The Memories of Ida Jeanne Tracy Ford (1928-1994)
(Lived at Hoblet Road & Easy St. area west of Berwick Turnpike)
You can’t go home again. Oh you can go, but it never is the same as you remembered it. I thought of beginning this with – it was the best of times, it was the worst of times – which shows how original I can be!
I grew up during the so-called Great Depression, but somehow one didn’t realize at the time how depressed it was. Everyone was fairly equal – oh there were people around who had some money & worldly goods than we, and then there were some poor people. But at the time we didn’t think about it. There was the Dust Bowl in the mid-west, several floods nearby, the Lindbergh baby was kidnapped, the King abdicated his throne to marry what everyone knew was a "fortune hunter." All these things were in the newspapers, but were, it seemed, in some other world.
Ours was a simple life – we didn’t even have a radio until 1937 or 38. Then we sat around it every Sunday evening to hear Jack Benny say "Jello again, this is Jack Benny." Weeknights, there was the news to listen to, usually Lowell Thomas. When I came home from school, I listened to Jack Armstrong, "The All American Boy," Tom Mix, and various other such programs. Occasionally we listened to Ma Perkins or Stella Dallas, an early soap opera, but because our radio ran on a battery, we mustn’t listen too often, as it ran the battery down. It had to be saved for the more important things. We didn’t have electricity, never did get it until long after I was married, and after Dad died, because he worried that if we had it, it would make our fire insurance go up! Our nearest neighbor didn’t have electricity until in the forties. My brother-in-law Gerald Sargeant’s grandfather, Dwight had his own electrical plant & just a few light bulbs for light.
Everyone had horses for farming although a few began to have tractors. We hired Llewellyn Jackson to cut the oats and other grains (wheat, buckwheat, etc.) with his tractor & binder. This tied up bunches of the cut grain & dumped them off. Then my father piled the bunches together until they dried & could be put in the barn on the scaffold until threshing time. Occasionally they were left in the field until threshing, but often the threshing machine didn’t come around until November. Dick Young ran the threshing machine & often when he came, he brought Aunt Anna to stay the day with my mother. Aunt Anna was Mom’s mother’s brother’s widow & my mother didn’t really like her very well. She was also Dick’s grandmother. It was necessary to my mother to "set a good table" for the threshers. The men really only wanted something good to eat, but because they’d go home and tell their wives what they had, it had to be plentiful and well cooked. There were a few places the men tried not to eat – places not too clean or where the food wasn’t very good. Because all the neighbors helped at our place, my father "changed" with them, or went to their places to work. If they didn’t need help back, he paid them for their day’s work. Whoever worked in the straw mow, (usually my father) came in looking really black, especially if it were late in the season, because of the dust from the straw.
This same exchange of work went during silo filling, and because we didn’t have a silo, sometimes my father helped at places where they needed another man to work. I remember he often walked to Will Sargeant’s place & was sometimes just coming home when I got off the school bus, so we walked on home together.
All the planting, haying and other work was done with horses. We had a team of Belgian work horses, brown, Meely & Molly. Molly had a white stripe down her nose. Meely was a little darker. I used to like to give them a handful of hay when they were in their stalls. It seemed really flirting with danger to not hold onto the hay too long & get your hand out of the way of their huge teeth. A couple of times my father put me on one of them while he led it to the water tub in the barnyard to drink, but his wasn’t very satisfactory horse riding, as they had such broad backs to sit on. I always dreamed of having a saddle horse & getting up early every morning (especially in summer) to ride around the connecting roads or "around the block."
Another thing done with horses was road work. Albert Storch had three horses he put on the log drag, one was white. Then he "dragged-the roads." I guess it was usually in the spring or early summer. Of course all the roads around were dirt roads & and in early spring they always had terrible ruts in them. It made them very hard travelling, but cars then was made higher than now. I remember the school bus having very hard going in some muddy places, and even getting stuck, which was exciting if it was on the way to school, because you came in late after school had started & you felt important when everyone asked where you’d been, etc. Besides you might miss a dull class!
