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Sister Mary Felicitas, R.S.M.
Republished by Kellscraft Studio
Originally printed by the
Museum of Pok-O-Moonshine
I was born in 1880 so have lived through the “good old days” which are my memories now. A friend said to me a few years ago, “Why don’t you record these things. Your generation will soon be gone and there will be no one who remembers,” so that is how my memories came into existence.
Leila M. Wells
Essex, New York
One lovely afternoon in February, I enjoyed a fifty mile trip to Lake Placid to visit my granddaughter. It took about an hour in one of the new automobiles.
As I journeyed I thought of the difference in travel from my grandmothers’ day to the present time.
It would have taken my grandparents more days for the trip than the hours which it took me.
When grandmother went to town or to visit a neighbor she went on a farm wagon drawn by a yoke of oxen. There was a long board placed on the front and rear axles, a chain was fastened to the axles for her feet to rest upon and a rope was strung from stakes for her back and for her to hang onto so she wouldn’t lose her balance and fall. Sometimes they used the wagon box with a chair in it or it had straw for her to sit on. This was used if they were “going to the store.” Grandmother didn’t go shopping every week like her granddaughter does.
How proud the family was when a horse was brought home hitched to a “democrat” wagon. This wagon had no springs and a short reach between the axles so was not much easier riding than the farm wagon but the horse was faster than the oxen so it shortened the time on the road.
After the “democrat” came the “buck board.” So called because the “reach” was longer and gave some spring to the seat, especially if the occupants were heavy people like both my grandparents.
Later came the carriage. This was quite elegant as it had a “top” that would fold down and especially if it had hard rubber tires. Then there was the buggy. I don’t know why it was so called. Then the family wagon with two or three seats and a canopy top called a surrey.
I mustn’t forget to mention the stagecoach or “tally ho” which was enclosed with doors on either side with space and seats on top for six or eight passengers or for baggage.
It was wonderful for us children to watch the “tally ho” go by with the horses on the run and the horn blowing. This was the way they entered the main Street of Lake Placid in the 1880’s. Sometimes there were four horses hitched to the stagecoach.
It has been most interesting to watch the improvements in the automobile from the beginning of the century to the present day.
The change in our highways has been as great as the change from the ox wagon to the present automobile.
When my father was a boy his father was commissioned to survey and build a road past the Cascade Lakes, which would shorten the route between Keene and Lake Placid.
As a child I remember riding over that road when it was so narrow that teams couldn’t pass each other only at the “turning put” places. Now it is a two lane highway.
Most of the roads now are hard surface. The owners of the first automobiles had to leave them in the barn after the first snow fall and until the mud was dried up in the spring. There were no snow plows then nor sanders.
falls, the farmers would hitch their teams to their heavy sleighs and
board to one side of the back sled and plow the roads themselves.
the roads were badly drifted they’d take down a portion of
through the fields around the drifted portion of the road. Those were
(By Mrs. Thomas J. Wells) Leila M. Wells
Did you ever hear someone say, “You must be wool gathering?”
Everyone knows that wool comes from sheep, and raising and caring for sheep is the oldest occupation of man. Cloth made from wool is the oldest fabric.
The sheep of today is so different from the sheep of Bible time as to be almost a different animal except that its coat is still wool. Even in the years of my remembering there have been improvements in the size of sheep and in the grade of wool.
Shepherds watched their flocks by night lest even one little lamb should go astray.
The sheep’s wool grows during most of the year and gets long and thick during the cold weather, but when it gets warm the wool loosens from the skin and is easily pulled loose and comes away, otherwise the poor animal would be very uncomfortable as the summer gets warmer.
Now-a-days the wool is clipped off with electric shears, rolled into bundles and sold to dealers. Years and years ago the early shepherds had no shears with which to clip their flocks so each sheep was plucked or picked as its wool loosened. Those who didn’t own sheep used to go around the pastures gathering the wool from the bushes where it had been pulled out as the sheep went through, wandering from one place to another and thus came the expression “wool gathering.”
As a child I remember when grandfather “sheared the sheep.” It was a warm day the later part of May. Each sheep was caught and held while a man with a pair of “sheep shears” (similar to our present day grass shears) started in on the front legs and cut the wool off close to the skin all over the sheep and how bare and funny it looked when let run. Often the poor little lambs didn’t know their own mothers.
