The Crooked Lake Review

Summer 2004

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Hattie Mae Gilbert


Charlene Wentworth

Hattie Mae Gilbert was my husband's great aunt. She was born May 8, 1888, the 2nd oldest of 12 children (6 girls and 6 boys) and lived on the family farm on Hilts Road in Sparta. Her ancestors have been traced back to a Samuel Gilbert and Esther Thompkins, who were both born in England in 1756 and came to Philadelphia, in 1776. They had three children, John, Thomas, and Jonathan. John's 7th son was Lester Gilbert who was born in 1824 in the Township of Ossian and was Hattie's grandfather. Hattie's father was one of eight children and was named Seymour. This information on the genealogy of the family was obtained from the book The Lives and Times of the Gilbert Family written by Marion Gilbert. In 1906 Hattie's father and mother, Seymour and Alice Esidean (Gross), moved their family onto the current homestead in the township of Sparta. The brothers and sisters consisted of Laura (who later married Laverne Morrell), Hattie, George, Martin, Evert, Milo, Ethel, Verna, Adelbert (Dee), Freeman, Mabel, and last but not least, my husband's grandfather, Milton. Hattie never married and lived most of her life on the family farm from 1906 on. I researched her life by studying the diaries that she had written. It is from these diaries that I gathered the day-to-day life that she experienced. Although Hattie went only as far as the fourth grade, she managed to keep diaries from 1922 right up until 1974. She died July 21, 1976.

The Gilbert Family Farmhouse in 1902

In 1922 Hattie was 34 years old. Her life then consisted of taking care of her siblings, washing, ironing, gardening, canning, cooking and cleaning. Her diary entries during this time focused on the males in her family and their comings and goings. The notes included items about her brothers taking the teams to town to pick up grain, her father and uncle up on the upper lot cutting firewood, about a brother acquiring a new car, and about weekly visits to the church. Although during this time period the local foundry, Foster Wheeler, was a going concern, the family concentrated their life on the farm. The days were taken up with using horses to plow and plant the fields, cutting firewood, and in selling potatoes and wood. From the notes in the diary it was apparent that ordering from a catalogue and receiving the articles was of significant importance to warrant a detailed listing of the items ordered and their cost.

Harriet Gilbert

In 1927 Hattie was 39 years old. She still spent most of her time working on the family farm and mention was made of doing spring and fall house cleaning. The house now had electric lights that were energized from batteries in the cellar. The batteries stored enough electricity for approximately 2 days in the winter when evenings were longer and more illumination was needed and for as long as 7 days in the summer before requiring charging by a gasoline-powered electric generator. Hattie once mentioned that a brother went to town for gasoline when the batteries needed to be charged.

She was still caring for younger siblings and making sure they got off to school which was just down the hill from the farmhouse. Married siblings occasionally came back to the family home and stayed along with their children. During a snowstorm in February she mentioned that thirty-two stayed over for the night.

Since her mother was not feeling well, Hattie had become chief cook and bottle washer. She also churned butter to sell at 11 cents a pound; she kept a record in the back of her diary of how much butter she had on hand.

The men, although they, too, worked very hard, seemed to be able to go to town whenever they wanted to. There was much visiting between neighbors and meals were often shared.

It is interesting to note that during 1927 Hattie made an entry about the cows being tested for TB. Two "Fresh Air" girls came out from New York City to spend two weeks on the farm. This was during the time when social programs were being pushed. Also mentioned frequently was the selling of firewood to local residents and potatoes they grew on the farm that were shipped on the DL & W.

As an example from her diary, her entry for September 23, 1927, starts out by noting that the weather was Fair. Then it goes on to say that:

Pa, Les, Geo, Mittie, Mae, Dorothy went to Hemlock Fair. Evert dug potatoes-17 bushels. Laura and Evelyn came up. Bill's car. I sweep and dusted and mended. Mittie went down to Tuckers to a winner roast for Minister farewell.

In 1937, Hattie was 49 years old. The family had then shrunk to a nucleus including father Seymour, mother Alice, an uncle John, a brother Mittie and his wife Carrie along with their two children Harold and Letha, as well as Hattie.

Coming into and going out of the household at this time were several unmarried brothers who worked away and came home every once in awhile. Hattie had taken over the raising of a brother's child whose wife died in childbirth. The baby had arrived prematurely and weighted less than 4 pounds at birth. The day-to-day struggle to keep the child alive is related in Hattie's diary. Many trips were made with the small baby to see Dr. Roberts in Wayland .

