of time as it took hours to “go to the store.” One couldn’t go to the garage and start the car, then do their shopping and be back home in an hour. The horse had to be harnessed, hitched to the wagon, and even if the store was only a mile away, it took considerable time to travel that distance.
We didn’t have self service and shopping carts and shopping centers then, but a trip to the store meant a visit with the neighbors.
And no refrigerator! How could one get along without a refrigerator? Our early people had a “springhouse” if they were lucky, and the cellar was always the coolest place in the house, but that meant many trips down stairs and back up which wasn’t always easy, especially when the housewife was elderly and suffering from “rhumatiz.”
Most of the homes had a “safe” in the cellar for storing foods. This was a kind of cupboard with shelves and the door was of screen so the air could enter.
Later on ice boxes came into use and nearly everyone had an ice house in which ice was stored covered with sawdust. Those who didn’t store their own ice could buy it from the “ice man” for a cent or two a pound and he would put it into the ice box as an accommodation.
In those good old days there were no detergents for washing dishes and clothes. A can of soft soap sat in an old saucer in the sink, handy for such needs. It didn’t give you “the hands you loved to touch.”
Can you imagine a five year old girl or boy who had never eaten an orange? My first orange was at a Sunday School picnic and the next was from the Christmas tree in the church when I was five years old. I was quite grown up when I saw oranges and bananas in a grocery store.
Peddlers were frequent visitors and were always welcomed as they not only brought many necessities, tin ware, dry goods, and fresh meat, but the community news. My mother used to buy an ox heart from the meat peddler for ten cents and he always had some liver or a kidney for the cat and a bone for the dog. These cost money at the shopping centers today. All liver was generally given away as it wasn’t considered of any value except for the pet cat or dog.
Who remembers salt salmon and cod fish? Pink canned salmon was called “cat” salmon as it was a favorite cat food and not considered fit for the family. And salt cod fish could be purchased for four cents a pound. It didn’t have an appetizing smell but freshened and added to good milk gravy it tasted delicious, especially on baked potatoes.
In those “good old days” buckwheat pancakes were a standard breakfast menu, especially in the winter and almost every country home had its pancake pitcher in which they were made. They were mixed at night and allowed to stand in a warm place and in the morning a little soda was added. Always a little batter was saved in the pitcher for a “starter” for the next morning’s cakes.
There was a grist mill near my home where buckwheat could be ground into flour and also corn made into corn meal.
Who of this present generation has slept on feather beds or a husk or straw tick? Autumn was the time for renewal of the husks and straw and how good they smelled as one snuggled down into them under one of grandmother’s quilts.
How proud mother was when the old cord bed stead was taken down and the new bed with slats and coiled springs was installed with its fresh filled tick. At corn-husking time mother selected the cleanest and whitest husks from the stalks after father had finished husking. It was some years later when flat springs and hair mattresses came into the homes. Then the feather beds were made into pillows.
It was some art each morning to smooth out the humps and hollows in both the under tick and the feather bed to make a nice looking bed.
“Have some ice cream.” How often we hear that phrase today but never in the “good old days.” Ice cream was a real treat in those days. One couldn’t go into a shopping center and get a quart of it to take home on the spur of the moment. It meant planning and work. First one had to assemble the ingredients and then the “freezer” had to be brought from storage and washed. Then the ice was brought from the ice house, washed and chipped and mixed with coarse salt and packed around the can of cream (a rich custard made with eggs, rich milk, and sugar) and the crank adjusted. The one who turned the crank was generally rewarded by being allowed to “lick the paddles” when they were removed from the freezer.
One of the first ice creams was made by stirring coarse snow into flavored whipped cream. Of course this ice cream could be had only in the winter time.
In those “good old days” there were no TV’s, no radios, no over stuffed furniture, no vacuum cleaners, no cars and buses, no telephones, and many other things that are considered necessities today.
Did you ever “go to the well for a pail of water?” In the days of yore that was the one necessary chore of whoever went to the water pail and found it empty. In the winter time one needed to don all outside wraps even mittens and overshoes as the well was usually some distance from the house so as to be convenient to the barn as well.
Before pumps were invented, the pail was let down into the well on a rope and drawn up, hand over hand, or sometimes the rope was wound around a roller by a hand crank. In either case the pail had to be lifted over a curb. It was no chore for a child.
The usual fuel was wood and as soon as a child was four or five years old he was expected to keep the wood box filled. As there were no electric or gas ranges all cooking was done on a wood burning stove.
Cutting wood, and preparing it for the stove was the man’s winter job. A woodshed filled with ranks of firewood was the mark of a provident home owner and generally indicated a happy home.
In those good old days we didn’t have rural delivery of mail. There were no mail boxes along the roadsides.
Even when one lived in a village the mail came to the post office once a day, seldom more than twice a day.
Farmers generally got their mail once a week when they “went to the store.” There was one good thing about it though – we could send a letter anywhere in the United States for two cents and a postal card for one.
Schools were so different in those long ago days. No kindergartens and no grades. Blackboards, and chalk, slates and pencils, and copy books, ink and pens for the older ones. English was called grammar and one was expected to parse and diagram and write compositions. We walked to school, sometimes as far as two miles. School was called to order at nine o’clock; at ten thirty we had fifteen minutes recess. In some schools which had only one toilet there were two recesses – one for the boys and one for the girls. Noon recess was for one hour during which the children ate their “dinners” which they brought in a tin pail. No cafeterias and no hot lunches. An afternoon recess was given at two-thirty and school was dismissed at four o’clock except on Fridays when the children were “excused” half an hour early.
Can you imagine trying to study on a dull day in December at three o’clock or later without artificial light? It was often quite dark by the time some of the children reached home.
Sanitation didn’t trouble the teacher or the pupils. “Passing the water” was a privilege. The water was brought in a pail from the nearest farm, home or brook by two boys or two girls. A tin dipper was the only drinking vessel and was passed around, each drinking in turn until it was empty. Then a refill and another start.
When one reads about the teachers striking for higher pay and remembers back when a teacher taught for less than five dollars a week and “boarded around,” one wonders. Of course the requirements were not so high but in many districts the teacher was expected to teach everything from the beginners ABC’s to Latin and Algebra to the “big boys.” Discipline was one of the things most insisted upon so only men teachers were hired for the winter term when the “big boys” attended and often gave the teacher a hard time.
Honey bees? No, work bees. Bees were a form of get-togethers. One of the earliest “bees” was the “barn raising.”
In early times in America, money was scarce and so were carpenters. Each man learned early to do small jobs and so was “handy” with tools.
A barn raising meant that all neighbors for miles around came to help with the erection of a barn, bringing their own tools, even their oxen or horses to help in getting the heavy beams and rafters into place, and their wives came too. They helped with the serving of the dinner, sometimes even bringing extra food for hungry men eat a lot.
Next came the “husking bee.” This one always came after the corn had been cut and was usually held in the barn in the evening. Lanterns were hung from the beams and the husking was done on the barn floors. After a “stook” was gone through by the huskers and the ears of corn thrown into a central pile, it was tossed over a rail into the mow. Anyone finding a red ear of corn was entitled to kiss anyone he or she chose. “Sweethearts” usually worked together on the same bundle. After husking for a while, the floor was cleared and the young people danced for a while. Refreshments consisted of doughnuts and sweet cider. Occasionally a jug of hard cider was sneaked in.
Apple bees came at about the same time. Dried apples were prepared at these bees. Neighbors gathered and helped each other peel, quarter, core, and string apples for drying.
My uncle used to say, “tread on my toes, and tell me lies, but don’t feed me dried apples pies” and no wonder he felt that way as the strings of drying apples were “fly roosts” as they were hung over the stove without any protection from flies and dust. The apples were quartered and by using a large yarn needle and about two yards of twine all the apples were then strung on the twine and the ends tied and then hung from nails driven into the beams over the kitchen stove.
When I was in my early teens my father gave me the apples from a certain tree for drying as the source for my Christmas money.
He made a screen rack for me so I could slice the apples and make them more like the “evaporated apples” that were then on the market.
I kept the rack covered with paper so they did dry quicker than the quartered strung ones and I received a higher price for them.
