A History of the Burns Family
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PART ONE: Guy's Path to the Dance

CHAPTER ELEVEN: Center of the World

Braceville Township, Trumbull County, Ohio
Fall, 1891

PART ONE Overview
1 - Wildcat Brigade
2 - Battle of Wilderness
3 - Field Hospital
4 - Orphan School
5 - Ladies' Man
6 - Mary Dinger
7 -The Masons
8 - Mary Rebecca
9 - Guy the Wanderer
10 - Farmer Boy
11 - Center of the World
12 - Birthday
13 - Fish Story
14 - Miss Fenn
15 - To the Dance

More Information

Mary Rebecca Burns has scrubbed the porch, milked Babe, hung out the washing, gathered the ashes for making soap lye, beaten the rugs, separated the cream, and at the end of a clear autumn day, is peeling apples.  She’s already put up the raspberry jam, and the sauerkraut, and the tomatoes, but applebutter and schnitz are favorites, because they remind her of Pennsylvania. She’s been at it since before dawn, but she’s not especially tired.  Lorenzo always says she can work him under the table, even if she is only 5-foot-2. 

Beside her, Eliza May perches on a stool by the old chipped washbasin, rinsing the apples. Out the kitchen window, Mary Rebecca surveys their ample backyard, where 8-year-old Guy, noontime chores long finished, is at work digging another hole for his fort out by the barn. He's got one post up -- a fallen branch from the maple out by the drive -- and he's trying to get its companion installed so he can hang a tattered blanket from the pair of them.

Shortly after Christmas of 1890, they had moved from Windham out to this farm, at a crossroads in Braceville Township called Center of the World. [1] Guy likes to say it got its name because you can start here and go anywhere in the world. The change has been a good one on the whole, although the children miss Cecil and Meggie. There are no neighbor children nearby.

Center of the World covered bridge
She is proud of the way Guy is excelling in the little country school, under Mr. Lewes’s firm thumb.  Eliza May will start next year, and has become a real helper around the house.  Since the miscarriages that broke her heart, she's found peace in the knowledge there will be no more children for her and Lorenzo.

Her son has always been a handful, but he's more settled now, and no longer runs away. He also has a soft heart beneath all that bustle and purpose.  He still feels ashamed about the mama duck he placed in a box for protection against the winter cold, but then forgot.  When he finally did remember, and found her stiff and cold four days later, he just stood and cried.  She can’t help smiling now, at the way he busies himself with the shovel.  He’s never at a loss for things to do, and rarely sits still, unless it's to play pinochle with his father.  He is forever asking questions, exploring, inventing, building.  Snips and snails.....This morning she found him out in the pigyard by the garage, riding one of the sows. 

The maples along the drive are shedding their leaves, buttoning up for winter. It will be lonely here then, especially with her parents gone, and Charley and Elmer still living back in Freedom. Lo is rarely home before dark, and it feels downright spooky sometimes, especially with the graveyard [2] in sight of the house. When she has to go to the barn to do the evening milking, she runs both ways.  Lo says she's superstitious and should know better. But she can't help herself -- it's her brothers’ fault. They were terrible teases when she was a young girl, and delighted in scaring her at every Center World SIgnopportunity. She'll light the lamps when darkness falls, and stoke the fire -- make the place warm and cozy for when Lo gets home. Just now he's somewhere beyond the flat expanse of the fields beyond the barn, working as a trackman for Mr. Baker and the Pittsburgh and Western Railroad.

But at least he's not lumbering anymore.  She would miss him so when he was away in the north woods, and the homecomings were often difficult.  When he returned from Wisconsin that first time, Guy was just three.  As soon as Lo walked in with that heavy beard and picked up Eliza May, Guy ran and hid behind her skirts. He could not be convinced this was Father until the beard and moustache came off. 

Lorenzo at Wisconsin Logging Camp
[Click on photo to enlarge]

There's a yelp of frustration from the yard, as Guy tries to hang the blanket and the second post teeters. She watches him stand back and consider, then shoulder the shovel once more. And then before she can say no, Eliza May has scampered out the kitchen door for a closer look at the proceedings. Guy won't like it, Mary Rebecca thinks, but he's learning to be more tolerant of his little sister these days.


Now it’s time to core and quarter the mound of apples Eliza May has rinsed and set on the drainboard. Then she'll toss them into the canner to soak overnight in sugar and syrup.  Tomorrow after church will be a good time to cook the apples, an all-afternoon affair of stirring and adding water, then stirring some more.  She’s hoping to get a whole shelf of the stuff canned before the weather turns.  The remaining apples will be dried for schnitz.

The Farm at Center of the World

As she slices, Mary Rebecca allows herself to muse awhile. Another letter has come from sister-in-law Alice Mason this week. She and Scott have settled in Akron, where he works as a carpenter and they've done well enough to buy their own home on Bluff Street. Again she's written about the marvels of city life -- streetlights, electric streetcars, even telephones. Her latest news is circus performer Achille Philion, who is captivating the city with daring balancing acts performed in bright red tights and golden spangles. But that's not the real news. What's got Alice excited is the steam-powered horseless carriage Phillion has built. You can't go ten feet in this town, Alice boasts, without seeing signs of progress with a capital P!

Suddenly tired, Mary Rebecca rests herself on the stool, taking in the smoke-smudged walls, the churn that needs fixing, the stove that needs blacking again, the scarred wood planks under her feet. Maybe it’s time to talk to Lorenzo again about moving to Akron, where there are proper schools, and steady jobs to be had.


Song Fragment
From Lorenzo's logging camp songbook

Lumberman’s Song

We’re lumbering for a lumberman
Whose capital is strong.
He’s lumber’d for many a year
And expects to do so long.
His men for food and raiment
And of want they never know,
For in the fall get ready all
A-lumbering to go.

It’s on a cold and frosty morn
Our axes loudly sound,
And many a lofty forest pine
We tumble to the ground.
We’ll sit around our big campfire
Where burric winds do blow,
And talk of our inventions
And a-lumbering I ho.

You may talk about your parties,
Your pastimes and your sprees.
Just think of us poor lumbermen
While riding in your sleighs.
We want no better pastime
Than to chase the buck and doe,
And in the fall get ready all
A-lumbering to go.

Now winter it is over;
Those ice-bound streams are free.
We’ll run our rafts to Louisville
And haste our friends to see.
Our sweethearts they’ll embrace us,
And our wives with rapture glow.
We’ll spend our money freely back
From lumbering I ho.


[1] Center of the World, Ohio is located in a rural area of eastern Ohio in Braceville Township, Trumbull County where two main roads intersect. The Mahoning River, where Guy learned to fish, runs through the Township, as does the railroad line.

[2] There is only one cemetery in Braceville now, and it's a few miles from the intersection still known as Center of the World. The graveyard that scared Mary Rebecca likely no longer exists.