I was born in 1909. I shall record the way of life and incidents from those early years. My father, Robert Lee Ross, was a cabinet maker at the ice box factory in Morrison, Illinois. For the first three months of my life, we lived in an old house on Morris Street while Dad finished the new one that we were to live in for the next three years. I recall only one thing from that period. The old lady, Mrs. Fraser, who lived next door would give me flowers from her garden. Perhaps it was to help to prevent me from helping myself.
Dad bought a 108 acre farm in Ustick Township from Leander Smith. The total cost was $4100. The "going price" for that farm is nor $6000 per acre. I recall the move - a wagon - full of furniture and belongings was pulled by two horses. My mother, Eliza May Matthew Ross, and I were riding in a buggy drawn by a horse that was tied to the wagon. It was a bitter cold day, but Mother's old gray shawl was wrapped around me and she had a buffalo robe over her knees. March first was always the moving day for farm folks - this way they could get settle din time to put in the spring plantings. The farm buildings were old and tumbled-down, and Dad, who was an excellent carpenter, was to work long hours building new structures to replace the old ones. First it was the barn so that the animals could be protected from the winter cold. He was proud of that barn and also the adjoining buildings, and he painted a large sign on the front of the barn - R.L. Ross 1912. Then came the other buildings - a hog house, a corn crib, chicken house and a milk house. Now it was time to build a new house for us. It was 1917 when he went to Davenport to buy the lumber for our new home. In the meantime, we lived in the old house. It had an old kitchen range and a wood box beside it for fuel. In the living area there was a hard coal stove - the little squares of isin glass allowed one to see the flickering blazes as the coal burned and gave off plenty of warmth when we ran from the unheated bedroom upstairs to dress in front of the stove. It was here that we bathed, using a large washtub to hold the water. Winters were cold and we wore lots of woolens - long underwear, sweaters, coats and leggings too. The leggings extended to the knee and then ankle-high overshoes over them. Snow would get in between the overshoes and leggings and that was cold, but who could resist wading in those deep snowbanks?
The new house was a large square house with three bedrooms and a bath upstairs. Downstairs there was a music room, living room, dining room, kitchen, summer kitchen and a large pantry. There was a beautiful Tiffany lamp shade in the dining room - the kitchen had a real sink with running water - the pantry had adequate work counters with zinc tops, lots of shelves and a built-in flour bin. Everyone bought flour in 50 pound sacks and sugar in 100 pound bags. Then there was the dumbwaiter. This consisted of shelves that could be lowered into a cemented hole in the ground - it was cool there and this is where one put food that needed to be kept at a low temperature. Mother and Dad used to have card parties - about 16 adults would come and bring their children. The grown-ups played "500" and the kids would amuse themselves by either trying on the ladies hats or playing hide and seek. I recall hiding in the dumbwaiter and no one found me since no one else had such a thing.
In the summer kitchen there was a kerosene stove which was used in those hot days in order to keep the heat from the main part of the house. The kitchen range was the old fashioned kind, but it had water pipes running through the burning fuel, which was either coal or wood. There was always plenty of hot water for use in the bathroom, kitchen or basement. The house was heated with a coal furnace in the basement and we had acetylene gas lights. These features helped to make this house one of the most modern in the county. There was a windmill that pumped water into the milk house and there the milk was kept until it was picked up each morning to be hauled to Libby McNiel and Libby for canning. When there was no wind there was a gasoline engine to pump the water from the well. We also kept watermelons, in season, floating in that tank for the freshly pumped water kept things nice and cool. From that tank the water flowed into another tank in the farmyard so that visitors could water their horses conveniently. Then the water flowed into a third tank where the farm animals could get their drinks. All this building took a tremendous amount of work and years to accomplish.
Harley was nine years older than I and I now realize that he worked very hard during his high school years. He was an engineer from an early age, using his ideas to make the chores easier. He took an old sewing machine and made a bean huller. He would work the treadle with his feet and this would turn a cylinder which he had fixed with nails protruding from it. He would drop the navy beans in the top of a feeder - the beans would fall down into a container and the hulls would fly to the front.
