Early Childhood Memories
in Bryn Athyn
and Life on the Farm
France Vinet White
Bryn Athyn, PA, 1987
Early Childhood Memories in Bryn Athyn top
This is written in the summer months of 1987. I was born in Bryn Athyn, October 10, 1903. Being limited physically, and more or less house-bound now, it occurred to me it would be a pleasant occupation to write down childhood memories. These for one reason or another have stayed with me for the joy, the interest, the fright, the sadness or shame they gave me. In doing this, I wished also to reflect in some ways, the climate of those days. Barbe, my daughter, had originally urged me to do this feeling it would be of interest to the grandchildren and those coming later. So with this in mind, will commence with the arrival of my parents, Monsieur and Madame Camille Vinet from France in 1897.
My father came as a professor of French and Sciences to teach in the Bryn Athyn Academy (to be) in Pennsylvania. He had become an enthusiastic and a devoted follower of Emanuel Swedenborg. This is the reason he had been approached by Mr. John Pitcairn and other members in this new Christian Church. Education in this developing Bryn Athyn Academy would be grounded on this Faith, the inspired teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg. My father and these men became acquainted at a meeting of intellectuals in France or England—I can't remember which.
The large area in time to be called Bryn Athyn was a peaceful and rural, hilly, country side. Here and there was an old stone farm house. There were woods, many of the trees were old and giant in size, and there was a winding and picturesque creek, the Pennypack, running close by. The Church and the school had its beginnings in Philadelphia not a great distance away.
In the meantime John Pitcairn built Cairnwood a French cheateau on a hilltop, surrounded by lovely old trees. This, was beyond the hill where the Cathedral would be erected years later. His sister-in-law, Cara Glenn was established in Glenhurst, a charming house and surroundings below on the Second St. Pike. Here she raised seven daughters and one son. She was widowed before the birth of her last daughter. Her husband had been an architect. Besides other constructions, he designed Glenn Hall (the future girls dormitory) and it was named in his honor. The family became a strong pillar of the church and remained our friends throughout the years. As I write this, three of the daughters are still living. All in their nineties!
Houses were springing up, big ones, three stories high. Big families were expected and they came. These houses had other occupants as well as the immediate family—grandmothers, aunts and other acquaintances who had nowhere else to go. For the elderly nursing homes didn't exist.
The Robinson household included a grandmother, also the Heath house next to us. There were two aunts living with the Actons, and at Glenn Hurst two ladies called Aunties, but I don't think they were related. We had Tante Naomie, an old Salvation Army friend of my mothers. She came quite often to stay with us. At the Odhners, it was Aunt Lollie, and I remember her so well—thin and gaunt in appearance. Through the years I played often with the Odhner children, as Renee and I were classmates. Aunt Lollie took over many of the household tasks and policed the children somewhat—they had their allotted little jobs to do. This, she was doing one day when I was there. Several of us were on our way to some destination. Vincent was younger than Renee and I (and thought himself quite a man!!)—"Don't listen to the old devil," he snorted and marched out of the house! We followed him and as we walked down the path, Aunt Lo[ll]ie was leaning far out the window—"You're going to hell, Vincent. You're going to hell!" Well, Vincent grew up and was a fine young man. He mellowed and probably revised his opinion of Aunt Lollie with affection and understanding. She was certainly heaven-sent in that big, busy household.
Now, back to building construction. Benade Hall was built and the elementary school, De Charms Hall. The little chapel was in Benade Hall. The community's Sunday Service took place there, also morning worship before school hours. This continued well into high school days. The three Vinet girls—Rachel, France and Lucienne were flower girls in two weddings in this little chapel. One was the wedding of Nora Potts, daughter of John Potts (Potts Concordance) to Gilbert Smith who became a minister. He was also a well-known and talented painter in the vicinity. The second marriage was in the same family, Warren Potts, the eldest son to Valerie Vanderstein, a beautiful and vivacious French girl. Their daughter later on became a teacher in the Academy Schools (Babs—Florence Schoenberger.)
I have a few little memories of school days in De Charms Hall. (I must add here, this structure much later burnt down, but was rebuilt.) Richard De Charms (father of the future Bishop George) was our religion teacher. I remember so well our class sitting around a black rectangular table listening as he told us stories of The Word. He had curly, white hair that fell over his ears. He suffered almost constantly with a cough.
Then there was the cozy Dutch kitchen in the basement. After we moved to the farm we were away for the day and carried our lunches with us. These we ate there (peanut butter sandwiches) with Miss Carrie Hob[a]rt a teacher. She always ate a banana for dessert and pealed it so carefully!
I recall Vida Doering (Schnarr) and her patience in teaching me cross-stitch in needle work class. I was slow in catching on. However, in time the little sampler was made. In those days all girls made samplers displaying the various embroideries they had mastered.
Once two classes were combined in one room for some reason. Centa Centaval was the teacher in charge. She wore a red haired wig, we dramatically discovered this day. Gilbert Smith was indulging in some prank and went too far! Miss Centa went into a rage, gesticulating every which way, and the wig flew off! The class was in an uproar—poor Miss Centa, how embarrassing this must have been for her; in those days a wig was a very private affair.
Wertha Pendleton (Cole) I remember with affection and admiration. Once she paid me a little compliment which stayed with me. Many times throughout my life her remark seemed to guide me.
Well, I sidetracked a little. The main part of our little village, old Bryn Athyn, as we later called it, was like a large island surrounded by a country road. The little maple trees planted on both sides of the road are now fully grown and many have survived. They provided a most welcome shade in the hot summer days and an unbelievable golden glory in the fall. They had been planted as a gift from Mrs. John Pitcairn. I will draw a diagram on the following page of Bryn Athyn in those early days, naming the occupants of the houses on the island and beyond the road (as I recall them).
Click on image for a larger version.
Today what had been fields and meadows everywhere are taken over with new homes for the most part. Some of the old and historic land marks have been torn down, but Bryn Athyn remains a beautiful and unusual place. The Cathedral today rises majestically on a high hill over-looking it all. The old Inn is no longer there. It has been replaced by a home built by Lachlan Pitcairn (grandson of John Pitcairn) originally for his in-laws, the Walter H[o]rigans. He also enlarged and reconstructed the Ed Bostock house which replaced the very, old Stroh structure deep in the woods. This became his home. The extended area surrounding it is most picturesque and includes an old Spring House.
