Monday, November 24, 2014

DOESN'T REQUIRE "TIME OFF"; by Mrs. P.N.; Wisconsin; 1930

Dear Peter Pan (the pen name of another farm wife):

I read your request in the December issue for a schedule which would enable you to spend more time with your children and their father. Perhaps I can help you.

If you will pardon me, I think your attitude is wrong. A well-known child specialist says, “Leaving the dishes in the sink, to gather the children to one’s knee, does not fill me with enthusiasm. The habit of orderliness is not taught by this method.”

Friends who live in cities often comment on the fact that a farmer and his family have a great blessing in being so much together. We have a boy and a girl. We are interested in the same things. My children and I have seen many wonders of the setting sun, coming in from the field on the tail end of a truck-load of potatoes. My husband and I had a lot of chummy afternoons this fall, traveling over the farm, to pick up piles of stone with which we made a foundation for our new garage.

Of course, we have happy times when we play together, but my point is obvious. We farmers and our children, working side by side, need not seek opportunities to be together.

I think our greatest family joy is our garden. The children get as much out of it as but we do, possibly more, because a child’s capacity for enjoyment is so limitless. Children who help make rows of carrots and spinach, don’t have to be bribed to eat them.

There are trees and shrubs about our home which we four have planted. The children have watched them grow husky with as much interest as I have. Every year our perennial flower border has a few additions. The children help decide what these shall be.

In the winter, when our hired help is gone, we all do chores. Coming in from the barn these winter evenings, we always stop to look at the sky full of glory. I could fill several pages full of things we do together, things that don’t take a lot of time and don’t call for a schedule. This spontaneous way has a distinct advantage. In fact, I think if one were consciously to sit down for an appointed hour with the children, there might be something forced about it. You know we take medicine at appointed hours.

I’m not “crazy clean,” but I like orderliness. The children help me in this, too, by keeping their toys picked up when they aren’t using them, and by hanging up their clothes.

When we review all the good times we’ve had since we had a family, it’s not the long trips we’ve taken over the state, which stand out in memory, any more than some afternoons we’ve spent husking corn, and rainy days when we’ve varnished floors.

Monday, November 3, 2014

HER DREAM CAME TRUE; March 1919; Part 5

He showed her the things he had collected by land and sea and together they fitted up the north room. She touched all his possessions with reverent, loving hands, arranging and rearranging, suggesting, talking a little, laughing softly, sometimes pausing, with a little intake of the breath, to look at his broad shoulders or note his sure movements or listen for his “Mother Cornelia!” The joy in the little white house might well have bulged the walls.

“See,” said Ray, standing at the window, “our happiness has spilled over into the rainy day outside and has made the sun shine through the clouds.”

It was there at the window, watching the sunshine glint across the wet leaves, that they spoke of the thing that had lain in the minds of both. It was with a joyous surprise that they discovered that they had both thought of it. The delicate flush rose in Miss Cornelia’s face as she said:

“I was afraid you would think me presumptuous!”

“My Heavens!” exclaimed the boy, “I am the presumptuous one. But I have wanted it all the time--to be legally your son.”

“And you know,” she suggested shyly, “I have some property--”

He turned quickly.

“Mother Cornelia, could you think--?”

“Oh, no, I didn’t, truly, dear, “she protested, taking hold of his coat. “But can’t I be just a little glad that there is something?”

“I have sometimes wished,” he responded “that you were downright poor so I could support you.”

She laughed gaily.

“And I am so blessed thankful that I am not. Your burdens will come soon enough,” she continued soberly. “I want the rest of your years to be as beautiful as life allows.”

When the long evening, with its music and songs and over-sea tales was ended, Ray turned at the foot of the stairs to inquire.

“Will you come and tuck me in, Mother Cornelia?”

She nodded, not daring to speak. When he had gone, a bright tear splashed upon her hand. Her face looked beautiful.

“To think,” she whispered to Mary, “to think he asked for that! Oh, Mary, I wish he were little, little! And my heart is just bursting with joy because he is so big and strong.”

She laughed a bit at herself and folded away her embroidery and went to stand before the fire. The whole room bespoke some new presence. A pair of big gloves lay on top of the piano, the music had been left scattered about, the fire tongs were out of place, the sofa cushions had lost their usual primness, and the whole room bore the air of having been waked up and used.