Who hasn’t heard the song about “Aunt Dinah’s Quilting Party?” Quilting bees were frequent events and when one sees an old quilt, one can’t help but admire the fine stitches and wonder how anyone could do such work, especially in the evening with only tallow candles or kerosene lamp for light. Every girl was expected to have several quilts in her “hope chest.”
Sometimes they weren’t quilted until after she became engaged and then instead of a “shower” she was given a quilting bee.
Nearly every family owned a set of quilting frames. These were made from an inch board cut into two inch strips and eight or nine feet in length. One-half inch holes were bored every two inches so that they could be made shorter if necessary.
“Spelling bees” were fun especially for the younger folks and were always held in the school house. Two leaders were selected and they took turns in calling up their helpers, each trying to select the ones who were the best spellers.
When all were chosen, the teacher began giving out the words, alternating sides, using the “spelling book” which was used in the school. When one missed he or she had to sit down and the word went to the other side. The last one to fail was the champion.
There is an occasional bee now and then when someone is in trouble and friends and neighbors come in to help but the old-time bees were mostly for entertainment or a neighborly “get-together.”
What did people do long ago when there were no movies, no night clubs, and no TV?
One of the earliest forms of family entertainment was reading aloud, as in many families the older members couldn’t read.
While listening the mother and grandmother and the older girls usually knitted, pieced quilt blocks, or did the family mending, as idleness was a sin especially for the women.
Dominoes and checkers were enjoyed by the family and quite often friends “dropped in” and several games might be going on at the same time. Those who didn’t play stood by and watched and offered suggestions.
Picnics were one of the oldest “get-togethers” for summer and fall.
A hay-ride was usually the mode of travel to the chosen spot, picking up friends along the way.
In winter time it was a “straw ride” that took a gang of young people to some church sociable, dance, or spelling bee.
A straw ride was lots of fun. The farm team was hitched to the heavy sleighs, the box filled with straw, bells fastened to the harness, and everything was ready for the young people of the neighborhood to enjoy the pleasure that only such an evening could give.
The young people settled into the deep straw, adjusted the buffalo robes, and they were off – usually singing some popular song, exchanging jokes, and an occasional kiss or two. The destination might be miles away or just to some nearby farm where they would spend a few pleasant hours dancing, playing games, or just talking. Refreshments consisted of whatever was available.
As I made my bed this morning I thought of how it used to be when I was a girl and then how it was in Mother’s day and then how Grandmother made her bed.
Did you ever hear someone say, “As she made her bed she has to lie in it?”
This usually refers to the condition of a girl’s choice of a husband, because if there were “bumps” in the bed she had to endure it at least until the morning.
The first beds usually were what our grandmothers called a “shake down” – just something thrown down on the floor with a fur or blanket for cover.
“Bunks” built against the wall with tree branches or grass across the bottom poles or boards came next and when harvest time came, the straw from the fields replaced the branches which by that time had lost what little spring they had before. Soon someone discovered that a “bag or tick” of cloth would keep the straw from scattering and would make a softer bed.
Soon after this “feather beds” came into use and were placed on top of the straw ticks. It was no easy job to “make a bed” each morning in those days. If it were just the straw tick one could level off the humps and hollows. It was a little harder to smooth a feather bed.
Most girls took pride in a nice smooth-looking bed, and always tried to own a “feather bed” before she married so as to have one in her dowry.
Rope or cord beds came next as the cord lacings were more yielding than the “slats” and made a softer bed if there were no feather bed.
Then came the “coiled springs” which brought back the slat bed steads. By now some thrifty housewife had found that “corn husks” made a better filling for the ticks than straw as they were less apt to fall to the floor while being stirred and leveled in “making the bed” each morning.
With the invention of “woven springs” came mattresses, “horsehair” and excelsior which were a long way from the mattresses and inner springs of today.
I must not forget the “trundle bed.” This was a smaller, lower bed that could be pushed under the larger “cord bed” during the day time and pulled out at night for the smaller children. It was what we would call a “crib” though it had no side rails. If a little one “fell out of bed” he didn’t have far to fall as the bed was only six or eight inches from the floor.
When Grandmother “made her bed” she really “made it.” The first thing she did after “getting up” was to put her bed “to air.” This meant that she spread the sheets and quilts out on whatever chairs were handy and the pillows were also put somewhere where the air could reach them. If she had no feather bed the straw or husks were given a good stirring and smoothing before the pad was spread on. Then came the sheets, quilts and spread, each separately smoothed and tucked in. After the pillows were placed the “shams” were put on and she viewed her bed with pride.
“Shams” were large squares of lace, linen, or cotton, starched stiff and placed over the pillows and against the headboard of the bed.
If the shams were of linen or cotton they were often embroidered in red “tambo.” One sham might have “Good Morning” and the other “Good Night” or they might both have the same design.
The beds of today are very different from the cradle, trundle bed, cord bed, high four posters of years ago.
Some of the old high poster beds were so high that they needed a set of steps so that one could literally “climb” into bed, especially if they had a husk tick and a goose feather bed on top of the tick. These high poster beds often had canopies and side curtains.
PENS AND WRITING
When you pick up your ballpoint pen do you even think of what pens were like in the long ago? In Bible times recordings were made on stone probably with another stone or a piece of steel. Bees were the first paper makers but the Egyptians had some kind of paper and an instrument that could make impressions upon it and the Israelites learned from them while living in Egypt. Their writings were made upon a scroll and the writer was called a scribe. (Our word “scribble” must have come from that term).
“Quill” pens were used in early Colonial times and were made from the wing feathers of geese and the “school teacher” was supposed to be an expert in their making.
Steel pens often with fancy “stocks” or holders came next and were in several varieties according to their use – pen points for fine writing and “stubs” for heavier.
“Penmanship” became an art and some deeds and wedding certificates that are in existence today are truly “works of art.” “Fountain” pens – the forerunner of today’s ballpoint pens – were considered one of the great inventions of the time.
My first fountain pen was given to me as a present on my twenty-first birthday and I was so proud to be the owner of one of the first of its kind in our neighborhood. It was a “Waterman” and had to be “filled” with a medicine dropper by removing the section that held the pen, a rather messy job. Later pens could be filled by suction by moving a little lever in the barrel of the penstock. All hail to the ball point pen. It banished messy ink bottles that were always getting upset and blotting papers and “pen wipers” that were never to be found when needed.
But they also seem to have banished penmanship. One of the “subjects” taught in my school days was “writing.” It had its period just as much as reading and arithmetic. One of my first teachers was a beautiful penman. She used to write our “copy” if we didn’t have a bought copy book. One of her favorite copies was “every line and every letter, try to write a little better.” My copy book was made from several sheets of “fools cap” paper and my little sister insisted that she had to have one too so mother made her one.
When “writing” time came she proudly displayed it and when the teacher asked her if she wanted a copy she answered, “No, thank you. I have my own.” And she did. She never stopped until she had “scribbled” every page. The teacher thought it was funny but our mother didn’t. Paper cost money and there wasn’t much of it in our family just then.
Most of our school work was done on “slates” as paper was scarce. I remember my first “tablet” which was for pencils and our pencils weren’t much like the ones of today as they didn’t have erasers. As our lessons were done on slates or the blackboard there was no “homework” and so the teacher didn’t have “papers” to correct. Lucky pupils and lucky teacher.
But there was one disadvantage to the use of slates; they were noisy and slate pencils were always getting lost or broken.
There are several kinds of albums now and the one that is best known today is the Stamp Album.
If all who think they want to collect stamps, do so, the value of the postage stamp will depreciate more than it has risen in many years in Uncle Sam’s estimation or a genuine stamp collector’s either.
Next in popularity is the album for “snapshots.” If one doesn’t have one, they generally wish they did for snapshots are hard to keep track of.
At one time the postcard album was all the rage and if was hard to find a young person who didn’t “collect postcards.”
A collection of old postcards today, especially local ones, is almost priceless.
Gone are all the old family albums that used to contain so many of the photographs of grandpa and grandma, all the uncles and aunts and cousins and particularly our baby pictures. These albums, which were given the place of honor on the “center table” in the parlor, were of many sizes and colors, some bound in plush or leather and “Album” written across the front cover in metal. Every guest was supposed to be entertained, for a little while at least, by looking through the album to see whose picture had been added.
