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Minnie's Diary #23: School's Out, and Emily Goes Home

Last Day of School

Wednesday, June 8 - Went to Hville and saw Em. Worked in the garden.

-- Minnie Gamache Diary, 1904, Hermansville, Michigan

“The mention of ‘vacation’ and the ‘last day of school’ no doubt arouses very dear memories in the bosom of every man or woman who has served time in our public schools. The last day of school is a confusing picture of white dresses and pink ribbons against a backdrop of Sunday suits and soapy hair-combs. It is a memory fragrant with old-fashioned roses, lilacs, ‘pinies’ (not peonies), ‘snowballs’ and evergreen.”

— “Last Day of School: Different Boys Look Forward To It in Different Ways,” by John Hazelden, The Iron Port, Escanaba, Mich., June 3, 1899, page 6.

The children barely paid attention to Emily Gagnon that morning as she congratulated them about their performance in the end-of-school program the night before.

“I thought you all did a fine job,” Emily told them. “Now, let’s get things cleaned up and put away for the summer, and we’ll have a picnic before you go home.”

“On the last day of school all the little boys and girls are converted to a sudden goodness. Every girl is an innocent lamb in flossy white and the meanest boy in school shows up with his nose polished and wearing his mother’s necktie. This is the one day in the year when the long-suffering teacher is addressed as ‘dear teacher.’ The incorrigible flock has pestered and worried and provoked the poor woman for nine months, but on the last day of school they line up and call her ‘dear teacher’ and tell her how they love her and then, perhaps, they present her with an autograph album and she forgives them and cries a little and tries [hard] to believe that they mean it.”

— “Last Day of School: Different Boys Look Forward To It in Different Ways,” by John Hazelden, The Iron Port, Escanaba, Mich., June 3, 1899, page 6.

Minnie stopped by the school to congratulate Emily and the children on her way to Hermansville, where she needed to pick up a sack of flour for Ma and some nails for Pa.

A Tribute to America

Thinking about the program night before, Minnie recalled how the first grade pupils had nervously tugged at their clean shirts and white collars. Clara Duby, Laura Paquin, Leo Raiche Jr. and the other children stood shoulder to shoulder, their mothers, fathers and other relation watching expectantly from the audience. Emily had stood to the side, hoping her pupils would remember their songs and recitations. The program's theme was "A Tribute to America."

The pianist began playing the notes that signaled the youngest children to begin the familiar Civil War tune.

“When Johnny comes marching home again

Hurrah! Hurrah!

We'll give him a hearty welcome then

Hurrah! Hurrah!

The men will cheer and the boys will shout

The ladies they will all turn out

And we'll all feel gay

When Johnny comes marching home.”

-- When Johnny Comes Marching, by Louis Lambert a.k.a. Patrick Gilmore, 1863

The boys took special delight in each “Hurrah,” as the children formed fists with their right hands and punched them into the air. Leo nearly placed his fist in the side of his neighbor's head.

A few children forgot the words, but Laura and Clara helped keep the song on track, singing strongly if not in perfect tune. They looked relieved and proud when the song ended. Leo bowed like he’d been on the stage many times before. The audience laughed and clapped.

The second and third grade pupils recited “The Raggedy Man” by James Whitcomb Riley, with help from Minnie’s brother, Freddie, who dressed up in rags and pranced about the stage, mimicking the words.

O the Raggedy Man! He works fer Pa;

An' he's the goodest man ever you saw!

He comes to our house every day,

An' waters the horses, an' feeds 'em hay;

An' he opens the shed—an' we all ist laugh

When he drives out our little old wobble-ly calf;

An' nen—ef our hired girl says he can—

He milks the cow fer 'Lizabuth Ann.—

Ain't he a' awful good Raggedy Man?

Raggedy! Raggedy! Raggedy Man!

-- Raggedy Man, by James Whitcomb Riley, 1888

Minnie covered her mouth and shook with laughter. Neither Emily nor Freddie had let on that they were planning such a stunt. She looked about the room for police officer Danny Sullivan, who had his fill of "tramps" and "hobos" in town and wouldn't find "Raggedy Man" very funny. Fortunately, he wasn't there.

