Log Cabin Legends, Part II: Phyllis

Many of you may have read with interest the history (as much as we had found out so far) of Blue Belldon Farm, a few months ago. If you didn’t, you may want to look at it first, before reading this continuing saga of the family who was 50 % responsible for making it into the farm and farmhouse it is today. The link is here: http://www.bluebellmountainblog.wordpress.com/2016/11/22/log-cabin-legends-the-j-j-s-of-blue-belldon-farm/

This past week we finally got to meet 92 year old Phyllis, the last remaining of the first family whose children were born here when it was a log cabin.  By the time she was born (1925) her father had built the 3 original bedrooms upstairs (where Mom/Joy lives, before and afters of those at end of this posting) so she was born upstairs. However, as she can no longer do stairs, I asked to take a photo of her in the threshold of what was her father and mother’s original cabin (behind her, in what is now our bedroom) and the summer kitchen, (now the main kitchen) or what her Aunt Carrie ,who wrote the book with most of our information, called simply ‘the back shed’.

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Phyllis  (Jensen) Macdonald, age 92

Phyllis’ mother, Ida-May (Rasmussen) married Johannes Jensen, age 16, in 1918. A few years prior to this Johannes (John C. as he became known in the community) bought the little cabin from the original Danish settlers, ANOTHER family of Rasmussens, with 2 grown sons, who all moved to Maine. Johannes’ sisters (and Phyllis says he had MANY) came one at a time and kept house for him until he married young and beautiful Ida.  Sadly, Phyllis didn’t offer up any photos of her mother in her teen years or older, but according to the photo we have of her as a six year old (in Part I), and by all other accounts, she was lovely.

By the time they married, Johannes had added a summer kitchen, or shed, which went right up to the rafters.  He and Ida lived winters in just the one divided room (now our long bedroom). In the front was a small kitchen and sitting area by the stove, and in the back, under the loft, was their bedroom. Carrie remembers herself and her brother Hartman coming over to visit and going up the ladder to sleep on the floor of the loft, above her sister’s and brother-in-law’s heads.  The summer kitchen, which is now OUR kitchen, was used in good weather for eating, as the family could gather around a big table, and for cooking so the main part of the log cabin stayed cooler.  It was, of course, also the room for doing laundry and taking baths!

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Perhaps a better example of what their summer kitchen was probably like was this:

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as they apparently had a stove and not a fireplace for cooking out there.

The outside of the house at the time of Ida-May and Johanne’s marriage looked much like this:

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Phyllis doesn’t remember the tunnel to the barn, though she remembers it was mentioned “once or twice”. Apparently the first Rasmussens dug it, then Johanne decided he could walk the short distance to the barn, even in winter, and thus had it filled in?  As the first 2 children began to grow, Johanne raised the roof on the cabin and summer kitchen, made the summer kitchen a more permanent structure and all-year kitchen, with their bedroom above it, and the children’s bedrooms above the main log cabin (one room in what would have been the loft and the other beside it.  Phyllis remembers the ‘alcove’ or hall/landing having the big closet that is still there today, and she talks about the lovely hardwood floors there and in the bedrooms.  Luckily for us, no one ever put nasty carpeting in the 3 original bedrooms, and the floors were in excellent shape there. Also, happily, no one had ever painted the wainscoting or doorframes or original closet doors, as in so many old homes.  However, the stairs, which her father built, and the ‘alcove’ as she calls it (nearly a room in itself) had had 1960s indoor/outdoor carpeting put down and it was a hellacious job to get it all up, because of course the underpadding had cemented itself to the hardwood after all these decades!

orig-floor-plan

Mom/Joy did most of the tough work herself on the indoor/outdoor carpet, pitching in with just a scraper at first, and then Richard bought a heat gun which made the job a little faster, but not much.  While Mom was in Newfoundland visiting my sister and nephew (her only grandchild) in October, Richard and I stripped and then refinished the alcove and stairs so it is finally finished as close to possible as what Phyllis says is the original. (Although she lives just down the road, up the valley on the other side of us, Phyllis never visited this house in all the decades since she left, and I’m grateful that when she did peek at the stairs and wainscoting, it was exactly as she remembers it being when her father and mother had their renovations finished.  I expect she would have hated to see the carpeting!  Here are some before and afters, as always click on each to enlarge and read caption:

and the afters:

Phyllis remembers when she was about 3 or 4, her father putting in some more windows. When the two childrens’ bedrooms (one for the boys, one for the girls) at top each got their own window, it was a big deal for them, and at that time, what was the main part of the original log cabin (the winterized part), also got a new window, and it became the living room, or parlor. (Later, when the Pedersens  were here for many decades, through the 60s to the 2000s, it was the perfect spot for the dining room, once they’d made the addition to the whole house all out the back. Where our fireplace is now in our living room, Phyllis reckons is about where the original barn was, and under the living room, then, and along our hallway, was where the mysterious tunnel was!) Phyllis doesn’t remember having indoor plumbing here, so the dormer that is the upstairs’ bathroom (Mom’s) was added MUCH later, probably when Phyllis’s brother Lester took over the farm for his father.  And our bay window in what is now our bedroom was added in the late 1970s. It has by far the best view, and is a lovely place for a window seat and to sit in the morning sun.  Hard to believe there was NO window on that wall originally, until Johanne and Ida put the small one in. But then, windows let in bad cold in winter, and also there were still so many thick forests they might NOT have had a view! This is as close a facsimile as I can come up with of the family and the house when Ida had just had her last child and Phyllis was about 3 or 4. As there are apparently no real photos (Phyllis certainly doesn’t seem to have any that she remembers!) I’ve had to do some creative photoshopping!

1928-to-1916

Anyway, poor Ida!  She lost her own mother only a few months after she was married (Georgine was 41).  Then, after she had 5 children, she got very ill, when she was in her late 20s.  Neither her sister Carrie nor her own daughter Phyllis have really said with WHAT. Carrie doesn’t mention it, and Phyllis doesn’t remember it ever being spoken of, although her son Bliss mentioned that in her ‘better memory years’ she’d mentioned that her mother had very painful neuralgia.  As neither Georgine (Phyllis’s grandmother) nor Ida lived very long, but neither died in the no. 1 cause – childbirth! – I got wondering… One cause of neuralgia is M.S.  Phyllis had mentioned that one of her own daughters, just in her late 50s now, has very bad M.S., and I have wondered if perhaps all three generations of these women didn’t have it!  They did try hard to get treatment.  In Carrie’s book she remembers walking the long miles home from the schoolhouse, and being picked up in the wagon by the doctor, who’d driven all the way from Grand Falls. He knew her well, but didn’t say much on the ride home, and when she got there, hers and Ida’s mother (Phyllis’s grandmother) was already dying. Carrie CLAIMS she doesn’t remember her being sick at all prior to this, though, but she was taken to hospital and died there, in 1919, right after Ida-May had married Johannes and moved out!  Then Ida, ten years later, starting feeling unwell and sore all the time.  About 1929 or 1930, Phyllis thinks, she went by train to Montreal for treatments.  And here is why Phyllis is really struggling to remember as much as we’d hoped… At this point Phyllis and little Max were ‘farmed out’ to various relatives – mostly aunts- in the community. So, the older children were left in the care of Johannes, but the two youngest weren’t here much for the next several years.  We’re not sure which hospital in Montreal Ida was in for many weeks, but Phyllis said several times that she did have surgery – apparently she wrote some poetry before and after the surgery… ( I have some of hers written about her own mother, Georgine, and would someday like to see these others that Phyllis has. I love that her mother was a writer, and would sign her work with her initals, I.J., which are the same initials as my own grandmother, also a writer!)  The hospital was likely either the Royal Victoria ( aerial photo below in 1928, right at the time Ida might have been there!) or the oldest hospital in Montreal (started in the 1600s!) the Hotel Dieu.

 

 

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(above) Hospital ward of the Hotel Dieu in Montreal, early 1930s, when Ida would have been visiting.  My heart goes out to this young woman, who’d had to painfully go by train – with whom? Not Johannes, surely, as he’d have had the farm and the children… a sister? But Carrie never mentions going with her… Surely she didn’t go alone! And the lonely nights on that ward- is that when she wrote her poetry when she was so scared, and worried about her surgery, but perhaps hopeful it would ‘work’ for her???… So sad!

 

Obviously, whatever the surgery was for (and I’m determined to find this out someday, somehow – perhaps the little country community museum just up the road from us will cough up more info when it opens in the summer!) it didn’t work.  Poor Ida came back here to the farm, and after another year or so, a bed had to be set up for her back downstairs again (in what was originally hers and Johannes’ original corner of the log cabin, but had been changed to their living room! This is, of course, now OUR bedroom! So it’s had the most changes of any room in the house, though it’s got the original log walls from the 1880s sandwiched between the siding and the plastering.  It’s been: kitchen/bedroom with loft, then living room, then bedroom for Ida again, then living room, then dining room, and now our bedroom! Whew!)

So, Ida was in so much pain and was so weak (why?  MUST try and find this out somehow!  Seems crazy that her own sister didn’t write of it, despite many books, and that her own daughter doesn’t remember, but there it is!)  she could no longer make the stairs at night.  Phyllis remembers when she was 8, being brought to see her mother. She remembers standing at the side of her mother’s bed and her mother hugging her (must have been painful, physically and emotionally for Ida!) and her mother saying “Phyllis, do you want to stay over here with me tonight?” And Phyllis says she remembers very clearly not wanting to cry, and not understanding… and she just shook her head and went back home with her aunt.  She feels such guilt now, because she THINKS, though she isn’t positive, that her mother died the next day. Regardless, it was the last time 8 year old Phyllis SAW her mother. Obviously she feels guilty that she didn’t stay over with Ida-May that night, because it’s one of the very few really detailed memories she has of being here at all!

