Today we continue with Lide Plowman’s memories of her father and life in the Plowman household. If this is your first visit to this blog, you will want to read part one of this autobiographical story of life in the mid-1800’s in Michigan. The family tree chart is at the end of today’s post.
Before I can remember, father built a large log house to accommodate the increasing family and used the old one for tools and black salts. They used black salts to make soda and the like. A shed on the east end of the house was a work shop.
The first chimney was built of narrow flat split sticks, laid in plaster and plastered inside and out. The jambs or sides of the fireplace, built of large stones, were about five feet apart, and spread out toward the front, which made a nice large place for the family to sit around. The back of the fire place was laid up of stone. The first hearth I remember was of brick, but at first it was likely of stone.
The wood we burned would be a wonder to children now. The body of the trees were drawn to the house by hooking a chain around the larger end, and the other end of the chain hooked into the ox yoke. A 12” to 16” log chopped into four foot lengths served for a back log, while a log 6” or 8” thick served for a top stick. This made the foundation of the fire, after which kindling was placed under, and smaller sticks piled between.
You will wonder how these large logs were brought in. We were never without a stout large home made sled with four posts. The large log was rolled on to it and the stakes put in place, with one boy drawing and one behind pushing, it was brought in before the fire place. Then with a boy at each end it was put in place. Then another load for top and fore stick.
The kindling was placed on “live coals” and the small wood put on top. We never let the fire go out, for in those days we had no matches, and the only way to start a fire was by the use a flint or to borrow from the neighbors. I myself remember going over the crick to Uncle Sammy’s with a little shovel to borrow fire.
You who have never seen such a fire have no idea of the heat and light it afforded. A candle was not needed to read by and we were all comfortable, if we were not too close. I wish I could tell you the pleasure we had in watching the fire, seeing the flames and the sparks fly up and coals fall, and the many queer and fanciful shapes fashioned by it all. It would take a post to do this justice, and we’ll let Till and Sate help us out.
The great bed of coals served to cook our meals. A long shovel was used to draw out enough coals to fry a large spider of meat. The spider had three legs and set over the coals. A crane hung and swung in the chimney supplied with iron hooks on which to hang kettles, for vegetables, meat and an iron tea kettle, when the fire was low the hooks were hooked in to each other to bring the kettles near the fire.
Bread was baked in a tin oven set before the fire, and over the coals. This oven looked something like a leanto, set back from the house, with a place for the dripper where the upper floor would be. The bright tin of the roof helped to brown the top of the bread, while the coals browned the bottom. This dripper must have been about 10” by 24” and was the one grandmother Plowman (Emily Crane’s mother) used for pumpkin pies for the boys, when Father and Mother went to Oakland. I have heard Ezra and Charlie and Saron say they asked for a pie thick enough that when they bit into it it would touch their noses.
I can just remember when father brought home the first stove. I must have been about 6 or 7 years old. This stove was never a good baker, so our bread was still baked in front of the fire or in the outdoor oven until the elevated oven came in to our home, when I was maybe 12 or 14. Even after that, mother during harvest would bake 15 loaves of bread and pies in the outdoor brick oven, which had taken the place of the mud oven. I wonder if George or Lute remember splitting oven wood for mother? It was not a job the boys liked.
Bringing in of the night wood was a job for two boys and the sled. We had a shut-in stairway which was an unusual thing in the new country, as a hole in the chamber and ladder running up to it was the usual thing. Between this stairway and the fire place was a space about 4 feet wide at the bottom and running up narrower. I have no idea how many sled loads of wood it took to fill this space, likely one fourth cord.
The fireplace was a cheerful, comfortable place for the family to gather to talk over the days doings, with mother and sisters knitting (mother did not spin and weave much after I can well remember, although Till and I helped her some.) Father reading or finishing off an ax helve, of which each of the boys had their own, some righthanded, and some left, to suit the boy. They were first shaped with a draw shave, then smoothed with a pocket knife, then scraped with a piece of window glass and rubbed with fine sandpaper until smooth as a piece of glass. No one could make a better one than father.
Can any of you remember our brothers sitting facing each other straddle a flat iron shovel handle, placed on their chairs, with a bushel basket between them, shelling corn (on the handle)? Not for the chickens and geese. Oh! No. That was a daily job for the smaller ones; but to make meal for food for the family, and some of the animals. (How I should like some for my Christmas present, we never have any now so good).