Thursday, January 22, 2015
WAY BACK THEN
By Beatrice M. Hanson
The early nineteen hundreds proved a peaceful, almost dull, period.
Many people lived frugally, from dire necessity, close to the cities where some form of employment might be found, to keep them in food and shelter.
My father’s family, English and Scotch ancestry, came to this country to settle in New England.
Grandfather found to his liking, in a small town in Massachusetts, a good sized farm with land and buildings to suit his needs. Acres of rich black land faced the mountain ranges to make good pasture land for his herd of milking cows.
When his only son, Archie, married, he brought his young bride to the homestead. They lived with Grandpa and Grandmother Mellen until their first child, Thelma, was born. Papa worked with his father on the dairy farm.
To Mother’s great joy, a house adjoining the farm went up for sale. This was indeed a God-send. The young couple made immediate plans to buy the place, which made it our home during the early years of their child raising.
The babies came in due time. Mother, only nineteen when she married, began her struggle to raise the infants as they arrived.
Our home, although not large, was well constructed. I remember the front railed in porch, barely room enough to accompany a rocker or two. It’s door opened into a hallway with a stairway that ascended to the three upper bedrooms, Mother and Papa’s room, at the head, being the largest.
The heavy oak furniture took up most of the space. A baby crib was permanently placed in a corner for the next arrival. As the family grew, beds were added to the other two chambers as they were needed.
Downstairs, I can still visualize the wall paper in the dining room. It’s design of purple grapes, hanging in clusters from ceiling to mop-board, always fascinated me. All our family meals were served in this room, the kitchen space being taken up with a huge black iron stove that seemed always aglow with red coals, A square table pushed up against one wall to leave a well trodden path for little feet. On this table we were fed our evening meal of soda crackers and milk. Mornings, we ate our rolled oats cereal here before being sent out to play.
As in many of the country houses of that era, we did not have a bathroom. Our baths were taken in a round galvanized tub, laid in the center of the kitchen floor, holding as many little naked bodies as it could in one sitting. Each child was scrubbed clean with Mother’s laundry "bar soap", then lifted out to her knees to be dried with a fluffy large towel. Our night dress thrown over our heads, and with a slap on the buttocks, she would point the way to our bedrooms. As far as Mother was concerned, her day was finished! Papa would dump out the tub, probably join her on the porch for a quiet moment before going to bed. Papa retired early, as he was expected to be at his job, bottling milk, before daylight.
I imagine Mother sometimes dreamed of being single again and, after tying a blue ribbon on her brown hair, of joining her girlfriends in a cooling drug store for ices. She might well have complained, but actually would not have had it otherwise.
To reach the "out house” one passed through the back shed to the outside "privy". Mother's outdated catalogs served as toilet tissue.
A fenced in chicken yard joined the shed. Here Mother led her youngest for safety measures, as she did the housework. Papa kept a few chickens for eggs and eating purposes.
Papa became an expert at chicken raising, as was proved by the many "first prize" ribbons he won in almost every contest he entered his famous strain of " Rhode Island Reds ". Much later in life he accepted the position as head superintendent to a very wealthy man’s poultry department.
Mother, in her twenty’s, was a slim wasted medium height woman with pretty brown curly hair and a pleasant personality. She was a kind person who loved her family and worked for them all her life.
Papa, as we called him as children, had good height and classic features. His hair and “handle bar mustache” were a golden red. His eyes, blue and piercing, gave one, at a glance, an inkling to his strict morals and reserved personality. Not often did he show outward affection to his wife or children, although he never denied them anything they might need.
His sense of humor, however, was more in evidence when he was a younger man.
I remember watching him take a box of cough drops from his pocket and put one in his mouth. I was about four years old at the time. Looking up at him standing so far above me I asked wishfully. “May I have one, too, Papa?" Looking down at me he seemed to consider. “Do you have a cold?” I nodded affirmatively. ” Show me how bad it is.” I gave a weak cough. “Oh, Papa said, putting the box back in his pocket, that's not a bad cough.” I coughed harder. "Ho!” he said, “you can't call that a cough.” Then, I coughed so hard I nearly toppled over. “Oh, you do have a bad cold. You need a cough drop.” and he handed the whole box to me!
Being poor in cash money did not for a moment mean we were anything but rich in our inheritance. Both sides of our family were proud people. Neither parent would accept anything they had not earned or paid for. To accept charity of any kind they considered an insult to their characters.
As one stepped out from the shed door on the south side of the house, as far as the eye could see were the lush green fields, dotted here and there with fruit trees, and the picturesque mountains in the back ground. Just beyond the shed grew an apple tree with low hanging branches. Here we children played and fought and sometimes cried. Between the two plots of land grew a long line of grapevines. The center made an arch of which we used to use as a short cut to the farm.
