The Life Story of Myra (Hill) & Clarence Miller

by
Grace TeSelle, niece
with [Comments] by
Larry Pearce, great-nephew
3/9/21

Hill family (1969): Charles, Grandma Bessie Pearce, Myra Miller; and Mayme Crummy

[This is another my-memories-of-family article by cousin Grace TeSelle. Look below for all that she has written, including her autobiography. She has promised that there are more to come. Myra, her aunt and my great-aunt, was the youngest of her grandparents’, Joe and Alice Moon’s, children. What follows are some very personal recollections of her extended family from the 1930s to the present day. I have interjected some explanations and clarifications to the best of my ability, always with Grace’s OK.] 

I think that during my growing up years and even after moving away from Pennsylvania, our family spent the most time with my father Harry’s sister, Myra, husband, Clarence and their five children. They were faithful visitors to my grandparents Joe and Alice Hill, and we always had a lot of fun with them. The oldest kids were about the same ages as the three of us. Cousins Nettie and Alice, Aunt Myra’s daughters, were close to my sisters, Mary and Irene. Myra’s son Walt was my age, while Paul Wayne was younger, and her  other daughter Melva brought up the youngest.

Towns along the
Allegheny River
N.E. of Pittsburgh

Uncle Clarence was a story-teller and full of fun. Myra sat listening and giggling in the midst of it all. When I knew Clarence (we shared the same birth date), he worked in New Kensington at the aluminum factory. They lived near Tarentum in a house that I think was on a country road without real close neighbors. I think they had a vegetable garden, but don’t remember if they had any farm animals – maybe a cow.

Thomas “Clarence” Miller
(1900-1969)

I remember being at their house for breakfast after staying all night. The three of us [sisters Mary, Irene, and Grace] squeezed in along with their family around a large dining room table. I was amazed at the amount of food it took to feed us all – plate after plate of eggs, probably hot cakes, maybe bacon.

Myra Jean (Hill) Miller (1899-1978)

When the [Clarence and Myra] Millers came to see Myra’s parents, my grandparents Joe and Alice, we kids played down over the hill at the spring – especially on hot days when we could wade in the stream. It was shady and quiet. We played house, using stones and tree stumps for tables. There was a little square concrete box that the spring flowed into. I was fascinated by the water striders (don’t know the correct name) that lived in there. They resembled smaller daddy long-leg spiders and seemed to glide gracefully or scoot across the water. And, of course there were some flies (our cows spent some time there too) and other bugs that were a nuisance and not so interesting. I cannot remember seeing those striders in any other small or large bodies of water I happened to be near since then.

We also had a play area closer to our home in the woods about 50 –75 feet north of the house. There were oak trees, so plenty of acorns with their little caps that made such good cups, plates etc. in the household we set up between logs and stumps. I can still recall the smell of sassafras from the leaves and twigs of that tree. I think one could make a sassafras tea. There was also a growth at the bottom of trees that was kind of like a mushroom. It was called punk. It was removed from the tree and if set on fire would smolder for some time and we used it to light our 4th of July sparklers.

We did have a bench swing and played on it – it could be a bus, train or car (not yet into airplane travel). We would collect tickets as, in our imagination we traveled to far-away places. The person, playing conductor stood up between the two benches and would pump his/her legs to start the swing to move. I loved to swing on a rope tree swing and my dad always made sure the rope swing was in good condition for me. With other kids we took turns on the single swing.

Another play area was the barn, especially the hay mow and the grain bins. There was a section in the oats bin that connected to the horse feeding stalls on the floor below. I was always cautious NOT to get too close to that chute, although it was much too small to get caught in it – well, maybe a child’s foot could get caught.

We had a portable hand-grinder in the kitchen and Mother would grind the wheat and would cook it as breakfast food. The grains were separated from the stocks by a threshing machine. I will describe threshing and wheat harvest in another chapter. After haying season, the mows were full of fragrant food for the cattle and horses during the winter season. Straw from the grains was used as bedding for the horses and cows.

End of the corn harvest (c. 1880)
Hill farm

Another place of interest was the silo (but not a play area), a circular space that looked to be made of some kind of tile, about 6 – 8 feet in diameter and rose about 12 feet or more, attached to the barn. After the corn was harvested, the corn stocks in the fields were cut down, stacked in the large wagon, chopped into smaller pieces, then placed in the silo. This material called silage must have fermented. The silo had an opening in the lower part of the barn, so the silage could be shoveled out and fed to the cattle during winter. It had a distinctive, rather sour smell, but not entirely unpleasant.

