A Clermont Childhood: The Mice that Roared

Editor’s Note: In March 1939, Gilbert and Margaret Royston and their five children moved from a farm on Parshall Lane to Clermont Farm, just east of Berryville, which they continued to rent until 1948. In this series of articles, the youngest of the Royston children, Don, recalls the Clermont of his youth.

“A Clermont Childhood (1939-1948),” by Donald R. Royston, first appeared in  Proceedings (Vol. XXVI, 2008), the Journal of the Clarke County Historical Association. The Clarke Daily News is very pleased to present this five-part series in collaboration with the Clarke County Historical Association.

The 3rd annual HarvFest — a family-centered celebration of local food, farming, and history — takes place at Clermont Farm in Berryville, Virginia on Saturday, June 18, from 11-5. Clarke County has a rich heritage of farming and history that continues to this day. The national movement toward eating local food, practicing sustainable agriculture, and connecting the producer to the consumer is well underway and HarvFest will bring this education and celebration to the public, prepared cuisine, entertainment, and educational activities.

HarvFest is a one-day festival celebrating local food, farming, and history. Clarke County’s rich agricultural and historical heritage will be showcased via local food and drink vendors, farming demonstrations, and historic tours and displays. HarvFest is hosted by and benefits The Clermont Foundation and Clarke County Parks and Recreation.

HarvFest will be held at the historic Clermont Farm just east of Berryville on business Route 7. Clermont was surveyed by George Washington in 1750 and currently sits on 360 rolling acres owned by the Virginia Dept. of Historic Resources and managed by a local trust. Clermont is a working cattle and sheep farm.

 

A Clermont Childhood: Thrashing Time

by Donald R. Royston

Royston children at Clermont circa 1946 - Photo courtesy Clarke County Historical Assocation

I’ve been asked numerous times by nieces and nephews about the mice story, so I might as well tell it here. It was one of those Saturday afternoons when not too much work for the rest of the day was anticipated. After our noontime dinner, Pop told Skeeter, our hired hand, to take Bill with him to do some job — I don’t recall what that was — while Pop took me with him to gather a load of corn fodder. To the field we went with a two-horse team and wagon to haul a load of fodder to the barnyard for the animals to pick over, tramp down what they didn’t eat, and otherwise create more manure that we would spread over the fields in the spring.

The job entailed throwing shucked corn stalks tied in bundles onto the wagon. The shucked corn had long since been loaded and hauled to the corn crib — only the bundles of stalks remained to be gathered from the field. It wasn’t work I was big enough to do, but Pop was not a person to allow a son to be idle. So he gave me the job of killing mice as they ran from the uncovered bundles of corn stalks. He must have figured I’d become bored with the job so he increased my interest by telling me he would give me a penny for every mouse I killed. That definitely got me focusing on the task at hand.

Do you have any idea how many mice there can be under a shock of shucked corn? I can tell you there are many! I stomped and stomped those mice as they scampered from under the shocks of corn until my bounty was too much for me to carry or stuff into my pockets. Since then, I’ve heard it said that necessity is the mother of invention and that must have been my solution to because I began tying the mice about one foot apart on binder twine and then tying the end of the string to the back of the wagon. By the time Pop had loaded that wagon of corn stalks, I must have had forty feet of “mice on a string.”

I was really proud of myself as I showed Pop the results of my kill. He didn’t say anything about paying me as we counted them, and I knew better than to ask for my pennies. Pop would pay when he paid — that was the type person he was. If he owed you, he paid but don’t pester him.

We began the wagon haul to the barn, and when we came to our house, I asked Pop if I could get off the load and show Mom my mice kill. So off the wagon and up the yard I ran, proudly dragging my string of mice. As I approached the back porch and the kitchen door, I spied the hog-killing equipment. We had butchered hogs not too many days in the past; and the many different pots, pans, sausage grinder, lard press, and miscellaneous utensils had not been put back in storage. That sausage grinder fascinated me when I’d seen it used the previous times. You just dropped pieces of meat into it, turned the handle, and out came ground-up meat! My interest quickly turned to action as I untied my mice and began dropping them one by one into the grinder while I turned the crank.

“Secrunch! Secrunch! Crack! Crack! Secrunch!” That old grinder was making the same sounds as when Pop ground sausage from the hog meat.

I don’t know how long I concentrated over that grinder, fascinated by the sounds and actions, but I finally began to sense a presence nearby and, looking around and up, I saw Mom. Oh, the look of what must have been horror and surprise mixed with revulsion on her face. (It really did look green and red at that moment.) Suddenly, she took her apron with both hands and began to raise and lower it in a fanning motion toward her face, saying over and over, “Oh! My Word! Oh, My Word!” Needless to say, I stopped grinding mice. Mom must have washed that grinder in boiling water a dozen times before it was put in storage. And can you believe I remember no spanking for that one!

Next: A Clermont Childhood — Going to Town

Comments

  1. kenlynne white says:

    What a great story! Sent it off to all my country friends and not so country……………. lol

  2. Mary K Hope CARLTON says:

    My favorite story about my Uncle Donny and my grandparents