Mabel Crosby Ball interviewed by Mary Giles 1976
This morning, I am making a tape recording of Mabel Crosby in the house she was born in, and where she lived for over sixty years. It is a very old farm here in Westport.
Mabel, can you remember very much about your childhood here?
I can remember first that they were working hard on the farm here, and my grandmother was cooking supper and all. When they were through with their work, the hired man and all, and they’d be sitting in the kitchen and they say that I’d go and crawl up in the hired man’s lap and go fast asleep. Well, that’s innocence and it’s the way it should be anyway—that was very back-I can’t remember much about crawling up in his lap. I guess I was too young. Joe Bowers they called him. I can’t remember crawling up in his lap. By their telling me that, I almost think I can remember crawling up in his lap.
Mabel, do you remember going out and working. You say that from the beginning, you were always farming—here and down at Westport Point. Was it salt hay you sold, or was it regular hay?
Regular hay. There were big meadows down there beyond where I was born.
How did you sell the property at the Point?
By auction I guess. Much of the things were taken out and the rest were sold. Must have been by auction.
Up here, when they cut the hay every year, did they take it to market?
Must have been to market. ‘Course they had these cow barns.
Did oxen ever work the fields here when your mother was alive? She gave us a picture of a beautiful team of oxen.
They were little calves. We bought them young and I had a little steer yoke I put on them. I remember going to one of the meadows with the steers. Of course, I had a whip or gee and a bird was coming along, and he flew right on the steer. Well, I jumped and if I hadn’t, he’d have come right across me. I remember that. Well, one pair was nervous and they were tied to the shed up there, and the ox jumped and pulled the post down, and as it came down, it scared the other ox. Well, we sold that pair to Edward Dunham and he broke them of that trouble.
With those oxen, they built the big wall that’s along side of Edward Dunham’s place, and after that, we broke another pair of steers, and we had them up at the Westport Fair and they took first prize up there. Mr. Cummings – Benjamin Cummings – he was the one that took care of them up there. They never worked hard here on the place. We had them and we fed them.
You kept them and took care of them and enjoyed them, but they didn’t work hard? But you worked hard.
Well, I don’t know. I enjoyed it. I never minded the hard work.
One thing I told Jim when we were courting was, that I’d never leave my mother. He says, ‘Well, I guess we’ll get along alright.’ We worked here a long time, and it being right through the depression, we worked together and it helped pull up through—the three of us together.
Do you remember your grandmother?
A lot of the time I called her mother, but she was my grandmother. My mother was only fifteen years old when I was born here, and my grandmother wouldn’t let my mother take care of me. She wanted to take care of me from the time I was born. I even slept with my grandmother and my grandfather, and my mother slept in the bedroom beside the one we all slept in. When I got older, they took the bed that I’m in now. I felt that my mother was more like a sister to me because she was so young and my grandmother didn’t want her life held down. She was nothing but a girl when I was born and no family could love any child more than my family loved me. Well, I was loved by them all and when I see all the mess today, I think how luck I was.
Well, I’ve got a lot to think on.
My father was unyoking the oxen and this ox got angry and went round and broke the post and it hit him and it broke three ribs. He pushed me off and sent me down to Mr. Will Tripp’s store – where Will Tripp was later. Well, he had a brother named Henry and Henry Tripp – I’m telling, that night – they took the yokes off and that’s when he sold them to Mr. Dunham. And later on, once when my father went down to the Dunhams, the ox wanted, even then, wanted to get after my father and Mr. Dunham said, ‘Well, I’ve never seen anything like it.’ The trouble was that he was so good – he should have let that oxen wear that yoke ‘til it broke him, but he didn’t.
How did your father die?
Well, he broke three ribs and we had Dr. Tupper from the Head of Westport.
How did you get in touch with Dr. Tupper?
Well, let’s see. I must have gone to some of the neighbors and got a telephone. There were neighbors ‘round who had a telephone. I can’t remember which one. Later on, I went to Arthur Allen’s and then sometimes to Mrs. Boullard, who lived where the Raposa’s live now.
