Life of Elida Hicks Stuart in late 1800’s Meddybemps

Last year, I took the lazy way out and just posted some jpgs of a biography written about the daily life of my 2x great grandmother. Recently, I read a post from a blogger who wished that more journal and diary entries could be shared by bloggers because they are a resource that is difficult to find for most families. I don’t have any long journals or diaries, but I do have that one biography.

I decided that I had done a disservice to Bertha Stuart Eldridge, who wrote about the daily life of her grandmother, and my 2x great grandmother, Elida A. Hicks Stuart. Bertha passed away at the advanced age of 95 years in 1987, but she had written this short biography many years before that and shared a copy of it with me.

If you have roots in the Calais, Maine area and your family lived outside of the “city” in the late 1800’s, this is probably an excellent reflection about your ancestors, too.

The Biography of Elida Stuart – Grandmother

I have promised for a long time to write about what a remarkable and inspirational character my grandmother, Elida Stuart, was. I lived with her from age 22 months to 5 years when I had to return to my own big family to start school. Considering my tender age I must have been very observant and possessed an almost photographic memory, for to this day I can see her performing the thousand and one tasks that were demanded of a farmer’s wife.

After the cows were milked, I can see her pouring milk into shallow pans and putting them on open shelves in the cellar. Cream would rise to the top overnight which she would skim off and place in cans in the spring house, where it would keep sweet and clean ready for her to churn into butter in a day or so. The spring house was a bubbling icy cold spring housed over to serve as a refrigerator for dairy products. The skim milk was fed to hogs and even chickens and some was put way on the back of the iron cook stove where in time, it became curds and whey.

To get farm products ready to take to market, there would be a chicken killing day. Somehow it didn’t bother me a bit to watch Grammie cut off the heads of the chickens and hang them upside down on the outside shed door to bleed. Next she would plunge them into boiling water to loosen the feathers and pluck them clean as a whistle. With the chickens killed, she would have butter, eggs, and chickens to take to market to exchange for tea, coffee, sugar and flour.

I mustn’t forget the soap making day. She had a big iron kettle like a cannibal kettle under which she would build a fire outdoors. Into it she would put dryed (sic) out fats she had saved for months. She added lye in the right proportion and boiled it all to the exact minute. This boiling concoction was ladled into pans spread out on the ground to cool and I was cautioned to keep strictly away from them. When the pans of fat had congealed to the precise stage, they were cut into bars and put away for drying to be used through the year for washing clothes and for hard cleaning.

Some months in the Fall, there was the apple drying ritual to have apples all ready to make pies and other recipes. Apples were pared, cored and cut into eighths. They were then strung on strings and stretched clear across the kitchen ceiling out of the way. Apples that would ordinarily rot before getting used were preserved in this fashion.

I used to look forward to the huge kettle of hulled corn she would make. For this she used the big kernels of corn usually fed to horses and cows. This corn was cooked all day with a bag of wood ashes. The lye in the ashes softened the hulls so they would rub right off between the hands.

Then there was jelly and preserves to be put up. the berries needed were all at hand: strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries, currants, etc.

She was the family doctor and short trips were made into the pasture and fields gathering herbs to be dried for winter colds, rheumatism and sprains. I can so well remember seeing her gather mullen, pennyroyal, tansy, checkerberry, etc., bringing them home and placing them close to the brick chimney in the attic to slowly dry. On hand, there were cans of lamb tallow for sore chapped hands, goose grease to rub on for chest colds, and believe it or not, bear grease perfumed to use on hair and scalp.

When Fall came, it was hog killing time and she was fit and ready to undertake the task of making use of every part of the hog. She would smoke hams, make hogshead cheese, pickle the feet and even the curly tail was put in the grate in front of the stove to get all crisp and tasty for me. That left only the squeal and with that she could do nothing.

In spite of all this hard work, Grammie was a lady. She took great pride in her slender form and her narrow shapely feet and hands. Every night, her hair in the front was woven on large hairpins and in the morning she had waves resembling marcel waves.

Each week an afternoon was reserved for visiting. She would be dressed in her best dress and there were lace mitts to finish off the wardrobe. There was an open carriage, a dressy robe and a driving horse just cleaned and curried out of this world. I almost never was taken into the house she was visiting but would sit in the wagon and wait. The flies would drive the horse and me almost crazy.

She loved to read – not classics, but good old rousing love stories which she said rested her after a hard day’s work. She would often sit up most all night reading.

I suppose I might include here how she was left alone to manage that huge amount of farm work. On stormy days when there was no outside work to do, the men folk would work in the barn mending wagons and harnesses. On this particular rainy day, Grandpa came in from the barn to lie down saying he didn’t feel good. Pretty soon, he made another try and went out again. In a short time, he was in again and while approaching the couch, fell dead on the kitchen floor. I was just little and didn’t realize the enormity of it but I can remember Grammie half-lifting, half-dragging him to the couch. She tried to revive him by pouring liquor down his throat, but all to no avail. He was dead.

Well, a son, Uncle Will Stuart, came home and took over with her to run the farm and to my young mind, things went on as before. I can realize now what a blow that all must have been to Grammie. After a while, Uncle Will got married and another family of Stuarts was raised in the old farm house.

Elida Ann Hicks was born in 1833 in Buctouche, Kent, New Brunswick, Canada. At the age of 17, she married Charles Stuart, her first cousin, in Calais, Maine. They first lived in the next town over, Charlotte,  and even lived for a short time in nearby Princeton, but the “old farm house” was in Meddybemps. Charles was born on 1 July 1822 in Charlotte and the rainy day on which he died was 24 November 1894. Elida survived him by quite a few years, passing away in Calais on 20 February 1914.

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