The following was originally intended to be published as a short, historical ebook. Due to the unforeseen emergence of cannabis legalization in the United States, many of my non-cannabis writing and publishing projects have been put on hold.
In late 1943, in the middle of World War II and near the end of the Great Depression, my great-great grandmother, Rosella Rabinski, was asked by one of her daughters to document her life. The following is her manuscript.
In a modern world dominated by Twitter, YouTube, and ubiquitous smartphones—where instantaneous communication and fast, reliable travel are taken for granted—Rosella’s life history illustrates just how far the western world has evolved in the past one hundred and fifty years.
Not Rosella; my daughter Bean (Rosella’s great-great-great granddaughter).
Rosella had, by today’s standards, a poor education. What little she gathered, she basically foisted upon herself. She lost her mother at the age of nine and her father at 13. After she became an orphan, Rosella gained additional education only because she demanded it, with little encouragement from those around her. She joined the workforce as a nanny when she was about 16.
Born at the beginning of the American Civil War, Rosella (who went by “Ella”) was an only child and orphan at a time when most families had a dozen or more children. She had a unique spirit.
How many women were progressive enough to hyphenate their name in the early 20th century?
I never met her (I was born a couple of decades after her manuscript was written, which was shortly before she died), but am thankful that her daughter urged her to compose this short life history. Due to the miracle of modern digital publishing and social media, Ella’s story is now available to the world—not simply the seven children she raised.
My apologies for the run-on paragraphs and sometimes awkward construction found within this document. I have attempted to preserve the original text whenever possible. Also brace yourself for social stereotypes, stigma-inspired references, and the mild bigotry and class separation that was prevalent at the time.
Chapter 1: How I Began
My daughter, Cecile May, has asked me to write a short history of my life.
This is December 1943. I will begin by saying that I, Rosella Rabinski, was born in Liberty Township in Knox County, Ohio. It was just over the line of Clinton Township, three miles west of Mount Vernon, on January 5, 1861.
I was born in a double-hewed log cabin, with two rooms downstairs and a double fireplace. The room on the west had two windows and was plastered. The kitchen on the east had one window, two outside doors, a stairway, and a door leading to the front room. We lived there for some time. It was zero weather when I was born, I heard them say. Today the temperature is 36 degrees above.
My father and mother both came from large families. Mother was one of eleven children and Father had two full brothers, six half-brothers and sisters on his mother’s side, and five or six half-brothers and sisters on his father’s side.
I was an only child.
In those days there were, of course, no automobiles and very few buggies. We had no paved roads. Some people had so-called spring wagons. Often, the roads were almost impassable. I can remember when the mud was so deep that it came nearly up to the hubs of wagon wheels and up to horses’ knees. Now, in 1943, one seldom sees horses and wagons on the roads—and most roads are paved. Back then we had sleds and sleighs and the young people would put a string of bells on their horses when they went sleigh riding. Those bells could be heard for a mile.
Hearses for children were drawn by white horses. However, those were happier times than today. Later there was built what we called a surrey, with two seats and a covered top.
About forty years ago, they began to build automobiles. The first one I saw was used by our mail carrier. It was built like a high-wheeled buggy—but had a motor, of course.
It has been handed down to me that there was a German, Lewis Bricker (the name in some localities was Praker, I have been told), who married Elizabeth Calvert, the daughter of Cecil Calvert (an Englishman who was much opposed to his daughter marrying a German). But they seemed to get along well. Elizabeth was said to have driven a team of horses to Philadelphia with loads of grain and provisions. The couple reared a large family and accumulated a fortune. Two of their sons, John and Jacob, married two Koonsman girls. Jacob married Elizabeth Koonsman and, in 1808, John married Barbara Koonsman (my grandmother).
Lewis Bricker migrated from Pennsylvania to Liberty Township in Knox County, Ohio and bought several 100-acre tracts of land from the government (beginning in what is known as the Liberty Township east line, three miles west of Mount Vernon). John Bricker and Barbara had one daughter, Rebecca, who was born in 1809. This was before they moved from Pennsylvania to Ohio in covered wagons in 1810.
The new land of Ohio was heavily wooded—none of it cleared. Not even was there a road laid out. Some of the Bricker sons and daughters came to Ohio and settled on this land, building cabins of rough logs. These houses were like a song I’ve heard: They had “clapboard roofs and puncheon floors, a crack for a window and a quilt for a door.” The clapboard roofs were split out of logs about four feet long. They had small trees and saplings put up for rafters. Then poles were put across them to lay the clapboards on, and poles over the clapboards to hold them down. The cracks between the logs were filled with pieces of wood and clay plaster to keep out the cold. To collect the logs, they had what they called “log rollings” where they would burn felled trees.
There were some Indians around then, and some were savage. They killed a family not far from where Chesterville, Ohio, now is. The people near Mount Vernon built a block house to protect them from the Indians. There were also some wild animals—bears, panthers, and plenty of wolves. I remember hearing my folks say that a catamount, or wild cat, came into our upstairs, leaving our house by running down the stairs and out a side door.
My grandmother, Barbara Koonsman, was born in Washington County, Pennsylvania, in 1789. She came from a family of six children (three boys and three girls). Her brothers were Jesse, George, and Daniel; her sisters were Nancy and Elizabeth.
John Bricker made a trip now and then back to Pennsylvania by horseback. Once he took with him some maple syrup in saddle bags. Some trip, was it not for a horse! He stopped at a tavern to stay the night and took his saddle bags upstairs to his room. He didn’t sleep much that night, as he thought several times that he heard somebody on the stairs. He would raise up in the bed to let the supposed thief know that he wasn’t asleep. Apparently somebody thought that he had something valuable in the saddle bags.
Another man went the same trip on horseback, and when he was on his way, his horse became lame. He stopped at a blacksmith shop to have his horse examined; it had a wire around its foot above the hoof. The blacksmith said, “You better examine your gun”; the traveler did and found the chambers filled with ashes! He re-loaded it and went on his way. He came to a woods where a man, all blacked up, came out and waylayed him. The traveler said he would shoot, but the robber only laughed because he thought the traveler had a gun full of ashes. But, to his amazement, the traveler shot real bullets! And the robber was the tavern keeper!
