As an electronic publication of the Truman Library, users should note that features of the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview, such as pagination and indexing, could not be replicated for this online version of the Martha Ann Swoyer transcript.
Opened December, 1983
Oral History Interview with
October 28, 1983
Niel M. Johnson
JOHNSON: We're checking at the moment some of the sketches of the farm house, and the farm site, and Mrs. Swoyer has a sketch of the farm site in front of her. [See appendices for sketches of site and home interior.]
SWOYER: These are not fir trees. They were pine trees.
JOHNSON: Okay, pine trees. If you see anything that needs revising or correcting, let's make note of it right now.
SWOYER: As I remember, there was a clump of pine trees out toward this corner, and then there were pine trees closer to this sidewalk.
JOHNSON: So the pine trees were toward the southwest corner of the house lot?
JOHNSON: How about over here?
SWOYER: I don't remember any evergreens out in the north yard. There were pine trees here in this corner (southwest of house), probably three of them. And then there were two up toward the sidewalk, towards the south gate.
JOHNSON: I should mention that we have made some sketches of some of the items that were in the house. I would like to cover that again, but before we do we have this question about the kitchen. You say there was a smaller kitchen here before the present one was added on?
SWOYER: Yes, I think there was. I think so.
JOHNSON: Do you have any idea when that was enlarged as it is now?
SWOYER: No, I don't.
JOHNSON: But you have a vague recollection of an earlier kitchen, which was set back a little.
SWOYER: Well, I remember something about them changing it.
JOHNSON: This then has always been the dining room?
SWOYER: As I know it, yes. Except there was no door between the dining room and the sitting room.
JOHNSON: Right. Could I ask you what are your first memories of the farm house? We're talking about, what, early thirties or around 1930?
SWOYER: I think twenties. See, I was born in 1919.
JOHNSON: Okay. What are your first recollections of the farm?
SWOYER: Well, I can remember going to family dinners there, and we always ate there in the dining room, and we always used the good china, which I
now have. We always laughed that Mamma Truman would never use the good silverware; she wanted her old bone-handle knife that would cut things, because, of course, knives then didn't have serrated edges like they do now. I can remember Mamma Truman would always let us children have coffee that was mostly cream.
She'd put sugar and lots of cream in it, and we thought we were having coffee. She always sat at the west end of the table, and she had an aluminum coffee pot. She always said she just drank one cup of coffee, but she always kept heating her coffee up out of that aluminum coffee pot. I asked Aunt Mary for that coffee pot and she gave it to me, and I have it. I always remember it there at the end of the table by Mamma Truman.
JOHNSON: That means they brought the food from the kitchen into the dining room through this door?
SWOYER: Oh yes, the dining room table was close here.
JOHNSON: Where did the dining room table sit ordinarily?
SWOYER: Well, it sat right here.
JOHNSON: You're talking about the south?
SWOYER: By the south wall. Close to the south wall.
JOHNSON: Was it a rectangular table?
SWOYER: The table could be square, but it always had one leaf in it.
JOHNSON: Do you know what happened to that table?
SWOYER: It's in my kitchen. It's pictured here in a recent photograph. They always had an oil cloth tacked on it, a plain white oil cloth. But in the later years it was one of these that was kind of embossed, and that was always tacked on the table. When we would have family dinners, Aunt Mary, of course, would get out the linen table cloth.
JOHNSON: Were there almost always some guests on
Sunday for Sunday dinner? Apparently there were back in the early days.
SWOYER: Probably earlier; not in later years.
These were Mamma Truman's dining room chairs. And these were Grandma Young's chairs. They had the split hickory bottom. I can remember, oh, probably in the early thirties, Mamma Truman had those redone. They're split hickory, and a fellow that lived over there on High Grove Road, Brak (Breckenridge) Clements, did that work. He got the hickory out of the woods and fixed that split hickory. I have three of those, and I have six of these chairs.
JOHNSON: Six of the type that are in this picture?
SWOYER: Yes, and I never have had those refinished. Fred has one that he has refinished, real pretty; had it re-caned.
JOHNSON: These were used at the dining room table.
JOHNSON: Was there a table in the kitchen?
SWOYER: There was a base table with the drawers and a slant drawer that pulled out. It wasn't a possum-belly type because it was straight.
JOHNSON: Was that a table or counter you're talking about?
SWOYER: Well, more like a counter. I mean it's like a table on top, with drawers under it. I think it was just inside the kitchen door.
JOHNSON: As you walked into the kitchen?
SWOYER: Yes. To the left as you walked in from the dining room.
Of course, the stove was over here, the wood stove, by the chimney.
JOHNSON: Is this a picture of the cabinet with the flour drawer?
SWOYER: No. I'11 send you a picture of it sometime.
JOHNSON: Yes, I'd like to have that. We've got to
make this as authentic as we can. The chimney has always been right in the middle of the east wall, hasn't it?
JOHNSON: Did they use one of those old ranges...
SWOYER: With a warming oven up above.
JOHNSON: And reservoir?
SWOYER: Yes, and a water reservoir.
JOHNSON: What else do you recall being in the kitchen?
SWOYER: Well, I think the pie safe I have sat over here. You can take a picture of it. It is in the basement of this building.
JOHNSON: Was there another doorway?
SWOYER: I don't remember how it was before they remodeled this kitchen.
JOHNSON: Could you tell me more about the counter?
SWOYER: It's the type of thing that they set another
cabinet on top of, you know. It was like a table, but you've got drawers. You've got small drawers here.
