Thursday, December 26, 2013

It's Colder Than All Get Out

My aunt Margaret Ann Noffsker, my mother, Dollie's next older sister in her family of ten, was a character. She chose not to marry and spent her life working and doing things for and with many other friends. In the small town of East Freedom, Pennsylvania, Ann Noffsker was a very popular person. Everyone seemed to know Ann, and Ann seemed to know everyone. That's what made Ann such a 'character'. She was always in the thick of things, and an advocate of anything that was popular. At times Ann seemed to be larger than life.

It was my aunt Ann whom I first heard speak the words "all get out" ~ in sentences such as: "It's colder than all get out" or "That crash was louder than all get out." It was also my aunt Ann whom I first heard utter the phrase "Oh my aching tonsil". That one was usually uttered when she would be amazed or when she wanted to express to you that what you just said, or did, pushed her to the limit of which she could fathom. This phrase might be connected to the former as Ann would exclaim: "Oh my aching tonsil, that yellow is brighter than all get out!"

A check of the phrase on the Internet revealed that the phrase 'all get out' was, and continues to be, popular especially in the Appalachian region of the eastern United States of America. (East Freedom is in Appalachia, so that part fits.) Some sites presented the assumption that the phrase literally implied 'getting out' of, or from, something. But the way that the phrase was, and still is, used by people such as my aunt Ann, tend(ed) to embrace the impression of a superlative, meaning that it expresses something bigger or greater than anything else.

So remembering my aunt Ann saying: "It's colder than all get out!", I realize that I loved her more than all get out.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Don't Put Your Horse Away Wet

I was visiting a local antique emporium this past weekend and came upon another example of someone selling an item of which they knew nothing about. On a table was a beautiful (in the eye of the beholder) piece of fabric that was titled a "horse blanket". The implication of the title was that the item was a blanket placed over the back of a horse that had been ridden hard and was sweated wet, needing to be dried off. The only problem was that the blanket was made of horse hair, which would not have served very well to dry off a wet horse. What the slightly ignorant (in regard to knowledge) antique dealer did not know was that the item should have been titled a "horsehair blanket".

Horsehair is seldom used today, but at one time it was a material used in a number of ways. The most common use for horse hair was in house plaster. The plaster used in houses during the 1800s and early 1900s was composed primarily of lime and sand, such as marble dust, with some sort of strengthening agent. A very common strengthening agent was horse hair. Horsehair was also used in furniture upholstery; the hair, being springy, allowed upholstery to maintain comfortable shape for a long time.

When winter time came around, another use for horse hair became evident ~ to make sleigh blankets considerably warmer and water resistant.

The photo at the top of this post is of a horsehair blanket. It measures a mere four feet, five inches in width and five feet in length. The blanket's two faces are composed of different materials: the top, or front, is composed of horsehair woven with wool, and the bottom, or back, is composed just of wool. Between the two faces, like the cotton batting in a bed quilt, is a batting made of sawdust or straw.

A horsehair blanket, despite its small size, tends to be quite heavy. The weight of the blanket was intentional. After being seated on a sleigh, or in an open front carriage, the riders would lay the horsehair blanket over their laps. The weight of the blanket kept it from blowing off the riders' laps as the sleigh was in movement. Before placing the blanket over their laps, a foot-warmer, holding glowing coals, might be placed at the riders' feet. (For those of you who have been following this blog, you might remember that this was noted in the post of 26 June, titled: Who's Got Cold Feet? ~ Not Me!)

Some horsehair blankets are brightly colored (the colors being dyed in the wool prior to weaving), whereas others, such as the one shown here, are left in their natural colors. Designs, such as the alternating light and dark blocks in this example, would have been devised and produced in the process of weaving it.

Oh, and one last thing . . . you certainly would not want to cover up with one of these horsehair blankets and fall asleep. As heavy and warm as they tend to be, you'd awaken quite sweated ~ you'd probably feel like a horse that had been ridden hard and put away wet.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Who Is That Little Girl?

Wait a moment. That isn't a girl ~ the hair is cut too short to be a girl. But she does have a dress on, doesn't she?

Actually, the child standing alone in front of a black curtain was my father, Bernard. He was born in the year 1919 in the Nofsker house that stands across the valley from my current home. His maternal grandfather, Aaron Bowser, share-cropped for a living. He and his wife, Linnie, would live in with a family while he did work for them, and then when he found a new family that needed work done, they would move on and take up living quarters with the new family. Aaron was known for repairing fences and might take up residence with a family while he repaired the fences around their farms. At the time that my father was born, his mother, Jennie was staying with Aaron and Linnie while he share-cropped for Lecky Nofsker. And that is why my father was born in the house across the valley.

The photo that appears at the top of this post would probably have been taken circa 1921, when my father was two years old, maybe three. And that is indeed what he normally wore at that age. All children, whether boy or girl, wore the type of garment in which my father was photographed. He once told me that families dressed their children in this type of garment until they reached the age of five or six. When they started attending school, the boys began wearing pants, in the form of knickers, and a shirt.

The garment my father was wearing at the time he was photographed was actually a type of shirt or blouse. The length of the shirt, and the fact that no pants are evident, is what makes the garment appear to be a dress.

Little girls wore the same type of shirt as a dress, but of course in the early 1920s, the little girls did not start to wear pants when they began to attend school.

The photograph to the right shows my father at about the age of four. Notice the way the collar hangs down over the back. It's almost identical to the collar on the garment in the earlier picture. The fact of the matter is that my father might have been wearing the same type of shirt in both pictures. After he started wearing pants, the long tail of the shirt would simply have been tucked inside the pants.

The two additional photos below display one of my father's shirts, with a detail of the collar, which was made by a sort of tatting. The material of which this shirt was made appears to be a cotton muslin. The photos are very close to the actual color of the item.

Saturday, December 14, 2013


In Latin there was a word that stood for 'a winnowing tool' or 'whip'. It was flagellum (which was, itself, a diminutive, or more concise, form of the word: flagrum: 'to whip'). Some sources give the origin of the Latin as a Proto-Indo-European word: bhlag, which signified 'to beat'. The people of the northern Europe region who spoke Old High German converted the Latin word into its own: flegel. The people who spoke Low German or Middle Dutch contrived the word: vlegel. Old English used the Old High German form of flegel with a slight variation to become flighel or fligel. In the Middle English, the word was written as fleil, while the Anglo-French spelled the word flael. While the word, with its meaning of a tool for beating or winnowing of grain, came into use by the year 1100, the modern usage of the spelling flail was derived from its earlier sources around the 15th Century.

The flail was a tool used to separate useful grain seeds from husks and other unusable parts of the wheat or rye plant. (Corn, in some cases, might also be threshed to remove the kernels from the cobs.) The tool consists of a long wood pole or staff, called the hand-staff, a shorter wood pole, called the swingle (variously, the sweple, swiple or supple), and a strip of leather or hemp rope connecting the two poles. The wood most commonly used for the parts of the flail was holly. Holly is fine-grained and not easily broken; it made the ideal material for the flail, which took a lot of beating. The hand-staff is aptly named because the user, known as a thresher, would grasp, with both hands, the longer of the two wood poles. The swingle (which was derived from the Old English: swingan, meaning 'to strike' or 'beat') would hang freely from the one end of the hand-staff, called its 'head'.

The flexible connection between the two poles being the leather strip or hemp rope, the swingle could be swung in any direction.

