Marilyn “Lyn” Lovell
I was born in 1931 and grew up on a farm,called Grand View Farm, in a little town in Vermont named Pleasant Valley. It was a fun place to grow up. The valley was between Mount Mansfield and what we called he West Hill. In Pleasant Valley, I went to a one-room schoolhouse, with about twenty students, up through the eighth grade. Then I went to high school in Burlington, which was the largest high school in the state.
The farm had originally belonged to my great-great-great grandfather, and it had stayed in the family. That was pretty much the situation with the other farms in the valley. There were about fifteen families in the valley. About ten of them owned farms, and the men of the other families worked on the farms.
Our family name was Marshia. Originally the name had been Mashie. That was French. At that time, it was not nice to be French. Dad’s father had been killed in a farm machine accident when Dad was eighteen months old. When Dad started school, his mother changed his name from Mashie to Marshia. My parents were very active in public service. My mother became a state representative in 1945. Dad was on the school board and he was a road commissioner. He was also on the board that brought electricity to the valley.
Up until the time that electricity came to the valley, we had electric lights that were operated by batteries. We had a large number of batteries that covered an entire wall in our cellar, up to a height of about six feet. They were recharged every other day by a generator. The only thing we used the electricity for was lights, both in the house and barns. About five other families in the valley had similar systems for electric lights. The others used kerosene lamps. We were among the families who had a telephone, so there were telephone poles running through the valley. When electricity was brought to the valley in the 1940s, the wires were strung on the telephone poles.
We had our own icehouse. It was between the horse barn and the pigpen. Every winter, Dad would cut ice on a mill pond a few miles away, and bring it home on a bobsled. It would take perhaps eight or ten trips to get enough to last until the next winter. He had to use the bobsled because they didn’t plow the roads in those days; they ran a roller over them and packed down the snow. That was in my very early memories. Before long, they began plowing the snow off the roads. The ice in the icehouse would be packed with sawdust to insulate it. There was a saw mill at the mill pond and Dad probably bought sawdust there. I never went to the pond with him, so i never saw the cutting being done.
One use for the ice was to keep the milk cold. After the cows were milked, the milk would go into big cans which would be put into the cooler. Then Dad would put chunks of ice in around them. Until my brother Ronald got big enough, we had a milkman who would come by in the morning. He didn’t come to deliver milk, of course, but to take it away to the creamery. When Ronald got old enough and was driving to high school, he’d take the milk and bring it to the creamery before he went to school. The creamery was in Cambridge, which is where he went to high school.
In the summer, we’d take the cows up on the mountain. It was about a mile and a half or two miles to the place that we’d take them. We had a milking shed there. Before we’d start with them, Dad would call all the neighbors and tell them that we’d be moving the livestock. They’d come out into their front yards and stand there with brooms. Everybody had their gardens near their house, and they didn’t want all these cows tramping through the garden. Of course, when the cows were on the mountain, we’d have to go there to milk them twice a day.
When the cows would have calves, some of them would hide them, so we’d have to go find them. One day Ronald and I went to find a cow that didn’t come in. Normally they’d come to the gate when it was time to be milked. While looking for the cow, I got into a white-faced hornets’ nest. I didn’t know enough to run. Ronald was yelling, “Run, Marilyn, run!” but I just stood there slapping at them. He grabbed me and ran. I don’t think my feet touched the ground. He took me to the brook and sat me in the mud.
When we’d go to milk on the mountain in the morning, the no-see-ums would be after us. They were really bad. The men all smoked, so we’d run over to them and say, “Blow smoke on us, blow smoke on us!” The smoke would keep the no-see-ums away for a bit.
When the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) came into being in the 1930s, (The act establishing it was passed by Congress in 1936) Dad went to meetings about it in a town named Eden, which was about an hour’s drive away, all one winter. Getting electricity to homes was a really big deal. The meetings were in the evenings and the cars then didn’t have heaters. They also didn’t use antifreeze, so when he’d get to the place where the meeting was held, he’d drain the water out of the radiator. He’d carry a milk can of warm water to replace it. We did the same thing when we’d go to dances.
Mother took in boarders. During the summer they would stay with us for one or two weeks. In the winter skiers came to stay. One time she overbooked and we children all had to give up our beds and sleep in the haymow one night. One boarder was a young lawyer from Boston. He came every year for about ten years. He was blind. Mother walked with him up through the valley a few times so he could get to know the area. Then he’d take long walks on his own. There wasn’t any traffic, and with his cane he could tell when he was on the road. We also had some families from Montreal. Once anyone came, they’d come back year after year and stay two or three weeks every summer.
Dad’s first car was an old Essex. Later he took the maple sugaring money and bought a new Dodge. I think he paid about $600 for it. The sugaring money was the “cream in your coffee.” Farmers would live from milk check to milk check, but the sugaring money would pay for things that families wouldn’t have been able to afford otherwise. When Dad spent sugaring money on a new car, Mother was not happy.