On hot summer days we were allowed, the eldest in charge, to spend the day on Grandfather’s pastures. There, under a chestnut tree, we laid aside the lunch Mother had prepared for us. Removing our shoes and socks, we filed down to the cows drinking pool under the willow tree, (the brook being held back for this purpose.) Here we splashed and waded to our hearts content, while the uncontrollable brook sped off, making terrible gurgling noises. Tiring at last, we returned to the hill and our lunch of cucumber sandwiches and home-made cookies. Nothing ever tasted as good! When we heard the tinkle of cow bells, we knew it was time to head home.
There were many such days that gave us the wonderful memories for later years.
Our town was a good twenty miles from the city. It required taking a trolley-car to reach it, the service running only on the hour. Hence, when we needed new clothing or household articles, Mother spent much time making out a catalog order to Chicago. Papa mailed the letter while on his milk delivery route. When the order reached the Post Office, a card was mailed to us informing Mother her order had arrived. Papa would then pick it up on his return on that day. Such excitement prevailed as he carried the box in and laid it on the table for Mother to examine!! Along with her own needs, she always ordered one thing for each of us.
I remember one time when the last package was opened, Mother held up a bright red cape with attached hood. I had never seen anything so pretty and reached out to take it. “No,” said Mother tartly, "It’s for your sister." I cried tearfully and , for spite, hid in the clothes closet. Eventually, I emerged to find my sister, having tried on the cape, found it was too small for her. It was then proclaimed mine. Somehow, the nagging thought that it wasn’t really ordered for me, took some of the pleasure away.
My four sisters were now of school age. They walked the two miles, to and from each day to attend. This left me at home. I did not mind. I was a child who enjoyed her own company. Making mud-pies or following the magic of wheelbarrow tracks in the soft earth, or playing with my dolls under the apple tree, kept me happy all day long.
Each week day morning, after getting the children off to school, Mother enjoyed her one free hour, by having her morning coffee and toast, while she read her current magazine. I remember the breakfast table and it’s long white tablecloth. While Mother was involved in her story reading, I’d pour myself a glass of creamy milk, of which we had plenty. What Mother did not notice was the tablespoon of sugar I added before crawling back to my hide-away under the tablecloth to drink this concoction.
One morning, I awoke to find a strange woman in our kitchen.
Taking me by the arm, she pushed me toward the cereal she had spooned out for my breakfast. "Where’s my Mama?" I asked, backing off and glaring at her in unabashed disobedience. “She’s in her bedroom,” she said sharply, "and you can’t see her!" Quick as a rabbit, I turned and ran for the stairway. She caught up with me half way and held me by the neck of my dress.
“Let me go," I shrieked, “Mama, Mama!" I heard my Mother’s voice, soft and unhurried, "Let her come up, nurse, to see her new baby brother, James Collester!" A son was finally born to carry on the family name.
With my sisters now entering "teen years" they no longer enjoyed children’s games we had been used to playing. I only remember a lawn-swing appeared and was set up just outside the side door’s lawn area. Every spare moment, on holidays or sometimes in the twilight hours, all the girls made for the swing. I was usually seated on one or another’s lap to make room. When, by pushing hard with their feet they had the swing going "full speed" they began their singing- "harmonizing" they called it, and didn’t stop until they had sung every song they knew. I remember getting bored with this new game and jumping from the swing, set it jerking. All the voices called out loudly for Mother to punish me soundly for such action. Sticking out my tongue at them, I’d steal away to my own rope swing under the apple tree. Even then I enjoyed my own company best.
One day, my parents heard bad news. Grandpa was selling the farm!
I remember standing alone in the tall grass, after passing through the arch, listening to the auctioneer’s monotonous voice. Of course, I was too young to realize the significance even though every piece of equipment was sold and removed.
I recall my first day of school. On our return, my elder sister pointed to a large farmhouse set back from the highway. A wire fence ran parallel to the road for a mile or so, covered with red rambler roses.
" That’s to be our new home", my sister said, " Papa said so!"
And we did indeed leave the little green house to move to this ten room farmhouse which was included in Papa’s new position. We had enough room for everyone to have their own bedroom and enjoyed the novelty of a nice big bathroom, as well as electric lights and hot and cold water.
The last son, George, was born in this house before the family was complete.
OUR MOVE TO A LARGER HOUSE
In the nineteen hundreds, the city of Holyoke, Mass. was noted for its many mills that gave employment to hundreds of people that made the city a prosperous one.