The Vinet house is still there. Since the Vinet family moved to the farm in 1912, it has changed hands many times. It had been built for my parents by John Pitcairn. The old Inn Annex was torn down, which was sad for many, but it had its day. In the school beginnings it was used for teaching classes and useful in many ways. It was a residence for some. The community nurse (Phoebe Bostock) had her office there. There had been a wind mill at the side of the Inn which was removed awhile back. It was there when I was a child and it provided water for a certain area (at times). It was also a hazardous temptation for children to climb. I understand Marjorie Wells, future wife of the well-known Don Rose Sr., was stranded one day at the very top. This area was replaced by the home built by Bishop Louis King for his large family. The centuries old Button Wood trees are still there (some of them) in the back ground. One tree had a very long swing attached to a high branch we spent happy hours swinging there. There was also an old Spring House nearby which we visited for cooling off! Our play ground for baseball, the field near the Acton's home became occupied by the very interesting castle-like structure and house for Miss Rita Buell, the principal of the girls school in the 1920s. She taught English to our class. She and I became friends and remained so, until the end of her days. Later this building was remodeled and became the home of Bishop Willard and Mrs. Pendleton.
The old Wells home had long disappeared and was replaced by a mansion built by Robert Asplundh. The old Acton house just recently was demolished. It was an old land mark and it is sad to know it is no longer there. There are memories attached to that house. Many times, after we moved to the farm, my father's horse and carriage would be parked there. He and Dr. Acton worked together translating some of Swedenborg's writings from Latin to English. I recall also enjoying good homemade bread and jam in the kitchen after strenuous games of baseball in the field nearby.
Sometimes Dr. Acton invited all the children in the neighborhood to his home. He would tell us stories. We were really packed in the small living room, but we loved it. No television and radios in those days!
Sometimes we older youngsters would play with little Totsie Acton in his front yard. He was about two- or three-years-old, the last child in the Acton family. We loved playing with him. Dear sweet Mrs. Acton came out of the house one day and gathered all of us around her. "You know" she says "Totsie is growing up to be a big boy now and it would be better if we all called him by his name which is Wynne." We just looked at her and nodded. From then on we called him Wynne. Wynne grew up to be a fine minister, the second in that family.
Walking back and forth to school I often passed Dr. Acton. His manner of walking seemed to fascinate me. He walked very briskly, shoulders bent forward as if to increase his speed without running. He always looked so tense and deep in thought. His right arm would swing vigorously back and forth, his hand clenched tightly.
On the diagram a mushroom field is marked. Picking mushrooms and puff balls in this field early mornings was one of our childhood delights. We children did this often, after the spring days had arrived. We could well distinguish the mushrooms from toadstools which were poisonous. Our papa had carefully instructed us. It was a gamble who would be first to reach the field. The grandmother to the Heath family next door was a mushroom picker also. But grandmother had a vegetable garden besides and needed manure for this. Preston, Mr. Pitcairn's driver would drive the Pitcairn horse and carriage from Cairnwood down to the Bryn Athyn Post Office everyday. This involved going around the island circle. The horse provided the manure. When needed Grandmother followed with dust pan and brush!
I may have been about three-years-old for my first memory. It was just a flash retained and I mention it because I was so happy and content. I was sitting on the floor in an upstairs bedroom near a bay window. The sun was shining warm on me and in my arms I was cuddling a small and very affectionate baby kitten!
Another very early memory was hearing my mother give a cry. She was sitting sewing in the hallway up stairs near the balustrade of the stairway. My father was running up the stairs, a newspaper in his hand, declaring Vera Pitcairn had died. Vera was John Pitcairn's young and only daughter. She had been on a trip and was stricken with pneumonia the paper declared. Vera wasn't pictured in my mind, but a flash of Vera's open carriage and horse was—racing down the Pike! It had been pointed out to me one day. The carriage and the horse's bridle and harness were resplendent with gold fringes. These danced wildly as the horse dashed by. The beauty of it remained so vivid to me.
Will digress a bit again. Since I mentioned the Pike it must be described as it had been—narrower for one thing and very, very dusty. There were pot holes! An old Toll Gate stood at the intersection where Paper Mill Road comes in on the side where the cathedral was built. It was a little brown elongated building which burnt down in time. When any conveyance came by, the Toll man would be there in his little box to collect the drivers fee, generally a few cents. The traffic was very occasional, no cars of course, a big heavily loaded hay wagon now and then, farm machinery, a farmer taking his produce to the Farmer's Market in Philadelphia, a bicyclist, a buggy, a wagon, a carriage, and delivery carts.
We Vinets must have been rather peculiar children. We seemed to be upset over demonstrations of affection, or displays of emotions. Rachel and I were invited to stay over night at Aunt Ryd[i]e's and Aunt Sophie's down the way, when one of the younger ones was born. Aunt Ryd[i]e was related to John Pitcairn and they lived in a big house on the island. They were extremely loving and kind and tucked us in a large bed in a beautiful room. The door was left open. We could see them in the next room praying out loud by their bedside for the longest periods, each taking a turn pleading to the Lord to forgive their trespasses! My stomach began to churn and it was all too much. My head seemed to turn around and around all night and I was so frightened, I couldn't sleep. After having tucked us in bed the ladies had mentioned that some one would bathe us in the morning. Rachel got up early and locked us in. "They're not giving us our baths!" she said. Our baths were a private affair and we were accustomed to our dear father taking us one-by-one, piggy back to the bath tub for our ablutions. It was a school girl who lived there who was in charge of the baths. She was frantic because she was locked out next morning. Rachel wouldn't open the door until it was understood that we wouldn't be bathed!
Pierre was the first born and had ideas. Edith Potts (John Pott's daughter) was our baby sitter one night. We were all washed and ready for bed. Pierre suddenly says, "Let's all run outside and hide"! He was our big brother so we quickly followed him and hid in different places. It took awhile but finally we were all routed out from behind trees and bushes. Poor Deditte, this is what we called her. I can still see her, wild-eyed and breathless as we were settled in our beds finally. All this took some fortitude and was indeed a labor of love. I've been told in these days there was no remuneration for babysitting. The young were taught to be useful and helpful. It occurs to me now however, that a change of scene could be welcomed. Almost everyone in these times was confined to their home and neighborhood. Emotions could run pretty tight in these big-packed households, I discovered later on. I witnessed one incident with delight and some apprehension. A grown sister chasing another all over the house with a dripping floor mop!