There we find the long hair of Susie whose granddaughter today is wearing her hair in the same fashion and thinking it is the latest fashion.
Then there was the autograph album which has almost completely vanished, though there is still quite a demand for “autographs” especially among the young folks for the signature of their favorite ballplayer, jazz singer, or movie star.
In my day nearly every young girl thought she must have an autograph album to show her popularity.
Like the photograph album these also came in all sizes, shapes and colored bindings. The verses written in these albums, ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous, from selections from the Bible to “When you get married, a broom to you I’ll send. In sunshine use the bushy part, in storm the other end!”
Boys didn’t have autograph albums as they considered them sissy, but they never refused to write in them. One album contained this:
“When this you see, remember me,
And think what a pest I used to be.”
As a child I did not like to read. I didn’t have time as I was too busy keeping up with my brother as I was a “tomboy.” Sometimes when I was naughty my father would make me sit still and give me something to read.
It’s a wonder that I ever learned to enjoy reading and I didn’t learn until I entered my teens.
There were no “children’s” books then like those of today. The library was “For Adults Only,” not like the ones today with such a variety of interesting books for the little folks.
To encourage us to read, my father subscribed to “St. Nicholas,” a monthly magazine for young people and for “The Youth Companion,” a weekly – both ceased publication years ago.
My first interest in reading started with the “continued stories” (serials) in the Essex County Republican, a weekly newspaper which is still in existence though not publishing stories.
The first story that I remember was “Out of the Jaws of Death.” I don’t recollect the name of the author but the story is quite distinct. It was about a Russian prisoner who was sent to Siberia.
The next story was “The Translation of a Savage.” The “second son” of a prominent English family was sent to America as punishment for a youthful scandal and, as a revenge on his parents, he married an Indian princess and sent her to his parents. When he returned to England he fell in love with his princess but she made him “eat humble pie” for a while. Finally all ended in love and peace.
One of the first authors that I remember was E.P. Row. He wrote He Fell in Love With His Wife, also Barriers Burned Away. This described the big fire in Chicago. I liked him so much that I read all of his books that I could find.
Mary J. Holmes and Laura Jean Libby were early novelists in the 1890’s. Also Rose Nauchette Carey. Her scenes were mostly laid in England and had a “governess” for heroine. Our church library had several books by “Pansy.”
I mustn’t forget to mention Amelia E. Barr as she wrote about the early Dutch settlers in New York. A Bow of Orange Ribbon was one of her best.
Jack London with his Call of the Wild and several other books on Alaska, and Barrett Willosby with his Trail Eater, also located in “the far north,” brought Alaska into our realm of knowledge of our neighbors to the north, and their ways of living.
Jean Stratton Porter wrote Freckles and The Girl of the Limberlost which stole the hearts of everyone, but today they would be classed in the “young adult” group. All her books were interesting to both young and old.
Zane Gray is still popular for his western stories, especially with the young adults.
Florence Barclay wrote The Rosary and The Mistress of Shemstone which were best sellers at the turn of the century.
Sailors take warning,
Red at night
Next day bright or
Find a pin and pick it up
All the day you’ll have good luck;
Find a pin and let it “lay”
You will cry before next day.
Early to bed and early to rise,
Makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.
A stitch in time
When the wind is in the north
The skillful fishermen go not forth:
When the wind is in the south
It blows the bait into the fishes’ mouth.
When the wind is in the east
It’s neither good for man nor beast,
When the wind is in the west
Then it’s at its very best.
Married Monday for health,
Tuesday for wealth,
Wednesday the best day of all;
Thursday for losses,
Friday for crosses,
Saturday no luck at all.
Whene’er a task is set for you,
Don’t idly sit and view it,
Or be content to wish it done,
Begin at once and do it.
If you in the morning throw minutes away
You can’t pick them up through the course of the day;
You may hurry and worry and scurry all day;
You’ve lost them forever and ever and aye.
An apple a day keeps the doctor away,
An onion a day keeps everyone away.
When a girl marries she must wear
Something old, something new,
Something borrowed and something blue.
First a daughter, then a son
And the world is well begun.
First a son and then a daughter,
There’ll be trouble ever after.
Or never done.
East, west, home’s best.
Your daughter is your daughter all the days of her life,
But your son is your son ‘til he gets him a wife.
Whistling girls and jumping sheep
Are the worst property a farmer can keep.
Curiosity killed the cat,
Satisfaction brought it back.
The roads of today are not much like the ones of yesterday and one sometimes wonders what the roads of tomorrow will be like.
The coming of the automobile made wonderful improvements in the roads of this country as did also the coming of wheels.
In the beginning one traveled on foot or on horseback, following the trails made by wild animals or the Indians.
These trails were not always the shortest distance between two places but generally the easiest, avoiding rocks, rivers, and elevations of land, thus making many crooks and turns.
There aren’t many “dirt” roads left as most of them have been “gravelled” or “hard topped.” They used to be muddy in the spring, dusty in the summer, ruts in the autumn, and drifted with snow in the winter until almost unusable.
When carts and wagons began to be used the trails or paths were widened but weren’t changed much.
At first rivers were forded at the narrowest or most shallow spots until log bridges could be built.
During the nineteenth century covered bridges were built but most of these have been replaced by wider and more modern ones of steel and concrete. The covered bridges were built for one way traffic and were too narrow for modern use, so had to go.
Before the election of road supervisors a “path master” took charge of certain appointed districts and each male resident of that district had to work out his “pole tax” which meant a certain number of days of work on the road for himself and team if he owned one.
The time for “work on the road” usually came between planting and haying. Some time was generally saved for the winter “opening of the roads” after a heavy snow and blow.
I think the men put in more honest work than now for the theory was “an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay.” No one was accused of having a bent shovel handle. The day was “from chore time to chore time” as an eight hour day was unknown.
There were no tractors in “the good old days” so oxen or horses were used to draw the scrapers and snowplows.
After a big storm all men turned out by common consent to help open the roads.
Often fences were removed and new roads through the fields were made around the most badly drifted stretches of road.
Two or four horses were hitched to the farm sleighs with a plow fastened to the second sled on one side and two men went ahead of the horses to break the way while one man drove and one man walked behind holding the plow handles. A return trip was necessary as the plow turned the snow only one way.
In pioneer days the men laid logs across the roads in swampy places and such places were called corduroy roads, often extending a mile or more. Later on after sawmills were invented planks were used and certain sections were spoken of as “the plank road.”
It used to be called “baggage.” I don’t know when or why the change was made, probably sometime when a change was made in the size, shape, and general appearance.
Our earlier ancestors carried their personal things tied into a piece of hide or cloth and bound with a strip of leather called “a thong.”
The “hobos, tramps, or gentlemen of the road” carried their few necessities tied in a red handkerchief hung over their shoulder on a stick.
Quite aristocratic was a valice which opened flat down the middle and was held closed by two clamps. Everyone who traveled very much had a “trunk.” These were of many shapes and sizes. The “Saratoga” trunk had a round top. The “steamer” trunk was low and flat probably so that it could be pushed under the bunk in a steamer’s cabin. Then there was the “wardrobe” trunk which had two or three “trays” so it would be easier to locate a needed article of clothing without upsetting everything. Some trunks were homemade as the bride’s “hope chest” for instance. Some of these early chests or trunks were leather covered and decorated with brass headed tacks.
Did you ever see a “carpet bag?” These were made of carpet and were very popular in Civil War times as the name “Carpetbaggers” indicates in reading history. They were not heavy and were quite capable of holding all one needed for an extended stay thus the name of the men who tried to take over the government of the southern states after the Civil War.
Next came the canvas “telescope” which was like two canvas boxes – one a little larger than the other so as to slip down over the bottom half and two long leather straps held them together. Instead of our now popular “overnight” bag we had a “grip.” This was similar to the valice only it didn’t open but part way and was much smaller. The men had a “club bag” which was larger and heavier than the “grip,” being made of heavy leather.
The first “suitcases” were much larger and heavier than our present “airplane” luggage, being made of heavy leather.
