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1937 by Russell Lee
Children near Fowler, Indiana boarding their school bus through the rear entry door. Metal steps attached to the bus allowed even smaller studnets to easily board their bus this way.
Photographed in 1937 by Russell Lee. From the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

"I ain't hankering to die yet!"

"The greatest moment of my life was when every single thing was against me."

Grandfather, Jared David Busby (age 78 in 1939) is interviewed in Warren, Massachusetts by Charlotte Busby, a writter for the Yankee Teacher(?). In this field interview Grandfather Busby talks about a long winded preacher, marriage ceremonies, self-reliance, problems with attitudes and a deadly school bus crash. Charlotte captures a piece of history and lore that in some respects are not much different from attitudes these days.

By Charlotte Busby, The Yankee Teacher. Field notes from the original story title: "Living Lore in New England," published February 24, 1939 by The Yankee Teacher.

Grandfather, Jared David Busby, age seventy-eight, was born in the Berkshires and has lived in Warren more than forty years. He has been a notable figure in the business and political life of the town. "Jerry", as many call him, is likable, witty, regarded as just a philosopher, with little formal education, but a vigorous mentality. Though very dear, he seems to know what is going on, is much interested in public questions and is well read. He spends considerable time at his small radio, despite its poor quality and static. Jerry subscribes to four newspapers and reads magazines also.

He lives alone and enjoys himself. His health is usually good , his eyes are bright, his white hair thick and flowing. Though Jerry's shoulders are stooped, his arms show strong muscles and his shapely hands apply themselves to many tasks. At times his whimsical expression reminds the interviewer of Mark Twain.

One of Jerry's regrets is that he did not follow the profession of law. His favorite uncle was a graduate of Yale, and the boy intended to study law "when he had time." He never seemed to find the time. Another regret is that he did not remain in the West, when he went there on a trip. He believes he would have had a more intense and vivid life, and been more successful.

Climbing the long, steep stone steps of "Gramp" Busby's hill, on a wintry night, one clings, in the blustering snow, to the intermittent lengths of iron and wooden rails, as he scales to the summit where the dwelling, barn, and poultry house sit squarely, like a citadel. Near by lie the orchards of apples, pears, plums and peaches, and the gardens variegated with grape vines, small fruit and berries. The outside well and hand pump are quiet reminders of the days when he drew water for his cow and his white horse, Billy, the death of which "Gramp" mourns even now. Thirty-odd years of faithful service to his master are not forgotten.

Though there has been running water in the house for many years, "Gramp" still prefers to drink the cold water from the old well. Pausing beside it, one has a view of the town scattered on the hills and in the valley, with Mark's Mountain standing like a sentinel toward the West.

The hurricane of 1938 twisted many trees planted long ago by a former owner of the place, and several detours are necessary before the visitor, scrambling on the slippery snow, reaches the back piazza. The light in the kitchen reveals through the frosted window Gramp, or Jerry, in his accustomed place on such an evening - sitting before the radio. Loud and repeated knocking reached his ears after several moments and he moved to open the door, peering suspiciously until he recognized his relative. Then welcome beamed for the visitor, and he started, almost immediately, preparations for"a cup of tea."

Gramp began the interview. "How'd you come? Up the steps or the roadway? Humph, why didn't you come up the roadway? It'll take me a century to get my land cleared up. Nowadays every darned person is too lazy to do a stitch of work. They won't cut wood, even ef you give it to 'em. By hemlock, I won't hire any more lazy scamps. Come spring, my sciatica will be gone and I'll tend to the wood myself. I can straighten up my orchard if I have a mind to."

"Drink you tea," I said. "Dunk you doughnut if you want to. Don't mind me."

"Catch me dunking, or using a bowl instead of a cup, if you can. I dare you to catch me. I've got on my company manners."

Chuckling at his own joke, Gramp settled back to his rocking chair. "By crickety," he said, "take a look at my new cane over there in the corner. It's a gold-headed one, too. I always wanted one." he [glibly?] lied. "I hate it," then he muttered, "but it's darn useful." He lifted his broad shoulders. "I come of a long line of good fighters and so I tell 'em down street that I use it for looks; and, by golly I'll smash their heads if I see a snicker.

"Say, I'm glad you took some Christmas greens up to the cemetery last week. Can't get up there this year." Then, after a slight pause.

"I ain't hankering to die yet." I had a feeling that he wanted to linger on the subject a bit, so I said: "Gramp, you remember the little chubby four-year-old I took up to see the cemetery? Well, she said to me: "'Gramp is a nice, funny old Gramp. I like him, and he owns a nice, big cemetery. He must be rich.'"

He laughed heartily. "Did you set her right?"

"No, I couldn't. She wouldn't believe me."

"In the old days," he reminisced, "we didn't have perpetual care in our graveyards. But we did set store having nice tomb stones.

Lord, how long our funerals was. They were always held in the home and they lasted hours. The parson used to preach a long sermon. Sort of a general resume of the deceased's life. We had some swell solos and quartet singing. Usually some favorite song or hymn. We had one long-winded minister by the name of Clark. Some of the town wits used to say: "Wal, Parson Clark sent old Jones to hell at exactly two-thirty.

Took him about four hours to git him there." Or, again, 'Widder Smith went to heaven at four prompt."

"What kind of flowers did you use?" I asked.

"If the man was a farmer and he happened to be buried in the fall, the women used to make great sheaves of grain. They look awful pretty with the tassels. They used corn or anything handy. If it was in the winter, they used red berries and greens. In the summer time they picked the old-fashioned flowers from their gardens. Or they picked daisies, asters and ferns from the fields.

"After the funeral party returned from the grave, all the immediate family and relatives set down to a hearty meal. Usually some one was left at home to have it all ready, piping hot. Soon after the feast of hot food and drink, the relatives who lived away would get their horses hitched up ready to take them home.

"Sometimes they lived far away and they couldn't wast much time hanging around [mourning?]. The dead were usually buried in the ground in the winter, but sometimes if the frost was down too deep, they saved them for a thaw, or a slack in a snow storm."

Death reminded Gramp of "one special Christmas", the first after his mother died.

"There were so many of us kids that my father had an old Negro woman to take care of us. Old Sal was a good mammy. You know Massachusetts was once a slave state. Afterwards there were a lot of freed slaves around. They usually lived in bunches. Down in Sheffield there was a number of them. Old Sal was pretty good to us children, but I missed my Ma.

"Sal could cook flapjacks great and was a dabster at cooking pork. She was 'right smart', as they used to say in those days. Wal, we had turkey pie for Christmas and stick peppermint candy with red [bands?]. But I was lonesome just the same."

The old man sighed, and looked quizzical. "You want to hear some stories? Continued on Page Two


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