I recall Pierre and Jean teasing me mercilessly. They were old enough and tall enough to wash the dishes. I could wipe them. Rachel was upstairs helping with the smaller children. I had swallowed an orange seed and Pierre assured me a tree would grow out of my mouth, and the branches would squeeze out of my ears and nose. I was terrified and for days would look in the mirror for evidence of this growth. Both boys knew I had fear of fire also, and boasted one day they would set fire to the house. The match box was nearby and occasionally they would almost demonstrate how it could be done. Actually one day there was a fire right beside our house in, the meadow where papa kept his bees. I never heard how it started but was there when it did. I remember Mortimer Robinson, a young neighbor boy running down the road with a bucket of water. It was filled with potatoes but he threw it all over the flames. As for me I made a dash for the house and locked the front and back doors so the fire couldn't reach me. No one could get in the house for water! I was hiding under my bed! The fire was controlled, but I never learned how. Certainly not by means of a fire engine because they didn't exist in our small area, no telephone to contact if there had.
Later on I became tougher, with two older brothers it couldn't be otherwise. I climbed the biggest trees with the boys and was considered a Tom Boy. I could hit the ball and make home-runs. The boys would pick me for their teams in baseball.
A little girl, a delicate sweet, little person Dorothy Brey, moved into Bryn Athyn for a short period. After awhile she wouldn't play with me and I asked her why. She hesitated and finally shyly told me her mother wouldn't allow it because I was too rough! I was completely crushed.
But anyway deep down I wanted to be a boy. Returning from school one day I stopped at the Charlie Smith house. I rang the door bell and Sterling Smith came to the door. I asked him if I could borrow a pair of his pants. He said "I'll ask mother." He did and the answer was "We don't lend pants outside the family."
Well to continue with my brothers—Jean had ideas also. They were really precocious and inventive. Mama had left some money on the kitchen table to pay the butcher for the order he was bringing. The money disappeared and remained a mystery for sometime. Finally Jean admitted he had planted it outside so a money tree would grow. He had other ideas also! Papa's bicycle was taken apart to my fathers horror. He had reason to be horrified because the bicycle meant a quick transportation back and forth for his teaching profession. "Don't worry papa" Jean said, "I will put it together again!" and he did. The same thing happened to a beloved music box of my mother's. Once she arrived just in time!! Jean had asked Rachel (third in family) if he could open her head to see what was inside!—Head of beautiful French doll was found cracked open next day.
Jean was always inventive. As he became older he helped Harold Pitcairn build his first plane which was constructed in the big garage across the Pike from Cairnwood. As an adult he worked for the Bell Telephone and many of his inventions were put to use.
I must digress again. Having mentioned the butcher coming to the door, I must add all food supplies came this way. The huckster brought fruit and vegetables and then came the baker with bread (5 cents a loaf) and cakes. Milk was delivered at the door early mornings. The ice man came weekly, carrying a huge piece of ice (with prongs) and deposited it in the upper section of the ice box at the back door. Young Mr. Clayton from the food store in Huntingdon Valley nearby would arrive on his bicycle and with pencil and pad take the grocery orders. This would be delivered later in the day. This all took care of supplying food for the home.
There was a hurt in my childhood that stayed with me for a long time. Maybe I should not mention it, but decided to do so. I was in Kindergarten (age 5) and it was my birthday. I invited Renee Odhner and a boy whom I can't recall to come to my party. I was playing in the sand box when they arrived. Renee hands me a box of marshmellows and the boy a candy bar. Renee says "Where's the party?" I said, "There's no party." Mama from the window says, "Send the children home!"
My mother was European and didn't understand the social life in America (I figured this out much later on). The European is more withdrawn and moves only in the family circle or with only the closest friends. Here the social life is frequent and informal and generally includes everyone. We children were invited to parties and I wanted my turn. My mother never realized how crushed this made me feel. She was really a very kind and thoughtful person.
Sometimes our papa (and this is very clear in my mind because it was so delightful) would come in as we were settling down in our beds for the night. He made shadows on the walls of birds and animals with his hands. Also using a ball of string and quickly wrapping it around his fingers and wrists and turning this way and that constructed objects familiar to us. All this to induce sleep which it did.
When oranges were in season (at Christmas time) he captivated us by throwing a number in the air and somehow always caught them each in turn. He seemed so understanding of children and I sensed it I believe. One night I was frightened or unhappy about something and couldn't sleep. I crept up a flight of stairs to the third floor where my father had his study, also a dark room where he developed pictures. He picked me up gently and placed me in a rocking chair without a word. It was such a comfort. As I was falling asleep he carried me back to bed.
There was a little red box that gave me much joy. We were attending a Christmas Service in the auditorium of De Charms Hall. We sang Christmas songs. At the close the children were told to line up and move up front. Each one was presented with a little red box and I received mine. I found out soon it contained a tangerine, cookies, hard candies and popcorn. It was all mine! Even when the contents disappeared I treasured that little box for a long time.
Thanksgiving dinner at John Pitcairn's chateau stands out as a very colorful event in our young lives. I was quite small then, but I recall a long dining room, everything seemed gold and white and sparkling. There were three wine glasses at place setting! We children were told to be quiet and we were. The noise came afterwards and the following description remains vivid! When dinner was over, it was suggested we all go up in the attic and play. The attic was a huge open space filled with oriental rugs. The children were Raymond, Theo and Harold Pitcairn and my two brothers (Pierre and Jean) who were younger. The boys decided it would be fun to take the girls for rides on the rugs. Very likely it was my brother's idea! So there we were—Rachel and I, not sure about Lucienne (fifth member of the family) being twirled around, around and around and the dust was flying. All very noisy—the little girls were screaming! It was wonderful fun.
There was an elevator at the side of the attic. It went up and down and suddenly there were Mr. Pitcairn and my parents standing in a row and looking rather severe. Very likely we were reprimanded, but the novelty of the rug entertainment stayed with me.
There is an episode in my young days that still fills me with shame. I was certainly old enough to know better and my two boy companions likewise. I believe I was in the 7th grade. It was a cold day and for some reason classes were dismissed early. We wandered around idly and found ourselves going to Leshus Woods near by. This was the time for tree houses for young men in the upper grades.