Miss Cornelia smiled happily at the disorder and stopped halfway up the stairs to say:

“Don’t straighten things up, Mary. I want to see them just that way in the morning. I want to be sure it is all true. And--in the morning--son and I will have a long talk!”

In the long talk that followed, she learned that the boy’s few, simple ideals were deep-rooted, that the thoughts of her son were clean thoughts. He spoke of some problems he had solved and a few conclusions he had reached. She saw that his lonely life had thrown him back upon his native strength, and she rejoiced at the straight-forward naturalness with which he gave her his confidence.

She pondered it all deeply. Is there a Power behind what seems to be just happenings? Was it meant that out of the loneliness of a maiden woman’s heart and an orphan’s heart, this joy should grow?

“It seems,” she said once, wonderingly, “that all this has happened often before, that it is only one of many, many such talks.”

“Doesn’t it?” he responded quickly. “I have just been thinking that. All my best dream has come true.”

He slept at last, with her hand beneath his cheek. When his breathing grew deep and even, she tucked the clothes about him and kissed him softly and stole downstairs to stand again before the fire.

Then quite suddenly she was sobbing in Mary’s arms with no clear reason for doing so, and Mary was rocking her gently with a low, tender crooning.

After a while the tears ceased and she smiled up into the kind blue eyes.

“Do you know what glorious thought came to me just now, Mary?”

Mary shook her head, then said quickly, “Maybe it’s the thing I was thinking--he’ll marry and there will be little feet?--some day--?”

“Yes. And oh, I just feel that I shall live to see it, and know all the joy--” Mary poked the fire meditatively.

“We’ll have to make the spare room into a nursery--”

“Oh, Mary, Mary!”

And Miss Cornelia wiped up the last tear with a laugh, a lovely mother-laugh.

The end.

Monday, October 20, 2014

HER DREAM CAME TRUE; March 1919; part 4

Miss Cornelia read into this incident an interest on the part of the captain that made her happy.

“He must be just a little more than usual,” she thought. “And his picture tells the same. The mouth and chin are firm, and the eyes--they are fine.” Mary, the spare bedroom doesn’t seem just the thing. It doesn’t fit, somehow. How about the big, high north room? We have always used it for storing things but we can clean it and put everything in the attic.”

Mary agreed that the plan was an excellent one and was for buying new furnishings. But Miss Cornelia was the wiser of the two. Her’s was the real mother-heart, after all.

“Just a bed and chairs and dresser. We don’t know his tastes. He may have a fish net and a torn old flag and maybe some strange knives. Just a new coat of buff for the walls, and then let him arrange everything to suit himself--Oh Mary, Mary, it can’t be really truly true that he’s coming home!”

The short winter days slipped away and the soft spring skies brooded over the quickening earth and almost before one could catch a sharp breath April was in the land.

Then began a great bustling and baking and stewing, in and about the old white house. Hot, spicy smells floated up from the kitchen, and a soft, clear humming floated down from the big north room. Miss Cornelia patted the pillows and wondered with wistful eyes if anyone had ever sung him to sleep or kissed him good-night. It was all strange and unusual but full of heart-comforting possibilities.

When the great day arrived, she did not go to the station. She could not bring herself to face the idle, curious crowd. But she pressed her face against the rain washed pane and, with wildly beating heart, watched old Henley’s ancient “bus” toil through the mud.

Then, almost before she knew it, she had opened the door, and her face was down against a wet overcoat and a deep voice was saying, “Why--mother! You’re crying!”

“No, I’m not!” she denied. “Stand off and let me look at you.”

She took in every detail while the hazel eyes smiled at her, and a big hand held hers. He turned the hand over with a meditative pucker of his brow and then raised it and kissed it softly squarely in the palm. There was no embarrassment or self-consciousness after that.

“Seems like,” said old Mary, an hour later, smiling from the kitchen door at the gray head and the brown one bent together above an old album, “seems like you’ve been here before and belong.”

The hazel eyes smiled back at her. “And don’t I belong, Mary?”

The ceremony of unpacking a small, hide-covered trunk was the big event of the happy day. Mary smoothed and petted and exclaimed over her Bombay shawl and laid it carefully away.