The job of threshing was performed on a dirt floor in a barn. Wooden floors, no matter how well constructed, would have enough cracks between the planks to lose a substantial amount of the grain. The dirt floor would be prepared by being swept clean. A dirt floor of the barn would have, over time, become very tightly packed, and therefore could be 'swept clean' of loosed dirt, rocks and stray items. After sweeping the floor, the thresher would sprinkle it with water just to make it all the more free of any loose dust. A quantity of straw (i.e. the harvested and dried grain plant, whether wheat or rye) would be piled onto the center of the floor. If there were more than one thresher, they would position themselves around the strawpile. The thresher would use an up and down motion to slap the swingle down and onto the pile of straw. Rather, the thresher simply moved the hand-staff so that it's head alternated being raised up and then directed back down to the floor. The swingle could not help but be slapped down flat against the pile of grain-bearing straw. The continual striking of the flail's swingle would force the grain kernels to be knocked out of the heads of the straw. The action did not squeeze out the grain, but instead shook it out (keeping the grain intact and not crushed). An astute farmer would build his barn with threshing in mind. That means that doors would be placed on opposite sides; those sides being against the direction of the wind. As the wind blew through the barn, it would whisk the bits of husk, broken up and aggravated by the threshing activity, away from the central pile.

The photos attached to this post show a flail from the 1800s.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Grammy's Apron

My maternal grandmother, Bertha Mae Nofsker, was commonly known as Grammy Nofsker. I use the word 'commonly' as an adverb to describe the verb phrase: 'was known as' not in the sense of something that is simple, uniform or ordinary, but rather in the sense of something that is entirely, totally or universally. You see, I called my grandmother: Grammy, and my cousins called her: Grammy. But everyone who lived in the valley created by the South Dry Run creek also called her: Grammy ~ whether they were related to her or not. There are non-relatives who attend the church in which she was an early, prominent member who talk about Grammy Nofsker even to this day, nearly fifty years after her death.

The picture above was taken when Bertha was in her late teens. That's her on the left, with her best friend Emma.

Grammy was a tough old lady in the last years of her life (that is, when I knew her, up to when I reached eight years old). And I imagine she was a tough young lady long before I ever knew her. Bertha's life had always been tough. She had been born out of wedlock. Her birth grandmother (a Shoop) came to live with her birth grandfather (a Boyer) ~ each was widowed at the time ~ and they apparently never married each other. Bertha's mother, Ann Boyer, just in her late teens, suddenly had a new house-mate, Richard Shoop, also in his late teens. One thing, as they say, led to another, and on 31 October 1884, a baby girl was born. Richard never married Ann. Perhaps both separate families ~ the Boyers and the Shoops ~ were embarrassed by what had happened. In any case, Ann raised her child by herself. Oh, did I forget to mention that Ann already had given birth to a boy before the Shoops moved in with her family? The boy, Albert Weyandt, was three and a half years old when Bertha came along. He only lived to the age of four. When Bertha was about three years old, Ann married Daniel Earnest, and he filed formal adoption papers to share legal custody of the child with his new wife.

So I guess you could say that there was a happy ending to the turmoil that defined Bertha's childhood ~ right? No, that wasn't to be the case. In fact, when Daniel Earnest adopted Bertha, it was probably the start of a tougher period in her life. You see, Dan Earnest never really accepted Bertha as a daughter. Daniel and Ann gave birth to two boys and two girls during the ten year period from 1887 to 1897. And while he doted on the two girls, Kathleen and Annie Mary, he made Bertha work with the hired farmhands in the barn. It was as if the story, Cinderella, had been written with the Earnest family in mind.  And, one thing, as they say, led to another, and at the age of fifteen, Bertha gave birth to a son; the baby boy's father was one of the negro hired hands. The family always claimed, whether it was true or not, that Grammy had been raped ~ we'll never know for sure. But what we do know is that Daniel Earnest never accepted the child of his adopted daughter, even to the extent that he had accepted her. A US Census return taken in the year 1900, included the Daniel Earnest family. The return listed Bertha Shoop as 'step-daughter' and Dewey Shoop as 'step-grandson'. Daniel, who probably was the one who gave the census-taker his family's information, could just as easily have given Bertha's name as 'Bertha Earnest', and he could have listed her as 'daughter' ~ he had legally adopted her twelve years earlier ~ but he chose to alienate her and her newborn son.

Bertha grew up, married Henry Martin Cleveland Nofsker, and gave birth to ten children. But when their youngest child, my mother, Dollie, was only four years old, Cleveland died. What was Bertha to do? What could she do, but go on with her life, run her farm and raise her family of ten children.

Of course the older kids helped with the younger siblings. But life still would have been tough for Grammy. My mother told me tales of how Grammy had broken an arm when she fell off the haywagon as they were doing their autumn chores; she suffered from arthritis in that arm ever after. The photo to the left shows Grammy with her next to youngest daughter, Margaret Ann. They look like they're in their 'Sunday-best' dresses.

So what really is this post supposed to be about? The title says "Grammy's Apron", but nothing at all has been said about any apron. All the biographical information that was given above was for the purpose of showing how my maternal grandmother came to be a tough old lady. But that was not what I, and perhaps most people around her, saw day after day. What I saw was a loving, compassionate face, welcoming, sheltering arms, and a lap into which I could curl when I was sad ~ and her apron. For sure, I remember seeing Grammy dressed in her Sunday-best dresses, that is, on Sunday. But the rest of the time, my image of Grammy was of her in an 'everyday' dress with a gingham, striped or checkered apron.

All the older women in our neighborhood wore aprons over their everyday dresses. And they were definitely dresses ~ women did not wear slacks, trousers or pants at that time. The aprons covered the entire front of the women. Beginning at the neckline, a strip of cloth wrapped around the neck and supported a 'bib' that covered the woman's bosom. The bib was attached at its bottom to the top of a wider piece of cloth that extended from the waist down to below the knee. In the 1960s, when I remember Grammy, women's everyday dresses's hemlines were mid-calf length. The apron was nearly long enough to cover the entire length of the dress. At the waistline, two strips of cloth were pulled around to the back to be tied in a large bow, or if they were long enough, to be pulled on around to the front to be tied there.

Then there were the pockets. I think the pockets were what made the apron so wonderful. The part of the apron called the bib might hold one or two side-by-side pockets. Then there would be that one giant pocket at the waistline, or there might be two medium-size pockets at the waistline and one larger pocket along the bottom of the apron. But even if an apron did not have sewn-in pockets, a woman could transform her apron into a pocket simply by grabbing the two lower corners of material and pulling them upward.

The pockets on Grammy's apron were a treasure trove for a seven year old boy. Sometimes they held a spool of thread with a needle stuck into it and maybe a pair of small shears. Sometimes there would be a book or a pencil in one of the pockets. Often there were a few coins and a fancy piece of jewelry, such as a brooch. The pockets of Grammy's apron was sometimes used by my brother and me to stash our own treasures. If we were out taking a walk and found an interesting colored stone, we'd run to Grammy and she'd hold one of the pockets open so we could drop the treasure into it. I can also remember when Grammy took us along to gather cherries, she would grab the bottom corners of the apron and pull them upward to create a large pocket into which Leon and I would deposit the cherries we picked. I also remember Grammy grasping the bottom of her apron and wiping it over my face and head when I was either dirty or sweated from running and playing.

