by Hattie Whitcomb Taylor
Although I was born way back in 1898, my childhood memories are very clear and dear to me. I was the seventh child of five girls and two boys. My oldest sister was married and had her own family before I came along. She lived in Lowell, Mass. I was born at home in a small farmhouse in Bethlehem, NH, about two miles from the village. There weren’t any nearby hospitals in those days.
One of my brothers name me Hattie Evaline Whitcombe but my father didn’t like the name. He wanted me named Winona, but he always called me baby. My father had a small farm. he kept three horses and usually five cows. He had a pair of oxen to do the heavy work and what fun it was to ride on the stone drag pulled by the oxen. When they were in their double stall in the barn, they looked so big to me. I loved all the animals on the farm and was happiest when I was around them. My sister, Leona, who was only a year and a half older than myself, also like the animals. We had many happy hours playing with the small calves, taking the horses out to water and naming the cows. We wrote the names on the stanchions. Daisy was always the bell cow. One of our chores that we had to do in the summer was to drive the cows in from the pasture. Sometimes my sister and I would each ride a horse to round up the cows. In the winter time when the cows were in the barn, it was our chore to pitchdown hay and feed them.
Another chore we had to do was to gather the eggs. Our hens were not confined to a pen so often we had to look for hidden nests in the hay mow and sometimes we would have to crawl under the barn. Mother usually set the hens for hatching chickens. Most always she put thirteen eggs under each hen. While the hens were setting, the coops were prepared for the mother hen and the little chicks. These were made by placing a barrel on its side and driving stakes in the front to hold boards so that the coops could be closed at night. The hen and chicks roamed outside during the day and when a storm was coming on, how we had to hurry and get them rounded up and into the coops before they got wet. Mama made nearly all of our dresses. One time she made my sister and me each a middy blouse with stars sewed on the corners of the collar. We were very proud of these white blouses. We had two good dresses, one for church and one for school. As soon as we got home from school, we had to change into our play clothes. We always wore long black stockings. Nylons were not heard of then.
My first doll was a black stocking doll. Mama cut out the pattern from the stocking, stuffed it with cotton and embroidered a face on it. At a later time, she bought a large pattern for a rag doll.
How I loved my dolls. In all my growing years I had only three store dolls. Many happy hours were spent cutting out and playing with paper dolls and animals. I drew many cows that I colored with
crayons and then cut them out. Making mud pies was another pleasure.
One day my oldest brother found a baby crow that had fallen from the nest. He brought it home and made a nice pen for it. We kept the pen in the kitchen and kept the crow in it at night and whenever he got underfoot. We let him out of the pen much of the time and how he like to roam around the kitchen. He became everyones pet and learned to say several words. He could say “Waldo”, my brother’s name, and “How are Ya?” when we said good morning to him. He was very smart and also quite a rascal. He would hide any bright object that he could pick up, such as a thimble or small articles. When my sister and I played with toys outdoors, we would take the crow out with us. We would stick in small sticks for fence posts and he would come up behind us and pull the sticks out of the ground. There
There was a girl who came quite often to see on of my older sisters and the crow, for some reason, didn’t like her. He would follow her around and kept untying her shoes. One day my sister and I were sick and coudn’t go to school. Mama had us on a couch in the dining room, where she could wait on us and the crow was shut in the kitchen. He made such a fuss because he coudn’t be with us, so she let him into the dining room. He hopped up onto the head of the couch, looked down into our faces and said, “How are ya?”.
In my childhood, the children didn’t call their parents mom and dad the way they do today, it was always Mama and Papa. I loved my Papa very much so when he came in one day and asked me to help him, I was delighted. He had some hay ready to load on to a cart and a storm was coming up. He wanted to get the hay in before it got wet. As I was the only one of the children at home at that particular time, he asked me if I could drive the team so he could pitch on the hay. I was only about eight years old and I was thrilled to have a part in such a responsible job. We took off for the hay field and everything was going fine until I pulled the horses to the left too quickly and ran the wheel up on to a rock. We came very near tipping over but papa grabbed the horses and turned them back. We finished loading and then Papa took over the reins and we drove the load of hay into the barn just as the rain came down.
