Fall 1996

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Autobiographical Sketches


Floyd Griswold Greene

Floyd Griswold Greene wrote this account of his family and his early life for his daughters.
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Conclusion

Part Five

Peter Pealer, My Stepfather

Grandpa Pealer was of Pennsylvania Dutch descent, whatever that is. He was born at Columbia, Pa., in 1843-some time in December I think. He and at least one brother, Frank, came to the South Dansville neighborhood in early life. They were both farm boys, though I have heard Mr. Pealer say that when a young boy he picked slate from coal at the Pennsylvania coal mines near where he lived. He had two brothers killed in the Civil War. One's name was Shadrach but the other name I do not now recall. Why he came to South Dansville I do not know, but in as much as he was a distant relative of the Evelands and Kreidlers who had located there, I presume it was because of them that he also came there.

Finally, he bought the farm on Gospel Hill, 2 miles or so east of South Dansville, most of which he owned until his death. He didn't buy it all at once, but kept adding to it until he owned around 350 acres as I recall, when I first began to get backaches from picking up potatoes up there. For potatoes were the main cash crop. Eventually he sold part of the farm off. Whether he actually lived on the farm I do not know, but when I first knew the farm, his brother, Frank, with Mariam his wife, and son Archie lived there, and Mr. Pealer and Wade lived in the village. The Pealer house in the village is very old. Prior to my birth, John Quick at one time lived there, and it may be that he built it. He was Orange Green's grandfather, who had operated the Rogersville grist mill which my father later owned, and who moved to Honeoye and there ran a grist mill up to the time of his death. Then another old time tenant was the old Dr. Ackley, Dr. Charles, who when I was old enough to know had moved further up the street. Apparently when Mr. Pealer married Wade's mother, Rose Bowers, they bought the house and went there to live. Some time after Wade was born his mother died there of consumption, in the same room off the sitting room where my father died. It was after that that my people moved in. Incidentally, Wade, too, died of consumption about 40 years after his mother died.

When the newlyweds returned from their wedding trip, Uncle Hub and Aunt Clara moved from the house, and Wade and his father moved in. From that time, when I was 7, until I went to Hornellsville to high school when, in 1892, I was 14, was really not a long span of time. Yet to me, thinking back, it does seem a very long time. Those years seemed much longer, and now viewed retrospectively they still seem much longer than do the fast moving years now that I am going down the Western Slope. I cannot set out any consecutive story of those 7 years. Life from month to month, or from year to year, was not much different than the month or year preceding. Generally speaking, they were very happy years. While, measured by the comforts and gadgets that are common place now, our mode of life may have been crude and somewhat hard, our particular lot, for that time and in the locality was above the average in its comforts and conveniences.

Perhaps the best way to tell of those years would be to treat somewhat of the way we and other people around there lived in those days, with such personal incidents of any moment as may occur to me. It will at least make clear the considerable distance that has been travelled between then and now.

Mr. Pealer was a good provider, both as to his family and as to his animals. My mother was an excellent housekeeper of great energy. Both of them were intelligent persons, reading both books and newspapers. Mr. Pealer was not a church member and rarely went to church services. But he had respect for ministers, religions and church members, and carried on his own life pretty much as a good religionist should. Sunday was a day of rest with him, and I do not recall his ever having done farm work on Sunday. He belonged to the Masons and attended lodge quite regularly. My mother must have belonged to the Methodist Church, I think, and she was very active in the work of both of the village churches, The Methodist and Universalist. She was one of those persons who got things done, and thus had a good deal wished on her. Both Mr. Pealer and my mother belonged to the Grange, at Canaseraga first, I think, and, later, on Oak Hill when one was organized there. I remember that at one time my mother was one of the judges of the jellies at the Bath Fair, and she wrote a number of articles that she read at various society meetings.

