The autobiography of a Pennsylvanian/16 John B. Pennepacker
John B. Pennepacker
Sketch from Life
I AM quite sure this will be found to be one of the most interesting and informing chapters in the Autobiography. The German people who, two hundred years ago, settled within twenty-five miles of Philadelphia, have held on to their land and preserved their language, habits and traditions and methods of thought down to the present time. This life is now all rapidly disappearing. The railroad, trolley and automobile and the approach of the city and its people, have compelled the old ways to succumb, and one of the most romantic and attractive of features of Pennsylvania life, such as exists in no other state, will soon be lost. I have endeavored to draw a pen picture in order to preserve and illustrate, as far as possible, the customs, dialect and manner of thought of these people. The gentleman whose name heads this chapter was selected solely because he is the most perfect survival of the old time to be found in the neighborhood. The incidents were written down on different occasions as they occurred. If I have not succeeded in making plain the keen, native intelligence, the generous spirit and the innate worth of my subject, which lie beneath the surface, then to that extent this chapter is a failure.
It was seven o'clock in the evening and the shades of the coming night were beginning to gather. For a moment I leaned over the lower half of the stable door and watched him scattering the straw for the beds of the horses.
“Is that you, John?”
“Yes, diese is Chon. Com in vonce.”
“Oh, no, I must hurry home or I shall lose my supper.”
“Vell, maybe dass is besser. Dere is no supper here. It is long ago dat we had our supper and,” while a genial and kindly smile played over his face, “I sink it is pretty near all.”
John turned to me suddenly, while he held firmly the handle of the Dutch buckwheat cradle to keep it from scratching the buggy as we rattled along, and queried:
“Did I efer tell you dat story of my grandfadder Chon Pannebecker and annodder feller, Neiman, vat vas wiss him? I sink I did tell you dat story vonce.”
“I cannot recall that you ever did.”
“Vell, Neiman, he vas a neighbor and my grandfadder he vas a little dricky. In dem days all de farmers dey used to go down to Philadelphey in big vagons to marget. Dey put up at de ‘Sorrel Horse,’ dat vas a davern in Fourth Street and Old York Roat. Diese Neiman, he liked oysters and he goes out and buys a big pag of oysters to take home wiss him. De farmers, dey nefer vent to bet, but dey lay down on de kitchen floor on deir crain pags ven dey vanted to go asleep. Den diese Neiman, he says, ‘I am going to bet,’ and dey say, ‘Don't you be so stuck up. You come and sleep wiss us,’ and off he goes to bet. Den my grandfadder, he goes out to the vagon and gets de pag of oysters, and dey eat all dem oysters and puts de shells back in de pag, and ties de pag up fery tight chust like it vas all right. And den ven dey all goes home and comes to Neiman's lane, my grandfadder he says, ‘Neiman, don't forget your pag of oysters,’ and Neiman, he throws de pag ofer his shoulder and off he goes. Pretty soon he sees Neiman come across the fielt and he looks fery mad. ‘Wie gehts, Neiman?’ says my grandfadder. ‘Vere is my oysters?’ says Neiman. ‘Is dey lost? It must haf been de frost,’ says my grandfadder. ‘In de vinter time ven de oysters freeze, dat opens de shells and dey all runs avay.’ It vas a fery cold day, dat day, and Neiman he looks funny for avile and den he says, ‘Dat must haf been it.’ He nefer knowed any better, but my grandfadder he vas a little dricky.
“John, be careful about the buckwheat cradle.”
One idea always suggests another to John and he goes ambling along mentally with no particular destination in view, but ever entertaining and swept hither and yon by undercurrents of character, one of shrewdness and one of generosity.
“Dat vas a fery nice copper kittle at de Weishe vandue. Only it vonce had a hole in de bottom and hat been mendet. It vas not so nice a kittle as de one I let you have. Dat vas as nice a kittle as I efer saw. I vould haf kept dat vun for myself if you vouldn't haf vanted it. But ve haf such a vun at home — so! Dese kittles you could keep for a life time if you chust used dem yourself, but ven all de neighbors, dey vants to borrow dem to make abblebudder, den dey gets knocked. Some beople is careless. In olt dimes ven anybody porrowed a kittle dey had to give a pot of abblebudder. Dat vas de rule. But ve don't do dat vay any more. Ve chust lets dem haf de kittle. Mrs. Whitman, she vanted our kittle diese summer and I said all right, she could haf it. Den she sends me a pot of abblebudder. She is a fery nice voman. I did not vant it, but she chust makes me dake it.”
