I would have chosen my Grandmother's nice log house which stood across the road from the quaint farm house in which she lived for my birthplace, but my family remained three or four months too long in Medina, Ohio, where Father was pastor of a church, for that somewhat important event in my life to occur there. But if I am not quite Hoosier born, I am entirely Hoosier bred and am very proud to have lived all my life in Indiana, the most American of all states.
Family history says that we lived for a year or two in Grandmother's log house. It stood until after I was grown. If standing today, what a delightful summer home it would make, or rustic country club. There was a large living room with a huge fireplace at one end. In the other end must have stood Father's and Mother's bed, and rolling under it in the daytime, the trundle bed in which my two curly-haired little sisters slept. They were Lizzie Aletta and Evangeline -- Lizzie and Angie for short. Their curls, one head blonde and one titian, grew famous throughout the whole region. My bed must have been in the settee with rockers and pretty designs painted on it, and with a removable front to keep me from falling out. I remember sleeping in this when I was a little bigger. A crude stairway led to the loft above, where there was ample room for beds for my three big sisters.
A door from the living room led into a small counterpart of the house, which contained kitchen and well room. The house stood on a slight elevation and commanded a view of Grandmother's house and garden, her orchard with its many varieties of apple trees, and the picturesque winding Salamonie beyond.
Some years before I was born, Father owned a good farm, well stocked. Then he "went security" for an in-law of his first wife. Failing inside sixty days after that, this man must have known when Father, out of the goodness of his heart, signed the notes, that this would happen. The sheriff came and took the farm and all the stock, except that he did let Mother beep her little driving mare. I don't how what she drove it to. She told me the story more than once.
Father also possessed the four daughters that Mother had acquired when she married him, and whom she learned to love as hers. She had gotten two babies of her own. He preached as well as farmed, Father did, but with his possessions taken, he had a hard time getting along. Country or small town preachers didn't make money enough to keep a big family. Finally my parents decided that the best thing for them to do was to come to Indiana where they owned a little land. Grandmother thought too, and Father's two brothers agreed. Members of the Montpelier church heard about it and wrote letters urging the move, for they thought Father would be such a help with the church. So here we were, in Grandmothers log house, until father could scrape together money enough to build one of his own.
I wonder how my Mother, born and reared in New Jersey and having spent her young lady days in New York City, could stand the crudities that were hers when she was first in Indiana. But she was a gallant little person, who went through life with her eyes on the stars, her feet firm upon the earth. I am glad that Father and Mother had what they needed and much that they wanted in their later years.
The house Father built on his fifty-nine acre farm was a box of an affair with two redeeming features - a broad low roof and twelve pane windows. It must have stood right out in the sunshine. But Father brought a maple tree from the forest, and pretty soon it was shading Mother's window. He set plum and cherry trees along the garden side, and an apple orchard beyond the lane that led to the barn.
He and Mother planted berry bushes and herbs, but the glory of the place was Mother's garden. In front to the house it was, as flower gardens were placed in those days. Glorious acacia trees with pink mossy blooms stood beside the walk from fence to door. The exact counterpart of these dwarf trees I have never seen since. Where they were produced I do not know, nor where Mother got her other flowers and shrubs. But I do know that she poured over "Vick's Floral Guide." In the dear old-fashioned garden, lilacs bent their sweet heads in blossom time, flowering almond and clove bushes nestled close to the rail fence, and snow berries drooped their white cluster in late summer.
Mother landscaped her own garden. There were beds of various shapes and sizes. These in springtime boasted snow drops, crocuses, little grape hyacinths and their grown-up sisters, daffodils and gorgeous tulips. People driving by in carriages or wagons would stop to look their fill of the colorful picture. In summer, gay annuals took the place of the spring blossoms. Medeira vines with their feathery blooms climbed up and softened the light of the western windows. In the autumn, hardy chrysanthemums greeted their friends.
To one side was the old-fashioned rose garden of annuals with blooms of many hues. Yellow ones sent their golden glow over all. There were tints and shades from white to almost black. There was "blush," the color of a maiden's cheeks, fragrant "damask," whose petals Mother preserved for her rose jars, and those of deeper and deeper shades to the so dark a red that it was named the "black" rose. Sixteen varieties there were.
