Memories of Harvest Home Farm
by Lillian L. Marsh
One of my happiest childhood memories as I was growing up at Harvest Home Farm on Route 100, a mile north of the village of Rochester, Vermont, is sitting at the feet of my paternal grandmother and begging her to tell me about when she was a little girl. This memory prompts me to record something of farm life as it was lived in the early 1900s in a small New England town.
My great grandfather Joel Marsh, grandson of Col. Joel Marsh, a Revolutionary War veteran, and one of the original grantees of Bethel, Vt., had bought our Rochester farm in February, 1849, when my grandfather was three years old. Here my father Robert Marsh was born in 1875, oldest of John’s seven children. On March 8, 1900, Robert married Harriet Sawyer of Granville, two years his junior, and ninth in a family of seven girls and four boys. The newlyweds immediately set up housekeeping on the so called Gleason Farm in North Hollow. Mr. Gleason, the owner, ran a grocery store in Boston, Mass. and hired my father to run his Vermont farm and raise collie dogs. It was on the Gleason Farm that my brother Victor was born on a cold winter night, February 10, 1901. Dr. Will Huntington had come by horse and sleigh to be the attending physician, and my grandmother Sawyer was also present to help out for a while. As Victor was a very large baby, weighing 11.2 lbs., he had a problem coming into the world, and his mother said he looked as if he’d been through the war.
Shortly afterward, Mr. Gleason died, and the farm was offered for sale. My father, not being able to raise the $2200 necessary to buy it, bought the smaller Calvin White place in South Hollow, just off the Bethel Mt. Road. Dad not only farmed, but used his two-horse team to carry talc from the mine on the mountain to the mill on the river road south of the village. My mother often spoke of rocking Victor on winter evenings and listening for the team bells which assured her that her husband would soon be home for supper.
My father’s mother was born Mary Ann Chamberlain of New Boston, about 1/2 miles up the hill from the River School between Rochester and Stockbridge. She and my grandfather were carrying on the ancestral farm, and, when Victor was about four years old, my father consented to honor Gramp’s request that he come home and run the farm in a 50/50 partnership. As my mother expected there would be more children, and she liked her mountain home, she disapproved of the move (when we were very young we called our parents “Pa” and “Ma”, or “Papa” and “Mama, but “Gramp” and “Grammy” remained so, as long as they lived). All went well, however, and I never knew the two ladies of the house to have any disagreeable words. Throughout the long years until Grammy’s death in 1934 she and our mother each went about her own share of the work in a very companionable and pleasurable manner. No doubt we Marsh “kids” were at times a source of inconvenience and nuisance, but we loved our “built in” grandmother dearly and felt much loved by her.
On June 26, 1906, a second son, Laurence, was born, and the next year on August 31, I joined the family. I was the first child to have a nurse. Her name was Margaret Griffin, and she came to our house soon after taking care of Doris Rice of Granville, born July 11, a baby who grew up to become one of my best friends after she and her family moved to Rochester in the 1920s. It is worthy of note that, although we lived only seven miles apart, we didn’t meet until we were young adults. Times were so different then, and distances seemingly much farther. February 19, 1912, our baby sister Alice was born. I well remember seeing her crib set up in the parlor of our big farmhouse, a room used in the winter time only for special occasions. Amy Bush, a practical nurse of Rochester, was in attendance for the fourth and last child of our family. Just previous to Alice’s birth Mother had a bad ear infection. Dr. Merriam suggested that she take Laurence and me , five and four years old, respectively, to spend some time with her sister, Aunt Imogene Swinyer, who lived above Eaton’s Store in the Ford Block in the village. Our cousin Dolph built a hot fire in our third floor bedroom, and we were cozy as could be. On the same floor lived an old lady, Miss Harriet Conner, whom we got to know. She paid Laurence a cent an armful for carrying wood to her. and one day she invited me up for a “tea party”. I was so eager to go that Mother followed me all the way up the stairs trying to comb my hair. Miss Conner pulled a little stove from under her bed and heated water for the tea. She noticed a bad habit of mine, that of fingernail chewing, and at once admonished me, “Oh, you mustn’t do that. You’ll have perforated stomach and die.” That statement frightened me so much that I never chewed my fingernails again.
With the birth of our sister Alice our family grew to eight members, counting Gramp and Grammy Marsh. Eight was often increased to nine or ten, or even more, with all the friends and relatives of three generations living under one roof. We nearly always had hired men, some for the day, but others often for the month in sugaring, haying, or harvesting. Also we had two cousins, Margaret and Mary Marsh, Uncle Will’s daughters, who lived with us so much that they seemed more like sisters. After a long fight with Bright’s Disease, Uncle Will had died when the girls were four and two years old. As Mary was crippled with a hip joint disease (a T.B. of the bone), she wore a brace on one leg and was often taken by her mother to a children’s hospital in Boston. Margaret was left at the farm. At other times both girls stayed with us while their mother worked as housekeeper around town.
Once, when Mary was allowed to be with her mother, I was invited for supper. I had my first taste of sliced pineapple and remember thinking it was so delicious and the greatest treat. I remember only one house where we visited our cousins in their own home, a house on the Bethel Mt. Road. As this house was in the village limits, it was fun for me to stay overnight sometimes. The house was unusual for its time, as it had a split level feature, stairs down to the living room. Aunt Estella was a good cook, knew how to entertain children, and it was great fun to play dolls with the girls, have their mother read or play games with us, and give us such good meals, no better than at home, just different. She was especially famous for apple tapioca, molasses candy (pulled taffy), and popcorn balls. I recall also the birthday parties that we had occasionally when Aunt Estella would organize treasure hunts with clues scattered all over the farmhouse from cellar to attic and back. It was fun, too, to dress up in adult clothing and “go calling”.
I had one rather painful experience when the girls were visiting. I was four years old at the time. Aunt Estella was rocking and reading to Mary and, because of my curiosity and great love of books, I was standing by the chair. Somehow my right foot got under the rocker, and I still have a deformed fourth toe. I remember crying, but no doctor was contacted. No doubt a bone was broken and the toe didn’t grow along with the rest. I have a picture of that foot taken by the younger Dr. Merriam when he wished for a “guinea pig” to try out a new x-ray. I was living in the house that winter from Monday to Friday while a teacher in Rochester High School, so I was available. Mary and I were in the same room at school at times. She was older, but, because of her illness, was a bit held back, though an excellent student. One day in sixth grade we took part in a spelling bee and had spelled down the other contestants. We never finished the match, as time ran out before either of us had missed a word. Though Mary was fragile, she was always happy and contented, never complaining about her infirmity. She was unable to sit squarely on a chair, but always sat on the edge with her lame leg doubled back behind her. Margaret, on the other hand, was always healthy and robust until after she got through high school. She went to Maine to live with Dad’s sister, Aunt Anna Sennott, and graduated up there. During her senior year she had the measles and never fully recovered, having a lingering cough. As Aunt Estella and Mary were living in Boston, Margaret went down to work as a store clerk, but her health deteriorated and Mother suggested she come up to the farm for the summer to recuperate. It was discovered that Margaret was very ill with tuberculosis of the lungs and she was put to bed in our front guest room upstairs. Aunt Estella gave up her job, and she and Mary came home, too. We helped to entertain Margaret by playing games with her, but her mother carried her meals to her and kept all her dishes separate from ours. In the fall Margaret was transferred to the sanitarium in Barre where she died during the winter. In June 1924, after my graduation from high school, Aunt Estella took Mary to California to live with her sister and family. We never saw Mary again, as she, too, died two years later. Both girls were 20 years old at the time of their deaths, both having the same birthday two years apart. It is sad to think that death found them separated by 3000 miles. Margaret and her father are buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in Rochester, while Mary and her mother are in San Diego, California.
The first dwelling on the Marsh farm was a log cabin on the rise above the road north of the present house. It was the home of James Guggin mentioned prominently in Williams’ History of Rochester, Vermont. Guggin had purchased the property in 1793 from James Page who had the original right. Guggin sold out in June, 1803, to Chester Pease from whom William Matthews bought the farm in March, 1844. It is believed that the present dwelling was built by Pease, as his name can be found behind the paneling under the mantel in the parlor. When Great-grandfather Joel bought the farm the house was comparatively old. Later on an ell was added to provide a separate kitchen, and the double fireplaces were closed off to allow a front hall between the living room and parlor, with a front stairway.
The house as I first knew it had kitchen, dining room, living room, hall, parlor, and two bedrooms downstairs, three bedrooms, and a small dormer room upstairs. A small attic could be reached through a hole in the upstairs ceiling. Off the kitchen was a pantry where all staples, breads, and pastries were kept and cooking done. At the foot of the back stairs a door opened from the kitchen into the “back room” used as a storage room and workshop. Beyond that a long walk beside the woodsheds led to the “three-holer” privy, not a real Chic Sales’ “out house”, as it was attached to the house and completely under cover. Nevertheless, it wasn’t warm, white, tiled, and furnished with Cottonelle, or whatever; the Sears catalog was much in evidence in my younger days. Over the woodsheds and back room a woodshed chamber provided space for storage such as sleds, small tools, butternuts, syrup cans, and syrup itself (there was no thought of anything being stolen in those days). A big cellar which ran under the whole house provided more storage for pickled meats, canned fruits and vegetables, homemade vinegar, barrels of hard cider, apples and winter vegetables.
Behind the house for many years there was a small building used as an ice house. I understand that it had once been a horse barn , moved to a different location for the purpose of keeping ice to cool milk and cream. I was chiefly interested in it as a place to get ice for freezing ice cream. One fall Vic and Laurence built a small corn crib behind the house. On the west side of the road across from the house stood the barns. In my earliest remembrance there was a horse barn with a hayloft, and cellar for pigs, sheep, and farm machinery; a big barn floor with double doors at the north end to admit wagon loads of hay and grain, big pumpkins, too; and a smaller doorway at the south end with steps down into the barnyard. Attached to the southwest corner of the horse barn was a large hay barn and cowstable, with barn floor, silo, calf pens, separator room, etc. Near the road was a smaller stable with tie-ups for cows and young stock, and two open pens for brood mares, colts, etc. A wagon shed with storage above was on the south end of this barn. Eventually a sheep barn was attached to the wagon shed, and much later a milk room was built at the southwest corner of the barn yard, as laws forbade separating milk in the stable. This was used until milk was no longer separated, but sold whole and cooled in a special cement tank set inside a small building built at the southwest corner of the front yard. After sheep raising was abandoned the hens were moved to the sheep barn, and finally to the separator room. The milk house was eventually torn down, as it was no longer profitable for a small herdsman to meet all the federal and state requirements. Thus dairying became a thing of the past on Harvest Home Farm.
North of the horse barn was a corn barn standing near the stonewall foundation for the barn driveway. This was reached by a ramp which could be hitched up or let down at will, a means of keeping unwanted “guests” out of the grain. I also remember a lumber pile near the road where Laurence used to take refuge from a “ferocious” rooster. Gramp wrote in his diary about the lumber’s removal, saying that the women folks thought it an “eyesore,” or something of the sort. Behind the barns a large cylindrical silo was eventually built to hold more ensilage than could be stored inside. Also the boys took down an old corn barn on the hill farm and built it up again for a shop. Laurence later put on a small addition making room for a forge and a car needing repair. As Gramp was a socialist he printed the words “Workers of the World Unite At The Ballot Box” in large white letters on the red carriage house door. The slogan was often questioned and discussed. My mother remembered hearing a passerby say, “Reds live here”, and was greatly troubled. The words gradually faded, but remained as long as the barns were standing. After a furnace was installed in the cellar and wood was stored there, the chunk shed was torn down. Later the privy and one woodshed gave way to a two-car garage, making it possible to get to the cars without going outdoors and crossing the road to the old carriage house. Also it was no longer necessary to back into the highway, a somewhat dangerous feat, especially in the winter.