The first automobile in our neighborhood was owned by our local physician and was a small two passenger run-about and the children called it “The Red Devil.”
The next one to appear also belonged to another local doctor and was really a “horseless carriage” as it looked like a carriage without a top.
A few years later a local garage was opened by a handy mechanic where Morse’s garage now stands, in Essex.
He owned a five passenger touring car which he used as a taxi, although it was not called that in 1907.
My brother, two sisters, and I wanted to go to Lewis one night to a dance but it was too far for us to go with horses so we decided to hire the car.
As we were waitresses at the Crater Club we couldn’t leave until our last chore was finished so we were among the last to arrive at the dance, as in those days, no car could travel more than twenty-five miles an hour.
We had a wonderful evening but when it was time to start for home our car and driver were missing. After a while my brother located them but then, as now, beer and gas didn’t mix or make a good combination.
How were we to get home? My sisters both had “boy friends” at the dance and they volunteered to take us home.
We arrived safely at the Crater Club in time to get into our uniforms and be at our places in the dining room. The boys went to our home and went to bed. My brother stayed with the auto until the driver sobered up enough to bring him home.
PARASOLS AND UMBRELLAS
There is a difference between a parasol and an umbrella.
Both have their uses but the umbrella has survived the longer because today it is more useful.
In the long ago every “lady” had a parasol. Men used umbrellas.
What is the difference?
A parasol was a sun shade so ladies carried them to protect their delicate complexions from the sun as a “tan” was not popular then as it is today.
Umbrellas were used as today for protection from rain as there were no raincoats (mackintoshes) as there are today and no rain hats.
Some parasols were not much larger than the hats of today and had real long handles and often had ruffles around the edge or silk fringe. They were often of plaid or flowered silk and the long handles were trimmed with gold or pearl inlay. When not open they were used like a cane.
choice possession was a Japanese paper and bamboo one. I
what became of it.
What has happened to the family album that used to be the pride and joy of every housewife and was given the place of honor on the parlor center table? If you can find one today you’ll see some styles that make you wonder if the fashions of today are so very bad after all.
There’s Uncle Charlie with his long hair and big sideburns and Uncle Joe with his hair parted in the middle and a nice Vandyke beard, and Uncle Mike with an Irishman’s beard. There were “handle bar” mustaches and goatees. The women’s hair styles were ridiculous too with their “chignons” and their “waterfalls.” “Pompadours” were both moderate and extreme. Some girls wore their hair long and straight similar to today’s style or tied back low on the neck - not high like the “pony tail.” Baby styles have changed for the better. In the 1880’s it took nearly an hour of the mother’s time every morning to “wash and dress” the baby. After a quick “once over” with a wash cloth the “dressing” began with the diaper folded three corner ways, then the “belly band” requiring at least four or five safety pins. Next came a “pinning blanket” of white flannel if it were cold weather, also with a wide band. This blanket was folded about the feet. A flannel and a white cotton petticoat followed, each having a wide band requiring four or five safety pins. Then the shirt and then the dress which was nearly a yard long. Style required that it should reach the floor when the baby was being held.
Babies were supposed to wear “long dresses” until they were at least six months old and longer if they were born in September or later. Mid-wives feared that the babies would “take cold” unless it was warm weather. Sometimes the long dresses were cut so as to make two “short” dresses from one by adding a yoke and sleeves to the part cut off. Little boys wore dresses until they were four or five years old. They were much shorter and plainer than the ones the girls wore.
It was an “occasion” when the dresses were discarded for knee pants and waist but the boy felt that he was “a man” when he got his first pair of long pants and a shirt like Dad’s. Men’s styles have changed very little except for colors. From the usual black, browns, grays, and blues you now see gay colors in solids, plaids, and stripes. Men now appear without coats at functions where once they were a must.
While looking in the album did you see Aunt Carrie with her hoop skirt and poke bonnet? And Aunt Sally with her bustle and fancy over-skirt? You couldn’t miss Aunt Maggie with her “wasp waist.” Her husband bragged that he could reach around her waist with his two hands. But she died young from child birth. You must have seen a picture of little Cousin Jennie with her pantaletts and fancy pinafore. Little girls were not dressed for school unless they had on a pinafore or fancy apron.
The “bloomer girl” came into fashion when bicycles became popular for women. They were much like the “knickerbockers” that the men wore. A “sailor” hat was the crowning glory of the bicycle girl. A “swim suit” of the nineties was a more complete costume than many street dresses of today. A low necked, short sleeved bodice with bloomers attached and a buttoned-on skirt, reaching to the knees, stockings and “tennis” shoes, was the popular style. The man’s outfit was a one-piece affair which buttoned on the shoulder and reached to the knees. He could go barefoot.
Pants or slacks for women came into use during World War I with the “Farmeretts.” They were found to be more comfortable while working out of doors, as women had to do many jobs which were once considered as only a man’s work, because so many men “went to the war.” So many of the recent styles are repeats of former fashions but with moderation, sometimes for the better but often for the worse. There are several styles which I feel sure will never return – the hoop skirt, bustle, fancy draped overskirt, and the “wasp waist.” We love comfort too much to be tortured by such styles.
The “leg o’mutton” sleeves were another style that will never return as it took as much material for a pair of sleeves as it needed for all the rest of the dress, even with the long skirt. About the time of the leg o’mutton sleeves we had the “choker” collars both for men and women.
After World War I we had the “hobble” skirts and they were long and so narrow we could hardly get a foot upon the “running board” of a car or go upstairs without lifting our skirt halfway up to our knees.
The singing school belonged to the era of the barn raisings, husking bees, and kitchen dances.
When I was about twelve years old my father registered my brother and me in Mr. Ober’s singing school.
This was time and money wasted as far as my learning to sing, as I couldn’t “carry a tune even in a basket” as one person remarked, but I went along as company for my brother who could really sing though I don’t believe he learned much as Mr. Ober wasn’t much interested in the young ones.
The book which was used mostly was called “Key Letter” and maybe, if we had really studied it, we might have learned more about the notes and singing. The school met in the town hall once a week and as there was no organ Mr. Ober used a “tuning fork.” He’d hit the fork on something and lift it to his ear and then sing the note, expecting the class to imitate him. He really had a wonderful voice.
The older ones in the class really enjoyed each evening though I doubt if they learned much. After a few weeks of instructions he began selecting music and singers to take part in the concert which was to take place at the end of the term. The proceeds helped to pay him as the fee for the lessons was small.
TO THE FAIR
There was always considerable “hustle and bustle” as September came near as that meant the County Fair would soon be taking place. The farmers were looking over their vegetables to select the largest and most attractive, which livestock was better than the neighbors’, and whatever could be exhibited that might add to the interest of the Fair and possibly win a premium.
The housewife was also busy selecting what she might take and maybe (just maybe) win a premium. Even the children were trying to find something to exhibit in the “children’s” department for that might mean a little extra money to be used to buy a Christmas present for someone. From the Fourth of July until “Fair Time” children saved their pennies, nickels, and dimes so that they’d have money to spend at the Fair.
As the day decided upon for the family to attend drew near the mother began preparing food for the picnic lunch as this usually was a “get-together” for aunts, uncles, and cousins and occasionally a grandparent might join the group.
Usually one of the local churches would rent the dining hall and serve meals as a money project for the church. Our house seemed to be a half-way stopping place for relatives and friends who wished to attend the fair but lived too far away to make the trip both ways in one day with a horse and wagon. I must have been about twelve years old before I went to the Fair. I remember that my sister and I had our picture taken (tin-type) and she had her hand in her pocket. She felt so badly about it that father had another picture taken and, lo and behold, her hand was still in her pocket. That broke the habit. My little sister kept teasing for a banana so Father bought one for her. One bite and she handed it to him saying, “Take your old bandana.” She had never seen or tasted one before.
The exhibits then were similar to those of today although there were no 4-H Club buildings and displays.
The big attraction aside from horse racing and baseball that year was a balloon ascension. I well remember when the first “merry-go-round” appeared. It was the greatest attraction of the Fair – even the grandstand was deserted that one could watch the crowds scrambling for a chance to ride. Some spent hours on a wooden horse if their money lasted that long but five cents was all a ride cost.
