Mather Inn

“Here We Come a-Wassailing”

wassail bowl printOn this twelfth day of Christmas I will stir up my last batch of wassail for the season and carry this traditional winter drink to a gathering of friends. Maybe at our hosts’ door I can convince my husband to sing “Here we come a-wassailing” with me as the Banvards did in Plank Road Winter when they arrived at the Mather Inn on Twelfth Night.

Most often my kettle of wassail simmers on the stove at home, a fragrant reminder of this season of hospitality.  I make the first batch for our winter solstice party, and while my family-friendly recipe, a mixture of fruit juices and cinnamon and cloves, is admittedly tamer than those that call for ale or wine as the base, many of our guests top off their wassail cups with something stronger.

You can learn more about the fascinating history of wassailing along with other Cornish winter holiday customs at the Federation of Old Cornwall Societies website.

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Categories: Cornish in Wisconsin, Mather Inn, Plank Road Winter | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

“On the Feast of Stephen”

Whether you think of December 26 as Boxing Day or St. Stephen’s Day or simply the day after Christmas, we hope you enjoy making music and sharing family traditions during the winter holidays. Here’s a timely excerpt from Plank Road Winter:

Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about
Deep and crisp and even

Father’s voice in the familiar carol woke Sophie as it did
every year on the second day of Christmas. In her opinion, he
might be one of the finest singers in Yorkville, but the break of
day was hardly the ideal time to share that fact.
She and Linnie groaned and pulled the quilt up over their
heads. But Birdie sat right up in her trundle bed. After Father
boomed out the saintly king’s verse, she chimed right in with
the little page’s response. Sophie and Linnie had no choice but
to swell the chorus:


good king wenceslas

Page and monarch forth they went
Forth they went together
Through the rude wind’s wild lament
And the bitter weather.


By the time they sang about the little page treading in his
master’s footsteps, John Alton joined them from the next room:

Therefore, Christian men, be sure
Wealth or rank possessing
Ye who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing!

Sophie was still humming the carol when she made her way
down the back stairs to the kitchen, where Mother was serving
up breakfast. While Sophie was not fond of many of the
old-timers’ traditions in Yorkville, she thoroughly approved of
the way the Caswells ended the Christmas season. Back in the
plank road days the Cornish settlers would go a-wassailing on
Twelfth Night. All the wassailers came last to the Mather Inn,
where they stayed on for dancing to see Christmas out.

(from Chapter 25: Boxing Day)

Categories: Cornish in Wisconsin, Mather Inn, Plank Road Winter, Yorkville, Wisconsin | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Thanksgiving at the Mather Inn

May readers everywhere give thanks with those they love.  In honor of the day, here are two timely excerpts from Plank Road Winter:

(from Chapter 21: At the Smithy)

On the day before Thanksgiving, the aroma of cinnamon
and nutmeg and baking pumpkin wafted through the Mather
Inn.

Sophie looked up from her task of rolling dough.
“The Grand Duke’s latest banquet, you know, featured a
charlotte russe. And it was adorned with spun-sugar eagles and
bears, and the flags of the United States and Russia. I don’t see why we have to serve something as ordinary as pumpkin pie.”

Mother set down the mixing bowl with a thump. “I hope
the Grand Duke’s kitchen crew works harder and complains
less than mine. Go out to the smithy, will ’ee, and tell Father to give his arm a rest.”

“I think we ought to honor the Grand Duke’s visit by cutting little eagles and bears of pastry scraps to decorate the pies.”

“Sophie, go out now.”

Sophie wrapped a shawl over her shoulders and crossed
the yard to the smithy, stepping in time to the ringing of the
hammer as Father and John Alton worked together at the
forge, singing the refrain of one of their favorite songs:

And sing WHOA, my lads, sing WHOA!
Drive on, my lads, I-HO,
And who wouldn’t lead the life
Of a jolly wagoner?

* * * * * *

(from Chapter 22: Thanksgiving)

Though Hans was in no mood for celebration, all of
the McEachron families joined the Caswells at the Inn for
Thanksgiving dinner. The sideboard in the dining room was
covered with pies, and the aroma of roasting turkey wafted
through all the rooms downstairs.

After helping Elsa take her coat off, Hans piled their wraps on the bed in the freshening-up room. In the dining room, benches lined the end of the long table where extra planks had been added to extend the length.

