It is another hot, humid day here on the Hill. Trees are standing like soldiers on review, branches listless in the  still air. Great haying weather, if one doesn’t melt. After work, the husband will take the boys and travel to High Street in West Paris, where he has agreed to hay a field for someone.

The only air conditioning is the screen door and one gets a brief wave of relief when one of the kids runs in or out, banging the door as he goes…followed by a too-late “Don’t slam the door” warning from me.

The Cushman bakery truck was here earlier and that broke up the day a little. The raspbery tarts are a must and Vance Bacon is the driver now. He is more than patient as the kids decide what the treat of the week will be.  You may have surmised that very little traffic is directed up the hill to the farm.

Last week, Francis Brooks came with his array of salt and pepper shakers, gifts of all kinds  and even cooking spices. Mark, my nephew stays with us during the day in the summer. He wandered over to the table and looked at all the display Francis had laid before our eyes. He whispered he would like to buy a set of salt and peppers for his Mom. Hmm, I thought, what a thoughtful little fellow! They were a dollar for the set so I told him to pick out what he thought his Mom would like. Took him no time at all. He chose two little mice and yes, they were very cute. I paid and put them in a bag for Mark to take home that evening.  After Francis left, I told Mark how thoughtful he was to think of his Mom and asked if she would like the set he chose. I have never seen such a devilish grin in my life before or since…”Oh yeah,” he exclaimed, “she is scared to death of mice.” What to do! I shook my head and when his Dad came to pick him up, he climbed into the truck, clutching his precious purchase in his hand. I have no idea what happened that night when he presented his gift, but fifty years later his Mom and I still laugh about her son’s thoughtfulness.

I spent another morning raking up the hay leavings in the lower field. I try to do it as soon as the dew is off and before the heat of the day sets in. I was disappointed in the field strawberries this year. Usually, up on top the pasture hill, there is a great patch and many a time I’ve spent on my knees patiently filling a little pail. Not so many this year and folks say it is the dry weather. Maybe so. Takes forever and then to hull wonders if it is worth it as they are so tiny, but you will never get the sweetness from a cultivated berry that you do with the tiny field berries.

In a few months it will be butchering time again. This isn’t one of my favorite times of year and we pretty much shield the whole procedure from the kids. I can’t say I am sorry to see the pig leave. He is nothing but trouble, getting out all the time, no matter how secure his pen. Pounding on his feed pail with a stick does  not do the trick. One got out and climbed all over Christopher Mountain before my kids organized a pig hunting party, to which their father joined after work. Right before nightfall, the pig was put back in its pen with someone holding him by his hind legs and the pig squealing so loud one would think it was dying right then and there.

A lot of kids ride up to the farm on their bikes from the village. I took a picture one day of ten bikes parked out front. It’s a good thing I have a big pitcher with a smiley face on it and plenty of Kool-Aid. By the afternoon, everyone has a mustache of one color or another as I keep replenishing the cups. The kids entertain themselves and usually its a ball game in the lower field now the hay is cut.

This summer has been a long one, it seems. Farm work is never done..if you hay, have a garden etc. The kids are in no hurry to go back to school. They find something to do every day from walking the fields, to playing with their trucks, music, reading, digging in old dump sites. Of course we have our casualties. I estimate at least one kid will have stitches from one cut or another during the season. I guess that goes with this kind of life. The doctors know me well now and if they see a car with tires blowing smoke turning into their parking lot, I swear they just dig out the needle and thread.

Only once did Ma come to the rescue. I mean, only once did I ask her. She rescued me several times. Debbie was four years old and riding a tricycle at a neighbor’s home when a dog bit her eye brow almost off. She did not do a thing to the dog, so the owner said, but apparently it was not a good day for the dog. I was working and Ma took her to Dr. Nangle , who sewed her eyebrow back on…and I am betting now people know why she has worn bangs most of her life!

