Sunday, September 23, 2012

A Grandfather's Letter to his Grandson

Howell - Charles - James - Geraldine

John - Howell - Charles - James and Geraldine in front who got kicked by a playful Colt

My Grandfather James
Letter from my Grandfather at age 80 written to me at age 11 in 1966: " The Gilded age I was born in was 1886. My Father had a Stock Farm with 120 head of race horses - blooded stock they said and a big family coach, painted in black and gold. Four horses - High Steppers they were, and my Father built a big brown stone four story house with family initials on the doors. Electric lighting had just come out and all the electric switches for the whole house were in one little room, like a pantry. They were knife blade switches - copper brass exposed. The door was kept locked. We had door bells, big bells one could hear all over the house. We had a big coal furnace in the cellar. I tried to run away and become a drummer boy in the Spanish American War but our boys died like flies with yellow fever. Guess it was a good thing my father and his colored work hands caught me and took me back. I remember we had a special kind of dog with lots of spots. He ran under our carriage where ever we went. I wore kilties and had long curls down my back like a girl and got in so many fights that Papa took me to Philadelphia and had my hair cut short and bought me a boys brown suit. Many bicycles had a real high wheel and a short wheel. The street lights were manufactured gas and a man came along every evening to light the lights. He had a step ladder and a long tapir. Then they invented the incandescent lamp. They were set high in the corners and a man came along every so often and put a stick of carbon in them. They arranged the lamps so they could be let down to the street level and raised in place again by ropes. Drug stores sold two kinds of ice cream. Vanilla and Chocolate. A nickle would buy a loaf of bread and it was 5 cents for a cigar - or a pocket full of candy. Tutti Fruity ice cream was sold by street peddlers for 1 penny a scoop. Bananas were sold by street peddlers as were vegetables and fruits. My Papa would spit on the apples and rub them hard with an old rag to make them shine. In Philly us boys used to go around in gangs of 25 to 50 teenagers and the gangs all had names like the "Boone Rippers" or the "Cannery House Gang". The "Stone Yard Gang" which I belonged to had a fort with a big fence around it and full of chipped stones. The telephone came out when I was a baby. My Mothers Father was called "King of the Commission Merchants" in Philadelphia. Philly had cable cars that ran all the time. When they started to move, they let down a grip which grabbed the cable through a slot in the middle of the car tracks. Every once in a while the cable broke and everything stopped. There were many big wagons in the streets all the time and there were quite a few traffic jams with so many horses and wagons and carriages. In New York, the street cars were pulled by horses and they charged 3 cents for children and 5 cents for elders. The seats ran lengthwise of the cars. Many men wore high silk hats and hard derby hats. I didn't see any felt hats until after I went West in 1907. The street sidewalks were all brick and the roads were all cobble stones. There was always a rumble and it was noisy. Men came along with street brooms and shovels, sweeping up the horse manure. There were many mules also. Mules were animals with a mare for a mother and a little jackass for a father. They are man made animals, not put here by God like other animals. They cannot breed and have young mules - only a horse can have a male baby. The horse manure was sold to farmers to use in their gardens as a fertilizer. Some fertilizers were ground up with dead fish and animal bones. My father, your Great Grandfather was a big strong man 6' 2" in his bare feet and his arms were as big around as my legs at the hips. He had black curly hair, blue eyes and red cheeks from his Irish mother. He was a great swimmer and a dead shot and seemed to fear nothing. He liked to shoot wild ducks and wild geese. He gave me a Martin-Henry 16 shot repeating rifle when I got old enough to hold it up and shoot it. When I went west, my sister and my brother Charlie hogged all the old things when the old residence was sold and I got nothing. Your Grandmother Eva did not want any of the old stuff. "