January 15, 1918
Dear Deaux Drops:
I have had such a very unusual adventure, and it is going to take so much space to chronicle it, that this is a family letter which you will please pass around. And this is my tale.
January 11 – 13, 1918For weeks we have been planning a sleigh ride for the young folks of our church, and when it sleeted on January 6, and that was followed by a good fall of snow, we thought we were fixed. Everything was lovely. The snow didn’t melt, everybody asked wanted to go, and it even lined up an almost even number of boys and girls, which you know is remarkable. So we ordered three big bobsleds, planning to fill one with the High School Bible class, a bunch of 15 year old boys and girls, and the other two with older boys and girls.
On Friday, January 11, it began to snow, quite gently, but very persistently, and fearing that the roads might be too heavy, the president of our Young People’s Society called the livery barns to find out if they thought the trip could be made in safety, explaining that we were going to a house about six miles out on the paved road east of town. “Sure, I can make that,” said the livery man. “I’ll take you through a sailing.”
So at 7 o’clock [p.m.] we gathered at the church. A part of the crowd backed out, but there were 29 in the party which finally left in two bobs. The chaperone for the younger crowd didn’t show up and none of the married couples either, but two of the older girls and I went with the youngsters—that is we started.
We had gone about two blocks when Helen asked if I had bought the coffee and sugar.
“Why no,” I said. “I thought you were going to get it.” So she and Martha got out and went back, which left me alone with the youngsters.
The team hitched to our bob hadn’t been out before this winter, and they wouldn’t budge out of a walk. The other bunch fooled around an hour getting the coffee and sugar from a restaurant, and then caught up with us when we were about five miles out.
And it kept snowing harder and harder, and I was getting quite scared, although I wouldn’t have admitted it for worlds. However, it wasn’t cold, and as soon as the more lively horses took the lead, our team braced up and we arrived at Cedar Dell, our destination, at about 10 o’clock.
Cedar Dell has been remodeled from an old school house by my dentist, Dr. C.L. George, and Helen Kendrick (mentioned above) is his office assistant. The original school room is the living room of the home. Four 12x15 rugs do not cover the floor, so you can imagine how large it is. On the front Dr. George has added a bed room, library, bath room, reception hall, and another bedroom, all opening out of the living room except the first bed room which is in a small wing. A wide porch goes across the entire front, and a kitchen is added in the rear.
While not exact, this plan will give you a little idea of the place.
Of course, this doesn’t sound like an adventure, yet, but wait children, just wait!
The place was brilliantly lighted when we arrived, and the furnace was roaring, so the house was nice and warm. A pressure tank supplies the running water in the bath room.
We had our things off, in a jiffy, aided by the Doctor’s two small boys, and the house keeper showed Helen, my sister Ruth, myself and several of the older girls to the kitchen where we started coffee and unpacked the lunch we had brought. The floor of the big room had been cleared, dance records were ready for the Victrola, and while the lunch was being prepared we started dancing.
There were 29 in our party, as I said before, three drivers, and Doctor and his family, making 36, and I brought just that many cups and spoons from the church. The drivers took the horses to the barn on the next farm, about a city block and a half away, and then came back for lunch.
Mark this well—for lunch we had coffee, cream, four or five sandwiches apiece, cake, cookies, apples, bananas, cheese, pickles and olives, also potato chips. Alas—had we known!!
After supper, we danced a Virginia reel.
Suddenly, someone who had been talking to the drivers came in to announce in a panic stricken voice:
“We can’t go home tonight!”
Immediately there was a hubbub.
Some were sure we could and went to remonstrate with the drivers. One driver was willing to try, and a few were all for starting at once.
But one glance out of the door was enough. The wind had risen and was blowing at the rate of 40 miles an hour and driving the loose fluffy snow before it. To attempt to start home would have been suicide. Doctor said so. So did I, and so did all the rest who looked out the door.
So we went back and started dancing again, but somehow the inspiration was gone.
