Grandfather, Elmer Askwith, 102
by Kabrina Rozine
Elmer Askwith was born
in 1911, the fourth of five children. He grew up in a rural farm
community in a family that, like their neighbors, had big hearts but
little money. One way of passing the time was to listen to and play
music. Elmer’s older sister, Georgina, loved to play the piano that
the Askwith family was fortunate enough to have in their home. Elmer
enjoyed the music and yearned to get his own violin. As a youth, he
browsed the Sears and Roebuck catalog. It contained everything from
toys to clothing, and even houses (in fact more than one family from
his community purchased a home through this venue).
Elmer spotted a violin in the catalog and dreamed of
being able to buy it. The cost was $7.00, which was quite a bit of
money for a family that “didn’t have two pennies to rub together.”
Elmer was excited when he realized that the township was offering 10
cents per rat tail to help control the rat population. He was even
more appreciative of the fact that his father said he could keep all
of the money that he could earn through rat trapping.
Elmer at age 102 is still
quite the gardener.
Look at the size of that carrot!
So Elmer set about thinking of ways to catch rats. He would stab in
between the walls of the grain storage bins to catch some rats by
surprise, set box traps, and even grabbed a few with a gloved hand.
His favorite method of catching them was using the
rain barrel. He made a lid for the
rain barrel that was just small enough to fall inside and was
attached through its center to the barrel itself. He then glued a
few kernels of corn to the lid. The rats would walk on the top of
the barrel to get to the corn, and the lid would swing downward. The
rat would fall into the rain bucket and drown while the lid would
swing back into position, waiting for the next unsuspecting victim.
After what seemed like forever, Elmer had enough
money to order the violin. He remembers placing the order in the
morning and then racing back to the store later in the day to see if
it had come in yet. Once it finally did arrive, he would practice
the same tune over and over again. His father was known to tell many
friends, “I have suffered the tortures of the damned listening to
that young fella play the fiddle.” With practice, Elmer got better
and started to play for dances at the age of 17. His band consisted
of his fiddle, a guitar, banjo, drums, and the piano, playing the
fox trot, waltz, and square dances. People would come from up to 20
miles away to attend the dances which were held upstairs from the
general store or in people's homes. Elmer fondly states, “Back then
we had poor music and a good time. Now we have good music and a poor
Elmer with some of the band
members, circa 1929
was through music that he eventually met his future wife Claudina.
Elmer and his brother were driving down a county road and happened
to pass a fire tower. A workman standing outside waved to them and
asked if they would like to climb the tower. They did, and at the
top, amid the conversation, the man took out a violin and played a
few songs. It wasn’t long before Elmer asked if he could give the
fiddle a try.
At the end of the visit, the man said he had a sister who played the
organ at church and told Elmer that he should stop in to meet her.
Elmer did, and he and Claudina became friends.
Their courtship really heated up when one winter Elmer decided to
surprise her at her home. He was so excited to leave that he rushed
through his barn chores, put on the family’s 7-foot-long hickory
skis and headed north 11 miles to where she lived. When he arrived,
Claudina wasn't home from school yet, but her mother suggested that
perhaps he could wait behind the door to surprise her. When she
walked in the house, she immediately said rather loudly, “What
stinks?” Apparently, his smelly barn clothing was not enough to turn
her off completely, as they were married in 1932.
Click to continue reading about Elmer.
1998-2018 National Centenarian Awareness Project & Lynn Peters
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