Grandmother Brown's Hundred Years

AUGUST, 1929


ON April 9, 1926, the Evening Democrat of Fort Madison, Iowa, contained the following announcement: —


An unusual family party took place today when Mrs. Maria D. Brown celebrated her 99th birthday. Gathered about her at the dinner table were her widowed daughter and her five sons with their wives. The oldest son is 80 years old, the youngest 56. The combined age of the family group, mother and six children, is 521 years. All are in sound health, physically and mentally.

The party took place at the Brown homestead, where Mrs. Brown has lived for more than a half century. She presided at the dinner table, asking the blessing in a strong voice and blowing out the candles on her birthday cake in one vigorous breath. Not the least among her achievements is the fact that she has kept to her extreme age a high degree of personal beauty and is still lovely to look at.

This family has on both sides a remarkable record of longevity. Mrs. Brown is the last survivor of a family of six sisters and one brother, all of whom lived to be over 70. She was born in Athens, Ohio, the daughter of Eben Foster, scion of Revolutionary ancestors who had migrated from Massachusetts. Her husband, Daniel Truesdell Brown, who was also born in Ohio, and was well known in Iowa as a paper manufacturer, died in 1906 at the age of 84. Considering him and his wife and their children as a family, there have been only three deaths in a family of 10 in 104 years, his own and those of two infant daughters. Aside from his death, there has been no death in the family for 60 years.

It came upon me that she sat enthroned among us not merely as Head of her Family, a precious figure of Maternity, but that, in some sense, she had become an Historical Personage, symbol of the pioneer age in the development of our great country. Of her like, few were now left on earth — not more than one in every twenty-five thousand of our population — who were alive when John Quincy Adams was president. Sprung from colonists who had settled the Atlantic seaboard, established its independence of Europe, and then pushed on into the Northwest Territory, claiming it too for freedom, she herself had joined in the great migration down the Ohio, helping to carry forward the customs and ideals of the English-speaking world into the wilderness that lay beyond the Mississippi. I felt that, dearly as they loved her, greatly as they honored her, it had hardly occurred to her twoscore descendants that she represented, in her person, something bigger than her own family, a complete tradition of many families, which had significance for the whole nation. I was filled with a desire to take from her own lips her impressions of the stirring age of which she had been a part. And so, when the reunion was over, and others had returned to their homes, I lingered a little longer, sitting beside her every day for two weeks and taking down in her own vigorous language her memories of life in the past century. The result is not only a chronicle of typical experience in the life of Woman, but also a panoramic view of an age seen through the eyes of an individual.

Copyright 1929, by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.

Had Grandmother Brown been a woman of literary attainments, of wider reading and more varied acquaintance with the great world, her observations on life might be more interesting to the sophisticated. But the mass of men and women who have made America have not been literary or sophisticated. They have, however, been people of ideals, people of courage. What benefits we now enjoy in America have come to us as the result of the labors of people inspired by ideals such as Grandmother Brown has cherished, upheld by courage such as she has had. As we go forward into another period of our country’s development, it is well for us to try to understand the forces that have created us and the world in which we find ourselves, even though we ourselves are driven by very different forces and are building up another kind of society, based perhaps on a different philosophy of life. Many of the influences that have affected Grandmother Brown — religious, political, social — leave me unmoved, but I can understand how they wrought on her in her day, can understand and sympathize.

Recording her story in her own pungent speech, I have hoped to catch and preserve for Grandmother Brown’s descendants some of the flavor of her personality; her aspirations, her achievements, even her limitations; her innocent vanities; her lovable animosities; her patient endeavors. Especially her summing up as she reviews it all. It is not merely that she has hung on the tree of life a hundred years—significant as is that fact alone in the history of poor feeble mankind — which moves me. It is the fact that she is, after a century of wear and tear, still a vivid Person. I can see that, sitting on the edge of the world and peering over, she gets a thrill from that experience as from all others. A pity to let so much of intelligence and sweetness and gallantry at age ninety-nine go unsung! The reactions of Nineteen to life we have all heard about many times; those of Nine-and-ninety we have, as yet, merely divined. To the psychologist — if not to the poet and preacher — those reactions are, as yet, little known. Perhaps we may learn from Grandmother Brown the secret of growing old gracefully.

Chiefly, I think of her as a mother. In that experience she has found understanding of many things. A careful craftsman in all she does, and by nature proud, — though timid, too, — she demands that her pride be satisfied in her children. It is impossible to tell her story and not refer constantly to her children, to her hopes and plans and work for them and their reaction to her efforts. Otherwise, she has no ‘story.’ And, indeed, her story is the typical story of women. What is noteworthy about it is her attitude toward it. ‘Why, what has she ever done that is great?’ is a question that nettled me when I told a friend that I was trying to write the history of my hundredyear-old mother-in-law. The general attitude of mind reflected by my friend’s question is the thing that makes me want to see published the story of how one good mother has spent a hundred years. I want to honor a woman not esteemed ‘great,’ one who has had the common fate and would be consigned to oblivion, despite work well done throughout a full century of living, unless someone like myself can rescue her from it. To read of her may comfort other women who, passionately and devotedly, but more or less rebelliously, are doing the duty that Nature points them to, the kind of work which the man-world, despite all its fine talk about the glory of womanhood, holds so lightly.


