Interview with Catherine Cheney, 1987 February 3 [audio]
- Chores and facilities at the Brandywine Manufacturer's Sunday School; Picking mushrooms, fruit, and berries; Christmas trees and decorations; Family visitsKeywords: Belin House (Greenville, Del.); Berries--Harvesting; Brandywine Manufacturers' Sunday School; Breck's Lane; Brothers and sisters; Childhood and youth of a person; Children of the rich;Chores; Christmas tree ornaments; Christmas trees; Class consciousness; Cousins; Dwellings; Extended families; Free Park; Games; Mushrooms; Outhouses; Porches; Reminiscing; Rich people; Room layout (Dwellings); ToiletsTranscript: Johnson: I'm interviewing Catherine Cheney at her home in New Castle with Sally Wright from the Hagley Museum and we're discussing Christmas decorations. Miss Cheyney, last time we were here you told us - we started asking you a special question about the privies in the Blacksmith and Brandywine Manufacturer's Sunday School. What do you remember about those?
Cheney: Well, as I said then, I know the office force had indoor toilet facilities, but I don't remember whether they located in the basement, they had to go down five or six steps, or whether on that same floor.
Johnson: What were the facilities like, do you remember? If you did go down the few steps, did you ever go down there?
Cheney: Yes, I remember it was a cement floor and we would think of them now as very primitive toilet facilities, but they would accommodate the men and women of course.
Johnson: Did women work in the office - in that particular office?
Cheney: Not that I remember. But there were women in and out on business and some of the people from the Hagley Yard came up there for information, so I know that they would need both facilities. In fact, I'm sure that we cleaned them and took care of both - for both men and women.
Johnson: How did the office look when you went in?
Cheney: Well, the desks were really high and they happened – they kept one of the stools down there - I thought that the last time I was there I saw one of the high stools. They extended up under the desk and the men put their feet on the rail underneath the stool. And it seemed to me that they were just copying from books, but of course they had letters there as well. But, uh, we were very friendly with the office force because the mushrooms were - it was possible to pick mushrooms in the field there and they were very - well two of the men liked a strawberry basket of mushrooms and I would earn fifty cents [laughs]. The mushrooms . . .
Johnson: You'd just go in the office with the basket and sell them?
Cheney: Yes, they would take them. Well, they very often told me how many they would like to have and some mornings you could get them and other mornings you couldn't find that many. But there was an enormous big field there with plenty of mushrooms.
Johnson: Was this before you went to school?
Cheney: Well, I did most of it in the summertime you know, because they came in June or late June and we were usually either having half days or home from school at that time.
Johnson: How did you know they were good to eat?
Cheney: Well, I don't know, we had to be taught that the toadstool had a flat top and straight stem and it would not peel without the skin - the cover pulling off, but the mushroom would peel all the way to the center. And we never picked them unless we tested one and they grew in little clusters, so you knew if you found one, you'd find three or four near that spot.
Johnson: Did your mother sometimes cook mushrooms?
Cheney: Oh, yes.
Johnson: How did she cook them?
Cheney: I think they were usually fried in butter. We all liked them, as far as I remember. A lot of people I know now wouldn't touch them, they say you're eating toadstools. But you know the difference was the way that the skin would remove and the mushroom was always curved at the top, circular top, whereas the toadstool was flat and came up parallel to the ground, whereas the mushroom curved. And very pink underneath and many times the mushrooms are dark, you'd almost say black.
Cheney: But once you learn . . .
Johnson: Did anybody plant those or did they just grow wild?
Cheney: No, I guess they just come up in the field. I don't understand how they started, but they were there when I was old enough to gather them, I know. But also, like another thing I didn't mention, Judge Bradford had cherry trees and he was glad if we picked the cherries. He said, "If you don't get them the birds will.” So, they would also buy the cherries if you'd pick a box of cherries. I said that we used strawberry boxes, now it was a box that size, but whether we really got strawberries in that type box that you see today, I don't know for sure, but that's the type that's in my memory that we filled with the mushrooms.
Johnson: Were those . . .
Cheney: I have two sisters, so there were three of us to pick.
Johnson: You all did.
Cheney: Yes [laughs].
Johnson: Were those cherries good to eat as they were, or did they have to be cooked?
Cheney: They were sour, it was the sour pie cherry.
Wright: The pie cherries?
Cheney: Yes, but we would eat them [laughs]. If you had sugar, you were alright.
Wright: Yes, we have a tree in our backyard now.
Cheney: And Mother got a seeder because she wanted to make jam, or jelly. So, in that field, also there were many blackberry bushes, so we picked enough blackberries and we'd have sometimes thirty glasses of blackberry jelly. And the elderberries were all along that fence also and that made a good jelly. It was almost too . . . liquidy-like to call it jam, it was more of a syrup than a jelly. But we got many of the things right in the neighborhood there. And then we had the apple trees at Judge Bradford's, so we were able to make apple jelly from their apple tree because their cook never used them. She'd always come down and tell Mother that. "I'll help you pick them anytime you want to, but I'm not doing anything with them in the kitchen." So . . .
Johnson: No homemade apple sauce. Were they hard to peel and did you have a lot of trouble with worms and things in them, is that the reason she didn't like them?
Cheney: No, you see, he took very good care of the property and I don't know what type of materials they used to keep the bugs, but we often had more trouble with our cherries spoiling on the cherry tree in our yard than they seemed to have at Bradford's. Of course, they had the woods there and the shade, and the - the unusual thing about it was that the cherry trees would grow along the border where they would get the sun so that they would ripen. And then the trees were much taller than you think of cherry trees that I see around in people's yards now.
Johnson: Now, did you have to climb the tree to get the cherries?
Johnson: Was that dangerous at all?
Cheney: Yes, with our family there were four girls and then the baby boy, so it was up to the girls to get the cherries or you did without them. But we thought nothing of it, going up the ladder . . .
Johnson: You just climbed the tree?
Cheney: Yes, and you could take the ladder up, we always had two ladders that we could climb, that we could carry.
Johnson: And you said that they had Sunday School in the same office building when you were - before - that you didn't remember going there.
Cheney: I never went to Sunday School there, but it was used as a Sunday School.
Johnson: So they had to keep the - your Father had to keep the fires going all the time?
Cheney: Um, well now, I don’ t - I'm not sure that he took care of the heat, because, you see, that would . . . someone would have had to go up in the daytime. It was just our responsibility to clean the office so it would be ready for them in the morning, but we never did anything during the day that I - I know Mother didn't go up there during the day.
Johnson: What did she have to do in the way of cleaning it, just sweep the floor?
Cheney: Well, they had the high desks and they had those big, large brushes, I remember with the handle, because they would go - get out of order so easily, that it seems we were always replacing the brushes, but it was a big area to cover and I think that the steps weren't the easiest thing to use the brush, and they didn't get a smaller brush, you had to use the same brush to do it all. Of course, we did the outside porch and the walk with a broom, they supplied . . . brooms there and took care of it that way.
Johnson: How about ink, did she have to take care of the ink wells or anything like that?
Cheney: I don't remember ever emptying ink wells, so I think that the clerks took care of everything. I know that they had enormous big bottles of ink sitting around there, but we never touched anything on anybody's desk [laughs]. We were very careful not to move any of their belongings.
Johnson: And you mentioned that they always had indoor plumbing at the Belin House, is that right?
Cheney: Well, now that, to my knowledge they must have had.
Johnson: And your house used the outdoor privies in the Gibbons House . . .
Johnson: . . . or the Stewart House?
Cheney: Yes, we both had to cross the road to get to the well and the toilet.
Johnson: Well, let's get back to the Christmas tree, then, do you remember what kind of Christmas tree you had in your house?
Cheney: Well, I'm sure the first trees we had we went to the, as I said, Mr. Bradford never minded a bit if a tree was cut down, I don't think he ever missed it because the area went all the way to above the Powder Mill hill there, so he had plenty of . . . of trees.
Johnson: Now if you cut down a tree, who would do the cutting?
Cheney: We wouldn't have anything to do with anything like that. I don't know whether it was the - I guess the coachman was the one that took care of that. They always had a man take care of the horses and the stable and, of course, he was responsible for the wagons and I think did everything like that. Maybe the maids had to help, I really – I don't know.
Johnson: Now, you said sometimes you had a tree that you dug up and then you'd use it from year to year. You just planted it outside in the tub.
Cheney: Yes, in the clearance we could find a tree that was small and then we'd use it that year and then take the same tree in the next year. And sometimes, whoever lived - now I remember Mrs. DeArmon insisted that they get an enormous tree and then cut the top out of it so it would be fuller and be more beautiful and we often got the top of their tree for our Christmas tree.
Wright: Who was Mrs. . . . ?
Cheney: DeArmon lived there when I was quite small, and then Maximillian Hoopes was the next superintendent of the Yard. The super, that was . . .
Johnson: Now that would be in the Belin House?
Cheney: That was a very nice house - no, right across from the office. There was a nice home. Isn’ t that house still there?
Johnson and Wright: Yes, yes. The Belin House, yes the Belin House.
Cheney: Oh, you call it the Belin House. I thought the Belin House was over above the Powder Yard when you went out that road.
Wright: No, the yellow house that's there.
Cheney: I knew the one down - I thought the one down near Crowninshield’ s - not Crowninshield's, but the house the other way.
