West Middlesex, PA
Straight from the good old days
Chloie Gilliland Mitcheltree is confined to her bed nowadays, but there’s a good reason for that. She passed her 100th birthday on March 2, 2009. And while she can’t dance anymore, there’s still a spark in her eyes that that bears witness to the fire that has always burned in her.
“I was a spoiled child, my father’s favorite,” she wrote. “I worked hard first, then I played hard. I was no angel.”
That seems to have been a family tradition. Her grandmother, Missouri Brannon, told of working hard on the farm, two miles north of Pulaski, where her family had moved when she was five. She also told of coming home from a ‘frolic’ in the early morning hours and going to the cornfield for a day of hoeing – without any sleep. Clearly she was a woman way ahead of her time.
On April 13, 1865, when Missouri was 20, she married James Gilliland. On their 17th wedding anniversary, when she was pregnant with their eighth child, her husband died suddenly at the Pulaski railroad station, probably from an appendicitis. James Madison Gilliland, Chloie’s father, was born four months later.
“ The oldest in the family was 16,” Chloie wrote, “ and James was probably spoiled, with five older brothers and sisters to fuss over him (two brothers had died before reaching the age of three). His mother said she had given him only one whipping in his life – for smashing the drawers in her new sewing machine when he was about five.”
But spoiled or not, the good old days weren’t always so good. Chloie’s father told his children that he and his brothers slept on the floor in a loft that was reached by a ladder from outside, until a stairway was built inside. He said they would wake on winter mornings with snow on the loft floor.
Jim Gilliland loved growing up on a farm, loved the outdoors, and hated school. As he got older, he earned his living by cutting meat for Johnny Davidson, who had a store in Pulaski, and selling meat to area homes from a wagon. He also worked at a saw mill, and at the Fanny Furnace carrying pig iron.
He married Clara Mitcheltree in 1903. Their first daughter, Laura, was born in 1906, with Chloie following in 1909 and Carl in 1918.
“My father had a sister whose name was Chloie Permelia,” she wrote. “I guess my mother balked at Permilia.”
About 1908, her father took his family and his mother on a real adventure – a trip up the Allegheny River, probably to visit relatives. It was an echo of the Old West. Her father converted the wagon he used to deliver meat into a covered wagon.
“There was a rocking chair each, for his wife and mother,” Chloie wrote. “Sacks of grain, to be used as feed for the horses, were piled together and made a comfortable driver’s seat for my father. My sister and I made ourselves at ease on boxes, the bed of the wagon (which I’m sure was covered with hay or straw for warmth), or whatever lap was available.”
When Chloie was five, the family moved to a farm near West Middlesex. She loved to follow her father around as he did his work.
“Although he was not much of a talker,” she wrote, “he took me everywhere with him and I learned by watching him. My father taught me to value the ordinary things in life. He had only a third grade education, but he could do mental arithmetic faster than people with high school education.”
She also truly appreciated her mother.
“My mother was understanding of my moods. I daydreamed a lot. She read to us, taught us to appreciate good books, and to value education. She was a teacher in one room schools and graduated from Fredonia Normal. She was creative, made all of our clothes and allowed us to use the sewing machine. She was an avid reader.”
Her parents were strict about obedience, and taught them to take responsibility for their tasks they shared: were preparing vegetables for cooking, carrying water and wood & coal, washing dishes, hoeing corn, bringing the cows from the pasture. Her father believed that children should be seen and not heard when in the presence of their elders. My mother was more lenient.
Chloie attended a one-room school, Cotton School, for grades one through four, Pulaski School for grades five through seven, then West Middlesex High School.
“As a student I was competitive- never happy unless I was first. My ambition was to win. I liked geometry and Latin in high school, and spelling bees in grade school. I won most of the spelling bees in Cotton School. I had an advantage because my mother was a teacher.”
When Chloie was 14, her mother passed away from tuberculosis. Her father remarried a year later, and his new wife had a daughter, Rebecca.
Chloie started dating when she was about 15. When she was 19, she went to a party, which James Bernard Mitcheltree happened to crash.
“Our first real date was roller skating at the rink in Wheatland,” she wrote. “I liked him because he came for Sunday dinners. Then we would go to a show or something. He was very sensitive and spent a lot of time at my home. On dates, we would go by streetcar to silent movies or roller skating.”
Chloie remembers that the fashion at the time was long accordion pleated skirts, resulting from the Egyptian influence engendered by the opening of King Tut’s tomb in 1921.
James and Chloie got married on March 10, 1926, in the Methodist parsonage in Wheatland.
“I wore a white cashmere dress that I made myself,” she wrote. “It snowed in the morning and was warm in the afternoon.”
Unfortunately, that afternoon, they had to go to Jim’s grandmother’s funeral. She had died on March 8.
They had no money for a honeymoon, so they moved in with Jim’s parents for a couple of weeks until they could find an apartment.
“When we were married I could fry potatoes and eggs and bacon. I had to learn to cook and do all kinds of housework (I’d rather work outside.) Luckily he was a meat and potatoes guy. The first time I made bean soup, I didn’t know you had to soak them before cooking. They were inedible.”
Jim worked at American Sheet and Tin Plate as a catcher’s helper. When Carnegie took over in 1932, he advanced to roughing, then to roller, flattening press operator, and turn foreman in the flattening department. In 1948 he took a steady job as painter and maintenance man at Sharon Steel, where he worked until he retired in 1971.
Chloie enjoyed antiquing, upholstering, and caning old chairs. A good seamstress, she loved sewing for her husband, children, and grandchildren. She and her husband did a lot of traveling. On one trip, they drove across Canada and back through the northern United States. She has been to nearly all of the states in the U.S.
Chloie was an active member of the Sharon Nazarene Church, and then the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church. She was a Sunday school teacher and deaconess, and helped with Bible School and various other church activities.
“She was always a great reader,” said granddaughter Elaine Rice. “my mother had a hard time keeping her in large prints books. She would read as many as one a day.”
Jim and Chloie had four children: James Bernard, Jr., David Garrett, Myrna Jane (now Shaner), named after actress Myrna Loy, and Sandra Lynn (Glass). They had 17 grandchildren, 35 great-grandchildren, and 11 great-great- grandchildren. Chloie had to rely on Elaine to provide those numbers.
“I lost count,” she said.
As you might expect, Chloie has mixed feelings about now compared with the “good old days.”
“I still like the old-fashioned ways of taking time to think things through,” she wrote. “And I felt very strongly about young people not wanting to wait for anything. Some of them expect a car at graduation. I felt that most things were appreciated more if they were earned.”
She is pleased that women today can have careers and do almost everything. But she feels that there are limits.
“I think a woman president would be possibly a mistake. People in politics (men and women) are up against crime in high places.”
She truly appreciates all the modern timesavers that were not available when she was growing up, such as electric washers and dryers, sweepers, sewing machines, blenders, irons, coffee makers, and dust busters.
“We had no heat, other than wood or coal, except for an oil stove for one or two summers. We used oil lamps, with globes that had to be cleaned and wicks trimmed every day. We ironed with flatirons heated on a coal stove, even in the summer.”
She also appreciates the improvements in health care. She knows that without them, she would not be here today.
That’s something that promises to improve even more. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the estimated number of Americans aged 100 or more increased form 37,306 in 1990 to 50,454 in 2000. According to the International Longevity Center in New York City, that number could reach a million by 2050.
And just think: by then, these will be the good old days.
Excerpted from Lives of Quiet Inspiration, Volume 4, by Joe Zentis. Hermitage, PA: Green Street Press, 2010