As time went on, John Bricker and Barbara had more children, making a total of six (three boys and three girls). First there was the eldest, Rebecca (who was born in Pennsylvania in 1809); next a boy, George; then the third, Aaron; then Mary; then another son, Solomon; and finally, Sarah (the baby of the family, who married a Higbee). When Rebecca was only twelve years old, John Bricker died of tuberculosis, leaving Barbara (my grandmother) with six small children.
Chapter 2: Changes & Civil War
There have been many changes since my grandmother, Barbara Koonsman-Bricker-Rush, came to Knox County in Ohio. I am now 83 years old, but I can remember that there was a big two-story building called the Market House where people came with their wagons full of produce. They drove onto the Public Square (also called Monument Square), unhitched their horses, turned them to the back of their wagons, and fed them.
Some people lived upstairs in the Market House. I remember an old man named McGrady who had a shoe shop there. He lived in a large brick house on Mulberry Street (second house from Chestnut street, on the west side). Later his daughter lived there. And then her adopted son, Charles Blair. Now those buildings are gone and the Mount Vernon Post Office stands on the corner of Mulberry and High Streets, on the northwest corner. On the northwest corner of the Public Square, there was a restaurant at which one could get a good meal for 15₵. One night it burned down. Now the whole block is built of brick.
As Christmas is near (it is now December 20, 1943), I will tell you, these people had a real Santa. A man would come around with nuts and cakes. He would say, “Will you pray?” and they all knelt. Then he would scatter nuts and cakes to see them go after them.
We think we have hard times, but let me tell you: They had no stoves as we know them today. Instead, they had what was a fireplace built of flat stones, plastered up with clay. In this fireplace was placed, lengthwise, an iron rod. On this rod were hooks called trunnels, on which they hung their iron kettles and tea kettles. When they fried meat, they pulled some coals out on the hearth and set their iron skillet on these coals, as well as their coffee pots.
They also had what they called “Dutch ovens” in which they baked their bread. These were approximately 12 inches in diameter and six inches tall, with legs about two inches long and an iron lid. When their bread was light enough to bake, they scraped coals of fire out of the hearth, placed the Dutch oven on them, and put coals of fire on the lid. Yum! Yum! Was that bread good! Maybe you think I don’t know! (My step-grandmother had an oven and baked to please me.) People also had clay ovens in their yards that were big enough to bake six loaves of bread or pies at the same time. They would build a fire in these clay ovens and let it burn down to coals, raking the coals out and putting their bread and pies in to bake.
I remember that when I was small, after the Civil War, there were quite a few tramps (or “beggars,” as they were called in those days) running around the country. One day mother and I were alone when one came to our house. Our dog didn’t like tramps; he would meet them before they could get to the door. The tramp went first to one door, then to the other. But our dog “Old Bull” met him there and the tramp finally went away. One evening, while my father and I were at my Grandmother’s, a tramp came to our house (which was nearby). There was a hogshead in the yard, with a pig in it. We surmised that he thought we were in it. We watched him until he left, then my father went home.
A man (whose name I can’t recall now) went out hunting and was belated. A bear had overtaken him and he had crawled up a sapling, which bent down with his weight. The bear stood on its hind legs and reached the man, but he kicked it’s nose until it bled. Some of his friends went out to hunt for him and found him there.
When John Bricker (my grandmother’s first husband, but not my grandfather), was boiling down maple syrup, wolves would come so near he could see their eyes. But they were afraid of fire and did not come close. One night, my grandmother heard them outside and said she guessed they got our sheep—but the sheep were safe. One day an Indian came to their door, asking for bread. Barbara ran out past him, leaving two small children in the house alone. But, as she said she had no bread, the Indian went away.
Now, as I said, I was born in the year 1861, and I remember seeing the soldiers that came home in their blue suits. The men from the North went to the South and burned buildings and destroyed properties. I heard a Northern Army soldier tell me how they took pianos, tore them up, and made bunks out of them.
A woman told me there was a band of Negroes that went forth to kill the white people. One Negro woman wanted to save her mistress. She had on a full skirt, which she spread over her mistress until the men had passed.
There were good slaveholders and bad slaveholders, just like some men are good and some are bad today. I think those slaves could have been bought and freed. Then there would have been no bloodshed. The Northern soldiers drew pensions, some who said they never carried a gun. Did the Southern soldiers get pensions? No! But the South had to pay a part of these pensions. Even our northern states were affected by the war and farmers couldn’t get much for their livestock and produce. Eggs brought six and eight cents a dozen; hogs four cents a pound; butter eight cents a pound; a good-sized chicken twenty cents. It was several years before times improved.
An example of men’s cruelty to animals: I heard it said that a man somewhere in West Virginia struck his horse on its head with a shovel. The horse kicked the man in the stomach and killed him. I think he got what was coming to him.
As I said previously, when Rebecca was only twelve years old, her father, John Bricker, took tuberculosis and died (on May 9, 1821). This left her mother with six little children, including Rebecca. In 1826, Grandmother was married to Peter Rush, who had been a bloomer by trade (a bloomer was a furnace and forge in which wrought iron blooms were made directly from ore). He lived on a farm near Bloomfield, in Morrow County, Ohio.
She went to live with him there. They had two boys: Jeremiah, who was born on May 1, 1827; and Ananias (my father), who was born on September 4, 1833. Soon thereafter, they moved to my grandmother’s farm west of Mount Vernon, where another son, Andrew Miller, was born on June 4, 1843. My father was reared in the same house (a log cabin) in which I was born. Andrew Miller, his youngest brother, was also born in that cabin, and they lived there until they were grown. Then they built a frame house in the same yard, which still stands today (1943) and is nearly 100 years old.
My grandfather, Peter Rush, was a soldier in the War of 1812. The Commissioner of Pensions states: “Peter Rush served from August 28, 1812, to October 31, 1812, as a private in the Company commanded by Captain Jacob Young and John Greer of the Ohio Militia. In 1855 he was 77 years of age and a resident of Knox County. He received the B.L. Warrants 35620-120-55 and 15980-40-50.”
