CHILDHOOD AT CHERRY HILL FARM
by Helen Strowbridge Sutherland
You loved to help mother when she made cheese which she sometimes did. This was done when the cows were giving a great deal of milk in the early summer. The milk, fresh from the cows was strained into a large vat and mixed with rennet to sour and solidify. This rennet is from the stomach of calves. When the milk was like jelly you could take a long knife and cut the curd into squares and let out the water. Afterwards it was drained through cheese-cloth laid over a basket made for the purpose. Then it was salted and put in wooden forms for the cheese press. When solid the cheese were taken to the "cheese room" and kept on a shelf. Every day they were turned and rubbed all over with butter until they ripened and were ready to eat - or else to market.
The pantry was large and it was here, at a sink under the window, that the dishes were washed. I felt it was a very hard job as so many dishes and cooking utensils were heavy - iron frying pans and kettles. Only a strong woman could lift our large iron tea-kettle when it was full of boiling water. The flour bins were here and it was here bread was made three times a week. The dishes for every day were set on open shelves. The candle shelf held about ten candle sticks.
Brother Charley loved fried cakes and sister Nettie made the most delicious ones I ever tasted. They were not cut round but were twisted like a figure eight. Father liked them made that way because he said his mother always made them so.
One day when we had been on a long walk we came home very hungry and longed for fried cakes but knew there was no use to ask Nettie. She did not believe in our having anything to eat between meals. We finally made a plan whereby we could get some for lunch as it was a long time to supper. While I went very quietly into the pantry Charley listened to hear anyone coming. I knew just where the large stone jar was that the cakes were kept in and I took about a dozen and carried them in my apron. We went to the hay mow to eat them. Charley ate so may he was sick and could never eat them afterwards.
The "upper barn" was quite a long ways back of the house. This was where the cattle were kept and, when we were very small, where we were not allowed to go alone. Father always had a bull kept at this barn and we were much in fear of him. There was a huge iron kettle, called a potash kettle, used for water for the stock. Sometimes, when the day was warm and sultry Charley and I would undress and splash around in this great iron pot. We might have drowned as the sides were sloping and very slippery, but we were happily unaware of the danger. Once, when we were playing there, the bull, somehow, got out of his stable and, hearing our shouts and laughter, came snorting to see what was going on. We grabbed our clothes and climbed the fence in great haste.
Every morning from December to May we had pancakes for breakfast. Mother had a long griddle that held just eight cakes if you poured the batter right. As soon as I was old enough I had to take my turn at baking them. If you did not bake eight each time there were not enough to go around and I got a scolding when I failed to manage eight. Tears blinded my eyes, many times, until I learned.
Mother made ready, enough rags for a rag carpet, about every other year. This was something I could help with, to sew the ends of the strips of cloth together, and then wind them into large balls. Mother colored some of these - after a large quantity were made we would go with her to the weavers, a neighbor woman who had a large loom. You like to watch her send the shuttle back and forth between the warp. It was quite a job to make a large carpet.
The women of those days behaved with great dignity and, if you were head of a family, you were expected to rule with much firmness. Children were really to be seen - not heard. When company came we had to sit quietly, or be sent out of the room.
Mother used to entertain the minister and his family twice a year. I used to be almost frightened out of my wits by this, solemn, black-coated, gentleman. All the notice we got was a hand on our head and a heavy voice saying, "God Bless you." But mother had her best china and silver out and everything good to eat. The china cupboard could only be reached by standing on a chair - the family treasures were kept there. It was such a fascinating place that you climbed up there to see what might be hidden and when you grasped the edge of the shelf the chair slipped away from your feet, and you fell, and you were disgraced.
Father used to hold a candle in on hand when he read the paper in the evening. Sometimes the paper would catch fire and he would have to jump up quickly and put it in the stove. When the days were short and we all went to bed early, we would sit together for a little while by candle-light. When Charley and I were small father and mother used, sometimes, to sing together. It was old-fashioned hymns they sang, and they looked at each other as though they knew something very lovely and we felt very happy.
Charley had to have the wood boxes filled at night and kindling ready to build the fires in the morning and if he forgot, he was made to get up at once and get the fuel ready. You did not forget your tasks often for if you did you got a punishment you remembered.
When it began to get cold in the fall the threshers would come. You had a lot to do to get ready and everybody talked about it. Nettie hitched up "Nell," our driving horse, and we drove the five miles to Penn Yan to get groceries. You had to have tea and coffee and sugar and matches and salt and pepper - but almost everything else grew on the farm.
You got up early, before it was light, so you had to have a candle and it was cold. Of course you couldn’t help much but you could set the table for the men and pump the water for them to wash when they came to breakfast. At noon when they came for dinner, and were covered with dust, you liked to watch them roll up their sleeves and douse themselves in the basins of cold water set out on the wash bench. You like to hear them talk and make believe fight for the towel or the brush and comb. They slicked up their hair and every man had a big mustache that they rolled to a fine point. We served a big breakfast - pancakes, meat, potatoes, eggs, cider, applesauce, coffee and doughnuts, and sometimes "sour pie."
Mother and Nettie and the hired girl baked and cooked all day. You had a big chicken dinner some days with the cook stoves going in both kitchens - boiled dinners - and hams - and father killed a sheep - and if the weather was warm he hung the rest of it down the well on a rope, to keep it cool and away from flies. You never heard of window or door, screens. You helped make up the beds for the threshers, six men at least, and if it was clover seed that they were threshing they might stay for a week and often did. Before you got through, everyone was tired out - setting the table and washing dishes for so many had lost some of its importance but none of its drudgery. You couldn’t lift the iron tea-kettle or the cooking pots.
The hired girl frizzed her hair and didn’t find a word of fault about the work and the men joked with her when they came in and once you saw the hired man, Dan Moon, kissing her in the evening after supper but you didn’t tell and you hoped with all your might that when you grew up some man would kiss you too.
Nettie helped mother in the kitchen while you would help the hired girl wait on table. You liked to see them and hear them and if they said "Yes Mam," when you passed the food, it made you feel grown up and once, when you most of the men had finished and gone out, Albert picked me up and set me in the very middle of the table and I couldn’t get down without breaking something and mother said, "Why Albert!" and he stopped teasing you and kissed you under your ear to pay for it.
You had your hair parted in the middle and braided in one hard pigtail and you wore a long sleeved apron that buttoned in the back and you dreamed of being a beautiful young lady with frizzed hair and a bustle and hoop-skirt but you couldn’t dream long with Nettie around for she never dreamed and she didn’t like my singing either and that was hard for you could wash dishes so much easier if you could sing. You make up for it when you were outdoors, and when the wind blew you and Charley used to climb the young cherry trees and shout yourselves hoarse. The best cherries grew in the tops of the trees.
Charles Reuben Sutherland, born in May of 1867, was my youngest brother and was named for two uncles. Is there a sweeter companionship than that of brother and sister that have grown up together with never a shadow between them? MY heart leaps with joy when I see him coming, and has, for all of the nearly seventy years we have spent on this earth. He married Miss Marie Capell and had one son, William Walter Sutherland.
Mother said I came upon the earthly scene just at midnight of February 14, 1863. I was the seventh child, eight children in all - a large family even for those times. Mother said I was born with a "caul," called a veil, over my face that was supposed to indicate an ability to read the future, She said I was never strong and she did not expect to live to see me grown up and was the reason she let me run out of doors and play so much of the time.
I did not like to "set on a cushion and sew a fine seam."
Back to page 5
Back to page 4
Back to page 3
Back to page 2
Back to first page