Peabody Singing Tower

 North Manchester, Indiana

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Source: NMHS Newsletter Nov 1996

Special Days and Events From


by Irene Hoover Beery

Used with permission.


Rings-threshing rings, ice rings, beef rings-all were organized among rural Hoosiers the first three or four decades of this century to help get their harvesting done and to help raise their standard of living.

A threshing ring was made up of several neighboring farmers who regularly had oats and wheat to harvest in late summer. This, of course, was before the advent of the combine, which goes into a field and finishes the job in one operation. Then each farmer cut his own grain with a binder, pulled at first by horses, later a tractor. The bundles of grain were stacked into neat stacks to await the coming of the threshing machine. Each farmer in the ring was committed to help all the others in the ring. Each one had his own special job. My dad and Uncle Louie owned the threshing rig which consisted of a steam engine, separator and water wagon. Dad ran the steam engine, Uncle Louie the separator, and they hired someone to be water boy, whose job was to keep water there at all times, since this provided the steam which produced the power. Some men hauled bundles; that is, they brought the bundles of grain in from the field and with their forks pitched them into the separator where the grain would be separated from the straw. Other farmers hauled grain. They came with their wagon boxes, caught the grain as it poured from the spout and hauled it to the farmer's grain bin or took it to a grain elevator nearby. The straw was blown into the barn or on to a stack outside.

For many years the whole hungry threshing crew stopped at noon to eat together at the farmer's table, where they happened to be threshing at the time. First they gathered around the wash tub, set up on the lawn near the back door, and got rid of some of the grime and dust. Then they filed inside to partake of a hearty meal provided by the farmer's wife with the help of her good neighbors. Tables were extended as far as they would go and every chair and bench was put into use. Such an array of food was set before them, always ending with cake and a wide choice of pies. Flies were usually abundant at harvest time, so a familiar sight was one woman, at least, standing by the table with her fly chaser-newspaper strips attached to a stick-keeping the flies off the food. Another kept close watch to replenish the mashed potatoes before the dish was quite empty and to add more fried chicken to the meat platter. Oh yes, the lemonade was going fast, too. Threshing was hot hard work.

In time, the farmer's wives were relieved of this immense culinary responsibility and the farmers began to bring their own well-filled dinner pails and thermos bottles, eating together in the shade of a tree while their horses munched away at the provisions in their feed boxes.

At the close of the threshing season, the threshers and their families came together at one of the farm homes for an evening ofbusiness and fellowship. Freezers of homemade ice cream, cakes, pies and toppings were brought in. While the men settled their accounts the women talked. The kids ran and played until at last it was time to open the freezers and enjoy the feast. It is a little difficult to recall some of these times without experiencing a bit of nostalgia. Surely rural life lost something when mechanization enabled the farmer to make it alone without dependence on his neighbor.

Ice rings were similar in organization to threshing rings. Before refrigerators appeared in farm kitchens in the late 1930's, the icebox provided the cold storage for milk, butter and other perishables. Our icebox was a nice oak chest, well insulated with three compartments, a door opening into each. One compartment was made especially to hold a big chunk or two of ice. Our city cousins had an ice man who delivered ice regularly-even putting it into the icebox. (Also, according to the town gossips, sometimes he became a bit too friendly with some of his customers.) Seven miles out into the country was too far for ice delivery. So in order to have a steady, dependable source for ice in the summer, several farmers organized an ice ring. They built an ice house for storage at our next door neighbor's place.

In the coldest part of the winter, usually January, when the ice on Long Lake or another nearby lake had frozen to a depth of nine to fourteen inches, the members of the ring were busy putting up ice. They sawed the ice into blocks and then hauled it with their teams and sled or wagons to the ice house. Some hauled saw dust. They layered the sawdust and ice until the house was filled to capacity. The whole process took several winter days to complete. All members of the ice ring were then permitted to use ice from this supply as long as it lasted. Fred and I always liked going after the ice with Dad.

Special Days and Meals

Our whole family, the Shanahans, Haineses and Hoovers, usually came together at Grandpa and Grandma Hoovers for Thanksgiving, Christmas and in the early summer, about the time for the first fried chicken of the season. Oh, how good that first fried chicken tasted! My grandmother was so frugal she even cleaned the chicken feet and fried them nice and crisp-not my favorite piece. One thing I really liked about having chicken at Grandma's was the set of bone dishes she had. A little curved dish in which you could deposit your chicken bones fit snugly against each dinner plate. Besides the usual meat, potatoes and vegetables there was always a dish of stewed dried fruit, usually prunes, which she insisted on pronouncing "prooins" in spite of her little granddaughter's efforts to change her. Of course there was always cake and pie.

At Christmas my grandparents liked to surprise us with unusual gifts. I have mentioned the little wooden chests Grandpa made each of the three granddaughters one year. Grandma completed them by padding them inside and out and covering them with colorful cretonne. The little wooden doll cribs which Grandpa made for another Christmas were padded and lined in a soft pink fabric and finished on the outside with a gathered white net overlay.

Christmas Eve - A Near Tragedy

It was an exciting Christmas Eve! Our family along with the grandparents and other kin had gathered at the home of Uncle Alvah and Aunt Grace for one of her sumptuous meals. As usual we young children could hardly wait after supper for the arrival of Santa and the giving of gifts. The older folks seemed to move so slowly after a big meal.

The Christmas tree was gorgeous, reaching almost to the ceiling. Its branches festooned with strings of popcorn and paper chains spread out so that it occupied nearly half of the guest bedroom where it was placed. Scattered over the tree were bright red candles set in special little candelholders which clipped to the tree. Small packages wrapped in tissue paper were tucked here and there in the branches, with larger parcels stacked on the floor around the tree.

I was awed by the sight of this pretty tree. We seldom had a Christmas tree at our house. For a while we had a little cardboard tree that could be unfolded and made to stand up. Sometimes we had an evergreen branch stuck in a pot of dirt (a Charlie Brown type of tree) Often we just hung our stockings on the back of a chair and wrote a note to Santa, telling him where to put our presents.

At last the suspense was over. The candles on the tree had been lit and the room was glowing with light. In came Santa Claus with his long white beard, dressed in his bright red suit trimmed with lots of fluffy white cotton on his cuffs and collar. We all looked on with anticipation as he began distributing the gifts. As Santa reached into the tree to get a small package, he got too close to a lighted candle. The cotton on his sleeve caught fire and in an instant was in flames. Uncle Alvah grabbed the heavy bedspread and threw it quickly over the flaming Santa. Someone else grabbed a couple rag rugs from the floor and immediately extinguished the candles and flame in the tree. Santa came out with only minor burns, thanks to the incredibly fast and wise moves of my Uncle Alvah.

This was indeed a Christmas Eve to remember.