Almost immediately some of the kids started for the telephone. It was a country line on a country exchange. We couldn’t raise the operator, even with the riot call, but I’ll bet we kept the fourteen other subscribers on that line awake all night.
At 1:30, the Doctor opened out the bed davenport, and with the assistance of some of the boys brought in three spring cots from the store house outside. But there were no extra bedclothes.
Five of us, including Ruth and I, lay down cross wise on the bed davenport. The cots were each occupied by two girls, and five of the small girls took turns with a cot and the floor in the library where the drivers were sleeping in the only available rocking chairs. I had to rout four girls off the doctor’s bed so the little boys could go to sleep, and we begged the doctor to go, also, but he staid up to keep the fire going.
At 1 o’clock it was 15 below zero. At 3 o’clock it was 20 below. By morning it was 24 below, and the windows looked as though they were made of solid snow. The frost patterns were actually embossed.
There was no place for the boys to sleep, and while they tried to be quiet as they played checkers and “India,” we would just begin to doze when someone would have a “Blockade” and get excited about it, and it was all off. Then, we finally prevailed upon the boys to lie down, and just as they got settled, the younger girls, who had had a nap, came piling out into the big room, and were all for dancing again. Ruth and another girl in our bed were sick, and believe me, I went after those girls about like Cora went after Johnnie Kirk, or Dick after the Spook on the night of the “Night Shirt parade.”
“My sister is sick enough to die,” I fibbed. “The people who don’t want to sleep will kindly go into the library and shut the door. Those who want to sleep will stay here. You don’t mean to be thoughtless, of course, but you just don’t think.”
But, in spite of everything, there was no sleep, and at about 5:30 I let them commence dancing again. There wasn’t anything else to do.
I hope you get a clear picture of the situation.
Thermometer at 24 below.At 7 o’clock, the housekeeper not having put in an appearance, I poked around in the kitchen with the doctor, found a half package of oatmeal and a small quantity of coffee. Doctor said he’d go to Gregory’s for milk, and so I started oatmeal cooking in three pans.
Wind velocity 60 miles per hour.
Thirty three people marooned for dear knows how long.
Our coffee had been thrown out when we were preparing to return to town, and the doctor’s supply even when boiled for a half hour, was decidedly thin.
Housekeeper—She was a lemon—appeared at about the time I got things nicely started, all apologies. Doctor ordered her out of my way, but she wouldn’t go, and from then until the end the adventure she was a detriment. By the way, she was a Wylie Dude in ’16, which accounts for it. Dudes never did amount to anything no-how. I hope none of you met her. She blew in one night, talked to Gene and I and blew out next morning, I think. Much talkee talkee. One of the kind who was “so nervous” she couldn’t do anything, and yet who wouldn’t get out of the way so we could go ahead.
The doctor was nearly exhausted when he got back from Gregory’s, where the drivers had decided to stay, and his face was nipped. He brought a loaf of bread and eight quarts of milk, so we soon had our gang eating mush and milk. Not enough to founder them but enough to keep off starvation.
Having provided the breakfast, I did not wash the dishes, but proceeded to do a little dancing on my own account.
We passed the morning in reading, wishing for our knitting, playing cards, checkers, and “India,” sleeping when the Doctor’s bed was unoccupied, dancing the Virginia reel, playing spin the pan, redeeming the forfeits, and finally, in desperation, we had a mock wedding.
Two members of the party were good pianists, and gave impromptu concerts, and someone was always dancing. After 10 o’clock I don’t see how they had the heart.
We had succeeded in reaching Elkhart on the phone at about 5 o’clock [a.m.], and from then on the phone was kept hot while we endeavored to assure all anxious mothers and fathers that we were all all right. At 8 o’clock, my city editor called up and told me to come to work. I assured him I would be delighted if he would provide the way. As he had assured me the night before that it was an ideal night for a sleigh ride, he had no kick coming.