The one-room schoolhouse that I went to spanned grades one to eight, but it didn’t normally have eight grades. With just twenty to twenty-four pupils there weren’t enough children for all eight grades. The year I started there were three of us in first grade. My sister remembered that when she was in seventh and eighth grade, she was teaching first graders to read. The teacher never came outside to supervise us when we were out for recess. Somehow we settled our differences, and of course there were differences. We learned who not to pick on, and who it was safe to pick on. The older kids looked out for the younger kids. We had two swings. We played a game called prisoner’s base every recess.
We had individual desks and chairs that were fastened to the floor. The desks and seats for the eighth graders were what I’d call a one-piece deal. The first and second graders were nearest to the furnace, where it was warmest. As you got away from it, it was cold. Wood was burned and the teacher had to start the fire when she got there in the morning. We’d go down into the pasture where the cows were, and get water for our water cooler. Then we’d bring it up to the school to drink. We didn’t get sick, so I guess it was alright. Everybody drank out of the same pitcher, so whatever was going around went around to everybody.
Every holiday our parents would come and we’d each have a piece to speak. It taught you at a very young age to stand up and recite. I don’t think they do enough of that nowadays.
When I was in the second grade, it was the job of our neighbor Andy Butler to take care of me. We had a long flat area to walk, and the wind just whistled down there in the winter. Andy often carried me on his back, and that helped him as well as me, because he was trying to hurry since it was so cold. He’d piggy-back me home day after day after day. He wouldn’t get home until after I was safely home. I never heard his mother say it, but I’m sure she told him to make sure that Marilyn got home.
When Mother went to Cambridge High it was only two years. By the time Ronald and Gwen went there, it was four years and they both graduated. Tina and I graduated from Burlington High. Burlington was about thirty miles from the valley. I once rode my bicycle to Burlington. Mother was horrified.
I remember a couple named Dean from Chicago, who had a summer place up on the mountain, above our milking shed. The woman would drive like a bat out of hell on the road that was only wide enough for one car. If you met someone coming the other way, you had to find a place to pull off. The road was between the milking shed and the pasture. Dad would say, “Take the cow to the pasture, but listen to see if Mrs. Dean is coming.”
We had a day pasture and a night pasture for the cows. The night pasture would always be smaller. They’d just eat a little there, and then go to sleep. Our day pasture was on the other side of the sugar bush. After morning milking, they’d all walk over to the pasture. For afternoon milking, we’d have to bring them back. We weren’t supposed to ride the cows, but I had one, Maisy, that I could ride. Of course I wouldn’t ride her all the way home, because if I did, Dad would catch me at it.
In the night pasture, there were two or three old apple trees. If you don’t pick up the apples on the ground, they will ferment. Not all cows would eat them, but some would, and they’d get drunk. Cows don’t normally sit like a dog, but they do if they’re drunk. You couldn’t use the milk of any cow that got drunk, because it tasted awful. Roosters would eat fermented apples, also, and then they couldn’t walk. They’d fall over.
Our grain would come in gingham-patterned bags. They were very pretty. Mother made us dresses out of the material. One year around Halloween mother made a new dress for me. I was probably going to speak at the party at school. I made a jack-o-lantern. I wanted to put a candle in it and go show Dad in the barn. Mother said I couldn’t have the candle.
I kept teasing and finally she said I could have the candle. As I was getting to the barn, I decided I wanted to scare my father. I turned the candle around and the result was that I set my brand-new dress on fire. I began yelling for Dad to rescue me. As I opened the barn door, Dad was coming along with a bushel basked of sawdust he was using for bedding for the cows. He threw it at me and it put the fire out.
In the haymow, there were two big things where you’d throw the hay down for the cows. We weren’t supposed to do this, but I’d get together with my brother and we wouldn’t open the chute down where the hay was supposed to go. Then we’d fill it with hay. It was probably about ten feet to the bottom. I’d get on the top of the hay and he’d go down and open the chute. I wouldn’t get hurt because of all the hay, but I’d come tumbling out down by the cows. I could only do that when Dad wasn’t around.
I’d always follow Dad when he was plowing. I’d pick up the worms and Mother and I would go fishing. Dad never went fishing, but Mother would. We’d catch trout. They had to be at least six inches long, and most of them were just about that.
We had a good cow dog, and I’d have a puppy to train to get cows from the pasture. Then I could sell the puppy in the fall. I always had little tears in the bottom of my dress, because the puppies had sharp teeth. That drove Mother crazy. Growing up on a farm, I got used to the idea that the animals wouldn’t be around forever, so it didn’t bother me too much to sell the puppies. When a cow got to the age where it wasn’t giving milk, we’d eat it. We’d didn’t feel bad about it. That’s just the way life was.