The actual corn grain was stored as dried cobs in a separate building and were fed mostly to the pigs and to chickens. Feeding the pigs did include unpleasant smells as they were fed garbage, sour milk, and discarded bread, cake, table scraps, etc. – anything that had once been in our kitchens as people food.

I am sure the cousins from both sides of our family liked to visit because of so many interesting and different play/work areas. The Bessie and Wesley Pearce sons had their own working farm as did the children of Austin and Alice Fisher, my Mother’s [Hulda Fisher Hill] youngest brother, so when visiting, they were not so interested in our play areas.

As we got older, we switched to soft ball in the open space in front of, and to the side of the upper entrance to the barn. By that time, we were all busy with helping with farm projects or elsewhere, so the soft ball happened after supper, when the sun was low in the sky. But I still remember running, face red and sweating, out of breath, gulping down water. (We also played softball in the upper elementary grades, before school and at recess.) I am sure the Miller kids played ball with us on occasion and probably were present for some of the winter play time.

Winter time presented great sled-riding spaces. We had lots of fun with the Miller kids when they used our “Lightening Glider” sled to ride two or three at a time down the hill at our house, trudging, laughing back up the hill, dragging the sled back up, time after time.

Virgil also enjoyed being at Mother’s with the Wilson boys [Grace’s nephews Kerry, Kevin, and Keith, sons of her sister Mary who married Woodrow “Woodie” Wilson] in the summer time when he had the fun of teaching them to play softball. By that time, most of the Miller kids were grown and busy with their own families.

There was a break in our seeing so much of the Miller family, due to distance, each family raising families, with some scattering of the grandchildren. But we always kept in touch, either directly, or through Mother as community central. Cousin Nettie and her husband, Jim Stark, had a camper and sometimes visited with their kids, Janet, Bruce, and Cheryl, on their way to or from home. Aunt Myra’s son Walt had a couple of surgeries on his back and was in the hospital close to Mother one time when we were visiting her. On those visits, we got to see his wife, Vivian, and their kids, Kevin and Kurt. After we moved to Florida, Nettie and Jim spent a few weeks in the winter at a children’s camp in South Florida. Jim repaired equipment and Nettie helped with meals and preparing materials for the children’s summer activities.

Jim & Nettie Stark welcome cousins to their home for a Hill Reunion

At one time, Myra’s daughter Alice and husband Emory, the Dreshers, visited us in Falls Church with their daughter, Jeanie. After Mother died, Alice invited my sister Irene, my husband Virgil, and me to share dinner with them one night. When we were getting Mother’s house ready for sale, both the Starks and the Dreshers helped us sort, price and lay out items in her garage (formerly a chicken house) for a yard sale. In the midst of our activities of setting up tables, one of the hinges gave way on the garage door. Emory, with great strength, held it up, keeping it from falling and preventing great damage, until the rest of us could move things out of the way. The Starks had a Hill-Miller reunion one summer that Virgil and I attended. It was a chance to catch up on some families we had not seen for a long time. Among them was C. Richard Hill (first cousin, son of Daddy’s brother Carl) and wife who were visiting from New Jersey [article forthcoming].

We mourned with Walt and boys, Kevin and Kurt, when his wife Vivian unexpectedly died. We were not in Pennsylvania when he remarried. I know a little bit of how hard it was for their sons, as my father died when I was 17, and sister Mary died [1964] when her oldest son, Kerry was 17, and Kevin and Keith were even younger. Walt brought some furniture on his truck from Mother’s house when we still lived in Virginia, and visited us one time in Florida for a short visit on his way home from a trip to South Florida.

Kevin visited us in Falls Church with a couple friends when he was a student at Shepherdstown, West Virginia. They stayed long enough to eat spaghetti with us before heading back to school. We have visited with Kevin several times when we were visiting our daughter Ginny’s kids in Alexandria, Virginia. I look forward to seeing him again when I next visit in Virginia. He entertained us with a lovely meal and visit to his apartment on one of our visits with the Lowes, daughter Ginny’s family. Now that he has changed careers from art and design within the Smithsonian to self-employment involving art and design in landscaping, I can’t wait to pick his brains.