We had so much fun playing on the hay, especially when other children were there with us for the summer. We would go up on to the high loft, run as fast as we could to see how far we could go before we dropped down into the lower hay mow. One time, my oldest sister’s boy was there, the three of us went up on to the hayloft over the horse stable. He stepped on to a loose board and went down through straddling the horse’s neck. My sister and I were always teasing Papa to let us ride the workhorses when they were in the barn for their Sunday day of rest. Finally one day after alot of teasing, he said we could ride them for a short time, but we must not run them. We took off down the hill to a large hay field. We disobeyed and ran the horses up and down the field. We thought we were out of sight from the house but when we came back we found out differently. That was the one and only time we rode the workhorses.
The only heat we had for the upstairs was through two openings in the floor when the stove pipes came up through and into the chimney. My bedroom was very cold in the winter and the window would frost up very heavily. I would breathe on one spot until I could scrape off some of the frost and could peek out to see what kind of a day to expect. The two openings for heat to come up from downstairs were in the hall and in my parents room. The hall was quite comfortable and was one of our favorite playing spots through the winter. We had a large dollhouse, which was kept in the upstairs hall.
On rainy days in the summer, we had a grand place to play in the unfinished part of the attic and shed chamber. We never lacked for amusement. In the wintertime, we went sliding on the crust or if my brother was home, he would get his traverse sled out and take us sliding down the hill. Whenever we could, we fastened the traverse sled to a sled drawn by horses to go back up the hill. We had games to play in the snow such as Fox and Geese and making snow angels. We made snow ice cream that we thought was delicious. It was made of clean snow, sugar, and vanilla. But as much as we enjoyed it, it couldn’t compare with the kind that was made in the ice cream freezer that had to be cranked. We had our playtime and barn chores but also had chores to do in the house. there were always the dishes to be washed and dried. There was always six or eight of us for each meal.
My oldest sister’s girl came to spend most of the summer each year. She hated to do dishes so always had the excuse that she had to make a trip to the “little room” off the shed. She would stay out there until she was sure that the rest of us would have the dishes all done. We got tired of this, so one day we decided to get even with her. When she went out, we sat down and waited. Was she
surprised when she came in the find all those dirty dishes waiting to be washed. She decided it was better to do them when they were cleaned off the table than to be doing them an hour or so later.
Other house chores that had to be done were to always refill the reservoir on the end of the stove so that there would always be hot water on hand and cleaning the lamps very Saturday. There were six or eight lamps, a hanging lamp in the living room and the barn lantern. They all had to be cleaned, wicks cleaned and trimmed, chimney washed and dried and each lamp must be refilled with kerosene.
Another daily chore was to take care of the slops in the bedrooms. My sister and I had to do this chore together every morning! We climbed the stairs with the large floor pail and a smaller pail of
water. The “thunder jug” from each room had to be emptied into the pail, then rinsed out and then we had to carry the pail out and empty it behind the barn. Each night after the supper dishes were done, we had to wash potatoes and leave then in cold water ready for Papa to put on the stove to cook for breakfast after he built the wood fire in the black kitchen range. He always liked his potatoes and meat for breakfast.
While the potatoes were cooking, he went out and did his morning barn chores. We lived on one of the roads leading to Franconia by way of Whitcomb Hill and what a thrill it was for my sister and myself to watch the big coaches and other teams with their fringe-topped wagons as they went by the house on their way to and from the Flume and Lost River. My mother had a lot of flowers and the best ones of all were the sweet peas she raised each summer. My sister and I sometimes would set up a small table by the roadside and sold bunches of the sweet peas to some of the people passing by. It was a much bigger thrill to see the large wooden snow-roller drawn by four and sometimes, six horses coming down the road. The number of horses depended on how bad the storm had been in drifting the roads! Men with shovels usually went ahead of the roller and broke open the drifts so the roller could pass through. The roller was quite wide and heavy and packed the snow hard on each side of the road. This made a good place to walk or slide on. When spring came and the snow began to soften up, it was difficult to drive over a rolled road as the horses would sink in and the sleigh would stay on the hard-packed snow.
My father had a small but nice apple orchard. The favorite summer apples were the Dutchess and one we called August apples. For winter storage, there was a tree of Snow Apples and one with Strawberry Apples. I suppose these apples had a catalog name, but these were the names we knew them by. The Snow apple was very dark red outside and snow white meat inside. The Strawberry apple looked the same but the meat of the apple was streaked with red. There was a least a barrel of each put down-cellar to be enjoyed in the winter. How good they tasted on a cold wintry evening, as everyone munched on them, whether they were reading, playing or just munching! There was also a large pan of popcorn nearby. Papa also raised vegetables and potatoes. Mama canned the vegetables and stewed and froze the pumpkins. We didn’t have an icebox. The potatoes lasted through the winter and early in the spring. It was Leona’s and my job to go down cellar and sprout the leftover ones by the light of a lantern. What a tedious job this was, but we were happy to get a penny or two for our labor, which we spent for penny candy at the candy store.