“Yes, John, that was a fine kettle I got from you.”
At Weishe's sale, August 25, 1908, quantities of home-made linen bags, some of them made in the time of the grandfather, used for wheat, marked with the name of the owner of that time, rough, coarse in fiber, but thick and strong, were sold for a few pennies.
“Dey is fery good for dowels,” said John.
“Come in and get some tinner,” said the very stout woman who was hustling about the old kitchen with its oven attachment, at the Weishe sale, to John and me. “You are right willkom.”
“No,” answered John, “I don't vant any tinner to-day. My stomach is not all right. After a vile I vill go out to Jacob (who sold candy and peanuts from a stand, to the people at the sale) and puy me a blate of ice cream. Ven your stomach is not all right, and you don't vant to eat nossing, dere is nossing so goot for it as ice cream — sure.” And he ate two plates of cream.
“Nefer puy an olt vagon or an olt set of harness,” is a part of John's farm philosophy. He was president of the Perkiomen Pike Company until the public took the pike, and is a director in the Schwenksville bank, and he owns four or five farms. He saw me tempted by an old farm wagon, well preserved, with huge rough timbers and great high dished wheels, made in 1781, which sold for $3.75.
“If you can't affort to py a new vagon, vy chust shift until you gets a liddle money. My fadder fixed up an olt vagon vonce and he vas sorry all his life. He says to me: ‘Dat vagon is no goot and it vould not pring vat it cost chust to fix it. If I'm not here any more, don't you puy dat vagon, Chon. Let it go at de vandue.’ And so I dit. But I pought an olt set of harness vonce. Dey vas not chust so olt, but dey vas rubbed, and den ven I vas going down hill wiss my team de harness proke and I vas in drouble. You let somepody else puy dat olt vagon.”
“Do you know olt Mike Ziegler vat lifes up at Lederachsville?” asked John one day when I met him in the Schwenksville street hurrying toward the plain brick house which is his home.
“I have heard of him. The Zieglers are an old Mennonite family.”
“Vell, he got himself puried last veek — on Friday."
On his own lines, John is knowing. With the certainty of experience equal to instinct, he will go straight to the points of a horse or a bit of land or a corner clock. He informed me:
“Dat gradle vat you pought at Weishe's vandue is not a gradle for vheat.”
It had a hickory handle and four hickory blades, and a broad steel blade six inches in width which the dengel-stuck a long while ago sharpened, but its day had departed and it cost me ten cents. “Dat gradle vas for puckvheat. Did you efer gradle?”
“No, John, I never did."
“Vell, my fadder vas a goot von to gradle. Many vas de day I gradled and I could gradle pretty goot too, but not like my fadder. He vould dake de gradle and cut de crain right quick and lay it all down on the cround chust so, and den he says to me, ‘Dat is de vay you must alvays gradle too’ — but I nefer could, " he added with a sigh.
“Do you know dem vite oak and chestnut voods ofer on de Schtay-Barrick (Stein Berg) vere you and I vent von day wiss de buggy?"
I knew them very well; they grew over the top of the rough hill amid masses of gneiss, smoothed by the floods of eons ago. They were not far from the Wolf's Den, a vast natural cavern constructed by the earthquake with immense blocks of upheaved granite. I so told John.
“Vell, dem voods pelonged to olt Sam Pannuhbacker (the nearest approximate to the pronunciation) and den dey pelonged to Truckenmiller. Dat name is so long dat ve chust calls em T—— Miller and ven dey gets puried up in Keeley's craveyard dat is vat goes on to de cravestones. Diese olt T—— Miller, he hes up dere now. And den dey pelonged to Puhl and now dey pelongs to me. I vill nefer cut dem voods down so long as I lif. Dey can chust stay. Eferypody cuts down all de voods and after a vile dere von't pe no voods any more.” And after a pause he slowly continued: “Ven I am not here any more, den dey vill go too, but dat is vat I can't help.”
“Come ofer here vonce. I haf a liddle bresent I vant to gif you,” John called out to me, holding a book.
It was a mystical treatise upon the Book of Revelations which had belonged to his great-grandfather, Samuel Pennypacker, who had entertained Washington at Pennypacker's Mills, and who had laboriously read through the book twice, marking each day's progress and making comment. John had had it bound in Norristown.
“John, you ought not to part with that book.”
