Audrey Mae SpencerSpencer Historical CemeteryHenry Straight / William Spencer Family Cemetery
Vaughn Historical CemeterySpencers of East Greenwich, RI
Life on the Farm
29 January 2003

Heather: What is the difference in the amount of snow today versus when you were a child on the farm over 80 years ago.

William J.B. Spencer and Audrey Mae Spencer

Audrey: The weather is really changing. Winters were much worse then. As a little child, I always walked to the barn and the snow was up to my waist. The snow was up to the windows, all winter, the snow kept getting bigger and bigger. I would wait for spring and the green grass. Haven’t seen one of those storms since I grew up. There used to be banging outside, wind blowing snow into the house, big waves of snow come slamming at the house. Can’t ever remember snow going over the door. We always got out to shovel. Now (2003) there is just enough snow to cover the ground.

My mother’s bedroom went out to a deck of wood platform. There were a couple of steps. House settled there. Front went out to the road. My mother’s room faced the barn. There was a rock fence… The path to the barn was quite a ways, fifteen to twenty feet from the house. We had around ten cows. My brother, Eddy (John Edward Spencer), hitched up a horse and took a can of milk to a man in Crompton. This man, Mr. Louis, sold milk.

Audrey’ s father, William J.B. Spencer

Every summer a family came to Daisy Farm from Auburn or Providence. The family had two or three teens and that family came daily and bought a quart of milk. I’ve lived and seen everything change. I know it! Everything changed in my time. Oh, I got a whole batch of books that Crystal gave me!

14 February 2004

Heather: What was it like when you were a child on the farm?

William J.B. Spencer and Audrey Mae Spencer

Audrey: There was much more snow then. I could walk over the five-foot fence and not sink in as the snow was frozen. I could walk over the fence!!

We would get a snowstorm and I was always sick in bed with the croup. I would lie in bed and look out this nice big window by my bed. I’d keep watching for grass. Mother (MaryJane [née Vaughn] Spencer) would shake out the tablecloth on the snow. I would watch the birds come picking up crumbs that were dropped on the snow.

When I was a child, a sled as wide as the street was hitched to a couple of big horses. This sled swept the road of the snow. We used to have five feet snow storms! The people would be out plowing the road the minute the snow started until the snow stopped. Without plowing the roads, the snow on the road would have frozen and no one could even get out of their yard. Everybody got up and plowed their own driveway and then the road. If they wanted to get anywhere, they had to help plow the road.

The mailman came with horse and wagon. The buggy had a little top to keep you from getting wet or you could open it to get the sun (like a doll carriage-canvas to open it up or fold it over back). The mailman came by every day when I was little. My job was to go to the mailbox and get the mail. I was small and didn’t know enough to read.

I played with little stones by the house. I made a little fence and made a stove with stones. I would stand there and pack the stones and play for hours with the stones. I was always out in the yard, but I never went near the road.

The road was for the mailman and mail wagon.

Clara Tarbox would go by. They went down to the Village (Arctic) every day to get groceries or something.

Mother and I went down to Arctic every week to get groceries. Arctic used to be a nice place. Then a lot of hoodlums hung out in Arctic. You had to look out for yourself in your wagon. Mother would say “You stay right close to me now”.

Mother would go catch a horse, hitch the horse to the wagon and drive to Arctic. That was quite a job to go out in the yard and call “Prince”. Prince would come right away. Prince was afraid of hay loads. We tried to keep him away from hay loads. He was the only horse that was afraid of hay loads. When we got to Arctic, Mother would get out and put reins around the hitching post.

I would hang on to my mother’s clothes. Mother would go into the Bedards store. There was one little aisle or hall where I could see two little old ladies there. Mother always sat there and talked with them for a while. I sat there. I was quiet.

21 February 2004

Heather: Did you have any music lessons when you were on the farm?

Audrey: I took piano lessons until my teacher Lizzy died. She was a nice sweet lady. I had learned one scale but I couldn’t play fast. I felt so bad when she died. I didn’t have any other teacher. We had no way of getting anywhere.

Billy Tarbox always came down and played the organ and piano. He played The Last Rose of Summer.  He sang and played. He grew beautiful dahlias so we called him the Dahlia King. He always had a Sunday each year when he would decorate an iron chair with dahlias that he picked. Every Fall, he would dig them up and give (a bulb) to everybody to plant. The one who brought back the best Dahlia would be the winner. One year he had a doll within the dahlias. I couldn’t wait to see it. I had a plain old doll, the Dahlia Doll was beautiful and fancy and sitting there all summer for the winner to get.

We went to Rocky Hill Chapel and Hannah Barton was the head of the Church. Everyone had a horse and wagon and there was not enough space to park. When I went to Rocky Hill Chapel, my teacher was Hoxsie. She had three or four girls. She taught school and had played the organ. She played the piano in the Sunday school.

28 February 2004

Heather: What was the difference in ages between you and your brother and sister?

Audrey: When I was two years, Ed was eight years and Edith was sixteen years. Grandma had an awful time having children. She stayed in bed most of the nine months because she was afraid to lose me like she lost all of the others. When I was born, the doctor gave me a slap on the behind, and Grandma about died because she thought that was awful. The doctor had to slap me because I wasn’t going to breath. Grandma lost babies and had a hard time.

We (Edith, Ed and Audrey) seemed to be stronger. Other babies she lost. When I came along, Grandma was careful. When I was born, I had hair that was very dark. Grandma was very, very happy that I was alive. I was heavy as a baby. I think I was 10 pounds.

