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~ Kathy M.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Tin Pot Valley: "The Hazard of Tea"

In this week's Sepia Saturday prompt, Alan has provided us with a photo of a lady been served tea (or coffee) from a sterling silver pot.  

I was quite pleased to be reminded of a story in Tin Pot Valley that had that has to do with the age old question:  "Coffee, Tea or Trees?"  You will be glad to know that this post isn't very long. Some of mine have been lately.

So, please grab yourself a cup of your choice (coffee or tea), and settle down to a cute story that happened in 1905, written by my distant cousin, Wilfred Brown, grandson to my Great-Great Uncle Horace and Aunt Aurilla Putnam of Oregon.  To read more about this side of my family, please check out this post when you are done here:  "Affair at the Dynamite House".

Oregon Gifts of Comfort and Joy ~ Kathy Matthews
Oregon Gifts of Comfort and Joy ~ Kathy Matthews

Tin Pot Valley, Chapter XXII: 
Wilfred Brown

"The Hazard of Tea"

Source:  Google Images

The summer after Ethel Putnam married Fred Brown and went to Camas Valley in South Douglas County to teach and to live, she returned to Tin Pot for a visit. 

On a pleasant day she crossed Elk Creek on the footlog at the ford and walked across the ranch to the George Hedrick house.  In the early afternoon her sister, Lou -- then 18, pretty, black-haired and fun-loving -- rode over on horseback just in time to interrupt the dinner dishes.  [That means that this story took place in 1905, since I have figured out that Louise Rozelle Putnam Cunningham was born in 1887.]

Aunt Sue suggested that they let the rest of the dishes wait, and go into the sitting room and sing around the organ for a while.  That was, with her, a favorite pastime -- and she was always glad for an excuse to put off finishing such a drudgery as the dishes.  Some relatives said they didn't think Aunt Sue ever did get all of her dishes done.  

They were singing some such old favorites as "Clementine" when Nan Dooley turned her horse and buggy in at the gate.  She came to the door bearing a paper-backed book with a colored picture of a plate of luscious-looking peaches on the cover.  

"I'm from the Parkview Nursery," she announced, "and we got the best damn fruit trees anywhere in the country!"  

Aunt Sue blinked at the language, then said, "I don't know if we need any, but come in and sit down, and I'll ask my husband."  

A cloud of dust rose from Nan's clothes as she sat down.  She took off the man's straw hat she wore, shook some more dust out of her barely-combed gray hair, put on a pair of steel-rimmed spectacles and flipped the pages of her book.  

"Now this here Sweetheart peach," she began, “is so sweet you won't need no sugar in your canning.  One tree'll be bearing by the bushel in two or three year.  Only you should have two.  There's boy-flowers and girl-flowers, you know, and they has to get together, like human folks."  She winked.  

Aunt Sue didn't know, and she blushed at this rather inaccurate information on peach trees, their blossoms and their fruits.  

Nan was just getting started on the virtues of the Golden-drop plum, when George Hedrick, located by his daughter Maud, came in from the garden.  Like Horace Putnam, Uncle George was amused by people a bit on the eccentric side.   

(When Horace paid a visit to Camas Valley, years later, Fred Brown took him in the car and thought up reasons to pay calls on several local neighbors rather far-out in speech and mannerisms.  Grandpa thought that he seldom had had a more enjoyable day.)

When George Hedrick saw Nan Dooley, he quickly recognized her as a collector's item, and he interspersed enough questions to keep her talking.   

Nan was, he found, a widow by grass who lived in a small Willamette Valley town.  She made her living traveling around the back roads by her horse and buggy in all but the bad-weather months, taking orders for fruit trees to be delivered late in the following winter, at the best transplanting time.  

Her commissions were small, but her expenses were almost nothing.  She usually got a meal offered her, wherever she was at dinner time; and supper, bed and breakfast, plus accommodations for her horse, wherever she happened to be at nightfall.  No one ever thought of asking her to pay.  And she obviously didn't spend much on clothes.   

Uncle George wondered if the Sweetheart peach would thrive in the Tin Pot climate.   

"Hell, yes!" declared Nan.  

With that, Aunt Sue said she'd heat up a pot of coffee, and fairly hastily left for the kitchen.   

George Hedrick kept Nan talking -- and finally told her he guessed he could afford a Sweetheart peach, in fact, two of them, so there'd be plenty of both male and female blossoms to get together - as well as a Goldendrop plum.   

