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an Autobiography

Violetta Clara Martin

Violetta Clara Martin

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Francis Cushion PerkinsI was born on May 2, 1865. (I) was the first white child born in Minnesota. My parents moved onto a homestead when I was two years old and (I) was nearly three when my father was killed at a mill he was building. I remember so well the day they came to tell my poor mother and family that father had been seriously hurt--he was working about 30 miles away and the man who brought the sad word came with an ox team. Poor mother was frantic. The man said they could not go to Father that night, but would start early in the morning as it was then about three in the afternoon and a bitter cold day in January; but mother commenced to wrap the tiny little baby sister in the blankets and herself in her big shawl and said if he would not go right then she would start when he see {sic} she was determined to go he said, "I'll feed the oxen and let them rest an hour, then we will start."

Think of that long, cold drive with oxen, and the misery ahead of her, as father never again regained consciousness after being hurt, and died the third day after being injured.

There was a large family of us, and when father's good earnings were gone there were bitter times for all; but mother, such a mother, never gave up! There were many people who wanted to adopt my sister five, myself nearly three, and the tiny little curly-headed baby, eight months old, but mother said, "NO! As long as I have my hands and my feet to walk on, no one shall have my babies."

Then, there was a brother past seven, another brother nine, a sister eleven and one thirteen, a brother seventeen, and a married sister - the only one not at home. Times were hard. The eldest brother had been in the war and came home very much run down, was tall and slender of his age, and could not get any work to even support himself, as eveyone those days had large families and all starting new homes in the West, as Minnesota was called those days...Way out west in Minnesota.

So, we were all kept on the farm. We had a very comfortable big farmhouse, but as I say, when father was not there to provide the living, things looked pretty blue to my mother. She was a splendid nurse so our family doctor, a dear old man, gave her all the nursing to do he could. She weaned her baby and left it with the girls, and they kept the home and mother was away a great share of the time. Oh, it was happy days when she was at home. We never went hungry and always were clothed, comfortable, and had our home and were kept together, and were a very happy family.

The older children missed their dear father as he was a wonderful father and man. Everyone loved him who knew him. I cannot remember him, but it is imprinted on my mind the day they brought the news that he passed away. My brothers and sisters took the sad and terrible word so hard, and they of course realized how terrible it would be to have to live without their father, and learning how heart-broken our dear mother would be. But, time heals all wounds, although one cannot forget.

After four years my mother married again. He was a very nice appearing man, and was so very religious. Mother thought he was such a good Christian man, and would be a father to her children, that he would have a good influence over them, but oh, it was not the case. He covered up his meanness with the craft of religion, which is the meanest thing anyone can do. He turned my three brothers out when the youngest was only thirteen. The older one had left home before, of course. In fact, the older brother never was at home, only on a short visit after mother married this man. The older sisters taught school when only sixteen, so earned a living for their [sic] selves, but when not teaching, would come home to be at home. Our step-father was always saying and doing such mean things (that) the sisters did not stay at home very long at a time.

Finally, when I was nine years old my mother sold the farm father had left her and bought a home in the small town where I was born, so as to give we three young children a better chance for an education. We only went to school, however, until we were through the first year in highschool, as our step-father thought we should earn our own way. He never put one cent in the home, as that was our mother's, and everything in it. He provided only for the clothes or anything did he ever buy us.

When I was fourteen one of my older sisters married and I went to live with her on a farm. My sister older than I had left school to teach (at) a country school. She did very well, so (was able to) provide for herself ever after. I lived with my sister and was, of course, maid of all work. (She) expected more of me than she would have of a stranger, as is often the case with relatives.

Benjamin Abbott MorrisonSo, when I was only past fifteen, I met a man I surely thought was a wonder, and if any two people ever fell in love at first sight, we did. He was a fine young man and as good as gold. I not only loved him but I worshipped him for years, for before I was sixteen we were married and moved away from all my people. But never no time was I ever unhappy. He was so good and kind to me. After eighteen months our first baby came to bless us...a beautiful little curly-headed girl. How we loved her, and we were still dearer to each other than before. As time went on we had our financial troubles and all that makes up a life of hard times and hard work. We were never the kind to work alone. I helped him in every way and he me. We lived on a farm part of the time for years. I worked outside, doing everything to help, and we were always happy together.

After the first baby was four another little girl came. Such a joy, and we were still so happy, and he so dear to us. Then in three years we had our third baby girl, and four years after, the fourth little darling came. She was the dearest of all, it seemed. She was a tiny thing with wonderful blue eyes and we all thought she was the dearest of all.

