Estella, age 89

There were three of us. We were all breast fed until we went directly onto the cup and cow’s milk. Our mother had no trouble getting us to eat, her problem was getting the food on the table. Our parents had great nutrition awareness. We were introduced to all sorts of healthful foods early in life.

My mother was born in Adams, Massachusetts, in 1891. Her mother died when she was 4 and her father went to work in Connecticut. She rarely saw him, but she was taken in by church people in Savoy and treated royally. And then my father’s uncle and aunt heard about this little girl. They had two boys and they wanted a little girl. So they took my mother and brought her up. This was my father’s uncle. My father was just a young boy too, growing up. And he used to do a lot of trapping and he would set his traps between Conway — where he was born, in the homestead on the border of Conway and Ashfield — and he set his trap line from Conway to Savoy. And then he’d stay overnight at his uncle’s and the next day he’d go back. And of course as my mother grew up and he grew up, he liked her very much. That’s how they met.

My father was a veterinarian. He went to college in Michigan without one day of high school. He took the test and he passed it and it was very difficult for him the first year but he’s a very smart man and he knew what he was there for. To earn money to go out there he trapped, he drew out logs from different places around here with his oxen, and he butchered.

I grew up in Conway. It is a difficult place to earn a living, but it’s a wonderful place to grow up. We moved to South Deerfield because much of my father’s practice was in the Connecticut Valley. He thought if we lived there instead of Conway he would be closer to his animals, to the farms that called him, that were his patients. I was only 6 years old then. When I was 12 we moved back to the country, to Conway. It was a wonderful home, and acreage, and the South River running through it. Population when I was a young person living there was less than a thousand. As you drive through the center it looks pretty much the same as it did years and years ago. We didn’t go down to the village, we stayed home. We had chores to do and we had the river going through and good swimming all along.

I learned a lot from my father. He would show me how the maggots were eating up all of the junk down to the flesh and that it would heal the animal from the inside out. He introduced the maggots. You could buy them in a drug store. Also, people who had marked edema from different things that ailed them, they would put things like blood suckers on their legs. They could not take the harsh drugs and many of the drugs were not yet invented. I’ve seen it, in a hospital in Hartford. I’m talking about the early ’40s. I was an instructor in the school of nursing for years. Here’s a patient who’s in need of treatment, and an old doctor who realizes what can be done if he can’t take the medicines for one reason or another. We used to put the oval basin with the towel in the bottom so the feet would not hit against the bare basin and these leeches were like little spigots. Things you never forget!

Both my parents were hunters

As a child I had more venison than beef. Both my parents were hunters, so we were used to many different wild meats: rabbit, squirrel, raccoon, partridge, quail, duck, and on and on.

My father didn’t want my mother to go hunting. There was no place for a woman, but she rocked the boat. She wanted to go the worst way. She had her own little car — she had a Model A car. And so she got a few parts of a World War I uniform together and got a license and she had a girl come. They did it before daylight, they’re in the woods before daylight. Soon as my father got up, her alarm went off, and the girl came and she got off, decked out with her gun and ammunition, and she headed for Mount Toby. She parked and went up on Mount Toby and before noon she came upon a buck and she shot him. And she walked down the hill to a farmer, and he had a Model T pickup. She knew him from my father being his veterinarian. And he went up. My mother pinned her license to the deer’s ear so nobody would take the deer. So the man helped her eviscerate the animal and they packed it with snow, dragged it down the hill, put it on the truck and took it home and hung it up. My mother had taken a correspondence course in taxidermy and she mounted her own deer head. We had it hanging in our house ’till the end of time. She trapped too.

My father was a veterinarian so he was able to examine wild game for flukes and diseases as he dressed and eviscerated the catch. My parents relished all kinds of healthful foods so we too enjoyed a variety of foods. We had a vegetable garden, berries, and fruits. My mother canned all sorts of foods for winter use, foods almost never heard of today: tongue, tripe, liver, meat scraps, eel, to name a few.

We had freshwater eel. My father was so familiar with the woods, and our animals and our plants, and he knew underneath bridges where the water was deep and still. After dark he’d say to my mother, Gee it’s a good night to go spearing eels, what say we go? She was always ready to go. And they’d go out with the long flashlight and sure enough they’d come home with them. And you know if your parents do something like that, and act positive about it, and cook it and eat it and it tastes so good, you like it too! They never turned their noses up at anything. She fried it. It’s all muscle.

No electricity

Tripe is the stomach of a cow. With butchering or anything like that, certain farmers would call my father and would say I’m going to butcher this morning, would you be interested in anything? And it would be fresh, because we didn’t have a refrigerator. No electricity. And we had an ice house and we were taught never to go there and play. No, because we’d drag in germs or something and it kept it pretty frozen with the sawdust and all until we used it. But a lot of meats were canned. My mother would can them, venison and meats like that. Or we’d have a compartment in the local freezer. There’s a store here in town and they still call it the freezer locker. You could take your catch there and they would cut it up. As a rule my father would have somebody do it because he’d be too busy to and he didn’t have the surface to do it.

