The following article was written by Ernest G. Cook, who at the time of its publication in 1912 was about 39 years of age. After brief research, it appears that Ernest Cook, the boy in the article, must have been about 7 years of age. Seems awfully young to have been the observant little fellow he was! The piece indicates that James Garfield hadn't yet been elected as President of the United States, an office which he acquired in 1880. I was fascinated by this nostalgic piece for several reasons: 1) Milan Eddy was my mother's uncle, having married my grandfather's sister, Mary Hasner. Milan was one of my mother's favorite relatives and now I can see why. 2) It's likely that David Mallett was the father of Hester Mallet Gilmore, a dear family friend and neighbor - my husband and I visited her in Alabama in 1959. 3) My very good friend, Judy Pierce of Plessis, N. Y., tells me that William Pierce was her late husband's great-grandfather. 4) Corn husking on the farm was a farm chore unfamiliar to me and I found this piece valuable in studying the lifestyles of the time. I never cease to be amazed with the writings of Ernest G. Cook, who worked for the Watertown Daily Times for many years.
I'm sorry for the blank spaces throughout the article. The clipping from which it was typed was illegible in spots. Shirley Farone
Watertown Daily Times
Saturday Afternoon, October 12, 1912
AN OLD FASHIONED HUSKING BEE
Was One of the Greatest Events in the Life of One Boy
--The Neighborhood Stories, Jokes and Pumpkin Pie.
By Ernest G. Cook, Theresa
“William Pierce’s husking is next week Tuesday evening.”
The annual announcement, generally made at the supper table some October evening at our farm home, always brought forth rich anticipations from all those who might be so fortunate as to be invited to attend, for the William Pierce corn huskings were different and were in a class by themselves. I remember that father always made the announcement of their coming in much the same tone and manner that he did when he read that, “the president has appointed such a Thursday as Thankgiving Day.” Thus you see this fall gathering of the sturdy farmers of the neighborhood was truly an event.
And that year when the announcement of the husking had the added information, “and he told me I’d better bring the boy along this time, if he wanted to come” seemed to mark a sort of epoch in my life. For “that boy” was I.
Want to go? Well, I rather guess I did for it showed that I could be trusted to enter into the affairs of men and also that my good old friend had handed out a special favor to me by including me in his special list of selected guests.
Back in those times William Pierce was a living example that a “little farm well tilled” brought peace and contentment. From off the carefully culitvated acre of that small place was obtained a larger net profit than many a farmer of that time, or since, has received from four and five times the same amount of land. Every thing was done in season and in order. And each fall he harvested the finest corn around and about a certain time it was gathered into the barn and placed in an orderly manner, always in the same place and almost always at the same time of the year. And then, when he had his husking only the “old reliables” were entrusted to take part in such an important occasion and only the older neighbors were invited to attend, just why I, the only boy, was invited to attend, I cannot tell, unless it was the warm friendship that was always maintained between us.
Noises in the Dark.
What a big and unknown world it seemed to be as we stepped out into the night after the early doing of the evening chores and a supper served a half hour before the usual time, so as to be in time for the husking. The chill in the air showed that Jack Frost was on hand and that the morning sun could show his glittering footsteps on every hillside. And in my youthful fancy, there seemed to be strange things all about us that the flickering rays of the lantern did not discern. True, there are no bears in this section, but one might have journeyed down from the “Big Woods” and pop up any time in front of us.
Off to the right were cattle and the drowsy tinkling of a slowly moving cowbell, as some cow lazily moved about, contentedly chewing her cud; nearer at hand there came the plaintive bleat of a lamb and following it the answering assurance of the mother, seeming half ashamed that her offspring, then so large, should be afraid.
And your hair suddenly began to stand erect and the cold chills freely flow up and down your back, as you heard, for the first time, maybe, the long-drawn-out whimpering call of some raccoon as it made its way across the fields toward its favorite corn patch. Maybe it was a coon, as you were told, but it surely did not sound like one. And you enjoyed the fact that you were fast nearing houses and seemingly to greater safety. The half suppressed talk of the chickens, as they crowded about in their roosting place, with the occasional (----ing ?) caw-w-w of the mother hen, was a much more contented sound, to your thinking.