“Ach! I saw you look all ofer dat pook vonce and den I know you vants to take it pack vere it vas. Dat is all right, I dalk it ofer wiss my vife and she say, ‘Vat do I vant wiss such olt pooks chust to lie arount in de vay and make a dust. Gif it to de Governor, vor all I gares.’ And so chust you dake it along, and velcome.”
“Haf you begun to do your seeting?” asked John on the 8th of September, when the ground and the weather were both favorable for the wheat.
“No? Oh, vell, dere is dime enough yet. My fadder used alvays to say to me if it is September den it is not too early, and so long as it is September yet, den it is not too late.”
“I vas up in Percks County to see Chames Pannebecker,” he reported after returning from a two days' trip with his wife and daughter.
“Dere vas dree of dem Pannebeckers — Chames and Chon and Richard. Chon vas an old patchelor and he vas chust not so pright, and he goes to lif wiss Richard and den he makes a vill and gifes to Richard all vat he has. Dere vas a creat lawsuit about dat vill and dey don't speak to vone annodder any more, and ven Richard gets puried Chames vas not invited to de funeral, but he goes to de Graveyard. I chust told Chames dat I vanted somesing vat pelonged to dem olt Pannebeckers to pring home for de Governor. Den Chames say he haf such a knife, vat olt Villiam Pannebecker made, vat made rifles in Langaster County for de Revolution, but he don't know vere dat knife is any more; and den he calls de vomen and he says, ‘Vere is dat knife vat Villiam Pannebecker made for me and I gif him a tollar for it?’ and de vomen, dey don't know, dey haven't seen dat knife diese long vile any more; but dey hunt, and dere it vas in de drawer of de olt chest — sure.”
Out of his capacious pocket John drew a huge home-made knife, with a handle of maple wood, and a broad, curved blade, six inches long.
“Here is dat knife; you can haf it. If you don't vant it, I vould chust keep it myself.”
“Pryan is out again to be President,” said John, philosophical and reminiscent. “I don't know much apout it, and I don't care much one vay or de odder. But I don't pelieve he vill efer be President. Ven a man vants an office so awful bad, dat is chust ven he don't get it. I could haf been a school director vonce, and I say to eferypody I danks 'em as much if dey votes against me as if dey votes for me.”
John is an elder in the German Reformed Church. He goes to church regularly every Sunday and all of his ways are upright. A neighbor said to me of him: “If eferypody vas like Chon Pennepacker dere vould be little drouble in de vorld.”
His system of theology is simple.
“John,” I asked, “how does it happen that while your great-grandfather was a Mennonite, you are a member of the German Reformed Church?”
“I don't know how dat vas. But I sink it vas diese vay. My grandfadder, he vas nossing. He didn't pelong to no church. But den he gets married. My grandmudder, she vas Reformed and so he choins wiss de Reformed too chust to blease her. Den my fadder, he vas Reformed, and den I comes along and I am Reformed.”"
John makes an occasional deal in an old clock, a case of drawers, a walnut desk, a corner cupboard and a horse. Fully half a dozen tall clocks stand around the corners of his house, ticking the minutes and striking the hours, waiting until some eager antiquary comes to separate them.
“Dere vas a rich voman,” began John (when I pressed him a little too closely about the profits on a clock), “and she didn't haf any chiltren and she vanted to puy a horse, and it must be chust such a horse wiss such a color and wiss chust such a long dail. She didn't vant any horse vat come from de vest, but he must pe raised on a varm arount here, so dat he know de country and run up and down hill all right. Her man, he comes eferyvere lookin' for dat horse and den he comes to me and dells me vat drouble he haf wiss diese olt voman. He sees de horse vat I drife in my vagon and he looks him all ofer and he says: ‘I am tired — awful — and I pelieve dat horse vat you got vould chust suit,’ and I say: ‘I sink so too; see vat a nice long dail. But how can I get de vork done on my varm wissout dat horse?’ Den I ask de boys and dey say: ‘Vat for you vant to keep dat horse wiss such a dail? You got horses a-blenty. Ve gets along all right. You chust sell him.’ And so I lets him go wiss de man. After dat, venefer diese olt voman haf her friends come to bay her a visit on a Suntay, she dells 'em to go out to de parn, and look at dat horse vot she pought and dell her vat vas de madder wiss him, and dey all comes in and say dey looks him ofer fery particular and dere vas nossing de madder wiss him. He vas a goot horse. Den vun day a fellow vat vas a cousin wiss diese voman, he runs ofer from de parn to de house and he say:
“ ‘Vat you bay for dat horse?’ And she say: ‘Subbose I bay two huntert tollars for dat horse, vat about dat?’
