The Old Settlers' Picnic 9-30-1885
Memorial Address of Mrs. D. A. Aldrich on the Occasion of the Annual Meeting of the Old Settlers of Kendall County in Yorkville September 17, 1885
Originally Published in the Kendall County Record, September 30, 1885.
Edited and Compiled by Elmer Dickson.
Mrs. D. A. Aldrich, of Millington, ('Galva') made the following address:
Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen, Neighbors and Friends, one and all:
It is with pleasure that I meet so many friends of Auld Lang Syne, as well as valued and pleasant acquaintances of a later date. Be assured that I would never attempt to fill the position, to which your committee has invited me to; that of addressing this large and intelligent assembly, if I did I not feel that your sympathies were with me, and I do believe that there is a bond of friendship surrounding us. For years I have paid a weekly visit to many homes in Kendall County and vicinity, in connection with the Record, and so I feel fairly well acquainted with most of you, and should I make a blunder, as I nearly always do, or an utter failure, I know that you will kindly excuse me.
It is so seldom that I speak in public that I have thought better to write out what I wish to present. I feel that should I attempt to speak from memory, I might lose every idea when standing before this audience, hence the manuscript. Having written it, I think at least I shall be able to read it.
Often the exercises at these old settler's meeting, take on a form of class meetings, or experience meetings. It is quite natural that they run in that line; and although I am not a Methodist, perhaps I lean sufficiently in that direction to tell my own experience in a new country. If I repeat something that others have said, or nearly the same, it is because we have passed through similar scenes in an early day. Or, if you please, consider it is only evidence that 'great minds run in the same channel.'
Forty-seven years ago the 6th day of last July, my father and mother, with a family of six children, the orthodox number in those days, embarked on the good old schooner Detroit, from Oswego, New York. After a voyage of nearly five weeks, we landed in Chicago on the 12th of August. We stayed in Chicago for a day and a half while my father looked for a conveyance to take us out to my uncle, George A. Southworth's home at Mission Point, La Salle County,.
Finally a man was found whose business it was to carry people to different parts, and he was engaged to take us out for twenty dollars. Four days were required to make the trip and return to Chicago. We started Saturday morning, crossed the river by ferry and struck across the flats. The weather was fine and everything about us new and strange. My father was quite silent, probably thinking of what he had left behind, the busy scenes of the courtroom in large towns as connected with his profession (that of a lawyer), and then going now to an isolated life on a farm on these bleak prairies. But my mother was delighted with the country and kept calling our attention to the wild flowers and a thousand other things fresh and beautiful around us. Although a child but ten years old, I have always considered that journey as one of the most pleasant of my life.
At noon we took dinner at Widow Berry's Point, and after dinner, while the horses were resting, my older sister and younger brother and I strolled out under the oaks and picked up the first acorns I ever saw. With the aid of my brother's old knife, we soon had a set of tiny cups and saucers. Perhaps some of the other sex are thinking, 'Yes, that is the girl of it, fixing up for housekeeping,' And as I am telling my experience I must tell the truth about it, and it is a fact that I always did like housekeeping, and like it yet. A further fact is that my play houses were never adorned or decorated with rag babies, like some I used to see; and when I became a women I never fooled away any of my time (if I may be allowed that expression), with pet dogs or cats, but a real live progressive baby that will finally amount to something and reward you for your care and love; there is something natural and sensible about that.
After a warm but pleasant afternoons ride we stopped at Naperville for the night. We stayed at the first public house we came to, which was Scott's. As we drew up to the house we saw for the first time something of the free and easy wild western life. We saw various sports and races between a man on horseback and a man on foot, and were greatly pleased with the performance. We really began to fear that it might be wrong to look at them because the strict upbringing in those days suggested that whatever was funny was bad. Not a particle of lath or plaster was on that old house. I remember as we occupied a room over the kitchen, how the heat and fumes came up through the cracks in the floor. People were eating meals half the night in the room, with only one window. The mosquitoes came in until tired children found sleep impossible. I have often thought of that overworked, faithful woman, with all her inconveniences, doing all she could, the best she could.
