Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Introduction
My two grandmothers were as different in looks, in personalities, and in background as two people could possibly be.
Fran and I designated them as our "Big Grandma" and our "Little Grandmother". Big Grandma was our maternal grandmother, and was strictly Fran's property. Little Grandmother-- father's mother-- was mine, or so Fran and I spoke of them. Strangely enough, for they had nothing in common except their grandchildren, they always got along remarkably well together.Back to the Table of Contents
I can remember, on a few occasions when Big Grandma visited us, how they sat and comfortably rocked back and forth piecing quilt blocks, or perhaps shelling peas or fixing snap-beans for the coming meal, at which eighteen or twenty were present in the summertime...always an endless flow of conversation about the children, the farm, the weather, and mostly about the hardships endured. I do not remember them laughing as women do now when they sit and visit.
One day while sitting on the floor near them looking at a scrap book Big Grandma had made and given us, and conscious of the tide of words that washed and swirled around me, I suddenly realized that I understood what they were talking about. It made a lasting impression on me, possibly because of my sudden plunge into "grown-up" knowledge.
Big Grandma was saying in her clipped New England way, "Family is here and now. It's what you yourself are. It's what you give to the world--not what your ancestors have done--that really counts."
How Little Grandmother's passionate reply startled me!
"Don't tell me that! Do you think this homestead--this little house, these buildings--that this is all I have to give these children? No, indeed! Their ancestors are what I have to give them. Look at my little granddaughter. She is a product of something more than this!", and she made a sweeping gesture with her arms.
"Circumstances made them be born here, but their heritage of good blood and breeding will mean more to them than anything I can do for them or leave to them."
Because I felt that Little Grandmother was defending something--though I did not know what--I spoke up and said, "I like my Little Grandmother best", and was promptly and rather unjustly, or so I thought, sent out to play.
A few days later when one of our small cousins fell and cut himself and was bleeding rather profusely, I anxiously watched as mother bandaged the wound. "Don't lose much of that blood," said I importantly, "It's worth more than this whole place, buildings and all! Grandmother said so!"
Dear Little Grandmother living in past glories! You did leave us something that we have treasured far more than worldly goods! Inherent in each of our grandchildren, there is a love of family and a spirit that keeps us striving for the finer things that life has to offer, a spirit that transcends any material possession that has come to some of these, your grandchildren.
I doubt if a more incompatible couple than father and mother ever lived. Mother was a product of the stern, rock-bound coast of Maine on her maternal side--very straight-laced and very lacking in humor. Her father came from old Pennsylvania Dutch stock, and nothing very interesting has been told to us about him, except that "his hair was as yellow and shiny as spun gold", and that he was killed in an accident, leaving my grandmother with eight children to care for, and a small farm on the outskirts of Sauk Centre, a little northern town in Minnesota.
Mother was next to the youngest of the brood, so the part she played in the drama of survival was not so great, but it left her with that driven feeling that "life is real and life is earnest." Many times it saved the day for her own family, or so she and the rest of us thought, but perhaps being driven was not good for us...especially father, who was an easy-going soul.
Father came from southern folk. His father came from Scotch ancestors, who came to Virginia in the seventeenth century, establishing a large plantation and slave trade. Little Grandmother was of French ancestry who came to Virginia from Maryland. Towards the end of the Civil War, Grandfather, together with four other families, salvaged what they could from their devastated plantations, and started west by covered wagon. Father was the last of the children to be born in Virginia, though three daughters were to be born in Minnesota. [note: census records show that the first three children were born in Virginia, Robert, John & James. Louisa & Susan were born in Indiana. Benjamin & Charles were born in Minnesota] All of the men in the little caravan had been wounded during the war, all were ill and heart-sick. Many were the thrilling tales told by Grandmother of the hardships endured on that long journey...the many times they were stopped at both northern and southern outposts.
By the time they reached Missouri the war was over, and they felt that the going would be made easier, but raiders from both armies now made travel a menace. Somehow they made their way through, and at last came to the beautiful lake country of Minnesota. Grandmother would tell us about the beautiful home in Virginia that had been looted and burned. With flashing eyes she would tell of her two brothers that fought for the Union, and of her beloved brother, a Captain in the southern army, "probably killed by his own renegade brothers" as she called them, and whom she never forgave. In Grandmother's memory the "old south" still lived.
In the beautiful lake country of Minnesota they stopped and located a homestead, but it was some years before they became a part of the friendly folk, for the neighboring families did not take too kindly to these southern people. But, as time went by, they became a part of the scattered community sharing in the dances, the spelling bees, and whatever entertainment and social life the neighborhood offered.
When my mother came into the family as a bride of sixteen, it was hard for her to understand and fit into a group so different in every way from anything she had been accustomed to. Grandmother lived in the past, and her impassioned tales of the victims of abolitionist treachery did not spare the ears of any who would listen to her. She found in me as a child, a very sympathetic listener. The southern dialect, and the fact that Grandmother had no teeth, made listening a fascinating pastime.
To mother it was a challenge to try and convince Grandmother and the family how very wrong slavery had been. Mother wept and suffered along with Eliza in "Uncle Tom's Cabin" and now at the first opportunity she procured the book to read aloud to Grandmother, who loved such attention. But, before Mother had gotten into the third chapter, Grandmother had stood all she could. "Give me that book", she cried, "Such lies ah never heard 'befoah' in all my life." She opened the stove door and in it went.
