LITTLE TINY TREASURES

Most country kids, back in the Sixties, manufactured their own games and new toys were limited to Christmas and birthdays. Their fertile imagination carried them wherever they wanted to go and many days were spent on hands and knees in the sand pile with beat up trucks and cars.

However, there was always the little wish that he would be the one to get the prize in the cereal box. Hands disappeared out of sight searching before emptying the goods into the plastic bowl. The siblings did not mind that their breakfast had been manhandled before it got to them. Each morning was a battle to see who got the box first to start the “pawing” and after the prize was eventually found, all interest was lost . Remember the chintzy little card or whatever encased in such tough cellophane that a pair of kitchen scissors was needed?

Cracker Jacks was not necessarily an item that my four were crazy about, but there was always the prize nestled in that box with the sailor boy saluting.  As the years went by, the prizes got smaller and far worse…but then perhaps their expectations had grown too big.

They watched their mother buy soap detergent to get dish towels and glass ware so of course, it was expected that every box at the grocery store should have something mysterious hidden within.

It was about this time that I discovered one could get refunds for boxtops and labels. Well, now, it was my time to rejoice.  The average refund was .25 and what  a joy to see those quarters arrive in the mailbox!  Soon I found that one could also get premiums for those same boxtops and labels. It was a common sight to see my body flung between an outstretched hand and the wastebasket. Another big rr–iii–p and the label was mine.

One June afternoon, the four arrived home and my heart just did a jig with the surprise I had in store.  All lunch boxes were dumped on the kitchen table and I emerged with my prizes.  They watched, with open mouths, as I dumped four heaps of sticks and plastic down on the porch.

“There you go,” I announced  and readied myself with the instruction sheet. Within a few minutes, each one was holding a kite, ready to hoist it in the spring breeze .  Down to the lower field, we marched, my camera in hand, kites in their hands.

Soon the wind picked up and aloft against the beautiful blue sky were the kites emblazoned with the Jolly Green Giant on each.  They ate the canned veggies and were now reaping the rewards. 

I wish I still had the photo I took that day..the kites so high that even the Giant had disappeared. As my son, Gary, said recently …when he looks at the photo of just the kites and no one in the photo, he remembers thinking that he could fly just as high as the kites and do whatever he wanted to do in life.  Well, that might not be verbatim, but it was the jist of what he was saying.

It was such a simple thing to do…back in a more simple time. Coloring books with advertisements, a Christmas pin for .25 and a boxtop, and if you wanted to think big, S & H green stamps , lick them and stick them in a book and eventually, your son had his own bike.

I don’t do boxtops and labels any more….but I would, if I had those four young kids back again and a wide open field with a June breeze.

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FIELD TO FREEZER

gary1The livestock kept accumulating on the farm and after awhile, I lost count of just how many of this and that we had. However, the four farm kids knew them all and named them as they arrived in the yard, pulled in a trailer hooked behind a big truck, pickup truck, any kind of moving vehicle.

One fact is for sure. Farm kids are tough. They know when an animal arrives, it might be just a visitor for a couple of years  and then it was butchering time. I can’t remember how they were taught this or if it was just some thing that came naturally.

One exception was the pig. I cannot remember their ever putting a moniker on the squealing piece of pork that came each spring to take up residence in the big pen in back of the farm. Maybe it was because there was little to love about the creature that delighted in digging underneath the fence and taking to the hills for long hikes, bringing out all members of the family and anyone else we could enlist who could tolerate a “porker.”

There are numerous ways one can capture a rambling pig, but few work. The first and foremost, I was told by the husband, was to stand and beat on the pig’s grain pail with a stick.  I perfected a great Latin beat with this method, but never succeeded in a capture.  The husband performed beautifully a couple of times and grabbed the pig by his hind legs, who squealed loud enough to wake the dead , thrashed around like he was demon possessed and carried the husband with him over half an acre of land before the pig was deposited back in his own domain.  I hated that pig and all pigs that came before and after him.