“And he say: ‘Dat horse is only vorth a huntert and fifty tollars.’ Den she gets mad and she say: ‘Vat is it your pusiness vot I bay for dat horse? If I choose to gif my money to Chon Pennepacker, dat is all right. I may chust so vell gif it to him as to some odder beople vat I knows. I spends my own money.’ ” Then John added slowly, with a low chuckle: “I nefer heard no gomblaints apout dat horse. He had a long dail—chust so nice a dail as efer I saw.”
All of John's habits are steady and all of his instincts are conservative. The wind bloweth where it listeth, but John stays along the Perkiomen. He lives upon land which belonged to his paternal great-great-grandfather, and the family in two hundred and six years have not moved a mile. He buys manure in Philadelphia at a dollar a ton, pays the railroad a dollar a ton more for freight, and then hauls it to his farms, but bone and fertilizers are tabooed. With a touch of malice, I said to him:
“John, how do you think it would do to put up a silo?”
“Some beople say dey gets more milk from de cows dat vay and some beople say dat dey is no goot. But I don't put up no silo. My son, Isaac, he lifs on my varm in Perkiomen Downship. Vun day he comes to me and he say, ‘Pop, I sink maybe I could safe some money if I puild a silo right dere py de grick.’ And den I say to Isaac, ‘You don't puild no silo dere py de grick nor anyveres else. If you puild a silo you gets off dat varm — pretty quick.’ ”
Three young ladies, John, my Brother James and myself had reached the middle of the Perkiomen in a flat-bottomed boat and were watching the shadows of the shellbark and sassafras limbs as they leaned over the beautiful stream, when we were startled. In one corner lurked, unobserved, a huge black spider of abnormal proportions and hideousness. Suddenly darting from its hiding place, it ran for shelter under the clothing of the tallest of the ladies. With a scream she rose to her full height and struggled to get on the seat upon the far side. As the boat lurched the situation became dangerous.
“Sit down!” shouted my brother and I.
Reaching over among the timorous feet, John, with the utmost deliberateness, caught the horrible creature in his naked hand and calmly tossed it into the water.
“Vomen and spiders has no pusiness togedder in de same poat, and so I puts de spider in de grick,” he explained as we regained our poise.
Like some other people whom I have known, John has no great opinion of my horsemanship. To drive my carriage with me in it would be contrary to all his ideas of propriety, but he watches over me with tender care. His suggestions begin remotely and are hidden with delicate cleverness.
“De superfisors, dey don't know nossing apout de vay to ment roads. Dey chust dig out de gutters and drow de mud in de middle of de roat, and den ven it rains de mud all vashes back again and de ruts is deeper dan dey vas pefore, and if a fellow don't go ferry slow ofer dem ruts he preaks his vagon. Dere is vun of dem ruts now; chust look vonce and see vat goot diese superfisors pe.” And again: “Dat is a fery nice blace to hitch your horse, but de vlies is awful pad and ven de sun gets arount dere dey all comes out. Dat dree has more shade and is not so goot for de vlies.”
The wagon went slowly over the rut, and the horse was hitched to the tree.
On the 20th of March, 1909, in that marvel of rural energy and enterprise, Pennepacker and Bromer's store in Schwenksville, Prizer, the postmaster, leaned over the counter and gave John a special delivery letter.
“John,” said I, interrupting, “I have just bought a farm and maybe I can borrow some money of you to help pay for it.”
His eyes had an uncertain look, but he said: “Come ofer to de house vonce.”
When I was seated in his old-fashioned hickory chair with split seat, he continued:
“Did you vant some money? I haf a liddle money vat I got from a man ofer in North Vales. Or vas you only chokin?”
Touched by the readiness of the offer and its trustfulness, I hastened to explain:
“Oh, no, John, the farm is paid for and I already have the deed.”
