Bringing past to light

Memories: A longtime resident recalls growing up in the area after moving to `Elkridge country' in 1921.

150 Years of Howard History

January 09, 2001

William John Amberman, 91, lives in Ellicott City. He was interviewed by folklorist Alison Kahn on May 13, 1999, as part of an oral history project coordinated by Friends of Patapsco Valley & Heritage Greenway Inc. This is the first of two excerpts from that interview.

Well, I was born on July the 5th, 1909, in a little place called Westport, Maryland, on the second floor of a blacksmith shop.

My father was a blacksmith at the time, and he and my mother lived there I suppose for two, three, four years after they married, because I do not remember Westport except on visits that my mother took. They moved to Federal Street in East Baltimore, and we lived there until I was 7 years old. And then we moved to Gardenville. I attended school there until I was 12 years old.

And then in August of 1921, we moved to Elkridge country. And when I say country, I mean country, because to go to the bathroom you lit a lantern and went outside [to the privy], which my father built before we moved there. We lived in what they call West Elkridge, which was near a little town called Harwood [Park].

I remember it very vividly because I was just a kid and going to a brand new school in September. And because I had something wrong with my scalp, my father and mother were advised to have my head shaved prior to moving to the country, which they did. So I went to school with a shaved head, and I didn't know one soul. I was immediately monikered "the baldheaded eagle."

We had a real nice house. It was an old house. I understand it was the servants' quarters, when they had the old Hunt Club up on top of the hill, long before my time. When they divided it up and sold it, they had 50 acres. It was nice and flat, wonderful farmland. My father bought 25 acres with a house, a barn and three outbuildings, for $5,000.

So I went to school there and helped my father in the blacksmith shop so that I started learning the trade. I learned everything except nailing the shoe on the horse. My father thought that was too risky a situation [with the] possibility of laming the horse, so he nailed all the shoes on.

Tractors were available, but most people couldn't afford tractors. We had a pair of horses for our farm work that you didn't need reins for. You just talked to them. And I was a city boy up until that time.[We had] corn, hay, wheat. Twenty-five acres is a big place. We would hire people, mainly blacks that lived close by, and they were nice people, I'll tell you, real good friends of ours.

I had chores to do before I went for school. You get up and you milk three cows and feed two horses and a jackass and the chickens and the hogs, and then you come in and get yourself washed up and eat breakfast and then walk two miles to school.

I had a tremendous breakfast. Usually about seven eggs and some bacon and toast. That was my breakfast. And then a sandwich for lunch. Sometimes, if we were financially secure, I would get a nickel to take to school with me and I'd buy my lunch. We'd go down to the Petrlik's, which was the grocery store, and get two slices of bologna and two slices of bread for 4 cents.

With three cows, we were able to sell milk. And we did. But, in those days, why, it wasn't anything like pasteurization or anything like that. You just sold the raw milk in a tin pail. The fact is, that's how I met my wife.

I was the milkman. At that time, I was a Methodist and I was very active in the Epworth League in the church. And this was on a Sunday evening. Meetings started around 7 o'clock. The church was about two miles away and I had to walk.

So my father says, "I've got the Cavey's milk ready. Would you stop by and deliver it on your way to church?"

I says, "Sure." So I did. Well, the end result was, I never went to church that day because when I got up there, I rapped on the door. Mrs. Cavey, the mother, usually answered the door, but instead of that, here is this beautiful girl answered the door, and I says, "You must be Marian."

I had heard about her. And she says, "And you must be William." I says, "You're so right."

So she says, "Come on in." So I went in.

She says, "Mom and Pop had to go in town, but they'll be back very shortly. Won't you stay a while?"

I says, "Yes, I don't mind if I do." So, I stayed the entire evening, even when Pop and Mom came back. Of course, I knew them. But I had never met Marian. I had seen her when she drove by, but I never met her.

And from there on, why, we went to church together. She was Presbyterian. I was a Methodist. So, guess where I wound up? I soon became a Presbyterian.

I was about 21 at that time and we went together three years and then we got married. I was 24 on the 5th of July and we got married on the 8th of July. She was 31.

She was older than I, and everybody says, "Absolutely it will not work." My mother and father were dead set against it. Her mother and father were against it. It would not work.

Well, it didn't, only for 46 years. We were married 46 years, wonderful years.

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