Granny's Notes - the writing of Sue Gerard

Burned-down house starts family adventure

On the evening of May, 18, 1922, my parents, exhausted and deeply hurt, were trying to think of what might have caused the fire that destroyed our house and everything in it. Suddenly Mom shouted, "The incubator!" The big wooden box on tall legs stood near the back door. Its tiny flame was the culprit because there was no other possibility and the first clouds of smoke came from the back where it stood. An incubator is a device for hatching eggs.

A hen would "steal her nest out" and lay one egg each day for about two weeks. Then she’d "set," keeping the eggs warm with her body and daily turning each one with her feet to keep the embryo developing correctly. When the time was up the baby chicks "pipped" the shell and the wet chicks emerged, one each day. Then the mother hen kicked the half shells out of the nest.

An incubator could produce a hundred baby chicks in less time than the hen could produce a dozen because the eggs would hatch at about the same time. It had large flat trays, which held the fertile eggs and Mom pulled the trays out to turn the eggs daily. The incubator’s warmth came from a small kerosene burner with a regulator on the wooden top.

For the first several days after the fire we were guests of the Eugene Crouch family. People shared enough dishes, utensils and groceries for us to move back so we could be near the dairy. A friend loaned us a big U.S. Army tent and Dad hitched the team to the wood stove and drug it out of the ashes. We cleaned it and the men set it up outdoors. Dad built a small shed under a big maple tree nearby, for protecting foodstuffs from weather and wild animals.

The tent was mounted between two tall stumps that were left when young trees were destroyed by the fire. A telephone was mounted on one of those "tent poles " and Mom again had contact with the milk customers in Columbia.

After studying house plans by lantern light for many nights and arranging for loans to supplement the meager insurance money, Mom and Dad ordered an Aladdin Redi-Cut home from Bay City, Michigan. He, with the Williams boys and John Estes, then began digging a basement with mule teams and scrapers.

From May until October, while Dad and neighbors assembled the new home we lived in the army tent. On Saturday nights Mom bathed Jim and me out in the front yard in the washtub. She and Dad took turns after dark, adding hot water as needed. Then she fixed us soft-boiled eggs with crackers crumbled up in them. I liked that routine but I dreaded Saturday nights.

That summer we had a frightening electrical storm almost every weekend. In a wet canvas tent lightening illuminates the inside of the tent as it streaks from one end of the world to the other, time and time again! It’s like being outdoors in it and not getting wet.

I was 6 years old, When a storm threatened or Mom put the tub in the front yard I’d ask plaintively, "Is this another Saturday night?" I dreaded the thunder and lightning, and sometimes things got wet inside of the tent. These thunderstorms dumped more water than the tent could repel. It sometimes blew in through the door flaps and even ran under the canvas tent floor. When it dripped on me I’d pull my cot to a dry spot. We’d spend Sunday drying things outdoors.

In spite of this fear of Saturday night storms, I loved the camping. And I’d camp again tonight at the drop of a hat.


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