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AN INTERVIEW WITH ESTHER JANE ROHRER Esther Jane Rohrer Miss Esther Jane Rohrer is a ninety-eight-year old lady Uving alone in a large, comfortable apartment in Hannibal, Missouri, several blocks over from the Mark Twain Home and Museum. As we talked, the tired monologue from the Twainland Express drifted into the Rohrer living room every hour on the hour. Miss Rohrer, Esther, who never cared to learn to drive an automobile, refies on pubUc transportation and the corner grocery to maintain what has been a Ufelong independence. After seating one of us in what she caUed her Man's Chair (a sturdy wingback placed next to a smaU table holding a crystal ashtray and several books of matches) and the other in a pinstriped love seat, she settled in her desk chair to teU us about her girlhood. Reared by a former slave woman, Esther told what she remembered of southern aristocratic farm Ufe. Sipping mineral water and orange juice, we Ustened as Esther shared some of the remarkable times of her Ufe. A CONVERSATION WITH ESTHER JANE ROHRER / Ginger Jones and Christian Michener Interviewer: What was Ufe like in rural Missouri at the turn of the century? Rohrer: Life was simple for us in the country. We made our own amusements. We rode horses, sidesaddles for the girls and Western saddles for the boys. Sometimes I would pop on a horse bareback and go riding off around the countryside. As children, we always had one or two rope swings. We'd have rope coming down as much as twelve or fourteen feet, hanging from the large trees between the house and the barn. We had a huge, huge barn, the largest in Marion County at that time; often we would move the swing into the barn, hang it from the big joists and swing there, jumping off into the pUes of freshly harvested wheat. We also had our work. My father would have never let us grow up without learning how to do things. I planted bushels of potatoes and picked them up again in the fall. I helped plant the beans and pick them too. We grew our own fruit, we had a tree orchard and raspberry and strawberry plants. My father had a beautiful hotbed where he grew asparagus and early lettuce. I usuaUy had to work in the hotbed. I was expected to help cook. My mother was quite fraU. She had asthma in the winter and migraine headaches in the summer, so she was just helpless at times. We girls had to take much of the responsibUity. My father would have seen to it that we did anyhow whether she were fraU or not. I think I was not more than twelve years old when I made my first spice cake. It was a lovely cake, so after that I was the spice-cake maker. In the winter, my job was to clean the lamps. When I got large enough, Td have to go aU over the house in the morning and coUect the lamps, bring them downstairs, and wash the smoked chimneys. These were coal-oU lamps—we didn't have electricity yet—with a bowl made to hold the oU. We had two or three lamps upstairs and three or four lamps downstairs. Later on there was a period that we had acetylene Ughts. We had them only for a short time. They weren't very satisfactory, but they were better than the coaloU lamps. The Missouri Review · 145 Our house was heated by wood stoves and we chUdren had to get that wood in. The kitchen stove used little chunks of wood which the men had cut during the warm months and allowed to cure out in the woods. The heating stove used big chunks. My job was to keep the box in the kitchen fuU of the little, short sticks and my brother's job was to keep the big box fuU of heating wood. I was always the "little wood" and he was the "big wood." Interviewer: Did you ever defy your father, decide not to carry in the "little wood?" Rohrer: Never in my life. Interviewer: Were...


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