Home Life in Nelson: Social Gatherings

Rev. Edwin Noah Hardy (1861-1950)
Transcribed and edited by Roberta Wingerson (not previously printed)

Apple Drying  

Dried apples were staple articles of food. Families were large and pie was a necessity—apple pie set the standard. In the fall an apple-bee was a social event. The young people would fill the kitchen as a barrel of rosy-cheeked apples would be rolled in and “the paring” began. It was a joyous, delightful occasion. The happy maiden who removed the entire paring without breaking it could have her fortune told. Swinging it three times in front of her, she threw it over her head and watched with blushing interest to see which letter it most resembled as it hit the floor, thus foretelling the initial of her married name. Of course, fortunes were also told by counting the number of seeds in the apple. The apples were then strung by darning needle and twine into long strings to dry. Sometimes the parings were added to boiling cider apple sauce.

Corn Husking

Late in October or early November when the harvest moon was the most brilliant, there would be a round of huskings. The year’s yield of corn would be heaped high in the middle of the barn floor. In the evening as the young people gathered, their lanterns were hung from pegs then right merrily did the husking go on with jokes, laughter, and song. The finding of a red ear amongst the golden ones entitled the young man to kiss the girl he liked the best if she were willing. Rapidly the big corn heap would disappear as the opposing ranks drew nearer to each other ‘til the final scramble for the last stock. Then this jolly party rushed to the house to feast on delicious treats and engage in the customary kissing games.

Sugaring-Off
Making maple sugar was a tough, wet, hard task but, ah, the joy of it. No other boyhood experience was comparable to it. The long anticipated March thaw would at length arrive and then sugar making would be inaugurated with a rush. The sap buckets, holders, and spouts must be washed, the deep snow shoveled away from the sugar house and paths made. Then came the distribution of the buckets, the tapping of the trees, the gathering of the sap, the boiling in the big iron kettles or the great sheet-iron pans over a roaring fire, often day and night when there was a big run. The syruping-off was a job for an expert, the sampling of the syrup till it webbed like a duck’s foot, the cooling of the fire, then the kettles or pans were emptied into great gathering buckets holding five gallons each. Steady nerves and good judgment were required without a misstep to bring dangerously hot syrup home suspended from the neck yokes. But the really great event was the sugaring-off that usually took place in the big kitchen. The syrup was boiled in a large iron pot over an open fire until it was thick enough to granulate or wax. Often a pork rind was rubbed around the rim of the pot to prevent running over for as the syrup thickened it rose in a golden mass and required constant attention. When of a proper consistency, it would wax when poured on a pan of hard-pressed snow with forks and cucumber pickles ready for the most delicious confection. Sugaring-off parties were very popular. For household use, the syrup would be boiled to molasses-thick and jugged or made into sugar cakes after stirring and poured into molds.

Quilting Parties
Families were large, chambers icy cold, and everything was hand-made so quilt-making was a common necessity. The women were rapid and often skillful seamstresses and great pride was taken in the well-made and beautifully designed quilts and intricate patchwork. When the quilt top was complete and lined with wool or cotton, it was ready for quilting. A quilting-frame was assembled consisting of four wooden bars eight or ten feet in length placed in a square. Then the work began. As it proceeded the finished part would be rolled under from the two sides. A dozen or more ladies could conveniently work together. All day long the work progressed amid a hum of conversation. At candle lighting time the husbands and sweethearts would arrive for supper and the social festivities of the evening.

The Donation Party
This event was semi-religious, half charitable, and a largely social party. The minister’s salary was inadequate and the donation party was designed to supplement it. Every guest was expected to donate something for the clerical larder. Formerly these donations were substantial but later the custom degenerated so that after the refreshments had been served for the evening the cleric found himself very little enriched. The pound party became more fashionable in recent times and the writer recalls one such occasion. Atwood, the storekeeper, had just opened a new box of raisons for sale. The minister was the recipient of thirteen packages of raisons and not much else. Because of the rough games indulged in, the donation party was often a mixed blessing. Donation and pound parties were given to others besides the minister. In this connection, mention should be made of an annual gathering of great interest in recent times. Every season the people of the village were formally invited to a “birthday-donation-prayer meeting.” The occasion celebrated the birthday of the host. The prayer meeting gave it a religious flavor but the meat of this sandwich was the expected donation. If this did not appear, the guest was ostracized on the next occurrence of the event.

The Spelling Party
As a social event, the spelling school deserves honorable mention. It was an intellectual pastime with singing, declaiming, and possibly a debate, but the real event was the spelling-down. Two of the best spellers as leaders chose alternately from the audience the choice spellers until there were two long lines of contending teams. Then the spelling match began. A word misspelled gave the opposite side a right to choose anyone but the leader. The contest would be most exciting until at a given time the count was made. Then came the spelling-down. There were wonderful spellers in those days and it was a high honor to spell down the whole school and other schools that came into competition.

Games and Merrymaking
We have dealt at length with the social pastimes. So we must correct the current impression that in the past there were no good times and that people were lacking in social virtues and humor. In spite of incessant toil, there was a great deal of merry- making among the young, probably, very much more than in the rural districts today. At social functions, the quests would begin to arrive soon after early candle lighting. For a while there would be some silence. Then the simpler games would be introduced like Hull-Gull, Odd and Even, Bean Porridge Hot, Cat’s Cradle, Checkers, Jack Straw, Fox and Geese, My Brother Has Just Returned from India, and many other similar games. Then as reticence wore away, the ever-popular fortunes would be told from the tally of apple seeds, the buttons on a girl’s frock and so forth. All this was merely preliminary to getting acquainted and when the old folks capitulated, the real fun began, especially games with forfeits like Spat Them Out, Stage Coach, Spin the Plate, Three Jolly Sailor Boys, and Post Office. From these quieter games as the evening advanced, the rollicking games would be introduced such as The Needles Eye, No One Can Pass, Copenhagen, Blind Man’s Bluff, and others of like character. Kissing games were very popular, promenades were common but dancing was somewhat rare. Few of the old-time games are now played and many of them are unknown to Nelson’s younger generation. Here as elsewhere is the sure evidence of the mighty social changes through which we are passing and which more and more separate us from the past.