My father, Ananias Rush, on January 11, 1860, married Martha Ann Roop, a twin (who was born on March 31, 1834) of Margaret Roop—and moved back into the original log cabin. On January 5, 1861, a daughter was born to them, which, of course, was I. My father and mother did not live in this log cabin long. Father’s oldest brother, who had lived about a half mile west, on Grandmother’s farm, moved to Illinois and we moved into his house. Another brother, Jeremiah, had moved to a place just west of Richwood, Ohio.
Besides her twin sister Margaret, my mother had six brothers and three sisters: Frederick, born March 18, 1819; Peter, born March 31, 1824; John, born November 28, 1831; Jacob, born June 19, 1836; Michael, born May 23, 1839; George, born August 13, 1842; Elizabeth, born August 31, 1821; Catherine, born September 15, 1826; and Mary, born April 14, 1829. My grandfather, on my mother’s side, was John Roop, who was born July 18, 1787 and died October 22, 1859. My grandmother was Catherine Meyers, who was born October 30, 1797 and died July 29, 1857. They were married on January 29, 1818.
When I was a child, the land was not tiled and the ground was very swampy. Many people suffered with ague (an intermittent fever), something we never hear mentioned today because the land has since been tiled.
My Uncle Jerry’s wife, at Richwood, complained of ague, so my grandmother wanted my father to go to Richwood and move them back to Knox County. Father and Mother started for Richwood one afternoon in a wagon with a team of horses. I, of course, went with them. We went the first day as far as the home of Filo Pruner, a brother of Uncle Jerry’s wife, near Sparta, Ohio. We stayed the night at his home. Then Filo, my father, my mother, and I started out the next morning for Uncle Jerry’s. My father and Filo each drove a team hitched to a “big wagon.” We took dinner with us and ate it at Whetstone River Bridge, an old covered bridge.
We forded the Scioto River, as there was no bridge then where we had to cross (they were just building one). The water was so deep that it nearly came up to the wagon bed. We arrived at Uncle Jerry’s about sundown; I think we stayed two nights and a day before starting back home. I remember it rained nearly all the way home, and the cover we had for protection from the rain was only two bed sheets. I was six years old and I remember that trip like it was yesterday. Mother and I and two of Uncle Jerry’s girls, Dicy and Emma, rode in one covered wagon. The two men, Father, Filo Pruner, and Uncle Jerry’s oldest son, Arnold, rode in the Pruner wagon. We brought back with us some of their household furniture—a cupboard in one wagon and a bureau in the other.
Uncle Jerry and Aunt Lavina then had a baby girl named Barbara (named after my grandmother). Barbara was born on March 25, 1867. At the time of this writing, she is 76 years old. The boy who came with us from Richwood, Arnold—born on July 28, 1856—is now 87 years old. They both live in Pasadena, California. As soon as Uncle Jerry’s family was able to travel, they loaded the rest of their belongings into his wagon and came back home to Knox County. They moved into a cabin near Grandmother’s until they could get another house. Uncle Jerry’s brother had a house and some land. As soon as his brother’s house was empty, they moved into it. While living there, they had a baby boy, Raymond (making five boys and five girls). That last baby boy was later a Methodist preacher, but is now retired, being 74 years of age. Another son, Benton, lived in Oakland, California. Only these four of the ten children are living at this time.
Chapter 3: School
When I was about six years old, I started to school. My first teacher was a young man by the name of William Bricker. He taught three months, then took a vacation. Viola Bricker then taught three months, beginning the first of June and continuing through August. Then no more school until December, January, and February. No teacher taught more than three or four months at a time.
Manda Hagerty taught one summer and Mother visited the school. I remember different teachers. Miss Hagerty had “red” hair. When my mother was very ill, I was not sent to school. But the winter she died, a young man by the name of Russell Robertson taught at the Bedell School where I attended. He was studying medicine at the time, in the winter of 1869 and 1870.
My mother died on January 8, 1870, when I was nine years old.
As I said, I went to school only part of the time. There were about 75 pupils in the school. The teacher boarded with the Sylvester Pratt family. One day, while he was gone for his dinner, the boys decided to shut the teacher out. There was no lock on the door, so they braced some of the benches against it and wouldn’t let him in. This was all because they wanted him to treat, it being Christmas time.
Dr. Robertson taught two terms at this school and turned out to be a fine doctor. After he began practicing medicine, I went to him when I needed a doctor’s services. Once he told me that, when I was his pupil, I was so timid that he was afraid to say anything to me. He died the summer before I was married.
My grandmother, Barbara Koonsman-Bricker-Rush, was the mother of nine children, the six born to her and John Bricker, and the three born to her and Peter Rush. Her husband, Peter, had six children by his former wife (three boys whose names I recall were James, John, and William; two of the girls were named Mary and Margaret). I do not recall the names of the other girls. By the time Peter and Barbara’s children were nearly grown, the fields had been cleared so they could raise crops on them.
My grandfather Peter Rush had a loom and my Aunt Rebecca learned to weave cloth. They raised flax, and of this flax, they took the straw and hackled it: Made it into thread and wove it into linen sheets and other articles. They raised sheep and had their wool carded and spun into yarn. They knit their own stockings and made flannel. They also made what they called Lincy Woolcy for men’s clothes. The warp was linen and the filling was wool.
I have told you that I was an only child. I guess my mother and father sort of spoiled me. Mother always took me to church and I would sing and think I was as big as anyone. I had several cousins to play with, one who was nearly three years older than I. We each had our dolls and played house. There was a woods near my cousin’s home. We would go there, mark out a floor plan, and cover the supposed floor with different kinds of moss. I remember that place when I was almost grown. At my home, we played “in the shade of the apple trees.” I also remember playing “keeping store.”
In our house was a large chimney. Outside the chimney was olay burned red that we used for sugar. I once had a family of four gray kittens which we dressed up one day. My Mother decided to get rid of them and took them away, but brought me a blue and white cat instead.
My mother always had poor health, but when she became seriously ill, we sometimes had a “hired girl” (what maids were called in my early days). Sometimes my father did the housework with my help, and my Aunt baked our bread and also helped out (as did some of my mother’s nieces). I remember that one time I wanted chicken to eat. Mother told me, “You can have one if you can kill it.” I was about eight years old. I caught a chicken and took a corn cutter and cut its head off. I then scaled and picked it. I can’t remember the rest, but presume my father cooked it. I also remember that one time we were out of bread and I said I could make biscuits if Mother would tell me how. Father put some flour in a pan and I made the biscuits. I remember what a time I had getting the dough off my hands.
