ALTHOUGH GRANDFATHER’S house was not large, there were
fourteen rooms in it beside pantries and sundry nondescript ells used
mostly for storage and a large attic. Of the fourteen rooms only seven
were in regular use. There were four guest chambers, three of which were
seldom occupied; the fourth, to my knowledge, never. The south parlor was
used when we had guests; the north parlor being thrown open but twice
during the eighteen years I lived in the house. The first opening occurred
during the visit of distinguished relatives from the West, and the second,
for grandfather’s funeral.
Evidences of good housekeeping were to be seen
everywhere about our house. The table linen was always spotlessly clean,
and here and there on the surface, a neatly laid patch was to be seen,
mute but eloquent testimony to New England thrift and loving care. I never
see such patches on table linens without an accompanying flood of tender
recollections. They are indicative of the presence of the spirit that
counts; the memory of which, cannot be obliterated by the passage of
Even staunchly built New England houses may disappear
as a result of storm, flood or fire, but memories of homes where love
abides, are imperishable. When one looks back over a long period of years,
much which once seemed important, fades into insignificance, while other
things grow into such commanding importance that one may in truth say,
“Nothing else matters.” Sacrifice, devotion, honor, truth, sincerity,
love—these are the homely virtues characteristic of good, old-fashioned
Grandmother’s kitchen was
like the works of a clock; the engine of a motor vehicle; the heart of a
human being. In the kitchen, the power which controlled the domestic
affairs of the house was generated. The kitchen was a hive of industry.
Monday was an especially busy day; all the machinery
was put in mesh; even grandfather had his part. He kept the fire under the
stationary boiler burning briskly, using only white birch wood which fired
quickly and produced a high degree of heat at precisely the right time.
Grandfather also kept the reservoir on the back of the stove full of water
available for the wash tubs or the boiler as Delia might need. Soft water
only was considered fit for washing dishes, for washing clothes on
Mondays, or for our tub baths on Saturday nights. Soft water, homemade
soft soap, and soft wood fires under the boiler were an unbeatable
combination in the war against uncleanliness. The pump at the sink in the
kitchen never failed to yield the needed supply of soft water from the
cistern and the spout in the summer kitchen was equally faithful in its
undertaking to supply all needs of cold hard water for drinking, cooking,
refrigeration and sewage disposal purposes.
The kitchen was versatile indeed; it could turn its
talents to service as a bakery on bake days, a dairy on butter making
days, a butcher shop during sausage making, trying out lard and salting
meats. The duties of the kitchen also included a hundred and one
unclassified services such as canning fruit, rag rug making, etc., etc.
Of course the kitchen had the summer kitchen to fall
back on when its own resources were overtaxed. The summer kitchen was
supplied with a sink of its own in which dishes could be washed in case
the kitchen sink was being used for other purposes. All the churning was
done in the summer kitchen, grandfather supplying what Mr. Jerome Hilliard
might have designated as “elbow grease.”
The summer kitchen was the repository of the rag bag
into which all surplus rags were put and held for the coming of the
ragman. The rag bag played an important part in our domestic economy as it
paid for all brooms, dusters, tin ware and other odds and ends.
summer kitchen was provided with a coal bin and space for neat piles of
wood sufficient for immediate needs. There was, as I know, never any
jealousy between the kitchen and the summer kitchen. The kitchen knew that
it was the hub of our little universe and the summer kitchen was content
to play a subordinate role.
The kitchen was also blessed with two butteries
(pantries), the larger of the two opening into the dining room, thus
saving many steps. The dishes, all except chinaware, were also kept in the
larger of the two butteries; there were also three barrels, one of which
contained wheat flour, one buckwheat flour, and the third sugar. Kitchen
utensils, eggs and many other household utilities, were kept in the larger
of the two butteries.
The small buttery was reserved for milk, cooked meats,
fruit and other food which needed to be kept cool. This small buttery was
protected all the year round against even the most penetrating rays of the
sun. Winter accumulations of snow along the outer wall of this small
buttery remained late in the spring after it had disappeared elsewhere,
except perhaps from the top of Killington Peak. To grandmother, the larger
buttery was always the “south buttery” and the smaller one the “north
buttery,” but by what process of reasoning I have never known, as both
butteries had been wisely located on the north side of the house.