The photo above is the only one I have that shows Grammy with her apron on; when a photo was taken, Grammy, like anyone else, wanted to be seen in her best clothes. This photo, though, was one of the few that were taken somewhat spontaneously, while she was feeding the chickens. I think it was Grammy's apron that softened her toughness for me. It's a shame that women no longer use them.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Beware ~ This Post Contains A Whole Bunch Of Words Stuck Together

The manner in which a sentence in the English language allows the reader, or speaker, to pause or come to a stop is by the employment of elements called punctuation. Through the use of commas, colons, semicolons and a few other marks, the sentence directs the reader to pause briefly or for a longer period of time. Then, when the end of the sentence ~ the particular thought ~ is reached, marks such as periods, question marks and exclamation points signal that end. The word punctuation comes from the Latin word meaning 'to prick'. When the earliest writings were made on vellum (i.e. very thinly tanned leather), all of the words tended to flow, one after another, in a continuous stream without any form of punctuation to separate one thought from another. That, coupled with the fact that the first word of a new thought/sentence was not uniformly capitalized, made reading difficult. The Greek scribes began to make a small hole in the vellum with the sharp tips of their feather quill pens at the end of one thought. The pricked hole served as a signal that the ongoing thought had come to an end.

As a thought took form in the writer's mind, and then was written out as a sentence on the surface of the vellum, it was considered to take a circuit from beginning to end. The Greeks combined the word peri, meaning around, and odos, meaning way, to form the word periodos, suggesting that the sentence had made its way around a kind of circuitous route from beginning to end. The periodos, a mark to suggest that the sentence's circuit had been achieved and was finally concluded, took the form of the round prick hole that the scribes had devised to separate one thought from another. They had been making those little round hole marks at the end of sentences and now those marks had a name: period.

Every now and then, during the course of the sentence, brief pauses needed to be indicated. The Greeks had a word to suggest cutting: coptein. From coptein comes our word comma, a mark of punctuation that literally cuts the sentence in two without bringing it to a complete halt. Writers love commas. Despite the fact that there are grammatical rules for the use ~ or non-use ~ of commas, some writers just plop them anywhere in the sentence. What's that saying? Ah yes, "the more the merrier."

The colon, the English word for another mark of punctuation was the same as the Latin, and both were derived from a Greek word meaning portion or member. The colon is often used to introduce enumerations: lists, categories and the like. In most cases, the words preceding a colon will comprise a complete sentence, and therefore the colon takes the form of a period (indicating that the primary thought making up the sentence is finished), but with an additional period directly above it. The implication, when a colon is used to introduce any type of enumeration, is that if the words following the colon would be removed, the words preceding the colon would constitute a complete sentence. 

Writers needed a mark of punctuation that would indicate the separation of multiple statements within a single thought or sentence. They found that mark in the form of the semicolon, consisting of a comma with a period directly above it. The word semi, meaning partly, was combined with the word colon to indicate that any two portions of a thought or sentence separated by the semicolon would consist only as partial thoughts. Aldus Manutius the Elder, an Italian printer living from 1449 to 1515, established the use of the semicolon to signal a change in direction between two thoughts within a sentence; why you would not simply separate the two thoughts by a period, and create a second sentence instead of tacking the second thought onto the end of the fist sentence, is anyone's guess.

The parentheses, as a punctuation mark, came into use in Middle English. Derived from the Greek phrase meaning alongside of, or in addition to, the parentheses were created as a means to include additional information within a thought or sentence. This punctuation mark (which actually includes four types: parentheses, brackets, braces and chevrons) is used to contain explanatory and/or qualifying information. If the content within the parentheses marks is removed from the sentence, the thought should not be affected in any way. The bulging shape(s) of the parentheses resemble the sides of a bag holding a bunch of extra information for the sentence.

Writers eventually saw the need for ending punctuation that would be more expressive than the simple period. Excitement and inquisitiveness were two expressions that the period did not convey. There was an exclamatory word in Latin that translates as the emotion of joy: Io. Scribes began using this expression of joy to end a sentence that likewise expressed joy or excitement. Over time, in order to conserve space on the vellum, the "I" was placed above the "o", resulting in the mark that we use today and call the exclamation point. The question mark developed from the Latin word quaesto, meaning 'question'; the question mark is quite simply the first letter of the word quaesto: "q" written above the last letter of the word quaesto: "o".

Without the punctuation marks, as in the earliest writings, the foregoing would appear as:

the manner in which a sentence in the english language allows the reader or speaker to pause or come to a stop is by the employment of elements called punctuation through the use of commas colons semicolons and a few other marks the sentence directs the reader to pause briefly or for a longer period of time then when the end of the sentence the particular thought is reached marks such as periods question marks and exclamation points signal that end the word punctuation comes from the latin word meaning to prick when the earliest writings were made on vellum ie very thinly tanned leather all of the words tended to flow one after another in a continuous stream without any form of punctuation to separate one thought from another that coupled with the fact that the first word of a new thought sentence was not uniformly capitalized made reading difficult the greek scribes began to make a small hole in the vellum with the sharp tips of their feather quill pens at the end of one thought the pricked hole served as a signal that the ongoing thought had come to an end as a thought took form in the writers mind and then was written out as a sentence on the surface of the vellum it was considered to take a circuit from beginning to end the greeks combined the word peri meaning around and odos meaning way to form the word periodos suggesting that the sentence had made its way around a kind of circuitous route from beginning to end the periodos a mark to suggest that the sentences circuit had been achieved and was finally concluded took the form of the round prick hole that the scribes had devised to separate one thought from another they had been making those little round hole marks at the end of sentences and now those marks had a name period every now and then during the course of the sentence brief pauses needed to be indicated the greeks had a word to suggest cutting coptein from coptein comes our word comma a mark of punctuation that literally cuts the sentence in two without bringing it to a complete halt writers love commas despite the fact that there are grammatical rules for the use  or nonuse  of commas some writers just plop them anywhere in the sentence whats that saying ah yes the more the merrier the colon the english word for another mark of punctuation was the same as the latin and both were derived from a greek word meaning portion or member the colon is often used to introduce enumerations lists categories and the like in most cases the words preceding a colon will comprise a complete sentence and therefore the colon takes the form of a period indicating that the primary thought making up the sentence is finished but with an additional period directly above it the implication when a colon is used to introduce any type of enumeration is that if the words following the colon would be removed the words preceding the colon would constitute a complete sentence in other words the colon is often used to introduce enumerations writers needed a mark of punctuation that would indicate the separation of multiple statements within a single thought or sentence they found that mark in the form of the semicolon consisting of a comma with a period directly above it the word semi meaning partly was combined with the word colon to indicate that any two portions of a thought or sentence separated by the semicolon would consist only as partial thoughts aldus manutius the elder an italian printer living from 1449 to 1515 established the use of the semicolon to signal a change in direction between two thoughts within a sentence why you would not simply separate the two thoughts by a period and create a second sentence instead of tacking the second thought onto the end of the fist sentence is anyones guess the parentheses as a punctuation mark came into use in middle english derived from the greek phrase meaning alongside of or in addition to the parentheses were created as a means to include additional information within a thought or sentence this punctuation mark which actually includes four types parentheses brackets braces and chevrons is used to contain explanatory and/or qualifying information if the content within the parentheses marks is removed from the sentence the thought should not be affected in any way the bulging shapes of the parentheses resemble the sides of a bag holding a bunch of extra information for the sentence writers eventually saw the need for ending punctuation that would be more expressive than the simple period excitement and inquisitiveness were two expressions that the period did not convey there was an exclamatory word in latin that translates as the emotion of joy io scribes began using this expression of joy to end a sentence that likewise expressed joy or excitement over time in order to conserve space on the vellum the i was placed above the o resulting in the mark that we use today and call the exclamation point the question mark developed from the latin word quaesto meaning question the question mark is quite simply the first letter of the word quaesto q written above the last letter of the word quaesto o

Saturday, October 19, 2013

I Don't Have Much Moxie ~ Just One Bottle, In Fact

I possess a bottle with some brown liquid inside. The metal cap over the mouth of the bottle could be easily popped off, and the brown liquid inside could be tasted to determine if it had spoiled over the years. You see, I purchased the bottle at some time around the year 1990, so it is twenty-some years old. Put two and two together, and you discover that the brown liquid inside the bottle is probably as old as the bottle itself. The bottle contains a type of soft drink, soda or pop (depending on where you live) that was popular in the 1950s and 60s. One little corner grocery store in the town of Hollidaysburg continued to carry it, along with many other outdated brands, into the 70s, 80s and 90s.