The fourth and fifth grade students recited "Driving Home the Cows," a Civil War era poem by Kate Putnam Osgood.

And so the program continued, until each class and pupil had been involved in at least one song, poem, or recitation. The eighth grade staged a debate on the topic: “Resolved, that Grant was a greater general than Lee.” Based on audience reaction, Grant’s team won in a landslide.

Nellie Caron, Permelia Paquin, Hilda Marchaterre and Minnie’s brother Freddie were among the eighth grade students finishing their studies. Perm impressed everyone with her well-researched essay on the St. Louis Exposition.

"Forest products from Menominee County are on display at the World's Fair, where millions of people will see them," Perm said. "The companies who sent exhibits to St. Louis include Nadeau Brothers of Nadeau, Wallace McPherson of Menominee, Weidman & Clough of Menominee and the Wisconsin Land and Lumber Company of Hermansville. The products are on display in the Michigan building.

"Governor Bliss dedicated the Michigan building on May 3. He said to the crowd, 'We are first in agriculture, first in iron, first in furniture, first in fruits -- in fact Michigan today could build a Chinese wall about itself and could survive for years to come.'"

To close the program, Nellie recited Walt Whitman’s poem, “I Hear America Singing.”

— “I Hear America Singing,” from Leaves of Grass, by Walt Whitman, 1882, via Google Books

The eighth grade graduates were now grown. Their families needed them on the farm or wanted them to find paid work in the sawmill or as a domestic servant. Very few would go on to high school.

Summer Vacation?

For the younger children, summer vacation awaited. The children living in town looked forward to a summer of fishing in the pond, playing baseball or riding their bikes. They’d try to stay busy with their friends all day — anything to avoid their mothers’ calls to help with chores. The farm children, however, had a different summer to look forward to.

“The country boy … knows that his summer vacation will involve more or less of pulling weeds, picking potato bugs, herding the cows, carrying water to the men in the field, ‘tramping down’ hay in the mow, feeding the pigs, pumping water for the stock, currying the horses, milking, splitting wood, etc., etc., and when he looks forward to three months of such hilarious diversion he realizes that it isn’t such hard work after all to sit in a shady schoolroom and read about the difference between a peninsula and an isthmus.”

— “Last Day of School: Different Boys Look Forward To It in Different Ways,” by John Hazelden, The Iron Port, Escanaba, Mich., June 3, 1899, page 6.

“Last Day of School: Different Boys Look Forward To It in Different Ways,” by John Hazelden, The Iron Port, Escanaba, Mich., June 3, 1899, page 6, from the Escanaba Public Library

Making Ready to Go Home

Thursday, June 9 - Worked in the garden and called on Emily. She was making ready to go home.

-- Minnie Gamache Diary, 1904, Hermansville, Michigan

“A North Dakota man who thinks weeds the worst enemy to be met with in the production of a garden writes in the Farm, Stock and Home that they must be fought early, late and all the time.”

— “Weeds are Bad Enemies,” Ironwood Times, Ironwood, Mich., May 14, 1904

Minnie hoed the garden soil, preventing weeds from taking root, all the while thinking of her friend Emily, who would be leaving Hermansville now that the school year was over.

People are like plants, she thought. Some are valuable and fruitful. You tend them with care. Fertilize them with your time and attention. Mend or prune them when they are broken, and enjoy the fruit of your friendship when harvest time comes.

Others are weeds, who choke out the sunlight and compete for food, water and attention. They cast a shadow over the garden, preventing other plants from growing and developing. They are quick to find fault. They dismiss or even thwart your dreams. Like weeds, these people need to be cut off at the roots and cast away, or they’ll do permanent damage.

Minnie and her mother had already planted the cool season crops, including radishes, beets, peas, carrots and greens. Now that the weather had warmed and the danger of frost was gone, they planted the summer vegetables, including sweet corn, onions, beans, squash, pumpkins and cucumbers. Their well-established perennial asparagus and rhubarb beds were already producing food, after being fed a generous amount of dry, composted manure.

