Old Bergen

Chapter LVII.

Daniel Van Winkle

Published 1902

Web version, edited by GET NJ
Copyright 2002

THE houses of the olden times were low, one-story buildings, with peaked roof, facing and along the line of the street, with a wide hall running through the middle of the house and closed at the front with a divided door. This door was shaded by a small porch with side seats, a most convenient place for the assembling of neighbors, when making friendly calls or discussing any matters of general interest. There are very few houses of the old type remaining, and these have been so changed and modernized that the old homes are not what they used to be.

The wide hall was in the summer time the living room of the family, and here could be found the busy housewife, with carding or spinning-wheel, adding to her household stores, and ever and anon touching with her foot the great mahogany rocker that had soothed the restlessness of former generations, while the old grandmother sat nodding and dozing in her easy chair, or teaching the youngsters the mysteries of patchwork, or narrowing down the stocking heel, or perhaps guiding the clumsy fingers over the artistic and muchprized sampler.

The old patriarch of the family sat near-by, dandling on his knee mayhap the great-grandchild, to the rhythmical cadence of:

Trippe trop a tronches, Varkes in the vouches,
Couches in the clawver, Pearches in the hawver,
Calfes in the long a gras, Anches in the wasser plos,
And the clina young-a, so groat wass.

Grandfather's clock ticked noisily in the corner, with Luna's fair face peeping over the dial and markingthe quarters with a shameless irregularity, while the upper half-door stood hospitably open as if inviting the passerby to join in the friendly chat or harmless gossip.

Opening into the hall were the sleeping rooms on the one side, and the parlor on the other, the latter seldom opened, except in case of marriage or death, or for the periodical cleaning, when after a thorough sweeping and dusting, it was again closed until some special ceremony required its opening. Sometimes in the rear of the parlor was the guest chamber, with its high-post bedstead, draped and festooned with highly colored valances, profusely fringed. The warming pan stood in the corner, and was a most welcome adjunct in those days of frigid rooms; for, filled with hot embers from the kitchen fire, it was passed between the icy sheets, imparting a delightful warmth that was most grateful to the half-frozen guest, as with acrobatic feat, he plunged into the billowy feather bed and disappeared.

But the glory of the old home was the kitchen, with its great fire-place, laughing with wide-open hospitality, extending across the entire width, with immense chimneys, in which the meats were sometimes smoked ; the great back-log sputtered with its pungent smoke curling lazily upward, flanked and overhung with pothooks and trammels, suspending over the fire the pots and kettles which simmered with the noon-day meal; and on the side was the pot of supporn, with dish and spoon always ready for the hungry wayfarer, or whoever chose to partake.

Near by the cavernous oven gaped yawningly, as if eager to swallow the luscious pies and calves prepared by the good housewife as her weekly contributions towards the domestic economy. Sometimes the neighbors gathered with the family on some stormy afternoon, and plates of rosy-cheeked apples and toothsome nuts, washed down with copious draughts of cider, increased the comfort and good cheer. And then what an inviting place the kitchen was on winter evenings for the family gathering, while oftentimes the wail of the Storm King about the wide chimsey tops formed a weird accompaniment to the evening hymns so often sung; or perhaps at nightfall the little ones were gathered about the mother's knee, and by the fitful blaze of the wood fire or flickering candle flame, the Bible stories from scenes depicted on the tiling about the fire place were told.

Nor must the great garret, extending over the whole house, with its nooks, and corners, peopled with the shadowy forms of long ago, be forgotten. This was indeed the store-house of the family. Piles of apples and nuts occupied the corners, and from the rafters were festooned strings of red peppers, clusters of seed corn, and bunches of dried herbs, filling the air with their spicy aroma, while tables bearing dozens of mince and pumpkin pies were overhung with strings of sausage.

At the end of the house was the home garden, usually superintended by the auntie, which was filled with a profusion of old-fashioned blumechas; four o'clocks and tulips, ragged sailors and poppies, banked with the blooming peony and stately dahlia, with the sweet-smelling syringa and lilac in the background, while the ever-present boxtree lent a sombre shade to the coloring. The fragrant mint and sweet marjoram, the savory sage, the pungent thyme, and the soothing lavender, mingled their odors in the air, the memory of which turns back the wheels of time and blots out all the intervening years.

The furniture was chosen and designed for its fitness and durability, the truth of which is proven by the fact that although made more than two centuries ago, there are specimens of this furniture gracing the drawing-rooms of the present day in a better state of preservation than articles of much more modern manufacture. Everything was kept scrupulously clean, and the good housewife displayed with pride the shining array of pots and pans upon her kitchen dressers, while the well scrubbed floor, ornamented in the early days with the strip of bright-colored carpet, was an object of housewifely pride.