Corwin Seals Gray
Gray progenitors: Joseph Farrow, George Henry, Joseph (born 20 January 1788)
As told to Carolyne Alice Gray (Allred) on 24 March 1994, at Sun City, Arizona
I was born on 2 August 1906 at Verona, New Jersey. My parents were Joseph Farrow Gray and Carrie Seals. Mother was born in Schooley's Mountain, New Jersey; my father was born in Milltown, New Jersey, now called Milldale, near Chester, New Jersey.
My father was a plumber. When he started in business he traveled from house to house. He installed furnaces--steam heating. In those days, people did not have central heating. Many houses had nothing more than the kitchen stove for heating. Later on, they would add a heating stove in the parlor, which is what we had. No central heating. He would install steam furnaces for steam heat, and install the radiators, equipment, and piping in these old houses in North Jersey. He did that before he was married and for a while after he was married. It was the R.H. Bartley steam furnace, manufactured in Bartley, New Jersey.
He and my mother would write letters back and forth and I have quite a few copies of those letters which are interesting to show that they were very much in love with each other. She was home and he was away traveling. She was what used to be called a housewife but now a homemaker. She went to school in Hackelbarney New Jersey. It's in the middle of North Jersey, in Morris county. It is now a state park. The house and lot where she lived in Hackelbarney is now covered by a road.
The earliest thing I remember was when I objected to having a deVilbis atomizer blow atomizing medication up my nose. I remember the specific spot where I sat in the kitchen and remonstrated with my mother that I didn't like it.
My grandfather Gray was a millwright in the days when a millwright was a maker of mills--the kind that ran rotary stone mills. Grist mills. He would make and repair the gearing that went into a water-powered grist mill. I still remember his carpentry shop where he had hanging on the wall the patterns for all the big wooden teeth that would set in the mill gearing wheels. Each tooth would be six or eight inches wide and an inch and a quarter thick, made of hickory--wood.
My mother's parents were farmers. They would rent a farm and live on the farm and raise their family and do their farming business. To put it in the slang expression, they were share croppers, in an arrangement where the land owner would lease the farm to the farmer. The big money people owned the land; they owned many farms. They would have a farm family come on the place and run it--share croppers.
In 1910 we moved from where I was born on Claremont Avenue in Verona, New Jersey, to grandfather Seals farm on Ironia Road in Flanders, New Jersey. At about that time both grandmother Seals and grandfather Seals died (Grandmother on 19 Dec 1911, Grandfather on 2 Jan 1912). We had chickens in the backyard. In fact, everyone in those days had chickens, and/or chickens and pigs. That was the way the ecology was completed. All table scraps went to the chickens, and vegetable scraps all went to the pigs. You added a little bit of ground feed, wheat or oats, to that, and skim milk, the milk left over from making butter and cheese, the whey, was fed to the pigs. Nothing was thrown away, nothing went down the sewer. Everything was saved. You had nothing left but glass cans that you had your food stored in, and if you went to the store and bought anything in metal cans, then you had something to throw away. Otherwise you did your own canning, and you had your own garden.
When we moved from Verona, New Jersey to Flanders, the first thing my father did was build a porch around the house, a column porch. That house was a two-story farm house when we moved into it. The beams under the floor were unsawed lumber logs. The floor of the cellar was dirt. The walls were set up with stone masonry, not poured.
The house was hot in summer and cold in winter. It had a kitchen stove for heating, and we lived in the kitchen. Everybody else did in those days too. There was a parlor stove. Every house had a parlor which nobody went into, except for weddings and funerals. It had a big stove in there--you would light that stove if you wanted heat in that room. There was no heat upstairs in the bedroom. If it got down to freezing outdoors, it was down to freezing in the bedroom. You got your hot water dipped out of a tank in the kitchen stove. Later on dad added a hot water boiler beside the stove--installed what they called a waterback into the firebox so that we did have hot water from the stove more or less continuously.
The water came from a well and you pumped the water from the well by hand into a tank up in the attic. It ran down from that tank by gravity. In later years the well went dry, so then we laid a pipeline from the house three hundred feet down to the creek and pumped the water in, first by hand. Had a pitcher pump on the sink and that pitcher pump was connected by pipes all the way from the house down to the creek. Some said a pitcher pump wouldn't pull water that far, but it did.
