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Memories of Canadice NY

A Farmhouse Attic

By Mina Preston Oliver - The Canadice Chronicle

November 1995

There was an open staircase inside the back woodshed door which led up to my parent’s attic. Part of the woodshed consisted of a dirt floor. When I was small, I was afraid to venture up to the attic alone. Once in a while my sister Barbara and I would hesitantly climb the stairs.

In the woodshed, Papa corded wood for the kitchen stove. Dust and dirt drifted up the open stairway, creating a dusty attic. The woodshed had been built on the east end of the house. The roof on each side of the attic was on a slant, allowing a place to stand only in its center. A small window pane to the east let in sunlight which, diffused by the dust particles, let you see only a part of the attic.

Egg boxes stood waiting within easy reach. They were taken downstairs and filled with eggs. The wooden slat box over clamped shut. A handle on the top provided a place for easy handling.

Inside the boxes were empty cardboard sections and additions to hold the eggs. When Mama was ready to pack the fresh eggs for town, we often climbed into the attic for the egg containers. From that point on, things were always a new adventure.

Brushing cobwebs away, we checked under the slanted roof and peered into the black abyss beyond the reach of the light from the window. This was scary for Barbara and me. We gingerly stepped along the wooden floor. On one side sat my father’s trunk which he took when he showed sheep at the fairs. It held various tools for trimming sheep and ribbons won at the last fair. Next to the trunk was the tent he took and a kerosene burner. Up against the trunk stood a sign he hung above the sheep pens at the fairs. Bold letters proclaimed that our farm’s name was “Hickory Ridge,” owned by William Preston, Springwater New York.

Lumber left over when the house was rebuilt in 1924 lay under the slanted roof. When we were young, Papa separated the milk from our grade herd. Later, when he started a purebred herd and shipped the milk, he stored the old separator in the attic.

Up there were relics from the parents and grandparents of my father and mother. The space was like a museum. To one side was a spinning wheel that belonged to my great grand-mother Tague. One of its legs was broken. The candle mold she used to make her candles stood between some boxes. A doll carriage made of delicately woven wicker intrigued us when we were girls. Mama had warned us about playing with it, for it was partly in pieces. There was a pottery churn with blue flowers painted on its sides. It had a wood cover with a wood rod sticking above the lid and paddles reached to the bottom of the churn. When you lifted the rod up and down, the paddles churned the cream into butter. This may have belonged to my grandmother Becker.

Boxes of old dresses belonging to my grandmother and Mama were stored under the slanting roof. She had also stacked copies of the “Woman’s Home Companion” and Sunday School papers to read when she had the time. She probably never found the time.

Despite traps, mice would startle us as they darted across the floor. Bags of hickory nuts, walnuts and butternuts were stored there, ready for cracking in the winter. Old writing books and readers belonging to Mama and Papa took up space in a box. I am sure other things of interest were stored in the attic.

After I married Bernard Johnson, his aunt gave us a trunk that had belonged to his parents. That went up into my parent’s attic. His parents passed away when he was in the army. His aunt saw to it that some things had been preserved for Bernard. There was an up-to-date history of his family. In the trunk were some lovely antique dishes, photo albums, scrapbooks, his father’s diary, his mother’s school work books and many more interesting things. In the bottom lay two lovely antique dolls with china heads, real hair and black, high top shoes. Frozen Charolote dolls, some doll heads, hat pins and old fashioned shoe horns were in the compartment on top. How I wish I had known his parents and could thank them for the gems of that trunk!

The attic was off limits in the summer and winter. It became stifling hot in summer and ice cold in winter. Not even when electricity came did we have lights in the attic.

One day my mother called me to ask if I would come up to her house. She had broken her hip that spring. An antique dealer had come to the door, wanting to go up into the attic. Mama wouldn’t let her go up unless I came.

I wish Mama had told her to go on her way! An August day, hotter than Hades, was not the best time for a journey to the attic. Hot air breathed down on us, causing sweat beads to cover our faces.

The dealer rummaged through things, putting aside this and that. I can’t recall what she took. I do know the spinning wheel, churn and candle mold went. She wanted the trunks but I told her they were not for sale. I am sure Mama didn’t receive what the things were worth.

How sad it is that when we are young, we don’t realize the value of things! How antique dealers love to go through attics of older people . . . and with them depart some more of your past!