The next wonder to appear was the Ferris Wheel, but it couldn’t match the Merry-Go-Round, as it wasn’t considered safe for the children.
On the days when we couldn’t go to the Fair, we’d hurry our chores so we could stand and watch the other folks go by, so we’d know who went and we were on hand to watch the returning wagons.
Weaving and dyeing are two of the oldest sciences known to man. They go back to earliest history as Joseph had a “coat of many colors” and it must have been woven and dyed, probably by his mother.
I’ve often wondered about the colors in that coat. We know that purple must have been one of them as that is one of the first colors mentioned in the Bible. Our American pioneers had very few colors to choose from; blue or indigo, gray, red, and brown, but some colors and some forms of dyes must have been brought over from the mother countries.
Nearly every farmer kept, at least, a few sheep and they were always glad when a black lamb appeared. A black sheep was an “accident” in a flock the same as an “albino” among other animals.
The wool from a black sheep made a permanent gray and was much prized for socks and mittens. Indigo was the next favorite color. Who has not seen the much prized coverlets and blankets in dark blue and white weave that are as bright today as when woven one hundred years or more ago?
Indigo comes from a warm weather plant and the brightest color comes from the leaves gathered before the seed pods ripen.
There were no “drug stores” or pharmacies in those days so nearly all stores kept some drugs and “patent medicines.”
This was necessary as nearly all dyes needed some chemical to “set” the color. My grandmother used urine to set her indigo dye. Male urine seemed to contain the right chemical. “tea color” was the dye most used in my family. It was a gray color and was obtained by steeping tea in an iron kettle. Tea was the family drink so mother saved the tea leaves and left over tea until she had enough to make sufficient dye for whatever she wished to dye. This was boiled in an iron kettle and strained, then it was returned to the kettle and to it a tablespoonful of copperas added. When this was dissolved the goods were added and boiled for a short time. The main strip of my first rag carpet was “tea color.” Copperas was used in dyeing several other colors.
“Butternut brown” was a favorite color for the pioneers. This was obtained by steeping the inner bark from butternut tree limbs and set with copperas. Some colors were obtained by dipping the material in a solution of one chemical and then in another.
Besides copperas, alum, salt, and lime were used to “set” the color.
Webster’s Dictionary gives the definition of thrift as “healthy and vigorous growth – good fortune or success – savings accumulated through frugality – acquired or accumulated through management – stinginess or miserliness.”
Take your choice, but our country was founded on thrift. If it hadn’t been for the thriftiness of our founding fathers we never would have reached our present high position as a country.
The old saying, “Take care of the dimes and the dollars will take care of themselves,” was practised by our early settlers. They were not stingy but frugal.
“A penny saved is a penny earned” is another maxim practised by our ancestors that has fallen into the discards of today. Everyone seems to be afraid that his friends and neighbors will call him a miser or stingy or “close,” instead of frugal or thrifty.
What home today has a “mending basket?” This was as much a part of the pioneer’s home as the stove and table. Every girl was taught to darn and how to set a patch. When I was about ten years old my mother taught me how to darn my stockings. She said that if I did it badly the darned place would hurt enough so that I would be more painstaking with the next darn.
The silk and nylon stockings of today can not be darned like the cotton stockings of yesteryear but not even the cotton socks are mended now-a-day. No respectable girl would wear a stocking with a hole in it in the 1880’s and 90’s.
There is the story of the man who had three wives and on their headstones he put “God bless ‘mend up,’ God help ‘tack up,’ but the devil take ‘pin up’.”
One elderly woman visited her sister in another town and one morning on her way to and from “the little house out back” she picked up several pins. Showing them to her sister she said, “I’ve been married over thirty years and I’ve never bought but one paper of pins.” She and her husband started their life together on the bare necessities but they died “well off.”
Those who are accustomed to a fully equipped bathroom can not even imagine the value of a quart of water to their ancestors, even to some of the fathers and mothers of the present generation.
There was no “running water” in many homes even fifty years ago. Most of the water had to be brought in pails from a brook, spring, or well, sometimes quite a distance from the house. Some homes had cisterns but even then the water had to be pumped by hand into a pail. Often a “rain barrel” supplied extra water. “One never misses the water until there is none.”
We had no “Fuller brushes” years ago so we had to find a substitute and what do you suppose we used? “Wings.” Chicken wings, turkey wings, and even the tail feathers were saved and tied into a brush. There was even a feather “duster.” For brushing our clothes we had a “whisk broom.”
Thrift and the love of beauty caused the making of the patchwork quilts that are so prized by the present generation. The appliqued ones came later when the housewife could buy what colors and material she wanted. Braided and woven rugs were also made from what would now be discarded.
Canning of fruits and vegetables was unknown to the early pioneers but they were preserved by drying. Many of the fruits were made into “preserves.” This called for an abundance of sugar as most “preserve recipes” called for “pound for pound, sugar and fruit.” When this recipe was used airtight containers were not needed. Sugar could then be bought for five cents a pound.
There were no “air fresheners” in the long ago so as “necessity was the mother of invention” spice or sugar was sprinkled on top of the hot stove. Sometimes sulphur was used as a disinfectant. In an emergency one burned a rag or a feather.
Some people had queer ideas of thrift like the woman who bought quite a few of the “penny” postcards when she heard that the postage was going up. One man who thought he was thrifty said that he didn’t like to buy potatoes of my father because he didn’t put in the little ones to fill up the holes. Father sold by the weight per bushel instead of by the basket.
Whoever thought to mend a shoestring? If you were miles from a replacement what else could you do but try to fix it so that it would serve for a while longer? There is an old expression used often when one attempted something beyond the ordinary – “He did it on a shoestring,” like going to college or getting married.
We used our basting thread over and over as we had what we called “the poor spool.” Now the home sewer “can’t be bothered” and she uses pins wherever possible, and thread then cost five cents a spool instead of thirty-five.
A knife is one of the oldest implements or tools of man. Did you ever stop to think of what the first knives were made of and how?
The Bible mentions knives in Genesis when God commanded Abraham to take a knife and circumcise his son. What do you suppose such a knife looked like?
Our early Americans didn’t have knives nor anything in the line of metal that could be used to make them. They used sharp edged stones for their tomahawks, scrapers, and arrow points. The early settlers from England and Spain brought the first knives to America as those two countries had the finest steel makers in the known world. Hunting knives were the first and were carried in the folds of the cloaks or tied around the waist with a cord or thong. “Jack knives” were a wonderful improvement as they could be carried in the pocket. When a boy received a “jack knife” for a birthday present, he really considered himself “a man.” Jack knives were of many kinds, from the single bladed ones to the ones with two or three blades, a nail file, and a cork screw, also small ones known as “pen” knives which nearly every man carried in his “dress pants” pocket and used to clean his finger nails. Originally the pen knife was intended for use in keeping the right point on the quill pens.
Very few of the present generation know about the old steel table knives and forks that had to be “scoured” every morning to keep them bright. The present tableware is stainless steel or silver and is always bright and shining. How I hated to wash the breakfast dishes because that included the “scouring” of the knives and forks.
The scouring board was about ten by twelve inches and had a rim around it and a triangle block nailed on it on which the article was laid for scouring. Powdered brick was used for rubbing the article and a piece of cloth or sponge was used for applying the powder. The handles of these old steel knives and forks were wood, bone, or ivory and the early forks had three tines. Later some had four tines to make them more like the silver ones.
Butcher knives, bread knives, paring knives, butter knives, carving knives, and several other kinds were in use, the size and shape adapted to the use.
THE HOUSEWIFE’S DAY
A man works from sun to sun
But a woman’s work is never done.
And it wasn’t because she was a slow or slovenly worker but because there were so many things she had to do or felt that she had to do. She generally was an early riser not always from choice but from necessity.
There is the story of a newly married couple who couldn’t decide which should get up first and build the fire so they tried a contest to see who could stay in bed the longer. He won, as she couldn’t endure the thought of all the work she should be doing. There has never been an eight hour day for the housewife. Her first task in the morning after the fire is going is to start breakfast if she doesn’t have to go to the barn to help her farmer husband do the milking.
