Thursday, May 14, 2015

Chapter 11: Christmas

Following Chapter 11, the Cavendish Historical Society provides another recorded memory of a Cavendish Christmas, a childhood memory, which took place approximately a decade after Tiemann’s 1933 experience. To read the prelude and other chapters of Tiemann’s Memoirs go to Coming to Vermont (Cavendish): Memoirs of Philip Tiemann 

 I ordered twenty New Hampshire Red pullets, and these arrived in Cavendish by express (in those good old days we had train services long since discontinued.) Lacking better place to put them, poor Dan had to go over with the cow and Wyeth and I fixed up his stall as a coop. They were nice birds and a good investment. Great was the excitement when, only a couple of days later, the girls ran in crying "Mommy! We’ve got an egg!"

The live-stock was further augmented the week before Christmas when I brought home a three-year-old Jersey cow due to have her second calf in January ("freshen" is the term, as the milk supply follows.) Our first cow having been bred would soon have to be "dried off," when she would go as part of the deal. I hoped thus to maintain our milk supply and also have younger and better animal, plus ca1f.

Meantime, in the kitchen, my dint of a "dead man" (a T-shaped support) and some help from Isabel, I was putting up a sheet-rock ceiling. We had been disappointed when we stripped off the old lath to find that the beams were sawed rather than hewn, and hence not suitable to leave exposed. ."Oh, well," I decided, "It must have been a plaster ceiling to begin with; and we can still keep the hooks." Those four iron hooks spaced in a square in the ceiling in front of the fireplace have been the subject of more comment and questions than anything else. Few "restored" kitchens have them; yet obviously they were an important feature with many uses for drying: sometimes supplemented with a frame of poles across which netting could be stretched (or wet clothes hung!) They were in position to get the best heat in the room,- a step ahead of the mice.

With the place filthy and a litter of tools and equipment the ceiling finally was finished just before Christmas. Then Isabel and the girls gave it a thoro cleaning and we moved back in. Still hoping to use it as our living-room I had experimented with the range in the back bedroom with the pipe poked thru a window, but it smoked and drove us out. So now it was placed on the new hearth relative to a pipe-hole in the chimney. With the flue stoppered, the fireplace was handy for stacking wood. A "dry" sink in a wooden frame was set in the north-west corner where the drain could pass thru the floor down into an outlet which had at some time been made with an elbow-tile thru the foundation and into the ground. A small table stood by the back window; a secretary against the wan next to the back door; and the dining table by the paneled wall opposite the fireplace. With chairs, of course. The east end was left as a play space for the children. (We had no furniture to put there, anyway.1 When the shelves were filled with our books and pictures, the room really came to life.

I don't pretend to remember all these details. My mother and sister saved many of my letters, and these have been excellent source material for both events and dates. So I am not making it up when I note that there was more snow following rain,- beautiful!", or that on the 20th we began work on the roof, and the next day there was a blizzard, making it "a long walk to the mail box*" The RFD, incidentally, was one of our mixed blessings, as the postman came only as far as the cross­roads almost half a mile below the house where a group of boxes perch­ed drunkenly on posts. His timing was inexact for plenty of good reasons, so if we wanted to meet him we started early - and perhaps had to wait half an hour or more. Not that we ever held it against the currier; he did an outstandingly good job under all conditions of roads end weather. Not more than once or twice in our experience did he fail to show up, sooner or later.

Having the big room ready in time for Christmas was a "must." We always have made that day a very special one. While in 1933 there was little to spend, we tried to get a few of the things the children wanted most, and interesting packages were arriving from our families. Everyone was excited at the prospect of cutting our own tree, and a couple of Sun­days ahead of time we spent most of the day in the woods. By good for­tune we came across a small group of balsam firs, which are superior for the purpose, so got a nice tree and greens as well, and then more greens and small trees to send away. Red pine is our second favorite, used as sprays or made up into wreathes. All such things had to be Government-inspected before they could be sent out of the state, but on request the inspectors used to come around (before it got to be big business, and a very nice chap looked over our things and issued tags to be attached. Then it was quite a job bundling them up. But they made nice and rather unusual presents for the people "at home."

The tree that year (and a good many years since) was set in the embrasure at the southeast corner of the kitchen. I put it up the afternoon before Christmas-a chore which sometimes tried my temper considerably. It had to be uniform and nicely balanced in the stand: a mechanical contrivance, which after being wound up, caused the tree to revolve slowly while a music-box played alternately "Holy Night" and "Lord, dismiss us with thy blessing." Mother had found it about 1907 at Schwartze's in New York, and every generation has enjoyed "the dancing tree."

Our celebration began on Christmas Eve, altho it was impractical to-attend church (which in future years we did when we could.) The children eagerly hung their stockings (large ones, provided for the purpose!) by the living-room fireplace; then there was singing of carols and reading of "The Night Before Christmas." After they had reluctantly gone to bed, Isabel and. I filled the stockings and trimmed the tree. We also set out a Crèche, with candles. Altho it was late when we retired, we felt assured that we would not be allowed to oversleep!

And of course the children were down early next morning, investigating their stockings while I did chores end Isabel got-breakfast. This was a "party" meal, with. pancakes and sausages to supplement the usual fruit, cereal and milk, and bread and butter. Housework and necessary chores came next. Then Isabel said "Well, are we ready?" and the kids stampeded in' to see the tree,- not but that they had doubtless peeked earlier! Wyeth throu the switch to start the stand turning and playing and then the three handed around the gifts piled under the tree while Isabel and. I relaxed. Soon the floor was strewn with remnants of gay wrappings, as we all opened and displayed our things with happy ex­clamations. The only thing, which could. have made it more enjoyable would have been the presence of other members of the family.

The day wee marked by drifting snow,- "five feet deep at the barn doors,”  and a contribution of eight eggs from the new hens. Also, despite the weather, company came for a very pleasant supper. After this very successful day, all hands were glad enough to turn in, and found it especially comforting to stretch out between cotton blankets with which we had replaced the linen sheets; they were much warmer.

Christmas is Coming (an excerpt from Cavendish Hillside Farm): Sandra Stearns, Cavendish’s own Laura Ingalls Wilder-the author of “The Little House” series, was raised on a East Hill Rd farm, not far from the Tiemanns. In fact Brook Rd turns into East Hill. Stearns went to the same one room school house that the Tiemann children attended, just a decade later. While Tiemann’s Memoirs reflect his coming to Vermont in 1933, Stearns, in her book “Cavendish Hillside Farm” describes her childhood from 1939-1957. To read about her childhood Christmas, go to “Christmas is Coming.” 

Please note that if you are interested in reading Sandra Stearns book, it's available from the Cavendish Historical Society and can be obtained by sending a check for $15 plus $5 for handling and shipping to CHS, PO Box 472, Cavendish, VT 05142. For more information, e-mail or call 802-226-7807

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