We’d had a hired man named Howard Gilbert for years and years. I called him Bogey. I don’t know why.I had a sister who was ten years older than I was. She was my guardian. I was her toy. She came to live with me last year, and she said, “I treated you just like my doll. I put you in my carriage and treated you just like a little doll. “
Every night Mother would send me to the barn to find out how many cows Dad had to milk, so she could start supper. One night I told her to have Tina go, so she did. Then I went out and hid behind a door, When Tina came out of the barn, I screamed. She started to chase me, and I ran as fast as my little legs would carry me, to get to Mother so Tina wouldn’t kill me. Mother couldn’t imagine what was going on when we both came flying into the kitchen. I was that kind of a kid. I always loved to be doing stuff.
We’d walk a mile to school and it was often very cold. There were three houses along the way, and at any of them, any of us could knock on the door and they’d let you in to get warm, and sometimes give you a cookie too. When I was in first grade, Ronald was in eighth grade. It was his job to make sure that I got home okay. The next year that was the next door neighbor’s job. That’s the kind of people we grew up with. It didn’t matter who you were, everybody took care of everybody.
One year, my father had pneumonia in May. The men of the valley held a working bee at our farm. They all came with their teams and plows and harrows. They plowed my father’s fields and planted the corn and did everything that was needed in a day. Ronald had gone into the Marines during the war, and then Dad got pneumonia. It was a good thing that I had learned to milk, although by that time we had a milking machine. That was a good thing because it would have taken me all day to do it by hand. Dad could milk so fast that there would be about three inches of froth on the top of the pails. We had about forty cows then, and there was always a hired man to help Dad.
Mother planted the vegetable garden on Memorial Day, because frost was about done by then. We could have a killing frost as late as June, so we made little “hats” to put over the tomato plants when it looked like it might happen. Dad wanted the rows perfectly straight, so we’d use a string to make them that way. He wanted them straight for two reasons. One was that he liked it to be neat, but also because he’d use a little harrow on it, and that would work better if the rows were straight. Once the plants started to come up, we’d all go out to weed every night after supper, until about seven-thirty or eight. Then the mosquitoes came out and we went in.
For whatever reason, our garden didn’t grow good root vegetables. We didn’t get good carrots, beets or turnips. We could grow beans and cucumbers until they came out your ears. The Brewsters could grow good root vegetables, but didn’t do well with beans. Mother would give them a bushel of beans and they would give us a bushel of whatever root vegetables we needed.
The home dem lady had developed a kitchen in Essex Junction where we could do canning. It had pressure cookers and gas ovens. Three or four women would go down there together. It was at least twice as fast to can there as it was at home, so towards the end, that’s where Mother did her canning. We had loads of food in the house. If visitors came by, we always had enough to feed them. My great-grandmother’s diary mentions people dropping by and having twelve people, nine people, eight people for dinner. She was able to feed them with what she had right there. Today you don’t have that much in the house, but back on the farm, we did.
There were three churches in Cambridge. The Methodist Church was where we went, and there was also the Congregational Church and a Catholic Church. There was a Catholic church in Underhill too. The same priest preached in both of the Catholic churches.
Dad was a Mason and Mother was in the Eastern Star. The hurricane in September 1938 did a lot of damage. Of course in those days there was no warning. The night of the hurricane Mother was going out in a long white dress for an Eastern Star event. Dad said that the mountain was roaring. It would really do that when certain winds would blow. Dad didn’t think she should go. Only Mother and two other ladies in the valley had driver licenses. Mother went, and didn’t get back until the next day.
A bit before my time, the men would go up on the mountain and log in the winter. They’d get spruce and pine for pulp. One year there was a thunderstorm which resulted in a terrible mudslide. The farms that were right up at the foot of the mountain really got hit. After that, the state prohibited logging on the mountain. Just a few years ago, there was a tornado in Vermont, and two families lost their sugar bush. The damage was so severe that they couldn’t even sell the trees for lumber. That’s a terrible thing to happen. You can’t live long enough to replace a sugar bush.
In the years when I was growing up, most people took their car off the road in October, and didn’t put it back on until after mud season. Ronald had a Model T Ford, and then a Model A. We had fun in those cars, but getting flat tires was very common in those days. On one trip we had a flat on the way to where we were going. Ronald changed it. On the way back home, we got another flat. Of course we had only one spare tire, so what to do? Ronald took the tire off and we stuffed it full of hay. We went all the way home with a tire full of hay.
Maple sugaring was a very important part of the year for us. I remember once wanting to go to the sugar house in the worst way. Frank Hutchins worked for Dad, and did the boiling. Mother kept putting me off about that. Eventually she agreed. She could see me going across the field and into the woods, but there was a place about one-hundred yards from the house where she couldn’t see me. Dad told Frank that I’d be going to the sugar house after my nap. To get there, I had to walk through a mud puddle. I was wearing my little red boots. I got stuck in the mud, and I mean stuck! I couldn’t get out. I cried and cried. There was a rock right there, and I sat on it. I was sure that I was going to die. I was there until my dad came by with the horses on his way to the barn. Of course he’d come and see me on his way back to the house, but as a little kid you don’t think that way.