As a girl, Grandmother had lived the usual easy life of a southern plantation mistress, and indeed, up to the time of the war between the states, as Mother expressed it, "She had never lifted a finger to help herself." This was all very foreign sounding to the mid-western ears of the little group of people with whom she was destined to spend the rest of her life.
When we, the children, came along some twenty years later, she told us the stories, but she was no longer the romantic figure. I remember her as a tiny person, stooped over from too much work, rearing children and doing most of the farm management.
Chapter 2: The Family
Mother undertook to make the family over to her way of life. Mother was a born homemaker and the confusion of the mismanaged home was a direct challenge to her. It had been a place to live. Now she had made it into a home, and to some extent it was beautiful.Back to the Table of Contents
Grandmother had brought with her from the south a chest of drawers, a bedroom set, and some of the family silver. Oh, the hardship of getting those few pieces of furniture across the long miles from Virginia to Minnesota, but when Mother came into the family every piece was scarred and battered almost beyond repair. However, she enlisted the aid of Father and Uncle Bud, and polished and worked on it until it came to life again.
The big family room had, as I remember it, five deeply recessed windows, for eighteen or twenty-inch logs made a wonderful enclosure for the twelve -paned windows. The house was made of white oak logs, beveled and fitted together so that the inside was a smooth, mellow silver tone. There were turkey red lambrequins over each window and each deep recessed sill held house plants, or work basket, or perhaps the sleepy cat sunning itself. The pine tables were unpainted, and the chairs covered with bright patchwork cushions. On the floor was a woven rag carpet, over which mother and her two young sisters had toiled, sewing rags and making them into colorful balls that were carried to the town twenty miles away to be made into the carpet I remember so well.
The family room was large, and along the inside wall there stood a box stove four feet long and two feet wide, with a cavernous mouth, opened by lifting an iron peg with a huge ball on top. It would glow red-hot when the winter came along, for it seemed that the big monster always had its mouth open, ready to devour the great block of wood that father or Uncle Bud would offer up in sacrifice with a mighty heave, while sparks and smoke would be spewed forth, dragon fashion, from the glowing monster's depths.
In winter the house plants would be taken from the windows and placed on a table in the corner near the stove, and would drop their leaves one-by-one until their spindly stems looked like little bare arms and legs yearning to be put in the sun once more.
In the fifteen or twenty below zero weather the windows would be frosted over half an inch thick. How often we would scrape away a peep hole, through which we would watch a neighbor go zinging by on the frozen snow, the horses steaming and covered with frost around their eyes and nostrils, hard little snowballs flying from under their hooves as they hurried along, the driver buried in buffalo robes, looking like a cinnamon bear taking over for the duration of the cold spell.
Chapter 3: Uncle Bud
The family, when mother was taken there as a bride of sixteen, consisted of Grandmother, three aunts and Uncle Bud, who lived and died a bachelor. My Grandfather had died not many years after the family came to the community.Back to the Table of Contents
Grandfather had brought some good horses with him when they came west and he had dreams of raising good stock, and so he started to build a barn suitable for the plan. It was to be a big structure. The frame-work was up...huge beams, rafters, and the roof was covered...but there it stood, a monument to a dream unrealized, for Grandfather died before it was finished. Neither Father nor Uncle Bud dreamed dreams of such magnitude!
To us it was the "Old Barn" and a wonderful place to play. Because of its bare sides, its earthen floor and broad beams, it could be used for anything we ever thought up...from wild Indians to Church services and a three-ring circus. Uncle Bud put up swings, took them down again, rescued us from places to which we climbed and from which we could not return. He was at our command except during bee season.
I cannot remember the time he ever did a day's work, but he was a gentle soul and a genius at hunting bees. He would spot a bee going about its daily task of gathering nectar (and frightening little girls) and if it was the right sort of bee, which Uncle Bud could distinguish at a glance, that bee's home was doomed! The honey was as good as stored in Grandmother's fruit cellar, for with the tenacity known only to the FBI, the Canadian Mounted Police, and Uncle Bud, the bee after a hard day's gleaning would buzz and zigzag home only to find Uncle Bud patiently waiting with equipment to saw down the tree, smoke out the bees, and a tub in which to carry home the honey!
I remember the respectful tone Grandmother would use when she said, "Your Uncle Bud is following a bee line", when we would ask where he was at noon or supper time. Sometimes Uncle Bud would be gone all night and would come home pretty well stung all over, but full of the thrill of the conquest.
Fran is the one who remembers Uncle's bee hunting most vividly, for she had borrowed a bottle of sweet anise oil that was used to lure bees into the hives. One of Uncle Bud's labor saving devices was to put anise oil in the entrance to an unoccupied bee hive, and if the bees got a good whiff of it they would voluntarily take up their residence in our back yard, saving a lot of leg work for Uncle Bud. The day Fran, my eight year old big sister used anise oil for perfume, she sailed forth feeling no doubt as one would now with a dab of "Evening In Paris" or "Allure" generously applied, but what she attracted was a queen bee! Now, when a queen bee sits down, her whole entourage sits down with her! In about two minutes Fran was pretty well enveloped in bees. Of course, she was frantic. Uncle Bud kept yelling, "Stand still! Stand still! Don't scare the bees!", as he sneaked up with a net, well perfumed with anise oil, and with plenty of dexterity from long practice, he got the bees off with only a sting or two resulting. To this day Fran can't stand the smell of anise oil!