PETS AND FARM ANIMALS
I was always very fond of the farm animals, especially dogs, cats, and horses. We made the household pets real members of the family and mourned their loss as the years went by. Our pets were not pedigreed. Dogs were chiefly collie-type, and the cats were often barn kittens that we brought in out of the cold. My first recollection of a dog was named Gyp, a big yellow and white mongrel. We had several Sheps, one of which was given to Laurence out of a litter of puppies our Uncle Arthur Sennott brought to the farm with their mother Jessie. We had great fun with him (and another that didn’t sell at first) sliding down the hill south of the house. The pups enjoyed the ride down, then raced back up the hill to be on hand for the next one. One Sheep we had was an especially smart and valuable dog. He would go for the cows alone, and he brought them all home except once. On that particular day there had been a violent thunderstorm and Shep came home with two cows missing. Dad scolded him and sent him back, but once more he returned minus the cows. By that time it was nearly dark, so Dad waited until morning to search for them. He found them dead under a tree that had been struck by lightning and was still smoldering. Poor Shep! No one could expect him to drive home dead cows. Another time, when the family had been to Tunbridge Fair and didn’t return until after dark, Shep was not on hand to greet them at the end of the walk, as was his custom. Dad decided to see if the cows had come down on their own and discovered them all by the gate with Shep on guard above them. Who could ask for a more faithful servant?
Another such pet proved himself most hospitable and concerned for a poor tramp dog that came by one day. He was scrawny and unkempt, visibly hungry. Our dog was lying on the porch, and we soon observed both animals going toward the pasture. When they returned, our dog came back upon the porch while his guest took the bone he was carrying down the road into the meadow where he proceeded to enjoy his first real meal in some time, it would seem, and we are told that animals are “dumb!” We always liked to teach our dogs tricks. Most of them would roll over, speak, play dead, shake hands, etc. One was taught to say “Hello,” and one said her prayers. A piece of doughnut was placed at the back of a chair, and the dog sat with her head on her forepaws resting on the front. She would sit there until someone said, “Amen,” and then grab the doughnut. Mother once remarked to a visiting clergyman that Trixie liked the “Amen.” He replied that his congregation did, too.
Our dogs were very loyal to the family and most were good watch dogs. When the workmen were raising the roof to the house in 1920, Uncle Charlie Chamberlain who lived in the village drove his car to work, parked it across the road and came to the house each day with no attention from Shep. When the job was done and he came back for his tools one Sunday when we were all away, Shep met him on the walk, hackles raised, and teeth bared. Uncle Charlie decided to come back later, probably a wise decision. Trixie loved to ride in the pickup. She’d move over on her own if a member of the family wanted to get in, but a stranger approaching the window met with a very unfriendly stare, and no move was made to give way. Very few dogs would allow anyone to stop or come near the buildings without giving an alarm, but none of them, as I recall, was vicious or unfriendly once the visitor was accepted.
As more and more automobiles went by the farm, our pets became good targets for injury and death. Many cats were killed outright, and several were injured. One beloved Shep received a compound fracture of one leg. Our old family doctor, Doctor Merriam, was called, and he said he’d do his best to save the leg. He disinfected the wound and bandaged it, using a splint, not wanting to put on a cast until all danger of infection was past . After a few days the doctor did put the leg in a cast, and a footless rubber boot was drawn over it and tied around Shep’s neck. He managed well, and the night before the cast was to come off he chewed it off and lived a normal life with a leg almost as good as ever. Trixie, also, was run into and received a bad cut in her side. Laurence washed the wound with creoline, pulled the skin together and sewed it up with an ordinary needle, leaving a small opening at the bottom for drainage. Trixie, too, made a good recovery. In fact, all dogs lived out their normal lives, dying naturally, or mercifully put to sleep at an advanced age with degrading diseases.
Cats, too, were taught to do tricks. One cat I had taught to jump through my hands. In those days before our cellar was heated, the cat was put out at bedtime to go to the barn where he could crawl through a cat hole and sleep on the hay. One February night Dunny was put out as usual and was not seen again until a year from the following April. One morning Grammie spied a cat washing on the wall by the corncrib. She thought it looked like Dunny, so I investigated. Sure enough, it was our long-lost pet. We recognized his slit ear, and he hadn’t forgotten how to jump through my hands. He seemed right at home and acted as if he’d never been away. He never left home again. The last cat I owned had taught to “kiss” me on the wrist. Whenever he asked to go out I picked him up and waited for his kiss before I let him go. He loved me as much as I loved him and when I left him behind at the farm, he wouldn’t eat. This led me to believe that cats, as well as dogs, are capable of affection for their owners. Cats were subject to farm accidents as well as traffic fatalities. A beloved Tiger, the first cat I can remember, was severely injured by the mowing machine. One hind leg was almost severed, cut to the cord. But Tiger had the will to live, licked his wound, kept out infection, and the cut eventually healed. After that accident we did our best to shut cats up when there was mowing to be done. Nothing, however, could prevent death from distemper. One of my best loved pets in later life, a beautiful part-Angora with big forefeet, died with the disease, and had one of the many funerals that we experienced whenever we lost one of the farm pets, true members of the family.
Laurence also had some wild pets, a squirrel, a woodchuck, and a crow. When Mother discovered the crow coming from the henhouse with an egg in her bill, crows as pets became taboo. Pets, too were sometimes made of farm animals. One of my fondest recollections, one of which I have photographic proof, is riding on a small cartload of hay draw by a young Holstein calf. Laurence had harnessed him to a two-wheeled cart and trained him to pull it with us three younger children riding. I never remember any oxen being used on the farm, but the boys did have steers occasionally, and there’s another picture of Laurence being drawn by a calf hitched to a child’s cart.
Besides dogs and cats, horses were much loved as real friends. I was first allowed to drive Dolly, a chestnut Morgan, who was gentle and trustworthy. She had a knocked down nip, a deformity that caused her to limp, but apparently without pain. I drove her on errands to town a great deal. Later I was permitted to drive Betsy, beautiful, spirited bay Morgan with black mane and tail. I was just beginning to learn to ride her (I was 13 at the time) when in 1920, Dad bought a Model T and said he couldn’t afford a car and driving horse, too. Thus my beautiful, beloved Betsy was sold, and I never saw her again. I was devastated and never did learn to ride, although I sometimes rode a workhorse home from the field. Gramp raised and trained Morgans horses, and one, Morguerites by name, won a citation for “Morgan Mares Four Years Old Or Over” at the Universal Exposition in St. Louis, in 1904. I can remember many of the colts that were born and trained in later years. Dad also raised Suffolk Punch for work horses. Only the young surplus horse flesh was ever sold. The faithful servants over the years either died because of illness, or were laid to rest when they were too old or week to work. I remember the burial of one such horse. His grave was dug on the meadow, lined with hay, and he was buried with his blanket on. Victor was telling his young son about the process, and remarked that Ben had been given a “good Christian burial.” Bob, who had been listening intently, inquired, “And did all the other horses come to the funeral?”
Horses, like dogs, cats, and human beings, have their own personalities. Some of ours were ambitious, and some lazy. Some had mean dispositions and others were easy to handle. One horse was taught to shake hands, a trick that was rewarded with a lump of maple sugar. Even as a small child I loved horses and liked to be near them. Once, when I was very young and we were at our Tunnel Farm, I came up missing. I was found in the barn sitting behind Bill combing his fetlocks with a fine-toothed comb. Again, when he was drinking at the water tub behind the house, I happily crawled back and forth between his legs. We’re told that animals don’t harm “children and fools”. I was a child and I was certainly doing a foolish thing. In later years I drove Bill many miles hitched to the horse rake, or the buckboard en route to our hill farm when we were haying up there. Bill was a lazy horse in many ways, would barely move away from the barn, but increase his pace on the way back, hoping it to be his final trip for the day. Once, when he had been unhitched from his partner, he decided to take a run for himself. He broke away and ran down behind the barn, failed to see some chicken wire lying on the ground, plowed into it and was thrown, an accident which not only slowed him down but surprised him as well.
One morning a horse was missing from her stall. Laurence noted the door to the barn cellar was open and, much to his surprise, there was the horse standing at the foot of the stairs which she had broken down on her little expedition. As the gate beyond the pig pen was shut, her trip was cut very short. She apparently had had colic in the night, had accidentally backed into the entry and fallen down the stairs. Luckily, she seemed none the worse for her experience. As on every farm in my youth, other animals were kept for profit, either for what they produced, or to be sold for consumption.
Our farm had hens, cows, pigs, and sheep long after we all became adults. In my earliest memory chickens were hatched on the farm. In the spring several hens were set in various places around the barns. Twelve to fourteen eggs were placed under each hen and, after three weeks, we’d see the proud mamas bringing her chicks out into the sunshine. Not very often was there 100% production, but it was usually a convenient and profitable way to keep up a flock. A rooster was kept with the desired number of pullets. Others were fattened, dressed off and sold to market or to private customers. Eggs were also sold to individuals or taken to the store to be credited to the grocery bill. When hens stopped laying they were also killed, eaten, or sold. I don’t remember our poultry population ever getting very large. As a child, and even in later years, I didn’t enjoy going to the henhouse because of the rooster that loved to dig his spurs into me if my back was turned. I had to carry a stick and face him at all times. Rats, too, were a problem.
The pigs were kept in the horse barn cellar, and I always loved to see the little ones with their pink skin and curly tails. They lined up to feed and seemed to be enjoying life. Occasionally some would be born weak or undersized. These were wrapped in a bran sack and brought to the house to lie in a basket behind the stove and be fed on a bottle. Sometimes, too, a mother would lie on a piglet and smother it. Most, however, escaped early hazards to chance disease in later life. Those that lived were fattened to be slaughtered, or sold when they were about six weeks old. We usually had our pigs killed just before Christmas, kept some pork for ourselves, sent some in Christmas boxes, and sold the rest again to help pay outstanding bills. It may seem strange that, though we always kept sheep until they were being killed and harassed so much by bears that it seemed best to go out of the business, we never had any lamb or mutton on our table. It was only a few years ago that I discovered I have a liking for lamb. I often wonder why we didn’t eat one once in a while. Sometimes a ewe died giving birth, or wouldn’t own her lamb. Then the lamb would be brought up on a bottle as a cosset until it had been taught to drink. If a lamb was born dead and there was a cosset needing a mother, the dead lamb’s skin might be wrapped around it and the mother sheep would claim it as her own.
