This is an interview conducted by Susan Johnston Aten (daughter of Dorothy Crabb and John Johnston) with her grandmother, Mary “Alebel” (Leach) Crabb Iler (daughter of John Mellen Leach and Eliza Catherine Grant)
My Interview With My Grandma Crabb Iler, Age 72, In 1975
Were you born in
? Cromwell, KY
It was about 3 miles from Cromwell. (Bald Knob Community)
What was your house like?
It was a small house without any modern convenience. There was a small out building.
Where you born in that house?
How many rooms were in your house?
There were 4 rooms.
Can you describe what they looked like?
There was one room we called our parlor. There were 2 bedrooms and they were all large rooms. The kitchen and dining room were all in one.
Was this all on one floor?
Did you all live in this house?
Can you tell me your sister’s birth dates?
My sister next to me (Bessie) is 2 yrs younger. I had a sister who was 1 yr older than your mother (
1922) and a sister who was 1 yr younger than your mother (Iris, 1924). My other
sisters: Bessie, 1905; Gracie, 1909; Shirley,1912; Nellie, 1917. I was born in
1907-1908, is not mentioned)
What about your childhood? Can you compare it to what children do today, and what is significantly different?
I think children were a little closer because we didn’t have the ways of entertainment children have today. We played out around the farm. We played hide and go seek and we really had a ball and enjoyed it just as much as the children today enjoy the modern things they have.
You spoke of your farm. How big was your farm?
We had about 125 acres of land.
What did you farm?
We farmed corn, wheat and beans.
What age did you start going to school?
Can you describe school for me?
Yes, it was one big building with 1 room and all the classes were all in this room. One teacher taught all grades, 1-9.
Just one teacher?
She taught all of the classes through the 9th grade.
When she was teaching class, would you be studying?
Yes, I would be studying.
What time did you go in the morning? Did you have to go early?
We went early because we had to walk a mile. School started at 8 am and we would leave home around 7 am to allow for some time we might fool around a little bit.
What time would you usually get back?
School was out at 4, but my sisters and I would get excused from our last class a little bit early so we could get home and help dad.
Did you go to school quite regularly? Did you ever have to miss school to help your dad on the farm?
Never. This is something you will get a kick out of Sue; before school, if we had a little time, we would go out in the tobacco field and catch the worms on the plants. Then we would go back in the house, get cleaned up, put on our school cloths and go to school.
Before you went to school, before you were 7, did your mother teach you to read and write?
Yes, we were taught our ABC’s, how to count up to 100, and how to print words that children of our age use.
What part did church play when you were a child?
My mother was always very active in the church. My father always went to church with my mother. Our church was a large frame building with rows of hard seats and our dad would sit at one end of the row and mother would sit at the other end and we kids would sit between them.
Did you have anything like Sunday school?
Yes, we had Sunday school, prayer meetings and church services.
Did you have them right after each other?
Sunday school would be early before the church service. I used to teach Sunday school. There would be a recess between the two.
Did your parents come to Sunday school with you?
Sometimes, but not always. They always came to church with us.
Did you have a religious background at home?
In what way? Like reading the Bible at home?
My mother and father never held prayers together, but they taught us our prayers and we were taught to read the bible and also our prayers at Sunday school.
Was your father a farmer all his life?
Yes, that was his occupation all of his life.
How did you find the money situation?
We found it a little on the stingy side.
Did you make all of your clothes?
My mother did. When we girls got older, mother taught us to sew. The way we got our money to buy materials was from the chickens we raised and sold the eggs. One week, one of us would get the money and every other week another sister would get the money for clothes.
What style of clothing did you wear when you were little?
I can remember some baby doll dresses. They were short (laughter) and usually made of gingham skirts and tops.
Did you ever wear pants?
Never. I never owned a pair of pants until I was 65 (more laughter).
Were your clothes bright colors?
As for myself, I liked bright colors.
In some of our readings, we read that, in those days, the colors were blacks and grays.
Oh yes. The older people wore those colors, but we had reds, blues, and other bright colors. My mother’s sisters wore a lot of navy and gray.
At what age did you start sewing?
Oh honey, my grandmother taught me how to sew when I was just a little girl. For Christmas one year, she bought me a little trunk and in the tray was a file and in the bottom was some material, lace, needles, thimble, scissors, etc.
Did you sew by hand?
Yes, but my mother had a sewing machine. I did not use that while I was learning to sew. I was about 14 before I started using a sewing machine.
Did you start making your cloths then?
No. I didn’t start making my own clothes until I was older. The first dress I made was when grandpa and I got married. Aunt Mary helped me out. I got the sleeves in wrong at first.
I can’t believe you did that grandma.
Oh honey, I did it.
Did you feel that the girls were brought up to be homemakers and not get further education like the boys did?
