Aunt Helen Remembers
In the early 1900s, discipline in the home was more strict than in the past several decades. Not many mothers worked outside of the home and it was a different society. We had respectful fear of our parents and more respect for our elders. Children were seen and not heard so we dared not ask questions. Consequently, we never learned of our parents’ childhood or growing up.
I had a very happy childhood. I was born in 1906 in a small house next to my grandmother’s on Western Avenue in Hampden. The house is no longer standing. I am listed at Hampden Town Office as female Richards, August 1, 1906.
My mother was Bertha Mansell Richards and my father was Herbert Leslie Richards. I was the third girl born to them. Mildred June and Christine Ione preceded me. Before I was three years old, we moved to the Brick Store, so called because it had been the Crosby Store for generations. It was at the corner of Elm Street E and the Main Road or 1A.
My father had a carpentry shop and made oars and small boats. We lived on the second floor and Pauline and Josephine were born here in 1910 and 1912. I thought that the doctor brought them in his little black bag! We were always sent to my grandmother’s. Midwives always attended; there were no hospitals then.
My father built a small house at the end of Elm Street. We moved there in December 1912. The things that I remember were the Northern Lights, so very beautiful, and my mother’s lovely flowers: sweet peas, dahlias, nasturtiums, cosmos, zinnias, pansies, phlox and pink poppies. The garden was edged with white rocks brought back from the ocean. There was an apple tree with a rope swing.
I started school when I was four years old; I still remember my teacher, “Miss Nevers.” She boarded on Elm Street and walked by our house every morning and I would cry to go to school with Mildred and Christine. She suggested that my mother let me come to visit and I went every day thereafter. In later years, one had to be five years old.
Most fairy tales begin with “Once upon a time,” but this is no fairy tale. It is my life story as I remember it. I have had much happiness with many blessings and miracles along with several tragedies which helped to make me stronger.
As children, we made our own fun. We never felt poor or depressed. We played many games, cut paper dolls out of magazines (the Sears catalog and Montgomery Ward), played school, and we had a playhouse outside which my father made for us. We furnished it with moss for the floor and broken pieces of china for our side boards.
We went sledding and skiing on barrel staves; we did have a sled. There were very few automobiles. We jumped rope and played hop scotch, dominoes and jacks.
The word “allowance” was not known so if we needed money, we had to earn it. We ran errands and babysat for our neighbors, picked strawberries for three cents a box and dug dandelions and sold them for 25 cents a peck. We picked string beans and peas for the canning factory.
We were always told to come straight home from school as we had chores to do. Washday was always on Monday, unless it rained. All clothes had to be dried out of doors. White clothes were boiled in a boiler on the kitchen stove. My father had to carry the water some distance from our spring. Us girls had to scrub the colored clothes and stockings. We wore gingham dresses. Then we had to wash the lamp chimneys and chamber pots in the rinse water. We had kerosene lamps. We didn’t have electricity until 1924 and we had no telephone, radio or automobile. If it rained on Monday, the wash had to be put off since the clothes had to be hung outside to dry on a clothesline.
We enjoyed all holidays with family gatherings. Families did not move as far away as they have in later years. We met at my grandmother’s for Christmas dinner and a Christmas tree. We went to the church on Christmas Eve for the Christmas tree and were given a box of hard candy and an orange which was a treat. For Christmas, we got underwear, hair ribbons and stockings—never toys.
We got a bath once a week on Saturday night in the wash tub in front of the oven in the kitchen. Our toilet was in the shed.
We only had two sets of underwear, two pair of black stockings and one white pair of stockings for Sunday School. We were fortunate if we had three dresses, never dungarees. I often had hand-me-downs since I was third in line.
Kenneth was born October 3, 1918 when I was 12 years old. The first large sum of money that I earned was $5.00. Christine and I washed dishes for a caterer. It was in December. We had to buy six Christmas presents for the family and we did. We bought a rocking horse for Kenneth who was 18 months old, 50 cents each; we were so proud. A trip to Bangor on the trolley car was an event.
We had a boat in the Penobscot River and rowed across the river to Orrington for a picnic on some Sundays. We gathered acorns, our nuts for the winter. We made our own ice cream and root beer and lemonade. There was no such thing as “pop,” only Moxie. Our cereal was mostly oatmeal and occasionally shredded wheat and cornflakes.
Some Sundays we would walk up the Souadabscook Stream, named by the Indians, in back of our house. We would catch fish and cook them on the rocks with salt pork. We would eat wild berries, ivy plums, bunchberries and snake berries, which they now claim are poisonous.
We hatched our own chickens. We only had roast chicken on Thanksgiving and Christmas from our own roosters, never turkey. We raised our own vegetables and Mother made all of our pies, cookies, doughnuts, bread and butter. We had a cow. Saturday was always baked bean day, baked all day in the oven and brown bread steamed all afternoon, with hot rolls and pickles, never hot dogs or hamburgers.
The meat man and fish man came twice a week to our house, also one with spices, tea and coffee, so we purchased very little at the grocery store other than kerosene and molasses.
I did learn that my mother’s father drowned in the Penobscot River when she was 8 years old. My grandmother married again to Cyrus Humphrey who was in the Civil War. He was a widower with four children—two sons, Leslie and Fred, and two daughters, Sadie and Ella.
My grandmother had five daughters and one son who died at age 18. They were Aimee, Villa, Nora, Frances and my mother, Bertha. Grampa Humphrey died when I was 10 years old. Christine and I had to stay nights with my grandmother.
My mother and my grandmother seemed to have no affection for anyone, even their children and grandchildren. My mother didn’t even show affection for my father. She never bothered with the neighbors or went to church. Many times I wanted to kiss her goodnight, but never dared.
I never got to know my father much to my regret until long after I married. My mother would always say, “I’ll tell your father,” and we feared him although he never punished us.
I graduated from Hampden Academy when I was 16. I already had a position in the office in a department store in Bangor. This came about through my soliciting “ads” for our school magazine of which I was business manager. I was also class treasurer and I won the “John Treton” award for academics and contributing the most to the academy. I won $25.00.
Then one of my MIRACLES took place after visiting my aunt in Waterville and seeing the students on the Colby campus which was across from her home before it moved to Mayflower Hill. My mother had made me take the commercial course in high school. I had the Senior Honor Essay for graduation. It was published in the Bangor paper. It was on the excavation of “King Tutankhamun” in 1922. I did much research on it and it was read by Mrs. James Stodder, a childless millionaire for whom my father had done some carpentry work. She asked if I was his daughter and what did I plan to do? He told her I had always wanted to go to college, but that he had five daughters and could not afford it.
My aunt never did finish her story, but she did go on to attend Boston College. However, she left college in her junior year to marry a man many years her senior and had her four children by him before he passed away in an automobile accident. She never saw Mrs. Stodder again, much to her disappointment; however, she led a full life and ended her days back at her roots.
The above article was written by Helen (Richards) Bates, recalling her childhood in Hampden. Helen was a 1923 graduate of Hampden Academy and was an aunt to Herb Frost and Jerry Stanhope. The last paragraph of the article was written by Jerry. This is a great description of life in Hampden in the early 20th century.