Most of the time while we lived in South Dansville, we had what was then known as a "hired girl," who really became a part of the family; eating at the same table and spending her evenings when she wished in the family sitting room. I think that the first one who worked for us after Mr. Pealer and my mother were married was Alta Owen, who was a fine young woman, the sister of Fred and Frank Owen who started what is now the Normal Instructor in Dansville. Alta is still alive, so far as I know, never married, and lives with her sister, Mrs. Lieb, at Dansville. (now dead, 6/49)

Wade and I were very fond of Alta and when, after a year or so, there was some reason why she wished to leave, we got a rope and tried to tie her up so that she couldn't go; but it didn't work. There were one or two girls whom I do not recall, but the next one who stayed very long was Emma Sutton, then a farm girl from Sparta, whose sister also worked in the village. After a time, she became Mrs. Ed Weiermiller, and they still live in South Dansville, where Ed ran the village store for many years, until his daughter and son-in-law took over a few years ago. Finally, Mary Welter, the old reliable, who became more like one of the family than any of the others, came to work for us. She was a German girl, whose father ran the village shoe shop. There were several children in the family and they lived a half mile or so outside the village. Mary was with us for many years, even after I had gone to school at Hornellsville. Eventually, after my mother had gone to Washington to live permanently, Mary went to Dansville to keep house for a man named Pearle Willey, and she died there, an old woman, a few years ago.

Mr. Pealer and my mother took over the downstairs bedroom off the sitting room, as it was more easily heated from the coal stove that was always set up in the sitting room during cold weather. The "girl" had the little bedroom upstairs that my mother and I slept in after my father died, and Wade and I had the long bedroom over the sitting room, with a bed each. There was a register in that room directly over the sitting room stove, but it gave but little heat. So, during cold weather, we each had a flannel blanket which we would heat each night at the coal stove in the sitting room, would fold them up to hold the heat in, and then would wrap them around us when we were ready to hop into bed. There wasn't any heat at all in the girl's room. There were two other bedrooms, one in front upstairs at the northwest corner of the house, and the "spare room" directly underneath, along the north side of the house, downstairs. The downstairs hall ran between that bedroom and the sitting room. Back of the downstairs bed room was the dining room with stairs leading from it to the bedrooms. Another stairway lead directly up from the front hall, so we had two ways of going up stairs. Back of the dining room was the kitchen, with a pantry between the two. There were three porches, a small one in front of the front hall, one on the lower side of the house, reached from the kitchen, and one on the upper side of the house reached both from the dining room and from the kitchen. On the upper side porch was a stand, on which, in summer, was a wash bowl, with a slop jar beside it and a towel above it, where the young fry washed their hands and faces. Back of the kitchen was the woodshed with a wooden walk along one side from the back door to the kitchen door. There was a coal bin in one corner, and the rest of the space was occupied with the piled up wood. The cut wood would be brought down from the farm and thrown off back of the woodshed, and it was up to the two small kids to carry it into the woodshed and pile it up neatly in several rows.

Soft water, for washing, baths, dish water, etc., was gathered into a cistern built underneath the kitchen, by pipes and eaves running from the roofs. Drinking water was obtained from a deep well that had been dug in the side yard and had to be carried in in pails. We had a woodstove in the kitchen for cooking, and the back part of the stove had a reservoir which heated the water for baths. Off the kitchen we had the only bath-room in the village, but it was very crude judged by present day standards. It was of tin, and the heated water had to be carried from the stove and poured in. It ran out, finally, through taking out a plug, directly to the ground underneath.

In those days there was no such thing in small villages as an indoor toilet, "Chick Sales" affairs furnishing the facilities. Ours was a two-holer, at least 75 feet back of the house, next to the horse barn. Believe me, zero nights were a problem. Leading out of the roof of the two-holer was a square ventilator, and one time I built a little wind mill and nailed it to the top of the ventilator. When the wind blew it made quite a noise. The same night that I put it there Mr. Pealer went into the Chick Sales and heard the noise and thought a hen had fallen down into the pit and was making the noise. In fact, one time a hen did fall in there and was rescued. But she was a sight all the rest of the summer.

The horse barn had two or three stalls for horses, room for a couple of buggies to be stored, a granary and an upstairs for hay. We generally had a buggy horse there, one named Jim and another named Frank. They would be used to go to and from the farm, a couple of miles away up a steep hill, or to Dansville, or Hornellsville or wherever we might have occasion to go within driving distance.

Back of the horse barn and attached to it was a cow stable, and back of that a henhouse and hogpen. Quite an establishment. There was a good-sized garden back of the house, where, under protest, we boys had to do a lot of weed pulling, and back of that was a field of an acre leading back to a creek. From that field, up the side hill, was another field of 5 acres. In those fields the cow, and we almost always had one, was pastured. We generally had a couple of pigs, which grew into sizeable hogs, and eventually became hams, sausages, lard, fresh pork, and by-products, and we had 40 or 50 chickens.

