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Among the Forrest Trees
Chapter XXVII - Some Old-Time Customs


"I say, Will, did you ever attend a logging-bee?"

"No; I never saw anything of the kind."

"Well, I never saw one, either. But I have heard mother say that grandfather used to come home from logging-bees with an awful black shirt, when she was a girl. The coal-dust was something terrible, and to wash the clothes that had been worn at one of those places was something that tried the strength and patience of the women beyond anything."

This talk was between James Ballpitcher and William Batter, as they were coming home from a game of lacrosse, between a company of Indians and a club of high-school boys, the Indians having come out a little ahead.

"Well," said James, "my uncle, Peter Pinetop, is at our house on a visit. He lives in a part of the country where logging-bees are a common thing. You come across the fields to-night, and we will ask him to give us full information about them."

"That would be a good idea," said William. "We young Canadians are almost in danger of losing sight of the customs and manners of our forefathers. Things have so changed that we know but little, practically, of what the pioneers of this country had to do, and how they did their work. There are a number of things that we need to be posted upon, and I am going to get all the information I can. And I know of no better or safer way than to ask the old people to tell us."

"Yes," replied James; "we must get the old folks to talk more on these subjects. They will soon be gone, and when it is too late we will wish that we had oftener got them to tell of the earlier times. I have heard some of the old people speak of husking-bees, and spinning-bees, that used to be common when they were young. These things are not heard of now, you know. In fact, Will, I believe that many of us young people in this country have a better knowledge of what the Spartans and old Romans did in their day, than we have of what our ancestors did in this land seventy-five or a hundred years ago. Will you come this evening, and we will begin our efforts to get information on these subjects?"

"Yes, James, I will come, for I agree with you that we are not so well informed on matters of everyday life among our ancestors in this country as we ought to be. I could tell more about Rome, in the time of the Caesars, than I can tell about my native country at the time that my grandfather was a boy," answered William.

That evening, as the family were comfortably sitting in the "living room" of James' pleasant home, he said to his uncle Peter, "Will you tell us, uncle, what a logging-bee is like? We have never seen such things, and we would like to hear a little about them."

"Well," said the uncle, "if you would come out where I live, in the latter end of June or in the month of September, I could show you a logging-bee in all its peculiar aspects. In fact, I could introduce you to one in a way that you could not easily forget it. But I will try and describe to you a large and lively logging-bee."

"First of all, I want you to imagine a twelve-acre fallow, that was chopped in June of one year, and burnt over in June or July of the next summer. All the leaves were on the brush, and everything was as dry as tinder, so that the ground and the logs and everything was burnt over as black as a pot.

"The owner of that fallow concluded to make a rousing bee to get the logs rolled into heaps, so that he can burn them. The first thing to do is to select a day. Then he goes around among his neighbors, asking everybody that can handle a handspike to come and help him. Those who have oxen are invited to bring them. When he has the promise of eight or ten yokes of oxen, and sixty or seventy men, he begins to make his preparations for the bee. His wife instructs him who to ask among the women, to come and help her with the cooking. And sometimes a `quilting-bee' will be attached to a logging-bee. In that case a large number of women will be invited to come.

"Then handspikes must be made. Or sometimes two or three men will club together and make a lot of them and keep them over from one year to another. This saves the trouble of making new ones every time they are needed. Next, provision has to be made to furnish dinner and tea for all of these men. This involves a good deal of cooking and baking beforehand, as well as on the day of the bee.

"On the day appointed, the men and teams begin to gather about eight o'clock in the morning, and as they come they are shown the way to the fallow. As soon as there are enough men to `man' a team, they start in at one corner of the field, and, taking a strip about four rods in width, they go to the other end. This is called a 'through.' Sometimes these `throughs' are staked off so that every gang will do an equal amount of work, then there is no chance for dodging, or `yankying,' as it is sometimes called.

"Generally by ten o'clock the men and teams are all at work. Four, and sometimes five men, besides the driver, are following a team. And a busy scene presents itself to the beholder, when the whole of the teams and men are doing their best, as they always do, to get through before the rest. And in this friendly contest a great deal depends on the skill of the driver in planning the log-heaps and handling his team. A wide-awake man, with a smart, wiry pair of cattle, and a good lot of men, will get over a large piece of ground in a day."

"I should think the coal-dust and ashes would make the men very thirsty," said Will Batter.

"To provide for this, a man and a boy are appointed to carry water, and sometimes a stronger liquid with it, so that the men do not suffer as much from thirst as one would think.

