Old farmers, old horses, and endless fields of wheat and rye: remembering the late Robert M. Tush

...and on the eighth day God created the horse in perfect image, to romp, graze, gallop, play, and make manure wherever it darn well pleases, in divine grace.

I never thought about certain things when I was growing up. Small children are rarely self-aware straight away; they worry about getting outside to play, what’s in the cookie jar, or adding items to collections, such as rocks, feathers, marbles, or model horses.

Those are the important things, as were that other girl’s new shoes or that boy with the new walkie-talkie set, and we wished we had the money to have those nice, new things.

Having to go to school and church were some of the obligatory necessities of life, and it was sure difficult to sit still when the bright sun was shining right outside an open window, and soft breezes blew in with wonderful smells of fresh-mown hay or autumn leaves.

Why, there were butterflies and tadpoles escaping by the dozens...

Things like daily routines around the house, or practices that families do, like going to church or working on the farm, were normal occurrences, and children do not think about serious topics such as old people, sickness, job loss, or politics.

Childhood years seem to blur into one long school year or one long, endless summer.

Faces of old people you saw as a child when your parents took you along somewhere for a visit, are put into a mental library that you now keep in the very back of your mind. Those faces are quite distant now, since those people were already quite old when you saw them as a wee lad or lass.

The old man who ran the general store and his deep, robust belly-laugh, (Freddy Bunnell) the old lady who had an antique shop, with her long, red fingernails and glass china, (Mary Conlin) or summer visitors who stayed in quiet, musty cottages under tall, Weeping Willow trees (Elmer Howard or John and Agnes Majors). They had craggy voices and cuckoo clocks on the wall, and you would hide behind the couch when the cuckoo came to life and actually sprang out to count the hours.

Or old farmers who lived on old farms, in old, weathered houses with overgrown grass, who had old dogs that weren’t that friendly. (Paul Anderson, Paul Albert Molke)

Other old farmers had endless fields that stretched as far as a little girl’s eyes could see. (Frank Linn, “Honest” Ed Chapman, Abby Griggs).

Places and people that had businesses going, long before you ever came to walk the earth, one day no longer had a use, and the people who owned them were already very old. ( Joe Veland and the Continental Aluminum Factory, Croy and Graynard Quick and their welding shop with antique steam engines).

Houses with nice little porches and shutters on the windows had little old ladies living inside them. (Aileen Henry, Violet McClurg, Marie Hoffrichter).

All of these people saw farm and agriculture work done by horses with horse-drawn equipment. They saw the advent of steam mechanics on the farm, followed by gasoline powered engines and tractors.

They lived through the Great Depression years, and seemed to want to linger in 1920-something.

The passage of time becomes more congealed, more noticeable, more important as you age, and as your old daddy used to say, “Time is money,” or, “We’re burnin’ daylight.”

Sometimes when you look at things within the scope of your many decades of life here on Earth, something mundane or ordinary may suddenly stand out, become noteworthy, or priceless to you. Something or someone you never paid attention to suddenly piques your interest, and you realize how special and interesting the item or person really is.

Funny thing is, the item or person was there all along, decade in and decade out, quietly setting on a shelf, or unobtrusively moving through their own lives, fulfilling their obligations, laughing with their family, going to work, aging, remembering and reminiscing, all without you, without your opinions, or your presence.

You went away to college or the military, traveled, got married, or moved away.

Then you returned, all grown up, with ideas, opinions, and beliefs.

But the item or the person is still right where you had seen them last. Still quiet, still unobtrusive, the item still setting quietly on a shelf, or the person still doing what they always liked, enjoyed, or did, decades later.

The history of an interesting object comes into clarity when your mother makes an off-handed comment about where it came from, the year, and from whom.

Or a neighbor’s spouse passes away, and that older person has now been invited to dinner with your family, so they won’t be so lonely, and so they don’t have to eat by themselves all the time.

It’s over dinner or a visit that the plethora of history or of times-past comes rolling out, like a streaming, temporal, raveled and un-raveled ribbon of time, of lives and homes, and people and animals, and weather and land.

And so it was with my neighbor, Robert M. Tush, who was born in 1924, right here in Espyville.

Bob was already in the neighborhood when my father purchased land from him, east of the rail road at Espyville Station. Dad built a house on the land.

I was too young to know this, rather, I simply eased into the nice, big hayfield that was out back, not knowing that long ago, swine had grazed there, and lounged in their muck-pens there, on the spot where I was now eating my supper.

Bob went to the same church where my family attended at Saint Philip’s Catholic, and he was the usher passing the collection basket during the service. He took that task very seriously, every Saturday evening, decade in and decade out.

Even while I was away from that church for 35 years, Bob Tush was still there, every Saturday, week in and week out, greeting the people and passing the collection basket.

When I resumed church attendance last summer, Bob was there at Mass passing the collection basket.

In his early 90's by then, and with a Parkinson’s setting in, his hands would shake slightly as he held out the basket, that same twinkle in his eye as he recognized various parishioners.