Wright: The yellow house across - remember where we had lunch that day when you were out to visit?
Wright: That's the Belin House.
Cheney: Oh, really? Well, then, they lived down there before I was old enough to remember, ‘ cause I don't remember Belin living down there. In fact, I never was in any of the rich families' houses except that one across from the Hagley office.
Johnson: Now who lived there when you remember it?
Cheney: Yes . . .
Johnson: Who lived there at that time?
Cheney: Oh, well we had several families. I remember the Hoopes in particular, and they lived around out on that other road that goes out from the Kennett Pike, for years after they moved from there. But I remember the superintendent of the Yard lived in that house and it was very well taken care of. And, now I think we had a superintendent that didn't live there, but because he wanted to live in Wilmington, but, as a general rule, Maximillian Hoopes was there and, uh . . . I can't remember all of them, but I don't.
Wright: There was a name you mentioned before . . .
Johnson: Mrs. DeArmon,
Cheney: Mrs. DeArnon, yes.
Johnson: Did she live there too?
Cheney: Yes, she lived there.
Johnson: What was her relation to the Hoopeses?
Cheney: No relation, they came at different times. We knew the Hoopes the best because they had two sons, and they were about our age and of course there were no children in Free Park their age so we played together a lot. And I think I told you about the simple game we would play?
Johnson: No, tell us again.
Cheney: [Laughs] I wouldn't want to put it in the book, but it was in the manure pile.
Wright: Oh, that [laughs]. Yes, the manure pile.
Cheney: And you know the manure pile had surrounding boards, I know they were an inch and a half wide, and it was fun to walk the three-quarters and not get down into the manure pile [laughs].
Wright: That's funny.
Cheney: It's funny how you play or what things you do, but that was one of our sports and I had cousins in Wilmington, so sometimes there would be fourteen or fifteen of us there on Sunday.
Wright: That must have been fun.
Cheney: And we would eat outdoors, oh, from – well, I guess from April on, it would be warm enough and we had that long porch that was to the front of the house over that entrance from the road, you know that, down underneath, and that porch had railings, but it wasn't screened or anything, but yet, it was protected because part of the kitchen extended over one end of it, and then the other end had boards and a door before you went down the steps. Of course, I think maybe that the other people that lived there had to do that so children wouldn't fall down the steps because it would have been - it was a wonderful place for us to play, but you could have easily fallen if it didn't have the doors and the railings. And the railings weren't what you think of as a railing, it was easily three inches, the boards that they used as the railing across that porch. And then, you know, at one time, I didn't tell you this either, but where we lived had been two houses.
Cheney: The one family had what we called the outside kitchen, and the big room, and then a bedroom - had like a bedroom and a half over that. And then another family lived in the one closer to the Power Yard. But that was never after we came there to live. I mean they put the . . . tore that intersection between the two houses out and put a fireplace in the front section. Because it was a fairly hard place to heat, so we had a stove and a fireplace.
Johnson: Tell us more about the Christmas tree. Do you remember how you decorated it?
Cheney: Well, as I can remember, we made some of the things. We didn’ t have what you would call tinsel, but we had silver rope, like a chain that we - Mother was very clever with her hands and she could make decorations from it that looked very nice on the tree. And then we all had our - we could all have a special Christmas ball, I mean we just had a few balls, but very pretty ones, and it was one that we could select, so I know we were always proud of what we put on the tree. And then we used ornaments too, like children would play with. I remember our little fluffy dog, it always went on the Christmas tree.
Johnson: What color was that? Was it a white . . . ?
Cheney: I guess it was a brown fluffy, was on the back of that dog if I remember correctly.
Johnson: Where did you get that, did you buy that?
Cheney: No, it was a Christmas present. See Mother's relations came out from Ireland about the same time she did, so we had a lot of cousins. Well, Aunt Kate had five children and there were five of us, so . . . and then Aunt - Mother's brother had two boys, then much later she had a girl, but she didn’ t – she never came to our place when we were little because she was much younger.
Johnson: Where did she live - downtown?
Cheney: Yes, she lived up - I never remember them in the country, but now my Mother's brother lived down along the Brandywine right at the foot of Breck's Lane, that's where their home was in that house on the left under the railroad track like.
Johnson: Oh, okay. What was his name?
Cheney: He was Thomas Knotts. And I have a cousin named for him, Thomas, who is still living. He’ s now, hm, 98 years old, I imagine [laughs].
Wright: Where does he live?
Cheney: He lives out at the home on, um – oh, what is that road that goes out there, I forget . . . not the Kennett Pike, but the next Pike that goes out this way?
Johnson: The Episcopal Home, the Masons, the . . . ?
Wright: There’ s Lancaster Pike, there’ s Kennett Pike?
Cheney: This is Lancaster Pike that I'm thinking of.
Wright: Ok. There's the - the Masonic Home.
Cheney: Well, they didn't have - they lived in a house out that way.
Wright: Oh, does he still live in a house, or is he in a nursing . . . ?
Cheney: Oh, he's not there anymore. That family's gone long ago, none of them around here now.
Wright: Oh, ok. I thought you . . . but I was wondering where your – where this Thomas Knotts, who you say is still living, is 98, where does he live now?
Cheney: Uncle Simon is right here in New Castle. My Father's brother . . .
Wright: Right. We'll have to see if we can’ t talk to him sometime.
Cheney: He was the one that was the blacksmith.
Wright: Yes, he was the blacksmith one, right.
Cheney: His daughter would have fit, though, if you tell her I sent you [laughs].
Wright: No, we won't tell her [everyone laughs].
- Blacksmiths and other family jobs; Christmas ornaments and presents; Family visits; Holiday dinners and Sunday dinners; Vegetable gardening; First job and first car; DollsKeywords: Alexis I. du Pont School (Wilmington, Del.); Automobile driving; Basements; Blacksmiths--United States; Breck's Lane; Brothers and sisters; Centerville (Del.); Chickens; Chickens--Housing; Childhood and youth of a person; Children of immigrants; Christ Church Christiana Hundred (Wilmington, Del.); Christmas; Christmas cooking; Christmas decorations; Christmas lights; Christmas trees; Christmas trees--Fires and fire prevention; Christmas--Anecdotes; Christmas--United States; Cousins; Dinners and dining; Dolls; Du Pont, Henry Francis, 1880-1969; Du Pont, Iré né e, 1876-1963; E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company; Explosions; Explosives industry; Explosives industry--Accidents; Extended families; Ford Motor Company; Gardening; Gardens; Green Hill Presbyterian Church (Wilmington, Del.); Hagley Yard; Horse-drawn vehicles; Horses; Industrial accidents; Joseph Bancroft and Sons Co.; Reminiscing; Rockford Park (Wilmington, Del.); Terracing; Vegetable gardening; Winterthur (Del.); Working animalsTranscript: Johnson: Tell us something about the blacksmith shop while we're, while we’ re on that, ‘ cause I think we didn't pick that up before when you told me.
Cheney: Oh, well that was a great attraction because Uncle Simon was there, Dad's brother, and he was the - I don't know whether Uncle Simon was older or Dad was older, but they were nearer of an age than the older ones in that family. And they lived at Rockford Park, I mean, when I first went to my Grandfather. I never saw a Grandmother, because they were both – well, one was here, but I never saw her, she was dead before I was around. But then the other one lived here, and then Mother's brother married a person from around here and they lived right at the bottom of Breck's Lane, Aunt Maggie.
Johnson: And you said last time he worked for Bancroft, is that right?
Johnson: He didn’ t work in the Powder Yard?
Cheney: Both of my uncles were at Bancroft’ s. Of course, their wives didn't want them in the Powder Yard because of the explosions, so he was glad to get in some . . . machine shop type.
Johnson: When you said you had your ornament, your own ball, is something that you would have bought, then?
Cheney: I don't remember whether we were allowed, when we went to the store to get them, or if it was just something that we saw and liked and decided that was our particular one that we wanted to put on every year on the tree. And then when we got old enough, we had a choice as to what we wanted. I always liked the tinsel thing. Of course, we got a lot of the ideas in helping to trim the Christmas tree at the church. And it was always - Mr. H. F. du Pont always sent it, and it was always . . . it was a large tree.
Johnson: And what was that tree like when it was decorated?
Cheney: Well, I guess they used more ropes of tinsel to decorate in those days on the big trees than anything else. And then the bells were a great thing on them. I can remember red bells and silver bells, just a bell-shaped ball, really it was.
Johnson: Now did it tinkle at all, make any sound?
Cheney: No, not that I remember. And they had to be put away very carefully and they kept them in the special place in the church school, with special drawers for them.
Johnson: Were they made of paper or . . .
Cheney: No, they were . . . regular things that you’ d see on a Christmas tree. Now, of course, they weren't as well formed or as pretty as the ones we got later, but I can remember way back and the paint would come off and yet you'd put it up every year, you'd stick it on the tree [laughs].
Johnson: What did you have at the very top of the tree?
Cheney: A star, as I remember, but mostly a handmade one. They would cut the star out of cardboard and cover it with tinsel, or a thing that was ropes of - I don't know whether it was really tinsel or silver thread, oh, I can't remember exactly. I know there were some small ones we made of just winding the thread around the points of the star. Just cutting the star out of cardboard. But a lot of the things were really parts of children's toys or almost anything, just so it would look pretty. You know those wooden beads that the babies used to have?
