Sunday, September 02, 2007

The Search For The Twins

When the twins disappeared that day on the family farm and everyone was looking high and low for them, it was the dawn of the 20th Century.

Teddy Roosevelt was president of the United States. The
American flag had only 45 stars. The tallest structure in the world was the Eiffel Tower. In 1901 Queen Victoria passed away and the Victorian Era officially ended. There were only 8000 cars in the U.S. at the time and only 144 miles of paved roads. More than 95 percent of all births took place at home. The average life expectancy was forty-seven. There was no Mother's Day or Father's Day around the turn of the century. Only 8 percent of the homes in the U.S. had phones. The population of Las Vegas, Nevada was around 30. The crossword puzzle had not been invented yet. That did not happen till 1913. Coca Cola contained cocaine. Coffee cost 15 cents a pound. There were only about 230 reported murders in the entire U.S. in 1902. My grandfather, Leon, and his twin brother, Leonelle, were four years old at the time.

My knowledge of what happened that day on the farm when the twins disappeared is limited. So I poked around history to find out what life on the farm was like back then and I reviewed my genealogy records and refreshed my memory about family lore in order to add flesh to the skeleton of this narrative. I wanted the story to come alive for the reader. I have created an account of what I imagine might have happened the day the twins disappeared.

This story is a blend of fact and fiction then with photos to enhance the reading experience. Some of the photos are a bit deceptive though. They suggest that Great-grandma Julia may have lived in a darling Victorian farm house with copious manicured flower beds surrounding it when in actuality she probably lived in something austere by comparison and only daydreamed of having flower beds like that. But since she was a good woman all her life and deserved to live in a darling Victorian farm house, I am allowing her that luxury in this story.

It was a day in July. Harvest time. Winter wheat. As was the practice back then, several nearby farmers were coming that morning with their wagons and their teams of draft horses to help David with the threshing.

Julia was expected to feed all the men and tend to the children as well. Mrs. DuBois down the road promised to come later in the morning with an assortment of her pies for which she was famous in the county. She had won Blue Ribbons galore at the County Fairs with them. Julia's sister Rebecca was on hand to help. In fact she was spending the summer there helping Julia with the children and the household and Julia's share of the farm chores.

Life was exceptionally hard on rural women during those times. Their days were long and filled with tasks that were labor intensive. This often exhausted them physically and mentally. A helping hand was much appreciated and needed especially if there were many children in the household. At that time, Julia had five children in tow...all boys with the oldest no more than six.

Julia was in the midst of preparing for the day in the kitchen that morning just as the sun was about to appear and chase off the haze that hovered over the ground here and there like magic carpets. The roosters were nearly finished with their morning ritual announcing the arrival of day. A strand of her dark wavy hair had escaped from the bun she had hastily made on top of her head that morning. The strand swayed back and forth as she worked with another batch of biscuit dough under the dim light of the kerosene lamp nearby.

"Careful, Julia," she could hear her mother's words echoing in her mind, "not too much, or they won't be flaky....won't rise nice." How many times, she wondered, had she made biscuits and heard the echo of her mother's instructive words. Countless times, she decided, and every time. The echo was always in French. Her mother had emigrated with her family from Quebec to the rich black soil of the Illinois prairie. She never did master English. David's parents, who also were French, had come down from Canada too. Consequently, Julia and David were able to speak both French and English fluently. Sometimes they spoke in French. Sometimes, English. Sometimes both in the same day. As a result, all their children grew up bilingual.

Julia caught a whiff of the biscuits baking in the oven of her wood burning stove. She was especially proud of that stove. It was a wedding gift from her parents. Her astute sense of smell in the kitchen told her the biscuits were ready to come out of the oven. She quickly dusted the flour off her hands, bunched up the lower part of her apron with her hands, and opened the oven door to remove the biscuits.

"Ah!" She exclaimed when she saw her biscuits. "Parfait (perfect)!" Mama would be proud, she thought. The hot air from the oven rushed at her turning her face rosy red. She pulled out the biscuits and closed the oven door. About that time, she heard the screen door open in the back hall. It was her husband David. He was finished with milking.

David walked into the kitchen. Fresh milk sloshed against the inside of the pail he was carrying adding to its white froth on top. "Just set it on the pie safe for now, David." Julia said as she slipped the hot biscuits onto a waiting plate. "Coffee?" She asked.

"Oui, mon petit Shulee (yes, my little Julia)." He replied. Practically everyone called her "petit Shulee." Indeed she was so petite that when she was carrying the twins she had to use a strap of sorts to hold up her belly toward the end of the pregnancy. She was small, but she was spirited. Some people described her as downright feisty especially when it came to politics. She was a woman with an opinion, and she was not afraid to express it.