Once when I was still in school there were five or six cossets, more than Gramp wanted to bother with. I was told that, if I’d feed them twice a day until they no longer needed milk, I could have the proceeds from one when they were sold in the fall. Gramp built a frame with holes in it to hold some earthen bowls, and set it outside the fence in the little field above the road north of the house. I climbed the hill twice a day to feed the lambs and picked out the one to call mine, but didn’t make a pet of him. As it turned out he was the pig in the crowd, eating his portion and cleaning up the rest of the bowls. In the fall the cossets were turned into the meadow with the rest of the lambs to be fattened before being sold, as was the custom. The morning that the lambs were to go, I got up early and went to the meadow to let out my lamb, as I knew no one else could, and I’d be in school when the buyer came. I brought the lamb to the house to weigh him. As lambs were bringing 7¢ a pound that fall, and mine weighed 76 lbs., I received $5.32 for my summer’s labors.
I spent many hours in the spring hanging over the sheep yard fence watching the lambs race around. As I wrote in a poem after the barn was torn down: ” ‘Twas there I’d heard the bleating of the sheep and watched their frisky offspring at their play. As mothers calmly munched their evening meal the youngsters had their very own ballet.” It was fun to go to the hill pasture to salt the sheep. Dad would call to them and, though they might be nowhere in sight at first, they could soon be heard and seen coming down the hill pell-mell and right up to where they knew salt was waiting. What a melee of bleating, circling animals! It was practically impossible to count them, but an attempt was always made, as sheep were fair game for wild animals and diseases.
SPORTS AND GAMES
As there was never much money for anything but the bare necessities, we children had to find our own ways for entertainment. We had small toys such as tops, blocks, jacks, etc., and the boys had small sleds with no steering equipment. They also made jumpers with barrel staves. To ride these required quite a bit of skill, a skill I never acquired to advantage. There was also a set of “traverses” that held several riders. Vic and Laurence used to haul these to our hill farm, feed the sheep housed there for the winter, and slide home. The hill is so steep that they would make the half-mile to within sight of the farm in a minute.
Alice and I had a few dolls. I had a rag doll (still do) named Molly. Grammie had made it for me, and Aunt Helen had painted a face. Then one happy day she gave me a real store doll with movable joints and a china head and hands. Her eyes closed when she was laid down, and she said, “Mama” whenever she was picked up. I was holding her in my lap one day changing her diapers when she rolled off on the floor and, alas, she never said, ”Mama” again. I was very sad. but I couldn’t blame her after such parental negligence. I also had a small celluloid boy doll for whom I made clothes: underwear; blouse; stockings; pants, and a “beautiful” blue and white striped sailor suit with white collar and cuffs. Somehow his head, too got bashed in, but I don’t remember being responsible for it. When I was about eight years old, Dad thought I was too big to be playing with dolls, so I found other ways to spend my spare time.
I loved to read and, in the summer, I would take a book into the parlor with always a chapter to finish whenever Mother called for some help. When I didn’t hear a second call by the time the chapter was finished, I’d often start another. I realize now what a lazy brat I was, although the work was always there to do when I got around to it. My favorite magazines were the Little Folks’ Magazine and the Youth’s Companion. Best-loved books were the Bobbsey Twins, Horatio Alger books, The Secret Garden, which Miss Davis read to us in the sixth grade, and Thornton Burgess’ Old Mother West Wind And Her Animal Friends. This last I remember mother reading to Laurence and me by the light of a small kerosene lamp which I still keep over the cupboard in my apartment.
We also had skates which clamped on our shoes, skates that we used chiefly on ponds in the fields. Sometimes we would go to Bean’s “crick’ on the river nearby and have a skating party in the moonlight. There would be a fire by which we could get warm or sit to adjust our skates. The clamps were always coming loose, and we’d find ourselves in the middle of the pond minus a skate. Sometimes we had sliding parties on the crust south of the house. The hill is neither steep nor long, but under good conditions we could slide clear to the fence beside the road. As Laurence and I were nearest in age of us four children, we often played together until he was old enough to work, and I used to think I could do anything he did.
One day there was plenty of snow under a good crust, so Laurence decided to go up in the pasture to slide down a bigger hill. I tagged along with Vic’s sled. Laurence had no difficulty managing his sled down the steep, very slippery hill, but I, riding “belly bunt”, was frightened and, instead of rolling off as I should have, shut my eyes and hung on. Suddenly I felt a pull on the sled, and I rolled off about two feet from the stone wall at the foot of the hill. I was headed right for it when Laurence saw my plight and came to my rescue. Consequently, all I suffered were a few scratches from the crust. I confessed to rolling off my sled, but it was much, much later before Mother knew the whole story. (At another time Laurence and I tried smoking grape vine up behind the sugar house. Needless to say, one experiment of that kind was enough.)
We Marsh kids played guessing games, dominoes, and cards with family and friends, games such as Flinch, “old sledge”, pitch, “63 and double it”, penny ante, and Michigan. We used matches for money. Many a winter evening was spent either at home or at the house of a neighbor playing cards and drinking sweet cider or cocoa and eating popcorn, apples, sandwiches, cake, or cookies. Summer games included hide-and-go-seek, tag, some form of baseball, rolling hoops, jump-rope, etc. I still have a handmade baseball of regulation size and stitching. Grammie sewed it from scraps of leather and filled it with twine wound into a hard ball. In spite of its hard use it is in very good condition-still firm, round, and with only a few stitches having been replaced.
As we grew older we enjoyed horseshoe throwing and croquet. One day a neighbor boy was visiting while his mother was away. I went to get the croquet set and threw a ball out the backroom door as Elias was coming around the corner. He received the full force of the ball on his nose, and, as he was subject to nosebleeds anyway, he bled profusely, so much so that Dad hitched up and took him home, only to bring him back, as his mother had not returned. He survived and called at the farm not too many years ago.
We had a rope swing with a wooden seat hanging in one of the back yard apple trees, and I can remember one cloth hammock stretched between two trees out there. I preferred the rope swing, but older folks liked to lie and read in the hammock. As you can see, none of these childhood amusements required much financial outgo. We had fun with little expense, were well cared for, with adequate clothing, plenty of good food, and were happy, experiencing none of the frustrations and questions of identity that children seem to have in this so called emancipated age. A child psychologist was unheard of in those days, and pressure put upon the young to equal or surpass one’s peers was also something to emerge many years later.
School was in the village a little over a mile from home. When all but Alice entered, there was only one building, with two rooms of three grades each on the ground floor, grammar room on the south side upstairs, and high school on the north. When I was in the sixth grade a so-called “little building” was erected in the schoolyard. This housed the first four grades. Partitions were changed downstairs in the original building with fifth and sixth grades on the south side, seventh and eighth on the north, with hallway between. The high school then had all upstairs with a lab and small classroom on the third floor. That arrangement remained the same as long as any of us went to school, Alice being the only one to attend school in the little building.
While renovations were being made, school was kept in several places. I started sixth grade in the vestry of the old Congregational Church with only a thin green curtain separating the intermediate room from the grammar school on the other side. Sometime during the year we moved to our new quarters and thought we had the ultimate in schoolhouses. However, many was the day, until I graduated from high school in 1924, and years afterward when I taught high school classes for eleven years in that same building, that our old wood furnace failed to keep us comfortable in the coldest weather.
One morning, as a teacher, I dressed warmly on a 35 below zero morning and walked to school only to find no one there except the janitor. He’d been there all night and had succeeded in getting the temperature only to 50 degrees. No one else showed up and I went back home. The building was torn down in the 1970’s, and many of us mourned its loss. All that points to its existence is the bell kept under glass in the foyer of the new high school.*
There were no school buses in our day and we walked to school, taking our lunch. Occasionally, after a big 12″ or 16″ snowstorm, Dad would take us girls to school, and that often meant that we were late. Never were we late on our own, as I remember. Vic had missed so much school when he had the measles and had been needed at home afterward that he never returned to his freshman class. Laurence decided he’d had enough after the 8th grade. He much preferred to learn at home on his own, and this he did very well. Working along with others, he became an expert carpenter, mason, machinist, clock repairman, etc. Alice went to high school and graduated in 1930 but elected to stay home afterward to work on the home front. There was always plenty to do and, except for a few housekeeping jobs at the homes of friends and neighbors and a short clerical job at Cushman’s Store after Mr. Cushman’s death, Alice worked at home until her marriage in 1948.
As for me, I always loved school and remember walking home after the school “cow pasture” picnics and feeling depressed, thinking how long it would be before I could get back to school life and friends again, there being few neighbors my own age. I liked most teachers, too, but Laurence and I had one special teacher whom we loved dearly. She married a local neighbor and I’ll never forget how pleased and proud I was to present her with the wedding gift of a Japanese tea set I had acquired with tea coupons. I called her into the parlor to deliver the gift in private, and not until after her death (following sixty years of friendship) did I reveal the secret of her appreciative caress. She broke a leg during the summer vacation and came back to school on crutches. Although I was no longer in her room, I watered her plants and did other chores for her. When I was in the third grade a friend had an aunt living in the village on what was then called ”Grub St.” (presently Brook St.). My friend and I quite often took our lunch up there to eat it. One day we’d planned to go up, but the teacher had asked us to come back after recess to finish our reading class. Not wanting to miss our visit we decided to skip school. We paid for our fun by making up time after everyone else had gone home.
School celebrated holidays at school more than they do today. Lincoln’s and Washington’s birthdays were always observed by some special assignment such as essay writing or art work. On the day itself a few minutes were set aside for observance. We always had pre-Memorial exercises to which the public was invited. I can still recall the words to a song Miss Davis (of whom I’ve already spoken) taught us:
Out of the morning cometh a song
Sweet, sweet as the May Robin is singing his dear heart away
Singing his song for the Blue and the Grey
On Memory Day, bright Memory Day
Out of the morning cometh a breath
Sweet, sweet as the May Flowers are giving their fragrance away
Giving themselves to the Blue and the Grey
On Memory Day; sweet Memory Day
Sing, little bird, and bloom, little flower
Sweet, sweet as the May
Bringing a song and a blossoming spray
We, too, remember the Blue and the Grey
On Memory Day, dear Memory Day.
None of us Marsh kids had the outside activities, trips, etc. that are so common today. Our only physical education was hygiene classes, exercises between the rows of desks, and games outside during recess. In winter favorite sports were fox and geese and snowballing, some from behind snow forts. Once Laurence was injured when someone threw a snowball with a small stick in it which struck him in the ear. The high school boys had basketball and baseball teams. Basketball was played in the old G.A.R. Hall, and the teams only were taken to games in nearby towns. Once a year a special train was run at night to Bethel so that local fans could attend the games played against our greatest rival. Rivalry between R.H.S. and Whitcomb of Bethel continued more or less bitterly through the years, but today it seems to have become less vindictive.
The girls played volleyball in the Hall in winter and on the park, spring and fall. The boys sometimes removed the sliding door underneath the hall stage, and one day the ball went through the hole. As I was crawling in after it a prankster brought a club around, hitting me on the forehead and causing a big lump and a mammoth headache. I went to my aunt’s and applied butter (I still have the reminder of an injury I received on top of my head when, in college, I reached to pick up a baseball just as someone swung a bat around. So much for being hard-headed). My volleyball experience proved very beneficial to me, as it allowed me to be on the class team in college all four years. I also played center field on the baseball team my junior year, was chosen for the honorary varsity teams of both sports, and thereby became the only girl in the class of 1928 to receive the old English “V”, the highest award attainable in girls’ athletics.