When Father would be in the fields working, I would go to the milk house and skim the milk and feed the calf—while my mother was sick in bed. I also had to do other things, such as sweep the floors and make the beds. Playtime was over for me. Mother kept getting worse. Hannah Meeker stayed with us until after Mother died and we held her funeral. It was in a home where my father’s half-brother, Uncle George Bricker, had lived before he went to Illinois to live that my mother died on the 8th of January, 1870. I was nine years old on the 5th of January. My mother was laid to rest in an old family burying ground and was the last one to be buried in it.
My father and I then went to live with my Grandmother. In a year-and-a-half (sometime in the last of June, 1871), my father remarried, this time to Delia Ann Lewis. They lived in the home with her father and mother. A year later, a baby boy, George Franklin, was born to them. The Lewises had a beautiful eight-room home, six rooms downstairs and two rooms upstairs, and there were beautiful pine trees in the yard. There were two springs of cold water and a spring house with water running through it. All went well at first, but later clouds began to gather and that beautiful house wasn’t a happy home.
Before my father married the second time, I spent a lot of my time in the field with him, sometimes riding a horse to help him plow corn. I wonder that I hadn’t been killed. My Aunt Rebecca was always saying, “You will get her killed.” Once I slid down over a horse’s head. Another time the horse was tied to the limb of a tree; the horse went under the tree and raked me off behind his heels. Another time I was riding home to dinner when our dog ran out of some bushes and frightened the horse, which jumped and threw me off. I thought every bone in my body had been broken, but I got up and walked home.
I also spent much of my time fishing. There was a stream of water called Armstrong Run. There was a big sycamore log on one side of the Run and a deep hole was washed out beside it. There I sat for hours catching fish. I remember once seeing how many I could catch. I caught fifty minnows, some about as long as my fingers (about three inches). When I was older, and when my Grandmother was sick, I would lean over that sycamore log and snare the bigger fish, called Suckers. I’d take them home and they would fry them for Grandmother. I could have drowned and they never would have known where I was.
On December 11, 1873, my father died with pneumonia, leaving Delia Ann with a baby boy eighteen months old. Then, in about eighteen months, Delia Ann’s father died, leaving no man around to help keep the place beautiful. Two weeks before his death, my father came to my Grandmother’s and took me to where he lived, with the Lewises. We then traveled to Friendship Church, from which we proceeded back to his home. In the evening, he took me nearly home to Grandmother’s. That was the last time I saw him until the day before he died.
I think he had a premonition that his time was short on this earth, for he talked to me until I nearly cried. He told me he wanted me to be good to Grandmother and Aunt Rebecca. He turned and looked at me and said, “I can’t do much for you now as long as John Lewis [his father-in-law] lives,” then he went back to their home. About two weeks later my cousin Arnold Rush said to me, “Did you know your pa is awful bad sick?” That was the first I had heard of his being ill. The next day my Aunt Sarah Higby went with me to see my father. He was as bad sick as he could be and still be alive. Then he said to me, “You will not have a father here much longer, but be a good girl and you will have a father in heaven.” He died the next evening.
I was nearly thirteen years old—old enough to realize what I had lost, for no one loved their father more than I did mine.
My father was laid to rest in what was known as Liberty Chapel Cemetery. How well I remember: My Uncle Miller Rush took Grandmother, Aunt Rebecca Bricker, Aunt Mag Rush (his wife), and me in his wagon to the funeral. Ben Lewis took Pap’s horses (I called my father “Pap”) to his wagon and took Delia Ann, her father and mother, and little George Franklin, to the funeral. George Franklin was only one-and-a-half years old (he never remembered his father; he was reared by his mother and grandmother Lewis). On the day of the funeral, the roads were muddy and the mud was deep. When they went to put my father’s casket in the grave, there was so much water in it that they dipped it out with a bucket before they could lower the casket. But he wasn’t there: His spirit had gone to its giver and his body had gone to “Old Mother Earth.”
My father’s death hastened the death of my grandmother, who passed on May 10, 1874, at about 85. I was left then with only my Aunt Rebecca. The coming fall, Aunt Rebecca and I went to the home of her daughter (my cousin), Rose Thayer, where I lived most of the time until I was about sixteen years old. Many were the times my grandmother would look out the window toward the way my father always came and say, “Oh, will I never see my son come anymore?” Father’s mother, my dear old grandmother, tried to make up to me for the loss of my mother, but nothing and nobody can fill a mother’s place.
After the sadness of losing Mother, Father, and Grandmother, I enjoyed life, for it seemed that everyone befriended me, realizing that I was an orphan. However, seeing other children caressed by their parents caused me to miss my father and mother more, and it would leave me an ache in my heart that none will ever know.
As I said, it was about eighteen months after Father died that Delia Ann’s father died. By that time, I was practically a grown woman. I often went to see Delia Ann and my half-brother, George Franklin. They were always glad to see me. One night Grandmother Lewis fell down the cellar steps, broke her hip, and wasn’t able to walk again for a long time—except by pushing a chair ahead of her.
After the death of my mother, father, and grandmother, and the schoolhouse being quite a distance away, I did not go to school very much. As I have said, I was all alone and had scarcely nobody and nothing to fall back on.
When I lived with my old aunt and said anything about wanting books, she would say, “When I went to school, if they had an English reader and a spelling book, that was all they needed.” My mother being sick so much, I was neglected. I was sent to school until I was ten years old—with nothing but a McGuffy spelling book. One of the neighbor girls asked the teacher, Joan Phillips, if she didn’t think I could have a first reader. She said, “I will see.” She had me read a piece from my spelling book and said, “Yes, I guess you can have a first reader.” I was overjoyed. I went home, told my father, and got the reader.
When I look back over the years, I wonder, “Is it really me?”, like the old woman who got her petticoats cut off. I didn’t have a first reader very long until I got a second reader, then next I was ready for the third reader. I was eleven then. We had left some chickens at our old house. They had laid some eggs there and hatched some chickens, which had grown to a size large enough to sell. One day I decided to take my old dog and catch some of these chickens and send them to town to get myself a third reader and spelling book.