JOHNSON: We're going to do a little art work here.
SWOYER: You see, this is the drawer that tilts out, right here, and then there's three of these drawers on the side that had these old iron drawer-pulls on them.
JOHNSON: Is there anything else about the kitchen before we leave it?
SWOYER: In the summertime they had a coal oil stove in there.
JOHNSON: They had this wood range, but they also had a coal oil stove?
SWOYER: In the summertime. I can't remember where it sat, but in the summertime they used a coal oil stove, because it was so hot.
JOHNSON: What would that have looked like?
SWOYER: It looked just like the early gas stoves, and probably had one of those ovens that you could lift on and off of the stove.
JOHNSON: When was that?
SWOYER: I don't know, but they used coal oil stoves early. Mamma Truman and Aunt Mary had one of those little round coal oil heaters that stood, what, about three feet high. They used to carry it upstairs into Aunt Mary's room to take the chill off. Of course, Mamma Truman wouldn't sleep in the south room unless it was extremely cold. They didn't have any heat either in the parlor below unless someone was coming. Aunt Mary's room would get heat from the sun and the sitting room, and if it got too awfully cold, Mamma Truman would go across and sleep with Aunt Mary. But most of the time she slept in that cold bedroom.
JOHNSON: Do you remember the location of Martha Ellen's bed? Was it against the south wall?
SWOYER: It certainly was, and I remember when we would go up to bed, she would make shadow pictures on this wall.
JOHNSON: I've heard about that. From the lamp, from the lamp that was over...
SWOYER: The lamp must have been over here. I don't remember. I can't remember for sure, but they had one of those old square tables that everybody had, that had the spindle legs and it was--oh, it must have been about thirty inches square, and maybe a smaller square down low on the floor. That was in our attic at one time after Mamma Truman and Aunt Mary moved. I can't remember for sure where that was, but I wonder if that wasn't up there by her bed as a lamp table.
JOHNSON: Maybe against the inside wall here.
SWOYER: Yes, because she would make pictures on this wall, shadow pictures.
JOHNSON: On the east wall.
JOHNSON: Where was the head of her bed, towards the east?
SWOYER: The head was right here against the south wall. The lamp stand would have been next to her bed, on the west side.
JOHNSON: I've indicated a dresser over here in the corner. Do you recall anything about that?
SWOYER: Well, I kind of thought it was against the north wall, but I wouldn't swear to that. And here's the dresser in this recent photograph.
JOHNSON: That's the dresser that was in Martha Truman's room?
SWOYER: Here's the bottom of it, and here's the top. That is the Robert E. Lee picture that Uncle Harry brought her in the thirties, that always hung beside the dresser as I remember it. It is on the front of the dresser there.
JOHNSON: Robert E. Lee?
JOHNSON: That's a symbol of certain loyalties. The dresser is fancy isn't it? That was solid or veneered?
SWOYER: Oh, no, solid walnut, with burl inlay.
JOHNSON: That looks great.
Now, we've gone from the kitchen up to Martha Ellen's bedroom. Again, is there anything we have not covered about the kitchen?
SWOYER: No; the only things I have from the kitchen are that pie safe and that kitchen cabinet.
JOHNSON: Maybe I could ask you some questions about the dining room.
SWOYER: All right.
JOHNSON: We talked about the dining room table and the chairs. We mentioned the "press" or the
cabinet here, the one on the north side.
SWOYER: And Aunt Mary's roll-top desk always sat over in this corner, as long as I can remember. It sat against the north wall, on the west side of the dining room. And Harry Arnold [Truman], my brother, has that.
JOHNSON: I've heard quite a bit about that roll-top desk. That was probably where Harry wrote most of those letters to Bess. He mentions, though, that sometimes he got so much attention while he was writing these letters, he'd go upstairs to be by himself.
SWOYER: Also, you may want to know that they always kept the milk in the cellar as they called it. They carried these big milk crocks up and down those steps. If we wanted cream for breakfast when we stayed over there, we went to the cellar and skimmed the cream off the crock.
JOHNSON: Well the milk was in the crock, and they let the cream...
MR. SWOYER: Rise.
JOHNSON: That's kind of heavy, carrying those crocks.
SWOYER: They'd carry them up and down every day.
JOHNSON: I remember on the farm we had those cream cans that had the lid that slid down into the mouth of the cream can. Did you ever see that kind of cream can?
SWOYER: No, not over there. When I would see them Father would take the milk by for them.
I've got two of the crocks. One of them has come to pieces; it was cracked when I got it. And the other one has a crack in it, but those are two of the crocks that they actually used. Actually, I think maybe I have some more of them.
JOHNSON: And you would skim the cream.
JOHNSON: Did they sell any milk? Did they have this just for their own use?
SWOYER: Yes, just for their own use.
JOHNSON: Were there any pictures hanging on the wall? We're in the dining room.
SWOYER: Yes, there was a bird dog picture. I gave you a picture of it. I'm not sure where it hung, but it was on that south wall,
JOHNSON: That's the only picture you recall. Then the portraits of the grandparents that were hanging...
SWOYER: In the sitting room. Four big pictures were always in the sitting room. One of Father and Uncle Harry and Grandpa Truman and Grandpa Young.
JOHNSON: One of the questions that has come up about the dining room is where the stove was. By the way, that stove probably stood this way didn't it?
SWOYER: Yes, and it sat right in front of a little closet under the stairway.
JOHNSON: Do you remember which flue the pipe was