Long ago: Neighbors and visitors August 8, 2012Posted by Jenny in history, Life experience, memoir.
Tags: Cato NY, Edna L. Kennedy, small town customs
This is taken from a memoir entitled “When I Was a Girl” by my grandmother, Sybil Crowninshield Kennedy Bennett. The series starts here and alternates every other post.
[My grandmother describes an apricot tree in the family garden:] It grew into a very large tree for a fruit tree, and bore each year four or five bushels of large orange apricots, very delicious and much desired by the whole town. We always had many callers when the apricots were ripe, whom we never saw at any other time. Mama saved berry baskets and we were sent around the town with basketsful to those special people she wanted to have some of them. She canned forty or fifty quarts of them and they were a staple for supper all winter long.
Fruit grew plentifully everywhere and we were always welcome to eat any we came across all around the neighborhood. Any early apple tree, sweet or sour, was shared by all who wanted some. Only especially rare fruits, like our apricots and some peaches, had to be given personally.
One thing that was done by the more kind and charitable people was done many times by my parents. We had for several months in our home, Mrs. Oakley, a widow, and her small daughter, Marguerite. She was to have a small pension later and set up a home in some rooms up over one of the stores. Before she received the pension she had no resources. Clothes and a little money were arranged for her by friends but she lived with us in our family for several months. She was a schoolmate of mother’s, but never had been a close friend.
We also had a Mr. Bartlett, an old man waiting to be admitted to the Masonic home. He had no place to go so my father brought him home one day and he stayed all winter with us. The piano tuner came from Syracuse twice a year and stayed for a week at our home, having musical sessions every evening, to my father’s delight. We girls didn’t like him, he was too “affectionate,” but we learned to dodge him. There were also several people who lived alone on small incomes who came to meals, sometimes pre-invited, and sometimes they just came. All of these people had the same greeting and pleasant talk with my parents as other invited guests. The extra cooking and laundry was all done by my mother as part of her regular work.
One of the guests was Miss Susan Perry. She was the only survivor of a large family, including two sisters. For many years the three maidens lived together, one working as a milliner, and another as a seamstress. Susan was the bookish one. When she was old and alone, she needed help and the neighbors arranged to take turns in carrying her meals to her. As long as she could come out she used to make visits around. She had old-fashioned ideas of manners and I remember that she had us girls practice entering a room and introducing people, criticizing us very strictly.
For years after her hair was gray, she never removed her hat in public. One time she stayed several days with us and we never saw her with an uncovered head. Earlier she had worn a beautiful waving brown false front with her gray strands neatly knobbed in back.
Alice’s father, the druggist, used to take her a pound of snuff each Christmas. It was laid on the table without comment and never mentioned by the recipient. Before her death she had given some of her things to the people who helped her, to be kept by her as long as she needed them. The two small black straight-backed chairs I have were hers. Since by law we couldn’t take anything from the house after she died, we were sent for just before and carried away our gifts after dark. I remember the neighbors creeping along, each with her gifts, and laughing a little and talking about her in the dark under the trees.
(To be continued)