My dear cousin, Rose Thayer (the one called “Grandma”), took those chickens to town and got my books for me. You now wonder about where my other books came from. Well, dear “Grandma” Thayer lent me an arithmetic book, a neighbor girl another book, and so on. This neighbor girl, Clara Newell, was instrumental in helping me get my first reader, and also got me into what we called the Lower School (a school that took up after my school, the Bedell School, was out).
The Lower School had a sweet little teacher by the name of Ella Rogers, who lived with her grandfather, Henry Pratt. Her mother was also dead. It was she who taught me to write. She had me get some foolscap paper and she made me a copy. It was there that I got my first lessons in penmanship. I am not the best scribe now, but, like the speed in which I learned to read, I soon learned to write pretty well. I went from the third to the fourth reader, then to the fifth reader—but no farther. I never was the best in arithmetic, but can make out. As I said, with no one to encourage me (and as I didn’t have the books that I wanted), I quit school and didn’t go much after I was thirteen years old. Now children have an armful of books.
When I was sixteen, I was small for my age. People didn’t think I could do much work. They would say they didn’t think I ever would be very big. I wanted so much to grow and get big like the other children. I seemed to be healthy enough, but I had slept with my grandmother when she was somewhere in her eighties and on the downward road. Therefore, it has been suggested that perhaps I was stunted. After she died, I didn’t live with old people and I started to grow. By the time I was twenty years of age, I was as big as most other girls, but people never thought I was as old as I was. I didn’t keep company with the opposite sex as early as some others did.
Chapter 4: Maple Sugar & Nannies
As I said previously, after my grandmother’s death, my Aunt Rebecca and I went to live with my cousin Rose Thayer. She lived close to a woods where there were maple sugar trees. I decided to tap some of these trees. I put crocks and a jar beside the trees to catch the sugar water. I put an iron kettle on a pole, built a fire under it, boiled the water down, and made some maple sugar. I had made enough maple sugar that, when sold, brought enough to get me a dress and a belt.
Then I got an awful headache and felt like my brains were flopping up and down. The next morning I was broken out with measles. That stopped my sugar-making. Cousin Rose and Aunt Rebecca had to give me their “cure-all.” They got some spicewood and made some tea. And what else do you think they put in the spicewood tea? Sheep “nannies” (sheep manure). They knew I wouldn’t drink it if I knew what was in it, so I was not told until after I got well. However, as you know, it didn’t kill me.
I don’t know if I ever had the mumps. I remember my cousin Olive Rush was once where they had mumps. We heard people say to rub your neck on a hog trough and you wouldn’t get the mumps. We both rubbed our necks on a hog trough and we didn’t get the mumps. But I may have had them before that. I had been exposed at different times later and never got them.
In connection with the making of maple sugar, I am reminded that, when I was seven or eight years old (or perhaps younger), there was a sugar camp on my grandmother’s farm. Uncle Miller Rush tapped the trees. He took a ¾” bit and bored holes in the trees and drove two spoils in the holes he had bored. Spoils were made of alders with one side shaved off and the pith pushed out. The sap (or sugar water) ran out of those trees, through the spoils, and down into a trough that had been made from a piece of a butternut tree. It was hewed out and made into a trough.
The water was then carried from these troughs in buckets and put into barrels. It was then put in 18 or 20-gallon kettles which were placed over a furnace made of stones and clay. These kettles were hung on so-called trunnels made from wood. These trunnels were made with a forked end, with one end cut off and hooked over a pole. The sugar water was then boiled down to a syrup, keeping a big fire under the kettles. When the syrup reached a certain consistency, it was strained. If syrup was wanted for table use, it was taken off the fire before it got thick enough for sugar. When sugar was made, the syrup was boiled down real thick. It was then stirred with a large wooden paddle until it got crumbly. Grandmother had what they called a wooden cask, which held four or five gallons. I remember getting sugar out of that cask.
I just heard on the radio somebody talking about making a cake. I remember one of my first cakes. My step-mother had made a cake and, after she put it in the oven and it began to rise, she stirred it down. I told her I would make a cake for her. I was about twelve years old then. I made a cake and it wasn’t so bad.
Chapter 5: Work
Today, as I proceed with this history, it is January 8, 1944, and just 74 years ago today my mother died. I was nine years old. I look back and see the many changes. Father had a sleigh for traveling when snow was on the ground. In the summer, he would hitch two horses to a spring wagon. Sometimes he would hitch the horses to a “big wagon.”
I did not have a home like other girls. I would go places and do housework for people until they didn’t need me any longer. They would say, “I guess we don’t need you any longer,” then take me to my aunt’s or my uncle’s (my Uncle George Bricker’s). An old gentleman by the name of Hatcher had heard of me and he came to see if I wouldn’t come and live with them. I was just past fifteen. I went and stayed there five days. Mrs. Hatcher was eighty years old and was an old maid when she married. She was very queer and all the time when she would lie down, she would groan like this: aah, haa, aah, haa. So much that I couldn’t’ stand to hear her, so I told them I was needed at home. They gave me 50₵.
In the meantime, Nicholas Darling came for me to go to their house, as his wife wasn’t very well. They had no children. There was just Nicholas and his wife. She had been another “old maid,” as queer as one gets. But for all that, she was good to me in her way. She paid me $1.00 a week, but I had most of the work to do except baking. (Remember, girls didn’t get wages then like they do now.) I lived in their home about five months, then came back to my cousin Rose Thayer’s and Aunt Rebecca’s.
Later Mr. Darling came after me again, but I stayed there only two weeks, as his wife didn’t want to pay me what the work was worth. When he told her what he was to pay me ($1.50 a week), she said she wouldn’t have asked for my services, so I said I would go home. Then she wanted me to stay, but I was hurt by her saying what she did.
I walked some distance, to Fredericktown, Ohio, where my cousin Mary Thayer was working. I was thinking I could get her to go home with me on the train, but she refused, as she was expecting her friend Charley Hatten. Her mother, cousin Rose, had learned about Charley Hatten and sent Mary’s brother Elias to bring her home. When she told my cousin Rose and my Aunt Rebecca about my wanting to come home, they sent Whit Higby after me. He came with two horses, one with a side saddle for me to ride. The Darlings didn’t like my leaving, but such was life for me. Someone would come and say, “Can I get you to help us for a week or two?”—till they got their work done—then I would pack my clothes and go back home until somebody else wanted me.
