It’s hard for me to ask people to do things I can do myself. Finding babysitters for my children when they were young, hiring someone to clean the house, asking a neighbor to feed the cat, or even asking my own grandson to pick his coat up off the floor require a sense of authority that eludes me.
For my grandparents, great-grandparents, and the generations before them, asking for and hiring help was a necessity. The journals of my great-grandmother Lydia lament the everyday problems of getting and keeping workers. She records the trials and tribulations of Pauline, a woman who worked for them for several years.
March 13, 1913 – “Pauline busy in the morning sweeping, etc – very quiet, don’t say much – suppose she is disgusted with the Halls.” – Lydia Jane Hall
April 15, 1913 – “Pauline said she couldn’t come to help us. She wants a change – good bye.” – Lydia Jane Hall
April 28, 1913 – “Rosa helping the best she can, but wishes she was at home. Distressing to have such help.” – Lydia Jane Hall
May 25, 1913 – “Ellen went to town to meet Mrs. Arnold at the car line. She came and seems quite pleasant.” – Lydia Jane Hall
Mrs. Arnold lasted a few months, and was replaced by Rosie.
August 5, 1913 – “A fine day. Cool for ironing. Rosie done the ironing – it looks very good. Pretty good young girl I think.” – Lydia Jane Hall
In December that year, my grandfather Ellsworth married my grandmother Agnes and brought her home to the farm to live (and to work). My great-grandmother’s load was lightened, but complaints about “the help” pop up in the journals.
December 14, 1914 – “Jennie Cella says she cannot wash for us anymore. Has to help her mother.” – Lydia Jane Hall
August 8, 1921 – “Ellsworth is getting very tired and worn very thin. I feel worried about him and wish he could have a few days rest for a change. It is hard to get good strong help.” – Lydia Jane Hall
But throughout Lydia’s journals there are always kind words about Andrew and Mary Rossi and their son Peter, and notes of appreciation for their help in the house and in the barn and fields. The Rossi family was for many years an established part of the farm, lured there by the prospect of steady work and by one other wonderful thing – the little house in the glen.
A glen is a valley-like ditch, with some kind of water running through it. Our glen – or “gutter,” as it came to be called later on – was a shady stream with steep banks. An orchard on a sloping hill separated the glen from the farmhouse. Now the orchard is gone, and a big green field has replaced the trees.
In 1912, before my grandfather met my grandmother, there were always problems with keeping a hired man. The farm was a long way from most of these workers’ homes, and boys and men got homesick or eager to move on to something more exciting. So in August 1912, my grandfather, with the help of friends and hired labor, built a house.
August 29, 1912 – “Men working at the new cellar of the new house on the place.” – Lydia Jane Hall
October 14, 1912 – “Men busy putting up the house in the glen.” – Lydia Jane Hall
February 17, 1913 – “Ellsworth and men worked in peach orchard in morning – in afternoon worked with John Botsford painting the new house.” – Lydia Jane Hall
March 11, 1913 – “A nice spring-like day. The birds are singing – the blue birds especially. The men are trimming peach trees in the Orrin Land. They expect to hire a new man soon. I hope they will get a willing worker. –Bargain made – will move the wife and child soon.” – Lydia Jane Hall
March 26, 1913 – “Raining hard…the new family [Andrew, Mary, and Peter Rossi] moved into our house in the glen.” – Lydia Jane Hall
Unlike the farmhouse, which burned in 1971, the little house is still a part of the farmland. I don’t know how the house looked when it sat next to the gutter, because sometime before 1943 it was moved, and I’ll talk about that on Wednesday. But my mother remembers being scared and running as fast as she could whenever she was sent to the little house on an errand. She admits that most of these errands took place after the evening meal, when dusk must have made the woods around the glen seem darker and bigger and maybe just a little bit haunted.
On Wednesday: The Little House on the Hill