“Vell, I thought maybe you vas only chokin'. I heart you pought de Gebert blace. Dat blace pelonged to my grandfatter, Chon Pannebecker. He got it from his fadder, olt Sam Pannebecker, and olt Sam, he got it from his fadder, Peter. My grandfadder, he sold it to olt Pete Schneiter. Schneiter cut off de voods and sold avay some of de land; the Perkiomen Inn is puilt on dat land. My grandfadder puilt de house and de parn wiss oak timber vat dey cut on de blace. In dem days dere vas no pridge ofer de Perkiomen and it vas a fery bad ford. But dese olt beople, dey nefer mindet de high vater. Dey vas no dummies. Dey chust pushed dru wiss de hay vagons and on horsepack. My grandmutter say she often rode dru de Perkiomen wiss de vater up to de horse's pelly. She pull her feet up out of de vater and trust to de horse. You pought dat blace cheap. You vill nefer lose nossing.”
“I nefer owned a gun in my life,” said John to me one day when we talked of Roosevelt, “and I nefer shot a rappit or a pird wiss a gun, and ven my poys began to get big and vanted to puy a gun, den I dells 'em, if dey pring a gun home I vill preak it to bieces, and dat stopped 'em. Vonce I caught a rappit in a drap pehint de parn and den I vas sorry. And I nefer goes a-fishin',” he added. “Ven ve first moved to Schwenksville I said to my vife, ‘Now, I vill catch a mess of fish in de Berkiomen.’ Den I puys a net and sets it in de grick, and next morning sure enough it vas chust vull of fish. Den I sets it again and dere came a high vater and avay vent de net down to Philadelphey and dat ended my fishin'. I pelieve it is petter to let de rappits and de pirds and de fish go dere own vay, and I lets 'em alone.”
“My fadder,” said John, “he vas a strong man. Vy he could stant on de grount and chust take a horse by de mane and chump right on to de mittle of his pack. I haf seen him do it many a time ven he vas forty years olt. He say efery young man ought to be able to do dat much, but I nefer could. I could stant on a little hill and chump on to de horse's pack, but not from de efen grount.”
He pulled his long beard further down toward his suspender buttons, and a sly twinkle came into his blue eyes, which were fastened intently upon me. Finally he said:
“You got that Gebert blace awful cheap. You could not puild de house for twenty-five huntert tollars, and you got a parn and twenty-tree acres of lant peside. Olt Chonny Markley vas in too much of a hurry. But he vas tired of de whole pusiness and chust so he got rid of it, dat vas all.
“I must dell you a liddle story about dat blace. It vas maybe fifteen years ago ven de Pennsylbany Railroat sent a lot of enchineers up de Berkiomen Falley to lay out annodder railroat. Dese enchineers, dey stopped at olt Dafy Bean's davern. Olt Dafy, he feeds 'em efery morning wiss molasses pies and sugar pies and abble pies and blum pies and eferysing vat vas goot. So pefore dey goes avay vun of dese enchineers vinks at olt Dafy and say to him, ‘You go ofer dere and puy dat varm from Hiestand.’ Hiestand vas de feller vat owned it, and he blanted dem abble drees. Dat vas enough. Chust ven de sun vas up olt Dafy valked ofer de pridge and he say to Hiestand: ‘You vant to sell diese varm diese long time — now you has a chance. I vill gif you seven dousand tollars for diese varm.” John made a long pause in silence and then continued: “Dere vas somesing vat happened. De fery day vat de enchineers goes avay de chypsies comes along de Berkiomen wiss dere vagons and dere horses and dey gamps in de meadows and steals chickens. Wiss dese chypsies vas an ugly olt voman vat dells vortunes. Dat night Hiestand goes to de gamp and he pays diese olt voman to dell his vortune and how he vill make money. She dells him:
“ ‘Dere is a man coming ofer to puy your varm. Don't sell it to him, and you vill make lots of money.' Sure enough, along comes olt Dafy. Hiestand says to him : “ ‘You needn't come ofer here tryin' to puy no varms. I likes diese varm all right. I vill chust keep it.’
“And den,” said John, concluding with a touch of philosophy, “de Pennsylfany Railroat didn't lay out any new roat and Hiestand, he lost money on his varm, and de vink vat dat enchineer gif and de vortune vat dat olt voman dell, dey vas bose alike and vas no goot.”
“You knew James Pennypacker, who lived near Schwenksville at the time of the family reunion, very well, did you not?”
