Sunday, June 26, 2011

Dining Etiquette at the Counts Farm

James Wilson Counts was my great-great grandfather, born November 14, 1856, the son of Sylvester Tobias Counts and Mary Ann Wilson.  He grew up in more formal times in Ohio, and later moved to Kansas where he owned a 160 acre farm near Baldwin City and raised his 6 children, one of which was my semi-famous great-grandfather, George Sylvester Counts.
James Wilson Counts
Circa 1901

From what I've learned, James was a strict man, who adhered to a polite code of conduct.  He expected human beings to behave in a certain manner, and it was uncouth or even sinful to deviate from these patterns. George S. Counts had an interesting story he liked to share concerning his father, and he used it as something of an object lesson.

Harvest time, circa 1900:  The Counts farm hired a few field hands to help bring in the crops.  They purportedly paid well, despite the low income of the farm, so there was no shortage of volunteers.  These seasonal hands ate with the family as honored guests, and were expected to behave as any guest would in those times.
During lunch one day, one of the farm hands wanted to get a roll from a basket that was just out of reach.  James asked that one of the other people seated at the table kindly pass the rolls, but the impertinent farm hand claimed "I can get it," took out his knife, and stabbed a roll with the extra length of the blade making up the distance.  A dead silence fell over the table, and the stabber was fired on the spot.  He was banned forever from the Counts farm for his brash behavior.

This is one of many stories my father heard as a child, one he failed to take to heart.  Unlike James, my father was never so puritanical, and would be more the sort to stab the roll than fire an employee for helping himself.  Strict behavior seems to be something society in general has abandoned these days.

This was something George S. Counts used as a cautionary tale, advocating his descendants toward order, so I can't say if it's 100% accurate.  It does seem like the sort of attitude that God-fearing Methodist farmers would've had during the turn of the last century, so I wouldn't doubt if it actually happened more or less the way it was told.


  1. Love your Blog! I'm a Counts relative Granddaughter of Hugh W. Counts, the oldest boy of the Counts family. My name is Kay. Keep up the good work. Would love to chat sometime

    1. It's great to hear from you. I hope we do get the chance to chat. Look me up on facebook sometime.