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More Stories - The Way We Were

Aunt Amelia's Scrapbook

I'm named after my two grandmothers,  Ellen Church Williamson, my father's mother, and my maternal grandmother, Bessie Tupper Hine.  

Grandmother Bessie was a schoolteacher.   Back in those times, most country and small town schools consisted of a single classroom, with the teacher in charge of all the subjects and all ages.   Paper was an expensive luxury, and each child had their own slate upon which to practice writing, do sums and so on.  Older children helped the young.  Compensation was minimal, their duties were many, vacations were unpaid and their comportment and morals were under constant scrutiny.  Here's a copy of Grandmother's teaching contract for 1907:  (click to enlarge)

Some difference from today... there was one school trustee in charge of two whole counties in Mid-western New York State.   For the sum of $10 a week, Grandmother not only taught first through eighth grade, but also swept and scrubbed the floor, cleaned the blackboards, dusted and polished, brought in the firewood and made the fire, hauled out the ashes, washed the windows and did any and all other daily chores.

Soon after this, she married my grandfather, Wilbur Hine, and left school-teaching to become a wife and mother.

When my mother was about four, grandmother became pregnant again.  In mid-pregnancy she developed symptoms of appendicitis, something even more common in those days without refrigeration, and more likely to be fatal with the primitive surgical techniques of the time and lack of antibiotics.  She was told that if she survived the surgery she would lose the child.  She decided to take a chance - and lost.  She died of peritonitis, along with her baby boy.

Times were very tough then, as they still are for many people and in many countries.  Grandpa, grieving terribly, as he and Grandma were very much in love, had to take my mother out to the fields with him, then to do all the chores, then bring her home to a dark cold house and fix a quick meal of sorts. 

Many years before as a young woman, my great Aunt Amelia, Grandpa Hine's sister, had started a scrapbook.  This was contained in a tedious thick volume entitled "Transactions of the New York State Agricultural Society - 1892".   Without television, radio or movies, one of peoples' biggest sources of amusement and news was the daily or weekly newspaper.   Not only professionals but aspiring amateurs contributed to them.  Auntamee had been clipping out cartoons, poems and philosophy for years, and had pasted them into the book. 

My mother was naturally missing her own mother horribly, and I'm sure the worst time was evening just before bed.  Auntamee gave Grandpa her precious scrapbook, and every night, Grandpa would read to Mother from it.  It was a great comfort to her and probably to him, too. 

My mother would sometimes let me carefully read from it when I was small, but I had since totally forgotten it.  I don't think she herself knew where it was for a long while, until they were cleaning out my Dad's library and came across it.  She sent it to me, and from time to time, I will publish some of these early poems and stories. 

It is fascinating to me to see what interested people over a century ago, and I hope you will enjoy it too.  And something strikes me:  the more things change, the more they stay the same.  While technology advances and customs change, people stay much like they were decades and centuries ago.  Many of these poems and jokes are all over the web and circulating by email, and most people will think they're new.  Not so - and I have proof that they're more than a century old.  You'll see what I mean.

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