We're now in 1917, and the United States is involved in World War I.
One day, the Doctor and Miss Penelope made their rounds at the poorhouse. They both seemed terribly distracted and upset.
A couple of the women even heard Miss Penelope crying to Mrs. Higgins.
It seems that they lost a close relative and childhood playmate of Miss Penelope.
The young woman, Harriet, like Miss Penelope, had also trained as a nurse. She decided to go to France to help in the war effort. She admired the way Lafayette and France took to America in its infancy, so she wanted to do something for France in return. She was killed while riding in an ambulance that overturned.
Harriet was buried over there in a cemetery.
After that, Miss Penelope would visit the cemetery at the poor farm every time they came out to make their rounds.
“I know what it is like for someone I love to be alone in a grave far away, and I hope that someone will visit Harriet’s grave occasionally.”
And it is still so. A couple of times a year, the citizens in France make a point of visiting the graves of the Americans who died fighting for France, in both World Wars. So Harriet is remembered by those she served.
About that time, Miss Penelope quit being so mercurial. Barton became even closer to her.
Now, the two of them would regularly walk down to the cemetery together and visit the graves.
Now when I said before, that Barton’s leg gave out, I didn’t mean completely so. He could still be on his feet a few hours a day; but not all day all at once, or not with a heavy load.
Once he saw that Miss Penelope favored the cemetery, he would go down there a couple of days before she was due to visit, and tidy the place up a bit. He would cut weeds in the fencerow and trim around the headstones of the graves that had them.
Not every grave had a tombstone. Even so, Mr. Higgins kept a record, as well as he could, of the people buried in the cemetery. .
Miss Penelope became more of a fixture at the poor farm, when she was in town. She was having to spend time back East, helping with her mother. Doc hired a couple of women part-time to tend to his practice.
Mrs. Higgins made a point of having a tea for the women when Miss Penelope came to visit, as well as other times when church ladies came out for various reasons.
Even though all their physical needs were met, life could be hard life at the poor farm.
Not necessarily from the work, but from the loneliness of knowing that you had no family able or willing to look after you.
The same thing happens today in nursing homes.
A couple of the county supervisors were dedicated to the poor farm and spent a lot of time there, doing heavy work and getting projects underway that Mr. Higgins did not have the authority to approve. Money for the poor farm was closely regulated and Mr. and Mrs. Higgins were diligent at their job.
But the supervisors also believed that honest, well-managed charity for those folks, honestly poor due to their incapabilities, was not a waste, but a moral obligation.
One supervisor, Mr. Stennet, treated the residents like relatives. They appreciated it, and would bake him things for his birthday and Christmas, though he made a point of sharing, so he still often went home empty-handed.
He especially liked to trade stories with Harold Gusset, a resident there whose main job was to manage the livestock. Harold also kept an eye on everyone else, too. Mrs. Higgins suggested that Mr. Gusset might be the most prolific gossip-er at the poor farm.
One day, Harold said to Mr. Stennet:
“You know, I once went fishing in a borrowed boat with my older brother. The fish were biting so hard that I knew I had to mark the spot. So, I took my pencil out of my pocket and put an ‘X’ in the bottom of the boat. My brother says to me: ‘Harold, you’ve got no sense at all. What if we don’t get the same boat the next time?"
Mr. Stennet laughed, shook his head, and suggested they get on with their work. Harold and Mr. Stennet decided it was time to put new leathers in the water pumps at the poor farm. Pumps back then, whether run by hand or windmill, had discs of leather that went up and down in a tube inside the pump, which brought the water up out of the ground. The leathers were primative valves.
Supervisor Stennet enjoyed hearing about the residents from an insider that would tell the whole story and Harold was the one to do that. One of their favorite topics was who wasn’t getting along with whom. Mr. Stennet did what he could to help people get along, and would use his talks with Harold to point himself in the right direction.
Mr. Stennet asked, “How are Miss Twirpin and Mrs. Goodwin getting along?”
Harold filled him in, “Mrs. Higgins had to separate them last week. They're like two tomcats living in the same alley.
They just can’t get along.”
Mrs. Goodwin was twice a widow and Miss Twirpin had never been asked to marry. But Miss Twirpin could tat and decorated her dresses in ways that Mrs. Goodwin’s husband could never afford. Mrs. Goodwin cooked and baked, but was never interested in sewing, though she did what she had to do. She wanted a husband who made enough money that she would never have to sew.*
But that never happened. When her second husband died, she was left penniless.
It was fair to say that Mrs. Goodwin and Miss Twirpin were jealous of each other for different reasons.
This jealousy was the kindling that fired their dislike toward each other.
Human nature never changes, does it?
* My grandma Bertie learned to sew quilts from a woman her mother hired, to stay at the house for a while and sew.
In those days, young women would board at homes they were sewing for. Many a marriage was arranged this way.
For a young woman who could sew, this was one way to advertise herself for matrimony. Bachelor neighbors were often introduced to a visiting seamstress, and might bring their clothes to be repaired, while she boarded at a married neighbor's home, then the aquaintance was begun.
The darning needle has stitched-in many a single man in the Midwest in the old days.
Eric J. Rose