Over the Hill and Through the Woods to Grandmother’s House We Go

16-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Friday, November 24, 1911: Instead of having classes all day today we took an hour off and had something more interesting which was reciting and the like. I said a recitation that I said last year. Of course it was recognized at once. I wish we would have something like this every month at least. It relieves the monotony.

Recent photo of the house that Grandma lived in during her later years. When I was a child I lived on a farm on the other side of the hill from this house.

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

In 1911 Thanksgiving was on the very last day in the month—November 30.

Thanksgiving is a time to spend with family—sharing memories and telling the old family stories. So on this Thanksgiving Day in 2011, I’d like to share my memories of Thanksgiving when I was a child. I’m thinking back to a time about midway between when Grandma kept her diary and now.

Each Thanksgiving, a little after noon, my family piled into our blue Dodge Polara—and Dad drove us the mile or so across the hill to Grandma’s house while my brother and I sang at the top of our lungs:

Over the hill and through the woods

To Grandmother’s house we go.

The horse knows the way to carry the sleigh

Through the white and drifted snow.

Over the hill and through the woods

To Grandmother’s house we go.

For this is Thanksgiving Day.

When we got to Grandma’s house my brother and I rushed inside to see all of our cousins. I told the rest of my Thanksgiving day story in a previous post.  Click the link below to read it.

Thanksgiving in the Den

You might also enjoy reading (or re-reading) the memories of other descendents of Grandma.

Stu: Peanut Butter Cookies, Practical Jokes, Farm Cats, Etc.

Anne Marie: Porch Railings, Flowers, Reading, and More Practical Jokes

Eleanor: Brown Butter Macaroni

Carl: Butchering, Sausage, and the Light Plant

Harold:  “Whispering to Myself”

If any of you have memories of Grandma you’d like to share, let me know and I’d be happy to post them.


Teaching Farm Kids the Value of Money

16-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Monday, September 25, 1911:  Our old teacher Mr. Northrop came back to teach school today. I like him better than the substitute we had. Sold Mollie’s calf today. Weighed 145 lbs. Came to $10.87. Quite a vast sum to get all at once. Guess I’ll save it and get a watch or something as useful.

Kimball's Dairy Farmer Magazine (June 15, 1911)

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Mollie was a cow that Grandma owned. The calf was a little over a month old. (It was born on August 19.)

It’s uncanny—but this diary entry brings back strong memories of my own childhood.  It’s amazing how some child rearing practices go forward from one generation to the next.  . . .

My parents taught me about money by enabling me to become the owner of a cow. I’m now guessing that my father was taught the value of money by becoming the owner of a cow—just as his mother (Grandma) had before him.

When I was 9 or 10 I joined a 4-H club—and wanted to show a calf. My father said that I could buy a calf from him for $25. I only received a dollar a week allowance—and did not have anything close to $25. So he got an envelope out, labeled it “Sheryl’s calf”, and said that I should put half of my allowance into it each week. He then stuck the envelope in a cubby hole of his large roll-top desk.

Every week, I’d pull the envelope out and put two quarters into it. Occasionally I’d count the money to see how close I was to $25. Sometimes I’d ask my parents if I could exchange some of the quarters in the envelope for dollar bills. And then later I exchanged dollars for five- or ten-dollar bills.

The money accumulated and in less than a year I owned my own calf named Dolly. After Dolly grew into a cow, she had calves of her own. If it was a male calf, the calf was sold and I received the money. If it was a female calf it was mine—and the size of my personal herd grew.

Porch Railings, Flowers, Reading, and More Practical Jokes

Thursday, April 27, 1911: Missing entry (Diary resumes on April 28.)

Since Grandma didn’t write a diary entry again today I’m going to share some memories of my cousin (and Grandma’s granddaughter) Anne Marie:

Michael, Donna Marie, and I loved to pop in on Grandma when we were outside playing as kids. We’d tell her that we needed some of her “pink pills for pale people” as she referred to them. Do you remember those pink candies that were the color and the taste of  “pepto-bismol”?  Well, we loved them and Grandma never failed to treat us to them.

Photo from last summer of the house that Grandma lived in during her later years.

This is a really embarrassing one but very true.  One afternoon I was crawling around on Grandma’s porch pretending I was a cow (as if I didn’t already have enough dealings with cows) and decided the wrought iron railing that surrounded her porch would make great “cow stalls” so I stuck my head between two of them.  Well, you know what happened next–of course my head didn’t come back out as easily as it had gone in due to those things on the side of one’s head called ears. Grandma tried unsuccessfully numerous times to get my head out and then started to panic. She ran for mom who quickly came to my aid (with a “for Pete’s sake” look on her face).  Mom applied some pressure to the bars and quickly freed my head. Grandma was greatly relieved, and I was permanently mortified and remember it as clearly as if it were yesterday.

