One summer night of the distant
past, three of us, father, brother Cecil, five years old, and
I, two years younger, got off the train at Wallingford, Vermont.
All was darkness except as it was broken by the flickering light
of a lantern held by a tall man I had never seen before. On
the delicate film of my consciousness the scene was etched so
deep and clear that it can not be obliterated or dimmed while
The tall man took my clenched
fist in his warm, strong hand which was ever so much larger
than father’s, with enormous thumbs which made excellent
handles for little boys to hold to when going over rough places
and so we walked up the street, father and Cecil following.
This tall man was my grandfather. It was a solemn procession
and the solemnity was emphasized by the awesome stillness and
darkness of the night.
Grandfather, father, Cecil and
I turned north at the first corner, crossed the road and grandfather
opened a gate and we entered a yard. As we approached the side
veranda of a comfortable looking house, a door opened and a
dark-eyed elderly lady stepped out into the darkness holding
a kerosene lamp above her head and peering out into the night.
She was father’s mother and was destined to be mine as
well. Grandmother weighed precisely eighty-nine pounds; never
more; never less. It is said that fine goods come wrapped in
small packages and grandmother was certainly fine goods.
On that summer night she greeted
her son and his two children affectionately but quietly. We
gathered in the dining room and grandmother and father talked
matters over. I was not conscious of what they were saying but
I can plainly see them through the mists which have been slowly
gathering for more than seventy years.
Eventually grandmother arose
and went into a big pantry, (buttery, she called it) adjoining
the dining room and soon re turned with three yellow earthen
bowls, a large one for father and smaller ones for Cecil and
me. A generous loaf of bread, possessed of virtues beyond any
I had ever tasted, soon made its appearance together with a
pitcher of sweet, rich milk fresh from the udders of the benevolent
old family cow, with which I was soon to become acquainted.
Oh yes I nearly forgot the heaping dish of blueberries plucked
from tangled bushes which lifted their heads between the rocks
on mountain sides, triumphantly offering to hungry humans the
luscious harvest which they, in spite of long cold winters,
had succeeded in extracting from sour and sterile soil.
Three chairs were drawn to the
table; one, a high-chair, survivor of previous generations,
was manifestly intended for me, and the feast began. Father
and grandmother continued their conversation as we ate while
grandfather listened. We boys were hungry and had but one matter
to attend to—the matter of filling up.
The banjo clock, hanging on the
north wall was amazed at the unusual happenings and pointed
its long, scrawny finger warningly at the passing numerals until
it finally succeeded in attracting grandmother’s attention,
with the result that she arose suddenly and said, “For
the Land Sake, Pa Harris, it’s nearly twelve o’clock!”
The banjo clock was in no way responsible for the remission;
being both deaf and dumb, it could do nothing further than to
point its warning fingers and that duty, as heretofore related,
There was another clock hanging
above the mantel-piece in the adjoining sitting-room. It also
was deaf but it was not dumb. While the best that the banjo
clock could do in the way of giving audible expression to its
thoughts was to emit an entirely meaningless tick-tock, the
sitting-room clock could make itself heard throughout the house
and it unhesitatingly did so whenever it had The truth was that
grandmother had been preoccupied with the distressing troubles
of her son, my father, and in the multitudinous problems which
confronted her as a result of them. After her startled announcement,
we boys were taken to a bedroom henceforth to be known as our
The most conspicuous object which
confronted us in our new quarters was an enormous something
which had the appearance of a very sick and swollen bed. After
having been undressed and put into clean nighties, one after
the other, we were lifted high and launched smack into the middle
of the distended stomach of the very sick bed and the next thing
we knew it was morning and we were wondering how to get out
of the predicament in which we found ourselves, almost submerged
in the yielding folds of the mattress which, in honor of our
coming, had been stuffed with clean, fresh straw, sufficient
to provide restful and cooling comfort until the cold nights
of autumn would proclaim the coming of winter and the necessity
of providing the amazing bed with an entirely new stomach, composed
of downy, homegrown feathers to keep us warm during the long,
cold nights when winter winds would be howling like wolves around
How it happened that we three,
father, Cecil and I, had so disturbed the serenity of the home
life of our early-to-bed paternal grandparents, and how it happened
that the most important personage of all young families, our
mother, was not of the group, calls for explanation. To satisfy
those interested, I will state that economic considerations
had made it necessary to divide our family. In other words,
father, having failed in business in the West, had taken us
boys to his paternal home as a refuge, just as thousands of
fathers bad done, and still do, during periods of financial
extremity. As our sister, Nina May, was still an infant in arms,
our mother felt that it would be too much of an imposition on
our grandparents were she to come along. She preferred to carry
on as best she could in Racine, a beautiful little Wisconsin
city on the shores of Lake Michigan, where we children were
born. Mother was a Bryan and the Bryans were proud.
Father had been given a drug
store and a house of his own by grandfather Harris, a thrifty
New Englander, whose indulgence of his son was one of the reasons
why my father found it so difficult to keep income up and expenses
down. Having been given so vigorous a boost at the beginning,
it was quite natural for father to assume that other boosts
would follow as a matter of course. They did for a time, but
eventually, grandfather found it necessary to liquidate father’s
business and to establish a new base nearer his own home where
the books could be frequently audited by one familiar with “double-entry”
bookkeeping—grandfather himself. His books, such as they
were, were always in balance. No entries ever had to be made
Little as our elders realized
it at the time, all of the events above related, even including
the liquidation and closing of father’s drug store, proved
to be fortunate for us boys. Cecil was to realize temporary
benefits and I was to have the benefit of a well regulated,
permanent home where nothing was ever either over- or underdone;
where ideals were of the highest and education the supreme objective.
While some of the Bryans were
disposed to view grandfather Harris’ family from what
they were pleased to consider a higher plane, they would, I
fancy, have freely admitted that there was not the slightest
danger that grandfather Harris would ever convert his possessions
into cash, leave his family to shift for itself, and fly away
to parts unknown in search of gold, pearls, diamonds or other
so called valuables as my maternal grandfather had done. It
may also as well be stated that it was my frugal, hard-working
New England grandfather Harris who made the last days of my
more brilliant but less provident grandfather Bryan and his
self-sacrificing wife comfortable; and that it was this same
grandfather Harris, who, encouraged by his own sympathetic and
hard-working helpmeet, Pamela Rustin Harris, spread his mantle
of helpfulness over the needy of all his descendants. Even to
this day the estate of grandmother still stands open in the
records of Rutland county’s probate court, one of our
family still being a beneficiary of the small remaining income.
There must have been great doings,
much confusion and some weeping when our family broke up housekeeping
in Racine. It is always a sad piece of business to break up
housekeeping, even in cases where the gloom is not deepened
by a sense of defeat. In the case of our family, the grief must
have been particularly poignant. Everything had been done for
my parents and still they had failed. The future held no bright
promise; there was nothing to fall back upon except the supporting
hands of grandfather and grandmother Harris. It must have been
especially humiliating to my father to return to his native
village vanquished and with only dim hopes to sustain his drooping
Father, Cecil and I constituted
the vanguard of the refugees; the other members of the family
were to come to Vermont after suitable provision had been made
The incidents above related were
beyond the understanding of Brother Cecil and myself. No defeatism
tortured our souls. So long as we were fed, clothed, kept comfortable
and permitted to do very much as we pleased, all was well.
However, we were now in our new
home, and sad to relate mutiny broke out the very next morning.
She, who soon proved to be Skipper-in-chief, happened at the
moment to be lacing my shoes. Not knowing her exalted position
in the family, I naturally sup posed her to be one of the crew
and refused to do her bidding when she told me to lift my foot.
Thinking it high time to put her where she belonged, I said,
“You are not my Mamma and I won’t mind you.”
The Skipper forthwith called my father to straighten things
out which he did with lasting effect, and I did not question
further the authority of the little elderly lady who, after
all, seemed to have matters well in hand.
Cecil and I promptly and industriously
proceeded to explore the wonders of our new home. What I discovered
and experienced as the days, months and years went by will appear
in the chapters which follow.
Soon after our arrival in Wallingford,
grandmother saw that the clothes we were wearing were not suitable
for the lives we were to lead and the family seamstress, Margaret
McConnell, was soon at work on a hurry-up order. Margaret was
the personification of patience, otherwise she would never have
succeeded in inducing wriggling, squirming boys to stand still
long enough to have their clothes “tried on.”
The entire outfit for everyday
summer wear consisted of waists and pants which were neither
long nor short; how far the latter extended below the knee depended
on how much material there was on hand; the idea being that
if they didn’t fit this year, maybe they would next when,
presumably, our legs would be longer. Half way between knee
and ankle was considered a safe place to leave off, high enough
to allow for wading in mud and long enough to bag at the knee
according to the prevailing mode. To make suitable allowance
for the fact that next year’s boy might be anatomically
different from this year’s boy, called for something in
the nature of prophetic vision, and that quality of mind Margaret
undoubtedly possessed. Only once did she fail. On that occasion
the extension of my legs was shocking and the expansion was
also considerable. Had I ever succeeded in getting into Margaret
McConnell’s creation, nothing but a corkscrew would have
pulled me out again.