We of course did not have any refrigerator, but we did have an ice-house back of the garden, which, each winter, was filled with big cakes a foot or more thick from the village mill pond. It was an all day job for a team of horses and several men to fill the ice-house. The ice was available the next summer to make ice-cream, cool milk, etc. On a number of occasions we made up batches of root beer and kept the bottles on the ice in the ice-house. Old Jim, the horse, was very smart, and was very reliable. If, as now happened, the cutter would tip over on the snow drifts, old Jim, sensing what the trouble was, would stop dead still until the cutter was righted again. When he would be working on the farm on Gospel Hill, upon hearing the dinner bell at the house he would stop still in the field and refuse to go further with the plow or cultivator or whatever he was attached to, until he was unhitched to go to the barn for his dinner. I never became more attached to a horse than to him. Frank, who succeeded Jim down in the village, was a rangier horse who could go faster. Jim was more of the stocky type and he didn't worry about anything. Frank eventually became blind, but continued to be used as a buggy horse. With a little care in watching out for the bumps in the road, and pulling him up with the reins at such places he got along very well and seldom stumbled.

Wade generally took care of the horses, as he was very fond of horses and used to do work with the various teams on the farm when he was quite small. His night-mares always had to do with horses, and he awakened me many times, when he would be sitting up in bed calling "gee," "whoa" and "haw" to his imaginary team.

My mother used to feed the pigs quite a lot, as she was an expert in so feeding them that the side pork had the proper streaks of lean and fat. The dish water was poured into a barrel in the pig pen, and into this was mixed ground feed, which the pigs were fed 3 times a day. A pretty smelly place was that. When cold weather came along, killing the hogs was in order and a whole day was set aside for it. Bill Howard was an expert hog killer and Mr. Pealer always hired him to do that job, assisted in the after work by the man from the farm and Mr. Pealer. A hog does a whole lot of squealing when he is being caught, thrown on his back and having his thoat cut by a jong, sharp knife, but when he is let up he doesn't seem to mind it and will walk around apparently perfectly happy. Of course, after he has lost enough blood he lies down and dies. Nearby a big iron kettle is filled with water and a fire built around it. Right adjacent, a platform as high as the kettle is built from planks. By the time the hog is deceased, the water is scalding hot. He is pulled up on the platform by hooks and then is slid down into the scalding water, and pulled up and down a few times. He is then hauled out on the platform and his bristles, which have been softened by the scalding, are scraped off by gadgets that look like candle holders. A heavy pole having been hung between two trees, or otherwise fixed high enough in the air, the hog is hung up underneath the pole, head down, after which considerable surgery is done on him. When that has been finished everything that was inside of him has been taken out, to go through the factory in the house as head cheese, sausage, lard, etc., etc. It was a very busy time both inside and outside the house. Finally, when thoroughly cold, the hog—or hogs—was taken down into the cellar, and then cut up into the component parts of hams, shoulders, side pork, etc. Mr Pealer was very good at that job. The part of the hog that was to be eaten as fresh pork, rather than to be "cured" and made into hams and salt pork, was put into a wash boiler, and buried in the snow near the back door. We had pork and pork and pork to eat. It the weather stayed cold everything was OK, but if it turned warm, as it sometimes did, it was just too bad. Enough, I guess, about hogs and pork, though I could go on for page after page.

I generally took care of the chickens, including decapitating them when we decided to have a chicken dinner. I got so that I could chop their heads off quite expertly, douse them into very hot water, and pick their feathers off; likewise, dressing them ready for the kettle. As you all know, in more recent years I extended my chicken operations to the point of cooking them. As a matter of fact, in the fall when it was time to cull out the older hens, we had chicken to eat until we were very tired of it. About once a year grandpa Pealer would have the village butcher kill a fatted cow, and we would take back a quarter of it, eating what we could fresh, and making the rest into dried beef. He also had a sheep from the farm killed every now and then. In addition, we bought meat at the butcher's. The odd thing was that we paid the same price for all kinds of steak, whether porterhouse or round depending on whether the butcher had it at the moment. And, believe it or not, steak was then 121/2 cents per pound, quite different than the nearly a dollar a pound of today.

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Conclusion
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