The Crooked Lake Review

Winter 2000

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Time Marches On

From 1900 to 2000


Catherine Pierce

My maternal grandparents were married in 1899—one hundred years ago! The first child in this family was born in 1900 and the last one of ten was born in 1927. All ten children were born at home. Fortunately, all were healthy births.

My mother's family were farmers as were many families then. The large number of children in the family was an asset when it came to making a living on the farm. I have listened to my aunts and uncles tell about the duties and chores that were assigned to them as they grew-up. There was no running water, no indoor bathrooms in their farm home. There was water to pump and carry; wood to be brought in and fires to be minded; floors swept, clothes washed, tables set and dishes cleared and washed. One sister made a point to visit the outdoor toilet when it was time to wash dishes for all the family, until her sisters soon caught on to her scheme.

They also took responsibility on their own. One of my aunts often tells how my mother taught her the alphabet and how to count. My mother was nine years older and while she did the family ironing she coached her younger sister. The irons were heated on a wood stove; her family had no electricity. There was no television, no Sesame Street. Mother was alleviating the monotony of ironing by challenging little sister with useful entertainment.

Mother remembered walking to school on the dirt road and carrying her shoes until she reached the school in order to save them. My aunt likes to tell about the teacher who had each student bring a vegetable to put in a pot on the potbellied stove to cook until lunchtime. The beginning of hot lunches for students! My mother and her next youngest sister boarded with relatives in town in order to attend high school. Their younger brothers and sisters rode a school bus—actually an ordinary automobile. Today some parents wait in their cars to pick up children who ride the bus. During the Steuben County Fair in August, 1999, my husband and I acted as hosts in the one-room schoolhouse on the fairgrounds. Many people told stories of their experiences in rural schools and some thought that the advantages of learning in a one-room school would be valuable today.

My uncles expected to become farmers and they didn't feel the need for a high school education and they did not go on to school. Four of my aunts did complete high school. One went an additional year to normal school and taught in a country school until she married. Another worked until retirement in a factory, a third became a nurse, and the fourth became a secretary in a bank.

When my parents were married in 1930, my grandmother gave them a cow which she said was then my mother's. My father led the cow from Browntown in Caton to their new home in Borden Hollow in Hornby, more than ten miles. There they carried water from a creek to the house for all their needs. My father's job was only one or two days of work a week. They raised vegetables in a garden and animals for meat. In the fall my father picked apples and made them into cider and sold it to people in Corning.

As their livelihood improved they purchased a bigger farm where they raised a thousand chickens each spring. When the roosters were old enough to sell, my parents with three children in the back seat and a crate of roosters in the trunk of their car would make the rounds of the Corning streets each Saturday until all the roosters were sold. I also remember parents, grandfather and children all catching the roosters on Friday nights, killing them Saturday mornings, dipping them into hot water to make it easier to pluck their feathers, and delivering them to a local grocery store where they were sold to customers for Sunday dinners. The pullets were kept for their egg production. Many a winter night we spent cleaning, grading and packing eggs into crates to be taken to the Erie R. R. Station where they were shipped to New York City.

My parents' endeavors made it possible for them to enlarge their dairy herd and then buy a large farm that my father had always wanted. Before my parents retired, they owned three farms, milked a herd of forty or more cows, and raised all of the replacements for their dairy. They did all of the work themselves with an occasional assist from neighbors or a short-term hired man. All started with the wedding present cow that was walked to her new home.

My brother inherited the farm when Mother died. He lives in Florida now. The house that my parents waited patiently to build until they had money enough, is now rented and the farm land is leased to other farmers, the barn and outbuildings have been dismantled. These are changes that I am glad my parents did not have to witness.

I can't help but think about the changes that have occurred in the past 100 years. People of my generation lived in farm houses heated by stoves and lit with kerosene lamps. Chamber pots were carried out every morning and emptied. Bathing was a weekend ritual in a tin tub with water heated on the cookstove. A range reservoir that provided hot water for dipping into a bathing bowl was considered a convenience. Clothes washing was a weekly day-long chore of heating water in a copper boiler, paring home-made soap cakes into wash tubs for sudsing, then scrubbing soil away on a corrugated board and finally, after rinsing, cranking the clothes through a wringer before hanging them to dry on an outdoor clothesline. Whenever there was time, flat irons kept hot on a stove were used to press wrinkles from shirts, trousers, tablecloths, napkins, and pillow cases. Baking bread and pies was another long hot day in the kitchen. Many days were spent in late summer hot-packing tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables for winter eating.

Improvements in our time came rapidly and continually: electric illumination, indoor plumbing, bathrooms, washing machines, circulating heaters, refrigerators, vacuum cleaners, aluminum and then stainless steel cookware, self-tending clothes washers and dryers, permanent-press clothing, freezers, timed ovens, handy cooking surfaces, automatic heating and cooling systems, bread making machines, and all the house-keeping innovations that free homemakers to personalize their homes, educate themselves and their children, perfect their skills and allow them free play of their interests and intellect through gardening, cooking, fancy sewing, reading, writing, searching for family ancestors, assisting voluntary societies or venturing into electronic-age enterprise.

There is considerable emphasis being placed on the increasing availability of information in the new millennium and how this will affect our living styles. Remember the weekly newsreel "TIME MARCHES ON." Time does march on and with it come innumerable changes.

© 2000, Catherine M. Brant Pierce
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