The next little episode where I got into a bit of trouble was when we hadn’t paid the grocery bill, and the man who owned the store was going to Florida for the winter. He arranged with my mother for us to go to the village and she could run the store. We lived on the second floor, up over the store. I have no idea what possessed me to do this, but one day I locked myself in the bathroom. I wouldn’t come out for my mother. I don’t know why, but I was mad and I was going to stay in the bathroom. She called for my dad to come up.
“Open this door, Mary Jean.” They called me Mary Jean. I was about four, and I knew I was treading on thin ice.
“Why don’t you open this door?”
“Because I like to hear little boys ask questions.” Then I really didn’t dare to open the door. I knew I was in deep trouble. Dad gave me three spankings in my life, and that was one of them when I finally opened the door. I have no idea why I didn’t want to come out. I was just being miserable.
Dad went back and forth to the farm while Mother tended the store that winter. I remember that you could buy bananas there and that’s where Mother would get sugar. They sold gas, too. Mother bought flour at the grain store. When the war came and sugar was rationed, the women began using maple sugar in place of cane sugar..
Every other Sunday in the summer we’d go on a picnic. Dad would stop at the store for gas, and also get six bananas so that we’d each have one. That was a ritual in our family. Another Sunday ritual during the summer was making ice cream. If you helped to turn the crank, you could have one of the paddles to lick. Mother made chocolate sauce to put on it. It turned caramel when you put it on the ice cream. I have the recipe and all my kids do too.
Most of what we needed was produced on the farm. We butchered our own cows, pigs and chickens. Then Mother would can them. I can see her canning a whole cow. The cow and pig would be butchered in late November. We didn’t always have lambs, but sometimes we did. Mother would cook them, take the meat off the bones, put it in the jars and preserve them. We were pretty self-sufficient, except for flour, sugar, baking powder and things like that.
On the farm, you had breakfast, dinner and supper. Dinner and supper were both big meals. Today you don’t eat meat, vegetables and potatoes twice a day, but we always did on the farm. Mother made one cake and two pies every day of my life. You had pie for dinner and cake for supper. Dad wanted warm cake, so it was frosted while we were eating supper. He’d tell us to eat it all because he didn’t want it made into bread pudding.
My mother would bake a cake with two handfuls of flour and one handful of sugar. Two fingers measured her baking powder, and a little bit of salt was thrown in. Our neighbors, the Brewsters, had meat and potatoes three meals a day. I remember as a child thinking, “Who the heck eats all this?” Of course by the time breakfast was served, the men had been out doing the milking and other chores for several hours. Chores would have included chopping wood in the winter, and haying in the summer.
Milk was sold in cans to the creamery. At one time Dad would just sell the cream, because he’d get paid for the butterfat content. They’d use a device called a separator to separate the cream from what we’d call skim milk, and the skim milk would be fed to the pigs. We’d drink unpasteurized milk. My father always used the same cow for the “house milk.” In those days cows would get tuberculosis. That was a tragedy on a farm if that happened. There were just two farmers that I knew which that happened to. The milk would be tested for tuberculosis, and if it tested positive, you’d have to kill the whole herd.
Farms in the valley seldom had more than fifteen to twenty cows. The farms had been in the families for generations and had been paid for long ago. They just needed enough to live, and fifteen or so cows were enough for most families. We had about forty cows. Dad had a mix of breeds. It was mostly Brown Swiss and Ayrshires because their milk had the highest butterfat content. He’d also have about three Holsteins because they gave the highest quantity of milk, although the lowest it butterfat. You had to feed them grain if they’re going to be milked, and it’s a fine balance for farmers today in paying for the grain and getting enough in return to make it pay.
Each cow had its own stanchion in the barn. Occasionally a cow would go to another cow’s stanchion, and the one who was supposed to go there wouldn’t know what to do. It would wander around the barn, bewildered until you got the wrong one out and to its own place.
Pigs can be vicious, and the rule was if one got out, we had to get into the house or the barn until Dad got it back to the pigpen.
Sugaring was a good way to make money on those farms in the valley. We were out of school during sugaring season which usually began in the last two weeks of March, and we’d be out until mid-April. Everybody had to work. When the sap was running you had to collect it, and it had to be boiled right away or it would sour. I’d carry a milk pail, and the men would carry much larger pails. Those of us who were little enough could walk on the crust of the snow. Those who were heavier would go up to their hips if they tried to walk through the snow to the trees. I always loved to be outside and going into the woods with everybody. Dad had to drill holes in the trees so we could put in the spigots which would let the sap drip into the buckets.We’d know the sap was running when we’d hear the ping, ping, ping of it dripping into the buckets. My father would tell us “that tree gets three buckets, that one gets two, that one gets one.”