Uncle Bud was a good coon hunter, too, but not as good as Father. Although, perhaps Mike and Lizzy, the old coon dogs, were the real hunters. When the first frost was on the ground and the harvest moon hung big and yellow on the horizon, the baying of the hounds would keep us children awake, and we would say, "Old Mike has him on the run", or, "Lizzy has him treed now", for the voices of the coon dogs were as familiar as the voices of any member of the family.
There is a nostalgic sound in the baying of a hound, that even as a child affected me. I would put out my hand to touch my sister, wondering if she, too, felt the tug at the heart strings, although I did not understand my feelings at the time.
Uncle was an efficiency expert, always thinking up ways to save time, with which he was blessed most abundantly, or of making life a bit more comfortable. On the long journey to and from our nearest town, one would suffer intensely from the cold in the winter months, so Uncle invented a "foot warmer". It consisted of a lantern made-to-order...a ventilated box in which the lantern was placed...the box had slats made to conform to the position in which he placed his feet. One thing he forgot--heavy buffalo robes were under and over the contraption, and although the box was ventilated, the sled was not! After driving several miles in comfort, the lantern exploded, throwing burning oil and setting fire to the robes and sleigh. The horses became so frightened they ran away, upsetting the sled in a ditch. Uncle was a busy man for an hour or more digging out the horses, gathering up the robes and getting the sled ready for the rest of the trip. However, he said the foot-warmer was a success since he was so darn mad he kept hot all the way to town!
The trip to town on that memorable day had been a very special one, and Uncle felt very self-conscious arriving in such a disheveled condition, covered with lamp-black and soot, and scorched here and there.
The special occasion was that he was being sent as an emissary from the home front to meet a cousin who had returned to the home-land in grandeur, not that she intended to visit the "country"...far from it! Her special railway car stood on a side track in Littletown. She told Uncle Bud confidentially that she felt as "Fah above the country folk as the stahs above a mud hole", which was used as a derisive phrase among her country cousins for many years.
Uncle Bud was her favorite cousin, and so, he went to see if the Baroness (for she truly bore that title!) really wanted to be friendly or was just an uppity someone trying to show off. The Baroness evidently passed inspection. Certainly Uncle Bud had the time of his life, and one-by-one all the cousins went to Littletown to visit her, and all were entertained royally. That is, all went to see her except Mother, who felt that the Baroness was a very questionable character. A few years before mother had come into the family, Ann, a very young and beautiful girl, had run away with a stranger...I trust a handsome one...and when next heard from she was in New York. What her life there had been, no one knew, but in a few years she wrote home from Paris. She was by then the Baronesss, and after all these years, possibly fifteen, she was visiting the old hometown in a private car!
Uncle Bud told Mother all the story of the jewels, the beautiful clothes, the telegrams she received from the Baron twice a day, the servants, all the glamorous details, but Mother remained adamant. She relented somewhat when the Baroness sent all the children in the family beautiful wax dolls that she brought from Paris. I laid my treasure on the oven door and the lovely features melted away into nothing. Uncle Bud took a hot teaspoon and did a job of plastic surgery. I do not remember the doll, but I do remember that if anyone had a certain type of nose, the family referred to them as "looking like Mary's wax doll".
I have always been glad that Uncle Bud lived until the age of electricity, automobiles, and other modern inventions.
At one time he was engrossed in perpetual motion and a most intricate gadget was produced, which would indeed run for hours at a time. It probably would have run for days had there been a place to set it up, where it would have been undisturbed. I remember he bought egg beaters by the dozen, using the little fly-wheels for small belts which controlled a balance, working something like a teeter- totter board, the up and down movement being the perpetual motion. When asked how it could be used for any practical purpose, he replied, "I'll invent it and someone else can apply it to whatever purpose it will serve!" Every night the "Thing" would be set up on the kitchen table and all would watch while it teeter-tottered up and down, up and down. As a means of hypnotism it might have served "a purpose", for I would wake up in the morning, not knowing how I got to bed, having gazed until sleep overtook me.
Then, spring came, and with it the bees and the "Thing", which was what we all called it, was put away on a shelf in the smoke house, with a warning to us children to leave it alone, for "it might cut off our fingers'. It was never brought out again. We played with the other parts of the beaters. Mother complained, "Here I have to use a fork to beat eggs, with twenty six parts of egg beaters laying around," for Mother's egg beater had also been sacrificed on the alter of science. One day an extra special one was found on the kitchen table. Mother suspected Uncle Bud had a guilty conscience and had placed it there!
