Recently I have been reading a book written by Jess Sarver, titled, “As It Comes To Mind.” Initially published in 1976 by The Pana News-Palladium of Pana, a second printing was done in 1980. My copy is from the second run.
This little book centers on Jess’s home in Carson Township, and the family, neighbors and friends who were all a part of his life while growing up.
Jess was born in Fayette County in 1907, a son of William and Annie Beck Sarver. He was one of eight children, including: Harry, Bertha (married Walter England), Oscar, Alice (married Elmer Allen), Rhoda (married Howard England), Jenette (married Tim Turner) and Fred.
When his father, William, was 16 years old, he walked to Illinois from Allen County, Ky., following the covered wagon of his uncle, Alfred Sarver.
In Jess’s particular story that I am sharing with you, there was a practice that I did not know about. The act of warming your hands by lighting small bits of straw while riding in a horse-drawn wagon filled with straw.
In this story, Jess tells of an event that could well have ended in disaster. In the story, he mentions about the family loading into a wagon to attend a party held by the district school teacher, Maggie Welch, at the home of her father, John.
The new wagon box, which Jess's father had bought to use for hauling apples, had one set of sideboards removed. The box was then fastened securely with special clamps.
"After this was done, the sled was driven to one of the loose straw stacks and filled with clean, bright wheat straw," Jess said.
“Then, the members of the Sarver family were picked up at the house where quite a number of bed quilts and comforters were added, and away they drove to gather up the rest of the group who were accompanying the family to the party. By the time we reached our destination, there were more than 20 people on the sled.
“The party lasted until a very late hour, as round games were played in two rooms as well as other entertainment. One of the things served during the evening was very fine apples. When the party broke up, John Welch gave the Sarver group a bag of those apples.
“When the Robert Spires’ residence was reached, his dog came out, barking viciously. Brother Oscar took aim and let go with one of the Welch apples. The apple went into the dog’s open mouth, which stopped his barking, and he turned and retreated to the house.
“The next house was the Hendersons, where the sled stopped for Wavel (who later married Sen. Sprinkle) to get off. From time to time, the straw in the wagon box was set afire to warm hands, but was quickly put out.
"We reached home about 2 a.m., and the horses were unhitched and put in their box stalls, and all went wearily to bed.
“Some time after all were asleep, Mother was awakened and saw a light in the barn. She called to Oscar that the barn was afire. He jumped up and ran to the barn, a distance equal to a city block, in his night clothes and bare feet.
“He saw that only the straw in the wagon box was afire. He jerked the top front end gate out that had a handhold made on it and used it to push the burning straw out into the snow at the back of the wagon box. The wagon box was charred about half-way through.
“In the future, father said nothing about the incident. But the subject was brought up quite frequently in the Carson locality. The people would remark how unfortunate it would have been if Bill Sarver's barn had burned with his registered horse in it.
“Such was social life in 1914 and 1915.”