CHILDHOOD AT CHERRY HILL FARM
by Helen Strowbridge Sutherland
One time when I was about eight years old I became greatly impressed by the religious education of Sunday School. One sermon about giving, "even a cup of cold water in the name of Jesus," lay on my mind. I burned with a desire to follow my Lord’s teaching and be put into practical use was a most perplexing matter.
Our house was situated at the crest of a long rise of ground and many times in hot summer weather travelers passing by would halt their horses for a short breathing space and rest before going on. There was not much travel as this was not a main road so every approaching carriage was observed with interest. One summer day I was sitting out front by the roadside and had been thinking desperately how I could find somebody that needed a drink of cold water. When I spied a carriage coming up along the hot and dusty road I made up my mind to try it out if they stopped. Sure enough the man reined in his horse - a lady was with him and a little boy just waking from a nap. So I boldly said it would be very nice - so while they waited I ran to the well and got a pitcher and a cup. I felt a glass would not do. They drank and thanked me and offered me a penny. I did want that penny - they were hard to come by - but you had to see your venture through. The man and woman exchanged astonished glances and drove on. I knew I had done a very bold thing and it seemed better not to mention it. No one had the slightest idea of my mental anguish or how hard I tried to figure out how our Lord’s precepts and teachings could be carried out. I might mention that I am still perplexed at this.
In those days a man’s horses were his pride and the most valuable animal on the farm. Here were, of course, no telephones and communications were slow, so horse stealing was carried on extensively.
A club was formed - the members bound by an agreement to go immediately to help search when word came that a horse was stolen from any member of the club. A set of rules was printed and tacked up in the barn.
This was called the "Farmers Protective Association." Sometimes a man would ride into the yard in great haste to "warn out" the members. When this occurred some one of our, or father himself, would ride out certain roads asking at every farm and of every traveler met on the roads if any suspicious strangers had been seen passing. In this way a large territory could be covered in a short time. I do not remember that thieves were ever caught. We were thrilled when these exciting raids were on. There was much petty thievery going on - hen roosts, graineries, sheep folds and smoke houses were broken into and at times house cellars.
Orlando Davenport was father’s hired man. He had a large family and lived in the tenant house up by the big woods. He was big, bold, blustering fellow of great good nature. He had been in the war and still wore the faded blue overcoat with brass buttons and his soldier’s cap. When he had a little too much hard cider to drink he was the delight of our lives. He would sing and dance and tell great tales of his exploits in the army. He had some dramatic instinct and when under the influence of drink would call out the "charge on the enemy." He had been in the cavalry and his stories were hair-raising and breath taking. At this time father had a pair of mules - Jim and Kate - Kate was an ugly brute and could only be used when securely fastened to her mate. Each mule had a stout leather collar and a short chain linked them together. When Orlando wished to show us how grand a man he was in the army he would take Kate’s collar off - put a bridle and saddle on her and ride her up and down the road. At no other time, except when he been drinking, would he attempt such a foolish and dangerous exploit. The mule would kick and buck and show her fierce temper in every way a mule could. Orland would wrap his long legs and arms around her and shout himself hoarse but ride her he would, and did, until she was subdued and tired out. Then Orland would sit up very erect holding the reins like a riding master and put Kate through her paces, showing how a soldier could ride. Then he would dismount and cocking his army cap on the side of his head he would lead Kate to her stable with much raucous advice on the futility of opposing such a man as he. We expected to see Orland killed in these performances yet our delight was unbounded. Father did not encourage such exhibitions but he was as much amused as we were.
Once, when mother was eating dinner, she got a fish bone caught in her throat, It would not go down nor would it come up. Father became frightened as mother choked and gasped and could get her breath only with great difficulty. He lead her out on the porch hoping the fresh air might help, but she grew worse. So father called Orland to go for help, the doctor, in haste. Orland thought he could accomplish the errand more quickly if he rode Kate mule and attempted to do so, but the confidence imparted by hard cider was lacking and Kate was wise enough to sense the difference and refused to go and began to kick as usual. The spectacle was so amusing that mother laughed in spite of her pain and the effort dislodged the bone in her throat and she was relieved. So Orlando did not go for the doctor and mother said he was the physician.
One time mother sent me up to Orlando’s house to see why Phenecia did not come to work. She was mother’s hired girl then. It was an awfully poor place but Orland’s wife had her hair frizzed and a very long skirt to her calico dress. The girls all had double names - Lucretia Josephine - Harriet Lutulia - Mary Selinda - Julia Ann - were some of them. Mother said they came out of a book - the names, I mean - and that she guessed reading was all the pleasure the poor woman had. She looked kind of faded out and tired and awful sorry about something. She used to send one of the little girls almost every day to ask mother if she could spare a "mite" of fried-meat grease and mother would always find some and she would say to Nettie - "you better give her a cookie for each of the children." But Nettie did not like to for it took ten to go around and she said it was hard work to bake cookies - but mother would put the cookies in a bag, anyway.
You weren’t allowed to play much with these girls. Your mother said it was hard for your manners, but you liked Julia Ann because she could run faster and climb higher than any girl you knew. She had black eyes and wasn’t afraid of anything. She showed me how to run over rocky places with bare feet so you wouldn’t feel it for if you ran fast enough you did not get hurt. Our harvest apple tree was in the middle of a great woodpile and if you got a good start you could get to the top and climb the tree. The apples were red but if you ate too many green ones you had an awful stomachache and mother would say "will you never learn." And when Charley helped bring the cows up from the pasture at the night to be milked we could run through the thistles and stubble and not get hurt much if you ran fast enough. We had a black Shepard dog we called "Rover" and he would run himself almost to death if you made a trilling noise with your tongue. He would run down the road and back until you trilled again.
