You don’t pass 100 years by fretting over nonsense. Two things, for sure, will help get you there: working steadily and eating well.
Just ask Woodward’s Dahlia Queen, Alice Huey.
Alice lives a dozen miles east of her birthplace in the mountains. She’s about the same distance south of the Brush Valley farm she and her husband, Henry, worked for more than 50 years.
Her people, the Aumans, were part of the wave of Confers, Lingles, Wingards and Zerbys who flooded Poe and High Valleys 150 years ago to cut and drag the region’s virgin timbers to the new railroad’s stations.
Working and neighboring were as natural, necessary and unquestioned as breathing to these mountain folk.
Alice’s father may have known “Englisch,” but he preferred speaking in the Deitsch dialect all his life. Others succumbed to the temptation of tractors, but Clayton Auman would always farm his 15 mountainside acres with horses.
He rotated those fields of corn, oats and wheat, the latter going to Rote’s Mill where it was ground into all the flour needed for baking.
Huckleberries grew up through the slash left over either from the logging or the occasional forest fire. Apple, pear and peach trees, along with elderberries, yielded plenty for jellies and drying.
Hogs, one or two milk cows, and some chickens provided every conceivable dietary protein. Those animal manures, in turn, fed the plants.
Gender was irrelevant. Everyone carried their share of the load, whether they pitched hay, milked cows or harrowed the fields.
Wasting anything, especially time, was unthinkable. “Recycling” and “re-purposing” weren’t trendy concepts; they were timeless, sensible ways of life.
Weekly trips to the store in Spring Mills were limited to buying coffee and sugar (oh, and a piece of candy). That followed with a stop at the post office to get the mail and newspaper.
Why buy toys you could make yourself? Children pitched horseshoes or they tossed and batted a ball made of tightly wound yarn.
Saturday night festivals in Spring Mills, Coburn, Beaver Dam and Paradise featured bands playing music that appealed to all ages.
During her eight years attending Beaver Dam schoolhouse, Alice only had one teacher. Losing recess time taught troublemakers how to behave. Everyone took turns carrying buckets of coal for heat or water to drink.
In fact, Alice didn’t have running water most of her life. As she says, “You ran after it.”
Doctors came to the house if you were really sick, but you “doctored up” most ailments yourself by spreading grease on your chest, drinking pennyroyal tea or having Grandma perform pow wow rituals. In those days, all were equally effective.
Faces and fashions fade in and out with the years, but to a lifelong farmer, every season’s changing rhythms, routines and renewals are the only certainties we need to witness and remember.
Alice and her contemporaries aren’t relics of the past. They’re cultural treasures and testaments to a life well-lived.
So if you’re at the Woodward festival this weekend, drop by the French fry stand to chat and wish Alice a happy birthday. (That is, if she slows down or takes a break.)