At no time in our school days were there more than three teachers in the high school, a principal and two assistants, a condition that existed long after I began my own teaching career here in R.H.S. in 1935. Turnover was frequent, teachers getting a year or two experience in our small school, then moving on to larger and better schools. I had four principals and six different assistants, two new principals in my sophomore year, as one spent too much time in the back room of the local drug store, giving us half-hour recesses, and finally making the mistake of dancing under the influence with one of the high school girls. Although we thought he was “great” (young and very good-looking), a petition to keep him didn’t meet with the school board’s ideas, and after Thanksgiving we welcomed a new principal, one we could really love and respect, but lost at the end of the year. He married a local grade school teacher and they moved to Maine where he gave up school teaching and worked as a scientist. I guess his experience with us was sufficient.
I remember well one experience I had when I was going to high school. A classmate living above me sometimes drove and would give me a ride. One day, as he was reaching for a letter for me to mail, his horse succeeded in drawing his side of the sleigh upon a crusty snow bank and dumping me into some coal ashes. This necessitated a trip to my Aunt’s to clean up before school.
After my graduation from high school I enrolled at the University of Vermont in Burlington, graduating in 1928 with a Ph.B. degree. In those days very few small-town students went on to college, and it was extremely difficult for me to go. I had to borrow money from a local lady who trusted me implicitly to pay her back. This I did in small payments as soon as I started to teach. Furthermore, I had to work all four years to earn room and board, my first year in private homes, and the other three years in a dorm, my senior year as head waitress. I went back and forth on the train, but didn’t get home from September until Thanksgiving my freshman year, never coming home for that holiday after that, and, with one exception, only at Christmas and Easter holidays. I had to work until late June to wait table at faculty banquets following graduation. My one visit home other than for vacations was to attend a 25th anniversary for our parents. I came down on the train from Burlington to Bethel, then up on the “Peavine” to have supper at Aunt Gene’s in the village in order to surprise Mother and Dad. I surprised myself in my excitement by leaving my handbag on the Burlington train. Fortunately, the conductor had picked it up, taking it off at South Royalton and sending it back to Bethel on the northbound train that we awaited before coming to Rochester. I was a very frightened poor college freshman to seemingly have lost $40 in cash and my athletic (ticket) for the year, and so embarrassed to have been so careless that I didn’t confess to my parents until later.
FOOD AND GUESTS
With three generations living under one roof we were a family of eight. This number increased when we had hired men and loads of company, friends and relatives dropping in unexpectedly besides the invited guests. So many mouths to feed kept Mother going from pantry to kitchen to dining room and back. A cousin once said that she remembered Mother best just going back and forth from the pantry shelf to the stove. Grammie did special cooking for Gramp at times, but left almost all of the planning for meals to Mother, Grammie helping with fruits, vegetables, etc. Alice and I were taught to cook at an early age, but Mother was still chief cook until she was well along in years.
My first experience in cooking was to make brown bread with graham flour and sweetened with “black strap” maple syrup, the very dark strong syrup made after the buds start out. This bread was steamed in two coffee cans and was always kept on hand. It was the best kind of bread to be eaten with baked beans, also flavored with the dark syrup. The second thing I learned to make was ginger snaps, and I’ll never forget the first chocolate pie I made. No one had warned me that sugar had to be used in the meringue, and when I went to cut the pie, the whole meringue came off with the knife.
Somehow food and company go together and, as my Grandfather said in his diary, “No one goes away from here hungry!” Gramp’s and Grammie’s brothers and sisters and their families, Dad’s and Mother’s brothers and sisters and their families all were frequent visitors, many of them coming for overnight or longer, and nearly all of them to eat at least one meal. Sunday dinner had to be sufficient to feed one or more unexpected guests, especially in the summer. Distances seemed much farther then and, when one came to visit, he expected to stay a while, for a holiday or weekend at least. Not just the relatives, but friends of the family as well, would think nothing of spending a week or more. They liked the board, as well they might. With all the problems of providing for a large family with money very scarce, nevertheless there was always plenty of good nourishing food, most of which was grown on the farm. We children often ate more than was good for us, but we didn’t have any of the junk food so common today, and very little candy. A penny for a stick of ”Old Favorite” licorice or a nickel for a bag of peanuts or some candy ”cigarettes” was the usual limit. An orange or a 5¢ ice cream cone served as a special holiday treat, as on Memorial Day. We usually made our own ice cream in a hand-cranked freezer. A vanilla custard was poured into a 6 qt. can with a float inside. This was set into a large wooden pail and surrounded with ice and salt. When fully assembled, a crank turned the float until the contents were frozen. A hole near the bottom of the pail let out the brine. We sometimes became impatient and grew tired of cranking, but we were always on hand to lick the float as it was removed. The can was then covered, a cork placed in the hole where the crank had been attached, and the whole thing kept cool by a bag of ice on top. I doubt if electric freezers of today can produce ice cream quite as delicious as that in the old hand-cranked ones. Like so many other things its cost in time and energy made the delicacy more appreciated.
Dad had two sisters whose children often remained two or three weeks without their parents. I often wonder how Mother stood it all with the additional food, laundry, and care required. One of our best loved house guests was our great-grandmother Chamberlain who lived with Grammie’s brother Charles in the village. She was a little gray-haired lady with a curl hanging down beside each ear. She was always much fun to have around, and we children thought we were very fortunate to have three such good grandmothers with whom we could associate.
HIRED HELP –
Hired men who helped out on the farm also added to the work of the women folks. They came by the day, the month, or even the year, and had to be fed at least. Dinner pails for men who worked by the day on a farm were unheard of. They were expected to get their dinner as well as their wages. When these hired men were no longer in our employ, most of them considered themselves as friends of the family and often became “company”, sometimes bringing their families with them. It was always a good idea to arrive near mealtime, as they were sure of an invitation to stay, perhaps for overnight or longer. One such man was always welcome, as he played one piece after another on Gramp’s “fiddle”, all without music of any kind. We kids liked especially to watch him play “Pop Goes the Weasel” by placing the bow between his knees and drawing his fiddle across it. A somewhat crippled old man worked on the farm off and on for years. Gramp became his guardian, and one summer he had a bed up in the sugar house. Finally a small dwelling was built for him in the village. Mother often sent food to him and he always showed up at the church suppers to take home leftovers. He was rather lazy and very averse to soap and water, so most folks preferred to give him bed and board in his own home. Many a tramp, also, asked to work for a meal or two, or was fed on the doorstep free gratis.
Farmers very often traded work. Machinery was expensive, so sometimes larger pieces of equipment such as threshing machines or saw rigs were owned jointly. The farmers worked together, and when a job was done at one farm, the machines were moved to another. Many stories were told about the quality of the food served at the noonday meal. It was a source of great pride for the host if his wife provided an abundance good food well-cooked and served. Most of our hired men were hearty eaters. Some were not too fastidious, and some were undependable, disposed to walking out whenever the spirit moved, even if in the middle of haying or sugaring. They might not show up again for days, weeks, or months. Another man who worked for us quite a bit had a slight handicap. He had a hitch in his walk, and a place on the back stairs can still be seen where his peculiar gait caused the wood to be worn down. Several men were of rather low mentality and could bear watching. We were just fortunate that nothing too serious occurred.
Most of the food we consumed was produced on the farm: meat, milk, butter, eggs, vegetables, maple syrup and sugar, apples, strawberries, currants, wild raspberries, blackberries, etc. I don’t remember having cultivated raspberries, but we picked a lot of wild ones, especially over the river where trees had been cut down. Grammie and we kids would wade through the river, pick berries (sometimes taking our lunch), then pick them over and deliver them to customers in the village for 15¢ a quart. Many’s the time I hitched old Dolly to the buckboard for just that purpose. There were berries in the eastern hills, too, and apples on both farms, providing all the fall and winter fruit necessary. Some apples I remember were Yellow Transparent, Red Astrachan, Peach, Blue Pearmain, Tolman and Pound Sweets, Strawberry, Bellflower, Bethel, Congress, and Porter. My favorite early apple was the Peach. A tree stood in the henyard, and it was the custom for the neighborhood young people walking home from school to go through the sheep barn with us to get some of those delicious apples. Gramp sewed some bran sacks together and hitched the corners up in the branches of the tree so that the apples couldn’t fall into the yard to be bruised or eaten. A hole in the center of the sacks was held together by a big horse blanket pin, allowing easy access to the drops. Many of our early apples, the poorer keepers, were dried for pies. We kids helped with the process by turning the crank of the apple parer. Then Grammie would core, trim, and quarter the apples. We strung them on twine and looped them from the poles over the stove to dry. When they were sufficiently withered (and often fly-specked), they were taken off the string, placed in flour sacks, and hung up in the back room. When soaked out and mixed with sugar and spice, they made a very tasty dried apple pie, a far cry from those made from the anemic evaporated apples of today.
Another by-product of the versatile apple was boiled cider, used for both apple sauce and pies. A good boiled cider is made by boiling sweet cider about ten parts to one. One year I conceived the idea of using the sugaring off pan for the process. I set it over the back yard arch, poured in ten gallons of cider, and kept it boiling all day. When it reached the proper thickness, I sampled it, but all was lost-cider, wood, labor, time. The acid in the cider had cleaned the pan of the niter and reduced the end product to something impossible to swallow. There’s an old saying, “Experience is a good teacher, but sometimes the tuition is rather high.”
Regular meals were always more than adequate. The men worked hard, so breakfast provided potato, meat or eggs, toast, muffins, or “johnny cake” (corn bread to you, perhaps), as well as hot cereal, coffee, cereal possum, or tea (Mother always drank tea, green preferred), and home grown fruit of some kind, usually regular or boiled cider applesauce. The only cold cereal I recall in my younger days was corn flakes, and we rarely had an orange or banana. The big meal of the day was at noon. Plenty of potatoes and meat, brown and white bread, vegetables, and pie or pudding. During the strawberry season we had almost daily shortcakes, not just biscuits with a few berries and a dab of “Cool Whip”, or whatever, but a big two layer baking powder biscuit cake well covered with lots of berries and real cream, enough to soak in and flavor every mouthful. Occasionally the shortcakes were made of wild strawberries, and they were especially good. It was a job to pick enough of them. I often found a few to eat as I went for the cows. They were sweeter than the cultivated ones, but so small that it took a lot to feed our family. We often had them at Grammie Sawyer’s, as wild berries were plentiful on Granville’s West Hill. Supper was usually hearty, also, providing a variety of main dishes such as fried or escalloped potato, more meat, “griddle cakes”, milk toast, baked beans, or hearty homemade soups, plus bread of some kind, with dessert of pie, cake, cookies, or sauce. I had three favorite supper dishes to welcome me home from school on a cold winter’s night. Sometimes mother would make big griddle cakes, slightly smaller than a dinner plate. These she stacked six or eight inches high, spread with butter and soft maple sugar. They would be cut in wedge-shaped servings and were they good! I also loved potato soup, and milk toast. The latter was made by dipping toast slices in hot water to soften, spreading them with butter and covering with a cream sauce. When a big nappy of that hot dish came to the table I was very happy. Simple things meant a lot to me then, and I still like them.
