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Some Early Remembrances

Margaret Hays Warner 

(Written for my children and grandchildren or for any others who might be interested in knowing about life in a small town in the early 1900's)

I'll begin with one of the earliest memories of my childhood. When I was about four or five years old, while playing in our back yard, I wandered into my father's plumbing shop, close by the house, a busy place with much heavy machinery. Naturally, my mother was always careful and watchful, but somehow I managed to escape, and had slipped away unnoticed. My father and his helper, Mr. Weant, (a good neighbor and worker in the shop for many years) were putting a large sheet of metal through a set of rollers with cog wheels at one end. 

Margaret and her younger brother Sam ~ 1910

Both were intent on the job of making a large watering trough, and failed to see me standing at the far end, with my hand on the moving wheels. Fortunately the machine was hand operated and the wheel moved slowly, but fast enough to catch my two fingers and mash them badly. My cries alerted the men and they immediately reversed the rollers.

They carried me, screaming, to the house, where mother imagined the very worst had happened. The doctor was called, but I'm not sure in what way, because we had no telephone at that time. His office was at the far end of town, and he had to walk the distance to our house. Meanwhile, neighbors, grandparents and others had gathered round, doing their best to quiet me until the doctor arrived. 

He was an elderly gentleman, who found it difficult to work on a hand that was constantly moving, so suggested that I be given a small dose of chloroform, My grandfather was not willing for him to do this, so he had to proceed without it. I was not aware of this, but I do remember all the excitement I caused, and most of all, the pain and long ordeal of healing. It could be that I cried more than necessary, because of all the attention and efforts to please me.

One day, a lady hearing me cry when the doctor was dressing my finger, brought me a doll with a hand-painted face, which I cherished for a long time. The lady was Miss Leila Taney, from near Mt. St. Mary's College. The doll's name, of course, had to be Leila.

This one incident makes me see again so many faces of long ago, associated with my childhoods and a happy one it was, the best of parents, five brothers and good neighbors all around, who were almost a part of our family. We knew almost everyone. To me, that was the good part and why it is so pleasant now to recall those early days. We are all married now, with children of our own, and some grandchildren, too. But to this day we love to recall with happy memory the fun and even the trying experiences of our life together.

Speaking of good neighbors, the first ones who come to mind are those who lived right next door, so near that we could reach out the window and almost touch their house. This was the Shuff family, Mr. & Mrs. Shuff, three boys and three girls, all older than any of us. I don't remember anyone else ever living in that house. It seemed to me they were always there and just belonged there.

They had a large porch in front where we were free to sit and talk, especially on hot summer evenings. Many times during the day, strains of music would reach us from the cool parlor next door. It would be Ruth Shuff playing the piano, and again we were welcome to come in for singing or just listening. Some of their good chocolate cake or cookies might come our way, until we were called home to attend to our chores. For the boys, it was usually weeding or other small jobs. I can't imagine growing up without knowing the closeness of these folks, always there, and interested in our doings and so much a part of our lives.

Just across the street lived our grandparents, Father's parents and sister. Later on, Aunt Weimer ( the sister) married a long time friend, who lived there from that time on. He was Basil C. Gilson. I suppose we were bothersome to them, running in and out, but they were always there and put up with us as best they could.

The old time living room, or as otherwise called a parlor, with slippery horsehair covered chairs, provided a kind of sliding board when we were small. Aunt Weimer's long apron strings were make believe reins, as we sat on her lap, rocking back and forth, pretending to ride somewhere. She was a very small person, and could bring the apron strings around back and then around front and still have more left over. Occasionally, we were asked to stay for supper, consisting of tea and little rolls, homemade of course. A simple meal, but something different, and special.

Across the yard from Aunt Weimer's were Mr. & Mrs. Weant and their two children, Mary and Frank, who grew up with us but were a little older. Mrs. Weant was like a mother to us, calling us in for sugar cakes or other treats whenever we were nearby. Once when Mother was very ill, Mrs. Weant took my brother Sam, who was then very small, and cared for him for a number of weeks. When it was time to go home, he cried and wanted to stay.

These families, I think, were as close as home itself, but all around were others who influenced our lives and in one way or another, and are remembered fondly to this day.

