A visit to my Grandma Glenn’s Mt. Eagle home when I was a kid in the 50s and 60s was a glimpse of the past. It was as if things were frozen in time forty or fifty years earlier.
Those of you who have read the previous blog posts already know that my grandparents, Jeremiah (1874-1936) and Rebecca Parker Glenn (1876-1963), were storekeepers in Curtin Village from the 1890s until the 1930s. Jerry and Becky lived near the Curtin Mansion for many years, until around 1913, when then moved roughly one mile to a house just to the east of McCartneyville. In about 1923, they moved another mile up the road to the handsome 5-bedroom house in Mt Eagle pictured here.
The former Glenn house in Mount Eagle as it appeared on Christmas Day, 2014. It is now owned by Gayle Taylor Bitner, who grew up across the street, and her husband Kenneth (Larry) Bitner, another local. She and her family have skillfully and lovingly made necessary repairs and upgrades, while preserving the house's character. Period furnishings have been collected from estate sales and yard sales. All the grown-up Taylors have their own homes, but gather in this house almost every day and for holiday meals. Ironically, they call it "The Mansion." The Taylors & Bitners generously make the house available to the Glenn descendants for family gatherings. Additional interior photos are below, with consent of Gayle Bitner.
Even as conveniences became available through the decades following my grandfather's death at age 62 in 1936, my grandmother pretty much continued her life as it was. When I was taken there as a kid, the heating system consisted of stoves in two downstairs rooms – the parlor and the informal living room. I think they were kerosene stoves -- coal oil stoves as they were referred to. There were circular holes in the ceiling of the two heated rooms to conduct warm air to the two bedrooms above, although three other bedrooms were not heated at all. The house had electricity, but in the old, old days you had to go to the neighbors’ house to use the telephone. The kitchen was equipped with a wood-burning cook stove, refired each morning. I can remember my grandmother blowing on smoldering coals to get a little bit of a flame going. Then she would ignite the unburned end of a used match -- wouldn't want to use another match needlessly -- and use that to light paper or other kindling. Before the fire heated up the place, it was cold enough to see your breath. The house had no running water, but a pipe from the well had been jigged into a back corner of the kitchen and fitted with a hand pump with its spout over the sink. Water for doing the dishes or bathing was pumped into a large kettle and heated on the cook stove. Laundry tubs and a cast iron bathtub were in a separate bath house, adjoining the back porch. Of course the toilet was an outhouse; chamber pots were used at night. I remember trudging through snow to the outhouse one very cold night for an emergency unsuitable for the chamber pot.
Not much was bought at a grocery store. Gone before my appearance on the scene were the chickens, the cow, and the apiary, but there was always a huge garden. There were rows and rows of corn and potatoes. Beets and turnips were big items, as were cauliflower, cabbage, onions, cucumbers, and peas. Pretty much anything that could grow in the Pennsylvania climate was grown. There was also a good-sized vineyard, with grape vines and bushes of red and black raspberries. There was a quince tree and a crab apple tree. I vaguely remember husking walnuts, but they might have been gathered somewhere away from the house.
In season, huge quantities of fruits and vegetables were eaten fresh, thrown into a frying pan or boiling water, or baked into pies. It was common to have little or no meat at summertime meals. Sometimes strawberry shortcake was dinner.
Nothing went to waste. My grandma and the older aunts would eat the whole apple, core included. Major canning operations were at full-tilt during harvest time. The pantry and cellar were stocked to the ceiling with glass jars, full of just about anything that could be canned, jammed, or dried. Quince, crab apple, grape, red and black raspberry jams were mass produced. Red raspberry was my favorite. I remember my 80'ish-year-old grandmother negotiating treacherously steep and narrow cellar steps to retrieve a new jar for me. Corn dried at harvest time was a delicacy at Thanksgiving and Christmas meals, in particular. The stockpile easily lasted until the next harvest season.
What meat there was, came to a large extent from the outdoors. I don’t remember my grandmother going hunting or fishing herself, but it would be consistent with her character. My uncles and dad were fishermen and hunters. Whenever they went out, fish was usually on the menu for dinner. Small game such as rabbits and squirrels were cooked up on occasion. Venison was commonly eaten during season, and wild turkey invariably appeared on the holiday table. Pheasant, quail, duck, or goose meat was seen a few times. I remember eating bear meat once or twice.
It was a lively place around holidays. There was an old Victrola in the downstairs hallway. Every once in a while, someone would play an old record from the 20s, plus or minus. The records were about 1/3 inch thick; the record player's needle was about as thick as a magic marker's felt. An old piano was in the informal living room, and there were many plunkers who played by ear and one or two good pianists. Throughout the day, there were long-lasting card games such as rummy, canasta, and pinochle. Parlor games -- Parcheesi; Sorry; Anagrams or Scrabble, checkers, and chess -- were commonly going on somewhere. When lots of aunts, uncles, and cousins came for overnight stays, one of my uncles used to post a 'No Vacancy' sign.
In warm months, there was a lot of front-porch-sitting. Sometimes, there might be a game of horseshoes or softball in the large side yard. My father liked to demonstrate his skill in riding a bicycle while facing backwards. He did this well into his sixties, and although there were many imitators, I can't remember anyone else succeeding. When cousins were visiting, the neighborhood kids would enter the mix. It could get pretty crowded and go on late into the evening. Several teenage girls from Harrisburg, nieces of my aunt by marriage, visited for stretches in the summer. I overheard one of them say she'd rather stay in Mount Eagle all year. "Harrisburg's dead", she said.
Jerry is a retired general surgeon and a new Board Member of the Roland Curtin Foundation. He has Curtin roots extending back to 1831, through four previous generations.