Grandmother Remembers When

Catherine Oyer Oldfield; b. 28 Sept 1841
Daughter of Jacob Oyer and Elizabeth Gelwick of Franklin Co. Pa.

This is contributed by Daniel Potter Dan says, "My dad's first cousin gave me a copy of this story written by my ggrandmother Jeanne Oldfield Potter sometime around or just before 1940. Because it talks about Franklin Co Pa. I thought you might like it. The little girls in the story are Mary (b.1842) and Catherine Oyer (b.28 Sept 1841). The parents of the girls would be Jacob (b. 1816) and Elizabeth Gelwick Oyer (b. 1814)."

abt 1940

Jeanne Oldfield Potter,
Mill Valley, Calif.

GRANDMOTHER REMEMBERS WHEN We had stopped at a roadside Barbecue and as we all were ravenously hungry the mingling odors of roasting chicken, ham, beef, and pork, were more that ordinarily tantalizing. But Grandmother, very erect and aloof on the rear seat, would have none of it. She sniffed a sniff of which even Edna Mae Oliver might have been proud.

"Barbecue, indeed!" she scoffed. "That's no barbecue. A barbecue is a pit. I've seen a real one and it was nothing like that contraption."

Of course, in a sense, Grandmother was right. The barbecues she knew were related to the modern ones only in that the aim of both was to roast meats. This really was a rotisserie. But long before she had seen a real barbecue she had seen what could be done in one.

Grandmother was born in a sprawling old stone house near the historic little town of Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, It stood beside the main highway, the "Pike", between Hagerstown and Chambersburg, and so close to the Mason and Dixon line the children of the section went to school in Maryland. "Straddling the line", was one of their favorite diversions as they went to and from the little red brick schoolhouse where in very fact they learned the Three Rs "to the tune of a hickory stick." Beside the house was her father's blacksmith and wagon maker's shop, and both dated from about the War of 1812.

Farmers for miles around took their horses to his shop to be shod, and from it went many Conestoga wagons starting on their long trek Westward Ho! Wagon trains were as familiar a sight then as the long trains of motor lorres were to us during the World War." "Out West" was no farther away than Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, or perhaps hardier ones made it as far as Kansas, for this was in the "fighting forties", gold had not yet been discovered , and California was not even a familiar name in this remote section.

Only on Sundays were the busy hammers and the ringing anvils silent. And thus it came about that on a certain Sunday in Summer, from far down the Pike was heard the rumbling of wagons, the tinkling of bells, and the shouts of men, Of course everyone rushed to the front fence to look down the road and find out what it was all about.

Finally there came in sight a huge, broad-tired covered wagon drawn by eight white horses adorned with bells and wearing red cockades. Accompanying it was a party of men on horseback, all cheering lustily for James K. Polk for President. They were on their way to Greencastle to take part in a big political rally and torchlight procession.

The wagon was tightly closed, Grandmother and her elder sister marveled what it might contain, and of course were consumed with curiosity. Meanwhile the dinner dishes remained unwashed, for nothing could induce the girls to leave their vantage point on the fence, where they could watch in wide-eyed wonder the proceedings, in which Father was now taking a prominent part.

"All right, girls," he said, finally, "when you get those dishes washed I'll show you what is in the Wagon."

Never were dishes washed and stacked, or kitchen swept and garnished in such record-breaking time. Then the door of the end of the wagon was opened and a pair of steps let down. With one child by each hand, their father led them into the dark, savory smelling inside. A stout iron bar ran the full length of the wagon body, and from it swung a barbecued steer, enormous, impressive, odorous, and tempting. It had been roasted some miles away, a process requiring several days of constant turning in the pit until it was thoroughly cooked, and it was to be the piece de resistance at the Greencastle celebration.

Grandmother lived in a thrilling age. She remembered how men galloped along the Pike shouting "Tippecanoe and Tyler too." She remembered the Mexican War, and how her father returned from town and announced that because of it coffee had "gone up" to the unheard price of thirteen cents a pound!

She remembered the "butter monkeys" who came from Baltimore trading oysters in the shell for butter and eggs, and how it was nothing unusual for her father so set a bushel basket of oysters beside the hearth, and how , when they opened their mouths they promptly disappeared into other mouths.

Christmas was exciting, not because of gifts, but because then Uncle William came from Virginia in a sumptuous coach and four, with a driver, a footman, and a little black boy riding behind. Uncle William had a plantation and many slaves in Virginia, and during the long holiday evenings they all sat around the blazing logs and he and Father swapped stories of their boyhood in the Old Dominion, and they could always be prevailed upon to tell about the star shower of 1833, and how certain they all were that the end of the world had come.

But Summer , too, was exciting. Then they roamed the fields and mountains, gathering huckleberries, blackberries, wild strawberries, mulberries, and later luscious pears, peaches, apples, quinces, pawpaws, persimmons, and grapes. Those Summer and Autumn days were busy ones in the house, for the berries had to be made into preserves and jams, and butters, and also dried on huge frames made for the purpose and set in the sun. Fruit canning was undreamed of, but Winter found long rows of goodies stored away in stoneware jars and crocks, with clean white cloth tied over the tops.

But one of the most momentous experiences Grandmother told about was their discovery of the tomato. "Love apples" were a familiar decoration along the garden beds, but perennially the children were warned, "don't eat them, they are deadly poison." Their connection with love was a mystery no one tried to explain, even if they thought about it at all. But finally the love apple passed and the tomato arrived.

"When Father returned from one of his periodical visits to Philadelphia he exploded a beautiful bombshell in the midst of the family circle by going out into the garden and picking half a dozen of the small red love apples. He sliced them, sprinkled them with salt, pepper, and a little vinegar, and ate them with relish. Poor Mother was horrified. 'Well' father explained, 'in Philadelphy they are served in all the best hotels and they haven't poisoned anyone yet. Try them they're good, 'he urged.

"So we did, and they were, and the discovery that they were not love apples at all but tomatoes created as much excitement in the neighborhood as if we had dug up a pot of gold in the garden. By the following Summer we had forgotten they ever were called love apples, and tomatoes were appearing everywhere.

'By and by we discovered that they could be cooked to a pulp, salted, and put away in crocks for Winter use'. So tomatoes took their place in the array of fruit butters, preserves, and jams, the great sacks of dried fruits and corn, the pots of white honey and the cone of sugar in its gorgeous blue wrapper, both 'for company' and the "seven sours to go with the 'seven sweets' without which no house wife considered her cellar complete. Some of all these were on the table every meal, as well as at least four kinds of pie."

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