Saturday, November 24, 2012

"Falsetto, baritone, or bass as needed."

Saturday mights at the Mansion were party nights. As Ima remembered:

Young people came almost every Saturday night to dance. There was impromptu music which they sometimes furnished themselves and I remember seeing them dance the Schottische and the Polka. Father and Mother did not dance. I think Mother would not dance without Father and it had been a long time since he had tried, but he loved to watch the young people having a good time as did Mother.

Our house was the center of social life. While many men came to talk over affairs in the evening there were many evenings when Father would play six-handed Euchre with neighbors or houseguests. Mother played when she felt like it but I think when the day was done she was perhaps too tired to join in, besides, she was often ill. . . .

Sunday nights were musical, too.

Sunday evenings were always spent around the piano singing favorite hymns or old songs.... Anyone who could play the piano or any instrument or sing was always a favorite with Father. There were several young ladies and girls in the neighborhood who were starred as musical and dancing entertainers. My childish efforts on the piano and banjo were in frequent demand, too. Some of the girls in the neighborhood could recite and they were frequently invited over to entertain.

Anyone in town who could perform on an instrument was welcome and invited to entertain friends in the evenings. . . . Father's beautiful voice blended in as falsetto, baritone or bass as needed. Mother could play the piano, but usually I was called on to lead at the piano.

One of our most welcome visitors was old Uncle Bob, an ex-slave who had followed Grandfather and Uncle Tom in the Civil War and had been the younger boys’ body servant. He was a grand old character, very black with kinky gray hair and he had the proud look of a Rameses. Uncle Bob could have boasted of noble blood for it was said his father was an African chieftain whom Grandfather Hogg had purchased in New Orleans. Uncle Bob loved to play the fiddle and his annual trip to Austin was a release as his wife, Aunt Easter, did not permit him to fiddle at home. She was a very pious Baptist and believed the fiddle was the devil’s own instrument.

Uncle Bob, of course, did not share this belief.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

"Buckets of old chewing gum"

Even though Sallie Hogg was in frail health, as the Governor's wife she oversaw the details of endless gatherings and receptions at the Governor’s Mansion, as well as watchng over Ima, Mike, and Tom. Will was often away at school, demanding frequent letters from home. Sallie's first task was to refurbish the Mansion:  the white-columned, Greek-Revival structure had been built in 1856. It was a grand old building, with 18 rooms and 9 fireplaces, but by 1891 when the Hoggs moved in, it was in need of major repairs, As Ima recalled:
         “We were prepared for a most hospitable home but I shall never forget our consternation on first seeing the interior. It was in dreadful disrepair. The white calcimine walls were badly cracked and shabby and the dark woodwork was worse. Our family did not attempt to live in it without trying to freshen and redecorate it. The house was entirely papered and painted immediately at my Father’s expense. Mother was always very fastidious and she would never have dreamed of living in it as it was.”

         The re-do required more than paper and paint. Before the Hoggs moved in, Ima remembered,  “Many days were spent scraping hardened chewing gum from under the tables and chair arms. There were literally buckets of old chewing gum scraped, even from the door moldings. . . . “
         Even with the refurbishing, living in the Mansion had its drawbacks: the only heat was from fireplaces, and in Austin winters the high-ceilinged rooms were cold and drafty. There was one bathroom, with a huge tin tub built for Sam Houston. The house was lighted by gas, but cooking was done on a wood-burning stove.
         There was one new-fangled item: in the long front hall beside the front door there was a telephone. As Ima remembered, it “was a large box containing batteries. You rang Central by cranking the handle. No one used the phone during a storm.”
            In the 1890s that phone did not ring much, because few people had phones. But while the Hoggs lived there the house rang with music and laughter. There were sing-alongs and stately receptions, and an endless procession of relatives and visitors.
         As one guest recalled, “I don’t think any family ever lived in the Mansion who had as much fun as Governor Hogg and his family.”

Saturday, November 10, 2012

"Mama has been very very ill."

Fun at the Governor’s Mansion in the 1890s was clouded by only one thing: Sallie Hogg’s mysteriously fragile health.
As Ima remembered: Mother’s health was poor and I believe this is the only thing which cast a shadow in our home. Father sent her to whatever doctors he thought could help and would urge her to go away to some of the resorts where they hoped her health would be improved. The source of her trouble they thought was her stomach. So she went to watering places . . . to drink the waters and take the baths.
In the summer of 1890 Sallie and Ima went to Sour Lake, near Beaumont. The lake there was famous for its mineral waters. It had been a health resort since the 1850s. In the 1880s Sour Lake had two general stores, two hotels, and a population of 150. Ima did not enjoy her time there:
Sour Lake had a terrible old hotel but after two weeks there my mother was always greatly improved. She drank the water and took the baths. . . . Somebody prescribed which one would best suit the patient. No one seemed to know what was the root of my Mother’s great physical disability.