Grandmother Brown was born in Athens, Ohio, at ten o’clock in the morning, on April 9, 1827. She was the third child of Ebenezer Foster and Achsah Culver. They named the pretty baby ‘Maria Dean,’ after her father’s sister, Maria, who had married John Nicholson Dean and lived across the street.

‘Tell me, Grandmother Brown,’ I began, drawing up my chair beside her on the morning of the day when she entered on her hundredth year, ‘how it was in Ohio when you were a little girl.’

‘It wasn’t like this,’ she mused, gazing out of the window into the Iowa sunshine. ‘I was born in an April shower. They used to say that was why I cried so easily. But I was born into a happy home, where there was little cause for crying. Two children were there before me— Brother John, five years old, and Sister Libbie, who was two. When I was three years old, Sister Kale came to join us. We lived in a commodious house surrounded by gardens and orchards. Our home occupied just one square block in the town of Athens. Oh, there never was any place that looked to me so beautiful as that did in my childhood days!’

To get a clear picture of that early home one must remember that, when little Maria first opened her observant blue eyes, she looked out on a cultural environment that had been developed by her parents and grandparents and their contemporaries in the short space of only forty years. Scarce four decades had elapsed since Congress had passed the famous Ordinance of 1787 under which the Government of the Northwest Territory had been established. Before that, the beautiful Hocking Valley where Maria was born had echoed to the tread of hardly any feet save those of red men and wild beasts. To be sure, French and British had passed that way, but only fleetingly.

None of Maria’s forebears had been in that immortal band of forty-eight heroes of the Revolution whom General Rufus Putnam had landed, on April 7, 1788, at the point on the Ohio River where now stands Marietta. But her grandfather, Zadoc Foster, — a resident, like Putnam, of Rutland, Massachusetts, — came to Marietta only eight years later. In his boyhood he had known General Putnam, who had dwelt in a house not far from the one built and occupied by Zadoc’s father, Lieutenant Ebenezer Foster. The families were friends. Both houses are still standing. Both are substantial, dignified structures of the type occupied by the leading citizens of New England a century and a half ago.

Studying the history of the times, I wonder if Zadoc Foster was not one of the multitude who streamed westward from the barren hills of New England as soon as news of General Anthony Wayne’s decisive victory over the Indians began to reach them. ‘During the year 1796,’ says Walker in his History of Athens County, Ohio, ‘nearly one thousand flatboats, or “broadhorns,” as they were then called, passed Marietta laden with emigrants on their way to the more attractive regions of southwestern Ohio.’ Ohio was reputed to be a land flowing with milk and honey, and to Zadoc Foster tales of its fertility must have sounded alluring. Freed from the fear of savages, inspired by ‘the siren song of peace and of farming,’ he joined the living column moving westward.

Close as he was in kinship to Grandmother Brown, Zadoc Foster is rather a misty figure in her story. Having died tolerably early in life, he seems lost in the woods and wilds of those early colonies.

However, we have a very good idea of what cabin life in Ohio was like in those early days. And we have very definit e information about the community with which Maria’s grandfather had cast in his lot. ‘As I never heard any complaint about my grandfather,’ says Grandmother Brown proudly, ‘I think he must have been entirely satisfactory. I believe that all my people were enterprising and industrious.’


In making a home for his family in the Belpré settlement, Zadoc Foster had, undoubtedly, full scope for any enterprise and industry of which he was possessed. To make a clearing in the forest and to rear on it a comfortable cabin was real man’s work, even though the logs were piled up like children’s cob houses and held together by wooden pins instead of nails, even though no tools were necessary in the construction except an axe, an auger, and perhaps a cross-cut saw. Rude, indeed, were those first log cabins with their puncheon floors, wooden shutters, leather latchstrings, stone chimneys, clay hearthstones. Primitive was the homemade furniture within them. Following the direction of Grandmother Brown’s pointing finger as we peer backward into the past, we catch a glimpse of a table split from a large log, a bedstead made of poles interlaced with bearskins, a spinning wheel in the corner, a rifle hung in forked cleats over the door with powder horn beside it, threelegged stools, splint-bottomed chairs, cast-iron spiders, long-handled frying pans, a movable Dutch oven.

In some such home lived the Zadoc Fosters, I’ve no doubt, when they first came to Belpré. Here were met the needs of the children born to them before they moved to Athens in 1809.

