William Squire Davis
14 January, 1853__10 May, 1925
Mac tipped back onto his heels, the worn boards of the porch floor cool under his bare feet.
He surveyed the rectangle of wooden blocks he had arranged in front of him.
Father had cut the blocks from scraps of pine lumber, rubbed them to satiny smoothness with a bit of sandpaper. There were neat squares, small and larger rectangles, a stack of slender lengths like tiny boards.
Mac considered, his hand hovering briefly over the square blocks before he chose the little rectangles and began laying them carefully to resemble a course of bricks.
"Bwok!" His baby brother Andrew lurched to Mac's side and plumped down beside the blocks, his short blue gingham dress puddling round him.
"I'm building a barn, Andy," said Mac, placing another block.
Behind the boys the old wooden chair creaked as their mother leaned forward, pulling a basket of shell beans within reach. She sighed and dabbed moisture from her forehead with the edge of her
"Let Andrew play too," she admonished.
Mac beamed her a smile and guided Andrew's dimpled hand toward a block.
"See," he coaxed, "Put the block there."
They were distracted from their building by the sound of a horse's hooves out on the road and Mac turned to see a buggy pulling into the yard.
A muffled "Whoa," and the buggy halted smartly by the hitching rail.
The driver stepped from the buggy, moved to slip the reins loosely around the rail.
Mac looked the man over with dawning delight.
"Uncle Squire!" he crowed.
Squire Davis removed his straw hat, used it to slap dust from the legs of his dark trousers. as he strode up the path.
He reached the wooden steps, swung his legs easily over the makeshift barrier of chicken wire which kept young Andrew from tumbling off the porch.
"What brings you here, Squire?" asked his sister. "The road's dusty in this heat, can I get you a drink of water?"
Squire detached Andrew who was clinging to his pants leg, swinging the little boy up and carrying him across to a wide-lapped chair.
"I reckon I can find the pail and dipper in the usual place, if I need a drink. Looks like a good mess of shell beans you've got there."
He hung his hat on the post of the chairback, settled himself with Andrew on his knee.
Mac left his blocks and leaned against his uncle's other leg.
"I had an errand up at the mill store, thought I'd look in here for a bit, give the mare a rest before I head back around the mountain."
Squire rescued his beard from the toddler's inquisitive grasp and gave his sister a keen glance over the small round head.
"You're looking a mite peaky, Sofie. Betsey said as how you might be feeling a bit off-color just now."
Sophia's fingers paused for a minute, then stripped the pink-streaked beans from the pod into the bowl on her lap, dropped the limp pod into the bucket at her feet. Picking up another bean pod, she met her brother's gaze.
"I'll do," she affirmed. "There's been a few mornings my breakfast didn't set well, but that part of it will be over soon. It will be a spring baby, not long after Andrew turns two."
Mac jigged up and down, hands clasped over the arm of the chair.
"I'm turning six, Uncle Squire, next week. Ma says I'm a big boy!"
Squire gave the small sturdy shoulder an approving squeeze.
"You are a big boy, and that's one reason I stopped by. I could use a big boy for a few days."
Again he looked over the children's heads, directing his comment to Sofie.
"If you could spare Mac for a few days---say til the weekend, I think it would do Betsey good."
Sophia's usually brisk tone was gentled; "If you think it would help Betsey--and you, of course Mac can go along. It's a hard thing to lose a child, at any age. I watched Mother grieve for Georgianna and our brother Andrew until the end of her days, and never more than when each year came around to the week and the day of their deaths." She paused, smoothed back a strand of brown hair, resettled a hairpin.
"I don't know as we've had any more trouble than plenty of other familes here-abouts, but
we've had our share."
They sat silently for a moment, the broad-shouldered, ruddy-cheeked man and his sister with her plump smooth face and crown of shiny light brown hair.
They had grown up in this house, knew every inch of the small farm tucked against the mountain, their grandfather's farm, the place where their father had come to manhood and lived out his years.