Grandfather sold most of the wool but always kept several fleeces for family use. He always kept at least one black sheep whose fleece made gray yarn that didn’t have to be dyed and Grandmother used that for socks for her men folks.
After the “shearing” the women took care of the wool that wasn’t sold. First it had to be washed, then dried, and I’ve spent hours helping “pick” it as it was always matted together after the washing. Grandfather then took it to the “carding” mill where it was made into “rolls” for spinning. Sometimes Grandmother carded it herself into ‘batts” to be used as filler for new quilts.
Her spinning wheel was different from any other I ever saw as she could sit down and the “head” swung out and back instead of being stationary like the other spinning wheels where the spinner had to walk up and back.
The first yarn was spun very fine and generally two strands were twisted together for knitting socks and stockings and mittens. Only one strand was used in weaving cloth. “Great-grandma” had a loom in her kitchen and I remember seeing her weave material for Grandfather’s shirts. It was even check, yellow (“copperas”) and blue. Later the loom was used for weaving rag carpets and rugs.
A big yellow school bus has just gone by my house having left about a dozen boys and girls on the corner near by. Not one of them will walk but a short distance.
School is so different from my school days. I wonder if the children ever think how school might have been in their grandparents’ days.
When I began going to school back in the 1880’s I had to walk at least one and a half miles to the “old red school house” where all grades (grades were unknown then) were taught and as I was one of the little ones, I was left mostly to myself. No “busy work” or anything interesting to do.
The teacher believed in the “hickory stick” method and maybe he had to as some of the pupils were as tall as he. I was as afraid of him as I was of the travelling bears that came to our village every summer.
After a year or two in that school, a teacher named Mrs. Mary Stickney opened a “select” school in the top story of a boat house and the parents paid a set price for each child.
She was a good teacher and I began to like school and to learn. Her only fault, as I decided later, was that she had favorites — her two daughters and my younger sister.
She was a beautiful penman and we had regular writing lessons in home-made writing books with copies written by her. “Every line and every letter, try to write a little better” was one.
My next school was a new one room one built across the road from my home so I didn’t have to walk very far. It was taught by a William Barker who later became a Baptist minister and was stationed at Elizabethtown for several years.
My schools until I became a teacher, were mostly one room district ones and even as a teacher I had the one room schools and taught all the grades.
Grades were originated after I began teaching. Before that a pupil could be doing 5th grade arithmetic and 8th grade reading and history. Social studies was unheard of.
One of my teachers was an old man who had once been a school superintendent and his hobbies were arithmetic and “grammar” (English). If he finished the regular schedule a little before four o’clock (the usual closing time) he would say, “Let’s add a little bit,” and put a column of figures on the blackboard. Diagramming was the next favorite and I’ve seen sentences from our 5th grade reader that covered half the blackboard space. Diagramming is a lost art now.
At recess and noon we played games. “One old Cat” was a game for three, “two old cats” took four. This was a ball game. The smaller children played “Drop the handkerchief” or “Ring around the rosie.”
children like to be in school from 9 until 4 with no electric lights or
today’s “necessities” and have to walk to
“Jolly old winter has pleasures for me.” Each season has its special joys and pleasures. Just as I could hardly wait in the spring for a certain apple tree to blossom, so I could go barefoot, so it seemed that snow and ice would never come so that I could skate and slide down hill.
I loved to slide and I’ve slid on about everything except skiis, which were not in existence in my sliding days. A barrel stave was the nearest to a ski in my childhood.
Tho “babysitters” were unknown when I was small, I remember several times when a relative was available that my parents went tobogganning with other young people. We were living in Lake Placid then and the sliding parties were held on Steven’s Hill. From the top of the hill the toboggans would go nearly to the opposite side of Mirror Lake.
The summer before I was seven, my sister and I saved our pennies and when winter came we bought a sled. It had a little girl painted on the blue top so we called it Marjorie Daw. We were still sliding on it years later whenever there was a crust and we were home from our schools, over the weekends. We’d get up early in the morning and go out for about an hour of fun. Each took a sled but I usually took the toboggan. Once in a while one of my sisters would feel brave enough to take a slide with me. Our “bobs” were two sleds held together by a long plank. Sometimes the sleds were owned by two different boys and the plank was removable. It was a long way from the “bobs” used on the Olympic runs, as ours had no brakes and no steering gear, except the rope and the steerer’s feet. The ride down the hill was fun but the hike back with the heavy bobs was not so funny. Each slider was supposed to lend a hand during the return.