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Ida’s and Johannes’ gravestone, just up the hill at our two churches’ cemeteries.

 

Thus, Phyllis stayed with more aunts in and around this close-knit Danish community until she was about 10, it seems. Then she came back here to the farm “off and on” she says for a few years, but it sounds like she wasn’t really getting along with her older siblings who lived here permanently, NOR her father, and in her early teens she ‘ran away from home’. Her words, and that’s all she said about it, as she was getting upset.  Sometime I’ll ask her son more of what he remembers being told of this, originally, as I believe he knows more than he wanted to say in front of his Mom! Anyway, Phyllis went on to finish high school, and started teaching in the area right away (as they did back then – after a few years over in “California Settlement”, she did go to her one year of teachers’ college).  I’ve spoken to and read of MANY students who remember her as the best teacher they ever had. Her own son Bliss had her as teacher in Grades 1, 4,5 and 6 and he didn’t even mind!  Right below us, down in the valley (we can see it from here) is a little corner school that then became the Women’s Institute and is now Martha’s Place Antiques and Collectibles (in the good weather, and on weekends only).  This was one of the schools in which Phyllis taught, ironically just a stone’s throw from where she was born, and where her mother died.  But she never set foot back in this house again, apparently, until last Tuesday to come and visit us! (click on below photos to read captions)

Phyllis’ father, Johannes, raised the three older kids here at Blue Belldon and then his son Lester, who most liked farming, took over from him and raised HIS children here.  Then, in the 1950s, the Pedersens bought it, and just like Ida-May and Johannes – THEY had 5 children. But this time all girls!  We’ll be having dinner with a few of  them and their mother in the next month or so, and hope to have another whole era of history and building renovations to share here after we get some more facts. So exciting to have this kind of background, although we WERE disappointed that Phyllis couldn’t remember more. But she was such a little girl, and then essentially left her birthplace for good about age 6, becoming a foster child and tossed from household to household. So she’s got good reason not to remember as much about her early years as we’d hoped!

Here are some before and afters of the 3 original bedrooms upstairs, likely built between 1920 and 1922 by Johannes and Ida-May.  Click to enlarge and read captions.  Mom has left the wallpaper up in all 3 rooms from the Pedersen’s daughters’ choices, circa 1970s and 1980s, as it’s ‘farmhousie’ and, she thought, still bright and cheery.  The ‘yellow room’ was the room above the original summer kitchen which became Ida and Johannes’ room (it’s the only one with a closet, and is slightly longer than the others. It’s also likely the room in which Phyllis and her siblings were born.  )  The one bedroom that’s attached to the bathroom (which is in the dormer, an addition long after Phyllis’ time) is Mom’s kitchenette now, and the other is her Loom Room.

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Before of yellow room, with the furniture that was in it before we purchased the house
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After: The ‘yellow room’, which was the parents’ room, Johannes and Ida’s. This is Mom’s guest room now. We travelled 4 hours to go and get this furniture from a resort that was remodelling.
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One of the two original ‘children’s rooms’. Either the boys or the girls’ room – with furniture in it from prior to us purchasing the house.
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This is now Mom’s Loom Room, and she has her drop leaf dining room table in there too and is braiding a rug on it for my sister (see postings from December)

 

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This, Phyllis thinks, was the girls’ room when she had her first 6 or 7 years of life here. The people we bought if from just had it as an exercise room.
moms-kitchen
after: it is now Mom’s lovely kitchenette. She has great views out both this room, and out the Loom Room windows, looking across the valley, down to the school that Phyllis once taught in, and over to Blue Bell Mountain. She didn’t like the antiques Martha’s Place had to offer for shelves and an island, though, so she got these ‘flat packs’ and put them together herself! Although, the kitchen counter and cupboards to the right on the wall are our recycled laundry room cabinets that were hung way up on the wall. (See posting of our bathroom renovation for the befores of those!)

 

To finish this posting, I’d like to add Ida’s own writing,  and all I have are these two tributes to her own mother (and Carrie’s, who saved and published them). She wrote these a few months after Georgine Rasmussen, their mother, died age 41 , which was just a few months after Ida married and came here to live (and die, age 33) . These were written, thusly, IN THIS VERY HOUSE,  in 1919, very nearly 100 years ago:

A Mother:

A mother is the dearest friend, God ever gave to man, For others often do forget, But mothers never can.    I.M.J.

We have so many friends we love,And they may love us too, But mother dear, there never was, A better friend than you.       I.M.J.

 

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