Growing up as a grandchild of Mary Terrel was to have frequent exposure to the history of the town, what it was like to grow up in Madison, and many stories of olden times – of oxen going through downtown pulling hay and stories of sailing ships.
A trip to grandma’s house was a trip to a historical time capsule run by an artist who was often either sketching or writing. At the same time, both grandparents kept up with modern times and were thrilled by the space program and were among the first to buy stamps featuring the earth and moon images. They also were a bit frightened by germs and constantly wiped surfaces down with alcohol — probably because of all the grandchildren running around with colds - and were among the first people I knew to have push-button phones.
She mentions a special whistle used by young men courting. In her journal, there is a handwritten side note where she describes whistling the tune to grandpa Bob, and being a musician, he wrote down the notes, which she hand drew into the journal. I’ve copied those here, so you can try the whistle yourselves. All this is captured as Mary Terrel begins the deep dive into the past in her journal.
Robert Field Bremmer – Portland, Ore.
The following is excerpted from Mary Terrel’s journal.
Probably no generation has seen such great changes as we who were born about 1900. We have seen strings of oxen pass our door, pulling great wagons loaded with salt meadow hay; we have considered horses to be the best method of transportation. We have been ignorant of indoor plumbing, we have known of homes where a brass cuspidor was in the living room and a white china cuspidor decorated with painted roses and violets was in the kitchen.
We have seen public drinking fountains with a tin cup chained to it, and public towels chained to a wash basin. We have known a world where germs were never mentioned, scarcely known; we knew a world without telephones and yet today we speak in the most casual manner of a trip to the moon.
Certain sounds are so closely connected with my childhood that when I hear them I am engulfed in a nostalgic flashback. We lived on Wall Street; there were no autos, mostly in the evening people walked. As it grew later in the evening it would be men whose footsteps went past the house. I used to lay in bed and listen, for as they went by the men whistled. I could hear them coming, then passing on into the distance. It was cheerful. I wonder why men do not whistle as much today. But then men don’t walk today, maybe they go together, or maybe whistling is outdated.
My sister Julie was 12 years older. She told me that when a man came to pick up his best girl to go to a dance he sat outside in the buggy rather than find a post to hitch the horse, and he whistled. My sister went on to say that he whistled to let her know he had come. She said there was a standard whistle for all Madison boys, a very jolly rollicking tune while the standard whistle for Guilford woo-ers was a mournful few notes whistled in a mournful key that was lonesome and depressing especially on a foggy night. (See photos)
Another sound that was solemn and sad was the tolling of the church bell, it was telling the age of someone who had just died. I can remember stopping playing house and standing quietly in our front yard for the church bell was tolling in slow somber tones. Mama came out on our front porch and Mrs. Morgan, our next door neighbor came out on hers, in unison they counted “13-14-15- on up- 78-79-80- still more - 90-91. Then it ended. They shook their heads. Mama said “I didn’t realize he was that old.” “I knew he was well along in years,” said Mrs. Morgan.
We lived on Wall Street. There was one group of sounds that made me feel so badly I would run in the house, shut the door and clap my hands over my ears. It was the shrieking of the pigs that were being butchered. Charlie Scranton, across the street, kept pigs. Butchering time was November; to this day I do not like to think about it. They were not the only ones that kept pigs. Mrs. Morgan knew how to smoke hams, she smoked hams for several families.
Robert Field Terrel notes: One key element of Grandma Mary's journal is about the self-sufficiency of the town, the neighborhood and even each household. While some of the farm sounds she heard caused her distress as a child, it did not alter her eating habits. I have fond family memories years later of sitting around the table at Easter and we all enjoyed the smoked ham, and she cheerfully passed the serving platter when anyone asked for more.