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Old Bergen

Chapter LV.

Daniel Van Winkle

Published 1902

Web version, edited by GET NJ
Copyright 2002

TRADITIONS AND REMINISCENCES, CONTINUED.
THE amusements of the young from their very simplicity, were the more enjoyable. The young ladies' constitutions in those days did not require expensive theatre parties and late suppers to revive their failing energies. When an outing was determined upon, the young man appeared on horseback, and halting at the mounting block, one of which adorned every front entrance, awaited the appearance of his maid, who mounted upon the pillion behind him and, prompted by a very proper Dutch timidity, clasped him convulsively about the waist to ensure herself against falling. They ambled along the leafy paths and shady roads, returning with an appetite that enabled them to do full justice to the bountiful meal awaiting them.

This horseback riding was followed by the more exclusive buggy, and long lines of these easy-riding vehicles, wending their way in the evening in every direction, testified to their popularity. Often a stop would be made at some convenient hostelry, where, under the inspiration of the negro fiddler, the hours were all too quickly consumed in the delights of the fascinating schottische, the stately quadrille, or the more rollicking Virginian reel. Oh! the delights of those moonlight rides through the shady back road, not a sound to be heard save the rustling of the shimmering leaves and the katydid's chirp, as the horse ambled softly along, guided by fair hands-for the girls insisted on driving when the woods came in sight, and the intelligent animal softened his gait to a slow walk, as if to express his intense sympathy. Again, at the proper seasons, picnics, straw-rides and sleigh-rides were indulged in, and the absence of formality, and the consciousness that all were possessed of a sincere spirit of friendliness, made them most enjoyable.

In winter at the first indication of sufficient snow, the girls were notified, wagon boxes mere placed on runners and filled with sweet, well-cured salt hay or straw, and an abundance of buffalo robes furnished. In the early evening hour the favored ones were called for, and to the music of silvery voices and resonant sleigh bells, the distance to Bergen Point or Hackensack was soon covered and the remaining hours devoted to that superlative enjoyment that can be fully appreciated only through realization. The names of Wauters and Pennoyer are so thoroughly identified with good substantial suppers and terpsichorean exercise that their mere mention opens up the vista of the past and brings again to view the scene in all its vivid freshness.

Along what was called Back Lane, now West Side Avenue, were melon patches and a peach orchard, possessing great attraction for the youth of the day, especially as there were cedar woods hard by, whose low, bushy branches afforded a convenient place of refuge from the eyes of the sometimes too inquisitive owners.

Probably the most attractive place in the old town at a certain season of the year was Van Wagenen's cider press (near where his house now stands, about which the boys clustered like flies around a molasses barrel; and no wonder, for no more exquisite enjoyment could be devised than a judicious combination of a well selected straw and an overflowing cider barrel. Jove never sipped more delicious nectar, than the new cider, wrapping as it did the senses in a most ecstatic dream, and obliterating all idea of present or Future responsibility.

Near by could be seen, on warm, sunny days, the portly form of "Old Uncle Gatty," seated in the midst of his beehives, calmly smoking his old clay pipe, blackened by long use, and watching his industrious workers as they piled up their wealth of sweetness. Although ignorant, perhaps, of what might be termed scientific bee lore, his knowledge of the habits of the little insects was verified by the seeming affection with which they encircled him, buzzing about his head as though trying to inform him of the discovery of some new, honey-laden flower, or lingering for a moment for his words of praise and encouragement. He talked with them as though he considered them possessed of human intelligence, and whenever any one exhibited unusual stupidity, his favorite comparison, spoken in the Dutch vernacular, was: "Huh you don't know half as much as one of my bees!"

The harvesting was carried on by an interchange of services, and the "killing time" (which always came after cold weather had set in), when the well nurtured hogs and beeves were deftly despatched to their happy grazing fields, was oftentimes made an occasion of great jollification. The farmers arranged to assist each other, so that the labor was lightened, and, with few exceptions, the work of the day finished by midafternoon. After refreshments, "weight guessing" was indulged in, while the sedative pipe quieted the nerves of those who had become unduly excited, and prepared them for a like experience at some neighboring farm the following day. The young people always longed eagerly for this time, when the old kitchen became redolent with savory smells, and the manufacture of sausage, roelechas, head cheese and, last but not least, the aromatic mince meat, suggested possibilities scarcely realized in an Epicurean dream.

The skins of the cattle killed were sent to the tannery, the proprietor of which exacted as toll one-half the quantity tanned. The leather returned to the farmer was laid aside to await the periodical visit of the shoemaker, whose custom was to travel from house to house, in order to make or cobble the shoes of the family.

Another industry in the fall was the collecting of honey from the beehives, which were to be found near every well regulated farm house; and lucky was the youngster who received permission to participate in this work. There was something so fascinating in the thought of being wakened in the early morning hours and groping through the gloom to the kitchen, where the flickering light of the fire only disclosed the shadows and dark recesses of the room, thereby increasing the chills that made the teeth clatter like castanets, not to be dispelled until after the disappearance of a bowl of hot supporn. Then, each person being provided with the ever-present woolen comforter closely wrapped about the neck and head, with a mysterious air and stealthy tread, in true keeping with the nefarious deed about to be performed, the expedition started, and it was an experience never to be forgotten.

The honey could be collected with comparative safety in the early morning, when the crisp, cold air had benumbed the active little denizens of the hive, and rendered them unable to use their natural means of defense in resisting the attack upon their stores of wealth. Preparations were made the night before by wrapping pine splints with cotton cloth and dipping them in melted brimstone. In the morning these were lighted and placed beneath the hives, and the fumes so stupified the bees that the plunderers were enabled to select at will such combs of honey as seemed to them judicious. Usually sufficient store was left to afford the bees a meagre sustenance until the return of the spring sunshine again tempted them forth in search of their natural food, but frequently the whole hive was denuded and the bee family destroyed.

Often in the early morning hour could be heard the deep bay of the fox hound echoing over the fields, as, urged by his revengeful master, he swiftly and unerringly tracked the midnight marauder, through whose shrewd cunning the poultry yard had been depleted.

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