Minnie's Diary #20: Spring Cleaning and a Scalded Baby
Sunday, May 8 - Entertained Del. Rained all day. Del’s birthday. 18 years old today.
“Good night, Del. I hope you had a wonderful birthday,” Minnie said, standing on her front porch as Del held her hand. “I’m sorry it rained all the day long.”
“Only one thing could make it better,” Del replied, taking Minnie in his arms and planting his lips on hers. Minnie returned the kiss.
- "You Kissed Me," by Josephine Hunt, The Advocate, Sturgeon Bay, Wis., May 14, 1904
News from Champion
Monday, May 9 - Went and call on the Caron girl. They went home.
Minnie had heard that Corina Dishno was visiting her parents, Joseph and Mary Caron. But by the time Minnie arrived on Monday morning, Corina and her husband, Adam, had returned to Champion.
“Oh, I wish they hadn’t left so soon,” Minnie said to Mrs. Caron. “I haven’t seen her in such a long time.”
Eight years older than Minnie, Corina had been like an older sister when their families both lived in Champion. When Minnie and her brothers were small, Corina would sometimes care for them when Ma and Pa needed help.
Now Corina was married to Adam Dishno with young children of her own.
“We may be moving back to Champion, too,” said Mrs. Caron.
“Oh, I hope not,” Minnie replied.
“Adam says the Champion mine will be sold soon. If it starts back up, we can move back home and be near Corina.”
-- The Bessemer Herald, Bessemer, Mich., May 14, 1904
Joe Comes to Call
Tuesday, May 10 - Washed and worked in the garden. Joe Marchaterre call. Played cards.
After a long day of hauling and boiling water, scrubbing clothes and hoeing the garden, Minnie greeted young Joe Marchaterre with a smile and kisses on each cheek.
“How’s the house coming?” she asked.
Since early April, Joe and his two younger brothers had been helping Joseph Marchaterre Sr. build their new house, so his mother and sisters could leave Champion and join them.
“It’s almost finished. Ma and the girls will be here next week.”
“Next week, already! I can’t wait to see them.”
"Me, too," Joe said. "I'm tired of Pa's cooking."
Wednesday, May 11 - Ironed and worked in the garden. Rained. Emily stopped overnight. Joe called.
“Is Joe sweet on you?” Emily asked.
“What? Joe Marchaterre?”
“He comes here often enough. Wasn't he just here yesterday?”
“Oui. He’s just here to see my brothers.”
“I don’t think so,” Emily said. “I’ve seen the way he looks at you.”
“Oh, he’s a sweet boy, but he’s just my little brother's friend.”
“Well, I'm pretty sure he's in love.”
"I hardly think so," said Minnie, tossing off the suggestion.
Thursday, May 12 - Emily went home. Mrs. L. Duby called. Had a fine time.
Started House Cleaning
Friday, May 13 - Started house cleaning in bed rooms.
“One of the difficulties of house-cleaning is in finding the right place to begin. Start with the men of the house. Let them understand that women do not clean house for their own amusement, but that it is an important work which must be performed, and which will be finished with as little delay and annoyance as possible.”
— Essay on House-Cleaning, The Advocate, Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, 23 April, 1904.
“Le grande ménage commence with the bed rooms today,” Ma announced at breakfast.
“Spring cleaning?” asked Edmund. “Time for me and William to head to the sawmill.”
Ma called after her two oldest sons as they rushed out the door.
“Le Ménage is important work,” Ma said. “I’ll hear no complaints from you boys about it.”
Beginning with the boys’ room, Ma and Minnie gathered all the heavy clothing from the dressers and wardrobes and put them aside to be washed. They removed everything else from the room, brushing off any dust with a damp cloth.
“I keep telling them to keep these axes and tools in the shed and not up here,” Ma sighed, putting the tools in a pile to be taken outside.
They stowed the boys’ other things in Minnie’s room, covering them with a clean sheet. Then they wiped down the furniture. Ma called Pa and Freddie to help take apart the bed frames and move them into the hallway, along with the rest of the furniture.
“Oh mon Dieu, bed bugs,” Minnie said, watching bugs scurry from the bed frames as they came apart.