Some girls got further education, but our parents could not afford it. We were lucky to get a high school education. I, myself, did not even get a high school education.
Was there a high school close to you?
That was the problem. We did not have a high school close enough. My youngest sisters, Iris and Doris, did go to high school in Cromwell and graduated.
How big was Cromwell? What stores were there?
Well, it had your grocery stores; all they had was groceries. There were clothing stores that carried ready made clothes as well as yard goods.
When you said you could not afford to go to school, did you have to pay for it?
No, but we would have to pay room and board somewhere close to school.
Among the people that you knew, did you feel that they made more of an effort to send the boys to college?
Yes. Some of them were also farmers. Their idea was that a man had to have a job to support his wife. They never thought much of the idea of girls working. They had to stay home and raise the family. That was their idea.
How old were you when you were married?
Eighteen. Can’t say a word, can I Sue.
Can you tell me about any hard times you had being the oldest and were there any disadvantages?
Well, the oldest ones had to help take care of the youngest ones. My two youngest sisters had it very hard because mother and dad died when they were very young. Fortunately, they were able to finish school because my sister, Bessie, helped them.
Did your father die before your mother?
Did your mother remarry?
My mother was my father’s second wife. My mother never remarried.
Getting back to your house, did you always live in the same house?
Yes, until I married.
Was it pretty crowded?
We had two bedrooms and since we were mostly all girls, it wasn’t too bad that way.
As far as furnishings, can you remember how it was furnished?
Well, in our living room, we called it our best room, we had tables, lamps and chairs. We also had a bed in that room. In the kitchen, we had an old fashioned stove like everybody had that burned coal. The way we did our ironing, we had 6 irons; flat irons that we would heat on top of the stove. We always ironed. The first iron that I had was a gasoline iron after I got married. I have seen the time when I ironed all day with those flat irons. Our cloths always looked nice. At that time, everything was starched and we ironed things that you would never think of ironing today like sheets, which people just don’t do today. You have perma press. So what else do you want me to say Sue? I got carried away there (laughter). You should see us 7 girls when we were together.
That little church that I went to; is that the church you use to go to? (Bald
) Yes. I was a member of that church and
I’m still a member. Knob
And that little house; is that the house you grew up in?
Yes, you could not tell much about it then.
We went in it though.
It was pretty much broken up then.
It had four rooms?
No, It was only three rooms. When you were there it was pretty well dilapidated by then.
I don’t mean to cut your house down grandma.
Honey, that’s just the way it was. Ask me anything you want to. I’m here to answer your questions. We were lucky to have anything.
Was it kinda drab?
Our rooms were all wall papered, but later on, they had some pieces of wood with the grooves that they put together and did the rooms in that. They had gotten away from paper and the outside was brick coating. Do you remember that? Now, that house has electric lights. It is used today as a barn. My stepbrother’s daughter owns that place now and she has a crop growing on it. And they have a lot of cattle.
There was tobacco wasn’t there?
Oh yes, there was tobacco and corn. They could raise a lot of stuff if they really wanted to work at it. The roads are much better than when I left home. We used to change our shoes when we got to school because they were so muddy. We wore heavy shoes, like boys wore, to get through the mud.
What was the transportation for you and your family like in those days?
Well, those were the horse and buggy days. If it was raining, someone would take us to school. It was too much for the little ones.
When you say “they”, was that someone from school?
No. My family would take us.
Did you take your lunch to school?
Always took our lunch to school.
Did you mostly eat stuff that you grew?
Yes. Sometimes we would get a treat. I remember I use to like potted ham on crackers and some candy. If I had a quarter to buy some potted ham and candy, I could eat well for a couple of days. Christmas time was the only time we had bananas. Now we have them year round.
Did your family have a car?
No, but I remember the first car was one that a doctor had.
Did the road that is there now run right by your house?
Yes, but it was a lot worse when we lived there. Now it has been black topped. Someone is trying to buy the land that my dad owned, but the owner’s won’t sell it.
Was Bessie the trouble-maker in your group?
Yes. She could get things going if anyone could, but Aunt Nellie, she was always smiling. She saw the good in everyone and that’s how she has always been.
Thanks to Susan Johnston Aten for sharing the above. Family interviews are pure gold and all of us should be recording interviews with the elder members of our respective families.
NOTE: Mary Alebel Leach was born 5 Apr 1903 in the Rob Roy area of
she died 17 Apr 1996 in . She first married Charles Henry Crabb in 1921
and he died in 1970 – they had three children. She then
married Dedan Z. Iler and they had no children.
Both husbands were from Lansing,
Michigan . Ohio
Mary Alebel’s father was John Mellon Leach (1858-1941). John Mellon’s father was Jacob Henry Leach (1827-1873) who was my great-grandfather, so Mary Alebel was my first cousin, once removed.