Mailboxes and Old Barns: “Treasures of Age” by Stella

My mother, Jessie, was born in 1906 on a farm in the Michigan Thumb.  She was the seventh of eight children, one of five girls.  In those days there was no running water in the house, no electricity, and no central heating.  HurdFarmTheir dad was a good farmer, the land was rich, and everyone had their jobs to do.  Farming was done with horses, except when the traveling steam harvester would come by in the fall, and everyone would come together to get the harvest in.

The threshing machine would arrive, with smoke coming out of its smokestack and making a great noise.  The chaff blew, and the grain rose high in the air.

A house, a barn, black rich dirt fields, work and the fruit of it.

This is my mom’s account of her life in the 20th century, from the memoirs that were printed in book form for her 90th birthday party.

As I look into my mirror on my birthday, I can see reflections of the changes that the years have made in me.  I have had sorrows as well as many blessings in my life.  I hope they have made me a more understanding, stronger and kinder person.  Memories are a gift of God.

hurdkids1911

In the beginning, life was simple on the farm.  We went to school, to church on Sunday, and took an occasional trip to town and had a treat of candy or ice cream.  Primary school was grades one through eight, all in one room.  One teacher for all grades!  In school we had box socials, spell-downs, plays, recitations, and debates.  I remember, in 1920, we debated on the topic, “Should women be allowed to vote?”

Our dad could play the fiddle and could jig too.  He played for many square dances.  Dad loved the farm.  He was so particular, he couldn’t stand a single weed anywhere.  The crops were as near perfect as possible.  He was an honest man, and liked by all his neighbors.

Mother loved sunsets and the beauty of all creation.  She would call our attention to lovely things and tell us to fill our minds with clean and beautiful thoughts of nature.  What a wonderful mother she was!  I’ll never forget coming home from school to the aroma of freshly baked bread and sweet pickles she was canning.

correlhurdfamily1907

JessieVernaHurdVerna and I had the chore of bringing the cows up from the pasture after school.  Weeding was another job we had to do, and planting in the spring.  We were the two youngest girls and we always played together.  We never fought and we always got along.  We still do.  [Jessie and Verna lived together for the last ten years of Jessie’s life.]

My brother Tom was good to me.  He helped me out when he was working and I was in school.  Ross could build anything.  He could do my algebra, although he never took it in school.  One time he built us a car with a motor.  He built us a playhouse.  We didn’t see much of Allen [her oldest brother, who fought in WWI].  He worked in the city because he didn’t like farming.  I didn’t see Dad’s love for farming in any of the boys; they all wanted to go to the city to work.

My sister Evelyn and I always fought.  She was bossy.  Sarah had different looks than the rest of us.  She had olive skin and her eyes were kind of green. She was very good to us, but like a big sister she was always trying to get us to do her chores, like doing the dishes.  Anna was eleven years older than me, and she would take us places and buy us little things.

I was the only one to graduate from high school.  The others got up to 11th grade and quit to go to work.  My father died the year I graduated (1924), and my sister Anna and her husband John paid the mortgage on the farm.  We moved to Detroit, and ran a boarding house.  My Aunt Kate was a teacher and she wanted me to go to college too, but there was no money for that.

dividerbittersweetI was married at nineteen, to Alec McCombs.  I don’t think you JessieHurdAlexMcCombsWeddingreally start to live until you get married and have a child.  But we had no plans, and went into marriage with no plans.  Often, we had to live with relatives.  Robert (the oldest child) lived with his grandparents for a while, and became very close to them.  Fortunately, our family always helped each other.  If one of us didn’t have much, then we would buy for the other one, or help with clothing for the children.  We’d buy a dress or a coat or whatever was needed, through the years.

Robert was born in 1926 and Shirley in 1929.  Donna was born in 1931, and she died of pneumonia when she was only four months old.

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Stella:  On March 22, 1936, Jessie’s husband, Alec, was killed in an automobile accident.  Her children were ages 7 and 10.  It was the Great Depression.

