The Poetry of Elsie Strawn Armstrong
"SKETCHES OF MY LIFE"
Pages 1-4

Transcribed and Donated by Leslie Howard Strawn


An Apology, a kind of Prologue

Excuse bad spelling - And poor writing,
And what is worse, - The poor indicting.
Both age and blindness - Plead my cause,
We must submit - To Nature’s laws.
I have lived the appointed time of man
The wise man says, “Is but a span,”
‘Tis but a span to me it seems so true,
For ‘twas not long since I was young as you.
A yellow pen was given to me,
It marked so fine I scarce could see;
But when I write, a quill I choose
Rather than gold for me to use.
And now my little friends, - I would give you information
Of the work of other times, - And my childhood’s occupation.

CHAPTER FIRST

When young I did commence upon the stage
     My feeble service to the present age;
When five and six years old helped milk the cows,
      While brothers in the field did follow plows.
When seven and eight commenced the knitting,
And by the cradle side I took my sitting
And there I knit the mittens and the stockings
Set close and knit and kept the baby rocking.
At nine and ten I helped to make the hay,
And in the meadow helped my pa from day to day;
And Oh! How pleased I was to hear him say,
“Wife, can you spare your little girl to-day?”

How well I loved to work with my dear father
And many happy days we spent together;
He was so pleasant, cheerful and so kind,
It always cheered and feasted my young mind.
And then I’d go and help to haul the hay,
To load the wagon and to mow away,
And when I’d build the load high in the air
He’d say, “My little girl, you’re done, come here.
“Now come to me, don’t be afraid,
You shall not fall,” my father said;
I would fix and slide into his hand
And soon upon the ground beside him stand.
Sometimes he’d kiss me and to me would say,
“My little girl you have done well to-day,
You’ve built a pretty, square and well-formed load”;
Then starting to the barn we’d take the road.

In the rich hollow meadow,
I remember well one day,
It was in the afternoon
When we were hauling hay.
The wagon bed was nearly full;
Turning round on the side hill
The wagon there upset
As wagons sometimes will.
Threw me away below
On the top of the hay pile,
My father went to tearing
At the hay to find his child.
The first glimpse of his face
Was terror and distress,
But soon it changed to gladness,
And joy it did express.
I ran up to his side,
And I thought it was good luck,
He said, “Why! Here’s my little girl,
As hearty as a buck.”

Sometimes I gathered sheaves
And helped to shock the grain,
And thus by honest labor
We gathered gain.
I helped to weed and hoe
And tended the garden,
Helped spin the wool
And helped to do the carding.
And when the wool was carded
And all spun,
And sized and spooled and warped,
And all was done,
Then I rose up early,
Fed young geese and chickens,
And did the morning work
About the kitchen.
And then away to weaving
I would hie,
And bang the loom
And make the shuttle fly.
And then at night
When father would come in,

To tell him what I’d done

I’d thus begin:

“Besides my chores

I wove nine yards to-day.”

“Well done, my little girl!”

My father’d say.

His smile and words

Did much increase my joys,

To hear him say, “You have earned

More than I and all my boys.”

And when the cloth was wove

‘Twas differently dressed,

For them ‘twas fulled and colored

And also sheared and pressed.

And when the cloth came home

We tried our skill at making,

We cut and fit and sewed,

‘Twas quite an undertaking;

Till every man and mother’s son

Had a new suit when frost began.

The winter we put in so good

In a warm house with lots of wood,

No matter if ‘twas rain or snow,

We spun the flax and spun the tow.

And when the spring began to break,

We make the sugar by the cake;

And ‘twas to me a pleasant play

To help at that from day to day.

We had a good, kind, trusty mare

That I could catch, put in the car,

Then take the barrel, pail and funnel,

Likewise the gourd to fill the barrel.

And lead the mare from tree to tree

And dip it clean as you may see,

And when I got the barrel full,

To go to camp, it was the rule.

In daytime, mother boiled the kettles,

At night my father chopped and whittled,

And thus prepared the next day’s wood

And mother boiled the kettles good.

And there she sat a sewing

Or, she knit with all her might,

And she kept a good lookout

That the work was going right.

And all the little craft,

That could do any work,

Had something to do

And little chance to shirk.

And thus fine lots of sugar we did make,

Sometimes we made it crumb and sometimes cake;

And then we made molasses very nice

To eat on pancakes or on bread a slice.

At straining of the syrup, and

At sugaring, oft she plied her hand,

And often at the camp

Her work was in demand.

She kept a sharp lookout

That all the work went on,

Her presence was the axle

That business turned upon.

Where she was the most needed

There she was the most seen,

And a superior woman

My Mother sure, has been.

CHAPTER SECOND

Then the next we had to do was to weave the linen,

That through the winter we had all been spinning;

Web after web, I wove till all was done,

And all the flax and tow that we had spun.

And more than fifty years ago

A pleasant sight was seen,

Three hundred yards of linen

Lay bleaching on the green.

When I was wool, upstairs a spinning,

My mother would call to me,

And say, “Now go wet the linen;

It ‘is dry now, go and see.”

She would say, “Now do be careful

And wet it every bit,

And leave no little dry spot,

The water does not hit.”

Our watering pot was beautiful,

“Twas made so nice, of tin,

Two handles, spout and nasal

Through which the water’d spin.

And it had a hundred little holes

Where the water would spin out,

And fly in all directions

And wet it all about.

And when the cloth was bleached,

And made so nice and white,

“Twas then we had the shirts and sheets

And pillow cases right.

And then we had the curtains

To hand around our bed,

And beautiful they were indeed,

And painted blue and red.

Likewise the snow-white counterpane,

The double coverlet,

And how delighted then I was

To rest my childish head.

Our dresses and our handkerchiefs

Nearly all made at home,

The clothing of the family

The product of the loom.

And in those days our ladies dressed

In flax, wool or cotton,

And little thought or cared about

The velvet, silk or satin.

And still I have some specimens

Of what we used to do,

And if you wish to see them

Call in, and I’ll show you.

I have the sheets and the counterpanes

And double coverlets,

And tablecloths and towels

And curtains for my bed.

And dresses and the aprons

And the kerchiefs for my neck,

All of the good old homespun

In which I still can deck.

And when we left our parents,

We had everyone a farm

And horses, sheep and cattle

That we might be fed and warmed.

But now those blessed parents

Have gone to their reward,

They are resting from their labors

And I trust, died in the Lord.

Their works do follow them,

And their children shall be fed,

They shall not be forsaken,

Nor their seed begging bread.

And now my precious children,

I have wrote some rustic rhymes

In order to inform you

Of the work of olden times.

When your grandma was a child

Among the Pennsylvania hills,

The stony spots and ravines

And lots of little rills.

And there were a dozen springs

On so small a farm as that,

Not quite two hundred acres,

And but little of it flat.

But I love Pennsylvania,

I love its springs and rills

I love its fruits and nuts,

And many more good things.

I love its good inhabitants,

So honest, frank, and kind,

There were many noble hearts there,

Still imprinted on my mind.

I do love Pennsylvania,

It is the place that gave me birth,

I love it still the best

Of any place on earth.

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