Father, Almeron Davis, 40 years old with consumptive lungs, had enlisted in the Union Army in the New York 5th Cavalry, Company H. He had seen action and been captured by the Rebels in Virginia, parolled and sent home, labeled 'unfit for duty,' his shoulders stooped, his thin body wracked by the chronic cough that had worsened during the months in a damp southern prison. At that, he had out-lived his wife, Mary, and two of their children.
Georgiana had died at age 19, her face turning blue as she struggled in the grip of an epileptic seizure. Andrew, age 27, had lingered nearly a week before succumbing to the bullet wound which resulted from a hunting accident. Mary, tired and worn beyond her 65 years had faded away soon after the new year in 1885. Almeron Davis died that summer, half an hour after a fall from a hay wagon shattered his spine. Sophia, the ackowledged mistress of the home place, had
married Bill Lewis barely two months later
They sat, Squire and Sofie, on this late summer afternoon of 1892, remembering those earlier losses, not wanting to speak of the deaths of Squire and Betsey's two children: the little girl whose life had burned out in a blaze of fever before her second birthday; the more recent tragedy of four year old Arthur, three years ago this very week.
Mac, aware of something in the heavy silence which he couldn't name, looked from his uncle to his mother's face. She was tight-lipped, severe and shuttered, her hands still flying through the pile of beans, selecting a plump pod, squeezing it at the end to open it down the seamed length, scraping out the beans which fell with a fat whisper into the enamel bowl in her lap.
Andrew half dozed in the circle of Uncle Squire's arm. Mac wriggled closer and his slight movement broke the spell.
Uncle Squire straightened his shoulders. He slid a calloused finger under one of the straps which held up Mac's short pants, tugged gently.
"What do you say, Mac. Shall we get over the mountain to Horicon?"
Sophia set aside the bowl of beans, and rose, brisk once more.
"Bring Andrew inside, Squire. There's an old quilt on the settee in the kitchen. If you lay him down there he'll sleep for an hour and I can finish shelling the beans in peace. I'll get Mac's things."
McKenzie 'Mac' Lewis
22 August, 1886__30 January, 1978
Squire waited in the kitchen with Mac. Andrew snuggled into the quilt with a tiny bubbly snore. On the wall shelf behind the kitchen table the pendulum of the steeple clock swung gently, its tick-tocking loud in the quiet room. Beyond the open kitchen window a hen squawked indignantly and the leaves of the nearest looming maple tree stirred in a breath of August wind.
The front stairs squeaked under Sophia's tread and she was in the room with them, a small pile of garments in her hands. Opening a cupboard built into the wall near the black kitchen range,
she produced a paper sack.
Into this she placed Mac's shoes, a pair of stockings, two pairs of drawers, two checked gingham shirts, his faded flannel nightshirt. She nodded toward Mac's jacket and cap on a low peg near the back door.
"August mornings are chilly the other side of the mountain, you'll maybe need those. You be a good boy now and mind your Aunt Betsey."
Clutching his paper sack of belongings, Mac followed Uncle Squire to where the buggy waited. The mare whickered at their approach, swished her tail at flies. Mac felt himself suddenly scooped up and deposited on the buggy seat; he wriggled, trying to stretch his feet to meet the floorboards while Squire moved to untie the horse. The buggy swayed slightly as he climbed aboard. Mac turned to wave toward the porch where his mother stood watching, then they were turned and headed out of the dooryard, the mare finding her stride as they swung onto the hard-packed dirt of the road.
Within moments they had passed any landmarks familar to Mac. They swept through swaths of sunlight,trotted through cool dark tunnels where the trees overhung the road. The pace slowed as the mare leaned into the hill.
"Where do you live, Uncle Squire," Mac asked, feeling a bit lost. "Have I ever been there?"
He felt rather than heard Squire's chuckle over the rumble of the buggy wheels.
"You've been there, Mac, but you might not remember."
The road flattened into a wide curve and Squire turned in toward a trim white house. A long porch wrapped the front and a woodshed was attached at the side of a one story ell.
