Aunt Ethel never married. She lived in the house built by Thomas Miller, her father, until shortly before she died. She shared the house with her bachelor brother, Manford Clay Miller, and for a brief period of time, her sister, Cintha Jewel Miller. My Dad, Nolan, said she bought and owned her own 200 acre plot of land adjacent to the one that Manford Miller farmed. Just as Thomas Miller had, they raised Polled Angus cattle, Poland China hogs and fine horses. However, Ethel usually rented out her 200 acres to neighbors who farmed it.
Thomas Miller was the President of the school board when Dad was a young boy, so this may have something to do with how Ethel became the teacher of a one room country school house near Gifford. Dad said he and another boy would get up early and go set the fire in the pot-belly stove so the building would be warm by the time students started arriving for school. One morning, they found a nest of baby mice in the cold stove. Knowing Aunt Ethel was not overly fond of mice, they put the baby mice in an old cigar box and put the box in the top drawer of Aunt Ethel’s desk. They had a great laugh over it when she opened up the desk drawer and screamed, but then they got a taste of the hickory stick she kept in her desk for miscreant children.
She planted and cared for an enormous garden in the plot behind the house. We often spent late spring there helping her pick, stem and freeze strawberries out of her strawberry patch. I foolishly believed I could do the same thing when we lived on Sheridan St., but I am not a gardener. We were also there to help when the beans needed picked, stemmed and snapped, or the peas needed shelled, or the sweet corn needed husked and cut off the cob for the freezer.
The fun parts, of course were picking the musk melon and watermelon, and selling them at the Farmer’s Market on the Kirksville Square come Saturday morning, or eating a bowl full of strawberries and sugar swimming in rich country cream for breakfast or an afternoon snack.
One of my favorite chores was picking cherries from the three cherry trees on the west side of the house. Oh my! Unless you’ve had a fresh, homemade cherry pie, it’s hard to do justice to one in print, but they were divine. My sister and I would climb in the branches and pick the fruit we could reach from there, and my dad and Uncle Manford would put up ladders and pick what we couldn’t reach from them. It was usually an all day job.
Each spring Aunt Ethel would order a box full of baby chicks. I don't know how many came in the box, but a lot. I'd guess it was maybe 3 ft. long by 2 ft. wide, maybe 3 inches deep, and the lid had little round holes in the top. I suppose she picked her order up at the General Store. I really don't know, but when they arrived, we would take them out to the white shed closest to the road in the chicken yard she kept where she kept the new chicks.
My sisters and I loved this time of the year. Those fluffy little yellow and grey chicks were unbelievably soft, and when you had a whole coop of them to watch, they were an endless form of entertainment. There were two triangular shaped troughs in that little shed, each about 4 feet long. One of them was for water and one of them was for baby chicken feed. I suppose it was ground corn. There was also a shed we called the corn crib in the chicken yard too.
I hated going to corn crib even though that's generally where the mother cat had her litter of baby kittens, at least one litter in the spring, and one in the fall. But it was also a breeding ground for rodents, big and small. My whole life long, just like Aunt Ethel, I have had a horrible aversion to the little critters, and they ran across the corn in the corn crib like puppies on a lawn.
Still the baby chicks had to be fed, so we went to the corn crib, and we ground ears of corn by hand until we had a bucketful of ground feed. Then we filled the trough. Unless you've ever smelled a shed full of baby chicks, it's really hard to describe, a combination of the ground corn, chick poop and urine, and fluffy warm little bodies. I suppose Aunt Ethel heated it with lamps, but it was always super warm in there.
Watching the fluffy little balls of fur turn into tiny little chicks with feathers was equally entertaining. The were an endless source of entertainment. Still they were also a chore, a chore we liked helping Aunt Ethel with. Occasionally, I was a little intimidated by a pecking hen. Sometimes one would decide she wanted to nest on a hay-filled box of eggs, and wasn't happy when you attempted to disabuse her of the notion. I've been pecked more than once, but Aunt Ethel never was intimidated by a pecking hen. She simply shoed them off.
We never left the farm on Sunday afternoons or evenings without a few flats of those eggs we had collected. Mom would get out her cast iron skillet, dice an onion, sometimes a pepper too, whip up a bowl of fresh farm eggs, and we would have omelets for supper. Sometimes we ate them with catsup on them, sometimes on sandwiches with mayonnaise, but to this day, a cast iron skillet full of eggs is a comfort food to me.
We were usually rewarded by being allowed to bring the latest batch of baby kittens living in the corn crib to the house, where we could play with them for an hour before supper. Supper was usually the lightest meal of the day. Breakfast was usually the biggest. Meat could be fried fish that Uncle Manford had caught and cleaned that morning before the sun came up, or a chicken Aunt Ethel and wrung the neck of the evening before and cut up to be fried for breakfast with the white milk gravy my mom was so adept at making. Or it could be slabs of bacon or thick ham from the latest hog Uncle Manford had taken to be slaughtered. There was usually fresh melon of some kind on the table, sliced tomatoes, and some kind of fruit, strawberries, blueberries, black berries, cherries. Mom made buttermilk biscuits with Aunt Ethel’s fresh buttermilk. You could always have a bowl of cereal, but we usually didn’t. However, Uncle Manford ate a bowl of bran cereal every morning, every day of his life, I swear. This was always accompanied by milk from the cow, and usually hot coffee and ice tea or fresh squeezed lemonade or orange juice. They ate hearty, but they worked hard too.