One mill, outstanding in its size and production, manufactured the finest of silk and satins.
Papa's employer, one of the family owners of the mills, made his home in our town, close to the city but with a country atmosphere he desired.
As time passed, many of the older homes went up for sale, He bought up those nearest his own residence, and kept them in repair, to uphold the charm that made UP that section of town. Thus the estate grew in size and became known as the "Orchards", named for its many varieties of fruit trees.
Papa's new position started out as a one building operation, housing only enough poultry for the owners family needs. As time passed, due to Papa's fine management, he was given more space and equipment, where a larger flock of chickens were raised. His incubators turned out chicks by the hundreds and were of the best strain. Eventually this led to the marketing of fresh eggs and poultry to the city and to the mills.
The day we moved to our new home brought a momentous change in all of our lives. We now lived closer to the church and to the school. The trolley left for the city on the half hour. The Village Green, and surrounding stores but a Stone’s throw from the house.
After the movers departed Mother, with flushed face, and breathless from exertion, sat fanning herself with the front of her apron, while giving instructions to Papa as to where she wanted the furniture placed. She reminded one of a very agitated mother-hen.
My sisters already having toured the bed-chambers, made their preferences known. Thelma and Claire took the North-East room as it boasted a good size clothes closet. The adjoining bed-room Hilda and Aileen agreed to share. Their windows faced the South side, with a view of the busy highway, as well as the front lawns.
Across the hall our parents took over the master bedroom. Their heavy oak bed, bureau and commode fitted in easily with room to spare. One window faced the front of the house, another the West with a good view of the mountain ranges.
I agreed to settle for the small North room at the head of the stairway.
It also served as Mother's sewing room and also had baby Jim’s crib in one corner.
The steep stair-case ended in a square hall below. The door to the right opened into the parlor, a dark room never too popular with its stiff love seat and hard wicker rocker. The upright piano taking up one corner allowed Mother to play when she chose without interruption. The family's graphophone, installed on its own mahogany chest, filled with Papa's collections of famous disc recordings, faced the room from the opposite wall. I remember in particular one special recording of Thelma and Claire ns tots singing in their shrill voices the Primary Class church song “Dropping, dropping, dropping, dropping, hear the pennies fall, everyone for Jesus, He will bless us all.” One heard Mother's voice in the background encouraging them to sing a little clearer.
In time, a new thick wool flowered rug covered the wide painted floor boards Ecru ruffled curtains framed the two windows. Thereafter it was considered the "best" room, used only when company was expected.
To the left of the hallway, one entered a spacious, light, combined dining and sitting room. This was the most used room in the house. Having boarded up fireplace, with white wood mantle-piece still intact, its chimney made it possible to install a round coal stove in cold weather. In the center Mother placed her round dining-room table and six straight chairs that matched the set. The table could be lengthened by adding "leaves" for our family holiday dinners. A side-board placed "kitty-corner" contained drawers to accommodate our best silver and table linen. Odds and ends were stored away in the lower cabinet shelves. Under one window Mother placed her Prized possession, a cherry wood serving table. A real antique, she was told, and had received high bids from would be collectors. An alcove of windows looked out upon the South lawn. This honored spot went to the location of the " Morris chair" Mother had worked so hard to get before we had moved, as a gift to Papa, by taking “Larkin” orders to pay for it. Its back piece was designed to allow the occupant a reclining position if desired. A telephone stand stood close by.
The East window looked out onto the wide open porch where rocking chairs were usually occupied by one or another of the family.
An agate-colored door-knob, when pulled out by a visitor, set a bell inside pealing “loud enough to wake the dead” Mother always remarked.
The kitchen, far from modern, appeared the least attractive of any room in the house. Zinc covered shelves enclosed the black sink. Our familiar black-iron stove stood on the uncovered wooden floor. A sturdy kitchen table and chair set and Papa’s family Boston-Rocker completed this room.
Narrow back stairs wound their way to the upper hallway- on to the attic stairs, or through the bathroom and to the bedrooms.
A room sized pantry, off from the kitchen, gave all the storage-room needed. Mother’s choice wedding gift of "chocolate Sets" lined the upper shelves, along with the sparkle of crystal.
Because Mother did all her own baking, including bread making, Papa ordered one barrel of white flour at a time. A square board covered the barrel top making an ideal space on which to work. w
The kitchen back door led into an adjoining shed, wall shelves held an accumulation of odds and ends. A wooden ice-chest stood close by with its never ending drip pan underneath to keep the melting ice from overflowing.
