Monday, November 26, 2007

Weatherbee speech at Pisgah Church

The following is a speech that Harriet R. Noy (?) Weatherbee gave at the Pisgah Memorial Day service in May 1985.

I do not know what life was like for everyone in the community 150 years ago, but I do know what life was like in one household.
We need to travel only a few miles. We go out the door of this church and turn west and we proceed until we come to the first road going north. If we were to turn there, we would soon come to what I grew up calling the old John Steward place. Some of you may know it as the place where Brisco Huff lived for several years.

Back before the Civil War, the family of Robert Smith lived there. He and his wife were known throughout the communities of both Deputy and Paris as “Uncle Robin” and “Aunt Nellie.” They had one son and four daughters. It is Louise, the youngest, who, as an old lady, shares the memories of her girlhood with us.

One of the things she shares is what it was like to be a neighbor here in this community. She says, “I’ve always found good neighbors wherever I have lived; but when I think of neighbors, some way or other my mind always goes back to Southern Indiana. I've often wondered sometimes whether there was ever another place in the world where folks neighbored as they did there, a few miles north of the Ohio River when I was a child.

"1 can remember as plainly as can be one afternoon when Father and I were riding home from Deputy, and we passed a big field where the hay was down. Father stopped his horse and looked at the sky.

“'Lem’s away today buying cattle, and that sky looks like a storm. Louise, you hurry along and pass the word to the neighbors north of home towards Paris and I’ll round up the ones between home and Deputy.’”

“In half an hour there were a dozen men and five teams in that field and every bit of hay was under cover before the storm broke.

“Somehow or other nobody minded taking help or giving it. Maybe one of us children would be ailing, and Mother would he trying to get her baking done and in would come one of the neighbor women. She’d take a look at things. and then she’d walk over to the closet where Mother kept her kitchen aprons and get one out and tie it on.

“‘You go along and look after that baby, Nellie.’ she’d say. ‘I’ll get this bread in the oven for you.’

“She’d mix the bread and put it in the oven; and, if there weren’t pies or doughnuts or cakes on hand, she’d toss them together, too, and when it was all done, she’d wash her hands and take off her apron and go home as if she’d only been making a pleasant call.

“I remember one warm fall evening my sister Evaline, Father, and I were sitting on the back porch. and Mr. Gasway came through the calf lot and set down on the steps.

“‘That’s a fine field of turnips you’ve got down by the creek, Robin.’ he said.

“‘Yes,’ said Father. ‘They’ve done well. Help yourself to them when you want any, Will.’

“‘Oh. I’ve been doing that,’ said Mr. Gasway.

“It didn’t strike either one of them as funny that he hadn’t waited to have the turnips offered.

“One Sunday Mother was putting dinner on the table. She had just taken two roast chickens out of the oven. Just then our neighbor to the north come tearing in at the kitchen door, all out of breath and red in the face, and she grabbed chickens, platter and all.

“‘Nellie,’ she said, ‘I need those chickens. My nephew and his wife have just come and they've got to push on to Indy [Indianapolis] in a hurry. Her mother’s sick there. I haven’t got time to kill chickens, and my nephew can’t eat ham since he had that stomach trouble.’
“Off she went across the orchard with our chickens, and Mother laughed and fried some ham.”

Somehow, I think Uncle Robin, Aunt Nel1ie, and Louise would be very proud of us today, because I think that neighboring is one thing in this community that hasn’t changed over the years. I dare say there is not a one of us here who doesn’t know what it is to have neighbors and to be a neighbor.
The next memory that Louise shares is of all the unexpected company they used to have.

“We lived in a big red brick house beside the State road, and all the travel between Louisville and Indianapolis went that way. (Isn’t it difficult to think of that road as the main highway between Louisville and Indianapolis?) There wasn’t a railroad, you know, and most of the travelers rode, unless they were movers or peddlers with wagons.

