Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Young Arnon's Letter, and Other Thoughts

Diana got me rolling on this post when she sent me a wonderful letter from her then eleven-year-old Dad to his father. I had been sitting at the computer, attempting to type up Great, Great Grandma Cordelia Taylor's daily jottings about chores, etc. from 1892 and it could be tough going with her handwriting and abbreviations. I was at one spot that I knew had to be wrong; what else could it be based on the word before and after it? Get the light and turn it up. Hmmm, think like I was back in time.

So, when the computer dinged that I had an email, I was ready to take a break and check it out.

“Going through lots of old stuff I came across this letter that Dad had written to his father--spelling and punctuation are Dad’s not mine! "

South Byron, NY
April 8, 1931

Dear Daddy,
I got your letter you sent me this morning. You can have all the parsnips and vegetable oyestors you want because we have not eaten any. I guess they are all right. The sap has not stopped running yet but it is getting sour. The hens are laying good, we have not got below six eggs since you have bin gone. The wood has held out good. I have not burned it as fast as I could. Harold does not walk yet but pretty near though. I asked mama and she said go chase yourself (about you coming home Saturday night)

We went down to Mrs. Barbers for dinner she had just baked bread this morning and I ate seven or eight biscuits. Did you read about the little boy (age 13) save 18 children, only five died. We went up to Mrs Haskons (The Hotel woman) and she gave us each a ice-cream cone. (all together there was four of us.)

Mama says we can not take our play house because it would cost us around $50 to move it. She said we could get another one or go without one. It depended upon the us when we got down there, (we are pretty old for a play-house.) Something awful has happened to Ruth. Sunday night she opened that bottle of (Bajah Sandrich Spread) and Monday morning she could not find it. She says it is just like losing a playmate prettynear. I told her she had hought to have a reward of five cents if any body could find it. It rained a little tonight not hardly any though I liked the letter you wrote me. Mr Kicks brother’s wife died down to Byron. I helped Mr and Mrs. Rick this after noon. Mr. Rick is going to cut my hair Thursday or Friday. I can not think of anythink else so I will close.

Your son
Arnon Taylor

P.S. Do you think you will get here for supper Saturday night. We will wait for you. Lucille still sucks her finger, I bit it.

Diana finished by asking: “I was trying to decide if Lucille was sucking her finger because it had been bitten or if she just sucked her finger and Dad bit it? Did Ruth ever find her missing Sandrich Spread?”

Well, to be truthful, I almost fell out of my chair when I opened this email. I was back in early to late spring in 1892 and the twins Lloyd and Floyd—Bryant’s boys-- were a few months from being born. I was reading scrawled family tidbits like:

Feb. 15th: Wash a few things, and also iron—lest I be worse. Chest & side very painful but hope for relief soon. Am quiet and do not talk. Make onion sirup.

I thought to myself—Did I read this wrong—who has ever heard of onion syrup? However--Onion Syrup (thank you internet) is a healing mixture of onions and honey used by ‘our grandmothers as an old recipe for coughs’. Okay, I must have read that right. Onward to the next day’s writing!

Later in March, Cordelia writes “Boil ham, make sirup, cook taters and onions and stew apples whole quarters. “ Then, in April : “Cut & pack a crock of ham. Very nice. David & Maggie Kerr come to dinner, and all night. Have churning and other work. Visit as best we can. “ A few weeks later, “Take up the dreaded job of making beeswax—glad to begin—gladder to end. Cough does not like to give up. Hope on and ever. "

I love that Cordelia is so human--she loves ironing instead of washing and she apparently loathes making beeswax! Also, she always seems to be sick. But, then I come to a tough one to read. I re-read it and turn up the light.

“Cold & freezing, but wash with D. T. (husband’s) help, and so get on nicely. Cook veg-oysters. Work on sheet and fancy work for a change from much mending. Cough is bad.”

Nahhh, whoever heard of veg-oysters. But, worked on onion syrup, so I give it a try. Hah! Only asian recipes that clearly are NOT what Cordelia had in mind.

Then, I read Diana’s letter, and almost fall out of my chair-- They exist!

NOW I know that vegetable oysters are the root of a plant more commonly called ‘salsify’ or ‘purple goat’s ear’ and are ‘excellent when cooked’; clearly, young Arnon did not agree with this cooking website. But, if you are interested and look, you too can find recipes for creaming or frying or scalloping these root vegetables.

Did Ruth find her ‘sandrich spread’, and did Arnon get another play house ( I think we know the answer to that—he built one as soon as he got big enough), what happened to the 18 children who survived the fire, and did Cordelia’s cough ever get better (I’m guessing that since she died years from then, the answer was yes)?