“But,” protested the boy, “that shawl is for everyday use. You mustn’t put it away like that.”

“Ray,” was the spirited rejoinder, “that shawl is too good for everyday. I’ll wear it to the Sewing Circle on Wednesday afternoons and to church on Sundays. So there!

Ray retired from the encounter laughing and placed in Miss Cornelia’s hands a beautiful little, gem-studded Buddha.

“That was the thing,” he explained, “that I wouldn’t tell you about.”

“But Ray, it must be awfully expensive.”
“I imagine it is,” and his eyes sobered.

“Don’t you know?”

“No, Mother Cornelia.”

She looked at him quickly.

“It was given to me,” he explained slowly, “by a man in India who was grateful to me.”

“Why was he grateful, son?”

“I saved his life.”

She put out her hand quickly as if to draw him from some peril, and then laughed softly at herself.

“I must not be foolish. I have to remember day and night that you face danger or the possibility of danger--and not be foolish.

So they went through the happy hours together.

Continued...

Monday, October 13, 2014

HER DREAM CAME TRUE; March 1919; Part 3

“All must be fair and straight between you and me, my son. I always think of myself as a widow but I am not that in name. I am Miss Cornelia Baker. I will tell you about it, though it is not altogether easy because I never speak of these things to anyone but good Old Mary who has loved and tended me for many years.

“When I was a young woman of twenty-three I became engaged to a man named Ernest Gregory. He was second mate of a merchant ship and had every prospect of advancement. We decided to wait until he should have a captaincy, and then I was to live with him at sea. He got his ship in three years but one thing after another interfered to delay our marriage. One night in an awful storm, his ship, the Grayling, was driven upon the Hampstead reef, somewhere near Australia. Not one was saved.

"It was years before I could get hold of my life again. I could not bear the mention of the ocean or a ship.

"When I read about that good woman in Indiana I suddenly wanted a son who was on the sea. The thought seemed to bring me, somehow, nearer to him. Do you understand? All this was twenty-three years ago, five years before you were born. But I think some way, that you will understand.

"Don't forget to send me your picture. Do you have plenty of warm clothing these cold days?"

Miss Cornelia quite forgot that the Michigan was cruising in the southern Pacific; but the boy's next letter reminded her and she laughed merrily at herself.

"Dear Mother Cornelia:

I am going to call you that if you like it. I like it. It sounds sort of cozy.

"And now I am going to tell you something that will please you.

"We have been near Australia for two days now, and when I came on deck yesterday morning I saw the water foaming over the long line of rocks that lay just outside a stretch of sandy beach. I heard the captain talking to someone and I caught a word that made me stop and listen. The captain is over sixty and he knows all the history of these coasts.

"'Yes,' he was saying, 'that is Hampstead Reef, as ugly a little stretch as the eastern hemisphere can boast. I suppose it has done as much wickedness as any half dozen reefs.'

"'Tell us some of its crimes,' I heard someone ask.

"'Well, for one of its worst deeds, it sent the Grayling to her tomb with every man aboard, Captain Gregory commanding. That was twenty--no twenty-three years ago,'

"He looked over at the reef and his voice was softer than I ever heard it before.

"'Gregory was a fine chap. He was one of the most fearless and one of the best captains that ever docked in New York.'

"That was all I heard but it made me feel proud of the man my mother loved, and, as we passed the reef, I took off my cap to him who had faced his death there so long ago.

"I like your picture. You are a lot like I thought you would be. Here comes mine. It was taken a year ago and I am some heavier now. I'll have some others taken when I come home. Home! A real home with a fire place and a flower garden and a chicken yard. And you told me I could put rings and a punching bag in the big basement. Five more whole months!

"I have some little things for you, seashells and some little things made of bamboo and a little ivory lion and Something Else. I will not tell you what till I come. And there's a Bombay shawl for Mary and a piece of pottery from Algiers. You mustn't tell her though.

"There are heaps of thing to talk over together. We will talk together about everything, won't we? Some fellows don't seem to feel the need of someone to talk to but I do. My vacation begins in April, and I can spade up your flower beds. Won't it be fun?

"The other day the captain walked over to where I was working and whistling away (work seems to go so much faster these days) and he stood looking at me a while. It bothered me like the dickens and I guess I blushed and he laughed and said, "Have you adopted a mother, Durkan?"

