Portrait of a Brother

Marian G Johnson Merkel Shiffler

My memories of Gerald, mainly during his boyhood and very early adulthood years, may not coincide exactly with the picture you have of the man and your father. However, Milo once said “people don’t change much as they age, except to get worse.” Which is a sorry assessment of human nature, but probably true.
My first true memories began in the Spring of 1919 when I was just past three and Gerald was four and a half. We lived in a four room log house in Haynes Township a mile east and south of Grandpa William Johnson‘s house. Grandpa was called ‘Long Nose Bill’ to differentiate him from ‘Black Bill’-no relation-who lived about 3 miles north east.
The log house had a sitting room and bedroom in the front and a kitchen and very small bedroom in back. Gerald had a red wagon, and our daily chore was to fill the wagon with sticks of wood, and with Gerald pulling and me pushing, take it to the kitchen door and unload it stick by stick into the woodbox beside the kitchen range.
Uncle Wilson, mama’s youngest brother, came home from the First World War that Spring. He brought Gerald a small penknife, and for me a gold ring. I lost the ring in the creek (we called it a crick) which ran under a narrow bridge and through the field south of our barn and garden. I can’t remember feeling devastated by the loss of my ring, but Gerald insisted on going down to the creek every time we went out to play to search in the sand and among the pebbles. I’m not sure he felt bad either, maybe just wanted an excuse to play in the water. I never found the ring.

There were several family jokes on Gerald that originated about this time which shows, if nothing else, his perception. I do remember the locale, but the jokes I probably remember through repetition. One day mama took us for a walk through the fields, and we came in sight of a shack near a grove. Gerald asked who lived there. Mama gave his name. “Is he married?” “No. He lives alone.” After a pause Gerald said “Then he must have a hot water bottle.”
We had harvesters. Grandma Johnson and a couple of neighbor ladies were there to help mama with the cooking and serving. After all the men were fed, the women and children ate. Gerald suddenly grabbed mama and began to cry. “What’s wrong?” Gerald howled “There goes the last biscuit.”
We hired a man who ate his noon meal with us. He never spoke nor looked up from his plate. Gerald watched him loading food onto his knife and eating. Gerald could contain himself no longer. He said “Aren’t you afraid you’ll cut your throat?”

Gerald and I were allowed to walk to Grandpa Johnson’s farm to visit, and we did so frequently. We went by road. There were very few cars in those days. I’m sure we must have had a car because Dad taught school in Lincoln during the winters, and farmed summers. We also had a horse and buggy for mama to visit her parents and relatives. To get to Grandpas, Gerald and I walked north to the corner, and sometimes had a penny to spend at Cook’s General Store, not often. Mr. Cook had a grocery stocked wagon, horse drawn, that he went from farm to farm selling everything from vanilla to needles. From that corner, we walked west. The first building we passed was the Johnson school, the next building was Grandpas house, painted yellow, in the manner of the Harrisville house, one story high over the kitchen, two stories over living room and bedroom.

Almost always when we came, Grandpa would ‘throw’ together a cake. yellow as the sun, and iced with brown sugar frosting whicih hardened so we could pick it off and eat it like maple sugar candy. For this cake she used a ‘baking pan’ of which ladies had several sizes. Mama called these ‘dripping pans’. Although the Johnsons and Teeples lived only about 6 miles distant, they had several terms and expressions that were much different. Grandma once said to mama “Apparently you are a much better housekeeper than I. Gerald was amazed at the number of spiders in the hallway. I’ll have to get at my Spring cleaning early.” Along the wall in the hall beside the up and down staircase Grandma hung various sizes of kettles, saucepans and frypans, whicih Grandma called skillets, and mama called spiders. Gerald was forgiven when mama explained the faux pas.

Page 4, partway down.

One huge benefit we derived from living in Harrisville was seeing
Grandpa Teeple frequently. He came to town nearly every week, in a
horse and buggy, or a cutter if there was snow. He had a big bearskin
coat and hat with earflaps, and a horsehide robe for his lap. He
carried white peppermints in his righthand pocket, pink wintergreens
in his left. These candies were dispensed as medicine depending on the
severity of one’s cough. We got expert in getting the kind we wanted.
He taught Gerald to play the jew’s harp and the mouth organ, and
taught us to sing funny songs, like

Ohhhhh, I’ll never wear the red anymore, anymore.
I’ll never wear the red, diddly dinkems O
Oh, I’ll never wear the red, it’s so pretty on the bed,
So come buy me a molly, dolly rhyme.
So come buy me a molly, dolly, dimple olly, sally olly
Chuka=chuka chuk giltaroy, didly dinkem O.

He also taught us to dance the jig, which Gerald could do well, and the highland fling which Mildred and I excelled at. One feat Grandpa had that I always intended to learn, but never did, was to pare an apple in one unbroken peeling that one could carefully hold to make it look like a whole apple.

We weren’t the only kids that loved Grandpa Teeple. Every kid on our street ran beside his buggy or cutter to take a few yard turn at a ride, and listen to his songs. He was Santa Claus at the Presbyterian church on Christmas Eve. He didn’t bother with Santa’s suit, and we all knew who he was-who could miss that luxuriant walrus moustache?-but no one cared, and we all pretended with gusto.

It was great fun at his house, too. He had a record player. He also
had a wonderful orchard, with delicious apples, a Wagner, a sweet
crab, and a dark red with a dusting to make it look purple.

Grandpa had remarried by this time. Mama’s mother, Eliza Hastings died in 1918 while Uncle Wilson was away at war, from grief, some said. Our new grandma was Black Bill Johnson’s (already mentioned) widow.
Grandpa got up every morning of his life at 4 a.m. to do his barn chores, and went to bed immediately after supper most nights. One morning he was at breakfast and died with a spoon of oatmeal halfway to his mouth. He was 75. Gerald was devastated. He couldn’t seem to stop crying. Gerald was named after Grandpa, first name Frederick, But his age may have contributed to his lack of control because Fernall, same age as Gerald felt just as bad, and sobbed all through the funeral. Fernall was Wallace Teeple‘s oldest boy. He had bright red hair and a pointy face. He and Gerald were good friends.

Other Teeple Mentions

…Gerald was enthralled by any type of music, be it piano, organ, violin, or even Grandpa Teeple’s jewsharp.

Ross Teeple and I had birthdays close together, and I was always invited to Sturgeon point on a weekend so we could celebrate our birthdays together. Aunt Alice always made a two layer cake with whipped cream and sliced bananas between layers and on top.

..Peaches were bought by the bushel, and all other fruit and vegetables we got from Grandpa Teeple, Uncle Bill Hastings, the Cummings farm, or from the farmer who brought our weekly crock of butter, quart of cream (so thick it could be scooped out with a table knife) and eggs.

Mama was a small woman, feisty, red hair and freckles, size 3 shoes and tiny hands. She was half Scotch, half Irish. She said if she weren’t Irish she would be ashamed of herself.

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