Oh, so many accidents during those summer months while growing up. But, you know, I would not trade the farm for any where else in the world to raise kids…they have fields to run, kites to fly, trucks to haul in the dirt pile, trees to climb…

Dirt to get on everything, trees to fall from, stone walls to land on…life gets so exciting sometimes here on the hill.

Time for me to see if I can open one of these old windows and let the air conditioning in a bit more~~



Stolen Moments

It is late August here on the farm.  The crickets lull us to sleep at night and heavy fog introduces us to most days.  I’ve taken the four kids to JJNewberry’s in Norway and got the usual pencil boxes and school supplies. It won’t be long now before they will be rising early in the morning to trudge down the hill to the bus “stop”.  Earlier I ordered their clothes from Alden’s Catalog, with each one telling me the color he preferred.  Right now, Alan and Gary are off digging in one of the many dump sites on the land ( looking for bottles, I am told), Debbie is in her room reading and Brian is once again trying to do damage control in my little flower bed from the onslaught of cow hooves.

As I’ve said before, cows and I have never been on a friendly basis. I’ll admit to admiring one little Jersey cow that Brian had, as it was quiet and had a pretty face. The others just wander around on gawky legs, chewing the cud and breaking down fences. I have never seen an animal as stubborn as a cow.

I’m not the only one! No siree! Ma is not fond of them at all. I remember her trying to take clothes off the line one day, just trying to help me, minding her own business and out came a cow..right through the fence..toward her. Well, let me tell you, she not only dislikes them, she is afraid of them. Looking quickly about her, she found the only weapon available to ward off the beast. She stood, shrieking, holding a ladder from the back of the boys’ big fire truck. Ma stared the cow down, who was just chewing and standing there, and finally after a couple cracks on the backside from the fire engine ladder, it turned and ambled back across the downed fence. Have you ever noticed that cows just amble?  They have that superior attitude that almost amazes me and infuriates at the same time.

The plum tree didn’t do much this year..maybe a half dozen, but it has been said the old tree is forever old and can’t be expected to gift us with much.  The apple tree in the front yard serves as just that: one points out that we have an apple tree in our front yard. There has never been an apple from those limbs that one could take and declare delicious. I remember a few years ago gathering some and making apple sauce. I think it must have taken a pound of sugar to make it edible.

The potatoes were good this year and after they were dug and dried in the sun, the kids and I filled a spot in the cellar, so we should be fixed for the winter.  We had our fill of cukes and peas. The hail storm earlier in the summer got a lot of tomatoes, but we had enough to satisfy us all. There were so many green tomatoes left that last week I brought a bunch in to make green tomato pickles. One night I dug out the big container and made layers of the pickles, onions, etc. and let it set overnight. The next day the smell was heavenly and the old farm just about raised from its footings. I could eat a dish of them with bread and butter and call it a meal.

Soon the leaves will start changing and as I look down towards Indian Pond, I know there will be a blaze of beauty and slowly the leaves will blow off , leaving us a bleak mountain for a few months.

I like sitting here on the porch and mulling over the summer events..not that much happens here on the hill. Yet, when you’re on a farm, something does happen every day.  My cheese cloth strainer is blowing on the porch line next to me. It is a constant reminder of my 5 a.m. rising and waiting for the husband to bring the morning’s milk. While he is in the barn, I fix his breakfast and when the milk comes in, I switch gears to automatic and strain all the milk and get it in bottles. Raw milk! The kids drink it and I use it for everything but I read so much material that it is bad for drinking etc. Well, the kids seem healthy and the Lord knows I sterilize everything I use. So far, so good. I wonder if we believed everything written if we would dare get out of bed in the morning.

Yesterday, I took the old pick up down in the lower field and raked up hay the husband had cut. One look at the sky and I thought we might have rain. After I raked it, I pitched it on the back of the truck, praying I wouldn’t have a snake slither out. My prayers were answered and I backed the old truck , full of hay, into the garage for the husband to pitch off when he finds the time.