I could amaze all you readers by stating the exact circumstances of my purchasing the bottle, providing all of the details, beginning with the faint squeaking of the door as I entered the shop, but I don't actually remember anything at all about the visit. One detail that I can surmise is that I probably purchased more than just the one bottle at the time because I probably wanted to drink some of the brown liquid ~ I really doubt that I would have spent any money on a single bottle with the brown liquid inside just to take it home to sit on a shelf - for twenty-some years!

The bottle that I possess contains a brand of soft drink that was called Moxie.

The word moxie is an American slang word. You won't find it as an entry in the Compact Oxford English Dictionary, although it is included in the standard OED. The definition provides two options: 1. An American soft drink; 2. Courage, guts, nerve, energy, pep. The second option of the word provided in the OED certainly gives an impression of the word, moxie, but it really doesn't focus on the unique aspect of the word. The word moxie would not be easily substituted for any of the words "courage, guts, nerve, energy and pep" by themselves. It possibly might work as a substitute for any combination of two or more of those words, though.

Moxie was not just a single action, such as 'courage' or 'pep'. It encompassed a variety of feelings and emotions that gave you 'courage'. It expressed the reason you had the 'guts' to face some oppressive situation. Roget's Thesaurus defines the word, moxie, as "the quality of mind enabling one to face danger or hardship resolutely", and then lists twenty-seven synonyms.

The soft drink that was sold under the brand name Moxie, was developed from a 'tonic' that was invented in 1876 by a resident of Maine, Dr. Augustin Thompson. The native Indian tribes, who inhabited the region that the English settlers called Maine, knew of and used parts of the moxieberry plant for medicinal purposes for many years prior to Dr. Thompson's concoction. Whether the Indians knew of any beneficial effects of the moxieberry plant is unknown at this time. Dr. Thompson might have known of the native peoples' use of the plant, but he claimed that the concoction that he marketed to "cure brain and nervous exhaustion, loss of manhood, imbecility and helplessness..." had been discovered by a man named Moxie at some undisclosed location near or south of the Equator. In the 1920s, with the widespread development of carbonated beverages, as a result of the Prohibition movement in America, a company in Boston, Massachusetts began to bottle and sell the soft drink, Moxie, its flavor being derived primarily from the gentian root. The invigorating effects proclaimed by Dr. Thompson for his original tonic became the basis of the marketing campaign for the new soft drink. And so, it was suggested, if you drank Moxie, you would be endowed with the invigorating effects of a tonic, and therefore filled with a resoluteness and strength of being to conquer anything: in other words, you had a lot of moxie.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Baby Spinning Wheel Is No Baby's Spinning Wheel

A tiny spinning wheel that sits on a blanket chest in my entryway is certainly no child's toy. The wheel measures only ten inches in diameter. The height of the entire piece to the highest point, which is the tip of the distaff, measures a mere three and one-half feet. It is definitely a small piece. But, like I said, this is no child's toy, despite the fact that everyone who sees it thinks it is.

The diminutive spinning wheel shown in these photos would be called a castle wheel, so named for the number of 'spires' that rise upward. Castle wheels could be much larger than this though; that name referred more to the structure than to the size. The aspect of the size is what gives this spinning wheel the more common name of bride's wheel.

In the early 1800s, which is the probable date of this bride's wheel, and earlier, when a man and woman married, the woman left her family and moved to a new home, which was the choosing of the man.

Oftentimes, the young couple did not have a tract of land in the immediate vicinity of their families, and needed to travel a distance to start their home. The family might have only a single wagon on which to haul all of their possessions. The bride's wheel was created as a small, easily carried spinning wheel.

Because of its small size, the bride's wheel is often mistaken for a child's toy. But it is fully functional.
The young bride would use this type of wheel until the family could afford to purchase a larger, 'full size" flax wheel.

In the images, notice the small white balls on the ends of various turned parts of this wheel. The white balls are actual ivory. Also notice, in the images of the wheel, there are turned half-spokes of ivory between the wheel's black painted wooden spokes.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

You Scratch My Back And I'll Scratch Yours

My grandfather, Eldon Smith ~ whom we called: Pap ~ made a living by moonshining. I believe I mentioned that in a previous post. What I didn't mention before, though, was that each year Pap raised one or two pigs to feed the family through the winter. At one time he also kept a cow or two for the same purpose, but I mostly remember the pigs. The trouble with Pap raising pigs was that when the time for butchering came around, Pap couldn't bring himself to kill the pigs, so that task fell to my dad, Bernard ~ whom we called: Pappy.

As my brother, Leon, and I grew up, we participated in the raising of the pigs along with the butchering. Well, I shouldn't really say that we "participated" in the pig butchering because Leon would only have been seven or eight years old when our family butchered its last pig, and I would only have been six or seven years old. So pig butchering day was more of a "run around and see what we could get into" type of day for me and Leon.

Did I mention that Pap couldn't bring himself to kill the pigs to be butchered? That was because he made the same mistake every time he got two pigs in the spring: he'd name them. And once the pigs were named, they were his friends, not potential breakfasts and suppers in December. So through the year, as Sally and Tom (or Benny and Jane, or Smokey and Gertie, or whatever) grew up, Pap would fatten his pigs with slop and cornmeal, watching them grow fatter and fatter until that day in mid-October when strips and chunks would be cut off to be renamed bacon and loin chops, and intestines would be washed thoroughly to become the casings for the ground-up sausage.

In his later years, Pap kept his pigs in a pigpen (a twelve by twelve foot building) that stood on my dad's property. Pap had sold the portion of his property on which his own barn stood a few years earlier, and so the pigs became my parents' responsibility. I don't know if my parents considered the pigs to be theirs (because they were kept on their property, they might have), but Leon and I knew that the pigs were Pap's ~ until butchering day, that is. So me and Leon were helping Pap with his pigs when we carried the buckets of slop to them, pouring the mixture of milk and left-over food scraps into the trough, overtop the two or three scoops of corn meal that would first be spread out evenly in the trough bottom.

We loved helping take care of the pigs, and I was just big enough. If I stood on the trough edge, resting my belly on the top of the trough wall, and by stretching as far as I could, I could pat the pigs on their scratchy hairy backs. Me and Leon did that while the pigs were eating ~ they wouldn't stand still for you to touch them otherwise.