Another friend and neighbor lived on our side of the street, across the alley alongside our father's shop. Mrs. Andrew Annan. Her daughter, Luella, was quite a bit older than we were, but she didn't seem to be so. I guess it was because of her cheerful disposition, but best of all was her musical talent. A graduate of Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, she played lovely classics, and often would let us sit beside her while she played our favorites. My brother Jim especially enjoyed singing the popular song at that time "A Perfect Day," by Carrie Jacobs Bond, with Luella accompanying him. Later, she became an organist at the Presbyterian Church.

Our own children sometimes ask: How is it that you can entertain us with so many funny stories about people and things in your hometown, while we don't seem to have those close relationships?' I'm not sure, but it could be that our parents had always lived in the same town. Few people moved away and we saw these same folks every day in school, at church and passing on the street. At work and play, we learned to know them thoroughly. Good qualities as well as little idiosyncrasies often caused us to have fun at their expense.

Work was always uppermost, from the time we were able to do any kind of chores. Everyone was expected to be up bright and early. No ‘sleeping in’ as the saying goes. Father and Mother were always up very early, so that was the pattern for us. Each of the boys had his name called in turn, but I was excluded from the roll call most of the time, just but the tone of my father's voice, after calling several times, warned me that I, too, had better be up.

My work was helping Mother with the household chores, sweeping, dusting, running errands or doing any small jobs, depending upon the time of year. The boys had all kinds of work to do as they grew up. There were fields back of the barn, a "patch" for corn and potatoes where weeds were always present, and pulling them was one of the jobs hated most. The boys stuck to it as best they could, with encouragement from Mother, and often handouts of cool drinks to make the tasks seem easier.

I am sure my brothers would not have learned to work and to stay close to home, without Mother's special talent for making work seem like play and by working along with us whenever she could. Sometimes, when we were quite small, she would sit with us in the lawn swing and mend socks, while we would pretend we were going on a trip to some far away place of our own choosing.

Mother was the one who provided fun, music and fullness to our lives, while Father, with his seriousness and discipline, helped us to know what was expected of us. On rare occasions he would tell a funny story about something that had happened in his life, and since this was so unusual, we thoroughly enjoyed it.

Mother had grown up on a farm and was used to having plenty of good fresh milk, so she always wanted to have a cow. Most of the boys learned to milk, and of course had to take care of the barn chores. There also were chickens, which meant gathering eggs (a job I liked) and cleaning the chicken house most unpleasant task, which the boys tried to avoid. Mother would "set' eggs under her hens and raised many little chicks in the summer months. I well remember one unusual operation she performed, when a little chick looked kind of droopy. She would hold it in her hand and open its mouth and, with a twisted horsehair, skillfully remove a small worm that was causing the trouble. Soon the chick would revive and run about like the others. Once a strange one was hatched with feathers growing the wrong way. Mother gave it the name of "Strubble," probably a Pennsylvania Dutch expression, meaning it was all messed up.

I'm writing now about our younger days. It was not a case of "All work and no play," but play was of our own making. The boys played marbles in the little alley between our house and Shuff's. My brother Sam had a string of stick horses tied up in the woodshed, each one of which had a name. For fun and exercise, he rode them around the yard, believing they were real. Sam's great love was horses, and many times he would slip off to go with a neighbor, who would let him ride or help drive cattle somewhere. In those days, cattle were sometimes driven quite a distance, and boys and men were used to help keep the cattle in line. There was a great thrill to this for Sam and he would go, even at the risk of punishment when he came home.

My brother Jim, being the oldest, soon took an interest in the shop, an interest that continued through most of his life. This may have been partly because his father no doubt looked forward to having his oldest son succeed him in the business, and hence gave Jim more and more responsibility. It soon became his regular job to take the workmen to Mt. St. Mary's College, to do extensive work in the various buildings.

We had our share of accidents, though none too serious. We had a barn where the horse was kept and a loft full of hay, where we loved to climb and play. One day, Bill was sliding on a big pile of hay near an open window and fell out into the alley below, breaking his arm. That was the end of barn playing for us all.

There was another accident that might have proved tragic. My brother John and a friend about his age had the bright idea (or so they thought) of cutting quinces, lying plentifully on the ground. They had seen the corn chopper being used, so thought it would be just the thing to do the job. John fed the quinces into the chopper, while the other boy operated the knife. Down the knife came and almost cut off his hand. By luck, someone nearby was able to render first aid until the doctor could be called and stitches could be taken in his wrist. This happened while Mother was very ill, so John was taken to our grandparents across the street, who looked after him.

