January 10, 2014
CHAPTER 3: EARLY DAYS
One of my earliest childhood memories is being left alone with my great-grandmother, Melvina Butler. It was in the winter or early spring. My mother had gone with my Grandmother Kate in a horse and sleigh, across the river to Annie Hilton Walker’s house in Anson. My mother was getting a fitting. This meant she was getting measured for a new corset. My father’s cousin, Annie, was in the business of measuring women and fitting them for corsets.
I had been left with my great-grandmother, who was obsessed with the idea that I would get something in my mouth and choke, so she kept me in an old antique walker with the casters were missing. The walker was a wooden box about eighteen inches square with four legs at the corners that held the box up about ten inches off the floor. Inside at the bottom of the box were two slits for my legs. I couldn’t move the thing. I felt trapped. Finally, sometime after dark about seven or eight o’clock we heard the sleigh bells and mother came and rescued me. I think I cried most of the day.
Gram Butler, her maiden name was Holt, had her bedroom upstairs on the east side over the kitchen. Also in the kitchen on the east side between the two windows, Gram had her small bureau where she did her work, which was mending clothes, making of patch work quilts, and knitting. The Portland Press Herald came daily and in it were patchwork quilt designs she would cut them out and save them. Now, her bureau was off limits to us children, but I got to know the rest of the house quite well. The parlor, which was in the southeast corner of the house, was somewhat off limits, but I remember two weeks before Christmas when Ellen and I found our presents behind the old couch that was arranged across a corner of the room. We were small and could crawl under the couch. After we got in the corner we had plenty of room to play. I can’t remember what my present was, but Ellen had a doll with a china head and all kinds of doll clothes.
If I ever lost anything small, like marbles, that Gram thought that any of us children would put in our mouths and she happened to find them, they would go into one of the drawers in her bureau. Once taken they were gone forever. Melvina was a hard worker and made many patchwork quilts and knitted lots of mittens and stockings. She knitted new feet on the bottom of many old worn out stocking legs.
We all sat at the big table in the kitchen for meals. The men were seated on the back next to the wall and the women and children on the ends and front. As soon as the meal was over, sometimes there was conversation, but during these times Gram Butler would leave the table and start the dishes. First, she would wash the milk pails making quite a noise in that slate sink. This upset Mother, Kate, and Ruby for they wanted to rest a minute and carry on a little conversation, before going back to work. I would hear one of them say, “Look at that old woman,” then the women would get up and get to work and order Gram out of the sink.
When Ruby and Uncle Maurice first married, they lived upstairs in the north end of the Butler House. Ruby was like another mother to us children. Maurice and Ruby could get their own meals up there, but usually they ate at least one meal a day with us. One Christmas, I got a pair of small stuffed horses and for several nights Uncle Maurice had me up to the apartment. He made a cart and harnesses for these horses. They were really neat. I enjoyed playing with them.
I remember Ruby had a waffle iron and occasionally she had us kids up for waffles. She also had a curling iron and would give herself a marcel. Of course Ellen and Caroline didn’t need a marcel for they had natural curly hair. I remember when Ellen had her curls cut off. She wanted it done and was happy, but it was a sad day for everyone else.
When Maurice and Ruby’s little girl, Janice died from diphtheria, they didn’t tell Gram Butler for about a year. She kept asking where Janice was, so Kate felt that she had to tell her. I happened to be there right after she had been told and saw Gram Butler in tears.
When I was about four years old, I was gathering the eggs when a big Plymouth Rock roaster attacked me. He pecked me on my eyebrow and the blood was coming down. When he jumped at me again I caught him in mid air by the neck. I proceeded to take him, by the neck, to the back porch, which was sort of a deck, hollering, “Kill him, Gram. Kill him, Gram!” The hen house was about 150 feet from the house down a sleight grade. I carried the old rooster by the neck back to the hen house. He soon came to life and never bothered me again. After that episode I could go into the hen house any time I wanted and pick up eggs.
My great-grandmother Melvina told me a story once that I always remembered. It was about a mother who went out to milk the cow and got lost. She walked all day before she found her way home. When she got home the milk had soured in the pail. At home she had two small children, a baby and another young child. When the mother was gone the baby got hungry and cried. To satisfy the baby, the child dipped a cloth in a pan of milk she got from the cellar and put it to the baby’s mouth. In the early days they set milk in pans in the cool cellar to keep it and to let the cream rise, so they could skim it. Gram also told me that she was once in a railroad station in Grafton, Massachusetts when a train went through with Abraham Lincoln on board.
Melvina lived to be nearly 101. The last three years she couldn’t walk. She had what we would call the flu and never walked again. Uncle Maurice put casters on a straight back chair so Kate could push her around. She spent most of her time in bed. The day Gram died, Grandmother Kate told me that she had an awful feeling, while trying to get Gram to eat her breakfast, then she realized she was dead. I was seventeen when my great-grandmother died.
I spent a lot of my early years exploring the old hen house, milk room, and ice house building. There were some interesting things stored upstairs over the milk room such as crock-pots, clay jugs and the like. The ice house was a nice place to play in the sawdust, in hot weather. We lost Caroline and Louise once and after a frantic search for what seemed like an hour, they finally responded to our hollering and appeared at the ice house door. After questioning, it was learned that they had fallen asleep while playing in the cool sawdust.