But, several months before she was born, my husband took a position as traveling sales man for a machine company in St. Paul. He was away from home a great deal of the time, and when he came home on several different trips I noticed he did not seem the same, and finally I knew he was drinking some.

I talked to him about it and he said, "You don't need to worry at all. You never saw me drink and you never will."

And I said, "Well, if you never take the first drink, you certainly will never get too much."

He laughed, but oh, I could not help but feel bad, for I had a perfect horror of liquor. As weeks past [sic] he never came home but that I could smell liqour on his breath. He became cross and irritable at times. My heart--I thought it would break. But, after the baby came he said he knew he had been foolish and he would not drink any more. But, he could not keep his promise.

Oh, how I loved him and forgave him, and felt that he would surely stop, and I must be good to him and not fret, but it was no use. He finally used so much of his earnings for drinking and to treat others, just being a 'good fellow' that I had to get sewing to do to keep my daughters in school. Three of them in school then. He was away so much (that) I could sew all week, and Saturday I would wash, bake, clean my house, and have everything ready for Sunday, and keep my children nice, which was my pride.

When he came home for over the Sabbath everything was as nice as if I did not work so hard during the week to earn enough to keep the home as it had been. Of course, we were living in a small town in southern Minnesota at this time, and one could live on a great deal less those days than now. But, it was hard times just the same, with four little girls to take care of and the home and do all my own work and take in sewing, or go out by the day. I don't think any one ever heard me complain, and no one ever heard me say a word against my husband.

It got so he would not come home when he could, and he also got to gambling. Things got worse and worse, so finally I went out in the country and rented the only house I could get. Never had lived in as poor a place...but I just thought if I could only get away from town so when he did come home, I would have him away from all bad influences, perhaps I could make him do different. I fixed the home just as comfortable as I could, and every thing looked nice. Then I waited for him to come. He came, but oh, the misery I went through. He had lost his position through his drinking and had not saved any of his money. I had saved a little during the summer and that was all we had, but I told him then if he could only just stay with the children and I and stop his drinking, all would be well. We would rent a farm and just live in the country, and we would be happy again when he could stay at home.

Well, we did rent a farm and lived in the country, but he would go to town every so often. Perhaps every three or four weeks, and be gone three and four days, and sometimes a week at a time and be drunk all that time. I thought many times I would just lay down and die or go crazy. But there was our oldest daughter, fifteen years old, and the second one eleven, old enough to feel the disgrace of what their father was doing. I had to stand by their father, I thought, so I always told them it was some business that was keeping him away. When he came home, if he was not sober, I would get him to bed and the children thought he had such a bad headache...I would tell them so...they would all be so quiet thinking their father was sick. The heartache and misery no one knows, and yet I had to work that much harder and keep cheerful for my dear children's sake. Then I had not enough to bear, and I found there was another baby coming.

I loved my children so I would not have cared how many I had if he was only doing right, but then I thought I could stand no more, but I did, and lived and not only one baby, but a blessed pair of twin girls, and they have blessed my life ever since they came. He was not good to me by this time, just like any man who drinks, was cross and mean and always finding fault. (He) never cared whether we had enough to eat or wear, but the Lord was good to me in many ways, anyway. I had got so I was a splendid seamstress during the last few years after I had to help take care of my family. I earned enough right along to keep plenty in the house to live on, regardless of anything he done {sic}. Sometimes he would bring a few dollars home, but very little. Well my babies were wonderful little things...never sick...and such good little treasures. The older children just worshipped them, and took so much care of them that when they were six weeks old I began to sew and could provide for all again. We moved into a small town the fall after my twins came, as my husband had geen doing a little bit better, and he insisted on moving to this place as he had gotten work there. I felt I know about how long it would last, but ones knows if they don't separate from their husband for good they have to do as they say, so I finally consented, but such a winter I put in. It was a strange place. I did not have my friends that I had always sewed for, and he drank harder than ever and my babies had to go almost neglected I had to work so hard. Then (I) could not care for them as they should have been cared for, but never a word did I ever say against him. All people knew, they saw, no one said anything to me as they could not when I never gave them the chance. But that was the hardest time of my life. We almost went hungry, and I did not have enough fuel to keep comfortable as the winter was a very severe one and wood very high.