Ethel Brown then told Nan that her parents needed some fruit trees, too, since they had not lived long at their house at the other end of the ranch.  She'd ride along in the buggy to show Nan the way across the ford, and there'd be plenty of room for her to stay all night.  Uncle George agreed that Horace and Rilla needed an orchard, and as he left the room to get his checkbook, he beckoned to Lou.  

Everyone had coffee and apple pie, then Lou mounted her horse and took off at a gallop, a short time before Nan and Ethel followed in the creaking buggy.  

After her fast ride, Lou arrived at the Putnam house and told her mother:   

"Guess what: Ethel's mother-in-law just drove in at Uncle George's in her buggy.  She's going to take Ethel home -- and they are on their way over here right now."   

"Oh, my goodness!" said Rilla.  "And we haven't any fresh meat in the house.  Run out and kill a chicken."   

"We don't need to go to all that trouble," said Lou, who hadn't anticipated getting involved in a lot of extra work.   

"We do too!" declared her mother. "Kill two chickens."   

The family had never met any of the Browns except Fred, who married into the Putnam-Hedrick-Applegate clan after attending the Central Oregon State Normal School at Drain with many of his future in-laws among his fellow students, and teaching a term at the Tin Pot school, with many future in-laws among his pupils.  

When the buggy stopped at the Putnam gate, Rilla was dismembering a beheaded, plucked and eviscerated chicken, and Lou stirring up a cake.  Rilla hastily washed her hands, put on a clean white apron and walked down the path to the gate.  

"I'm so glad to meet you," she said, as Nan descended from the buggy seat.  "I've heard so much about you."  

"I'm glad to be here," said Nan.  "I'm from the Parkview Nursery, and we have the best damn fruit trees anywhere in the country!"  

What Rilla had heard about Elisa Brown added up to a picture of a devout Methodist matriarch of a large family recently out of Nebraska, a family of mostly teachers with a fondness for books, music and church-going.  And she had never heard of Mother Brown selling fruit trees.   

She led Nan Dooley into the house, took her hat and battered hand-bag, and showed her to her rocking chair in the sitting room.  
Nan donned her spectacles and flipped the pages of her book.  "Now this here Sweetheart peach," she began, “is so sweet you won't need no sugar in your canning."  And she continued with her account of the boy and girl flowers and the importance of getting them together.   

Rilla blushed a bit and said her husband would be in soon, and that they probably could use some fruit trees.  Then she asked:  "How long did it take you to drive up from Camas Valley?"  

"Camas Valley?" said Nan.  "I hain't never been there.  But I come all the way from Cottage Grove today."   

And with that it dawned on Rilla that she was the victim of a quite monumental family prank.   

Horace Putnam found Nan Dooley as much of a collector's item as George Hedrick had.  His eye lids crinkled as she talked.  And as he sat down to a supper that included a platter heaped with fried chicken and a frosted layer cake waiting on the sideboard, he regarded with pride the daughter who could have had a part in fabricating such a hoax and carrying it out. 

Rilla was a gracious hostess -- more than usually gracious, and relieved, at finding her guest wasn't really Mother Brown.  Nan Dooley ate but little.  "I'm a bit off my feed," she explained.  "They had beans where I stopped for dinner, and you know what beans can do to a party's insides."  

Rilla nodded in sympathy, with some effort keeping her mouth straight.  "Would you like a cup of tea?" she suggested.  At the Putnam Ranch they usually drank coffee, strong and lots of it, but tea was always on hand for guests who might like it.   

Nan shook her head.  "I never drink tea," she said.  "Tea tans the bowels!"   

Horace Putnam almost choked on his coffee.  After supper he gave Nan the biggest order she'd written on this trip.

For a generation or more, that was a family warning:  "Tea tans the bowels!"  And on the Putnam Ranch, near where the old house stood, gnarled, moss-grown trees still bloom and bear, the only survivors of a jest near a century ago.  

(Pages 140-145) 

Oregon Gifts of Comfort and Joy ~ Kathy Matthews


Ethel Putnam and Fred Brown are Wilfred's parents, the guy who wrote the book.

George Hedrick and Aurilla Hedrick Putnam are brother and sister.  Their parents were John Hedrick and Louisa Jackson Hedrick  (my great-great grandparents through George and Aurilla's brother Ben).