One of the grand occasions of our life was Circus Day. We lived twenty miles from town, which is a long way to jog along in a lumber wagon, but jog we did! We now lived on a farm of our own and another Uncle and his wife and eight children lived on the home place with Grandmother and Uncle Bud. On Circus Day, my Aunt with her eight children, and mother with her three, made great preparations for the trip to town. The men could not be spared from the farm, except for Uncle Bud, who would not have stayed home under any circumstance, so with his wagon load of family, we started out before dawn. We had a big picnic lunch with us and of course all were dressed in our very best. None of us children had ever seen any animals except the domestic variety, and Father had whetted our curiosity by describing at great length, the elephant, and had told us the monkeys would look just like our neighbor, Mike Finnegan! I often wonder if we enjoyed the circus any more than the circus must have enjoyed us.
We were told by Mother to hold each other by the hand so we would not become lost as we stood watching the big street parade, but when Fran saw the elephants walking sedately by, each holding the tail of the one preceding it, she dropped my hand. "I won't hold your hand like an elephant!" she stated, and the word went down the line. One by one the hands were dropped, but we did not become lost.
Such a clamor of questions and exclamations, mostly directed at Mother, whom we expected to answer everything. "How can that girl ride standing up?" "What's the name of that one, mother?", "Mamma, look at that clown!" "Mamma, hold me up so I can see!" Shrill voices kept up the the bombardment, with Mother paying no attention! Uncle Bud had gone off and left us. I think he was a little shy to be seen with so many children.
We met at noon and had our picnic. We chose a spot not far from the town watering trough, and wonder of wonders, a big circus wagon bearing the hippopotamus drove up and the men filled the tank in the cage with water. We had a good view of the huge creature, and when it opened its great mouth we were enthralled. Jo, my little sister, screamed, "That's the one papa said looks like Mr. Finn Finnegan. See his big mouf!" When the tank with the big hippopotamus was driven up to the watering trough, our horses, which had been tied to the wheels of the wagon and were also enjoying their noon-day snack of hay from the wagon bed, became frightened at the sight of the strange creature. Pulling and rearing, snorting and wild-eyed, old Frank finally broke away. Uncle Bud had to run and catch the plunging brute, and in doing so, ripped the sleeve of his coat out at the seam. We still had the circus to attend, so mother took the coat, and looking us over, found enough safety pins and other pins of all sorts to fix the sleeve, as invisible as possible (for Uncle was quite proud and very particular in his dress). During the performance, in his enthusiastic clapping of hands a pin decided to come loose, and Uncle Bud let out an agonizing yell.
"Pick that doggone pin out of my arm hole", he hissed at mother.
"Take off your coat, it's all on the inside", Mother hissed back.
Uncle squirmed around until the coat was off, and between watching the three rings of performers, the clowns and the children, mother fixed the sleeve again. This time Uncle Bud sat stiff as a ramrod, afraid to move!
All things come to an end and the magic day was over and we started home. After a thoughtful interlude Uncle Bud said, "How children can be pinned up and not suffer the torture of the damned is beyond me. That pin was just waiting to stab me if I moved a muscle!"
Before leaving for home we had gone down town to do some shopping or "trading" as most people called it, and by now Uncle Bud was safe, for his sleeve had been sewn up properly. Uncle had given Fran fifty cents and me twenty-five cents, so Fran had invested in some dress material, but I had bought a picture of the snake charmer at the circus. Uncle Bud admired Fran's dress when it was completed, and when he looked at the picture of the snake charmer I knew I had made a good purchase, too. The rest of the summer was spent by us children playing circus. One day when Fran was doing a fancy balancing act on a beam in the old barn, she fell some twenty feet and was practically knocked out, besides breaking Grandmother's parasol. "Oh my dear God, I'm killed, I'm killed". she cried! "Go get Mother!" On second thought, she yelled--"No-no-don't get mother, she'd kill me!"
Mother had many times forbidden us to climb on the high beams of the old barn. Uncle Bud who happened to be near by heard the commotion and ran to the rescue. After making sure Fran was only shaken up and bruised he promised not to tell mother, and to smuggle the parasol into the house somehow. When Mother asked Fran why she was limping, she answered, "Oh, I just fell down!"
"A true statement if I ever heard one", said Uncle Bud.
When Grandmother found her broken parasol, Uncle said, "What a coincidence! I've already ordered you a new one!"
We played circus all summer. Many were the bumped heads and bruised spots. The bewildered cows, dogs, and horses must have heaved a heavy sigh of relief when finally some other interest claimed our attention, and Circus Day was laid away to be taken out occasionally to be sure, but never again to mean full time employment!
Chapter 4: California Here We Come!
California was a long way from Minnesota, not just in miles, but the conditions of the period. Mail was slow, there were no telephones, and telegrams were never sent unless there was a death in the family. Even then, they would not be delivered until a convenient time arose. Living thirty miles from the nearest railroad in the horse and buggy era, was much the same as being stranded on an island in the South Pacific. One heard from the outside about as often. However, an occasional letter did come through at intervals, and one came from Aunt Laura extolling the wonders of California. Even back in 1891 there were California boosters!Back to the Table of Contents
Whether or not due consideration was given to the idea, it finally developed into "When the family went to California" and a epoch in our family life was made. Going to California was indeed and undertaking--Fran was nine, I was five, and Jo was three.
At that time Father owned a farm, which had to be sold, along with stock and farm machinery. Household goods had to be packed and crated. And, clothes had to be made for all of us.