It’s too bad that cameras were so rare in those days as pictures of our loaded bobs would be very interesting now, as we didn’t have the sports clothes that are the “must” of today. There were no rails for our feet so each had to hold the feet of the one behind him on the plank except for the steerer, so no one really wanted to be second on the plank as he was responsible for his own feet as well as those of the one behind him.
The nearest thing to the present “Flying Saucer” was an old wooden butter bowl. These butter bowls are not available now as what few are still around in some antique shop and priced sky-high. I never had slid in a Flying Saucer but in an old bowl one goes round and round until the bottom of the hill is reached and then one has to sit for a while until his head clears. A tin pan was sometimes used as a substitute for the bowl. An old shovel of any kind gives one a thrill. After the toboggan I think I enjoyed the “skipper” next best. What’s a skipper? It was made from a barrel stave, a block of wood about a foot high and a small piece of board for the seat. One needed to have perfect balance to make a successful descent, but it was thrilling, at least I found it so.
We used to have skipper races to see whose skipper went the fastest, as nearly everyone had one and some boys had several. Sometimes two staves were fastened together and some of the skippers were fastened together. Sometimes two staves were fastened together and some of the skippers were made of four staves, two on top and two on the bottom and these didn’t need the block of wood and the board. These were used more like a toboggan, but only one could slide on it at a time.
Our dog, Dixie, loved to go sliding with us, but we didn’t enjoy her company so much, as she’d grab us by the cap or sleeve and drag us off the sled, as she seemed to fear we would get hurt.
Father thought we shouldn’t learn to skate until we were ten years old but I cheated. My brother was older than I so when he was tired of skating, he’d let me take his skates. There was a small depression in our lawn and each winter we lugged water to fill it and make a place to skate. Here we learned to avoid disaster by all of us going in the same direction. As we entered our teens we were allowed to attend skating parties on the village mill pond. Generally a bonfire was built on the shore and when tired of skating, we’d gather round it and sing the popular songs.
Charcoal! What thoughts come to your mind at the mention of this word? Delicious steaks and barbecues? Neat little blocks in a paper sack bought at the store?
To me the word brings memories of my grandfather and “the boys” (my two oldest uncles) and my father, all of them grimmy and smelling strongly of smoke.
It wasn’t until I was in my early twenties that I learned more about it and what “burning charcoal” really meant. I was teaching in a country district where that was one of the sources of income and was invited to spend a Saturday in the woods watching the process.
There were no chain saws then so the cutting of the trees was done mostly with an ax and a bucksaw, or a cross-cut saw was used to cut the trees into four-foot lengths.
When the trees had been made ready, the men started “making the pit.” I never could learn why it was called a pit for the pieces were stood on end, four or five at first and then a row of sticks around them and more rows around until the base was about fifteen or eighteen feet across. Then another tier was built in the same way on top of the first. When this was finished it was covered with evergreen branches and then about a foot of dirt was packed on until the whole looked like an Eskimo’s igloo. A small opening was left in the top for the smoke to come out and small openings at different places at the bottom where the fire was started. This had to be watched constantly so that it would burn slowly and not go up in a glorious bonfire. If a blaze started, more dirt was put on. It took several days of slow burning and Constant watching for the wood to reach the right stage for “drawing.” Drawing consisted of first closing all drafts and the slow dying of the fire, then the uncovering and raking which had to be done slowly so as not to start the fire in case a spark was left.
Finally the charcoal was bagged in burlap bags and drawn in farm-wagons to market.
At that time charcoal was used in summer hotels and blacksmiths’ forges but in my first memories it was used in iron smelters and forges. Grandfather’s charcoal was drawn by ox team to the iron works at Black Brook. Father used to time our visits to “Grandpa’s” so as to be there to help him when he needed more than “the boys,” which was generally during the burning when someone had to watch day and night.
Charcoal-burning used the timber that now goes into pulp wood. The tops and limbs too small for charcoal sticks are used for fire wood. The peculiar odor of the smoke is always associated with my grandfather’s home.
“When the swallows come to the barns it’s time to plant the corn.”