Our summertime costume of those
days included, in addition to our waists and our nondescript
panties, broad-brimmed, some times badly torn straw hats. Shoes
there were none nor should there have been. I pity the small
boy to whom the joy of wading in mud puddles and twisting his
toes in the long, cool grass in the early morning hours is unknown.
Grandmother knew these things and forthwith emancipated us from
the restrictions of city life. Every evening, of course, we
had to have our feet bathed in hot water before we were permitted
to insert them between the clean, crisp sheets of our beds but
that was a small price to pay for the infinite satisfaction
of being bare-foot boys.
Whittier must have had a warm
spot in his heart for such boys else how could he have written:
Blessings on thee, little man Barefoot boy, with cheeks
of tan, With thy turned up pantaloons And thy merry whistled
3 - Our 14 Room House
house was not large, there were fourteen rooms in it beside
pantries and sundry nondescript ells used mostly for storage
and a large attic. Of the fourteen rooms only seven were in
regular use. There were four guest chambers, three of which
were seldom occupied; the fourth, to my knowledge, never. The
south parlor was used when we had guests; the north parlor being
thrown open but twice during the eighteen years I lived in the
house. The first opening occurred during the visit of distinguished
relatives from the West, and the second, for grandfather’s
Evidences of good housekeeping
were to be seen everywhere about our house. The table linen
was always spotlessly clean, and here and there on the surface,
a neatly laid patch was to be seen, mute but eloquent testimony
to New England thrift and loving care. I never see such patches
on table linens without an accompanying flood of tender recollections.
They are indicative of the presence of the spirit that counts;
the memory of which, cannot be obliterated by the passage of
Even staunchly built New England
houses may disappear as a result of storm, flood or fire, but
memories of homes where love abides, are imperishable. When
one looks back over a long period of years, much which once
seemed important, fades into insignificance, while other things
grow into such commanding importance that one may in truth say,
“Nothing else matters.” Sacrifice, devotion, honor,
truth, sincerity, love—these are the homely virtues characteristic
of good, old-fashioned homes.
Grandmother’s kitchen was
like the works of a clock; the engine of a motor vehicle; the
heart of a human being. In the kitchen, the power which controlled
the domestic affairs of the house was generated. The kitchen
was a hive of industry.
Monday was an especially busy
day; all the machinery was put in mesh; even grandfather had
his part. He kept the fire under the stationary boiler burning
briskly, using only white birch wood which fired quickly and
produced a high degree of heat at precisely the right time.
Grandfather also kept the reservoir on the back of the stove
full of water available for the wash tubs or the boiler as Delia
might need. Soft water only was considered fit for washing dishes,
for washing clothes on Mondays, or for our tub baths on Saturday
nights. Soft water, homemade soft soap, and soft wood fires
under the boiler were an unbeatable combination in the war against
uncleanliness. The pump at the sink in the kitchen never failed
to yield the needed supply of soft water from the cistern and
the spout in the summer kitchen was equally faithful in its
undertaking to supply all needs of cold hard water for drinking,
cooking, refrigeration and sewage disposal purposes.
The kitchen was versatile indeed;
it could turn its talents to service as a bakery on bake days,
a dairy on butter making days, a butcher shop during sausage
making, trying out lard and salting meats. The duties of the
kitchen also included a hundred and one unclassified services
such as canning fruit, rag rug making, etc., etc.
Of course the kitchen had the
summer kitchen to fall back on when its own resources were overtaxed.
The summer kitchen was supplied with a sink of its own in which
dishes could be washed in case the kitchen sink was being used
for other purposes. All the churning was done in the summer
kitchen, grandfather supplying what Mr. Jerome Hilliard might
have designated as “elbow grease.”
The summer kitchen was the repository
of the rag bag into which all surplus rags were put and held
for the coming of the ragman. The rag bag played an important
part in our domestic economy as it paid for all brooms, dusters,
tin ware and other odds and ends.
The summer kitchen was provided
with a coal bin and space for neat piles of wood sufficient
for immediate needs. There was, as I know, never any jealousy
between the kitchen and the summer kitchen. The kitchen knew
that it was the hub of our little universe and the summer kitchen
was content to play a subordinate role.
The kitchen was also blessed
with two butteries (pantries), the larger of the two opening
into the dining room, thus saving many steps. The dishes, all
except chinaware, were also kept in the larger of the two butteries;
there were also three barrels, one of which contained wheat
flour, one buckwheat flour, and the third sugar. Kitchen utensils,
eggs and many other household utilities, were kept in the larger
of the two butteries.
The small buttery was reserved
for milk, cooked meats, fruit and other food which needed to
be kept cool. This small buttery was protected all the year
round against even the most penetrating rays of the sun. Winter
accumulations of snow along the outer wall of this small buttery
remained late in the spring after it had disappeared elsewhere,
except perhaps from the top of Killington Peak. To grandmother,
the larger buttery was always the “south buttery”
and the smaller one the “north buttery,” but by
what process of reasoning I have never known, as both butteries
had been wisely located on the north side of the house.
Of course the kitchen could not
have played its stellar role so successfully had it not been
for the huge, three-roomed deep cellar which kept bulky vegetables
and fruits extra cool even in the summer months. The potatoes
of course had to be sprouted when the warm days served notice
that the sun had issued its annual proclamation to all living
things to come out and get warm.
Our great box refrigeration through
which the cold spring water Incessantly flowed on its way to
the lavatory played an especially Important part during the
period when we had our cow. The butter was made in the summer
kitchen, after which it was stored in big earthen crocks and
placed in the great box where it was kept cool by the constantly
Vermont farmers, who were fortunate
enough to have springs near their houses, frequently built small
houses over them and within their walls the dairy operations
were conducted and the dairy products stored for use by the
family or for sale when accumulated in sufficient quantities.
Butter and eggs were sold at the store where the family traded,
or, in some cases, exchanged for needed commodities. Cool spring
houses with their odors of fresh cream and butter were about
the sweetest places there were on old-fashioned farms and how
refreshing it was to step into the spring house on hot days
The water from the spring was
generally carried through pump logs to the barnyard where hot,
thirsty horses, coming in from the fields, could refresh themselves
in contentment and where all other farm animals could enjoy
the cool, flowing water. Modem electric refrigerators may be
more efficient but they never can match the sweetness of the
old-fashioned spring houses of mountain farms.
In the old days many farm women
made cheese as well as butter but that practice ceased when
the cheese factories came. Vermont green cheese, sometimes called
sage cheese, gained an enviable reputation throughout the state
and throughout New England. I can still see our cheese maker,
Martin Williams, with his mortar and pestle preparing his sage
for use in his great vats of curds. It was his custom to mix
tender clover leaves with the sage so that it would not taste
too strong. Alas! the cheese making industry in Vermont was
short lived as it was replaced by the famous Herkimer County
New York State cheese long before Wisconsin became the cheese
making state of America.
Creameries were the next in order.
Cheese factories were turned into creameries and Vermont farmers
brought their whole milk and took away the skimmed milk to be
fed to their pigs just as before.
The cream was separated from
the milk, cooled and placed in large cans which were put into
heavy stuffed jackets and shipped by fast trains to Boston or
New York where it arrived in time for breakfast. This practice
with some refinements still continues and doubtless will continue
until the aeroplane changes the present order. Most thrifty
Vermont farmers have their own cream separators now.
As compared with many New England
houses our house is not old, even now being only one hundred
years old or thereabouts; that is to say that it is only about
as old as the city of Chicago where houses quickly come and
go. It is as staunch to-day as when built and, if no untoward
circumstances disturb the serenity of its mounting years, it
is doubtless destined to be really old, even In the New England
sense, sometime in the centuries to come.
To passing automobiles on the
Ethan Allen Highway, it is distinguishable by two large letters
“H.H.” worked out in the pattern of its imperishable
roof of slate. The letters stand for Howard Harris, my benefactor
and grandfather. The house is now owned by Mr. and Mrs. R. C.
Taft who have raised a fine family in it.
How the house happened to be
built so recently was due to a misfortune which at the time
seemed calamitous. The original residence was destroyed by fire
one Christmas night. The fire began in grandfather’s store
which, for convenience, had been built near the house.
Of the days of the reconstruction
of the house, I have never learned anything except the fact
that the versatile carpenter employed his spare hours, when
the weather interfered with his building operations, in making
grandfather a pair of fine boots. In conformity with the prevailing
fashion they were made to reach nearly to the knees, although
shoes would have been far more comfortable and equally serviceable.
These boots were light in weight,
very soft and pliable and they served him as best boots for
nearly forty years. During that period, they were worn every
Sunday and when grandfather was traveling; in fact, on all special
occasions and, when he was finally laid away, his weary feet
were tenderly placed in the soft, pliable top boots made by
the versatile carpenter.
7 - Buttercup, Queen of the Pasture
Brother Cecil was
eventually set up in business of his own; that of driving our
old cow Buttercup to and from the pasture. He went at his task
bravely. If I were asked to name the most outstanding characteristic
of my brother Cecil, I would unhesitatingly answer, courage.