As the time of departure drew near, food was prepared for three meals a day for the several days that the trip by train would take. The hampers of food prepared! Every neighbor that came to bid us goodbye brought something special for us to put in our lunch baskets--chicken, hams, deviled eggs, pies, cakes, cookies, jam and apples.
At last all was ready for us to leave. It was November and the trip into Littletown had to be made in a big bobsled, Uncle Bud telling us to the very last that it was a foolish move to make.
How we loved the long ride through the white countryside, with every little farm looking like a Christmas card: the fence posts capped with little snow cupcakes; the trees bare and lacy, etched against the sparkling snow. In my memory, the trip with the big sleigh, buried in buffalo robes with Uncle Bud letting us children take turns sitting in the driver's seat with him, was a highlight on our journey to California.
The family went "Tourist", and the coach had a big coal range at one end where tea or coffee could be prepared, food warmed, and after the lunches, where dishes could be washed. In an atmosphere of this kind new friendships blossomed and flourished. What a jolly time it was when mealtime rolled around! The whole place would be in an uproar.
I remember the table being hooked into place between the windows, by the negro porters, the tablecloth being flipped into place by Mother, the plates being placed, being mindful to put Fran on the outside so she could dash to the lady's room. We were allowed to drink tea and though I'm sure I consumed my share of food, I can only remember the tea and the fascinating problem it presented as the train switched around curves, doing its best to spill the hot liquid in our laps, especially mine, where sooner or later everything would land!
Fran and I enjoyed every movement of the long trip, although Fran was car sick and I had foot trouble. The shoes that I had insisted were plenty large (because I liked the white shoe buttons) were so small Father had to cut open the sides to enable me to wear them at all, which was the one dark spot on an otherwise perfect trip.
We made one stop-over in Kansas City. What an impression we must have made, with our food hampers and luggage! We stopped at a hotel called "Blossom House". I remember Mother telling friends about the elegance. Everything was stamped with the name Blossom House--linen and china, and, here Mother discretely lowered her voice and her eyes, "Even the you-know-what!" It was a long time before I knew what she meant by "you-know-what". Probably by then the you-know-what's had become collector's items.
We arrived early enough in the afternoon to inspect the hotel rooms, and Father discovered that the fire escape was way down at the far end of the hall, so he went out and purchased yards of rope, which he fastened to the bed. He intended to lower his family to safety in case of fire. No fire occurred, and the rope was added to the other impedimenta of our traveling equipment.
At long last, California!
Our eyes were glued to the windows, as the train switched its long rail of coaches through countryside where beautiful orange groves stood covered with beautiful golden fruit. Oranges were something only known to us as a treat, to be put in little stockings at Christmas time, and into little stomachs on rare occasions during the year. To see oranges growing in such profusion made as great an impression on us as the grapes Caleb found in the promised land made on Moses when confronted by their magnitude.
The palm trees were a sight to behold to the mid-western family, and Minnesota with its cold and snow-covered country side seemed far away indeed! By the time the train announced its arrival in Los Angeles with a final "hoot-hoot" echoed by noisy children, we were all so exhausted from pointing and exclaiming that we made quite a dignified entrance into the city.
Little Jo cried, "Jewraniums..look at all the jewraniums!" No doubt all our thoughts flew back to the spindly geranium plants sitting disconsolately in the corner back of the big box stove, which at that very moment would be glowing red hot to dispel the bitter cold. And, here we were but ten days away, looking at a whole bed full of lush red geraniums growing out in the hot sunshine.
Aunt Laura told Mother and Father, after we were all settled in, that the owner of our new home had committed suicide the week before our arrival--the house was only three doors down the street--so she had rented it very reasonably from the widow. Aunt Laura pointed to a big hook directly over the kitchen table and said, "It was put there by the poor man to use in hanging himself!" Father took the hook down, and threw it out the streetcar window on his way to town, but I don't think they ever felt comfortable in that house!
Everything was so different...we had to learn how to live all over again. Mother had to make us summer clothing - we had to become used to living in the city - and our food habits had to be changed; but, I think it was the spiders that convinced Mother that California was no place in which to bring up a family. Mother was used to doing things the hard way - always preparing for eventualities: preparing for cold weather, then preparing for summer; canning huge quantities of food; preparing for seed time and harvest. Out in California she did not have to do these things. Everything was so easy! She felt, I'm sure, that she was living in sin - and then the spiders!
Fran, with the fearlessness common to children, had taken a glass jar and had gone on a collecting expedition. When she felt that her trophies were worthy of attention, she invited Mother to "Look-it Mama. See what I have!"
Mother took one look and yelled for Father, who rushed in fearing the worst, whatever it might be, for Mother never screamed. When he saw the jar of spiders, among which was a tarantula trying to clean up the rest of the collection, Father, too, became a spider enthusiast. "Hairi", as Father named it (spelled with an "i") sat in his jar on a window sill and grew fat on the other spiders which disappeared one-by-one.
In the early spring an earthquake rocked our little house and nearly scared Mother out of her wits. So, now, in spite of the fact that thousands of Californians live to a ripe old age, preparations were soon under way to go back to Minnesota, much to the disgust of Aunt Laura.
