Monday, November 26, 2012

Amanuensis Monday--Elsie Crocker’s Manuscript, Part 10: Refrigeration to Pronunciation (And My Grandma in Between)

To read this project from the beginning, click here

This entry, by serendipitous coincidence, arrives with perfect timing. Last Thursday, as you probably know, we Americans celebrated Thanksgiving Day. This excerpt from Elsie’s manuscript includes a brief description of the birth of my grandmother, Aileen Underwood, who happened to be born on Thanksgiving Day in 1914. I wish that Elsie had written more in her manuscript about the event. She once described it to me in fuller detail, but I seem to have misplaced the notes I took on that visit. However, I do retain a vague impression of the Underwood family carrying on their Thanksgiving dinner the best they could, with Aunt Sadie acting as hostess, while Flora labored in her bedroom. Naturally, Flora would not have been left alone, but I can’t recall the details.

Perhaps Grandma’s birth—and mine as well—were symbolic of what would become important to us. I can imagine Grandma Aileen as a baby in her mother’s womb, realizing that the family was gathering and thinking to herself, “I want to be there, too!” Grandma was the one who first introduced me to my family tree. I remember visiting her and being fascinated with a piece of paper she had spread out on the dining room table. It was the first time I had ever seen one of those classic family tree diagrams, the kind with a picture of an actual tree, and names written on the branches. She explained to me how each branch was a part of the family, and the twigs growing off the branches were the children of the person listed on the branch, while the branches themselves were the children of the people listed on the trunk. I have been fascinated ever since.

Like Grandma, my birth interrupted a family gathering, though in a less dramatic fashion. My parents were able to go to a hospital rather than being in the next room. But I can imagine myself, in the same way as Grandma, sensing a gathering of the family and thinking, “I want to be there, too!” It is almost as though Grandma and I were destined from our births to be the genealogists for our branch of the family.

Incidentally, Elsie misspelled Grandma’s married name, forgetting an s. It should be “Brosius.”

We had two horses, Dick was a prett rome color with a perfect white star on his forhead. He had a lot of spirit. The other horse’s name was Nig, a coal black, but much slower nature than Dick. He was a good work horse.

One day my mom wanted someone to get the mail, our mail box was on apost, about a half mile doun the road. No one was around to ask to get the mail. So I said I would go and get it. She really didn’t want me to go alone on a horse, I had never been on one alone but I wasn’t afraid. I went and got Dick and put his halter on. He was in his stall in the barn. I climbed up the side of his stall. I climbed on his back, bare back and off I went. Everything was fine until I couldn’t reach the mail boxes. I slid off the horses back, got the mail. To get back on the horse again was another story. I was short, I was hardly up to the horse stomack, about six years old. How was I to get back on this horse. I didn’t have a saddle or a blanket, just the reins. Not a thing to pull up with.

All of a sudden I thought of our fence just across the road, it was the corner of our farm land. I pull the horse as as possible to the fence. The fence had barbed wire on the top of a heavy mesh like fence. I had to be careful no to get hurt on the stickery fence, so I stepped really careful on the fence top and pulled myself up on the horse. Horses are slippery without a saddle. I was so calm and not afraid. We arrived home safe and sound. Mother had been watching from her kitchen window. She said I thought you’d have to walk home. It’s a wonder he would stand still for you. I really think the horse knew we had to get home safely.

Mom was always looking for letters from her family, she never wrote home very much but always looked for news from home.

Aileen was born here on November 26th. It was Thanksgiving Day. She was named after Aunt Sadie’s daughter and my dad’s mother Maryann. Her name was Aileen Maryann Underwood. Her married name was Aileen Mary Ann Broius.

We finally got our root cellar which we needed badly. To keep the milk and cream, eggs, fruit and vegetables cool.

The root cellar was dug deep in the ground with a peaked roof. The walls were cement also the steps going doun in it. Also the floor, it was easy to keep clean. It was cool in the summer and hot in the winter, atleast warm enough to keep things from freezing.

Before we had this root cellar, we had no refrigeration Our milk was put into milk pans. The pans were round, about fourteen inches around and about four inches high. They were stacked one atop of the other, with two narrow slats of wood between each pan. We usually had two stacks with four pans high. The fresh milk was always put on the bottom to keep it rotated for freshness. The cream would form on the top, it would take about two days to collect. The cream was so thick you scrape it off with a large spoon. It was so thick. And oh so good.