We had oranges and grapefruit on the table for Thanksgiving and Christmas, but they were seldom found in our home at other times. For breakfast we had cooked cereal, usually oatmeal, Cream of Wheat, or Wheatena. We did not have orange juice or grapefruit juice or apple juice. We had canned fruits and berries, something we grew ourselves. Postum was our favorite morning drink as coffee was rare in our home.

We had no cafeteria at our school. The home economics department did provide soups during the winter months. We ate lunches packed by our mother or by us. We had hot drinks such as cocoa or milk, or cold drinks, grape juice, that were packed in the Thermos bottle and placed in our dinner pail. Our sandwiches were wrapped in cereal waxed paper, carefully preserved to be used over and over again. Sometimes we swapped sandwiches. A roast beef sandwich for a ketchup sandwich provided quite an exchange. We also had delicious pickles, whole tomatoes, pears, plums, grapes, anything that was in season at the time, and all sorts of baked goods. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were very easy to make. Pie was my favorite dessert. My mother made the best minced meat and fruit pies ever. Our lunches were hearty. We had a one-hour lunch period and we never felt rushed. On return home from school I headed for the pantry where a variety of snacks could be found in the way of muffins, crackers, and breads.

Supper was our big meal. There were many times when my father would not be with us. He might be off on a call and there were times when it would be a difficult and long call to help a sick animal. It was a relaxed meal with plenty of good food on a round oak table. There was always meat, fish, or chicken, and potato. Milk was the usual beverage. And you’d have vegetables. Might have asparagus, whatever was in season. In the winter it was something canned by my mother. We bought very little of anything like that. In addition to garden vegetables, in season we enjoyed dandelion greens, cowslips, and watercress. My mother often served her own canned fruits and berries in the winter for dessert.

A common dish we had for a supper meal was dried beef gravy on boiled potatoes. And the next night we might have codfish gravy on toast or boiled potatoes. And the next night we might have salt pork gravy, salt pork which had been dried out and it was crisp and very tasty. And these foods were delicious. And my mother would start all over again the next night with the dried beef gravy. It was easy to make ourselves and it tasted so good. You could buy dried cod in a wooden box and the top would slide off. Codfish was something that got wormy if not fresh, but we always made sure it was good. That was delicious, codfish gravy. It was always in gravy, like a white sauce. And the dried beef was always in white sauce. Oh, delicious! Another favorite meal was baked beans and brown bread and meat loaf.

A common evening’s snack was a pan of apples. Our favorite entertainment at night was playing cards with the family. We took turns going to the cellar where we kept a variety of apples in a barrel. Our cellar had a dirt floor, much more conducive to better preserve foods. It was not a favorite trip but was made easier when one of us stood at the top of the stairs and talked to lessen the fear of the one who walked the plank to pick up the apples with only a lantern or a flashlight to light the way. The apples were usually Baldwins. Popcorn too was a popular evening snack. There was no so-called “junk food” in our home.

Sunday dinner usually consisted of chicken with all the fixings. And home-made ice cream. We had our own milk, cream, and eggs. Vanilla was our favorite ice cream. Maple syrup or chocolate syrup and nuts made perfect toppings, but as a rule only the ice cream was served. On Sunday night crackers and milk were the usual. We just had nothing else but those round milk crackers which tasted so good in cold or hot milk.

My experience of providing a Sunday chicken dinner is something I shall never forget — and never repeat. Once, when I asked my mother if we could have chicken for dinner she said yes, and told me which chicken to catch and take to the chopping block where the axe was and chop the head off. She said, I’ll meet you there with the boiling water. I followed her direction and felt as though I would be as calm about it as anyone else who had to do the same in order to prepare fresh chicken for the meal. I went through with the procedure but I will never forget how I felt when I accomplished it. And never again did I ask for chicken.

Eskimo Pies and oatmeal water

There are a few other things I remember as a child being so special. Whenever we were sick my father would be sure to bring home Eskimo Pies, Eskimo Pies like cannot be found in stores today. They tasted so good to a feverish child. Store-bought cookies were a treat, the marshmallow kind. They were round and heaped up and covered with chocolate. They tasted so good.

Haying time in the summer, it was a treat when my mother would appear in the field with a big jug of oatmeal water, lemonade, grape juice, or just plain water. I wish I had the recipe for oatmeal water. It was so good. Not an awful lot of taste to it, but it quenched your thirst so. They put a little maple syrup in it. And the ice would taste so good and cool down the drink so we were so refreshed. In those days our ice was brought from Mr. H who cut ice on the Conway reservoir or Mr. D who cut ice on the Ashfield lake. They used horses in the procedure and of course when they had to evacuate it was done on the spot. However none of us seemed to be ill in any way after using the ice that came from areas that today people would consider contaminated.

