Grandfather's father, William Green was born in
County Wexford, Ireland, in 1790. At age nineteen he sailed for the United
States and landed in New York. He found employment as a farm labourer. In 1814
he married Sarah Ferris, who was related to Lord Roberts, and the next year he
set out on foot to seek a home in Canada. He purchased a squatter's right to a
lot near Farmersville, later Athens. To this farm he brought his wife. Afterwards,
in 1820 he sent for his parents to come from Ireland.
Early spring was the time of sucker fishing, a sport persued at night. We wended our way by the light of a stable lantern through pasture fields and woods to a favorite spot along the creek flowing out of Mud Lake and there we set our dip nets. Often we caught less than a dozen fish. However, we had been fishing, and the thrill of a catch was akin to that felt when you landed a salmon out of Charleston Lake - if in less degree. We trudged home with our sack of suckers slung over our shoulders.
Spring was the time, too, when we went gathering wild flowers in the woods, trilliums, ladies'slippers, and jack-in-the-pulpit. I still have a large collection made from Ontario woods in 1903. Collecting birds' eggs was an interesting pastime.
Maple sugar making came with the warm days and freezing nights of March and April. There was a rude shanty in the woods sheltering a stone arch on which a long shallow pan rested. A continuous supply of sap from the hard maple trees was kept boiling by a roaring fire under the pan. Men tended the fire and replenished the stock of sap as required. Juveniles out for the night in the sugar bush found the experience a rare adventure, though the eerie cries of the woods night creatures gave them goose pimples. When the sap was reduced to the consistency of syrup it was poured off and taken to the house for bottling. Boiled still further, the syrup would congeal in moulds to form cakes of maple sugar. If at this stage you poured some of the syrup over snow, packed in a pan, you had jack-wax, or maple taffy. You lifted strings of this wax off the snow with a fork and ate to repletion. Sugaring off parties were regular social functions.
Then came the day of the sawing bee when neighbours gathered to help feed the saws, the circular saw for poles, and the drag saw for the big logs, both powered by a sweep horse power - four or five teams of horses hitched to long wooden arms radiating from a common centre and driven by a man standing on a revolving platform and brandishing a long whip to smarten up a lagging nag.
Autumn was the time for nut gathering. We climbed tall butternut trees and shook down the hard shelled fruits and collected them by the sackful. Corn husking and apple paring bees were semi-social events each Autumn.
For the former activity the barn floor was filled with corn stalks stood on end while a score of huskers seated on low stools, stripped the yellow ears of corn and engaged in good natured banter. The apple paring was done in the kitchen. Bushels of apples were peeled by one operator who ran the paring machine. Other members of the party cored and strung the quartered apples on strings for drying. Both these events concluded with a substantial meal in which pumpkin pies and doughnuts had a large place.
Mud Lake as its name implies, was a shallow, bottomless body of water the habitat of numerous waterfowl. It was enchanted ground for boys bent on exploration, and it was a duck hunter's parade. Surrounding woods provided good partridge shooting. Along the west bank of the lake there were a series of earthen "Mounds of Mystery". By some writers they were attributed to the stories mound builders and by others to glacial action. For us young detectives of Leather Stocking Tales they served as earthworks behind which we staged Indian battles. Real Indians came to the lake from Reserves to cut strips of material from the ash trees for basket making, but they never threatened a tribal war.
When I reached the sophisticated age of thirteen I looked forward to passing the entrance examination to High School. But a curious situation had developed. For some years our Principal had been dear old "Daddy" Sharman, and a bottle-
neck of entrance class pupils was blocking the flow into High School.
A new principal came upon the scene and with youthful vigour set about clearing up the bottle-neck. His efforts were so successful that he saw himself left with few candidates for the next year. His ambition had over-leapt itself. So Mr. Thompson decided to take precautionary measures. He summoned the Rector's son, Ben Wright, and myself to his desk and told us that he would not recommend us to write the entrance examination because he knew we would pass if we wrote. He wanted us as the two youngest members of our class to remain in elementary school as the nucleus of the following year's entrance class.
My mother went to see our neighbour, Inspector Johnson, about this extraordinary attitude. He advised her to send me to write at some school in his Inspectorate which did not include the village school. "If David is fit to pass he will pass", he promised. So I was whisked off to Delta and placed to board with a strange family for three days while I was writing.
In due course the examination results were published and not only I, but Ben Wright had passed. Ben's mother had also gone to see the Inspector and Ben was spirited away to Newbro to write. So seriously had we taken an injunction to keep our arrangements top secret that neither of us boys knew that the other was going elsewhere to write our examination.
The Inspector drove me home from Delta. There was no further need to observe secrecy. It was a warm bright summer evening and the air was fragrant with the perfume of wild flowers. Nellie, the bay mare, had been out to pasture for a while and she required considerable urging to get up speed. "Wait 'til Nellie gets some oats into her and then she will go", my driver apologized.
