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The Bark Covered House
Chapter 12. The Inside of Our House—A Picture from Memory

AS I have been led away, for some years, following poor Indian in his belief, life and death, and in doing so have wandered from my story, I will now return to the second or third year of our settlement. I described how the body of our second house was made, and the roof put on. I now look at its interior. The lower floor was made of whitewood boards, in their rough state, nailed down. The upper floor was laid with the same kind of boards, though they were not nailed. When they shrunk they could be driven together, to close the cracks. The chimney was what we called a "stick" or "Dutch chimney." The way it was built; two crooked sticks, six inches wide and four inches thick, were taken for arms; the foot of these sticks were placed on the inner edge or top of the second log of the house, and the upper ends laid against the front beam of the chamber floor. These sticks or arms were about six feet apart at the mouth of the chimney. Father cut a green black oak and sawed off some bolts, took a froe, that he brought from York State, and rived Out shakes three inches wide and about an inch thick. Of these and clay he laid up the chimney. It started from the arms and the chamber beam. After it got up a little it was like laying up a pen. He spread on some clay, then laid on four sticks and pressed them into the clay, then spread on clay again, covering the sticks entirely. In this way our chimney was built, and its size, at the top, was about two by four feet. It proved to be quite a good and safe chimney.

The last thing before retiring for the night, after the fire had burned low and the big coals were covered with ashes, was to look up the chimney and see if it had taken fire. If it had, and was smoking on the inside, father would take a ladder, set it up in the chimney, take a little water and go up and put it out. This was seldom necessary, as it never took fire unless the clay cracked in places, or the weather wore it off.

When there was a small fire in the evening, I could stand on the clay hearth and look through the chimney at the stars as they twinkled and shone in their brightness. I could count a number of them as I stood there.

Father drove into a log, back of the fire place, two iron eyes on which to hang a crane; they extended into the room about one foot. Around, and at one side of these he built the back of the fireplace of clear clay a foot thick at the bottom, but thinner when it got up to the sticks; after the clay dried he hung the crane. It is seen that we had no jambs to our fireplace. Father sometimes at night would get a backlog in. I have seen those which he got green, and very large, which were sometimes twenty inches through and five or six feet long. When he got the log to the door, he would take a round stick as large as his arm, lay it on the floor, so that his log would come crossways of it, and then crowd the log. I have seen him crowd it with a handspike and the stick would roll in opposite the fireplace. He would tell us children to stand back and take the chairs out of the way. Then he would roll the log into the fireplace, and very carefully so as not to break or crack the clay hearth, for mother had all the care of that, and wished it kept as nicely as possible. When he had the log on to suit him, he would say, "There, I guess that will last awhile." Then he would bring in two green sticks, six or eight inches through and about three feet long, and place them on the hearth with the ends against the backlog. These he called his Michigan andirons; said he was proud of them. He said they were wood instead of iron, to be sure, but he could afford to have a new pair whenever he wanted them. When he brought in a large fore-stick, and laid it across his andirons, he had the foundation for a fire, for twenty- four hours.

On the crane hung two or three hooks, and on these, over the fire, mother did most of her cooking. As we had no oven, mother had what we called a bake kettle; this was a flat, low kettle, with a cast cover, the rim of which turned up an inch or two, to hold coals. In this kettle, she baked our bread. The way she did it; she would heat the lid, put her loaf of bread in the kettle, take the shovel and pull out some coals on the hearth, set the kettle on them, put the lid on and shovel some coals on to it. Then she would watch it, turn it round a few times, and the bread was done, and it came on the table steaming. When we all gathered around the family board we did the bread good justice. We were favored with what we called "Michigan appetites." Sometimes when we had finished our meal there were but few fragments left, of anything except the loaf, which was four or five inches through, a foot and a half across, and four and a half feet in circumference.

Later, mother bought her a tin baker, which she placed before the fire to bake her bread, cake, pies, etc. This helped her very much in getting along. It was something new, and we thought it quite an invention. Mother had but one room, and father thought he would build an addition at the west end of our house, as the chimney was on the east end. He built it with a shed roof. The lower floor was made of boards, the upper floor of shakes. These were gotten out long enough to reach from beam to beam and they were lapped and nailed fast.

This room had one window on the west, and a door on the east, which led into the front room. In one corner stood a bed surrounded by curtains as white as snow; this mother called her spare-day bed. Two chests and a few chairs completed the furniture of this room; it was mother's sitting room and parlor. I remember well how pleased she was when she got a rag-carpet to cover the floor.