Squire walked the mare toward a red barn and reined her to a stop near a watering trough. He climbed nimbly down and reached back for Mac. Clutching his bundle, Mac jumped toward the outstretched arms and was swooped to the ground. He felt the tickle of Uncle Squire's beard, smelled the warm sun-dried cotton of his shirt before he was set on his feet.
While Uncle Squire removed the harness and hung it in the horse stable, Mac looked around him. He noted the fenced garden patch, the row of heavy-headed sunflowers that lined one side, the tassels of
corn visible beyond.
With the mare wiped down and turned into the safety of the pasture, Mac followed Squire along the grassy path to the back entry of the farmhouse. The screen door slapped behind them and they stood for a moment, their eyes adjusting to the late afternoon dimness of the kitchen.
There was a light step in the hall and a small, slender woman appeared in the doorway.
Her hair was darker than Sofie's and Squire's, worn in braids pinned around her head. Her dress was pale grey with a small black print, her apron tied neatly at a trim waist.
Her eyes behind wire-rimmed spectacles were sparrow-bright and inquiring.
"Why Squire," she said, smiling, "Who's this you've brought?"
Squire's hand was warm on the base of Mac's neck.
"I thought we could use some company for a few days, so Mac agreed to come along and help us out. Do you think we can find a place for him?"
"I'll make up Arthur's....." Aunt Betsey's voice trailed off and Mac felt his uncle's hand tighten on his shoulder.
Betsey began again, her voice carefully matter of fact.
"The sun won't go down for several hours yet. I'll air some bedding on the back porch lines and make up the bed in the small room. You'd better have a cookie, Mac if you're going to help Uncle Squire with chores. Its awhile til supper."
Mac trotted happily behind Uncle Squire as the three cows were brought in from their pasture for the evening milking. The smells of the barn, of hay, manure, and new milk were familiar. The sound of milk hissing into a metal bucket, of the cows munching their hay were the same as at home. The scrape of the hoe on the barn floor after the cows were turned out, the sloshing of the milk through the separator were the same on every small farm. The evening chores moved in an age-old harmony.
In the kitchen Mac and Squire took turns splashing in the big blue-speckled basin in the iron sink, washing faces, necks, hands and forearms, rubbing themselves dry on the coarse roller towel. They combed their hair, Uncle Squire lifting Mac to see his own face in the small mirror above the sink.
Aunt Betsey had built a fire in the kitchen range, hot and quick to warm up creamed potatoes and fry a slice of ham. There were blackberries, sugared and simmered to syrupy goodness to pour over hot biscuits. Mac ate with enjoyment. He helped Betsey clear the table, carried the silverware to the pantry sink for her, then wandered out to where Uncle Squire sat in the cooling dusk of the front porch, his boots removed and his stockinged feet stretched in relaxation.
Aunt Betsey came quietly through the screen door, seated herself on the cushioned bench. She patted the seat beside her. "Here, Mac, I'll read to you before bedtime." He saw that she had a children's storybook on her lap, remembered that Mother said Aunt Betsey had been teaching school when Uncle Squire was courting her. He leaned against her, catching the scent of soap and starch in the folds of her dress, liking the cadence of her light clear voice. Grey darkness crept in as she read and he said, drowsily wondering, "I can't see the pictures. How can you see the words?"
"Well," she said, and there was an odd little tremor in her voice, "I've read the book so many times before..." Her hands lay in her lap over the closed cover of the book. An owl hooted from the edge of the woods and a mourning dove gave a startled call from somewhere near the garden.
"Time for bed," declared Uncle Squire, and his chair scraped back as he rose and stretched.
He held the screen door open for Betsey and Mac to pass through, then closed the inner door. The room was shadowy, with lurking shapes of furniture.
Mac was hustled through the business of washing his feet after he and Squire made a trip along the shed hallway to the outhouse.