I can remember that I was playing in the hen house, one day, when someone hollered from the house, “Ellen is here!” My sister Ellen, a year and a half older than I was going to school in Norridgewock, staying with Grandmother Kate (we called her Molly), who was the teacher of English in the high school. When Grandmother and Ellen stopped to get groceries, on the way home from school, the grocer named Chester Jones, would give Ellen a chocolate and she would save them up and bring them home to the girls and I. This was quite a treat for us and something we looked forward to when Ellen came home.
Ellen started school when she was four years old, but she was soon five, her birthday being in November. I started when I was five, having my birthday in May. We both stayed with Molly, as we called Grandmother Kate. One of the first rents we had with our grandmother was a house on a street behind where Cumberland Farms now is in Norridgewock. Every time it rained we had to get out pans and kettles to catch the rainwater. We didn’t stay there long. Musa Hale, a cousin of Molly’s, had apartments and we stayed in one of hers. In 1928, we stayed in an apartment in a big house that was taken down to build the present schoolhouse. Uncle Maurice and Aunt Ruby had and apartment in the same house when we were there. Uncle Maurice helped build the cement bridge over the Kennebec River. It was built just below the old covered bridge. It was at this apartment that I lost my little dog, Wow, down the backhouse. He jumped up in my lap and slipped down the adjacent hole. Molly told me to stay put, but I looked out the window and saw what she had to do. This was an upstairs apartment the dog had quite a drop and Grandmother had quite a job by the time she finished washing up the poor pup.
I want to say a word about taking baths when I was young. When we were children we were given baths in a big old brass kettle. I can remember being given a bath in that kettle, in the slate sink, when I could barely fit in. The girls took their baths first, because they thought I would pee in the bathwater. (But of course they wouldn’t.) When we were older it was a washtub every Sunday night in the kitchen by the wood stove. Even at the apartment with Molly we took baths in a washtub. Of course, in the summer we took a cake of soap and went swimming in the river.
The last apartment that we stayed in and where we stayed the longest was an apartment upstairs in the house owned by Allie Longley. He was the rural mail carrier out to Sandy River for years. This house is up the hill towards Smithfield across the street from the Miller Place. I can remember looking out the window and seeing Robert and Elizabeth Miller getting into their car on their way to Colby College. Eben Miller always had a beautiful garden. One time, in the ‘30s, my father in order to get a little money went out to town to plow gardens. I saw him plow the Miller’s garden and haul a dumpcart load of manure for them.
In those days the grocery store had salesmen that came to the house, before we left for school, and took Grandmother Kate’s grocery order for the week. We would stop in at the store on the way home to get bread. Bread was six cents a loaf, then it went to seven. Molly gave me seven cents to get a loaf of bread. On the way home one of my school mates grabbed me and wrestled me to the dirt sidewalk. When it was over, I only had six cents in my pocket. I never said anything to anybody about what happened. When I got to the store to buy the bread, Chester Jones said to me, “Bread is seven cents”. I gave him the six cents saying “That’s all I got.” He gave me the loaf of bread.
It seemed a long walk home from school. We would take a short cut, usually across the railroad track. There is a trestle across Millstream that was a little scary at first, but it didn’t seem to bother Molly.
Ellen had her own bed; but I shared a bed with my grandmother. I had the bed most of the night, as Molly stayed up late correcting papers most nights. Sometimes she would fall asleep in her chair. She would say, “All I need is ten minutes,” and then she would go back to work. We ate a lot of welsh rabbit, she called it, and she could make this quickly. (It’s melted cheese poured over crackers.) We also had tomato soup. We never took a lunch that I can remember. We always went up the hill to eat lunch at the apartment.
Some may wonder why Grandmother Kate was called Molly? She was only married ten years when her husband, Grandfather Charles died. She had four boys; so with the help of her parents to care for the boys; she went to Farmington State Teachers College got a degree and became a teacher. She taught first at the Sandy River Country School, where her four sons as well as my mother went to school to her. She told me that her boys didn’t like the idea of referring to her in school as mother. Uncle Harold saw the name “Molly” on a calendar and started calling her, Molly. We all called her Molly until she retired from teaching, then we called her, Gram.
The last years of her teaching, they gave her a room down in the basement where it was dirty and cold. The walls were cut granite with little cellar windows. It was the worst room in the school. On top of that she had the worst class in the school for homeroom. That was my class, the seventh grade. They were the worst ever. Two of the students were Nate and Earl Tracy. Rodney Gillian was in this class. Rodney and Nate were put in reform school for burning down Billy Gray’s house. Nate was killed while trying to run away from the police and didn’t make a turn in the road.
Molly taught English and Math to this seventh grade, as well as English to the four high school classes. All the good students liked her and always said how good a teacher she was. One day she called on Robert Gilman and he didn’t respond. She announced, “It’s time all dead people were buried!”