Sunday morning we were on the road early, as we had a long Sabbath day's journey to reach Mission Grove that day. We drove to Oswego for breakfast. Considerably after noon we stopped before the cabin of that good old pioneer, George Hollenback, and found him at the door, as represented in our county maps, ever ready to welcome the stranger. It was then and there that I first met my friend, the Honorable George M. Hollenback, the first white child born in Kendall County. He, with other little brothers, ran around back of the house and peaked through the ends of the logs at corners of the cabin, at the little Yankee girls as they alighted from the wagon, and after a while came around for a little closer acquaintance, which has been kept up until the present day, nearly fifty years later.
About four o'clock as we neared Newark, then Georgetown, and met a young man out walking with a young lady on each arm. He had large blue eyes and was dressed in the latest style. My sister was just coming into young womanhood, and as we passed them she was probably thinking, would there ever be a slim chance for her. said: 'Well, that young gentleman is provided for; I wonder who they are.' And mother replied, 'I guess the young man is the jack of hearts.' (We didn't say knave at that early period.) And it came to pass in later years that the young man took to himself a wife from among the fair daughters of Eve, or rather one of the daughters if Abel, whose surname was Gleason, and the good people here-a-bouts elected him to an important office in our county, which he held several years. He always had very large eyes and was known in our family as the Jack of Hearts, and it wasn't a bad pun on his name, either.
At Newark my father inquired of Walter Stowell the way to my uncle's house, four miles distant, which we reached just before nightfall.
We lived with my uncle's family for six weeks while my father was building a log cabin. The logs for the sides were cut from the grove, but as my uncle then owned the old missionary reservation, with many of the mission buildings still standing, my father tore one of them down and took a part of the hewn logs for the ends of our house and we moved in before cold weather.
The house was some sixteen feet by twenty feet, and in one corner my father bored some holes in the logs, with a borrowed auger, and drove in some long pegs or pins, and laid upon them some long boards taken from our dry goods boxes, and on these shelves my mother arranged her dishes, what few she had.
In the opposite corner, stood the ladder by which we ascended into the loft. As I want it distinctly understood that we were a little aristocratic and lived in a two story house. A bed stood in two of the other corners of the cabin. We had a terrible time with bed bugs, which beat everything that was ever known, they were the worst bugs that ever lived. They had lived in these logs ever since the missionaries were there.
My mother waged a terrible war, indeed it was sanguinary on both sides; but the enemy seemed to have the best of it. There were bugs to the right of us, and bugs to the rear of us, until it became fearfully evident that we must either retreat or be exterminated. It was about that time that my father was elected Justice of the Peace, and finding it utterly impossible to perform such duties of the office under such trying circumstances we retreated to Newark in very good order, all things considered. We moved to Newark in the fall of 1839, and the land sale occurred in the winter of 1839 and 1840.
In the spring of 1841, my father was taken after a short illness. He died in the prime of manhood with very much to live for, and like all Christians a great deal to die for, or to gain by dying. His last words were 'Peace like a river.' He left a widow and six children, most of them young, with little, save God's promise that He 'will be the widow's God and the father of the fatherless' and never was promise more faithfully fulfilled. And today, as I look over this assembly my eyes rest on one and another of both sexes, who did not forget to visit the widow and fatherless, in their affliction. And it was my earnest prayer that they and theirs may never know, from experience, all that we passed through.
As this is a memorial address, I know you will not consider me egotistical in speaking so much of myself. I could tell you what it is for a young girl to be thrown upon her own resources for daily bread.
I never lost trust in a Higher Power, my father's and mother's God. Nor I never wholly lost confidence in mankind, although at times it was considerably shaken.
The man or woman who has lost all faith and confidence in their fellow beings is in a pitiable condition.
And right here, before I forget it, let me say that the idea has often occurred in my mind, as well as the minds of many others, that a woman either old or young who can support herself honorably and well, by work of the brain or hands, ought to enjoy all the privileges that her brother man enjoys, even including elective franchise.
