Times Past, Pausing to Remember

by Helen Strowbridge Sutherland

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Mother had a sister, Helen, for whom I was named. She lived for many years in Philadelphia, Pa., and often came to the farm to visit us. Her son Stanley Mathers, was a year younger than I and many times he stayed with us while his mother and father traveled about. Stanley was a lad of refined tastes, and was more "ladylike" than I. He loved dolls and could sew better than I could. He played the piano very well and had a fondness for drawing and painting.

He once made a lot of drawings depicting the life of Adam and Eve, with the Serpent in the apple tree. He used to wear my pink calico dress and wished to be a girl. He did not care for the farm and loathed and feared all farm animals, especially the cows. He never felt happy or safe outside the front yard. But he was charming and gay and was a delight to me. He had a fine mind and was gifted in music and art but he was too indolent to achieve success in any line. He married a rich English woman on one of his trips to Europe and lived abroad and died in Nice, France.

Aunt Elizabeth was mother’s eldest sister. Her marriage at 16 years to Castner Hunt was unfortunate. He was the son of a rich farmer, but he was lazy, and never in his long life would work. They lived in Cleveland, Ohio. He squandered his money and was a burden to all his relations. There were three sons; Henry, who never married; Tyman, whose wife was an actress of some prominence, and who died young; Russell, the third son, was a fine man. The one dependable and industrious son. He lived a long, useful, life, a blessing to all - and died at the age of 88.

Mother’s oldest brother was George Strobridge. He ran away to sea while a boy. He went to New Bedford and shipped as a cabin boy on a whaling vessel for a three-year voyage. Mother used to tell us about his wanderings over the seas and the land. Her almost died of homesickness on his first voyage. He went around the Horn in a sailing vessel and had Yellow Fever in New Orleans. He crossed the country with the "49ers" in search of gold. Mother had shells and curious things he brought from the South Seas. We were fascinated by these tales and we used to coax and beg mother to tell them over again and again. We never saw this uncle as he spent his last years in California.

My brothers loved to hunt and fish. They kept their guns and ammunition on the back stairs and we were forbidden to touch them and the hired girl wouldn’t clean the stairs for fear of the guns. Any time of the day you might see one of the boys rush in - grab a gun - and rush out. One time Charley shot a large white owl. It was sitting on the ridge of the barn blinded by the bright sunlight on the snow. And once he shot an old eagle. Hawks and crows were a pest and in the fall of the year there was sure to be a few coon hunts at night. The neighbor boys, with their dogs, joined in. The pelts of various small animals adorned the side of the barn and skunk and muskrat hides brought a good price.

We lived about four miles from Keuka Lake and the boys had a boat rigged up on four wheels. In this boat they would store fishing tackle and bait - rubber coats and boots and, with the other boys, drive an old horse harnessed to the boat that they called the "Walrus" to the lake. The horse was stabled in a nearby barn until they returned. They only went on rainy days when there was not much work to be done and never on Sunday. Sometimes they would bring back wonderful catches of trout. Mother fried them with salt pork and we had cornbread to eat with them. Sometimes, if the fish were biting good, they would not get home ‘til very late.

It seemed to be a great hardship to be a girl - for a girl could not join in these sports but must stay at home. To hear the tales of how a big fellow was landed - of the big one that got away - where the best places were - how they built a fire on the beach to warm and dry themselves - proud of this skill and looking forward to the breakfast mother would get. Everybody excited - happy and hungry.

Father’s uncle, Simon Sutherland, was the organizer of the Baptist Church at Second Milo and the pastor for years. In those days the preacher got little or no pay and made his living on a farm. There was so little money that he did not wear shoes in warm weather except in church, going barefoot the three miles - putting his shoes on before going into the church. He and his wife, Tacy, are buried in the Second Milo Cemetery. This was long before my time.