In deference to the heat of the day the Inspector shoved the lap rug down about our feet, although dust clouds which the steel tyred buggy wheels stirred up as the rattled along over the mecandamized road, oozed into the vehicle. As we reached the environs of Athens the driver pulled up the rug and spread it neatly over our knees with this remark, "We are coming into town now. We had better put on a little style". We sat up primly as we drove in state down Main Street.
William Johnson was a Scot, who in his youth had emigrated to Canada and from mediocre beginnings persisted in educating himself until he became Inspector of Schools. It was often remarked that all too seldom was he called upon to share his erudition with the people of the community. Like Goldsmith's schoolmaster, it might have been said of him "the wonder grew that one small head could carry all he knew".
Sold on the idea of growing apples in his back lot garden, he set out an incredible number of young trees. Using his knowledge of physical geography, he reasoned that since as one moved upwards from the earth there is found more space to expand, his trees would have ample space to develop. They did just that and soon overhung the line fence. Moreover they produced a surplus of apples. Thus it became necessary to fabricate an ingenious cider mill the product of which provided a well stock cider cellar.
Life With Grandmother
My maternal grandmother was a periodic visitor at our home. She was not a "suit case Grandma" who had to be tolerated by disgruntled children. Rather she was a "Moveable Feast". We hailed her coming with cheers. Widowed while yet a young woman, Eliza (Davis) Johnson assumed management of her Ontario farm and she made it pay. She had five daughters to rear and she gave them a good education by standards of the 1870's.
One of the girls, my mother, became a teacher. Grandma solved the problem of pioneer living and she preserved a competence for her latter days without benefit of Old Age Pension. She had a good head for business. She always had coins secreted in a magic bag and we learned ways of getting into her good graces sufficiently to loosen the draw strings of that bag. If a very young and withal, precocious grandchild was wise enough to choose a tiny silver
nickel instead of a big brown penny she would reward his intelligence
by giving him one of each kind.
Grandma would not be in our house more than twenty-four hours before she would despatch a small boy to the drug store to procure a copy of "Ayer's Almanack", for she could not live comfortably without knowing all about the moon's changes. Her Irish faith in the infallibility of moon lore was unshakable. Corn had to be planted and sucking calves weaned at the right time of the moon. Furthermore one's activities could be better planned if one knew what the weather was going to be like. The last three days of the old moon governed the first three days of the new.
The position of the moon in the sky was also a sure indication of coming weather. I remember accompanying an older member of our family one evening to call on another Irish neighbour. "There's a wet moon", this friend remarked. "It is tipped so it can't hold water". Arrived home we found Grandma also moon studying. "That's a dry moon", she pronounced. "The Indian can hang his powder horn on its lower tip"
Grandma was a great believer in home remedies, which was fortunate in those days when country doctors were few and horse and buggy transportation inadequate. Every spring we had to take a tonic whether we needed it or not. We children were sent out to dig burdock and other roots, the juice of which, after boiling became important ingredients of a bitter brew.
Several bottles of the stuff were stored to last through the spring rejuvenation period. A mixture of sulphur and molasses was an effective alternative to the bitters. Grandma prescribed specific remedies for many maladies. Goose oil was indispensable for chest colds, while a tea made by steeping sumack bark cured quinsy, and a black currant drink alleviated sore throats. A poultice of salt pork checked infections caused by stepping on rusty nails. There is an old tradition in our family to the effect that after two of my older brothers had died within three days of each other during a scarlet fever epidemic, Grandma succeeded in saving my life. In belated gratitude I am pleased to pay this tribute to her memory.
She was one who lived by the code of service and integrity which marked so many of our sturdy pioneers. I can recall but two instances when she was thought to have fallen from grace. One hot summer weekend when she feared that her cream would spoil she decided to churn on Sunday. In putting her dog on the power treadmill she badly injured a hand. She took this accident as a just punishment for breaking the Sabbath.
The other incident occurred when Pastor Horner was holding an evangelistic meeting in the old Quaker Hall, which led to the organization of a Hornerite - later Holiness Movement group in Athens. There were reports of noisy goings-on at those meetings and Grandma and a dear old lady friend decided to go and see for themselves what was really happening.
They returned home in a subdued mood and were rather uncommunicative. Eventually they confessed that they had disgraced themselves at the meeting. Accustomed as they were to sedate, reverent behaviour in the House of God they were intrigued with the unrestrained shouts and the hysterical utterances of worshippers under the spell of religious fervour, and they LAUGHED OUT in Church! They feared that they had committed the unpardonable sin.
Grandma spent her last visitation in our home. There in the bosom of family and comforted by professional nursing care she slipped quietly away. As the horse drawn funeral cortege moved along Main Street on its way to Christ Church our child eye noted the figure of the village inebriate, Jack Ball, supporting himself with an arm wrapped around a hitching post, and his free hand respectfully doffing his cap in respect for the departed.
Those were the days when the shop window blinds were drawn and all traffic halted when funerals passed. "In this life there will always be meetings and partings", our new Rector reminded us. We children felt the parting with Grandma deeply. We were going to miss her truly grandmotherly presence. She was a Grandma at the end of a pioneer era.