Cheney: Well, sometimes we'd put two or three of those on the string and that would be a decoration for the tree. And then they also had some very pretty ornaments. There was very nice - always a nice ornament put over the top and the Rector usually - when Mr. Ashton was there, he always wanted to put the top thing on the tree. And it - it was always something the children would remember when the preacher came and took that much interest in their entertainment. And we always got an orange and a box of candy at Christmastime, so you'd look forward to that too. But that was all, we were lucky to have the influential people as members of the church [laughs].
Johnson: It was Henry Francis who gave the candy and the oranges, is that right?
Cheney: Not Henry H. F., but I guess he's Henry Francis, the father. Well that would be the one I knew so well's father, yes. But we knew Winterthur, you know a long time the church preacher went up there on Sunday afternoon and had a service, at Winterthur.
Johnson: Oh, would this have been in the house there?
Cheney: Oh no, they had a regular building where you could hold a church service up there at Winterthur. And, uh, they asked - the preacher - used to ask us if we wanted to go, so we often went up - walked up to his place and went up with them. Mr. Cole was the first one did that as I remember, Reverend Cole.
Johnson: Now you said sometimes your mother made ornaments. Did she out pictures out of magazines and make an ornament for the tree?
Johnson: What were they like?
Cheney: Well, it would be a picture of something that we liked, like an animal or some interesting person doing something that we were accustomed to. And then she had a way of putting a bow, a thing - ribbon or something on it to make it - Mother was really artistic, I mean she could take some pieces of paper and form something I would never be able to think of. It was fun when we got the things collected and would use them and that they would keep year after year. But we always put the things away very carefully.
Johnson: Where did you store them?
Cheney: Well, we had a special drawer in the basement that most of our breakable things were put in. And we always had cotton on the bottom of it or, I don't know really that it was cotton, but it was something, soft material anyhow, on the bottom of the drawer.
Johnson: I thought you told me last time that this was in that little room between the two big rooms. There was this little room in between that was kind of cold and you sometimes would store . . .
Wright: The trunk room.
Johnson: The trunk room, would you use that?
Cheney: Yes, we had a trunk room in both houses. I don't know why. But, uh, of course, when Mother and Dad - well Dad didn't come from Ireland that he remembers because he was - I don't know whether he was born here or in Ireland, but anyhow he was real small when he came, but Mother spent most of her life - she was ready to go to work when she came to the country from Ireland.
Johnson: Did she tell you anything about what Christmas was like in Ireland?
Cheney: Well, I guess she did, but it was so . . . different. They gathered from their yard what they could get for decoration. I don't think they ever had a, what they would call a Christmas tree brought in, but they always had enough farm land or - I have been to where Cousin Sarah lived in Ireland, so I have a pretty good idea of what the homes looked like. They all had those two-section doors like we would have at a stable now, you know, and you could stand in the doorway and see where the children were, what they were doing outside. Yes, I was lucky to be able to get three trips to Ireland when Mother and Dad's people were still over there. And it meant so much more than just going when you didn't know anybody. And they came, a lot of people that came from Ireland worked in people's homes and they would get two weeks in the summertime. So, Cousin Elizabeth and Cousin Sarah were just like one of the family to us, we expected them every summer when we were off from school, and, um . . .
Johnson: Did they come all the way from Ireland?
Cheney: They had come from Ireland too, and they just got work in the homes around there and they would be off on Sundays usually, so they spent a lot of the time with us. Mother's sister that was nearest to her, the one I was named for, was in Wilmington on 13th Street and she had five children and there were five of us, so that made a crowd at the house and they had to come to the country on Sundays. [laughs] So, we spent a lot more time with cousins than most people would. And then her brother had two boys.
Johnson: What would you usually have for Sunday dinner?
Cheney: Sunday dinner we always had our own chickens and it would take two and sometimes three, depending on how many we had. But we could put leaves in the table 'til it would be thirteen or fourteen people around the table on Sunday. And they could go – my one aunt lived close enough to Greenhill Church there on the Kennett Pike, and they were Presbyterians so they would go to their Sunday School and we would go to ours, and then they would come out to our place for dinner. It was very seldom that we didn't have ten or twelve people for dinner . . . when we got to be a family of five.
Johnson: How about Christmas dinner, would you have the same thing for Christmas as a regular Sunday?
Cheney: No, I think . . . I don't know whether the Du Pont Company gave a turkey, but somehow we had a turkey given to us some of the Christmases when I was real small because sometimes we would get it when it was still living. And I remember we would all go upstairs and hide, nobody would want to watch the turkey being killed [laughs]. But things like that you never forget and I really think they give children better understanding than a lot of them get now. Of your relationships and how you feel about the things you raise and - now I keep my chickens out of the garden, if I didn't hate that job [laughs].
Wright: They're such messy things, I hate them.
Cheney: [laughs] We’ d have been sorry if they got into the tomato patch.
Johnson: Yes, they love tomatoes so.
Cheney: And how the things ever grew in that bank, because, you know in back of that house there, not the one you call Belin, but the one we lived in, it's a steep bank up toward Bradford's . . .
Johnson: Sure is.
Cheney: . . . and yet the things grew beautifully.
Wright: They must have terraced a little bit, do you think?
Cheney: Well, it was already terraced as far as that goes. It was on a slant, and I guess in a way it made it easier to dig, because you could shovel and dig. Instead of digging across the rows, we often dug down, and in that way you were just like - you were digging a hole down the hill.
Wright: You mean the rows go this way?
Cheney: No, no - after we got it dug up, Dad put the tomato plants the other way all the time, I can remember them. We had cabbage. And, my, some of the heads, I couldn't carry them when I first started to cut them to bring them from the garden. 'Course it was up on the hill and you had to come down the steps that were there in the back. There was a big space up there then, you can't see it when you walk around down there now.
Wright: It's all grown up.
Cheney: But we had a chicken house up in that woods above the place and we had another chicken house, in the front near the stable. So. At one time we had forty hens or roosters [laughs].
Wright: Where did you store your cabbages?
Cheney: Well, the basement, had that . . . large stones, you know, that one that was out almost on the road, I guess still has that stone wall. And then we had a potato bin, a great big box in that basement, and the potatoes that we would raise would keep there all winter with the carrots. And it was really remarkable - the way the place itself, because of the walls and all, the way it was built down under the ground. And I remember when they were expecting Powder Mills explosions, we would go down there for protection because the walls were so . . .
Johnson: How did you know that you were going to have an explosion?
Cheney: Well, we didn't really know, but we always were ready, I mean if you heard any rumbling or any noise at all. I remember one time, one of the explosions happened while we were still at school and when we came up those long flight of steps to get up the hill down there, the boards were knocked down, some of them, the explosion had been in that part of the yard and you could look right in. And there were still women crying and upset after the explosion.
Wright: So you said had turkey for Christmas dinner . . .
Cheney: Well, as far as I remember, we always had it, but maybe some time we had to use the - if we didn't use all the roosters by that time [laughs] from the, uh . . .
Wright: You'd have turkey or chicken then. Did you have cranberries and potatoes or - what did you have with your turkey?
Cheney: Well, Mother made so much jelly because we picked blackberries and we picked elderberries and we wouldn't - Mother wasn't satisfied until she had fifty, sixty glasses of jelly, fifty or sixty glasses of jelly in the closet for the winter. And, in that way, it was wonderful when you had to carry a packed lunch to school. See, we walked the two miles to Alexis I. - to school from there. But – but that same school was the one that I started to.
Wright: Did you put popcorn on the tree ever - pop popcorn and string it?
Cheney: Yes, string it.
Wright: How about paper chains?
Cheney: They came later, we didn't do that - 'course you didn't get very pretty colored paper, as I remember when I was real young, you had to use your crayons and color it, but it never looked as pretty as when you could get the colored paper. But we used the rings, ‘ course we got a lot of the ideas, I guess, from what they had at the church because the Sunday School classes would cut the paper and color it and make the rings and then we would do the same thing for our tree.
Johnson: Did you make ornaments in school, in Alexis I.?
Cheney: I don't think I had a tree in the lower grades. Now, when I taught, I had a tree every year in the classroom. I started at Center Grove up there near Irenee du Pont's, I had that little one-room school you know [laughs], do you know where that is?
Wright: Oh, I don't know where that is, where is – where was it?
Cheney: Well, you know Centerville?
Cheney: And at Centerville before you get into the town, you can turn right and go down a road - a doctor lived over in there, Dr. Sprinter lived on that road. So, when you got almost to Irenee du Pont's property, you know where that is, well, the school was on that little hill there, the one-room school. And when I got out of college in '26, that's the place I got the first job. And Dad was away, they were down to Atlantic City, Mother and Dad, and I called them, I said, "I got a job, but I don't know how I'm going to get there. I know I can't walk, it's up at the - above Centerville.” And Dad said, “ You go down to the motor place, the Ford Motor place and tell them that you're George Cheney's daughter, and you'll get a car." So, before they got back from Atlantic City, I had the automobile and was driving it [laughs]. First Ford.
Wright: First Ford, isn't that exciting! That’ s neat. That was quite an adventure then, too.