‘Pa’s brothers and sisters were Sally, Ira, Hull, Issa, Maria, Melissa, and Samuel,’ said Grandmother. ‘Most of them I knew during my childhood in Athens. When I remember what kind of woman presided over this household, my dear Grandma Foster, and when I recall all the merry quips of Uncle Hull and Aunt Sally and Aunt Maria and Aunt Melissa, I am sure that that simple cabin must have been a very happy home. But I am sure too that Grandma Foster must have had her hands full in those log-cabin days. All sorts of accidents were likely to happen to one’s children, in those pioneer times, besides the kind of thing that may befall any baby at any time. Think what happened to Aunt Sally! She fell into the open fire when she was a child and burned the side of her face so that one nostril was drawn down.’

The Fosters arrived in Belpré at a time of great activity in the settlement. Released by the treaty of peace with the Indians in 1795 from their five years’ imprisonment in garrisons, the white settlers began to move energetically over the face of the land, chopping down timber, erecting houses, building roads and bridges, breeding stock, and setting out orchards. Fruit trees in the virgin soil of the Ohio bottoms grew with astonishing rapidity. It was not long before Belpré was noted as the fairest spot between Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. Situated on beautiful meadows set high in a lovely curve over the Ohio River, it had a commanding position.

Just opposite Belpré, a small island in the river had been purchased in 1798 by a rich and eccentric Irish nobleman named Harman Blennerhassett, who became famous in our history. In that romantic situation he had laid out a fine estate—a spacious mansion surrounded by lawns and gardens, by stables, dairies, and hothouses. The tragic story of the Blennerhassetts is known to all the world — how, fresh from his duel with Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr tarried at their island home on his way down the valleys of the Ohio and the Mississippi, and how he interested them in his scheme to establish a colony of wealthy individuals in Louisiana, a scheme that was later declared to be treasonable as making a project to separate the people of the West from those of the Atlantic States. When Burr was arrested, the Blennerhassetts became involved in his fall. Their lovely home was ruthlessly destroyed by the militia. But during the eight years that the Blennerhassetts — husband, wife, and two children — dwelt there they endeared themselves to all their neighbors, high and low. Mr. Blennerhassett was a man of varied intellectual interests and artistic gifts, Mrs. Blennerhassett a woman of engaging qualities of person, mind, and heart. Socially inclined, hospitable and kind, they made welcome at their home all who shared their tastes. They themselves went often to visit friends in Marietta and Belpré. Mrs. Blennerhassett is described by Hildreth as dashing along forest paths in a riding dress of scarlet broadcloth, accompanied by a favorite black servant.

‘Oh, Uncle Hull remembered seeing her in that red habit!’ exclaimed Grandmother Brown. ‘I recall now hearing him tell about it. He was only a little boy when he lived in Belpré, but he had a vivid recollection of seeing Madame Blennerhassett riding through the woods in a red dress on a fine horse.’

In 1809, when Grandmother Brown’s father, Eben, was eleven years old, Zadoc Foster brought his family to Athens. There he conducted a tavern until he died, five years later, of the ‘cold plague.’ ‘That was probably the disease we know now as “ grippe,” ’ explained Grandmother Brown. ‘It raged with terrible violence, and many died.’

Left a widow with a large family of children, Mrs. Sally Foster continued to keep the tavern a few years after her husband’s death. Then she went back to the vocation of her youth and became a school-teacher once more, ‘in which occupation,’ says Walker, ‘she was eminently useful and beloved during the remainder of her life.’

‘With his own hands,’ said Grandmother, ‘my father built a house for her to live in. There it was she opened the first “select school” for young children that was known in Athens.’

Why Zadoc Foster and his wife decided, after a dozen years at Belpré, to move to Athens is not now known. Possibly because other enterprising people were doing it. Athens was coming to be a trading point for furs and wild meats.

Dr. Manasseh Cutler of Ipswich, Massachusetts, after Dr. Benjamin Franklin the foremost scientist of the Western Continent, a man of consummate business ability and a master hand at diplomacy, was director and agent of the Ohio Company, and one of the ‘principles’ dearest to his heart was that of educational opportunity. In dealing with Congress, he had insisted that in the Ohio Company’s purchase of land there should be an appropriation of land for the endowment of a university. In 1804, Ohio University was, accordingly, established by act of legislature. Two years later, a twostory brick building, twenty-four feet by thirty, was erected as the first home of that institution.

’I remember that old academy at Athens,’ said Grandmother Brown. '’T was n’t torn down till after I was born.'