"I guess I looked astonished and I stammered, "Yes, sir," and he laughed and walked away. Now how do you suppose he knew?"


Saturday, September 20, 2014

HER DREAM CAME TRUE; March 1919; Part 2

Both women dreaded and yet longed for the reply.

“It would be something to think about,” said Mary, wistfully.

“And yet,” said Miss Cornelia, thrusting away her embroidery frame, “do you know, Mary, sometimes I am afraid, just plain afraid! It seems almost like tempting fate. The sea took the best of my life away.”

Mary nodded understandingly.

“But it isn’t that way, honey. What comes from the sea this time will be making it up to you.”

Miss Cornelia looked at her doubtfully but said no more.

At last the expected letter arrived and Miss Cornelia carried it home with a wildly beating heart. She laid it before Mary, her throat too full for words.

Mary drew her silver rimmed spectacles down to her nose and squinted at the address. The romance touched her too.

Mrs. Cornelia Baker. I ‘spose she thinks you’re a widdy.”

Miss Cornelia flushed a little. “And am I not, Mary?”

“‘Deed, yes, honey, you are. Let’s open it and find out.”

There spilled out upon the table from the enclosed letter a slip of paper. They both looked down at it and then at each other. It bore the name of a man and the name of a ship. Mary put her arms around Miss Cornelia and a few tears of joy were shed on ample shoulder.

Presently they read the kindly letter together, and Miss Cornelia went away to write a reply of gratitude that a little astonished the earnest-eyed woman who helped motherless boys and boyless mothers to find one another.

The first letter from the good ship Michigan was a never-to-be-forgotten event in the life of the little white house set in the gay little garden. Miss Cornelia read and reread it, and then read it aloud to Mary whose eyes glowed as she listened.

November 3, 1918
Dear Mother:
When I got your letter, I wondered if here at last was someone who really belonged to me. Do you want us to really and truly belong? It isn’t just make-believe, is it? I don’t think from your letter that it is.

I will tell you about myself as you asked me to do. There isn’t really much to tell.

My parents both died in a fire in New York eighteen years ago when I was only a few months old. I was found and put into an orphan asylum where I grew up. From the time I was a little fellow, I have always had a hankering for the sea. There was a teacher in the orphans’ home that was good to me and helped me out, and after a good many ups and downs I got into the navy. It isn’t just what you would call an easy life but it is an interesting one. We learn a lot and we see a lot but it gets awfully lonesome sometimes. There’s a pretty good share of us haven’t any home at all. A fellow let me read a letter from his mother once and I cried like a baby over it.

I’m five feet, ten and a half, mother. How tall are you? I’ve just kind of got an idea that you’re little and sort of dainty and move quick, and your laugh--I can almost hear you laugh. That’s funny, isn’t it?

I'll send you my picture as soon as I can find one, and will send me yours? I want to know just how you look and not do too much guessing. And I’d like to know just a little bit about your life. I have a kind of an idea that you are a widow.

You will write again soon, won’t you?

Your loving son,
Ray Durkan

This letter also was addressed to Mrs. Cornelia Baker.

When she had finished reading it to Old Mary, she sat looking thoughtfully at the envelope.

“I must tell him the truth, Mary. There must be no deceit between me and--my son!” She dwelt lovingly on the word, with a dreamy smile in her eyes, then she tucked the letter into the bosom of her dress and went out to cut great bowls of bright cosmos and chrysanthemum to set about the house.

Her next letter included her picture and many questions about the boy’s work and plans and the happy assurance that they really and truly belonged to each other.

The part about herself she did not find so easy to write, but she launched into it fearlessly.

Monday, September 15, 2014

HER DREAM CAME TRUE; March 1919; part 1

When Is “An Old Maid” Not an Old Maid? When a Lad of Discernment Calls Her “Mother”

“Just your magazine today, Miss Cornelia.”

Not a single letter, Mr. Dempster?

A delicate flush rose in the thin face as the postmaster shook his head. Then the little figure in the gray gown resolutely set its bonnet straight and with a determinedly cheery “Good afternoon, Mr. Dempster!” sallied forth into the open sunshine.
The postmaster looked thoughtfully after her and addressed himself to the empty general delivery boxes.

