About Me

Growing up in a small New England town with a mother who was an antiquarian it was inevitable that I would be exposed to old things. After graduating from UMass/Amherst I lived in Connecticut, taught school, married, and raised three children in suburbia. A move to Newburyport MA renewed my interest in all things old. This background has now evolved into research, writing, consulting and all the things I love to do.

Prudence Fish

Friday, October 18, 2013


The story of my grandmother, Myra, continues with her own words.  She reveals many details of 19th century life on the 200 acre farm in Maine.  It was beautiful country overlooking Mount Washington and the rest of the White Mountains of New Hampshire.  Myra cherished this place. The things she brought with her to Massachusetts are homely, simple and well used but for her they held fond memories of her rural life in the mid nineteenth century.  Maine was Home.

I left my story of the long ago with a description of our Sundays and now I will go on with the work in the home.

 Mother braided rugs and carpets. We children cut and sewed the rags. Even the smallest pieces were used so nothing was lost. Father said it was not safe for a man to go over the hill if he wore a ragged coat for mother would be after it.

The work of drying apples went on all the fall. We cut apples day in and day out. How we hated it! Nothing was wasted. It was save, save, save. The dogs did not get the bones in those days. We leached the ashes for lye to make soft soap. The bones and scraps of fat were put in the kettle and boiled with the lye. It was then strained and it thickened as it cooled. This was carried to the cellar and put in two troughs about ten feet long that had been hollowed out of logs. This was all the soap we had except some long yellow bars which we used as hand soap.

Grandfather, Zebulon Bryant, 1879, age 99
Brooms were made at home out of willow. This was evening work for the men and these brooms were used in the barns. The women made theirs of hemlock. The long handle was whittled to a point and the hemlock branches tied on securely. These were kept wet but in spite of that the little branches would become brittle and soon had to be renewed. These were used on the bare floors. For the carpets corn brooms were made but these were kept for "best".

Warming pans added to our comfort on the cold winter nights when the mercury dropped away below zero. Coals were taken for the fireplace to fill them and mother would go around to all the beds. We had many all wool blankets made for the wool of our own sheep.

Overshot coverlet made by Myra's mother,

Warming pan used to warm the beds
is one of the a keepsakes saved by Myra
when she left her home in Maine. 

On the farm, oxen were used exclusively. Father would have them broken and fat, then trade them off or sell them. Horses were used only for riding.

When calves were slaughtered the hides were tanned. A shoemaker would come to the house and stay two or three weeks making shoes for the family.

The men wore the long legged boots that had to be pulled off with a bootjack, a thing quite unknown now. This shoemaker, named Lathrop Soule, was nicknamed "Creeping Soule" because he had lost the use of his legs. He had a brother, Martin, who had no legs below the knees and was called "Jumping Soule".

Milk pail from Maine; battered, dented and soldered.
In my younger days our amusements, as such, were very few. I remember a bundle of Jackstraws always available for a game when there was time from the endless duties of which even the children had their share. We never went to parties in the village for it was four miles away and considered too far. Usually once during the winter there was a spelling bee in the evening. Two captains were chosen, each then choosing the spellers for his side from those present. The teacher gave out the words, the harder the better, and the spellers could stand in line only so long as no word was misspelled.

Cow bell from the farm
In the fall there were husking bees when hard work was the background of the pleasure which came later. Word of this meeting would previously be sent around to all the farms, no one was slighted and sometimes as many a forty or fifty would come. If word of the coming fun reached the village, a party would sometimes come over from there, but it was usually only those from the neighboring farms. The men, only, met at the barns and husked until the huge pile of yellow and red ears of corn gave promise, not only of grain for the animals but food for the family. About eleven o’clock the work was usually done and the men adjourned to the house. Here the wives, who had come along and been visiting and working, had prepared a supper. There would be baked beans, brown bread, pumpkin pies, puddings, doughnuts and coffee. We had two barns and the husking went on in each barn.

This is the conch shell horn carved with a mouthpiece.  It was
used to call the men from the fields for dinner.  They were used
also to warn of Indian attacks or a warning system for warning

Mother would occasionally have a quilting party when there might be a dozen women from the immediate neighborhood. Then there were sometimes parties that were not combined with any kind of work except for the housewife, for another bountiful supper would be served.

Mother was a pretty woman, very fair with red cheeks. I remember so well a dress she used to wear. It was plum colored alpaca with a satin stripe. When going to a party she would arrange her hair in short curls over her ears while the back was done in a "French twist.

Her mother's old sugar bowl with
old repair
As there were three boys in our own family and father’s younger brother lived with us there was little need of hired help. However, it was occasionally necessary and was paid for with pork or grain at the rate of fifty cents a day. As a young man my father worked out until he was twenty one years old giving his father all he earned. There was no question about that and it seemed not to occur to anyone that any other way was possible. He was a good singer and sang for many years sang in the choir.

I began teaching when I was seventeen years old. The pupils ranged in age from men and women grown to little tots in the primary class, and I taught all subjects from ABC to Latin. The younger ones attended in summer but the extreme cold and snow kept away many in the winter when there would be more of the older ones who had to work in the summer. One summer I had seventy scholars and taught in the same school in the winter when there were only fifty.
Myra's mother's decanters.  Contents not original!