This was a query put to John as I pondered over the huge folio Bible of Peter and his son Samuel, with its family records and its notes of deep colonial snows and the coming of the Continental Army. I had bought this Bible from James, now long dead. Nearly forty years ago I wandered with satchel and staff up into the Perkiomen Valley, then to me a strange land, in the search for information. Finding James at his plain stone farm-house, two miles from Schwenksville, a stout, well-kept Pennsylvania Dutchman, with keen eyes and bunches of rough side -whiskers, jovial and hospitable, he for an hour poured forth his store of genealogy and local lore. All that he could remember from the tales of the elders about the occupation by the army he gave me with the piquancy of the vernacular phrase and tone. When the fount was exhausted, I said to him: “Have you any old papers of any kind?” We sat on opposite sides of an ancient walnut table without cover. For full a minute he looked me shrewdly in the eyes, and then, going to a cherry corner cupboard which stood in the room, he took from it a home-made linen bag filled with old deeds. Without a word he laid it on the table. I shook out the papers, about thirty in number, and proceeded to examine them. They were the title papers of Pennypacker's Mills from the very beginning, and few of them had ever been recorded. There was the deed from William Penn with a good autograph and a fine impression of his seal on wax. Generally such seals are broken, but this was perfect. There were the deeds to and from Hans Joest Heijt, who built the house and the mill and later founded the settlements in the Shenandoah Valley and became, in Virginia annals, not only famous but a baron. There was a deed all in the handwriting of Francis Daniel Pastorius, the founder of Germantown, and three impressions of the seal he devised containing a representation of a sheep with the letters F. D. P. There was a deed from Hendrick Pannebecker with his autograph, and I then had nothing in his handwriting. The situation had become dramatic. Finally I slowly said: “Would you care to part with these papers?”
“Vat vould you gif for dem?”
“I will give you five dollars for them.”
“Very vell, you can chust take 'em along.”
I put the deeds back into the linen bag made a century and a half ago by Elizabeth Keyser, the wife of Peter Pennypacker, and he put the five dollar note in his pocket. Then a merry twinkle came into the eyes which had been stern, and he said:
“Vell, now, vasn't dat funny? Ven me and my brodder, ve settled up dat estate ofer dere, and eferysing vas all fixed, and dere vasn't nossing to do any more, den dere vas dat olt pag of teeds. And I says to my brodder, ‘Vat shall ve do wiss dese?’ And he says, ‘Ach, dey are no use any more, ve vill chust chuck dem into de fire.’ I vas chust about to chuck de pag into de fire and den I says, ‘Ach, I vill keep dat pag and maybe sometime dey vill pe some goot? And now you comes along and you gifes me five tollars for 'em.”
He had shown more foresight and got more out of the estate than his brother. Perhaps no two people ever concluded a bargain with more mutual satisfaction than he and I did. The incident was recalled and so it happened that I put my query as written above, to John.
“Yes, I knowed him fery vell. He vas my cousin and he owned the next varm to vere I fifed. He could take his own bart ven it come to svearin' and vas awful rough dat vay, but he vas a goot neighbor. He vas a creat man to smoke. He smoked a bipe. Vonce ve vent to see him in de efening and he vas in ped alreaty. Den he gets up and ve could hear him upstairs hammerin' de tobacco into his bipe pefore he comes down. He filled it four times vile ve vas dere. He had von pad hapit vat I nefer could pear.”
“What was that, John?”
“He vould smoke his bipe in de parn. Olt Dan Hunsicker vas a director in de pank at Pottstown. Dere vasn't any pank at Schwenksville den, and Uncle Sam Pannebecker — he vas fadder to James — put his money in dat pank. Olt Dan, he knowed it vas dere pecause he vas a director, and he asked Uncle Sam to lent de money to him and he did. After a long vile I knowed how sings vas and I told Uncle Sam: ‘You are going to lose all dat money.’ He says, ‘Vy? He bays de interest all right.’ Den I says, ‘You are going to lose all dat money — you petter get a chudgment.’ He says, ‘You see olt Dan for me.’ So I goes to olt Dan and gets a chudgment note and it vas entered up. I told Chames and he says he vould haf nossing to do wiss it. After avile olt Dan vanted to put a mortgage on his house and de lawyer at Norristown finds diese chudgment. Den olt Dan vanted me to satisfy de chudgment and I say, ‘No, I vill not satisfy de chudgment.’ Chust den Chames, he haf some money, den olt Dan and his vife, dey go to Chames, and him and her dey bawled like pabies, and Chames — he vas goot-hearted if he vas rough — he let 'em haf it.”
“So that in the end Hunsicker got the money from the son, with which he paid the father.”
“Dat was chust it, and Chames nefer got his money any more. Ven he tried, olt Dan got sassy and called him ‘de plack tevil!’ It sometimes habbens dat vay ven people do favors. But I heard de varmers say dat ven Chames vas a young man at home, vere you lif now, he vould do more vork for his fadder dan Hen and Ben togedder — dey vas his brodders — and he vas a goot neighbor.”