In those days there were no cars and some of the older students built these houses high up in the trees as a retreat. I believe Harold Pitcairn was the owner of one of them; there were three. We followed the path leading there. The first tree house had a hanging ladder which we climbed. All very cozy, two cots with mattresses and pillows, electric wires, books and etc. (At my suggestion it was all tossed over board!)
Well it seemed the damage was soon discovered. Some one had seen us going in the direction of Leshus Woods. Otho Heilman was principal of the Elementary School then and I was called to his office next day (by myself). I had been told the boys had gone previously. I don't know what he said to me exactly, but he made me feel what a terrible thing we had done. I recall, so clearly, walking home with my head bent and feeling so ashamed. This experience gave me much to think about and stayed very much with me. Through my adult years I felt an understanding for the juveniles who commit such acts. Maybe they are bored for the most part and need interesting things to do.
How did the Bryn Athyn children entertain themselves? They climbed trees for one thing and improvised many little games of their own. There was "Pussy wants a Corner," jump rope, "Tisket-a-Tasket" and "I'm the King of the Castle." Baseball was popular which we played in the Acton Field, across the way. "Sheepy Lay" was a great game for a large group of children. The first group would get a good head start, carrying bags of torn papers to make a trail (some would be false trails). The second group, after a period of waiting would try and pick up the trail. It wasn't that easy because the wind would blow the papers. We wandered long distances over farm land (which was everywhere then) and well out of Bryn Athyn boundaries. In those days it was safe to stray that far and our parents didn't seem to be concerned.
There was swimming on hot summer days at the Pennypack. Older folk enjoyed canoeing, which was a pleasant pastime in that enchanting area. At that time the creek was wider in many places. The canoes were locked and chained in a small bay, not far from a large picnic area on the right side of the railroad tracks.
Winter brought the dramatic cold weather sports. There were great hills for sledding, probably the most thrilling and dangerous was at Sleepy Hollow (The Orchards). A tiny Church group had their homes there, the [C.] T. Odhners, the Schwindts and the Adam Doerings are some I remember. This little area was situated near Paper Mill Road, which passed the Cathedral to be, and well beyond Cairnwood. The Kessels lived at the bottom of Paper Mill Road on a hilltop. Emilie Kessell was a classmate who had arrived in Bryn Athyn in the latter part of the grade schools. She married Carl Asplundh another classmate. We remained friends through the years and she still lives. Physically she is way ahead of me and remains occupied in many useful and charitable ways.
Well, anyway, back to the sports. The Cathedral hill was also exciting for sledding. Gilbert Smith once dared me to go down standing up on a sled. Well I wasn't up long and suffered a beautiful fall, but no broken bones, just cuts and bruises. The Cathedral hill was also a playground of a sort in summer days. It was covered with honeysuckle and we children made tunnels and hideaways in it.
On really cold days when the ice was frozen thick, The Pennypack made a magnificent rink, a long sheet of ice as far as the Paper Mill Covered Bridge. There was a little path through the field below the Asplundh house, a quick way to get there. I remember as a small child hugging the big bonfire that had been built and watching the skaters flash by. Brothers, Pierre and Jean, were stumbling about, and my father looking very well pleased to be using his interesting skates acquired in Holland.
I don't know about other families, but we had promenades with mama up and down the street on occasions. It was rather a formal affair I recollect. We were neatly dressed and stayed together. My mother was really dressed up and wore hat that caught the eye. She was a Parisian and very likely this is the way it was done in Paris.
There were long walks also with my father. The idea in these I believe was to give mama a rest from the children. We roamed the woods and my father being a connoiseur of mushrooms would remove large colorful ones from decaying trees on the ground. Later these would sizzle in the frying pan! Walking to Willow Grove was a long tiresome walk (to me anyway), but common place with Bryn Athyn residents. There was the beginning of an amusement park there and concerts and bands were performing. George De Charms' crippled mother was a lover of good music. As children we were a bit in awe of him, a very young man wheeling his mother in a wheel chair back forth all that distance to a concert there! Throughout his long life and as Bishop of the Church, he was loved and admired. As I write, he still lives and is in the latter part of his 98th year.
Have now reached the end of the earliest memories in Bryn Athyn. Shall add one more little anecdote because it is amusing. I wondered if it ever reached the ears of my parents. I may have been in the fourth or fifth grades when we were learning about the Indians and their way of life. We read the Indian legends and memorized poetry. It was all so beautiful and dream-like!
By the shores of Gittshe GoomyProbably written incorrectly and certainly misspelled, but it rang in my ears like music.
By the deep sea waters
Stood the wigwam of Nacoma
Daughter of the moon Nacoma
Dark behind it rose the forest
Rose the black and gloomy pine trees
Rose the firs with cones upon them, and etc.
I wanted so much to be an Indian!
Well there was a small assembly of the elementary school and I don't recall its purpose. But a teacher stood up at the end and asked if anyone would like to say something. I raised my hand and she beckoned me up front. Well I was quite carried away! Gesticulating I declared I was an Indian and so was my family—Indians. We all lived near the Pennypack like Indians and I tried to explain what we did. The children listened to me seriously (some of them) but the teachers were trying to hide their laughter.
We moved to the farm in Woodmont I believe in the year 1912. I was nine-years-old. This property was about a mile and a quarter from Bryn Athyn and I don't know exactly what my father had in mind when he bought it. He had been raised on a farm in Southern France which had been in the family a very long time (I would like to mention in earlier years, before portions of it had been sold, it contained a very old castle and a Roman Arena. This always intrigued me and I hoped to go there some day but the dream never materialized.)
Well, anyway he had a comfortable house and beautiful surroundings in Bryn Athyn. The school was nearby which was convenient for him as a teacher and for us walking to school. He enjoyed photography, one of his hobbies, an Apiary and grape arbor in the long back yard there. First he said "We must move to the country where there is real fresh air for the children, and fresh vegetables." Once he mentioned I might be consumptive and the rugged farm life would be what I needed.
Then the little inheritance came! Well, it wasn't too long before we discovered our dear papa had all kinds of interests, and as the years went by not enough time to handle it all!! Looking back on it however, I feel privileged. I think we all did, for this interesting way of living, the exposure to its hardship and inconveniences, also its moments of beauty and spiritual revelations.