Horace G. Putnam and Susan Putnam Hedrick are brother and sister.  Their parents were Charles Putnam and Rozelle Applegate Putnam.

I sure wish that I could have found a picture or anything about Nan Dooley.  For some reason, I seem to think that The Parkview Nursery was in Alpine, Oregon near Monroe, but I can't find anything about it either.  I wondered what "a widow by grass" meant, looked it up and found this:
"grass widow"
1. A woman who is divorced or separated from her husband.
2. A woman whose husband is temporarily absent.
3. An abandoned mistress.
4. The mother of a child born out of wedlock.

[Perhaps in allusion to a bed of grass or hay.]
Word History: The term grass widow cries out for explanation of what grass means and how grass widow came to have its varied though related senses. Grass probably refers to a bed of grass or hay as opposed to a real bed. This association would help explain the earliest recorded sense of the word (1528), "an unmarried woman who has lived with one or more men," as well as the related senses "an abandoned mistress" and "the mother of an illegitimate child." Later on, after the sense of grass had been obscured, people may have interpreted grass as equivalent to the figurative use of pasture, as in out to pasture. Hence grass widow could have developed the senses "a divorced or separated wife" or "a wife whose husband is temporarily absent."
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2009. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

If you have anything to add to this post, please let me know so that others can find the info they are looking for.  Thanks!

The above coffee service has been handed down through the years.  I have two such sets, one was from a garage sale, and the other one came from The Letsom side of our family.  I'm not quite sure which one this is, but it is pretty, and old.  

I am having fun imagining that Nan Dooley was treated to something as fancy as the set above when Aunt Aurilla poured her out some coffee, but I'm pretty sure that instead her coffee came from a sturdy functional coffee pot straight off the hot stove.

The End.


So, there you are, my friends.  If you enjoyed this story, please visit my Sepia Saturday friends by "CLICKING HERE" to find other neat photos and stories.  To read more about my family and other stories featuring old photos, memories and more, please look for this picture of me and my dad on the left-hand sidebar and read whatever else catches your fancy.  Thanks so much for visiting!

Oregon Gifts of Comfort and Joy ~ Kathy Matthews

At Oregon Gifts of Comfort and Joy, if you miss a day, you miss a lot!  All material on this post is copyrighted and not for use without my permission ...Please click here to go to my home page and see what is happening in Mayberry today.  Protected by Copyscape Duplicate Content Check


Wendy said...

This is a wonderful story! Such a fun little connection to the theme too. And I'm glad you researched the term "widow by grass" because I was wondering about it.

Nick Wilford said...

That was nice. What a great thing to have that book in your family.

Arkansas Patti said...

Loved the story and I would have wanted to be a "collector's item" like Nan. Cool job, cool lady.

Little Nell said...

A very funny story Kathy and nicely written I think. I’m a bit off tea now though :)

Postcardy said...

That was an amusing story. I had never heard of a "grass widow" or tea tanning the bowels before.

Oregon Gifts of Comfort and Joy said...

Thanks, everybody, I am so glad that you liked it as much as I did.

Wendy - now we know it doesn't mean the husband died of a pot overdose.

Nick - I know, we are lucky to have all of this family history at our fingertips.

Patti - you just might be, lol!

Nell - nobody wants tanned bowels!

Linda@VS said...

Smiling here! Don't know which character I enjoyed most, Nan or all those who egged her on.

Sharon said...

How wonderful! So well written. I would love to read the whole book.

Alan Burnett said...

What a delightful story. I am not sure that I will ever be able to approach a cup of tea in quite the same way ever again. As usual, blogging at its best.

Bob Scotney said...

A superb story. I was laughing all the way through and I've now acquired a new phrase 'tea tans the bowels.'

Joy said...

What an amusing story, Nan sounds a wonderfully entertaining character definitely full of get up and go.

Kristin said...

Ha! That's a beautiful cup and saucer.

barbara and nancy said...

Wonderful story. I was going to ask you what a grass widow is but thankfully you answered my question.

barbara and nancy said...

That was really fun. What a character!

Anonymous said...

An excellent story!

(Queenmothermamaw) Peggy said...

Yes thanks for explaining that term widow of grass. I love your stories and you are a very good writer and storyteller.


Me thinks we could all use a little Nan in our life.

Much appreciated the definition of "grass widow"...

English not being my first language, some subtleties still evade me.

No Copying!


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