CHILDHOOD AT CHERRY HILL FARM
by Helen Strowbridge Sutherland
Mother was the ruling spirit in our household though I am sure she never realized it. In matters of conduct father referred to her - then decided - never recognizing that it was her gentle course that prevailed.
In matters of business, she, in common with most women of the day, was not supposed to have much knowledge. There was not conflict of authority between them - mother and father - but a perfect understanding and agreement. I believe they truly loved each other, a priceless, precious possession for any family of children.
Mother can best be described by what the Bible says of love, "is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, never faileth."
You never heard her say a cross word, though she punished when her strong sense of duty demanded. But you felt no anger or unkindness in her heart. She never favored one child above another. A wonderful record in the mother of so large a family.
Father was a man of absolute authority in his own house, though he never raised his voice and an oath or slang phrase was never heard from him. Tall and straight with a manner of grace and gentle dignity - he commanded respect. He was of light complexion and beardless. To tell a lie was the unpardonable sin in our father’s house and punishment was swift and certain. Mother felt that he was unduly severe with my brothers, for if they were disobedient they got a licking that they could never forget.
You got up in the morning to the family breakfast and you did as you were told and no question about it. You ate what was set before you and not until your plate was empty might you ask for more. There was always an abundance of good food.
Our eldest brother was named Albert Mead and was a handsome young man when I appeared on the scene. In build tall, light hair, almost sandy, and with blue eyes, my recollections of him is of a young fellow very particular about his appearance. His white linen trousers and Panama hat seemed very eloquent to my childish eyes. I loved his teasing, joking ways and was proud when he took any notice of me - a grubby youngster, always underfoot, I must have been. He could charm you if he wished. He played the violin well and knew all the young ladies far and near.
To describe my sister Dora is not for tongue or pen. She possessed, as her birthright, such beauty and charm of manner that she was distinguished and far above the common run of humanity.
She was gentle and dignified in all her ways and "on her tongue was the law of kindness." She seemed to have an instinct for saying and doing the right thing and her taste in dress was always right. She played the piano remarkably well; having the ability to memorize. In the summertime, when the house was opened in the evenings to cool, it was her habit to play in the dark parlor and we children would listen to her music while sitting on the front steps in the moonlight. She was never strong and ill health came upon her early.
Franklyn was the handsomest of my brothers and, I believe, had the best mind. He was a little taller than the others and there was a curl in his hair and a tinkle in his eye.
He cared more for education than the others. Attended a school in Poughkeepsie, and played the violin very well indeed, having taken lessons of Professor Appi in Rochester, N.Y. - the same man who came to this country with Jenny Lind the Swedish singer. Franklyn composed the "Buckwheat Waltz" - and no matter how tired he was with farm work he always played his beloved violin after supper. Countless times I drifted off to sleep hearing him play.
He taught me to play chords on the piano while I was so small I could not reach the pedals and had to have a little stool for my feet. When I fumbled and made mistakes he would stop his playing and say "preserve your equilibrium". He was a great worker on the farm and very efficient in the use of tools, an all around man, made for success and honor. A brave adventuring spirit - with the faults of his qualities. This promising career was cut short by pneumonia before he was 30 years old.
"Nettie," as we always called this sister, was named for our Grandmother Sutherland who she was said to resemble. If father had any special fondness for any one of his children it was for this daughter.
She was a strong, rosy girl, who took much pride in work. Her greatest interest in life was in pecuniary affairs and she always had a certain share of butter and egg money and looked after the chickens and turkeys with much care and for thought. She helped mother in every way and was a real "farmer’s daughter", much more so than I ever was. She did not care for music or books and was strictly utilitarian in her views.
IT is a most difficult task to try to describe this my dearest brother [Fred]. He had a slender grace of bearing, a quick impulsive way, a "joyous, joyful way he had," a ready spontaneous laugh that endeared him to everyone. Everybody was his friend. He was about four years older than I and my childhood joys and sorrows are bound up with him and my younger brother. For about ten years we three children lived the same life - play, work, and school. Fred possessed a charming personality. He was like the family - yet so different; black hair, blue eyes, large nose, quick in this movements and responses, nervous high-strung, and affectionate. He had a way of throwing his head back when he laughed - was the life of the company wherever he was. When he came into a room it became, at once, a lovely place to be. It was like a light shining and you saw it reflected in the faces of all when he came.
He was most ingenious boy of an inventive turn of mind. Always trying to build or "rig up" some contraption. We had what we called the wagon house chamber. It was the loft in the barn where the tools were kept, the hammers and saws, and where repairing of harness was done. If Fred had a moment to spare from work it was here you would find him. One time he built a beautiful cage for doves and he rigged up a windmill on the barn roof to pump water with.
Once a man drove into this wagon-house with a high-spirited young horse - at that moment a breeze sprang up and the windmill began to move. It made an awful creaking noise as the wings were made of boards - so this horse was frightened and tried to climb the stairs to the hay mow. The man was hurt and his carriage damaged, so Fred had to remove the mill to prevent further trouble. It was a matter of great curiosity to all to know what he was working on and like most boys he did not like his sister tagging him around and he used to scold me and make me go away. Once I ran to mother about Fred’s unkindness and she advised me to kiss him the next time my feelings were hurt. I could not understand how this course of action could make any difference but decided to try out mother’s plan. So. On the next occasion when he demanded to be let alone, I stole up behind him, as he was busy, and planted a quick kiss on his check and then fled the scene, almost falling down the stairs in my efforts to affect a quick exit. I can still see his amazed expression - nothing was said afterwards - but he was kind to me and even told me, in the strictest of confidence, that he meant to make a flying machine "when he got the time." When he had a problem on his mind he had a habit of twisting a lock of hair that grew over his left ear. Many times I have seen him lost in thought, then his eyes would light up and he would laugh.