“So, though we lived in the country, a good deal of the world went by us--and most of it stopped with us. Everybody knew our house and knew that Uncle Robin Smith never refused lodging and food to a traveler, and if travelers didn’t know, someone was sure to tell them.

“Everybody for miles around knew what a great cook Mother was. Once just about sunset, a young men rode up to our gate on a fine, thoroughbred horse. We didn’t know him, but he tied his horse and came up the front walk where we were all sitting on the stoop.

“‘Are you Uncle Robin Smith?’ he asked Father.

“Father said he was and then the boy turned to Mother.

“‘Aunt Nellie,’ he said. “I’m Miranda Powell’s boy. and I’ve ridden up from Lexington to see if your Sally Lunn really is better then Mother’s. She owns up that it is.’

“Mother was pleased as Punch to see the son of her dear friend and former neighbor in Kentucky, and she almost fed that boy to death while he stayed with us. My sister Elzina married him later.

“All kinds of people stopped by. Once a man and boy came along one spring day with a covered wagon full of waxworks, and they had to stay at our house three days because one of his horses was lame.

“Father wouldn’t take any pay. He never did--and so, the evening before they went away, the inan and boy unpacked all the wax figures and brought them into the sitting room and showed them off.

“Father was troubled for fear it bordered on theatricals. You see, he thought anything that had to do with the theater was a terrible sin. But the man said it was educational and high class and elegant, and Mother told Father it wasn’t right to throw the man’s gratitude in his face. I reckon she was just as crazy to see the show as us children were. There were Shakespeare, George Washington, Napoleon, and lots of others, but out of respect to Father, the man didn’t get out the murderers and pirates, and the boy told my brother Milton afterward that they were the best part of the show.

“Runaway slaves used to come because Father was an anti-slavery man. That's why he moved from Kentucky after freeing all his own slaves. We children never knew much about the runaways for they usually came in the night; but sometimes we’d hear a tapping on the back door, and then we’d hear Father get up and let someone in, and pretty soon we’d hear Mother hurrying around in the kitchen and we’d smell bacon, eggs, and coffee. Julia, Evaline, and I used to creep out of bed and watch out our window, and by and by we’d see a group of dark figures go slipping off toward the woods.

“One day, Cass Dawson, the sheriff of our county, came out to our house with a posse just at dinner time. Father was away, but Mother made them have dinner, and when they were ready to go, Cass shuffled around and stood first on one foot and then on the other and tried to look like a sheriff, and finally said: ‘Now, Aunt Nellie, you’ve got to stop feeding and harboring runaway slaves. It’s against the law.’

“Mother looked at him as if he were a foolish child. ‘Well, Cass, I’ve been going by a law that says, “Feed my sheep.” God made my law. Who made yours?’

“The men grinned and Cass looked silly, but he began to bluster and say that it was a prison offense to feed runaways, and Mother listened only for a little while. then she walked up to Cass and looked him straight in the face. Her eyes were as bright as stars and her face was pink all over and she blazed out at him.

“‘Cass Dawson. I never turned away a stranger that came to me and asked for food and I’m not going to start now. I don’t care whether he’s black or white, bond or free, and if feeding the hungry is a prison offense in Indiana, then you may as well take me to jail now as anytime because I'm going to keep right on being that kind of offender. So you’d better get a horse ready for me and I’ll put on my bonnet.’
“‘Take you to jail, Aunt Nellie? Why the whole county’d turn out and lynch me!’”
“‘Well, then, if you aren’t going to do your duty, for pity’s sake run along, and let me get at mine,’ said Mother.

“And that was the last we ever heard about her feeding runaways, but our house used to be watched sometimes.

“I remember one morning when I was sitting on the front stoop waiting for my bothers and sisters to come home from a wedding in Paris. They had spent the night at the bride’s parents’ but were due home at any time. There was a clatter of hoofs in the covered bridge to the north and soon a crowd of girls and men on horseback came riding up. The whole wedding party it was, bride, groom, and all.

