GrandPapa's Letter part 15
Franklin B. Van Valkenburgh

Winter Time

In the Winter time we had great fun sliding down hill; There was a hill reaching from the Academy down into the square, which we frequented morning, noon and night when in school, but on holidays we used to go up on the west hill, tramping through the snow, or perhaps hitching on to some farmer's sleigh, and riding anywheres from half a mile to two miles, and then coming down "like a streak of greased lightning" as we said. Once a party of boys and girls, among whom I managed to find a place for myself, "borrowed" a sleigh which stood unsecured, and rode down the little hill and across the square;

The sleigh was a very large and heavy one, and was "steered" by a couple of boys who hitched a small boys sled on to the front end of the tongue, and steered from there; We had gone down successfully two or three times, when at last the small sled became detached from the tongue of the sleigh, accidentally or for mischief, we never knew which, but the first the occupants of the sleigh knew about it, was when we were entering the Square with frightful velocity and without any guides, someone shouted "Look out, Look out; Jump; Jump"

All who could, got out of the sleigh, but several of us were not so fortunate as to escape until the sleigh had run entirely across the Square and, the tongue hitting first the fence and then the side of a house, had run up the side of the house under the clapboards, and ripped a great hole in the house and emptied the remainder of the load into the snow. Of course an "investigation" followed the next day, and that method of sleighing was pronounced too dangerous to be indulged in any further.

Sometimes the snow was drifted up to the tops of the houses and the whole village was compelled to get out with horses, sleighs, and shovels to open the Streets and sidewalks; I have ridden out at such times when we rode across the country in our sleigh in every direction, without regard to roads or fences the heavy crust on top of the snow being sufficiently strong to support our team and completely obliterating all signs of fences;

On one trip of this kind, when in search of a girl whom we could hire to assist in household matters, we were compelled to spend the night in a farm house far out in the country. The place where we stayed was old fashioned (even for that period. )

It was a Log House, surrounded by sheds and barns of the same construction and the trip was a very curious one to me; We started from home at noon, expecting to return before night, but the snow was very deep, and badly drifted, and I suspect that Father lost his way, although he never acknowledged the fact, and I was far from intimating my suspicions; I do know that he seemed glad and relieved to hear himself accosted in a familiar tone, after we had wallowed around for a long time in the snow and that he needed no repetition of the first invitation to put up his team, and spend the night; Having unrolled me--from the comforter, and--Buffalo Robe, in which I had been enveloped and keeping warm in the bottom of the sleigh I was placed in charge of a boy, who was going into the house with a pail of fresh and steaming milk, and we entered a room which I think was fully twenty feet square, the most of one end of which was occupied by an enormous open fire place, in it was a glowing fire, upon which was piled, as we entered a fresh supply of logs of wood, certainly four feet in length, one or two were as large around as my body, and all covered with bark, they rested upon iron fire dogs or andirons, two or three feet long and perhaps four inches high, and were fashioned in some country blacksmith's shop, rough, strong and substantial. Back of the ends of these "dogs" and against the rear of the great chimney, lay a "Black Log," the largest and knottiest one obtainable, while under the fresh logs placed on the andirons as we entered, was a bed of coals and fire brands, bright and blazing to make one think of Hades. I think I can never forget that fire, for it was a "rouser, " and I was cold and hungry; It reminded me at the time of the bon-fires which sometimes illuminated "the square" at home, this, however, was confined to the fire place except as it roard and flamed up the great open chimney place, or sputtered and sparkled out upon the rough flat stone that formed the hearth; It was a short job to warm one side of a body, and by frequent turnings one soon became thoroughly warmed and comfortable:

This house was banked up nearly to the sloping roof with snow, and probably with earth, and the room was as warm as so large a one could reasonably be expected to be in such weather; The door through which we entered was a "battened door", made of rough slabs, hewn out of logs by the owner and fastened together by nailing slats of a similar kind across them was fastened at night by thrusting a similar strip of wood through two wooden staples nailed to the door frames at either side of the door. Two windows on each of three sides oft he room furnished an abundance of light, and were closed with shutters similar to the door, "to keep the storm out". There seemed to be no need of protection except from the elements.

