Sunday, October 11, 2009

"So We Let the Mule Roll Down the Hill"

Deb Chapdelaine, "So we let the mule roll down the hill," (1980). Image courtesy of Verla Williams.

"So we let the mule roll down the hill"


Ella Pearson, 94, remembers the town of Jackson back in the horse and wagon days. Jackson wasn't so populated then. "It was hills, mostly," says Ella. "I remember one time when father and I were on top of a real steep hill with the wagon. It was spring and real muddy. That hill was so steep and so slippery we couldn't get down any other way, so we just let the mule role down." I asked Ella if that mule was still alive after that incident and Ella said sure, it didn't hurt 'em.

Ella was born March 1, 1886, and has lived all her life in Jackson County. She had five sisters and six brothers, and she was third from youngest child. They never had a telephone in her childhood home.

Teens had taffy pulls and went on hayrides or sleighrides for fun. On Sundays, families would go visiting. The men used to play cards, while the women sat and talked and the kids scattered outside to play.

Didn't the women play cards, too? No, says Ella, they didn't care for it much. Back then playing cards was more of a man's game, said Ella.

On Saturdays, everyone would make their weekly trip into town, where you met all your neighbors and everybody truly knew everybody else. At the stores everything was in big barrels and you bought it in bulk, said Ella. "You'd never see anybody buy any bread," said Ella. "In those days, everybody baked their own."

Ella was 12 when Jackson celebrated the turn of the century. She remembers the settlers picnic held in Ashley Park. "Everybody came. And lots of them camped right there because they'd come too far to go back home for the night." The Civil War veterans marched in their uniforms, making a wonderful parade for all the settlers to see, she said.

Barn dancing was another way Jacksonites of old used to have fun, said Ella. "Square dancing and waltzes ... oh, how I loved to waltz," she said with a happy look in her eyes. "Every Saturday night there'd be a barn dance with the old and young together and lots of good dancing." She sees the new kind of dancing on television's "American Bandstand" and laughs. "It tickles me to see those young people hoppin' up and down and thinking they're dancing.

To cool off at those dances, young people drank water or lemonade. Soft drinks like soda pop just weren't there. As for beer, "the old folks drank beer, and usually in the house. Even if there was a keg in the corner of the barn, you seldom saw a young person drink beer," said Ella. The barn dances started dying out in World War II when, as Ella puts it, "if you had a dance, you had to have a cop."

Ella was married in 1906. "I married my kid sweetheart," she says with a smile. She and her husband Ernest, lived and worked on a farm out in Middletown Township. She says a farm wife "had to be a hired man as well as a housekeeper." Ella and Ernest were married for 72 years and had no children.

In 1910, four years after her marriage, electricity came to the Pearson farm. "I thought it was a big help," says Ella. "Before that we just had oil lamps."

Automobiles were another new-fangled thing. "I remember when the first car came into Middletown," says Ella. "A man by the name of Webb was driving it. I thought it was a crazy idea, it scared our horses."

I asked Ella if she thought automobiles were an improvement over horses. "Well, yes, it was faster," she said. "Still, I liked the horses. They were slower, but you'd see more. You could pay more attention to what's going on around you."

When Ella sees some of today's fashions, she thinks "what crazy styles!" But she also recognizes styles that were the rage in her day. "Women might just as well kept the old dresses and wear them today," she laughed.

"We never had too many dresses at one time," she remembered. "If you had one of those new percale dresses, with the rick-rack around it, why that was nice," said Ella, emphasizing the 'nice'.

She like the hair style that was popular for women then, the pompadour. Sweeping the hair up and out of the way just seemed so practical for her. "That way when you're cooking, it doesn't fall in your face." Her used to be down to her waist. Each morning she would put it up, using what she called "snarls" or "rats" to give the necessary height to the hair. Sometimes she would just back-comb her own hair to give it that puffed out effect. And every night she would faithfully comb that waist-length hair out.

Ella makes her home at the Good Samaritan Center now and in her 94 years, she has seen a lot of changes. She went from oil lamps to electric bulbs; from horses to automobiles. And all those years have not marred her mind. Her memory is still sharp; sharp enough to recall in detail the old days and the old ways.


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