Chapter 7: Barton goes to the Poor Farm

The years went by and Barton was worn-out. 
He could no longer stay on his feet for a full day. 
He quit working for the courthouse in the Fall of 1913. He could no longer climb the stairs, especially to the clock tower.

It was time to retire. But one didn't really retire in 1914.  Other than his soldier's pension, he had little income to support him, and no living relatives nearby to claim him. 

Barton’s parents had passed on decades ago, and his sister married and moved with her husband to Kansas. 
His two older brothers sold their parent’s farm several years ago, while Barton was down South one Fall, and then they left for California without giving Barton any money, except for a 25 dollar credit at the general store.     Scoundrels! 

What was he to do? His legs gave him more trouble in May, and by mid-September he was looking at his options. 
He still needed to cut his own wood, which he could scarcely do anymore, and winter was coming on. 
Otherwise, he could have survived making a little money on odd jobs. 
Most of his purchases were for lamp oil, salt, matches and flour. He could fish and would help his neighbors do their chores for cornmeal and home-canned goods. He gardened, but didn't preserve the produce. He helped neighbors butcher in the fall for a part of the meat, 
and neighbor women would give him lye soap and lard, rendered from the hog fat. 

Even so, he was about out of options for staying in his little cabin. By then, cars were on the scene, and he caught a ride to the poor farm north of Adel (pictured above, about 1907) and looked for the Superintendent, Mr. Higgins.
Mr. Higgins was expecting him. He knew Barton well. The poor farm had its own cemetery, and years back, Barton used to dig the graves of the residents as needed. Barton spent the last few years getting to know the people at the poor farm, before he moved in. 
And now that day had come.  

Barton found Mr. Higgins and said, “Well, Matthew, are you ready for a new set of troubles?” 

Mr. Higgins furrowed his eyebrows and asked, “What troubles, Barton? Did you carry in a badger in a gunny sack?” 

Barton laughed, “No, but some folks might think I’m an old badger and I can carry most of what I own in a gunny sack. 
No, I’m lookin’ for somewhere to board.” 

“Well, Barton, let’s go to the cellar and sample the new apple crop while we talk about it.” 

So they went to the root cellar under the carriage house and ate a couple of apples. 
Mr. Higgins gave Barton a few to take home. They made the arrangements. 
Barton would have to surrender his military pension to the poor farm to help meet his expenses and would have to work too, 
like the other folks did. 

Now understand that Barton didn’t have to go to the poor farm. Since he was a war veteran, he could have gone to the Old Soldier’s Home in Marshalltown, Iowa. This was a place especially for older or disabled soldiers or their widows. But Barton didn’t want to go there, even though it was a far more dignified place to live. He already knew people at the poor farm. Besides, he heard the other place was run like an army post; reveille and taps were blown each morning and evening, and a fella needed a pass to get out the front gates and to get back in. That didn’t interest him. He especially didn’t want to hear about his 'dance with the horses'. 
The poor farm would meet his needs well enough. 

Barton settled in at the poor farm. He sold his cabin on the North Raccoon River and most of his household possessions, except the frying pan he inherited from his mother, his daddy’s hatchet, and his bed quilt that a neighbor’s mother made him several years ago. 

A neighbor’s mother, Maisie Crawford, came from Davenport, Iowa to visit, and of course heard about Barton and met him too. They crossed paths at a funeral at the onset of her three-month stay. Older or out-of-work people in town would go to any funeral within walking distance. They were guaranteed a good meal afterwards. Even if the deceased was poor, neighbors and friends would pitch in to provide a respectable funeral lunch. 

Mrs. Crawford too, had a brother in the Civil War, that came back different than when he enlisted. He was more right before he left and left part of himself on the battlefield. She felt sorry for Barton and gathered up scraps of cloth to make him a quilt. 

She could wheedle quilt scraps as well as any woman that walked God’s green earth. 
She would get amongst a group of church women and aim the conversation toward quilting. 

Always, some lady would ask her, “My dear, what kind of quilt are you working on, or are you doing more than one, 
like most of us?” 

She would say, “Oh yes, I’m making a double wedding ring quilt for my niece who is getting married this fall, a baby quilt for a neighbor, and if I can find the scraps, there’s a bachelor veteran here that needs a warm cover, so I’m seeing who might give up some yellows, greens and browns to make him a manly quilt.” 

Between the ladies’ patriotism and Maisie’s entreaties, she gathered enough scraps to make Barton a quilt on her daughter’s treadle sewing machine. It was a brick pattern, simple but masculine. She gave it to Barton a couple of days before she went back east to Davenport. Barton genuinely cherished the quilt, and intended to never part with it. 

That quilt caused a problem with the women at the poor house. Several jobs at the poor farm were gender-specific, 
and women washed the bed linens. Barton would fuss when Mrs. Higgins took away his quilt to wash it; 

“I can’t sleep good under a borrowed bed cover,” he would complain. “and it usually takes the women four days to get it back to me.” 

The women in the poor farm laundry room would also fuss when they had to wash it. After years of use, the quilt was so worn and frail; it was like washing Damascus silk, not that any of those women had ever touched such a marvelous fabric. They patched and fussed and fussed and patched, and said it would be easier to make him a new quilt than to patch and wash the old one every couple of months or so.
Mrs. Higgins came up with a solution. Barton agreed to a new (homemade) quilt if they used his old quilt as batting inside the new quilt. This was common practice among the poor. The sewing ladies made the new top that nearly matched the old design,* then called for Barton’s old quilt, which had to be laundered again before being put inside in the new quilt. 
It was nearly three weeks before he got his quilt back, with all the hand-stitching required back then. 
Barton did his best to be patient while the process occurred, but was nearly exhausted from the worry of it.
*(no quilter worth her salt will ever exactly copy another woman's quilt, not even her mama's quilt. 
She will put her own spin on it somehow.)

Barton's birthday fell on a Saturday that year and Mrs. Higgins timed it so he would get his new quilt on his birthday. 

Things got testy when Mrs. Higgins said,
"Now Barton, you need to honor the women that made the quilt by taking a bath the first night you use the quilt.” 

That didn’t set well with him, but he relented and conceded, “I guess that is a fair exchange for the work they put into makin' the quilt.” 

Yet, Barton countered: “Ma’am, I’m afraid if they can make me take a bath once, then the women will think they have the right to do that all the time. Who knows; this could turn into a weekly habit, and I’m not a bit partial to that idea.” 

Back then, bathing was not a daily or even a weekly event, not even for those laboring outside. And with nearly all the residents being single, bathing was even less of a concern. Barton’s main dealings with water involved making coffee and fishing the North Raccoon River. 
His cabin never had a bath tub.  But Barton had his bath before supper that Saturday night and put on a clean shirt and pants. And he shined his shoes, too.

Mrs. Higgins presented him with the new quilt after supper. When Mrs. Higgins announced the new quilt, a couple of the women held it up in the dining room for all in to see. 

Barton liked the quilt and even got to his feet and said, “I 'preciate all the work and consideration that went into this. 
It’s a fine lookin’ quilt and I reckon it will be warm too.” 

The women who made the quilt were flattered to hear Barton express his gratitude by this little bit of public speaking. 

It was a good day for Barton; he got a new quilt without losing his old one, had fried chicken for supper, and he secretly enjoyed having a bath on his birthday. And chocolate cake to boot, with an extra piece at bedtime. 

Yes, it was a good day for Barton.   

Eric J. Rose
photo: credits misplaced

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