Thanksgiving Day and Christmas were very happy occasions. All the family who lived near and far came home for the family reunion on those days. Leaves were added to the dining room table and places set for the adults. we children had our own table set up in the kitchen. NO ONE could make a chicken pie like Mama’s! She made hers in a large milk pan with a cup turned bottom side up in the middle of the pan to hold the crust up. My brothers always cut a Christmas tree from our own trees. There was one Christmas that wasn’t so happy. Mama’s mother died the day before Christmas so Mama went to Wildwood for the funeral. We all felt so bad because she wouldn’t be with us on Christmas day. We didn’t have a tree that year, but dear Papa tried so hard tomake us happy. Fefore we went to bed he had Leona and I hang up our stockings. There were only five of us; Papa, my sister Inez, my youngest brother, Verdi, Leona, and myself. What a surprise we got when we cam downstairs in the morning. Under my stocking Papa had put an iron ox cart with an ox hitched to it and a little colored man sitting in the car to drive the ox. Under Leona’a stocking was an iron ladder wagon drawn by three fire horses. What a wonderful toy!
Papa had a small sugar orchard and sugarhouse. When he would have to be in the sugarhouse boiling sap, my sister and I would take these iron toys, go with him to the sugarhouse and play with the toys around the tree where the snow had melted and left bare ground. Papa always made a large wooden tub full of soft maple sugar. The sap was boiled down to a thick course mixture that was spreadable. What a delicious treat for a snack. I would take a slice of bread, always homemade, and spread some of the maple sugar over it. No one counted calories in those days! Another wonderful snack was a piece of Mama’s hard gingerbread with a glass of milk from our own cows. On nice summer days when Leona and I would take our dolls and go up in to the cvow pasture and play house on a large ledge, Mama would put a little food in a tin pail for us to take with us. Nearly always it was some of her gingerbread. One time when my grand nephew Michael stopped by, I had made a batch of the gingerbread, so I asked him if he would like a piece of hard gingerbread. Not knowing how to answer, he just gave me a surprised look. He thought I was offering him a piece of gingerbread that had become hard with age!
Papa had a large shaggy dog that he called “Cubby”. He lived to a good old age and then, we had a Great Pyrenees. She was very large and a nice dog. Papa was fond of cats and there was always a lot of them We children all had our own special cat. Leona and I would take our cats to bed with us but after we had gone to sleep, the cats were put out to spend the night in the barn. My Uncle Henry had aCalico cat and when she had a Calico kitten, I wanted it. In spite of all the cats at home, I teased so much for this little kitten that my uncle gave it to me. She became a real pet and followed me even when I went berrying.
Then there was wild strawberry time. I picked many a pail full for Mama and what delicious strawberry shortcakes she made. None of the little biscuit kind but a large round one divided into two layers with butter spread over them and, when put together, the strawberries were spread between and on top. Then this delicious shortcake was cut in large servings, the same as a pie.
One time a cousin from North Lisbon came to stay overnight with us. We were sleeping three in a bed, my sister, Leona, my cousin, and myself. One of the slats came out of place and upended the bed. We just laid there and giggled until finally someone came upstairs to see what was the matter.
How grown up I felt when I was allowed to iron the handkerchiefs as a starter. Mama had used the iron handle flat irons before this but at this time, she had the up-to-date ones. These came in a set of three in different sizes and had a detachable handle. One iron was used until it cooled off, then the wooden handle was removed and attached to another flat iron that was heating on the stove. Doing the week’s ironing back then meant that a very hot wood fire must be kept going until the ironing was finished!
My brothers would go into the woods in the fall and gather spruce gum from the spruce trees. It was in hard chunks and kept us supplied all winter. Many a night after Leona and I had got tucked into bed, my brother, Verdie would come up and read to us. Quite often he chose a story from his own little paper, “The Youth’s Companion”. In 1894, Mr. Theodore Thomas, the conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, bought twelve acres of Papa’s pasture land and built a summer home there. Each summer they bought milk, cream, eggs and butter from my folks and many times Leona and I had to take these things over to the house.