There was still standing, on the farm where he had lived, a log pig pen and once a big black bear came out of the woods and carried the pig away. The men tracked him to his den and shot him. The hide was tanned and father remembered seeing it lying on the floor, before the fireplace, in Uncle Simon’s house. Sometimes, we went that way to the village and I used to beg father to tell the story once again. Each time he told it he would think of small details he had not remembered before. Father said Uncle Simon had a large family of children and grandchildren and that he never turned anybody away from his door. A good man, father said, but never laid up any money. Uncle Simon knew sorrow - he lost four of his daughters - Polly, Judith, Amanda, and Mary - during April of 1832 to measles - while he served the Pultney, N.Y. church.

Sister Dora was married to John Watts Judson on a bright June morning. I was too young to have many distinct impressions of the time. The house was crowded with relatives who came the night before and a terrific thunderstorm fairly rocked the house. Her dress was a soft shade of blue silk, trimmed with narrow white velvet ribbon. The ruffled and flowered skirt held cut by hoops - the flowing sleeves - the lavender shoes - all seemed indescribably elegant. Her hair was dressed high on the back of her head in a chignon or "waterfall." I thought then, and think now, that there can never be a more elegant style of dress or a more beautiful girl than my sister, Dora, was then. All joy in the festive occasion was swallowed up in sorrow for the delight of my life was going away. I could not be convinced that Dora would ever come back again. At the moment of parting I threw myself on the couch in an agony of sobs and tears and had to be forcibly restrained from running down the road after the carriage that took them to Penn Yan to take the train for Farmington, Minnesota.

But she did return, after a year had passed, bringing with her the infant daughter Mary Elizabeth. When I first saw that baby my heart did a somersault - never had I loved a child before - Oh, she was sweet. Dora’s friends came to call and there were tea parties at home and music in the evenings, and invitations out, and I became Dora’s shadow and went with her everywhere, for I could take care of Mary. These were happy days for us. After a while Dora and her husband resided in Louisville, Kentucky, and one springtime here Judson brought Dora home with a beautiful black-eyed babe - Lucy. I shall never forget how he came up the steps and laid the babe in mother’s arms. Dora was pale and had to have milk and eggs, and mother was anxious. In the early fall Dora returned to her home with the two little girls and I only lived for the time when they came back again. Each summer seemed happier than the last to me.

We lived about two miles from a small country church of the Baptist denomination where father had been brought up to attend - it was called Second Milo. At about the same distance was the Milo Center Methodist Church where mother had her church home and where we went oftener and where we heard the best sermons.

Church was the only social center in those days and almost everyone attended Sunday morning service. The evening meeting was about the only place young people had to go and if you wanted to know who was "going together" or was engaged to be married you went to evening services. Card playing and dancing was not in favor and few families allowed their children to indulge in these amusements. Father had been brought up so strictly that he would not impose the same rules upon his own family and encouraged my brothers to play card at home - not in low company. Each winter the boys had a large dancing party. There was an old colored man, named Yancy, who had been a slave, that played the violin and "called off" the figures for square dances.

Mother was not quite in sympathy but did not question father’s judgment and worked hard to prepare a most bountiful supper. A party supper in those days was pretty much the same. Several kinds of cold meat with creamed potatoes and escalloped oysters as the hot dishes. "Raised Biscuit" was an important feature of the meal and was a test of the housewifely skills. The main feature of the feast was cake - of many kinds - this, with pickles, cheese, and coffee was dessert. Such a large quantity of coffee had to be made that the wash boiler had to be used for the purpose.

Supper was served about ten o’clock and everybody went home at 12. Father always stayed up until all the guests departed and the house closed for the night. There was never any drinking or noisy behavior. If a young man was known to indulge in too much liquor he was "out" of polite society. No self-respecting girl would be seen with such a companion. Father used often to say to my brothers - "if you want to play cards, invite your friends here, do not sneak away as I used to do." The result no one of us cared at all about cards and seldom played.

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