Of course the kitchen could not have played its stellar
role so successfully had it not been for the huge, three-roomed deep
cellar which kept bulky vegetables and fruits extra cool even in the
summer months. The potatoes of course had to be sprouted when the warm
days served notice that the sun had issued its annual proclamation to all
living things to come out and get warm.
Our great box refrigeration through which the cold
spring water Incessantly flowed on its way to the lavatory played an
especially Important part during the period when we had our cow. The
butter was made in the summer kitchen, after which it was stored in big
earthen crocks and placed in the great box where it was kept cool by the
constantly flowing water.
farmers, who were fortunate enough to have springs near their houses,
frequently built small houses over them and within their walls the dairy
operations were conducted and the dairy products stored for use by the
family or for sale when accumulated in sufficient quantities. Butter and
eggs were sold at the store where the family traded, or, in some cases,
exchanged for needed commodities. Cool spring houses with their odors of
fresh cream and butter were about the sweetest places there were on
old-fashioned farms and how refreshing it was to step into the spring
house on hot days in summer.
The water from the spring was generally carried through
pump logs to the barnyard where hot, thirsty horses, coming in from the
fields, could refresh themselves in contentment and where all other farm
animals could enjoy the cool, flowing water. Modem electric refrigerators
may be more efficient but they never can match the sweetness of the
old-fashioned spring houses of mountain farms.
In the old days many farm women made cheese as well as
butter but that practice ceased when the cheese factories came. Vermont
green cheese, sometimes called sage cheese, gained an enviable reputation
throughout the state and throughout New England. I can still see our
cheese maker, Martin Williams, with his mortar and pestle preparing his
sage for use in his great vats of curds. It was his custom to mix tender
clover leaves with the sage so that it would not taste too strong. Alas!
the cheese making industry in Vermont was short lived as it was replaced
by the famous Herkimer County New York State cheese long before Wisconsin
became the cheese making state of America.
Creameries were the next in order. Cheese factories
were turned into creameries and Vermont farmers brought their whole milk
and took away the skimmed milk to be fed to their pigs just as before.
was separated from the milk, cooled and placed in large cans which were
put into heavy stuffed jackets and shipped by fast trains to Boston or New
York where it arrived in time for breakfast. This practice with some
refinements still continues and doubtless will continue until the
aeroplane changes the present order. Most thrifty Vermont farmers have
their own cream separators now.
As compared with many New England houses our house is
not old, even now being only one hundred years old or thereabouts; that is
to say that it is only about as old as the city of Chicago where houses
quickly come and go. It is as staunch to-day as when built and, if no
untoward circumstances disturb the serenity of its mounting years, it is
doubtless destined to be really old, even In the New England sense,
sometime in the centuries to come.
To passing automobiles on the Ethan Allen Highway, it
is distinguishable by two large letters “H.H.” worked out in the pattern
of its imperishable roof of slate. The letters stand for Howard Harris, my
benefactor and grandfather. The house is now owned by Mr. and Mrs. R. C.
Taft who have raised a fine family in it.
How the house happened to be built so recently was due
to a misfortune which at the time seemed calamitous. The original
residence was destroyed by fire one Christmas night. The fire began in
grandfather’s store which, for convenience, had been built near the house.
Of the days of the reconstruction of the house, I have
never learned anything except the fact that the versatile carpenter
employed his spare hours, when the weather interfered with his building
operations, in making grandfather a pair of fine boots. In conformity with
the prevailing fashion they were made to reach nearly to the knees,
although shoes would have been far more comfortable and equally
boots were light in weight, very soft and pliable and they served him as
best boots for nearly forty years. During that period, they were worn
every Sunday and when grandfather was traveling; in fact, on all special
occasions and, when he was finally laid away, his weary feet were tenderly
placed in the soft, pliable top boots made by the versatile carpenter.