Well, he kept getting worse, so we went to Dr. Burt. Dr. Burt lived up at the Head of Westport, close by to where Dr. Tupper lived. When Dr. Burt came, he said, ‘Well, he’s got three broken ribs.’ He had to get in there and tear them up and after that he began to cough and that cough killed him. He was up – yes about 70 when he died. He died here at home in the little bedroom. My grandmother had died in the bigger bedroom. When people died, it was hard work at that time, and you’d have to take them out the windows. Well, when my grandmother died, she was taken out the door in the bedroom with the fireplace, before the door was boarded up. She had Bright’s disease and heart trouble-both.
How old was she? Had she been working hard on the farm?
She was 60. Yes, very hard, and she was so good. She was good to everybody. She was that kind of person.
How did you learn to weave?
Well, it was a lady that was Elmer Pierce’s grandmother. She came from New Brunswick. She lived over on the Drift Road.
Is that where the Pierces live now – that ones who have the strawberries?
No, you come to my house and you keep on going south. There used to be a garage there. Now it’s gone. I don’t know who lives there now. Susan Pierce as his (Elmer’s) mother.
How did you get there when you went down there to learn to weave?
With a horse and wagon. My mother and I went down to learn to weave. My mother learned how to weave first, then I wanted to learn how, so I learned from her and started going up to the Westport Fair to demonstrate weaving and spinning. My mother learned that from Mrs. Gould’s mother. Mrs. Gould lived on Drift Road before you get to the Fireside.
Did she keep sheep?
My mother did. We’d shear the sheep, then grease the wool and wash it out and card it, and spin it on the big wheel, and make the little curls, and if you wanted sweaters or something like that, you’d twist three strands together from the big spinning wheel.
I remember you had the spinning wheel in the west room.
Yes, and we had another one up in the shed, you know.
How many looms did you have?
When you people (the Giles) came, we had three I think. My husband got one that was Samuel Macomber’s folks and then he got one that was Betsy Allen’s people’s loom. It was old anyway, and the third one was from a Mrs. Lawton up on Crandall Road. That was the first one we learned on. Durant Hix bought the big one for their place. My mother had some black sheep and we had the white sheep, and Borden Tripp’s father wanted her to make enough (wool) with one thread black and one thread white to make into a suit. It come to be like pepper and salt when it was wove. That was 100 percent wool anyway. It was a yard wide then. After the war, they liked the 30-inch and 32-inch better, so I stopped weaving the 36-inch.
When you went up to the Westport Fair to weave, were you married?
I don’t think he was my husband then. I’m sure he wasn’t my husband any time when we went up there. See, we were courting for seven years.
What kind of weaving did you demonstrate?
Just rugs. Two harness weaving. I never learned more than two harnesses.
Some of your looms had more than two harnesses.
Oh, yes. You could put in more than two harnesses. You could put in six, but I never did more than two.
Did it pay?
Yes. I worked long hours, but it all helped – every little penny helped. I’d work out in the garden, then I’d come in and weave. They wanted to have their rugs and I wanted them to have them. My mother started before I did. She was just learning and a man come in from Chicago – must have been a summer person – I can’t remember his name. They come in to see the rug, he and his wife, they said they wanted to buy it. She said, ‘This is my first weaving and there are faults in it – it isn’t perfect.’ He said, ‘I don’t care. I want it anyway.’ And they left their address for her to send it to them.
People brought rags – all sewed ready for me to weave – custom weaving. And, I cut and sewed some myself – did the whole thing – had it all ready. Course, I didn’t get so much for that weaving when people had their strips ready.
How long to you think it took you to do a yard?
Do you mean sewing the rags and doing the whole thing, or just the weaving?
I don’t suppose you could estimate?
No, ‘cause I did it ‘ketch-up’ work. But the weaving part I could do a yard and a half long, 32-36 inches wide, as long as I had it all ready – in a forenoon, but I didn’t do it like that because I had to work outdoors.
What things did you have to play with when you were a child?
Well, living off the road like that, it was too far for me to go out, and it was too far for children to come in, so I played with the animals mostly. I’ve had woodchucks, squirrels, and chipmunks. I had a baby weasel that liked to go around and hide things under everything. He was happy and contented in the house and didn’t go out. I have foxes now in the orchard. We didn’t want them then, because we had hens and the foxes would come and eat them. We had to get rid of them. But Mary Dougherty now has two and they come and she feeds them. They are so pretty.
