No Better Place /Babies Make Six

garyalThe first year the husband and I slowly filled the farm with odds and ends of furniture…finally there was a shiny white electric stove direct from Sears and Roebuck sitting in the kitchen. A couch from here, a chair from there and we were sitting pretty comfortable…he still working at Ekco and I finally had to stop working at Penley’s because their insurance did not cover pregnant women over seven months. Oh, well! A week later, I walked each day from our farm to Dan Cole’s farm in Greenwood Center to work a night shift at Ekco. That lasted a few weeks and I got in my daily exercise! Thank goodness I had someone to offer me a ride home at 1 a.m.!!  That was 1957 and I brought Debra Jo into the world on June 25th. I had never held a newborn in my arms, so that was a totally new experience for the baseball playing tomboy !! Let’s add to that fact that she had colic and never stopped crying her first three months. Being so small at 5 lbs and a few ounces, she couldn’t accept a lot of the baby formulas so there was another headache. We managed to maneuver our way through that unforgettable period to discover I was to add to the family again. Well, whoopee! One year and two days later in 1958, Brian Leland was added to the fold.

At this point, Debra had not started walking. BUT, she was potty trained. YAY! This is a part of my life where if I concentrate really hard, I can remember bleary eyes, walking in my sleep and the husband deciding we should have a cow. Did he not remember I hated cows? Somewhere between the two babies, changing diapers,tripping over barn cats, he introduced a cow to the real estate.

Before I could remember to be hostile to him for this act, I discovered we were to have a third addition to the family. So to honor the year 1959, on October 16th, I introduced Gary Herbert to the estate. Things were getting out of hand at this point. The husband was milking a cow morning and night; I was supposed to be taking care of said milk plus take care of three babies.

Let’s not forget 1961..might as well bring that in with a on June 25th, I gave Debra her 4th birthday present in Alan Curt. We now rounded out to the number 6 to fill up the 13 rooms.

Now you may get the impression that I was overwhelmed. Not at all. I went into a coma after I brought Alan home and frankly remember little until all of them were walking and feeding themselves. Not just seems that way.

If there is any place better than a farm in the hills of Maine to raise a bunch of kids, I want to see it. There was a sand pile in the corner of the yard and for hours, they had their trucks and  made little houses out of sticks.  They had the pastures to run in and ..scary, but Gary loved to find old dumps and dig up treasures to bring home to me. Later on, he became an archaeologist. Go figure.

On windy days, after school, I joined them in running the field and trying to get the kites to fly. I saved box tops and labels and got some dandy Green Giant kites in the mail..what fun we had!  The badminton set was erected on one side of the lawn and many a time four kids watched as their mother hit the earth trying to return the birdie over the net.

I cannot remember a day when any of my four said they could find nothing to do. Their imaginations ran wild..some so wild I like to forget about them. They soon filled up the old farm with their collections of rocks, sticks, any outdoor memento they thought valuable and I tried to keep any collection of live creatures down to a bare minimum.

I can still see them sitting on the stone walls watching the chipmunks play; Debbie bringing me a fistful of dandelions or apple blossoms.

The old farm was coming alive; four kids, six or seven barn cats, one dog, one or two cows ( I refused to count) and usually one pig a year.  It had just started to get interesting.

Sometimes, I have to admit, I just lay in bed at night and wondered if I could still make a double play if I had the chance to play ball again!…and followed it up with Thank God I still have my Red Sox on the old radio.


Getting Acquainted

In my first blog, I mistakenly wrote I was 17 years old when we first moved to our little real estate on Rowe Hill. I missed a birthday, probably between cleaning wallpaper and polishing the little wood stove, in February of that year. I actually was a year older, but no wiser.

Furniture was scarce and in the first few months, we scrounge what little we needed here and there. Relatives probably fled when they saw us approaching their door yards. The bed was new with a built in bookcase at the headboard. Being a voracious reader, I thought this was the top of the line purchase!  A black and white tv with rabbit ears came to us through a family member; our kitchen table came from Sears with its very classy cherry and ivory top and the padded cherry covered chairs. Such luxury!!  But the old wood stove remained. It provided heat and was all I had to cook on for some time. A new electric stove was not in the budget nor was a washing machine. 

I still worked at Ekco and sorted the rosewood that my Dad sawed on the other side of the gigantic wall separating us. The wood was from Brazil, so named because of its rosy color. After  we sorted the trash from the good, my boss, Ansel Jordan came and carried the bag away to be taken to another part of the mill where my mother, one of many, put them on a machine to form the handles of knives and other Ekco cookware.

Each night, the husband and I came home dragging our feet and the little wood stove awaited my loving touch. One of my early surprises was finding the husband was not too adept at building a fire. I had early training from the age of seven, so it took me a few minutes to get a roaring fire going. Then there was the matter of getting food on the table.  Do you know how long it takes for a couple of potatoes to boil ? How long it takes the water to get hot enough so they will boil?

I don’t want to say my enthusiasm for my little kingdom was becoming tarnished, but this princess was beginning to sense that life was not all roses and especially when the crispness of September rolled in.  It was then I noticed that we would never be warmed by coal; any bank of coals the husband acquired faded out long before our feet hit the coldness of the hardwood floors at 5 a.m.  Each cool night as I cooked supper, he was in the basement once again talking to the huge lumps of coal that were supposed to keep us as toasty warm as his father’s stove did the winter before. All we lacked was his father, who was not about to move in with us, when his toes were toasty warm in his own home.

