Marth Robertshaw the Smith Family knew - Don Ferrario

Written in the 1980's by Dorothy Smith of Smithome Farms in Big Flats


Mrs. Martha Robertshaw was a hardy independent soul who settled in a rural area on the former farm in a part of the Town of Big Flats called Fisherville.

Her blood lines may have been mixed, but her heart lines were straight and true blue.  With her semi-invalid husband, she lived in a small white house at the edge of the road off Route 64 or the old Route 17.  The Road is called the Fisherville Road.

Mrs. Robertshaw was in great demand as a household worker because of her vigor.  We were one of the fortunate farm families in the area because every Thursday we were blessed with her appearance.  In fact, having Mrs. Robertshaw was such a noble event that our children called Thursdays "Robertshaw Day."

Promptly at eight o'clock Mrs. Robertshaw would beat out a sharp tattoo on our scared back door as she trotted in, calling out triumphantly, "Time to Rise and Shine."

No one could say honestly that Mrs. Robertshaw had walked into a room.  Hers was a lively presence that demanded attention from adults and children - obedience.  Her silvery hair was carefully combed into soft feathery waves secured tightly in place with a delicate hair net.  Her wire rimmed glasses on occasion would slide down her nose making her look as though she had two sets of very observant eyes.

A voluminous well-washed flowered apron covered her neat house dress.  The materials glistened with a permanent gloss from repeated starching.  The narrow apron strings were firmly tied around her motherly waist.  Her shoes were sensible polished black oxford that completed her outfit.  My husband said she reminded him of a determined lady pictured on the Dutch Cleanser can as she dashed vigorously chasing dirt.

Mrs. Robertshaw's many pocketed apron held a great deal of fascination for our children.  Soon they learned that secreted in those pockets were treasures.

If one happened to be ailing with a cold or stomach ache, Mrs. Robertshaw would search through her apron for an appropriate remedy.  This would be tempered with a shiny licorice drop.  It was considered a glorious achievement if the licorice was secured before the medication was swallowed.

As Mrs. Robertshaw rushed by on her weekly search for soil in the house, a scent of liniment accompanied her.  In winter a slight moth ball odor could be detected.  You might say she had seasonal scents.  In spring the full-blown lilac sprigs tucked in her apron perfumed the air.  In the summer and fall a heavily laced cloud of mint or lavender floated around her.  I maintained that when Mrs. Robertshaw finished her cleaning, we were not only sanitized, but morally uplifted.

The memory I cherish is of the day she arrived jubilantly bearing some spindly willow branches informing us that these she had rooted in her rain barrel.  The sight of the frail stringy branches did nothing to reassure us that they would thrive in our lumpy soil.  While Mrs. Robertshaw praised the Lord, we tucked the branches into the cavernous pit we had dug.  Then we all bowed our heads and prayed for rain.

Eventually the Robertshaw  days came to an end.  Returning to our family farm after almost 20 years we only had to look across the driveway to have a newsreel of memories unwind.  There stands a mighty weeping willow tree, survivor of hail, lightning, fire and flood.  It stands deeply rooted as a fitting testimonial to a fine lady, Mrs. Robertshaw, who brightened our home and our lives in a very special way.

Years later when I saw Mrs. Robertshaw at Minier's Grocery Store, she informed me that after her retirement she was taking care of elderly people in her home.

Mrs. Robertshaw was never forgotten in our family, but gradually the memories faded.  Dr. Hebert Wisbey's article in the Chemung County Historical Journal brought them all back.  It reminded me of the time (the one and only) time I was invited to meet Mr. Robertshaw.  He was a semi-invalid comfortably seated in an over-stuffed chair surrounded by paintings on all four walls.  What I didn't realize was that besides the living room, the dining room, bedroom, and the bathroom were painted as well ... even the ceilings.

At the time of her death in 1989 there was a very short article in the newspaper, but nothing telling of her talent as an artist.  I presumed the house was gone because when I last saw it, it was in disrepair and looked unoccupied.

Little did I know that the house was occupied by her grandon Dan Robertshaw, wife Lisa and his family.

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