Eli Williams Gibbons

NOTES: Jean Varnum remembers her grandfather Eli Gibbons taking her and Elma to Quaker meetings (Wilburite), since their mother Edith had been condemned for marrying out of the faith.  He was a large, broad-shouldered man, six feet tall, with a tonsorial ring of red hair--having lost the rest of his hair to scarlet fever at age 24. His father Joseph kept a pretty tight grip on his sons, parceling out farm land surrounding his own, and treating the products of their farms as his own property.  Eli once raised a calf from birth on his own farm, anticipating income from the sale of it, and his father simply came and took it, without saying a word.  Eli himself was more generous, accepting any member of the family into his household at time of need; the 1880 census shows a 19-year-old cousin, Lillie Miller, living there when Eli and Eliza's oldest child was only eight--and she was still living there more than thirty years later when the girls visited!  Jean Varnum also mentioned his taking in the "McGrew boys," possibly Eliza's nephews.  Eli felt profoundly the fact that he had quarreled with his son Frederick before the boy died, and he would never after speak harshly to a child.  He would, however, look over his glasses and stomp his foot to reprove misbehavior, and this was enough to scare his granddaughter to death.  At times when farming did not provide enough income, Eli became a traveling book salesman, and in season he would sell greens in the town.  Handed down through the Gibbons family was a knowledge of wild plants, nutrition, and natural medicine.  There was a "house snake" tolerated as a guest within the walls, where it was counted on to eat the mice.  (I recall a similar visitation at the Smith house in Maryland when I was in my late teens; in the general panic my mother calmly turned away and said "It'll eat the mice.")