The man who did the boiling would sometimes boil all day long, and sometimes my dad would do the boiling all night. We had what we’d call the gathering tub with the horses. Then it would go into a holding or storage tank before it went into the sugar house. In the sugar house there were two large flat pans; a front one and a back one. The back one bubbles away cooking off the water. The front one is divided into six or eight sections. The sap will run up and down through the sections as it cooks down into syrup. The syrup was drawn off on the opposite side to keep the pan free from sediments which could catch on fire and burn the rig. It was all done over a wood fire. They’d put logs about three feet long into the arch. It was quite an art.
The syrup would be “graded.” We had five little bottles that were used to grade the syrup. The lightest, considered the best was called “fancy.” It wasn’t the sweetest. The darker it gets, the sweeter it is. By the time the buds begin to come out on the maples, the syrup is dark. Once they’re out, you can’t sugar because it becomes bitter.
If it looks like the syrup is going to boil over and go into the fire, you can put a drop of cream or butter into it and it will go right down. Every time you do that, the syrup gets darker, so you don’t do that if you can avoid it. The fire was all wood, and Mother cooked with a wood fire also. It was an art to keep the right temperature over a wood fire while baking cakes and pies.
My great-grandparents didn’t make syrup. They cooked the sap down into maple sugar. Then they’d take it to the village and barter it for things they needed, or trade it to the store for credit that they could use to buy items there. They didn’t do very much with money. In a diary of my great-grandfather he mentioned that his gross income for the year was eighteen dollars.
For a good maple syrup season, we would need a good snow cover and in the spring you needed the nights to freeze and the days to thaw. This would sent the sap up in the day and freeze at night which broke down the cellulose. I believed I talked about the fact that the sap became bitter after the buds were out. This would be about May 1st. We would then go around with a small whisk brush and wash the buckets. Then we’d take them down and put them bottom side up to dry. Another day we would go and gather all the buckets, remove the spite from the tree, and pack everything in the sugarhouse for another year. The snow would be gone and the ground would be covered with Mayflowers, Jack-in-the-pulpits, trilliums both red and white, Dutchman breeches, and violets of all colors. The yellow were always near water and a tall yellow lily.
The cars all had running boards, which was a good thing in “mud season,” because the cars would sometimes sink down that far. What you’d do then was to go find the nearest neighbor to come with his team to pull you out. You wouldn’t bother to go home to get your team because it usually happened when you were a long way from home. Everybody did that for everybody.
Mud season was really mud season. There’s no other word for it. The roads weren’t paved. Most of them were good, but wherever there was clay, that’s where the bad mud holes were. People tried not to go to the village during mud season because it just tore the road up. The people who maintained the roads would tell us not to go to the village if we didn’t have to. We wouldn’t go to Jeff (Jeffersonville) during that time because there was a huge stand of spruce trees, and that area was a swamp and you just couldn’t get through there. Everybody would say, “Now, don’t go to Jeff. Go to Cambridge.”
There was what was called a two-way bridge between Jeff and Cambridge. It was a two-lane covered bridge. It also had a place to walk. It’s at the Shelburne Museum now. Somehow it had been set on the foundation wrong, and was always called the wrong-way bridge.
My sister’s kitchen table is at the Shelburne Museum too. She was married in the late ’40s and had the table with six chairs for fifty years. The museum people were looking for items from that time so she donated the set.
Growing up on a farm was loads of fun, but it was very hard work. I had a father who let us do things. I had two sisters and we weren’t supposed to learn to milk because that wasn’t ladylike. I chased the cows around the barnyard and learned to milk and do everything around the farm. I loved the farm, but I said I’d never marry a farmer. It’s a seven-day a week job, and you have to milk those cows twice a day. You have to feed all the animals and clean up after them.
One night I was busy playing outside. I was always outside and loved the snow. I didn’t feed the chickens as I was supposed to. My father didn’t say a word and I thought, oh good, he didn’t notice. We fed them warm mash. You’d put hot water in the grain and mix it up. The next morning I made an extra big batch. My father said to me, “They can’t eat twice as much today, Marilyn.” I felt about an inch high, and I never forgot to feed the chickens again.
That’s the kind of person he was. He never raised his voice. I got three lickings during my childhood. Once was the time when I said I wanted to hear little boys ask question, once when my mother wanted me to take some medicine and I said no, and the third time was when my mother asked me to do something and I said no.
My parents were very forgiving and very low-key. They never shouted. Once when my sister was here I said to her that I didn’t know how they made us mind. They never raised their voices, but you knew what you could do and what you couldn’t do. I sometimes pushed it to the limit, and that’s when I’d get a spanking…and not do that again.
