A Glimpse of Life at the Turn of the Century-Mary Keniston Letters

Part 4 of a series on the Robie Family

By Rita Norander

My next two articles will be the last in a series of five articles which give a glimpse into the life and times of the Robie family of East Andover, NH.  In my April & May articles, the year was 1902, and Nannie Robie (my grandmother) was writing to her brother, Robert Robie, who was working away from home as a hired hand. In the Beacon’s holiday issue, my article contained excerpts from the 1916 diary of Robert’s wife, Blanche Hersey Robie. These last two articles will take a look at letters written to Robert by his cousin, Mary Keniston. The letters and diary used for these articles was saved by Robert & Blanche’s daughter, Edith Robie Richards, who in turn gave them to my mother.
These five letters were written by Mary over a span of 21 years (1896 to 1917). Robert would have been 17 when the first letter was written, and I’m guessing Mary was a similar age. Mary, her sister Eva and their parents lived in Hill, not far from Danbury and S. Alexandria. Because they didn’t live in the Andover/Franklin area, as most of my Keniston relatives did, I wasn’t familiar with this branch of the family. I’m glad these letters enabled me to learn  about them, and their lives at the turn of the 20th century.

Oct. 25, 1896 – Hill, N.H.
My Dear Cousin,
I received your very welcomed letter a few days ago and was very much surprised. Did you have any snow down your way last Tuesday? It snowed real hard here.
We have our corn all husked. We have 278 shocks and the number of bushels of corn is about 130. We have our apples all picked and our garden products all gathered in. We were not quite a week husking our corn. We had one evening’s help – Mr. Horner, his wife, Mr. Pillsbury and Arthur Jewett. I think we have done pretty well, and we girls did not stay out of school any to help – only worked  nights and Saturdays.

Sadie D. has not forgot the game of tag! Eva is ready for a game of checkers again. I have not played hide and seek since that time, but have played tag at school and have great times playing drop the handkerchief. (It sounds as if they had recently visited each other.)
Tell the girls (Robert’s 4 sisters) that Eva should like them to write very much. Write me soon. Give our love to all and accept a share for yourself.   Truly Your Cousin,    Mary E. Keniston
June 11, 1900
Dear Cousin Robert,
I received your very kind letter on June 1st, but have been very busy. We are going to plant our fodder corn this afternoon – have all our other planting done. We have 2 acres of field corn, 3/4 acres of potatoes and a large garden. Papa has sowed 2 pieces of oats. He has not hired a man to help him do the spring work. We girls and Mamma have helped him. Have you a lot of little chicks? We have 45. Harrie’s folks have about 170 chickens.  We would be very pleased to have you and Nannie come up and make us a visit. I should like to come over, but fear I can’t this summer, as Papa has to work the Bay horses all the time, and I couldn’t drive Mack. We come as often as we can, but we girls have no Brother to go with us.
We all are very sorry to hear of your Father losing his horse. We know how it is to lose a horse, as we have had that happen in our family, and it is rather hard to give them up.
Mamma and Eva have been to Danbury this morning. Papa and Mamma are going to Franklin tomorrow.
I expect to go away to work about the first of July, and shall have to work until about October. You can call and see me. Of course it won’t be like home is to me, but I’m near home and can go home every Sunday afternoon. (I think she worked in Danbury.)
I am thinking of having a party the 23rd of June 1900, and I will want you and Nannie to come. You can bring who else you please. If I have one, it is to be a surprise for Papa.

I don’t want the Bobcat (!?) for myself, but maybe will take it and give it a good home in Danbury. How large is it?
Must close. Write often.  With love to all,   Mary Edyth Keniston
March 26, 1902 – Danbury, NH
Dear Cousin Robert,
What lovely weather we are having. It looks like an early Spring. Our snow is gone and we are on wheels (wagons instead of sleighs).         We have a little lamb we would like to give to you. It is a twin and an ewe. She is one week old and has learned to nurse on a bottle. If you want her, come and get her as soon as possible.
Robert, will you please ask your Mother to send me the measure of her neck on her new dress. I can’t make the collar until I have the measurement.
We have 50 trees tapped, and they run pretty well! How many have you? We lost a nice calf yesterday. Don’t know what the matter was. In less than two hours from the time it was fed, it was dead.
Mr. & Mrs. Horner and Charlie were up today and ate dinner with us. Charlie is painting his house.

We did not get the notice in time to go to Blanche’s (??) funeral. We were sorry not to be able to go. Did you go? We all have our sympathy for them.

Papa saw Mr. Litchfield about the hay, but he had sold his. The snow went so quick that Papa has not seen Mr. Peters. There has been no sledding (sleigh season was over, and it was mud season!) since they were down, and so you couldn’t have hauled it now.
With best regards from all, to all. Write soon or come and get the lamb. (Apparently he did, as Nannie wrote about it in her July 1902 letter to Robert.)    Sincerely Your Cousin,    Mary Edyth Keniston

(To be continued)