I hate to think of winter coming. It’s hard to heat the old farm with all its drafty corners and windows that have loosened over the years. Someone told me that my Grandfather Libby helped plaster and lathe the walls when the farm was built. That could be. I wish he had put in a lot of insulation at the same time.

The old wood furnace in the cellar must have come over on the Mayflower. It is a huge thing, and I have to be careful not to let the fire blaze too much as the chimney goes straight through the attic. Usually my brothers and friends help cut up the fire wood for the winter and the boys carry it in after school to fill the wood box. After that, the never ending chore of watering the cows awaits them. I fill the pails and they carry along the snowy path I’ve shoveled while they are in school.

But enough thinking of the winter ahead! Today the sky is a bright blue with one cloud resembling Richard Nixon and that seems to drift at a slow pace today. It is about 78 degrees with a light breeze kissing my face every few minutes.

It is stolen moments like this that keeps the spirit going.


When Johnny Comes Marching Home

It is the mid-sixties and Rowe Hill is still the sleepy little hamlet. Wilmer Bryant milks his cows morning and night; Eunice Brooks makes her delicious butter every week; Winnie Hanscom and I exchange news and recipes on the telephone. Sun comes up in the morning and goes down in the evening and so the days go.

It is a different story outside our little world; the war in Viet Nam is raging and several of our young men from the village of Bryant Pond are in that country, so unlike their little home town.

Every morning the children of Rowe Hill gather at the rustic “bus stop” at the bottom of our driveway, awaiting the bus to carry them away for another day at the local schools. Among them are the “kids” from on top of the hill, who have to walk the distance no matter the weather.  One of the “kids” is older than the others, but he seems to delight in standing with the youngsters. My four come home with tales of “John saying this ” and “John saying that” and particularly, in the winter time, how he divides the kids into teams for snowball fights before the bus arrives. Oh, it is so much more fun now that John is waiting at the bus stop with them each day.

This was pretty much the same conversation each day upon their arrival home. Then came the time when one of the four remarked, “John isn’t at the bus stop any more.” I figured perhaps he had moved or had decided not to attend school any more and let it pass in the business of the day. The second time it was mentioned I asked if anyone knew where John had gone. “Oh, he went in the Army,”  one offered.

Not another one, I voiced silently. Later on,over the crank phone I consulted with Winnie down over the hill, who confirmed that she had heard John had enlisted. 

Months passed, another school year gone and September rolled around again. The questions began. “Do you think John will be at the bus stop this year?”  “I don’t think so.” Then a chorus of “why?” echoed around the farm kitchen.

This was new territory for me. I could explain pretty much any farm life questions, but how to explain why their friend was still away. I tried but there were still four concerned faces when they left for school that first morning.

Gradually the questions faded; another year went by and apparently the four had decided that John left and would never be there for another snowball fight. Meanwhile, the little hamlet was whispering that John was missing in action in Viet Nam. At this point, the four had grown to an age where they understood what it meant to be at war and that John was fighting, and so I broke the news to them gently and told them we had to pray that he would be coming home soon.

Months roll into years; years into decades and I never heard the status of John…was he still missing; had he been killed…who knew.

Fast forward forty years.  Alan, the youngest of the four, traveled with his step-father to Washington, DC, to see the Fourth of July fireworks. As always, when they traveled, they sought out other interesting things.

Two days after returning home, Alan came to me. “We visited the Viet Nam Wall, Mum.” 

I asked what his impression was of the Wall. “I found him, I found John.” It took a minute for me to comprehend what he was saying. ” I found his name, Mum.  John Brooks. I found John.”

The grown man had not forgotten. He found his childhood friend at last…among so many other names on the Wall. Johnny would never come marching home, but he stayed in the hearts of everyone who knew him.

(I never knew the official ending to John’s story. I do know that for years relatives could not find out what happened to him. May he rest in peace.)