One evening Mother and Dad went to see “Alexander the Great” Alexander the Great was to be in Meridan, just six miles away. Dad really wanted to so he persuaded Mom to go with him. They left early to be sure they would get there in time for the start.

The boys had the milking to do, I knew the milk had to be taken care of right away, went to the place she kept the milk. I pour the fresh milk into clean pans. I knew I had to put the old new milk on the bottom, there fore I had to lift off the old milk and put this new milk on the bottom. The pans of milk were layered withthese thin slates between layers. I was young and short, to short to reach the pans well. Especially on my tiptoes. This pan was a lot heavier than I wxpected, it slipped and spilt all over me and the floor. My brothers thought it funny, they did help me get cleaned up. I was so afraid to face my mother when she came home. I was afraid she’d scold me, but she didn’t. She knew I just wanted to help. She did tell me I was too young and to small to try doing these things that were to big for me. I didn’t like scoldings but my brothers told me “A scolding don’t last and a whipping didn’t last and they don’t dare to kill to kill me.”

When Aileen was born, my teacher and a man friend came over to see Mom and her baby. The man had whiskers, he asked me if the baby looked like him. I said No! He asked me Why? I couldn’t say whiskers. A “W” was real hard for me. I couldn’t say “biskers” so while he was in talking to Mom I practiced saying whiskers unti they came out of Mom’s room. Then I yelled, She doesn’t have any whiskers.” My teacher was so surprised “Just why couldn’t she teach me that. I never said biskers again.

Vinegar was another word I couldn’t pronounce. I called it “bingar” or bing bing. I had a friend who helped me on the word vinegar. We practiced one whole lunch time. But it was worth it.

To continue with the next installment of Elsie's manuscript, click here

Monday, November 12, 2012

Amanuensis Monday--Elsie Crocker’s Manuscript, Part 9: Laundry and cleanliness

To read this project from the beginning, click here.

These few pages of Elsie’s manuscript are a treasure trove of information on the everyday life of country women early in the twentieth century. It’s amazing to think of the changes that laundry, for example, has undergone in a single lifetime. Elsie and her sisters spanned the days of boiling shirts on the woodstove all the way to the modern technique of simply tossing everything into an electric washer. I’m sure they must have appreciated modern conveniences far more than anyone born and raised in our own era ever can.

You may also recognize a couple of the following paragraphs from my Halloween entry of last year. Now you will get to read them in their full context.

We had to iron most of our clothes, no dip dry or winkle proof or stain resistant. Sometimes stains were taken out by putting wet materials on the grass on a sunny day or rub a little salt on the stain if it’s stubborn. Milddew was common, if things weren’t used and laid around, they would collect damnest. Those days we never had heat all thru the house in the wintertime. A little lemon juice sprinkled on the spots and placed in the sun would come out easy. Grass stains were the most and hardest those days. The spots had to washed and then rub with soap and layed in the sun.

The girls wore dresses and slips, blacksateen bloomers. And black, long stockings Rarely did we have white stockings. We wore our hair in braids, with ribbons to hold the braids. I hated those braids and would take them doun on our way home. Mother never could figure out how they came doun, and I never told her. The children we walked home with would say how pretty my hair looked doun.

No slacks, shorts, pedal pushers, sleeveless blouses, pretty sweaters. No shells. We had gingham or calico dresses Shoes were MaryJanes, black, Oxfords, high shoes that came almost to your knees. Laced or buttoned. Pretty pretty awful. We didn’t know any different Everyone had the same. Maybe this is why they taught “Pretty is as pretty does”.

Mother wore ankle long dresses. She had a skirt and a pretty blouse, she wore on Sundays. She had a pretty pin she wore at the neck of her blouse.

We used oil cloth to cover our tables. They were easily cleaned, just wipe off with a damp cloth. Years later we had some cloth ones, Indianhead and a linen one for company. The Indian and linen, had to be real damp in order to iron them. With the irons we had those days, it took a couple of hours to iron one cloth.

The boys and men, wore overalls and jeans made of the overall material. The men wore dark blue serge pants to dress up. Those blue and white stripe coveralls were all most like some of the boys wore then. We called them milkman’s pans.

The irons were made of iron and heated on top of the stove If they got to hot they were pushed to the far side of the range top. The irons had a wooden removable handle. You needed about four irons to keep them hot enough, to do your whole ironing. On handle fitted all irons, the handle would clamp on top of the iron. If too hot it would scorch, to cold it wouldn’t iron. To hard to push across the article to ironed. So you had to test it by wetting your finger tip and touching it ever so lightly, if it spit, it was ready. Mom would clean her irons by wiping them on newspaper. This still is a good way to clean your iron. Only now rub your iron over a little bees wax or parafine then wipe it off.

