By Buffy Calvert
I enjoy company. As a descendant of the tavern-keeping Huntings’ daughter Nancy and convivial Duncan Ballantine, as well as the legendary hostess Mary Linn Bruce, I ought to. Mary Linn would answer her friends’ query, “How do you do it?” with “Oh, just have a black dress and a ham, and you’re ready for anything, a wedding, a funeral.” I am privileged to live in her house on Delaware Avenue. We have given a Leap Year Party for forty and backyard picnics for the block, but 250 guests for dinner for their 25th Anniversary celebration!? Even with the Congregation’s gift of a tea set for 12 and silverware, how did she do it?
In the picture, she stands serenely, in her black dress adorned with a pin or locket, in the center of the crowd; her husband, the good reverend, a few people over, behind the fence post, his long beard flowing over his Sunday suit.
He writes in his journal on June 21, 1889 that he was “Presented with a gold watch…Big dinner at the parsonage over 250 people partook of it.” Did he help out in the kitchen?
Was there anything that my great-grandfather, James Bruce, could not do? Any limit to the prowess of the spellbinding preacher who kept bees in boxes he made himself attached to his study window, who carved filigree brackets for home and church, and fashioned a wee cradle for his youngest daughter? The deep kitchen counters with drawers and hinged flour and sugar bins that we use today are his handiwork. He delighted in tinting carpet rags with homemade dyes and pronounced the results “perfect.” He could sew gloves, quilt “comfortables,” survey a piece of land. He butchered pigs and salted the meat.
The good pastor not only married and buried his parishioners, but also sat by their deathbeds -all night if need be- and attended their post-mortems the next day!
Always a great communicator, he bought a printing press in 1867 and started the Andes Recorder, originally printed in the house. He wrote up the history of the Andes Presbyterian Church for Munsell’s History of Delaware County. In 1882, he installed the first telegraph (and electric doorbell) in his home on Delaware Avenue, and then personally helped string the wires up to Bovina to the house of fellow pastor, Reverend Lee.
He initiated the first Andes Volunteer Fire Department and Band to whom he taught the rudiments of music. He taught himself phonography (shorthand), photography, and typewriting.
On fine evenings, he and his wife Mary (whom he had loved at his first sight of her in a red cape on a white horse) went horseback riding. In winter, he hitched the horses to a cutter, took the reins in his skillful hands, and gave Mary a ride over blissfully smooth snow. He recorded with satisfaction the first sleigh ride of each year in his meticulously kept diary.
It seemed that the man could turn his hand to anything and master it. Then why do I find it so delicious to read in his journal for 1885—
“April 29- Snowing & storming this A.M. like March. Mary sick. Ell [his oldest daughter] with cold. Had to cook. No go.”
Mary Linn Bruce, my hat’s off to you. But I’m not sure I have your courage or enough hams to follow your example!