At 1 o’clock, the crowd began to plead for something to eat. The commissary department reported two cases of baked beans in the cellar, one case of pineapple, and a scattering of cans of other stuff.
Doctor said he’d kill his chickens if he had to, and there were potatoes, but we’d better go light at first. So eight cans of beans were ordered up and four cans of pineapple. Then the bread was cut and buttered.
Each refugee as he marched past the kitchen door was given a plate or sauce dish with two tablespoons of beans, piping hot, a spoon to eat them with, two slices of bread buttered and made into a sandwich, and was told to help himself to a half cup of preserved pineapple from the sideboard.
Some of the hungry boys declare that we figured out the exact number of calories of heat and the percentage of protein in each bean, sized up the crowd to see which ones could stand the strain the longest and apportioned the beans accordingly.
“I got twelve beans in a nice ring around my plate,” said Ed Watson, the president of our society, who is a case.
During the day, Ed marshaled the boys in twos and set them to work at intervals keeping the pressure tank which supplied the bathroom in operation. About every half hour he’d make the rounds with “You fellows done your bit yet?” and any who rebelled were told that it was a plain case of no work no eat.
I’ll let you use your imagination as to the bath room situation. By the second morning we formed a regular waiting list, boys and girls. A case of lost modesty much resembling the “pollyanna” situation at Y.N.P.
Girls—I never truly appreciated the blessing of cold cream, powder, combs, brushes and tooth brushes before, to say nothing of night gowns and real beds.
Ed declared he’d have to use a file on his teeth, that they were growing long and curly, and I am sure mine felt that way.
And all the time the wind howled and the snow came down, and the drifts piled up.
An interurban car started from town to get us, and got lost on the way.
In town, the department stores closed at 10 o’clock, the factories didn’t run, the paper was printed but was not delivered, the street cars didn’t run, and the trains were at a stand still. This news was gleaned at intervals during the day.
At supper time, I had a rest, as I called for volunteers to make biscuits, but I organized the serving. Each applicant got three stewed prunes, two baking powder biscuits without butter, and the hungriest were each allowed a teaspoon of beans as there were a few left from dinner.
We can all laugh now, but it was rather pathetic then. One girl who has no vitality was already looking starved to death, and we saw that she had hot tea and butter on her biscuits.
Then the boys braved the storm to bring the sleigh robes and horse blankets from Gregory’s and we prepared to sleep.
Ever try to sleep on a horse blanket?
Well, I hope you never have to.
There was a time when I didn’t object to the smell of horse, but somehow, this wasn’t the same kind of horse, or something.
We put the boys on the floor of the library, and they copped most of the blankets.
Three of the girls took one of the cots down in the furnace room [in the cellar], claiming that it was warmer. Five were on the bed davenport as per the night before. Three more were on one of the cots helped out by chairs and four more started the night on each of the other two cots. Two others were on the floor.
I tried sleeping on four folding chairs facing four straight chairs on which a fat little girl who snored was sleeping. We had a horse blanket under us and Doctor’s over coat over us, and slept in our own clothes and coats.
Did I say we slept?
Well we went to bed at 8.
At 10, after half waking up every time I moved, in fear that the chairs were going to collapse, I woke up in a sort of night mare, thinking Constance was on the floor. She wasn’t, but just as I had assured myself of the fact, she tried to turn over and the chair collapsed.
Then every body got up. I lighted a night light as I wasn’t going to be left in the dark again, and Constance and I also sought the floor.
Two hours later, we awoke nearly frozen, thawed out at the register, found one of the cots was deserted and appropriated that.
Two hours later, Constance nearly kicked me out of bed. She got up, staggered to the register, fell over the floor, knocked over a chair.
Everybody groaned, got up, tried the other side and went back to sleep.
Two hours later. Repeat as above.
The boys began to stir.
Some of the girls began to talk.
Housekeeper came out and begged them all to sleep for two hours more.
Doctor entered looking for “Star Spangled Banner” to put on the Vic.