My mother loved to climb way up trees and get wild grapes. It makes the best grape juice. Grape juice was one of our favorite drinks. Wild grapes – you couldn’t eat them like you can cultivated, but there’s something about them when they were made into grape juice. My mother made that even when she was into her eighties.

Our mother was a good cook, especially good with pies. Our oven was heated by wood so it was constantly ready for anything my mother planned to bake. We had more pies and cakes than we did cookies. Her mince meat! My brother and I talk about these things once in a while. She used the neck of the deer for this mince meat pie. She couldn’t use it for anything else. And mince meat pie now is nothing more than raisin pie. No meat in it.

There was never booze in our house. It just wasn’t there. During Prohibition, over the hill, was a man who made real booze and he put a sign down at the end of the driveway – it was a sign his customers understood, nobody else did. No booze today. He had a little sign because they wouldn’t bother going up if he didn’t have it. And once in a while they’d catch up with him and he’d run down the back road to us. And I remember my father talking with him so nice and saying like, You go home and face the music. The worse can be a day over in jail. He said you go home, it’s going to catch up with you.

I liked all of it

But we had plenty of good things to eat and drink. I don’t think I had a favorite food. I liked all of it. We had our own cows, our own pig, and occasionally a farmer would pay my father for his veterinary services with a lamb. And our cows were always tested for tuberculosis and Bang’s disease. My brother and I took turns milking the cow. In the summertime we’d leave the cow up in the pasture all night. There was a wooden trough there and we’d take the grain up so she would eat the grain and be still while we were milking. We’d take turns holding the tail and milking and we enjoyed that. So we were fortunate to have what we considered healthy foods. We used maple syrup a lot. Molasses was used, but my folks used maple syrup. We made maple syrup ourselves. When we were teenagers my father put up a makeshift sugar house and, boy, we really had fun. We worked into the night boiling.

Once in a great while we went to a restaurant. There were people who went to Greenfield every Saturday night, but that wasn’t the case with my parents. When my father was in college, he worked in a restaurant so he was used to good restaurants, he knew what good restaurants were. Once in a while we would go. When my mother stood up to the mirror and started to comb her hair, we’d say, Where you going, Ma? I want to go! So we relished going, but we didn’t go out to eat very often.

We were about three miles from the center of Conway. There were two grocery stores in the town, but not an awful lot was spent at the store the way it is today. And that’s how these little farmers knew how to support six or eight children or more because they had everything on their farms. The more they had the less they had to buy because the geese and the ducks and the chickens ran wild. They weren’t cooped up, they were range.

I do believe that our family had less homemade breads than the average family. I remember my father bringing home bread, nothing else. In many of the homes they made all their bread. My mother made rolls, wonderful rolls, but to make bread, it almost seemed like she was too busy. Because our home was interesting in that in the wintertime if they had an animal to spay, it often was done in the kitchen where it was warm. It would be too cold outside for the animal. They were very considerate. If the animal was small, it was scared, it was out of its barn. My father would ask that be brought in the day before, tie it to the stove leg. In the winter my mother would fix a little bed there. My father treated the animals with a great deal of care, just as though they were his own. People didn’t know that but that’s the way he saw it. And we could never tell a barking dog shut up. It would have to be, Be still, because that dog that was barking maybe he missed his family or he was thirsty. My father was a very sensitive man because he was evidently taught to be very sensitive and respectful to his animal no matter who it belonged to.

Today I must garden

I love food. In the summer I drive to a farm in East Charlemont. They have a plan whereby seniors can apply for this vegetable deal and it’s wonderful. And there are others here. We take turns driving, especially with gas the way it is. And we go up there and we get vegetables that have just been picked and washed and bring them home and we have wonderful vegetables.

I enjoy cooking for myself. I enjoy eating vegetables and I try to get protein in. I like meat. I like fish, don’t cook it very much at home because it’s just for me. And chicken, I like that. I like many things but especially something quick and easy. I like hamburg and either boiled or baked potato — I love baked potato. And on the side I could eat broccoli every day and not get tired of it! Fresh broccoli, I steam it. And carrots — if I’m going to have boiled potato I cook carrots and the boiled potatoes together. And then I might have parsnips.

I haven’t had a good mess of asparagus since I sold our home in Connecticut after my husband died. Because what do they do? They stick it in a pan of water and it sucks up the water, dilutes the flavor, and it’s never good. But you can cut it fresh from the garden, put it in a plastic bag — it never touches the water — and put it in the bottom of your refrigerator. Keeps for two weeks and the flavor is just as good as can be. But I haven’t had it, I don’t buy it, because it’s always in the water and it’s not tasty like I know it to be. I planted asparagus myself with the help of a young boy when I lived in Connecticut. I do put in three tomato plants among the flowers in front, and enjoy them immensely. I must garden, something about it. I do it so I never have weeds and I don’t water. Even in the driest season I never water. And the flowers bloom. I prepare the soil properly, just turn it over and over. I’ve already turned it over twice this fall.

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