And like Mrs. Stowe's old Candice who always felt everything in her bones, so do I feel a presentiment that within the sound of my voice are young ladies who are sitting as once I was. My dear girls I have been all along there and I sympathize with you. Isn't it surprising how many indiscreet, incautious things a girl will say, and do, who has no father or older brother to protect and defend her, and no gold dust to blind the eyes of the censorious. Girls, the world is all before you with plenty of good, solid, hard work. Don't lean too much on your friends or they may let you drop and don't fear your enemies if you have any, as all the lasting harm we ever get generally comes from ourselves, in our own acts. Stand right by yourselves, learn to paddle it, remembering that the wheel of fortune is all the time turning. So make your arrangements when it brings you up to stay on top. Remember that nothing succeeds like success.
Keep your hearts and minds pure and true and you will find purity and truth in others, and one of these days when you settle down to good sensible steady home-keepers and respectable citizens, most every one will say, 'I knew she was the right kind of stuff and would come out alright.' If you should make a failure they will say, 'I told you so.' So have a care and be as wise as serpents and harmless as doves.
Again, as I see so many young ladies present, something leads me to think that some of them are school teachers, and that reminds me of the days when I was a district school ma'am. One dollar and a half a week was the wages I received, and was boarded around. I walked from one to two miles twice a day, teaching five and a half days for a week, and when I was patriotic enough to celebrate the 4th of July, as I always was, I had to lose the time when it didn't come on Sunday.
At the end of the five months of hard work, I had thirty dollars in my hand, and I assure you, at that time it seemed like quite a snug little sum. My salary didn't buy any silk dresses or sealskin sacques; we had none of those things in those days, but it did get a good many needed articles that I was proud to have earned.
Ladies, seeing your gold watches reminds me of a watch I carried one summer while teaching. It was an old English watch about the size and shape of an overgrown orange, and how or where to carry it was a continual puzzle. There was a peculiarity about that watch that I have often thought of, and I guess I'll mention it, as there may be persons present who have known time pieces to act in the same way.
Before we go further you must understand that a young man lent me that watch, No, it wasn't Lyell. The young gentleman is now quite an old gentleman, and is now living with his fourth wife, so you can perceive I was lucky that time. But to proceed, in school hours that old watch seemed to drag and be losing time. On Sunday evening when the young man came around to see you, we both noticed that the mean old thing was always too fast. That was the first, last and only watch I ever carried.
For thousands of years man has spoken publicly to his brother man, but it is only recently that women have addressed their sisters in public places; however much they may have gossiped together in private. However, things have changed and sometimes a woman gets the floor, as is the case today. Having spoken to the younger ladies, I would like to address a few words to those in middle age and older.
We of Kendall County are an agricultural people, which means when simmered down, hard work in the house as well as on the farm, and in the difficulty of getting good help, much of the work falls on the wife and mother, which with the care and responsibility of the family and home, many women break down before reaching middle age.
My dear sisters, those of you who are today looking so weak and weary, and are feeling so utterly good for nothing that you could hardly get here this morning, what is the standing prescription in your case? Give up all care and take life easy, and generally take all the medicine you can swallow. We would like to know how anyone can take life easy under such circumstances. The dinners must be ready, and on time, and other work done. There is no use in talking about that, and so if you can't get other help you must work in the whole family. If it is a fact, as some say it is, but I don't say it is, that girls don't help their mothers' as much as they should, in my private opinion the mothers are more to blame than the daughters.
How many mothers have we heard say, 'I don't want my daughter to work; I mean to give here a good time while she is at home,' (I suppose the good time means not to have anything to do) 'for I don't know who she will marry, nor how she will fare after marriage.' (We all know about how her husband will fare.) Such language is not very cheering to the daughter nor complimentary to her mother's husband and the future son-in-law, and may in part account for the frequently mentioned good understanding generally existing between son-in-law and mother-in-law.