We had no electricity, and we eventually got a telephone, but for a while we had no telephone either. Cooking was all done by the kitchen stove, a coal stove. Later we had an oil stove. That was a big advancement--a four burner, kerosene oil stove. My mother baked bread on that, and of course we had baked bread. We had no store bread. Never bought store bread--all home made. During World War I we had a barrel of flour. My father was able to get a barrel of flour and we had that right there in the house in the kitchen. What you had to have was yeast and flour and some potato water and you had bread. It was all done by hand. Later on we got a bread mixer which you turned the handle and mixed the dough. Life started from elementary arrangements. I used to run the churn for my grandmother. For a while we lived there with our grandmother and grandfather Seals. I would run the hand churn up and down to make butter.
In those days everybody was pretty well self-sufficient. We had our food, we had our heat, and we had our own water--nobody could take it away from us. We were not beholden to a utility. Every unit of house was independent in terms of food, fuel, and water. Nobody could turn off your water. If you could buy kerosene you had at least that kind of heat and light, because kerosene was your light as well as your heat.
First the telephone came through. I can't remember the date when they first had the telephone, but before that time, back in 1910, 12, and 13, the nearest telephone was the local hotel which was about five hundred yards up the street. It was in the days of the itinerant merchant, going along by horse-drawn wagon. One particular delivery man had a team of horses and they would come through every so often and stay overnight in the hotel. That was the order of things in those days.
The grammar school was in Flanders, and it was the better part of a mile, to and from school, regardless of the weather, zero, or heat, or whatever. It was a two-room school, one teacher for each room. The upstairs room was the first four grades with one teacher, Miss Quick was her name. The lower room was the fourth through eighth grades; Iva D. Lindeberry was the teacher. There was a big belfry up on top of the school, and there were bats up there, you could sit up there and see the bats hanging under the belfry. The good boys got a chance to ring the bell. There was no water, no electricity in the school. The drinking water came from the nearest well--I was one of the boys who walked oh, I'd say about a thousand feet down the street, and lowered the bucket into the well and turned the crank and hoisted the bucket full of water up and poured the bucket of water into a pail and carried the pail back to the school. We had a tin dipper with a long handle to drink out of. Then they got modern and bought a water cooler which was a ceramic pot with a spigot on the bottom. Later we got conscious of cleanliness and we each had our own collapsible drinking cups.
I did garden work, I did carpenter work. The table out in the shop, I made that when I was in high school. The lumber came from rough-sawn boards of poplar. My father had a number of poplar boards up in the barn, which he was saving for some construction. I would cut the pieces required to make this desk, which had drawers in it, complete. I planed the boards down smooth, by hand, with a plane, designed and cut the parts, and put them together. To this day that is sitting out there in the shop.
The three R's were paramount in those days. Reading, writing, arithmetic, history, geography, penmanship. I once could write quite well, which I promptly lost when I went to high school, because I had to copy notes in the absence of a text book--copy notes from the board. At that time I was studying French, because war time was beginning--the first world war. So I would copy notes in a hurry, and if the French word was shorter than the English word I would write it in French. So I ended up with a series of scribbled notes, part in English and part in French, of which I can still remember some of the little poems we had to read in French. And there was a little poem where the rooster sat on the wall. Now I have forgotten the French words for it. I had a study period in high school in the same room as a Latin class, so I learned some 'widie-widie-winkies' (veni, vidi, vici).
Before I left the area I did garden work. We had a big garden. I mowed lawns. I had a string of widows up in town for which I did garden work, mostly lawn mowing. And usually I got about 50 to 75 cents for mowing the lawn, which was big money in those days, because a dollar a day was what they called 'darn good pay', I don't remember what the rest of the ditty was. I would mow with a scythe--got quite expert at mowing with a scythe. I could mow grass almost as short as you could with a machine.
During high school I was making radios. I had high marks in the science class. The instructor in science, chemistry, and the like, wanted a radio made, and I helped him make one. Now the plans for such a radio I still have--out in my shop I have a magazine called Radio News, dated 1933 or thereabouts. In these magazines were plans on how to make a radio. I would make them and install them. This was still in high school. Then when I graduated from high school with pretty good marks, except in English, my father and I went down to Newark Technical School. Four years there, graduated in 1929.
My first job out of college was for the New Jersey Power and Light company. I worked there for a while, and they wanted me to work on Sunday and I couldn't work on Sunday, so we parted company. They didn't want me around if I couldn't work every day in the week. Because in those days one didn't work on Sunday. The stores were not open on Sunday in those days. Everybody took the Sunday off and rested. They read the Sunday School paper. There were no newspapers on Sunday. In fact Sunday newspapers were a no-no. There were the blue laws in New Jersey in those days. So everything was real quiet on a Sunday. People went to church and went in the afternoon and visited friends and relatives.