We didn’t have “chicken every Sunday”, but fowl of some sort, usually a rooster or an old hen, was often eaten on Sunday or for a guest dinner. They were fat and we preferred them to chickens for any kind of cooking. Thanksgiving dinner always called for roast fowl. I never saw a turkey on our dinner table until after Vic was married and working for the Sawyer Lumber Co. in Worcester, Mass., a company that furnished turkeys for its employees. Vic came home for Thanksgiving, so brought the turkey along. At Christmas our meat was chicken pie and roast pork. How good that pork was with a big bag of dressing baked beside it! It often graced our table Sundays through the winter, and many a Monday I took a slab of cold roast pork and a generous “hunk” of dressing in my school dinner pail. We had other traditional foods, too, on the holidays: potatoes, creamed onions, squash, turnips, rolls, brown bread, homemade pickles and jellies, pumpkin, apple, and mince pies. I don’t remember having cranberry sauce, as we usually ate what we raised, buying only the staples like white sugar, flour, salt, spices, leavenings, tea, and coffee. We even raised some of our flour, made from wheat, buckwheat, or India wheat grown on the hill farm and ground at a mill in Randolph. Of course we had our own corn meal. Though not refined, all of these flours made good dark breads and muffins. Pickles of some kind were eaten almost every day, and beverage was served at every meal. None of us ever became a regular milk drinker, but suppers on hot summer nights sometimes consisted chiefly of bowls of milk with brown or white bread, big Montpelier crackers and cheese. This was often the choice for the “broad shelf” Sunday night suppers, as well. The only bakery goods I remember through my school days were peanut cookies and Fig Newtons, the latter a favorite of Dad’s. We carried these to school in our lunch pails. I used to see all the “store” cookies and vow that, when I was on my own, I’d buy every kind, but I found out it wasn’t profitable, and often homemade were better. At Christmas Grammie made very special marble cakes. She baked the rather large recipe in two bread tins, frosted the cakes with confectioners’ sugar, and put one in each of the Christmas boxes sent to Dad’s sisters and their families. A second recipe was kept at home and was a great treat for all of us, especially since Grammie did very little pastry cooking and confectioners’ sugar for frosting was used only on this special occasion.
Though food was always available in quantity, clothing was not. Most of our dresses were homemade, as was the boys’ clothing in their youngest years. Underclothing too, was made at home, and Grammie knit socks and mittens galore for all her grandchildren. She made Gramp’s long stockings, spinning and dying the wool herself. To make variegated yarn she tied the skeins in several places and dipped them in indigo blue dye. Where the ties were, the yarn was white. Brown yarn was made by dying the wool with butternut shucks, setting the dye with urine.
There were no snowsuits in our day, and we never wore slacks to school as the girls and teachers do now. (Imagine, if you can, the boys with neckties!) To keep our legs dry in the winter we girls wore black cloth gaiters that were buttoned to our knees. We always had to have a button hook on hand, and what a job it was morning and night! Once at school I had hoped to get a head start in leaving the schoolhouse, so began buttoning up my gaiters while school was still in session. How embarrassed I was when the teacher called me before the class to read, and I had only one gaiter on. Heads were kept warm with hoods covering our ears; mufflers were wound around the neck and there was always a pair or two of mittens on our hands. In summer dress was very informal, cotton dresses for the girls, shirts and overalls for the boys. We all went barefoot as early as possible, though we always wore shoes to school. Grammie thought we shouldn’t go barefoot until there was no more snow to be seen on the top of the west mountain. All stockings for girls were either black or white. These were held up by garters attached to a so-called Ferris waist. Boys had homemade garters of black elastic. These were about an inch wide and worn around the leg. Pants were short. Girls’ best summer dresses were usually white worn with white stockings and black patent leather shoes, all of which came off as soon as we got home again. Both boys and girls had to change our clothes as soon as we came home from school. New shoes were few and well cared for. I remember coming down early one Sunday morning to put on some new shoes that I knew my father was to have brought home from Cushman’s Store the night before. I sat rocking back and forth with my feet stuck out in front of me where I could admire my new shoes.
Gramp owned a farm up in Hancock Tunnel (an old name for funnel), so designated because it was reached by a road through the woods opening into a big area of cleared land. One year he and Grammie were up there for the winter to look after some sheep, leaving some of the older children at home to do the chores. Gramp often drove to the village to spend the evening, and one night when Grammie and Aunt Anna were alone, the chimney caught on fire. Luckily, they were able to keep the blaze under control. When I was a year old Dad, Mother, Laurence, and I spent the winter in the Tunnel, leaving Vic at home to go to school. A cousin of Dad’s, Fred Marsh, was there, too, much of the time. Dad cut enough timber to raise $400 to buy the farm from Gramp. It was during that winter that I learned to walk. It was there, too, later on, that I was given a .32 cartridge, lead and all, to play with. I promptly swallowed it, thus giving everyone a few anxious days. We often went to the Tunnel farm for family picnics or to visit the livestock pastured there. I have a picture snapped there at one of those picnics the summer I was a year old. All the Marshes around at the time were there, as were other relatives, but though pictures of gatherings were taken, no one apparently ever took a snapshot of the buildings, and I much regret that all that can be seen is one corner of the house near which the family group picture was taken. Many years later, when the land was used only for pasturage, and the buildings were beginning to deteriorate, Vic and Laurence salvaged some boards and sheathing to build a hunting camp which they and their friends enjoyed until 1975 when Laurence sold it.
GRANVILLE WEST HILL
One of our greatest pleasures as young people was to visit our maternal grandmother on Granville West Hill, about 22 miles from Codfish Corners. Grandma Sawyer lived with Mother’s sister Flora Wood on the old home farm. We often went up on Saturday to stay overnight. I’ll always remember the soft cream cookies Grandma had made. We sampled them almost as soon as we arrived. We slept upstairs, and my bed was so high, built up as it was with a corn husk mattress and a deep feather bed, that l had to run to jump into it. One interesting feature of Grandma’s kitchen was a big barrel of water piped in from a spring behind the house. This was the coldest spring water I’ve ever known. The big combination living and dining room contained some interesting means for entertaining oneself. Our aunt had several stereopticon views to look at, but our greatest love was to play the old Edison phonograph complete with many cylinder records and a big “morning glory” horn. I can still hear “Edison Record, sung by Collins and Harlan”, and one of my favorite records was “The Teddy Bears’ Picnic”. That phonograph was the greatest musical attraction ever on West Hill until, wonder of wonders, the radio came along. I heard my first radio broadcast through the head set up there.
The boys had fun doing barn chores with our uncle, and climbing up the barn roof from one snowbank and jumping off into another in the barnyard. Snows were heavy up there and drifts were high.
The journey to Granville was sometimes memorable. Alice usually went with Dad and Mother in the best sleigh (I have some shaft bells used on that sleigh; also a winter picture of Dad standing behind it. Between the shafts stands Don Pedros, a Morgan horse that Dad bet could take him to Gaysville in an hour a bet that he won. An enlarged copy of this picture is hanging in Annabelle’s Restaurant in Stockbridge. The picture was taken in courting days about 1900.), drawn by the liveliest horse, while Vic, Laurence and I drove up in the puny with a workhorse between the shafts. The trip was occasionally livened up a bit if we arrived at the Corner just as the log hauler was pulling up to deliver a load of logs on the river bank. At such times the horse might shy out and pull the sleigh up on a snowbank.
The log hauler was used to draw logs out of the forest in Warren Woods, or Granville Gulf, as it is now called. The logs were owned by the International Paper Co. and were driven down the river in the spring floods. It was great fun to stand on the river bank by the mill pond and watch the lumbermen jump from log to log, using their cant hooks to break up a log jam and send the logs rushing down the White River to the Connecticut en route to the paper mills. Log driving was a dangerous and disagreeable occupation, and some drivers did lose their lives in the icy water, but most of the men were expert at climbing over the logs with apparent ease.
One summer when I was quite young, I decided I wanted to visit at West Hill alone. I rode home one Sunday with my aunt and uncle prepared to spend a week. Right away I had my first bout with homesickness. There being no thought of anyone driving 18 or 20 miles to take me home and return, I had to stick it out. As the days went by I gradually recovered and was never homesick again until my freshman year at college. Another case of homesickness in our family occurred when Alice packed a suitcase for what she hoped to be real visit with Aunt Anna who lived in North Hollow about two miles away. I hitched up Betsy and delivered Alice at our aunt’s in the early a.m. Soon after supper, just when dusk was beginning to fall, we got a telephone- Alice was ready to come home and she did!
THROUGH THE YEAR
Vermont winters seemed much harder than they do now. With no central heating, indoor plumbing, or electricity, no one lacked for work. All the house not used daily was closed off, including bedrooms. After supper, soapstones (called freestones for some unknown reason) were placed on the back of the old black kitchen range and heated real hot, then wrapped in newspaper and cloth sugar or salt bags, and placed in all the beds to warm them up before bedtime. The large stones would keep fairly warm until morning. Sheets were exchanged for cotton flannel double blankets during the coldest months, and those of us who slept farthest from the heat undressed before going to our cold rooms. A thermometer in my room went down to 14 degrees one night.
Winter months kept the menfolk busy with barn chores, caring for the animals and doing the milking by hand night and morning. It was also the time for getting up the year’s supply of fire wood. Stormy days were sometimes spent in mending harnesses or horse blankets, or doing some other repair job. A farmer had to be carpenter, harness maker, plumber, mason, etc., as there weren’t so many professionals available. Some blacksmithing was done at home, but horses were usually taken to the “village blacksmith” and I loved to see him at work. It was sort of a holiday for a farmer and his son to take a horse to be shod. Usually there were others at the shop, and it provided a place for sociability.
Wood for home use was from trees in the woodlot that needed to be cut, trees not fit for lumber, or the limbs of trees from which saw logs had been removed . Trees were cut by hand, either chopped down or felled by two men using a crosscut saw. Limbs were cut off, the butts skidded out by a work horse, then chained to a bob sled and drawn to the lot south of the house. The logs were cut into short lengths by a drag saw, and the limbs by a circular saw. Then all had to be split by hand to use as chunks for the heating stove or fine wood for the kitchen range. Before we had gasoline engine, the saws were run by horse power. This was a big sloping contraption large enough to hold two horses standing side by side, fastened in front and back. Beneath their feet were planks running crosswise, hitched together in some way so that the horses had to keep walking, and thereby furnished the power to run the saws. You may have seen a dog or goat power on a smaller scale. I can imagine how frustrating it must have been for the poor horses to keep on walking and getting nowhere.
The chunks were stored at the end of the woodshed area, and the fine wood was neatly piled in tiers in the other two sheds, with several square holes left through the tiers to allow air to dry the wood. Dry wood was used from one shed, and the green piled in the other for the next year. Thus there was always dry wood on hand, and the Marsh woodpiles were “conversation pieces!” It was my task for many years to keep the kitchen wood box filled. Once a whole tier of wood started falling toward me, and I had just time enough to crawl out of the shed before the whole walkway was piled high with wood. I had great respect for that wood pile after that.