Jessie continues:  Carl and I met at Hudson Motors, and we worked together for three years.  We got acquainted and he asked around to see if I would go out with him.  They said no, “She doesn’t go out with anyone.”  But I lost a bet with some of the girls at work and I had to go out to lunch with him.  After that we went out sometimes with a group and became friends.

In 1941 I was in the hospital after having my appendix out.  It CarlJessieZiegle1941ahad been a very serious condition.  Carl visited me in the hospital and asked me to marry him.  We were married on Christmas Eve that year.  Because of the war it was the only time we could get away from work.  I was 35 when I married Carl, and that is a good age.  He was a good husband, and we were very happy.  We did things together, and we always had fun and laughed together.  We were married for five years when “Stella” was born.  It was a surprise because I was forty, but Carl was delighted.

Stella:  The month after I was born, my sister graduated from high school, and my brother, Robert, was married in California.  Ten months later, my first nephew was born.

Jessie continues:  At first I really hated it, to be “grandma”.  You see yourself and think, “Grandma?”  But I love my grandchildren and great-grandchildren so much.

The truth is, Jessie was a terrific grandma, because she had a child’s curiosity, and seemed to know just what they were thinking.  My daughter and her cousin spent a lot of time with their grandparents in the summers, and cousin Kevin said that “Jessie is the party maker; even when there is no holiday, Jessie created one!  X-mas in July was a treat I was completely unprepared for!  Her “King and Queen for the Day” party gave Jenny and I visions of grandeur from an early age.  A ring, a crown, a cape – I think we even went to Lake Huron – what more can a child ask for?”

JenKevHalloweenMy daughter, Jessie’s youngest grandchild, wrote this for her grandma’s birthday:

When I was a teenager, I remember Grandma used to say “You never listen to me!”  But Gram, you were wrong.  I listened, and I watched and I learned; and I believe that there’s a little magic piece of you inside me. 

I know it’s that little piece that makes me stop on my walk to the train in the morning to watch the rest of the sunrise, or pull over to the side of the road to pick up a fall leaf, or smell the lilacs in the spring.  You used to cut fruit apart to show me the beautiful patterns inside.  You watered the plants and told me to listen to them drink.  You brushed the dirt off the vegetables in the garden and bit into them, telling me to taste their goodness.  You see beauty and magic everywhere.  I believe that you see God all the time, in all the good and lovely things of the earth ………………..

Maybe I was “spoiled” as a child, but I think it’s great that you made me feel like the most important person in the world.  Even now I feel your unconditional love  and your prayers for me every day.  When I can’t sleep, I hear your voice, “Think quiet thoughts.”  When I’ve messed up, I remember your wise, “What’s done is done.”  Most important, I remember your “I love you.” 

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Finally, Jessie says:

The most important act of my life was to receive Christ Jesus as my Savior and Lord of my life.  Psalm 40: 1-3 says it all.  I not only have a guide for life but eternal life as well.  John 3:  Jesus told Nicodemus “You must be born again.  Born once in the flesh, and then born in the spirit.”  I long to see my loved ones make this decision for themselves.

Tick tock, faster now they fly

The treasures of age

Gathering and filling every page

Of my book of life.

DuffChurchMarlette

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35 Responses to Mailboxes and Old Barns: “Treasures of Age” by Stella

  1. Lou says:

    most of those pics are still in pristine condition. I understand that your mom wanted to cherish those memories. I had a little difficult time following trying to understand whose perspective the story was coming from, but your parents were a very attractive couple, and your mom was a very sentimental kind person. amazing, how pristine those pictures still are.

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    • stella says:

      Funny, Lou, but I find that when a photo is scanned, the resulting image is better than the original photo. Also, some of these are duplicates made by family members from the original photos.

