GrandPapa's Letter part 7
Franklin B. Van Valkenburgh

The Judge's Twins

When Father was at home the store held the pick of the village of evenings, and profound discussions of matters political, military or religious were often heard; When HE was absent, as he often was, and Dave was in charge, the pick of the village was also there, but apparently picked by another hand.

After the time for closing the store. Cider and nuts, story and repartee and song did much abound. Of course I did not see so very much of this as I would have liked, but we smaller boys did hear and know a good deal more about such things than our parents suspected. Directly across the Square from our home stood Grand-ma's

House, and near that was Uncle Edward Porter's house, occupied by himself and his wife, Father's Sister, and his children Charlie and Gate, I have been told that the first time we walked so far, Ger. & I walked, or waddled across the Square to Grand-Mama's arrayed in tight fitting yellow Flannel Night Gowns, made to fit us tightly, from head to foot, and that it was then we were dubbed "The Judges Twins, " and "The Twin Cupids. " The former name stuck to us until we left the State, and I have been introduced to a Prattsburgh man as "One of the Judges Twins, " since I was fifty years of age, and told by him that "Now I know who you are".

We walked that path many times after this first time, for GrandMa and Aunt Catherine Maria, who always lived together there, were always fond of us, and always so long as they lived made it pleasant for us to come there. I thought Grand-Ma was as old as Mathusalah in those days, She was about seventy five, a plump, roily poly woman, as I remember her, generally seated in her rocking chair and always either reading her Bible, or Knitting, and taking snuff. Her parlor was a sacred room, into which it was a treat to look, and her kitchen was a garden spot, in which grew under skillful hands all the delicacies of the known world, chief among which we boys counted CRULLERS, twisted into every known or imaginable form, or cut into the shapes of animals and birds, and, choicest of all, the genuine Dutch Doughnut, round and brown, coated with sugar, and each enclosing an enormous raisin. Whew, my mouth waters even now, at the recollection of them. Grand Ma, and Aunt Catherine Maria lived alone, and as their home and the Grave Yard were the only places we were allowed to visit on "THE HOLY SABBATH DAY," you may be sure that each returning Sunday saw us there.

Grand Ma was a very jolly old lady as I remember her, and we used always to call upon her on Christmas and New Years days, and I remember going there one Christmas day, I think it must have been when I was about six years old, and finding the tracks of Old Santa Claus' sled, running up the side of her house! Going back a little from the house we saw when the sled had reached her chimney, and then going around to the other side of the house we found the tracks of his sleigh running out to the Square again, and, most wonderful of all Dough Nuts, and Candy, just such as Grand Ma's kitchen used to furnish us, were scattered all along, beside the sleigh tracks, where the good old Saint had lost them?? AND NOW people are asking if there ever was any SANTA CLAUS ? ? ?

I remember one occasion when about a "Baker's Dozen, " of her descendants were gathered around GrandMa's chair, she made us all Bit in a circle, and passing her snuff box, filled with Maccabey Snuff, and containing as it always did a sweet verbena bean, she invited each to "take a pinch, " and showing us how to snuff it up our noses, she laughed until the tears ran down her furrowed cheeks, and she almost fell from her chair, to see us all sneezeing, and unable to control ourselves.

On the night before Christmas we always made ready for Santa Claus, whom you must know is a distinctively DUTCH SAINT and who was held in especial esteem by the youngsters of our family; The preparation consisted largely in the hanging of stockings of all sizes in the mouth of the great chimney in the dining room, A bakers dozen of them was about the usual complement, and all were carefully arranged, with mouths wide open, and left in fear and trembling, leat forsooth they should prove not to be of sufficient capacity; In fact we used to borrow Father's stockings for the occasion, until it was suggested that Santa Claus would know that one person could not posess so many feet, and think we were fooling him, and then we were content to use our own.

I remember more than one anxious night when, after trying so hard to get to sleep that we were more wide awake than ever, we crept cautiously down stairs, after the wonderfully exciting noises of stifled voices and rustling papers had subsided, to assure ourselves that our precious stockings had not been removed or overlooked. He who awoke first in the morning and called the others, was accounted the best fellow, and since we all agreed to go down stairs together, the one who proved most dilatory and took the longest to dress, was scolded, and called "lazy Bones," and "sleepy head," by the others, but when all were fully dressed we made a rush for Mother's Room, to wish our parents a "Merry Christmas," and then went helter skelter for the Chimney and the loaded Stockings.

Whatsoever old Santa Clause had himself brought us, was as a matter of course placed by him in the stockings, while the gifts provided by our parents and other mortals were on the Settee, or table, in little piles duly marked with the names of the intended recipients of their bounty.

We went first of all to the stockings, and as each one poured out the contents of his own, there were shouts and comments and comparisons, congratulations or condolences, until all had been seen and shown around, and then we younger ones all piled, with all we could carry, on to the bed in which Mother awaited our coming, and much more than doubled the pleasure of receiving them, by exhibiting our treasures to one who could, and always DID fully appreciate and enjoy seeing us enjoying ourselves.