Pa was planting field corn to feed the cows, horses and pigs, while Minnie and her mother sowed a few rows of sweet corn in the garden.

“Do not let the month go by without at least three plantings of sugar corn, say the 1st, 15th and 30th. Always have plenty for the table.”

— Farm Journal, Wilmer Atkinson Company, Philadelphia, Pa., June 1904, Vol. XXVIII, No. 6

After dinner, Minnie walked to the Paquin farm, where she found Emily packing her trunk with clothing, books, shoes and her few other belongings.

“How was your last day of school?” Minnie asked. "Did you have enough energy to get through it?"

“Exhausting, but worth it,” Emily said. “Look what the children gave me.”

Emily handed Minnie a book of poems, Poetry of the People, compiled by Martin Charles Flaherty. It contained poems from England, Scotland, Ireland and America. The writers included Shakespeare and Wordsworth, Longfellow and Shaw, Riley and Tennyson, Whitman and Foster, mixed with songs and ballads whose authors were unknown. All of the children in the little corner schoolhouse had signed their names on the flaps, wishing their “Dear Teacher” well and saying how much they would miss her.

“What a treasure,” Minnie said. “They must have saved all their pennies to purchase this book.”

“I think their parents helped,” Emily said with a smile, holding the book to her chest. “I’ll keep it forever.”

The Farmer Girl

Friday, June 10 - Ironed and worked in the garden.

-- Minnie Gamache Diary, 1904, Hermansville, Michigan

“Whistling and keeping time to the tune with the hoe, brings lovely returns. Whining withers every plant is has anything to do with.”

— Farm Journal, June 1904, p. 211 from Google Books

Minnie tried to keep her mind off Emily’s departure by whistling and singing happy tunes while she hoed the garden and ironed clothes. She enjoyed ironing in the winter, when the hot stove helped warm the house. In the spring and summer, the heat from the stove could become too much. Today was one of those too-warm days.

While wood burned to heat the stove and keep the irons hot, Ma put leftover beef and pork bones in water to simmer on the stove. In a few hours, she would have a gelatin-like base she could use to make soups for their evening suppers. Minnie’s mouth watered thinking of the onion soup Ma would likely make for that night’s meal.

“Minnie, could you fetch me some onions from the cellar?”

“I thought so,” Minnie said, heading down the stairs. “Onion soup for supper?”

Pa stuck his head in the door on his way to the fields.

“Minnie, we’ll be cutting hay until late in the afternoon, can you milk the cows?”

“Sure, Papa,” Minnie replied.

-- "The Farmer Girl: Why She is Lovable," Farm Journal,

June 1904, p. 202 from Google Books

Last Time with Emily

Saturday, June 11 - Emily called and slept with me for the last time. We had a circus.

-- Minnie Gamache Diary, 1904, Hermansville, Michigan

After she finished her morning chores, Minnie saved the rest of her day for time with Emily. They reminisced about their adventures with young suitors, remembering when Minnie dumped her beau Ernest on New Year’s Day after he left her alone on New Year’s Eve. They laughed about misadventures, like the time the boys at school put a mouse in Emily’s desk drawer. They talked into the night about their hopes and dreams.

“I just know your soap business will be a success,” Emily said. “Mrs. Paquin has been telling everyone that you’ll be taking orders soon.”

“Yes, I should have the full catalog and some samples early next week,” Minnie said. “I’ll send you some of the perfumed soap.”

“Oh, I’d love that,” Emily said. “But I may never want to use it, because then it would be gone.”

“I could simply send you some more, silly,” Minnie said, nudging Emily playfully. “I hope you do well at your new school.”

“I’ll be happy just to be closer to home. I miss my family.”

“Well, I’ll surely miss you,” Minnie told her. "We all will."

Went to the Train; Emily Went Home

Sunday, June 12 - Emily with me. Del, Ernest & Perm called. Went for a walk. Mr. Duby and Mrs. D. called. Emily went home. Went to the train. Came up with Del.

