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Cutler Family Life

Written by Alice May Cutler, contributed to Family Search by Ted Walker

Cutler Family Life
Written by Alice May Cutler, 1976
            The Cutler home was organized in a very orderly fashion. Although "Papa" did all the grocery shopping from the lists handed him by his wife and spared no expense to give her labor saving devices such as a large electric ironer, a central vacuum cleaning system, an electric refrigerator, long before they were generally on the market, it was "Mama" who ran the household. She saw to it that every chore took place at a specific time: Monday was washday; Tuesday, ironing; Wednesday, midweek cleaning and baking; Thursday, sewing, mending and visit to Grandmothers; Friday, more sewing and Saturday, thorough house cleaning, baking and cooking for the Sabbath, hair cuts and the weekly Saturday night baths. This schedule seldom varied. "Mama considered it a sin to have washed clothes on any other day than Monday.

          Each child had his own specified chore. Chores were different from the work on the farm. They were done for the privilege of being a family member and no child received remuneration for such tasks. The assigned chore depended upon your status in the family (ie., your age and ***) and progressed from the simple to the more complex.

For wee folk:

feed the chickens, rabbits, goldfish, fold the handkerchiefs, turn and roll up the socks, shine the chrome on the old coal stove, the bathroom and kitchen faucets, gather the eggs, bring in the kindling wood, take out the ashes from the old coal stove, dry the dishes, clean the washbowls, set the table

For middle sized folk:
clean the pig pens (for boys only), milk the cows (for boys only), take the cows to the pasture (girls only), wash and dry dishes, clean the coal stove, bring in the coal, scrub the outhouse, empty the potty, weed dandelions, clean the chicken coop, dampen and roll up the clothes for ironing, sweep and mop the sleeping porches, grind the bread crumbs, clean the bedrooms, playroom, basement, wash windows, mow the lawn, make beds, hang up the washing, ride bicycle to "Savilles" on errands for their mother

For the oldest children: 

scrub the kitchen floor, clean the bathroom, clean and scald the cream separator, put the milk through the separator, churn the butter, make buttermilk and cottage cheese, kill and clean the chickens, bake bread, assist their mother in cooking, baking, sewing, ironing, mending, canning of fruits, vegetables, jams, jellies, pickles, applesauce and in the making of vinegar and dried fruits,
assist their mother in dusting and vacuuming the parlor and dining rooms, kill and dress beef cattle or pigs (for boys only), make cider (everyone)
            Before the modern refrigerator, the Cutler family had a cooler in the kitchen that was vented top and bottom with the cool outside air, with a series of screened shelves that allowed the hot air to flow out at the top and the cool air to flow in at the bottom. For years an ice box refrigerator stood out on the back porch. Twice a week the iceman came to place a block of ice in the chest at the top. Milk, eggs, cottage cheese, butter and other milk products were kept fresh in the ice box. Nothing tasted more refreshing than a chip of that ice on a hot summer's day. 

            In order to keep their hair soft and shiny the girls collected buckets of rain water, placed under the water spouts on rainy days, for washing their hair. Then they curled their hair by wrapping and winding it up in newspaper or cloth strips, twisting or tying a knot to hold lthe curls in place. For quick curls, they heated a curling iron on the stove and later with an electric curling iron; then placed a clump of hair within its jaw, wound it up for a few seconds, sometimes burning or singeing the ends.

           Usually every spring all woolen clothing was dry cleaned by hand in Naphtha gasoline purchased from the gasoline stations. Every Monday the girls and their mother did 9-10 loads of washing, hand feeding the clothes through the electric washing machine. Each load passed through four tubs of water. The heavy black irons heated on the old coal stove were soon replaced by electric irons and a large electric mangle ironer for easy ironing of sheets, table clothes, pillow cases, dish towels and handkerchiefs.
           All the girls were expected to learn how to cook and sew. Their mother had set the example for them. Though she had been reared in a home where clothing was made by a dressmaker, she had learned to sew after her marriage by sewing for her five girls and by first taking correspondence courses and then courses in tailoring and dressing at the Community Civic Center from an unusually fine tailoring instructor - Mrs. Thomas - during the early depression years. From then on she made dresses, coats and suits for her daughters and remade new and attractive styles from "hand me downs.
Music was a very vital part of the family life.

          Ralph and Virginia Cutler gave every child the opportunity to learn to play some musical instrument; so Garr played the Clarinet; Douglas, the xylophone; Geneve, the piano; Lenore the violin, Roberta, the piano and clarinet; Alice May, the piano and violin; Ivan, the clarinet. Somehow Louise escaped taking lessons but she became such an excellent cook that it didn't matter. The four older children, Garr, Douglas, Geneve and Lenore, frequently played in the Winder Ward Sunday School Orchestra and individually or together, they performed in church or at other entertainment events. Douglas always made a hit performing on his xylophone. Geneve particularly became a fine organist and pianist. The smaller children often were awakened in the early morning by the sounds of piano practicing.

