GrandPapa's Letter part 21
You probably know by this time, if you have read so far, that the conduct of Father's house was very systematic, and that each day and each member of the family had its appropriate duty??
MONDAY was WASHING DAY, and no slight or trivial cause was allowed to interfere with the labors which allied us to the GODLY???My especial duty on that day was to POUND the cloths, a large quantity of which were placed in the Pounding Barrell (with only one L, ) and thouroughly pounded with an instrument made for the purpose by sticking a Broom Handle three or four feet long, into one end of a round block of wood, something like the paving blocks of the present day, just such an instrument as you have seen used by the plumbers in settling the earth in their trenches; This was a good healthy appetizing job, and must be accomplished before School time, as the clothes must be washed and on the line by noon, so as to be dry and ready to be taken in to the house at night fall.
TUESDAY we devoted to hunting eggs and setting the barn in order. We used to get some amusement out of these occupations, and especially when the hens wanted to SET, and we were directed to keep them from that sedentary occupation? Like other OLD HENS of whom I have heard, they were "terribly sot in their way, " I always think of the times we used to have, ducking the hens in a tub of water to cure their propensity to SET out of what we considered the proper season, when I hear the very opposite comparison of an enraged individual to one of them, for to be "as mad as a wet hen, " is my idea of perfection in that direction. There never could be a madder animal, except it be the biped without feathers???
WEDNESDAY we used to have Rhetoricals (?) in school, and a short session only in the afternoon, with a little time for play thereafter. In the evening there were always a prayer meeting, and if we did not care to attend that, we were very likely to be "put to bed early, " that those who chose to do so might go. If there is one thing more provoking to a strong healthy boy, than being compelled to get up early in the morning, it is to be put to bed early at night, and why the order of things could not well be reversed, was "a thing no feller would find out?"
THURSDAY was BAKING DAY, and then the "oven wood, " must be prepared in the morning and the oven watched to see when the bricks got white, and then the ashes drawn out so as to be ready for the great tins of dough, which were to undergo strange changes therein, and reappear later in the guise of Bread, or Crackers, or Ginger Bread or CAKE, as the Good Mother preordained.
After the first batch was taken out, we used to delight to see the oven filled again with crackers, and beans, for the crackers were most excellent and toothsome food when broken into our great bowls of rich milk; and we were near enough by birth to New England to appreciate Baked Beans; and we always watched their cooking with keen and hungry eyes.
FRIDAY, FRANK used to be set down in the wood shed, with a "scouring board," and was expected to scour all the knives and forks until they shone like silver. The knives and forks were of steel, with wooden or bone handles, the forks having two or three tines each, and the board, which had become specially adapted to the use by long and laborious handling, was a plain oak board, about two feet long and six inches wide with a small box scooped out of one corner, and a deep groove, a little wider than the blade of a knife, worn by constant friction along the center; You placed the blade of the knife, or the tines of the fork in this groove, holding the handle up in one hand, and dipping a moist cloth in the brick dust, with which the little box in the corner was kept supplied, you polished them even as "The Master of the King's Navies" polished the handle of the great front door, until the knife shone, and the arm ached. Friday evening always brought another Prayer Meeting, with its attendant discomforts to the early-to-bed contingent.
SATURDAY was a half-holiday, and even more than that, for the morning session was devoted to spelling, as a preparation for the Spelling Schools, which were held in our District as well as in those adjoining, quite frequently, and we were allowed to prepare for them by "choosing sides, " and "spelling down" Saturday mornings, and it was great fun; Ger. and I were champion spellers, and I gloried more in my proficiency in that branch than was considered seemly, so much so indeed that on one day, when I over-stepped the bounds of modesty and propriety, in the opinion of some of the boys whom I had defeated. I had my mouth thoroughly scrubbed with soap, and was advised to "keep my tongue between my teeth for a while, " Of course it was pure envy on their part, for "They couldn't spell for shucks"??? Shortly after this episode however, we went to "Rider's Hollow, " and spelled "the champion school of the town, " down, in their own house, and then it was a different song they sung, and I had my meed of praise and gratulation.