We told him only a German could be so cruel, and he desisted, contenting himself with building the kitchen fire.
But the kids were waking up and there was no stopping them. At 6 o’clock the boys started the Vic with “O Say Can You See” sung by John MacCormack, and most of us were glad to stand up and stretch the cramps out of our weary bones.
Are you getting tired of this?
Well we were too.
I decided to cook the whole package of cream of wheat for breakfast and see if we couldn’t fill the gang up. Pauline Ellwood made the biscuits which were fatter than those of the night before.
Some of the boys went after the milk, and brought back twelve quarts so we had plenty for mush and to let the kids drink it if they wanted to.
One of the boys who had gone for milk nearly fainted when he got back, the exertion, when he was hungry, having been too great. So in the midst of organizing a bread line, I had to get some ginger from Doctor and feed him ginger tea. He gulped it down like a man while I wiped the cold sweat off his brow and one of the girls held his hand, and some part of the treatment made him feel much better.
After breakfast, as the sun was out, and the wind slightly abated, the boys got busy shoveling walks and cleaning the big rugs which belonged in the living room and which had been out on the porch in all the weather. As we didn’t want the kids to dance on Sunday we thought it best to put down the rugs, for while, under the exceptional circumstances, I should have let them dance, I don’t think the doctor would have approved.
At about 10 o’clock they telephoned from Gregory’s that the men were going to try to make the trip home and that they would take back those who absolutely had to go. Doctor didn’t want any of the girls to try it, but we who worked felt that we ought to go. Some of the little kids who had dates for that evening with fellows who were not in the crowd, also thought they must go, but we firmly said “No.” If we could make it, there would be time enough to think about them, and we were better able to stand the hardships, if there were to be any, than they.
So we started with about a half load in each bob, sitting on the floor with the blankets over our heads. The wind was still blowing. We had gone a mile when the leading team crashed into a drift “up to their necks” our driver said. He got out, took the shovel and started ahead to see. We sat there we thought for an hour and every minute wished we hadn’t started. Then with the help of two farmers who lived on opposite sides of the road a short distance ahead, the leaders got out of the drift and we drove up to the farm house. There was a drift twelve feet high and a block long cross the road. We went into the farm house and the men telephoned to town that we were on the way. They said they would send out four horses and that we should wait.
The farmer’s wife fed 20 of us on coffee, bread and butter, hot apple sauce and liverwurst and would only take a dollar! Farmer Boyer went out and surveyed the landscape, found a way around the drift through a field, and we bundled up again and started out, meeting the other horses just beyond the great drift.
After that, it was plain sailing, the horses having partly broken the road on the way out, and we arrived in town at about 3 o’clock.
Gee, but home looked good.
Dinner was still on the table—swiss steak, gravy, potatoes, and all the other yummy things. Ruth was so all in that she couldn’t eat, could only collapse and cry. I had a meal, a hot bath, and went to bed to sleep from 4 o’clock until 6 the next morning.
My word, to get your clothes off after 60 hours was great!
Helen and Martha, who were with the first bob, went directly to the barn and sent another bob out after the kids and they got in at 6 o’clock. As there were only 12 of them, they were able to have a better dinner than they had had the day before and really arrived home thinking they had had a great time.
And it might have been worse. I wonder what we would have done had we gone to a summer cottage at one of the lakes where we would have had to keep warm with the stoves and no fuel supply, no beans in the cellar, no bath room— say? I guess we have much to be thankful for.
Well dears, I know you are green with envy to think all this excitement didn’t happen to you. I eagerly await your storm adventures, but I think the blizzard blew itself out before it reached you [this was to Perla & Vessie Caughey, Dick Loeffler, and Cora Cunningham, who lived in Pennsylvania; obviously not Rae Wylie in California].
Only my savage training enabled me to take some of it philosophically, especially the housekeeper.
As for the sleep, the first night reminded me of “sittin’s up” in dear old Deaux Drop when Rae and I wanted to go to sleep quite forcibly.