I was born of Dutch parents in Ulster County, New York, on July 27, 1838. It is the only anniversary I can keep track of, and the only reason why I remember it is because on that day, except when it came on a Sunday, I have sown my turnips ever since 1855. Everybody knows the old rhyme:
“On the twenty-seventh
Sow your turnips, wet or dry.”
And wet or dry, my parents in Ulster County, long, long ago, sowed their little red turnip on that date.
I often wonder what sort of dwelling it was, and whether the July heat was not pretty hard on my poor mother. I think of this every birthday. I guess a habit of mind has grown up which I shall never break off; the moment I begin sowing turnips I think of my mother bringing forth her only child in the heat of dog-days, and of the sweat of suffering on her forehead as she listened to my first cry. She is more familiar to me, and really dearer in this imaginary scene than in almost any real memory I have of her.
I do not remember Ulster County at all. My first memory of my mother is of a time when we lived in a little town the name and location of which I forget; but it was by a great river which must have been the Hudson I guess. She had made me a little cap with a visor and I was very proud of it and of myself. I picked up a lump of earth in the road and threw it over a stone fence, covered with vines that were red with autumn leaves—woodbine or poison-ivy I suppose. I felt very big, and ran on ahead of my mother until she called to me to stop for fear of my falling into the water. We had come down to the big river. I could hardly see the other side of it. The whole scene now grows misty and dim; but I remember a boat coming to the shore, and out of it stepped John Rucker.