His courage never failed him. He took life as it came extracting
from each day's experiences the maximum of sweetness and never
quailing in the face of danger or disaster.Many years after
the events here recorded, Cecil, suffering bodily ailments painfully
manifest to relatives and friends, invariably stoutly insisted
that all was well. If he knew what fear was, he never admitted
it. One of the last things he said to me as his sun was about
to set was, "Whatever else may be said of me, no one will
ever be able to say truthfully that I didn't enjoy life while
it lasted." True to the last word and syllable, my brother!
Of all my many sins the one I
most regret was the one of striking you, my dear brother.
One summer day in Wallingford, in a burst of anger I shot my
fist out through the battered hat you were wearing and landed
a full blow on your face. You were both hurt and humiliated
and your eyes filled with tears but you did not strike me back.
I was ashamed and would have given all my small possessions
to be able to take back the cruel blow. Thousands of times the
scene has come to my memory always with a feeling of sorrow.
So Cecil took the business of
driving Buttercup to pasture in his customary stride, although
all he had learned of cows during our brief residence in the
West was what was delivered at the back door by the milkman,
and of that there had never been too much.
Eventually Cecil took to himself
a junior partner in the business of driving the cow to and from
the pasture. Why he did so I do not know unless it were for
the sake of company. In any event, I was given the honor though
my faith in the good intentions of cows was shaken by the fact
that they had been equipped with formidable horns, a fact not
easily reconcilable with the ideals of peace on earth, good
will toward little boys.
The results of our first day
of driving Buttercup to pasture were not reassuring. Buttercup,
with other cows belonging to our neighbors opened warfare
in the lane leading to the pasture and it seemed for a time
as if bedlam had been turned loose. By interposition of Providence,
someone had left a capacious drygoods box in the lane —a
refuge in time of need. I stood not upon the order of going
but into the drygoods box I scrambled, leaving Cecil and the
boys of the neighborhood either to carry on or else find drygoods
boxes of their own. From within my fortress, I viewed the clash
of horns and heads with a somewhat limited degree of composure,
but did not relinquish the strategic advantage of my position
until Cecil and the other boys assured me that the war was over;
that the belligerents had been driven into the pasture and the
bars put up to prevent egress to the lane. If they had further
disputes to settle they would have to settle them in the pasture
behind five feet of sturdy bars.
With this seeming inauspicious
beginning, my education in the manners of cows continued until
I came to an understanding of them, and so, to love them. To
me cows are reminiscent of my childhood days. Pastoral
paintings arouse something altogether agreeable in me.
Buttercup was a Hereford, of
a breed imported from England and reputed to be more productive
of meat than of milk; however, our cow managed to be productive
of both. She was larger than any other cow in the pasture, even
larger than Jimmy Conley's cow which stood next in order. The
cows of other neighbors recognized the priority rights
of Buttercup and stood aside while the bars were being let down,
giving her the right of way in going in and out of the pasture.
When Buttercup was fresh having
given birth to a calf, she used to yield two big pails of rich,
foaming milk. Her breath was wondrous sweet; no victim of halitosis
she, and she had other good qualities too numerous to mention,
most important of which perhaps was that she was truly our own,
good faithful Buttercup. Had there been a '"Who's who"
in cowdom, I am sure her name would have been given a place
at the top of the list. Her soft mooing was sweet music in my
ears and had it not been for the outbreak of temper the time
she cleaned Jimmy Conley's cow up in a battle for the supremacy
of the pasture, I would always thought of her as a true Christian
cow. Not that I thought any worse of her for having stood up
for her rights; in fact, I gloated over the victory if memory
serves me right and I may even have egged her on a bit.
I used to think that Buttercup
must have been terribly lonely, pent up as she was in a small
stall during the long cold winter months with only one small
window to look through and only snow to look at when she did
peek out. She did, however, have the satisfaction of knowing
that her stall was on the south side of the barn and that the
icy winds from the North Pole had thick walls and several tiers
of neatly piled wood to sift through before they could touch
her thick old hide. The hens and their male escort the rooster
were under the same roof and the hens cackled whenever they
laid their eggs and the rooster was the best kind of an alarm
clock when it came time for announcing the coming of day.
Grandfather also was a regular
visitor both morning and evening, bringing generous portions
of cornmeal in exchange for whatever quantities of milk
Buttercup might yield. High days and holidays meant nothing
to her; she kept right on feeding, giving milk and chewing her
cud. She may also have lived over again in dreams the happy
days of summer spent in the pasture with other lady cows and
one gentleman cow, big, brown and sleek. She may, in fact, have
treasured memories of her friends very much as I treasured memories
of our summer visitors, especially the sweet girls. She must
have had a comforting philosophy of life
Buttercup had a very good time
peeking through her tiny window. One of my own most interesting
distractions during extra stormy days in winter, was to kneel
on the floor in front of one of the sitting room windows, with
my nose flattened against the pane, looking out at the falling
snow, noticing especially the big flakes. Some of them were
of gigantic proportions, completely overshadowing their
comrades of the air. How varied their shapes and how lazily
they drifted down from somewhere. God only knew where, how silent
they were in their flight and their landing and how wondrously
clean and white.
When the flakes were falling
by the thousands, I used to wonder how long it would take
for them to bury us all but when grandmother glanced out
of the window, she used to say, "This storm will not last
long; big flakes are too lazy to do much damage; it is the small
flakes one has to look out for; small flakes haven't much sense;
they sometimes pile themselves on top of each other, day in
and day out, until nothing short of snow ploughs can dig the
roads out." Another one of grandmother's sayings was, "It's
a mighty cold day when the bright sunshine can't set the eaves-spouts
Grandfather did the milking as
a rule at our home but he was not expert. He could milk with
one hand only and his performance was not more impressive than
a one-handed piano player. He never used to bury his forehead
in the flank of Buttercup as more experienced milkers would
have done but sat bolt upright, balanced precariously on his
one-legged stool, and holding the pail in his left hand. His
position was in no respect impregnable as it left him entirely
exposed to the swishing tail, which, in fly time not infrequently
wrapped itself around his neck. This interlude, however well
intended, was annoying to grandfather though a source of considerable
pleasure to the audience of two small boys.
Our barn was the scene of many
a performance worthy of a place on the vaudeville stage. One
night when tall grandfather was trying to induce, cajole, push
or pull Jason, a half-grown calf, son of Betty, Buttercup's
daughter, into the barn yard through a very low door, a drama
was enacted. Jason, after long having resisted every blandishment
grandfather had to offer, suddenly changed his mind and bolted
through the door, dragging grandfather in his wake. Had he been
a well-intentioned calf he might have seen that it would be
difficult for grandfather to negotiate the low door on high
but Jason was either unconcerned or else he did not care a fig
what happened to grandfather; manifestly he had resolved to
throw off all responsibility in that regard. Anyhow grandfather
did his part like the true New England gentleman that he was;
at just the right moment he ducked as skillfully as any boxer
could have ducked the blow of an adversary and both Jason and
grandfather came through. Having accomplished his purpose, Jason
stopped as precipitately as he had begun and he and grandfather,
both with legs spread wide as a safeguard against any eventuality,
looked each other over. They had never seen each other in just
that light before.
The following morning. Cook,
the butcher, led Jason out of the yard; henceforth he would
be spoken of as veal; he had been too individualistic for grandfather.
My love of bovine creatures once
lured me to the Channel Islands of the British seas, Jersey,
Guernsey and Aldemey, in order that I might see the aristocrats
of cowdom feeding on their native hills. While on those islands,
I learned that in order to get back to the real origin of the
species one must cross from the islands to the coast of Brittany
where two priestly Orders each developed its own pure and distinct
breed of cattle. I learned that when the monks were banished
from France, they took their domestic animals with them; one
order to the nearest island, Jersey, and the other to Guernsey;
still others went to the Island of Aldemey.
The cow population of Guernsey
numbers six thousand only but there are hundreds of thousands
of Guernseys scattered throughout the world, most of them
in the United States. It may be gratifying to my fellow
New Englanders to know that Peterborough of the State of New
Hampshire is the center of learning in regard to Guernseys and
that the Guernsey publication issued in that small city is considered
authoritative throughout the world, even including the
island from which the animals migrated.
It has always been a source of
wonderment to me why it is that only farmers and dairymen appear
to be interested in cows. Much has been written of the admirable
qualities of dogs and horses, but little attention has been
given to the characteristics and personalities of cows.
The only book I ever read on the subject designed to be read
by laymen, was a story entitled, "The Stalled Ox",
by a New England writer who describes some of the laws and regulations
recognized as rules of conduct (codes of ethics, if you please)
in the relationship of one bovine with another.