The farm was an oblong length of land, 27 acres or so. Byberry Road stretched on one side and a big wood outlined the full length of the other. Old and very tough grape vines reached the tops of the trees there for the boys to climb and swing on! In the spring we discovered the woods showered with May Apple, Blood roots, Jack-in-the Pulpit, the anenomes and hepaticas. The latter grew in bouquets nestled in the rocks. The blossoms of the May Apple produced a very edible fruit in the fall. The Indians used the red juice of the blood root for coloring. It is sad to think these lovely wild flowers have mostly disappeared from the Pennsylvania woods.
There was a handsome barn on the property which seemed to be quite new. It was built on a sharp incline of land (constructed I heard later on) with pegs, no nails. We discovered also the barn was given the highest location in the event of flooding. This way the live stock on the ground floor wouldn't suffer. The barn in time became a fascinating play area for the Vinet children and others. There were two mounds, one of hay, one of straw. We made tunnels thru all this and houses. We would jump from the highest windows and beams into the straw mound. How we escaped injury I don't know. There was a platform between the two mounds and we practiced stunts and plays there. A little-wedding was performed in the barn one day, in a cleared area between the straw and hay mounds. There seemed to be quite a few children on hand. Lucienne was the little bride and appeared beribboned and somewhat laced up. Willard Smith, a classmate, was the groom I was the Minister and had found something black to wear. It is all hazy in my mind, but one thing I remember well. As the Minister I didn't know what to say and just shuffled my feet and stuttered. Later on in the higher grades my enterprising sister Rachel planned a class party there. Rachel planned a class party there.
Well, anyway to continue with the farm description. There were two corncribs on one side of the barn and below was the carriage house with a huge maple tree towering over it. (This became my house much later on.) The farm house was alongside the road, as most seemed to be. I imagine the reason was practical. It was built in the very late 1700s of field stone. I believe on our arrival the farm land was mostly hay and pasture. There was a very old apple orchard near the house mostly ciders and 20-ounce pippins. Bessie the cow, when she came, was pastured there. She loved the overripe fallen apples on the ground and after awhile would wobble about unsteadily. "She is drunk!" we shouted gleefully and delighted in watching her.
The move to the farm is dim in my memory. My son, Romney with whom I now live, surprised me in stating that my two brothers (his Uncles) told him years back, they and his grandfather 'papa' spent two years recontructing the farm house before we could move in. New floor boards were needed in every room and the roof was re-shingled. A bathroom was installed upstairs and a sink in the kitchen and washtubs in the back kitchen. A coal furnace and coal bin was added to the cellar below. It was at this time an underground tunnel was discovered in the cellar which went under the house foundation towards the right of the carriage house; very likely an escape route in the time of the Indians. It was dangerous and my father filled it with ashes. In the roof renovation (my son further informs me) a small pistol was found hidden under the rafters of the roof. Where is that little pistol now!? For sure it could tell some interesting stories.
Living in the farm house was quite primitive nonetheless. We were a family of nine, squeezed into three bedrooms. There were three fireplaces, one in the master bedroom another in the living room, and a huge one in the dining room. This kept our father very busy also two grumbling brothers. They were the wood choppers. The furnace didn't supply sufficient heat because of lack of insulation and the windows didn't close well. At night, blankets were not enough and we kept piling on the coats or any available warm materials.
In time a round Franklin stove was installed in the dining room. We loved that little stove, it gave such warmth and in the mornings we raced down the stairs to dress near it. There was always a big pot of slow-cooking oatmeal placed on it in the evenings before, and ready for breakfast.
Winter was truly a difficult time for all of us. The weather in memory was always severe. The snow stayed deep on the ground and the drifts seemed enormous. The roads were never cleared of snow and we scrambled and struggled thru it all going and returning from school. I always felt so tired! We acquired two horses and a cow and no matter how violent a storm the animals must be fed and watered. Pierre and Jean helped papa with this. Once during a hurricane Jean was completely buried in a snow drift and was found with difficulty. My father carried a lantern but the wind had blown out the flame. Thereafter he tied a rope from a big maple that cornered the house and stretched it to the barn about fifty yards up the incline.
Feeding a large family in winter was a problem, food ran short. I recall barrels of apples and Uneeda crackers and other staples in the back kitchen, but these would run low. One day my father asked me to go with him to the store for supplies in Huntingdon Valley about two miles away. It was January and it was frightfully cold. The wind was sharp against our faces, also a fine sleet, particularly on our return. We had taken the longest sled and boxed it with a heavy wooden crate. It was a big load and awkward as we struggled back over the bumps and furrows of snow. The sleet was hitting our faces and closing our eyes. I was so cold and tired I wanted to give up and lie down in the snow. Papa kept saying "Don't give up girl, we're almost there, just keep your feet moving!" He kept coaxing me along and finally we reached home. I was about ten or eleven then. Long afterwards I thought of this experience and realized it had taught me something—a comprehension of the power of the applied will, demonstrated by my father!
Winter must have been particularly hard on my mother who was city bred. The water pump would sometimes break down, pipes would freeze and we were without water aside from what was pulled up by bucket from the well nearby. Fortunately there were two 'out houses.' But spring did come and how enchanting it was! Violets appeared in the open areas on the hilltops, and the sweet wild strawberry. Blackberry bushes pushed their way up, in time producing black fruit which made a delicious jam and many, many pies. Poke a wild green appeared everywhere, a favorite of old timers but a green to be avoided by the novice. I cooked it many times in later years and it was delicious, a cross between asparagus and spinach. True it was poisonous at the flowering stage, but one picked it when young and tender.
The old apple orchard was now in full bloom and many varieties of birds arrived with their happy medley of song. Indians were still in evidence, one saw them walking about. Once, when a bit older I was transplanting a little white oak tree which caught my eye for its beauty and shape. An Indian was walking through the property and he stopped and watched me plant the tree. Then he looked hard at me and said "You will die of kidney failure!" I wondered if he was a (Medicine Man).
In plowing the fields my father found many arrowheads and a tomahawk. He gave these to the Bryn Athyn Museum.
Spring brought the cries of the ragman —R-A-A-GS—R-A-A-GS—R-A-AGS down the road. It began dimly a long distance away. In time we learned to be ready for him and the rags were bagged, waiting in the tool house. The scissor grinder would arrive also carrying a little machine. Knives would be sharpened. A salesman with a big suitcase would appear which pleased my mother immensely. It was filled with many little necessities, pins, needles, threads and buttons and etc., kitchen towels and materials.