My mother did most of the hay-raking in the summer. It was interesting to watch the rake dump the hay and make long windrows across the field. Then my father or hired men would make these into haycocks of "tumbles" as we call them. Then these were pitched onto the lumber wagon & taken to the barn. Some people had hay forks in the barn to unload the hay. We had one at one time, but it broke & was never fixed (I think they were considered possible dangers, as they could break & land on someone & kill them.) So my father pitched large forkfuls of hay into the haymow & someone "mowed it away." It had to be packed in evenly & so it could be got out in the winter. Then someone had to "tramp it down," by walking around the mow & especially pushing it into the corners & edges with your feet, so you could get every bit in what was possible. My sisters helped with the tumbling & sometimes mowing it away. When I was young, I just went along to the fields & sat in the shade, or someone had to stay in the house with me. I can only remember once or twice when I was allowed to ride on a load of hay going to the barn. I always begged to ride, but I guess they were afraid I’d fall off, as they never let me ride. I could ride on the empty wagon when it was going to the field, but had to walk back.
We had lots of tramps and gypsies. I remember one day I was staying at the house & one of my sisters was elected to stay with me. Mom was raking hay, and she saw some people (a man & a woman) coming on foot. She sent my other sister to the house to tell us to keep out of sight & lock the doors, which we did. They knocked on the door, but we didn’t go. Then they went around to the side of the house & looked in the windows. My mother saw them doing this & yelled at them, so they left hurriedly, which shows they probably were up to no good.
Most of the tramps were just passing through, possibly looking for work. They sometimes stopped & asked for food. My mother always gave them something to eat, but never let them in the house. I remember one to whom I carried the food. I think I was 9 or 10 years old. It was Sunday evening & so we gave him salad, sandwich & cake. He threw the cake down on the ground and said he wanted something that would "stick to his ribs." I told him that was what we had (I thought cake, which we usually had Sunday nights for supper, was great) so he ate the salad & sandwich and went on.
The gypsies usually went through the neighborhood in the summertime. My mother would hardly let me out of the house if she knew they were around (the tales went around that they stole children!) I remember two or three carloads of them going over what we called the South Road (now Easy Street, so named by Eli Ogden years ago & the name stuck). They made a lot of racket, seemed to be all shouting and talking at once. The last time I saw any was in 1943 when I rode with Mara to Troy one evening. She had a doctor’s appointment just before Ginny was born. We came home and there were some gypsies camped just outside Troy. They had a camp-fire & bright clothes. I think we don’t see them nowadays because with cars, they’ve become more mobile. Also some may have settled down and don’t roam around in groups anymore.
The last of the old time pack peddlers came around once a year until I was a teenager. He was an old man with a small horse & a wagon with lots of compartments which held many things. I don’t remember any others, but my mother told of them, often riding a horse with his goodies carried in his saddle bags. My folks told of one who was known to have stayed overnight at a certain place, and was never seen again. The general feeling was that he had been done-in by the people who had housed him, probably for his money!
Another one came to my mother’s parents place one night. He’d been unable to find anywhere to stay for the night. My grandparents thought because of his disagreeable manner. My grandfather said he and his horse could stay in the barn for the night and they gave him food, and feed for his horse. He was so thankful to find a place to stay that he gave my grandmother a very nice table cloth before he left the next morning. It was white cotton with embossed fleur-de-lis pattern, and a good sized table cloth. I have it yet! Mom said her father didn’t sleep much that night, keeping watch that he didn’t rob or harm them. I imagine grandpa felt a little sheepish when he repayed them so well and did no harm.
It is difficult to make the atmosphere of those days come through on a page. There was not the hurry-hurry feeling we have now. This may be partly because I was a child and didn’t feel the day to day pressures, but my parents had the same idea. In fact we welcomed days when there was extra excitement or more to do.
We went to grandma’s house sometimes, usually walking there taking a path which cut through the corner of the woods, across the field to the back door. At her house there was the feeling of "lavender & old lace" or perhaps roses and violets. When we moved to her house when I was eight to take care of her, it was an adventure to eat cereal from her dishes (most of which had flowers on them). When I stayed with her while my parents went somewhere, (which wasn’t often, but occasionally) she let me play with various interesting toys & at least once she took me into her living room, or parlor, which was always shut up, and showed me various bits of porcelain, shells, photographs, etc. One day she gave me a little doll (it had been Herman’s probably) with the name "Sandy" pinned on him. Another time she gave me a pin dish, with a mother pig & two piglets on the corner, crying over a lost piggy. Inside a pin with the name "Ida", her name & mine, which I have kept especially the same all these years. I have always felt sad that she died when I was eight & I didn’t really get well enough acquainted with her, as I would had if I had been a bit older.