It was not always my brothers who got into trouble or had accidents. I must admit to causing an almost tragic accident to my youngest brother, Harry. I was about nine years old, when Mother allowed me to take him in his stroller for a little outing.

Another girl met me and together we walked almost to the Town Square. In front of the Lutheran Church there was a long sloping cement walk, which seemed to invite us to go up and then sort of coast down to the street. Esther, my friend, was supposed to stop the stroller as it came down but we did not count on the increase in speed and she was too frightened to do anything. 

The stroller overturned and Harry was thrown out. By chance, the doctor lived next door (Dr. Stone) and he had seen what happened. He took my brother into his office, treated the slight cut on his forehead and then took him home, explaining what had happened. I was terrified, as I should have been, and ran home to hide under, or rather in, a closet, feeling sure I would be punished severely. As I recall, I was not punished, although I surely deserved to be.

We all loved to go up to the third floor of the shop, especially on rainy days, when there wasn't much to do. We called it the "carpenter shop," because of the lumber stored there. This lumber was there, to be sawed up by a circular saw that was mounted on a table. I'm surprised we were not injured by that saw, but we were probably told to stay away from it, and were warned of what might happen. Anyway, for our amusement there were piles of sawdust to play in, and curls of shavings to be put behind our ears. Somehow we felt away from everything while we were there. There was always a smell of wood, a nice clean smell, as we made our way up the stairs.

All through the summer, if we could think of nothing better to do, we conceived the idea of selling something to earn a few cents for buying candy. Each of us would take a paper bag and search the yard and grounds for stray bones, sometimes easily seen', but sometimes hidden under porches and out of the way places. Bones could be sold at that time for use in making fertilizer. All were put together in one bag and off we went to the grocery store. The friendly, long-suffering grocer would weigh them up and pay us two or three cents. Today that would be nothing, but then it was enough for us to buy a good sized bag of candy.

In order to increase our purchase, we liked to go to another store, a small one up town, where there was a kind of slot machine on the counter. I remember a little stool or box we had to stand on to reach the top. We put a penny in the slot and down it went through a maze of pegs. If it landed at a certain place, our one penny became two.

Wonderful! We could now buy more candy. How patient that shopkeeper was, as we stood and looked in the case, trying to decide what kind we wanted. The storekeeper and her husband lived in rooms behind the store, so her work was interrupted many times as customers came in. Her husband was a big man with a big black mustache. He was rather gruff in manner, so we always hoped it would be his wife, "Miss Nonie" who would wait on us

Most of our family buying was done at the grocery store across the street, where most shopping was done in our end of town. There one could buy most anything that was needed. There was a whole counter devoted to sewing supplies, with bolts of cloth on shelves behind the counters, to be rolled out and measured according to order. In those days, most of the clothing was sewed by hand, so there was a complete line of thread, laces and trimmings for everything needed. Miss Bessie Hoke, sister of the owner, was in charge of this section. She was always there, as she lived right across the street from the store, and had only to run across for meals and back again. I do not remember that anyone else was ever behind that counter.

When Christmas time drew near, all the holiday goods would be carried up to the second floor and made ready for display. No one could go up until it was announced that the door would be opened. Of course we were all getting excited by that time and could hardly wait to go up those stairs. From the end window at home we could see what was going on, so we watched and waited. At last the word came, and going up those stairs was almost equal to Christmas itself. The dolls were arranged on one wall, and I mentally picked out one that I liked. The boys spied the sleds and skates and toys that seemed like something magical. Compared to the variety and abundance of today, these simple things were small indeed, but big to us. Most of our gifts for giving, or for under the tree, came from this store. Our parents seldom went to a larger town or city, so what could be bought here, or made at home, would have to do.

Our tree was never put up before Christmas Eve, when we were all asleep. It came mysteriously and was quietly trimmed with simple ornaments, some of which we remembered from year to year. There was no large array of gifts underneath. One or perhaps two for each, and, of course, a long black stocking filled with candy, nuts and an orange in the toe. The orange was a real treat, because we did not see any at any other time of the year.