Cheney: And then did we go Sunday afternoon, Mother wanted to ride in that every Sunday. We had to go to Sunday School in the morning, church, but as soon as that was over, we got off.
Johnson: Where would you go in the car - how were the roads then?
Cheney: We didn't have a car then, well yes, in ‘ 25 I got the automobile, but before that went and used the horse and wagon. See, we always had a horse in that stable down there when we lived down in Hagley. We had Fanny and Billy, and . . . what was the other horse's name? We had three horses at different times.
Johnson: Did you have lights on the Christmas tree?
Cheney: No - candles, but we were always afraid to light them [laughs]. I mean some adult had to be in the room, if you put the light on the candle.
Johnson: So you didn't bother to put any on at all?
Cheney: Yes, I can remember when we had a few candles on the tree, but we didn't light them unless there was an adult, someone in the room, because it was a fire hazard.
Johnson: What do you remember about Christmas presents?
Cheney: Oh, surprise, surprise [laughs]. We always had very happy Christmases, and it's always church part of it, and it was always the church entertainment as well as the Christmas party at home.
Johnson: Did you have dolls at home?
Cheney: Oh yes, yes. I was very fond of my - we all liked our dolls and we all had doll coaches and Mother had one of those great big old-fashioned coaches for the baby, you know.
Johnson: And your coaches were like that?
Cheney: Ours built a little bit like it, but on a much smaller scale.
Wright: What were they – what were your carriages made out of?
Cheney: Kind of a wicker, I guess you'd call it. Must have held up pretty well because that old street out there was pretty rough [laughs] that's where we ran it.
Wright: I would think it would be.
Cheney: And you know the funny thing about it, that water ran from the pump right across the road and it never bothered anybody, they just stepped over it [laughs] and went about their business. I can hear anybody now, if they came to a place in the road that the water was running over and you were supposed to walk over it, but nobody ever seemed to mind, just jumped across, or walked across, usually it was jumping until we were a good age.
- Christmas tree decorations; Ducks and duck ponds; Dolls; Knitted clothing; Christmas presents; Hats; Shopping; Traveling saleswoman and other guestsKeywords: Alexis I. du Pont School (Wilmington, Del.); Brandywine Manufacturers' Sunday School; Brothers and sisters; Childhood and youth of a person; Children of immigrants; Children of parents with disabilities; Christ Church Christiana Hundred (Wilmington, Del.); Christmas; Christmas decorations; Christmas tree ornaments; Christmas trees; Christmas--Anecdotes; Christmas--United States; Color in knitting; Crosby & Hill Co. (Wilmington, Del.); Delivery of goods; Department stores--Employees; Department stores--United States; Discipline of children; Dolls; Dry-goods; Ducks; Extended families; Felt hats; Free Park; Gifts; Girls' underwear; Hats; Kennard's Department Store (Wilmington, Del.); Knit goods; Parenting--United States; Reminiscing; Shopping; Squirrel Run; Street-railroads; Toonerville Folks; Traveling sales personnel; Trolley cars; Underwear; Well water; Wilmington (Del.)Transcript: Wright: Going back to your Christmas tree, was it on a table, or was it on the floor?
Cheney: Well it just depended on what we were able to get. If we had a good-sized tree, we'd put it on the floor, and if it was a smaller one, we'd put it on the table. Now I remember more smaller ones than I do big ones because, with the family, there were five of us and Mother and Dad, and it really . . . wasn't too much room for a tree space or a big yard underneath like some of the people had.
Johnson: What would you have underneath the tree, would you ever put a mirror in there to make it look like water?
Cheney: Yes, and we put the - we had the duck, and the - on the . . . I think we had three ducks at one time we put on the mirror so that it looked like they were in the water. ‘ Course we raised ducks, I mean that little pond that was across the road was a nice place to be dammed up and made a nice place for the ducks to swim. So, we never had a whole lot of ducks, but we'd keep on the average of fifteen chickens and four or five ducks each year.
Wright: Where was the pond you're talking about?
Cheney: Well, I guess it was the stream that went across the road and you'd just dam up the part of it . . .
Wright: It was below your outhouse, then, the privy?
Cheney: No, it was on our side of the road. The stream went right across the middle of the road that goes down into Hagley.
Cheney: And the upper part of it was deep.
Cheney: And that's where we would have the flowers that you put in - if you had a regular pool. It was a circular place there, right at the beginning of the pond. See, the water would run, I guess it was when you used the pump you got so much overflow of water because you wouldn't get it all in the bucket and it would run down.
Wright: Right, but I'm trying to think where it would be. I know where the pump is, I know where the carriage shed is, and I know where your house is, but where was the pond?
Cheney: Oh, it wasn't a pond, it just was a stream ran across the road, to tell you the truth.
Wright: And the ducks . . .
Cheney: And then it went down, you know there's a deep indentation on the - between our place and the toilet that we used, well that's where the water went through from the pump, went on down - it crossed the road and then went on down through that . . .
Wright: Yes, and then down at . . .
Cheney: Right along the fence, yes. I don't know how there was enough water when you just would - ran out of your bucket or when you used the pump, but a lot of people thought that the water got colder if you kept pumping, so they would just waste it, just let it run. And it's strange, but there was never any problem that I remember about the pump going dry. Now, when we had the pump up in Free Park - Free Park was where the people lived in the houses there, you know, didn't pay any rent so they called it Free Park, for the people that lived up there. And they had a pump and that ran down through somebody's yard, I guess the Seitz's. See, the Seitzes lived up in that row - before they went down to the office.
Wright: There is a stream in the back that still runs down behind those houses and behind the yellow house.
Cheney: Oh, is there?
Wright: There is a stream that goes on, still goes on down. I don't know where it starts, but I know it goes . . .
Cheney: Oh yes, well we had to get over that stream and walk into school if we went down the back way through the field.
Wright: Right, I don't know where it starts - I'll have to follow it . . . follow it up, well . . . sometime.
Cheney: There's a lot of things when you talk about it, to think about, but it's something you never forget.
Wright: It's amazing how we remember things of our childhood.
Wright: Easier than we remember what we are doing today. [Everybody laughs] I have that problem.
Johnson: I think last time you told us you sometimes put a doll under your Christmas tree and would stand her up against the trunk.
Cheney: Well, each one of us had a doll as soon as we got old enough to take care of it. And, of course, they were always part, you could have that little - sometimes there was a little straight chair that someone would give us. Of course, all the cousins in Wilmington, we exchanged gifts, they always came to the country for part - if they didn't get there Christmas Day, it was sometime around Christmas, so in that way they'd give you things that you'd need for your garden and for your tree. And a lot of the things that we had under our tree were gifts. And Mother was very fond of them, she took the best care. I remember we had a red - a painted red kind of a cupboard, and it had wide drawers, like that, and about easily fourteen-inches wide, and that's where all the Christmas things were kept. And you didn't open that drawer from one season to another, because she packed things in there carefully so nothing would be broken. And in that way the balls and everything lasted from year to year.
Johnson: [Pause] I guess we have about a minute or so left.
Cheney: Is it working [laughs]?
Johnson: Seems to be working - very little left.
Cheney: Well, now what do you want to know?
Wright: Everything [all laugh]. Did your mother ever knit?
Cheney: Oh, yes. Yes, we had a lot of homemade sweaters and - I don't think we could have walked the two miles to Alexis I. if we hadn't had homemade, knitted . . .
Wright: Did she give you some of these things for Christmas, did she knit special things for Christmas for you?
Cheney: No, with the work at - see Mother and Dad had the Sunday School to take care of, or the church a great part of the time. Well, I was going to show you a picture of us standing in front of the church, and I was only about twelve years old then, and Dad took care of the Sunday School, and then we had another janitor took care of Christ Church. So, we had that responsibility to take care of every week.
Wright: Did you get other types of clothing for Christmas - besides dolls and . . .
Cheney: Oh, yes.
Wright: Did you get clothes for Christmas?
Cheney: Yes, very often hand-knit sweaters. Because Mother's sister would knit and Aunt Maggie, Mother's brother's wife was a beautiful seamstress and she could knit beautifully, and she made a lot of our sweaters until we were able to do it. I can remember when my sister, Elizabeth, made the first sweater herself that she wore and how proud she was of it. Then Mother taught us as we came along so that we could all knit.
Wright: What colors did you use, can you remember?
Cheney: Dark colors as a rule. I guess it was partly because they got soiled so easily, but I can remember dark blue and dark red. It seems funny for children, but they had to be warm because we walked the two miles to school and it was cold. Had to be pretty well wrapped up, and a sweater was nice under a coat.
Johnson: What kind of hats did you wear to school?
Cheney: Oh, boy [laughs] many times knitted ones to wear to school so they would be warm, but there was nothing greater than to go into Wilmington to get our new hats every spring, and it was seldom. And everybody said, now in Aunt Kate's family, that's my Mother's sister, they would pass them down, but Mother said, "Well if you take care of it, you’ ll get a new hat.” So we always looked forward to putting the hats where they belonged so they would hold up long enough. And very often the next one coming along would be glad to wear it. I know I wore some of Elsie's hats and thought they were just as pretty as if I'd got a new one, because she'd put them away. Mother was very - had a knack with sewing, and she could make the hat over so that you wouldn't know it was your hat, really, just by putting a different flower on it or arranging the ribbons in a different way.