"While the men are at their work in the field, the women are equally busy at the house. Two or three are peeling potatoes. A couple more are making a large kettle full of pot-pie. Some others are preparing long tables and putting the dishes on them. These dishes have been brought from half-a-dozen or more of the neighboring houses. But luckily their owners are there to take care of them, so that the mixing up of the delf of half the families in the neighborhood causes no confusion or entails no loss.

"When the hour for dinner comes around, the busy log-rollers throw down their handspikes and start for the house. The owners of the teams look after them by feeding and watering them, so that they may be fit for the afternoon's work.

"The men have been long enough among the coal dust and ashes to get their clothes and hands and faces pretty well besmutted by their work. They are rather a dark-looking lot for white men. And if the women say anything to them about their black faces, they are pretty certain to have their own faces blackened by some of the men rubbing their hands over them. Then for a few minutes it seems as though a general row between the men and the women was imminent. But everything passes off in good nature, and nothing takes place that is of a more serious character than the washing of a few faces that had not been in the fallow among the logs.

"To clean up sixty or seventy smutty faces and twice as many smutty hands, is no trifling matter. A good deal of water and no small amount of soap is required to do it. And it is necessary to have a number of wash-dishes to supply so many. Washtubs, pails, sugar kettles and sap-troughs are called into requisition for this service sometimes.

"The tables are usually spread in the yard. To seat so many men at once would be entirely beyond the capacity of the houses found in the new country. When the men get down to the table, the clatter of dishes, the talking and laughing, and the women asking one and another to have more bread, or meat, tea, or some other thing, keep things rather lively for a while.

"There is always an hour for `noon,' when the men are supposed to rest themselves. The older ones do so; but for the younger ones, the noon-hour is frequently the most tiresome hour of the day. Between running, and jumping, and playing ball, the boys manage to keep on the move, while they fancy themselves to be resting. But that is nothing strange. People often work harder at play than they do at anything else.

"The afternoon is spent as the forenoon was, and when supper time comes, the same hands and faces have to be cleaned up again, and the clothes that were black at noon are blacker from a longer contact with coal dust and ashes."

"Thank you, uncle, for your description of a logging bee. I think that I should like to go to one if it were not for the dirt," said James.

"I could tell of a great many logging-bees that I have attended; but the one I have described is a fair sample of them all,' replied Mr. Pinetop.

"Grandfather, were you ever at a husking-bee when you were young," said Will Batter to his maternal grandparent one evening, as the family were sitting around the fire, and when James Ballpitcher had called to spend an hour or two.

"Well, I should think so," replied the old gentleman.

"I tell you, boys, when I was of your age husking-bees were as common as ball-playing is now, and if you will promise not to get mad about it, I will tell you something more in regard to husking-bees and ball-playing."

"What is that?" inquired William.

"Do you all promise? I mean you youngsters," said the grandfather.

"Yes, yes, yes," rang out until all the young folks had responded to the old man's question.

"Well," said he, "the husking-bee was a useful institution. People helped their neighbor, and by their co-operation did in two or three hours what would have taken him days, and perhaps weeks, to do alone.

"And the husking-bee was a pleasant institution. People, while they did the work, could also be sociable. And the young people of the settlement came together, and got better acquainted with each other, and, no doubt, many a wedding was the result of going to the husking-bee.

"The husking-bee had no demoralizing tendency. All present were invited, and those who went felt that the persons that they would meet with were people of respectability at least. You can't say so much in favor of the match games, now becoming so common."

"Do you think that it is wrong to play a game of ball? " inquired James Ballpitcher.

"Not necessarily," replied the old man; "but when men turn from the useful walks of life, and become ball-players by profession, they lay themselves liable to the charge of being useless members of society. Their avocation adds nothing to the wealth of the community, and they place themselves on the list with loafers and gamblers. But ball-playing is not the only innocent amusement that has been switched off on the down-grade track that leads to ruin. Sculling boats, and driving horses, and other harmless and useful things have been turned by bad men into the means of getting money without giving any equivalent for it, which is simply gambling. But I am not lecturing on gambling now, so we will drop that subject."

"How were those husking-bees managed?" inquired a young lady present.