Mrs. Thomas had a right of way across Papa’s field, We enjoyed being sent on this errand as we like Mrs. Thomas very much. I felt a little shy around Mr. Thomas as he seemed so stern and was such a noted musician. We never went to the front door, only to the kitchen entrance, and gave the things we had brought over to the maid. She usually gave us a piece of cake or a cookie. At different times, my two brothers worked for Mrs. Thomas. One day she sent word for Leona and I to come over. She met us in the kitchen with both hands behind her. She told us to choose a hand. Then she brought forth two teddy bears. We were speechless. We had never had a teddy bear or even seen one.
Our house faced on to the lovely Mt. Lafayette with its snow cross. This mountain has always been my favorite of all mountains. It is in the Franconia range. The snow cross which forms each spring is formed by a ravine filled with snow which last while the snow around it melts away. Mama made a rule with Leona and myself that we could not go barefoot until all the snow was gone off Mt. Lafayette. We watched the mountain closely every day. We loved to go barefooted and it seemed as though the snow would never get all melted off!! Finally, a day came when we were given permission to take off our shoes and long black stockings and we were free to run barefooted all summer. One day I stepped on a piece of glass that was in the grass and cut my foot. My brother soaked my foot and bandaged it.
My grandmother Whitcomb lived up the road just a stone’s throw from us. After her husband died, she stayed at the home place with her son, Henry, who carried on the farm. her son never married and when one of her daughter’s died leaving a little girl of five years, she kept the girl and brought her up. The girl, Geneva, grew to girlhood and stayed there, keeping house for her uncle and taking care of her grandmother, who became bed-ridden in her late years. Although my cousin, Geneva, or Eva, as everyone called her was a few years older than me, I have pleasant memories of her. My sister and I went up and spent some time with her, playing games. Uncle Henry was very fond of Eva’s homemade fudge and had her make some quite often. When she made the candy, she would get word to Leona and myself to come up and scrape out the kettle. I think she purposely left more than she ordinarily would on the sides of the kettle for us. Was it good!! But she must not give us any of the cut pieces as Uncle Henry was very set about that. You see, he like the candy too, and wanted it all kept for him. Neither house had a telephone so whenever Eva wanted us to come up or needed help in any way, she hung a newspaper in one of the windows. My Uncle had a milk route for many years and delivered the milk with a horse and cart.
Leona and I loved to go to Sunday school and when we didn’t dilly-dally around too much, we could catch a ride with our Uncle. He never missed a Sunday, as he was the Superintendent of the Sunday school. When he got his horse hitched up, he would leave, no waiting for us unless he could see us coming up the road. Whenever we lost a chance to ride, we would walk down to the church on Main St., a distance of about a mile and three-quarters.
Finally, the time came for Leona to start school. As she was a year and a half older, I had to wait another year before I could go. We had never been separated days at a time like this. I was miserable. I couldn’t seem to play alone and just spent the day watching for my sister to come home. I mourned around so much my folks decided to keep Leona out of school for another year so that we could go together. Those school days were happy ones. The school house was about a mile from home and was a one-room district school. We all carried our lunches in tin pails. Some of the older ones had to take the water pail to a nearby house and get the drinking water for the scholars. One dipper served us all. I wonder where all the germs kept themselves hidden in those days. We had to walk to school and about one half mile from home a boy joined us. The drifted snow on the sides of the road, that was all down hill from the boy’s home, was so high and hard we could slide on it. Instead of using sleds, we took large milk pans from home and sat in them, then away we would go. on top of the drifts and down the hill to the school house. We parked our pans in the cloak room. Many unnecessary trips wer made by holding up either one finder or two fingers. You see, the ground sloped down fromt the front of the school to those necessary little rooms in the back, so we would take our pan as we passed through the cloak room and get in some extra slides.
At recess and lunch time we played the usual games of that time such as Drop the Handkerchief, Tag, Pump-Pump Pull Away, and others. There was one of the little boys who liked to tell others that I was his girl so that they would tease me. One day the teacher caught me passing a note and for punishment, she made me go and sit with this boy in a double seat for several days. Was I embarrassed! We went to this school for two years and then it was closed for good and the children went to the graded school in the village. They skipped me a year and put me in the fourth grade. Each year, I looked forward to Memorial Day as I like joining the other children in a parade from the school house to the old cemetery on Main Street and carrying one of the wreaths for the graves of the unknown soldiers. There was always a program at the school put on by the children.