If Ebcn Foster and his brothers had dreamed, perhaps, that in coming to Athens they were getting nearer to a university education than they had been at Belpré, their dreams were probably disturbed by the death of their father. The question of bread and butter was the one that undoubtedly pressed them for solution in their early manhood. Just as their father had done at Belpré, they, at Athens, turned instinctively to supplying the essential needs of the community, Hull to making shoes, Eben to manufacturing bricks, while their patient, precise, dainty little mother attended in the background to the intellectual needs and social conduct of Athen’s youngest set. All were useful and successful citizens, much beloved and respected by the community.

By the time his daughter Maria was born, Eben Foster, twenty-nine years old, had reason to feel proud of the domain he had created for himself. His home was one of the most comfortable and pretentious in the thriving village. And the town records for that year and the previous one showed his name among the town officers: ‘ Eben Foster, supervisor.’


My father made steady progress all his life (said Grandmother Brown proudly). Indeed, he prospered amazingly. When he died, at the age of thirty-three, he was counted among the wealthy men of Athens. No other little girls had a home a whole block square. Everyone thought well of him.

To show what kind of child he was, I will relate a story that was told me by a man who had been a friend of his in boyhood. He said: ‘Do you want to know how I got acquainted with your father? Our folks were moving to Athens and I was trudging behind the wagons, driving the cow. I was tired and hot. Along came a little boy. He walked right up to me and said: “Here, would n’t you like to have this apple?” I thanked him and we were friends ever after. That was your father! ’

Later, when that friend thought that Eben ought to have a wife, he came to Grandma Foster’s home one night and said to my father: ‘Why don’t you get married, Eben?’ ‘I can’t find time to ask my girl,’ was the answer. The friend said: ‘Here, Eben, you go right off and speak to her about it now.’ Eben was shelling corn at the time, shelling it into a big basket hung over the end of a spout. Suddenly he exclaimed: ‘All right, Nick, I’il do it.’ Up he jumped, seized his cap, and started off. ‘Aren’t you going to change your clothes?’ called Nick. ‘No. If she does n’t like me this way, she would n’t like me at all,’ answered Eben. So he struck out toward his girl’s home, which was about a mile from there. ‘I looked out and watched him in the moonlight,’his friend told me. ‘He went round the point of the hill on the run.’

And so Eben Foster told Achsah Culver, that moonlight night, how he happened to come in his working clothes and what he wanted of her. They fixed it up; and that’s how I happen to be here now, you see.

The land on which our house stood sloped toward the east. From our front porch we could sec Miles Mill on the Hocking River and the hills beyond, but not the river itself. Around our place ran a ‘ post and rail ’ fence — that is, a fence that had slots cut in the posts with flat smooth rails fitted into the slots. Within our enclosure was everything to make a happy world for children. We had no need to go abroad for pleasure, although we often did run across the street and down the road to play at the homes of our numerous cousins.

Our house was of weatherboard inlaid with brick, so that the walls were very thick and the window sills very deep. It was a two-story structure above the cellar kitchen. In the middle of the house, opening on to the porch that faced the street, was the main entrance. This porch had a railing around

it, and a seat against the railing all the way around. It was a resort for old and young. There Ma sat with her sewing. There we all gathered on a summer afternoon. The front door opened directly into the big living room, with its huge fireplace. Behind this were kitchen and summer kitchen; across the way, best room — we never called it parlor; upstairs the sleeping rooms. My mother used to say, after we had lived about in different places, that never was there any place where she could accomplish so much as in that house.

What kind of furniture did we have? Well, in the best room the chairs were of the kind called Windsor, the bottoms solid, the backs round. In that room too was one large rocking-chair, with the most beautiful cushion on it. I think the chairs must have been of cherry, perhaps mahogany; they were red. And in one corner stood a large bureau — the most work on it! — big claw feet, glass knobs. The walls of this room were painted white. The floor had a rag carpet. At that time all window shades were made of paper, green paper. We had thin white curtains over the shades. No pictures.

In our living room we had no carpet. The floor was of ash wood, very white, and kept white. Every morning, after sweeping it, we wiped it over with a clean, damp mop. It took but a few minutes and kept the floor sweet and clean. That mop was rinsed then and hung in its place. We were always up at five o’clock in the morning, so that we had plenty of time for everything.

At the back of the house lay orchard and garden, the well and drying kiln, the milkhouse and smokehouse, with the stables at the farther end of the lot, where my father drove his oxen in. I used to run when I heard the oxen coming at night, to see them put their handsome heads into the stanchion. My father’s oxen were famous for their beauty. Once, a little while after Dan’l and I were married and living in Amesville, we drove back to Athens. Stopping at a wayside place, Dan’l introduced me to the innkeeper, saying, ‘This is Eben Foster’s daughter.’ And the man exclaimed: ‘Oh, those fine oxen that he had! ’ He was more interested in them than in the bride.

