This is a guest post by Millie Sommers (1889-1971), my grandmother. In 1969, at my request, she wrote a memoir of her life, mostly telling about her early days, around 1900. She wrote 13 pages, in clear, crisp longhand. I have broken it into three parts for easy reading. It is verbatim, straight from her pen, except for a few additions of my own, in [square brackets].
I mentioned transportation, but didn’t say what kind. It was horse drawn of course, and usually was a “spring wagon,” which was a light wagon with two spring seats with leather cushioned seat & back.
My grandparents never did have anything with a top. They had umbrellas for sun or rain in Summer, and when it was snowing or raining in the winter, I think we mostly stayed at home. We did go quite often in sleigh or bobsled when there was snow on the ground. We always had sleighbells on.
The sleigh was not one of those fancy looking ones with large round runners. But I rather think it may have been home made. Anyway it was made of wood, painted red, and had two seats. Then there was straw in the bottom and hot bricks to keep warm.
We never tho’t of anything better. There were top [?] buggies and “surries with the fringe on top,” but very few around then.
Later came the Klondikes or enclosed buggies, but we never had any of those.
When our family was small, we usually went to Greenview for Xmas, but later spent it at home. There were now several families of relatives living there, and they would take turns having family dinners—one at Xmas, one at New Years, another at Thanksgiving etc.
Age of the Telegraph
When we moved to Middletown there were still no telephones. When Election time came, the returns would come in by telegraph at the R.R. station.
Everyone would go to the hall or Opera House and there would be some kind of entertainment.
Every so often a Messenger would come from the station with a Bulletin, which would be read.
How to Keep Food Fresh
Most every one had a small vegetable garden and fruit trees. But we didn’t know how to can vegetables then, except tomatoes. We canned fruit, but not a lot, as we did after I was married.
Vegetables, such as beans etc., were dried, and we also dried some fruit.
Most everyone had cellars or caves which would keep apples, Potatoes, cabbage etc.
Most people baked their own bread, but when there was a bakery near by, the bread would be shipped in, in large baskets, unwrapped. The loaves were baked in large pans & were stuck together. They were put in wall cases with sliding doors, and when you wanted to buy some, they would tear off as many loaves as you wanted, and wrap it.
Of course there were no Electric refrigerators or freezers. The fresh meat was sold in Butcher shops, who had large coolers, cooled with ice. They did their own butchering, as did all private families who had butchering to do. and also smoked their own hams, bacon, etc. The sausage & some other meat was fried, and put in stone jars, and covered with Grease so it would keep.
It all tasted much better than the meat we get today, or so I tho’t.
Our milkman had a horse-drawn covered wagon & the milk was in a large Milk Can. We would take a pitcher or something out & he would dip out as much milk as we wanted. That was in larger towns. In smaller towns most people had their own cow & some sold milk, but you would usually have to go after it.
My own folks never had a cow, that I remember, but we bought milk & butter from a farmer who lived on the edge of town.
My grandparents were Norgeian [sic], and they always had 2 kinds of cheese on the table for Breakfast. One was made from what we call cottage cheese. It was wrapped in cloth after being drained & salted, and laid away until it became real strong. I didn’t like that quite as well as what was made from the whey. It was boiled down to about ¼ of what it was, and then a little sweetening and thickening added. There were small grains of the cheese as it had not been strained. I tho’t this was super & could eat it at every meal
Well this is all I have written at the present time. I may think of more later.
June. 5 – 1969. .
And that’s all she wrote.
Next Week: Something Completely Different!
Larry F. Sommers, Your New Favorite Author
Author of Price of Passage—A Tale of Immigration and Liberation.
Price of Passage
Norwegian Farmers and Fugitive Slaves in Pre-Civil War Illinois
(History is not what you thought!)