The old house remained standing for a number of years and it was a great workshop for a boy. In the winter it could be kept warm as the old stoves were still there. Harley repaired gasoline engines for most of the farmers that lived in the area. One time, when he was about seventeen, we left him alone to care for the animals and do whatever was needed at the farm while we went to Longmont, Colorado, in our 1917 Ford. The Lincoln Highway, Route 30, was a dirt road most of the way. I don't recall how long it took to get there, but I remember that we stayed overnight in homes along the road. We went to Estes Park and would have to stop frequently to get water from the mountain streams as the radiator would boil over. We visited Dad's half brother, who had moved to Colorado when he was a boy, because he had asthma and the climate there was a big help to him. We had taken an earlier trip that same year - it was to visit cousins, Matt Ross and family i LaPlata, Missouri. I was so frightened for I was sure we could never find our way home over all those roads. We slept out at least once on the way - in a school yard. This was before cabins were built and many people did this. We spread blankets on the ground and I slept between Harley and Dad. The crickets made eerie sounds, but all was well. This is quite a contrast to today's luxurious accommadations.
Every Sunday we went to church using the horse and buggy before we had the car. There were many people of Scottish descent in the area, so they could support a Presbyterian Church. It had been built in 1860, so it was well established by the time we attended. I recall the Sunday School class taught by Minnie McCullough - a large-boned, very nice lady with a bit of a moustache. Class time was devoted entirely to the study of the Bible. There were lots of chicken pie suppers, and an annual picnic where we always had fried chicken, potatoe salad, large freezers full of ice cream and too much good "Country cookin." After the food was eaten, there were foot races, relay races, sack races and baseball games. On Christmas Eve we always met at the church where carols were sung and Santa took packages from under the tree for each child. The package always contained an orange, candy and usually a small religious book. For Christmas at home, I would get one thing - perhaps a ball, a book or an article of clothing. I am sure that I was happier than most children are now when they receive such an abundance of gifts.
The horses were detached from the buggies and sheltered behind the church while the morning services were taking place. Next door to the church is a graveyard where my Grandfather Ross is buried. On his gravestone is listed the names and dates of his three wives and I assume they are buried there too. My two baby sisters, Nellie Rachael (born in 1898) and another baby girl (1906 or 1907) were buried there too, but Dad later had them transferred to the cemetery in Morrison. Both babies would have lived with our modern day medical care. Nellie had diarrhea and was six months old when she died. The other baby had the cord wrapped around her neck and was dead when the doctor arrived.
The ministers of this Spring Valley Church were students of McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago. They came on weekends and were met at the depot in Morrison on Friday afternoon by a host family member and lived as a family member until train time on Sunday when they would return to Chicago. They were fine young men, with the exception of one who stole a car in the area. This created quite a stir. One never thought about locking doors - when we lived in town we often had hobos come to the back door to beg for food. I believe they had our house marked as they would pass up the neighbors houses and come to ours. Perhaps the handout wasn't very special but it was always given.
One Christmas Santa brought me a beautiful doll with real hair and eyes that opened and closed. That doll came to a tragic end. I played with it in the old house and one day, while I was in school, Dad tore the old building down and the doll was buried in the basement under the old plaster and rubble. That was no small tragedy and Dad felt sad. But I did like the sweet corn dolls -- they mad such nice dolls with all that long corn silk for hair. We always had dogs - every one was named Jack. Disastrous things would happen to those dogs, but when they were gone we would get another to replace the unfortunate one. Jack No. 3 was well trained and helpful to a farmer - Dad would call "Come Boss," and Jack would round up the cattle from the back field and escort them to the barnyard. If Dad said "Come Bill", he would hurry to get the horses, and all this was done with great pleasure for Jack.