Now I have in my mind's eye a view of my mother's front room. Ah! there is the door on the south with its wooden latch and leather string. East of the door is a window, and under it stands a wooden bench, with a water pail on it; at the side of the window hangs the tin dipper. In the corner beyond this stands the ladder, the top resting on one side of an opening through which we entered the chamber. In the centre of the east end burned the cheerful fire, at the left stood a kettle, pot and bread-kettle, a frying pan (with its handle four feet long) and griddle hung over them. Under the north window stood a table with its scantling legs, crossed, and its whitewood board top, as white as hands and ashes could scour it. Farther on, in the north-west corner stood mother's bed, with a white sheet stretched on a frame made for that purpose, over it, and another at the back and head. On the foot and front of the frame were pinned calico curtains with roses and rosebuds and little birds, some perched on a green vine that ran through the print, others on the wing, flying to and from their straw colored nests. These curtains hung, oh, how gracefully, around that bed! They were pinned back a little at the front, revealing a blue and white coverlet, of rare workmanship. In the next and last corner stood the family cupboard. The top shelves were filled with dishes, which mother brought from the state of New York. They were mostly blue and white, red and white and there were some on the top shelf which the children called their "golden edged dishes."

The bottom of the cupboard was inclosed; by opening two small doors I could look in. I found not there the luxuries of every clime, but what was found there was eaten with as much relish as the most costly viands would be now. It was a place I visited often. In hooks attached to a beam overhead hung two guns which were very frequently used. A splint broom and five or six splint bottomed chairs constituted nearly all the furniture of this room. Before that cheerful fire in one of those chairs, often sat one making and mending garments, little and big. This she did with her own hands, never having heard of a sewing machine, as there were none in existence then. [Elias Howe completed a successful sewing machine in 1845, and patented it Sept. 10, 1846. The invention was first received with favor in England, after which the manufacture of sewing machines was begun in the United States.] She had to make every stitch with her fingers. We were not so fortunate as the favored people of ancient times; our garments would wax old.

Mother made a garment for father to work in which he called his frock. It was made of linen cloth that she brought from the State of New York. It was like a shirt only the sleeves were short. They reached half way to his elbows. This he wore, in place of a shirt, when working hard in warm weather. Southeast of the house father dug into the ground and made him an out door cellar, in which we kept our potatoes through the winter without freezing them. We found it very convenient.

Father wanted a frame barn very much but that was out of his reach. We needed some place to thrash, and to put our grain and hay, and where we could work in wet weather, but to have it was out of the question, so we did the next best thing, went at it and built a substitute. In the first place we cut six large crotches, went about fourteen rods north of the house, across the lane, dug six holes and set the two longest crotches in the center east and west. Then put the four shorter ones, two on the south and two on the north side so as to give the roof a slant. In the crotches we laid three large poles and on these laid small poles and rails, then covered the whole with buckwheat straw for a roof. We cut down straight grained timber, split the logs open and hewed the face and edges of them; we laid them back down on the ground, tight together and made a floor under the straw roof.

This building appeared from a distance something like a hay barrack. Now we had a sort of thrashing floor. Back of this we built a log stable. So the north side was enclosed but the east and west ends and the south side were open. We had to have good weather when we thrashed with our flails, as the snow or rain would blow right through it. It was a poor thing but the best we had for several years, until father was able, then he built him a good frame barn. It stands there on the old place yet (1875). I often think of the old thrashing floor. When I got a nice buck with large horns I cut off the skull with the hide, so as to keep them in a natural position, and nailed them on the corners of our thrashing floor in front. The cold and storms of winter did not affect them much. There they remained, mute and silent, to guard the place, and let all passers by know that a sort of a hunter lived there. Father had good courage and worked hard. He bared his arms and brow to the adverse winds, storms, disappointments, cares and labors of a life in the woods. He said, if he had his health, some day we would be better off. In a few years his words of encouragement proved true. He fought his way through manfully, like a veteran pioneer, raised up from poverty to peace and plenty. This he accomplished by hard labor, working days and sometimes nights.

One time father wanted to clear off a piece of ground for buckwheat by the first of July. He had not much time in which to do it. We had learned that buckwheat would catch and grow very stout on new and stumpy ground. Sometimes it filled very full and loaded heavy. It was easily gathered and easily thrashed, and helped us very much for our winter's bread. One night after supper, father sat down and smoked his pipe; it was quite dark when he got up, took his ax in his hand and went out. We all knew where he had gone. It was to put up his log heaps, as he had some burning. Mother said, "We will go and help pick up and burn." When we started, looking towards the woods, we could see him dimly through the darkness. As we neared him we could see his bare arms with the handspike in his hands rolling up the logs. The fire took a new hold of them when he rolled them together. The flames would shoot up bright, and his countenance appeared to be a pale red, while thousands of sparks flew above his head and disappeared in the air. In a minute there was an awkward boy at his side with a handspike, taking hold and doing the best he could to help, and there was mother by the light of the fires, who a short time before in her native home, was an invalid and her life despaired of, now, with some of her children, picking up chips and sticks and burning them out of the way.

We were well rewarded for our labor. The buckwheat came up and in a little time it was all in bloom. It put on its snow white blossoms, and the wind that caressed it, and caused it to wave, bore away on its wings to the woods the fragrance of the buckwheat field.

The little industrious bee came there with its comrades and extracted its load of sweet, then flew back to its native home in the forest. There it deposited its load, stored it away carefully against the time of need. Nature taught the bee that a long, cold winter was coming and that it was best to work and improve the time, and the little fellow has left us a very bright example to follow.


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