He trailed his uncle and aunt upstairs, stood waiting on the threshold while Squire lit a kerosene lamp. The bedroom thus revealed was tidy with a big double bed covered in a blue and white quilt. Stiff white curtains billowed crisply at the windows. An open door near a tall chest of drawers led into a smaller room, tucked beneath the slope of the ceiling. There was one window, also white curtained. Aunt Betsey lit another lamp and set it on a low dresser. In the wavering yellow light Mac located a small white painted metal bed, a rocking chair with a red cushion. A battered rag doll sat tipsily in the chair, an equally scruffy plush bunny beside her. The pattern of the quilt on the little bed was lively with squares of blue, green, red and deep yellow.
Mac was sleepy and he didn't resist Aunt Betsey's help in getting his clothes off and his nightshirt over his head and buttoned.
She turned down the quilt, smoothed the fresh white sheets, patted the pillow into place. Mac tumbled into the bed, felt Betsey's hand brush his hair.
"We're just next door," she assured him, "and the door's open between. If you need anything, you call out and I'll come to you."
She blew out the lamp and Mac heard the rustle of her skirt as she passed to the next room. Fogged with approaching slumber he listened to the quiet movements of Betsey and Squire preparing for bed: the little thud of Betsey's shoes as she placed them side by side on the floor, the creak of the bedsprings as Squire sat on the edge of the bed.
He heard Aunt Betsey's voice, muffled, blurred with tears, "I miss Arthur so much--the sweetness of putting a child to bed--and Anna--Anna would have been a big girl now.."
Uncle Squire's voice was gentle, "There, I know; my dear, I know."
The hushed voices, the quiet sobs trailed away. The sounds of night birds, the lowing of a cow drifted through the open window.
Mac turned on his side, his face snuggled against the smooth pillow. He slept.
Mac woke sometime in the night. Moonlight spilled into the room, but it was a room he didn't know. The angle of the sloping ceiling was wrong, too close, looming over him. A small dark shape troubled him, until he realized it was his shirt and trousers dangling from a peg on the back of the door. He struggled in the near dark to get his bearings. What lay beyond that door? What lurked in the corner behind the
The wind had blown up and outside the window leaves fluttered and branches creaked, too close.
A fox barked and was answered almost instantly by another, nearer the house, Mac began to imagine that the foxes were there, right below his bedroom window. Perhaps one had snatched a chicken from Aunt Betsey's henhouse and was even now reducing it to a bloody pile of feathers to find in the morning.
He lay very still, feeling small and adrift, listening to the faint settling creaks and whispers of the
unfamiliar house. From the sitting room below he heard the muffled bong of the tall clock, two hollow notes stirring the darkness.
He wasn't cold, but he burrowed deeper into the quilt. He tried to picture his bedroom at home, in the farmhouse on the other side of the mountain. How strange that he wasn't sleeping in that room.
How odd that 'home' could continue without him there.
From the next room came a sudden grunting snore and the twang of bedsprings--Uncle Squire turning in his sleep. Mac remembered Aunt Betsey's assurance that he could call her in the night. He thought about that, but he considered that he didn't have a belly ache, he didn't need the chamber pot. If he called anyone he wouldn't know how to express the strange lostness that gripped him.
Mac slept again, lulled at last by the wind soughing through the leafy branches just beyond his window.
When he woke, he still felt that sense of an unfamiliar place, but daylight had brought definition to the small room under the eaves. He lay still for a few moments, his eyes tracing the sprigged pattern of the wallpaper, noting things he had missed the night before: a small framed print of a curly headed child in a ruffled nightgown kneeling with folded hands by a high bed; behind the rocking chair was a lidded wooden box, the sort that might hold toys. A stack of picture books was arranged neatly on the top.
Mac swung his feet out of bed, his toes kneading as they met the coils of a rag rug that lay on the painted floorboards. He shrugged out of his nightshirt and into his short trousers and plaid gingham shirt.
Uncle Squire and Aunt Betsey's room was empty and quiet, the bedclothes flung back over the foot of the bed to air. He padded down the stairs and remembered the way to the kitchen.
The sun was climbing over the mountain, laying a warm patch of light across the kitchen table.
Aunt Betsey bustled from the pantry, a large green bowl held against her aproned front.
She smiled at Mac and said, "Go along to the outhouse and then you can help Uncle Squire. He must be nearly done milking."