"Bibittes!” Ma said. “All the work we do to boil the sheets and bedding all winter, and still those bugs come here from the camps.”
Pa fetched bed bug killer from the basement while Minnie and Freddie tried to find and squash as many as they could. When he returned, Pa squirted the poison into every crevasse and crack.
-- Soquet's Drug Store Ad, Green Bay Press Gazette, Green Bay, Wis.,
May 27, 1904, from newspapers.com
Ma sprinkled the floor with water and swept it two times. Then she and Minnie dusted and washed the walls and ceiling, using a scrub brush and warm, soapy water.
“Wipe the paint dry with this cloth, Minnie. If we don’t, the paint will turn yellow.”
Ma washed the window panes and dried them with old newspapers, and Minnie scrubbed the floor with soapy water.
While the floor dried, they went outside to beat and sweep the carpet clean. Ma asked Pa and Freddie to help move everything back. They closed the boys’ door and moved on to Minnie’s room.
"We should have started with the cleanest room first," Minnie thought.
“Early spring is… the time for the grande ménage. All women of the family clean the house a room at a time. Everything is removed, and wooden walls, ceiling and floor are all scrubbed. All the furniture is wiped over, and rugs and blankets are cleaned the hung out on the porches to air. It requires several weeks for the women to complete the ménage.”
— Horace Miner, St. Denis: A French-Canadian Parish (Chicago: Phoenix, 1937),
cited in The Franco-Americans of Northern Vermont: Cultural Factors
for Consideration by Health and Social Services Providers, Peter Woolfson (1981)
Leo Raiche Hosts a Dance
Saturday, May 14 - Had to plant potatoes. Had a dance to Mr. Leo Raiche. Had a circus telling stories.
After a day planting potatoes with Pa and Freddie, Minnie quickly washed her hands, arms, neck and face and changed into her best dancing dress. Pa drove their horse-drawn wagon to Leo and Mary Raiche’s house, which was already filled with their French-speaking neighbors.
The Raiches had cleared their living room for dancing and filled the kitchen with food, some cooked by Mary Raiche and many more dishes brought by others. Ma placed her famous chocolate cake among the desserts.
When they weren't dancing, Minnie and her friends laughed and told stories into the night.
"Ole walked into the lumber office last week. He said he wanted some 4x2s," said Joe Marchaterre Jr. "The clerk replied: 'You mean 2x4s, don't you?'
"The Swede said, 'Let me check with the boss.'
"Soon, he was back and said, 'Yes, 2x4s.' Then the clerk asked, 'How long do you need them?'
"'Let me go check,' said Ole.
"When he returned, he said, 'We need them a long time. We're building a house.'"
"Sounds like some Swedes I know," Henry said.
"I've got one," said Del. "Sven says to Ole, 'I found dis pen, is it yours?' Ole replies - "Don't know. Give it here." He tries the pen and declares, 'Ja, 'dis is my pen.'
"'How do you know?' asks Sven. And Ole says, 'Dat's my handwriting!'"
"My turn," said Minnie. "Why do the French eat tiny omelettes?"
Everyone looked at her silently, then Del said, "Je ne sais pas. Why?"
"Because one egg is un oeuf."
The Boys Get Angry
Sunday, May 15 - Called on Perm with Del. Went for a walk. Had the boys mad. Didn’t come at night.
“What do you mean wives grow tired of their husbands?”
Del looked at Minnie with an incredulous look. They were walking on a trail through the fields with Del’s sister, Permelia; Joe Marchaterre Jr.; and Minnie’s brothers, Edmund and William.
“Because once she’s his wife, she's no longer his sweetheart. She becomes just a cook, housekeeper, seamstress, laundress, chambermaid, and dairy-woman,” said Minnie.
“You know as well as I do, she needs to help support the family and the farm,” Del said.
“Sure she does, but why is it OK for the husband to spend money on gambling, cigars and drinking, but he won’t let his wife buy a new dress or some decent clothing for the children?”
“Pa’s not like that,” Edmund said.
“When did Pa last tell Ma to buy a new dress, for no particular reason?” Minnie replied.
