Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Memoirs of Uncle Joe

These first stories presented below were written by Uncle Joe regarding his father, Arthur Thomas Myers (Grandpa Myers).  I'm not sure what order they should be in, but here they are:

Hard Times
He went to all the saloons in Carbondale every evening selling newspapers after his Father died. It must have been a terrific shock for a 10 year old to lose his Father; I know it was for me and I was past 56. Grandma made him a little moneybag with a shoelace for a drawstring on top so he wouldn’t lose any change. When he came home at night they would count it together on the kitchen table and decide what they could afford to buy. There were so many young ones in the family to feed and care for; now he had become the provider.

The bars at that time were many and well occupied, mostly with black covered coal miners washing down the dust; no women were allowed. Saw dust covered the floors and cuspidors were placed here and there to catch finished tobacco chews. They served schooners of draft for a nickel, with huge trays of sandwiches spread around at various points to eat when desired.  He was not allowed to linger in any saloon too long, just one pass around the bar, after which the owner showed him out, shoving a handful of sandwiches inside his shirt. He would eat one or two and still had plenty to carry home.

Later, when he grew enough to lie about his age, he was able to find steady work in a silk mill. Whenever she could Grandma would send him to Uncle Henry’s farm to stay overnight, or perhaps a weekend. He told me, years later, he believed she did this because she felt he needed the companionship of a Father. As soon as he arrived he would begin asking his Uncle, “When are we going fishing?” His Uncle would say “As soon as the moon is right in the sky, we will go.” Whenever the fish question would arise, his Uncle would look at the sky and say “The moon is still not right.” Then one day while he was there, his Uncle said “Now the moon is right.” They caught so many; they were up most of the night cleaning fish. When Uncle Henry’s dog dropped her first litter, he was presented with one of the pups. This dog became not only his constant companion, but also a hard worker. The dog hauled all the coal he picked for the fires at home.

The Courtship
He said he worked for John Booth at that time between 1920 and 1922. He operated and maintained a large steam powered roller when the roads were being paved between Finch Hill and Clifford. He walked back and forth to the job every day, past the four corners toward Clifford. When he passed the Moran farm he could see this young girl working in the fields with her large sunbonnet and shiny black hair flowing in the wind. He looked for her every day as he passed the farm. He would see her driving the huge team of horses, walking the cows into the barn for milking, or working in the gardens. Then there were days, perhaps, when he did not see her at all and wondered if she were sick or had gone away.

He was determined to see this young lady close up, at least one time. One day, when he was sure she was in the house, he knocked on the door, introduced himself to his future father-in-law, and asked to borrow a tool he was in dire need of. After this incident, there began a constant borrowing and returning of tools (which he perhaps never used). Eventually, after a reasonable length of time and Grandpa's approval, he walked to the house in the evenings and sat in the parlor with Mother. She would play the piano for him and at times, Uncle John and Aunt Gert, the youngest of the Moran’s, would help entertain by singing. Dad always carried gum and candy with him on these visits; when he passed it to the young ones, they knew it was time to leave the parlor. At 10 p.m. every night Grandfather Moran would take the raker and shake down the fires, probably creating as much noise and hee-hawing as possible. Dad knew it was tine to leave the house.

Apparently after some time elapsed, Grandpa decided to take advantage of this strong, red headed light heavyweight. At the time, aside from farming, Grandpa was also a fight promoter and trainer. Whenever he needed a sparring partner for one of his fighters, he would take Dad into Carbondale with him and put him in the ring. Dad wasn't particularly interested in this sport, but he certainly wasn't about to disappoint his future Father-in-law. His game was baseball. On his tour of duty with the Army in the Panama Canal Zone, he was a very accurate fastball pitcher; he threw no fancy curves, just a quick fastball over the plate.

As time passed, and most likely after their engagement, they would walk together across the fields—a short cut, as Mother said, to the dances at Newton Lake. Mother liked to dance but Dad wasn't too interested. He would move away from her a little, at her request, so the other young men would ask her to dance. Sunday always seemed to be their special day together. Dad had a fast horse and a surrey he was very proud of (the story was he sold the car he had and bought the horse and carriage). They drove this surrey into Carbondale to Mass at St. Rose, sometimes racing other young drivers coming or going. Most of the time they would take the long way home around Crystal Lake. Dad always left the house an hour or so earlier for work so he could stop at the Moran's barn to help mother milk her cows. Each of the five elder Morans had their assigned cows to milk before school. He told me once I wouldn't believe the language and bickering he heard as he approached the barn, and Mother and Uncle Bill, the two oldest, trying in vain to keep peace.

In the Spring of 1922, Grandpa gave Mother a piece of land to use for herself. She put in potatoes and with the money she made in the Fall of that year was able to buy her complete outfit for her wedding. With her brother, Uncle Bill, and Dad's sister Loretta in attendance, they were married in St. Rose Church on November 22, 1922.
Many years later, as I drove our little Mother to Carbondale down Fallbrook Street, she would point and say, “Look Joe, there is the first house your Father and I lived in after our marriage. It is still there.”

The Dry Cow
He had an old cow in his dairy herd whose milking days were over. She still looked good for her age and moved with the quickness of a young calf. Somehow he heard of a man from Jermyn who was looking for a dairy cow. After the deal was made and before the buyer arrived to pay for his cow, Dad took a bicycle pump and pumped air into the cow's udder. When the man arrived Dad cautioned him to walk the cow home very slow, and again stressed this point as he was leaving. The next day the man claimed he couldn't get milk from the cow, only air.  Dad appeared very upset at this saying, "I told you to walk that cow slow – now you have ruined a good milking cow!”

The Churn Dog
He told me making butter from that top cream of the milk in a small churn took a lot of time and effort. One summer day, a salesman came along with a churn dog, and naturally, all the necessary equipment to make butter the modern and efficient way. He made the sale and unloaded the harness, treadmill and dog, with instructions to set it up. Grandma and Dad put the dog on the treadmill and when they elevated the treadmill the dog had no choice but to run and churn the butter. I suppose they would leave him on there for the one or two hours it would take, while they devoted their time to other chores. As she did with every chore, a certain day of the week was scheduled for this particular job. Everything went smoothly for several weeks. The old dog would hang around outside, following Dad around, perhaps in and out of the house, sometimes becoming a nuisance under foot. As time passed, however, the dog became harder to locate on churn day. Eventually he became lost for the whole day and churning had to be postponed until his return. This would upset Grandma's entire schedule. I can imagine that poor dog running continuously on that treadmill for perhaps two hours. Dad said it was uncanny how that dog knew when churning day was approaching. To solve this problem the dog had to be tied up the night before the scheduled day, and eventually, butter was churned on different days each week.

Measure of Wealth
He told me this was the measure of a man's wealth; I never understood why canning and preserving every Fall was so important. The cold cellar, built beneath the ground and house in a special way, maintained the same temperature all year.  Nothing froze during winter or spoiled in summer. The potato bins were full and the winter apples stored in the same manner. Quart and pint canning jars were neatly arranged on shelves with the date and contents.  Everything possible was cooked and carefully preserved, such as beans, beets, tomatoes, chili sauce, sauerkraut in crocks, pears, peaches, applesauce, berries, jellies and much more. Grandma was almost totally blind from cataracts. She would set up her jars on a worktable near the window in direct sunlight to pour. She would point with her finger to a line on the jar and tell me "When I reach here, tell me to stop." I was too young to pour the hot contents of the pots for her, during those early years, but pleased to be a part of the fall canning.