Mac did as he was told, making use of the outhouse. He trudged the length of the shed hallway, dim and dusty with its mingled odors from stored firewood, the sharp tang from the small barrel of kerosene,
the smells of a place long used.
Outside, he stood on the path, raising his eyes to the surrounding dark hills, taking in the gentle swell of the meadow that spread beyond the barns. He started down the path, the heavy dew soaking his bare feet. His wet toes left tiny imprints in the drier packed earth of the drive that led to the barns. He could hear the rattle of pails and strainers as Uncle Squire dealt with the milk.
Mac stopped at the watering trough and leaned against its cool mossy side. Clumps of grass grew along the outside of the trough and he twisted his feet in the cushiony damp, absently wiping grit from the soles of his feet. The unfamiliar side of the mountain loomed over the dooryard and a red-tailed hawk screeched as it rode the down-draft toward the pasture, wheeled and rose again on strong silent wings.
Mac wondered if his little brother had missed him this morning. Young Andrew still slept in the high-sided crib in his parent's chamber, next to Mac's own room. On her way downstairs each morning now, Mother stopped at Mac's open door, setting Andrew down and watching while he toddled to Mac. Mac would haul his baby brother onto the bed for a romp amongst the bedclothes before hurrying into his clothes and over-seeing Andrew's careful plodding descent of the staircase.
Ma would have no one to watch Andrew while she made breakfast. Mac wasn't there to hear Andrew's engaging little boy chuckle when Mother paused in her brisk bustle from stove to table to aim another spoonful of porridge in the toddler's direction. He wasn't there to tell Father 'goodbye' as he settled his cap on his head and picked up the lard bucket which held his noon lunch. He wouldn't be waiting when Father came off his shift at the Graphite mine and arrived home, tired and be-grimed.
The unlikliness of it all struck Mac with force and the thickness in his throat released in a strangled sob. Tears stung his eyes and he smeared at his nose with the sleeve of his shirt.
He was lifted in strong arms and plumped down on the edge of the horse trough. Uncle Squire settled beside him keeping one arm behind Mac. With his free hand he produced a clean folded handkerchief and without comment tucked it into Mac's paws.
Mac snuffed, smeared tears and snot onto the handerchief, blew his nose. He felt extremely babyish, caught out in a lack of appreciation for the kindness of Uncle Squire and Aunt Betsey who so obviously wanted him there.
Squire still said nothing. His head was tilted back to watch the wheeling hawk and he half-hummed a little tune between his teeth--"Heigh-di-deigh-di do."
Mac quit snuffling and rested against the strong arm, swinging his heels against the cool side of the horse trough. He watched the sunlight creep across the smooth meadow, let his ears fill with the morning sounds of the small mountain farm--the whoops of the red rooster and the cluckings and mutterings of the hens, the whickering of the horses waiting at the pasture gate behind them, anxious for their ration of grain.
Uncle Squire shifted on the edge of the horse trough so that he could better see his nephew's face.
"Now, see here, Mac" he began. " I have to turn the last cutting of hay in the big meadow as soon as the dew is off. But after dinner we could hitch up Maudie and go back down the mountain. You'd be home in time for supper and you'd sleep in your own bed. Maybe five years old is too young to stay a spell away from home."
Mac pondered this and remembered that he wasn't just five years old anymore. Next week he would turn six--he wasn't a baby!
He turned and gazed at the kind face above him--blue eyes very like his mother's, eyes very like his own, and asked the thing that had been hovering at the edge of his thoughts since last evening.
"Uncle Squire, why don't you have a boy of your own?"
Squire didn't answer for a moment and Mac wondered if he had said something wrong.
He felt the sigh which seemed to come from his uncle's very depths, felt the big hand move along his back and come to rest on his shoulder with a gentle pressure.
"We did have a little boy," said Uncle Squire steadily. "We had a baby girl too, her name was Anna. A fever took her just as she was learning to walk and talk. Arthur was our boy. We lost him three years ago this week. We miss them. Its hard for your Aunt Betsey."