I never knew Grandpa Tracy at all, but from my mother’s comments, I think he had a sense of humor, was quite a man, and said he would spend a long time "primping" in front of a mirror when getting ready to go anywhere. He was a bit jealous in that he didn’t like to know others had something better than he. He liked to have all the latest conveniences, but Grandma didn’t care for them and wouldn’t use them when he got them for her. Also Grandpa was honest and the sort of community pillar who was a school director, a very active Mason & well thought of by everyone.
The fifty acres where the house was in which I was born & we lived in earlier had been part of the farm up the hill, belonging to Olmstead Tracy (my great-great-grandfather). Grandpa bought that and built the house when he was married. The other house where Grandpa lived was built by my Great-grandparents (William & Harriet Tracy) after their first home burned while they were at church. William and his brother Nehemiah had bought that center part of the farm from the Bingham estate (which owned a lot of the land around). Then, when he was married, William bought out his brother’s share. There was no road past the house when William & Harriet were married. They arrived at their home via a corduroy road from the other side. Their first home was a log cabin first lived in by a Mr. & Mrs. Burton, of whom I know nothing: where did they come from and where did they go? Harriet’s family built their first house which was mostly downstairs and had only a couple of rooms upstairs. The house which replaced it was really not a well-planned house, but I guess they were not planning on anything great, just wanting a roof over their head. Until it was built, they lived upstairs in the old granary, where a Polis hired man and his wife had lived. I used to go up there when I was younger and try to imaging living there.
The Polis hired man mentioned must have been rather good at engineering, conservation, or something. He dug several ditches to drain fields, which have worked all these years. There was a place on "the hill" where he put in wooden drainage sluices, and they could be seen until the hillside became covered with trees. When it snowed, it would melt first where those sluices were.
William and Harriet had three sons, Myrr, and Edward Payson who died at 2 or so, and then my Grandfather Edward Payson (named for a preacher they liked). Myrr was rather a spendthrift, lived beyond his means, and was always going to do something really great, but never got around to it! He moved to Michigan and had a livery business with his wife’s brother-in-law. When he went, he left a bill behind, which was called in by the person he loathed. Grandpa kept trying to get the money from him but never could, so as he was afraid this Innes man would take the farm for it, Harriet took part of it (the farm for her widow’s share – William was dead then). Finally Grandpa paid the debt. Myrr did give him a paper giving him a stud race horse, which never amounted to anything. But that is all he ever got out of the deal except stuck! There was always a bad feeling against that branch of the family. Myrr had a son named William who did get to be a millionaire. He was at our home just once after I can remember. He breezed in, sat down for about seven minutes, then left. At Christmas time that year, he sent a few clothes for gifts, and I presume he thought that was his charitable cause for that year. He never came again, but did write a time or two. Jo later traced him for Dad and found he’d retired to Ft. Lauderdale, FL. His first wife had died and he had remarried. His adopted son lives somewhere near Ithaca.
I guess I should also say William (Great-grandfather) added another 44 acres when he bought some land from a Ross family. This is on the west side.
At one time land agents came around to try to make him and others around re-purchase their land. I don’t know exactly which way it was, but was mixed up in the Connecticut and Pennsylvania disagreement over which owned the land. When one particular pair of agents was around, they stayed the night at an inn on the turnpike road near the turnoff to Big Pond. William and others (I don’t know who) went there at night and got them out of bed, burned their papers, and sent them on their way! Nettie Tracy Holmes told a rather vague tale, that William was arrested for this and taken up on Pisgah to be tried (why there I can’t imagine) and as it was winter and snowy, he dragged his feet all the way, just to slow it down. I also don’t know whether he was found guilty or not, but assume not as I never heard anything about that, or perhaps he was fined and paid it!
He was drafted for military duty for the Civil War. He got a doctor to sign a disability paper saying he wasn’t able to serve, since he had a bad back from clearing all the land, and also had been injured while wrestling when a young man, wrestling over a girl I believe. So he wasn’t taken, but paid the $300.00 or whatever for someone to go in his place, a Canadian I believe. One of his brothers took him to Troy the day he had to report for the draft. When they returned home, William lay down in the bottom of the wagon and his brother told Harriet and the boys "Willie’s gone". After they cried, William rose up and let them know he was still there! <End>
Written by Ida Jeanne Tracy Ford, sister of Mara Tracy Sargeant Wolfe