Nobody had a lawnmower, but Father used his scythe and Mother took a sickle, and they kept the grass soft and low. Mother let Old Doll, the mare which she sometimes drove to the little wagon, around to nibble the succulent green, and trained the gentle animal so well that pretty soon she went alone among the beds and never a dainty foot did she set on them.
Almost in the center of the road nearby, was a wild crabapple tree. In the spring time blossoms wafted over the garden the most Elysean-like aroma that nature ever created for this world. A little to the rear on one side was a picturesque log smokehouse, where Father cured his meats, with wrist size vines of the trumpet vine climbing in and out the crevices over the rounding barks of the logs, twisting as they climbed. How we children loved to put a trumpet-like blossom on each finger and imagine our were the hands of an orange-brown giant.
Back of this building was an asparagus bed, furnishing succulent vegetables for the spring, feathery fronds for filling for summertime bouquets, and red berries for the birds or to bring into the house for autumn decoration.
Opposite the smokehouse on the other side of the yard were celandine and other medicinal herbs growing beside the wood shed. Between these two buildings, the wooden pump filled its place in the scheme of things. Yes, there was a wild flower garden, but there was a much larger one in the woods back of the fields, by nature planned, where all sorts and colors grew - flowers with ordinary roots and flowers with bulb-like ones growing in the swampy places. As we children traipsed from one farmer's woods to another gathering wild flowers, we always kept clear of the marshy place in Kershner's woods. It was said that a cow once had gone down in the mire and never came up. We didn't want that to happen to us. We had our own names for some of the flowers. Trilliums were "hebrew children" Dutchman's breeches were "boys and girls."
No autumn leaves were quite so gay, no hickory nuts nearly so delicious as those that came from the beautiful clean forest across the road from the orchard. No brookside midsummer blossoms were ever so red as those we called scarlet pinks - those that grew beside the singing brook.
Father's and Mother's home was simple in its appointments compared with some of those of their intimate friends - the stately ones of the John Spauldings and the John Twibells, the rambling white house of the Putmans, or the "Gothic" one of Dr. and Mrs. C. A. Shull in town. But my parents were hospitable. Mother made every bit of food she prepared taste good, and everybody knew. One day Isaac Anderson said to his wife, who was father's cousin, "Sarah, when you learn to cook as well as Sarah Goodin, I'll buy you a silk dress."
We were all fond of the Andersons. Sometimes they came to spend the day, Sarah would bring along her little sewing machine in a basket, screw it to a table, and go on with her sewing, chatting away - she and Mother and maybe their spouses. How Sarah could turn the handle to the wheel that made the funny little machine go and at the same time guide her sewing, I could never quite see. It was a great day, later on, when Mother got her Singer, but she never used it much except to sew long seams. Almost everything had to be done in tiny stitches by hand. As long as she lived, all her household linen, even her tea towels, must be so hemmed. Once, after I was a school principal, she made me a beautiful flowered organdie dress by hand, with number 200 thread. I have the remains of that little spool of thread today, as well as the dress.
The generous sitting room in our box of a house caught the sunshine and was cheery even in winter, with its fuchsias, soft and deeptoned, and its gay geraniums. And always its books in the beautiful hand done walnut book case, which today, holds my most cherished ones. There were books bound in leather of vivid red or in softer and deeper tones, in calf or sometimes merely in black cloth. Serious books they were in Father's library - commentaries on the Bible, ancient histories, and the History of the Reformation with the lives of William Carey, Adoniram Judson and other great missionaries. How I loved the picture of beautiful Ann Judson in the "Lives of the Three Mrs. Judsons." Perhaps the most readable book for us children were Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress," and his "Holy War," along with Sunday school books giving the lives of very good people who were rather interesting and not too goody-goody. "Uncle Tom's Cabin" was there, read until it was in tatters.
But what gave our big living room its real spirit, its atmosphere, was big genial Father, witty little Mother, and its many girls of various types. Father was too loyal to his girls to ever say much about Carey, his only son, dead long ago. But perhaps he sometimes thought, "Carey would be a great boy by now, almost as old as Mary Ellen."
There were delightful neighborhood gatherings when Father would play his flute and Mr. Putnam would bring his bass viol. They two made up the neighborhood orchestra. Sometimes everybody sang. Father with his high tenor, Mother with her clear soprano, and the fresh young voices of my sisters, always among the leaders. I must have been four or five years old before I could "carry a tune," and how proud I was of the first one I could sing - a hymn tune it was.