So what about that thing shown at the top of this post? It was called a pig scraper (or a hog scraper by some people). The purpose of the pig scraper was to scrape all the hair off the pig when it was being butchered. That concept ~ to scrape the hair off when the pigs were being butchered ~ was kinda lost on six and seven year old Larry and Leon. We thought that the pigs liked having their backs scratched ~ while they were living. I knew that I felt real good when my back itched and mom would scratch it for me.

So we assumed that the pigs probably felt real good too when Leon and I scratched their backs for them. And what better way to give the pigs a good scratching than to use the pig scraper. The only thing was that Leon and I didn't realize that it probably hurt the poor beasts. Every time I see a pig scraper I can't help but be transported back to the 1960s, and in my mind I can almost smell the slop and cornmeal. And each time I experience that kind of vivid memory I feel sorry for those humble pigs who grunted and snorted while two little boys scraped a few hairs off their backs.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

I Hope This Post Doesn't End Up Being Half-Assed

When the first Europeans began to move into the North American wilderness in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, they had to construct houses in which to live. That was easy enough for me to say, but as the old saying goes: "It's easier said than done."

The fact of the matter was that it took quite some time and energy to cut down the number of trees needed to build even a modest-sized structure. If the immigrant family was from Western or Southern Europe (which included Britain, Spain, France and the Netherlands), they probably intended to build a wood-frame structure. If the immigrant family came from Northern Europe, they would no doubt have intended to build a log cabin structure. Either method of building would take a little time to accomplish, especially if it was to be performed by the family's father and maybe a son or two.

So what was a family to do in the meantime for shelter? The most common solution to this dilemma was a structure known as a half-faced camp. The half-faced camp consisted of three walls and a roof made of light saplings spaced somewhat close together and interwoven with brush and smaller twigs. The fourth, open, side of the structure was higher than the rear so that the roof sloped from front to back and directed any rainwater away from, rather than into, the interior space. Outside of the structure, but close to that open side, would be kindled the fire for cooking and heating. The half-faced camp would be used as the family's home while the house was being built. The illustration above is of a form of half-faced camp published in 1859 in The Prairie Traveler, by Randolph B. Marcy. Instead of saplings, brush and twigs, the structure consists of a piece of fabric stretched to the ground from supporting branches.

In the North American Colonies, especially in the ones settled by English colonists, the English language bulged with words and phrases that developed and grew from the environment. Such words and phrases have become known as homespun words and phrases. The temporary structure that the immigrants constructed, the half-faced camp, gave birth to one of those homespun phrases (or rather, hyphenated words): half-assed.

Dictionaries give the meaning of the hyphenated word half-assed as something that is done only partly, or done without much effort, resulting in a product that is deficient in some way.

I'm sure that nine out of ten people that use this word to describe something in their life that is rough, or otherwise misses the mark in terms of preferred quality, do not have any idea that the word they have used was derived from a shelter against the weather.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Sometimes You Just Need A Duck's Quack To Be Heard

In the days when the menfolk would be out in the fields plowing, sowing, tending or reaping their crops, when the housewife wanted to call them in to dinner or supper, she had three ways of doing so. She could give a strong, loud call to them, hoping they would hear. She could send a young child out to tell them to come in. Or she could blow on one of these things - a dinner horn

This tool is made out of tin. As the images show, it has a slight bit of detail in texture, but it was not made to be pretty; it was made to be functional.

The tin dinner horn has a permanent reed, and there are no holes on which the user can play different notes. It has only a single sound ~ something like a duck's quack.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

A Blacksnake Whip Wasn't Made From Blacksnakes Nor Did You Whip Blacksnakes With It


I got my first blacksnake whip from my maternal grandmother, Grammy Nofsker. I was six or seven years old at the time. I was both fascinated and repulsed by the whip. It seemed kind of scary, but being a young boy, I wanted to play with it. Grammy kept the whip in a drawer of a dresser that she had in her apartment, and every now and then she'd let me pick it up and hold it. I was a little hesitant each time I first looked at it, because it actually did look like a snake to me, and it took a bit of gumption for me to extend my hand toward it. 

I was forbidden to swing the whip around through the air ~ I might hit something and break it ~ so I was satisfied with just holding the whip in my hands. And you ask ~ how on earth was that possible? I lived in the day and age when children respected their elders, and when we were told not to do something we listened. Period. No need for a 'time out', you simply listened and behaved. The few instances when dad took off his leather belt and gave me a sharp slap across the behind was remembered when I even contemplated misbehaving. So I would just hold the whip and imagine what it would be like to 'crack' it over the heads of a team of horses to make them trot ~ or better yet, gallop ~ a bit faster. I didn't have any video game or YouTube clip to show me how a blacksnake whip should be handled, but I had seen movies in which the hero used his whip to spur his horses to pull the carriage faster. I could easily imagine what it would be like to swing the whip gracefully through the air without actually having to do so ~ against my parents' or Grammy's orders ~ and breaking something valuable in the process.

So what was a blacksnake whip? 

Numerous leather strips were braided together around a steel or iron rod to make the handle. The braiding of the leather strips was continued for a length of about two or three feet, and then they were attached together somehow so that a single strip only extended about another two feet. The single strip of leather was usually tied into a knot at the very end of the whip. The braiding of the many strips of leather gave a mottled coloring which, in addition to the shape, did indeed look like a snake. The texture of the braided leather strips resembled snake scales and the various shades of brown of the leather resembled the coloring moreso of a rattlesnake, copperhead or milksnake than a blacksnake.

A website I checked out recently noted that a blacksnake whip was one that did not have a piece of metal in the handle, and therefore could be completely coiled up, resembling a coiled snake ready to strike. The writer of that website apparently did not come from the Appalachian region of Pennsylvania, because the things that people around here always called blacksnake whips had metal rods in the handle.

The blacksnake whip was not the twenty-feet long whip like the one that Indiana Jones cracked in the movies of the same name. Blacksnake whips tended to be only between four and six feet in total length. They were used by a carriage driver to spur on his horse(s) by a slight swat rather than by a skin tearing rip.

The idea of the whip, when coiled up, resembling a coiled snake is an accurate description. That's why, when Grammy Nofsker would let me open up the dresser drawer, and my eyes would first catch sight of the whip, I would experience a momentary sense of fright.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

From SeaFoam To Art

The object at the top of this post is only two inches long, but despite its small size, it has nicely sculpted features. My paternal grandfather gave it to me when I was young, and so I have treasured it for at least fifty years.

What the picture above shows is a detail from a cigarette holder made from the material known as Meerschaum. Both, cigarette holders and pipes were carved from meerschaum.

Meerschaum is a substance composed of hydrous magnesium silicate; it is a mineral of the soapstone family. The substance has been known, down through the decades since the 1650s, variously as seafoam, sepiolite, White Goddess, and Venus of the Sea.

At one time it was thought that meerschaum consisted of petrified sea foam, hence the one name given to it because the word meerschaum is a German word meaning simply 'sea foam'. It was given that name because it was found to be floating on the Black Sea, pieces of it having been freed from the sea bottom to rise to the top because of its porosity.

Although it has been claimed that the name was assigned to the material as early as 1475, the first pipe to have been carved out of meerschaum is claimed to have been one made in the year 1652 by the French artist Louis Pierre Puget.
Another claim has been made by a Hungarian nobleman, Count Andrassy, who received a piece of meerschaum in the year 1723 from the sultan of Turkey, and who gave it to a cobbler at Pesth who carved pipes out of wood. What is known is that by the 1750s there was a great demand for the material and for pipes carved from it. Objects, such as pipes and cigarette holders made from meerschaum were expensive, and therefore a commodity purchased or commissioned by only the rich. Very often meerschaum pipes and cigarette holders were not purchased to be used for smoking, but rather simply for the sake of the artistic carving.

