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Growing Up in Emmitsburg of Old

Samuel C. Hays (1908 - 1991) 

Most of us have our brains attuned to the future when, the sunís energy will obediently heat our homes; gasoline will be something that used to move automobiles; and outer space will be as ho hum as raising peanuts in Georgia.

I came from a different world having been born in our home on West Main Street, Emmitsburg, Md. (in 1908) as were my four brothers and one sister. Being born in a Hospital was not given even than the first consideration; in fact hospitals were used by only the very ill or dying. Doctors made house, furnishing pills or surgery as needed. When my sister contracted the Russian flu during World War 1, our family Doctor, B. I. Jamison, came to the house, checked her temperature and pulse and prescribed antibiotics, which he carried in his satchel. As he sat on the side of the bed, he explained later that he had not slept for 72 hours.

When my forehead was cut by a piece of flying ice (thrown by a playmate) it was Doc Jamison who rushed to our house sewed the laceration, then and there. No anesthetic, just screams and a few select words about strong lungs and a (bleep, bleep) lousy kid as he left the house. On another occasion a jaw tooth hurt so badly that I risked a trip to the Docís office for relief. Know what? He pulled then and there . . . no anesthetic . . . no kind words . . . just "open up" and a minute later . . . "what the Hell are you crying about, it's out, isnít it?" Mother had a bunion on her big toe. Know who cut it out? That's right. Doc Jamison . . . Know were? In our house in the kitchen.

Billy Komer, the local bar tender, went to Doc Jamison to see about a lump developing in the back of his neck. Doc prescribed the knife . . . but for this he needed help. Next evening, Webb Felix - a plumber by trade, was made the assistant and Doc removed the troublesome lump. When my brother John had measles, we were quarantined with a big red sign placed on the door warning everyone to stay away from our house. John suffered a little but then we didnít - have to go to school and our diet improved with Orange juice and sometimes ice cream!

Millard F. Shuff

Next door lived the Undertaker, Mr. M. F. Shuff. He was the Justice of the Peace, wrote deeds, sold furniture, window panes and blinds. Funerals were held mostly from the home rather than a funeral establishments. A black wreath hung on the door announcing to everyone that a resident had died. As children we passed such a house on tiptoes. Mourners stayed near the deceased constantly until burial. The hearse was drawn by horses with shinny harness, followed by a cortege of hacks and carriages. My first ride in a hack was my Grandfather's funeral and I enjoyed every minute of it. Mr. Shuff could hardly restrain my brother Bill from passing the offering plate after the preacher said Amen.

We boys were frequently called upon to serve as Pallbearers which we felt honored to do. Especially if it resulted in a day off from school, better yet if we could ride with Mr. Shuff in top the hearse. Concrete vaults were unheard of back then but a wooden box called a "Rough Box" served the same purpose. The coffin was hand made by Mr. Shuff to suit each customer. Rough Boxes were frequently made ahead and stored in the barn at the rear of the property.

Some of the above is to prepare the reader for a funny story. Clay Shuff, a son of the Undertaker was, one summer day, preparing to lift a Rough Box onto the wagon when he noticed bowlegged, Black Charlie Approaching with his little red express wagon. Quickly he crawled into the rough box and closed the lid. Clay gave instructions from inside, ( only audible to me), to ask Charlie to help lift the box onto the wagon. Charlie touched the box and a low moan emanated from inside . . . it became louder and louder as the lid began to raise. Charlie said "man you load that box yo self. I'm leaving." Charlie and Clay are both dead now but my guess is that Clay is still laughing and that Charlie is still runnin'.

Mr. Shuff was more adept at Undertaking than at deed writing so when confronted with this problem he frequently enlisted the help of his young neighbor Bill Hays who had developed a pretty rapid "hunt and peck" system at the typewriter. He even liked the idea of inserting some of his own words into the legal document. I often wonder whatever became of that boy. What with all the quarters he earned at writing legal documents he may even have gone to college . . .

Justice - Mr. Shuff's justice was as gentle as a butterfly with sore feet landing on a rose petal. Gone are the Pete Whites - Jake Turners - George Wills - Bill Odens - Nellie Hesses - Billy Rentzels - and Amos Feegus to name a few. They're the ones who drank the whiskey, swore in public, drove through town so fast they scared the neighbors, even stole chickens on occasions. But we loved them all and I know Mr. Shuff did too.

Many the time he assessed a fine of $1.00 and cost. The cost being a quarter and then suspend on a promise of good behavior. "Now Pete," he would say "You are accused of being drunk and disorderly. How do you plead, guilty or not guilty?" Without fear of reprisal most responded guilty. After which Mr. Shuff would say, "now here Pete, you were in here last week and the week before and you promised to stop drinking, next time I'll have to send you to the "Cut." The "cut" was a real jail in some far away place where prisoners lived on bread and water and had to break rocks all day with a hammer. Mr. Shuff never sent anyone there but gosh! He might have . . .

Have your own memories of growing up in Emmitsburg?
 If so, send them to us at history@emmitsburg.net

Read other articles by Samuel Hays