I can still see my Uncle Charlie and Aunt Goldie--Aunt Goldie was the daughter of the next farmer up the road about a thousand yards or so. And Uncle Charlie was my mother's brother. He worked on the railroad. He was a gandy dancer on the railroad. I can still see him, he and his other crew members, they had a hand-run six-man car they would put on the tracks. Three men on one handle, three men on the other handle, sometimes four. They would pump their way up the track coming home from work. That I can still see vividly. A gandy dancer was a track maintenance man. Later on they got fancy and motorized these rail cars so they no longer had to pump themselves manually up and down the track. In maintaining a railroad they would go along and fix all the ties and the rails. Every so often they had a place where they could take the gandy car off the track and set it on the side so the train could go by. And they would pick it up and put it back on again.
One hot summer day my father and I went over to Hacketstown, I think it was a Sunday afternoon, to call on Aunt Annie. Now Aunt Annie was quite a popular gal in the family. I can still taste her pan of white beans, the way she would prepare them. And who do I meet over there, someone else had come to visit Aunt Annie also. Arlene Landon. That's where we first met. She went back home to Glen Ridge and I went home to Flanders, and then one time I called her up. It got kind of complicated about that time; I had been traveling a lot, she had been on vacation trips out of town, so I guess when I called her, she was surprised. So then I made a date. From then on things happened.
Her father, after I had called on her that evening (it was hot and sticky, in the days when you applied material that was not stockings--they were colored--she had that kind of stuff on her legs, apparently, leg make up--she was hot and uncomfortable) I was there for a while, quite a while, apparently, and when I went home, her father asked her "Who's that that could keep you up talking until three o'clock in the morning?" or something like that. But before that, back in Aunt Annie's house in Hacketstown, she had come up there to also take a dip in the lake, so she was in Aunt Annie's, mind you now, with a wool bathing suit underneath her outside clothes. They were all made of wool in those days (Grandma: "I never had a wool bathing suit in my life!"). She said she was mighty uncomfortable...
Things sort of developed from then on. And apparently I knew what I had in mind because I liked her, of course. And she seemed to be interested in me to the point where she canceled some important engagements that she had made, before that, as the story goes...
All this while I was already an engineer with a job at Sperry Gyroscope company in New York. Before that I worked for the Public Service company in Newark, and for a vacuum tube concern in East Orange, which went out of business in 1929. The next job I got was Bell Telephone laboratories. They had a big layoff because of the 1929 crash--they laid off everyone with less than ten years seniority. Then I went home and spent the next year working at home. Real big garden, ran the place, ran that tractor-mower combination. That was a project of its own, rebuilding that model T car into a tractor. Then I got a job with the Hercules Powder company and worked there a while, and got a job with the Sperry Gyroscope company. A friend of mine called up and said come on down and work for Sperry.
So I was working at Sperry Gyroscope company with a good salary for those days, and decided it was about time to get married. So that's the beginning of that part of it.
The happiest times of my life, I would say, were when you and Ted came into the picture. Ted was first, and you were next.
Well of course, the family began to get older and one after another passed on. Mother went on, then we had nobody left. When my grandmother Gray died, my grandfather Gray came to live with us. So he moved into our house there in Flanders.
Carol: "How do you feel about your family?"
Oh, it's great. Compared with today's trivia which you see on television, our family as a whole was par excellence, no question about it. My grandfather Seals was a Deacon in the Presbyterian church, my mother was deeply religious, my father was also deeply religious and has read the Bible through time and time again. You start out with a good family backing and you still continue a good family backing. That's the point I want to make. And when I say these things I'm comparing it with what you see on TV in terms of what's happening every day in the streets--a lack of family values. The family values that we started out with, have continued to this day. That's the point I want to make.
My children have carried on the same background of the family origin, in my opinion, all the way through. When I say it that way, I'm comparing friends of ours in Salt Lake City, friends of ours we have worked with, and seen what's happened to them--disappointments that have developed, how they have been unhappy with the result of what their families are--fallen apart. Our family hasn't fallen apart. Some may well disagree with it but that's the way I think of it.
Carol: "What would you like to tell your great-great grandchildren?"
Keep maintaining the family values. That seems to be the biggest loss we have now in this civilization--family values don't exist.
You can't look at television without seeing family values have gone out. Today's program was an example: The question was on the Bible. You should have heard how they stumbled over the answers to the questions on the Bible. They had obviously never heard of the 23rd psalm. Ask Mike. Mike was pretty good at it. He was answering the questions right along.