      Like

  2. texan59 says:

    What a wonderful story. It sounds like we’re fortunate that you’re here. You also have a very wise daughter. Thanks. 🙂

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  3. ZurichMike says:

    Achingly sweet. Thank you so much posting this marvelous view into your life.

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  4. Jim Brown says:

    Stella, that first pic with the house and the windmill, where in the thumb of Mich is that?

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    • stella says:

      Near Marlette. It doesn’t look like that now. For one thing, the barn has been gone for decades.

      P.S.: I see you are from the area! We had a family reunion up in that area two years ago (the Flynn Twp hall).

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      • Jim Brown says:

        It looks like so many other old houses in that area. I think I told you previously that growing up I lived 2-1/2 miles south of Burnside (Deanville Rd & M-53), went to Brown City for school. My Dad is from Snover (go to Snover every August for the Brown family reunion) and I was just trying to place the house because it looks familiar but then again so many old houses from that area look similar to it. I’m assuming that the pic was taken from the hay mow of the Barn? Again, just curious what are the nearest crossroads to the house. Do you have any other old pics of the area, if so it would be great if you posted them. I am always interested in what the area looked like before my time.

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        • stella says:

          My cousin owned a place on Deckerville Rd (near Germania); their mailing address was Snover. My mom lived up there in her last years with my aunt.

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          • Jim Brown says:

            In that area (Snover, Sandusky, Marlette, Decker etc…etc….) I am related to almost anyone with the last name of Brown, Billot or Marsten. My Uncles Don & Ron (Identical twins) were fairly notorious in Sanilac County in the 50’s. It has been told to me many times by many different people who grew up with them, that when a father in Sanilac County found out his daughter was dating one of the Brown twins, he would break down in tears, then after the shock wore off would grab his shotgun, or so the stories go. One of my favorite things to do on Reunion day is to go up to Max Wan’s farm (a couple of miles north of downtown Snover on Wheeler Rd) early in the morning for the coffee klatch with Max in his barn. This is when my dads generation, my generation and the next sit around and listen to Max tell stories about our fathers and uncles, all of love it because old Max delights in dishing dirt about them, and of course growing up our fathers always told us how perfectly behaved they all were, which Max’s stories prove a lie. Anyway it’s great fun and I always look forward to it.

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      • Jim Brown says:

        Sheppard Rd, Maple Valley Rd, Peck Rd, those are some of my old haunts when the big thing was to get someone over 21 to buy beer for and go out cruising on the back roads. When I was young I couldn’t wait to get out of there, now I can’t wait to be able to afford to retire and go back. I now see it a wonderful place and always think about how stupid I was to hate growing up there in such a boring area. As you can understand, I am a perfect example of the old proverb of youth being wasted on the young. LOL

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      • Jim Brown says:

        Yes, sometime in the not to distant past we had a conversation about the old Burnside Drive-In theater. Those were the days. Are you still living in the area? I now live in Sterling Heights while in between contractor jobs.

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        • stella says:

          I’ve never lived up there, actually, although I have relatives still in the area. I’m in the Detroit suburbs too, but in south Oakland County. I lived in Sterling Heights in the 1970’s. The house in the picture is near Marlette and Maple Valley, not far from the south branch of the Cass River. The house left our family in the 1980’s, when my aunt died, but I know the people who own it now.

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          • stella says:

            I think the family land (not the house) is now part of the Huggett Sod Farm.

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            • Jim Brown says:

              I am very familiar with that area. In fact one time driving back from Sandusky (this would have been 1975 or so) we wanted to go through Marlette to stop at the A&W for that wonderful Root Beer and our car broke down just west of where the Huggett Sod Farm is now (cant remember if it was the Huggett Sod Farm then). There is a little brown house on the other side of Marlette Rd and the people who lived there invited us in for lunch and tea, as I remember, while our car was towed to a garage and fixed. There are not to many places left today with such hospitality and trust. I really miss those days.

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  5. Stella, loved the photos and the glimpse into your families lives. Thank you for sharing with us.