When I was about 22 years of age, I went to work for a family by the name of Anderson. Mrs. Anderson was a nice woman. She told me they once had a “hired girl” by the name of Frye and how Mr. Anderson and his hired hand had hauled water for their livestock in a barrel and had put her in the barrel. One would hold her and the other would drive. While I was there, they got a new baby. When Mrs. Anderson was in bed and I passed Mr. Anderson on going out to milk the cow, he pulled me down on his lap. There was a table close by with some books on it. I got off his lap, took one of those books, and threw it at him—hitting him in the mouth. Was he mad! I got out the door as fast as I could, but he sent his boot after me. He didn’t like me after that, but there was no love lost between us. I decided to leave them and go back home to my cousin’s.
I wasn’t home yet when our neighbor, Mrs. Charlie Blaire, wanted me. I went. And what a difference! I didn’t have nearly the work to do—and I felt right at home with them. They had two little girls that liked me and I liked them. They would argue over which one would sleep with me. I was there eight weeks and they paid me the same wages as the Darlings did. After that I was a regular visitor in their home. When I went there, the little girls didn’t want me to leave and their mother always wanted me to stay. They were more like my own people than neighbors.
We lived across a field from the Blairs, about a mile, and to get there I would go through a valley where there were trees on both sides of the road and where birds of different kinds were, such as Blue Jays, Red Birds, and Merry Brown Thrush.
The two Blair girls, Lottie and Nellie, grew to be young ladies. But the eldest, Lottie, incurred tuberculosis and died. This, naturally, nearly broke her parents’ hearts, as well as the hearts of her grandparents. The younger girl, Nellie, got married to a school teacher by the name of Charles Body. Before these two girls were grown, a son was born, named Herbert (and a badly spoiled child he was). Then another girl named Mary. Nellie and Charles Body had one little girl when Lottie died.
The Blairs were good Christian people. Early in life they had parties at their home, as they had a big house. My cousin and I were always invited to these parties—oyster suppers, and so forth. Later, when I worked away farther from home, I didn’t visit them so often. I was at their home after I was married, then they left the farm and moved to Mt. Vernon. We were living in Mt. Vernon at the same time.
I worked for Deacon Travis for, I think, fourteen weeks. They paid me $2.00 a week. Later I went to Curtis Grubb’s for two weeks and it was from them that the James Ramsey’s heard about me. I went to the Ramsey’s and could have stayed there, but the Leonards offered me $2.00 a week, so I was there six months, after which I returned to the Ramsey’s.
From the Ramsey’s I went to work for a family by the name of Banning. They owned a flour mill and lived in Mount Vernon. Mrs. Banning was a nice person, but had never done much work. They had a little boy, William, who was three years old. William would walk up to anybody who came in the house and say, “I will spit in your face.” His father wouldn’t permit his mother to correct him. One day he said to me, “I will spit in your face.” I said, “If you do, I will wash your mouth out with soap. He said, “Wash my mouth.” I picked up a cloth and washed his mouth.
He cried and his mother came in and wanted to know what was the matter. I told her and she said, “Well, Willie, I can’t blame Ella.” Later she told me that had broken Willie of this bad habit. (I told him about this when he was grown.) Mrs. Banning said, when she showed me her diamonds, that she wouldn’t show them to other girls she had had. The father, mother, and this son have all gone to their rewards. The Bannings paid me only $2.00 a week and I left there after six weeks. There was too much work for this money.
I was always treated with great respect except by one old lady, a Mrs. McIntire. Mrs. McIntire had two girls who always wanted to be near me when I was there. Mrs. McIntire had a sick mother and the preacher and his wife came to see her and were going to have prayer. She asked her daughters to come into the room, but they wouldn’t go in without me. Then I asked to enter the room to have prayer, and Mrs. McIntire made a remark that humiliated me.
I also went to Levi Braddock’s and was there six weeks when I decided to quit and made the excuse that I was needed at home. Then I decided I would go and be a chamber maid at the Gambier School for Girls. But before I was ready to leave, John White came for me to work for them. It was from there that your daddy started keeping company with me.
I stayed a part of that winter at my cousin Rose Thayer’s, then went back to the Ramsey’s and stayed there until I was married to your father on November 26, 1890. The marriage ceremony was performed by Rev. Joseph Hamilton, the same minister who preached my mother’s funeral and who was pastor of the Methodist Church called Liberty Chapel (which my mother had attended, with which I was united, and where my father was a member after my mother’s death—and where he was baptized and laid to rest).
As I have said, I quit school at sixteen and, as I wasn’t left with much of this life’s goods, I went out to make my living amongst strangers. I was 23 years of age when I went to live with the Ramsey family, who had one child, a boy nine years old. They were grand people and Mrs. Ramsey was like a mother to me. Their names were James and Almeda. It was about seven years from the time I went to live with them until I was married.
Chapter 6: Family
On February 2, 1891, your father and I moved onto the Peter Allerding farm—where we lived for three years. On this farm, David Harold was born on April 23, 1892 and Cecile May on October 6, 1893. We then moved onto the Ramsey farm, where Irene Elizabeth was born on January 30, 1895.
We then bought a farm of 70 acres, known as the Dave Travis farm, which is between the two Delaware roads, about seven miles west of Mount Vernon. We moved to this farm on April 1, 1895. On July 30, 1896, Floyd Jacob Bryan was born. On May 25, 1898, twins, George Andrew and Rose Anna, were born. And on September 23, 1900, Mildred Marie was born. All on the Travis farm.
In recalling the past, when we lived on the Allerding farm, near the Ramsey’s, I went to town in a cart, driving a horse we called Jack. At the Ramsey place I passed some boys, among whom was “Do Do” Ringwalt. He reached over with a whip and hit Jack (a colt your daddy had brought from home), who started to run. “Do Do” was a mental case.
