Eloise Evans McIvor

From Salt Run Publishing: Much love and thanks to Bobbi McIvor Ryder, for allowing us the privilege of bringing her mother’s beloved memories back to life.

Child of the Homesteads: A lovely memoir of growing up in early twentieth-century Idaho. Coming early 2015.

Child of the Homesteads cover

Original Child of the Homesteads 1993 cover image.

In our house, my earliest memories include Mama’s piano, and how wonderfully happy her music always made me feel. Family singing, joking, and good-natured teasing were part of the atmosphere of that small house; as were the good smells of cooking, especially homemade bread. The snow sifted in around the doors in winter, but we were warmed with a wood fire in the cookstove, or an air-tight heater, or both. There were well-read books, and the Idaho Farmer, and a few magazines.

Also, winter was memorable because Grandpa Evans would come and stay longer than he could in the summer. All through my childhood I remember Papa and his father and brother in seemingly endless discussions about the Bible, farming, or affairs of Idaho, the nation, or the world.

My mother’s family had homesteads on Smith’s Prairie also, though on the other side of the school section. We did not see them so often, so visits to or from Grandma and Grandpa Bower, Mama’s eight brothers and two married sisters, were more filled with adventure because of that.

When I was learning to count, I practiced counting the steps up toward the bedrooms. There were six steps, and then a square platform. The floor of this platform was really a lid, which opened up a big black hole. Down there were all the outworn shoes from our family, and Papa’s shoemaking tools. The time came when I went down willingly to hand up his awl and last, and whatever else he needed to mend shoes and harness; but the first time Papa helped me into that big black hole was a shivery experience.

The stairs turned at the platform and there were twelve more steps, and at the head of the stairs, a place for my dolls. The window in the gable end lighted it clear to the corner where roof and rafters met the upstairs floor. It was almost a dollhouse itself, that little domain of mine.

A railing protected the edge of the upstairs from the steps, and if I walked along this railing I came, first, to the stovepipe running up through the roof and down to the heater below. In summer, this smooth black stovepipe was pleasantly cool, but in winter it could be warm, or hot, or very hot; a fine thing to dress beside but decidedly unreliable. Past the stovepipe was the library, under the eaves opposite my dolls. Here were other books and trophies my parents had considered important enough to bring across the plain, desert, river, and mountain. One was a white china mug which had been used by Papa’ baby brother Sammy before he died in Illinois. For me, that little white mug represented our family corner of heaven. Besides Samuel, it recalled Papa’s sister Rebecca, also buried in Illinois, and my Grandma Evans who died in Dakota. And my own baby sister Sara, the first of our family to be born in Idaho; but she had lived only two days. Also on the top plate under the eaves were a white china dog with long brown ears from Papa’s childhood in Illinois, and a spotted cowrie shell, in which I could hear the Pacific Ocean.

Most special of all was another cup, sparkling clear glass halfway up, and ruby red the rest of the way. In gold letters I learned to read, “Lewis and Clark Exposition, Portland, Oregon, 1906.” I knew about young Sacajawea, her baby on her back, guiding Captain Meriwether Lewis and Captain Will Clark across the same states (Idaho and Oregon) which I had traversed three times before I was a year old.

Besides my parents’ books, there were some I called mine. My earliest memories are centered on scrapbooks, paste, scissors, and precious old magazines from which I could choose pictures to cut out and save. One scrapbook was tremendous, almost as tall as I was then. Once filled with samples of cloth, it was now endless adventure. I can still see the delight sparkling in my father’s blue eyes, so deep beneath the heavy black brows, as he presented it to me. But I cannot remember his words. Perhaps words were less important to me then. Firm hands, sparkling eyes, gentle voice—what else was needed at the age of four years?

The next memory I can date is the summer I was six. My mother sings as she works, making what seem to me miles of baby clothes. The bright sunlight streams over her—oh, how beautiful she is! In the sunshine, the floor becomes a blond rug, this floor which had been rough pine planks six years ago. the slivers have been softened and lightened by hot water and lye, applied with what Mama called “plenty of elbow grease,” so now it is furry under my bare feet. I am allowed at times to stand at the end of the sewing machine, and to hold a folded paper against the black spokes of the balance wheel, as it flies happily round and round, propelled by Mama’s rhythmic pressures on the treadle. The silvery outer rim of that little wheel sparkles in the sun, and the paper whirrs most satisfactorily. Our whole world is singing the news that we will have another new baby in the house.

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