I forgave his many outings in the fall as I nibbled at the bacon all smoked and cured by someone in West Paris over a hickory fire. Oh, never have I tasted anything like that before or after. Crisping over the griddle on the top of my Sears,Roebuck stove, the house was saturated with the smell of bacon. 

The four were never allowed to witness any butchering nor did they ever request it. Sometimes they visited their grandparents for the day. This was particularly good the day of the pig butchering. I want to add that this day was a particularly unsavory day and it is a messy task. I did help occasionally with the final steps but it was not to my liking.

We had animals that we “took in”. There was Toby, an exceedingly old horse, who would have been en route to a glue factory, had he not landed at the farm. I vaguely remember a lamb, who grew into an alarmingly huge sheep. I remember, because I came home from running errands, and it was dead on the lawn. I really think there was some weed growing around the farm that was poisonous to some animals. We also had a burro named Jack, who we found in the back yard , with no signs of ill health. My knowledge of animal health is vague; I just know I was tired of finding dead animals every where. One would think I was using them as garden gnomes. 

We had the white bull ( in picture) for a couple years. All the kids knew, in time, he would be butchered, but of course they had a conference on the name and it turned out to be “Exodus”. Don’t ask me. I had no idea then nor do I now. Gary decided he would ride him, thus the burro’s saddle on his back and a scruffy Gary on the hillside. At the time, my newspaper column was popular and I mentioned the above and probably ran the photo.  During the summer months, we had a few column fans arrive at the farm just to meet the kids and , I guess, see what all the furor was about .

I will never forget the day the out-of-state car pulled into the yard. It was always unexpected..no warning call or whatever. I went to the porch to greet them and answered the usual questions. To my chagrin, one lady said, “Oh, we would love to see Exodus, the bull your little boy rides on.” Oh, boy.  Two seconds later, Gary was behind me, and held out two freezer wrapped packages to the lady. “Here’s Exodus”, he exclaimed , and the poor lady’s hand flew to her mouth.  I tried to explain the whole situation, but it fell flat. City folk just don’t understand the way that country folk live, I guess.

I don’t care what anyone says, farm kids are tough and they learn a lot of hard facts early in life. If we are lucky, they carry it through their adult years.

They are special.

 

 

 

THE RING DOWN EXCHANGE

I did not mention that besides the 13 rooms and the piano, there was another distinct advantage to moving to the farm.  There, on the wall, hung my line to the outside world…a telephone! An honest-to-goodness telephone!! The luxury my father refused to have in the house was now part of my new life.  I could not wait to test the waters..there was a little thing connected to the main part of the telephone for me to put to my ear and the crank on the right side. If you look past me in the photo among the ugly wallpaper, you will see our first phone.

I soon learned it was a “party line” and I was to only answer if the phone rang three long rings followed by two short.  It was a common occurrence to be in the middle of a conversation, only to hear someone pick up the phone and put it back down. This was the cue to finish up and let the next in line make his call!

It can be noted that some people picked up the phone to “listen in” and get what might be the latest news on the Hill. No one took umbrage as long as the person kept the heavy breathing down while listening.

The phone might have been primitive, but it was magic. When two year old Brian fainted outside on a hot June day and hit his head on cement, I did the magic crank that got my neighbor, Winnie Hanscom, on the line. She, in turn, called Dr. Nangle in West Paris to alert that we were on our way. We raced into her yard where she was waiting to take Debbie and Gary, and we were on our way. Dr. Nangle took one look, called Norway Hospital. To make a long story short, Brian was a resident there for three days and recovered.

Over the years, the phone was replaced with an updated model, but hung in the same place with the same magic.  My friend and I returned to the farm one day after taking Alan to have stitches taken out of his foot. As we entered the farm door, Debbie stepped on a scythe and cut her bare foot to the bone. OK!! What was a scythe doing there? I  have no clue, but it happened. A dash to the phone to ask the doctor in Bethel to hang on for a few minutes while my friend took Debbie back to have stitches put in her foot. Never a dull moment. I am at home consoling one whose stitches were just removed and the oldest is getting stitches inside and outside her foot.  Is there no end to farm fun??