In the upstairs of the house were three bedrooms. In the North bedroom at the top of the stairs was a cache of feminine belongings that seemed not to belong in the house, but were there nonetheless. There were gorgeous dresses from the flapper era with beads and sequins, fringe and satin, of the finest fabrics, feather boas, gorgeous hats with ostrich feathers or cabbage flowers, or those ornamented little skull caps worn with those extraordinary flapper gowns.
It never actually occurred to me how much this room full of collectible fashion and accessories bothered me, not when I was awake at least. However, I was having weird dreams. I would creep up that staircase to that room in my dreams, and with every step I took, it would feel like something above me was getting heavier and heavier, weighing me down, to the point where I couldn’t breathe. Just when I would be about to turn the bend of the staircase and actually look into that bedroom I would wake up, drenched in sweat, body rigid, heart racing, gasping for breath, which was ridiculous, because I’d been in that room many times. But I had the dream over and over again until, at supper one night, somebody at the table announced that Aunt Cintha was being released from the hospital and she’d be coming home to live there.
Aunt Cintha? Who exactly was Aunt Cintha? It turned out, I had a great-aunt who had been living in a mental hospital in Columbia, Missouri, since some time during President Harry Truman’s administration, which would have been somewhere between 1945 and 1953. This was probably 1964 or 1965 because I was a teen-ager at the time, and for the first time, my family was getting around to telling me I had had a mentally deranged aunt living in a ‘psycho’ ward somewhere? I was shell-shocked, but then those recurring dreams came to mind. Maybe somewhere, in the background, I had been picking up on rumor and innuendo that just kept floating over my head. I never had one of those dreams after I met her.
It turned out, Aunt Cintha was a secretary at the White House. How I wish my family were not so secretive. There’s probably a best seller movie script here, if we only knew what it was.
Aunt Cintha was kind of weird and a little creepy. Debbie was a baby at the time and babies made her nervous. She did a lot of talking to herself, and you were never in doubt when you were rubbing her the wrong way, which happened often. She would get up and start pacing the floor with an angry scowl on her face and body language that told you to stay out of her way. We were old enough and smart enough by then that we did.
As long as she took her meds, she was pretty reasonable to live with though, until right before they took her back to a nursing home. It reached a point where she became physically threatening to Aunt Ethel. It was just a couple of years before she died in 1957 so she wasn’t in a nursing home very long.
*By Twyla Salisbury
The Indian Hill Cemetery is located in Pettis Township 61, Section 34, Range 16. To reach it, you take Route H south from Kirksville to Highway 11. Take 11 south to Route N, take N to just east of Yarrow, turn south on a gravel road. Go past Route HH almost to the Macon County line about 3 miles. The cemetery is at the corner where the first gravel road goes east after HH>.
The cemetery started when Frances, daughter of Washington and Grace Miller, was buried on the Henry Nelson,Sr. Farm in 1850. Some Nelsons and perhaps others were already buried there. Hentry Nelson died in 1854 and Washington Miller bought the property. He marked off 1/2 acre as a cemetery before he died in 1855. In 1855 five Nelsons died from what was diagnosed as cholera. In 1884 two of Mrs. Miller's sons, Thomas and Daniel (half brothers), fenced the land and named it Indian Hill Cemetery, deeding it for use of the neighborhood, except for a 20'X30' plot for the Miller family on which were already buried John, Nancy, and Washington Miller, their graves mounded for easy location.
Millers, Glucks and Magers set out evergreens to mark their lots. Some of these trees still stand. In 1934 Creed Robinson and George Anspach built a wall on the west side to prevent caving in and erosion aand men of the neighborhood used cement blocks to mark all the known graves. (No names and dates.)>.
One grave is of an unknown alien teen-aged railroad worker who died in a brawl at the camp of the Iowa and St. Louis Railroad employees in 1904 or 1905. He was given a funeral by the neighborhood which followed the traditions of his native land. A field stone marks his grave.
February 8, 1940, Manford Miller deeded another 1/2 acre of land joining the cemetery on the south, free for burial to neighbors. There are 7 half lots with 6 graves each and 21 lots of 12 graves each in this section.
Indian Hill Extension Club in the 1950s held bake sales, etc. to raise money to beautify the cemetery, to fence the cemetery, put up a sign, and to purchase lawn mowers.
In 1970 a meeting was held to incorporate and raise money for perpetual care which has been done. The board consists of Manfor Miller, president; Cecil Belfield, vice president; Opal Magus, 2nd vice president; Ethel Miller, secretary- treasurer; Stanley Easley and Billie Lee, board members. Information was furnished by Ethel Miller.
The Legend of Mars Hill