Sophie rolled her eyes. “The benches from the plank road
days appear again. Mother likes to have them out on family
occasions. But, of course, she never has to sit on them.”

“Plenty of folks would be thankful to have a solid bench
and a fine feast like this,” Hans said, but Sophie had already
flounced away.

Elsa climbed onto a bench, and Hans sat down beside her.
Across from them sat Linnie and Birdie. Other cousins jostled
for seats on the benches, the boys elbowing one another and
the girls smoothing their skirts to make room. Billy slid in next to Hans, while Maggie Banvard, home for the holiday, was
given a chair among the grown-ups.

Grandpa and Grandma sat beside Sophie’s grandfather at
the head of the table. Granfer Mather had opened a hotel in
Burlington when the teamsters’ wagons no longer traveled the
plank road during the harvest season. Everyone joined hands
as Granfer Mather gave thanks for the harvest, though for
weeks the McEachrons had been talking of what a poor yield it
was. When Granfer Mather prayed that those who suffer would
be comforted, Hans tilted his head to glance at Mama, whose
shoulders gave a slight heave as she clenched Uncle Amos’s
hand.

Categories: Mather Inn, Plank Road Winter, Wisconsin | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Florence’s Fall Bouquet

In my mind, a good book is one that I have read more than once. Some I have read many times, and still enjoy them each time I flip the book open and start reading. I know the character’s lines and what they wear, and what is going to happen next.

We have one faithful fan who has read Plank Road Summer often enough to remember the bouquet that Florence Mather makes.

“On the first day of the fair, Florence stood in the parlor. In her hands she had plumes of goldenrod and a fiery blaze of sumac leaves.She was arranging them in a pitcher, already bright with late Queen Anne’s lace.”

A “Florence Bouquet” at our Plank Road Winter book launch.

Julie K.S. Moyer, who currently lives in the Mather Inn with her husband and children, made beautiful bouquets to place on each window sill of the old Yorkville School for our book launch. We suspect that not many of our other readers recognized the combination of flowers and leaves, but we were quick to notice and appreciate it.

Julie was also the force behind getting Yorkville School #4 on the Wisconsin National Register of Historic Places.  The bright 4-H green paint that covered the railings back when we used the the building for 4-H meetings and music and drama practices has been restored to the original colors, and the hardwood floor refinished. Her attention to detail shows in the beauty of the schoolhouse, and in our bouquets as well. We are honored to have such a great fan and neighbor.

Categories: Childhood Memories, county fair, Mather Inn, Plank Road Summer book, Plank Road Winter, Yorkville, Wisconsin | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

At the Well

Mather Inn Well

Emily Demuth and her daughter, Louisa, at the Mather Inn well excavation.

  

The archaeologist, Norm Meinholz, was digging at the site of Mather Inn again this month.  This time, I managed to get back to Wisconsin while the dig was still open. Meinholz had uncovered part of the old foundation and established the exact location of the Inn, when  it stood facing the Plank Road.   The Mather Inn itself still stands  a stone’s throw away–it was moved many years ago, and now faces what would have been the Section Line Road between the Mather and McEachron properties.   

Just a few paces west of the foundation, the archaeologist had found the well.  Stones formed a perfect semi-circle (only half had been uncovered).  It was easy to imagine Katie pulling a bucket  of water from the well, setting the bucket on the stone rim, and peering at her reflection–even though that scene was edited out of our book during an early revision.    

Many scenes never made it into the final version of Plank Road Summer, including one which our mother particularly liked.  This lost scene was the first introduction to the Mather Inn from Katie’s point of view:  

“Katie walked past the grand front door that led to the parlor and the ballroom upstairs–that was for guests.  She hurried round past the porch on the west side, which led to the dining room–that was for teamsters.  At the back of the house she rapped at the kitchen door–that was for neighbor children.  Mrs. Mather was very particular about the proper use of doors.”  

As I walked around the original site of the Inn and stood where the front door had once been, I slipped back in time–back to when traffic sounds were the creak of a harness or clopping of hooves, and when water came not from the faucet but from a bucket drawn daily from the well.  Had Hilda and I seen this circle of stones a couple of years ago, I’m sure we’d have kept the well scene in our book.  

Click here to read a newspaper article about the first dig.  

Categories: History of Plank Roads, Mather Inn, On Writing, Racine County, Yorkville, Wisconsin | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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