Among the treasures which the good Saint always brought there was sure to be one which always reposed snugly in the toe of each little stocking as well as in the larger ones, and that was a great round dough-nut, with a correspondingly large raisin buried inside of its brown skin, and this it was that first led us to suspect that our dear old Grand Ma was in collusion with the Saint.

One of us once found nothing in his stocking but a switch, and although the others divided with him the contents of their well filled receptacles, they all remember thereafter that in some way Santa Claus "found him out, " After we had examined all our gifts, and as soon as it was fully light, we used to go to the houses of certain poor people of our acquaintance, and finding baskets tied to their door knobs, deposit therein such things as had been provided for the purpose, eatables or mittens or stockings, as the case might be, and scamper home again if possible without being discovered; On one occasion, when with malice prepense we joined some other boys in saving for the occasion a deceased hen of untold age, and placed it in the basket of an old Irish woman by the name of Ellen Eagan, whom we all disliked, she pounced down upon us and we were marched home in disgrace, and compelled, then and there, to fetch the basket to our own house With all its contents intact, and after cleaning the basket and burying the contents, to refill the basket with the best of our gifts, make humble apoligies to the irate fury, and promise to be good, very much to our discomfort.

After breakfast and prayers, all dressed in our "Sunday Clothes, " we went the rounds of our relatives and friends, shouting "Merry Christmas" to every one we met, and trying always to make our greetings heard before we were seen, for the reason that one who was caught was the one who must make the present to his catcher, and so we would all creep up as quietly as possible to the door, and when it was open, spring in and shout our greetings. We always found that preparations had been made for our coming, and added to our stores of goodies at every stopping place, I remember thinking that Aunt Emily and Grand Ma must be very dull people to be always caught so, year after year? Now I know that their apparent dullness arose from an excess of sympathy and love for their young friends.

Except when Sunday and Christmas fell on the same day we had no Church services, but the day was spent as a genuine Holiday, in merry-making on the streets or square, or mildam, and in the evening we had corn to pop, or maple sugar to convert into wax, and games to play, such as checkers, chess, back-gammn & c. &c. but NOT CARDS, There were Balls and Dancing Parties at the Taverns in the village but of these we knew only by rumor, for the Taverns were forbidden grounds for us.

With us, Sunday was the first day of the week in every sense, and if we young ones had been allowed our way I think we would have gladly skipped it four or five times a month.

The Sabbath Day virtually began at early candle light on Saturday night, for then the preparations for its proper observance commenced,; after supper a couple of large wooden wash tubs were set out in the kitchen, and a rousing fire built in the stove, and then, as the other animals are said to have gone into the ARK, we went into the tubs. Sometimes it was good fun, and we had a frolic, but oftner the sleepy ones demurred, and the soap got into our eyes or mouths, and there was literally "A Hot Time, " After we were sufficiently soaped and scrubbed we were clothed in our night gowns, and all marched into the dining room, or if Father was absent, into Mother's room, and reading each in turn a verse until we had read a chapter in the Bible, and singing a couple of hymns, we knelt in prayer and then to bed. Mother had the sweetest & clearest voice I ever heard, and her singing of "The Rock of Ages, " or "Jesus Lover of my Soul, " or any other of fifty hymns which were familiar to her as household words, was the sweetest and dearest music in the world to me.

On Sunday morning all must be "up and dressed" for before breakfast some of us must have milked the cows and driven them to pasture while others attended to the demands of the horses and pigs; so that Sunday morning was not by any means a lazy time. The first money I ever earned in my life was a Black Snake whip that Ellas Wygant, the village harness maker gave me for driving his cow to and from the pasture one summer; That I was made rich by the transaction is not a fact, for I used the whip up, on his old cow, before it was fully paid for. Even at that it was a better trade than some that I have since entered upon? ?

Father was always an early riser since I knew him; He slept down stairs, and upon rising it was his custom to start a fire in the stoves, and then drumming on the stove pipe which passed through our room, he would call to us to get up, "Come Boys, Come, it is time to get up, " he would call, and if he got the proper reply, all was well, If he did not, he shouted long and loud enough to satisfy himself that we were or ought to be awake, and then came to our room. "You bet" we were wide, awake and in motion when we heard him on the stairs.? ? Sometimes it WOULD HAPPEN that we would answer him, and then turn over and drop off to sleep again; Then he made the fur fly 7 Getting up at last, one of us would fill the stoves with wood, and replenish the wood boxes and fill the kettles with water, while another fed the pigs and horses; and the servant girl aided by one or two boys milked the cows, and one of the boys, often Frank, would collect such of the neighbor's cows as were pastured with ours, (they usually came to the barn yard and waited for us, ) and drive them to pasture.