During the course of an automobile
trip through Wisconsin, I spent a night at the home of a well-to-do
farmer, who had a fine herd of Guernseys. He was the son of
German immigrants and he loved his cows. It was his custom to
take his morning shower bath and shave in a compartment of the
bam adjoining the immaculate cow stables. One day he had a radio
installed that he might listen to music while performing his
ablutions. This he did without having any idea that early morning
concerts would be enjoyed by any other creature than himself
but it seems that the radio went wrong one night with the result
that in the morning the concert had to be omitted. He was aggravated
and annoyed, the more so when he discovered that his cows
were nervous and fretful and that not until morning music had
been resumed did they become contented and willing to let down
a full flow of milk.
I might have doubted the story
of the German farmer had I not once heard in a lovely pastoral
district in Switzerland that on farms where cows are accustomed
to whistling milkers, those who have not acquired the knack
of whistling need not apply.
Once upon a time, I spent a happy
afternoon in the hinterland of Montreux on Lake Geneva, only
half a mile from the busy tourist center. It was like stepping
back from the twentieth century to the peace and quiet of past
generations. Tiny villages where old folks could sit in comfortable
chairs near a little center by the village pump where farmers
brought their cows and work horses. A half mile further along,
there was a tiny village with a milk store where farmers operating
the small farms brought their milk in large cans and customers
came for it with pitchers.
Not far distant a hay crop was
being harvested on a half-acre plot by a man, a boy and a friendly
ox. The air was full of the fragrance of new-mown hay and
men, women and children were doing things in a leisurely manner
seemingly enjoying their work and breathing in the serenity
of it all. Peace is traditional in Switzerland and why should
it not be? There is nothing more peaceful than a Swiss countryside
dotted with big, brown Swiss cows.
An American friend of mine whose
business it is to buy and sell cows tells me that cows transferred
from one farm to another frequently let down in their production
of milk. One Guernsey cow which he had recently sold at a fancy
price, had to be returned to the farm from whence she had come.
Prior to the sale she had been producing fifty pounds of milk
per day, but after the sale she produced twelve pounds only,
so the buyer was only too happy to return her to the seller
at the purchase price. Upon being returned to her former
stall her appetite returned at once and normal production of
milk followed. The farmer was glad to get his cow back and declared
that he would never sell her again that if she loved her home
that much she was entitled to remain in it for the rest of her
The sentiment expressed by the
American farmer did not differ greatly from that of the Hindoo
farmer who cares for his aged and decrepit cows as long as they
live and gives them decent burial when death comes. Oh, the
Hindoo idea of the sacredness of the cow is pure superstition,
you say. Well, as for myself, I have never been able to define
clearly where superstition leaves off and something else
begins. As for our old Buttercup, she possessed attributes which
folks of our faith designate as purely Christian, as for instance
who better than she demonstrated the doctrine that it is better
to give than to receive; her milk was almost a complete food
in itself. From her own body Buttercup nourished me as a mother
nourishes a child; my bone and my flesh was of her munificence.
What did she get in return? A
measure of corn meal, green grass from the pasture, hay from
our orchard, and a warm stall in which to pass the days and
nights of winter; that was all.
For a picture of tranquility
and contentment, I know of nothing to compare with cows in pasture
enjoying their noontime siesta, lying in the shade of trees
bordering on the brook from which they have drunk their fill
of clear, cold water. In their own sweet Elysium, with eyes
half closed, they rest during the heat of the day with nothing
more serious to think about than horseflies and the agreeable
pastime of chewing their cud.
When I at times have thought
that my feeling towards cows as a symbol of tranquility may
perhaps have been overtender, the following words of John
Burroughs, America's most loved naturalist, bolster my faltering
"All the ways and doings
of cattle are pleasant to look upon, whether grazing in the
pasture or browsing in the woods, or ruminating under the
trees, or feeding in the stall, or reposing upon the knolls.
There is virtue in the cow; she is full of goodness; a whole'
some odor exhales from her; the whole landscape looks out of
her soft eyes; the quality and the aroma of miles of meadow
and pasture lands are in her presence and products. I would
rather have the care of cows than to be the keeper of the great
seal of the nation. Where the cow is, there is Arcadia.
So far as her influence prevails, there is contentment,
humility and sweet homely life/'
I know nothing whatever of the
sacredness of cows but I do know that it would give me a homey
feeling if grandfather, grandmother and our old Buttercup
were to meet me at the gates of gold.
15 - The Last Day of School
In my boyhood, we did not have
to depend entirely upon imported talent for entertainment; some
of it was home-grown and of the best; Caleb Pennypacker for
instance. Caleb was the son of Jonas Pennypacker, a hard working
man who never smiled. Caleb was nothing that his father was
and everything that his father was not; he never worked and
he always grinned; in fact, his face was wreathed in grins from
morning until night and his grin begot grins on the faces of
others. He enjoyed the distinction of being the "grinniest"
and the naughtiest boy in town. There was little room for melancholy
in Wallingford as long as Caleb lived there. He viewed the world
as a huge joke and all he had to do was to unleash it and that
duty he gladly performed.
To us younger fry perhaps the
most conspicuous of Caleb's varied skills and accomplishments
was the knack he had of converting himself into a sore-eyed
old man through the simple expedient of turning the upper lids
of his eyes inside out where they would remain until he willed
it otherwise. This amazing transformation, he could accomplish
in a twinkling and folks who saw it for the first time never
knew whether to laugh or to cry. The exercise of this remarkable
faculty was an excellent way of relieving the tedium of school
life. Whenever the teacher became too serious, Caleb could relieve
the tension by turning his upper eyelids inside out. For this
voluntary contribution, he was frequently ferruled but he was
never cured of it. Naturally all of the boys envied him and
did their best to follow his noble example but none succeeded.
When Caleb left school turning eyelids inside out became a lost
Naturally there were other boys
who made contributions of an extra curricular nature to school
life. George Marsh could make his ears wag as a horse wags his
ears in fly time. It was a grand accomplishment and always brought
down the house. "Inky" Ballou could make his knuckles
crack like a pistol shot. Such contributions are entitled to
honorable mention but the only one to really shed lustre on
the Wallingford school was Caleb in his inimitable performance
of turning his upper eyelids inside out.
When school was in session, some
of the trustees made unexpected calls in order to inform themselves
of the progress being made. When Trustee Charles Congdon called,
he was generally expected to make a speech and he always lived
up to expectations. He invariably closed his remarks with a
poem which he considered appropriate. I heard it so often, I
remember it now:
"As I walked by myself I
talked to myself, and myself said unto me:
'Beware of thyself, take care
of thyself, for no one will care for thee'."
Whenever I saw him coming into
the room I had difficulty in restraining myself from arising
and greeting him with the words of this poem.
Mr. Congdon was, however, a fine
old gentleman. Among other things, he rented saddle horses at
twenty-five cents per hour to those who could afford that luxury.
I enjoyed the inestimable privilege of hiring a saddle horse
from Mr. Congdon once upon a time. Where I got the necessary
twenty-five cents, I do not remember, though so important an
event should have stamped itself upon my memory as did the experience
of finding a silver ten cent piece in a pile of rubbish back
of Ben Crapo's store. The fact that I found the ten-cent piece
was not the wonder; the wonder was that some Vermonter must
have lost it without publicizing his calamity; he may, of course,
have gotten it dishonestly. Sometimes boys served as temporary
hitching posts for farmers with business to transact at the
grocery stores; it was easier to throw the reins to a boy than
to hitch and unhitch. On taking up the reins again, he would
say, "Thank you, boy; some day I'll give you a quarter,
the first one I find rolling up hill." That was the nearest
I ever came to earning a quarter as a hitching post.
On the first day of May it was
customary for the school teachers to take their charges into
the woods to gather May flowers and trailing arbutus and to
welcome the migratory birds to their northern homes. Once a
Maypole was erected in the school yard and we danced and frolicked
around it in the manner of another age.
Decoration Day was another celebration
which took place at end of May. We decorated the graves of the
soldiers, who had died in the Civil War, with spring flowers
and we placed a small flag upon each grave. Civil War Veterans
dressed in full regalia, led the procession to the cemetery
where patriotic speeches were made. Our veterans made a very
brave showing; Harlon Strong, our Sunday School Superintendent,
Martin Williams, the cheese-maker, Mr. Thomas, the paper-hanger,
all looked particularly well in their uniforms and our hearts
swelled nearly to the bursting point when the Congregational
church quartette sang, "We deck their graves alike to-day
with springtime's fairest flowers," and again when the
Hartsboro drum corps played. "John Brown's body lies mouldering
in the grave "Yankee Doodle" and other patriotic airs.
Deaf as I have become to many shallow forms of emotional appeal,
my toes have tingled and tears have come welling into my eyes
when our few remaining Civil War Veterans came limping by in
Joy bells surely rang in our
hearts in the springtime; like frisky lambs we cavorted and,
like tumblebugs, we turned somersaults and handsprings without
regard for life or limb. One day Fay's father, who had been
watching us from a distance, shouted, "Remember, Boy, your
neck isn't long enough to splice."
Early in June came the long awaited
"last day of school." The air in the school house
is heavy with the perfume of gorgeous red, pink and white peonies.
The girls are arrayed in new summer finery; the boys stiff and
uncomfortable in their best Sunday clothes. Grand orations have
been carefully committed to memory during long evening hours
at home and nothing except the dread bugaboo, "old man
stagefright," is likely to interfere with their delivery.