Well, I stood it just as long as I could, so the first of March I went to a town 30 miles from where we lived where I had lived before in better days, and I went to my old friends and told them I was coming back and start dressmaking parlors. They all told me to do so and they would do all they could for me. I had to borrow money for my first month's rent and for my wood and groceries. But some friends moved me to this town free of charge. My husband had been away on a drunk for two weeks, so I thought I would just move without him. But when we were just leaving he came. Of course he moved with the family. Anyway, I had taken things in my own hands at last, and God blessed me as when I got moved and settled and got my cards in the stores and with the help of friends I had a wonderful business. I kept from five to seven apprentice girls and sure was successful. I let him stay at home. I never turned him out, but went my way and provided well for my family. I promised the good Lord on my knees that if he would only give me the work to do I would do it and he never failed me. Never.

My daughters kept the home and went to school. The eldest daughter helped me in the shop when she could. Time went on. For five years he was at home when he was sober, but went his own way. I never asked anything from him, and he surely never saw fit to do anything til the Spring the twins were six years old. Then he acted as if he had come to his senses at last and would do better. A man he had worked for in his better days thought as we did, that he was going to reform and gave him work in his hardware store. Things looked pretty bright. He acted like his own self for the first time in about nine years. He promised everything that was good and begged and pleaded with me to try our lives over again. He would surely prove that he would be as good as he once was. Oh, the weakness of a woman. I forgave him gladly and for two months I was happy. I told him if he never drank or gambled again I never would mention the past, but if he ever came home drunk again I would leave him right then as I had stood all I could stand. I could not be killed ever again as it seems I had just died a hundred deaths before.

Well, he said I never would see him drunk again. I believed him, but such a fool. Such a fool. At the end of two months he had been just as dear to me and I thought God had answered my prayers at last and given him back to me as a better man, but no. He went away one morning and did not come home to breakfast, even. Then not for luncheon and not for dinner, so I knew what to expect. It seemed as if I just turned to stone. I went about my work as usual, told my daughters I would finish out the work I had in the shop, and then we would go to Spokane, Washington, where I had a brother. So I did and he never came home again for three weeks. By that time I had my freight at the depot and was leaving that night. When he came he asked me what I was doing. I told him exactly, that I had made it plain to him that I should do that very thing and leave him if he ever drank again. I was doing just what I had promised him. He sure begged as no one ever begged before for me not to leave him. But I had no more feeling left in me and I left him as I said I should.

Well, after I came West I was so miserable I thought my heart was broken and my health failed me. After four long months I wondered what could be the matter and finally had to face another birth, alone, but better be alone that be with him. I really thought it was more than I could bear. There was my six daughters, the best daughters a mother ever had, were all with me. The two eldest were earning fairly good pay in the telephone office and was sewing all the time and at that time everything was booming in Spokane. I did pretty well and we had a nice place we rented. We were happy while I positively knew what was wrong with me. Well, I faced it with a brave heart and with my dear girls promise and love I knew we could manage someway to take care of another.

She came, God bless her, another daughter. Such a blessing, but oh, the father that has never seen her. What he has missed. When she was nearly four I had decided to get a divorce and did, and married a man that has been a real father to my children, and a devoted husband in all ways.

God sure has blessed me in the last years. We have been married 17 years and are so happy and contented in our declining years. A real home and such devoted daughters. All have married well except the baby. and she is yet at home. I think back so often over the past and wonder how many would think to see me now, that I had gone through so much misery and wonder myself that I have lived through so much and find myself still able with such a devoted husband and nice home and where the one who might have had the love of his children and wife and home. I wonder what he thinks now. He wrecked his own life but could not wreck mine. (He could) have a wonderful family and could not enjoy them just for his own weaknesses. Then I have had people tell me they do not believe in divorces. I don't either, over some little foolish thing, but after a person has done everything they can to try to save their mate and can't, why should I after over seven years of hell live my days out tied to a living curse because he was fool enough to throw his life away. Why should I? And, what is life worth living without a husband and father in the home.

A devoted wife and mother.

The autobiography was originally typed from an old manuscript found by Charles Harwood, the elder son of Violetta's youngest daughter, Maxine. Charles typed it as it was written, with very little punctuation, and many errors in grammer, so that it would be in its original form. I have tried to add within parentheses and brackets enough punctuation and added words to make it easier to read and understand.

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Web Author: Dianne Elizabeth, 1999
Address: P.O. Box 1323; Marysville, Washington 98270-1323 USA
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Web Site: Dianne Elizabeth's Family History, Created July 17th, 1999
Page Title: Violetta Clara Martin: An Autobiography
Page Created: September 23rd, 1999
Revised: December 20th, 2012