I idolized Ronald. I suppose you could say that I was his dog when we went hunting. He told me to go around a stand of spruce because there were grouse in there. “If they fly up, make sure you lie down on the ground,” he told me. He was shooting buckshot right over my head. He was shooting up into the air, and he knew he wasn’t going to hit me, but I can still remember those things raining down around me.
There’s another episode where I got into a little trouble that I laugh about to this day. There were three apple trees on the lawn, and Mother particularly liked one of them. She used the apples from it to make green apple pie. She’d tell me not to touch that tree because she was going to use the apples for pie. One day I climbed it anyway, and was sitting there eating an apple. It must have been in August; it was a very hot day. While munching away, I heard a terrific bang. I thought my mother had shot at me. Of course she would never do any such thing, but that’s what I thought at the time. I went crying out of that tree and went to tell her that I wouldn’t do it again, when I noticed that everybody was looking at Ronald’s car. The car had a spare tire mounted on the back and it had a bubble in it. The sun shining down on it had caused it to blow up. Good to know that it wasn’t my mother taking a shot at me.
In addition to the apple trees that we had, a neighbor named Edith had a cherry tree. Edith would sit on the back steps and she had a hook she’d use to take the stones out of the cherries. There were islands in Lake Champlain that were great places for growing fruit. We’d go there about twice a year and pick cherries, peaches and plums. We’d bring them back to the farm and Mother would can them. We’d also go in late fall and Dad would buy two or three bushels of different kinds of apples. Some would be kept in the cellar, and Mother would can some of them. She’d also dry some. We’d put them on a screen out in the sun. In evenings in the winter, Dad would say, “I’m going to the cellar to get an apple. Does anyone want one?”
We’d all say,” Me, me, me!” Everybody wanted an apple. He’d go down and get them, and then he’d peel them. He always tried to see if he could peel each one in one continuous strip. We’d sometimes wear the peels for curls, and do all sorts of things with them.
Mother had a strawberry patch, because strawberry shortcake was Dad’s favorite dessert. The whole time strawberries were in season we’d have strawberry shortcake for dessert. She didn’t use them for jam. They were strictly for desserts. We picked blueberries, blackberries and wild strawberries for jam. Currants and
elderberries also grew wild on the farm, and those were used for jams. Mother also made a gooseberry pie that was delicious. Gooseberries are about the size of a grape. They have really sharp thorns all over them. She’d put them between towels and roll them, and that would take the thorns off of them. My sister made a
gooseberry pie once, but forgot about getting the thorns off. We couldn’t eat it.
When the mailman came on Tuesdays, Mother would give him the grocery list. All the women in the valley would do that. Then the mailman would leave the lists off at the store, and on Thursday, the man who owned the store would deliver the orders. Sometimes Gwen would want to visit our great-grandmother, so she’d get in with the mailman, who would deposit her at great-grandmother’s. It wasn’t just Gwen who did that. Others would sometimes travel that way too, but by the time I came along rules and regulations had changed and things like that weren’t allowed.
Edith would let me cook with her. Once I made rolls, and they came out as hard as bullets. Because I had made them, her husband dutifully ate them anyway.
One family in the valley that I remember well was the Bogues. They were a fun family, and they were all over six feet tall.
Lorna Doone and her husband Mike lived up above us in the Irish Settlement. When he’d drive on the narrow road to the village, Lorna would have to get out at the corners and run around to see if a car was coming. If nothing was coming, she’d blow a whistle to let Mike know it was okay to continue driving. We loved to go to Lorna’s house. She made wonderful sugar cookies and lemonade. She had a stereoscope that we’d look at.
There was a program in which a woman from the county would come once a month and talk to the women of the valley about new ways to can and preserve foods, and things like that. From that program grew a practice of having meals together. In the winter they were dinners and in the summer they were suppers. They’d be held in someone’s house, and everybody would bring a dessert or casserole or something and pay ten cents each, which bought the rolls and the coffee. We did that all the years that I lived in the valley. The kids would play hide and seek until it got dark, and then chase fireflies. There was a wonderful camaraderie there, where people really looked out for each other.
During the war, everybody got new mattresses through that program. The women bought bales and bales of cotton. They were huge. They were brought to an old schoolhouse that wasn’t being used. The county lady came with a heavy duty sewing machine. The woman made the cloth casings for the mattresses and the cotton would be stuffed into it. Then she’d sew it closed.
I didn’t like to do the dishes, so I wanted to get them done right away. One night I wanted to slide down the hill. You could slide in the road, because we could see for miles, and also there’d usually be only about one car a day that would come by. I’d sometimes go down the hill in a rocking chair, and once I talked my sister Tina into trying that. I pushed her, and what a ride that poor girl had. I’d like to take my sled and go down the hill. It would take me about ten minutes to go down and back. When I started a ride when Tina was starting the dishes, by the time I got back she’d have them done.