Johnson: Were these straw hats?
Cheney: Well, sometimes the felt - it just depended. In wintertime we had - remember the ones with the turned-up brim?
Cheney: Well, that was [laughs].
Wright: And then in the summer or spring, it was straw hats?
Cheney: And you know they did, in those homes, make places for storage. Now right here, I wouldn't have a place to keep my hat. I'd put it on top of the wardrobe in the attic, but it's still not a place that would be that you just went in and got the hat. Even we had a chest of drawers and Dad kept his hat, a felt hat, in that drawer, one of those drawers. It was high like that, you know, and the hat would sit right in there. So, I think it gave you a great respect for hats, and you took care of them a lot more than the children would today.
Johnson: Yes, now we toss them in a closet.
Cheney: Oh, and the cloakrooms, when I was teaching, I used to be distressed. Somebody knit and worked on this sweater, and they'd just take it off and flop it under the - instead of hanging it on the hook. Mother said, "It's better to put it on the floor than on the hook because the hook might make a hole in it.”
Johnson: Very true.
Cheney: But you learn a lot. The children, I think, do as much teaching as the teacher did, what a teacher does, with each other in the classroom.
Johnson: Did you wear long woolen stockings to school?
Cheney: Yes, big rolled ribs in them, my, they were hateful things [laughs].
Johnson: How about your underwear, what was that?
Cheney: Yes, we had long underwear. Glad to get it, though, when it was real cold. We had to depend on the fireplace and the kitchen stove.
Johnson: And did your mother make slips for you to wear under your dresses?
Cheney: Not too much. See, she had four girls, so it kept her busy [laughs].
Johnson: Where did she shop for clothes, or did you have somebody make them?
Cheney: Crosby & Hill’ s.
Wright: I remember that store.
Cheney: On Market Street, and she knew the clerks so well that they would come out to our place for dinner. And were just so pleased to get us all fixed up in new outfits. Yeah, they were just like cousins or some relation to us, the women that worked, and also Kennard's, we were friendly with the people that worked in Kennard's as we were with Crosby & Hill’ s I think. But the shopping was something, and you went on the old trolley car. You remember seeing No. 7 trolley car. Mr. Swinnin, Furman Swinnin, when he came to be the organist at Christ Church, he called it the Toonersville - it's better for me in the wintertime to take the Toonersville. And I wondered how in the world he was coming out, but that's what he called the trolley car [laughs].
Johnson: Well, that's this cartoon that they called the Toonerville Trolley, I think. Maybe that’ s why he . . .
Wright: Speaking of shopping, where did you buy Christmas ornaments, were they carried in any of the stores around you?
Cheney: Well, believe it or not - what was her name? We had a woman who walked from house to house with a big basket, and I'll never forget it. It opened up, the top would open up, and she carried thread, and different kinds of wool, and needles, and knitting needles, and she'd come about twice a month to our house and it was surprising how - and thread, all kinds of thread, and, uh. Mother got to Wilmington quite often because we had the trolley car, you know, to get in, and we always had a horse and wagon. My Dad only had one arm so he couldn't - or he didn't get a car early.
Johnson: Now, where did this woman come from that came around selling things? Did she live in the area or did she come from town?
Cheney: She was a Miss Carpenter, and she lived in Rockland up above where we lived. And she had a basket that opened out. It was divided in the center, and you opened it up, this side back and the other side back, and then she had all kinds of thread and, oh, we just loved to have her come. We'd spend the longest time just being surprised at what she'd take out of that - and she'd try to remember some toy or something that one of us would like. And each time she'd come, one of the girls would get something. My brother didn't come until the last one, he was the baby in the family, there were four girls, so we all had our choice, but not every time she came. She would remember who got it last time, and then there would be one of us, if we happened to be home. And then if we missed a turn because we weren't there, we got in the next time she came, she never forgot. But we just looked forward to that woman visiting us, just like she belonged to part of the family.
Johnson: And how about . . .
Cheney: Mrs. Roberts, was her name, I think.
Wright: Mrs. Roberts or Carpenter? Mrs. Roberts?
Cheney: Was she Carpenter? Maybe she was. Mrs. Roberts was another one - she lived down in Breck's Lane. She used to give us homemade bread sometimes. [laughs]
Wright: Mmmm! And how about Christmas ornaments, could you buy them anywhere in the little stores that were in the area?
Cheney: Well, you could get that tinsel string. Do you remember when they used the tinsel? Mother could make things from that. Now, she would cut the cardboard and then cover the tinsel around it and then either draw by hand, because she was good at that, and she could use our paints, you know, we had watercolors all the time, and it was amazing what nice - what things she could make. And then my oldest sister still learned. We went to school, we brought home things that we could put on the Christmas tree because teachers always loved to - that was one of the big things we enjoyed every Christmas, for the children to make something for their tree. ‘ Course the year I had the twins it was a problem, because they both wanted to do the same thing, and the other didn't want them to do it the same, so [laughs].
Johnson: How about buying Christmas balls, where would you buy the Christmas balls that were on the tree?
Cheney: We got them in a store. Crosby & Hill’ s I imagine had them at one time, in Wilmington.
Johnson: I think you mentioned the last time, over in Squirrel Run, the little store over there carried things.
Cheney: Yes, but he didn't get many things that were breakable like that because there was so many children running in and out and it was always so crowded. And you know, the stores then were placed for the people that were too old to work or else just didn't work, to spend their time.
Wright: To visit.
Cheney: And they always had these chairs sitting around in there. I can remember, though, when the children didn't carry on like they would in a store today, because it was always supervision, somebody was sitting there and would say, "Now, you sit down." And you'd sit, you wouldn’ t question it [laughs]. And it made a difference, the whole atmosphere of the way the people were treated. And the children didn't resent it, I mean I didn't think - I didn't mind being told to sit down, and lots of times it was on the floor, but there was always something going on.
- Events at the Hagley Community House; Christmas cookies and ornaments; Pets and stuffed animals; Making clothing and bedding; Christmas trees and decorations; School lunchesKeywords: Alexis I. du Pont School (Wilmington, Del.); Bedding; Brothers and sisters; Candy canes; Chickens; Childhood and youth of a person; Children of immigrants; Children of parents with disabilities; Christ Church Christiana Hundred (Wilmington, Del.); Christmas; Christmas cooking; Christmas decorations; Christmas tree ornaments; Christmas trees; Christmas--Anecdotes; Christmas--United States; Cookie jars; Cookies; Cousins; Dwellings; Explosives--Safety measures; Extended families; Feather beds; Feathers; Gifts; Hagley Community House (Breck's Mill); Hagley Yard; Lunchbox cooking; Parenting--United States; Pets; Pillows; Room layout (Dwellings); School children--Food; Squirrel Run; Stuffed animals (Toys); Wilmington (Del.); WreathsTranscript: Johnson: Did you ever go to parties at the Hagley Community House?
Johnson: What were they like?
Cheney: Well, the Girls' Friendly from the church met down there for a while and we followed, more or less, the program for that - the Girls' Friendly planned it. We had a woman that came from New York, Christ Church, for - oh I guess she was there six years, and she would plan something different for the children every year, for the young girls. And we could meet with her once a week if you had the free time.
Johnson: What would she do?
Cheney: Well, she had materials there, and you could cut out different shapes. Now, I remember making something for the Christmas tree, but I don't know just what we used, I forget, but it was something you would have around the house. And then she would have a small can of paint, and just a few dabs on it and you'd be surprised, it was the same thing you brought, but it would do very well for an ornament. And then, the people were clever in those days, because, now, she wouldn’ t do just one side of it. If I was teaching, I would have the tendency to feel if the child got one side that was pretty, it would be enough, but when we brought things home from school, you could hang them on the tree and it looked alright either side. You know, you would paint both sides, or put a different design or maybe just a tree on one side of it, just like the branches of a tree or something, but things that you could suggest that would be easy for them to do. And they were so happy with it. And I think that the parents were much more attentive in our day than they are now about the things they would create. Because you couldn't buy them in stores, you couldn't afford them. Well, now like when there was four of us girls, you just couldn't buy for all of them. And my Dad was handicapped with only one arm, so he had the workman, I mean the gate - he guarded at the gate down there at the Powder Yard for years, just to check to see if the men had matches or . . .
Johnson: Yes, I know he's mentioned in Ethel Hayward's book . . .
Cheney: Oh, is he?
Johnson: . . . that her father stopped smoking and then when your father - had to get his cigar or whatever it was, he said, "I've given up smoking."
Cheney: Well he had to take the cigarettes away from them, or the cigars as they were going into the Yard, you know, that was Dad's - part of his job.
Johnson: Did you say he sold candy - would that be in case they - did you say last time . . .
Cheney: Well, there were a lot of children lived in Squirrel Run and along there, and it was a place - now I think I told you, on our way home from school I would stop at my Aunt's home first, and she had homemade bread or some sweet thing to eat, and then we'd get over to where Dad sold the candy, and dug something up for myself [laughs].
Johnson: That was nice.
Cheney: It wasn't making money for him, but . . .
Johnson: What did your - did your mother make cookies at Christmastime?
