Sunday, September 22, 2013

RAISING A BIG FAMILY; Part 1; by Maude Meredith; April 1912

Part of it was done before I can remember, as I was the fifth in a family of ten, and at the time it did not seem a matter worth mention, but now, looking back, I realize what a big job it must have been, and how beautifully it was done.

First, in our family, were two sturdy good tempered boys, ambitious and energetic. Then two girls that father always called the "little housewives." Me, he called " Nursie," because I do think I was responsible for the bringing up of the twins. As I remember our household the two boys were bright little helpers on the farm, while my two older sisters saved mother a world of steps about the house. They set and cleared tables, washed all the dishes, the younger standing on a box in front of the sink, while I--"little old Nursie"--rocked the cradle, or trundled the twins in the little cart that father made for them, and that pleased them so much. We had a very nice level front yard, and a lovely side yard filled with trees and shrubs, and the babies and I lived in that from April till November. We did not know anything about "fresh air," or "sunshine cures," those babies and I, but we loved the flowers and the birds, and so, there we lived. When I was four, my sister next older had to desert us, as she was promoted to school age and by that time there was a tiny baby that mamma brought out to the little cart, to sleep in the shade.

I suppose I should explain that there was a strong, high picket fence all about that side yard, so when the gate was fastened we children could not get out of the yard, except we came through the kitchen. Oh, it was snug and safe, and no paradise of one's more mature imagination could ever be so wonderful and beautiful. From the first buds on the lilacs to the last late bloom on the althea, there was a succession of flowers. In this yard was a grand old apple tree, under which hung the hammock. Cost? Oh, it was made at home, papa made, first and last, a dozen of them, I would guess, from barrel staves, with a nice patchy old quilt over the boards to soften them, hung low, on purpose for its children. There were cherry trees, peach, pear and plum, a long grape arbor, cool and dense of shade on hot days, along the rails of which we children hung little bags, or nailed on little boxes, and seats for our rag dolls, and here we played at "keep house." In here we had little tables--ah, that good, nice father of ours who brought crackers in boxes, and the moment a box was empty, nailed in four legs, and forthwith had an individual table. We had stools for seats, always a stool apiece and one or two extra; these father made on winter nights, just as he made milking stools, just such, as later, people gilded and furbelowed with ribbons and set in their parlors. Ours were three legged, some short, some higher, all painted, and always handy.

Father had a way of making little carts, he would saw four circles from a thick board, fit in an "axle," nail a box across, and let us tie in a string. I think they must have been pretty clumsy, wide affairs, but there was always a cart apiece, so there was no bickering, and we were always happy.

When I was four years old, Hal, my oldest brother was twelve. Ah, what a wonder he was to me. He could do so much. He and Charlie, who was ten, weaned and raised all the calves, and "handied" all the colts. They began just as soon as the little colts could walk on their wabbly legs; they petted them till any colt would follow right into the kitchen for taste of sugar, if allowed. So papa never had to waste a minute "breaking" a colt. That was a great saving of time, he said, and how we children did love those colts. Colts were never wild or vicious, you know, if the mares are treated kindly, and the colts are tamed and petted while young. The boys could milk, which seemed very "grown up" to me, and were given the littlest calf each year. This they raised and sold, and the money belonged to them. It was Hal's first "calf money" that he spent for a double barreled shot gun. Then I was dumb with amazement, I heard mamma say, "Now, papa, you will take the boys out, yourself, and teach them to be careful, won't you? And I am sure he did, because we never had an accident. There were a good many woodchucks, some skunks, and coons on the farm; occasionally a mink, and lots of muskrats. Papa particularly wanted to rid the farm of woodchucks, so on rainy days he took the boys out hunting. I may as well add right here, that the yearly revenue from pelts was quite considerable. The gun, a good one, cost only ten dollars, as Widow Grangor had no use for it, and could not keep the rust out of it.