The meerschaum material was very well suited to being carved in fine detail. That made it possible for this tiny man to be so nicely carved.The fact that the mouthpiece is broken off never bothered me because I never intended to use it, anyways. I always considered it more of an artwork than a smoking tool.

Monday, July 29, 2013

They Don't Make Tools Like They Used To

The object that I found at a local antique shop was made totally of wood, except for a metal pin and a screw. It looked old, having the start of a wonderful patina which gave the impression that it had been used for quite some time. When I first found this old wooden tool, I made the decision to purchase it simply because I liked its color and the simple beauty of the wood of which it is composed.

The tool is stamped with the name: Stanley; the town of

manufacture: New Britain, Conn, USA; and the model number: 64.
A check of the item revealed that it was called a marking gauge, and that it was used to scribe lines on wood at a set distance from an edge. It would scribe the line parallel to a reference edge or surface. A common name of this tool was: scratch gauge.

The tool is made of beech wood with a thumb screw that was usually made of boxwood. A brass pin on the one end protruded through the 8" long arm that is 3/4' square on cross section. The arm was marked off and incised in inches and sixteenths of an inch up to the six inch point. A small metal screw beside the pin allowed the pin to be replaced and kept tightened in place.
The long arm, more specifically called the bar or beam, is passed through a thick wooden plate, more specifically called the main body or headstock, and the thumb screw loosens and tightens to allow the main body to be moved along the length of the bar and then tightened in place. A piece of brass plate, cut in a fancy shape, and attached to the side of the main body facing the scribing pin, provided a smooth, slick edge to run along the reference edge or surface.

The No. 64 model of marking gauge was produced by the Stanley tool company circa 1912. It is a nice example of hand tool produced in an era before mass-production resulted in dull, boring and simply utilitarian tools.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

A Little Stool For A Big Job

It is very nice to be able to get in the car and drive just two miles to the store where I can pick up a half gallon of milk any time I wish ~ no hunkering, squeezing, or pulling. You know what I mean, don't you?

The little stool shown above was owned by my step-grandmother, Luella. Although she was my paternal grandfather, Eldon Smith's third wife, she came into my life shortly after my maternal grandmother, Grammy Nofsker, had passed away. And so, even though Luella was not a blood relative, she most certainly became my true grandmother. She shared with me her memories, and sometimes, as in this case, some cherished items from her life.

Luella (Burket) Smith lived a hard life ~ much like the life that most women from the Pennsylvania Appalachians lived during the time reaching from the earliest settlement into the late-20th Century. It was a life of taking care of the children, cleaning the house, cooking the meals, washing the clothes, besides perhaps having to work outside the house to help make ends meet. (For those young readers who never heard that phrase, "making ends meet" was another way of saying "earning enough money to pay all the bills".) Luella worked for a number of years at a railroad repair facility to help make ends meet. She told me stories about the work she did ~ such as having to roll barrels of parts and materials from one location to another. My own mother took a job housekeeping for a local dentist to help make ends meet. It was a time before mechanical conveniences, so work was, in many ways, tedious and tiring ~ and not only for the men.

The three legged stool that is shown in this post was an object that my grandmother, Luella, used just about every day for many years. This stool, and a tin bucket, were the two things that were used for the job of milking cows. Luella would carry the bucket to the barn. There, she would grab the little stool ~ perhaps by the oval hole at the stool's front edge ~ and position it to the one side of the cow that she intended to milk. Then, hunkering down onto the stool, she would get into position to begin the task of coaxing milk from the cow. Luella would grasp one of the cow's teats in one hand by encircling it at the point where it extends from the udder with her thumb and forefinger. With a gentle, but firm, pressure, Luella would tighten her grasp between the thumb and forefinger, and then in an even rhythm, the teat would be encircled by the middle finger, the ring finger and finally pinkie. The grasp would be released and repeated a couple times with the first few squirts of milk being directed onto the floor. This ensured that any bacteria that might have grown from the last time the cow was milked would be cleaned out of the teat. After the first few squirts, the metal bucket would be placed under the cow, and the milk being squirted out would be directed into the bucket. In case the cow gave a kick while being milked, Luella could move quickly off the stool and out of harm's way.

With the milking completed, Luella would stand up, picking up the little three-legged stool with one hand and placing it out of the way, perhaps by hanging it on a nail stuck in one of the barn's support posts. The little three-legged stool was the perfect type of seat for this job. A four-legged chair with a back would have been difficult to handle when the milking was finished. A bench would have been equally unwieldy. Luella could easily grab and lift the little stool with one hand. She would probably grab the handle of the bucket at the same time with the other hand to lift it out of the way before the cow had a chance to kick it.

Since a cow needed to be milked twice a day, the little three-legged stool shown above was, no doubt, used hundreds, if not thousands of times. The little stool served a useful purpose for a job that was very important in the lives of the Appalachian people because there weren't many stores close by to which you could drive for a half-gallon of milk any time you desired.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Did Little Briar-Rose Prick Her Finger, Or What?

According to the tale, upon the birth of their daughter, a king and queen gave a great feast in which they invited only twelve of the thirteen wise women in the kingdom. The reason given was that they possessed only twelve golden plates for them to eat from, and therefore one guest had to be left out. On the night of the feast, each of the wise women gave the beautiful baby a gift. The twelfth gift was just about to be bestowed, when all of a sudden the door burst open and the uninvited, thirteenth witch (for that is what the wise women really were) came storming into the hall. "This child will prick her finger on a spindle in her fifteenth year and fall down dead!", she exclaimed before storming out again. Everyone was shocked; wouldn't you be? Luckily, the twelfth wise woman, who had been interrupted before she could bestow her gift, stepped forward and announced that although she could not remove the curse just laid upon the child, she could soften its effects. The gift she gave to the newborn babe was the promise that the child would not die, but only fall into a deep sleep ~ a sleep of one hundred years ~ a sleep from which she could be revived by a prince ~ a charming prince. Just to be safe, the king decreed that all the spindles in the kingdom were to be burned. The child grew into a beautiful princess and her fifteenth birthday came and went without incident. Everyone sighed a sigh of relief that possibly the curse would not be fulfilled after all. But despite all the precautions they had taken to protect their daughter, the king and queen were appalled to find, upon returning from an outing one day, that their daughter was lying prostrate on a bed in an old tower of the castle.

Apparently, the young princess had wandered through the various rooms of the castle, and finding the door of the tower room unlocked, had ventured in. There she found an old woman rocking back and forth in a chair, and spinning flax on a spindle. The girl was fascinated since she had never before seen anyone spinning ~ remember, the king had years before decreed that all the spindles in the kingdom be destroyed. The princess, being enraptured by the rhythmic motions in which the old woman was engaged, asked if she could, herself, try to spin the flax. The old woman agreed to show the princess how, and as she reached out to take the spindle, the finger of the princess was pricked.