On Christmas Day the tree held special enchantment, because it had appeared as if by magic, not purchased days before and trimmed ahead of time, as we do today. Of course, things are different, and there are reasons why this must be done. Perhaps it is good to let the children have a part in making ornaments, helping to trim the tree and in general being allowed to have a part in the preparations. Customs have changed over the years. I might mention another change. Christmas was not over at the end of Christmas Day. We could look forward to a week or two, set apart for various kinds of celebrations. There were still some celebrations in the churches, radio music featured many beautiful carols or special choir selections, such as The Messiah. There was no school, so there were many parties here and there, and if the weather happened to be cold, skating and sledding were enjoyed. A holiday spirit continued to prevail.

One custom not commonplace everywhere was that of Kris Kingling, or, as it was sometimes called, Bell Snickling. Some time after Christmas, groups of young people liked to dress up in old clothes or costumes, wear false faces and go from house to house. They knocked at the door and were invited in. At once there was guessing as to who these visitors were. Masks were then removed and most proved to be well known friends or neighbors. Much fun followed and treats were passed around.

Bell Snicklers were different, They were mostly older boys or men who rode horses through the town, shouting or singing and jingling their bells as they rode along. I was always afraid when I heard them coming, and would run into the house. They rode mainly to nearby farmers and were warmly received by the ones they visited. Country people were very glad for a little excitement, and this was all part of the holiday season. Very often it turned out that some of the callers were from a nearby farm, out for a little fun and a chance to visit their neighbors. There was much friendly talk and laughter and, of course a chance to hand out all kinds of good treats, prepared weeks before visits such as these. Then they were off to another farm for more fun.

This custom may have been carried out in other places, but to most peoples it seems to be unknown. Today, dressing in costumes and visiting around is done on a similar scale at Halloween.

Read Margaret's brother, William's memories of Emmitsburg

Remembering Mom

Emily Warner Bender

My mother, Margaret Hays Warner, was a homemaker for sure. She took care of the needs of her children and supported her husband by learning to prepare such foods as mushrooms and dandelion greens. He came from a family of hunters so she also had to learn to prepare foods such as squirrel and rabbit. My brothers and I remember eating squirrel pot pie. That took courage!

Dad would take us with him in the summer to pick berries and blackberries. Mother would make pies.

My grandparents lived next door and grandmother, who was a born gardener, would bring currants and grapes for jelly-making and asparagus and every other kind of vegetable for eating and canning.

Mother’s father made her a corn dryer in the Emmitsburg Tin Shop. I still have it in my home today.

On the other hand, Mother was a very outgoing person. She loved being with people and doing things with friends and family. In church, Hawley Memorial Presbyterian, she was very active. She played the piano for Sunday School every Sunday. People would ask how she mashed her fingers and she would tell the story of how it happened. It never interfered with her playing.

She taught the adult Bible class of men and women for 25 years. I remember the picture she was given from the class. It hung in the hall of her home the remainder of her life. Because of her dedication to her church, she was voted to be the first woman elder and was later appointed to represent her church at the Presbytery level!

We children practically grew up in the church. Dad would attend too, but not like Mother. He often had to work on Sunday.

Mother served as PTA president more than once. She knew how to conduct a business meeting and how to work with people. She was known and liked by everyone.

Mother had taught school after her graduation from college. She was assigned to a high school on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. This school was a small High School where she and the principal were the faculty. He taught Math and Science and she taught everything else. Some of the students came by boat. French was one of the subjects she taught. She used to teach us French phrases such as: Good Morning! How are you? We thought that was great. I still have some of her books.

Whatever our challenge was she was there to help. She listened to our problems and soothed our bumps and bruises. She saw to it that we joined scouting, being my leader at one point when no one else was available. She gave me music lessons.

She had some money of her own in a special place. When money was ‘hard to come by’ and she knew it was important for one of us to have something, the money was taken from that special place. We had everything we needed but not everything we wanted. Life was good!

Mother was there for all our special activities, plays, programs recitations and graduations. She was there – and we knew she would be.

Just as mother knew most everyone in the town of Emmitsburg, where she grew up, she knew just about everyone in Blue Ridge Summit, PA. My Father’s place of business was there where his family had lived since the early 1900’s.

My grandfather, with his three sons had built a garage and car dealership, Keystone Garage.

When my Father was courting my Mother, she was a student at Hood College in Frederick, Maryland. She used to tell me the girls would say how lucky she was to be able to ride in such style. They would all be looking to see what model of car Dad would be driving each week. This was early 1920.

My Mother and Dad made a nice couple. People who still remember my Mother say, 'What a lovely person she was!'

My sentiments exactly