This biography was written by Janice Homsher on the occasion of her mother's 100th birthday in 1987.
Esta Leona Leaman was born on March 3, 1887 on a farm in Leacock Township known to its occupants and neighbors as Cedar Lawn. Although Esta has been living at her present home on Hershey Church Road in Salisbury Township for the past 78 years, her early years were not so settled.
Being the fifth child in a family of eight children, she had much in common with Topsy who just grew. Due to her love for babies and her willingness to work, she was sent off to live with her cousin at an early age to help care for his brood of young children. Needless to say, she was homesick for her beloved Cedar Lawn where there was such an abundance of love that she now, confused in mind, equates it with Heaven. Adding to her distress while being with her cousin was the fact that she had to leave her dear old Kauffman's School, where her much idolized oldest sister was the teacher and attend Weavertown School - their arch rivals.
As a pre-teen, she was again sent to live with her uncle and aunt in Rohrerstown. Both uncle and aunt were blind and needed someone with a quick body and mind to help them. Esta rather enjoyed living in Rohrerstown. Pleasing her aunt, who was somewhat of a fanatic about neatness, was a challenge to her. This demand for neatness was due in part from necessity since she was blind, but also partly from a lack of having anything more to worry about. Her uncle was a kind man and easy to please, and reading the paper to him was a joy. She was somewhat apprehensive, though, about doing his banking for him since that required bringing home the week's supply of cash all in coins. However, that train ride from Rohrerstown to Lancaster and back was for years instantly recalled whenever she heard a train whistle. School in Rohrerstown too was a lot of fun. She was now at that age when boys and girls begin to enjoy each other's company.
Her next experience away from home was living with an elderly lady in Gap and attending Gap Academy. The lady again benefited from Esta's helping hand, but the time spent at the Academy did little to further her education, for it was common knowledge that the kids knew more than the teacher.
Esta has many fond memories of growing up at Cedar Lawn, as much of her time was spent there. Also, Fresh Air children from New York City and a brother and sister who came back each summer provided competition as well as companionship.
Attending Mennonite Church with her parents as a child enabled her to commit to memory many hymns of faith. In 1903 Esta followed in her older sisters' footsteps and joined the Leacock Presbyterian Church in Paradise. She now holds the distinction of being the oldest member of that church. Although for much of her early life Esta had little time or means to give to the church, she saw to it that her children went to Sunday School and Church. It has been a source of pride for her to see all her children take an active part in the life of.the church as teachers and elders.
Parties and "outings" with other young people played a major role in the lives of the family at Cedar Lawn. Friends came to "house parties" which lasted for several days. Picnics were held at Rocky Springs Park or Lititz Spring Park, or just in the meadow. Esta's mother was quick to respond to the needs of relatives and neighbors when a new baby was born or someone was sick or had a death in the family. She would stay at that home for as long as she was needed. Sometimes she would take Esta along to do the "running" for her. Other times Esta stayed home and attended the needs there. Little wonder she was the favorite of her father who depended on her to sew on his buttons or help him plant the field corn. The bond of love between them was mutual for she often commented that he certainly was a nice Daddy.
After a brief stay with her oldest brother in Lancaster while she attended Millersville Normal School, Esta returned again to Cedar Lawn. Esta's adolescent years at Cedar Lawn were gay and happy times with lots of friends and parties. Now, however, she and her older sister who were not yet married concentrated on serious dating. Courting one's sweetheart in those days was not an easy task. "Fellows" had to travel by train, trolley, or quite often by foot to see their girl friends. Nevertheless, love prevailed and Esta married Harry G. Brackbill on June 15, 1909 under a bower of blossoms in the parlor of Cedar Lawn.
After an extended wedding trip and a summer of being entertained by aunts, uncles and cousins, Harry and Esta moved to the farm where Esta now lives. Matched dishes and linen tablecloth and napkins were a must if Esta would please her new husband who came to appreciate the finer things of life while attending Millersville College.
But these things gave way and years went by. The hired men were replaced by a large family of children. Six boys and five girls provided a lot of free labor, but also demanded a lot of caring for. Food on a farm was not a big problem, but clothing was not easy to come by. Like many other mothers during the Depression, Esta became an expert at fixing up hand-me-downs from city cousins. Work clothes were patched upon patch. Towels, bed sheets, and you name it were made from feed bags bleached in the sun.
Preparing food for so large a family was no easy task, but cooking became more or less of a hobby for Esta. She took both joy and pride in her cooking, and things had not only to taste good but to look good also. Beside her own children to cook for, there was almost always a cousin who needed a temporary home or one who just needed to spend some time on the farm.
Esta and Harry were both from large families, and they frequently entertained them by inviting them to Sunday dinner. Esta's reputation as a good cook was soon established on both sides of the family. When her children grew older, they often invited their friends to stay for Sunday night supper. Since these invitations were usually spontaneous, Esta was always prepared with plenty of dessert on hand.
Since there was little or no money to purchase anything for the house but basics, Esta also cultivated a hobby of growing house plants and flowers. The many windows of her twelve room farm house were filled with geraniums, African violets, and ferns.
Education for their children was a priority for Esta and Harry alike, but when their family was growing up, even getting them to high school presented its problems. In fact, the supervising of the packing of nine lunches each school day was no easy task, much less providing transportation to high school and college. Of course, those attending grade school could walk.
Life kept getting busier for the Brackbill family. The five oldest children became teachers and the sixth one became a minister. The next two boys attended college later on their own, but the three youngest were content with a high school education.
Eventually all the children were married; four of them within one year's time. Then came the grandchildren. There are thirty three of them. Twenty seven of them earned college degrees, three continued some education after high school, and again three were content with a high school diploma. Time will tell how the next generation will fair, all fifty four of them. It is not likely they will all follow the example of the oldest great-grandchild who became the first medical doctor in the family, but many show great promise.
Life has not been without its sorrows, and her daughter's death at the age of four provided its first trauma. A still born twin and her youngest child's sickness and death were also sad times. Death is no stranger to Esta now, for only one sister and a sister-in-law are left of her generation to share the gift of life.
Esta continued to live on the farm after her husband's death in 1967. It is now farmed by her grandson and his retired minister father. Esta's mind can only capture a hint of the past as she sits at the same kitchen table she once sat with matched china and linen cloth. The table is now covered with the more familiar table oil cloth with an African violet as a centerpiece. There has always been a centerpiece on her table as well as flowers on the window sill. So memories are mixed with reality as Esta celebrates her 100th birthday.