We were in the aftermath of the Civil War, so, besides the grand old hymns of the church, the family and neighbors sang such songs as "Oh Susanna, Don't You Cry For Me," and others of Stephen Foster's and "When Johnny Comes Marching Home."
A nonsense rhyme I loved to sing was:
It snows and it blows and it's cold frosty weather.
In comes the farmer with his mug of cider.
I'll reap the oats if you'll be the binder.
I have lost my true love and don't know where to find her."
Father was always a good teller of stories. I never tired of hearing a nonsense story about a man "who climbed a hickory, white oak, maple sapling twenty feet above the top and came down whap side knockermost."
I especially loved the songs my mother sang to me. My favorites "Way Down Upon the Swanee River," and "Majestic Sweetness Sits Enthroned Upon the Savior's Brow."
Father lead the singing in church and Sunday school, using his tuning fork to get the pitch and lining the hymns. There weren't enough hymn books for the congregation, so he read two lines, all sang them, then two more, and so on to the end of the hymn. Quite a musical feat, to keep it going to the end!
One Christmas season, there was a round picture on the front of my Sunday school paper. It depicted the Baby Jesus in His Mother's arms. Leaning over her chair was the little Saint John. Many years later, Evangeline and I together visited the great galleries of Europe. As we stood one day before Rafael's "Madonna of the Chair," I was, again glad that the first picture I kept in my memory was a copy of one of the world's masterpieces.
While I remember seeing my Mother at her household duties when I could not have been more than two, and my Father carrying me to Sunday School at the same age, the first distinct picture to be held in memory came when I lacked two months of being three. It is as vivid in my mind as though it had occurred yesterday. Mr. and Mrs. William Ellsworth invited Father and Mother to accompany them to the Salamonie Association which was, and is, the district meeting of our church. We rode in their double carriage drawn by spanking hays. The drive took us east on the county line road, past the houses that were almost sentient beings to me through my childhood. Some hospitable farm woman let us sit on her front porch to eat our lunch. The house faced the north. Then we went on to the little church in New Corydon. I trotted around the church as little girls going on three will do.
It was a great event for me. Father had not driven a carriage and pair since the sheriff had taken his belongings. There is still as a family possession a bit of the trimming of that carriage. When we went places, we had jogged along in a farm wagon, pulled by horses that did the work in the fields. When our mud roads were at their worst, wheels went in hub deep and came up loaded, or they went into frozen ruts sometimes as deep. There was a funny little one horse wagon that Father or Mother sometimes drove when but a few of us were going. It must have been hard for Father, when he contemplated what that unscrupulous in-law had done to him, causing all his property to be confiscated and keeping him cramped until late in life. But he was even tempered and said little about it. Some years ago, when visiting my sister, Mary, in her western home, we reminisced on those far-away days. Talking of the man for whom Father went security, I said, "When I get to heaven I want to see him, to tell him what I think about it all." Mary smiled her inimitable smile and said, "I don't know whether he will be there or not." He was Mary's uncle-in-law, not mine.
Years later Father owned a surrey, when Evangeline and I were the only ones left at home. Any of us who happened to so wish drove the horse Father hitched to it.
Since Father had helped to name seven girls, and Mother had had a part in naming three, not to mention Father's one son, it seems not to be wondered at that no name in particular was left for me. Father's and Mother's young friend, Emma Nunn in Medina, suggested that they call me Birdie and let me name myself. I suppose I heard them talk about her, and when I was two years old, I called myself Emma Nummie. But the name Birdie clung to me and I hated it. It was an absurd name, anyway, for a little girl whose hair would not curl (it took the measles to give a suspicion of the family kink to my hair), whose throat would not sing, who had a splash of freckles across her nose, and whose temper flared. Long before I started - to school, I took matters into my own hands, stamped my small foot, and said, "My name is not Birdie. It's Emm, Emm, Emma." Perhaps if I had it to do over again, it might be some other name. But Emma it remained. Birdie was buried forever.
I went once with Mother to a wool picking at Aunt Louisa's. Before this, in the spring, the men had fenced in an approach to the river from one of the fields and a portion of the river itself. Here they had washed the sheep. I loved to watch them later when one or two men held a sheep down in a pen and another sheared it, and its nice wooly coat came off like a soft mantle.
In spite of the best they had done in cleansing, burrs and seeds were left in the fleeces. Then the women would have a wool picking when. they took out all seeds or leaves or small sticks, and the beautiful white wool was made into a great soft pile.