"The thing was simple enough," replied the old gentleman. "We will suppose that a farmer has four or five acres of corn to husk. He cuts it, and hauls it to some convenient spot, and puts it into stooks. Then he goes, or sends someone, through the neighborhood and invites all of the young folks, and a good many of the older ones, to come on a certain moonlight night, and help him husk his corn. When the time comes the company seat themselves on the grass and in groups among the corn. Then commences one of the most lively times to be seen in any community. The rattling of the corn, the talking and laughing, and sometimes the sinning, of the busy workers, altogether make up such a jumble of the useful and joyful, and the playful and cheerful, and the gleeful, as can be found only among a lot of industrious and good-natured people, where everybody is trying to amuse and please everybody. Jokes, and puns, and snatches of song, and gibes, and repartees, and ears of corn, all seem to be flying about in such sweet confusion that it is not much to be wondered at if now and then a young man got so bewildered that he would kiss the wrong girl when he found an ear of red corn."

"Excuse me, grandpa," said Will, "but I don't understand what kissing had to do with red ears of corn, or what they had to do with kissing."

"There was a rule among the young folks," said the old man, "that when an unmarried man found an ear of red corn, he must kiss any unmarried woman that happened to be sitting nearest to him, and if a young woman found one, she must be kissed by her nearest unmarried neighbor."

"Well, I should not think that was a very arbitrary rule," said James.

"The young people did not seem to think that it was, or they would not have obeyed it so strictly as they generally did. But sometimes there would be a little backwardness, when the wrong young man, or some other fellow's girl, happened to be the nearest neighbor. In such cases the girl would object a little, but not enough to give much trouble in carrying out the rule.

"After the work was done outside, everybody went to the house, where there was a good supper for all. After this had been disposed of the company enjoyed themselves as only honest working-people can do, until they got ready to go home. This was frequently at an early hour a.m."

"Thank you for what you have said to us about the husking," said William; "I will know after this what is meant when mention is made of this old-tine institution."

"Grandma," said Miss Rosebush, "were you ever at a spinning-bee?"

This question was put to an old lady who had faced the storms of eighty winters, and sweated under the suns of as many summers. The old woman was sitting in a corner busily engaged knitting a pair of socks for one of her great-grandchildren.

"O, yes, I used to go to spinning-bees when I was young like you, but that was more than sixty years ago, you know;" and her eyes seemed to brighten as memory called up from the graves of more than three score of years some of the pictures of the past; and the face of the old pilgrim for a moment appeared to look younger, as if touched by the same sunbeams that of yore danced upon her girlish head.

"Yes, my dear, I remember the spinning-bee. I went to one with your grandpa before we were married, and I remember how carefully he helped me over the mud-holes, for you know the best of our roads had mud-holes in those days, and when we came to a creek that was not bridged over, he put the bottom of his pantaloons into the tops of his long boots, and picked me up and carried me right over as if I had been a child, and me not less than a hundred and forty-five or fifty pounds. The fact is, our courtin' began in earnest at that spinning-bee."

"Well, grandma, how did they get up a spinning-bee? Did every one take a wheel, or how?" inquired Miss Rosebush.

"Well," said the old woman, "I will tell you how it was done in the part of the country that we lived in. When a woman had flax to spin, and could not do it all her-self, she would make a bee. The way to do this was on this wise: She would put the flax up in half-pound parcels. These she handed round among her gentlemen friends. Whoever took one of these parcels of flax was to get it spun, and at an appointed time he was expected to bring the yarn home. He was to being the spinner with him to an entertainment.

"When a married man took flax he got his wife to spin it. Young men got their sisters to do it sometimes. But they got some other girl to do it oftener, just to show, you know, that they thought something of other folks' sister, as well as of their own. Sometimes a young man had to hunt all over the settlement to find a girl to spin his yarn. Then everybody would laugh at him. Others could get half-a-dozen bundles of flax spun, if they wanted to. The spinning-bee was a good way for young men to find out how much they were thought of by the girls.

"There used to be bashful young men when I was young. I don't know how true it is, but I am told that there are no bashful young people now like there used to be. The bashful young men would sometimes swap sisters in this way: John would get his sister to spin for William, and William would get his sister to spin for John. This plan worked very well."

"What would we think now if a young man was to be seen going around with a bundle of flax under his arm, hunting for someone to spin it?" inquired Miss Rosebush.

"As to that," replied the old lady, "I suppose he would be called a clown, or something worse. But if one of your modern dudes had tiptoed his way into a company of people when I was young, the girls would have fed him on sweetened bread and water, with a little paregoric in it; then they would have parted his hair in the middle, and tied a ruffle around his neck, and put him to bed, while they sent for his mother to come and take him home." Here the old woman had come to a point where her knitting must be narrowed two stitches at a time. They all knew that then grandma did not want to be bothered, so the conversation dropped.


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