There were years during the ‘30s that Molly’s salary was fifteen dollars a week. The town paid in town orders, which meant when and if the town got money the town would redeem the order. God bless Chester Jones, for he took the town orders and held them until the town got money.
Years ago my father answered a list of questions that I wrote and asked him about, so I am quite certain that I have my facts right about these things I’m about to say. I remember the herd of Guernsey cows at the Butler Place. At this time they were using a milking machine. I was watching them milk and fell asleep squat down behind the cows with my back against the wall. They finished milking turned out the lights and left me. Well, when I came to, I was a bit scared to say the least. The cow stalls were connected to the stable. The worst thing for me was to have to walk behind the horses to get out of the barn.
In the stable there were five horse stalls one for a driving horse and four for the draft horses. The stable was very efficiently laid out. You could drive in with a horse and wagon and unhitch the horse and turn the wagon. There was a long bench along the south side. There was a door, so you didn’t have to go out side to put the horse away. On the right as you went in there were stairs up to the hayloft. Each horse had his individual chute where the hay was pushed down. The manure was put down a scuttle to the stable cellar.
The stable cellar was where the pigs were kept. If you put a little corn on the horse manure pile, the pigs would root it over and keep the pile level. When Caroline and I were three and four years old we were in this stable cellar with two little pigs and our small dog. We were chasing the pigs around and around the pile of horse manure. I was sicking the dog on the pigs. Ever so often we would fall face first and Caroline would holler, “Sick them some more Barnard.” The next thing I noticed, my father was there to get us.
Father says the Guernsey herd was sold in the winter of 1925-1926, because they reacted positive to the Federal Government TB test. I must have been two and a half years old.
In the fall of 1927, Father told me he bought the Haynes Place. We moved down for good in 1929. When Franklin was about to be born and we were living at the so called Haynes Place (where Franklin lives now), Mother went up to the Butler Place to have him. I remember us kids going up, standing on the porch, and looking in the window to see our new brother soon after he was born.
In the fall of 1929, Ellen and I were coming home with Father in the old Model T Ford Truck. It was a rainy day. We were going up the Oxbow Hill. It was higher then. Years later they took off about 12 feet off the top of the hill. As we were going up the hill, a paper bag of red kidney beans sitting on the transmission, got wet and burst. The beans ran down by the transmission into the road. I remember helping to pick up those beans in the rain. None of us were very happy, especially Ellen. I believe we were coming home, probably Thanksgiving. Ellen was not interested at all in going to the Haynes Place. The Butler Place had a flush toilet. It had running hot water, a bathtub, and electric lights.
At the Haynes Place we had running water most of the time. It ran in a barrel in the kitchen. This barrel had an over flow pipe and the barrel leaked or slopped over because the kitchen floor rotted where the barrel sat. The water pipe to the spring was always filling with sand and we had to rent the force pump from Miller and Jones hardware to clean out the pipe. One year the pipe froze even though the pipe was in the ground three to four feet. When the pipes froze we would have to get the welding company with their D.C. welder to thaw out the pipes, and of course the old force pump was used to get the water to flow again.
The mailman and the school bus wouldn’t come to the Haynes Place for a time in the early 1930s. At one time, those of us who went to school would hitch up old Don. We’d drive up to the Butler Place, put the pony in the stable, and catch the bus there. There was a time when we would meet the bus at the mailbox. The mailbox was up the road about a mile through the woods where the road forked off to go down to the Oxbow Farm.
I believe that Ralph Tuttle was the first bus driver. He had an old Star car that he used to haul us when he could get over the road. The road from the mailbox down to the farm was just two deep ruts full of water most of the time. The running boards of the old car would drag in places. In the winter, when Tuttle couldn’t go with the old Star, he mounted the body of an old car with its doors, windows, and windshield on a long sled. Us boys would stand and hang on the back. There was room for only three to stand and the one in the middle didn’t have much to hang on to. Ralph rode up front. There was room for a boy with him. I remember coming home in a blizzard and Ralph was so cold that he opened the windshield a crack and put the reins through it and rode inside. At that time we would get a couple weeks off from school for mud season. Tuttle had a nice four-seated horse wagon with a roof that he used at times. Ralph Tuttle was quite a teamster. His horses were nearly always in a trot or a dead run.
Grandmother Kate was a good friend of Ralph Tuttle’s wife and had great respect for her. I always liked their son, Ellery. He was the same age as Uncle Maurice. They drove to California when they were young men. Part of my education was the day I jumped on the milk wagon with Ellery and delivered milk with him. This milk wagon was on rubber tires. The old black mare knew just where to go and where to stop. Ellery took me to his home for dinner. His wife, Shirley, put on an extra plate, and asked no questions. There were two little girls, one in the high chair.
After the Tuttles drove the school bus, Ansel Clark had the job. He was a very quiet, accommodating, nice person and drove the bus the rest of my school days. In 1936, Ansel bought a new half-ton V8 Ford Truck chassis and built a wooden body to make a small bus. This bus was very adequate for the number of students on the Winding Hill Road, which was the route at the time. Ansel would occasionally bring things home for us, such as cottonseed meal and grist that was ground at Emmons Gristmill And Feed Store.
Next Posting Chapter 4 In The Woods