Nina Daniels



Wednesday, August 10, 1949

The early settlers indulged in some diversions which relieved the drudgery of their lives. For both men and women must have toiled from morning until night in order to get their tasks finished. The great forest had to be felled and the land prepared for cultivation. Game must be stalked and killed and a quantity of it prepared for food. Shanties and log houses must be erected against rigorous seasons. Roads must be made, make-shift bridges built. Material must be fashioned with which to build their houses after a while, such as nails, plaster, laths and even the furniture was made, with skill and taste. Oh, it was a time of wondrous planning and doing, and it was a time of utilizing every minute, for their tools were crude and no swift lightning had been harnessed for their use. And the women:

Side by side with their mane they labored, one and all, brave, patient and uncomplaining. For there was no other way by which they could conquer the terrible wilderness. They bore many babies, they fashioned the clothing from the material itself to the finished product. They prepared the food, the bedding, the tallow candles, the soap. They found time for exquisite embroidery, weaving and quilt making. They tenderly cared for the sick and soothed the dying. They taught the children, and saw to it that they knew their Bible and their God. Proud may we be if the blood of the pioneers flows in our veins. Industrious, kind, wise and God-fearing must we be if we emulate their way of life.

Fun Out of Life

But it is not in human nature to drudge all the time. So they had their dances, quilting parties, singing, school, spelling schools, political celebrations, Fourth of July orgies and their "exhibition." These latter entertainments were held in the school-houses and often took the form of picnics, the whole neighborhood taking part in the holiday. If the affair was a picnic, many were the toothsome viands spread out before the willing consumers. They lacked many luxuries, those long-gone ancestors, but after the land was cleared and crops grown and harvested, they fared well and shared generously. Nature protectingly guided them into choosing food which abounded in vitamins, although they had never heard of them. Meat, fowls, and fish abounded just outside the door. Deer were almost annihilated, so numerous they were. Wild birds were numerous, and in the streams swam trout, pickerel, bass and "pouts."

So if the picnickers feasted before the exhibition, they had plenty. Fat roasted chicken, hardly cold from the oven, hunks of dried venison, sliced ham, pink and "out of this world" roasts of pork and beef, speckled brook trout fried in butter, hard-boiled eggs, "deep dishes" pies of meats or apples, pumpkin, mince and berry pies, rich and juicy, ginger cookies, wondrous cakes made with maple sugar, fat dough-nuts fried in their own sweet, fresh fat, crumbly tarts spread with wild straw-berry preserves. Maybe somebody would bring sweet cider or blackberry wine.

No Tin Cans Then

And not a scrap of this bountiful feast came from tins or deep freezers, for no such contraptions existed anywhere in America. Fresh and delicious, all was prepared from "home-grown" products. I must not omit the sweet and sour pickles without which the pioneer would consider his meal a failure. They would have much to talk about. A new road was being planned where none existed before; crops were good or bad; rain-fall was just right or not plentiful; James Jones had killed a wild-cat, John Smith a bear; they must work out their poll tax; often, too, politics interested them; during the war of 1812 many things were of intense interest—so-and-so had had his ox-cart pressed; many cannons were being stored in the arsenal at Russell; new families were moving away from the Big River where the fighting was taking place. So as they ate their lunch in the yard of the school-house, "a good time was had by all." Following the lunch was the "exhibition." That term was used probably because those taking part exhibited their talents. It was somewhat in the nature of a speaking contest. Grown men and women were not averse to giving a long reading such at "Curfew Must Not Ring To-night" or "Bingen on the Rhine." Children would recite "Mary and her Lamb."

There were always good fiddlers present and "Money Musk," "Irish Washer-women," and "Turkey in the Straw" would set young feet tapping. They asked no better music than a neighborhood fiddler's lively tunes. No radio mysteriously caught Wagner or Beethoven from the air, dropping them smoothly in their midst, for if such a miracle had happened, not enjoyment, but unbelief and fear would have enveloped the little company. Miracles seldom come the way of the pioneers. They loved, too, to have a woman with a sweet voice sing one of their interminable songs like "Young Charlotte" or a mournful one like "Lily Dale." There would be several dialogues of which they were particularly fond and given with no little skill. Once in a great while a wrestling contest was on the program, for that was a favorite exhibition of strength and skill.

Music a Favorite

Speaking, fiddling and singing, however, were the chief parts of those events. When the program was over and the women had compared notes on their newest enterprises, and the shadows grew longer, remains of the picnic were gathered up, children and parents stowed themselves into the ox-carts or mounted horses, for the occasion had come to an end and "chores" both outside and inside awaited them. It had been a happy day, a day of simple, innocent pleasure such as modern life knows not of. There were also many school exhibitions in which the pupils in the little red school-houses put on the programs. These called out the grown-ups, too, and they were not disappointed very often as the children of one hundred years ago were better readers than those of to-day, and the old readers contained many gems of literature. Also, their curriculums contained fewer subjects and they studied the same work year after year. Those children and young folk were well grounded in the three R's and were capable of putting on good programs for the edification of their elders.

Those days will never return in their entirety, for life is not so simple now. Wars, and rumors of wars, lurk ever in our consciousness. The woes of the entire planet await alleviation at the hands of Americans. Death roars above us in the skies as planes fall in a heap of wreckage. Death is on the highways, too, and in the waters of the sea. Nor is the mind more peaceful. Suspicion, greed, and weariness envelope mankind like a dense fog. When shall there be peace and when shall humans return to the "ways of pleasantness" which are "the ways of peace?"



North Country