Up to this time we had done very little sightseeing, except as we went here and there with Father looking at real estate. Now they were thankful they had not been foolish enough to invest in Los Angeles real estate. With an eye only for scenic beauty, and with land value left out , we began to enjoy the beaches and parks. How we did enjoy the ocean! We picked up boxes of shells to take back home. Plants and seeds that never grew in Minnesota were tenderly packed. Even Hairi, the belligerent spider who had passed on to his reward (probably from indigestion) was packed in his jar, wrapped in many newspapers, and carefully placed with the bedding.
Human nature being what it is, the beauties of California countryside with its snow-capped peaks, its rolling surf, the orange and lemon groves, the palm trees and flowers soon became but words spoken to whip up a lagging memory. However, one look at "Hairy" and he became California to us and to our neighbors back in Minnesota. At last even "Hairi" disappeared, and only an occasional rather cool letter from Aunt Laura reminded us that way out there was another world.
Chapter 5: Still in my heart...
Mother decided against living in the country, so a small house was purchased in Littletown, which was thereafter known as the "little house on the hill". Fifty years later Fran visited the little house on the hill. The shutters were still green, the lilac bushes still stood, one on each side of the gate, and the big elm tree still held out protecting arms over the house.Back to the Table of Contents
From this "little house on the hill" I started to school led by Fran, who was a third grader with little patience for the younger sister who had suddenly decided against education. Mother could not bring her stubborn daughter to school as she was expecting in November, and in the good old days one would as soon be caught dead as in a public place in a "Delicate Condition"; consequently, the unpleasant duties of herding the reluctant Mary into the halls of learning fell upon older sister. All through our family life at home, big sister had to take on the brunt of engineering and overseeing the family, which I suppose shows the situations in life that "work together for good". Whether Fran loved the Lord at that time is a question, but no doubt the Lord stores up good works against the day when His children come to the first knowledge of Him.
Fran's was the wisdom that settled all things as far as I was concerned!
One incident that stands out in my memory in that first year, is the advent of little Johnnie Green...Little Johnnie started to school when I did and sat across the aisle and to the front, just far enough down so that I could watch his every move with an avid interest. Little Johnnie wore hand-me-downs which he wore, shall we say, "as is". Consequently, the seat of his pants hung far below his knees. The trouser legs had been cut off but not hemmed. He also wore a vest that came down to his knees and a coat. Now who can describe how a man's coat would look on a six year old boy, except to say it swallowed him up! When Johnnie got up to recite, the suit stood there with Johnnie somewhere inside!
My interest in Johnnie was not a romantic one, but at home I talked of little else. Certainly nothing else in connection with my school. One day when I was trying to talk my father into giving an overcoat of his to Johnnie (whether for philanthropic reasons or because I wanted to see him encased in a one piece garment, I cannot say) but I mentioned the fact that Johnnie was a little colored boy. Father hit the ceiling! A colored boy in school - in the same room, practically in the same seat with his daughter! Shades of General Lee! He was going to take steps! He would see about a situation like that! He would ----but why go on. He did indeed take steps.
Never in my life since, have I had as much attention as I did back in eighteen ninety- two, while the Civil War, Constitutional rights, segregation, and white supremacy swirled around and over my unimportant little self.
Grandmother came in from the country to have her say in the matter and demanded that we be taken out of school. This Mother would not allow, and with a firm hand she finally got Father simmered down and the house back to normal. Johnnie still sat in the same seat, much to my satisfaction. The only difference I could see in the whole situation was that on the first cold and snowy day, he came to school enveloped from head to foot in Father's overcoat!
Another incident that stands out in my memory that first year...The first grade pupils had to have dumb bells for exercise and drill work. Our mothers made us important-looking little colored bags in which to carry them. My best friend, Pearl, and I had a fierce argument over a hopscotch game and in the heat of the dispute, Pearl banged me over the head with her bag of dumb bells, and knocked me out completely. She was paralyzed with fright. Her first thought was to conceal her crime, for she thought I was dead. But, in trying to push me under the sidewalk she stirred up my latent resentment and I became violently ill, which frightened her more than my seemingly peaceful demise. After running to my home and telling Mother that she feared I had broken my head falling down, Pearl disappeared and to my bitter resentment was the object of a search by everyone in town while all I had to show for my experience was a goose egg on my head! Pearl was found some hours after her disappearance sleeping peacefully on a pile of soiled linen in the wash room. This little episode did not mar our friendship and thus began my education.
Chapter 6: Blessed as I was...
At that time some thirty years after the Civil War, women had children without being worried about the hospital and doctor bills. Usually some good neighbor woman came in and assisted when baby came. The mother would stay in bed ten days - no more, no less - and have a good rest with everyone waiting on her and longing for the day she would be up and around again.
Transcribed for original, handwritten notes 16 October 1993,
Baby would be spoiled by all the family, then in due time another baby would arrive and the process would be repeated. Prior to the time of psychoanalysis, children were not thought to be jealous of little brother or sister, and so did not grow up to be introverts, extroverts or neurotic, because papa and mama did not "condition" them to the idea of having a new baby in the house. They just arrived at the appointed time! The world was much simpler then.