As a child, I always loved Grandma’s flowers and was always asking her questions about them.  She is the one that taught me the various names and instructed me on planting and watering them. Soon after, I had my own little flower bed and it’s still one of my favorite things to do in the spring and summer.

Grandma was an avid reader and she spent many hours on her porch glider with a book in hand and her bible always laid open on her kitchen table.

Grandma also loved to play jokes on us. One day she told me she could do something with her teeth that I couldn’t do with mine.  Of course, I found this quite hard to believe so I asked her to show me.  No sooner had I made the request than she grabbed hold of her dentures and pulled them out of her mouth and dangled them in front of my face.  Needless to say, I was awe struck and horrified at the same time as I’d never known of the existence of dentures.  I must have had quite the look on my face, as she laughed and laughed at my expression.

One April Fools Day she took an old newspaper from her basement and carefully glued all of the pages together and quietly placed it in our newspaper box. I can still hear Mom laughing when she tried to read the paper that day and it didn’t take her long to figure out who the prankster was.

One day Grandma arrived at our door with a box of candy–those boxes that have each piece of chocolate individually wrapped.  It was actually an old candy box that still contained all of the wrappers. She placed black checkers in each wrapper and was quite pleased with the joke she played on me and my siblings.

Anne Marie Satteson

Thanksgivings in the Den

Since the teen-ager who became my grandmother didn’t write a diary entry again today, I’ll continue sharing memories of Grandma in her later years.

Yesterday cousin Stu wrote, “I remember Thanksgivings at her house, with her getting up in the small hours to start the turkey, and the kids (at least, the younger ones) at the round table in Grandpa’s study.”

Stu’s memory jogged memories that I have of eating at the round table. I guess this might not be exactly the right time of year to discuss Thanksgiving memories, but Easter memories bring back memories of other holidays, so here’s a Thanksgiving memory–

After their children were grown Grandma and Grandpa Swartz built a small brick bungalow on my uncle’s farm. It had a large kitchen—and at Thanksgiving Grandma brought extra tables into the room to make a long table that extended from one end of the kitchen to the other.

But the table wasn’t large enough to hold all of Grandma’s children, their spouses, and the grandchildren—so another table was set up in the den. Grandchildren old enough to eat without adult assistance—yet not old enough to sit nicely at the adult table—were relegated to the table in the den.

I really wanted to be big enough to eat with the adults like some of my older cousins, but was always assigned to the den.

Aunts periodically rotated dishes between the kitchen and the den. But after the exchange was made, the DOOR WOULD BE SHUT. . . AND, THEN some of my more imaginative cousins would come up with all sorts of great ideas.

I remember one year we all crammed into a closet in the den to see how many people would fit. One cousin stayed outside, slammed the door shut—and held the rest of us captive in the dark. We screamed—and maybe an adult came from the kitchen to see what was the problem—though I have no memory of any adults coming to our rescue and think that we remained imprisoned in the stuffy darkness until my cousin tired of holding the door.

Then one year, one of my younger cousins—who in previous years had occupied a high chair in the kitchen— was deemed old enough to move to the den, and I was deemed mature enough to move to the kitchen.

I felt so grown up—but, good grief, the conversation around that long table in the kitchen was so boring. When I heard distant screams emanating from the den I longed for the good old days.

Peanut Butter Cookies, Practical Jokes, Farm Cats, Etc.

Since Grandma didn’t write a diary entry again today I’m going to share some memories of my cousin (and Grandma’s grandson) Stu:

My recollection of Grandma was mostly as an elderly woman. I remember her peanut butter cookies with fondness.  I remember Thanksgivings at her house, with her getting up in the small hours to start the turkey, and the kids (at least, the younger ones) at the round table in Grandpa’s study. It’s sobering to think that at those Thanksgivings in the early 60’s, she was only about 10 years older than we are now.  The conveyor of life moves on, and us with it.

I remember her wicked delight in practical jokes. The bucket of water carefully balanced on the door was a favorite. Or her ongoing wars with farm cats.  Or that she had a more-or-less full set of 14 cloth calendars, which she’d recycle depending on the year.