Once I suggested to Tina that we go down the hill in the sleigh. The sleigh had two shafts that would be hitched to the horse when it was being used in the usual way. For our ride, Tina held one of them and I held the other. All went well until the shaft got away from us, and I went head over tea kettle into the road. The sleigh kept going with Tina in it, giving her a wild and wooly ride. She never rode down the hill in the sleigh with me again. I was always experimenting with something new. The next thing I tried was to take some of the covers to the buckets. I had a flying saucer before they were invented. The covers made wonderful flying saucers. I could ride a long way on them. Then my father made me a jumping-jack. That’s like a ski with one seat on it. I could really go with that, but the rocking chair was the most fun. I wasn’t an easy child to raise. I was always trying something.
One of my jobs was to collect the eggs each day. Word of warning. Don’t put eggs in your pocket. Bad idea. Sometimes I wouldn’t bother to go to the house for a basket. If there were too many for my hands, I’d put one or two in my pocket. Then I’d bend over, and the egg in my pocket would break. What a mess!
I only remember being snowed in one time. That time the Army came and got us out. They had huge plows. After they plowed, the snow at the side of the road was up by the telephone lines.
In addition to the farm animals, I had several pets when I was a kid. Dad brought a raccoon home for me once. He’d found it in a tree, trying to eat some frozen apples. Mother put a collar on it and hitched it to the stove leg. It would get away a lot, and it just loved to get to the jam jar on the shelf. He’d lick it as clean as if you’d washed it. In the spring we let him go. Ronald brought me two little skunks one time. They’re not a problem with the smell when they’re little, so I had them for one winter. Dad brought a baby deer home once. The mother had died. I had it for six or eight months. We’d feed the birds too. I’ve raised butterflies all my life.I loved baby pigs. There was always a runt, and I’d ask my mother to let me bring in into the house. She’d say no, but I’d keep nagging until she let me. I was supposed to keep it in a basket, because she didn’t want it running around the house, but I’d always let it out. Dad bought me banty hens, which are worthless on a farm, but I liked them.
When I was a teenager, often on the Fourth of July, some of us would go up to Mount Mansfield. Even that late we could usually find some snow in little caves and have a snowball fight. Anything for a bit of fun. The mountain wasn’t very high, so it didn’t take long to climb. Three or four hours.
I almost burned the house down twice. Mother gave me a cardboard box of ashes and told me to bring them to the garden. Instead I put the box down in the woodshed. It burned a square hole in the floor, but fortunately dropped down to the dirt below and didn’t do any more damage.
The second time I nearly set the house on fire occurred when we were smoking hams. When we did that, we’d put three corncobs on the fire. I didn’t want to keep replacing them as they burned down, so I put a whole pile of them on. It tuned into a real fire. It’s a wonder I didn’t burn the house down.
Mother and Dad were always active in their town and state. They felt that everyone should do a little, and if they did, no one would have to do a lot. Mother ran for the legislature during the war. Gas was rationed and we couldn’t get much. She said she wasn’t going to waste gas by driving people to the polls. Gas was needed for planes and things like that she said, so she didn’t drive anyone to the polls to vote, but still won by a landslide. Some wanted her to run for the state senate, but even then it was expensive to be in politics. I met several presidents, including President Eisenhower, because of her involvement in politics.
The legislature only met every other year. They used to start in January and they had to be done by sugaring time, because a lot of the people who served were farmers and they had to be home for sugaring. At the time Mother went into the legislature, they had to give up the farm because Dad had developed asthma and
couldn’t be around the cows.
Dad had been a very good farmer. All the animals were always clean and well cared for. In the summer he would get up at 3:30 to milk, and be back at the house by 6 or 6:30. In the winter when going to the woods, he wouldn’t do that until 7 or 7:30, so he could sleep until 4:30. Cow, chickens, and pigs – they all had to be fed twice a day, and there was plenty of other work to do besides that.
After Dad had to give up farming, he went to work in a hardware warehouse. We lived in Burlington during my first three years in high school. Then Dad said, “Let’s get a house with a little bit of land,” and so we moved a bit north, to Milton. At that point, I was captain of the basketball team and I didn’t want to leave Burlington. If I had lived up the road just two houses, the town would have had to pay for me to go to Burlington. The village kids didn’t pay as it was a village high school.. My parents paid the tuition for me to finish school in Burlington.
Lyn during her band and basketball days at Burlington High School.
At the new home, first Dad had a garden. Then he asked, “Marion, don’t you think we should get a few chickens?”
“No, I don’t,” replied Mother.
Well, he got some chickens. Next he pointed out that there was room near the chicken coop for a pig, so he got a pig. And then a cow. Farming was in his blood. He had farmed all his life.
Mother read the paper every day. When she saw something she didn’t approve of, the person involved got a letter from her.