The cooking was all done by this open fire, in fact there was no provision of any kind in the house for any other fire and it would be a curiosity both to you and to me to see it done, as I did that night; A huge Crane, made from a bar of iron as large as your thumb, bent so as to form a right angle/with one end fastened to a staple in the side of the chimney and the other extending nearly across the chimney over the fire, had on it three or four "pot hooks", heavy wires shaped like a very long letter "S", all of different lengths, upon the lower hook of each of which hung by its iron handle an iron kettle, each kettle had four little feet to support it when not hanging; This crane with whatsoever hung upon it was easily swung out into the room when it became necessary to replenish or empty the kettles, or to get at them for any purpose, and herein were boiled and baked the eatables of which we partook, except that the "Johnny Cake'. This was especially delicious and was served with a plate of crisp brown scraps, and a plentiful supply of maple syrup; and was baked in a "tin oven" standing on the hearth in front of the fire, its contents exposed to the heat from the front, and the refracted heat from the back of the oven, and except some delicious mealy baked potatoes, which I saw carefully raked out of the hot ashes, and skilfully dusted, as we sat at table.

The brushes and brooms, of which we saw several, and of the skilful and constant use of which the faultlessly clean house assured us, were made of twigs, or the small branches of some tough tree or shrub, tightly bound together around a straight hickory handle and the candle sticks were veritable sticks of wood, with a hole in one end, into which the candle was placed, while the other end was sharpened and stuck into a hole prepared for it, in the side of the room; The furniture of the house, so far as I can recall it, was all home made; There were several three legged stools, that did duty as chairs and one long lounge made of planks and covered with a bright Bed Quilt, and after Father came in with his Buffalo Robe, that time one of the articles of common use now become almost unattainable; These robes were the full size of the noble animal from which they were taken and were tanned by the Indians, with the hair and tail all intact, and if not lined were often decorated in Indian fashion on the outside of the skin. We often looked at them with wondering eyes, and dreamed all manner of stories of the "noble red men" who had prepared them in such seemingly limitless quantities for our use and comfort.

Here were also several home made Rocking Chairs? What American woman ever could keep house without them? They had braided splint bottoms, and were not without paint. A large square dining table, showing the marks of a carpenters hand, occupied the center of the room, guiltless of table cloth or other covering, but scrupulously clean and very attractive to a hungry boy when plentifully plied with the good things this house supplied.

We found the Mother of the family, and one son, and "the Girl" in the house, and were most cordially greeted and entertained by them; Father and I slept in the room which I have described, he on the lounge, and I in a bed, improvised for my use, on the floor by his side, and made up of Comforters and Buffalo Robes; After breakfast next morning we took the daughter of the house home with us; I do not remember all of the eatables which were produced for breakfast, but have an abiding memory of a cup of coffee made for me, and consisted mainly of milk and maple sugar, both products of the farm. The Girl, proved to be a treasure, although she did attempt to pull the pump out of the well, when first sent to it for a supply of water.

Before leaving this place, we made a visit to the Sugar Bush, where our hosts had been at work until stopped by the storm, and saw them breaking the roads with oxen, and gathering the sap; in barrels placed on stone boats, these I imagine were the forerunners of the modern "toboggin," as they were much like them in shape and make up; Here we found an immense cauldron set in an oven, made of stone, in which the sap was boiled down, and so converted into syrup or sugar, at the will of the makers; Near by stood several large troughs, made by scooping out the insides of huge trees, ten or fifteen feet in length and from three to five feet across, and about as deep; These were filled with sap, drawn from the maple trees by inserting into them spieles, or wooden plugs, and it was this, when boiled to the proper consistency, which made sugar enough for the home consumption, and for barter at the village store.


back          contents           next