Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
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Source: July 1994 Volume 32 Number 3, Pages 98–100

Memories of the Thomas Nursery

Anne Hollingsworth Thomas Moore

Page 98

Both my younger sister and I grew up on the nursery when we were little girls. We went to the Strafford School and then the Tredyffrin-Easttown High School until ninth grade, and then went to George School and college. My husband and I then lived in Lawrence, Kansas for 23 years, but came back here eleven years ago. (I knew that some transition was going to happen to the nursery sometime, and I wanted to be here when it did.)

I remember well the bell that was used to announce the work day. It was probably when my father was a youngster that those work hours were in effect, but I remember that when I was a little girl we used it to get the attention of my father or my uncle when they were out yonder. If someone came in to buy a few trees and there was no one here to help him we would ring the bell to call someone in.

There was always a private phone line between Eithercoe, where my uncle Ed lived,, and the nursery. And when we were living in the little house there was also a party line between the office and the house. For years and years and years my mother was taking all the messages, and then somebody decided she should get paid for this. (That lasted for only about two years, however.) Before my mother, it was my grandmother who took the messages and contacted the people in the nursery when they were needed.

When it came to preparing the meals for the men who were doing the threshing and the extra burden it imposed, I think that there were good cooks in the Thomas family! My grandmother certainly was a good cook, and my mother is still. We all have benefitted from that.

Page 99

One of my fondest memories of the nursery is seeing the killdeer nests on the side of the beech tree lane. I don't know why a killdeer would be in this neighborhood except that there were oyster shells in the back lane. My grandfather liked oysters and would buy a burlap bag full of live oysters in the fish market in Norristown and put them in the cave. They would have oyster stew in a silver tureen, and you can just picture the joy of this oyster stew. They would have it whenever they wanted to, because the oysters were always right there, in the cave.

A little thing I remember is being taught to fold an 81/2" by 11" sheet of paper in three so that it could be inserted in an envelope. I must have been like six or seven at the time. My uncle Ed, who was a very big person, had a small individual office, a little building which was occupied by a large desk, and there was this large man showing me how to fold this paper.

The relationship that my father and uncle had with other nursery men was a rich thing, the camaraderie of many years of these men working together on various things, purchasing from each other. The respect with which they were held was really terrific. I witnessed this in these last years as people would come to the office just to say "hello", and it was really thrilling to see that.

I grew up really with two apprenticeships: in the home, with my mother, and out of doors, with my father. When I was ten, I'd come back from school and be a "go-fer". And I learned a lot of things out of doors not particularly pertaining to growing trees, like pulling weeds, for example. I was very familiar with that, and did it for a couple of summers. But I am really grateful for the kind of balance of experience that came out of this period of growing up.

I think that one of the things that maintained us was that we were always a family that lived close together -- the brother and sister and my father living up at Eithercoe from 1947, a sister down home who lived with her mother until 1967, and then lived there by herself for another ten years. It was a daily contact, just looking in on each other, and even after my aunt remarried it continued. There has always been this close family connection.

There was also a kind of real perseverance. It is being evidenced now by my uncle Joseph Thomas. Every stake that Treyburn puts in he has charted on sketches and maps and detailed plans. He is familiar with all the trees and which ones should be saved. This kind of dogged concern for detail is continuing right now. (I feel that I am better acquainted with the Thomas family now than I ever was before.)

The tie between Valley Friends Meeting and the Thomas family is another interesting thing. The involvement in the Friends Meeting has fluctuated over the years and the generations. It's been kind of like a pendulum back and forth and we happen to be in an "in" thing at the moment.

Page 100

One more thing: I was away the last two days prior to today, and when I came home I received word that Alfred Arnstead had died. (We knew him as "Cutie".) He was a short black man who lived in a very small shack on the nursery for years and years, raised his family there, and his daughters went to school with me. He's been living in Philadelphia for many years now, but just the week before his death he had been out here, looking at the farm machinery and enjoying thinking about having used these various things long ago. He really had a farewell to the nursery all his own. I am really grateful that he came around that day.

And now we are in the midst of a transition. The auction sale last Saturday went reasonably well, and we will have a garage sale for what remains, as the rain Saturday sort of changed the course of the auction. We are now just about through with the physical unloading.

This has been a wonderful way to pull this together and to add all sorts of detail.


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