My father was always thoughtful of his oxen. Once he dismissed a hired man who swore at them. ‘They work hard for me six days a week,’ he said, ‘and all they get is what they eat. They can’t be sworn at or abused.’ Every Saturday in warm weather Pa turned the oxen out for a nice long Sabbath rest.

He used to send them to his farm. That was the first ground outside the corporation. The Baltimore and Ohio Railway station stands on that land to-day. There my father raised hay for his cattle and there our cows were pastured. We never kept less than two, for Pa always would have plenty of milk and butter. We children used to drive the cows back and forth to pasture. Other people kept theirs on the common. All the hills around Athens were covered with lovely grass where cows could walk knee-deep. But we knew where our cows were if we kept them on our own farm.

The oxen were used by my father for hauling the brick he manufactured. He always kept at least three teams. The brick he made was eight-sided, like a honeycomb design. Some of it I saw, a few years ago, in a pavement in Athens. The soil about there is full of iron and the brick made from it was so hard that it would n’t break when unloaded. They used to pull out the linchpin of the cart and just drive on.

Near the house too was the dry kiln where my mother dried fruit for the winter. The kiln consisted of a big oval flagstone, at least six feet long, which had been brought from my father’s quarry. It was as smooth as if polished. It was set up on brick legs so as to be well off the ground, and a fire was built at one end with a flue running under the flag so as to warm the stone. The fire was made of chips and sticks and not allowed to get too hot or it would bake the fruit. On this flagstone Ma spread out apples, peaches, pears, and quinces, cut in quarters. These she covered with a cloth, which absorbed the moisture and kept off the flies and bees. From time to time she would turn the fruit over until it was thoroughly dried.

Fruit! We were rich in fruit those days, our trees and bushes burdened with it. Boys always know where apples grow. I’ve heard Judge Welch say, ‘We boys used to flock up to the Foster orchard. We never got yelled at or driven away from there.’ Well, we had all we needed. I never saw such prolific apple trees as we had, such wealth of early sweet apples and Vandevere pippins, such cherry trees. As for quinces and currants, there are n’t such any more. Why, our quinces were great golden things like my two fists put together — yellow, the color of lemon, and no ‘furze’ on them. Currants so abundant that we couldn’t possibly use them all! Stems as long as my finger, and tapering down just like it. My mother used to put them up with raspberries — how good they were!

My mother was a good housekeeper and used to try to save everything, but there was so much fruit that some of it had to go to waste. I remember that close at the left of our well an apple tree grew up slanting, completely covering our smokehouse and milkhouse. The apples were not considered especially good — hadn’t much tang; but they were solid and sweet. Ma would wash and boil them, press the juice out with clamps, and boil it down to make apple molasses. We children loved it on our bread and butter. Then Ma would boil quinces and apples together in this molasses. Usually a ten-gallon jar of this stood in our pantry. My, how good that was!

I have never seen any place kept so nice, inside and out, as ours was. In those days bedsteads had no springs, so we used to have straw beds under our feather beds to make them springy. Every spring the ticks were emptied and washed and filled with new straw. I remember hearing it said that my father would n’t let the straw be carried through the grounds because some of it would be dropped on the grass and give it an untidy look. No, everything about our place was neat and in order while my father lived. And there were roses, tidy rows of lovely roses, to make things beautiful. I remember a row that ran the whole length of the house, a row of red roses big and round, as big as doorknobs. We did n’t have so many kinds of roses as nowadays, but we had them in abundance. When Ma would be sitting outdoors sewing, we’d stick roses in her hair. I can see her now with a big one flopping from her comb.


It was a happy home for ten years; but when I was four years old my father died. After that things were different.

I have been told many times about my father by those who knew him and admired him. Once I said to Grandma Foster, ‘Tell me, did my father have no faults? Everybody praises him,’ and she answered thoughtfully: ‘Well, if he had a fault at all, it was his levity.’

My mother said she lived with Eben Foster ten years and never heard him speak an impatient word. He was evidently a man of peace, for Grandma Foster has told me how depressed he used to be as a child if his brothers, Hull and Ira, would quarrel.

Young as I was at the time of his death, I have some precious memories of my father. I have a clear recollection of him in his Sunday clothes, and he seemed to me very grand and handsome then. Our folks are all proud. We like our Sunday clothes. My father did. Uncle Hull was the same way. And Grandmother Foster, too.

I suppose I remember my father in his Sunday clothes not only because I admired his appearance but because that was the day when we saw most of him. He had time on Sunday to hold me on his lap. It was a day of quiet leisure with us. No cooking was done on that day. Oh, we might make a fire to boil some coffee, but all the other food had been prepared the day before. And so it happened that, sitting on my father’s lap, I studied the last Sunday clothes he ever wore. They were made of a dark navy blue cloth in a heavy weave. With them he wore a white vest and a hat with a kind of bell crown.