When we lived on the Ramsey place, Daddy hitched up a horse named Dandy—a colt Grandfather White had given him—and we went out to look for hogs. When we got as far as the Lewis place, some boys in an old shop scared Dandy. The horse started to run and turned the cart over on its side, where I was sitting, throwing me between the side of the cart and the wheel. I was dragged until Dandy got loose from the cart. But Daddy held on and Dandy made a sled of him, pulling him by just the lines.
Daddy lost the skin off his little finger and I had a fractured rib. And were we muddy! But we were lucky not to be worse off. Daddy kept Dandy until the fall of 1900 when Mildred was born, then sold him and bought a mare we named Rock (to raise colts).
The first colt was a horse I named Captola. She had Queen and then Belle. Queen and Belle were our team when we later lived in Mt. Vernon. Daddy bought a mate for Captola, which we named Morgue (after the man by the name of Morgan from whom we purchased him). Daddy sold this team to make the final payment on a house we had bought in Mount Vernon, on Sandusky St. Incidentally, the man who bought this team was blown to pieces by nitroglycerine—a sad ending. But not the horses he had bought from us, Cap and Morgue.
When I look back over my life with Daddy, I recall the first year we lived on the Allerding farm. I went out and raked hay in a green calico dress, which got caught in the gears of the rake and was ruined.
When we left the Ramsey farm and moved onto our own farm between the two Delaware roads—the David Travis farm—Irene was two months old. I couldn’t help much, but as soon as I could wrap up the children and take them to the barn, I would leave them in the “entry” while I did the milking and feeding. Sometimes your father would take a load of hogs to town in the afternoon, getting home at night. I would take the lantern, go out to meet him, and stay with him until he had his horses put in the barn. I did this until the children got big enough to do it.
As I said, I always went to the barn and put feed in the boxes for the horses when your Daddy was gone. When we were on our farm, I mowed hay, raked hay, loaded hay, cut corn, and hauled in corn. Why did I do it? To get ahead and have something for my children.
I was just thinking how you children used to go to meet your Daddy when you would see him coming up the road from town toward home. He would stop and let you in the wagon and almost always have a sack of candy for you. But longest joys don’t last forever. As I said, your Daddy would occasionally go to town in the afternoon, then seldom got home until late at night. You children would be in bed, but I always stayed up and got his supper and took the lantern and held it for him until he got his horse unhitched.
I remember that one time I was holding the lantern when “Old Rock” jumped at me. (She was very mean about biting people.) I started backward and couldn’t stop until I fell down. One time I rode the mowing machine to cut clover for seed, with Mildred on my lap a part of the time. Once, when all the children were at school, I said to your Daddy, “You harness the horses and, when I get my work done, I will hitch them up and haul in a load of corn.” Then he would drive it to the house and unload it while I got dinner.
Just remembering and living life over again! Having a family, there was work for all. One day I sent Irene and Floyd to the potato patch to dig some potatoes. Irene was about five years old and Floyd eighteen months younger. I heard Floyd cry. He had bent over to pick up some potatoes and, when Irene went to dig some more, she struck just in time to hit him on the nose. When he came to the house, his nose was bleeding and the right nostril was closed by the hoe hitting it—a thing that should have been taken care of by a doctor. But your Daddy wasn’t one to have a doctor for “little things.”
When Mildred was three years old, I wanted to go to see my Aunt Margaret Smith (my mother’s twin sister), who lived in Hebron, Ohio (near Newark). We had a field of small corn, which your Daddy said was so short he dreaded cutting it. I said, “If you will take me to see Aunt Margaret, I will help cut the corn.” I helped out on that and another field. We got a neighbor to stay with the children and drove “Old Rock,” hitched to a buggy, to Hebron. I think we stayed about three days.
I have prayed that the Lord might spare my life to make my son Harold a home, for it seems no one in the family wants to keep him in theirs. He has an ungovernable temper and some think he should be put in a home for the feeble-minded. However, he is not one who could be called “silly.” At times, he seems as bright as other people. When he went to school, he didn’t learn like the others did, but he can read and can tell a lot of what he learned in history.
The children all went to school, and Cecile and Irene passed the Boxwell examination (required before entrance to a high school). But where were they going to stay while in school? One day we were driving up Sandusky Street in Mount Vernon and noticed a house for sale. It was the home where my cousin Emma Rush-Secord had lived. Your Daddy went to see the administrator, a Dr. Wagner, and bought the place.
When school began in the fall, we moved the two girls down into some of the rooms of this house which were unoccupied. Then we moved from the farm to this house the first of April, 1910, when Cecile and Irene were still in high school. Four of the others went to grammar school there. Cecile decided to quit high school and got a job in a dry goods store and then got married. But Irene continued in high school for three more years. We them moved back to the farm, leaving Cecile and Irene at the home in Mt. Vernon. Later George entered high school.
Cecile married Frank Koletka on August 18, 1913. On October 20, 1914, a baby girl, Rose Marie, was born. They soon went to live in Huntington, West Virginia, where her husband’s people lived. Then they had a son, Jack. Irene also married and had a baby girl, Anita. Cecile got work in a dry goods store in Huntington and asked Irene, who had given up housekeeping, to come down to Huntington to keep house for her—which she did. When Anita was a year old, Irene saw an ad in a newspaper for a stenographer. She answered it and got the job. Then she sent for my last girl, Mildred, who went to Huntington (leaving me all alone with their father and two boys, Harold and Floyd George). In the meantime, Rose married.
When we moved into our own home. The house was larger and newer than where we had rented. It had a shingle roof on the main part. But your daddy thought a slate roof would last longer, so he decided to put a slate roof on it. He, my half-brother Franklin, and Charles Hatten (my cousin Mary Hatten’s husband) put the roof on.
Chapter 7: The Fire
One day later, George (who was too young to go to school), put wood in the heating stove in the dining room (a stove we called the “parlor cook stove”). It was dry rail wood. The chimney was built on two wood planks. They caught fire.
The fire was making good headway when Cecile and Irene discovered there was a large hole burning in the ceiling. Your father was at the far end of the farm. I sent two of the children to him, two to our neighbors (the Myerses), and put a 15-foot ladder up on the house. I screamed “fire” as loudly as I could. The neighbors came running and said they could have heard me for two miles. Your daddy went up on the house and said “We will have to cut a hole in the roof.” He did and found the fire was going up the rafters. If he hadn’t, the main part of the house would have been on fire.