Dad’s shirts were hard to iron, they had cold starched separate collars. The shirts were starched and then dried and then dampened doun real well. They were left several hours between dampening and ironing, for easier ironing. To dampen the clothes we would have a pan of water, dip one hand in the water and then shake over the clothes to be ironed. The collars of the shirts were really stiff. The collars were held on to the shirt in the back with a collar button. In the front of the shirt with the top button of the shirt. The men wore quite a number of bow ties.

Our clothes was two post set up, between these posts was rope. Usually two or three lines. Depending the distance between the post. Sometime we used to have to have props in the middle to keep the lines from sagging. Some of the clothes were long and heavy when wet. Especially Dads long johns.

The clothes were dried outside, if it rained they were hung on one of the porches. Monday was always wash day. The old saying “if there was enough blue in the sky to make a Scotchman a pair of britches” your washing would get dry.

They had no dryers, washing machines, no washing powder. The clothes were scrubbed on a washboard, with hoemade soap made from lard or fat and lye, hard on the hands. The fat was saved from the cooking of their meats.

No running water in the house, all had to be carried in The white clothes were put in a boiler on top of the stove and boiled. She had a certain stick to take the clothes out of the hot water.

Our wash basin, to wash our hands and face was on the back porch. We would wipe our hands and face, on a huck roller towel. The towel was a long one about one and half yds. Sewed together in the middle and then put on a roller. You’ve seen these they have them in some washrooms now. You would use what you needed then pull it doun a little so the next guy would have a clean spot. After all was used it would be removed and a clean one replaced the dirty one. No soft towels then.

We drank water from a long handle dipper, from a water pail that sat on our back porch.

With a barn and lots of animals we had a lot of flies. My mother hated them, she hung fly paper from the ceiling of the back porch. No matter how careful you are with this flypaper it is so sticky on one side. No fly can escape. The wind had blown one of these doun on the back porch which landed on the floor. My mother had called me in and I was in a hurry, I landed both feet right on this fly paper. It was awful, Mother came to help, she finally got a chair for me to sit on. She could get at it better. Between us we got that sticky mess off. It took a lot of soap and elbow grease to get the stickyness loose. She told me next time watch were I was going.” My dad had a good laugh over it. He said “We’ve really caught a big fly this time.” I didn’t think it was funny and I’m sure Mother did’t either. She was afraid I would get it on her floor, she was very particular about her floors.

My dad would take a bath sometimes in the canal, but we couldn’t because we didn’t know how to swim. Our baths were in the wash tub.

We didn’t have a bathroom in our house. Just a out house or (privy) as they were called. This was a small shed like type building, located a short distance from the house. Inside was a long seat across the back with holes small medium, and large, with covers, when not in use you put the cover on. Lye was used to keep it clean and oderless.

At night we would carry a lantern to see our way. One of the older ones would walk out with us, and stand out side and wait for us.
On Hallowe’en the big boys in the neighborhood, would like to tip one of these over, hoping someone was inside. They never got ours, maybe because we had a fence all the way round our place. The fence had barbed wire on top of the mesh fence, hard to climb.

No plumbing inside we had a poe (jerry or thunder mug) under the bed to use when we needed it at night. They even had different sizes of those. These were only used in emergencies.

Some of the poes were made of granite or china, they usually had a handle on one side, kept under the bed. Each had a cover.
To continue with the next installment of Elsie's manuscript, click here.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Amanuensis Monday--Elsie Crocker’s Manuscript, Part 6: Aunt Sadie

Walter and Flora Underwood had left their family behind in England when they came to America, and then left their Hawkes cousins behind when they left Idaho Falls, Idaho. Only their son Walter had ever met any of his extended family, and he had been a baby at the time. But in this installment of Elsie Crocker’s manuscript, things are about to change.

Dad was surprised when his youngest sister showed up. She arrived from England, was the first relative we had ever seen. We were excited, we had a lot of relatives in England, but England was a long way off. One thing we missed, by Dad and Mom coming to America, was not knowing our cousins, grandparents, aunts and uncles. It seemed all friends had some relatives near by. That’s why Dad always wanted six children, he got his wish. He didn’t want us to be left alone, when he and Mom were gone.

One Thanksgiving, Aunt Sadie invited our family, for dinner. Dad gave us strict orders, to eat everything on our plate. Aunt Sadie was very much English. Very proud very stylish and spoke with an accent. We were young, and been raised Americans, we thougkt her quite different.

