(I wrote the following story based on my supposition of what Clara’s childhood must have been like. The facts are true but the story is fiction, wrapped around them. The picture below is the actual schoolhouse where mother, Fannie, taught, and Clara Wolcott and her sisters attended. Enjoy.)
Eight-year-old Emily Wolcott pushed away a wayward lock of hair which fell over her forehead as she and two of her sisters trudged up the road from school. They were heading for a cousin’s farm, adjacent to their own. Mama— Fannie--was their teacher in this one-room school house which, of course, served all grades. Fannie had gone back to teaching--something she had done before her marriage in 1860. After all, she had four little girls to support since the death of the girls’ father a year previous, her beloved Elizur Wolcott.
Mama was a benevolent schoolmaster, and on this particular day, she stayed after classes ended to help one of the Fenn boys with his multiplication tables. And so the girls – Clara (13), Kate (11) and Emily chattered about their day, and like most children, couldn’t wait to put down their books and enjoy the fresh air. Youngest sister, Josephine (Josie), only 3, was in the care of her aunts during the school hours.
Elizur’s death had understandably cast a lingering pall over the family. He was a caring father, a godly and highly respected man, and a deacon in the Congregational Church on the Tallmadge Circle, which his grandfather, Lemuel Porter, built. The girls loved their father dearly and Elizur, in poor health for years, adored his daughters.
Additionally, the townspeople – many of them relations – built a hedge of love and support around this family. When something needed done on the farm beyond the scope of the Wolcott widow and her brood others would go up the hill and help, such as Will Carter’s re-roofing the barn. And, their home was busied with a constant stream of aunts and grandmothers. The girls' home and farm chores increased since Elizur's passing and they were now eager to help their mother. They could gather eggs, weed the herb garden, sweep the barn, feed the chickens, and eldest daughter, Clara, could hitch up the horse and take the buggy to the Circle for provisions. But some things needed a man’s strength – and such help was not lacking.
On those days when Mama could not accompany her girls home directly from school, they walked the short distance from their home to a nearby cousin’s farm until she could come for them. This cousin, Lawrence Pierce, was a horticulturist and fruit grower, as well as a landscaper. He had a greenhouse and 40-acre farm, wrote magazine articles and delivered lectures on garden and orchard subjects. His father, Nathaniel, first came to Tallmadge from Connecticut and initially established this farm in 1820. In those days, property in northeast Ohio was sold by the Western Reserve Land Company out of Connecticut. The adjacent Wolcott farm was part of an original purchase of 114+ acres by Peck Fenn, who with 13 members of his family, walked to Tallmadge from Milford, CT in 1817.
After school at the Pierce farm, the little girls would busy themselves with playing with the barn cats, and there was always homework to do while they waited for Mama. Clara Wolcott, the eldest sister, was especially intrigued with plants and insects. Cousin Lawrence, pleased with her interest, took the time to explain to Clara how plants were propagated and how certain insects carried pollen dust from the stamens from one flower to another, thus fertilizing them. Clara was fascinated with all things in nature. The beauty of a moth’s fragile luminescent wings did not escape her, the butterfly’s multi-colored patterned body, and the iridescence of the Dragonfly mesmerized her. She sketched them and flowers often and was always attempting to perfect her interpretations. All of the Wolcott girls had artistic ability which reached back several generations on her father’s side, especially. But Clara had a gift.
So, as the farm workers planted, watered, weeded, cultivated, harvested, Clara observed and drew images of her surroundings. She studied every detail of the gorgeous blooms she viewed and the small flying creatures that nurtured them...filling her mind’s library. It would serve her well later in life.
“Come, girls, time to go home!” Fannie announced as she approached the barn to take her flock back up the hill and start supper. The girls said their goodbyes to the kittens and workers and gathered their books. Mama was their constant, and they loved her dearly. And they headed back to the “the home on the hill”- as this dwelling would be called by them fondly in later years; it was a treasured recollection as their lives took them in directions never anticipated.
Linda D. Alexander/2016