I remember particularly the kind of buttons Pa wore on his white vest, because I played with them once when I lay in his arms, his naughty, adoring child. It happened this way: We older children were in church with Pa and Ma, but Kate, the baby, had been left at home. My mother suddenly felt the milk come. When they were singing the last hymn, she stepped out of church and hurried home to the baby, leaving us to follow with our father. I began to cry for my mother. ‘Daughter,’ he said, ‘you ’ll stop this crying, or when you get home I’ll have to switch your legs.’ I kept on crying. And so he led me home and out into the garden, where he cut a little twig from a currant bush, — one with little nubs along the side, but it would n’t break anything, — and he gave me a tingly switching across my legs. Then he took me up in his arms and talked to me as we sat on the front porch, and I played with the buttons on his vest. They were glass buttons held in by a ring. If I should be so fortunate as to get to Heaven, I think my father’ll meet me. I always felt he’d be the first one.

I know that he must have been a kind and tender-hearted man, a loving husband and father. He thought, for instance, that if a woman had a baby her husband ought to give her something. When Kate was born, he brought home to our mother stuff for two dresses. One was a beautiful black satin. Those were the days, too, when they did n’t know enough to make satin without making it all satin. The other was an oil calico, fifty cents a yard, a groundwork of red overlaid with a figure in many colors. Beautiful pieces of goods! Well, a woman earned it when she had a baby.

My father was good to many. My mother had a brother who was drowned in Lake Erie, leaving behind him a wife and several children. When my father heard of it, he harnessed his team and drove up to Sandusky and brought them home to our place. He gave Aunt Betsy our cellar kitchen and the room above that and the room above that to live in, gave her practically all her living, and provided a loom for her on which she could do weaving and earn a little herself. I remember that once my father went into Aunt Betsy’s kitchen when she and her children were at table. ‘What’s that?' he suddenly said, quite fiercely, pointing at a pan of milk. ‘That looks like skimmed milk.’ ‘It is,’ said Aunt Betsy. ‘Giving your children skimmed milk to drink?’ he asked severely. ‘Well, I took the cream to make a little butter,’ acknowledged Aunt Betsy. ‘You can have the butter, too,’ said Pa, ‘but I don’t allow anyone on my place to drink skimmed milk. That’s only for pigs. Children must have the top of the milk.’ He made her go to the milkhouse and get more. After my father died, Aunt Betsy would talk by the hour about how good he’d been to her.

My mother told me once of how a neighbor came with a silver pitcher asking for cream, and at the same time the little girl of Mrs. Johnson, a poor widow who lived on the next place, came with the same request. After they had gone, my father said sternly: ‘Did you put as good cream into that earthen jug as went into the silver pitcher?’ He always had his men haul wood from his woodlot to Widow Johnson’s door, and he had them cut it where she could get every chip that flew. Every baking day he’d say to Mother: ‘Don’t forget a loaf for Mrs. Johnson.’ He gave freely, and it never made him poor.

As for his levity, I think he was rather a wag, liked a good story as much as my Gus does, and sometimes played a practical joke that he enjoyed greatly. Even when the matter was serious! I remember hearing about his helping three runaway slaves to get away. He hid them in his haymow and then blacked his own face and had two of his hired men black theirs. Then he and his men showed themselves running toward his stone quarry. The slave owner pursued them into the quarry, thinking they were the slaves, while the real negroes used the opportunity to get away. My father enjoyed playing this trick on the slave master, and telling about it, too!

I can remember other times in the dining room when my father’s levity was more apparent, when he stood by smiling at me in my red morocco shoes as I danced for the men. They sang while I danced and they beat time with their hands.

‘Heigh, Biddy Martin!
Tiptoe, tiptoe!
Heigh, Biddy Martin!
Tiptoe, tiptoe — fine! ’

Then they’d laugh and shout: —

‘Follow my lady
On tipty-toe.’

And I would strut and toss my head and lift my skirt and twirl my toes until perhaps one of the men would snatch me up and toss me high and not let me down until I’d tell his name. Ezra Goodspeed! Tom Francis! I could not pronounce them well, and they’d laugh to hear me try. No indeed, my father never objected to dancing. You can’t find a thing in the Bible against it, either.

One of those men, Tom Francis, named his baby Eben Foster after my father. He used to say that Pa cured him of drinking. A man was considered very mean in those days if he did n’t keep whiskey for his hired help. But Pa persuaded Tom Francis to limit his drinking. He would only give him a little at a time and gradually got him out of the habit of drinking. When the temperance wave struck Athens, my father had two barrels of whiskey in the house. He rolled them out, struck the heads in, and let the whiskey run down the gutter, down our pretty gutter which, with its sloping sides, all neatly paved with his own honeycomb brick, ran from our back door to the street. The first temperance society organized in Athens was called ‘The Washingtonians’ and my father was a member of it.