Planting corn has changed since I was a little girl on the farm, like all farm operations.
There were no riding implements in those days and the farmer walked miles each day as he guided the plow and then “dragged” the field to prepare it for planting.
When the field was considered ready for planting it was cross-marked by two men who carried a long pole with three or four chains attached, three feet apart, dragging so as to mark the place for the hills. Some farmers had an idea that the marker could be drawn by a horse so one man could do the marking. This marking was necessary as an aid to the cultivation of the growing corn.
After the field was marked both ways, it was ready for the planting which was done on Saturday if possible so the children could help — one child to each adult.
The man would dig a hole with a hoe and the child would drop the kernels into it and then dirt was hoed over it and generally given a pat with the hoe or was stepped on to firm the soil over the corn.
the usual number put into each hill.
One for the crow,
One for the woodchuck
And two to grow.”
And as soon as a child could count to five he was considered old enough to help. He carried the corn in a small pail. If no child were available, the man had a canvas pouch tied around his waist and counted out the kernels with his left hand while using the hoe with his right.
Before a horse drawn cultivator was invented, the weeds were cut down with a hoe, several times through the growing season.
When the corn had ripened it was cut by hand with a tool called a “corn cutter,” laid in bundles and tied either with withes of twisted grass or binder’s twine. Then set up several bundles together in “stooks.”
When twine was used it was cut into the right length for tying, and carried, generally by being drawn through the suspenders (an unknown article today when belts are the main support of a man’s trousers) of the binder.
The stooks were left in the fields for several weeks to dry out. When dried they were brought into the barn for husking out the ears of corn. Sometimes if the weather was good the husking was done in the field.
A “huskingpin” was used for the easier opening of the husks. This was generally a pencil shaped piece of wood a little less than an inch in diameter and six inches in length with a leather loop in the middle which slipped over the middle finger to hold it in place whenever the hand was opened.
Often a “husking bee” was held if the farmer had a large barn and lots of corn to be husked. This was an occasion for a “frolic” and the girls joined in the work and the fun and sometimes there was competitions to see which couple could husk the most corn.
A red ear earned a kiss for the husker.
New cider and doughnuts were the refreshments.
The Indians grew corn (maise) before the Englishmen came to America and taught them how to grow and use it.
Hominy, grits, samp, and corn meal are all corn products.
“Hulled” corn used to be a great treat. Lye obtained from wood ashes used for soaking the corn until the hull and eye could be rubbed off easily and then the corn was washed in several waters until no hulls and eyes remained. This corn was similar to today’s hominy or samp.
My mother used to make a large amount of this each winter and kept it frozen in a crock in an outside room, bringing in whatever she thought was needed for a meal. Sometimes it was served with milk and sugar as a cereal. Popcorn has always been as popular as it is now although we never had it in such variety.
Nearly every home had a “corn popper.” This was a rectangular wire box with a tin lid on a long wooden handle. If not one of these as substitute a “Spider” or kettle was used. When a spider or kettle was used it was possible to put butter and salt into the corn as it popped.
A small family sized popper was invented after electricity became used more generally.
(By Mrs. Thomas J. Wells) Leila M. Wells
Did you ever eat maple sugar, maple fudge or syrup? And did you ever wonder where such delicious flavor was found? It’s truly American.
The Indians were the discoverers of this deliciousness and taught it to the early settlers of New England and New York. How did they discover it? Thereby hangs a tale. The story goes, so I’ve been told, that some Indians were on a hunting trip and cut a maple tree for their camp fire and noticed the drip of what they thought was water from a cut in the tree, and, as water wasn’t too plentiful, they placed one of their dishes under it and caught quite a little. Some brave tasted it and found how sweet it was and when they used some of it for cooking they discovered that it became sweeter so when they returned home they tried boiling it and discovered syrup. I don’t know if they or the Pilgrims were the real discoverers of the final process that produced the sugar but it probably was accidental also. Perhaps some housewife neglected to take the syrup off the fire at the right time and it “sugared off” as the expression goes.
There have been many improvements in the process of maple sugar making even since my earliest memories of it. At first the sap was boiled in a large brass or iron kettle out of doors and was “finished off” in a smaller one in the house as syrup or sugar.
One of my earliest memories is of the time my mother, my brother and I went into the sugar bush to spend the night. At that time sugaring had advanced to the stage where it was no longer just a family means of obtaining sweetening for pies and cakes and apple sauce.