The news came down that Ekco was laying off workers and I was one to go. Ah, but Penley’s was hiring in West Paris. So here I was at 18 and about to be indoctrinated into another skill..making spring clothespins.  I could do this.  It was a frosty morning when I made arrangements to meet with another worker in Bryant Pond to hitch a ride. 

I was seated at a machine with a pedal that I was to kick or push…it was a matter of rhythm. Grab the spring and two pieces of wood and slap them on the machine. If I could make x number of gross a day, I’d get a dollar an hour…well, let me tell you. As soon as I got that rhythm down, no problem!  Junior Farr was my boss and a good one.

I didn’t mind the new job at all, but I did mind when the husband forgot he was married. It seems this one particular night..dark, snowy, temperature close to get the picture, my friend left me off in Bryant Pond knowing that the husband would pick me up as he came home from his job at Ekco. I stood; I waited; I stomped my feet trying to keep warm on the corner. No husband, no car, no nothing. I started walking for home, figuring that eventually he would come or he had already come through and forgot about me. At least I would be warm if I kept walking. Well, let’s say I walked about a mile and suddenly a car came from behind and stopped. I don’t want to say that I was a trifle put out because I wasn’t. I was beyond that, way beyond that plus cold and tired.

“Where have you been?” I don’t think I shrieked but maybe the cold, frosty air made the wordss1 snap a bit.

“I went to the union meeting and forgot I was supposed to pick you up.”

Incredible. Just incredible that a husband could forget his wife standing in snow and cold after working all day. The ride home was a silent one, up one slippery hill, down Velvet Hollow, up another couple slippery hills until we stopped the sliding car in front of the castle I so admired just a few months ago.

I slammed into the kitchen, grabbed matches, half a newspaper and lit the wood stove. The husband made way for the basement, in a feeble attempt to once again secure the coal bank that would ease its way into oblivion in the early morning hours.

Meanwhile, I grabbed a sauce pan, opened two cans of chicken noodle soup and slammed that on top of the stove.  In the next breath, I opened a package of saltine crackers and tossed them on the table with two bowls and two spoons.

The husband emerged from the cellar, hands black from the coal, took one look at the table and knew there would be no potatoes and meat this evening. The little princess had just lost her cool.

In The Beginning

It is a lovely day in May 1956 when we crest the hill and draw the wide winged Mercury to a stop in front of the big white farm house. Months have gone into the preparation for this move. All the wallpaper inside the 13 rambling rooms have been cleaned with a sponge like material; the one little wood stove in the kitchen has been polished and cleaned.  I am seventeen years old and a bride of seven months.

My eyes take in the wide open fields with the stone walls separating them like little square boxes. Chipmunks are scurrying on them, looking alarmed at the thought of visitors after months of solitude.  We’ve bought the house because it was a good buy; and the fact that over the years it was owned by my husband’s family.

What a glorious feeling to no longer share three rooms with five other people! This space was all mine and I looked down in the valley to Indian Pond where I had spent many a summer in my childhood.

It had been a long seven months living with my husband’s parents. His mother, though she hid it well, was shell shocked to think he had married a seventeen year old tomboy from Greenwood Center.  I had graduated high school and did what most “girls” did in the Fifties: get a job and/or marry and have a family. I got the job sorting rosewood at Ekco Products at .75 an hour. I had earned two scholarships during my school years and passed a Federal Civil Service test in Rumford to become a secretary. I passed with flying colors but was too young to be hired for the job. (Incidentally, on my 18th birthday, a letter came to my parents’ home in my maiden name from the Dept of the Navy wanting me to work in the Pentagon) Ah , the road not taken, but I was reveling in my own little country estate at the time and not a thought was given that I had missed a grand opportunity.

Mother-in-law was a treasure throughout the winter. As soon as I got home from work, we had our little sessions where she was determined to make a young lady out of me. I didn’t have the heart to tell her my mother had seventeen years and failed, but this woman was insistent. I sat there by the hour as she instructed me on crocheting edgings around hankies; later an embroidery piece with a deer head on each end became my Dad’s Christmas present. She taught me how to cook a decent meal and if she was disappointed in her son’s choice, one would never have known.

But I digress. I mentioned the little cook stove in the kitchen. In the cellar resided a huge wood/coal furnace which would come in handy during a Maine winter. ( or so I thought…) In the corner was a piano which the former owners left behind and that, in my mind, was about as important as any piece of furniture we could buy.

Out in back was a little red shed like structure, which I believe was a hen house and on that May morning I had already made up my mind that there would never be a hen or rooster or any winged creature wandering around MY wonderful estate. It was big enough to hold a couple cows had I really measured it correctly.

Up on the side hill was a beautiful plum tree and apple trees scattered here and there. Visions of jams and jellies formed in my mind and I could see myself standing in front of my cupboard delighting in the gleaming reds of all my accomplishments.

Gardens!  We would have gardens and by the dawn’s early light, I would be out hoeing and weeding while the dew was still on the ground. Later in the year, I would be canning and freezing all that green beautiful produce fresh from Mother Earth.

Remember, I was seventeen and not quite right in the mind. I forgot I still had a day job at .75 cents an hour and would not be standing in the kitchen with a frilly apron on all day. Instead I would be wearing gloves and handling little pieces of rosewood, straight from Brazil that my Dad would be sawing and sending over the wall that separated us at the mill.

But this is May, 1956 and looking around at the old lilac bush, now blossomed and the apple blossoms ready to appear, nothing seemed impossible.

If one cannot dream, then what good is life?