The answer to the poll, that I tried to post last week, was that Aunt Kate sewed jumpers for the Chinese workers at the saw mill in Calaveras County. The Chinese are a huge part of the history of California.
I once asked my dad why there was not a Chinese burial grounds in the foothills of California. He didn't know the answer but I found out later when I took a class in Placer County. The Chinese sent the remains of their dead back to China to be buried. If you take a moment to Google Chinese in California you will find out the rest of the story. So for Aunt Kate to make their clothes for them was an act of human kindness and a blessing to her as the story will illustrate.
In my neighborhood in the 1870's and 1880's there were some ladies who made a god out of housekeeping. They appeared to have no charity for anyone that was not as capable of a housekeeper as were they. They said I was lazy and preferred reading the New York Ledger when I should have been helping to prepare the evening meal. I was a tomboy and instead of assisting my sister in doing the family mending and other household duties I played outdoors with my brothers. In short, I was everything I should not have been and nothing I should have been.
How many times in the days since then I have been thankful I read the Ledger and everything else readable that came my way. It is thrilling even now to recall the enjoyment and sometimes the feeling of horror I felt when reading those long ago stories. Books by Dickens, Scott, Thackeray, George Elliot, Washington Irving, Cooper, The Scottish Chiefs, Robinson Crusoe and other tales which took me along wonderful paths of pleasure and gave me glimpses into the life of worlds before unknown to me.
In the Ledger Mrs. Emma D. Southworh, a native of one of the Southern states wrote most entertainingly of life in the slave states before the Civil War. Mrs. Harriet Lewis of the same paper laid the scenes of her stories in England and Scotland and far off India. Sylvanus Cobb, Jr., another Ledger contributor, took one back to the stirring days both before and during the Revolutionary War, while Leon Lewis chose New York and islands of the Atlantic, the Bermudas, Jamaica, Madeira and Azore Islands to engage the attention and charm the mind of his readers.
Those books were not only interesting stories to me, they were also books of travel. Where else even today can one find such vivid scenes of home life in England and Scotland as are to be found in the novels of Elliot, Scott and Dickens? In one of Mrs. Southworth's books, I accompanied a young married couple on their wedding tour. From their home in Virginia we went to Washington and registered at the Willard Hotel. - A new Willard has replaced the one we stayed in. - We visited all the points of interest in that city and I was no more surprised at the magnificence and strangeness of the big town than was Gertrude, the little country bride from Virginia. From Washington we went to New York. After a week there spent in visiting picture galleries, going to theaters, riding in Central Park, eating in places so gorgeous that one's breath was taken away. And partaking of food so delicious and at the same time queer, it was rather startling to both Gertrude and me when Gerald told us that he had engaged passage on a Cunard steamship and we would leave on the next day for Europe.
This trip is still fresh in my mind. It was a wonderful experience. And this was just one of the many that were mine and of the many people I became acquainted with. I shared their joys and their sorrows, called them by their given names, and was really one of them.
When I was no longer a school girl but a homemaker in earnest, I turned my attention to the work with the greatest zeal. I would show my fault-finding neighbors I knew how to run a small three room house as such a place should be run. I have to admit that it was an uphill undertaking, but I never gave up. With the aid of broom and scrubbing brush, newspapers and plenty of elbow grease, I made that shack, if not exactly blossom as the rose, show up as a model of neatness and comfort. The cooking was not quite so easy. It was conquered, though I eventually became the best pie maker in the community. It all took time and effort to do it, and with the means at hand it often seemed impossible.
In 1880 my father bought the farm adjoining us on the east and we moved into the house there which was much larger than the shack we were occupying. There were five rooms on the lower floor and two in the attic. In the attic room on the eastern side the walls and the ceiling had been covered with rough pine lumber, but the western room had been left untouched. There was neither paint nor paper here and the imagination had to be stretched almost to the breaking point to see any beauty in these rude surroundings. The lower rooms were more hopeful and I went to work with vim to see if I could improve them. With a little money I could have worked wonders but there was no money to be spared for anything but the - must be paid fors.
Luck threw in my way a chance to earn a couple of dollars. Ah Hoo, one of the Chinese working in the sawmill decided to have some jumpers made. I was only too glad to do the sewing and by this means I earned enough to by paper for the border and walls. Each little job of sewing gave me enough to buy muslin for the ceiling and paper for the walls of the sitting room. When I finished those rooms they just looked lovely to me. I was enthusiastic now in housekeeping and flower gardening as I had been in my school work.
At the head of the stairway was a large box filled with magazines and papers. They were accumulations of several years left there by the former owners. There was a wealth of good reading among them. I have forgotten most of the titles, but I do remember Godey's Ladies Magazines. I wish I had those now. They would be quite antique.
(to be continued)
(to be continued)