In November another wee daughter came to take Josephine's place as baby of the family. For this occasion cousin Edna came to be with Mother through her ordeal, and because we lived in town, a doctor was also in attendance. Mother resented this very much, and had insisted that Father bring in a mid-wife from the country; but as she got along very nicely she was somewhat reconciled to the idea that doctors did fairly well, too. Cousin Edna asked Mother to name the baby daughter for her and said she was sending for a silver mug with the name engraved on it. Little Jo overheard the conversation and when a neighbor lady asked her what baby sister's name would be, Jo proudly replied, "Silver mug!"
Father called the baby "Silver Mug" until Mother finally put her foot down!
All families have funny little sayings making no sense to an outsider, but being excruciatingly funny to the family circle. Our family practically spoke a language of its own, so many of these sayings accumulated through the years of raising seven girls.
Father's work kept him away from home much of the time, but there were times when he could be home for two or three months during the winter, usually for January, February and March. At such times Mother had a way of taking us out of the very good schools in Littletown and whisking us out to the country to be near Grandmother's place.
The country schools of sixty years ago were primitive in the extreme, but Father's welfare came first. Father had developed a weakness for "drink" that worried our straight-laced mother far more than was necessary at the time. In everything except Father's personal habits Mother was boss, which to a sensitive personality might account somewhat for the habits formed, but in that period of culture there were no extenuating circumstances ever.
Sin was just sin, with a capitol "S", and drinking was a form of sin with a capitol "D". If anyone had suggested there might be an underlying cause he or she would be considered in league with the Devil.
The world was not so complex then.
Somehow we managed to keep our social position in our little world, though sometimes we spun out on a very fine thread. Moving back and forth from city to country was hard on us for making and keeping friends, for we were always in the process of getting acquainted with new children or catching up with old acquaintances. I remember one time, I'm not quite sure of which period of living in town it happened, that Fran was having some of her little friends in for an evening party, when Father came home, full of good cheer and cloves (cloves were always a dead giveaway to us, but our young guests were not aware of the significance of the clove-scented breath!) We were having a big time playing "Pussy Wants a Corner". Father was "it" and was nimbly pursuing we girls from corner to corner, having the time of his life, when Mother came in. She sniffed the clove-scented air and Father's evening was over. Every one had been having such a good time - it was too bad to spoil the fun, but to Mother it would have been unthinkable to allow Father in his condition (though no one knew it was a condition) to stay in the room with the children.
Upon our return to Littletown after our short sojourn in California, Father had secured a position as traveling representative and salesman for a farm machinery company. His easy going and sociable way of meeting the public was no doubt one of the causes of his growing habit. But, lack of understanding by those nearest and dearest to him played a leading part in the gradual forming of a habit that was to ruin his life.
Our last move to the country was made one late November. This time there were three girls to take out of school and transplant, for now Jo was in second grade. In the country school it was the second reader - the old Mc Guffey Reader - a regular digest of good stories and verse. How well I remember the sing song voices of the children giving out with famous speeches and poems. The old place which had always been available to us was leased this year, so we moved into a little four room log cabin. Father would be home for the winter months. We moved from a ten room house in Littletown. Two moving trucks piled high with furniture carried our household goods to the little place. Most of it was stored in the barn, which developed a leaking roof, so Mother gave the neighbors for miles around beds, tables, chairs, and even lamps and rugs to use. It took two years and a lot of fortitude to collect it all when the larger place was again available.
When we were at last settled in our little cabin, we children thought it was very cozy. We slept in the attic with the stove at the foot of the stairs. Somehow the good Lord kept that red-hot stove from burning down the house, or we would not be alive now.
How well I remember the cold morning temperatures five or ten degrees below zero. The snow glistening deep over fields in the wintery sunlight, the orchard tree tops barely showing through drifts! Deep ruts frozen in the road made walking a misery, as Fran and I trudged off to school a mile and a half distant. Little Jo was a valiant bundle with feet attached. We would cover her face, each take a hand and lead her along, so the bitter cold could not reach her little nose. Arriving at the school we would emerge from our outer shells like a flock of locusts - our coats, hoods and shawls, scarfs and mittens were hung in a row in the corner of the room. Our shoes would stand in hollow expectancy until recess or the end of the day, when shrieking, pulling and mauling each other, the children would again become little mummies, ready for the out-of-doors.
The water bucket stood on a bench in the same corner of the room, and a tin dipper hung low enough so the smallest child might reach it. All of us had access to the same dipper! It was quite an honor, coveted by all, to take the water bucket out to the pump for refilling.
Our teacher was a young mother with two small children in school, and an infant in a cradle by her desk. I do not think I made any progress in my scholastic career that winter, as it was my privilege to rock the cradle whenever little Freddy cried if his mother was busy at the moment.
I can remember "teacher" sitting placidly with a scarf covering Freddy's head as she held him to her breast and listened to the reading or recitations of her pupils. Handkerchiefs were an unknown article and my sisters and I felt quite superior using the ones Mother always provided. I can still see the runny noses and hear the sniffing and snuffing that rose in crescendo as the winter progressed. Everyone in school had the measles that winter. We were fortunate it was no worse, for any germ would have a field day in that school room. We were delighted, even with the suffering, that we had six weeks vacation while the countryside was suffering in various degrees from mild to severe stages of measles. Our little house was as busy as a hospital for two weeks or more, but the measle episode did not occur until after Christmas. Wonderful Christmas!