Womenfolk were kept busy night and day through the winter months. Evenings were spent mending, sewing, knitting, quilting, or braiding rugs. Grammie made innumerable rugs from ragged clothing only. Her eyes were always looking for clothes that would look good in a rug. I still use some of her rugs, as they were made from only the best parts of the wool garments, and wore well, especially since all raw edges were turned in and the rugs could be worn equally well on both sides. Mother made a great many quilts, and there were neighborhood quilting parties. Mother’s “quilts” were not quilted, however, but tied, leaving a finish taking far less time. Though adequate for holding the coverlet together, tying lacks the beauty of quilting. An almost daily chore for women was the cleaning and filling of kerosene lamps and lanterns. This was a painstaking, disagreeable job which I never relished. We had several small lamps for bedrooms, a hanging lamp over the dining room table, and large Rochester burner reading lamps with shades around the chimneys. Later we bought an Aladdin lamp which burned with a mantle and shed a white light much brighter than the yellow glow of the ordinary kerosene lamp. This “modern” lamp graced the table in the living room, and we all sat around it. Not until 1938 did we have electricity for light and power. Dad preferred to do his reading in the kitchen. He’d draw the table to the center of the room so he could have a better light while sitting in the big rocking chair with his feet on the oven door and a cigar in his mouth. Woe to the postman if the Saturday Evening Post didn’t arrive on Tuesday! Dad loved that magazine, but we often found him sound asleep, his cigar out, and the Post in his lap or on the floor.
Lanterns with round globes, protected top and bottom, and bails for carrying, were used at the barn, and I never knew my grandmother, at least, ever to go to the cellar with anything but a tallow candle, a candle that she herself had made in the old candle molds. Tallow of all kinds was saved to be melted down and poured into the 6 or 12 candle molds. Wicks were tied around a stick long enough to lay across the top of the molds and hold the wicks in the center of each hole. When the hot tallow had solidified, the candles were pulled from the molds and separated. I still have the beautiful brass candlesticks that always graced the living room mantel, but the most used sat on a shelf just inside the cellar door where it was near at hand for trips downstairs to get a pan of apples, or whatever. Candlesticks were also used to scrape the bristles off hogs at butchering time. Carrying lamps and candles up and down stairs seemed to be like courting disaster, and I was glad when flashlights came into use.
In late February or early March, everyone began to think of sugaring. As soon as possible, roads were broken out in the sugar place, sap buckets and draw tubs got out, and the evaporator set up in the sugar house. Most of our trees were on the mountain behind the house, and the equipment was stored in the old sugar house just over the hill out of sight. This building is still standing and was built by my great grandfather in the 1850’s, the first indoor sugaring arrangement to be built in town. It was used for boiling until the new, and present, sugar house was put up in the 1890’s. Since then it has been used only as a place to wash and store buckets, gathering tanks, etc. The original arch is there and water is heated in a pan covering it. It was always fun to take lunch (with eggs to boil in the pan) and spend the day while the buckets were being washed in large galvanized tubs and scalded in the pan. The duty of the young set was to carry the buckets outside and lay them on the rise above the sugar house to dry in the sun. Usually we would then walk out to the edge of the sugar place to look for mayflowers that grew profusely under a beech tree. On the way we’d stop to sit in the old stone ”sleigh,” natural formation that provided the seat and the dasher. When the buckets were dry we put them together in stacks of 25, and they were stored overhead in the sugar house, leaving room below for the heavy sleds and draw tubs. One tank was placed at the top of the hill south of the sugar house where sap was unloaded and ran in a pipe to the new sugar house. A smaller tank was set beside the pipeline about halfway down the hill to hold sap gathered in the pasture. We children also scattered buckets while the men tapped the trees. I was once known to have placed a bucket at the foot of some tree other than a maple.
One day the boys played a trick on me. They drove a spout into the corner post of the old sugar house, hung a bucket on it, poured in some sap, and covered it. Fool that I was I thought for a time it was real. It might have been April Fools’ Day, but I can’t remember.
Sugaring was a busy time for the whole family. Chores had to be done as usual, and it was lambing time as well. Often it was necessary for someone to stay up and make several trips to the sheep barn to see if all was going as it should. We always had hired help at the time and loads of company from the village, not only at the sugar house where all were given a taste of syrup, but at the house to eat sugar on snow, plain doughnuts, and sour pickles. We used to invite the school teachers for an after-school party and, as Dad was a director of the local creamery, the employees and their spouses were treated some evening during the season. In addition to invited guests many just “happened” to come along at the proper time to get in on a ”sugaring off”. In my younger days some of the best syrup was put into plain tin cans. The darker, stronger variety was sold in big steel drums to be used in tobacco. On a certain day after the season was over all the sugar makers took their syrup to town to be shipped on the railroad. Ours went to Cushman’s Store to be applied on our bill. Much syrup was sugared off in a large pan covering the cook stove at the house. The best syrup was put into tin molds making 2-oz., 4-oz., and 4-lb. cakes. What didn’t get eaten or given away was sold on order.
Before his marriage Gramp had been in Iowa with a boyhood friend Fred Tilden. Fred owned the Tilden Grocery Co., and for years we sent him a flour barrel filled with 4-lb. sugar “bricks”. Only a few years ago I met at Rochester Inn a nephew of Mr. Tilden’s who said his uncle had always told him that the best maple sugar in the world came from the Marsh farm in Rochester, Vermont. That fact was well borne out when Gramp won a bronze medal and citation at the World’s Columbian Exposition at Chicago in 1893 in commemoration of the four-hundredth anniversary of the landing of Columbus, l892-1893. This medal for “good color, uniformity of grain and very fine flavor” was awarded for a sample of maple sugar earning 47.4 points out of a possible 50. In later years much sugar and syrup was shipped by parcel post and express to private customers. In summer we sold 2-oz. cakes and syrup beside the road to tourists. We kept all kinds of syrup for ourselves, as the darkest was more flavorful for cooking purposes. Before we stopped selling sugar in 5-lb. and 10-lb. pails we kept some 25-lb. tubs of sugar soft enough to be dug out. These tubs were often visited by family and friends throughout the year.
As a child I liked to spend much time in the woods and at the sugar house. Occasionally I “helped” gather sap on the hill, but primarily my task was to empty the buckets along the highway and near the sugar house. The first thing I learned to do inside was to remove the scum from the boiling sap, a job I hastened to do as soon as guests arrived, just to prove my knowledge. As I grew older I was allowed to put up syrup and, when the time came that I was trusted to run the evaporator, I was proud indeed. Thereafter I spent many a long hour firing the big arch, taking off and canning the syrup while the men were doing chores or at meals. The roar of the fire, hiss of the steam, flickering shadows, and the wind whistling through the cracks of the walls all contributed to give me a creepy feeling at times. Knowledge of the great responsibility entrusted to me made me very happy when I saw the light go out in the little stable and I knew that relief would soon come and, just perhaps, I’d be successful again in not letting the evaporator burn up something that is very easy to do.
Other hazards at the sugar house were fires caused by sparks from the smokestack falling on the roof or into dry leaves and twigs. Before an asphalt or tin roofing was used a barrel of water was kept on the ridgepole, with ladders reaching up to it. Several fires did catch on or around the sugar house, and there was one frightening one near the roof at the north end, but they were all discovered early and put out with the water that flowed off the rocks and was piped and caught just outside. This water was convenient for cleaning up and washing strainers also.
Sheep shearing took place in early spring, also, and was formerly done by hand. Laurence has a pair of sheep shears which he now uses only for grass clipping. Sometime before we had electricity a local resident owned a hand-cranked power sheerer which he took from farm to farm. The wool was tied into bundles and stored in the corn barn to await a reasonable price. Sometimes there were several years’ fleeces on hand. It was always a gamble if wool would be sold at a profit or at a loss. As the days got warmer plowing and harrowing began. Some plowing had been done in the fall and just needed loosening up in the spring. A very hard and unsavory task was getting out the winter’s accumulation of manure. An especially dusty and disagreeable job was cleaning the sheep barn and henhouse. In later years the farm sported a manure spreader, but my first memory is that of seeing all fertilizer spread by hand from a farm wagon.
Crops consisted of hay, rowan, corn both for silage and grain, all kinds of wheat, potatoes, turnips, beans for baking, field pumpkins and Hubbard squashes sown in the cornfield, peas, oats to be threshed, and barley and alfalfa to be cut as hay and to seed down the ground not to be used for crops the next year. Turnips were raised in abundance for sheep feed. One year we had about 200 bushels stored in the house cellar and ground up as needed. Oats and corn were taken to the local grist mill to be ground together as provender. In the corn barn was a corn Sheller that fascinated me. It was great fun, for a while, to turn the handle and watch the golden corn fall out, leaving the cobs stripped clean. One year while I was still in school we raised 800 bushels of field corn, all of which was cut down, removed from the stalks, and husked by hand. Dad offered me 5 cents a bushel for husking. I aimed to husk 100 bushels, spent all spare time after school and on weekends, but, as the men husked evenings and in rainy weather, the corn ran out when I had husked on 90 bushels. I thought I should still have my $5 but $4.50 was all I got.
Children at that time didn’t usually get paid for doing their share of the work indoors or out. It was expected of them in return for their food, clothing, and care, and allowances were unheard of. Besides the big crops there was always a large farm garden with the usual table vegetables, but not the great variety found in modern gardens and supermarkets of today. Pumpkin, squash, and bean seeds were kept from one year to another, and tomato plants were raised from seeds sowed in the house early in the year. Dad never planted the garden until late May or early June. By that time the earth was warm, the seeds grew fast, and vegetables were usually ready as those started earlier. After the garden was planted it was the task of the women folk, or older or younger members of the family, to take the most care of it, as Dad had the larger crops to attend to.
Haying was at hand and everyone had to get in on that job, even the women who had more food to prepare and dishes to do, as haying required extra help. Two crops of grass were cut each year and haying was a hard, hot job. Except for using a mowing machine in the open fields all grass was cut with a hand scythe. It was a matter of economy and also of pride to carefully trim abound the fences, trees, and rocks to leave a clean-cut field- a far cry from the sloppy job done today, with so much waste and edges of the fields allowed to grow up to bushes. I often had to turn the grindstone for Gramp to sharpen his scythe. I didn’t like that job because it was hard work and my efforts nearly always failed to be appreciated. Hay in the open fields was tedded and raked with horses, but most of that cut by hand had to be raked by hand, and I really enjoyed cleaning out around the fence posts, trees, and stone heaps. When partially dry and rain threatened, hay was piled into cocks. These had to be spread out again by hand and the whole process repeated until the hay was dry enough to go in the barn. Late afternoon thundershowers often destroyed several days’ hard work. Many’s the time I’ve raked after a load of hay under the threat of a shower. Besides the hand rake there was a bull rake. This had a four or five-foot long head with big teeth about a foot long, and it was drawn behind the wagon to rake scatterings where the horserake could not be used. I used this at times, but it was a bit heavy for me.
As I grew old enough to drive a horse I helped out each summer by riding the horserake, and sometimes the tedder. This job I had every year until long after I had graduated from college, raking not only on the home farm, but on the hill as well. In later years I led the horse to pull off hay with the horse fork, another job I disliked, since I had to enter the road and often had to go back and start over if a car was coming. All hay was loose and had to be pitched on, loaded, and unloaded by hand. Someone had to be in the mow to spread it around and tramp it down a very hot, disagreeable, dusty task. We kids were expected to go to the cold spring at the foot of the orchard to get a pail of water after each load of hay had been pitched off. Water from that spring was much colder than that from the house faucet, and we had no refrigeration. Sometimes Mother would mix up a drink called “switcher”, a concoction containing vinegar, maple syrup, and ginger to warm the stomach and prevent cramps from too much cold water.