The nearest and most usually used pasture was about a mile west of our house, and to reach it you must cross a little creek, over which was a country bridge; Here you must wait for all of the cows to drink, and see to it that each one had an opportunity to get all she needed; and of all provoking and tiresome things to do when a boy was hungry, or hot or cold, or in a hurry, (and a boy is ALWAYS one or other of these) that was the very most provoking. While one cow was quietly drinking, another was sure to come and drive her away, and off she would go as tho' the Old Nick was after her, and you must chase and bring her back, thankful indeed If she did not get into Dr. Voorheis orchard, or worse still, into Ellen Eagans garden patch, before you overtook her; Mean time (AWFULLY MEAN TIME?) another cow would get out of the reach of your whip, in the stream, which was too deep and too cold for you to wade, and begin for the fortieth time to dream of the good old times, when she was a calf, and did just as she pleased, and, say what you would, she would not stir from her safe place until all the others had wandered off in different directions; You must not throw a stone at one of them under any circumstances, for you might do them untold injury if you hit them, and if you were caught at it you might sustain uncomfortable injuries yourself? ???

Nevertheless, we were all expert stone slingers, and the cows sometimes were made to realize that fact, although, happily for us, they never told? The creek was about half way to the pasture lot, which was located on the side hill, overlooking the village, and probably by the time you had gathered the flock together and gotten them in, and closed the bars safely, the bell was ringing for church and you must run all the way home, get what you could for breakfast, tumble into your Sunday Clothes, and be ready to start with the rest of the family when the bell tolled.

THE bell of the village was in the steeple of the Presbyterian Church, at the North end of the Square, it hung and swung in the loft. Just inside of the first deck; The steeple was a pointed one, very high and slender at the top, and sported a large ball surmounted with a lightning rod; It had three decks as they were called, which were platforms about three feet wide, running entirely around the steeple, and having railings two or three feet high, with triangular tops six or eight inches wide; These decks were reached by the way of ladders inside the steeple, and we used sometimes to go up to them probably sixty to seventy five feet above the ground, to get a view of the village, or escape the sight of our parents or playmates, as the occasion demanded. It was no very uncommon feat for some of the boys to walk around the steeple on the top of one of these railings, leaning in and reaching over to and resting their hands against the sides of the steeple for support; I tried it once, and the memory of the feat has been with me many a night since, and I have awakened from a dream in which I had found myself walking on that railing, trembling with terror, and in a profuse perspiration, and have wondered at the temerity of those foolish youthful adventurers. Our names were carved on the railings as well as on the sides of the steeple, and he whose name stood highest there, was entitled to BRAG, and often availed himself of the dear bought right.

To be on one of these decks when the bell rung was a sensation I once had, and did not care to repeat, the sound was something terrific, and the steeple shook as with an ague, and we crouched down as far from the noisy monster as it was possible to get, and prayed to be released.

The bell was hung on a yoke, in the middle of the belfry, and the yoke, which turned on its axis, was part of a beam which reached entirely across the belfry, or room in which It hung. At one end of this beam it was attached to an immense wheel, which turned with it, to this wheel was attached a large rope, probably sixty or more feet in length, which hung down to the first floor, and was used in ringing the bell, and this rope passed through a hole just large enough to admit of its so passing, in the floor of the belfry.

So you will see that the bell was rung by a man who stood sixty feet or more below it; When he pulled the rope the wheel began to revolve on its axis, and sometimes when he continued to pull it long enough, and hard enough this great wheel and the bell with it would make several revolutions, I once saw Daniel Independence Neff, (so named because he was born on Independence Day, ) ring this bell, and when he had got it going at full speed, and so that the wheel made several revolutions, he hung on to the rope, instead of letting it go, as the proper way was, and he was drawn up and up and up, until it seemed as though he would never stop. Had he gone but a very little farther there was but one possible alternative, he must have inevitably have gone through the two inch hole cut for the rope, or have been dashed down forty or fifty feet, to our feet? As I have said, this was THE bell of the town, there was a smaller one in the cupala of the Academy, a couple of hundred feet west of this one, and another in the Methodist Church, but this was the largest, and was the one to be rung whenever the multitude was to be reached; Among other occasions when it was rung, was when there was a death in the village or neighborhood; Then it was always TOLLED: and it was a very solemn and impressive sound, coming at all hours of the day or night, sometimes when we were in our beds, and at others when in school, or on the play grounds.

On the death of a grown person it tolled, very slowly, three times if the deceased were a MAN; five times if a woman; and then, a little more rapidly, but still with slow and measured tones, it tolled and told the number of his or her years on earth; and knowing, as everybody in reach of the solemn sound was likely to know who the sick ones were, we knew who had passed away; and among the weird and not pleasant memories of my early childhood are those of nights when I have listened with awe to the sound of the "passing bell, " and then heard my parents or some of the older children speak the name of the one who had passed over the dark river of death.

The bell was rung many times every Sunday, and always tolled when a funeral procession left the church, and until It entered the Grave Yard.


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