-- Minnie Gamache Diary, 1904, Hermansville, Michigan

The Sunday south-bound Chicago & Northwestern Railway train left Iron Mountain at 3:35 p.m. and would arrive in Hermansville shortly after 4 o’clock. Until then, Minnie wanted to spend every minute she could with Emily.

Del and Permelia Paquin and Ernest called to say good-bye. The all went for a walk down the road and through the fields, enjoying the sunshine on a warm spring day. None of them wanted the afternoon to come to an end.

“I found the perfect poem to remind me of you, my friends,” Emily said, showing the group the book she’d received from her students. “Thomas Moore wrote this poem about a town named Avoca in Ireland, but to me he’s writing about Hermansville.”

The Meeting of the Waters

There is not in the wide world a valley so sweet

As that vale in whose bosom the bright waters meet;

Oh! The last ray of feeling and life must depart,

Ere the bloom of that valley shall fade from my heart.

Yet it was not that nature had shed o’er the scene

Her purest of crystal and brightest of green;

’T was not the soft magic of streamlet or hill —

Oh, no! — it was something more exquisite still.

’T was that friends, the beloved of my bosom, were near.

Who made every dear scene of enchantment more dear,

And who felt how the best charms of nature improve,

When we see them reflected from looks that we love.

Sweet vale of Avoca! how calm could I rest

In thy bosom of shade with the friends I love best,

Where the storms that we feel in this cold world should cease,

And our hearts, like thy waters, be mingled in peace!

The Meeting of the Waters, by Thomas Moore, from Poetry of the People:

Comprising Poems Illustrative of the History and National Spirit of England,

Scotland, Ireland, and America, Edited by Martin Charles Flaherty · 1904

When Emily had finished reading the poem, not a single person had a dry eye. They gazed over the green hills and valleys, reflecting on friends near and far. Though they didn’t yet have the benefit of years of wisdom, they were beginning to learn how life stages come to an end but memories and the love of good friends can be made to last forever.

-- Chicago and North-Western Railway Depot, Hermansville, Mich.,

Minnie hugged Emily and kissed her good-bye at the train station, waving until the train pulled out of sight. Then she and Del walked home quietly, hand in hand, turning down a wagon ride offered by Del’s sister, Aldia, and her husband, Louis Duby. Minnie wanted to share the moment with Del, thinking about her friend and all the memories they'd made.

Notes & Further Reading

Note to Readers: 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. I welcome corrections and comments from readers. 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: No new characters appear in Minnie's Diary this week. Just the sadness of saying goodbye to a great friend, Emily Gagnon. As I noted in Minnie's Diary #2, Emily was the daughter of George Gagnon and Jane England, originally from Quebec, Canada. They immigrated to Oconto, Wisconsin, and later Marinette, where George worked as a mason. After completing her education, Emily taught school at Hermansville and in a town named Fox, where she met and married her husband, John Barstow. They had two sons and six daughters. She died on November 10, 1964, in Cedar River, Michigan, at the age of 81, and was buried in Menominee, Michigan.

School Days: The two clippings below provided some of my source material this week. I also read reports of end-of-year school programs and graduations in 1904 newspapers.

- The District School, by Mrs. M. L. Rayne, The Sturgeon Bay Advocate,

Sturgeon Bay, Wis., June 11. 1904

-- "Last Day of School: Different Boys Look Forward To It in Different Ways,” by John Hazelden, The Iron Port, Escanaba, Mich., June 3, 1899

Saving Bones: I still save bones from roast chicken and turkey to make homemade soup. There's nothing better on a cold day. In 1904, women had to heat up their stoves to heat their irons on ironing day, so it was a good day to prepare soup. Here's some 1904 advice from the Racine Journal on making a soup base.

-- Racine Journal, Racine, Wis., Feb. 9, 1904

Happy July: Happy Canada Day to my Canadian readers and Happy Fourth of July to my American friends. I hope we can all reflect on the ideals upon which our nations were founded, where we've fallen short, and where we can still work to achieve those ideals. Have a safe and enjoyable holiday weekend.

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