Breakfast in the “good old days” wasn’t much like that of today (cereal, toast and coffee), but usually consisted of oatmeal, sausage or bacon, potatoes and pancakes or johnny cake. Sometimes ham and eggs were served.
Before she could wash the dishes or do any other housework she had to “put up” the children’s lunches if school was in session and they couldn’t “run home” at noon, as there were no cafeterias in the old times, only one room schools.
If it were Monday she’d leave the dishes until she had put the wash boiler on the stove. The boiler was filled with water for the week’s wash. While it was heating, she brought in the wash tubs and rub board and sorted the cloths and maybe washed the breakfast dishes. The making up of the beds and the sweeping of the floors had to wait until the washing was finished as there seemed to be a competition among the women to see who could get their wash on the line first.
Dinner was usually an “oven affair” as the top of the stove was occupied with the boiler and the tea kettle as she had to have boiling water for starch. After the tubs were emptied and put away, the floor had to be mopped and, as the kitchen was usually the largest room in the house, this was no small job. Before dark she had to “bring in the clothes” from the line, sort, fold, and “dampen down” the ones that had to be ironed on the morrow as Tuesday was “ironing day” regardless of other things.
There were no steam irons and no “drip dries” so ironing, like washing, was an all day affair especially if the family was large and the housewife very conscientious and thought every piece must be ironed. There were only the old “all iron” flatirons which are “almost worth their weight in gold” in some of the antique shops today and are used as door stops. Later came the ones with removable wooden handles, in sets of three. These irons had to be heated on the kitchen stove so there was no cool place in which to iron and, as it was, the housewife walked “miles” back and forth from ironing board to the stove, changing the iron as it cooled. Wednesday was another hot day in the kitchen as it was “baking day.” Bread, pies, cakes, cookies, and donuts were on the list of goodies which must be prepared on this day. Bread came first and was usually “set” the night before so as to be ready for the first kneading as soon as possible, usually before breakfast. Pies, cakes, and cookies were baked before the bread was ready for the oven. There was no room in the oven while the bread was baking as usually five or six loaves were made at one time.
Thursday was the housewife’s freest day, but was always busy with the unexpected, forgotten, or “put off” jobs. Usually sewing and mending were done on this day. Or maybe she went to a quilting bee or visiting.
Friday and Saturday were cleaning days preparing the house for Sunday’s visitors, as most women vied with the neighbors as to who could keep the neatest house.
Sewing and mending were “pick-up” jobs and were done in the evenings or whenever there seemed to be a little “spare time.” Also knitting of socks and mittens came in as “pick-ups,” a necessity and not a pastime hobby.
old grandmother said that she couldn’t wash and iron and be a
Christian all in one day so she divided her work for each day of the
When you go to the refrigerator to take out some article of food for a meal, do you ever wonder what your grandmother did before refrigerators and freezers were invented?
Going back in time we find the “ice box,” then the “safe” in the cellar, then the bucket in the well or in the spring.
The bucket in the well or the pail in the spring were not always convenient or safe so grandmother didn’t plan to have any “leftovers” if she could avoid it. It also meant extra steps as also did the “safe” in the cellar.
The safe was a cupboard usually with a screen door to let in the cool cellar air. Sometimes the food was placed on the cellar floor with a domed screen placed over it to keep it safe from rats and mice.
At meal time if there were children in the family it was, “Run down cellar and get the milk and butter,” or some other needed article. Sometimes it was the husband who did the “running” so no wonder that he was glad when the “ice box” was available. But this didn’t lessen his work as he had to “fill the ice house,” in the winter, and keep the “ice box” filled during the summer.
The ice box was made of hard wood about twenty inches square and four and a half feet high, divided near the middle – the upper half having a lift up cover and lined with zinc for holding the ice. The lower half had two shelves for the food. There was a drain pipe from the upper half which was supposed to drain into a pan under the ice box. This needed watching so that it didn’t overflow. While the ice box eased up on the housewife’s work, it added to the man’s in that he had to see that new ice was added as that in the box melted.
The ice box called for a new industry – that of the “ice man,” especially in towns and cities where the general public had no way of storing ice, like the farmer and small town residents who could build “ice houses” and provide the ice necessary.
When the ice house was built it was not always a separate building but sometimes it was a portion of another building.
When ponds or lakes were frozen to a foot or more in depth, it was considered time to “cut ice.” A portion of the surface was scraped clean of snow and the ice marked into fifteen or twenty inch blocks and a hole chiseled through so a cross-cut saw could be inserted and the sawing started, first in one direction and then across so the ice could be lifted out with iron “tongs.”
It was packed into the ice house and then covered with sawdust from some neighborhood saw mill. This served as insulation and whenever a cake of ice was removed, it was carefully replaced.
All ice was thoroughly washed clean of sawdust before being put into the ice box.
The “ice man” delivered the ice to his regular customers daily and it was part of his job to put the ice into the ice box. He often had several children following his wagon, especially on a warm day, to pick up the pieces of ice which he left after fitting the ice into the box.
Next to air, water is the most necessary elementary need of man or beast. As you turn the tap in the kitchen or bathroom, do you ever wonder what the pioneers did for water before the invention of electricity and the water system? They always tried to build their cabins near a spring, brook, river, or on the shore of a lake so as to be sure to have water even if it had to be carried in a pail for quite a distance.
Whenever this wasn’t possible, a well was dug. Wells have been a source of water away back in Bible times for we read about Jacob’s Well and it was at a well that Jesus talked with the woman of Samaria.
Getting the water from the well was done in many ways. The earliest and simplest was by fastening the pail to a rope or cord and lowering it into the water until it filled and then pulling it up “hand over hand” until it could be lifted out. Someone thought of a better way. They built a curb around the top and placed a piece of a tree attached to a crank and fixed it so that the rope could be wound around it as the crank was turned winding the rope up until the bucket was within reach. Another way was a pole fixed so that one end rested on the ground and the smaller end was over the well. By pulling on the rope the bucket was lowered into the well. By letting go of the rope after the bucket was filled, the weight of the other end of the pole would lift the water. Windmills were imported from Holland and were expensive so were slow in appearing in the Eastern states. Pumps were a welcome invention and became popular both in the house and out in the yard and barn.
When wells were not satisfactory as a water supply, a great number of people had cisterns, especially in small villages. A cistern is a cemented pit usually under a part of the house and the water is conducted to the upper rooms by pumps. Eaves troughs carried the water into the cisterns when it rained. During a dry season these cisterns often “went dry” and water had to be used sparingly.
We hear today about “recycling.” That word wasn’t known in the long ago but we did it just the same. The dish water went into the “swill barrel,” the rinsing water from the dishes was used for washing out the dish cloth and the towel. The rinsing water from the laundry was used for washing the woodwork and mopping the uncarpeted floors. In small villages there was usually a “handy man” who was equipped for draining water from a nearby lake or river to fill empty cisterns. His equipment was a horse and “lumber wagon” with several barrels which he filled with a pail and usually emptied the same way. I nearly forgot to mention the “rain barrel.” Nearly every home had one. It was a large barrel placed under the eaves usually near the “back door” with a board placed in it in such a way that the drip from the eaves struck it and ran into the barrel. Eaves troughs came later. So many wells had “hard” water that the water in the rain barrel was used mostly where soap was needed as “hard water” contained some chemicals that neutralized soap and a suds was almost impossible. No water softeners then.
There were very few cultivated berries in the early times so housewives and their children usually watched for the wild ones to ripen.
Strawberries, then as now, were the first to appear. About the first of May everyone was on the lookout for strawberry blossoms and when a patch was found if was watched carefully and its location kept a careful secret from the neighbor’s children.
The banks along the railroad tracks and rich meadows produced the largest berries but not many farmers were willing that berry pickers should trample the grass in the meadows, though they were always ready to eat their share of the berries, especially if they were in a strawberry shortcake. Some people “hulled” the berries as they picked them while others waited until they got home where they could sit in an easy chair in a cool spot, for at best, it was a tiresome job, but oh, the delight of the shortcake which followed!
Very few wild strawberries were “canned” for winter use, as they were at their best when in season, which was usually the last part of June.