Even thus simply stated the situation was bigger than Mac would comprehend for many years. He only knew now that Uncle Squire and Aunt Betsey wanted to borrow him for these few days and nights. Squire waited patiently, then asked kindly, "What about it Mac--I can take you home."
Mac squared his shoulders. He felt better, he didn't know why.
"No," he said firmly. "I'm alright now." He knew suddenly that he was. Home would go on smoothly without him for a few days. Home would be there when he returned. Tonight the little bedroom under the eaves would not feel so strange.
"I'm fine, Uncle Squire, I want to stay with you."
A shift of the morning breeze carried a faint smell of bacon frying, the tang of coffee.
One of the horses pawed at the ground and snorted emphatically.
Mac knew what that meant and he pulled at Uncle Squire's blue chambray sleeve.
"The horses are hungry. We need to feed them and bring them out to drink."
He slid down the side of the horse trough as Squire came to his feet alongside him. His small paw grasped the big hand colliding with his, he beamed up, matching the smile that played behind his
uncle's brown beard.
"That's settled, then," said Squire, a quiet relief in his tone.
"Come along and help me with the horses. I think you've got a way with them.
We need to get on with it. Your Aunt Betsey will have breakfast on the table and we've work to do.
I'll be glad of your help."
The two big work horses, Dick and Dan, swung their great heads in anticipation as Uncle Squire and Mac approached the gate. Maudie, the bright bay mare, took a prancing step and swished her tail. Mac swung along at Uncle Squire's side, thinking of breafast and after, when he would help to harness the team, see them backed and hitched to the hay rake. He thought Uncle Squire might let him ride on the high seat of the rake with him. When the work was done he could help to brush the horses'
dark hides to a smooth sheen.
After supper there was the shade of the front porch, wrapped in the evening sounds of the mountain.
Aunt Betsey would turn the pages of the worn picture books and read the stories to him.
Mac gave a happy bounce and towed Uncle Squire along to the gate, the late summer sun warm on his small sturdy shoulders.
William Squire Davis was the older brother of my g-grandmother, Sophia Julia Davis/Lewis. Her first appearance in the census of Hague, NY lists her as Julia S. All other records give her name as Sophia J. She was called "Sofie" by her family, the accent on the second syllable. As an adult she developed rather a formidable reputation in the neighborhood--not a woman one would unwittingly cross.
As I've learned more of the tragedies which beset the Davis family, I've wondered if she developed a steely resolve to meet the sorrows and responsibilities which came her way.
Uncle Squire Davis married Betsey Barton and moved to her family's settlement of Bartonsville in the town of Horicon, a few miles over the mountain from the home of his childhood, the farm where Sofie brought her husband, William Lewis, a foreman at the local graphite mine. Bill and Sofie raised their family, McKenzie, Andrew and Julia, there.
Grampa Mac told me of the visit to Uncle Squire and of the dreadful homesickness which over-whelmed him that first long night. He described his tearful episode by the horse watering trough, how Uncle Squire found him there and offered to return him home. Knowing that he could go home if he wished, he said, settled the issue and he knew that he would be fine for the rest of the visit. His affection for Uncle Squire was evident in his telling of the incident.
Judge John Austin, a Warren County, NY historian, found for me the details re the deaths of Squire and Betsey's two children, Anna and Arthur. I never heard them mentioned and don't know the cause of their deaths.
My late mother was 6 years old when Squire Davis died at the home of his sister Sophia's married daughter Julia Lewis Ross. Mother had a vague memory of visiting him with her parents and grandparents: " an old man, and his wife long dead."
Betsey Barton Davis died in 1918, aged 65. News notes from a local paper indicate that she suffered a stroke a year or more before her death.
Squire Davis outlived his wife by 7 years.
He seems to have been a more progressive man than my Grampa Mac who clung tenaciously to his horses rather than learn to drive an automobile or a farm tractor.
News notes for Bartonsville/Horicon announce that as a man of some sixty years, Squire Davis purchased [and presumably learned to drive] a new automobile.
The picture of William Squire Davis is from the collection held by my nephew-the-history teacher, Michael Bruce.