Elizabeth Westlin Guion
My husband, Don, and I invited my Aunt Biss to join us for a mid-week cruise on the Erie Canal while Don and I were working at the New York State Fair in Syracuse, New York. We spent four days cruising and visiting local sites of interest. While we cruised, Aunt Biss and I spent many hours sitting at the small eating table in our cabin cruiser with a recorder between us. I asked her all kinds of questions about her childhood, growing up with five brothers, the games they played, about school, friends and other memories she had of growing up in Trumbull.
I would like to introduce her with her own words to give you a better picture of who she was.
“When I was five, Lad and George Brellsford, and I think Dan, were on the fence behind the grape arbor. They were picking grapes, sitting on the fence and picking grapes. I came over and I wanted to climb up on the fence too because the grapes were much nicer on the top than they were on the bottom. They told me I could pick them from the bottom, so I climbed up on the fence. When I got to the top, I fell over into Dan Ward’s field, and evidently, my elbow hit a rock, because every single solitary bone was broken, so it was just hanging loose. George looked over and said, “Hey Al, your sister broke her arm.” I can remember my arm spinning just as fast as it could spin. I was trying to get out because I was afraid Don Ward was going to come with his gun and shoot me if I didn’t get over on my side of the fence. And of course, I couldn’t do it. So anyway, they picked me up and took me into the house.”
“I used to climb the trees and if my brothers went up three branches, I had to go up four, just to show them that I was just as good as they were.”
“I can remember the Plumtree (in the backyard) because, I was maybe five years old, the car was parked in their. I climbed in the car to play, driving or something, and I must have hit a gear or something and put it into neutral, because it ran down and hit the Plumtree. And of course, I got into trouble for that. I was always getting into trouble.”
“In the first or second grade, I swore in school and the teacher washed my mouth out with soap. The soap was so sweet, so I went home and wash my mouth out again. I don’t know what kind of soap it was, but it left a very sweet taste.”
“Back in the first school, I think I was in second grade, I was a jumping jack. I just couldn’t sit still. I never did like school anyway and I couldn’t sit still. I forget what it was she said, but the teacher said something about a jumping jack and then, “Sit still.” I can remember that.”
“Dick (about a year and a half younger than Biss, but closest in age. The older boys, Lad, Dan and Ced, were always together.) and I were cleaning up the playroom which was the living room and the little apartment. We used to put chairs in a line and that would be our train. Anyway, Dick and I decided that it would please Mother and we’d clean up the room. We had a wooden toy box where we put all our toys. There was so much paper and stuff around that we decided to take the toys out and put the papers in there, like a wastepaper basket, and we’d burn them. What else do you do with paper? So we did, and of course, since the toybox was right under the window, the curtains caught fire. Dick and I got scared and ran into the kitchen, got quart bottles and filled them with water. I’d run in and pour it on the fire and Dick would do the same thing. We kept running back and forth, but the fire kept getting bigger. Mrs. Parks, the housekeeper, happened to come in there and she put out the fire.”
“I think the second fire happened in the winter and we had one of those oil burners with holes on top to heat the bathroom. Dick and I were sitting on the radiator in the back bathroom, and it was so cold that there was frost on the window. We take one of the pieces of our Erector Set, put it in a hole to heat it up and touch the frost on the window. At one point, I leaned over a little too far, fell down on top of the oil burner and tipped it over. I had always been taught that if there’s a fire you run out and close the door … which I did. Dick was still on the radiator in back of the fire, and then the fire started up the curtains. I screamed for Mother and evidently she heard the panic in my voice and she responded immediately. As soon as she got upstairs and realized what was happening she yelled to Lad to bring the fire extinguisher. As she got to the top of the stairs and started walking towards the bathroom, the door opened and Dick walked out. I put my hands on my hips and said, “How did you get out of there?” As if he had a lot of nerve to get out by himself. He explained that he had crawled between the bathtub and the fire and got out that way and opened the door. Mother had on a very flimsy gown and that caught on fire and I remember she put it out. Mother then took the rug from the hallway and threw it on the fire and put the fire out but the door was scorched where the flames had licked at it.”
“At one point, (one of) my brothers had cut down some rhubarb when dad got home, he was angry. He asked, “who did this?” And they all said, “Biss did it.” I didn’t, but I got spanked for it anyway.”
“In grammar school, I was taking tap dancing lessons and Dad would always forget to give me the money. I would have to go in and wake him up before I went to school. He’d say, “The money is in my pants pocket.” And I’d open his wallet and there would be all this money, so instead of taking one dollar, I would take two. I guess this went on for about three weeks. One morning, dad said, “sister, do you take any more money out of my wallet than one dollar?” I said, “Oh no, not me.” Then I realized that he knew right down to the penny, how much he had, so I stopped taking it. I’m sure he knew that I was taking.”
(When I was older) we would climb out the window onto the roof of the laundry room and jump off the edge to get down. I would go to bed and then climb out the window and go meet the guys.”
Tomorrow, I will post Biss’s first letter to Grandpa and additional letters to her brothers.