“I love Pa, but today women want more. Some men ... they keep their wives ignorant of money. They treat them like slaves. They put up a fuss if she so much as talks to another man.”
“You make marriage sound like a trap,” Del said.
“Sometimes, it is,” Minnie said.
At that, the men stopped talking to her. Soon, they headed back home.
"Come by the house later, Joe and Del. We can play cards."
Neither Joe nor Del showed up.
-- The Advocate, Sturgeon Bay, Wis., May 14, 1904
Mon 16 May - Washed our clothes and all the woodworks.
Monday was another work day. Minnie helped Ma wash the winter clothing in boiling water -- their best method for killing any lingering bed bugs or lice. They dried the clothes on the line and wrapped each piece in newspaper with camphor to repel moths.
While Ma placed the clothing in trunks and cedar chests for summer storage, Minnie washed all the woodwork and carefully dried it with a clean cloth.
“If you wish to avoid streaks when washing nicely painted doors, begin at the bottom and wash all the way to the top of the door. Now the paint is all wet, begin at the top, wash downwards and wipe dry as you go. Streaks are caused by soapy or dirty water running down over the dry paint.”
— Kansas Farmer and Mail and Breeze, Topeka, Kan., 21 May 1904
Baby Lilly Scalded
Tuesday, May 17 - Paper in the kitchen and scrubbed the floor. Minnie Raiche scalded her baby.
Minnie and her mother were putting up new wallpaper when they saw Emeline Raiche running across the road from her house. She rushed into the kitchen.
“The baby! The baby!” she cried, fluttering her hands. Tears streamed down her cheeks. “Please pray for the baby.”
“What’s happened?” Ma asked, getting down from the step ladder to hold her friend's hands.
“My daughter-in-law was washing clothes and tipped over a pail of boiling water. Lilly is burned terribly.”
“Oh, poor Lilly,” Minnie said. “Will she be all right?”
“I don’t know,” Mrs. Raiche said. “She has burns on her stomach and legs. I’m going there now. Oh, please pray for my granddaughter.”
“Of course,” Ma said. “She’s my grand-niece, too. Please let us know if there’s anything we can do.”
Minnie shuddered when she imagined little Lilly’s screams as the hot water poured over her. Lilly’s parents, Henry and Minnie Raiche, lived in one of the company-owned rental homes in Hermansville. Cousin Minnie cared for Lilly, their only daughter, while Henry worked long hours at the mill during the summers and lumber camps during the winter.
“How terrible,” Minnie said. “Laundry day is so dangerous.” “Oui. Let’s pray for Lilly,” Ma said.
Minnie found her Catholic prayer book. They bowed their heads and Minnie read a prayer for the sick.
“Heal thy servants, O Lord, who are sick, and who put their trust in thee. Send them help, O Lord, and comfort from thy holy place.”
— Catholic Hours, or The Family Prayer Book, 1868, p. 140, via Google Books.
"Do you think she'll be all right, Ma? I remember a baby in Menominee that died after it was scalded."
"If the Lord is willing, Minnie. If the Lord is willing. Keep praying."
-- St. Joseph Saturday Herald, St. Joseph, Mich., Jan. 23, 1904, from newspapers.com
Wednesday, May 18 - Cleaned upstairs and Ma went to H’ville at night.
Minnie thought they were done cleaning upstairs, but Ma couldn't stop thinking about lice and bed bugs. She wanted the floors mopped again and the stairs swept and wiped down. Minnie worked quietly, thinking about Lilly and praying she would recover.
‘I’m so worried about her,” Minnie told her mother. “I'd guess Cousin Minnie didn’t get any sleep last night.”
That evening, Aurora Gamache decided to go to Hermansville to comfort her niece and help care for Lilly’s burns.
Ma’s sister, Victoria, was Lilly’s maternal grandmother. Victoria lived in Champion with young children of her own, and couldn’t travel to help ease her daughter’s burden. Not surprisingly, Aurora stepped in to fill her sister’s role.
While Pa readied a horse and carriage for the drive to Hermansville, Minnie gave her mother a hug and kiss.
“Give Cousin Minnie and Lilly my love, Ma. I’ll take care of the chores here.”