Hattie also made weekly visits to her sister Laura, who lived in Dansville. She took the child, Lavern, with her and some nights she stayed down with the baby. With the inclusion of her brother's wife, Carrie, into the family, some of the burden of keeping house was lifted from Hattie's shoulders.

Mention was made of a planned trip to North Carolina to visit another sister, Ethel (Goodrich Wood) who settled there. Although her life was still tied to the farm, Hattie was starting to get out and see places that weren't mentioned in 1927. The Church still remained the focus in her day-to-day life.

Along with electric lights, the household had acquired a radio. An uncle who was 82 years old was still doing barn chores and helping in the fields.

The September 23, 1937, entry in her diary read:

Lovely day. Warm. Mittie went downtown about the car and sold the wheat. Chancey and Uncle John and Clem worked in the buckwheat, up on Sorges. Scott Hill and two men over to shoot doves. Carrie went up to Adelberts to help settle the house. Mittie and Evert was up there to help too. Richard and Evelyn and Milton over to Kishem to the fights.

In the year 1947 Hattie was 59 years old. She still took care of her nephew but was now also going out to work. She worked at the shoe factory part-time and during the week she stayed in Dansville with her other sister. The farm on Hilts Road was about seven miles from town. They usually traveled there on Reeds Corners Road.

I was surprised that little mention was made of the war. I believe that all the brothers were past the age for military service and the nephews were too young. However upon checking through old family papers, I did come across a Certificate of Meritorious Conduct for the brother who served at Foster Wheeler Corporation as an auxiliary to the Military Police of the Army. The wife of this brother also worked at Foster Wheeler during the war. She was a quality-control person who made sure that all the parts manufactured were of the same quality.

The family then consisted of Hattie, her nephew that she took care of, her brother and his wife and their two children, another uncle, George, who had joined the family, and nieces and nephews that constantly moved in and out of the house along with their parents. The family had purchased a new tractor. Even with this new purchase, however, the plowing of some of the fields was still being done with horses.

Hattie had a garden and the sister-in-law had one also. It seems as if a competition had developed between the two women in the house. A little tension also seemed to be shown in the diary writings. Little remarks about how the sister-in-law went to town and didn't come back until late, how she only put up so many cans of cherries versus what Hattie did, and how Hattie cleaned the whole upstairs while the sister-in-law only cleaned two rooms downstairs. I think that along with the extra help, there were more toes to be stepped on.

Hattie had been responsible for this family since she was 20 years old and now a sister-in-law was taking over many of the duties she had previously performed. Someone suggested that perhaps Hattie was becoming apprehensive about her own advancing age.

Much visiting continued between local families. Help also was given and received between neighbors. Entries in Hattie's diary recorded days when the new tractor was driven up to the neighbors to help them put in their crops, days when a neighbor came to help fix the wiring in the house, and days when firewood was drawn to a neighbor whose husband had been hurt in an accident and was unable to work.

In the year 1957 Hattie was 69 years old. The family then consisted of Hattie, her brother and his wife, Milton and Carrie, their daughter Leatha Wentworth with her four children: Joan, David (my husband), Donald and Nancy, Uncle George, and the nephew LaVerne that Hattie raised. Various family members wandered in and out of the farmhouse with some staying for as long as two months while others only stayed for a few days. Hattie's life still consisted of cooking, cleaning, and taking care of her garden and canning the produce. Hattie lived for her family and for her Church. As in all the years, the Church still remained the focus of her life.

A brother still worked at Foster Wheeler as well as keeping the farm going. Their farm life by then was horseless, tractors had replaced the teams that used to be part of the family life. The brother's daughter Leatha had become a widow with a heart condition. The raising of her four young children fell on both Hattie and the children's grandmother. Life seemed to be hard for Hattie at this point. Money may have been tight, no mention was made of any trips South to see her sister. She continued to care for her nephew.

As an after note, he not only survived many years longer than he was expected to live (he is now 68 years old), but he learned to make out small words and write his name. He had subscriptions and read comic books: The Weekly Wisdom Books and later the Humpty Dumpty books.

Hattie Gilbert in 1952, ready for her garden work

When I joined the family, Hattie was 85 years old. She once told me the reason she never married was because she had raised all those children and she didn't want to take care of anymore. I believe that if she had been born in modern times she would have been a schoolteacher. She always seemed to be interested in helping others, was possessed of a fantastic memory for figures and events, and made everyone welcome in the old house.

2004, Charlene Wentworth
Photographs supplied by the author.
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