The school that we attended was about a mile and a half across lots to keep up. There was a small stream we had to cross and a stout plank was laid over it for us to cross on. We walked Indian fashion, I behind Fred. Stepping where he stepped. I grew up with perfect confidence in him and affection for him. Injustice drove him to a fury so it came about that, at school. He was a great fighter. If a boy did not play fair there was likely to be trouble and he would tackle a bigger boy if justice could not be had any other way.
The larger boys went to school only in the winter time; after the work of the farm was done. In the summertime we had a woman teacher and only the little children went to school - and had a happy time. Right close to this school house was a little old, overgrown, "burying ground." We girls loved to play there at noon time around the little old grave stones and once, when we were eating our lunch in a shady place, an old man with a staff in his hand came and walked about the place, peering at the names on the headstones - stopping at one to pull a few weeds. His name - Cornelius Goundry. He stopped at a head stone that had an angel with folded wings carved on it and read all the words. Mother said the girl he had expected to marry was buried there. He had been "queer" ever since and lived in a little cabin, way off from the road, all by himself. He owned a large tract of land with great woods and a deep gully that had wonderful sulphur springs at the bottom. Sometimes the school went there on a picnic.
It was an awful scramble to get down and you had to have a strong man to help if you were little and it was almost as hard to climb up again. The biggest trees and ferns and the clearest water you ever saw in your life grew there. Some of the girls wore pantalettes - but you didn’t and you were glad, because you couldn’t run or wade or do anything much if you had to- and the first time you ever tasted ice cream was at one of these picnics in "Uncle Niels" woods and you thought is was hot and spit it out on your new dress and cried.
Brother Frank was married one Thanksgiving day to Miss Ella Gristock. They lived on the other side of town and it was a long drive. It was a cold, windy, cloudy, day - and it happened that Charley had been sick and was not able to be out so we could not go to the wedding. With heavy hearts we watched the family leave a little while before dark. Father admonished us about the care of the fire and the candle. We cried a little after the family was out of sight and talked of what we would do should anyone try to break in. Charley thought I had better get the axe and the hatchet and shut the dog in the kitchen. We locked all the doors and had a lonely supper by the sitting room fire. We agreed that the next time Frank had a wedding we would go. We did not intend to close our eyes the whole night but be on watch for possible burglars. We woke to hear mother at the door - the candle and fire both burned out.
Father brought us some wedding cake and told us of the wedding - kindly ignoring the hatchet and the axe - helping us to bed with special kindness.
Uncle Elisha and Aunt Pamelia Shearman, she was father’s sister, lived in Clifton Springs, in a gothic house, far back from the street with a great front yard. It was the delight of our young lives to be taken there for a visit. There was a flock of peacocks kept on the farm and one had been mounted and placed on top of the tall mirror in the front hall. Its great tail feathers spread out wide to show its gorgeous coloring. The first game of croquet I ever saw was played in this yard. Father thought children were spoiled by too much pleasure and attention.
The Sanitarium and its parks and flowerbeds, pools, and winding walks were wonders to us. There was also a deer park where a number of deer were kept. The fence was very high and you had to keep your hands off or you might get bitten, Aunt Pamelia kept summer boarders and Uncle had riding horses for the use of the Sanitarium guests. Each horse had a name. Once when we were there the boys found a huge puffball in a low pasture that would just fill a bushel basket.
Father’s younger sister, Aunt Angeline Sunderlin of Rochester, also came for summer visits. Everything about the house had to be put in order when she came for they seemed very grand to our way of thinking. Mr. Sunderlin was a jeweler so Aunt Angeline wore diamonds and very beautiful clothes. But she like the farm and praised mother’s cooking and said she would know mother’s bread and butter anywhere in the world. This seemed strange to me - for how could bread and butter be different. It amazed us the way she treated father. She called him Walter and put her arms around his neck and kissed him whenever he came in from work. But he smiled in a funny way and did not seem to mind a bit. You longed desperately to sometime wear just such elegant clothes but most of all to be as chummy with some man as she was with father. Aunt was nervous about kerosene lamps and she had a fear of explosions so we used candles in the evening and to light us to bed while her visit lasted. Helen, Charles, Howard, and George were her children.
During these summer visits all the beds were in use and we thought it great fun to sleep on the floor.
The girls, Henrietta and Georgia, wore beautiful silk dresses made with flowers and pleatings and puffs almost covering the skirt. Under this was worn a stiff white muslin petticoat and a hoopskirt and bustle. The girls would unfasten the bands of their three skirts and step out, leaving them standing alone for a moment. No wonder the ladies behaved with great dignity - they could not very well do otherwise.
They wore much jewelry, a gold watch and chain being the most elegant ornament. Also, heavy gold necklaces with cameo pendant, earrings, and bracelets. The fashion of wearing the hair in a "waterfall," which was the back hair confined in a net and pinned up and a curl falling down behind the left ear, was in vogue for years. It was my delight to stand on a chair at the end of the bureau and watch the girls get ready for a party. Sister Dora out-shone them all. She was so sweet and graceful my heart almost burst with joy and pride when she put her arms around me and kissed me goodnight.
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