Now for our prescription for the tired out invalid wife and mother. Perhaps for many reasons you can't leave home to seek health in other climes, as many do, (and by the way I have known but few to find it there, so that they were permanently restored after coming back to their homes.) It is mostly better to stay in the comfortable home and be much in the sunshine and open air. But you will never get any good from standing around outdoors and watching your symptoms. You must have occupation in the open air; something for mind and hands, something in which you can take an interest. Don't wait about going out until you are all exhausted with other things, but go fresh, and at the time of day when you are feeling your best, then have something to do. Go to Mr. Minkler's nursery, or to some other reliable nurseryman, and get a lot of small fruit and cultivate that, or patronize those who sell such plants and flowers as flourish in the open ground, or look after the vegetable garden. Or, should your fancy run in that direction, get some poultry and pay five dollars a setting for eggs if you want to, it is nobody's business but your own. You may not get much money out of these little schemes, but you will get health and comfort, which are far better than money.
You know my dear sisters that we can't always have on that regulation everlasting smile that has been recommended to us by writers of prose and poetry, because, when we are suffering intensely, or feeling miserably, we can't see anything particular to smile about, and perhaps too often show our bad feelings in our countenances, and it is depressing to the children to see their mother in that way. Then too, it is liable to drive husbands into a lunatic asylum, or what is far more probable, into the divorce court. Try and get well. Put off as long as possible the time when a long account of your many virtues shall be all spread out on a large and expensive monument and you won't be there to read it. Learn what a wonderfully good woman you have been, to be sure. You know there are persons who have been all their lives starring for flowers, so to speak, but they get enough of them at the last, when it does them no good. Then uses the specifics freely given you by the Great Healer, fresh air and sunshine, and get well.
John Litsey, West Matlock, Lewis 'Lew' Steward, Mr. Minkler, and Reverend Andrew Wells Chapman, with about a dozen others here, told us time and again something of the privations and hardships that they or their parents endured while settling this country and making their homes on these beautiful prairies, and the query naturally arises, why did our fathers and mothers encounter these perils and hardships, and remain to endure and conquer them? It was because they believed that by so doing they could secure independent homes for themselves and better conditions for their children. Probably not one in a thousand of the actual settlers thought of wealth. They sought comfortable homes, with honest independence. And on this note, I must leave you.
I had intended to give further incidents of my experience in a new country, but as I am expecting to have other opportunities, of and on at these meeting in the next two or three decades I will omit them today as they will keep, and touch upon a thought which seems too closely connected with the matter in hand to be left out on this occasion, and so in conclusion will speak of these considerations. Please do not understand that I have gone through, not at all. But I thought it might be well enough to mention that we have now reached the beginning of the end.
You all know that when a thorough going, earnest man puts all his force in a certain direction, he is pretty sure of getting what he strived for. When the Indian Brave goes on the war path he leaves his squaw and papoose behind, but when he goes on a peaceful mission he takes them with him. It is the same with his white brother, and so it is that when a man turns his back on his wife, children and home, with all their sacred associations and good influences, he has cut loose from his sheet anchor, and then often really good men fall.
Take for example, if you please, the gold excitement of California more than thirty years ago. How many of our citizens rushed there for gold? Made haste to get rich? Many of them were among our best citizens. Generally they were strong, enterprising and energetic men. Probably none of them thought when leaving here of making their homes in California, but to take all they could get of its wealth and return to their homes. And that spirit or sentiment with which California was settled is the sentiment of their people today. 'In the golden state the stronger said to the weaker, 'get our of my way; I want all there is to be had,' instead of acting on the principals of our fathers on the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains, even down to the Atlantic coast, inviting those of all nations and every clime to come to our shores and find a haven of peace and rest.
Wealth is all right in its place, and most of us would like its place with ourselves; but to make the acquisition paramount to everything else, has its bad results. We often hear the rich man spoken of as the successful man, while others consider the politician as successful if he accomplished his purpose, and he is so in a manner; and still others consider a man who is popular in any calling and carries all before him, as the successful man and admire him accordingly.
But, my friends, there is another side to this question, and the really successful man, as some others view it, is the many who has a conscience void of offense against God, enjoys a reasonable hope of happiness in another state of existence., whether he leaves millions of money behind him, or finds rest n the pauper's grave, he is the successful man in the best sense of the term.