Cordelia, like many of her time and place, passionately and truly placed her whole Self in the hands of the Lord; she wrote of Him in every one of her daily jottings. She would not find my questioning veg-oysters and Arnon’s letter a coincidence—even such a item of little importance, or that Diana, who admitted to having found this letter a while ago, took this exact moment to email me. Cordelia and G.K.Chesterton would agree wholeheartedly on Chesterton’s quote: “Coincidences are spiritual puns.” Now, about this next sentence of Cordelia’s….

Picture One:The Taylors in early 1931--a few months before Arnon wrote the letter
Picture Two: Vegetable Oysters!


diana said...

How nicely you put it all together - perhaps it was not a coincidence that I chose that moment to send it to you.

I do have, however my own theory on why the letter was written at all. I bet that my dad had been pestering his mom - with - when will dad be home so much that she told him to go and write him a letter and ask him. Wonder how long it kept him busy?

Just think how easily we can share information now - even old information.


Anonymous said...

Pat, Diana, Mom, or others - can you provide more context for this letter? Was Ethel/Lloyd's family living in South Byron (where is that?) at the time of the letter and Grandpa was away for some reason? Were Grandma and the kids visiting somewhere and Grandpa stayed home? Were they moving and Grandpa went on ahead? Uncle Arnon's letter reveals so much about daily life, as Pat points out, but I'm confused about how it all fits together.

I appreciated all the insights and thoughts you connected to it, Pat!


Anonymous said...

Simple when you know the story!!!! We lived in South Byron [ near Oakfield, Elba, Batavia] from 1928 to 1931. That was Daddy's dream farm and he built a 2 story henhouse and brooder there and had a flourishing business with eggs and lettuce to NYcity, selling baby chicks---- until the depression hit in 1929. Then in 1930 he lost the farm!! This was also the time that Floyd and his family came to live with us there, he had lost his store in Arcade. {near Geneseo] . Daddy got a job thru his uncle in Geneva at the Experimental Station Floyd got a jop in store in LeRoy. Daddy went early 1931 to Geneva and lived with his aunt and uncle there and looked for a house for family. Mamma stayed in S Byron [ where Harold was born, May 20 , 1930] until kids were thru their school year. All the kids hated to leave and the paper tells of partys for Ruth, Arnon and Esther there!!We moved to 30 West St, geneva in 1931
Vegetable oysters are good!! Sort of like parsnips. Wegmans has them sometimes!! They are a lovely root vegetable that improves with age in the frosty soil. [ as do parsnips] .
When ever we were not all together, we wrote letters to the absent parent. I even wrote Daddy when we went to Center Lisle for a week!!! And the " go chase yourself " was a favorite expression of Mom's when she was busy and had no answer!! Brought back memories! The playbox he mentioned was a big wooden piano box that we had ! [ I do not remember it but have heard of it] I think Mom's piano was purchased when she married so don't know where we got this but it was well loved!!
Daddy did usually come home on weekends so they said. [ I have few memories from there. ] Mom/ CB

Anonymous said...

PS Arnon was my principal source for family stories from South Byron, do you think he is helping from afar?? Aunt CB

Anonymous said...

PS #2-- Onion cooked up make a grand concoction when folded within an old piece of sheet and applied to the chest. This was commonly used for chest colds, pneumonis, etc. Add a bit of thickrnung and liquid and they had a cough syrup!! Grandmas swore by this and it was not unknown when we were small!! CB

Pat said...

Ma, I notice that you leave LOTS of comments, but not about little Lucille and the bitten finger.

Diana wondered if Arnon bit it just to do it, or to get you to stop sucking your finger.

Since I know that at least ONE of your children sucked their thumb until a PRETTY old age, I'm guessing that Little Lucille also did.

Do you remember?!

I do love this vignette into the life of the young Taylor family!

Anonymous said...

I think you are right, Pat. Don't remember but I probably did suck my finger. I think Ruth told me once that I sucked middle 2 fingers!!
And the Mrs Barber that he writes of lived down the street in South Byron. She was the "nurse" that came each time Mom had a baby and helped us . Not sure how long but I'd guess 1-2 weeks. Mom/CB

Eve Taylor said...

Pat, I know what it is to struggle "decoding" old journals and letters. After almost 10 years, I have just completed transcribing 75 Civil War letters from Bryant's maternal family. These were from 18 and 19 year- old, young men and not a young boy. The spelling, lack of punctuation, unusual colloquialisms,faded ink, and different letters made the process long and difficult! But, oh, so interesting!

Evelyn Taylor( Bryant Taylor's wife as I have always been known in Le Roy)