The Big Shadowy Barn.
How eagerly we stepped through the big barn door and on to the lighted barn floor. There, under the light of several lanterns, were piled the huge heaps of stalks to be stripped of their ears, with another large reserve pile in an adjoining part. In perfect order were the seats for the expected huskers and on one side of the cleanly swept floor were the places for the ears, when husked. And, yes it was true, down at the far end, and near where the breath of the few cows that were happily sleeping in their adjoining stable, could reach and warm you, was a seat for the boy--an overturned peck measure. So I truly had been expected.
The Huskers Arrive.
Do you ever make a study of human nature? I do, over and over again every day, as I meet and mingle with people. But I think I made my first mental notes that evening as the several huskers came in and took their places, one by one.
There was such a keen pleasure in the surprises that the big door had in store for us. You could hear the rasping sound as the wooden latch was lifted and thrown back and you began to wonder who next would pass into the light and warmth of the barn, from out of that shadowed doorway. And there were others who had studied human nature. For soon, as the company of huskers began to grow in numbers, some of them would venture who this one or that one might be, before they opened the door. The quick and hurried lifting of the latch would betray the newcomer’s personality before he ever stepped inside. And the laggards who came in late were nearly always foretold by those observing farmers of other days.
The Shower of Golden Ears.
These practical farmers, skilled by many a year of service in corn husking, were not long in being seated and getting at their evening task. Soon the musical bump, bump, bump of golden ears striking on the cleared places of the floor, began to stir the thoughts, as well as the fingers of the huskers, and there opened as helpful a farmers’ institute as any that the state of New York has held in these later days. And that Farmers’ club of other days had this advantage of those of later years--the farmers themselves took part and did much of the talking; while today the speaker, too many times, is the only one who has anything to say.
A Real Picture.
I can see them now, that row of thoughtful men as they earnestly went at the task they had before them, meanwhile taking an active part in the discussions that were being carried on. There, in the middle of the line, sat Milon Eddy, the witty one of the crowd. He had carefully chosen that vantage point, for he would have many stories to tell and desired his audience near to him, from either side. To his left was Harrison Bacon, the philosopher of the crowd, and further down the line could be seen the snowy locks of Absolom Zellar, the class leader of the village church and the “Grand Old Man” of the neighborhood. There was also Jason Eddy, who with William Pierce and Absolom Zellar, had recently joined the newly formed Cold Water party, and Andrew Nugent, who was looked up to as the neighborhood horse doctor, and also, Fred Lambert, the neighborhood blacksmith. The stooped shouldered smaller man near the farther end and the _?_ addressed and referred to in the __?__ of the evening as “King David” was David Mallett. Of course, there are __rs and the company as they bend to their delightful task, made, in the hallowed (?) light of the half-lighted barn, a real picture that one cannot and would not shake from memory.
Spring vs. Fall Plowing.
“I wonder by neighbor Pierce always has such fine corn,” says Harrison Bacon as he lifts a huge stalk with two well-formed ears attached to it and proceeds to break them off.
“It’s because he sticks to spring plowing, while we are all getting so we do our plowing in the fall” replies the class leader. But the opinion was expressed by others that it depended upon the soil and the crop to be planted, whether spring or fall plowing was the best. And so it went, and those men secured from their __?__ changing of opinions and experience what books often fail to teach today. For each man backed up his argument by well tested results upon their own farms.
And from farming the subject would turn to the district schools and who would be the trustee at the nearby school meeting. Those were the days when the district had a liberal say in how the school should be conducted and they took interest and turned out to the school meetings. Now that the state has about all there is to say, the people who pay the bills, the resident taxpayers, feel that there is but little use of their going, as the course of the school is mapped out anyway by a parental government.
Politics Warm Up the Crowd
And from the school meeting it is but a step to the presidential election and the chances that Garfield has against Hancock was discussed. And then it occurs to the wit of the crowd and the story teller as well, that a few of the huskers belong to the new party and he starts out with a snappy headliner to catch and hold interest.
“Say, did you fellers hear of the time I had the other night?”