Winter was a fun time. We had a bob sled and sometimes we would have a neighborhood sleigh ride party. One of the dads would put straw in the box and the kids would pile in the back where there were blankets to keep everyone warm. Always there was much jumping off the sleigh and snow ball throwing as the party proceeded down he country roads. There were sleigh bells on the horses to make it all more festive. We would then go to someone's house where we'd play games such as spin the platter and musical chairs, and the hostess would serve too much good food. We also had a cuter and I recall going to church with just Dad one Sunday. The cutter was drawn with one horse and it held only two people tucked in under a buffalo robe. The cutter tipped over spilling us in a snow bank, but this only added to the fun of cutter riding. Harley made me a sled. Since it was different than the "store-boughten" sleds, the kids at school named it the Mud Turtle. It was painted brown and lower to the ground, but if Harley made it, it was the very best as far as I was concerned.
One day Day was taking me to school on a road cart. It was a two wheeled vehicle and it bobbed up and down as the horse trotted along, as do the sulkies in horse races. As we were going along, Dad spied a skunk - so we stopped, he removed a whipple tree, approached the skunk and killed it. He knew exactly how to do with without getting sprayed. I guess he had pioneer blood in his veins. He took the skunk to a Jewish junk man who paid three dollars for the fur.
There were some lonely days. Harley was nine years older than I and was busy with his own affairs, so I would amuse myself - sometimes with such gruesome things as tying a string on a kernel of corn, letting the chicken swallow it and jerking it up again to see the chicken gag.
The Mississippi River, about eight miles away, was of interest to Harley. He had an old row boat which he left with a weird old fisherman, an on summer weekends he would take his motor and with a few friends would spend time boating and fishing. One time the families went too, and the old fisherman took us to an island where we built a fire, cooked catfish and then he told us spooky stories. In the winter, I recall taking wheat over to Lyons. We would cross the Mississippi on the ice, thus saving the toll. We would leave the wheat at the mill and go to Clinton to shop at the nice department store and at Woolworth's. The dime store was a fun place for me as I usually got something there. When we returned to Lyons in the afternoon we would pick up the sacks of flour, white and whole wheat, which we then called graham flour. One year Dad raised sugar cane and we drove down to Lyndon where they made sorghum from the cane. This was about 15 miles away and we would stay overnight with a cousin. I never did like sorghum. Recently I saw some in a store and bought it. I was excited about finding sorghum until I tasted it and found it's still an "Ugh" thing as far as I'm concerned.
On the farm there was a pear orchard. Originally there were 100 trees, but some had died. Each fall Dad would pick the pears and put them all over the floors of the old house. There they would ripen and people would come and pick out a bushel or two. Mother would can 100 quarts of pears, lots of apples, tomatoes, raspberries, beans, corn and most everything "cannable." Our garden was huge and we even had popcorn and peanuts, blackberries, raspberries, rhubarb, wonderberries, horseradish and all the ordinary things. We had a black walnut tree and in the fall we would pick the walnuts, store them in the basement and on a cold winter day we would shuck the walnuts, which left one's hands looking like they had been in the iodine bottle. The elderberries that grew along the roadside made delicious pies. Some people made wine from the blossoms, but not at our house. Instead of wire fences separating fields and along the roadside there were hedges. The hedge produced hedge balls which I later learned were called osage oranges. We used them for baseballs and when they would be batted they milky contents would splatter in every direction.
The children at the little country school were Holland Swedish. The Holland had inter-married until they weren't very bright. During my 8 years there, there was only one other that passed the finals to graduate from the eighth grade. One had to go to town and take examinations at the high school to determine if he was eligible to graduate. The teachers in the country schools had to clean the school room and the two outhouses and build a fire in the furnace so the building would be warm, and teach all eight grades. In our school there were never eight grades at one time since the enrollment would be eight to ten students total.