This was the fall, when men were getting ready to sow their wheat. Thus, the house just stood there as it was, with nothing done to the flue or roof. Night after night, I would look up at that flue and see if there was any fire there. After Daddy got his wheat sowed, Charles Hatten helped him tear the roof off the dining room, build a bedroom on the south of the dining room, move the pantry from the south to the east of the dining room, and raze the kitchen and move it to the south. The door, which was formerly on the outside of the house, now led to the pantry. The door which had been the south outside door to the dining room now went into the bedroom.
Then we made stairs to the basement out of what was our long sitting room on the southwest corner of the dining room, and made a back stairs leading from the downstairs bedroom. The roof over the dining room was razed and we made a bedroom over the dining room. An outside entrance to the basement was also built. This was all done in the fall of 1903, when Mildred was three years old.
Chapter 8: Crystal Anniversaries & Farms
When we were married fifteen years, we had a crystal wedding anniversary. Two preachers were there, Rev. McBroom and Rev. Warren Bedell. Rev. Bedell was a schoolmate and friend of my father. There were about 100 people present. We set a table in the front yard, had a 10-gallon can of ice cream, plenty of cake, and a whole stalk of bananas. The party was not to get presents, but to get our friends together (although we received some very nice crystalware; I still have some pieces left). There have been many changes since then.
Those two ministers and their wives have gone to their reward and only a few of the others are left. My children are all grown and married—except Harold. Some of their children have married and now have children.
Daddy’s mother died in the fall of 1896. Your daddy did his father’s farming until his father died in the fall of 1898. Your daddy’s father wanted he and his brother David to take over the place, but his daughters Jennie McKinstry, Mary Doty, and Sarah Lacey went to court and took the estate out of the administrator’s hands. It was then sold by the Sheriff and Judge Wayt bid on it. He tried to settle with your daddy’s brother, John White, but he couldn’t get him to agree to anything. Judge Wayt came out from Mt. Vernon on two different days. He ate dinner with us the first day and said he would eat the next day with John, but that John was so cross, he came back and ate dinner with us the second day.
Thus, Daddy gave up getting any of his father’s farm. John and Cassius Ewalt (sister Anna’s husband) got a surveyor’s chain and parceled land off the west side and wanted Daddy to take it, but he let them have it all.
Later, Ransom Yaokum sold Daddy eighty acres from his farm to the north of ours. Later a man who owned what was called “the McIntire land” sold him fifty acres. Daddy came home from town the evening after he had bought the fifty acre tract and said, “I did something bad today.” I said, “What did you do?” He replied, “I bought the fifty acres over there” (making us 206 acres). The first year we owned this fifty acres, I think we must have harvested 200 bushels of wheat off that place. The next year Daddy, with the children’s help, put up seven big ricks of hay off the same field. The children rode the horses and dragged in the shocks. Elder McBroom helped him that year. We all worked and saved.
I can remember that, after we were married and during the presidency of Grover Cleveland, we sold hogs for three cents a pound. Later that year, we got seven cents a pound. When I was a child, and after the Civil War, muslin was 15₵ and 20₵ a yard. I remember that I got muslin later for 6₵ and 8₵ a yard, and once I bought calico for 3₵ a yard.
Later, when the South began to rebuild and raised more cotton, prices came down to where calico and prints that had sold for 25₵ came down to 10₵ and 12-1/2₵. Woolens sold at $1.00, $1.50, and $2.00 a yard, and there was not much that we could afford to buy (the effect of the Civil War). Times finally got better and farmers were paid some better prices, but not until the last twenty-five years did farmers get better prices for what they produced. But, really, these were the good old “wagon” days, before the automobile. Fewer people were killed.
Your father was the youngest of eleven children and is the only surviving member at this date. His sister, Anna, died two years ago, the 13th of January. We were married fifty-three years on November 26, 1943.
At the time of this writing, I am in Huntington, West Virginia, with my daughter Irene. I will be 83 years old on January 5, 1944. I don’t amount to much—only keep Irene company. My daughter, Rose Anna (Riley) is at our place, keeping the home fires burning. Your father is quite feeble for his years and not as able to work as I am.
S/ Rosella Rabinski
If you’ve finished this term paper-cum-mini book of American history, you deserve an amusing anecdote. Granma Rabinski had provided me with only hardcopy of my great-great grandmother’s manually typed paper (we must remember, it was written in late 1943, nearly two years before the end of World War II).
The availability of only a physical copy, with nothing digital, meant I had no option but to manually type the paper on my laptop. A small task for such an interesting chunk of history, right?
Until the file became corrupted during my final edit. I had to not only repeat the editing, but also re-type all of the words. Every last one of them.
So if you find me channeling my great-great Granma’s writing style, you now know why….
 A type of floor characterized by roughly hewn floorboards, common in log cabins during the colonial and pioneer days of the United States.
 According to Wikipedia, a hogshead is a large cask of liquid or food. A tobacco hogshead, for example, was a very large wooden barrel (in standardized form, it was 48 inches long and 30 inches in diameter and weighed roughly 1,000 pounds) and was used in American colonial times to store tobacco.
 According to Wikipedia, “carding” is a mechanical process that disentangles, cleans, and intermixes fibers to produce a continuous web or sliver suitable for subsequent processing.
 Known today as linsey-woolsey.
 According to Wikipedia, this is lined, legal-size paper that is called foolscap because, in the 18th century, folio-size paper featured a watermark of a fool’s cap.
All text and photos, unless otherwise noted, Copyright © 2003-2016 Gooey Rabinski. All Rights Reserved.
Gooey Rabinski is a writer, instructional designer, and cannabis satirist who has contributed feature articles to magazines and media outlets such as High Times, The Kind, SKUNK, Cannabis Culture, Whaxy, Heads, Weed World, Green Flower Media, Cannabis Health Journal, Green Thumb, and Treating Yourself.
He is the author of Understanding Medical Marijuana, available on Amazon Kindle.
His cannabis-related freelance photos, spanning back more than a decade, are available on Instagram and Flickr. He tweets from @GooeyRabinski.