There is no getting away from the fact that "old man stagefright"
is a factor to be reckoned with. He begins his work early; long
before the great occasion. During the quiet hours of the night
he is on hand to prod his helpless victim. Can anyone imagine
worse fortune than waiting for his name to be called on the
program of the 'last day of school?" One after the other,
earlier victims have been called upon; they have taken their
place on the platform, tremblingly waged battle with the "old
man," and returned to their respective seats either in
victory or defeat.
Then comes the last name on the
program. There is nothing to sustain the victim except the thought
that it will be over soon, and the glorious long vacation that
appears like a beacon-light ahead. A cold sweat stands in beads
upon his brow; from somewhere in the distance a voice is heard.
What is it that it says? "Paul Harris will now recite 'The
Polish Boy'." I arise and step forward, "old man"
close by my side. Soon another voice is heard, loud and brave-
whose is it? Great Scott, my own! I have a vague feeling that
the three of us, "The Polish Boy," "old man stagefright"
and I are making quite a job of it but I am not sure of that
fact. A lady in the front seat is having considerable trouble
with her new hat and seems little concerned with the stirring
events taking place on the platform; Thank God, she doesn't
have to be reckoned with! I wish they all had new hats to fuss
with; anything to take their minds off me.
Eventually the last word rings
through the packed schoolroom and Paul Harris returns to his
desk amidst salvos of applause. The Polish boy is forgotten
and the "old man" buried, not to be resurrected until
one year hence, when in due course of events there will be another
'last day of school."
The professor closes proceedings
with appropriate remarks; touches his desk bell for the last
time, and I slither away through the jam of mothers, fathers,
sisters, and brothers, out of the suffocating atmosphere of
the peony-scented room, out, out, where I can get a breath of
uncontaminated air; and hasten to the swimming hole; oh, the
swimming hole; glorious, carefree vacation time has begun.
Oh, for boyhood's
time of June
Crowding years in one brief moon
When all things I heard or saw
Me, their master, waited for.
-John Greenleaf Whittier.
Vacation days were anxious days
for grandfather. One day he asked me to go with him to the barn.
Arriving there we seated ourselves, he in the wheelbarrow and
I in the swing and then he said:
"Paul, I want to talk with
you about your future. It is a matter of great concern to me.
I wonder at times if I am doing right by you. It is my observation
that growing boys should have daily work to do and I feel that
boys who are taught to work have a great advantage over boys
who have nothing to do except play. You do nothing but race
from morning till night, Paul. Now there is not much work about
this place except what I do myself but what I want you to do
is to study a part of each vacation day and the best time to
begin is right now."
He drew from his pocket an ancient
spelling book, yellow with age, and began to pronounce words
for me to spell. This experience was repeated several times
during the summer and upon such occasions it was my custom to
dawdle lazily in the swing, which had been dedicated to other
purposes, and to spell as best I could, although I fear I did
so with unconcealed resentment. The swimming hole cried out
its invitation to a plunge and my mind was tortured with fears
lest the gang break up before I could report for business. If
such a thing happened, my day would be ruined; nothing could
compensate; nothing perhaps except a fight, a flood, a fire
or a circus. I did not, however, forget grandfather's words.
The thirst for learning is a
New England characteristic. From New England it was extended
throughout the United States. Senator Justin S. Morrill, the
father of the land grant bill, was a Vermonter. By virtue of
his efforts agricultural colleges were established in every
state in the Union.
I had no objection to reading
assuming that the reading be something sensible; I did not consider
Pilgrim's Progress nor Plutarch's Lives in that category. Indian
Pete and similar stories in the Youths Companion fired my imagination
and let to further explorations in the field of literature.
However explanations in nature's great out-of-doors were more
Living among mountains as I did,
most naturally mountain climbing was in my line. White Rocks,
near Wallingford and Killington Peak not far from Rutland challenged
my attention. My experience in climbing these two heights inspired
me in later years to greater undertakings in the Rockies.
The ascent of White Rocks began
over boulders which had been wrested by storm, frost and perhaps
earthquakes, from the perpendicular face of the mountain above
them. Some of the lichen-covered rocks were fifteen or more
feet in diameter and the surfaces of many of them bore the graven
initials of generations of visitors, some of them distinguished
in business or the professions. J. T. Trowbridge, the writer
of boys' stories, once lived in Walling-ford and his initials
appeared among others.
After the boulder region had
been passed, the climb up the precipitous face of the mountain
began. It would not be considered even worthy of mention by
an Alpine climber, but to the tyro it was a climb. I know of
but few who have undertaken it but to me it was one of the things
that had to be done. I think that I experienced more satisfaction
the first time I climbed White Rocks than I did from climbing
Pike's Peak years later. I had looked forward to it since the
day grandmother decided that I was too young to accompany a
certain old gentleman on an expedition to White Rocks which
he intended to make for the purpose of gathering rare specimens
of lichen. Some day, I hoped, I would be big enough and strong
enough to do the job. The top of White Rocks had a romantic
interest not shared by other spots of the Green Mountains and
one reason why I wanted to climb to the top was because it was
there that Captain Kidd was supposed to have buried his chest
of gold. How Captain Kidd happened to be in the vicinity of
White Rocks calls for more explanation than I am able to make.
Still another reason why I was
anxious to make the climb was to obtain the unsurpassed view
of my valley. In the summer time, nothing was to be seen of
the houses in the village from the top of White Rocks as they
were hidden in the foliage, nor could more than a brief glimpse
be had of the winding creek. However, beyond the village and
nestling at the foot of West Mountain, Fox Pond (excuse me,
Elfin Lake) could be seen sparkling in the sun. Hot and perspiring
as I was, it seemed to cry out to me. I never failed to resolve
to go to the lake for a refreshing plunge immediately upon my
return to the village but I do not recall ever having carried
out this resolution; by the time I arrived home the coolness
of the evening made the water seem less attractive and besides
I was tired and I had a lot of miscellaneous business to attend
to when the gang gathered for the evening's tryst.
How inviting the swimming hole
was on hot afternoons as we got our first glimpse of it through
the woods. Some unregenerate youngster yells, "Last one
in is a... [[ etc., etc.," and off we start at high speed,
stripping our clothes off as we run and into the water we plunge
like so many bull frogs. Happy Days! Happy Days!
There are many other spring-fed
ponds set like gems in the hills and mountains surrounding Wallingford;
Shrewsbury Pond, Tinmouth Pond, and the two Sugar Hill Ponds,
sometimes called Spectacle Pond because of their resemblance
to a pair of gigantic spectacles. Griffin Pond was high up in
the mountains east of Danby and its waters were cold enough
to be inviting to brook trout which, because of the depth of
the water, were of a high color ranging from pale pink to salmon.
There were also the much larger
lakes, Bomoseen, St. Catherine and Dunmore, and, in a longer
radius Lake Champlain and beautiful Lake George. No one objected
to the term 'Lake" being applied to these larger bodies
of water except a few die-hards who continued to speak of Lake
Bomoseen as "Castleton Pond."
Anyone desiring a broad view
of the surrounding mountains and hills, lakes and ponds, would
do well to climb Rattlesnake Mountain near Lake Dunmore, select
the highest tree and from its topmost branches survey the county
as far north as the Canadian border.
30 - Farewell to Grandmother
After the passing of grandfather,
I finished the year at Princeton and then returned to spend
the summer in the home with grandmother. As might be expected,
she was pensive at times. I knew that she was terribly lonely
but I did not know it from anything she said; it was more from
the things she did; she wandered about the house at times as
if in a maze.
On occasions she would ask me
to walk with her in the orchard as the sun was sinking low;
grandmother always loved to see the sun as it sank behind West
Hill; she spoke of the changing colors of the clouds from pearl
to pink, to roseate hue and then, to fiery red.
"That's a grand panorama,
Paul. Could anything be more majestic? It's the work of a kindly
and omnipotent hand. Sunsets always give me a feeling of comfort,
repose and confidence. Nothing ill can come from the hand of
one who loves beauty so and brings it to his children."
She seldom spoke of grandfather
though I knew that over and above all of her words was the ever-present
consciousness of him. On one occasion she did speak of him as
we were walking down the path in the orchard together. As near
as I can remember, her words were:
"I feel that I have been
fortunate, Paul, far beyond my due in having had the unwavering
love of your grandfather for more than sixty years. No woman
can be blessed by anything to compare with the love of a good
husband, the father of her children. Our lives haven't been
easy; in fact, it has been a constant struggle from beginning
to end and we have had our full share of sorrow. We lost three
children and they were all very dear to us. We used to wonder
at times whether anything in life was worth while but there
were still duties and tasks to do; there were the living as
well as the dead. There can never be anyone so near to a woman
as her husband. My thoughts have been Pa's thoughts and his
have been mine. It seems to me that part of me is living and
part of me is dead."
