Monday, October 27, 2014

Wages And Work

Claude Stowell

As I continued to read my great uncle Jay’s narration of his and my great aunt Ann’s visit to my grandparents in Spokane, in 1953, I learned more about their childhood.  Unfortunately I have no pictures of them as children.  I did find the picture above of Claude.  I guess this was his high school graduation picture.

Henry John Stowell, my great grandfather, and father of Grace, Claude, and Jay, started a small business to supplement the family income.  The business included construction, building furniture, and also undertaking.  Uncle Jay started working for wages at eleven years of age.  He made two and a half cents an hour or twenty-five cents a day.  During the next nine years he made fifty cents a day, then seventy-five cents, and then increased to one dollar a day.  As a schoolteacher he made from six to eight dollars and fifty cents per week, as did Grandfather Claude. 

In addition to farming Jay worked in the country store.  Then he worked in the village meat market.  He drove the meat cart pulled by horses far into the country and sold meat from door to door.  One of the horses was a kicker.  He would have to get her to one side of the stall and watch his chance and dodge in.  He didn’t know how he ever got the crupper under her tail. 

They also picked bushels of cowslips and dandelions.  They gathered quantities of wild berries.  They stored nuts.  They saved therowert, catnip, and sage to be used as medicine. They chewed gum they got directly from the spruce trees. They ate rabbit, woodchuck, deer, and bear meat.  They caught trout, dace, and suckers.

Unfortunately, when Jay was fourteen, and Claude was eighteen, their father died. He  had a table saw accident and could not eat after being hit in the gut from a kicked back board.  He starved to death as a result. They buried him in one of his own coffins.  They sold the building business and kept on with the undertaking business.

They had some unusual cases during this time.  One night word came to them that a schoolboy had just died of diphtheria.  Uncle Jay hitched a horse to the light wagon and placed the casket on the porch of the quarantined house.  The parents put the body in the casket and he drove alone with it in the middle of the night to the cemetery where workers were waiting to receive it.

Another time, against the judgment of those building the casket, they followed the dimensions furnished by relatives and built an oversized casket.  They couldn’t get the casket into the house. He didn’t say what happened as a result.

Uncle Jay became proficient in upholstering the caskets and putting the handles on the outside.  He learned the trick of “walking” caskets on end to move from one place to another.  Years later as he waited for a train he noticed an express agent struggling to move several caskets by sheer force.  He showed the man by doing a rhythmically and with slight expenditure of energy the trick of “walking” them. 

Another business venture was making ice-cream.  Uncle Jay didn’t say if this was before or after his father died. 

Next blog will be on Uncle Jay’s impressions of his visit with my Uncle Hollis and Aunt Jeanne.

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