         Before the days of the radio, the old Victrola was the main source of fine musical growth for the Cutler family. Lenore remembers the day when that Victrola arrived in the home: "Mother purchased it for father's birthday as a surprise. The music company delivered it and placed it right by the double doors between the parlor and the dining room. We put on a record, wound up the machine and waited breathlessly for father to come in from the farm. It was December, of course, and he usually came in earlier in the winter. We posted a lookout. When he came in on the back porch and got ready to open the back door, we played the record nice and loud. I can remember "Papa" throwing up his hands with a great big grin and saying, 'Oh what is this?' We all shouted 'Happy Birthday!' Of course he knew all the time that mother had purchased it as she would never have bought it without his permission, I'm sure, but I still remember his face when he saw it. It was a choice experience." They purchased some very fine records, to play on the machine, Caruso, Gallicurci, Madam Schuman Heink and other opera singers and some fine operas. It became such a source of enjoyment for the children that one day they played it all day long, much to the disgust of their Aunt Jane who was visiting the Cutler family. She finally said, "Turn it off, I can't stand it any longer!" 

          A typical summer day in the Cutler household began very early. Their father was up at 4 a.m.
and, after breakfasting on rolled wheat, raisins and butter and loading the truck, left for the market. Shortly after this, the children, in their beds on the cool summer porches, could hear the gentle cooing of the pigeons in the hayloft nest in the barn. Usually by 6 a.m. and sometimes much earlier, the girls were out picking strawberries, peas, beans, currants etc. before the heat of the day; the boys were feeding the livestock, milking the cows or hoeing and cultivating. Then came breakfast and the chores mentioned heretofore.

           One of the younger girls always took the cows to pasture in the alfalfa fields or to graze on the "Highlands," a small hill on their farm on 39th South and 13th East. After their chores were finished, the smaller children were allowed to play in the sandpile and playhouse, situated directly behind the home, where they could be easily watched from the kitchen window. If it was spring they would follow their father around in the greenhouse as he planted new seeds in the numerous wooden boxes or watered newly sprouted cabbage, cauliflower or tomato plants, all the time enjoying the fresh clean aroma of the wet soil. When the days' work was completed, whether it be working in the home or out in the fields, the children would gather around the barn at "quitting time" where the hired help and their older brothers were washing vegetables in the huge metal tank in the barn and loading the truck for the market. This was an every night affair and usually ended up in a water fight or fun of some sort. Afterwards, the boys would hurry off to an old swimming hole. The girls occasionally took off on a hot afternoon to swim in the same old swimming hole, a dirty irrigation canal running across 13th East on 40th South behind the Davis residence.
In the winter the younger children were awakened by the sounds of their older sister, Geneve, practicing her piano scales or "Liberstraum" or some other musical composition on the piano.
Occasionally cold water was dashed or poured on the sleepy heads of those children failing to respond to the first morning call to "get up." After school, a walk of two to three miles round trip often carrying a musical instrument, the girls earned spending money by skinning onions in the damp greenhouse, their hands freezing as they peeled the skins from the cold onions which their brothers pulled from the frozen ground. Sometimes they earned as much as 25 cents if they worked fast.
            Virginia Cutler would never allow the children to eat supper at night until their father had finished his work on the farm. "... We always had to wait for father to come in from the fields," remarked one daughter, "and it sometimes seemed like hours. There was some howling and crying going on." But the children always waited. The family remembers the night around the year 1925 when their "Papa" returned late from the fields, washed up, came to the table where they patiently waited and solemnly announced that the general and stake authorities had requested that all families hold regular and daily family prayer. It was at that time that they all knelt down beside their chairs around the large kitchen table and listened to their father lead in their first regular family prayer.
From that day on, family prayer was held in the evening before they sat down for supper. This is not to say that family prayer was never held in the home up until this time, for it was, but not until this time did it become a regular daily part of family life. Of course, every child was taught to pray from the day he could learn to say a few simple words. Garr's letters to his mother while attending college noted, "We attend to our prayers just as we would do at home," a habit that was instilled in him as it was in the others in early childhood. Prayer was the welding force for unity among the family members.

          On the cold winter nights the children huddled around the old coal stove, open up the oven door and warm their cold feet before retiring. After central heating they would sit on the warm radiators to ward off the chill of the evenings. In spite of the cold winters, Garr and Douglas still slept out on the sleeping porches, (the other members of the family had moved their bedding into their rooms) shivering all night. Douglas said, "We were crazy!" On top of this experience, Virginia B. Cutler would urge her two older sons to take cold water baths, for she thought this would harden them. Garr took one every day in the early morning but she could never convince Douglas to follow suit.