Blueberries were the next to ripen and for a longer time. They grow on low bushes and in clusters so one could pick a handful at a time as they didn’t crush easily like all the others. They weren’t much like the ones seen in the markets today and they didn’t usually grow nearby like the others.
My first blueberries were brought by my grandfather from Wilmington to us at Lake Placid and were picked on the Black Brook “plains.” They were brought in wooden boxes with sweet fern over them to keep them cool. There were no quart and pint boxes then and he measured them out in a tin quart cup.
One day when I was about eight years old, my father took us out towards Saranac Lake where the blueberries were plentiful and we had a picnic and picked lots of berries. Mother dried them and how good they tasted in pies and “bag” pudding during the winter.
Raspberries were next in season and were usually found along the edges of fields and along fence lines. They grew abundantly in fields that had recently been cleared by fires.
Raspberries crush easily so it is best to pick them in small containers instead of large pails, as you can blueberries.
Blackberries came last and were the hardest to pick because of the thorns and tangled briars but the men seemed to prefer picking them to any of the others, perhaps because they were larger and the pail filled up faster.
One year where I taught school, the blackberries were the only berries available so my boarding mistress canned over a hundred quart cans, so it was sauce for supper, pie or shortcake for dinner until I turned against them and never have cared for blackberries since although a few really ripe, fat and juicy ones taste pretty good to me now.
Any wild berry has a more delicious flavor than the cultivated ones.
As you bring in your carton of milk do you ever think of how it is produced?
In the long ago nearly every family had at least one cow and produced its own milk and butter.
The cow was a family pet and usually had a familiar name like Daisy, or Susie, Brindle, or Old Red.
Milking time was twice a day and was quite a chore and often fell to the lot of the mother or “one of the girls.”
On large farms (called dairies now) they had a “dairy maid” whose duty was to milk the cows and take all the care of the milk, churn the butter and keep the dairy room clean.
There were no separators in those long ago days, so the milk was strained through a close woven cloth, into tin pans or earthen dishes and set in a cool place for the cream to rise to the top, which took at least twenty-four hours or longer according to the temperature.
Some of the milk pails had a fine wire strainer soldered to a part of the top so a cloth strainer was not needed.
When the cream was firm on the top of the pan of milk, it was taken off with a “skimmer.” This was a piece of tin with holes in the center so that the milk could drain away. The cream was usually kept in a large earthen bowl until enough was accumulated for churning into butter.
As children we loved to have a pan of thick sour milk, and brown sugar to sprinkle over it for a treat. We preferred it to “Junket.” Mostly the soured milk was made into cottage cheese or given to the pigs or chickens.
A neighbor came in one time when we were having our treat of “lobbered” milk and we asked him if he’d have some with us and he replied indignantly, “I don’t eat swill.”
Years ago the “milkman” delivered the milk in an open container, whatever the housewife brought to the cart. If she wanted a pint or a quart or more she brought a dish accordingly and the milk was dipped from the large container with a quart measure.
Pasteurization became a State Law after it was discovered that certain germs were often found in “raw” milk that caused undulant fever.
“He kicked the bucket.” I have no idea how this expression originated but it seems to mean that he died. “He’s sky high.” This might be his social standing or that he had imbibed too freely at the “flowing bowl.” He also might be “as high as a kite.”
“I’m in a puppy snatch,” seems to mean some kind of a puzzling situation. “Come, shake a leg,” is an old time way of saying “hurry.” It was also used in speaking of a dance. “One rotten apple can spoil a whole barrel.” Did you ever observe how fast one rotten spot on an apple can spread? This expression often is used in reference to how one lawless youth can influence a large number of companions. “Birds of a feather flock together” and “A Man is known by the company he keeps.” If a man associates with law breakers he is sure to be regarded as one.
A friend of mine used to say, “By ginger” if he wanted to express surprise and if he were startled he’d say, “By ginger blue.” His Wife’s expression was “Moses and Aaron.”
“Penny-wise and pound foolish.” This is an old English expression meaning that one hasn’t really “counted the cost” and therefore made a wrong decision.
“You can’t have more than the cat and her skin,” which means that there is only about a certain amount that anyone may expect to obtain.
“Don’t bite off more than you can chew.” This really means that one should not take on a job that they can’t finish such as attempting to care for too large a garden. “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.” This is often quoted when someone expresses a disappointment in a friend or neighbor. It also denotes that his ancestors were not very “high tone.”
“You can’t tell by the looks of a frog how far he can jump.” This is against judging a person by his appearance or by first impressions. “I was fit to be tied.” This means that I had endured to my limit, and any more of the same conditions and I’d need a “straight jacket” or some physical restraint. “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.” The age of a horse is told quite correctly by looking at its teeth so this expression is used in reference to looking for the cost of a gift. “Sue a beggar and catch a louse.” There isn’t much gained in a lawsuit even if you win as sometimes the lawyer’s fee is as much or more than is gained.
“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” This isn’t always true with dogs or people. A great deal depends upon the teacher as well as the one who is taught. “Always behind like a sheep’s tail.” A term of reproach for one who is always late for a date. “What can’t be cured must be endured.” This doesn’t need explaining. This world would be a happier place if all tried to make the best of whatever seems to be their lot. “Beauty is only skin deep.” Don’t select your friends by their looks for the plainest face may prove the best character. “The salt of the earth,” is an expression as old as the Bible but it is the highest praise that can be given any man or woman.
“Dyed in the wool.” Weavers who dyed the wool before it was spun and woven produced a more permanent and even color so this became an expression of character. “One man’s meat may be another man’s poison.” What is right for one person may be wrong for another. “Shoemaker’s wives and blacksmith’s horses often go barefooted.” Customers’ needs come first.
“You look like a tramp,” said my mother.
“What’s a tramp?”
We don’t see real “tramps” today but years ago they were quite frequent visitors to the rural homes. They began arriving with the first warm days of spring. Where they came from no one knew and where they were going was also unknown even to them.
They were also known as “Hobos” and “knights of the road.” They were dirty, unshaved and ragged. They usually carried a small bundle of extra socks and a shirt (maybe) tied up in a red bandanna on the end of a stick. This seemed to be their insignia.
They followed the main roads and the railroad tracks and stole rides in empty railroad cars. They were never picked up by passing wagons. They begged their food from the houses along the way. Sometimes all they asked for was a drink of water.
They slept wherever night overtook them, in barns, under bridges, or by the fences. They never asked for a bed in a house, probably because they knew they were too dirty for any housewife to endure. They were mostly victims of misfortune though occasionally they were “tramps” from choice.
Now-a-days, with the State’s laws against “hikers,” Welfare, and Homes for the Aged, the real tramps, are never seen.
Occasionally a tramp would offer to do some work to pay for the food given but more often they left without even a “Thank you.”
Almost everyone gave some food as they were afraid to refuse for fear the tramp would take revenge by burning the barns or some other form of reprisal.
Children were taught to run for the house if they saw a tramp coming.
As children we had many games that are unknown to the young people of today.
“Tag” was universal. There’s hardly a person who, as a child, didn’t enjoy this game.
“Hide and Seek” is another which has been handed down and is sometimes played by the present generation.
“Drop the handkerchief” is one of the school day games. One was selected to drop the handkerchief while all the others formed a ring. The “dropper” ran around outside the ring and dropped the handkerchief behind someone and kept on running. If the handkerchief was not discovered before the runner got back to it, he picked it up, and tried again. If it were discovered the favored one had to pick it up and try to catch the other one before she could get back to the vacated place. If caught she had to drop the handkerchief again. If not she was safe and the one who had the handkerchief had to drop it on her way around the circle.
“Snap the Whip” was a rougher game and one the boys played. They formed a line holding hands, usually the smallest one being on the end. Then they started running until the head one called “Halt.” This usually sent the end ones tumbling as all let go of hands.
“Fox and Geese” was a winter game played when there was snow on the ground so as to mark out a plan in the shape of a wheel. The fox’s den was the center and he ran from there trying to catch one of the “geese” who couldn’t run outside the circle or the spokes. If caught he became the fox.
Checkers and dominoes are sometimes played today.
In the time of the “country stores” everyone had its checker board and its champion players – old men who had nothing else to do – who gathered around to watch the game.