Then came the tramps, so many of them asking for food. Mama never turned them away and they shared whatever we were having, sitting comfortably on the porch or in the shade of a tree. Some asked for lodging in the barn but this was refused. Our father was afraid of fire.
However, the day came when the barn did have a lodger. It was Mr. DeVita a Spaniard. He was writing a book and wished to spend the summer there. A little room was cleared for him in the barn upper section and he was comfortably established. We children would carry him little plates of food. His book completed he left, but he had become our friend and occasionally would come and visit and bring us gifts.
The arrival of spring and summer pleased everyone. It was easier just to live and do the chores, such as collecting eggs which as the years went by could be found just anywhere, in the tall grasses, under the corncribs and in the barn. Bessie the cow also must be milked early in the morning and we each took a turn at this. How good this warm milk tasted! We drank lots of it and maybe this is why none of us suffered from broken bones. (I wish to mention here when once learned, the milking of a cow is not forgotten!) Several years ago I had the opportunity to do so on a Southern Plantation in South Carolina. The milk spurted in the bucket and the cow didn't kick).
To continue—the roads were now clear of snow and drifts and papa or Pierre drove us to school and back now. Pierre was the big brother in charge of us sometimes. We would go to the Pennypack for swimming. On occasion he drove us to Hatboro to the movies. It was a big event. We each hugged our five cents. The movies were black and white, shaky and moved very fast. We thought they were wonderful. There were quiet pleasures also. Lucienne and I would wander on the farm, find a cozy place and then lie on the grass and read. One day we were in a cleared area back of the barn and both fell asleep side-by-side. Something woke me, and right by my side was a huge black snake in a coil. Lucienne was already a blur of color almost home. I wasn't long to follow. The snake must have crawled over us to position itself as it did.
There was a huge and very old cherry tree at the edge of the apple orchard hanging over the road. The cherries were the Ox Heart, large sweet and so pretty. Have never seen them again after that old tree toppled over in a storm. We loved climbing it with our little pails, it had sprawling big branches. John, the horse (called Napoleon by students) was in the field near by one day when we were up the tree. Cars were seldom seen on the road, but one of these rather noisy contraptions clattered by at that time. Napolean went completely berserk. He leapt around and around the field with fright, tail high in the air and snorting wildly.
The farm changed its face many times over the years. In the beginning with plowing and planting papa transferred the acres to wheat, corn and oats and retained the hay of course. The horses and cow must be fed and bedded.
I must mention in harvesting time when the yield was ripe, we faced a big problem. The crows arrived and the skies would be dark with their arrival. In great masses they descended in the fields. But the farmers had a means of defense! This we witnessed one night, as the crows hundreds of them, roosted in the wood adjoining our property. Farmers came from everywhere with their guns. They circled the wood. At midnight when the crows were settled the guns went off and continued a long while. Jean and Pierre witnessed this.
One morning I was in the kitchen with my mother. Papa was bringing some machinery down from the barn to harrow the ground near the house. We heard him scream. He appeared to have slipped from his seat and was enmeshed in the machinery. Mama was no farm girl, but she took charge like one, reining the horse to a stop and rescuing him from the machinery. She moved so fast I wasn't aware she had left the house. Her presence of mind saved him serious injury, though he suffered cuts and bruises.
In time the farm became largely a fruit orchard. There was a good-sized vine yard also. A fenced-in chicken coop was built and an Apiary came into existence where once there had been a small burial ground. Against the barn we had discovered (behind a huge embankment of poison ivy) many old marble slabs, names already engraved on them. The Apiary became a big undertaking in itself and much good honey was sold for $0.90 a quart and given as gifts. My father felt the bees could teach us much by their industry, always working for the hive! They were selfless. When their working days were over, they flew far away from the hive to die. Am glad our dear papa in later years, didn't disappear when he became blind, crippled and old. We knew he suffered (without ever complaining) but always he tried to help us in little ways. We loved having him with us.
I haven't mentioned the vegetable garden planted every year after our arrival there. We all took part in the care of this and we grew just about everything. Potatoes and carrots lasted the full year because there was a dark room in the barn to keep them. We became involved in canning and preserving in time. So thru all this farming activity we witnessed the miracles of seeds bursting from the brown earth in forms of food. Blossoms on trees were transformed into fruits. Baby chicks wiggled out wet from chicken eggs and calves appeared miraculously beside their mother on the ground floor.
I must mention the arrival of the baby chicks. It was cold weather and they came in open crates. The chicken house was ready for them, but the temperatures weren't favorable. So they were deposited in the warm rooms of the house, hundreds of them, peeping and dying. Many survived, but the majority did not. The weather did warm up shortly. In the meantime the family had to be stoical, albeit closed in with green house temperatures—but not fragrant with flowers!
We all had our little pets over the years, cats, birds and rabbits. Some would die and we had services for them and colorful funerals. The graves we covered with wild flowers from the fields. We didn't forget our little pets quickly and kept the mounds covered with fresh flowers.
Old friends who enjoyed walking came to see us. The Rev. [C.] T. Odhner was an old friend of my fathers. In previous years in Bryn Athyn he and his children sometimes would join us in our family walks. So he and some of his children came to visit on the farm. I remember him eating some peaches my father picked for him from a nearby tree. He said "'Luscious, just 'luscious," smacking his lips. John Potts, another friend came up to discuss spiritual matters. I see him clearly walking down the hill heading for our place. He was all in black and looked like a prophet with his long white wavy beard. He was tall and erect and walked slowly with a cane, giving the impression of severity. I was in awe of him, in fact, a bit frightened. Back in the earlier days in Bryn Athyn, I was in the care of one of his daughters at Stancot, his home. He was working in the living room on The Concordance. I walked in the door way and he shooed me away. There were little piles of papers on the floor everywhere. Quite naturally he didn't want me disturbing these important papers stacked up correctly in the right places. Mama had friends who were very loyal. Two I remember were Helene Iungerich and Jane Potts. Miss Jane was always bringing some good little things to eat and would vanish and join my mother upstairs in her bedroom. There they shared the goodies. I would look up the stairs wistfully and hopefully (but the bedroom door was always closed).