None seemed to have heard of it and there were cries of “Tell us all about it, Milan.” And Milon Eddy after taking a liberal helping of Bagley’s Fast Mall fine-cut chewing tobacco, proceeds:
A Neighborhood Story
“It was in this way, you see. I had been out plowing all day, over on ’Squire’ John Parker’s and had told my wife that I hoped to get to bed early and that my rheumatism would let me sleep, for I was awfully tired. And as good luck would have it, we got off to bed early and I was sleeping soundly, when I heard a fearful knocking at my door.
“This man here” pointing to one of those present, called out in a frightened voice, as I opened my window and asked what was wanted,”
“Milon, quick, have you got any liquor? Have you got any liquor?”
“What on earth is the matter?” I asked him. And he went on to say that there was a sickness in his family and that he wanted some at once, as the doctor told him it was needed in the case of fainting and weak heart.
“ ‘Sorry,” I told him, but “we have used up all we have, but I can tell you right where to get some.”
And then the neighborhood wit paused a little in his story so as to get the crowd to listening eagerly for the telling where he found the liquor. There was a pause in the falling ears and the story teller gave a wicked look at the class leader and the cold water adherent.
“ ‘Over to Absolom Zeller’s’ I told him.” The huskers all gave a hearty laugh, including Mr. Zeller, as they saw the joke, well played and well told.
“ ‘But’, said the midnight applicant for medicine, ‘Mr. Zeller wouldn’t have it, you are fooling me.’”
“ ‘You go and see for yourself.’ I told him.” replied the story teller. “And.” he continued, “he went over to Zeller’s and routed him out of bed and told him the story of his great need.
“ ‘And, Mr. Zellar told him it was too bad that he had used up all that he had that very day, but he could inform him where he could get plenty in that very neighborhood.
“ ‘Where?’ said the borrower, greatly exalted.”
And again the story teller paused and this time his look was directed at another temperance advocate. And he cleared his throat and proceeded.
“Over to Jason Eddy’s”
Again the laughter broke out freely (?).
“But at Jason Eddy’s there was the same story of the goods all used up, but Jason said that he could tell him of one sure place where he could always find it, summer or winter. And that was at--at--”
There was a complete silence in the barn. Who would be the next to catch it.
“ ’ ___ a-t William Pierce’s’ And,” continued the story teller, “he went there and got it.”
“Milon, Milon, you do beat all for telling stories” would be all the good-natured William Pierce would say, after the huskers had stopped their laughing and started to finish up their evening work.
With the task complete there would be the estimating of about how much corn had been husked and then the hint of a start for home. But it would be just a hint for no one expected to go -- not until they had visited the house.
“Now boys, come right in. We don’t go much on banquets, but we always have a little something laid by for a lunch and wife will give you a little bit I know,’ came the invitation from Mr. Pierce.
So into the kitchen spotlessly kept, there would enter the party of the evening and around the warm kitchen stove they would seat themselves for more story telling.
“Mr. Bacon is going to have a nice crop of corn another year.” spoke up Milon Eddy, as he observed the armful of ears that the elderly gentleman laid down at the door, before entering the house. “Did you see that large armful of ears he is lugging home?”
“It is a good scheme I have, Milon,” spoke up Mr. Bacon, the philosopher, “and I always make it a practice when attending such huskings as these, to select some of the finest ears I husk to take home to try for seed planting next year. I have read somewhere that it would be a good thing for all farmers to do this.” And it seemed to be a thought well worth while.
Good city friends of mine have taken me to the very best eating places the cities afforded. They desired to show me what fine cooking was. But never have I tasted such pumpkin pies, brown and well spiced and such doughnuts as I feasted on that night after the wonderful husking of my youth. Since then I have attended many huskings where boys and girls took part and the red ear was a much sought after treasure. But this real husking has always seemed to over-awe them all.
And the hurried trip homeward in the frosty night with a nearly full moon showing itself just above the eastern skyline and the hurried crawling into bed made cozy warm with a warm brick were the final acts remembered just before the dreams of wonderful huskings in the dreamland country and pumpkin pies as big as the full moon.
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