 There were nineteen or twenty in the primary class whom I had no time for so I would have one of the older pupils take them into the adjoining room and hear their lessons. The salary was very low and nothing paid until the end of the term. I was the first woman teacher in this school. The men could not control the pupils but I had no trouble. They were always helpful and seemed to do well.
Myra in mid-life.  notice the stenciled
photography studio backdrop.
As I look back I realize what a busy life it was but it was a happy one for us all. It did not bring wealth but it did bring competence, comfort and good health and an appreciation of the simple things of life.

                                                                             Almira  Bryant Paine   1838 – 1941

Near the close of the nineteenth century a decision was made to leave the farm and move to Massachusetts to be near their only child, my father.  A few things that were of sentimental value to Myra were brought but most was left behind in storage in a barn that later burned.

Here is a table circa 1800 that is one of only two pieces of furniture in my possession.  The other being a pine Federal/empire chest of drawers. The peel used to take things out of the brick oven has been lost. Someone trying to be helpful sold "the old iron shovel to that antiques dealer for $3.00.
Water color of Myra Paine's house in Massachusetts painted by Myra's great
granddaughter, Connie Crosby of Dayton, Ohio, taken from an old photograph.

This old table came into the household  around 1840
in lieu of rent.  Originally in old red paint.
So Myra and George embarked on a new lifestyle in an unfamiliar place.  Their new house circa 1845 is somewhat of a landmark with its Greek Revival columns.

They began  a new career as cucumber growers, raising cucumbers in their greenhouse to be shipped to the Boston market. 
Myra's cucumber greenhouse next door to a gentleman farmer's property.
It was known as the Bryant Farm but not a relation to Myra's family.  Her
 house and barn are in front of the greenhouse.
George died in 1908 but Myra carried on, running the cucumber greenhouse on her own with the help of a hired man.  She was well known and active in the community.

After the death of George Myra did what many respectable widows did in those days: She provided room and board for single school teachers. Actually, all the teacher were single then. Married women weren't allowed to teach school.

My mother was one of the young teachers who came to town needing a safe place to live with room and board. She rented from Myra along with two other young school teachers shown in the photo below.  My mother is the one in the middle.  They are walking home from the school and approaching Myra's house.

In the 1930s she broke her hip and was confined  to a wheelchair for the rest of her life .      ( And what a wheel chair it was!)  That ended the greenhouse business but did not slow her down mentally or socially.  By the time she reached 100 years old her birthday had become a town-wide event and continued for each year until her death.  The whistles blew and the selectmen gave her 100 yellow roses.  There was an open house at her white pillared home.  She already was the holder of the Boston Post Cane given to the oldest resident of each town in the Commonwealth.
Myra at over 100 in  her old fashioned wheel chair
with flowered upholstery!
On August 12 of this year Myra, my grandmother, would have been 175 years old! Our combined lives span many  years but I am so glad that our lives intersected if only for a short time.

Myra fancied herself a poet and loved to say that she was a distant cousin to William Cullen Bryant. Only a few of her poems survive. Perhaps this one written the summer when she was 98 will make you smile.
Grandma Paine is a very old dame.
She sits in a chair because she is lame
and thinks of the years gone by
when she was young and very spry.

She could jump the rope and swing high.
She could knit and she could sew. 
She could spin wool or tow.
She could weave and she could spool
and thought herself nobody's fool.

What of the girls today?
They cannot, they cannot spin.
But they can dance and they can swim.
With bobbed hair, blouse and breeches,
such a complex!
It's hard to determine the sex.

If you would please the men
just don your dress and be a girl again.
As bare legs are so shocking,
put on your garters, also your stocking.

Modesty was once a charm.
 Now the lack of it causes alarm.

 We end the story of Myra with this poignant poem written about her old homestead in Maine when she was 97 years old.  It was probably her best!


Between broad fields of waving corn
In the dear old home where I was born,
The apple trees lean against the wall,
And the grapevine wanders over all.
There’s the shaded doorway still,
but a stranger’s foot has crossed the sill.

And the barn, as in the days of yore,
I can smell the hay from the open door.
And as ye view the high barn eaves
think of the countless harvest sheaves
that have passed within that open door
to gladden eyes that are no more.

The house, the barn, the fields, the birds,
the pastures with their lowing herds,
the maples in the yard, so tall;
my heart still lingers over all.
Ye strangers who daily cross that sill,
step lightly – for I love it still.

                                                                Myra Paine, age 97

I hope you have enjoyed this travel back in time with my grandmother, Myra Paine.  I love sharing it with you.



  1. Very interesting for someone from the other side of the pond hearing how your ancestors lived.
    Really enjoying your posts and learning about early American life.

  2. A wonderful tribute to your grandmother and the women of her time. Thank you for sharing!

  3. I would like to have met Myra! Loved this post, too!

  4. This is really special! You are so lucky to have all this from your grandmother. Her life was certainly rich and full. I love the pictures of them.

  5. So interesting to read your grandmother's stories of long ago. I live in Maine and one of my grandmother's lived near the Maine-New Hampshire border growing up. Your photos show so many things that are familiar to me. Thank you for sharing!

  6. Thank you, Beth. My grandmother lived up a very long road from South Paris to East Oxford. Do you know the area?


  7. Loved the story about your Grandmother. Thank you for sharing with us. ~Christine