"Paul, I wonder at times
if you realize how much you meant to Pa. At times, it used to
seem to him that his life had been a failure. As you know, he
had high hopes for your father. He spent money freely for his
education and his disappointment almost broke his heart. And
then you came to us quite providentially and Pa fastened all
his hopes on you. Paul, you must not fail him. Work hard and
live honorably for your grandfather's sake."
After another lingering look
at the fast fading color in the west, grandmother turned and
I followed her down the hallowed pathway to our house.
This is not primarily a story
of grandfather and grandmother except as it serves to illustrate
the character of the folks who lived in New England during the
days of my boyhood, and, to a considerable extent, the character
of the folks who live there still. It is not primarily an autobiography,
though the facts revealed were seen through my eyes. The eyes
of most of the companions of my boyhood have long been closed
Instead of returning to Princeton
in the autumn, I began a year's employment in the office of
the Sheldon Marble Company in West Rutland. All I had to do
was to get up at 5:00 AM., breakfast, walk a mile to the office,
attend to all the stoves, sweep and dust in readiness for the
arrival of the officials and office men, and then do my day's
work with the others-and find things to do when not told. Before
the year closed I graduated from office boy to more important
positions. It was a valuable experience. After that it was grandmother's
decision that her grandson should go west to study law.
During my last days in the valley,
I had a feeling that I was standing on the threshold of life
and that the future was all uncertainty. Would I be able to
cope with the destitution and privation which I must inevitably
encounter or would I be driven back, bruised and beaten as my
father had been?
There was this difference between
my father's case and mine; there was still a home in which my
father could find shelter; in my case, there soon would be none.
The old home, sacred to the memory of grandfather and grandmother,
was before long to be closed never to be opened again as a home
for our family. Grandmother was to spend the remaining days
of her life in the comfortable home of her daughter, Aunt Mellie
Fox, Uncle George and their family.
My father was dependent on the
trust created by grandfather and such further assistance as
might be given him by grandmother. Quite clearly the time was
not far distant when I would be on my own.
Perhaps the saving clause in
my grandfather's will was that which left me to my own resources,
except for some little help from grandmother. I did not regret
it; my life was to be an adventure; what more could a live,
energetic boy have asked. I have always felt considerable pride
in the fact that grandfather felt I would be able to take care
of myself. My inheritance was far more enduring than money could
have been; the munificence of my hard-working, self-sacrificing
grandparents gave me the advantage of a formal education in
preparatory schools, college and the university but far more
important they gave me the advantage of their example in their
well-ordered home where love abode.
I think I inherited something
of grandfather's broad spirit of tolerance. Grandfather was
an ambassador of good-will in the eyes of the youngster who
sat at his table during his impressionable years; he never spoke
evil of any man nor of any man's religion or politics.
My year of work passed quickly
and the day so long anticipated came at last. Grandmother and
I were entirely alone except for the presence of an elderly
woman who had taken most of the housekeeping cares from the
worn and weary shoulders of grandmother. For one reason and
another, it had been planned that grandmother and I were to
spend these last few hours together, possibly because Aunt Mellie
and Uncle George knew that grandmother would prefer it that
way. They were to drive to Wallingford later in the day, lock
up the house and take grandmother with them to return no more.
It was early in the month of
September and the morning was bright and cheerful although our
hearts were heavy-laden. The parting hours were spent in the
dining room; grandmother and I sat on the horsehair sofa facing
the table, where for years we all had eaten good wholesome food,
and where, long before my time, father had eaten his meals.
The banjo clock hung on the north
wall where it had been for at least three generations and we
were within hearing of the sitting room clock not far away.
In fact there had been no change in the dining room since the
night of the feast of bread and milk and blueberries, served
to father, Cecil and me years ago.
While the kitchen was the center
of the house so far as activities were concerned, and the sitting
room the place for rest, reading and reflection, it was the
dining room where important discussions took place; the dining
room was the scene of the alpha and omega of my New England
When grandmother could control
her emotion, she said:
"This seems not new to me,
Paul; I have lived it over and over again. I have even thought
of what my last words should be but they have all gone from
me now. I must not, however, talk about myself; it is of Pa
and his high hopes for you that I must talk. You do know, Paul,
how Pa's thoughts centered on you, don't you?"
I answered, "Yes, I am conscious
of it and I hope that I shall not prove entirely unworthy of
his trust but he has set a high mark to live up to."
"It is indeed a high mark,"
she resumed, "but you are capable of living up to it; you
must, Paul. I know how anxious you are to see the world. Pa
and I talked that over and he was not opposed to it if you can
accomplish it without neglecting your studies. Where there's
a will, there's a way, Paul, and you will have to work it out.
It won't be easy but it can be
done. The night you and Cecil and your father entered this house
is still as fresh in my mind as if it were yesterday. Some folks
said that we were making a great mistake in assuming the responsibility
of raising you, Paul. We were getting along in years and had
already raised a family. You may have heard some such talk,
Paul," looking at me inquiringly.
I answered, "Indeed I have,
Grandma, indeed I have and I thought that it was probably true."
"There's not a word of truth
in it, Paul. Banish it from your mind; instead of shortening
our lives, I think it has lengthened them. Folks who have raised
families and seen their children go out into the world are generally
pretty lonely. When the fountains of love dry up there isn't
much to live for so your coming to us seems now to have been
Providential; we had to have someone to lavish affection upon;
there were worries enough, of course, but that is life. I have
thought sometimes that it may have been an injustice to you
to have been tied up here with two old folks; children need
brothers and sisters to round out their lives; however you soon
found companions of your own selection and that helped some.
With these words grandmother
had told me all that had been pent up in her heart.
Glancing up at the banjo clock,
I was alarmed to note that the hands pointed to eleven o'clock;
I had fifteen minutes only to catch my train. When I arose to
go, grandmother, for the first time in her life, so far as I
knew, burst into a flood of tears. I threw my arms about her
frail body and said, "Never mind, Grandma, I shall be back
to see you soon." Her answer was a shake of her head; she
spoke no words.
On my way past the home of Judge
Button, I stopped to tell Ellen to please go in and comfort
grandmother and that service she was more than glad to render.
Around the corner, down Depot
street and alongside the white fence where the shadows of grandfather's
lantern had danced in fantastic figures, down to the railway
station, prim and tidy as it had always been, I made my way.
There was the usual flurry of excitement as the eleven-fifteen
train came in and went out. As I went with it my heart was tumultuously
beating as familiar objects faded in the distance. I was alone
and terribly lonely. Grandmother was the last guard; the key
would soon be turned in the door.
I received frequent letters from
grandmother, all of which have been carefully preserved. She
kept me posted as to the events in her new home. For instance;
Cousin Mattie was enjoying a trip to Europe in the company of
good friends and the incidents of her travels were of great
interest to grandmother; it was wonderful to have a granddaughter
in Europe; grandmother had never thought of such a thing and
Mattie would never be the same girl again after having had a
trip to Europe. She wrote also of the kind thoughtfulness of
other members of the family; everything was being done for her
One year and one month from the
date of my departure from the old home, I, then a student in
the law department of the University of Iowa, received a telegram
from Uncle George stating that the spirit of grandmother had
flown in the night. There had been nothing to indicate that
the time was near; grandmother simply went to sleep and did
I did not return for the funeral
but father, mother and other members of the family were present.
According to the current issue of the Rutland Herald:
"A small funeral party drove
down the Creek Road to Wallingford with the mortal remains of
Pamela Harris, widow of the late Howard Harris of Wallingford
and mother of Mrs. George Fox of this city. The attendance was
limited to members of the family and near relatives. No more
beautiful day could have been selected; the colors of the mountainsides
had arrived at the point of perfection as the funeral party
wound its way along the valley of Otter Creek to Green Hill
cemetery in Wallingford where the remains were laid beside the
body of the husband of the deceased.
The Herald extends sympathy to
Mrs. George Fox and her family and such felicitations as may
seem proper because of the fact that the closing chapter of
the long and beautiful life of her mother was written on one
of Vermont's most beautiful autumn days."
So grandmother was returned to
the soil from which she sprang; it would have seemed a desecration
to have laid the bodies of grandfather and grandmother anywhere
else, All of her life and the best part of grandfather's life
had been spent in the valley. Their children were born and brought
up there and there three of their children had died. During
the days of her childhood grandmother had tramped over the hills
in and above Green Hill cemetery; she had picked buttercups,
daisies and spring violets on Cemetery Hill and in its protecting
soil the bodies of generations of loved ones had been laid.
The small family lot lies on
the hillside not so far up as to be beyond hearing of the tinkle
of water as it falls from the ever-flowing fountain in Cemetery
Pond. In this lot, the bodies of Frances number one and Frances
number two, as well as the bodies of the eldest daughter, Mary
Reed and her husband, had been laid.
Grandmother seldom spoke of past
bereavements; possibly I never would have known of Frances number
one and Frances number two had it not been for their graves
in the cemetery lot and two tiny leather shoes which I discovered
in a drawer of the kitchen table; grandmother's thoughts were
mostly centered on her every day duties.
