17 April 2012

Lottie's Memoirs: My Eighth Birthday

... This is part five in a series. Please see the initial post for explanation.

The Lee Family at Silver Creek, Nebraska

Lottie Mae Lee Houston
Mrs. Andrew Houston

Page 8.

My Eighth Birthday - Aug. 5, 1881

One of Dad's bill collecting trips I remember well, because it was my eighth birthday. I had been very ill for weeks, with "congestion of the brain", and was just getting well enough to go out. Our family was very sad, too, over the death of our baby brother, Mortimer, in July, and my birthday did not promise to be an especially happy one.

However, Dad asked me how I would like to go with him over across the Platte River, into Polk County, to collect bills. He had to make this trip, driving from farm to farm with our old horse, Topsy, hitched to a buckboard. A buckboard was a four wheeled vehicle with a spring seat mounted on a wooden cart frame, boards or slats for the floor, and no springs. 

The roads were used mostly by wagons with two horses, so that deep ruts were made by the wheels during the wet spring weather. This left a high, grassy ridge in the middle. Topsy had to stay on this ridge to keep the wheels in line in the dry ruts. Fortunately the wheels were large and the wagon box high, but Topsy was not pleased, and I remember being a little concerned. Roads then did not follow section lines but cut across from one farmhouse to another. 

It was a lovely August morning and we started early. I wore a little pink cotton dress, I remember, and a pink sunbonnet. I felt very important, going with Dad, and he was very good company. Everything I saw and did that day stands out vividly in my memory. 

Dad asked how I would like to go to visit Lily Swartwood, at one of the farms where he was going. She was a little girl whom I liked very much, whom I knew at Sunday School. It was four or five miles to their house and we made several other stops before we reached the Swartwoods. They lived in a sod house, one of the few left in that part of the country by 1881. The virgin sod, with heavy grass roots which had grown there for centuries made a material like heavy brick. It was cut into wide blocks and set together like a brick house, leaving spaces for doors and windows. Poles were used for the roof, covered over with layers of sods. The grass on the roof would be green in spring and early summer. 

This house was whitewashed inside and out, had glass in the windows and a wooden door. The walls were thick and it was comfortable both summer and winter. The window sills were very wide, almost like seats. lily was very glad to see me and we spent most of the day playing dolls on the wide window sill. I can remember so well watching my father, out in the yard, talking to her father and then driving off on his business. He returned to have dinner with us, a very good dinner, as the Swartwoods were very hospitable. It was a day I shall never forget. 

...to be continued...

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