Winter Evenings

         Winter evenings were always choice times in the Cutler home. These were the evenings the children would gather around their parents in the living room; a handsome room with wooden double sliding doors to close it off from the dining room, a row of glassed in bookcases running along the north wall beside a large fireplace, with a piano, sofa, comfortable chairs, the solid oak rocking chair given to them on their wedding day, a warm radiator extending across the length of the large front windows, a much admired and loved painting of a shepherd and his flock of sheep and a fine reproduction of a large redwood tree upon which rested the glowing rays of a glorious sunset to complete the furnishings. A bowl of red delicious juicy apples from the farm was always near at hand. Virginia would be busy sewing or folding clothes. Sometimes there would be a candy pull or games or listening to records on the old Victrola or their first radio. On Friday nights there would be their own home grown buttered or candied popcorn, a weekly tradition in the family. But always there would be reading; Ralph Cutler always read to his children. He had a "marvelous voice" and was an excellent reader. Douglas said of those evenings at a birthday dinner honoring his mother:
"Before the world got so busy (laughter), our home life, I thought, was ideal. We did have some long winter nights when Dad quit farming usually about the last of November from then until maybe the first of March. It has been my fondest recollections that we would sit around the table in the evening or in the parlor and listen to father read while mother sewed. My love for good books I think stems from the fact that father always picked a good novel or a good adventure story to read to the children and mother. As we grew older we could stay up longer. We used to have to go to bed at 8 o'clock and then it was nine and then we could stay up until ten. Those winter evenings were the finest winter evenings that we ever had. Mother's love for good music has stayed with me and I am sure that it has with the other children.  For Christmas we always had some new records for the old Victrola; Madam Shumann Heink, Caruso; etc. If we bought any Al Jolsons, we bought them on our own. She bought the best music. . . the Red Seal Records. And today when I listen to good music and can hear that music that I heard as a young boy I think how fine it was that I was raised in a home that fostered such things. I hope I can live to raise my family like father and mother raised us.. . ." 

           Lenore recalled those winter evenings with nostalgia. "Father was a tremendous reader! One of my earliest recollections is of sitting on his lap while he read Robinson Crusoe to Garr, Doug, Geneve and I. Oh, it just lived! We could hardly wait until supper was over so that we could hear it. He never read to us in the summer, we were always too busy, but in the winter he read Robinson Crusoe and the Ship Stories. They all started out the same so we could say that part together, then he went on to a new story. A favorite for Ivan was Winnie the Pooh.

          Father was a marvelous reader. You never went into his home later and spent an afternoon there but what he would say; 'Listen to this' and he would read a paragraph or two." Some winter evenings the children would be entertained by their father's vaudeville acts. During the time when he was working in the superintendency of the Winder Ward Sunday Schools, he and a neighbor, George Holmes, would often produce these acts to raise money for the Sunday School. "Father was quite an entertainer," said one of his daughters, "George Holmes was an amateur actor but father could commit a script to memory so he would play the straight man. Father had a good voice that carried well. All the children in the family would beg to stay up to hear "Papa" and George Holmes rehearse because they were so funny. They would purchase their scripts from the Salt Lake Costume House. One act that they produced was called Louie, The Flea. Once they worked on a giant phonograph they used in an act and the children had great fun over that." Sometimes the older children would invite their friends over, roll up the carpet from the shiny hardwood floor in the living room and dance to music for the old Victrola - usually this would be Garr and Douglas and their dates. Other times on some of those long winter evenings, their mother would arrange for her older daughters to go to the Salt Lake Theatre or some good production in town at the old Paramount Theatre. Garr was always agreeable to take one of the girls along with his date to the theatre or to a movie, at his mother's suggestion. No doubt the dates resented this but her daughters thought it quite the thing to be able to go with them. Once Geneve and Lenore saw The Cat and the Canary at the old Salt Lake Theatre. This was the first time they had ever seen good acting and it made the theatre "come alive for them." In the early 1920's Ralph Cutler purchased one of the first radios that came out on the market.

          On Friday nights the family gathered around the radio and as they munched on popcorn and apples, they listened to One Man's Family, Amos and Andy, Mert and Marge, Fiber McGee and Molly, or a local production called John and Mary. There was something magic about radio then; - the vivid pictures that came into mind; the colorful characters and situations graphically created by voice and sound effects - all stirred the imaginations of the Cutlers. The "Jack Dempsey Fights" and the "Saturday Texaco Metropolitan Opera Series" were other favorites. When the movies became popular, Winder Ward began showing films every Saturday night in the ward's "little theatre." Ralph Cutler promised his children if they would work hard on the farm, he would take them every week to the ward movies. He kept his promise.

          At first only silent movies were shown; the older children had to read the words of each scene to the younger ones. The "talkies" were invented. Such films as Al Jolson, The Connecticut Yankee with Will Rogers, Robinhood, Tom Sawyer, Tarzan, Little Lord Fauntleroy, "The Nelson Eddy and Jeanette McDonald Musicals" and the cartoon Felix, the Cat were popular favorites with the family. It was inevitable, though, that when the climax of the story appeared on the screen, the film would break or worse still the movie projector broke down due to mechanical failure. Then, disappointed, the children returned home without ever seeing the end.

Owner/SourceAlice May Cutler
Linked toVirginia Louise Burton; Ralph Cutler

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