But to return to our parents, the man who has a family and has a home has taken root, as it were, and so our fathers and mothers and children all came together. Such a man usually abides in one place. He is careful not to disgrace his family. He keeps his name unsullied, that it may go down fair to his children. Indeed, he has an interest in the community that one constantly moving cannot feel. That is doubtless one of the causes, or will in a great measure account for the fact that most of the crime is committed by the floating population. Then let every man have a family, and every family have a home, and be it ever so humble. It is better than living in a place belonging to another. The fact that our fathers did view the matter in that light is due to our prosperous and happy homes, with all the sacred joys and loved associations that cluster about them. No wonder then that our fathers and mothers were successful in this their undertaking. It was blessed by God, for there is no earthly love as pure as the bond of affection which unites the well ordered family, and it gives a peace and contentment that unbounded riches alone can never buy.
There is another reason why our people are prosperous and happy, The Creator made first the agriculturist, and so that kind of work seems to be in accordance with nature's laws. And when we come to reflect, we feel that all the trades and professions have come about through the machinations of Satan, and from being agriculturists ourselves, doubtless is one reason why older people are constantly advising boys to stay on the farm. The committee did not state how far they expected me to go back in history in this memorial address, but probably only to my own early recollections.
But not being restricted I have concluded to go clear back to Adam, to help the boys our in their determination to take up other work instead of staying home on the old farm, as many of them do. Forty years ago the case was quite different. We needed farmers then, but since that time business of all kinds has greatly changed. Railroads and manufactures with various other enterprises and improvements have sprung up, employing thousands of men. In addition, farm machinery has come into use reducing the amount of labor required to accomplish the same tasks as before. More farmers are not needed now. What farmers want is more consumers and fewer producers. Witness the low price of farm products.
And now we will introduce our father Adam. There is a great deal said nowadays about evolution and progress and all that sort of thing, but in many respects there has been little change or progress, in certain directions in the six thousand years or so. There is no difference in some respects between our boys and Adam when he was a boy, or young man.
You recollect Adam's father gave him a good start, a first rate farm, large garden with orchard and lots of stock and animals enough to start a dozen first class menageries, but he wasn't satisfied, and finally he and Eve went into the fruit business and lost all they had. And then Adam was obliged to take Horace Greely's advice and go west. And as it is now with men and boys, many of them are not satisfied with doing well, and so make a change to do worse. I am not sure that it is best to advise young men and boys a great deal, only I will say, shun bad company; never go where you would not take your mother or sister. Give all high license salons a wide berth, just the same as you would low license saloons, as we are most credibly informed there is not a particle of difference in the liquors they sell, nor in the effects of them. Don't call your father the old man, nor your mother the old woman or the ancient dame. If you don't want to work on the farm then work at something else, either with the mind or hands, or both. It is the drones in society that make it so hard on the worker bees, and so by all means work and I think you will come out all right.
Somehow I don't like to close my remarks today without speaking something more of the home, as that was the first and greatest consideration with our parents when settling this country. They performed their duty and performed it well, and most of them have passed to their reward. Their portion of the blessings which they thus labored to secure they have enjoyed and bequeathed to their children. We enjoy them as an inheritance won, not by our own toils, but the gift of heaven through their suffering and their achievements, not without a change of correspondent duty upon ourselves. What then is duty? Most assuredly it is to preserve, cherish and improve the inheritance they have left us, our homes, and maintain them in purity and peace after our father's plan, which is heaven's own plan. The right kind of home makers are the right kind of law makers, as the good home is the foundation of good government. My brothers, you will know that it takes both sexes to make a perfect home and perhaps they might work well together in making a more perfect form of government. And when you are convinced that such is the case, you may be able to win the woman into partnership.
But above the home, four walls never make a home, neither does marble nor a brown stone front alone. And although people may stay there, they are not always homes. Then what does make a home? Yes, I believe I will say it. It is that old-fashioned thing called love, a very essential element in the home. And you know my friends, if you know anything about it, and I hope you do, that love is a tender plant. It can't endure the fierce blasts of scorn or contempt, or the neglect of indifference. It must be cherished and cared for or it will wither or die. And now how to nourish and bring out the full beauty of this God given flower, love, we will consider a moment, with some of the ways by which it is chilled if not killed out. And perhaps we can better come at the real gist of the matter by mentioning something of the domestic life of Thomas Carlyle, the famous author who recently died in England. Mr. Carlyle was always deep in literary work, a very laborious writer constantly sending out volumes, and seldom, or never giving himself a moment's recreation.
