By: Nancy Beals
(published in Whitney Word-Vol. 32, No. 3-June 2016)
When my maternal grandfather retired from business in New York, my grandparents bought a farm in Williamstown, Massachusetts. We were living in Arizona at that time, and my brother and I were asked to name some of their first animals. At the end of World War II we moved to Connecticut, and we and our Boston and New York cousins (and later younger siblings) began to gather at the farm during our school vacations. It never ceased to amaze me how our grandmother, who had always had a cook and a maid in New York, plunged into her new life as a farmer’s wife, canning and freezing produce from the garden with the help of a neighbor, and providing huge meals for a growing gang of grandchildren.
My grandfather was a great workforce organizer and always had projects for us. We were up early every morning and out before breakfast bringing the cows into the barn to be milked. We all learned to milk the cows and feed the pigs and chickens. In the spring we built a sap house, tapped the maple trees, gathered the sap buckets, and tended the fire under the huge pan where it was boiled down to make syrup.
It became the responsibility of those who came first in the summer to build the dam in order to create a swimming pool in the brook, and whoever was there at the end of the summer had to break it down in preparation for the next spring’s floods. In the summer a good deal of our time was taken up with the haying. We all learned to drive the tractor and to operate the hay rake attached behind it. Then, as our grandfather drove between the rows with the hay-wagon hitched behind the tractor, we gathered the hay into piles with pitchforks and tossed it into the wagon. And we built things! Under our grandfather’s supervision we built a small canoe and each made our own paddle. Eventually we helped him construct additional sleeping quarters over the garage and an addition to the barn.
In winter there was not so much farm work to be done, so we went sledding on the hill behind the house, skating on a small drainage pond, and skiing on the mountain across the brook. In the afternoons we put on plays to entertain our grandparents, and our grandmother read to us and taught us to play mahjong and other games.
It was very hard for our grandfather, as we grew older, to accept the fact that, because of other interests and obligations, we were simply not going to continue to spend every possible moment of our school vacations at the farm. He built a tennis court for us and urged us to bring our friends, but we had term papers to write and exams to study for in winter and spring, and in summer, jobs and travel opportunities. Years later, at the wedding of one of my cousins, someone commented on how unusual it was for cousins to be among the bridesmaids, since most brides chose their best friends. It was then that I realized what our grandparents had done for us; we were each other’s best friends.
For more information about Whitney Center, or to make an appointment to visit the community, call 203-848-2641 or click here.