Cheney: Oh, Mother baked every week. She made six – well, we had twelve loaves of bread a week. She baked on Saturday and on Wednesday. And always a cake, we had to pack our lunch, you know, they didn't serve lunches at Alexis I. when I first went there, and so we had to take a packed lunch and that meant - well the chickens came in well for that because that made a good sandwich and we didn't have any cafeteria. Of course, I guess I was in the sixth grade at Alexis I. when the cafeteria started, you could buy your lunch. No, we thought that was great.
Johnson: Did she do anything special at Christmas, would she make cookies then, cut them out?
Cheney: Oh, yes.
Johnson: What were they like?
Cheney: My Mother loved to bake. Well, all different shapes, we had those cookie cutters, you know, that they used years ago, like the star, the moon, part of the moon shape, and then little animals. Some of them were just . . . like, a cat sitting up.
Johnson: A cat? Did you have a cat in your house?
Cheney: Oh, we were never hardly without an animal. We had a dog for a long while - Spot. When George was a baby he had a stuffed dog that he carried under his arm all the time when he'd walk around, so the woman that worked at Judge Bradford's, then, would come down in the afternoon, have her hours off at our place. And one day she came with this dog, and she said, "There's no reason why I shouldn’ t get a dog for George, is there Annie?" And she said, "A live dog?" She said, "No, just a stuffed one." So she opens up this bag and here's the stuffed dog for George. Oh, that kid carried that dog for a long while. It would just fit under his arm, you know, and he loved it. Yes, you wonder sometimes when you think about it, what you did, but the days got in a hurry.
Johnson: What about Christmas cards, did you send Christmas cards the way we do?
Cheney: Not like we do now, not nearly as many cards. But Mother would remember all the families. You know, because we had the chickens and lived in the country, that was the best thing to give to the aunt and uncle from Wilmington - a chicken, because they didn't keep - so Mother would have all that work of fixing it, ready to eat, she wouldn't cook it, but she'd do everything else.
Johnson: Did you have to take the feathers off?
Johnson: And clean the inside?
Wright: Did you use the feathers from the chickens for pillows?
Cheney: Yes, Mother had a way of cutting them that made a very comfortable pillow, and we did. And we had, well really, burlap bags, you know, the feed for the chickens and the horse came in very nice bags and Mother would wash them and keep the supplies like that in the bag. And we had a - we called the trunk room, an extra room in that house, a small bedroom, my two older sisters slept together, and Sarah and I slept together, and then when George came around, we moved up next to Christ Church, so he would have a room of his own. But . . . Mother was very clever in making her clothes. My older sister loved to sew too, so she . . .
Wright: So you made your clothes and - did she make blankets or quilts for the beds, or . . . ?
Cheney: We did that more of a patchwork for fun, and then some of the ones she could use [laughs] but others weren't fit to use.
Johnson: [laughs] We've all made things like that.
Cheney: So it depended on her judgment as to how much got into the quilt or blanket, whatever it turned out to be.
Johnson: And she made her own pillows then, what . . . ?
Cheney: And she made her own - our clothes, a lot of the time.
Johnson: How about mattresses on the beds, were they made of feathers or - do you remember or not?
Cheney: We just had one feather mattress and Mother didn't like it after she got it made, so from then on we had - she said, "I'd rather save on something else and get the comfortable bed.” [laughter] We didn't splurge on the feather bed. Now Aunt Kate always had a feather bed and she thought it was a great prize for you to be allowed to sleep - that was Mother's sister lived in Wilmington, on 13th Street, and if you went in there to visit, if you got the feather bed, your turn this time, but you wouldn't get it the next time, some of the other girls would have it. So, we always took turns like that.
Johnson: What was your Aunt May’ s last name?
Cheney: McCookus, Angela McCookus, and very active in Emmanuel Church down through the years. She's Mother's sister's daughter. And then Uncle Frank, Mother's brother, had two boys and a girl, but they were much younger than we were in the family, that was her youngest brother and he didn't come out to America from Ireland until quite a long time after Mother came.
Johnson: Did you have a wreath on the door at Christmastime?
Cheney: No, we didn't start putting a wreath on the door – ‘ course you couldn't have seen the wreath at that front porch because it had big wide railings across and all and didn't see any point in putting it up. No, we had all we could do, I think, to get the tree trimmed and get a big one like we liked, that would stand on the floor. I remember when we graduated from the table one to the one on the floor and we thought that was great.
Johnson: How would you make it stand on the floor, did you have one of those tree stands, or would you just improvise?
Cheney: Well, as I said, my Father only had one arm, so he couldn't do much with the wood work, but as long as – as soon as George got to be any size, he made the stand for the tree. He was quite proud of it every year.
Johnson: And did you put a sheet underneath the tree?
Cheney: We had a blanket that we used. It was usually more colorful. Mother had some pretty plaids that she liked very much and we'd use that under the Christmas tree. Now we had one blue, plain blue that made the things stand out very nicely, under the tree.
Johnson: That would have been nice with the water, the mirror – the mirror as water.
Cheney: Yes, well we used a mirror to do that.
Johnson: What were your little ducks made of, were they celluloid ducks?
Cheney: No, I think they were little china ornaments made in the different shapes. You know you could get them years ago, you don't see them anymore, but it used to be you could get the – the china. I know we had a darling chicken.
Wright: Oh, marvelous [all laugh].
Cheney: About the red - do you know Dahlen Red, the color that they were - that type of chicken, well that's the one we had for under the Christmas tree.
Johnson: Did he look anything like your real chickens?
Cheney: Well . . . [all laugh] use a little imagination, I think.
Wright: It was a china chicken, then, just, you know, a colorful china chicken?
Wright: It would be great.
Johnson: What about candy, did you have candy on your tree?
Cheney: Oh, we had, um, those old sticky . . . what do you call 'em - toys, Christmas . . . toys.
Johnson: And how about candy canes?
Cheney: And sometimes - yes, we had candy canes. We often got that at school, the teachers would give you candy cane for Christmas.
Johnson: Would you hang those on the tree?
Cheney: Yes, but Mother always wanted it wrapped. And, of course, you could find tissue paper, but then that didn't show through too well, so she would sometimes hang the piece of paper, kind of in back of the - whatever the cane color was, in the same color, either a red or a green, to make it look more Christmasy and it made a decoration. It was a little more solid than just putting the cane over the branch.
Johnson: What did she keep the cookies in?
Cheney: Oh, we had a cookie can, one of those big . . .
Johnson: Was it a tin?
Cheney: Tin can, and it was always filled up. ‘ Course we had that, with four girls going to school, we had to pack our lunches, so you know it took . . . [laughs]. And Mother always had a cake baked, I mean a lot of times we took a slice of cake after she learned to get - when you could get the cellophane paper, you know, the tissue, or not tissue exactly, but . . .
Johnson: Waxed paper, you mean?
Cheney: Yes, waxed paper, we would wrap it. Yeah, there was a long time before they - I think I was in the sixth grade before they served lunch at Alexis I.
Johnson: What would you usually take for lunch, do you remember, did you have anything to drink or anything hot?
Cheney: No, but we could always get water. That's one thing about Alexis I., it was well equipped, we had plenty of drinking fountains, and it really wasn't necessary to carry anything. Now, I think Sarah, for a while, had to have some kind of juice, and Mother used small pint, no, half-pint jars that we had that we used to put the jelly in. And she would put the rubber on that so she could take her juice. We carried packed lunches for a long time, but we were glad when they got a cafeteria at Alexis I.
Johnson: Did you ever swap lunches?
Cheney: Oh yes, yes.
Johnson: If you had something you didn't like, you'd give it to someone else?
Cheney: Yes, we'd exchange for somebody else's chocolate cake, I would any time [laughs]. If we had - if I had the white, why they'd change for a piece of chocolate. Yes, it was more sociable at lunchtime than sitting at tables in the formal way they do now at school. ‘ Course I had the same things when I started to teach, I was up at Center Grove in one room school. I only had sixteen youngsters, but we all ate in the room. Or when the weather got suitable, we went out in the yard.
- Heating the schoolhouse and home; Christmas carols and costumes; Christmas church services; Sledding; Hagley workhorses; Damage from an explosionKeywords: Alexis I. du Pont School (Wilmington, Del.); Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company; Blast injuries; Caroling; Childhood and youth of a person; Children of immigrants; Children of parents with disabilities; Children's costumes; Children--Wounds and injuries; Christ Church Christiana Hundred (Wilmington, Del.); Christmas service; Christmas--Anecdotes; Christmas--United States; Church-night services; Classroom environment--United States; Classroom management--United States; Classrooms; Dwellings--Heating and ventilation; E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company; Evening worship services; Explosions; Explosives industry; Explosives industry--Accidents; Exterior lighting; Flexible Flyer sled; Free Park; Halloween costumes; Heating; Heating and ventilation; Horse-drawn vehicles; Horses; Industrial accidents; Powder mills; Reminiscing; Rockland (Del.); School buildings--Heating and ventilation; School children; Shields Lumber and Coal Company (Greenville, Del.); Sledding; Sleds; Stoves, Coal; Stoves, Wood; Working animals; Wounds and injuriesTranscript: Johnson: How many grades were in your school?