In high school I played basketball, softball and field hockey. Basketball was my favorite. I also played the trumpet in the school band. We’d travel to dances in an old Model A. It didn’t have a heater, so it was freezing on those trips during the winter. Everybody wanted to sit in the back seat, because that’s where the milk can with hot water was. You could fit three people in front and six in back. We all loved to dance, and we’d go to dances with big name bands. We’d sometimes get home at three in the morning.
The phone system then was done with party lines, and there were two of them in the valley. If at four in the afternoon we decided that we wanted to go to a dance, I could call Lucy Brewster and everyone could pick up at the same time and we could talk about who was going and who would drive. We didn’t have any accidents, although one night we tipped over in a snow drift. Everyone got out and pushed the car back on its wheels and we got going again.
When I was thirteen or fourteen I got a job as a sitter for the three children of a lawyer and his wife. The children were all under four. The family had a camp on Lake Champlain. When I think of it now, I can’t imagine how they could have trusted a kid my age with their little kids near the water.
Just around the time of the end of the war, men from the valley and Cambridge and vicinity got together and put up a building with freezers in it. Then we could freeze things instead of having to can everything. It was a co-op, and everybody would pay to be part of it. Mother had two drawers there, which were about two feet, by four feet by two or three feet deep. The building must have been well insulated. It was very cold in there. It was wonderful. It was a huge step up. Then they’d just cut up the meat and bring it to the freezer. When you can meat, you have to cook it, but that wasn’t necessary when freezing.
We always saved one hind-quarter of a pig for a ham for Easter. That was a ritual. About the only other meat that was left by sugaring time was salt pork. Mother used to fry it until it was crisp. It was delicious. She also made a milk gravy to go with it, and that was what was sent up for dinner at the sugar house. We always had eggs in the sugar house, and you could drop one into the sap to boil it. The flavor worked in though the shell somehow.
Later Tina and I got jobs for three summers at Moosehead Lake, Maine. It was a wonderful place to work. That’s where I met my future husband, Roy. Roy was from Providence and had gone to Dartmouth. The manwho ran the inn where we worked had gone to Dartmouth also, and every spring he would go there to hire students to work as bellhops, bartenders, etc., for the summer.
The first time Tina and I went to Maine, Dad and Mother drove us. The next year we took the train. Heading toward Greenville, there was nothing for miles except trees. We chugged along and eventually came to a stop. The conductor said, “Everybody who’s going to Greenville, get out here. Wait on the platform. There’ll be another train that will come by for you.” Greenville is at the lower end of Moosehead Lake, the largest lake in Maine.
Tina and I were the only ones who got off. There we were alone, standing on the platform. There was nothing around but trees. Not a house in sight. I don’t know how long we were there, but it seemed like hours. It probably wasn’t, but that’s what it seemed like. Finally the train came by and took us to Greenville.
Roy and I moved to Milford in 1952. Over the years we had six children: Jeffrie, Bradley and Kurt are the oldest. The three youngest are Jackie, Marsha and Pam.
I have a lot of hobbies. My favorite is rug hooking with wool. It’s called painting with wool. For Mothers’ Day at church this year they had a few people stand up and tell a bit of what they remembered about their mother. They have a mother and daughter banquet on Mothers’ Day. Everybody attending is asked how many they’ll be bringing. The answers are usually two or three, and then they ask me and I say, “Twenty-five.” It’s true. I have three daughters and they have several children, and I have great-grandchildren. My oldest boy, Jeff, was one of the speakers last year. He got up and said, “You people think you know my mother, but did you know…” And then he went on to say that I did this and this and this and this, etc. The last thing he did was to unroll an oriental rug that I had just finished hooking. It’s about eight by five feet.
My ritual, almost every night, is to make afghans and pillow cases for my grandchildren when they’re getting married. For my great-grandchildren (I have eighteen) I made them all quilts or afghans or some little thing. Every night after supper I work for an hour on grandchildren or great-grandchildren things, and then I hook my rugs. That’s my favorite. I do that until eleven.
In Jeff’s list of things that I’ve done, he said that I’ve been a town meeting member for over thirty years. That’s an elected position in Milford. I’ve been on school building committees, the committee to redo Draper Park, the Memorial Hall restoration committee, and I’m on the Historical Commission. I’m also a trustee at Vernon Grove Cemetery. The men on the committee say they never have to wonder what I’m thinking. I believe in speaking my mind, and after the meeting, it’s over. I’m also on several committees at church. I enjoy all this. That’s the beauty of getting old. I’m 85 and I don’t do anything I don’t want to do. Well, actually I’ve been doing what I want to do all my life.
Other memories of farm life years ago on this site include:
Heart’s Desire – The Byrne family farm on Hartford Avenue, Hopedale and Mendon in the 1940s.
Parkside Farm – The Henry family farm on Dutcher Street. First it was a dairy farm, and later a poultry farm.
Julius Firmin – Memories of a former Draper Place resident of farming in the Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire area.
Milford Menu Farms Menu Hopedale