This section is from the book "Hill's Manual Of Social And Business Forms: A Guide To Correct Writing", by Thos. E. Hill. Also available from Amazon: Hill's Manual Of Social And Business Forms: The How-To-Do-Everything Book Of Victorian America.
Cambridge, N. Y., June 18,1873. Dear Parents:
Agreeable to your request, I take the first opportunity, after my visit to the "old home" and a hurried call upon our relatives, to write you how I found the people and scenes that you knew so well in the days lang syne, and that I remember as a boy.
I arrived at Cambridge after a ninety minutes' ride from Troy. What a great change in traveling! When last I was here, it was a day's journey from Troy, by stage-coach. To-day, New York, in time, is nearer to our old home than Troy was then; and Troy, after traveling among the thriving, driving cities of the great West, seems like a way-side village, instead of the great metropolis that it once seemed to be; though it is a beautiful, growing, wealthy manufacturing city to-day, nevertheless. It is not that the villages and cities that we once knew grow less, but by observation and comparison we class them where they belong.
At Cambridge I secured a livery team for a three days' sojourn among the scenes of my boyhood. Up the Battenkill. Could it be that this was the great river in which my parents were in such constant fear of their boy being drowned? Was this the Mississippi of my childhood? Alas! that I had floated down the Ohio River to the real Mississippi, that I had been up the Missouri, two thousand miles from its mouth, and that I had navigated the Father of Waters from its fountain-head to its outlet in the Gulf of Mexico.
Had the Battenkill been drying up? Not at all. Though a brook, comparatively, there are the same milldams, the same trout-holes, and the same bending willows by its side; and the first to meet me among our old neighbors was uncle Nat., the same old jolly fisherman, returning from his daily piscatorial excursion, with a small string of trout. Uncle Nat. complains bitterly of the scarcity of fish at present in the river, caused, he says, by " them city chaps " from Troy, New York and Albany, who are in the habit of sojourning during the summer months in the hotels among the mountains hereabouts.
Stopping first at uncle Henry's, I visited the old homestead towards evening on the day of my arrival. Whatever may be said about the village and rivers growing smaller, it must certainly be admitted that the mountains, hills and rocks hold their own. Up there, on the hillside, was " the old house at home," which I had not seen for fifteen years. I went up the walk. There were the maples that I assisted father in planting, twenty years ago - great, spreading trees now. There was the same rosebush that mother and I cared for sixteen years ago. No other evidence of the flowers and shrubbery that mother so much delighted in remained about the premises.
I had learned that the place had passed into the hands of an Irishman named Sweeny, so I rapped at the front door, and was met by Mrs. S., from whom I obtained permission to stroll around the place. " Oh, yes," said the kind-hearted woman, " go all about, and when Mr. Swainy comes, he'll go wid ye."
So I strolled in the quiet evening hour, alone, among the scenes of my childhood, where we boys picked stones and played ball in the summer, and slid down hill and chopped firewood in the winter. The barn was the same old barn. I clambered to its old girtbeam, and sat looking down on the haymow where I had jumped, hundreds of times, into the hay below. I climbed to the box, close under the rafters, where we boys used to keep doves. The same box is there yet. I went down into the stables, where we hunted hens' eggs. Apparently, the same speckled hens are there now. And down around the barn are the same old maples, and willows beside the brook.
I went out to the fields. What immense tracts of land I thought these ten-acre fields, when I was a boy! The same orchards are there. The old Jones sweet-apple tree is dead, however, and none of the trees are looking thrifty. I took a drink from the upper spring, in the Barnes lot, which tasted just as cool as ever, and getting down on my hands and knees to drink seemed like old times. I saw a woodchuck and several squirrels, in my walk, and heard the same old caw, caw, of the crows, which brought back the past the most vividly of anything I had heard.
Returning, and looking through the house, I found almost everything changed. Two American and three Irish families had occupied it since we left, and they, evidently thinking that they would soon leave, did not pretend to make any improvements for their successors to enjoy. To sum up the description of the house - it has never been painted since we left; the dooryard fence is gone; the woodhouse has been removed; the outdoor cellar has caved in; the wagon-house leans so badly it is liable to fall over at any time; the house itself, in a few years, will go the way of the fences; and most of the outbuildings are already gone. Nearly every American family that once lived here has gone West; the population of the vicinity, at the present time, being largely made up of Irish. Another generation, and, it is probable, scarcely an American will be left to tell the tale. Though sorrowing to see the wreck of our old home, I am greatly enjoying the visit. The scenery is truly beautiful; though, unfortunately, the people here know nothing of its beauties, and it takes us some years on the level plains of the West to learn to appreciate it.
One thing must be said of the people here, however, especially the Americans that are left - they take their full measure of enjoyment. With continuous snow four months in the year, the winter is made up of sleighriding to parties and festal occasions; the sunshine of spring is the signal for maple-sugar-making, and sugaring-off parties; the hard work of summer is broken up by fishing, berrying, and frequent excursions to various parts of the country; the fall is characterized by apple-parings and corn-huskings; so that, with their maple sugar, berries, cream, trout, honey and pumpkin pies, they are about the best livers and happiest people I ever met. I never knew, till I returned, that they enjoyed themselves so well.
I will continue the record of my visit in my next.
ALFRED T. WEEKS.