My great moment at school was my first day. I was four years old and I went to school with Harley that day. He was to graduate that spring and I sat with him in a double seat. It was one with a built-in ink well, and that was great for the boys that had girl sitting in front of him, if she pig-tails. Anyway, that day I did something that made Harley laugh and he got scolded. What a great day for me, for I was always the one that got scolded at home and I know know that the reprimands were properly placed. I'm sure one's learning process was speeded up because the younger children could learn from the material presented to the older grades. Each year the County Superintendent of Schools came around to visit. He would give the teacher whatever assistance she might need and best of all he would bring free samples, like Colgate toothpaste. Many people were using salt for toothbrushing in those days. He was a pleasant, nice man named Mr. Price. My cousin, Lola Steinmeyer Wessel, wsa the Assistant County Superintendent working for Mr. Price, but that was a few years later as Lola graduated with Harley from high school. The school building had an entrance hall where our coats were hung on a hook. Underneath the coat was our lunch pail. I often had a peanut butter and a dried beef sandwich and, I'm sure, cookies. I recall that we played anti- 1 over the schoolhouse, crack the whip, three deep, drop the hankerchief and in the winter the favorite was fox and goose. We also played "work-up" baseball. I walked home with two neighbor boys. It was here that I learned the facts of life - such tales they told. They were 9 and 11.
Once a year there would be a box social to make money for whatever the school needed, such as books, maps, supplies and things in general. There would be a program put on by the students - a little skit, recitations, and songs. Sometimes a student would be able to play the old fashioned organ which one pumped with one's feet. I don't recall playing at any of the programs although I boarded the Northwestern train on Saturdays to go to Morrison for a piano lesson. The songs we sang in school were the old ones like "My Old Kentucky Home', "Tenting Tonight on the Old Camp Ground", "Columbia the Gem of the Ocean", "Battle Hymn of the Republic," and of course "America" and the Star Spangled Banner." for this box social, the women would fix a lunch and put it in a box and decorate the box with crepe paper and ribbons, and someone would auction off the box to the highest bidder which would be a man, and he could eat lunch with the lady who fixed the box.
The Goffs lived down the road, and my folks played "500" with them often. Their daughter married Harry Smith, and we were old friends. So Lena Goff SMith and Harry Smith were Ronald Reagan's aunt and uncle. The Smiths also lived a block away from us in Elmhurst, and I recall when Ronald and Jane Wyman visited them there.
One of the busy times on the farm was threshing time. Harley worked with the threshing crew that went from farm to farm to thresh the grain. It usually took 2 or 3 days at each farm, then the old engine would huff and puff to the next farm. Harley's job was to keep the engine and equipment running. I'm sure he enjoyed that job better than some he did as a youth. When the threshers came to our house it meant that a couple of men stayed overnight, so there were a few for breakfast. Neighbors came in to help with the harvest and so there were about 20 to feed for the day. A ten o'clock lunch of coffee and doughnuts, next an enormous meal at noon, and then a mid-afternoon snack of more coffee and some cookies. The noon meal would consist of both pork and beef roasts, mashed potatoes, several kinds of vegetables, jello cake and pies. A couple of neighbor women would come early in the morning to help with those meals. People really helped their neighbors in those days. If some man was ill at harvest time, his friends simply did the whole chore for him. In retrospect it seems like everyone liked everyone else and the faults were overlooked, for people certainly worked together. Men donated their labors to keep the churches and schools in good repair.
A visit to Grandma Matthews was always nice. She had a bleeding heart plant beside her front door and that flower always fascinated me. The house still looks the same on the outside, but of course the inside has been modernized. Grandma and Grandpa came over from Markinch, Scotland, when they were in their early twenties. They were hard working respected members of their community. He had walked to Illinois from New York via West Virginia. That took a number of years as he would work for the railroad and other jobs and then walk on toward Round Grove, Illinois, where his brother lived. In those years between New York and Illinois he married and had a baby girl, Sarah Matthew Lingle, and his wife died. He married my grandmother, Rachael Hunter, and they lived on a farm near Round Grove. Grandma told about frying doughnuts in the 1840's - an Indian walked into her kitchen, stuck his fingers in the hot grease to grab one and left screaming. The Blackhawk Indians lived in that area then. Grandma was a little woman but she raised six children. This meant making all of their clothing, not only dresses for the girls, but shirts and overalls for the boys and Grandpa. When her family got a bit older she spent all her time sewing and knitting their sweaters while they did the rest of the work. She had a parlor full of what is now beautiful antique furniture, but she sat in the sitting room where Grandpa would play the fiddle and Grandma would dance holding that long, full skirt up so she wouldn't trip. When she smiled there were several teeth missing. She had pulled her own teeth when they ached - after all, what did dentitsry have to offer in the early and mid '80's?