Quietly David moved toward her from behind then bent down and kissed the nape of her neck. She jumped. It gave her goose bumps. It always caught her by surprise when he did that even though he had been startling her like that every day practically since they got married. She turned around briskly and pretended to shoo him away all the while with her face beaming.

"How 'bout some of these biscuits, too," David said as he reached around Julia and snatched one off the plate and popped it into his mouth, "with those strawberry preserves you put up last month." He added while munching on his mouthful of biscuit.

David and Julia were wed in 1897. She was twenty and he was twenty-six. His first wife had died giving birth to a son who survived. Julia became a mother to little Albert then the instant she married David. She and David went on to have ten children of their own. The twins were the first to be born. That was in 1898.

Breakfast was to be served to the hungry farmers later than morning outside under the shade trees at a makeshift table which consisted of several wooden planks resting on wooden horses. Benches flanked the table.

Colorful patchwork quilts eventually covered the tabletop that morning. As an added feminine touch, Julia ended up placing a vase of freshly cut flowers right in the middle of the table mostly to remind the men to watch their manners as ladies were about, especially a young one...her sister. Rebecca who was only seventeen and had been given the task of chasing the flies away from the food while the men ate.
The breakfast menu that morning was to be bacon, smoked ham, eggs, fried potatoes, mounds of plated biscuits, milk gravy, sliced tomatoes and white radishes from Julia's garden, peaches Julia had canned the year before, a generous assortment of Julia's jams and preserves, and plenty of sweet creamy butter which Julia had churned herself. Last but not least, a big pot of coffee to wash it all down.
After breakfast there would be dinner to start working on. It would be served around 2 in the afternoon. Julia had killed and plucked some chickens the day before. They were waiting in her icebox to be cut up, floured, and then fried in lard. After dinner, supper would need to be prepared. The host farm wife was expected to feed the crew of farmers, who had come to help, three meals plus a snack that day. It was often the farm wife who encouraged her husband to invest in the new labor-saving farm implements so that she could be freed of the burden of feeding so many people at harvest time.
In a huge iron skillet on top of the stove, the thickly sliced bacon sizzled angrily as if in defiance. It spat at Julia when she was turning it, and hot grease hit her arm. "Ouch!" She squealed as she recoiled and rubbed the affected area. That was one thing she disliked about cooking. She was so engrossed in her quarrel with the bacon in the skillet that she almost did not notice the tug on her skirt or hear the small voice say, "Mama, I go wee." It was little Eugene standing there in his night shirt with the telltale spot.

(To be continued...)
DISCLAIMER: Although I have tried to be careful when researching farm life and farming practices that took place in the early 20th Century, I can not guarantee that I have been accurate.
CREDITS: Some of the photos I have used in this story are the works of Boliyou.


  1. You really did do your research Susie, many of those same turn of the century farming practices and that lifestyle go on not more than a mile from here. I see this type of simple living lifestyle on a daily basis with the Amish.

    I would have liked to meet your Great Garndmother Julia in all her petite feistyness.

    At this stage though I think I'll have to pass on the slabs of bacon and large portions of homemade butter. It's funny how all those types of "hearty foods" never affected our grandparents the way do they do to us. My Grandmother lived to 98 and the first thing she did when she sat down to eat is have someone pass the salt shaker and she promptly covered everything with a generous amount.

    That is one heck of a beautiful farmhouse though and I think both of grandmothers would have liked to have called it home. The team of horses is probably pretty close though. The team of horses looks like the Morgan/Clydesdale mix that is very popular with the Amish for plowing and pulling heavy equipment.

    The Twins? I'm guessing they found a nearby pond or stream and proceeded to find a way to cover themselves with mud and water and maybe even have a frog or two in their pockets.

  2. SusieQ, this is a beautiful story. You should be sending this in to a magazine to share with everyone. It's wonderful.

    Waiting for (To be continued...) with baited breath...


  3. Hi, I just clicked on your name at Rabbit Run Cottage and so delighted I did. What a wonderful story you have here. I can't wait for the next installment.

    The biscuit making and milk sloshing on the sides of the pail, and other descriptions remind of days at my grandparents.


  4. You've done a nice job on this narrative. Poor leonelle, to be stuck with such a name back when men were men and the president went off to Africa to shoot as many animals as possible. Bet he wasn't called that?