    Like

  6. Steele81 says:

    My grandmother was the fun maker also. She was beautiful and could high kick the top of our doorframe. Her husband was shot and paralyzed in a robbery, but I never heard her complain. She worked her hiney off to make a life for her girls. I hope to be the grandmother to mine that she was to me. Thanks for reminding me of her today

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  7. CrankyinAZ says:

    It’s always so amazing to me when I read family stories – how similar they are to my own family story – yet still so different. It’s so wonderful to read about a truly loving and heartwarming family, that despite trials and tribulations, continues with that love and understanding. Thank you for sharing.

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  8. Sentient says:

    That was when people weren’t afraid of a little work and winter was a season you prepared for and dealt with (and enjoyed). Now it’s considered a privation to not have an ice maker or to have to weather temperatures under 50F.

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    • stella says:

      My uncle Ross was afraid of the work – all of his life, actually – and went off to join the circus at one point in his youth (honestly, he really did). As for the winter, my mom said they often had snow on the beds in the morning, and would grab their clothes to dress by the kitchen range. I don’t know that I ‘enjoy’ winter. Prepare for it, yes.

      There are many family stories; my grandmother moved to the area with her family in the 1870’s, when there were still Indians living down near the Cass River, told us about the Great Fire of 1881. My mother talked about the Chautauqua/tent revivals, and about the gypsies that roamed the countryside. Different times, for sure.

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      • hoosiergranny says:

        I’ve found that every generation has it’s own set of joys and difficulties. My great grandmother was a farm wife who lost 5 of her 8 children over 3 short years. My grandmother married at 16 and buried 2 of her 4 babies. She was a single mother during the depression and watched her only son serve during WWII. My mother was married to my father for 53 years and had 6 children. My mother (who turned 86 yesterday) was a stay at home mom. Although both my parents worked hard, they lived in inner city poverty their entire married life.

        My DH and i worked and went to school and both graduated from college. I’ve worked outside the home all but 4 of the 42 years we’ve been married. We have a son, daughter and grand daughter who bring us much joy. I long for the day I can retire.

        I doubt I would have had the strength to live the lives of the 3 strong women who came before me. I have never had to mourn a child, grandchild or sibling. However, as my grandmother & mother have frequently told me, they don’t know how I live the life I’ve made. Maybe that’s why I find genealogy so fascinating. I’m always amazed at the ability of my ancestors to adapt and accept what God provided with grace and thankfulness. These qualities are becoming more and more rare today.

        Like

  9. CoffeeBreak says:

    This was lovely. Thanks for a great MBOB. 🙂

    Like

  10. Cyrano says:

    Thanks for the little peek into your family life, Stella. I liked it. I live in Arizona now, and need these stories to remind me of the planet I grew up on. Well done!

    Like

  11. nameofthepen says:

    Absolutely lovely, Stella! So full of “life” and “connection”. I read through it twice.
    Your sharing of it was poignant to me for some reason.
    Kinda like being unexpectedly gifted with one of your exquisite, fragile autumn leaves. 🙂

    Like

  12. Menagerie says:

    The old house looks very much like the farmhouse in Kansas that my father grew up in.

    Great post. I am really enjoying the MBOBs from all our people. This is proving to be a very fruitful idea. It is rewarding to get a glimpse into another time and another place.

    Like

  13. Auntie Lib says:

    What a delightful piece! I get a little jealous sometimes when reading these stories of parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents and how their lives were back in the day. Oh, well – I’ll just enjoy and assume my families stories were sorta similar in a different kind of way.

    Like

  14. Stormy says:

    Stella, what a wonderful MBOB !

    Like

  15. ctdar says:

    Wonderful, thank you for posting Stella. Having seen your other gravatar, you really must look like your Mom 🙂

    Like

  16. justfactsplz says:

    Stella, I love your MBOB. Your family is truly lovely.

    Like

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