This was quite a social event in the neighborhood. There was delightful visiting among those who did not very often have parties, and there was that big dinner which all enjoyed, for partaking of someone else's cooking was an event in their somewhat tame lives.
Father and Mother took me once to a pretty little town, Camden or Pennville as it is now called, where there was a woolen mill. It was interesting to see the miller card the wool into soft rolls as large as a finger and as long as a yardstick.
We went to dinner that day at the home of some friends Father and Mother had met at associations or other church meetings. I thought they must be very poor indeed, for they had no butter and no meat on the table, just eggs and vegetables for the substantial part of the meal. But the host and hostess said nothing about it, but talked with their guests about what they all could do to help the church, and they had a very good time. The house was so clean and orderly and stood right by a bridge that crossed the pretty river.
Later, I remember seeing some one, maybe Mother, spin the soft carded wool into strong yarn to be dyed and woven into cloth or knitted into stockings for the family. The long slender roll would be fastened into the spindle and as the wheel buzzed, the spinner would walk the length of the room, holding it as it became longer and smaller and very strong. It was interesting to see her expertly fasten a new roll onto the one about exhausted into yarn. Then the spinning process would go on all over again.
Grandmother's house had a beautiful fan door and a quaintly shaped roof. The back porch was almost surrounded by rooms. It was so big that the family and guests could dine comfortably there on summer days. There were, in the house, two large fireplaces for burning wood logs. In Grandmother's room was a floor to ceiling cupboard. On its shelves reposed a table service of china of softest darkened rose and another whose coloring was indestructible blue.
The house has been horribly modernized. The quaint roof has been replaced by one of indescribable ugliness. The beautiful fan door is gone. The wood fireplaces are no more. Only a few old trees wear witness of a once great orchard.
The barnyards sloped gently to the Salamonie. Along the road was the apple orchard where we children climbed up into a tree and ate to the full of the little early red strawberry apples, pink all through and almost as soft as the delicious gay berries for which they were named. There was every kind of an apple imaginable in the big orchard, each with its own time of ripening through summer and autumn.
Grandmother did not seem to make the life of the place. I don't remember ever seeing her smile. Her heart must have been buried with him I heard of, genial Grandfather, in the Twibell graveyard. Anyway, since she had been Grandmother for a generation, why should she bother to smile at her very littlest grandchild? But Aunt Louisa and her big girls in another part of the house liked to hear small me talk, and always asked me if I wanted a "Piece," and what I wanted. My reply was always the same, "Bread and buttah and apple buttah." No one made apple butter to equal that which Grandmother supervised. It was made in a great copper kettle out of doors over a wood fire. The large paddle used to stir it had a long handle fastened on at right angles, so one did not need to stand too near the heat. She used to let Evangeline stand way off and stir it, much to the delight of the little girl who all her life loved experiences.
One of the very interesting experiences occurred during her widowhood when in the 1908 campaign, she was social secretary for Mrs. W. J. Bryan, living at Fairview, and meeting all of the Democratic big—wigs. Why I did not accept an invitation to spend a few days there that summer, I know not. Perhaps just because I did something else. Or maybe, just because I've never been a lion hunter.
Grandmother put sour apples into cider and that was what made her apple butter so good and sour. Then she cooked it and cooked it. No sugar to spoil it.
Grandmother supervised her household and her farm up until her last days. She made an attempt to keep her grown granddaughters dressed in the fashions of her younger days, in straight dresses like hers. But she failed in that. One day she went in the farm wagon with Uncle John and Aunt Louisa to Bluffton, the county seat. Aunt Louisa bought some hoop skirts for her big girls. Grandmother said she wouldn't ride home in the wagon with those sinful hoop skirts. So Aunt Louisa, dutiful daughter-in-law that she was, left them in the store and the next day kind Uncle John went on horseback to Bluffton and carried home the hoop skirts.
The girls were trying them on one day in the privacy of the "room" when Grandmother unexpectedly opened the door to come in. They threw the hoop skirts out the door into the bramble bushes. Grandmother didn't do a thing but go out that door straight into the front garden and find the hoop skirts in those berry bushes.
Many years afterward as these "girls" told the story to me, their youngest cousin, we laughed and laughed and wondered what dear Grandmother would say if she saw the way we all dressed, we and her great granddaughters1 and her great, great, granddaughters.