Stu Kurtz

One of the things that I’ve most enjoyed as I’ve worked on this blog is the opportunity to reconnect with relatives.  And, as the years pass and the “conveyor of life moves on” I’ve discovered that it feels good to remember (or in some cases discover) some of those who were earlier on that conveyor.

One of my biggest surprises has been how many people remember some of the same smallest details about Grandma’s life.

In addition to the memory that is in the box above, Stu had another sentence in his email. It was about the cloth calendars and said, “This came up recently, and I can’t remember if it was your blog, or just Mom and I reminiscing.”  The cloth calendars were in this blog—there was a posting on them on January 29.

I remember thinking when I wrote that post that cloth calendars were a silly thing to write about—yet I strongly connected them with Grandma. It’s fun to hear that others also remembered them—and that the calendar entry generated conversations totally outside of this blog. Stu reminisced about them with his mother; my children and I discussed them.

Stu’s mention of Thanksgiving at the round table in Grandpa’s study also brought back memories. Tomorrow, I’ll describe those Thanksgivings a bit more.

Brown-Butter Macaroni

Sunday, April 23, 1911: Missing entry (Diary resumes on April 28.)

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Since Grandma didn’t write a diary entry again today I’m continuing to share other relatives’ memories of Grandma. My cousin Stu told me to ask his mother (and Grandma’s daughter) about the macaroni story.  This is what Aunt Eleanor told me:

When we lived in suburban Philadelphia in the ’60s, the kids and I would visit upstate, first with my parents – until my father died and after that with my mother.  We chose mid-August because that way we could catch the Swartz family reunion (on the third Saturday) and also because the tomatoes and sweet corn were at their absolute peak.

Helen(a) and Raymond Swartz and their descendents at the Swartz Reunion, White Deer Park, 1963 (Click on photo to see a larger version of it.)

On one visit after my father died, I offered to make brown-butter macaroni as a contribution for one of the meals. That’s just plain macaroni cooked al dente, drained, and then dressed with a small amount of browned butter.  My hand must have slipped or something, and way more macaroni went into the pot of boiling water than I intended.   By the time it was boiled and dressed, it was a LOT of macaroni.

My mother, never one to keep silent on such matters, complained that I’d cooked too much macaroni.   And I, never able to accept her criticism passively, said no, that was about the right amount, the kids really liked their macaroni.  Then dishing up as the kids were gathering round, I took advantage of my mother’s hearing deficit to whisper to them (rather forcefully), “You kids better help me out here and eat all of this!”  And I’ve always been so proud of those little soldiers.  My mother and I ate normal portions, but the kids ate all the rest.

Eleanor Kurtz

I had never heard of brown-butter macaroni so asked Aunt Eleanor several questions about how to make it. As with many old recipes there aren’t precise instructions, but she gave me some general directions.

Brown-Butter Macaroni

Cook 2 cups of macaroni in salted boiling water until al dente (follow package directions); drain. Meanwhile melt and lightly brown (using care not to burn) 2 tablespoons of butter in a skillet. Stir the macaroni into the browned butter; put in a dish and serve immediately.

My husband Bill and I really liked the brown-butter macaroni—and finished the entire bowl of it. Brown-butter macaroni has a delicate taste and tastes similar to some excellent pastas that I’ve eaten in upscale restaurants.

Butchering, Sausage, and the Light Plant

Saturday, April 22, 1911: Missing entry (Diary resumes on April 28.)

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Since Grandma didn’t write a diary entry today I’m going to share a couple of my Uncle Carl’s favorite memories of his mother:

After we had butchered a couple of hogs for our meat supply to last about 6 months in the future, a large amount of sausage needed to be canned in glass jars.  The sausage was fully cooked before it was put into the jars.  How do you think that a sandwich made of fresh home-made bread and that sausage tasted after walking home from school 2 miles away?  She was a good cook in addition to being a good Mother!

Building that once housed the McEwensville School. It was a 1-8 school when Carl attended it. (When Grandma was a student, the building housed both elementary and high school grades.)
Recent photo of Main Street, McEwensville. When Carl was a child he would have walked past these houses on his way home from school.

When I was a child there were no freezers (or bathrooms) at this time.  NO PPL electric either, although we had a 32 volt light plant with storage batteries. This gave us light which was good while light plant was running.  As the lights got dimmer at night, you just went to bed. Mom had an electric clothes washer, but it drew so much electric that the light plant had to be running while washing.  When PPL came there was electric stove, a good washer, refrigerator, running water, and soon a bathroom. Life was better!

Carl Swartz