“The crowd had come over to our house for the infair dinner. That’s the bridegroom’s dinner on the day after [before?] the wedding. you know, but the bridegroom was far from home and there hadn’t been any plan for an infair until, as the wedding party was riding part way home with my brothers and sisters, they met Father going to the mill.

“‘Why don’t you go over to the house for your “infair” dinner?’ he asked. ‘It’d please Nellie, and I’ll he home in an hour or two.’

“They took him at his word and came, twenty of them, mind you, and it did please Nellie.” Those are Louise’s words, but sometimes memory clouds reality.

There’s not a woman in this church who doesn’t realize how really pleased Nellie probably was no matter how much she pretended. How would you like it, if on the afternoon before his wedding your neighbor’s’ son and his whole wedding party drove up in your driveway and said they had come to your house for the rehearsal dinner? They had seen your husband at the service station and he had invited them because he knew you’d be pleased.

Louise also shares a memory of a very special Christmas. “It was Christmas Eve and we had gathered in the sitting room waiting for Father to get hack from Deputy.

“Julia and Evaline had made a pan of butternut maple taffy, and Milton and I were popping corn when Father came in. He smiled and looked jolly, but we knew something was bothering him.

“‘Nellie.’ he said, ‘I came mighty near bringing you a present tonight.’

“Mother laughed. ‘Mighty near isn’t near enough. Why didn’t you bring it?’

“‘ I was afraid you wouldn’t want it.’ Father’s voice was serious.

“‘What was it, Robin?’ she asked in a puzzled way.’

“‘A little boy, Nellie--Such a little, scared shaver! A man from over near Blocher was taking him into Madison to the poor house. His mother just died of pneumonia and no one knows where his father is. The man’s horse went lame and they had stopped at the store. The little boy will have to spend the night in the back of the store. ‘

“It didn’t take Mother long to send Father right hack to Deputy after him. In fact, she fairly pushed him out the door.

“When Father got back with him, Mother whisked him off to the kitchen where she gave him a bath, trimmed his hair, and dressed him in some of Milton’s outgrown clothes.

“She held him on her lap while Father read us the story from the Bible about the shepherds and the Babe of Bethlehem.

“‘A blessed Christmas child like you, dearie,’ she said, when the reading ended.

“He hadn’t said a word until now. ‘Aw shucks! He was only a baby. I’m a big boy. I’m most six!’

“My pious father looked shocked but Mother understood. ‘So you are, Honey,’ she said, ‘and so you’re going to be the greatest possible help and comfort to me.’

“He was a help and comfort to her as long as she lived, and the very best Christmas present my family ever had.”

Louise’s memories are very precious to me because Uncle Robin and Aunt Nellie were my great great grandparents. As you know, their daughter Elzina married the young Kentuckian on the thoroughbred horse. Their son Milton went to Kansas and settled there. Louise, who shared her memories with us, married one of her school teachers and spent her adult life in Canada, Iowa and New York City. That leaves Julia and Evaline. They remained in this community and married brothers. Julie married William Robertson and became the mother of Uncle Ed Robertson. Evaline married James Dowen Robertson and became the mother of Dr. Wilbur Robertson and my grandfather, Colonel Ellsworth Robertson.

It was Evaline who, during the Civil War, when they heard Morgan’s Raiders were coming, took the family’s best horses and hid with them in the woods. The Raiders came, took all the hams and bacon in the smoke house and an old nag or two that had been left in the barn as a ruse. But the good horses were saved.
The little boy whom Robin brought home that Christmas Eve was named John Phillips; he became the great grandfather of Myron Phillips.

We are indebted to Louise’s daughter Eleanor, who preserved her mother’s childhood memories in writing. As I look about this sanctuary, I see several people who are at least my age. That means we spend almost as much time in remembering as we do in planning. Doesn’t it behoove us to start writing our memories? After all, 150 years from now our descendants may he interested in reading about the way of life of their ancestors.

[Handwritten note at bottom:] Notes for this speech taken from Our Little Old Lady by Eleanor Hoyt Brainerd.

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