(It is ninety-five years since Grandmother Brown lost her father, but there was a tragic quality in her voice still when she told of his untimely taking-off.)

I was only four years old when my father died. It was in the month of August, and very warm. It had been raining hard for days and the river had risen and overflowed its banks. On the farm Pa had been working hard trying to save his hay, to get it in before it was ruined by the water. He took cold — had a sunstroke, perhaps — anyway, came home exhausted, running a high fever. Ma was alarmed and sent for the doctor, who gave him calomel and forbade him water. Probably he would have recovered if there had been no doctor and he had had plenty of rest and cold water. When the doctor found himself unable to check the fever, he told my father that his hour had come and he would have to die. Pa was only thirty-three years old, but he said: ‘For the sake of my family, I would like to live longer; but if I lived ever so much longer I could be no better prepared to go.’

But the fortunes of the family declined. We were cheated by those who should have protected us. And then my mother was no financier. Good Aunt Eliza, my mother’s sister, had a husband, Francis Beardsley, who was not so good. He had the management of our father’s estate, and somehow he managed most of it away. He was a deacon, but he’d use our cattle to haul wood from our woodlot to my mother’s door and then charge her for doing it. And Ma’d be fool enough to pay. All the time, too, he was getting his own wood supply off our woodlot. In time he got to be pretty well off.

But, dear me suz, ‘what comes over the devil’s back goes under his belly.’ Beardsley lost all his property, and at the last he lost his mind, too. His house was robbed, and after Aunt Eliza died he just went to nothing. Finally he got so he did n’t know anything.


After my father had been dead three years, my mother married again. That was a sorry day for all of us. She married Edward Hatch, a clerk in a dry-goods store. He was a pretty man, but without moral character.

She had plenty of warning, too, but seemed possessed, poor woman. I remember my Uncle Hull and one other member of the church coming to see her and urging her not to marry that man. I remember, too, that Brother John was much offended when Mr. Hatch came courting our mother. Sister Libbie and I helped him put a mop against the door so that when Mr. Hatch came out it would whack him. ‘That cottontail!’ John called him.

But Ma married him. None of her sisters and none of her children were at the wedding.

And so Mr. Hatch came to live in our plentiful home. He never took care of anything. He would even pull boards off the house to burn them. He was wasteful and dissipated and lazy. He was this kind of man: if he was talking to a Whig, he was a Whig; if talking to a Democrat, he too was a Democrat. Between him and our dishonest trustee, practically all my mother’s property was mismanaged away.

Three children were speedily added to the family circle — Mary, Ann, and Charlotte. Pretty little girls they were. When Mary was born I was only eight years old, but I took entire care of her just the way I ’d seen my mother take care of Kate. She said she had nothing to do but take the baby to nurse. I am glad that I could be a comfort to her, for she needed comforting. The night the last child was born I heard Ma calling me in her distress. My stepfather was too drunk to know what was needed and did nothing except curse and swear, but I went for help, as Ma directed, and got everything ready. The next morning, when neighbors came in to see the baby, Mr. Hatch bethought himself to get some oranges and make a fuss over Ma. But his way was very different from my father’s.

How did I look? Oh, I was rather a puny child. Not until I got into my teens was I at all robust. I came to be a tall, healthy girl with curly dark hair and high color, but as a child I was small and pale, with blonde hair. Little ’Liza Hatch, my stepfather’s niece, hurt my feelings one time by saying spitefully, ‘Pa says you’re a pot-gutted little thing.’ I s’pose I was. I used to have sick spells in school and faint away sometimes. Once I was sent out in the country to a Mr. Richey’s. ‘Let the little girl go home with us,’ he had said to my mother, when he heard I was not well. There I hunted eggs and romped with his little girls, Caroline and Mehaley. What a happy time it was!

I know that my hair was light once because I remember the first time it was ever cut. Mrs. Hoge stood me up on a chair and cut my curls. Mrs. Hoge was a friend of my mother’s whose husband was a professor in the college. I remember looking at the yellow rings of hair lying on the floor. We girls wore nets over our hair. Our mother made them. She made them of black silk thread, netting them over a pencil — like a fish net. At the top a long portion was left plain so a ribbon could be run through and tied at the top of the head. It was a very nice way to dress children’s hair so as to keep it smooth and tidy.

Usually Sister Libbie and I were dressed alike. We were for a long time about the same size, and many people thought we were twins. Then I took a start and began to grow, and became considerably the taller. Libbie always liked pink and I blue. I don’t think so much pink looks well — I was too big to wear it.