The daughter of a local doctor dropped in one day. She was a young girl, but heavy set and I thought of her as an old person, when we lived in Bryn Athyn. She came to see Rachel mainly it was very evident. Lucienne and I were shy and rather introverted; she probably thought us dull. Rachel was very pretty and extraverted and loved everyone. We didn't, at least I didn't. The girl was drawn to Rachel and sent her Valentines and birthday cards (to her only and I thought it very unfair!) Well, anyway, this day she arrived and brought Rachel a large decorated chocolate Easter egg! Rachel carried that egg wherever she went that day—it wasn't out of her sight! However, we shared the same bedroom and at night she placed it under her pillow. The hours of the night slowly passed by and that delicious chocolate egg was much in my thoughts. It was all too much! I tiptoed to Rachel's bed and there it was under her pillow. I calmly took it to my bedside and ate half of it! I fell asleep with contentment. I was awakened next morning by a terrible shriek! The next moment we were rolling on the floor, pulling each others hair and clawing. We fought like savages!! If I had witnessed this as an adult I would have thought (What horrible children?)—and we were (at least I was). Then an indignant mother appeared on the scene!
There were other kinds of excitement on the farm. We were accustomed to bands of gypsies passing by. They were very colorful groups attired in flambouyant garments. The understanding was they should be avoided, their reputation wasn't good. One day a long caravan of them was coming down Byberry Road, the driver of the horses was a very large and husky woman. I was watching from an open window at the back of the house. Papa was working down the field near the road in a rhubarb patch. The caravan came to a stop there. The big woman strided over to him and said something. Then suddenly she had him on the ground and snatched his wallet. Papa shouted and kept on shouting. He extricated himself from her grip and grabbed back his wallet. He had her fooled. She had miscalculated his remarkable strength because of his small stature. She returned to the caravan and drove off quickly.
Papa seemed very much in control in difficult situations. There was the time he took us to Hatboro with the horse and wagon about three miles away. He had shopping to do. While there it rained very heavily a flash flood in fact. We faced a strong current of water returning home, but it was down hill most of the way. It was at Trenton cut off where we were in trouble. This was the road bottom and a deep lake of water had spread everywhere and it rippled with a strong current. This was flowing to the right to a deep depression in a wooded area. The water came up quickly near the floor of the wagon and the horse had difficulty keeping his footing. Papa remained calm and we were fascinated watching him as he tried to hold up the horse and guide him and the wagon with its heavy load straight in line with the road. If we swerved to the right it could well have been a tragedy. The rise in the road was a few yards ahead finally. We reached that point and the horse recovered his footing. Our father exhibited super human strength. In retrospect as I write this I believe his fortitude came from an inner source.
Incidentally a black man lived in a little shack in this wooded area. Later his body was discovered there.
Lucienne and I had our own little adventure which could well have had a disastrous ending also. We were older now and often took long walks on these charming, but lonely country roads. One day we were walking along Byberry Road and a big black limousine with a windowless rear stopped by us. Two strangers, foreign looking men accosted us by name, France and Lucienne. They asked us if we would like to have a ride with them. We refused as we had been taught to do and they went on their way. What puzzled us was the way they pronounced our names (the French way) and how they knew us when we didn't know them!? Another time they passed us again on Byberry Road and approached us. Once again we refused and they went off. We kept walking beyond the Woodmont Station tracks and turned left at Mason Mill Road, near the Trenton cut off. Mr. Mason had a mill and a farm on the right side of the road. A long lane led to his establishment, all of which including the lane, was hidden from sight by a huge corn field of mature corn stalks. We had just reached this lane when the two men who had recently accosted us, jumped from behind the corn stalks! There was also a woman (all in white) with them. Apparently she had remained hidden in the back of the car. Well, we ran—we really ran! There were heavy steps running behind us! But it seems we had guardian angels—a horse and buggy with a man and wife had miraculously at that very moment turned in at the Mason Mill Road from Byberry. The footsteps behind suddenly turned and ran the other way! The occupants of the buggy rescued us and scolded us vehemently for walking on these lonely roads. They turned the buggy around and took us home.
These were the days of white slavery (we found out later on) to all appearances we had been calculated victims.
The colorful day of the Ox Roast came along. Our neighbors across the way, the Zimmermans were a very large and industrious German family. They were giving the Ox Roast. All neighbors were invited, including us and the whole country side. Mama thought the girls shouldn't go—it might not be—'tres gentil.' We didn't want to anyway, we were shy and preferred being onlookers. Well the day arrived and buggies, wagons and carriages came from everywhere, back and forth for three days! The air was filled with merry-making and lots of noise. We were also aware of mouth-watering odors of marvelous things cooking. Pierre and Jean were there and returned at night satiated. They regaled us with vivid descriptions of juicy roasted ox, corn on the cob, pickles of all kinds, and home made bread, pies and ice cream (all they wanted).There were kegs and kegs of beer! We wondered where all these people slept. Probably in their wagons or on blankets in the fields. Some were found asleep in the road ditches near our house. They smelled very strong of beer and it was decided they were intoxicated. We were warned to stay near the house! But we certainly peeped around. This was our one and only experience with an Ox Roast.
The Christmas Seasons brought a glow of happiness and expectation. There were the Christmas Services and the singing of Christmas hymns in the little Chapel in Benade Hall. Every one seemed so busy with the thoughts of giving; most of the gifts were handmade. Every December Pierre and Jean would find and dig up a little evergreen on the farm and it would be there in the parlor in the same corner with candlelight. We were nine so the pile was high under the tree. Our papa would make the Bryn Athyn rounds with horse and carriage delivering his and my mothers gift of honey to practically everyone. Exciting things appeared at the door and this continued Christmas after Christmas. There would be a huge turkey from the Raymond Pitcairns, a gorgeous basket of fruit, nuts, figs, dates and candies from Mrs. Glenn and big red poinsettias from Harold and Theo Pitcairn. Also a large platter of delectable homemade sausage from our good neighbors the Kings. On Christmas Eve if the wind was blowing the right way one could hear caroling of groups at a distance away. When the Academy grew in size and there was transportation, carolers came to the farm and sang to my parents. Once they managed to arrive after a heavy snow storm and it was exciting. Cars were stuck in snowbanks and there was much pushing and merriment.