My mother liked to quilt. She would put all the pieces together and then put up a quilting frame in the dining room. The frame was made of four pieces of wood - 1/4" wood strips of ticking were tacked on each one of the four sides and then quilt backing was pinned to the ticking. The four corners were held together with C-clamps. The cotton batting was placed on top of the backing and next the pretty pieced part. This was supported by four chairs, and as the area near the edge was quilted, one rolled up that part on the side board leaving a new area to be quilted. Those quilts were enjoyed by Harley's family and by me.
When the holidays came, the Rosses got together for dinner somewhere. Dinners were much the same today, except we did not have turkey (there were roasting chickens instead), and always scalloped oysters. The older folks ate first, and after their table was cleared we children ate. They would just visit and for me it was a boring day! Had we been at home there were lots of things to do - Mom would play Flinch with me if nothing else presented itself. We had the beautiful old square mahogany piano to play. It was traded off for a new golden oak upright one. Harley could play some things. I especially remember he liked to play "The End of a Perfect Day." He made a guitar - sent to Sears for the strings. He had an accordion and best of all was his harmonica. He would sit on the floor with each instrument and teach himself to play "Turkey In The Straw".
Cats around a farm are useful for keeping down the mouse population. We were generously endowed with cats, 26 of them at one time. They were given milk in the barn, but in the evening Mother put out scraps on the back porch, so when that hour approached the place was full of cats, some of which would crawl up on the screen making loud demands. I still have a mental picture of coming up the sidewalk to see several cats flying in the air with Mom's foot behind the array.
There was an old lady, Hannah, that lived just a little way up the road. I used to run over there to visit and I remember being scolded for going as Mom couldn't find me. She was worried, but I assured her that I knew where I as. I know I have always been independent. When Hannah died there was a funeral at home and it was disturbing to see her in that casket. But worrisome things were soon forgotten. I could enjoy walking down the muddy road, letting the mud ooze between my toes, watching the clouds, chasing chickens, and even making pea boats. I sailed several in the attic tank and clogged up the water pipes to the bathroom. Somehow that was not appreciated. The railroad adjoined our property and it seems that the trains scattered seeds along their way for in the springtime there were shooting stars, dutchman's breeches, violets, sweet williams and other wild flowers to be picked.
In the fall, Dad took the hogs to market. This was a good portion of his income. Harley always said, "Don't belittle the hog - he put me through college". We would drive 90 to 120 head of hogs down to the Union Grove Station, which was about three-quarters of a mile away. Since there was no fence along the railroad, it took several people to keep the hogs going straight down the road. Upon arriving at the station they would be put into pens where they were fed to increase their weight to make up for any loss on their walk down. Then they were loaded onto freight cars and dad would accompany them to the Union Stock Yards in Chicago. He rode in the little red caboose and in a few days he would return with the money he had received for his year's work caring for the animals. He also sold wheat, corn and oats - whatever he grew in excess of what he needed to feed the animals.
Mother never did any farm work outdoors except to feed the chickens. Washing clothes in those early years was a task in itself. I recall that she scrubbed clothes on a board. Also, there was an old washing machine - it had a rocker, and the power to agitate the clothes was supplied by Mom turning a wheel. There was a time each year that butchering of hogs and calves occurred. I was never allowed to see the killing of the animals or the breeding of the horses. I only knew that every once in awhile a man came with a beautiful big horse, but I never connected that visit with the arrival of a little colt. I had one pet colt that chased me everywhere. He was so nice until he came to close and took all the skin off my heel.
Mother attended Ladies Aid meetings, the N.G. Club, and affairs connected with the church. The N.G. was supposed to mean No Gossip?? The folks played cards in the evening, and this was the social life of their day. She was a reserved intelligent lady.
