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A True Story
by Jennie Talcott Whiting

More than one hundred years ago, your great great grandfather, Elisha Whiting and his wife, Sally, left their home in Massachusetts and traveled westward across the mountains until they came to Ohio, which was then a vast wilderness. In the township of Nelson, Portage County, they secured some land on which they built a log house and thus made themselves a new home.

Of their journey, I can tell you but little, as my mother, your great grandmother who told me the story was only three years of age at that time and could only remember about riding in a big covered wagon, but they may have had some stirring adventures as their pathway lay across the ranges of three mountains, over which roamed wild animals and wilder Indians. But your great great grandfather was a strong, brave man who was used to hardships and dangers and if he was attacked by wild animals or by Indians he was victorious for he reached his destination in safety.

He chose a pleasant spot on the top of a gently sloping hill to erect his log cabin. I have seen the place many times myself. At the foot of the hill was a spring of clear cold water so they had no need to dig a well.

The house contained only one large room below with a huge fireplace reaching nearly across one end. There were no nice cook stoves or ranges in those days, and your great grandmother had to cook over the fire in the fireplace. It was furnished with a great crane to swing out and in to hang kettles and other cooking utensils on. For baking she had a large shallow kettle with an iron cover, called a "bake kettle", and when her bread was ready to bake, she would knead it into one large loaf, place it in the kettle, put the iron cover on, and set the kettle on some coals she had raked out on the stone hearth. Then taking a long handled shovel, she would shake coals all over the cover and leave it to bake. Delicious bread it was when it was baked and ready for the table.

Opposite the fireplace they had beds, and ranged around the room in different places were their cupboard, table, and chairs and a large chest in which to keep clothes and other things. They had brought an old fashioned bureau made of black walnut which was the pride of your great great great grandmother’s heart. She had a mirror too, hanging over a shelf her husband made for her and when she had her things all arranged to her satisfaction she thought her home was very cozy and pleasant.

They had no lamps in those days but in the evening would build great blasting fires in the big fireplace and then set fire to pine knots which they used in place of candles and which with the blazing logs in the fireplace lighted up the room pretty well; and what pleasant evenings they spent sitting around the fire, the mother busy with her knitting, the boys listening to stories their father would tell of his adventures in his boyhood days. Oh, people enjoyed themselves better in those days than they do now with all of their modern improvements. They led simpler lives and were healthier and happy and contented, and contentment is better than riches.

Above the large room was a loft where the boys-William, Edwin, and Charles slept. I think Mother (whose name was Catherine Louisa) and her little sister, Emeline, slept in a trundle bed which was pushed under their Mother’s bed when not in use. After awhile more boys and girls came and the house became so crowded that your great grandfather built a frame house with more rooms in it. And your great grandmother and Emeline had a bedroom upstairs and their mother had one downstairs, large enough for her bed and the trundle bed in which little Harriet and Jane slept—until so many little brothers came they too had to have a room upstairs. There was Chauncey and Almon and Sylvester and Lewis.

They worked hard and after awhile had tallow candles to use in the place of pine knots and your great great grandfather built him a shop and made wagons and chairs to sell and could make many pieces of furniture for the house, as the older boys were now large enough to do farm work.

They used to hunt in the woods and had grand old times but I am writing this story for little girls to read and hunting stories don’t interest them.

When I was a little girl I would often beg Mother to tell me stories about what she used to do when she was a little girl and one time she told me of an awful fright she once had.

It was evening and the family (with the exception of Father who was away somewhere) sat around the fire enjoying themselves. Mother, feeling sleepy, concluded to retire and went up the stairs into her room. She never thought of taking a light with her but slipped off her clothes in the dark and put her hand out to turn down the covers when O Horror! She felt a great hairy head lying on her pillow. She screamed with fright and fled down the stairs, never thinking of her scanty attire, and burst into the room where the family was assembled, crying that there was a man sleeping in her bed. Her Mother was a brave little woman and she seized the broom in one hand and carrying a candle in the other ascended the stairs, followed by the boys, armed with clubs, entered the room intending to rout the intruder out—and what do you suppose she saw? I don’t suppose you can guess so I will tell you. It was their old dog, Paint, who had sneaked upstairs and thinking Mother’s soft featherbed a nice resting place had lain down to take a nap. How the boys did laugh and how foolish Mother felt when she remembered her scanty attire. It was a long time before she heard the last of her burglar as the boys were full of fun and mischief and loved to tease her.

*Story courtesy of Dixie Johnston

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