Yes, they are pretty.
Mary Dougherty feeds everything.
Where does she live?
She lives on the David place just north of ours. ‘Course, the Davises were our relations. She lives across the road on the west side. Our present place was Gus Kirby’s place – from the top to the river. It’s divided. Now we have the bottom half, and Mrs. Leuvelink (Edna) bought the upper half. Mrs. Leuvelink works all over the world, teaching. I see her up to the store just after Peter (Leuvelink) went.
Wasn’t that awful? (Peter Leuvelink’s accidental death)
Yes, awful. We never know. ‘Twas to be so. When I talked with her, she didn’t know whether she’d stay here or go back over there.
She’d decided to go back. She’s working now, gardening and straightening up the place and canning, and then in a few weeks, she’ll go back for one more year.
My she’s a worker.
Now, I want to get back. What did you start to say about the maple tree?
Well, we used to turn our horses out by that tree, and the flies bothered them all the time, and they used to get down on their bellies to keep the flied off, and they straddled that tree, and it didn’t help that tree any. That’s one think that stunted it. We turned the horses out to graze. We didn’t call them lawns then, we had dooryards and the horses were to eat the grass.
Well, I’ve always wondered why it was stunted, and I’ve always wondered why it’s not going well this year. It’s not that old is it?
No, we planted that when we came from the Point. We planted that and my mother planted the chestnut tree.
Do you remember what year that was?
Oh, I must have been a little girl growing up.
It’s a Chinese chestnut tree; did she send to China for it?
It’s a Chinese chestnut, but she must have got it from one of the catalogues. All the old chestnuts had died, but I can’t see why one chestnut doesn’t look as good as another.
Yes, and they taste just as good too.
When we first came up here, do you remember that your mother was a great one for saving clippings? Do you remember all the clippings she had? She had a clipping that said Harry Giles will speak on something or other and she brought it out and showed Mike (Harry Giles) and she had had this long before we’d ever come here. She said, ‘I wonder if you’re the same person this clipping is about?’ And it was about him. And she decided she wanted to learn to speak Russian, and she said she was going to send away for records.
Yes, she was going to, but she never did. It seems that that clipping must be still in the house. I’ve saved everything like that. I don’t know where it is. I’ve got the pictures you’ve given me of the sink and all the way it was.
Don’t you have a painting of this house? Eleanor Trip thinks you have a painting of this house.
I got a painting from Lawyer Paull’s mother. It was just before we left; we had the furniture out. She stood out in front of the house painting, and one evening when I was going up to the barn milking, she was painting, and she said, ‘How do you like that?’ and I said, ‘It’s beautiful.’ And she said, ‘It’s yours.’ Isn’t she wonderful? I ask her son every time he comes, how she is. I’ve got that hanging in the sitting room and then Val took a picture – just a camera picture enlarged – of the house, years before that, and I’ve got that hanging in the kitchen.
Blanche Paull made a picture of this house for us and Anne loved it so much, she took it down to North Carolina with her. I gave it to her.
Did you know Mary Hix Brown?
Yes, she’s a fifth cousin to me on the David side – that was her mother. Davis married Hix.
In thinking of your family, your grandmother was a Kirby and Captain Charles Ball was her father.
On the other side was Davis – Pardon Davis. He lived just north of where Mrs. Leuvelink lives and the Kirby farm, and the Davis farm was joined together at that time. We’ve got land on the east side of the road and Mrs. Leuvelink’s got the land on the west side, and the Kirbys and Daises were neighbors at that time. Pardon Davis, he looked over the wall and saw Miss Kirby and fell in love with her and married her. So they just had to get over the wall to do their courting.
The reason I wanted to find out about it was that we have some Quaker records of the Civil War years and one of the subscribers was Pardon Davis.
Well, you see all of my relatives on the woman’s side were Quakers and Mary I. Gifford – she’s gone now – was going down to Allen’s neck.
Was Mary Hix a Kirby or a Davis?
She was a Davis. Her mother was Currie Davis. Mary Davis married William Hix. Mary Hix then married Mr. Brown and so she became Mary Hix Brown.