Cheney: That first one, I had from first to sixth, but I just had one boy in the sixth. And he certainly turned out to be a Godsend, because we had this old bucket-a-day stove, great big stove sitting there in the building. And when Dr. King came to observe me one time, he said, "Catherine, I don't understand why the fire needed attention in the middle of your class period." Well, I said, "Dr. King if you had been here two months ago when the weather got cold, and I didn't know how to keep the fire going all day, you would have been very glad that the oldest child in the room's father had to come down and said that there's no reason why Raymond can't take care of that fire.” [laughs] "So I'll teach him how to do it." So, of course, when Dr. King was there to observe from the State Board of Education, my brave Raymond got up to put the coal in the fire. So, he said in his comments, "Catherine, was it necessary to take care of the fire during your class period?" Well, I said, "Dr. King if you had been here in October and it got as cold as this room got, you would have been very glad if you were able to get someone who would take care of the fire.” And I said, "I have never had the experience of keeping the coal bin, the size of that stove, going all day." So, I said, "Mr. Kelley came down here, the boy's father, and he said “ There's no reason why Raymond,” he was crippled boy, very lame, and he says “ he can't play with the others anyhow, and there's no reason why he can't learn to take care of this fire for you.” So, I said, "I hope you don't object, because I will be very much disturbed if I have to go back to taking care of the fire." And he said, "No." So, then he went over and talked to Raymond. "We're very proud of you to help keep this warm. I’ ve been out here to visit when other teachers were teaching here, and I have been quite miserable because of the cold, so I'm so glad we have someone here who can take care of the furnace and Miss Cheyney doesn't have to leave her work to help you at all, you're doing a wonderful job." But that's what he jumped me about, why did he get up in the middle - and I just let him know. I said, "If you had been as cold or as worried about the fire as I was, you'd have been glad to have Raymond jump up anytime." [laughs] And you know when you had sixth grade, he wasn't going to bother many of them when I had them up beside me, the ones that were having the class would come up and sit in chairs near my desk and the others would be back in the big old cold room.
Johnson: Where did your parents get - did they use wood or coal for your fire?
Cheney: They were able to get coal, of course we were lucky being in one of the Du Pont houses, because they would see that the Greenville - Shields Lumber is now, but years ago the place at Shields would supply the coal. And we got coal from another place down there by the B. & O., I forget the name of it now. But you had to keep them, the stoves going in the house. We had one in the dining room and one in the spare room, in the front room, so in that way you were able to, with both fires and the kitchen stove, to keep the place warm.
Johnson: How about Christmas carols, did you sing those and go around caroling from house to house?
Cheney: No, we didn't go around caroling. ‘ Course we didn't go very much at night, because you didn't have any – out in Free Park, you know, you didn't have any lights at all, except the light from the people's homes, but we would go around in the afternoon sometimes in our costumes, before supper, and they would sometimes give you sticky candy or something if you went from house to house.
Johnson: What kind of costumes were they?
Cheney: Oh, I don't know – we had an Indian outfit one time and I was dressed up as a Scottish girl - somebody had come from Scotland . . .
Johnson: This wouldn't have been Halloween would it - did you go around on Halloween?
Cheney: No, this was at . . .
Johnson: At Christmas?
Cheney: At Christmastime - now I guess we got the costumes at Halloween, really, and then just for fun at Christmastime we'd dress up in them. But, oh no, you had to go to church on Christmas, you had to be in Sunday go-to-meeting [laughs] for the service.
Johnson: Did you usually go Christmas morning?
Johnson: Or . . . you wouldn't go the night before or anything?
Cheney: No, that midnight service wasn't started when I was younger, I mean, we went to the regular ten o'clock – no, eleven o'clock service at Christ Church is where I always belonged. I went to Christ Church regularly until I came over here in 1950, and then . . .
Johnson: And then have a service on Christmas Day as well as on Sunday?
Cheney: Oh, they had a service Christmas Day at Christ Church no matter if it was in the middle of the week, every Christmas we had a service. And lots of times it was that midnight service, you know, that they have at so many of the Episcopal churches now, they had at Christ Church. Well we're way off Christmas now [laughs]. The school wasn't any different, I guess, than any other public school.
Johnson: Oh, we didn't ask you about your sled, did you have a sled when you were young?
Cheney: Oh yes, we had a big - what did you call them - Express Flyer?
Johnson: Flexible Flyer?
Cheney: Flexible Flyer, right. And you could start a way up above the hill. Do you know the country up there?
Cheney: Well, above the old blacksmith shop, you know that's at the top of the road there. That's another thing I didn't say anything about, I can remember when the horses were shoed there at that blacksmith's instead of on the Pike where my uncle did it. But . . .
Johnson: Was this just the horses that stayed at - that your father kept in the carriage house?
Cheney: No, no, this was the horses that pulled the wagons for the . . .
Johnson: For the powder.
Cheney: For the powder. Yeah, we had big heavy wagons with four horses, went up and down that road. You wouldn't believe it now, but they did - to the powder yard. And I guess some of the powder was transported to Wilmington in those wagons . . .
Cheney: . . . in bagged . . . packed.
Johnson: Tell us about that explosion where the clock fell on your foot, or the glass that fell on your foot, and you were cut.
Cheney: Well, that was one of the worst ones we had. The house was destroyed so badly then that we had to move, we had to move to Rockland, and stay there until they fixed the place up and we went right back. No, you could go up the stair steps and look right out onto the road; it knocked the whole side of that section down. And my Father was just lucky that - I guess I told you that he had been to Lodge the night before and he just missed it. If he hadn't have been late, he would have been right near the mill, the one that blew.
Johnson: What did your mother do when she saw the glass from the clock and your foot - did she take you to the doctor?
Cheney: Well no, not right away. She got the glass out of there and I don't know what they used for disinfectant at the time, but there was something put on it right away. Mother said that she was sorry I was hurt, but it certainly helped them because Dad and everybody else was interested in my foot instead of the damage that the explosion had done. And it was so bad that you could look right through the wall, the stairway out onto the road. We couldn't stay there, that's the time we had to move to Rockland.
Johnson: Did they have to carry you everywhere after your foot was hurt?
Cheney: No, no, it wasn't that bad.
Johnson: It wasn't that bad.
Cheney: The glass just stuck up in the – that part of the foot and was bleeding badly. It frightened me more than anything, than really being too serious. But it did come down, you can tell the force that those mills send when the things break, when it would stick up in your foot.
Johnson: Yes. And how big was the clock, was it a big clock?
Cheney: No, the regular –
Cheney: Yes, something like that one over there, you know, we used to have one on the mantle. But we got the glass back in it, but not until after we came back there to live. That’ s the thing I couldn't get over. Why they wouldn't - I was only four or five, I think, and why they wouldn't have stayed in Rockland instead of going back.
Johnson: You liked it better?
Cheney: See if an explosion - be knocked out of home again. No, they fixed the house, we went right back. I guess it took two months, though, to fix the house that time, it was really torn up.
- Games and toys; Christmas gifts and visits; Homemade gifts; Gift wrapping; Christmas trees and decorations; Neighbors; Cooking and baking; Occupations of extended family; Smoking; Childhood and marriage of a younger brother; Electric powerKeywords: Belin House (Greenville, Del.); Brothers and sisters; Candy; Checkers; Childhood and youth of a person; Children of immigrants; Children of parents with disabilities; Christmas; Christmas cooking; Christmas decorations; Christmas tree ornaments; Christmas trees; Christmas--Anecdotes; Christmas--United States; Class consciousness; Cooking (Potatoes); Cousins; Dominoes; E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company; Electric lighting; Electric lighting--Installation; Electric power; Electric railroad trains; Electrification; Embroidery; Embroidery for children; Explosives industry; Explosives industry--Accidents; Explosives--Safety measures; Extended families; Games; Gift wrapping; Gifts; Hagley Yard; Household employees; Industrial accidents; Joseph Bancroft and Sons Co; Lunchbox cooking; Mechanical toys; Neighborhoods; Neighbors; Powder mills; Puzzles; Reminiscing; Rockford Tower (Wilmington, Del.); Santa Claus; School children; School children--Food; Sledding; Sleds; Smoking; Smoking in the workplace; Vegetable gardening; Wilmington (Del.)Transcript: Johnson: You also told us about playing games at Christmas. What were some of the games you had? Did you have checkers?
Cheney: Well, checkers was the big one. And I can't remember the names of those other games. You move dice around in several of them, and I think the dice . . . I don't remember. Dominoes! We had checkers and dominoes. And we always got new ones for Christmas, I mean the old boards would be pretty well shot by the time the year was up, so [laughs].
Johnson: Did you have puzzles?
Cheney: Yes, we put puzzles together. I still like to do that, I put a puzzle together this year. That used to be part of the Christmas entertainment, when things quieted down, you'd get the puzzle out.
Johnson: Oh, when did your parents put up the tree? Would you all help put - decorate the tree?
Cheney: No, it was always supposed to be Santa Claus, you know how they made you believe [laughs].
Johnson: Yes. So they'd do all that work the night before?
Cheney: They'd do all that the night before, and after we all got in bed. ‘ Course I think my oldest - the older girls would help, but I don't think I ever helped with the Christmas tree until I was seven. ‘ Course George was still little then, so was Sarah, she was two years younger than I was.
Johnson: Do you remember anything about the house that the people had in - about the tree that the people would have had in the house next door - that would be the Jackson House?
