Aunt Betsy, Aunt Luce, Uncle Ely

As told by Herbert F. Nichols When I was a boy and used to come here—when I first come here Aunt Betsy and Aunt Luce was both alive. Betsy was really the drudge of the family—she went out and helped Uncle Ely hay—he had a wife before her and Aunt Lucy Upton. Her father cleared […]

By Yankee Magazine

Nov 08 2018

As told by Herbert F. Nichols

When I was a boy and used to come here—when I first come here Aunt Betsy and Aunt Luce was both alive. Betsy was really the drudge of the family—she went out and helped Uncle Ely hay—he had a wife before her and Aunt Lucy Upton. Her father cleared the farm—they were both born here, and lived here all their lives practically. Their father died and left them with this farm, and after a while, they hired Uncle Ely to come to work for them, and he was here a number of years, and kept the farm producing less, and he was not much of a manager. I think he married Aunt Betsy to get a home here.

Right back of the house Aunt Betsy had a sage bed and one day she went out to get some sage and she didn’t come back and they went out and she was dead on the sage bed. That left Uncle Ely and Aunt Luce here, and then he married Aunt Luce, but she was quite an old lady before he married her. When I come here they was old people. I can bet she was 70 years old. I think Aunt Betsy must have been fifty or sixty when he married her. Aunt Betsy was the drudge-she went out and raked the hay, dropped the potatoes and dropped the com, and she would go into the barn and help mow ‘way the hay on the scaffol.’ Aunt Luce was the lazy one, and the lady of the family, and she was a little more intelligent than Aunt Betsy was, I think, and if you come here you would see right off she was the entertainer of the two. Betsy was perhaps out helpin’ Uncle Ely. I would come over here to Uncle Ely and Aunt Luce was quite a large woman-had a good big head, an’ a strong countenanced woman. I’d come over here and she was lame—”she was goin’ to wash, but she was so lame and Uncle Ely was goin’ to help her—always goin’ to … “If you come here—supposin’ they was here now—you went into the house and I told you before you went in there and Aunt Luce would find out all your business, if you weren’t pretty darned sharp, she would. The only means they had to get news was the Peterborough paper they would get the Peterborough paper once a week, and the only other means they had was what people come along and told ’em.

Uncle Ely had a dog, he was a little black and tan dog, and he had kind o’ long whiskers on him. He was not a shepherd—just a little mongrel black and tan dog, and about all he could do was t’ bark and Uncle Ely called him “Ashes” and if you was here—Aunt Luce knew that wasn’t a nice name for a dog. If the dog was ’round, Uncle Ely would say, “Ashes, get up here and get out of the way.” Aunt Luce would say, “His name is Lion—Lion—his name is Lion.” She really didn’t want you to think—to have you understand his name was Ashes. And if you wasn’t there, Uncle Ely would be a’ readin’, and the dog asleep on the floor. He was a thick set fat man, Uncle Ely was -almost always good natured. He wore blue wool—home made jeans, blue and white, and generally had a string or strap around him, kind of a blouse with a string around it or a strap.

And if anybody did come along he would find out who he was, where he come from, where he was a’ goin’, about how much hay he was cuttin’ this year, if his hens was layin’ pretty well, about how much they was payin’ for butter, and get all the news he could out o’ him. He would get the man up for a drink of cider and then he would have some cider. Uncle Ely would go and get some cider and Aunt Luce she would tackle the stranger and find out all about his folks to home—what they was doin’—about where they was goin’, how long they was goin’ to stay, and all about it, you know. Then that feller would go along and perhaps before night Uncle Ely would do the same thing with another man. You know way down in her heart, Aunt Luce was really in her own heart about as good as there was around here, and if you come here visitin’ or called at the house, she wanted to impress you with their standin’ a little, and didn’t want to say much about it.

And she had some pewter plates always on the shelves in her dining room and if you come in and sat down, she’d find out —unless you was pretty sharp—whether this lady here was your guest, whether she was your sister, when she come, when she was goin’, where she lived when she was home, and if you wa’n’t pretty foxy she’d know whether the man with you was your husband, whether he was a minister, what kind, whether he was a Congregationalist or Baptist, an’ all about where you was livin’—and if you didn’t speak about them plates—if she didn’t get you satisfied that they was as good as the Bigelow’s or the Legginstrings’—she’d want you to see those plates and she’d say she was agoin’ to clean house—“everything was so dirty here”—she was “lame”_ “Ca’line was comin’ over—she was comin’ to clean. The flies they got all over—they got all over.” Kind o’ wave her hand around, you know—“and they was goin’ to be clean. Ca’line .. she was comin’.” and she’d wave her hand so you’d see the plates, you know. “The flies was all over.”

That was about all the poor soul had to show you that she was somebody. The clapboards all a’ hangin’ on the house you know and Uncle Ely was one of the kind that was always “a goin’ to.” The house leaked like a sieve, and Aunt Luce would set pans upstairs to catch the water.

I used to go there in the evenin’ and Uncle Ely was a Democrat—a rank Democrat, and this was when I used to be here, it was right durin’ the war and he was terribly mad to Peterborough ’cause they was a Republican town. He took the Peterborough paper and he would be settin’ there. And he’d get so excited that he’d lay down his pipe. He was “goin’ to stop it”—he’d “not have the dirty sheet in his house.” And if Aunt Luce got a little hilarious—” Uncle Ely I guess you won’t—I guess you won’t.” He “would.” He “was goin’ to stop that paper.” He’d “not have it in the house!” And then he’d tell what a lie it was—all about it. Next week if somebody took that paper—if we just took the wrapper off it he was mad. He never stopped the paper. He even always wanted to undo the wrapper himself.

Well neither Uncle Ely nor Aunt Luce—they didn’t either one of them live more’n a year after they went West. They told me Aunt Luce mourned herself to death after she left. Uncle told her if she lived ’till Spring she could come back. They went to Morrison, Whiteside County, Illinois. She died within a year or so of the time she went there and Uncle Ely only lived a year or two longer. They were eighty years of age.