Now “give away” is more popular as both players try to get rid of his checkers first.
At the beginning of this century Flinch was the popular card game.
“Consequences” was an indoor game played mostly by the teenagers.
Papers and pencils were passed around and each player wrote a boy’s name and folded down the paper to cover it and passed it to his neighbor on the right who wrote a girl’s name folded it and passed it on. Next was where they met – what he said – what she said – what he gave her – what she gave him – what he did with it – what she did with it – and the consequences. Then each read the “story” on the paper they held. Some of the “consequences” were truly remarkable.
“Gossip” was another favorite. One whispered something to her neighbor and she whispered it to the next one and so on until the last one told it out loud. Then the first one told what she started with. You can imagine the result.
Instead of the present day church suppers we used to have “sociables” which were in reality suppers but instead of being held in the halls or parish rooms they were held in private homes.
People came from miles around and instead of going home right after eating they lingered to visit and the young people played games often until midnight.
room was usually prepared for the young folks by removing most of
the furniture except chairs and more of them were brought in after
the games needed them. Some games didn’t need chairs so even
room were removed. Most of the games played by the young people were
was a jolly miller
And he lived by himself
All the bread and cheese he had
He put upon the shelf.
The rats and the mice
They made such a strife
He was forced to go to London
To get himself a wife.
One hand in the hopper
And the other in the bag
Every time the wheel went round
He cried out “Grab!”
Another game was “Needle’s Eye.” This took two to form the eye – one inside the circle and one outside with their hands joined above the moving circle and they all sang, “The needle’s eye that supply the thread that runs so true, It has caught many a smiling lass (lad) and now it has caught you.”
The one inside brings the hands down on the chosen lad or lass and kisses, then takes the outside place and they start circling again.
In musical chairs they sat alternate and when the music started they marched around them. When it stopped each tried to get a chair and as there was one more player than chairs the one left out stole a chair from the line when the music started again. The game was to see who would be the last one. No kissing in this game.
“Hide the thimble” was a game for those too young for the kissing games. “Forfeits” was another popular game. I don’t remember how the forfeits were collected but one person was selected to act as judge and one person had the forfeits which he held, one at a time over the head of the judge while standing behind him (her) and saying, “Heavy, heavy, hangs over your head. What must he (she) do to receive it?”
Some of the stunts were really amusing, depending upon the originality of the judge.
“Card” games are [sic] not played at the “sociables” because they were attended by “church people” who frowned on “cards,” though some of the men enjoyed them when they could get together and not “let the women know.”
Eucher and Whist and 500 were more popular then than Bridge.
Leap frog was a favorite game for the boys. One would bend over with his hands on his knees and the next boy would run, place his hands on the others back, and jump, straddling his hands, then start running and bend down for the next boy to leap over him.
As a child the country store had a great fascination for me and how I loved to go there with my father or on an errand for my mother.
There were so many things to see as contained nearly everything one could imagine except furniture.
Almost nothing was packaged as today but was in barrels, boxes and kegs and was measured or weighed as needed. Flour was sold by the barrel as no one thought of buying less until some flour factory started by selling it in half barrel lots in cloth bags. A barrel weighed 198 pounds.
Molasses came in barrels also.
One day a little girl came into a store and placed a tin cup on the counter saying, “Ma wants a cup of molasses. Here’s two eggs to pay for it. She’ll send the other as soon as the hen has laid it. She’s on the nest now.”
Evidently the price of three eggs equaled the price of a pint of molasses. That was long ago.
The molasses barrel was usually quite near the stove so as to keep it warm enough to be easily drawn. You’ve heard the expression “as slow as molasses in January.”
One little girl who went to the store for some vinegar lifted the jug to the counter and said, “Smell of that and give me a quart.” She could not say “Vinegar.”
Earthen jugs were quite common in the long ago as they could stand considerable hard usage. Almost every family had a vinegar jug and a molasses jug.
Sugar came in barrels and was sold by the pound, also crackers which were of the old style which could be split easily.
Cheeses were large round ones and the storekeeper cut off a piece which the customers indicated as the amount wanted.
Grandfather went to the store once in two or three weeks and always planned on buying crackers and cheese for his lunch.
The store was the gathering place for the older men of the village. They were sometimes called “Cracker Barrel Club.” This club was composed entirely of elderly men who gathered at the store to tell stories and to play checkers.
There were usually one or more games going at a time and bets were exchanged on who would win.
Crackers and cheese were usually enjoyed during the evening either Dutch treat or at the expense of the winner.
Who remembers their grandmother’s kitchen? It was far different from the present day ones.
It was the heart of the home. In it most of the joys and sorrows of the family occurred.
In the first place it was large, often the largest room in the house. It was also cheerful and warm and full of activities, for here the food was prepared and also eaten, and it was the scene of all the other household tasks that made the home comfortable.
Early kitchens had a fireplace as stoves came later and everyone knows how cheerful a fireplace makes any room. It had a table large enough for the family and chairs or stools for all. There was nearly always a rocking chair for an aged relative or for mother if she had a few minutes to rest between her many household duties.
Beside the fireplace or stove was a “wood-box” containing the day’s supply of fuel. This was filled every night and morning by father or one of the children.
Filling the woodbox was one of the first “chores” given a child as children were taught “to help” with the daily chores in those long ago days. Helping to set and clear the table was another job for little hands. How proud was a little girl when Mommy let her place the knives and forks around and to wipe them after they were washed! Dishes were washed and wiped in the long ago as there were no automatic dishwashers then.
Grandma’s dishes are antique treasures now as any old ironstone dish proves in the antique shops of today.
Grandma needed a strong right arm and back as most of her kitchen equipment was heavy as her dishes show. One ironstone plate was heavier than half a dozen of today’s plastic ones and did you ever lift her iron tea kettle full of water?
Most of her cooking vessels were iron and her kettles ranged in size from two quarts upwards. Some of her larger kettles were made of brass.
Grandma had no electric equipment as we have today. She didn’t have a meat grinder for making hash or for her annual sausage making. She had a wooden chopping bowl and a “chopping knife” which was generally made by the local blacksmith.
For chopping potatoes for “warming up” she had a tin can which had a sharp edge and a few holes punched in its side to let out the pressure.
There was generally a sink in the corner near the back door and if there was a cistern, a pump was placed on a shelf at one end of the sink and a water pail was in the sink under the pump’s spout.
A tin or enameled wash basin was also in the sink so the dishes were washed in a “dishpan” usually on the kitchen table or the broad shelf in the pantry. The dish pan was kept in the sink cupboard. There was also a “slop pail” near the sink as there were no “wet” sinks in those days and all used water had to be carried outside. There were no cesspools and a septic tank was unheard of until years later.
A “saw” mill was one of the earliest kind of mills established in the United States. It was situated on a river as “water power” was the only means of operating as there was no electricity as today.
Timber was plentiful and lumber was needed for new homes. The saw mills of today are far different from the early ones but are still with us.
This is not true of grist mills. They have become obsolete.
In earliest times wheat, corn and other grains were ground into flour by hand. Pounding with a rock was the earliest way of making flour.
Grist mills were always built of the bank on a river or large brook that would furnish power to turn the large millstones that crushed and ground the grain which was fed to them through a “hopper.”
For years the corn had to be shelled by hand until someone invented a “corn sheller” as the kernels had to be off the cob before it could be ground into corn meal.
Buckwheat flour made the nicest pancakes and my mother used to make a wonderful buckwheat “bannock.” This was a form of hot bread and was delicious with maple syrup.
Quite often the miller was paid by taking a certain amount of flour or meal for his labor.
In the “long ago” there used to be “carding mills” in many rural communities. These mills prepared wool for spinning into yarn.
Before these mills, the housewife had to do her own carding which took considerable time and strength.
Cider mills have also disappeared, except in the large commercial orchards. When nearly every farm had a small orchard, cider mills did good business for a couple of months every autumn as all extra and cull apples not saved for winter use, was made into cider.
Not all the cider was used while freshly made as its greater use and value was when it had turned to vinegar.
More vinegar was used then as every family planned to have a bountiful supply of pickles as they were not available in stores as they are now.