Once Upon a (Life)time
Growing Up Years
Growing Up Years - Part 6

Mildred gains a life-long love for music and books.

The little country dances were our only diversion. The first ones that I remember were in the Jewett family's living room. Other dances were held at the schoolhouse or at "Bill Roscoe's place," a room in the back of his little grocery store, and later at "Loom Parks' hall." Little Mrs. Parks and her husband, Loomis, would move the sparse furnishings out of their log. cabin which could squeeze in two sets of square dancers with a bench at one end for onlookers. Roscoe's place had more room and doubled as a pool hall for the entertainment of the men-about-town. Since pool halls were out-of-bounds for women, the two pool tables were moved into a side room before the ladies and children arrived, after which it was all right to put the babies and small ones to bed on them, topped by a layer of coats to protect the felt covering. The ladies contributed sandwiches for a midnight lunch and coffee was boiled in a wash boiler. I remember that a five-cent contribution was taken to buy tin cups which had to sit on the floor in front of the user until the brew and the cup was cool enough to handle.

Music was, of course, a fiddler. Sometimes we were lucky and had two. One nice old fellow had to have a snifter or two to get him started, then he would go to sleep and play the same old waltz until someone woke him up and started him on a new one. Someone either passed a hat for a collection to pay the musicians and for the use of the hall, or there might be a cover charge for the men. Women and children were free. Women were so outnumbered that the men almost lined up to dance with even ten- and twelve-year-old girls. If there were not enough women to fill out a square, a handkerchief tied around some man's arm made him a "lady" for that set. If he messed up and went the wrong way-more laughs, more fun.

When winter weather and deep snow set in, Bill Herbert's team and sleigh might make the rounds of the neighborhood to pick up those who needed transportation, then deliver them back home after the festivities. In this event Lil and I could go, but next morning Uncle Bill would give us an Edna hour to sleep, then came the old standard logging camp's wake-up call.

"Daylight in the Swamp!" I've heard it many, many times. Not only after the dance, but any time that we had to be roused out of bed. If this didn't do the trick he would shake us, rumple our hair and admonish, "C'mon you fellers. If you're donna dance, you've got to pay the fiddler!" We would vow that we'd never, never go to another dance and he would give us a knowing grin, and of course, long before the next one came along, we were as ready as ever.

We learned about propriety from guarded conversations and plain observation. One couple lived outside the community without the sanctity of wedlock. The man was accepted, at least as a business associate, and referred to as Mr., but the lady was ostracized. Women pulled their skirts aside when they met her, or even crossed to the other side of the street. We gathered early that this kind of thing was taboo. Lumberjacks were "a dime a dozen" the country 'round, but cowboys were almost nonexistent. When a respected woman of our village left her husband and two small sons and took up with a horse trader, the whole community gasped. She was the topic of conversation wherever people gathered. The discussion usually ended with a head-shaking and a lame, "Well, ya never know!" Thus, we were made to understand that deserting a home and family just wasn't the thing to do.

As for religious training, my uncle told us, "Treat everybody the way you want them to treat you." And, he said, "If you do what you think is right, even if it hurts, then that's right for you." Also, he told us, "Never get too good for your own home town."

Uncle Bill was our doctor-in-chief. He told of having carried a lantern for his mother and trudging through the night to care for their neighbors in far away Ontario, Canada. He seemed to have a remedy for most colds, stomach aches, or whatever. He once mixed gunpowder and lard and applied it to my itchy stomach which made me scream and dance, but the itch soon disappeared, whether from the ointment or some other happenstance. I had a strong aversion to medicine of any kind, so he laid me across his lap, face up, and while I lay kicking he pinched my nostrils together then when my mouth flew open for air, in went the potion, whatever it might be. A time or two of this kind of doctoring taught me to stand up and take my medicine like a lady. School was my delight and my teachers were my inspiration. There was only one whose heart wasn't in her work and she couldn't wait for four o'clock on Friday when her young man friend would be on hand to take her back to town. Another young man who had acquired a Model T had invited her to go for a ride and she snubbed him. The man was deeply hurt-and angry.

"She thinks she's too good for us backwoods people," he said. "Well, I make an honest livin' and I think I'm good enough for the likes of her any day!"

His complaint made the round of the community and by four o'clock on the last day of school, the young lady had become quite unpopular and no one bothered to go to tell her goodbye. I had already been called a hillbilly kid and this added term, "backwoods", rankled me.

Other teachers were a link to another world. They wore pretty clothes that brightened our days. They spoke differently and went out of their way to make life more pleasant for the entire community. One had us practice for a maypole dance. She went to a lot of trouble to have a maypole set up complete with crepe paper steamers in a grassy yard beside the store building. We were told to wear our best clothes. The bachelors and parents came to look over the fence at this unusual spectacle. Were we ever proud! It was the first and last maypole dance I've ever seen. Another teacher got the support of the parents and the school board and gave a basket social to buy a Victrola so we could have music in school. Another one came to school on Monday morning with a box of library books. I all but ate those books! I shivered in the far north with Jack London. I rode the range with Zane Grey. I laughed and I cried over Little Women and I swung through the trees with Tarzan of the Apes. There were others, perhaps too old for my years, but when I'd read everything there was to read, I read them all again. I took books home to read by the kerosene lamp at night and on weekends. Lil would complain,
"Mom-m! Meer won't come out and play."

"She won't?"

"No. She's got her nose in a lib'ary book again!"