No matter where we were or what our circumstances might be, Mother always made Christmas a magic time.
In retrospect, all Christmases of childhood seem as one wonderful day merged with the happiness of love of family, faith in the beautiful story of the Christ child, and the loving care of Mother for us all.
The sounds that came out of the past - sleigh bells and the sharp ring of sled runners zinging over the frozen snow; footsteps crunching along, occasionally stopping to stamp the frozen snow from boot heels, where it had formed in hard little balls; the sounds of neighbors calling out "Merry Christmas" in the sharp winter air; and the smells of mince pies, roast turkey and goose, cedar boughs and coffee - all blended into one.
Christmas morning would dawn clear and cold. The snow would sparkle with millions of diamonds flung prodigiously by a dry, capricious wind.
We would wake up long before the fires were built, and oh, the endless waiting until the house would be considered warm enough for us to scramble out of bed and into our clothes. Some Christmases we did not have a tree, and I remember them as being the most thrilling, just our stockings hung up in a row. They would be limp and dejected looking when we tore ourselves away to go to bed. We would lie breathless and starry-eyed until sleep overtook us, and then in a moment it was morning.
Probably we would be awakened by the zing of sleigh runners on the frozen snow, or the jingle of sleigh bells. When the room was warm enough we would run for our stockings, those mysterious, knobby stockings with a doll sitting on top, or tied to the bulky length of the whole, lumpy, lovely thing.
Mother used to knit our stockings using fine black yarn. How we hated them, for they drove us nearly crazy scratching our tender skin, but at Christmas time we loved them because they stretched to hold such an amazing amount of toys, and candy, and always an orange!
One time down in the very toe of Fran's stocking was a ring she had wanted for a long time. I can still see her shining face as she slowly slipped it on her finger and held it up for us to see.
Confusion reigned, but out of a mighty chaos there evolved a dinner. The snowy tablecloth, the bowls and platters of food, and the laughter and fun. Once dinner was over the day was ours until we were too weary to move. Then Mother would read to us from one of the books we received for Christmas, or from what we called the "Blue Book", a story of the life of Christ. Mother was a sympathetic reader, laughing when the characters in the story laughed, and weeping when they wept. Consequently, listening was an emotional experience for all of us. I've heard Mother punctuate her reading by remarks such as: "the poor fool"; "that poor girl"; "I can imagine such a performance", etc. Jo went along with Mother on these emotional outbursts, and one time wept so hard that the story had to be discontinued.
The Christmas we lived in the little cabin was the same as all others except that we were alone. Father did not make it home that year. I know now how lonely Mother must have been; however, he did get home in time to help us have the measles.
In the spring after our experience in the little log cabin, we moved onto the farm we had lived on when we sold everything and went to California. It had been a busy three year interlude.
What a time Mother had getting her loaned furniture back! But, at last we were living in the old house again, and everything looked good to our young eyes.
That year many things transpired which left lasting impressions on all of us. The twins were born. What a wonderful thing that was! People from near and far came to see them - identical girls! Up until this time I think Mother had been disappointed because no sons had been born to her. Now she took great pride in saying, "Six girls - no boys - my girls are all I can ask for!" I remember the rather smug feeling I had because she was so satisfied to have all girls. The twins were named after much debate and argument, Nancy and Margarette. The whole family derived so much pleasure from them. They were healthy always and so alike. One visitor looking at them said, "They look so much alike, but I think this one looks a little more alike than that one!" They were born in May and the hot summer months following were hard on most babies. The twins had no trouble at all! The refrigeration problem was solved by milking the cow five times daily. A neighboring widow lady kept a cow in an enclosure and fed it most carefully. On the stipulated hours one of us children took our little bucket and went after the milk. I have an idea that Maggie, our mother's friend, can be given a lot of the credit for bringing the twins through that first summer so successfully. Cows are temperamental creatures, and this one, Queenie by name, did not like the idea of being milked at odd times during the day. Maggie, dear soul, explained to Queenie the importance of her task. "Queenie, old girl, I'm just asking for one pint this time. Be a good girl and give", and Queenie nonchalantly chewing away on her cud, would allow a pint to be squeezed out. At the proper hours, six o'clock in the morning and evening, she gave gallons. Queenie and Maggie and the bucket brigade were all glad to see September and cool weather roll around.
That summer Uncle Charlie came out from Pennsylvania, and Fran went East with him to stay and attend school for at least a year. Life without Fran was dull indeed!
Other changes were being made. Grandmother sold the old homestead and Uncle Jim and his large family went to northern Minnesota. We missed the family, for each of us had a cousin who was our special pal. My particular pal was Birdie, my age and temperament. We had all played "circus" together and Birdie and I acted out every fairy tale we ever read. I remember one especially, where the princess imprisoned in a tower was implored to let down her hair. The prince (me) on the ground would climb the long braids to reach her side. I would stand and entreat Birdie the princess, "Rapunzell, Rapunzell, let down your hair", and Birdie, who had long braids, would gracefully swing them over her shoulder and lean down from a tabletop, or a limb on an apple tree. Dear days! It was over fifty years before I saw Birdie again, a successful business woman with a winter home in California and a summer home in northern Minnesota.
By Dianne Elizabeth (Harley) Wintch, grandniece
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