Sallie’s poor health worried her. She wrote to her eldest son, Will, on January 25, 1892: “The New Year is fast passing away; Time is so fleeting, Mama and Papa are growing old. Every year seems shorter as we grow older.”
Sallie Hogg was only 37.

Ima’s letters to her father the following summer tell the tale. 
On June 6, 1893 she wrote from the Stinsons’ country place.

Dear Papa:
I am more than delighted with Speer if you were only here.  Papa, please fix it up some way for you to come down. . . . Mamma has been very very ill.  After all the apples, peaches and plumes {plums] are ripe we have blackberries and strawberries too. . . .  We all send love.
I am your daughter,
Ima H.

But Governor Hogg was busy in Austin.
On June 30 Ima wrote again:
Papa my birthday is on the 10th of July and I want you to be down here on my birthday. Papa please come. We are all well. Mama was sick yesterday with sick head-ache. But is now well. . . . Grandpa’s yearling is the finest animal I ever saw in my life. You must see it. . . .
If you can come down for my birthday let me know. We all send lots of kisses and love. Hoping you will come.

But Governor Hogg did not come.
July 10th, 1893
My dear Papa,
To-day is my birthday and I am eleven to-day.  I am not at all glad.  I don’t want to get any older.  I was sick yesterday evening and Ben was sick this morning, but is better now.  Mamma was sick with a sick head-ache. . . . Mike says he wants to come home so bad.  Mamma says she thinks you ought to come down here after us.  We will start for Mineola Thursday and stay one day and then go on home.  I went to church yesterday evening 4 miles from here.  I must close as I haven’t any news. . . .
Ima Hogg

And no one, not even the best physicians, knew what was wrong with Sallie Hogg. 

Saturday, November 3, 2012

"We were frequently pitched to the ground."

When the Hogg children lived in the Governor’s Mansion from 1891 to 1895, they had a little cart with a Shetland pony named “Dainty.” Austin was a small city in those horse-and-buggy days, with little traffic to spoil the children’s fun. As Ima remembered:
This little pony all of us rode and were frequently pitched to the ground, but no one was ever injured. This pony was supposed to be mine, but most of the time the boys were riding her. Dainty, as we called her, lived a great many years. [In 1902 they would give Dainty to their cousin Hermilla in Denton.] Dainty had many pranks, a very mischievous and harmless beast. She seemed to have a real sense of humor and nothing delighted her more than to take a crowd of youngsters in the trap and whirl around fast so that she would turn it over. Then she would look back, perfectly still, with her nose turned up as if she were laughing. We would brush ourselves off, get back in the trap and start merrily on as if nothing had happened. Whenever we stayed still too long, perhaps eating ice cream in the trap or having a picnic lunch, she would get bored and vary this monotony by upsetting us. She was small and the trap was small and no harm was ever done.
         And then there was the circus that came to Austin twice a year:
We never missed one--Father gathered up all the children in the neighborhood and on we went. Schools turned out in those days, perhaps for the half-day. There was a great parade down Congress Avenue with lions and tigers in cages, horses, elephants and camels, led by a resounding calliope. . . .
For days after the circus we children went through all sorts of contortions, trying to practice some of the acts of the acrobats and Father would look on and applaud. We attempted the most dangerous things to Mother’s horror, but Father always seemed to know we would not get hurt.
Ima and two of her little girl friends especially liked the circus’s trapeze and tightrope acts. As she remembered:
We practiced as hard as we could to become acrobats. . . .
And then, one day, Ima’s friend’s older sister decided they were “good enough to put on a show.”        
She made colored cheesecloth bloomers and blouses for us. We said nothing about this to Mother and Father. People began coming in the mansion grounds one evening. Leila was at the gate selling tickets for a nickel. When I appeared Father said “What is this about nickels being taken up? Now, Sissy, just go around and give all those back.”
The show went on, however, but Helen’s elastic at the knee broke off her bloomers in the middle of an act . . . . The curtain went down. . . .

No doubt the applause was thunderous.