“Sugaring off” was an occasion for a party. The boiled-down syrup was poured on the snow to cool and the “wax” was the most delicious thing ever tasted. That was the way the maker knew when the right stage for sugar was reached. “Soft sugar” was poured into tubs to be used later. “Hard sugar” was put into tins or molds and sold to the “city people” during the summer.
My father had a large “sugar orchard,” as it’s now called, several miles from home so he had a “shanty” where he boiled the sap in a large pan instead of a kettle and had a bunk where he could sleep when he didn’t have to feed the fire or add more sap to the pan.
Sugaring generally started in March and continued for five or six weeks or until the leaf buds started to grow. During the early part of March preparations started by getting the buckets and spouts ready. Now-a-days these are purchased but at that time they were hand made. The spouts were made from sumac branches about an inch in diameter and cut six inches long. One end was whittled down to fit a three-quarter inch hole. About half way of the stick, a sawing was made to the center of the stick and that half was split off. A wire was used to push the pith out. When the spout was driven into a hole in the tree the sap would come through and drop into a bucket placed underneath.
The buckets were hand-made of wooden staves. I’ve watched my father make them, and years later I visited the same sugar bush and saw the buckets and sap yoke that he had made.
Gathering sap was different then from now, when it is done with a large tank on a sled drawn by horses. Then it was done by men emptying the smaller buckets into two larger ones which were carried on a yoke across the shoulders. When the large buckets were full, they were carried to the shanty where they were emptied into storage barrels and the man went back for more. Sometimes he had to carry his load quite a distance, so he walked miles through the snow and slush as sap runs only when the temperature is above freezing.
Leila M. Wells
When you put butter on your bread or toast, do you ever think what it is, where it comes from and how it is made?
Butter comes from cream, cream comes from milk and milk comes from a cow. A farmer cares for the cow, feeds her and milks her but now-a-day, he does not make the butter as in the days long past.
Years ago nearly every family owned a cow even though they had very little land. The cow was pastured generally in a community lot and either milked at the pasture bars or brought to the home barn.
The milk was strained through “cheese cloth” into shallow pans and set on shelves, either in the pantry or cellar for the cream to rise. After about twenty-four or thirty-six hours the cream was skimmed off with a tin skimmer. This was an instrument with holes in it so the milk would run through as the cream would be too thick to go through.
When enough cream had been accumulated it was put into an earthen jar called a “churn”. The cover had a hole in it so the “dash” handle could come through and be worked up and down, keeping the cream in motion until the butter formed in small particles. These particles were skimmed out into a butter bowl (a large wooden bowl) and water added to wash out whatever milk was left in. Generally two different waters were used and a ladle was used to agitate the butter particles and wash out the milk. Then the salt was added, about an ounce of salt to a pound of butter, and thoroughly worked in so that the butter wouldn’t be streaked.
Then it was made into balls for the table or packed in earthen jars or wooden tubs for market.
A childhood treat was when my grandmother would put a pan of sour or “labbard” milk in front of me and sprinkle it with brown sugar. “Delicious” in my estimation.
Making butter was our chief source of income when we were first married.
We had a small “separator” so we didn’t use pans and we had one of the new churns a barrel set in a frame and turned end to end by a hand crank.
We had regular customers and packed the butter in earthen jars, holding from five to ten pounds and if we received over twenty-five cents a pound we thought it wonderful.
Butter now comes from large factories, wrapped in waxed paper in one pound packages and tastes like money.
In olden times if the butter was slow in breaking, a fire poker was heated red hot and thrust into the churn to “burn the intch.” This raised the temperature of the cream which was just what was needed. Cold cream was slow to turn into butter.
In olden times when the butter in winter didn’t have the bright color of June, the butter-maker used the juice of grated carrots for coloring. Later a coloring was obtainable at the village store.
“Don’t fence me in” are the words in an old song, so fences have existed for ages and there are many kinds for many uses.
The early settlers used what was available such as stumps, rails and stones.
The stump fences that remain today are really quite unique and pretty.
That was one way that the early pioneers could make use of what was on hand and what today is destroyed was then used. They served two purposes, cleared the land and fenced it at the same time.
