Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Blast From the Past

Literally! In 1996 my then 97 year old great grandfather Ivan Walter wrote down some of his childhood memories. I typed 'em up and have since them squirrled away on a floppy or thumb drive or smoke signals of whatever it is people save things on these days. Since it's quite lengthy be sure you draw yourself up a stool and a tall cool glass of apple cider.

A great grandson

I Remember

Grandma McClure taking a nap (reading the Markle Journal). The journal was a weekly newspaper with the local news. Foreign news was of small interest.

She was sitting on a "willow" be a south window of the living room of the home approximately 2.5 miles east of Markle, Indiana. I took the picture circa 1914.

Grandma was Lucinda Walker (Scotch decent). She married Hugh McClure (Scotch decent, guess date circa 1850). They built a two story log house (still standing at my last knowledge). They called this the "old house" after building the new frame house.

Grandpa farmed but his real interest was a "threshing outfit". A steam engine, which with a long wide belt powered a threshing machine (which separated the grain from the straw of wheat, rye, etc. The grain went into bags and the straw was blown out a large pipe onto a straw stack). A corn shredder to separate the corn ears from the corn plant, leaving "corn fodder" which was stored in the barn and used to feed the stock. A clover huller which separated the small clover seeds from the clover plant. Not much use was found for the clover hulls except to spread it back on the fields. Grandpa did this service for the farmers in the neighborhood. He was paid in cash but frequently barter for their products or service.

Threshing day was a big event. Several neighborhood men with their teams and wagons were needed to bring the grain from the field to the machine and to haul the threshed grain away.

The neighborhood women came in and helped mother cook a big dinner (noon). The men came in hot and sweating, washed their hands, and faces in wash pans with soap and usually cold water from the pump. Sometimes the "setting" was required at the big family table. The women ate after all of the workers were served then washed stacks of dishes "one dish at a time".

Grandpa and Grandma had five children: Aunt Anne, Mary (my mother), Alice (Aunt Allie), Uncle Ed (never married), and Uncle Jo.

My father Edward J. Walter (German) was born in Northern Indiana. I have heard Whitley County. One of a family of thirteen children, spoke German at home, came by way of the "Pennsylvania Dutch" I believe. Married my mother circa 1897. They started "housekeeping" and lived on an 80 acre farm south east of Markle all their lives. I was born there April 21, 1899.

Dad was a progressive, well educated farmer. He attended all of the farm "institutes" and many "short courses" at Purdue (agricultural) University. He pioneered soy bean growing in the area. He won many "blue ribbons" for corn that he grew, in county fairs. He qualified and acted as judge of corn in county fairs (but not in the classes he was showing).

I Remember - In the "Old Hove"

Comb- a device with many sharp wire-like teeth. One projection up from 3/4" thick board about four inches wide, 8 inches long. This was a "comb" used to separate the flax fibers from the flax plant. They grew the flax and spun fibers into thread which they wove into fabric on the loom mentioned below.

A largewheel spinning wheel with a wheel approximately 3.5 feet in diameter. This had a flat rim, perhaps 4 inches wide. This wheel with cord belts drove a small spindle at the speed necessary for spinning thread. They use a "wheel boy" inserted between the spokes on the large wheel (like a crank) to make it rotate. The sketch below is purely from memory, dimensions are "guess"

A small spinning wheel with a foot pedal. This was similar to spinning wheels which are commonly seen in displays or are still in homes as antiques.

A reel was used to store the thread spun from flax or wool. The reel prop had six spokes with cross members 6" long. Each cross member except one had raised or enlarged rings so the thread would not slip off. The other cross member did not have a raised ring so the completed "skein" could be easily removed. This reel assembly is mounted on a floor stand. In this floor mounting structure is a measuring dial that counts turns of the reel with a "click" when the skein is full.

A loom, which was used to weave both fabric (from the flax or whool threads they spun) or to make carpet, discarded or worn clothing was torn into strips perhaps 1.5 inches wide and of a length as the old garment provided. These lengths were sewn together end to end to make a proper length for weaving. These "carpet rags" were woven to form the "woof" (the cross strands). The "warp" could have been spun because of the great amount and the relative lower quality it was probably bought and was probably cotton.

I Remember Out of Doors

The dutch oven was a small but heavy stone structure similar in shape to a present day oven. One end had an opening large enough to receive two or three larger bread pans. The other end of this opening was closed except for a short chimney. A small stone could be rolled into place to close the front opening.

A fire was started in the oven space, allowed to burn until the mason mass was heated to a baking temperature. The fire with its ashes was removed. The large pans filled with bread where put into the oven and allowed to bake by this heat stored in the masonry.

The smoke house was a brick building about 10 by 12 feet in size. It was used to "smoke" hams, bacon, sometimes sausage.

It was the practice of a family to butcher enough hogs, usually two or three, to last all year. Since there was no refrigeration this was done at the start of cold weather. The hams and bacon were "cured" in a solution of salt, salt peter, etc. for several weeks. It was then smoked several days in the smoke house in which a smoldering smoky fire was kept going. Hickory wood was preferred for the "smoking" fire.

Other parts of the hog were ground into a sausage. This was seasoned with salt and pepper and some of it was used as patties. The rest was stuffed into the hog intestines, which of course had been properly cleaned. A sausage "grinder", much as we have today, was used to grind the sausage. The stuffing was done with a sausage stuffer. This was a cylindrical body with a piston operated with a hand crank to force the ground sausage though a hollow tube into the intestine.

Fatty parts were heated out of doors with an open fire then "squeezed" in the sausage stuffer, now a lard press, to remove the hot liquid fat "lard".

Beef was a different matter. No good means of preserving it was at hand. So a small beef was slaughtered at the beginning of cold weather and divided among several families.

A large copper kettle had many uses. I would guess it to be about 20 gallons. It was always scoured to its bright copper color after each use. It was suspended over an open fire by a pole supported on each end by poles set into the ground. The upper end having the crotch of a tree limb into which the cross pole was laid.

One of the main uses for this kettle was to make apple butter. Apple butter was made from apples from the family orchard. Apples were taken to a local cider mill where the apple juice cider was squeezed out of the apples. Fresh cider was a good drink but many people thought it got better as it developed alcohol and became "hard cider". This state did not last long as the natural process continued until it became vinegar with its many uses around the home.

To make apple butter the freshly squeezed cider with peeled and quartered apples was placed in the kettle. This mixture was boiled with almost constant stirring. Fresh apples were added along with more cider and much stirring until the proper consistency for apple butter was reached. Much-MUCH work stirring but home made apple butter was a real prize.

The family dinner was the aunts and uncles and cousins came to Grandma's house for dinner. For many years I remember Grandpa at his special place at the head of the table. All of the family events were talked about. On one occasion, about 1910, Uncle Dan and Aunt Ann had just returned from a trip to California and brought back tree ripened oranges. This of course was a great event for country folk whose travel horizon was the county seat, Bluffton.

After the dishes were done the women, still with something to talk about, would (if the weather was nice) go out to the "necessary house", talking through the door (as they took their turns) to the one inside.

The men after a little rest to let their dinner "settle", depending on the season would take their guns and hunt rabbits. There were always rabbits in the orchard behind the "old house". Or listen to the skaters waltz or maybe religion hymns on the Edison Graphiphone with the cylinder records and the morning glory horn.

Ivan, 1996

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