In previous posts, Mary Elizabeth “Lide” Plowman has recounted her memories of her father and mother in early rural Michigan. In today’s post, written in 1924, Lide remembers her childhood, schooling, and her brothers and sisters. As we have done previously, the family tree chart is at the end of the post.
As I look back over our childhood it seems like a happy family, with Ezra as a baby tender, singing in the big rocker with his arms full of children. Charley as Mother’s helper and cook, with the other playing around, makes a good picture of our dining room. When father and mother were away this plan worked well and I can not recall hearing these brothers dispute.
The first real event that I can remember was when we went to a show of some kind in Lyons about 14 miles away. I think we had horses at that time, as father had them the first in the neighborhood. I remember nothing of the show but remember vividly of us loading into the ___ and of Till’s and my black calico dresses with red and black flowers. We were about 4 and 6 years of age then.
Another trip to Lyons was made with Charley and Saron and Till to visit Mr. Nettleton’s soon after they moved there. Roswell, our boys with Charlotte, Jane, Till and I went to the river and into a boat which I did not enjoy, maybe the others did. (I have been in many boats since that I did not enjoy either). This was the last we saw of our neighbor girls.
Charley and Saron took us to the last day of school at McVeys. We sat in the bottom of the sleigh and near Thelen’s something happened, a tree across the road I suppose and the boys unhitched the oxen and in driving them away the chain caught on the iron on the end of the tongue and gave it a sudden jerk which threw Jule who was standing up backwards giving her quit a bump. We left her at Nancy’s who cared for her until we came back. The first teacher that I remember was a man, quite old, Charles Dear. The only thing that I remember about him was that the children took goose quills to him and he made their pens.
After him came Mr. Macumber who taught several winters, beginning in an old log school house. While he taught our school, his wife a marvelous teacher, taught at the McVey or Boughton, where nearly all the pupils were Americans, and they had much to be thankful for having such a good teacher. In all the teachers in the neighborhoods she was the one far ahead of them all, a live teacher. It would be well for the future of the world that we had many like her. I’ll tell in another place how I lived with her one summer and went to school to her.
Mr. Macumber was a very eccentric man and a fairly good teacher. He kept good order, but as our brothers were always good in school and the other boys patterned after them, it was not so difficult to do. After Mr. Nettleton’s moved away nearly all the pupils were Germans and very well behaved. I remember an expression that he used to use. When he threatened to punish he would say, “I’ll puggle you.” Around the stove were bench seats made of slabs of logs raised by legs in each end. These were used by the younger children who could get along without desks. Once Mr. Macumber jumped over one of these benches to scare some children (for punishment I suppose) and the floor broke and let him through.
During Mr. Macumber’s reign we had our outline maps. These were three or four feet square and hung on the walls. There were maps of the world and of each continent. We began with the map of the world reciting in concert and either teacher or pupil pointing to each place as named. We repeated each item twice beginning —–
Whole world 2 hundred million, whole world 2 hundred million
Water surface 150 million, water surface 150 million
Land surface 50 million, land surface 50 million (etc., all repeated twice)
North pole, south pole, equator, tropic of cancer, tropic of Capricorn
Arctic circle, Antarctic circle, north Frigid zone, south Frigid zone.
North Am. South Am. Europe Asia Africa (and probably Australia)
Arctic ocean, Pacific ocean, Indian ocean.
Etc., etc., until we had covered each map naming the states, rivers, bays, straits, capes, isthmus, islands, mountains, and more etc.
Next Henry Hall had a term and I think it was Charley’s last term. I know the two were about even in Arithmetic and some problems were a puzzle to them. That year a young German John Jonas, boarded at Grandmothers. He was maybe 20 or 22 and had been educated in Germany. Pete Bertram would translate the problems and John Jonas would show them the solution, which was quite a wonder to me. He went to our school to learn English.
We then had Mr. Tracy, who was a born teacher but not so well educated. He was the one who taught us the animal rhyme, the rules for arithmetic and boundaries for the states, and also the Presidents from Washington to the 14th (My ambition now is to have some one of our rhyming relatives complete the list to the present. Let us have it next year).
The map “The stream of time,” which Rex now has, has been in the family longer than I can remember. (And every time we go to Iron Mountain we get it out and I study it.) This hung at first in our living room and we repeated the larger print, twice of course, beginning Stream of time, stream of time, or charters of, or charters of universal history, universal history. This map afterwards hung in the girls bedroom and we often used to begin on it before we were up in the morning. But the usual time for our “Concert Recitations” was after supper. I can see us now gathering around the fire with the rocking chair filling up first, and a baby or two on Ezra’s lap when he was at home. Then we repeated all the lessons and rhymes we ever knew, and we had exhausted the arithmetic and geography and sighed for more worlds to conquer, we would begin on
Tuttle cracker, Tuttle cracker,
Emily cracker, Emily cracker,
Ezra cracker, Ezra cracker, Charley and Etc through our immediate family, the Petches and all the neighbors, until bed time.
Another winters play when the older ones were seated around the table, Till, Jule, and Sate, (I always reading) played what they called “keeping house or working in a tavern.” Mrs. Petch had worked in a tavern in Ionia, and had told us of the work she did and the ways of the house, and nothing more was needed except what their imagination supplied. Their houses were furnished beautifully and there was no limit to the beautiful dishes and things they had to eat. Each one working about and telling what they were doing.