As the horse pulled up the hill toward the Reformed Church John stopped for a moment in front of a house where a bunch of crêpe hung upon the bell knob of the front door. “Dat is vere olt Chonson lifs. He died de utter day.”
“Poys is fery much alike,” said John, philosophically. “Ven my poys vas crowing up, Jonas he vas pretty near as pig as Isaac. And my vife, she makes deir clothes all out of von biece of stuff. It safes money to puy stuff by de biece. Ven dey vas not chust so near, I couldn't dell 'em apart, and ven von of 'em vas across de field and I called to him, ‘Come ofer here vonce,’ den it vas de utter vun.”
John is the largest land holder of the neighborhood, owning in different tracts about four hundred acres — “coot and pad,” according to his description.
“Dat varm vere you vas vonce vhere de persimmons crow is out of de vay down in a valley and hart to get at, but my fadder gafe me dat varm and I vill take care of it so long as I lif. Ven I am gone vonce, den dat is somesing else.”
“This is the worst summer, John, I have ever known (1909). How does your corn look?”
“Chust like yours. Ve ought to haf some rain vonce.”
There was a cold eastern rain upon one of the early days of May — a day not bracing with the cold of winter, but one that makes the nerves creep with dampness and chilliness and renders any glow of extreme heat a real comfort.
“On such a day as vat diese is a stofe comes right handy,” was John's sage comment.
Among the Pennsylvania Dutch with whom John has passed his days there is a peculiar use of the word “why” which is always curious and sometimes startling.
“John,” I once asked, “can you tell me when the next train will leave Schwenksville for Pennsburg?”
“Yes, I can, vy?” was the response which came promptly, but was more illustrative than instructive.
As he reached out for his straw hat with its unusually broad brim, he said:
“My time is all but up alreaty and I must go home.”
“John, what was that contrivance used for, that you sent over to me the other day?” I inquired.
It consisted of a slab supported upon four hickory legs. Through the center ran a movable strip. On the upper end of the strip above the slab was fastened the heavy end of a log and the lower end below the slab could be controlled with the foot.
“I pought dat sing at de Markley sale. It vas a kind of a wice. A long dime ago, ven de olt fellers vanted to make an axe handle, dey sat on dat slab and holt de biece of vood dight wiss de end of de log and den dey cuts it into shape wiss a knife.”
“What shall I pay for it, John?”
“Ach, nossing. It only cost a few bennies.” And then he added with charming naïveté: “I vould haf kept it myself only I had no room for it. Ven you gets so much such stuff, den you don't know vot to do wiss it. So I gifes it to you.”
He ambled along: “Ven I vas a poy dey didn't sow any wheat arount here. It vas all rye. My mudder, she say to me, I should chust come ofer here vonce. She vas making rye pread. Dat vas de only pread ve had and it vas goot, too. She raise de dough in vone of dem straw paskets. Den it vas turned upside down on a paddle and put into de ofen. Dere it vas paked on de ofen floor.”
May 5, 1912.
I showed John an old Dutch brass snuff-box with a representation on it of Christ drinking at a well.
"My grandfadder, Chon Pannebecker, had a rount black snuff-box. He dakes de vhite snuff and de black snuff and mixes 'em togedder. I often vishes I had dat snuff-box. Dere vas red flowers on de lid. I don't know vere it vas any more. I don't know vat you sink, but I am not vor Teddy Roosevelt. I sink dat man had better not come out for President any more. He has had enough and dat is vat ve haf had, too."
August 8, 1912.
“John, who is that little man?” I asked.
We sat on hickory chairs on the porch in the shade of a thriving vine which climbed to the roof. I pointed to a man about five feet four inches in height, thin and swarthy, what the French would call Chetif, with dark eyes and bandy legs, who lounged against the fence.
“His name vas Prown. He lifs in de voods back of Reed's Mill. Dere he makes paskets out of vite oak and hickory. Dere ain't any of dem pasket-makers arount any more. He learnt to make paskets from his grandfadder, olt George Prown. Olt George has peen tead it vas dirty years or more. Ven he vas alife yet he goes about de country wiss his back all covered wiss paskets so ven you look at him you could see nossing but paskets. He makes all kinds of paskets out of straw and hickory, and de rount pread paskets. Do you haf rye pread at your house?”