Aurora nodded and left, carrying hot food, flour, glycerine and linen bandages.
-- The San Francisco Call, San Francisco, Calif., Oct. 5, 1904 via newspapers.com
Notes and Further Reading
Note to Readers: I'm back after a brief hiatus, in which I completed some spring cleaning and home projects myself. I'm now a couple weeks behind in Minnie's Diary, but I'll try to catch up over the next few months. As always, Minnie's Diary is part history and part fiction. While my great-grandmother's diary entries and the news clippings are real, the rest comes from my imagination and research into life in this Upper Peninsula lumber town in 1904. Don't forget to subscribe to my blog if you want to make sure you see every installment of Minnie's Diary. I'll send you an email each time I publish a new post, about once per week. I will never sell or share your contact information with other individuals or companies.
Characters: New characters include Leo and Mary Raiche and Corina Caron Dishno. Minnie's entry about going to see the "Caron girl" and "they went home" confused me. The Caron's had two younger daughters, Nellie and Mary Ann, who appeared in Minnie's Diary #19. But she uses the singular "girl" as well as "they." At any rate, she gave me a chance to introduce Corina Dishno a little bit. I'm not sure where Joseph and Mary Caron lived, since they had moved before the 1912 plat book that I use for a reference. But by the 1910 census, both Joe and Mary Caron had died in Champion, Michigan.
Leo and Mary Raiche had a 40-acre farm southwest of the Gamache farm. Joseph Leon Raiche (1875-1953) was the son of Francois (Frank) and Christine (Dubé) Raiche. It appears that both his mother and his wife had the maiden name Dubé, which was also Aurora Gamache's maiden name. I'm not sure how all these Dubés were related to each other. Leo and Mary had three children, Lena, Leo and Louis. Mary died in 1920 and two years later Leo married Demerise Raiche, who might have been his distant cousin. They married in Greater Sudbury, a city in Ontario, Canada.
Readers will remember Ed and Maud Paquin's wedding from Minnie's Diary #19, and how Minnie was "blue" and even felt sick during the wedding festivities. Ed had called on Minnie a few times before deciding to marry Maud. Below you can see Ed and Maud's wedding photo. Thanks to Sharon Charles, their granddaughter, for sharing the photo with me via Facebook.
Scalded Baby: Although Minnie doesn't say how it happened, hot water scalding happened much more frequently in her day. Women boiled water on the stove for laundry and they didn't have washing machines to keep the hot water away from young children. When I searched newspapers.com for "baby scalded" in 1904, it returned more than 4,600 results, though many described the same incident in different newspapers.
Lilly Raiche survived. She married Clarence LaFave in 1922 and they had two children together. They were divorced in 1948. Lilly later lived in Boulder, Colorado, with her second husband, Edward Huesener. She died in 1993 in Houston, Texas. (According to payroll records of the Wisconsin Land & Lumber Co., her father, Henry Raiche, didn't take time off from his 60-hour week job at the lumber mill when Lilly was scalded. During 1904, Henry's wages increased from $1.50 per day in January to $3.25 a day in May, making him one of the mill's higher paid daily workers. He didn't work any days at the mill in January, so he must have been in the lumber camps.)
Spring Cleaning: Our grandmothers and great-grandmothers worked very hard at spring cleaning every year. I suspect it was a good method for both pest control and keeping the family healthy. They also heated their homes with wood or coal and burned kerosene lamps for light, so the walls and ceilings really did need a good washing, papering or painting twice a year.
I found this 1981 paper on French Canadians in Vermont, which describes how the French-speaking population lived. For the spring house-cleaning description, go to page 12 of the first paper, titled "Franco-Americans of Northern Vermont: Cultural Factors for Consideration by Health and Social Services Providers," by Peter Woolfson, University of Vermont.
I also used the essay below on housecleaning from the Sturgeon Bay Advocate in Sturgeon Bay, Wis., from April 1904. Sturgeon Bay was a short ferry ride (or horse-drawn winter sleigh ride) across the waters of Green Bay from Menominee, the county seat of Menominee County.
Thank you for reading. I hope your spring cleaning is going well!