Your uncle Robert MacDonald weighed ounces when he was born, but when he grew up to be three hundred pounds. (whereas) I weighed ten pounds at birth but never weighed much more than a hundred pounds when I was an adult. It was just the opposite.

7 March 2004

Heather: Hello, Mother, what are your thoughts today?

 

Audrey: I couldn’t be better. It is sunny outside. The snow is gone. I’m all dressed with pink pants, white top and pink beads. We always have a hot cereal for breakfast.

(When I was a child) we had cornflakes every morning and Grandma (Mary Jane [née Vaughn] Spencer) made johnny cakes.

Being here (at Alpine Nursing Home) I look out my window and see all the action with trash collection, cars parking in the yard. Oh, an orange cat goes through the yard every so often. He has a collar on so someone is taking care of him.

(When I was a child on the farm) we had several cats in the barn, but only one cat in the house. Her name was Edna Meaow. Edith named her Edna because that was the name of a movie star. Aunt Edith was crazy about the movie stars. That’s all we had was the movies. There was no TV.

My cousins in Providence took me to the movies in Providence. There was no talking. There was just music, a woman was playing the piano down in the orchestra pit. My cousin read the printing on the screen to me until others complained so. The Kirby’s were my cousins. Aunt Martha, my mother’s sister, married Harry Kirby. Aunt Martha cooked a turkey dinner every Sunday.

Martha’s brother (brother-in-law) would come on Sunday and eat three meals. He was very heavy and stretched out the end of the couch. When he was younger, he dressed fine and met a woman who was well dressed. They got married and then found out neither one had money. They divorced because they couldn’t afford to live together. Martha knew he was a glutton. He was always dressed up.

I went to the Knotty Oak Church. Martha and Harry went to the city. Grandpa would drive Mother and me with the horse and wagon and then pick us up.  Aunt Rachel, Grandma’s younger sister, would make a meal for them. Aunt Rachel, she was a good cook.

7 March 2004

Heather: Did you know your grandparents on your mother’s side?

Audrey: I don’t remember seeing my mother’s father. I do remember walking around the coffin a number of times when I was very small and was just walking, and I knew my grandmother was there. The casket was in front of two big windows.

Oh, why does the song Solomon Levi keep going over and over in my head? That’s a Jewish name. I don’t remember.


10 April 2004

Heather: What do you have the artistic display stand opened to?

Audrey: The painting of the blue teapot and the pink rose.  Elise Gardner was the teacher when I painted the teapot and pink rose (watercolor).  She kept one picture of every artist that she had as a student.  She would have Exhibitions of Elise Gardner’s Student Artists.  She asked me if she could keep my drawing of a calf.  Of course, I said yes.

I had drawn a calf from the farm. I remember my father was standing there. The calf was sleeping, a little calf, all curled up and sleeps.  She liked my calf because it was different.  It was different because as a farmer then there were no artists.  Everybody (students at RISD) was from Providence. There were no farmers there.  They were all from Providence.  The little calf was just lying there. Grandpa was there looking at the calf.

8 May 2004

Heather: How did Grandma (MaryJane Vaughn Spencer) do all the washing as those overalls must have gotten really dirty?

Audrey: After a while, Grandma got a wooden washing machine. Then Grandma got a tin washing machine right away (as soon as they were for sale). (She would) carry pails of water and fill it (washing machine) with hot water. She had to push and pull. Then she got an electric one where she didn’t have to push and pull.

8 May 2004

Heather: How did Grandma [MaryJane (née Vaughn Spencer] prepare the meals, especially in the cold winters or the hot summers when there was no electricity on the farm?

 

MaryJane Vaughn Spencer

Audrey: We Yankees, we never ate anything bad. We had vegetables from the land. We had plain food from the ground.

Grandma had a can of milk that hung down the well. The can had a cover and a handle and hung down the well. The milk was nice and cold as it hung in the well. Grandma would reach down and pull it (milk container) up. She would reach it and put (pour) milk in her pitcher. Then, she would put the pitcher of cold milk on the table (as we sat down to the table). We had cold milk.

We would hang the ham on a hook in the cellar. As you go down the cellar, about two steps down, you could reach over to the top shelf for butter. Everybody put milk in the well in a can with a lid and handle, and put everything else in the cellar.

It wasn’t easy with the snow. We had the cows in the barn. They would run out and get right back in.

Mother would pay me a penny to take a swallow of milk. Mother would peel a raw potato and dip it in vinegar. The vinegar was in a saucer. I loved vinegar and raw potato. Nobody else liked it, but me. Mother had a hard time to get me to eat anything good. I was a skinny little thing. Every winter I was in bed. I had all those childhood diseases. I would lie in bed and look out the window and wait for the green grass and I’d know it was spring.

School was a mile from my house and when I went there, I had to walk. I think the name of the School was Middle Road School. I would walk through the field. Edith went to a different place in Washington. Ed went to school, but when he went to Anthony, he was happy to get out of that school and go to work.

(Looking out the window at Alpine Nursing Home) here is a nice yellow bird. Here’s two, they are so pretty. Grandma always shook the tablecloth out the window for the birds. Birds would come for the crumbs.

5 June 2004

Heather: Hello, Mother. Tell me more about life on the farm.

Audrey: They hung a can with a lid and handle down the well which was the only cold place in the summers. In the winter, we had a bench on the outside of the window sill. We set the can and food on the shelf outside the window. We just open the window and get food or can of milk.

Later we had a wooden ice box. The bottom half of the ice box was shelves for food and top of box goes up (lifts up) and put ice in the top.

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