According to the tale, published in The Complete Grimm's Fairy Tales by Pantheon Books, under the alternative title: Little Briar Rose, the exact wording is: ...and there in a little room sat an old woman with a spindle, busily spinning her flax. "Good day, old mother," said the King's daughter; "what are you doing there?" "I am spinning," said the old woman, and nodded her head. "What sort of thing is that, that rattles round so merrily?" said the girl, and she took the spindle and wanted to spin too. But scarcely had she touched the spindle when the magic decree was fulfilled, and she pricked her finger with it.

I have always loved the tales spun by Jacob and Wilhelm ~ the Brothers Grimm. In fact,on my bookshelf I have three volumes of their tales; and in two of the volumes, the tale of the sleeping beauty is illustrated with images of a shriveled old crony hunched over a flax spinning wheel, with the young princess approaching.

I'm sure that all the readers of this post understand why the image I just described is so wrong, and why it bothers me. It bothers me that the engravers of the illustrations felt they could take the license to interpret the spindle with which the old woman was spinning, as a flax spinning wheel. I own a number of spinning wheels, both flax and wool, and can positively state that it would have been difficult for the young princess to have pricked her finger on the spindle of the flax wheel, because no sharp point extends from the spindle assembly. Granted, the spindle assembly of the flax wheel (shown above) contains two rows of bent wire hooks to guide the fibers as they're wound onto the spindle shaft, but the Brothers Grimm did not state that the princess got her finger pricked on one of the spindle assembly guide hooks. Now the spindle of the wool wheel, which is variously called a great wheel (shown below), is indeed pointy and sharp. A princess could certainly prick her finger on the spindle of the wool wheel, but the Brothers Grimm did not say that the old woman was spinning wool, it specifically stated that she was "spinning her flax."

No, the tale, as written by the Brothers Grimm, describes the old woman as spinning flax on a spindle ~ simply a spindle. So it must be assumed that the tool upon which the old woman was spinning ~ and upon which the princess pricked her finger ~ would have been what's known as a handspinning drop spindle. The accompanying photo shows one of these spindles.
It is made of wood ~ which would corroborate the part of the tale that stated that the king decreed that all spindles in the kingdom be burned. Wooden drop spindles could indeed be burned. The action of spinning flax on this kind of drop spindle involves attaching some flax fibers to the slender spindle, giving it a twist to make it spin around, and then suspending it so that it's weight tightens the loose fibers into a tight spun yarn. And that action would indeed corroborate the part of the tale in which the princess asked: "What sort of thing is that, that rattles round so merrily?"

I think that it can be stated, unequivocally, that the thing upon which the young princess pricked her finger would have been a wooden drop spindle like the one I have illustrated. There is one problem, though. It seems that it would be difficult to prick your finger on one of these spindles, unless one end would be sharpened to a sharp point with a knife. The witch who wanted to bring her curse to fruition could have sharpened one of the ends of her spindle into a very sharp point, but then that sharp end would have probably caught on the forming thread ~ making it impossible for it to rattle "round so merrily." But the Brothers Grimm did not include such an important point in their tale.

Perhaps we'll never know what exactly the princess pricked her finger on, but we can be certain that it wasn't the flax spinning wheel that commonly appears in illustrations of the tale.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Sometimes A Half-Peck Just Isn't Enough

The subject of this post is the peck/half-peck measure shown above.

The word peck is derived from the Middle English word, pecke, which in turn was derived from either the Old French words, pek and/or picot, or from the Middle Low German word, pekken, all dating from the 13th Century. One source suggests that the word peck was derived from the Latin word picotus. The original meaning of the word is unknown, but it might have referred to the amount of oats fed to horses. A peck has, over the centuries, come to amount to one quarter of a bushel, or eight quarts in dry measure. It is a measure of volume rather than weight.

The word cooper comes from kuper, a Lower Saxon word meaning "a tub", and was conferred on one who makes tubs, along with casks, barrels and similar items. It has been suggested that the idea of containing liquids inside a vessel constructed of wooden staves or slats arose from the shipbuilding industry. In the days of ships that were constructed of wood, the idea was to fit wooden boards tightly together so that the liquid of the ocean waters would be kept out. Someone must have looked at that and realized that if you could keep the ocean water out of a wooden ship, you might likewise keep liquids inside a similarly constructed wooden vessel. A cooper might make nothing but containers other than casks. In that case, he was called a white cooper.

The kinds of things the white cooper made included: buckets, piggins and peck/half-peck measures, in which the ‘head’ was installed part way between the two ends. The head was so positioned so that two different dry measurements could be obtained from the single cask, such as shown in the accompanying illustrations.

One might wonder why the peck/half-peck measure was created. A half-peck measure simply needed to be filled twice to obtain the amount that would fill the peck measure. So what was the point of constructing a single container that measured both, pecks and half-pecks? I have searched high and low for an answer to this question, but have have no luck. Perhaps the cooper who initially created it, thought that the peck and half-peck sizes were good one to work with. A bushel/half-bushel measure would have been too large for anyone to handle easily, while wooden containers smaller than the peck/half-peck size would have been less than convenient to use. Apparently the first cooper to construct the peck/half-peck measure realized that it was an ideal size for a combined measuring container.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Who's Got Cold Feet? ~ Not Me!

The "cold feet" to which I am referring in the title of this post implies being cautious or afraid to do something. But this post is going to be about the physical condition of having feet that are actually cold because of low temperatures.

If I have cold feet today, I can put on an extra pair of regular socks (or maybe a first pair), or I can put on thermal socks that have a source of power to heat up. I can also simply turn the heat up in my house or car ~ because if my feet are cold, the rest of my body might also already be, or soon will be getting, cold.

But during the centuries before the Industrial Age, when cars and houses became heated by battery or electricity operated heaters, most people's houses were heated by fireplaces or cast-iron stoves that were fueled by wood or coal (or perhaps peat). Their horse-drawn carriages had no built-in heaters of any sort. So while the people inside a house could put their feet closer to the fireplace, or even rest them on the stove, the riders of horse-drawn carriages had to resort to other means. (It's no secret that the structure of most carriages did not include fireplaces or cast-iron stoves.)

The item shown at the top of this post is what was known, variously, as a foot-warmer or foot-stove.

In fact, before the cast-iron house stove was invented, the foot-warmer, in its Dutch form, was called a stoof, from which the English word stove was derived. As the other photos show, the foot-warmer was constructed of a tin box held in a wooden frame. The sides of the tin box were pierced with holes in a design ~ in this example, of a heart within a circle. The holes were not just for design purposes, but rather they provided multiple points to permit heat to radiate outward from the center of the box.
The box had one little door which gave access to the center of the box, and through which a small scoop or tray could be inserted (to add hot coals) or removed (to discard the spent ashes). A wire handle on the top of the foot-warmer made it easy to carry.

The user would scoop up some hot coals from the fireplace or pull them out of the stove, using fireplace tongs or shovel. The hot coals would then be placed in the scoop/tray, and then into the foot-warmer. The foot-warmer's door would be closed and fastened (in this example by a small loop of wire that was bent to catch on the inside edge of the box). The user would then lift the box by the wire handle and carry it to the carriage. The foot-warmer would normally be set on the floor of the carriage in front of the seat, the riders would take their places on the seat with their legs and feet on either side of the foot-warmer, and then they would spread a blanket over their laps. A male rider would often gallantly permit his female riding companion to place her feet onto the top of the foot-warmer if she wished.
The blanket would trap the heat radiating from the foot-warmer, thereby heating not only the riders' feet, but their whole legs. The type of blanket that was usually employed for use on a carriage was what was called a horse-hair blanket. It was called that whether it was constructed from horse hair or not. The horse-hair blanket tended to be a quilt that was filled with sawdust or hay, which added to it extra insulating properties. When the riders arrived to their destination, such as the church or meeting-house, the foot-warmer would be carried along for continued use.