On all sides of the Harris lot
there were the lots of our neighbors, the Martindales, Buttons,
Munsons, Childs, Batchellers, Scribners, Hills, Kents, Ballous,
Ainsworths, Marshes, Millers, Townsends, Newtons, Coles, Staffords
and scores of others whose names were well known in our valley.
Yes, Green Hill cemetery had a rightful claim to the bodies
of grandfather and grandmother; to have turned deaf ears to
it would have seemed unjust. Our valley was grandmother's idea
Grandmother believed in the resurrection
and, it always having been difficult for her to meet strangers,
it would be a great blessing to be surrounded by home folks
when the horn of Gabriel sounded. A most welcome sight to grandmother
on the morning of resurrection day would be Judge Button with
his little gray shawl thrown over his shoulders and his customary
salutation, "Good morning, Mrs. Harris; this is going to
be a fine day."
I have frequently tried to picture
to my mind the events of that October day. The funeral procession
moving slowly down the valley, along lazy, winding Otter Creek,
lit up by the flaming colors of the hillsides and mountains.
I have recalled the last view which our folks had of the mortal
remains of grandmother almost as vividly as though I had been
present. I could see grandmother's worn hands lying on her breast
and the never-to-be-forgotten swollen bone of her lame wrist,
her supreme badge of honor. Nothing which manicurists and beauticians
have ever been able to accomplish with the hands of mothers
and grandmothers has ever seemed comparable in beauty with the
artistry of love and duty as wrought on grandmother's worn hands
and lame wrist. Of the eighty-nine pounds which composed grandmother,
every pound and every ounce was dedicated to loving service,
the ingredient which makes home life sublime.
For more than fifty years the
warm spring suns have brought back to life the grass and wild
flowers in the little cemetery lot; summer suns have brought
them to maturity and autumn winds have in due course directed
to the graves of grandmother and grandfather myriads of maple
leaves which also had spent their life courses and needed only
a quiet place to lie down and rest. The icy blasts of more than
a half-century of winters have sent snowflakes by the millions
to form downy blankets to protect the graves of grandfather
More than sixty years the aged
couple had carried their rugged cross together; so long, in
fact, they could not have done without it; they did not loathe
it, they loved it. A merciful Providence had arranged that grandmother
was to be the one to bring up the rear guard; there were so
many little things to be done and grandmother was the one to
do them. Grandfather would have been helpless without her and
I doubt whether he would have lived the year out. Scores of
times during each day he would have reached his trembling hand
out for her, forgetful of the fact that she had gone, and scores
of times each day the wound would have been reopened. No, it
was a blessing that big, strong grandfather went on ahead and
that little frail grandmother remained to finish up the odds
and ends that had to be attended to.
When Thoreau saw the woodsman's
axe destroying the forest, he exclaimed:
"Thank God, they cannot
cut down the clouds!
"There are some eternal
things that the destructive powers of men, in all their fury,
cannot destroy. To think on these things is to achieve an inward
quiet and peace even in a war-torn world. The stars still shine.
The sun still rises and sets. The mountains are not moved, Birds
sing. Little streams dance merrily on their way. Flowers bloom
and give off their perfume. The world goes right on being an
everlastingly beautiful place."
There are indestructible qualities
of human spirit, too. Mother love is immortal and though crushed
to earth it will rise again. Courage and sacrifice glow with
a new light in the midst of the black-outs of hope. Faith gallantly
rides the whirlwind sweeping the earth.
"You cannot cut down the
clouds! The spirit of man cannot be destroyed! The finest things
of life are immortal . . . they will survive!" - Friendly
31 - Five Years of Folly
As I sadly went on with my university
studies, awaiting news of grandmother's funeral and reflecting
upon the scenes and events of my boyhood, I felt homesickness
as few of my age would have felt it. I longed for the quiet
orderly home in the valley and the loving solicitude of my grandparents.
I dreamed of my Vermont mountains, and when I eventually saw
those of the West tears welled to my eyes.
"I am homesick
for my mountains
My heroic mother
And the longing
that is on me
No solace ever
While enroute to Iowa a year
earlier the boy from a Vermont village had spent a week in Chicago
where the unrest and wickedness of the bustling Western City
possessed him with a weird fascination. It was all so different
from his Valley. But he sensed something vital in it all. It
was a place to study the ways of men. Was there some place to
which men flocked? If so, what was the attraction? What were
the underlying motives which influenced the lives of men? Why
were some good and other bad? Why did some make sacrifices?
Did they pay? If so, how? Why were others wasteful in their
physical, mental, and moral resources? What did they get out
of it? Was there wisdom in grandfather's precepts-or was he
simply a well-meaning but deluded old fogey?
During his first year in Iowa
the boy read law in the office of St. John, Stevenson and Whisenand
in Des Moines; but when the summer months came he spent them
at Lake Okaboja where be fished and enjoyed outdoor life in
general, reading law when there were no more urgent demands
upon his time,
In the autumn he entered the
law department of the State University in Iowa City and graduated
in June of the year 1891. In the Iowa University he encountered
conditions quite different from any he had met before. The students
were older than those in the University of Vermont and at Princeton.
Most of them came from Iowa farms and many had taught school
as a means of raising the money necessary' to the completion
of their education. They were earnest men who had, for the most
part, passed their play period. The atmosphere was wholesome
and groups of law students frequently spent their evenings in
their rooms, conducting quizzes and discussing the theory and
practice of law.
As the writer now looks back
at his experiences in the various educational institutions,
he is prone to question himself as to what, if anything, he
got out of them; what, if anything, was there to justify his
grandfather's sacrifices and hopes? Was it worthwhile?
The best thing that the writer
got from his experiences in educational institutions came from
his contacts with other students. In scholastics he cannot lay
claim to have gotten much except, perhaps, a love of good books
by writers of many lands.
During his last days at the University
of Iowa the boy had one absorbing interest and that was to know
the ways of men; those of his own country first and then the
ways of the men of other countries. But could he accomplish
his purpose? In his heart of hearts he knew it was a mad adventure.
It would be a serious matter to violate the rules of conventionality.
All of the other members of his class would be sane and sensible.
Every one of them would be practicing law in a town of his choice
within sixty days of graduation. Folks back home would think
that he had gone stark crazy.
At that juncture an incident
occurred to bolster his faith. One of the lecturers on the commencement
program of his graduating class, a practicing lawyer who had
graduated from the University ten years earlier, stated that
it might be a wise plan for each graduate to go first to some
small town and make a fool of himself for five years, after
which he could go to the city of his choice and really begin
This advice resolved all doubts
in the mind of the boy; he would set aside five years to make
a fool of himself, not in any small community but in all parts
of the world to which he could manage to make his way. What
an adventure! After having had his fling, he would hang up his
shingle in some great city, Chicago perhaps, and settle down
and be regular. So the boy embarked on his fool's errand and
never once turned back. His sustaining hope was that his absorbing
interest in folks at home and abroad would carry him through.
Why did races of men differ so
in their ways of life? He had read much literature in university
libraries by English, French, German, Russian, and Scandinavian
writers but his curiosity was whetted merely. Only visits to
foreign lands could satisfy his desires to know the ways of
In the accomplishment of his
ambition it was necessary for the boy to accept any and all
forms of service, whether of hand or brain. He walked many hundreds
of miles in the mountains and he tramped the streets of great
cities. He slept in the open country and in cheap city quarters,
and even went hungry at times. Thousands of times his thoughts
drifted back to his Valley and the comforts of his grandparents'
home. When hungry, what in good conscience did he think of most
frequently? It was not the buckwheat cakes smeared with butter
and maple syrup, nor ham and eggs, nor New England pork and
beans . . it was something he really thought very little of
in his boyhood days . . it was his grandmother's "riz"
doughnuts. Sometimes, when ill in distant lands, it was grandmother's
catnip tea or hot foot baths and her tender solicitude that
While his few remaining dollars
lasted hunting and fishing in the northwest was a grand vacation.
Before long he arrived in San Francisco, his money spent. He
was on his own at last. A college friend doing newspaper work
on The Chronicle, owned by M. H. De Young, got him a job as
a reporter on that paper with payment only for what one could
produce but times were hard and competition was keen. Another
reporter also near the bottom of the list on The Chronicle was
Harry C. Pulliam from Louisville, who later became president
of the National Baseball League.
Harry and Paul became chums and
decided to work their way through the state of California. Within
three days they were doing manual labor on a fruit ranch in
Vaca Valley. After making a "stake" there, they set
out from the Calaveras big trees on a three hundred mile hike
across the Trailless Mountain ranges. They explored now famous
but then little known Yosemite Valley. Their next engagement
was in the raisin-packing industry in Fresno. Finally they landed
in Los Angeles where Paul became a teacher in the L. A. Business
After nine months in California
Paul's next location was Denver, Colorado, where he demonstrated
his versatility by "play-acting" in a stock company
at the Old Fifteenth Street Theater. This adventure attracted
more publicity than he desired. He received letters from old
friends who were sure he had "gone wrong." He climbed
Pike's Peak and convinced himself that the stride, which he
had developed in the Green Mountains and tried out in the Sierra
Nevadas, would also work in the Rockies. He got a position on
the reportorial staff of the Rocky Mountain News where he remained
until he got a chance to try the life of a cowboy on a ranch
near Platteville, riding the range alone frequently for days
searching for stray cattle. Returning to Denver he worked on
The Republican where he encountered some of his San Francisco
newspaper friends drifting back eastward.