Cheney: No, as I started to tell you the last time you were here. We had so many families - so much family and cousins, you know, from Wilmington, that it seemed to me that Christmas got over, and we didn't think much about the neighbors. Now, the mothers exchanged gifts, Mother would always make something for Mrs. Jackson, and she would always make something for us and they would have one present, like, for the family, but I don't remember ever seeing Jackson's tree.
Johnson: You didn't go in?
Cheney: No, we didn't go in at Christmastime.
Johnson: Do you remember what the presents would have been?
Cheney: Well, I think - I know our presents were mostly clothing, our things that we needed for school - like pencils and . . .
Johnson: I mean, what would your mother make for Mrs. Jackson?
Cheney: Oh. Apron was the big drawing card, usually. And they – they had those full aprons, I mean that would tie at the back of your neck, all the way down, had to have two pockets. Mother would spend a lot of time making the aprons for our aunts and our, uh . . .
Johnson: What color, were they white, or were they different colors?
Cheney: Well, just depend, if it was a fusty person like Aunt Kate, Mother's sister, she always made a white one. And I remembered when I was old enough to put the design on the pocket - you embroidered something on the pocket of the apron, which made it really pretty. But you had to show Mother that - what you were going to put on it before she'd let you work on the apron [laughs]. So we had a lot of good training in things like that.
Johnson: Where did you learn to embroider? Did your mother show you or did . . .
Cheney: Yes, and then we got a little of it at school. I don't know but when the teachers in olden times like, and Miss McLaughlin was at Alexis I. from 1890 until – oh, I don't know, '28 or '29 - for years, and she taught all of us, we all went to the first, that same first grade. And she would come to our place for dinner, she was just like one of the family. So, we made – we always made something for Miss McLaughlin at Christmastime as well as whatever teacher you had there, or bought something for her.
Johnson: What would you make for your teachers?
Cheney: Well, lots of times it was just an embroidered handkerchief, Mother would teach us to tat or to put something around the handkerchief to make it more attractive. But visiting other people was one of the big things at Christmastime too, to see everybody's tree and visit with them and take - get the presents all delivered. [long pause] What else do you want to know? [laughs].
Johnson: What kind of candy did your mother make?
Cheney: Oh, fudge.
Johnson: Did you help her with that?
Cheney: We learned to make it. My oldest sister was very good at it and she would always . . .
Johnson: How did you make it, do you remember?
Cheney: Oh, I don't . . .
Johnson: You'd have to drop some in cold water to see if it was ready to . . .
Johnson: . . . cooked enough?
Cheney: Yes, that's right. And chocolate and sugar - sometimes we made brown sugar candy, and then the taffy that you pulled [laughs]. Well, we didn't miss much at Christmastime, we did all the [laughs] - and having all the cousins in Wilmington to come out, you'd have to get something they liked to do, too, so we all . . .
Johnson: Would you wrap - did you usually wrap your presents?
Cheney: Yes, but not fancy.
Johnson: Well, how would you wrap them?
Cheney: Well, I'm ashamed to say, but some of the times we would just take the grocery - Mr. Ewing's bags, he had white bags that he would bring the groceries in at Christmastime and we would decorate them with crayons sometimes instead of making . . . Mother had so much - there were so many of us that she'd have so much wrapping to do that we seldom bought wrapping paper. We usually just opened up the bags - you could get white bags then at a lot of the stores. Crosby and Hills often had white bags to hold the Christmas things, or even with Christmas decorations on them sometimes, a little bit of holly or something. And sometimes we decorated them, if they didn't have anything on them, we'd take the crayons and get busy, or the water colors [laughs].
Johnson: Did you have holly growing near the house, did they use that for decoration?
Cheney: We had holly - it didn't belong to us, but we could take as much as we wanted. That was one thing nice about living near the Bradfords. We had the use of their cherry trees.
Johnson: They had the holly trees?
Cheney: Yes, and the holly tree, and the . . . they were very neighborly, all the people. Also, whoever lived at the Yellow House, would always send over a lot of the greens and things that they didn't need, ‘ cause they always - in fact a couple of years our Christmas tree was the top of somebody's else’ s tree that had gotten one too big to fit in the room, and they just [laughs] take the top and send it over to Mother, and Mother said, “ I can’ t buy one any prettier than that, that'll just do for the tree." So, you never can imagine or pay back when people are friendly and kind, considerate like that. A lot of people would just throw it out back and never think about it. But I know we had Hoopes’ s top of their tree when they lived there and DeArmond's top of their tree for several years. ‘ Cause he was head of the powder mills for a long while and worked over there. Somebody said to Mother one time, "I don't know why you want the maids from those houses sitting in your house." And she said, "Well, if you worked in somebody's house and you were told you could have from two to four in the afternoon, would you walk the hills or what would you do?" [Laughs] And they were glad to come over to be with us because at least there would be something going on. So, whoever lived there in the Yellow House and whoever lived over near Crowninshield's - we never had anybody come from Crowninshield's place, but that other house up there, we often had the people that worked there come over - the Buchanans and the Hackendorns and several families. I guess I told you we had a garden. I can't think of anything else that I've forgotten that would be important. We had all kinds of beans from the garden, and tomatoes. And we even planted potatoes, we had good luck with that. But we never had a lot, with such a big family, to last all winter.
Johnson: You'd buy the potatoes in the store?
Cheney: We'd buy the potatoes.
Johnson: How did your Mother cook potatoes most of the time?
Cheney: Well, Mother liked to cook and if we had them left over, they were put in the pan with butter and heated, cut up for the next meal. With seven to feed, we had to . . .
Johnson: Did she usually just boil them, or did she mash them?
Cheney: Well, we liked baked potatoes a lot. Of course, she made her own bread, she baked twice a week, eight loaves on Wednesday and eight loaves on Saturday, and sometimes she made sweet rolls – sweet buns. And we always had homemade cake, you couldn't take a lunch to school if you didn't have a piece of cake [laughs]. So they were busy, I'll tell you, they didn't run around too much, but they were busy at the house. And it was fun deciding what the people would know, we would visit at some of the people in Wilmington, the relations, and hear them talking about, and hear them say something they wanted, and then we'd tell the children we were going to get that for them, so in that way we could get what they really would like to have instead of just something . . . fancy.
Johnson: How many people in your family worked in the powder yards altogether?
Cheney: Not very many, because they were all so leery of an accident happening, the people being killed. So, my father's father was down there for a while, but then he got a job at Bancroft's because he could walk there to work, so he got a much better job there. Uncle Frank worked in one of the mills in Wilmington, Mother's brother. They lived in Wilmington. So that most of the families got a the job somewhere . . .
Johnson: Now Frank’ s last name was Knox, is that right? Frank Knox?
Cheney: Yes, Mother's name was Knox.
Johnson: Now who is McLucas, the one that married your mother's sister?
Cheney: That's right. They were the cousins that lived on Thirteenth Street in Wilmington. And Uncle Frank lived on Union Street in Wilmington. And then we had a Grandfather - I never knew a Grandmother, either Mothers' mother, of course she was in Ireland, and I didn't know Dad's mother, she had died before I was around. But I knew his father, Grandpop Cheyney lived there at Rockford Tower, so we were over there a lot.
Johnson: Did your father smoke?
Cheney: Yes. He smoked.
Johnson: Would he be allowed to smoke in the little house where he worked?
Cheney: No, and he would have to search the men to see if they had cigarettes. No he wouldn't have dared smoke in front of anybody. The only time he smoked was about nine o'clock at night, he liked to sit on the porch and he'd have a pipe, but he didn't smoke cigarettes. But I thought my brother would start smoking, because he would sit out with Dad. But he never has smoked, he never has - was against it. He married a good old Southerner [laughs] no, she came up and was supposed to teach with me at Alexis I., this girl from Carolina, and Dr. Howie had the school remodeled, and it didn't get finished the time that he wrote to Laurie to tell her to come, and here she was in Wilmington and didn't know a soul, so I really felt sorry for her. So, the second teachers' meeting we had, I said, "What are you going to do now?" She said, "I don't know, go home and sit in that room, I guess." [Laughs] And I said, "Well how about coming out to our place?" So, that's how she met my brother, she married my brother.
Johnson: Isn’ t that nice?
Cheney: And there were four girls and one boy, poor George.
Johnson: He probably got lots of attention.
Cheney: No, he wasn't spoiled, I don't think. He’ s made out alright, he’ s had three daughters of his own.
Johnson: What kind of things would he get for Christmas, do you remember?
Cheney: Well, he got . . . I know one of the early things he wanted was a big sled.
Johnson: Would he get electric trains or anything like that?
Cheney: Yes, he had electric train. Oh, we had everything you could put under - that would move - that you could put under a Christmas tree. He loved the things that you would wind up. And, of course, four girls getting presents for him . . .
Johnson: Now, did you have electricity in that house?
Cheney: We had electricity the last - I believe I was ten when we got the electric light in the house out there.
Johnson: That must have been a great day.
Cheney: Yes [laughs].
Johnson: That would have been the one up by Christ Church, though, right?
Cheney: No, that was still down there.
Johnson: Still down there, you got electricity in there?
Cheney: We had it in funny places, we had it that outside kitchen. We had just one lamp in the big room that was electrified and just one plug. [tape cuts off]