Uncle Reuben Sutherland was father’s only brother and lived a few miles away in the homestead. He was a tall. Spare, man much like father in appearance. Aunt Phoebe, his wife, was a large, jolly, woman with a rosy good natured face. Truth compels me to say that her figure resembled a sack of meal with an apron tied around it. But oh, how good and kind she was.
This homestead, build by Roger Sutherland, was large and sat far back from the road with a deep front yard running down to the highway. You had to open the gate if you wished to drive in. The influence of frontier days was evident in the arrangement of the rooms as there was a large bedroom exactly in the center of the ground floor that had no outside window - only a small window opening into the front hall and a door leading to the sitting room with no other light or way of ventilating. This fascinated my imagination as a place to hide from Indians. Aunt Phoebe did not like it, but uncle Reuben would never change it. The bedrooms upstairs were very high ceilings and had a large garret, or attic, reached by a ladder. The fireplaces and brick ovens were all in their original position but were boarded up and not used. Across the back of the house was a deep porch with benches built against the house. The gardens ran down from there to where there were many beehives. We children were not allowed to go there.
Aunt Phoebe kept strained honey in a large bowl and spread our bread generously. Never shall I forget the pattern on the bowl or the cameo brooch she used to wear. Her pantry was long and narrow and seemed full of blue dishes and good things to eat.
Father and mother used to take us there on Sunday afternoons. We would have lemonade and sugar cookies and listen to a wonderful music box. We had to sit quietly and listen to the conversation because we had on our best clothes. There was one unfailing source of interest and that was a large green parrot that could talk a little. It lived in a cage hung high on the wall. He could whistle and make a sound like an old hen calling her chicks. If he felt neglected he was sorry for himself and would say, over and over again, "Poor Polly." In very warm weather, Aunt Phoebe would hang his cage on the outside among lilac bushes that grew along and against the house. Once a sudden thunderstorm came up and he was frightened when he got wet. He crawled under the paper on the bottom of his cage and scolded and cried until his feathers were dry.
There was an old black dog named "Jet" who did the churning. There was a treadmill he worked by going through the motions of running. He was always willing to come when called though he was pretty tired by the time the butter "came." Aunt Phoebe would untie him and give him some food he liked. There were flowers growing along the sides of the porch and the well was there. The bees seemed to be hurrying from flower to flower and then to the well where the water was standing, then fly straight to their hives. The steady humming they made was like music.
Uncle Reuben raised hops for market. The vines were set in rows across the field with a tall pole set in the ground for each vine to climb. When the vines reached the top of their poles the field was like a forest of young trees, and we did not dare walk between the rows or we would get lost and not know which way we were going. In the fall these poles were taken down and the vine out with a sharp axe. Then dozens of men and women and children would come to pick the hops. Uncle Reuben had a hop house where they were dried and cured for market. They had a sharp pungent odor.
The pigs were kept in the basement of this hop house and in the season after the hops had been sent to market corn was stored here. There was a trap door in the floor and the corn was thrown down to the pigs at feeding time. On this floor there was a rope swing where we played. Once I was swinging there when the pigs had just been fed. By swinging as far out as possible you could see the pigs squabbling over their food below. Somehow I let go the rope and fell among the pigs. I got no sympathy and a scolding.
The smoke house was a most important part of the farm equipment for so much of our living depended on the proper curing of the meat. Ours was built of brick but had a roof of boards and shingles and would hold a great deal of meat hung up near the roof. On the ground, there was no floor of course, ashes were placed, a great heap of them, and on these ashes a fine fire was built of corn cobs and hickory bark as these made the most smoke. For some years this was my work. One must take great care that only a few pieces of fuel were put on the fire at one time. When a small blaze started you covered it almost over with ashes so that a small cloud of smoke went up and slowly turned the hams to a golden brown - giving it a fine flavor and protecting it from insects.
One time in the early spring, father and mother drove away one afternoon to make a visit at our older brother’s house about 10 miles away and were to be gone overnight. My sister Nettie, my brother Charley, and myself were left at home. The smoke house was full of meat and several times a day I looked after the smoke. We children expected to go to bed early as there was nothing especially interesting to do, when a cousin, who lived in Ohio, came to spend the evening. This was Russel Hunt - he had been visiting relatives at Himrod not many miles away. He wished, very much, to see father and mother so Charley rode a horse as fast as he could to overtake them. This he did and they returned and we settled down for a long evening’s visit with this interesting man.
He sat facing a window opening out on the south porch and suddenly he saw the blaze of a fire. We rushed out to find where it was. The roof of the smoke house was ablaze. Father and cousin Russel soon had it out and the meat was not much damaged, but we had a great fright. There was a strong wind blowing and in some way the fire started. But for cousin Russel’s visit at this hour we children would have gone to bed and been unaware of the fire until too late. Father thought that the pole that the hams hung on must have broken and let all fall into the fire and in this way it began. As only one pole had fallen I was not scolded - he felt it was his fault for hanging too heavy a weight on one support.
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