Do you know what relation she was to Pardon Davis?
Mary’s father. He drowned. He was out in the boat and they think that the boom came around and knocked him over.
Would he have been the son of Pardon Davis?
I’ll get that from Mary (Hix Brown). We want to get the stories of the old families like the Davises, the Hichs and the Brownells, and the Tripps. We’re looking for all we can about the history of Westport. We’re going to have an exhibit next year for the Bicentennial.
I’d like to know about flowers and herbs you were fond of.
I’m trying to learn about all the plants that are good to eat.
Well, in my study, I’m trying to learn all I can about the plants that are good to eat and for medicines, like ‘comfrey.’ Well, Mr. Hadfield came here one day and he said, ‘Do you know that ‘sissles’ is good to eat?’ Sissles? No, I thought they were only for the donkeys. There was a sissle there, so he took it down to the stalk and I cooked it, and I won’t say it was very good. Now, I’m going to tell you about what I have to eat and how I cook it. ‘Course, I don’t always have it that one way. A few things I buy. I take two or three cloves of garlic, I cut up a small dandelion root and a few of the leaves, and I add some parsley and some lettuce leaves from the garden. Sometimes I put in some ‘scabish,’ and I put them all together according to what I have, and put it in a skillet with just a bit of water in it. I take an egg and beat it up with a little water in it, and I cook that – and by the time that’s done, my vegetables are cooked. I like things raw, but now I can’t eat them raw, so I cook them just a bit – not to be mushy – enough so you can chew it, and not have heartburn with. Sometimes I put it together and sometimes I put the ‘salad’ on one side and the eggs on the other side.
Mabel, do you remember the wild flowers that were growing here?
Well, there were the yellow lilies over there, the day lilies. Some people say they’re good to eat.
Yes, they say they’re good in salads. Do you know anise?
No, but I know it when you buy it in a little honey box. My husband used to put it in with a little honey, and the bees and he’d trail the bees that came to it. They liked anise very much. All I have is regular lamb mint, and Mrs. Tripp brought down that apple mint, and I’ve got that growing there. I have borage down here and the bees love it. We had sweet fennel up there, and we had caraway seed. We’d put them in cookies or on top of cookies. Mother was very fond of that. Chives we’ve always had. Lavender? No. I’ve never had lavender. Is that something you have to take in the house in the winter? We had rose geranium and nutmeg geranium, and lemon geranium, all in the house.
Did you ever have peppermint?
It sounds familiar, but I can’t recall. We always had sage in the garden. I’d put a little straw over it and then it stayed over the winter.
Do you have sorrel?
Yes, there was always a lot up at your place because they like sour land and that land at your place is sour. Down here it’s sweet.
How did you plant that willow tree out by the well?
There’s one down in the pasture where the pond was. My father put the two big elms up by the barn. Albert Lees, Jr. can remember when my father planted the elms. They were planted near the barn where the cows were and with all that richness, they grew so big.
Yes, they were so great and wonderful, and when the hurricane came in 1954 and blew the biggest one down, I was sick. Then the next hurricane came and blew the other one down.
An elm doesn’t grow too far down into the ground, so they can’t take the wind. The willow by the well – we got some sprouts from Mrs. Perry up there on the road and planted them. They grew good.
Yes, we loved the willow by the well, but just as you did, we got our water from the well in buckets and as the willow grew larger, the roots came into the well and took up all the water and Mike would have to go down into the well and cut the roots. Finally he got so tired of going down in the well. In order to get some water, we had to either go to the town pump, or put in our own well.
You cut the tree down then?
Well, where does your water come from now?
It comes from about 190 feet below the ground – an artesian well.
I suppose that was a good thing. I don’t think the old well would have stood your modern way of doing things.
Well, I don’t know- it stood it for a long time.
Do you know Mary Pettey?
Well, she lives over on Charlotte White Road. She has no electricity. She has a well, but not even a pump. In all weather she has to go out to get water. If it’s dry weather; she has to go up to the town pump. One winter she had to do that until February.