“No, John, we don't use rye bread.”
“Vell, ven I vas a poy it vas de only kind of pread ve had. It vas right goot. You can't get any rye flour now. De millers crind all de meal out of de flour. But my mudder, she sift it for herself. Dere is no more such dimes as dem vas. Diese feller vant me to gif him an olt pair of poots. Dere is an olt pair in de parn vat is vore out and no goot any more, but he says dey is goot.”
“I suppose he finds life a little hard?”
“It is all his own fault. He is too lazy to vork. And ven de huntin' season comes along you can nefer catch him at home. He is off after rappits. He lifs cheap, puys olt stale pread and eats rappits.”
Brown carried off the boots.
The homely arts which once supported these people have been swept away by the onward march of events, and those who have only learned the crafts of their grandfathers have dwindled with them.
There were three of us — my brother, Isaac, my son, Aubrey, and myself, who called on John the morning before Easter in 1913. He came into the room after a short delay, wearing a rough woolen jacket with bone buttons.
“John, have you been in bed taking a nap?” I inquired.
“Ven I sleeps in de tay-time, I sleeps in de parn,” was the answer.
We drifted to the profits of farming at the suggestion of Isaac.
“Your brodder and I, ve bose varms de same vay and ve bose knows how ve make out. Ach, it all depends, somedimes ve gets a goot feller to vork and somedimes it is de udder vay. I vonce had a feller and ven he came to me he had nodding — maybe a year's vages. I nefer had to dell him vat to do. He chust do it. He looks out vor me and vor himself too. Ach, he got along. Ven I vants to gif him somesing he say no, but I makes it up to him some udder vay. Ven he goes avay he had fifteen huntert tollars. He vas de right kind, but dere is no more now like he vas.”
“How long did he work for you, John?”
“Nineteen years.” Then he changed the topic.
"Isaac, you are chust like my Uncle Sam. He vas a tall, slim feller and vas a creat man to valk. He valked eferyvheres arount the gountry. Vy, he vould valk five miles. He said he nefer liked to ride in a vaggon pecause it made him so tired.
July 8, 1913.
We were sitting, my Brother James and I, on the green in the shade of a hickory tree (pignut) whose spreading and graceful branches swung far out in search of air, when John came driving along. In the field beyond, the farmers loaded the timothy hay on to the wagon.
“Vy don't you fellers get up and go to vork?” was his greeting.
And then he told us of the time when his grandfather, John, who had owned the ground on which we were lying, had first seen a railroad train. It was about to start on the Reading road and he drove over to Royersford, five miles, to inspect the phenomenon.
“ ‘Vell, vat did you sink of it?’ was the inquiry when he reached home.
“It is a nasty sing to frighten horses,” he replied.
“When were you last in the city?” my brother inquired.
The city was Philadelphia, twenty-seven miles away.
“It vas apout dree years ago,” said John. Then, turning to me: “I haf somesing I vant to gif you. I vish I had seen you pefore you vent to Gettysburg.” And as he drove away, I heard, “Come ofer vonce.” The gift soon was sent to my house and proved to be a pair of old leather saddle bags in good preservation.
August 1, 1914.
This afternoon John rambled along with very little consecutiveness of thought, but ever entertaining.
“Do you vant to puy a horse? Dere vas a man offered me a horse — dat vas yesterday — for sixty-five tollars. You don't haf to pay as much for horses chust now as you did pefore harfest. But den he vas seventeen years olt. Maybe you don't vant a horse so olt. Somedimes dese olt horses is fery goot on a varm. I haf vorked out a goot many olt horses. But I vould nefer sell 'em. A man offered me a huntert toUars for a horse twenty-two years olt, but he did not get him.”
“My grandfadder, Chon Pannebecker, built the stone house (one of the farm houses) vat you own. He vas a placksmith. De cround vas nearly all covered wiss voods. He used charcoal. Dere vas no hart coal in dose days, and dey had to keep de fire half covered up or it vould pe all purned out.”
“My grandmudder vas Mary Snyder; she vas ninety-one years olt ven she died. Ven she vas ninety, she vould come into de room and sit town in a chair and say:
“ ‘I can't do anysing any more, you vill haf to get somepody to help.’ She vould sit avhile and den go out to de kitchen and fuss around and come back and say:
‘No, I don't vant nopody; dere is nossing to do here, and Sam he alvays helps and gets sings vor me.’ She did all her own vork. But ve did de vashing for her — dat she couldn't do.”