Just outside the shed was a water well still in operation at the time we moved in. We drew our drinking water from its deep exterior by lowering the wooden bucket. Before too long however, the well was filled in, its pulley equipment dismantled.
In the early days of our arrival we noticed a barn just beyond our house had been recently leveled. Stray hens continued to lay their eggs in scattered nests. How overjoyed we were to bring into Mother a newly laid egg for our breakfast! The debris was cleared in quick time and replaced by a wall of white board lattice work to screen the clothes lines, and small evergreen trees planted where the barn once stood in time grew up to become a small forest.
If the house gave us more room so did it also give Mother more work.
Wash day was the one day in the week we all dreaded. A round tub between the kitchen chairs - a bar of naphtha soap, and a scrubbing board were our only equipment to get a load of laundry clean. In winter the clothes froze on the lines and were carried in as stiff as though we were still inside them.
Another child, a son, and the last of our family circle was born. They named him George Temple in honor of our Grandfather Temple. He grew to be a chubby little fellow with golden curls covering his head. Like Mother, his nature was amiable, and docile. As he grew to the walking stage, it was our responsibility to watch him a good deal of the time. If we weren’t around to do so, Mother tied him to a tree outside while she finished her housework. Little George was a young Houdini . He would somehow manage to slip out of the rope that tied him. leave it lying on the ground, and take off to parts unknown without a sound. On one occasion we searched high and low not wanting to alarm Mother unduly. We became frightened enough, after a time, to report his disappearance. Without hesitation, Mother headed up the road that led past the Orchards for a mile to a small barn used for housing sheep, her intuition was correct, for there sat little George hugging to his side a wooly lamb!
Papa grew more reserved as time went on. He could be found at the chicken plant from sun-up to sun-down with the exception of meal times. Me was a conscientious worker. Although he was his own boss he never took advantage of any opportunities that didn't concern him. His soul thought was only in making the department grow and pay for his employers benefit. Even so, we children were happier when we knew he wasn't in the house. We felt constrained in his presence although he seldom expressed disapproval.
Mother made up for his reticence . Always ready to listen to our party plans or picnics when we were children, or house parties when we grew into teen agers. She enjoyed the gayety and laughter which she herself had had SO little of in marrying young. Mother was also a good dressmaker. As the girls grew, Mother made dresses for every occasion. They were always in high style for all the Temple women loved to dress fashionably.
We children were amazed at the large open spaces we had in which to explore. Living inside the estate we felt we "owned where we roamed".
A private road led from the main highway to half circle our house on its round-about way to the mansion itself. It ran through orchards of fruit trees whose pink blossoms in May made a colorful picture.
We soon learned where the strawberry patch was located, the current bushes, and the three variety grape arbor, as these fruits came into season. We were first to spot the reddening apple, the delicate peach, or the pears beginning to yellow.
The head gardener, being a friend of Papa's and his children our playmates, age to age, we were allowed to scatter about without restrictions.
If, however, there was cause for complaint this Scotch gardener lost no time in reprimanding us soundly, as well as informing our father of the misdeed.
A fork in the road led one to the big house lawns. The other continued on dropping slightly as it descended the hill. Now the road dipped into a dingle where a slow-moving murky brook, dark and mysterious, ran through brush and hip-high grasses to run under a narrow bridge made to accommodate farm trucks. Very little light could penetrate the thick growth, so the dingle remained in the dark shadows. After passing over the bridge a sharp rise in the road brought one up into the light again. By taking this cut you’d find yourself on the opposite side of town and still within the farm's boundaries. My school-friend's father operated the dairy. This shortcut was the easiest way to visit my girlfriend on Saturdays or on holidays. On such a visit, as the sun began to go down, I knew it was time to start back but dreaded the thought of passing through the dark dingle. Being a child of nervous temperament, it was understandable why it would affect me so. Running as fast as my legs would carry me down the dusty road, not daring to look back, I imagined as I crossed the bridge an ugly gnome sticking his head over the bridge rail and bellowing, as I had read in my fourth grade reader, "Who goes over my bridge?” As I reached the top of the hill in the now failing sunlight, I stopped to look back and catch my breath before continuing on to the familiar road to home.
Having to live economically, nothing in our house was ever thrown out that could be reused or redecorated. Papa from time to time brought up stacks of feed grain bags for Mother to wash and make into pillow slips or dish clothes. On this day, she took a clean grain bag from the pile to pin over her dress as a makeshift apron. As the doorbell pealed, she hurried to answer it. On the threshold stood our minister for his annual visit. We were all horrified when Mother turned her back to see the bright red advertisement for chicken feed riding on the sway of her full hips, the slogan “Full of Pep”.