Mrs. Carlyle entered heartily into the spirit of his work, and dearly loved her husband, and one would judge from his biography and reminiscences, that he thought equally well of her. However, he didn't have time to mention it to her as often as he should have done, or at least, so he afterward thought.
For years Mrs. Carlyle was in poor health and the only exercise she was able to take was a daily ride, and as Tom, as she familiarly called her husband, was too busy with his work for humanity, to go out with her, she took the dog along for company. And one day when they were driving, the dog wanted to get out and take a constitutional exercise by trotting along beside the carriage, when another dog pitched onto him, or another conveyance struck him, I have forgotten which, but anyway he seemed to be hurt, and his mistress order the carriage to stopped and herself got out and gathered up the poor dog taking him back into the carriage with her. And when they reached home and the coachman opened the door of the brougham, there sat Mrs. Carlyle dead; her faithful dog, the only earthly witness of her passing away.
Then how was it with her husband, Thomas Carlyle, the great author, revered and admired the world over? Why of course, just as it is with lesser individuals under the same circumstances, he was full of sorrow and remorse.
Surely he never meant to neglect her, but this is what he said about it: 'She never fully knew, nor could I show her, in my heavy-laden, miserable life, how much I had at all times regarded, loved, and admired her. No telling of her now. Five minutes more of you dear company in this world. Oh, that I had you yet for but five minutes, to tell you all.' Think of that, he lived with his wife forty years and in all that time was so hurried in his work for mankind that he had no time to tell her how very much he loved her. The poor man, he must have been hurried, for according to his own estimate it would have taken him but five minutes to tell it. But we don't read that the dog had any compunctions or remorse. Likely he had shown all his affection for his mistress as he went along, and so he had no regrets on that score, and in that particular many might learn a valuable lesson from what we term 'the lower animals.'
An in this matter which we are now considering of how best to keep the natural affections fresh and warm, please let me tell you my notions about how not to do it. Now for the how not to do it. This is for my married friends.
When you go home this evening the first business on the docket will be chores and supper. And when you sit down to the table before you have scarcely tasted food, the wife, Mary, can say 'What a splendid pair of horses, Mr. So and So drives and he manages them so skillfully. I would like once more to ride after such a beautiful turnout.' Well, that is enough to stir up any hungry man, and Charlie looks anything rather than the devoted lover of other days. And so he'll say, 'Yes. I noticed the horses myself, and thought of the time when I drove a finer pair, but since I married, my family has been so expensive that I haven't felt able to won anything but old plugs that I am ashamed of every time I lead them out of the stable. You see he is mad and so isn't very choice in his language. At that, Mary is all broken down, and with her handkerchief to her eyes will say 'I am not very expensive or extravagant. I haven't had a new dress in two weeks.' And then they glare at each other across the table, both wondering that they ever found anything attractive or agreeable, or even tolerable in the other. And the children feel so badly about the turn things have taken that turn, ten chances to one, they sneak off to bed before they have half finished their supper, and that was a miserable home just then.
Now this is they way to do it. When you get home this evening, it will be the same as the other case. Supper is the first order of business to be attended to. You know how hungry riding in this fresh air can be. After the keen edge of appetite is taken off, Mary can open the conversation by mentioning to Charlie something like this: 'Charlie, those clothes fit you to a dot. I never saw you looking better, and I declare I didn't see a gentleman there whom I would trade for you.
And there is nothing in this wide world quite equal to a man's vanity and self love, unless it may be the self love and vanity of woman, and so Charlie throws a beautifully benign look across the table, and when he has swallowed that last precious morsel he kind of straightens up and remarks, 'Mary, that hat of your is a daisy; you looked as young and pretty today as you did the day we were married. And then there was a regular mutual admiration society, right away on the spot, with two good members. It takes a little to set things going one way or the other. And the children seeing how sociable father and mother are get jolly themselves in telling of the pleasant time they have. And now there is a happy family and pleasant home, and there I must leave you.