More Than A River

My life story could be summed up as Caddie Woodlawn born to Ozzie and Harriet. One of four girls, I grew up along Hollister Creek on a small dairy farm. Like Caddie, I was the tomboy of the family and spent much of my youth in the company of the two boys who lived next door. The brook and the woods were our playground, and we roamed every square inch of both. I was an accomplished climber of trees, that is, until my father cut all the low branches on every tree around our house. He must have forgotten about the woods. I still climbed!

Almost daily the boys and I fished Hollister Creek for whatever we could catch – chubs, sunnies, suckers, bullheads – some of which were used for chunk bait to set lines for eels. When we ran out of bait, we used our bubble gum on the tips of our hooks to try to get a nibble from some dumb fish that didn’t know the difference between bubblegum and a worm. We knew where every trout was located and on a bright sunny day, which was usually lousy for fishing, we took rakes and hoes upstream to muddy the water so it was murky downstream for better fishing, or so we thought. In our minds, the fish downstream would think that it had rained, and not being able to see us, they would venture out to look for a meal. On even the hottest dog days of August, when the earth was hard and baked, we still knew where to find fish worms, nice plump juicy ones . . . the pigpen! When we gave up on fishing or the fish gave up on us, we swam in the same waters, caught frogs, built dams, and killed an occasional water snake that had the audacity to venture into our territory. The farm pond was another source of amusement where we spent hours rowing an old heavy wooden pink boat around in circles. The neighbor’s dog and their goat would sometimes ride with us.

My father and grandfather owned and operated a wholesale nursery business, and because I spent so much time playing in the woods, I learned a lot about the local flora. As a child, I knew where to find lady slippers, trailing arbutus, trout lilies, red and white trillium, Jack-in-the-pulpits, fiddlehead ferns, hepaticas, foxglove, fringed polygala of the milkwort family, white bellwort, and lilies of the valley, to name a few. I picked wild black caps, blackberries, and strawberries. The tiny wild strawberries made the most delicious jam, making the hours of picking needed to get four cups of mashed berries, as called for in the recipe, all worth it. Preserved with a covering of wax, the jam, as per our mother, was not to be unsealed until the first snowflake of the season fell. (She made the same covenant with us about the homemade dill pickles, too.) Talk about delayed gratification!

Winter activities still included the woods, the stream, and the pond. Sledding, skating, and ice fishing were a delight except for frostbite. My mother knit each of us beautiful mittens with a cable stitch on the backs of the hands. Beautiful but not very warm once wet. Plus when we ate snow from them, it was unpleasant to get the fibers in our mouths. That didn’t stop us, but almost every outdoor activity was followed with the thawing of fingers and toes in a basin of cool water.

My father and grandfather sold Christmas trees. The stage of the church was always adorned with one of their most beautiful firs. Boughs were sold to cemeteries for winter grave blankets. Some city streets were adorned with live roping we made from hand picked princess pine from our woods. My mother would make each of us a wreath out of princess pine. I carry on the tradition now and pick princess pine from our woods to make wreaths for my family.

Our pets included a Guernsey dairy cow named Rosie. She was so tame that we could sit on her back. We kept her well beyond her milk producing years and shed many tears when she finally had to be sent off to the sale barn. We dressed the barn cats in doll dresses. Even the tomcats tolerated being adorned in pink gingham, because along with the dresses came doll bottles that actually delivered milk. I say delivered because lapping milk from a bottle that was intended to be sucked wasn’t exactly expeditious. We had fun – not sure about the cats.

Like Caddie, I learned to do more ladylike activities as I grew toward adolescence. Knitting, crocheting, and embroidery were some of my accomplishments as well as cooking and baking. I took piano lessons for ten years and played for church services, weddings, and funerals at the little country church that was built by my ancestors. I continue to do so to this day as my roots run deep in this community where the names of my grandparents are on a stained glass window and the huge Bible on the altar was dedicated by my great aunt in memory of my great great grandmother.

I attended a one-room grade school in Galilee. Many memories were forged there. We had no running water and had to carry water daily from a nearby source at a general store. It was fun to have that job. In addition to the water jug, we carried the money collected from other students along with their orders for penny candy – BB Bats, taffy, wax items filled with sugary colored liquid, candy cigarettes, and the like. We soon learned, though, that when the water was gone, it was gone. Once my hands were covered in white paste, the same stuff that some of the boys were drawn to eat, and the girl ahead of me in line dumped out the last of the water in the basin. I went home with sticky hands. Because there was no running water, there was also no bathroom. We had outhouses. We had no cafeteria so every day our lunches were packed from home. A metal lunch pail with a glass-lined thermos was great until it was dropped carelessly on the ground. The sound, that became all too familiar, announced that the glass in the thermos was shattered and with it was shattered any hope of hot soup for lunch on a cold winter day.

At school we had no library, no art class, no music class, no gym class or any other special class. No one even supervised us when we were on the playground. The teacher just rang a big brass bell when it was time to come in. We did, however, have an occasional visit from the school nurse, who inspected our locks for hidden fauna, critters that instilled fear and dread in all of us, especially in our parents. One thing we did have was a woodshed. One of our favorite games at recess was “Haley over the Woodshed” where we would shout, “Haley over!” while throwing a ball over the shed to the opposing team. If someone caught it, he or she would hide it behind his or her back and chase us around the shed trying to tag us. Who or what Haley was or why we shouted that I’ll never know for sure. I suspect it may have been a reference to Haley’s comet flying through the air.

Accepted at college as a piano major, I chose not to become a music teacher, but to become an elementary teacher. During that time, my then boyfriend and now husband of 46 years, served in the Sea Bees and did two tours of Vietnam with MCB62. I was a nineteen year old college senior when we got married. Six months later, I earned my bachelor’s degree in education and at the age of twenty was hired back at the school in Damascus, the same school from which I had recently graduated. I became a schoolteacher because I loved school, especially elementary school and my days in that one-roomschoolhouse.

The next 36 years of my life were spent teaching fourth grade and remedial math. My husband and I raised three children. My summers, though, were not spent vacationing but spent in the garden and in the hayfield. My husband and I raised beef cows and not only did our own haying, but did custom haying for other farmers as well. John would come home from his job as an equipment operator for PennDOT and mow the hay. Over the next couple of days, it was my job to ted and rake the hay, preparing it to dry and have ready for him to bale when he came home from work again on another day. That often meant packing up the kids, their bikes, and a playpen to take with me to the field. In our “spare” time, we grew our own vegetables, canning andfreezing the surplus from our large garden.

Now retired, I still enjoy the woods, the stream, and the pond! My husband and I still raise much of our own food. I rifle hunt with the men in my life – my husband, my son, my son-in-law, and my grandson. So far, I have harvested one doe, one 7 point buck, and two 8 point bucks.

Yes, this area and my community mean a lot to me. We have always worked the land we have been privileged to live on. At the same time, we have taken care of the land and have been good stewards of it. It is my desire that future generations will be afforded the opportunity to maintain a similar lifestyle while living and working here. To that end, I will focus my time and energy promoting the responsible economic development of all resources in the Delaware River Basin and the preservation of individual property rights within the basin, not just for my children but also for the thousands of children who were mine for 180 days. God bless you!

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