Foot-warmers were used more by women than by men, perhaps because men tended to wear heavy leather boots as compared to women who tended to wear cloth or thinner, patent leather shoes.
Children also crowded around the foot-warmer to warm not only their feet and toes, but also their hands and fingers. In fact, the children often were granted the 'privilege' of loading and emptying, and carrying the foot-warmer.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Sometimes You Don't Find Objects; The Objects Find You

I titled this post: "Sometimes you don't find objects; the objects find you" because it is true.

Years ago, I was visiting a local antique store, and I came across a book that I thought I would buy. It was titled: Pennsylvania In The War Of The Revolution, Battalions And Line. 1775-1783, Volume II. The subject matter of the book included histories and rosters of the regiments that made up the Pennsylvania Continental Line during the American Revolutionary War. The book has what is known as "three-quarter leather binding with hand-marbled paper covers." The pieces of leather on the cover are of a reddish-brown color, and the marbled paper is predominantly red. I like books that are so nicely bound, and so the purchase of this one was not in question. The only problem I found in the book was that it included information only on the Continental Line and not the various provincial militia troops. (Of the thirteen men from whom I directly descend, who took up the Patriot Cause during that War, they all served in provincial militia units rather than the Continental Line. Therefore, the book I had found, although interesting enough, was not of much use to me personally. What was a bit aggravating was that this volume, being the second of two, contained an index in which I could see that information regarding my own Patriot ancestors had been included in Volume I.

About four or five years after finding the above-mentioned book, I was visiting an antiquarian bookstore in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Much to my surprise, I came across a box of nineteen books from the published Pennsylvania Archives. They were under a table of other books, in a part of the store that I had not really intended to visit. The books were from the Second Series and included nineteen volumes. At the time, I did not take the time to check if every volume was in the box; I was assured that the set was complete by the owner of the bookstore. The bookstore owner said that the whole set, which consisted of nineteen volumes, was there, and so as the price was right, I purchased the box. As I was looking through the books that evening, at the motel in which I was spending the night, I put them in order to make sure that every volume was accounted for. In so doing, I discovered that there were actually two copies of Volume VI (i.e. Six) and no Volume XI (i.e. Eleven). In this set, Volume X (i.e. Ten) was titled: Pennsylvania In The War Of The Revolution, Battalions And Line. 1775-1783, Volume I.  The set of books that I had just purchased was complete, with the exception of missing only one volume ~ and that volume was the one that I had purchased about five years before.
I was dumbstruck! I could hardly wait to get home to check if the book that had been on my shelf for five years was the one missing from this set.
The nearly complete set of books that I purchased in Lancaster were also three-quarter leather bound, with hand-marbled paper covers, but while the paper marbling was the same as the other single volume ~ predominantly reddish in color ~ the leather portions were of a dark brownish-black color. The set was published in 1895, while the single volume was published in 1880.

It's amazing how the set-minus-one-volume made its way to be found by me, and for the missing volume to be the one that I already had in my possession. I am not sure if it was coincidence or fate that brought all nineteen volumes together, but somehow they all found me.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

At Last It's Time To Talk About The Last

My mother, Dollie's surname was Nofsker. She was descended from Michael and Anna (Servin) Naffzger. The Naffzger (variously, Neffzger) family originally made their home, during the mid-1600s, near Baden, in Canton Aargau, Switzerland (to the northwest of Zurich), but later came to reside in the village of Frauenfeld in Canton Thurgau, Switzerland (to the northeast of Zurich). Michael and Anna's son, Hans Caspar Neffzger, moved his wife Elizabeth (Gysi) and their family further westward, taking up residence in the village of Bubendorf in Canton Basel. It was at Burbendorf, that Hans Caspar Jr made a living as a shoemaker. His sons, Hans Caspar III and Hans Jakob, also took up the profession of shoemaker. A third son of Hans Caspar Jr, Heinrich, moved to the city of Basel, being listed in public records as a resident in both the Horburgstrasse and Colmarerstrasse sections of the city. Heinrich's grandson, Heinrich Naftzger, emigrated from his ancestral Swiss homeland with his maternal grandparents, Heinrich and Anna (Thommen) Meyer.
The Meyers and grandson, Heinrich Naftzger, arrived at Philadelphia in the colonial province of Pennsylvania in 1771. Heinrich Naftzger was my mother's great-great-grandfather. After he married Margareth Beschtler in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, they moved northwestward to take up residence in Miles Township, Centre County, Pennsylvania. And guess what occupation Heinrich took up? He became a shoemaker! When he died, his will revealed a number of shoemaker tools. One of Heinrich's sons, Jonathan, would take up the profession of shoemaker, in turn, being listed as such after he moved to the Bedford County township of Greenfield circa 1838.

Now, my primary intention in this post was not to give you a full family history of my mother's ancestors, but rather to point out that sometimes a profession or occupation is handed down from one generation to another. Such was the case with my Naffzger ancestors and the occupation of shoemaking.

Let's look at some names first. A shoemaker was once called a cordwainer. Cordwainers were identified in England as early as 1100. The name was gradually superseded by the name shoemaker as the need to differentiate between the shoe-maker and the shoe-seller became evident. Then there is the name cobbler. Many people think that the names cobbler and shoemaker were interchangeable. They weren't. The shoemaker, as the name suggests, made shoes. The cobbler, on the other hand, repaired shoes.

The object pictured here is known variously as a shoemaker's hammer or as a cobbler's hammer. The same hammer would have been used to make and repair shoes, so the names are interchangeable. The shoemaker worked with very small tacks when constructing shoes, in the attachment of the heels to the soles, and so a small, but heavy headed hammer was ideal for his work. But other than that function, the hammer was not used for conventional hammering of nails in the making of shoes. Rather, the hammer was used to stretch and form the leather over a wooden or metal last. The wide, blunt end of the hammer was used to peen the leather, the word 'peen' meaning to form it into shape by striking it. The leather would often be dampened and then peened with the shoemaker's hammer; this resulted in the fibrous tissues of the leather being flattened, thereby making the leather somewhat water resistant.

The leather was stretched and shaped over a wooden mold called a last.

The name for this mold was derived from the Old English laeste, which itself was derived from the Old High German leist, meaning a track or footprint.

The shoemaker's last, as shown in the accompanying examples, was commonly made of wood, carved in the form of the inside of the intended shoe. The shoemaker would come to possess lasts in various sizes to accommodate a variety of customers' foot sizes. But only one last per size was needed because there was no difference between the left and right shoes. 
Both shoes in a pair tended to be given square, flat toes; left and right were interchangeable. As the Nineteenth Century merged into the Twentieth, the wooden last came to be replaced by a metal one. Then, with the development of machines that accomplished all of the duties of the shoemaker during the Industrial Revolution, the shoemaker found himself out of a job.

I acquired the wooden shoe lasts that are shown in this post at different times and at antique stores and flea markets throughout the south-central Pennsylvania region.
The lasts which were used by Jonathan Nofsker, the most recent shoemaker in my mother's family, were found in a large trunk when his great-grandson was going through his deceased parents' estate. He called me up to ask if I had any idea why his parents would have a trunk full of a bunch of carved wooden 'things'.