Here is Lide Plowman’s account, written in 1922, of her memories of her mother and life in the mid-1800’s. As in previous posts, the family tree chart is at the end of this post.
Mother occasionally had help for a few days sewing. We had our first sewing machine, when I was perhaps seventeen. Mother was glad if I ever made a dress she would not be ashamed to see me wear, I think I succeeded after awhile, as I began to make my own clothes at that time. She used to make all the buttonholes but later I said I would never ask her to make another until I could make one as good as she.
She was a good cook and always had aplenty, but people those days did not have the variety, they think they must have now. It must have been some task to put up school dinners for six or seven, including the teacher. (Iva, you have a good start! Pearl) But I think the children were used to eating what was set before them, better than now.
It was a busy time in the home from one year’s end to another. The butchering was a long two or three weeks of hard work. Six or seven hogs to be tended on the first day; followed by cutting up and packing the side pork, hams and shoulders. Then the sausage, trying, or rending the lard, watching that nothing spoiled or went to waste. The hardest part was saving the lard the first day and preparing the refuse for soap grease.
The children were always anxious to help and it was a picnic for them to blow up the bladders for balloons, and put corn in them to make them rattle, and also to roast the tails over the fireplace.
Making sugar was another long, cold, hard task, both outdoors and in. The sap was caught in a wooden spile, that Father made and run in a trough made from half a split tree two feet or more in length and hollowed out by hand. They gathered some of it in large wooden pails. They used a sort of yoke fitted over the shoulders with a string and hook coming as low as the hands, so they could steady the pails.
The sap was boiled down in a cauldron kettle in the woods, and the syrup brought to the house in pails hung on the yoke. We had to hunt all the pans and pails to stand it in to let it settle, then we strained it through a cloth before making sugar. Each one who was large enough to handle a ladle, to stir the kettle, to keep it from running over was now standing around the stove. (Before the stove came it must have been the fireplace, but that is beyond my memory.) After the first it was not so much fun to help with the sugaring and it took from three to four weeks to make enough sugar to last our family throughout the year. Later years Mother would buy a loaf of white sugar for extra, shaped like an egg at one end and flat at the other, but I must have been a grown woman before we had any granulated sugar, although we had brown sugar, called muscovado, before this. Mother would let us have a dish of sugar the first kettle in the morning but after that if we wanted any we had it on a clean chip from the woodpile.
Later in the spring there was the soap making which took perhaps a week, from the filling of the leach and running off of the lye to making of the soft soap.
If one would pioneer now, away from the railroads with no autos or telephones, and could only get what could transported a hundred miles through the woods, we would begin to realize what it meant. Besides making your clothes from cloth you had manufactured, and doing without what you could not raise. This is the life of the pioneer!
As I look back, I think we enjoyed what we had, and were just as contented as people are now.
Screens were unknown, so at night we gathered in front of the house around a smudge, made of fine chips from the woodpile. The children ran around and through the smoke to keep from the mosquitoes and with no light in the house we could get quite a good sleep. At that hour we had our play oh “Hide and Seek” with Mother playing with us.
You grandchildren can only remember Mother likely, as a quiet rather sober woman, rather stooped with gray hair, but I can see her as tall and straight with an abundance of black hair, and ready to talk and laugh and have a good time.
She and Uncle Lute Jones were always having a lively talk and joking back and forth. His birthday came on New Year’s Day and they often visited us on that day, and of course he had to have a whipping. One year Mother whipped him with a long sprout, which he took home with him and cherished as long as he lived. Aunt Ellen kept it as carefully as he and often spoke of it to me in her last years.
Mother’s was the ruling hand as we all found, she was the one to reckon with if we were not good or transgressed the law. And I being rather stubborn found it out more often than the others.
Father never complained about the noise the children made, and there must have been some, as you can imagine with three boys, four girls with George, baby (Ezra left for Isabelle County when George was a baby.) But let us start to quarrel and he would say, “Emily, can’t you keep those children quiet.”