As so many of the farms were stony, the stone fences or walls as they were called, also served these two purposes. Many of them have disappeared now as they have been used for house and barn foundations and as sub-bases for many of the new roads.
Rail fences came next and they were of two kinds, those laid zig-zag and those laid straight with their ends through holes in a larger rail driven into the ground. These fences took up less room than the zig-zag ones and it was easier to keep the fence row clean of briars and brush.
Then came the barbed wire fences and later still the woven wire ones.
Ornamental fences were used in villages and around lawns and gardens.
Some of the fancy iron work fences are still found and the white picket fences are being built now-a-days more as a decoration than for a practical use.
doing away with the old types of fences and are using the one strand of
which carries electricity and one contact with the fence is sufficient
the animals to avoid it.
I’ve just returned home from the laundromat and I couldn’t help thinking how it would seem to do my laundry the way my grandmother did hers or even as my mother did.
I remember watching my grandmother do her washing one summer day when I was seven or eight years old.
First my uncle filled a large iron kettle from the brook near the “wash place” which was a little way from the back of the house, near the brook and under some trees.
The kettle was set on three or four large stones and a fire was built under it. When the water was hot, some of it was put into a large wooden “wash tub” which set on a bench near by. Into this Grandma put the sheets and pillow slips after adding a generous amount of soft soap and then she put in the “rub board” and proceeded to give each article a good rubbing.
After each article was rubbed it was dropped into the big kettle and boiled.
After each article had been rubbed and boiled it was rinsed in several waters from the brook and spread on the grass to dry. The colored clothing was not boiled but was rubbed extra and spread on the bushes to dry.
Mother’s washings were similar only her wash water was heated on the kitchen stove in a “boiler.” This was a tin or copper, oblong vessel with a cover And she had a “pound barrel” and “pounder.” The barrel was hard wood and the clothes were pounded with an article similar to the old dasher of a churn until someone invented a pounder with a spring. Some “pounders” were blocks of wood about six inches across and ten inches high, fastened to an old broom stick.
The first washing machines were open tubs with a corrugated lining and a semi-circle rub board and was hand operated. Only a few articles could be washed at a time in them. The closed tubs came soon after and were still hand operated. Then someone invented one that could be operated by a dog or goat in a tread mill attached to the wheel of the machine by a leather band.
Grandma wrung her clothes by hand but Mother had a wringer which was a great help, both in time and strain on the clothes.
There used to be considerable competition to see which woman would get her clothes on the line first on Monday morning. And if you didn’t wash on Monday you were considered a poor housekeeper. One woman remarked that she couldn’t wash or iron and be a Christian all in one day.
The ironing was done with flat-irons heated on the kitchen stove and usually consisted of a set of three — two heated while one was used. A collection of old flat irons, as they were called, makes an interesting exhibit at any antique show.
BEARS AND MONKEYS
When I was a child the coming of the bear was looked forward to with both fear and anticipation.
When the word spread that the bear was coming I generally ran for the house but curiosity soon overcame my fear and I joined the other children on the side of the road.
Generally there were two men, dirty and unkept, with the bear which was black or brown (cinnamon) lead by a chain fastened to the collar. One man lead the bear and the other man followed with a prod with a sharp point.
When a crowd had gathered the bear was made to dance while one of the men sang “Tarry-ta-roon, ta roon ta ray” over and over.
Then the men would shout “Twenty-five cents to see the bear climb the telephone pole.” Someone was always willing to part with the hard earned quarter.
The men and bear usually spent the night in some farmer’s barn.
The last travelling bear that I remember seeing appeared one morning just as breakfast was being served at the now vanished Hunter’s Home in New Russia. Not one of the boarders or help missed the sight. This was the summer of 1906.
Another event which occurred each summer but was looked for with great anticipation was the coming of the organ grinder hand organ man and his little monkey, Jocko.
Jocko wore a little red jacket and did so many amusing things that the organ grinder usually resembled “The Pied Piper of Hamlin,” as he went along the street.
The children nearly emptied their “piggy banks” to put money into Jocko’s little tin cup. Whenever he received a few pennies he’d climb onto the man’s shoulder and empty them into the man’s hand.
The organ was an oblong box which the man carried on a strap around his neck. It had a crank on the right side which he turned to produce the music and a movable leg which was let down to help hold the organ while the crank was being turned. Oh! The joys and pleasures of childhood.