The Starks and the Dreshers attended our celebration weekend to celebrate Virgil and my 40th wedding anniversary in 1954. We had a lady come to lead us in line dancing after dinner at a nearby Country Club. Alice kept laughing about the words of a song, “Prop Me up Beside the Juke Box When I Die.” Through the years, Alice would call me from time to time to keep me up on relatives in Pennsylvania. The last time I saw and talked with Alice and Emory was when Ginny and I made a trip in 2015 to Pennsylvania to my 70th Anniversary of the Mars High School Class of 1945. It was also the weekend of the 75th Anniversary of the founding of my Sigma Theta Chi sorority of Grove City College. We stayed with Dave and Robin McGuire, (cousin from the Fisher side) who lives in Grove City, then on Sunday stopped on our way home, to visit Alice and Emory. She had me laughing during that visit. Then we had dinner with her daughter Cheryl and husband Joe. We stayed overnight with Jim. (Nettie had passed a couple of years before [2012].) Thanks to Ginny for making that wonderful weekend possible. Kevin also joined us for dinner one night at a restaurant near where Ginny’s daughter, Bailey, her husband Chris Roberts, and Tyler Lowe lived.

Both Nettie and Alice and probably also the three others inherited Clarence’s humor. It is a gift to be able to see beyond the complexities of life to appreciate the funny things in spite of adversities. Many of my ancestors had that trait and I think living through the Depression and coming out in good shape at the other end was a great example for me and for us all. I try hard to have the same approach to life: Put my trust in the Lord and then put one foot in front of the other to get the job done.

My dad Harry, as most farmers, really wanted a son. Sometimes I worked along beside him, sort of like a son, but of course, falling very short for him. But, I did learn a lot in those sessions. Daddy made up for a son from time to time by inviting Myra’s sons Paul Wayne and Walt to come spend the weekend with us. They followed him around, watching him, helping him, as he cared for the animals, repaired farm equipment, doing the everyday chores, etc.

One of those weekends, my sister Mary and her then boyfriend, later husband, Woody Wilson had promised to take Walt and Paul Wayne home. It turned out that Woody had the afternoon shift that week, so I went along with all of them when Woody got to our house about 11 p.m. or maybe later. When we got to the Millers, we had to visit a bit – Woody had his guitar – not sure whether Clarence had an instrument or not – but the party was ON. Clarence had joke after joke, Woody was a story teller, folk song singer, while the rest of us were the receptive audience. The laughter did not stop. We may have had food, but nothing alcoholic, to fuel the party, only the fun of being together. We reluctantly left for home around 4 or 5 a.m.

I almost had forgotten those times when in 2018, I invited Paul Wayne to come to help celebrate my 90th birthday. He was living on a working farm in West Virginia, but because May was calving time on his farm and though his daughter had taken over most of the farm work, he did not want to leave her alone to oversee the newborns without his help. He wrote in his note to me that he became a farmer because of the time he and Walt had spent with my Dad. I did not know that before — what a gift of memory about my Dad that Paul gave me with his note. He has since passed on to Heaven.

I try to keep up with Jim Stark and his daughter Cheryl (and through her to sister Janet), with Kevin (and Kurt), Walt’s sons, and with Louise and Jeanie, Alice and Emery’s daughters. Mostly it’s with Christmas greetings. Some day I may have recorded all these wonderful memories of this most unusual family.

My dad was often giving the Myra and Clarence Miller family eggs and produce when he could spare, when he knew money was scarce for feeding a family with five kids. And the Miller family and their spouses in return have always been very giving and sharing. They brought us so much fun and laughter, and looking back now, I realize anew how they have helped make my life better – more interesting, more loving, more giving.

[Thanks to Cousin Grace for sharing those memories. Together we continue to collect stories, photographs, and documents from those “good old days.” If you have something to add or clarify, please use the space below or contact us by e-mail directly, along with permission to post and share it with family and friends. Meanwhile, do have a look at the articles below and stay tuned for more.]

“Cousins’ Corner: Grace (Hill) TeSelle” (a Christmas letter & autobiography)

“The Four Capt. John Dixon Hill & Sons’ Farms of Allegheny & Butler Counties”

“The Story of Bessie (Hill) & Wesley Pearce” (my grandparents)

The Story of Mayme (Hill) & Rev. Dr. Russell Crummy”

“Memories of Carl Raymond Hill & Family”

Last revised 4/5/21

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