As soon as haying was done at home, we had to cut the grass at the Tunnel farm. Dad, Mother, and we kids would go up and stay until the haying was done. We took feather beds, linens, dishes, food, and clothing on the hayrack and led a cow behind to furnish milk, Dutch (cottage) cheese, and butter while we were gone. It was work for the older folks, but Laurence got quite a lot of fun out of it in our spare time. One thing we enjoyed was rolling an old mowing machine wheel down through the field to the brook. It didn’t take long to roll it down, but it sometimes took several days to get it back up the hill. We were really “camping out”. Mother even took her washing to the brook.
When the garden began to produce the women folk had a busy time canning. With no refrigeration everything except the winter vegetables had to be canned or preserved in some way. Jar after jar of jams, jellies, pickles, and vegetables were processed on the wood fire during the hot summer months. Our only place to keep things cool was the cellar. All the potatoes and winter vegetables except squash were stored there, the beets and carrots packed in sand or leaves. Squashes were kept on, the floor of the bedroom over the kitchen. There were usually two or three barrels of hard cider lined up against the west wall of the cellar, and the root cutter was also kept there. Under the kitchen ell there were jugs of homemade vinegar, cupboards filled with the cans and jars of fruits, vegetables, pickles, and preserves. Big stone Burlington and Bennington crocks held salt pork, corned beef, beef for drying, and hams and bacon until they were ready for smoking. In the center of the room was a table with a large stone jar for storing butter, or to keep pitchers of milk and other foods cool from one meal to another. So many trips had to be made up and down stairs. Near the top of the stairs I can remember a small earthen jar of sweet cucumber pickles held down in the pickle by a plate. They never spoiled even if they were not airtight. I think they didn’t last long enough, as they were great favorites. The jars and jars of small sour pickles, too, might well be gone by the end of sugaring. Laurence once told the teacher who asked him to furnish a jar of sour pickles for the school picnic that he couldn’t as she’d eaten them all up at the teachers’ sugar party.
Fall was just about my favorite time of the year, as I loved the harvest season. l can still see the loads of corn being fed into the ensilage cutter, carried up the moving stairs, and emptying into the silo. Two horse loads of big golden field pumpkins were brought into the barn cellar to be chopped up and fed to the pigs. Winter squashes were all green Hubbards, and squash was, and still is, my favorite winter vegetable. There was a feeling of security to see the cribs in the corn barn bursting with yellow ears. If crops had been good it was indeed a time for thanksgiving that we had been given the strength to bring forth an abundant harvest with the help of God’s sun and rain.
There were wild harvests to glean, also. Besides the berries of summer, autumn produced nuts. About every other year there was a good crop of butternuts. Traditionally, every seventh year was supposed to bring forth a bumper yield. I picked up 12 bushels one year alone, and others added to those. We found them under the trees on the side hill, along the river banks, and on the hill farm. They were spread out to dry on the attic floor, raked over occasionally, and stored in flour barrels up there. Many of them found their way into maple butternut fudge, a natural confection without equal. Wild apples, too, were gathered, the earlier, poorer ones made into desserts or applesauce, and the better keepers stored in barrels in the cellar. Many a winter night the family enjoyed popcorn and cold, crisp apples. An apple before bedtime was always a request of my grandfather’s. There the harvesting was done and days grew colder, it was time to think of getting ready for winter. With no heat except for stoves, an effort was made to keep out as much cold as possible. Frames were built along the house foundation, filled with leaves or sawdust, or both, and covered with spruce boughs. Even after there was central heating, boughs were piled up around the house, and sometimes little spruce trees were set in the ground along the porch to keep off some of the blowing snow and look pretty through the winter.
Halloween was never a real event for us, as we didn’t go trick-or-treating and our neighbors didn’t come to our house. We did have jack- o’-lanterns made out of the big pumpkins, and sometimes we hung out a big tin lantern fitted with a tallow candle. Some Halloween tricks were played by older boys in town. Things were moved around a bit, but, aside from the inconvenience caused by retrieving the property, no damage was done. Vandalism as it exists today was unheard of at Halloween or at any other time.
Thanksgiving arrived, and preparations were made for a big company dinner with our nearby relatives as guests. I never wanted to go away for Thanksgiving, as I liked the leftovers the next day. Our table was always loaded with fruits of the year’s labors, from the roast fowl to the pies made from the products of the farm and the fruits and nuts that had been free for the taking. Supper was usually a cold affair. On holiday and Sunday evenings everyone was on his own to select his food from that set out on the broad shelf in the pantry.
No sooner was Thanksgiving over than preparations were made for Christmas. Woodcutting took place and, just before Christmas, both beef and pigs were killed. The roasts were cut up, wrapped in newspapers, frozen, and buried in the grain at the corn barn to keep through the winter. Some beef was pickled for corned beef, some used in mincemeat, and some boiled off the bones and canned for stews or hash. The fat pork, hocks, etc. were put into brine, as were the hams and bacon to be pickled until time to be smoked. A large flour barrel was set outdoors with a pan full of coals and corncobs inside. A hole was slit in the tough ham hide and an old broom handle run through it. The whole thing was then laid across the barrel and covered up to allow the corncob smoke to do its work. Frequent inspection had to be made to see that the hide hadn’t burned through and let the meat fall into the coals. There was also a question as to when the ham had been smoked enough. How good those cob smoked hams and bacon tasted especially with the fresh fried eggs that often accompanied them. Christmas gifts in our family were practical and inexpensive.
We children had no money to spend, so made most of our gifts, such as pin cushions for the ladies and match scratchers for the men. Sometimes we could get little calendars with figures only. Those could be pasted on a cardboard with a picture cut from a seed catalog or magazine. A string tied into the upper corners made this bit of art an acceptable and practical gift Grammie always kept us in mittens, and sometimes she would go to Cushman’s or Trask’s store and buy us a pretty towel and cake of toilet soap. Gifts from our parents were usually clothing we needed or a small toy (I decided it was time to stop hanging my stocking when I found a raw potato in it).
As Gramp had no use for church or ministers we didn’t get into church activities much. We did occasionally take part in the Christmas Eve exercises at the Methodist Church, or with Margaret and Mary at the Universalist Church. On one occasion Alice was sitting with us in the front row. She had no piece to speak as she was just a visitor. However, when no one else was on the platform, she escaped our attention, ran up and recited the following: “I step my foot upon the stage; My heart goes pit a pat, For fear someone will say, ‘Whose little girl is that?’ ” This was a quatrain that Grammie had taught Alice, and many did ask, “Whose little girl is that?” as she’d never been seen much before.
On Christmas Eve we used to go to the park and wait for Santa Claus to appear with his sleigh full of candy bags for each boy and girl. We’d hear his sleigh bells coming into the village and soon see him, adorned in his red suit, and hear his big, booming “Ho’ Ho’ Ho! Merry Christmas!” The candy bags were made of white mesh with a drawstring, and held the traditional ribbon candy nuts, and an orange furnished by the local merchants. What a treat to so many boys and girls of that era. Christmas Day itself finally came, but the opening of presents had to wait until after dinner and the dishes were washed and put away. By that time Gramp might decide that it was time to feed the sheep before dark; so there would be another wait, and we’d have to be content with looking at the tree that we’d decorated a few days before with strings of popcorn, paper chains made from red wallpaper, a few baubles, cheap tinsel, and real candles clipped to the branches. How we escaped setting a serious fire I’ll never know. We must have used extreme precautions and had the candles lighted only when someone was on guard.
HERE AND THERE
On Memorial Day services were held at Pierce Hall with an occasional outside speaker. There was a parade to the cemetery led by the Rochester Coronet Band with a local merchant George Trask ask as the marshal. As Mr. Trask was a tall, thin man, he made a very impressive figure as he marched down Main Street wielding his baton. Fourth of July parades were common, too, with the band leading, children carrying flags, floats prepared by town organizations and industries, with fireworks in the evening not the spectacular formations of today, but with plenty of noise from torpedoes, several sizes of firecrackers, and Roman candles to light up the landscape. It was all pretty tame in comparison with today’s standards, but quite a celebration in the eyes and ears of a young farm child of the early 1900’s. The only extra noise heard from us at home was the sizzling of the sparklers, the dull thud of torpedoes on the stone walk, and the pop made by the little red firecrackers deemed safe for a small child to handle.
Occasionally a circus or some other traveling company came to town. A tent was set up on the park for the Chatanqua that provided entertainment of various kinds for several evenings. Gramp thought it a great extravagance for so many Rochester citizens to purchase season tickets for this event, but it was good diversion, as were the plays put on by the Nellie Gill Players, a traveling theatrical group. As very few Rochester residents owned automobiles at that time, they spent their leisure hours in town and welcomed outside entertainers.
One form of diversion for the male population was taking part in conversation around the stoves in the stores. Gramp spent a lot of time in Cushman’s Store, and many a hot argument took place there. Gramp was a confirmed Socialist, and Mr. Cushman a staunch Republican. Whenever they got together they violently disagreed politically, and we’d hear reports that “J.P.” and “Cush” were at it again. As both were somewhat deaf, they could be heard all over town. Once Gramp came home, drove into the barn, backed right out again, and headed for town. When Grammie asked him why he went back, he replied that he’d just thought of a “clincher” and wanted to pass it on to “Cush” to have the last word, so to speak.
Cushman’s Store was special to me. It was there I bought my “Old Favorite” licorice, candy cigars, 5¢ bags of peanuts, and did much of the family trading. The store was a department store in a way, as dry goods were kept as well as groceries: dresses, yard goods, sewing materials, toiletries, etc. for the women and girls; pants, shirts, overalls, etc. for the men and boys; and boots, shoes, head gear, and underwear for everyone. Barrels of flour, sugar, crackers, and kerosene furnished handy seats for the customers. Green Mountain Tea and Gold Star Coffee (ground while you waited, in a big red coffee mill), spices in bulk, fresh and salt fish all added their aroma to the smoke filled room. There was a never-to-be-forgotten fascination to be found in an old country store. It was the owner of the above store, Mr. Herbert Cushman, who, as a member of the school board when I graduated from high school, urged me to go on to UVM instead of taking a two-year teacher training course at Castleton Normal School. I’ve often wondered how different my life might have been had I not taken his advice.
Before my day milk was set in pans and the cream skimmed off. Later there was a cream separator in the back room. This was turned by hand, the cream flowing out one spout, and the skim milk out another. Only the cream was sold, some of the milk being made into Dutch cheese, and the rest fed to the pigs and hens. The hens usually got it after it was clobbered, and they really went for it, eating it before touching their grain. When enough cream had been saved and ripened for fifteen, twenty or more pounds of butter, it was put into a big barrel churn and made into butter by using a crank to turn the barrel over and over. This was sometimes a long, hot job, as butter did not always come at the same rate, depending somewhat on the temperature and condition of the cream. Young people who had nothing better to do to help out were asked to turn the churn, but Grammie almost always drew off the buttermilk, washed the butter, salted it, worked it over to get out all of the moisture, patted it into a large mass, and cut it into blocks the right size for table use. A mold was seldom used. The butter was then taken to the stone jar in the cellar where it always kept sweet as long as it lasted. Sometimes butter was sold, but most of it was eaten or given away. At one time a Middlebury man who had relatives in Rochester bought a quart of cream whenever he was in town, but most of it was picked up and sold at the local creamery where farmers could get buttermilk as additional food for the pigs.