My father was also an usher, and would greet the people coming into church, and hold the door, and say hello.

After Bob’s wife Martha passed away, dad and Bob began a dinner outing once or twice a month on Fridays at one of the local restaurants.

The restaurant sported an all-you-can-eat fish dinner, so this fell right in line with Catholic Lenten customs of no meat on Fridays, to support the local Mediterranean fishermen’s unions.

After dinner, they would take a slow drive around the back roads of Westford and Espyville, and Bob would point to each farm, and tell dad who used to own it, what the maiden name was of the farmer’s wife and whose family she had come from, along with what structures once stood there.

Did you know there used to be a cheese factory near the corner of Church and Westford Roads? The Hurlbert & Martin Cheese Factory was quite a large, wooden structure, according to Bob Tush, that sat in the north west corner of South Shenango Township.

There was also a post or staff mill there.

Names like Barackman, Shellito, Ewing, Bennett, Espy, Collins, and Linn were predominant and well-known around the local area.

One Eliphalet P. Merritt ran a hide and skin shop (tannery) in Espyville, and Aaron M. Lisk had a hotel there. (1) I remember an old hotel at Espyville Station, when I was a very young child. The train would stop at Espyville Station, and then on to Westford Station, already having stopped at Linesville Station.

“Storywood” once belonged to the Story heirs, north of Hartstown, and folks down that way swore that pure spring water would keep your tractor engine from freezing up in the winter...

Bob Tush would mention from time to time that he had moved down to Pittsburgh with his mother and father, Mildred and Michael, to a farm in the Brentwood/Baldwin area around 1928.

They farmed the land, down in the valley, and one of the streets was called “Churchview Avenue,” because you could see the steeples of Saint Wendelin’s Catholic across the huge valley.

Nowadays, the valley is a massive cemetery, and the many, many houses obscure the view of the church.

Bob related how there were many mining shafts in the valley at the time, abandoned.

Once he told of how one of the draft horses the family owned fell down into one of these abandoned shafts.

Bob’s father thought for sure the horse would die, but the local fire department came out, and someone shimmied down a rope, down into the shaft with the horse.

Surprisingly, the horse was standing upright, and appeared to be okay.

The firefighter told the family that a lot of moss and grass was at the bottom of the shaft, in a type of litter, and that the horse must have bounced or had a soft landing on it.

A sling was secured around the animal’s belly, and it was hoisted back up to the surface, where, according to Bob, “It wandered slowly back up to the barn, and lived a few years more, to old age.”

Bob liked to go to the local fairs with my father, also, and the two began a short-lived tradition at Crawford County, viewing some horses and vegetables, before heading over to watch the annual livestock auction.

Bob would speak about his father and farming the land with horses, and Bob always seemed to have a soft spot for draft animals.

He was in possession of the Crawford County Business Directory of 1874, and he would reference it from time to time.

Many blacksmith shops, bookbinders, boat builders, boarding houses, coal dealers, and “forwarders”(shipping of freight) abounded in the county.

Bob made mention several times of a grist mill located on the banks of Bennett Run, at Stewartsville.

Stewartsville is no longer in existence, but used to be located in the vicinity of an old brownstone, which still stands on the Linesville-Hartstown Road, across from Old Swamp Road.

The Business Directory of 1874 lists one Percival Crater as owning a grist mill at Espyville.

Bob seemed to think that if one searched closely along the banks of Bennett Run, remnants of the old mill could still be found.

The deed to Bob’s house in east Espyville is dated 1912, and it once had an upper level, which was removed. The support beams are actual tree trunks, with bark still on them.

It sure was interesting when Bob would talk about all the farms, structures, and history that used to be here, in the early part of the 20th century.

Bob Tush almost made it to his 94th birthday, but sadly, he passed away last week.

He had been away from Espyville for the past year, and I guess he missed the old homestead and the familiar fields and farms where he had spent most of his life.

All of his memories went with him, along with the wonderful history of Espyville and Westford.

I think Bob might have been one of the last of the really, really old timers who were still here, and there sure has been a lot of changes to the countryside.

His golfing buddy, Earl Klink, late of Hartstown, had already passed away a couple of years previous. The two were best men or groomsmen in each other’s wedding parties.

I never thought I would miss the old fuddy-duddy Bob, and now the house across the field seems kind of solemn and sad with a melancholy setting in over it.

Perhaps Bob caught a ride with a 2-horse draft hitch, on his way to Heaven.

There’s probably endless fields of freshly-mown hay and beautiful sunlit days and star-filled nights where he’s at now. He’s probably leaning on a fence post with that quiet smile and that familiar twinkle in his eye.

I’m sure of it.

Thinking back on yesteryear and bidding Bob Tush a fond farewell to the immortal words of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, “Happy Trails to You.”

1: “The Gazetteer and Business Directory of Crawford County for 1874,” compiled and published by Hamilton Child, Syracuse, NY, 1874