The years were passing by with gradual changes. The horses disappeared also Bettsy the cow. Milk was now delivered at the door, the fruit trees were bearing profusely and the bees were making honey. Business was brisk. Papa acquired a new Ford car and it was his pride and joy (also a worry for us all because he drove so fast!) Brother Pierre was 18-years-old and was drafted for the First World War. Saying goodbye to his mother on the stairway at home was a scene that remained with me. He was her first born and may be mama thought he might not return. But he did, uninjured and a hero. He wore a medal for bravery, saving a number of men from drowning (under heavy fire). This was in Italy where he was stationed.
I was 13-years-old now and entering high school at the Academy. I seemed to be taken up with tennis more than anything else. I was doing well with this, but while playing I twisted my knee in some way which ended tennis for good. The knee remained weakened, my leg would suddenly go out straight and couldn't bend. In time it did so but it caught me in many embarrassing situations. Once I had gone to Fox Chase for a dentist appointment. As I returned home on the train, the knee snapped and I hopped on one leg to a seat. Fortunately our former music teacher, Hubert Synnestvedt was sitting in front of me. His stop was Bryn Athyn two stations before Woodmont. I asked him if he would call my father (the telephone had recently been installed in our home) and explain my predicament and to meet me at the station (the Ford had not yet arrived). The conductor helped me off the train and there was my father coming down the hill with the wheelbarrow! It seemed the horse had taken sick. My father wheeled me up that steep Woodmont hill and all the way home. I was grateful no traffic passed at that time (today the cars move along almost bumper to bumper.) Eventually the knee had to be operated on. This helped but gave me trouble all my life, but not in the same debilitating way.
It was about this time when I paid a visit (with an acquaintance I don't recall) to Bishop W.F. Pendleton. The reason for the visit isn't clear in my mind and may have been prompted by my mother. His home was a lovely southern mansion built (on the island) in a large wooded area. The house is still there occupied by descendants. We were received in an upstairs living room and served refreshments, by one of his daughters. The Bishop was sitting in a large comfortable high-backed chair, looking pale and not too well. He was a veteran of the Civil War and he told us a skirmish had been fought on the upper part of our farm! Some embarrassing incident must have occurred while there (which has slipped my mind) and he made this remark to us "a lady never repeats something unpleasant that occurs in a home while visiting there." He was such a gallant southern gentleman.
Papa was busy with his bees in more ways than one. The Apiary had grown large and demanded much care. The extraction of the honey and the bottling was done in the back kitchen. Also the melting of the wax which was sold in blocks. Desperate phone calls came for help on the matter of swarms. The swarms would settle in very inconvenient places—would he please come to the rescue!? One call came from Southampton. A swarm had settled on the corner of a three-story farm house. The residents were frantic and afraid to go outside. However, a long ladder had been placed ready to be climbed. Papa seemed to enjoy these interruptions and had no fear of swarming bees. He prepared his hive in the Apiary to receive the new colony, donned his broad brimmed hat and veil and rode off in his new black car. When he reached his destination he saw frightened faces peering out of closed windows nearby.
What happened next was unbelievable. As he was climbing the ladder the Queen Bee landed on the veil, the part that shielded his face. Immediately the entire swarm settled over his head and covered his face. Some brave person ran out of a house and opened the drivers car door for him. He slowly entered the car trying to balance himself as he moved behind the wheel. Very carefully he was on his way, one hand gently moving the bees from his face, as he drove slowly with the other. The town residents were gaping from their windows! Cars, of course, passed by as he drove along. Some swerved violently at this apparition, it simply couldn't be true! One car swerved completely and landed in a ditch. But he reached home safely and drove the car up to the prepared hive. He knelt in front of it and shook his head and the new colony entered its home. Thru all this not a single sting. The bees must have appreciated what he did for them.
I would like to finish the final chapter of childhood memories with a little story that is very heart warming.
Many years had passed by and I was living in the carriage house which had been altered and rebuilt. My husband was fighting the Japanese out West somewhere in the Pacific. I had my two children with me, Barbe whom I believe was about thirteen and Romney seven or eight. They were at school when this story begins. I was outside doing some little task when an old Collie dog comes loping along the lawn. He seemed very feeble and walked with difficulty and was caked with mud. He was so forlorn my heart went out to him. A neighbor, Edward Allen was passing thru just then to see my father. The dog still had a remnant of a collar hanging on his neck. Edward looked at it and said, "There's a number here, it's a Philadelphia police number," and off he went. I knew the dog must be hungry, probably starving he was so thin. I immediately scraped together what I could find. He was ravenous and seemed famished for water besides.
When the children returned home from school they found me mothering this old dog and their hearts went out to him also. They wanted to bathe him and remove all that mud. There were tubs in the cellar and they got busy on that and did a wonderful job. The dog seemed grateful. Night time came and we couldn't leave him alone in the cellar! The children arranged an old blanket upstairs so he could be near us. He kept looking around anxiously and listening intently and sniffing. We all felt he had been a very special dog for someone and much of a pet. I remembered the police number on the collar and decided to work on that. This I did all the next day. It seemed impossible to reach that particular number. I was connected and disconnected and advised to call here and there. Finally, success, "Yes, a woman had lost her collie." The voice was loud and relieved "and very much hoping the police had been notified it had been found!?" The lady and her husband had been out shopping and on their return home, found their house burnt down. Their hope was the dog had escaped thru a broken window. The woman called me a few hours later. There was a catch to her voice and she wasn't at all hopeful. The dog had no distinguishing markings to identify him. He had been missing for three weeks and she couldn't imagine him still alive and traveling all that distance from the city to rural country. But she took my address and directions to get to my place. Next day they found their way without difficulty. The Collie had now been with us for three days. He was lying on his rug upstairs when he heard their car coming in the drive. He went completely mad! He dashed violently from one side of the house to the other and the furnishings rattled. Then the couple were at the door way looking up the long stair way with disbelief. In one leap the dog enveloped them! It was a tumultuous moment. The couple's relief and joy brought my tears almost. The man was blind and the dog was a 'seeing eye dog.' He had been their companion for ten years and they considered him their most valuable possession. The man opened his wallet and would have given us all. We shook our heads—no. We could only feel gratitude to have shared in this wonderful reunion.
It was Thanksgiving day and we were on our way to the children's Thanksgiving Service in the Bryn Athyn Cathedral. We felt very much in the spirit for going.
—France Vinet White
October 12, 1987