In these days of automatic washers and dryers, electric flatirons, and no iron linens and clothing, you may find it hard to imagine what cleanliness required in the early 1900’s. Monday was always washday, rain or shine. I can’t remember when Mother didn’t have a washing machine of sorts, but, like everything else, it was hand-cranked and clothes were wrung through a removable wringer. A big brass boiler was placed across the fire box of the kitchen range and filled by hand with water from the water box at the end of the sink. When the water boiled the machine was filled, leaving water in the boiler for bleaching the white cottons and linens. I remember bars of Pels Naphtha soap being shaved off for laundry use. Clothes were removed from the boiler with a long, wooden stick, forked at one end to “grab” the clothes. They could then be wound up on the stick, dumped into a bucket on the floor, and thence to the washing machine. All clothes were washed, sudsed, and rinsed in bluing water, all of which had to be carried by hand going to and coming from the washing machine. Laurence finally attached a gasoline engine to this old washer, and later an electric motor. Thus one of the arduous household tasks became lighter.
In winter the colored clothes were dried on poles over the cook stove. Others were put on the porch either on temporary lines or clothes bars. These were brought in at bedtime to finish drying near the stove. How good they smelled in summer; clothes were carried to the back yard to dry. In good weather the family sheets and pillow cases might be put back on the beds at night, but all guest linens, tablecloths, napkins, dish towels, starched table runners and aprons practically all clothing but hosiery and men’s underwear got ironed with flatirons of the old fashioned kind, heated on the kitchen wood fire, summer and winter.
Mother had a set of three flatirons of different sizes, pointed at both ends, and with a removable handle, but Grammie never used anything but the heavy iron one-piece “sadirons” weighing four or five pounds or more. I still have a pair of No. 6 irons that I use as door stops. Some Grammie had were heavier.
Grammie also preferred to do personal wash for herself and Gramp in a wash tub on a scrub board. She was very happy when some set tubs were installed and she no longer had to carry the water. When I think of all the hard work that our grandmother did, raising her own big family and continuing to do her share and more for her vents family, always insisting that she wash dishes as long as she was able, and feeling for years that she had to mop the hardwood kitchen floor every day, I’m surprised that she didn’t wear out long before she died at 78 years of age.
Laundry brings to mind another custom practiced in our household. Waste fats were collected and made into dark-colored soft soap. A big iron kettle was placed over a fire in the back yard, filled with the fats, and lye leached from wood ashes. This was boiled until the right consistency for use as soap. A can of this strong soap was always kept handy for washing dishes and mopping. Hard soaps, Ivory mostly, were used chiefly for personal cleanliness. Soap making was always an interesting process and I used to hope it would be done when I was around to watch. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the ratio of fat and lye. I made a little hard soap once, but it was neither soapy nor sweet smelling, and I gave up the idea.
Spring and fall housecleaning was a thorough job, and in our big house it took a lot of time. In the sitting room the rag carpet had to be taken up, thrown over the clothes line, and thoroughly beaten by hand, a tedious and strenuous task that I detested. Clean newspapers were then laid on the floor and the carpet tacked down again. Every picture was taken down and cleaned, walls and ceilings brushed off with a cloth tied over a broom, all woodwork scrubbed, windows taken out and washed, curtains washed, starched, and ironed (doilies, too), furniture moved out, cleaned off, polished and, if need be, painted or varnished. The dining room got the same thorough cleaning and everything came out of the pantry to be washed off, examined, and put back in a more orderly fashion. All bedding was removed, feather beds aired and beaten, springs cleaned, etc. Cornhusk mattresses were emptied, washed, and filled with new husks. All winter clothes not washable were sponged, aired, and put away in moth balls, if need be.
Housecleaning was a source of great annoyance for Gramp as it disturbed his peace of mind and upset his reading and writing. He recorded in his diary that the women folk had moved everything in the house not nailed down, even to the back room and woodsheds. The cellar, too, was thoroughly gone over and rearranged if advisable. In between the thorough cleanings the rag carpets were run over by a carpet sweeper to get the coarse dirt, and the dust was removed by tearing up newspapers, wetting them, spreading them over the rugs and sweeping them up with an ordinary broom, a process which did a surprisingly good job. Small braided or hooked rugs were taken outside to be shaken and swept, often with light snow several times through the winter a practice I still follow. Most rugs at the farm were braided, but I am still using a hooked rug our great-grandmother Chamberlain made by her own design. Though it has been walked over many more years than I can remember, it is in excellent condition and the roses are as bright as ever. Alice and I also each have half of a coverlet made from home grown flax that Gramp’s mother spun and hired a neighbor woman to weave when Gramp was young well over 100 years ago.
Even without vacuum cleaners, and with thorough cleaning only twice a year, the big house was kept broom-, mop-, and dustcloth-clean and orderly at all times, with rooms painted and papered as needed every two or three years in the living quarters where wood and tobacco smoke did their worst. All walls, and even some ceilings, were papered. Varnished wainscoting covered the lower half of the dining and living room walls. Papering the upper half was a painstaking job, as the walls were so uneven that using a patterned paper was almost forbidden. Plumb lines were not so much in use in former years as they are today, as the position of the windows in the dining room clearly indicates.
For many years we had no screens, and flies were a great nuisance. Food had to be covered at all times, and cheesecloth was thrown over the dishes on the dining room table. When flies got too numerous they were driven out with old broom (or mop) sticks around one end of which were tied strips of tough paper cut from flour sacks. When several people ran around the room swishing these contraptions most of the flies headed for the open door, and one room at a time could be freed of the pests. Some flies were caught on sheets of sticky fly paper. Once Gramp, not seeing one of these, sat on it. He got up to visit with a neighbor who’d stopped at the roadside and was asked if he’d got a new kind of patch on his pants.
When I was nine year old, Vic, Laurence, and I were exposed to the measles at school. As Dad, who was 42 at the time, had never had the disease, we three were quarantined in the parlor and the parlor-bedroom, using the front door for an exit. Mother brought all our meals to us and waited on us otherwise. When we were about to get out of quarantine we all came down with the measles. Our precautions were in vain, as the day we were to get back with the family both Dad and Alice succumbed to the disease, and our poor mother worked night and day for weeks on end caring for the five of us. Alice vowed she had chicken pox, not measles, but Dad was very sick, and delirious at times. As it was in April he was “driving logs” and “gathering sap.”
One of the nicest smells to greet me as I returned home from school in the fall was that of mother’s kitchen when she was making pickles of all kinds: mustard, green tomato, both sweet and sour cucumber, piccalilli, etc. Most relishes were not so common when I was a child.
Girls and women were supposed to wear hats if they went out in public, and always to church; but I never liked a hat. Mother thought I needed a new one the year I got through the eighth grade. I begged for a camera instead, so I became the proud possessor of a Premo Junior No. 1 film pack camera, and I snapped my first pictures at the school picnic. That was the beginning of a lifelong hobby which I have enjoyed immensely. As my pictures are dated, labeled, and put into albums they are a reliable source for obtaining historical facts. I started a diary once, but there were a great many blank pages, and not until my senior year in college did I start keeping a diary seriously. Very few days since have I failed to keep a written record that also serves to prove a point occasionally. I often wish that my grandfather had kept his during my younger days.
As our farm was a mile from town, we were on the Rural Free Delivery route. Our carrier lived in our neighborhood and sometimes he’d pull into the dooryard to pick me up for school. Dad’s sister Anna worked in the post office before she was married. The office used to be open on Sunday and she often brought mail that had come in the night before, or it could be picked up after church. Sometimes during spring vacation I would ride with our rural carrier to the Whispering Pine School where his daughter taught. I always enjoyed visiting that rural school where one teacher taught boys and girls in all eight grades some years. It was a happy family, the teacher taking part in her charges’ games and leisure time. A friend of mine in later years taught 30 children in grades 1 to 8 at the Branch School, a condition quite far removed from the present low enrollment for one teacher per grade with other special teachers part time.
When I was very young our telephone was serviced by a locally owned company not part of the New England system, but for years until we went to the dial system there was a hand-cranked telephone with a 5 or 6 inch black receiver attached to the side of the phone, and a black mouthpiece on the front. One ring called “Central” and she would answer, “Number, please”, then put through the call. If there was no answer, she would often know where a person not at home could be located, especially the doctor. This service is not possible with our modern system. Many regretted the change when one could no longer hear that pleasant voice at the other end of the line.
Laurence was always looking for easier ways for performing disagreeable and time-consuming tasks, one of the worst of which he considered was sprouting potatoes, a tedious, dirty job at best, especially when the fish were biting. I never minded the task too much on a hot summer’s day. The cellar was cool and I liked the dank smell of the earth. One year Laurence and Uncle Arthur Sennott put their heads together and made a potato sprouted. Bran sacks were sewed together, attached to wooden slats, and hung from the stringers. The potatoes were shaken back and forth to remove the sprouts, then dumped onto racks which allowed the sprouts to fall through, the smaller potatoes to drop into containers below, and the larger ones to come out at the end. This really worked quite well, but I don’t recall its being used very much. Laurence also thought we were spending too much time shelling beans, so tried putting them through the washing machine wringer. They were shelled all right, but we had a hard time locating them all.
For more years than I can remember, long after I became an adult, it was my job to go for the cows. The dog of the hour went with me, and some would round up the cows and head them home after we spotted them, but others were more interested in sniffing out woodchuck holes. I usually followed the pasture fence to the hill farm, but, if the cows were not at the end of it, I had to climb up over the so called “picket” and go home through the sugar place, at times only to find the cows ahead of me all the way to the bars. Usually, though, they were cooling off in the shade of the sugar maples. On some days the hike was a pleasant one for me, picking and eating wild strawberries along the way, or strolling through the ferns and fallen leaves; but on a hot summer’s day, perhaps with a threatening thunder storm, I didn’t enjoy the journey at all, or the view down the White River valley that I have now come to love.
“Spare the rod and spoil the child” was an adage adhered to many times as far as I was concerned. I can still see my father push back his chair, collect me and propel me to the woodshed where I was properly chastised. For the life of me I can’t remember just what I did to warrant the punishment, but, as it usually occurred during meals, I probably talked too much. (Children were supposed to be seen and not heard in those days.) I do recall returning to the kitchen, sitting beside the wood box, and sobbing until Dad had left the house before I could finish my meal. Be that as it may, I grew up well-nourished and none the worse for my experience.
This account is a rambling and incomplete record in many ways, but it is as accurate as my memory will allow, and I hope it gives the reader a fair picture of what farm life was like in my early days. Now in my 70’s, I thank God that I was privileged to know the sometimes difficult, but always interesting and productive childhood I experienced, a childhood greatly enriched by my “built-in” grandparents and blessed by honest, hardworking, and caring parents. This “masterpiece” is presented to the Rochester Free Public Library at the suggestion of one of its readers. I hope any future readers will forgive the unorthodox typing, as mine is the self-taught “hunt-and-punch” method, with little knowledge of correct procedure. The original manuscript was written in March, 1981, that my nieces and nephews, as you will note, might have some knowledge of their background. It was revised and retyped in the late summer of 1989.
Lillian L. Marsh, Rochester, Vermont, September 12, 1989