But as much magic as the phone on the wall provided, it had its downside too. It was not the fault of the phone.  My second son, third child, was not to be trusted. It was not that he was a bad child. He was curious; his imagination knew no boundaries whatsoever.

It was a summer day. I was in the yard trying to weed a few flowers which had miraculously escaped being eaten by bovines. An uneasy feeling swept through me ; go in the house, something kept whispering in my ear. I went; there standing on a chair, was Gary having a full conversation with Evelyn Farnum, the lovely phone operator downtown. I gasped, grabbed the phone, apologized to Evelyn, who was laughing. Apparently it had been quite the conversation and I didn’t dare ask how long he had been talking. Suffice it to say, it did not happen again.

This is the same child who called to me when I was hoeing potatoes. I looked up and he sat on the window sill on the second floor with his feet dangling down the side of the house.  I cannot recall my heart being up in my throat as far as it was in that moment. Talking on the phone with a complete stranger was one thing; dangling from a second story window another. I looked up, kept talking, sneaked through the downstairs rooms, up the stairs, came up behind him, grabbed him and hauled him back through the window.

I gathered the news each week for the paper on that old phone and as my writing increased, the Hathaway crew provided me with a small phone to put on my desk and actually painted it orange to match the brown and orange decor..if it could be called decor. It was a “woman-cave” as opposed to the now popular “man cave”. What a great bunch the phone crew were!

Once more the phone came into play in regard to the third child. On his 14th birthday, I was on assignment in Harrisburg, Pa. traveling to Nashville. I really wanted to call and talk to him.

“Operator I want to call Bryant Pond Maine 123.”

“You want what?”

“It’s a ring down exchange. Just get the operator in Bryant Pond, Maine, and tell her the number 123.”

This conversation probably took fifteen minutes and finally I heard the familiar voice of the Bryant Pond operator and within seconds had Gary on the line.

I don’t think he knew what a hassle it was until, while in college, he tried to call home from a dig in Northern Italy. In the end, he opted to call me in upstate New York and we made the trip to Maine to deliver his message.

After the ring down exchange closed, many sought the phones to keep as a memento of a much simpler time. I have warm thoughts in my heart for that old crank telephone that brought neighbors close together in good times and hard times.

If I remember correctly, there were no telemarketers, no politicians and no charities on the other end when it rang. That, in itself, makes up for being on a “party line!”

 

 

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A Little Happy Story

It was a long time ago..well, not back in the caveman days…I’m not that old, but shall we say about 38 years ago when I was much younger, much more agile and getting up much earlier in the morning.  The world was my oyster and I woke up each morning searching for the pearl.

We lived in what I refer to as “our little house”.  Each morning I eagerly awaited the delivery of our daily paper. Our paper boy lived down in Fenimore and he delivered on time, religiously, in fair and foul weather.

I watched him as he plowed through the snow, a short, chunky kid with bright eyes above his cheeks which were red from the cold. One morning, I thought about my own three sons and if they were delivering papers, how cold they would be…and I was the last customer on his route.

So it began. Each morning, I made a cup of hot chocolate in a Styrofoam cup and put it in the paper box. I pictured how pleased he would be to have something warm after walking his route and it would carry him back home until he could warm up again. I don’t know how long I did this during the winter months and to tell the truth, I had almost forgotten about it over the years.

Today I received a message that my paper boy was in the vicinity and wanted to stop in and say hello.  Since I have Rheumatoid Arthritis, with the drugs giving me a pumpkin face and taking a lot of my hair, I had reservations about anyone seeing me I hadn’t seen in a long time. But what the heck~~

The knock came on the door and he stood at the top of my stairs with a huge bouquet of flowers in his hand. I was stunned and he said…”this is for all the hot chocolate you gave me.”

I have to admit I have never been as touched to think that this man, standing before me, remembered those cups of hot chocolate all those many years ago. 

It really was something I would have wished for someone to do for my sons had they been out in the cold, but it meant so much more to him that he remembered all these years.

Thank you, Larry Bulman, for giving me a day that has made me forget some of the obstacles of the past two years.  You will never know how much it means to me!