I remember some of the pretty clothes we used to have when we were little girls. There was a garnet-colored cashmere which was different on the two sides and there was a merino which was alike on both sides. We used to get such pretty lawns in those days in all kinds of colors. Ma made them up with yoke and belt. I remember that the sleeves were cut with a perfect circle for the armhole, making the part under the arms only about an inch long and a puff on the top. I had long mitts of fine brown linen which my mother had embroidered. They reached above the elbow. Our mother used to take great pains with our clothes. We were supposed to wear sunbonnets and mitts to protect us against the sun. It was thought dreadful to get tanned as we did whenever we went out to Uncle John’s farm. I can hear my mother saying, ‘Oh, my child! I hate to take you to church. How you look!’

I remember the prettiest little bonnet that I once had. It looked much like a sweet pea. The crown went up this way — oh, you know how a sweet pea looks! It was made of a pretty shade of green silk and lined with pink. This bonnet was made by Miss Crippen, the milliner, and promised for Saturday night. But it was not finished until late and was brought home to us as a special favor Sunday morning, which impressed me very much.

I had green shoes to match that bonnet, shoes made of green prunella and trimmed with ribbon pleating and buckles. I had another pair of shoes of which the front part was blue prunella and the back blue kid to match. With these pretty shoes we wore white stockings which were knitted from fine cotton. Our common shoes were made of black morocco or calfskin.

In all our play Sister Libbie and I were partners. We always did things together. It had to be an awfully hot night when we did n’t sleep with our arms around each other. We slept so until we were married, and we were married on the same day. When one of us had a beau and the other one did n’t, one would always wait until the other’s company had gone before she went to bed.

We loved and admired each other devotedly. And indeed Sister Libbie was a pretty, dear little thing. I remember once when we were staying all night at Aunt Maria Foster’s how I looked up and saw her standing there in her little shimmy, looking for fleas and shaking herself over the rose blanket. That’s a kind of blanket that has a rose woven in one corner and is made with a very long fibre. Rose blankets were fine things to catch fleas.

Did n’t you ever see a flea? Well, they used to be terribly common. The dust and air seemed to be full of them. The flea is n’t bigger than a big pinhead, but he can bite and raise great ugly welts on tender flesh. But he has a beard on his legs, and so, if shaken off into a rose blanket, he is caught by his beard in the long fibre. We used to spread a rose blanket on the floor at night and then shake ourselves over it. As Libbie stood there in her little shirt, that night, she looked so sweet that I could n’t resist calling out, ‘Oh, come, Aunt Maria! Come quick! I’ve got something pretty to show you!’ And I caught hold of Libbie’s shimmy and drew it tight around her, calling Aunt Maria to come. But Libbie called out: ‘No, don’t come, Aunt Maria, don’t come! ’ And Aunt Maria came running, wondering what it was all about, and nodded and laughed at us and said: ‘Yes, yes, she has a pretty shape.’


(Prominent in Maria’s family background stood out her two grandmothers. Each of them made a deep impression on her youthful mind. ‘Were the two good friends?’ I asked. ‘Oh, yes,’ she laughed; ‘both were good Presbyterians.’)

Grandma Foster was a tiny little body, always immaculately dressed.

At Grandma Foster’s school, little girls learned not only to read and write, but to sew and knit also. When the boys got so they could read well in the Testament, they were graduated.

We learned knitting, too. First we knit our garters, afterward our stockings. I knit eight pairs of socks for soldiers in the World War, but I did n’t follow the instructions of the Red Cross; I shaped the feet the way Grandma Foster had taught me nearly ninety years before.

When we were little girls and went somewhere, we always took our knitting along. We had to knit so many times around before we could play. Children must learn to be useful, they thought in those days. My cousin, Lucinda Gillmore, came to play one day. ‘My children have done their task,’ said Ma. ‘Just give me your knitting and I’ll do yours.’ We went running down to the orchard to the swing while our mother did Cindy’s knitting. It made a great impression on me — Ma’s doing Cindy’s stint for her.

After sewing and knitting came spelling and reading. We used If Webster’sElementary Spelling Book, beginning with the a-b; e-b; and so on. Then came short sentences of just one line. Like this: ‘Brass is made of zinc and copper.’ Then another line telling something else that would be useful to know. Every line different; all important. We had the New England Primer, too. Then Grandma taught us the Roman numerals, so that we could open the Bible and know right away what chapter it was.

We were taught good manners, too, at Grandma Foster’s school. At recess, the little girls used to play under the apple tree while the boys would romp in the street. I remember that one day when I had been laughing boisterously Grandma called me to her and said mildly, — she always corrected us very quietly,— ‘My child, if something amuses you, laugh, but not so loud.’ When school was dismissed, it was n’t just open the door and go out, but first the girls filed past Grandma, making a deep obeisance, and then the little boys marched by, caps in hand.

She had eight children and taught school at least thirty-five years after her husband died. That’s what I call a full life.

(Grandmother Brown’s next chapter will be ‘Four Little Buckeyes’)