“That niece of hers ought to write oftener. She doesn’t know what her letters mean to the little old lady.”

Now Miss Cornelia was not exactly old. This harvest marked her fifty-first autumn and she was still so young that her spirits were not long clamped by the lack of the looked-for letter. She smiled as a brown squirrel whisked into view, laden with a sample of his winter store. She stepped carefully to avoid the springing crickets that dotted the walk. And when she entered her own garden, she stooped to gather a few bright-faced pansies.

She put the flowers into a crystal bowl in her sitting room and seated herself to enjoy her magazine but her thoughts wandered.

Her gaze traveled over the trim garden into the watery sunlight of the empty street. The she looked around the luxurious little room and sighed involuntarily. She stepped to the diningroom door and called:

“Mary? Mary, bring your potatoes in here to peel.”

Mary came obediently, with two pans and a paring knife. She was used to these requests. She seated herself by the open fire.

Miss Cornelia watched her for a little then her gaze traveled to the empty street again.

Old Mary’s keen Irish eyes did not miss the movement and her voice was deep with tenderness when she spoke.

“What’s in your heart, honey?”

Miss Cornelia started guiltily, but answered frankly:

“I think I am lonely, Mary. I know it is weak, but, oh, Mary, if I had only had a little of life! If only a child had been left to me! Little feet to patter along the floors--muddy little feet, and burned little fingers to tie up with vaseline, and torn little clothes to mend--oh, Mary, Mary!”

Her clasped hands tightened in her lap. After a little she went on quietly.

“But I am too old for all of that. What I want now is a strong young arm to lean upon. And who knows, Mary?” Her face lit with a wildly happy thought. “Maybe even right today, we might be making wedding clothes!”

Mary laughed tenderly and Miss Cornelia raced on with imaginary details from the dressing of the bride’s hair to the color of flowers on the breakfast table.

She came back to earth as lightly as a snow-flake, laughing at her own extravagances.

“It is all very foolish but it did me good,” and she settled to her magazine with renewed zest, while old Mary’s eyes brooded upon the little gray figure, flashing out of the long ago. Miss Cornelia interrupted her thoughts.

“It tells here, Mary, about a woman who finds mothers for motherless sailor boys. She gives a boy and a mother each other’s address and they write to one another, and when the boy has leave he visits his adopted mother.”

Mary’s face lit suddenly, but she saw that the thought had not entered Miss Cornelia’s head. She hesitated a few minutes before she suggested:

“There’s a chance for you, honey--I think you could be making some sailor boy happier.”

“But, Mary, I am not a mother.”

“Oh, aren’t you, though? An’ who is it the kiddies are tagging along the street, and the big boys tipping their hats to so gentlemanly, and the big girls hurryin’ to catch up with? You’ve no born children, honey, but you’re all mother.”

Miss Cornelia’s face lighted but she said dubiously, “I am afraid--”

“Try it an’ see,” encouraged Mary.

It was two days before Miss Cornelia got her courage up sufficiently to write the woman in another state, telling her briefly that she was not a mother but that she wanted to be one to some orphaned sailor boy.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

HOME AT LAST; Mrs. L. N.; West Virginia

My third book: The Farmer's Wife 1930s Sampler Quilt--Inspiring Letters From Farm Women of the Great Depression and 99 Quilt Blocks That Honor Them is due to be released in May 2015. I would have included the following letter in the book, but unfortunately it was too long. No matter--there are still 99 wonderful letters in the new 1930s book.

I am a young farm wife. My husband and I were both raised on a farm but when we married we worked in the oil fields so as to save enough to buy a little farm of our own. Finally, after much sickness and hospital bills, we managed to save enough to come back home and buy a small farm near my mother-in-law's.

When we came here, there were just so many acres of good land and an old log cabin for a house, with porches rotted down, windows broken out, and corn growing right up to every door. The sheep had been running in the house, and grain had been stored in it. So you can imagine what it was like. But it was home at last, and we started in with what vim and vigor we had to fix it up.

When we tore the old paper and canvas off the walls, we found pictures of the Civil War, and descriptions of Indian fights, so we were in an historical place.