Dawn’s Early Light/of Gardens and Cows

It had only been six years since we pulled into the front yard of the old farm and marveled at all the space we had…inside and out. The 13 rooms grew smaller as each baby arrived and the outside was , to me, getting a bit suspicious as I watched the animals arrive…almost two by two and this was not Noah’s Ark. Fences were erected to keep the beasts ( aka cows) in, but to no avail.  Many the times I hung diapers on the clothesline, while having a one sided conversation with a bovine  as the six o’clock whistle blew in Locke Mills. I said then and I will say now, there is not a word existing that can describe a cow’s eyes. I referred to them as dull, dumb and sneaky. If there is one small hole in a mile long fence, a cow will find it, wander aimlessly down the long driveway, cut a right hand turn and find the neighbor’s corn patch. This would happen only after said cow had devoured our own corn.

Therein lies another adventure… gardening for the first time on our little patch of real estate. Intentions were great; we would have fresh produce and healthy kids. I immediately thought of my mother-in-law’s fresh peas and new potatoes. They were a must for the new garden. I spent an evening cutting up potatoes so each would have an eye and soon they were in an even row on the side garden, along with peas which would surely rise out of the earth and immediately be strung on string of some kind to reach the sky!  Tomatoes and cukes had to go in the earth; a staple in any farm household. Corn on the cob!  Anything better than that with butter running down the chin? I think not.

The potatoes were hilled throughout the growing season; peas came up and were dangling in the air. Cukes were hidden in their vines; tomatoes up and bearing heavily…and the corn was showing silk. What farmers we turned out to be!

I couldn’t help myself when I saw the peas ready to pick and unearthed a couple hills of potatoes. Oh, yeah, small but perfect. After the sun dried them well, into the house and the meal we awaited came to fruition.  This was our first triumph and almost the last.

An unexpected and unusual hail storm hit mid-way growing season and flattened the tomatoes, but for a few hardy plants who stood up to Mother Nature. Cukes had some holes in them, which turned to rot in a hurry, so we ate them in every manner imaginable. Sandwiches with gobs of mayonnaise, cut up with vinegar,salt and pepper…name it. No I did not make pickles..the cukes were too big at that point.

But we still had our corn!! Or did we?  One early morn en route to milking the cows, the husband took a quick look at the garden. Nothing. Zilch. No corn waving in the early dawn. Instead  a beaten path as if a front loader had passed through in the night. Corn silk enough to fill a mattress; no real honest to goodness corn left. However, the front loader had left revealing evidence..cow tracks right down the row interspersed with a cow patty here and there. Rage overtook the husband and multiplied ten fold when the neighbor called to inform me that the bovine were now in his garden devouring his hard work.

Suffice it to say, it was some time before the husband got his prize herd into the barn for the milking, all the while trying to attempt a peace agreement with the neighbor. That is why I hate cows.

While all this is going on, the four kids argued in the kitchen who was going to eat which cereal and who was “hogging” the good stuff, leaving only the “healthy” stuff for this one and that one. If it had been a school month, they would all have still been in bed, but obviously some of the “cow rage” had crept through their bedroom windows and they wanted a part of it. This is called farmer’s excitement.

The husband returned finally with a pail of milk; kids contented with whatever grain they had poured in their respective dishes and finally on to the rest of the day with no drama, hopefully. I looked at the clock and it was 7 a.m. and once again, I wondered why I was so thrilled when I saw 13 rooms and a piano.

I am not entirely a failure. Remember those few hardy tomato plants that survived the hail storm? I brought in the green tomatoes and searched for my Rebekkah cook book. Ah ha! Green tomato pickles. I layered onions, seasonings, tomatoes in a crock overnight …the next day it simmered on my Sears Roebuck stove and the whole house smelled heavenly. I am not saying that the entire household loved those pickles, but I had many a meal of just a bowl of pickles and bread and butter.

I would give anything to have a bowl right now. Just saying.

 

 

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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 flair..so 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 really..it 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 zero..you 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.