Well, we had one bad drought here at one time. My husband was here then. The water got down so low – it kept us going. We took water up to Jenny Potter’s – that’s where the Post Office was then – across from Gene Feio’s and the Post Office now. That was where there’s a big barn that once was antiques (antique shop). There was a grocery there then. She’s come down here and we’d send in our order, and they had a grain store, and we used to take our grain up there and they had a shed that was joined onto the store. I’d take the horse into the piazza between the shed and the barn. That barn was where he kept the grain and he used to go around and sell grain with the horse and wagon. He lived in the house there – Mr. Potter and his daughter, Inez, who married Margaret Gifford’s son on the Drift Road. When we used to go down to Sunday school picnics, we’d take the horse and wagon – the Potters and Edward L. Macomber – he’d take the horse from the place where Dr. Kirkaldy lives now. That’s where I was married – right in his living room. Edward was in the church. Back then; I used to play the organ. Back in those days I played it for about three years at the Friends Meeting.
I wonder who lives in that house where the black and white cows are now.
Walter and Charlie Wood, Winona’s husband.
Well, in those days, I used to know Winona’s husband so well. Far as I know, she’s still living.
I understand that there’s two churches going on down at the Point now, one for the summer people. They took the barn and have the other service (Episcopal) there.
The Methodist Church is also there. They have a new minister.
At the time I was married, they only had transient ministers. But the minister said he thought he’d have the papers by then. ‘Course we went to Edward L. Macomber and got the papers. Well, we went down to the church and the papers hadn’t come! Oh, that was a disappointment. My husband says, ‘We’ll go to every church ‘til we find someone.’ ‘Course we didn’t go to the Catholic Church. Well, everywhere we went, they either weren’t there, or they didn’t have their papers, so my husband says, ‘Well, I guess we’ll have to go back to Edward L. Macomber’s’ – of course, he was the Justice of the Peace. Edward L. Macomber had his wife as a witness. We had the transient minister from the Friends and it really worked. It never broke. My husband was perfect.
I don’t suppose you want to talk about him, because it will make you too sad.
Well, you know about the time of the war, when that Spanish flu was going around, he came down with it and just about the time he was getting better, his mother came down with it.
Did his mother live here too?
No, they came from Little Compton. Well he got up too soon; to take care of his mother, and it weakened him. She got well and so did he. He had this cough and he got over the cough, but it weakened his heart. When he’d have these pains, he’d say it was just indigestion. One time he went into Fall River and he had a pain and he stopped in at Mrs. Holmes. Her husband died of angina and that’s what she thought he had. That day he’d been cultivating with the cultivator and jarring his arms, and all, and the next day he said, ‘I can’t go for your mother’s eggs, not the way I be.’ I went down to the well here to water the horse, and he called me ‘Guinea.’ I don’t know whether he thought I looked like a guinea hen or not.
It wasn’t Ginny?
He came to the window, and I said, ‘Don’t you want me to go and get a doctor?’ He said, ‘No, by tomorrow I’ll be alright.’ Well, I put the horse away and the sewing machine was in that room there. I was in there sewing, and then I said I better get the supper on. At the same time I heard a little noise upstairs. It sounded a little funny, so I started and I went upstairs, and he was lying on the bed with his hands folded, he eyes closed, and it was the last gasp. He looked as though we were smiling.
That’s what happened to me with David. I went up when he breathed his last and he was only 25.
Jim was only 48. Well, we had Dr. Hix come and he said, ‘I couldn’t have done anything.’ Ethel, his daughter, came too. She’s over in this nursing home now. Well, for the next year I couldn’t get over it. I just went to work. I worked so hard so I wouldn’t think of it all the time.
What flowers did you grow here?
My mother kept getting nasturtiums, chrysanthemums – lilies were her favorite – daisies, petunias, and roses – almost everything.
What crops did you raise here?
Well, we always had a garden and then to sell, we raised turnips, potatoes and corn and seed rye to turn. We’d have five or six cows, and in later years when Dr. King said I couldn’t drink cow’s milk, I got goats. They were easier for me to take care of. I made goat cheese and goat butter and the cream would stay in the goats’ milk. Oh my, it was good.
When I went out to work? My grandmother didn’t want me to work, so I didn’t work ‘til I was 14. The first thing I did was help milk the cows.