Dad wanted to impress her with his children, mind your manners, eat everything on your plate. Like it or not

Well I ate every thing but a huge big green olive. I put my tongue on it and it tasted awful. No, way was I going to eat that olive. I put it back on my plate, it even larger than ever. I didn’t know what to do I had to get rid of that olive, but how? I waited until all people were busy talking. I wasn’t very old about four and a half. I wore these black sateen bloomers, that had elastic around the legs just above the knees. I waited until no one was watching, I slipped that olive safely in one of my pant legs. When I thought everyone was thru their dinner, I excused myself. I hurried outside with that olive dangling in my pant leg. Being sure no one was watching, I let that olive out. I had never see a olive that big before. Our family never could aford olives no matter ripe ones or green ones.

My sister Olive was born, May fourth, in Burley Idaho She was named after “Olive Fremstead”, who was Doctor Fremstead’s daughter. Olive Mabel Fremstead, became a well known opera singer. My sisters name was Olive Mabel Underwood.

Aunt Sadie sang too I don’t know where it was opera or not. I do remember sometimes when she was going to sing she would, ask Mother if she had a lemon. She told us it would clear her throat so she could sing better.

We moved to Boise, we had a next door neighbor. Who had a big pear tree. Under the tree next to our house was a cellar door. (Basement doors were outside those days.) If a ripe pear would fall on that door or on our side. the neighbor told us we could have them. So you can guess who got the pear or pears. Dad would say “The early bird gets the worm”. I was all ways a early riser. Mother loved pears so much, she usually got my pears I picked up. She would share, with the rest of us.

Our neighbor, whose name was Alvy Mason, became our uncle. We were all surprised to see them together, we never even knew they knew each other. We were all happy because we had known him before.

To continue with the next installment of Elsie's manuscript, click here. 

Monday, November 5, 2012

Amanuensis Monday--Elsie Crocker’s Manuscript, Part 7: Boise, Idaho

This installment of Elsie’s manuscript discusses just a few of the experiences of the Underwood family during their time in Boise, Idaho.

Three of kids, Walter, William and I, always went to Sunday school, when we lived in Boise, Idaho. The church was just a couple blocks from our house.

It was Christmas time, we were having a program. Mother wasn’t feeling well so we kids went by ourselves. I was in the program. The teacher had us take a pair of white stockings to the church. When we got to the church she had me put these white stockings over my shoes. Just above the toe she placed a huge bow of sparkling tinsel. My part must have been a angel to have had tinsel. When the program was over we got a red mesh stocking of candy and nuts. However the stocking wasn’t the importand thing. It was this tinsel It was the first I had ever seen, I loved it so. I had to get home to show my mom. I didn’t even wait for my brothers. I ran as fast as I could, watching the tinsel sparkleing on my feet. The street lights sparkle and glisten even more. I watched my feet all the way home. Maybe this is why I love glittering things today.

I was just five when this happened.

This was the Christmas Santa brought my brothers a pair of scissors. One day while my mother was at the grocery store about two blocks away.

My brothers cut my mothers curtains and can you believe is, they cut off my eyebrows. Oh. What have you done now. She was mad!!!! I can’t leave you for a minute”

She knew the boys had put each other up to it. She said she couldn’t look at me, and that I would have to stay in the house so no one could see me. I felt bad I was a fraid she never loved me anymore.

In Boise Walter was very ill. Wasn’t getting any better, getting worse all the time. Dad sent for Dr. Fremstead, who came right away. (He had to come from Burley.) He took one look at Walter and ordered a prescription for him He was so ill he walked when necessary by using two chairs. One in front of the other, until he got to where he was going. Usually to the bathroom.

Walter was carrying his head to one side, which scared my mom. He started to show right away. He finally used his neck to hold his head straighter. It wasn’t long before he went back to school. We were happy to have him well.

The story of Elsie and her tinsel is another one of my favorites because it fit her personality so well. She seemed so sparkling herself that it was only fitting that she should love glittering things. As an example of her sparkling personality: I remember visiting her when she was in her 80s and living in a retirement manor. She had several rose bushes in the community garden, and early in the morning she would go down and cut a certain number of roses. Then she would put each in a small vase and leave one outside the door of every one of her neighbors.

Regarding the story of the scissors, I have often wondered about the logistics of a brother cutting off his sister’s eyebrows. Her hair, maybe, but her eyebrows? Just try to picture it.