"The tattered, starving, and shoeless Americans never gave up"

Trenton, Princeton, Philadelphia, New York, Valley Forge

The Path to Winter

Posted by on Dec 5, 2011 in Historical Articles, My Grandparents' Farm | 2 comments

Good stories serve a purpose. While the objective of some stories is met immediately, the lesson of other stories can be years in the making. Such is the case with this story about my grandmother, Alice. Come with me as we visit my grandparents’ farm near Muncy, Pennsylvania.


A nip in the September air caused Alice to reflect that her four children had grown out of their winter coats, leggings, and boots at the end of the previous winter. If the truth be known, the children had outgrown the coats just as they had fallen apart from years of use by previous owners. Opening a kitchen cupboard, Alice pulled out a canning jar and counted the bills and coins stuffed inside. There wasn’t enough money to purchase winter clothing for one child—let alone four.

With the Great Depression in full force, Alice and her husband Ed were having a difficult time making ends meet. As she so often did when adversity confronted her, she lowered her head in silent prayer. If there was anything good coming from such troublesome times, it was that Alice was learning to depend on the Lord to meet her family’s needs.

That afternoon as she hung laundry on the clothesline in the backyard, Alice turned her head and looked across the cornfield to the woods. The brilliant gold leaves made the hickory tree grove easy to spot. Obeying a strong urge to walk to the hickories, she discovered that the trees and ground were covered with an abundance of nuts, and an idea came to her. After filling her apron to overflowing, she hurried home.

Each day after school, Alice and the children returned to the grove and gathered the ripened nuts. At night after chores were completed, supper finished, and homework done, they sat together at the kitchen table and picked the nuts from the shells, taking care to keep the nut meats in whole pieces. An oil lamp provided the light they worked by. After the shelled nuts were weighed and poured into small paper bags, the tired family tumbled into bed.

That Saturday, Ed loaded his wife, the bagged nuts, and a small wagon into the car and drove to the residential section of a nearby town. After filling the wagon with the bags, he left Alice to her mission while he did errands.

Alice pulled the wagon behind her as she walked door-to-door seeking customers. It was November and not only did she know that women were starting their Thanksgiving and Christmas baking, she also knew that hickory nuts were scarce due to the Depression—as were many things. In no time at all, Alice had not only sold all of the bags for 25 cents each, she had also taken several orders.

For days, Alice and the children repeated the chores of gathering, shelling, weighing, and bagging the nuts. And every Saturday, she pulled the nut-loaded wagon through town and knocked on doors. When the hickory trees became barren, Alice counted her earnings. The harvest had not only provided enough money to buy new coats, leggings, and boots for all four of her children, but she was able to purchase much-needed winter coats and boots for Ed and herself as well.

Because Alice had faithfully turned to the Lord in the midst of her troubles, God had provided a way for Alice. He didn’t necessarily answer her prayers exactly the way she hoped or thought He would, but He answered in ways that were better than she could have imagined.

For as long as I can remember, my own mother relied on her faith and childhood memories to get her through the difficulties that visit a person’s life. And she loved to share these precious recollections with my siblings and me. Over 80 years later, when my own family and I found ourselves in the midst of severe misfortune, it was my mother’s stories about her parents’ faith and persevering spirit during hardships that provided examples for my husband, our children, and me to follow.

For several consecutive Christmases, my husband and I had no money to buy presents for our children or food for our usual feast. I thought of Grandma Alice and Grandpa Ed and knew what I needed to do. I gathered our children close to me and explained that we already had the best presents—our love for each other and our faith that God would see us through our troubles. And just as He had done for my grandparents and parents, God faithfully provided for my family and me.

What gifts are you giving your family? Are they tangible presents that are here today and gone tomorrow? Or will you pass on a faith that will last for generations?


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Thanksgiving Lessons From My Grandparents’ Farm

Posted by on Nov 22, 2011 in Historical Articles, My Grandparents' Farm | 1 comment

While I watch the wind blow the last of the colored leaves to the ground, my thoughts follow the dirt lane to the old farmhouse where my maternal grandparents raised their children during the Great Depression.  It is a house I visited many times while I listened to my mother’s childhood stories.  I toured it once recently when the present owner invited me inside.

Although my mother and father moved hundreds of miles away after their marriage, my mother’s thoughts frequently traveled to her childhood home.  She loved nothing better than to scoop up my siblings and me and take us with her as she recalled her childhood on a farm near Muncy, Pennsylvania – stories I treasured and passed on to my own little ones.

Mother spoke of a life filled with an abundance of indoor and outdoor chores and of nearby relatives who frequently stopped by on Sunday afternoons for visits.  On stifling summer days, the adults visited in the shade of the large front porch while the children took turns cranking the handle of an ice cream freezer on the grass under a shade tree.

When the harsh winter wind rattled the shuttered windows and forced snow to swirl across the bare fields, it was the kitchen that was the center of Mother’s family’s life, mostly because it was the only room in the house that was heated.  Family and guests gathered there, the single-paned windows steamed from the conversations.

The old farmhouse, which originally belonged to Mother’s grandparents, had no electricity, indoor plumbing or central heat.  Bathtubs, toilets and even a kitchen sink were non-existent.  Things weren’t any better outside.  There was no tractor or modern farm equipment.  Keeping the farm going depended on horses and one’s own strength and determination.  Parents and children worked hard from early morning to evening, but my mother’s stories were never ones of complaining.

The day before Thanksgiving, Grandma Alice killed and dressed turkeys for customers from town who gave their orders in advance.  Once the poultry orders were filled, Alice killed the turkey she would cook for her own family.  Grandpa Ed finished the outdoor chores, then got out his hunting clothes and sharpened his knife and cleaned his gun.  The days immediately after Thanksgiving were hunting days and Ed needed to hunt game to help supplement his family’s food supply.

The Great Depression was in full force and money was scarce for my mother’s family.  Mother often said that while she and her siblings were growing up, they never realized how primitively they lived on the farm.  But a person can’t miss what they don’t know, she would explain.

Something inside my heart was soothed when Mother spoke of the contentment that was felt at the end of each day as the family gathered at the dinner table and her father thanked the Lord for His generous provisions.  Grandpa Ed and Grandma Alice made it clear to their children that, but for the Lord’s benevolence, their harvests would be small and their needs large.

My grandparents have long since gone to be with the Lord, and their farm has changed hands several times since they sold it.  But my mother’s stories taught me that when a family realizes that they are dependant upon the Lord to provide for all of their needs – as well as their blessings – every day is Thanksgiving Day.

May your Thanksgiving Day be joyous, may you be surrounded by your loved ones, and may you give thanks and praise to the One who provides for your every need.


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