Mildred Carpenter: Adventures with Nella

Excerpted from Mildred’s letters and interviews I had with her between 1977-1990. My additions to her letters are in brackets and I have edited her letters to clarify family names and to put events into chronological order.

A posed shot of Mildred pulling Nella – note the cat under the wagon.

We moved back to Cebolla as Granddad needed some help. I used to wash dishes at Gram’s hotel [the Sportsman’s Lodge] for a nickel, and then spent it for a Hershey candy bar, so Gram got her dishes done pretty cheap.

They held school in one of the tourist cabins one winter. There were about 8 children altogether.

The tourist cabins at the Sportsman Hotel, where Mildred and Nella attended school.

The next year, school was moved to Uncle Grovers’s house [Grover was one of J.J. Carpenter’s sons]. He had a new wife and she was a teacher.

As listed on the back of the photo: Ernest Ogden, Esther & Johnny Songs, Carra Parsons, Nella Carpenter, Nancy Spamn, Mildred Carpenter, Willis Steavens, Douglas Span, and James Shackelford. The boys on the right end look like ‘hell on wheels’.

One noon, Nella and I borrowed a kid’s horse to ride. Things went along fine until we turned around to go back. The horse grabbed the bit and ran, and slipped on an icy curve and fell, throwing both of us into the bank. The horse left and we had to walk back to school.

In late spring, the coal mines turned their donkeys out onto the range for awhile. Several came to our school, so we put them in the school yard and rode them at recess and noon. There was one donkey who would break if any of us got on while wearing a hat. He threw me against a tree one day. I had back aches from that for many years.

During the summer, Nella and I were allowed to build a fire on a rocky formation near the river. We baked mud pies and had a great time. We spent a lot of time fishing. Played in the river but never learned to swim.

When I was eight years old [1916] my grandfather’s sister came for a visit. She smoked a corn cob pipe and wore funny pantaloons under her long skirt, and knelt beside her bed to pray before retiring. You see, Nella and I peeked… She lived on one of the Carolinas, the Tar Heel State and I can’t remember which it is. [The Tar Heel State is North Carolina, J.J. Carpenter was born in Yancey, NC which is where the sister may have lived].

A couple of weeks before my brother [Bud] was born, Mamma went to Gunnison to stay with cousin Margie until birthing time. Daddy hired a woman whose name was Shedhalter. She was a guest once and chewed tobacco. Used to remove a lid on the kitchen range [cast iron cookstoves had lids where modern stoves have burners], chew tobacco and spit into the firebox. Don’t remember that she ever missed. She told some mighty weird stories…

Several months after Bud was born [the summer of 1917], Mamma’s mother [Carrie Proper Eastman] died. Mamma went to Denver for the funeral and Bud was exposed to chicken pox on the train on the way there. Nella and I caught them afterwards, and we were so sick. Grandma C [Louise Wiseman Carpenter] stuck us off in a bedroom and it seemed like she seldom came to see how we were. Mamma and Daddy were gone at the time.

[Harry John Carpenter was born in Gunnison on January 28, 1917. Everyone called him Bud which was the name he kept throughout his life.

When I was about 10, my father got a job with Jim Spann in the Jack’o Cabin Valley. We moved into a house at the end of a cow pasture. There was a nice spring where we got water. Nella and I used to take two white cats, dip water and drown out mice for the cats to kill.

When I was 12, Jim Spamn hired me to drive a sulky rake and a mower during the hay harvest. I didn’t like mowing. There was too much to look out for to protect the sickle. One summer Larry Spann gave me the job of sharpening sickles. I nicked a few blades, thinking he would put me back out in the field, but he just brought them back to be resharpened. He said I was the best sickle sharpener he ever had.

I used to wave at a boy, who was working in the hay fields for a neighbor. A year later I met him. It was Earl Hughes.

Nine years later, I married him.

Published by augustphoenixhats

I'm a self taught hat & mask maker, working in rescued textiles and found objects. My hat designs are inspired by my travels and historical studies, my masks from the textiles they are born from.

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