It was a fun day when the Sears Roebuck catalogue came. Then I could have the old one to cut up and make an array of paper dolls. Mom ordered many things from Sears, including materials for dresses for her and for me. We did have an outhouse, which was seldom used since we had a comfortable bathroom, but the old Sears catalogue did end up there - and so did I when I wanted to pout after a scolding.
Housecleaning time was in the spring and again in the fall. The rugs had to be removed and hung on the wire clothes line where they were beaten with the old-fashioned wire carpet beater. We had a big front yard. One day Harley was showing me how to serve a tennis ball - he slammed the ball through the large glass window in the dining room and glass flew clear across the room and into the kitchen where Mom was peeling potatoes. She must have been startled, but she never said a word. He cleaned up the mess - pronto. He had a pet rooster. When Harley laid down on the grass on his side, that rooster would put up one wing and tip himself over on his side to imitate Harley. It was a bit unusual.
This reminds me of another experience after we had moved to town and I was in high school. Dad said, "Maudie" I want you to go out to the farm today - Marshall has lots of rats in the corn crib eating the corn, and he's so busy I want to see if we can get rid of some of them". So he asked me to stand in the wagon in the center of the crib. He shovelled corn and the rats would run trying to get away. He would pick up his gun and shoot them. The sight of those ugly things would automatically bring forth a good yell from me as they would emerge from the piles of corn. I really believe they were as big as a cat. We killed 26 that day. Another time when I accompanied Dad to the farm, Dad discovered that the calves had been dehorned and one was bleeding profusely. So he enlisted my help - I held the calve's head still while Dad pulled up the bleeding artery with a pair of tweezers. He then put a pin through the artery, twisted the pin, the bleeding stopped and he rushed to the house to wash his hands. The next thing I knew I was lying beside a bewildered calf. I was never too good at bloody affairs.
There were still gypsies that roamed through the country. When I first remember them, they had horses and wagons and they would park along the roadside and steal chickens and raid people's gardens. I was told they sometimes took little girls, so I should stay close to home until they left. This perhaps wasn't true. Later, when I worked at the A & P store, the gypsies came in cars and the sheriff would warn the merchants and the store would close until the sheriff herded them through town.
There was the Old Country Doctor who would drive his horse at full speed in case of an emergency - he was Old Doc Wright. My experiences with him were very few. Once I picked strawberries on a very hot day. Being afraid of the garter snakes, I stooped over with my head low, so the blood rushed to my head. The next I recall Old Doc was sitting beside me watching carefully. Guess it was a sun stroke. Don't know if he really helped, but he was there. Another time I rushed to the orchard to get Harley an apple and stepped on a rusty nail. Now there was tetanus to fear so we went to see Doc. There he took an instrument that looked like a crochet hook, covered it with cotton, dipped it in iodine and poked it into the hole. Memories of my screaming make one so thankful for modern medicine.
A Scottish couple lived down the road. They had a ten acre little farm with Dad bought later. The Thompsons were first cousins and they had a severely retarded son, Johnny. Johnny would spend all his days hauling bricks in a wheelbarrow from one location to another about 30 feet away. The next day he would move them all back. I never thought of being afraid of him. He always acted so happy to see me coming and would be yelling to his folks - "Mauie". Later the parents died and Dad was his guardian, managing his money and hiring a housekeeper for him.
We moved to town in 1923. This was a new kind of life for me. Our house was right across the street from the high school and life was pretty easy. I still had my chores for I had been taught at an early age to work. So I cared for the lawn, cleaned the house and cooked a bit. My mother had pernicious anemia and so most of the house work was mine.
I did have a good time but had good grades - belonged to the Spanish Club, Math Club and played girls basketball. This drew the townsmen to see the girls in their sateen bloomers and middies play the preliminary game. Made every honor roll and was Senior Class President - all of which was no big deal considering our small class and the competition. The highlight of the year was the visit from Harley and his family. Bob came to spend a few extra weeks and we played croquet in the front yard. Get into "Magician" was the order of the day.
Since this is only a recording of those early different years, I shall close, hoping that something in this epistle will have a meaning for someone.
By Maude Ross Bueche, October 1981
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