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More Stories The Way We Were
Grandma Eliza Tupper
Every summer when I went to stay with my Grandpa Hine in Newfield, I was also sent over for a little while to stay with Great Grandma Tupper, and visit the cousins up the hill at the big house; Catherine and Doris Tupper, and Uncle Theo's wife, also our cousin, Eileen.
Grandma Tupper's house had been built in an earlier time when there was only a "little house out back" for one's necessities. Grandma hung on to this arrangement until advancing age plus the lake effect winters forced her to be more cautious. Her bedroom was on the first floor, but there was no place at all on that floor to add a bathroom. So inside the door to the stairway, on the three-foot long hallway, a toilet was installed! This was to me a hair-brained arrangement but it worked. Fortunately she didn't have guests trooping up and down the stairs.
Grandma still cooked on an old fashioned stove with wood or coal for fuel. She always fixed buttermilk pancakes for breakfast on an old fashioned round "griddle", testing the heat first by spitting on her finger and quickly touching the pan before pouring the pancakes from a batter pitcher she always kept on the back of the stove. She lived there surrounded by the Tupper orchards for 70 years until she escaped one day to warmer climes rather than put up with being confined by another winter. (See How I Killed Two People with my Accordion).
I found this interview with her, published in the Ithaca (NY) Journal, apparently the summer before she left New York forever. See source.
A Conversation Covers 90 Years
Perhaps she believes in miracles because she was born on Christmas Day.
“So many miracles have happened in our family,” she said. And as she talked of them, I wondered what mark of wisdom it is that some have, to see their daily lives so illumined.
It was a long talk I had with Mrs. Judson Tupper the other morning at her home tucked in among the Tupper orchards of West Danby. It is the home she and her husband built more than 50 years ago. Our conversation covered a lot of ground—a 90-year span.
She was born on Christmas Day (just how many years it is over 90 she doesn’t care to admit) in Swartwood, Chemung County. The family always thought it odd that her only sister should have been born on the Fourth of July.
When I arrived, Mrs. Tupper was enjoying a midmorning snack so I pulled up a chair by the kitchen table and to keep her company dipped into some juicy ripe cherries she had just picked. Mrs. Tupper bakes her own bread and cookies. When I helped myself to a second cookie she said, “Now you begin to act human!”
On the back of the stove stood the most beautiful batter jug I have ever seen. Its handsomely rounded grey sides and spout were decorated in deep blue design. It was made by White & Company of Binghamton.
Mrs. Tupper has always loved music. For nearly 50 years she played the organ and directed the choir in the West Danby Baptist Church. She started music lessons when very small and then went to Horseheads for lessons when she was big enough to go by herself on the train. In 1932, when the Westminister Choir was located in Ithaca, Mrs. Tupper went through the nearby countryside and got pledges of funds to pay one of the choir members to come out and train a community choir in West Danby.
After studying at Cortland Normal School, Mrs. Tupper taught school on Rumsey Hill and in the Ennis District before she married Judson Tupper where she had just turned 20. They came to live in the tenant house on the Tupper farms, where they remained until they built her present home. Mr. Tupper died in 1942 at the age of 89.
“I’m just as interested in things going on today as ever,” she said. ‘There were always so many things I wondered about that when my children were small I started a scrap book of how things were made.” It is a fascinating collection of clippings. There are bits on making firecrackers, oil cloth, clothes pins and snuff. Answers to what fog and allspice are and “the architecture of snow.”
There is an item describing establishment of the Ithaca Soap Factory on West Hill by J. K. Bradford and George King. The process of making the soap is explained and states that “at a single pull of the press handle each cake not only is cut to uniform size and weight but the name ‘White Rose’ is stamped on one side and ‘Ithaca’ on the other.”
Mrs. Tupper confessed to a weakness for writing ditties. “Never could write a composition when I was in school,” she said, “and now it is funny to take to writing in my old age.” Many of the verses are religious in tone but I remember one rollicking bit that started “When Grandma Tupper fried oysters for supper.”
“It was through my writing ditties that Rob and I got acquainted. Rob turned out to be Robert E. Treman who holds a major spot in Mrs. Tupper’s affection. “Rob’s been so good to me,” she said, “see this pen and notebook be brought me to put my ditties in.”
We talked about the Tupper orchards and how the pear crop has always been shipped to Philadelphia, about the time her father sold off the team and brought home a yoke of oxen and we looked at some family keepsakes including the butter paddles that her mother had used.
“How fast the seasons go,” she commented as we looked at a family reunion picture. She pointed out herself and I told her she is better looking now than she was then. Later she returned to the subject. “It does beat all you’re sayin’ that about me. No one ever told me anything like that. You’re just yarnin’.” I tried to convince her I wasn’t.....
To make a slight retrogression, I want to mention a hearse. It seemed too lugubrious a topic to start off with although I spied it when first starting out. I was almost by Kouf Brothers on the Elmira Rd. when the old vehicle caught my attention. What a relic it is and I should like to find out some of its history. The Koufs bought it some 12 years ago out in Danby but couldn’t remember who owned it. They think it may have been built before 1850 as it has iron-bound wheels. It must have been an elegant sight when new. It is light in build and both sides are glassed: Remnants of the fringed drapes remain but the gilt angels that decorated the outside were pried off long ago."
How well I remember that photo of a family reunion at Grandma Tupper's. There must have been dozens of cousins, nieces and nephews all holding painfully still for the old slow camera. Grandma is wearing what I believe was her wedding dress, a wine color silk suit, two piece, with a high collar, long skirt and a hundred covered tiny buttons down the front, each with it's own exquisitely embroidered buttonhole. It's still in my attic, almost a century and a half later. These family reunions, held for many years, resulted in many marriages of cousins; in fact I was told in the fifties that almost everyone in the valley or their spouse was related to me, no matter how distantly. Great Grandma Tupper hosted many of them.