Another ceremony which was religiously observed on Saturday was the greasing of our boots. We all wore BOOTS. They had leather legs which reached to the knees of the wearer, and were very large and heavy, and in the course of the week would become very stiff and clumsy, indeed it was often a most uncomfortable and hard bit of work to get them off ones feet, especially after a day of play in the water or snow and slop. The only known remedy was grease or oil; Father made a composition for this use, of which he was only less proud then of his smoked hams, and his General's uniform.
It was a mixture of neat foot oil, and lamp-black, and some other thing, and must be applied HOT to be of service. We took turns in doing the work, and I found that if I would declaim against doing it, and hint that it was of no use, and the boots better without it, Father would "rally in defence" and declare that I did not half rub it in, and would finally thrust his own hand into the pan, "for it must be applied with the naked hand, " and "thoroughly rubbed in, to be of any use, " and he would do the work, "con amore, " in a way perfectly satisfactory to ME as well as to himself. I looking on meantime, pleased to see how easily he did it, and grinning internally (infernally?) to think how cleverly I had played upon his sensibilities, and gotten rid of what to me was a very unpleasant job.
In the summer it was a joy and a delight to go into the fields and gather strawberries. Did you ever see or eat a strawberry??l don't mean the great coarse meaty things we get in the little fraud boxes, from the market, but a genuine wild strawberry, grown among the clover blossoms, without culture or care, and gathered and eaten without any condiment than the freshly fallen dew. You will never know what a strawberry really is like until you have gotten down on your knees in the grass, away from the maddening crowd but with someone you dearly love by your side, and hunted for, and found the tiny red and white berries hidden beneath their own trailing vines, and wet with the morning dew, and eaten and seen them eaten, knowing all the time that you ought to have been driving home the cows, and ought not to have loitered by the way.
Later on, in the Fall we used to go out into the woods and fields to gather the Chestnuts and Hickory and Beach nuts, which were very abundant. Of course we had to watch for the first frost that touched the trees, for there were hosts of other boys on the look out, and every tree in the vicinity was known and marked for pillage by many, and it was a case of "first come first served" with them. The nuts were often gathered before they were fully ripe for this reason, and when so gathered it was by knocking the burrs from the trees, green and prickley as they were, and then they must be spread out on the ground, or better still, on the roofs of the sheds, until a frost came and opened them for us.
After they were so opened by the frosts we would find that our great bags full had dwindled to very small quantities, and this was especially the case when, as sometimes happened, the "other boys" found where we had spread them out for "Jack Frost" to open them with his cold fingers, and concluded it best to spare him the task. When we found a tree that had been let alone until after a severe frost, we would spread sheets all around it, on the ground, and then strike the body of the tree with a beetle, a great wooden hammer made and used in splitting rails, " and then would sometimes fall a shower of nuts to make glad the hearts of all the party. This method was especially effective with BEACH TREES, and we sometimes gathered large bags full of these delicious little three cornered nuts in a few minutes.
By going to the bank of the river we sometimes secured a few Black Walnuts, which if caught GREEN make a very good pickle, but the shucks are "just horrid, " they are a dark brown, and tough as leather, and will stain your hands and face if you give them a chance, so that it will be a good weeks work to recover your own complexion.
Once or twice I went fishing, in the winter, when we cut holes in the ice, and caught the fish which came up for air or light with hooks and lines, and I have an indistinct recollection of having once gone up the creek and found many fish frozen solid in the ice, and finding to our astonishment that after taking them home in a frozen condition, they were still alive.
Upon this same occasion, we visited a Saw Mill and had a ride upon the Carriage which conveyed the Logs to the Saw, and gathered pitch from the saw logs from which we made a supply of chewing gum??