    Your comment about changing others' poetry is true. I don't know why I invited others to add to my words. It is my first poem and thought it would be interesting; and to spread the responsibility out if it didn't come out well. I intend to leave all words as they are presented by myself or others and not try to fine tune anything.

    By the way, aren't that baby's eyes just a little too close together? He said smiling.

  5. Love stories like've done such a great job! That photo of she and her husband is wonderful- such a handsome couple! I can't wait for part 2!

  6. This is excellent work, Susie!

    I'm loving it! Cant wait to hear the rest of the story.

    Well told!

  7. This kind of writing is fun, isn't it? You've really tapped into the senses well. I can hear the rooster, see the loose strand of hair, smell the thick-sliced bacon, etc.
    I'm kind of an "old farm life" buff. My wife's grandparents ran a family farm in Kansas, and her father still raises large draft horses (no, he's not Amish, but he gets all his supplies form an Amish harness maker). Anyway, based on what I know, you've hit the farm details of that time period spot on.

    Now I must confess, I'm worried about the twins. I remember you've been talking about this for a while, but I literally can't remember if they disappeared as in were never seen again or if they just wandered off and got a licking when they found them. Looking forward to your next installment. Great job!

  8. Your writing really is wonderful. This should be printed in a magazine. It is really special. I am now engrossed in this story...and would ave loved to meet this strong woman, Julia.

    Your research is awesome!

    You should be so proud of this work...


  9. I am flabberghasted and bedazzled by everyone's warm encouragement and kind words. Thanks so much.

    Just to put everyone's mind at ease, especially Tom's, the twins came out of it unscathed. I won't say any more than that.

    Yes, Tom, writing this kind of stuff is fun. But writing is hard work for me. I am slow at it. I think I may savor it too much before I let go of it and let it become.

    I put many hours into this installment perusing the history of farming and farm life back then. I am glad to know that those of you who are familiar with farming practices of that period think I have presented it accurately.

    I just want to tell all of you what I experienced as I wrote this piece. Those of you who do this kind of writing frequently have probably experienced the same things. But I found myself right there with Great-grandma Julia in her kitchen that morning. I saw her work with the biscuit dough by the dim light of the kerosene lamp. I watched that strand of hair escape from the bun she had made on top of her head. And then, I was inside Julia and could feel the hot grease hit my arm. I could feel the tug on my skirt from little Eugene. It is amazing to me how much a writer can get involved with a character to the point that the writer becomes that character as she writes and thinks about writing.

    I plan on writing this story in three installments. I hope I can do justice to the second and third installment. I'll give it my best.

    Thanks to everyone again. You have no idea how much your compliments mean to me.

  10. I love the picture in the header Susie. The header picture looks like you've invited us to have tea with you and have a nice conversation. You've really made some wonderful changes.

  11. Thanks, Jenni. I finally took the plunge and went with the customization. I was afraid to do that in the past because of the problems you had with your blog when you did the switch. I guess I waited long enough for them to get rid of all the kinks in the system, because I did not lose anything except my site meter which I can easily fix.

    The picture in the header is of our woods. Maybe you remember that it was in a series of photos I took of our yard. I can change the picture as the seasons change. I'll just take another photo of the woods this fall and then again this winter.

  12. Very nice pianny music. Is that Claire de Lune by Claude Debussy?

  13. By the way, I like the new blog format you've created. I remember that reading bench from y\our sanctuary.

  14. Jenni, yes, that is Claire de Lune by Debussy. Love it. And I love being able to offer music to my readers...thanks to you. I really appreciate your help in getting me set up with the music player. As soon as I finish with my twins story, I will shut down the music associated with that series.

    Tom, thanks. I switched to the customization on my blog. You can do the same thing. It isn't likely that you made significant changes to your original template, so you would not lose anything that can't be recreated through customization. By switching, it will be easy for you to add a music player to your blog like I have done. The next thing I need to do though, with Jenni's help, is to learn how to upload music that I can choose from for my music player.

  15. You are correct about getting "involved in the story". That is
    why I am still having such a hard
    time finishing my grandmother's
    stories. I get so overwhelmed and
    emotional that I can't continue. Of course, my grandparents farm was my home as well.

    Your descriptions are quite accurate as I remember from stories and from experience. It was a hard life for all, but I would go back to that time in a heart beat. I have yet to taste fresh fruits and vegetables like those my grand-
    father raised, and cornbread like
    my grandmother made on top of the
    stove in a small iron skillet.

    You have warmed my heart.

  16. Hi Susie,
    Thanks for visiting me today and telling me about this post. Somehow
    your feed isn't working for me.
    You have a real gift for making this story come alive. Off to read part two.