One day, when I was almost four, I went with Lydia to Grandmother's on some errand. There came up a storm which did not subside. Grandmother thought we would better stay all night but Lydia said no, Mother was alone with Lizzie and Angie, so she must go home. So, hand in hand we started out, the big girl and the baby sister, into the black darkness. Every step we took we had to avoid a puddle of water. Every second the lightning's glare showed us the way. We laughed and talked and Lydia told funny stories. And after the long walk we were at home with Mother. She sat with two little curly heads leaning against her, one blonde, the other auburn. Childish voices blended with Mother's clear soprano, as they sang to make themselves feel safe, "The Solid Rock."
This time the thrill of the young voices was not accompanied in my personality with the fervent wish that I too could sing. Nor did the lovely curls make me resent the cruel fact that I too, did not have curls. For had not good sister Lydia told me about God's thunder and lightning and where it came from, and how it made the world in which we breathed more pure? And because big sister had not been afraid in the storm, it was to come to me that never, so long as I should live, was I to be afraid of the bright lightning and the rumbling thunder.
Another popular social event was an apple cutting, almost as important an affair as wool picking. Everybody peeled apples. Then they cut them in quarters, dug out the cores, and made them into smaller segments. These would be spread out on broad smooth boards and put out in the sun to dry. Sometimes they were dried in the kitchen. The dried apples made very good sauce or pies for winter.
The girls were careful in peeling the apple to keep the peeling in one nice long ribbon. They would whirl the peelings carefully around their heads two or three times, toss it over their shoulders onto the floor, and all of the girls would look to see what initial it made. "S" seemed to be a favorite of the peelings, and sometimes there was a "W" or an "E." By a great stretch of imagination there were sometimes other letters. The letter on the floor behind the girl was supposed to be the initial of her future husband. Aunt Louisa's eldest daughter, Sallie, had a hard time which of two youths she liked the best. I wonder if that was the way she decided which one to marry. Anyway she chose wisely and she and her bridegroom lived happily.
Apple cuttings were usually held in the evenings when men and women could both be there, and behold the cutting.
When I was in the Kentucky mountains a few years ago, I saw apples, cut as they were when I was a child, strung on stout thread, the strings hung up on front porches to dry. Green beans were treated in the same way.
And then there was flax pulling, which was anything but a social event, when Mother, Father, and the big girls started for the field to pull the stalks of flax. Why they did not cut it as they did the wheat or rye or oats, I was not sure, but I suppose it was to keep the fiber intact. I seem to remember the stalks flattened afterward, so that the shiny white fiber peeped out from between the dark of the outer hulls of the stalk. How Mother could start to the flax field smiling, as she went with Father at the head of the family procession, I don't know. Even then I didn't think it would be much fun to pull bunches of strong stalks. But then Mother and Father had to smile a great deal to keep up their splendid courage. There were so many hard things to go through with.
Grandmother must have done spinning sometime on a Priscilla wheel for there were skeins of beautiful glossy white linen thread from her hands, long guarded by the family. She seems also to have woven warm coverlets, in simple geometric designs, where the wool remained the bluest blue and the white linen the purest white. I never saw her wheel or her loom. She seemed to me to be always resting in body.
CANE AND SORGHUM
Father grew a little cane and later made the juice of it into sorghum molasses. I had to be taught many times the difference between the cane and the broom corn when they were growing - just a difference in tone between the pretty feathery tops - because both had shiny green stalks.
We used to chew pieces of the stalks of the cane for its sweetish juice. Old Mr. Dufford had a small crude machine for crushing out the juice, so all of the neighbors took their loads of cane to his big front yard. After the juice was squeezed out, it was put into huge heavy iron pans with rounding corners, and boiled over fires until it was thick and dark, and people called it sorghum molasses. hated the taste and smell of it almost as much as I disliked the taste of purple grapes which everybody grew.
Once in a while, for a great treat, somebody would cook the molasses until it was thick enough for taffy, and then they would pull it and pull it until they seemed to have pulled out the rank taste, and it was creamy in color and fairly good.
What Sue Twibell and I and Sue's next two smaller sisters did like was Father's kraut. He always had a barrel of it in the milk house and, of course, it would be nicely frozen in the winter. Our hands would dive down into the kraut barrel, bring up chunks of the frozen kraut, and munch it just as we would have done candy, if we had ever had any, which we seldom did.
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