We scrubbed, papered and cleaned from top to bottom and I arranged pretty pictures and curtains, fixed it all up cozy and bright inside, while Hubby built porches. Next thing we did was to put in a good telephone so Hubby could be called back to the oil fields to help pay for our home.

Night after night I lay awake with a baby on each arm listening to the limbs of the locust trees scrape and groan on the roof, the corn rustle, the rats run in the loft overhead.

Hubby came home once or twice a week, while the roads were good, but in winter not so often.  The winter was long and lonesome, with pigs, cows and a calf to feed, and milking to do, with an ear always turned to the house listening for the cries of a burned or hurt baby. Many nights I was up and down trying to forestall croup. And how did I feel when I went to the barn to feed, and found a man had slept in the barn loft!

But nothing really serious ever happened and we got through the winter fine. Now we have a new cellar and cellar house, a new barn and some new fences, the bottom in the meadow, the yard and garden fenced in, and are living fine. I'm very proud of my little log-cabin home.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

MY WEDDING RING QUILT; by Alta Booth Dunn; June 1933

You like the pattern called the Wedding Ring?
It is a glowing, many-colored thing
Like Joseph's coat of old--
Ten times tenscore of pieces in its beauty. 
I made it for a pretty coverlet to spread
Upon my best-room bed--
Not just for homely duty. 

Sometimes, when work is done,
I slip off here alone
And softly touch the blocks. It's sort of fingering
Keepsakes...Yes, memories here are lingering...
This lavender sprigged muslin was grandmother's gown
That once she wore to meet a man of high renown.
The figured linen of pale maize is from my courting days;
And that checked gingham, white-and red,
He gave me on our second wedding day--
He's always had a tender, thoughtful way.

Blue-stripe was sonny's first small romper suit--
My, but it made him look as cute as cute!
Pink-posied dimity was frock of baby girl's--
She loved to wear it with a pink bow on her curls.
This sheer white lawn is new grand-baby's dress;
It is the dearest piece of all, I guess...

Like you, I'm partial to my Wedding Ring;
It's such a lovely rainbow of remembering.



Sunday, June 15, 2014

AMUSING CHILDREN; February 1907; by Mrs. E. C. Rocheford

Rain, rain, and the children must be amused, and they must be kept quiet for there is sickness in the house, and the little ones are cross and peevish, and will slip away and get wet, and then the work of changing clothes and the trouble of drying them, and the crossness and scolding and temper matching the weather.


A bucketful of sand will amuse children for hours at a time. Newspapers, scissors and a pot of paste always delight children. They may string beads, the more colors the better; brushes and paints are a child's delight. Colored papers may be woven in mats or made in chains by pasting the links together and for pity's sake give the children plenty of room. They must have their rights, and they must have a happy childhood memory to follow them through life. Play with them, be real company for them. Teach them to work, to sew, to iron, to sweep, to fill wood boxes, to help wherever there is a chance for them to be of use. It is surprising how much children can do to lighten the mother's burden.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

A FRUGAL HOUSE MOTHER; March 1912; Mrs. E. W., Kansas

Being a farmer's wife, we of course have no stated income, and can never tell what the amount of money will be that can be used in the home. But I always try to manage so the expense shall not exceed the income. Of course, we keep cows, and have our own milk and butter with some butter to spare to help out the grocery bill. We have a garden, but we do not always raise enough potatoes for our own use, and therefore we must buy. We try to sell enough of some other garden truck, that we have a surplus of, to pay for the potatoes. We keep chickens so that we have eggs and young chickens to use and sell. We have our meat and lard.

I have always tried to get what was needed about the house from the sale of poultry and eggs, or from garden truck. I have bought everything I have in my house with the money I made from the poultry, from a set of kitchen chairs to a $50.00 range and organ and my home is well furnished. Of course, I did not do all this in one year. We have a large family of children to clothe and send to school. I have kept them in school and last winter I put two of the eldest girls through a nine months' term in a city school, paying all their expenses from the proceeds of eggs alone.

I am obliged very often to exercise my wits in order to make a good appearance in matching up outgrown clothing for the little ones from the garments of the older ones; also in preparing food there is a great saving to be made, so that grocery bills shall not be charged at the store.

The farmer's income is very often much less than $40.00 per month and the saving and also earning pennies nearly always come from the good management of the house mother.