Florida was another land of romance
which appealed to Paul and as the fortunate beneficiary of a
railroad pass he landed in Jacksonville and became night clerk
at the St. James, the best tourist hotel in Jacksonville at
that time. He found the hotel business prosaic and soon left
it to become a traveling salesman through Florida for George
W. Clark who dealt in marble and granite, a business of which
Paul had gained a slight knowledge while working for the Sheldon
Marble Company in Vermont. George Clark was a great influence
in the life of the vagabond. Employer and employee soon became
fast friends. Years later George organized and became the first
president of the Jacksonville Rotary Club.
In March 1893 Paul departed for
Washington to observe the inauguration of Grover Cleveland as
President of the United States. While there he had a temporary
job on The Washington Star. From there he went to Louisville
to which Harry Pulliam had returned, hoping Harry could get
him on The Courier or The Commercial. This hope was dashed.
So Paul got a position with another marble and granite house
which gave him the opportunity to travel through Kentucky, Tennessee,
Georgia, and Virginia.
On arrival at Norfolk, Virginia,
he resigned his position and took the boat for Philadelphia.
From the period when Tom Brown of Rugby had first won his admiration
down through the days when the pen-folks of Dickens, Thackeray
and Scott had held him captive, Paul had longed for a sight
of the British Isles. For this he was willing to endure any
hardship. In the want-ad column of a Philadelphia newspaper
he found a notice that cattlemen were wanted by a Baltimore
house making a shipment to England. Before dawn the following
day a ship was plowing the seas and the young man who aspired
to learn something of the practical side of life was on board.
It was a rough voyage. The privation and suffering on that ship
were unbelievable. The food scarcely deserved to be called that.
The crew and the cattlemen included some of the most depraved
and vicious characters one could imagine. It was a most trying
Liverpool and its suburbs were
all Paul got to see before he had to return on another ship
of the same line. Great was his disappointment at not being
able to see London and he resolved to endure again even such
hardships that he might visit the British metropolis. The return
voyage was not so bad-but no mattresses, blankets or eating
utensils for the cattlemen. "Scouse" composed mostly
of potato and water, with sometimes small fragments of meat,
and mouldy sea biscuits constituted the principal food. Vermin
were plentiful. Immersions in cold sea water were frequent.
While waiting at Baltimore for
another and better ship Paul walked to Ellicott City and soon
found opportunity to exercise his muscles in a hayfield. It
was heavy work for him. He did the best he could at it but soon
shifted to chores around the farmhouse in exchange for his board
and lodging. A job in a corn-canning factory paid him $1.50
a day. While on this job he learned to his delight that another
cattleship of a better line was soon to sail. Returning to Baltimore
he got a job as sub-foreman on the "Michigan" whose
destination was the Tillhury docks in the Thames about thirty
miles from London. Oh happy day!
Paul and a friend he had made
on board were soon walking the streets of London gazing at the
Houses of Parliament and all the famous places of history and
fiction. However, the best accommodation they could afford was
a cheap boarding-house in the Whitechapel district although
this was a locality of exceptional interest to the embryonic
sociologist from Vermont. As the ship returned via Swansea for
cargo Paul improved the chance to see something of Wales.
Arriving back in the United States
Paul immediately took the train to visit the 1893 World's Fair
in Chicago. Enjoyment of that beautiful Columbian Exposition
was a happy interlude in his vagabondage. There he found confirmation
of his faith in the future possibilities of that fascinating
metropolis. He had enough money for train fare and no more.
He found and became the guest of a college friend who was working
at the Fair. One day when entering the Vermont building to his
astonishment he observed his cousins, Ed and Mattie Fox of Rutland,
inspecting the exhibits. Instantly Paul turned on his heel and
left the building. The impecunious young man was in no mood
to reveal himself to his relatives.
One city of all American cities
was alluring; it was New Orleans, differing in so many respects
from other American cities. How to get there was the question.
It might be stated at this point that throughout his travels
Paul stole no rides; he either paid his fare or worked his way
and he always carried luggage. He was always willing to undertake
any kind of work by which he could earn a livelihood and he
always gave the best that was in him and if he failed it was
because of physical or mental limitations and not because of
indifference. Borrowed money was always repaid.
A loan from his college friend
in Chicago got him to New Orleans. While there he discovered
a want-ad for "a dozen men to pick and pack oranges in
Plaquemine parish." The next day a gang of men including
Paul, crossed the Mississippi river and were on their way to
the grove and warehouse of S. Pizatti in the delta not far from
where the Father-of-Waters empties into the sea. The business
of picking, packing, boxing and shipping proceeded satisfactorily
for several days. But suddenly a storm blew up. It became a
hurricane and a tidal wave. Paul and his fellow orange-pickers
in the darkness of the night waded and swam through the swirling
waters carrying women and children from their homes to the one
place of safety-the Pizatti warehouse. Then with axes and crowbars
thcy endeavored to cut the dike to let the waters into the river.
When the storm subsided the top of the levce was covered with
dead horses, cows, hogs, hens and birds. That coast storm of
1893 took hundreds of lives and the property loss was enormous.
Although many years have elapsed the horror and suffering of
that episode still remain in the memory.
A return was made to New Orleans.
Efforts to find employment on newspapers was fruitless. There
was much to see and study in that historic city but the avidity
of the traveler's longing for adventure had somewhat slackened.
His thoughts turned to the cordial hospitality of his friends
Paul's old position with the
marble company in Jacksonville was still open to him and he
returned to it. George Clark gave him territory over which he
had not yet traveled. He covered the Southern States, Cuba and
the Bahamas Islands. His visits at the home of the Clarks in
Jacksonville were truly high times. The employer and his salesman
were most intimate of chums. After a twelve month period Paul
notified George of his intended departure. George said; "Is
there nowhere else you care to go?" Paul answered: 'Yes,
there is one more place but I doubt your willingness to send
me." "Where is it?" inquired George. "Europe,"
said Paul. Two weeks later the wanderer was once again on the
high seas, under orders of his employer-chum to visit the granite-producing
regions of Scotland and the marble-producing regions of Ireland,
Belgium and Italy for the purpose of making arrangements for
buying the products of foreign quarries.
The writer could enjoyably consume
a great deal of space in the relation of wonderful months spent
in Great Britain, Ireland, France, Switzerland, Italy, Austria,
Germany, Belgium, and Holland. As a visitor in the home of S.
A. McFarland of Carrara, Italy, Paul was the recipient of courtesies
little to be expected from comparative strangers. Among other
things Mr. and Mrs. McFarland insisted on lending him funds
with which to extend his travels on the Continent. The loan
was accepted, and repaid in due course.
Upon his return to his native
land the vagabond spent several months in helping George Clark
in a subdividing and building project near Jacksonville and
then turned his sights northward to Chicago. George pleaded
with him to remain in Jacksonville, saying among other things:
"Whatever the advantages of settling in Chicago may be,
I am satisfied you will make more money if you remain with me."
To this Paul replied: "I am sure you are right but I am
not going to Chicago for the purpose of making money; I am going
for the purpose of living a life."
Paul knew little of New York
City and desired to learn something of the great eastern metropolis
before settling down in Chicago. George made one more manifestation
of his friendship by recalling his New York manager to Jacksonville
and putting Paul in temporary charge of the New York office.
You were a real friend, George
Clark, a grand and generous friend!
32 - A Shingle is Hung
THREE MONTHS SHORT of the period
of five years allotted to his fool's errand the vagabond arrived
in Chicago ready to take up the practice of law. His boyhood
was past. Travel and work are maturing experiences. Frequently
after men have turned their backs on every other opportunity
of gaining wisdom they gain it through toiling over the stony,
tortuous, uphill pathway of experience.
At last my life settled down
in earnest during the early spring of 1896 when the sap was
in the maple trees back in my valley.
The vision of a world-wide fellowship
of business and professional men had not yet come; there were
experiences of a different nature yet to be had; but a wonderful
foundation had been laid. Is it any wonder that an impressionable
mind which had found so much good in the midst of evil, so much
friendliness in places that might have been barren, so much
reason for confidence and faith in business men, should be receptive
to such a vision?
Chicago was experiencing hard
times. I had anticipated hard times but I could not see how
they could be harder than the period of my vagrancy; I considered
myself a specialist in dealing with hard times. I made my meager
resources stretch as far as I could but to get started in the
practice of law was more difficult than I had expected it to
be. To "hang up my shingle" was a simple matter and
while I had not expected it to attract many, on the other hand
I had not thought that it would be completely ignored; so far
as I can remember, the immediate results were zero.
I spent considerable time about
the Courts in order to familiarize myself with their practices
and I read law cases and precedents into the late hours of the
night but as for clients, there continued to be none. I conferred
with other young lawyers but learned little of benefit to myself;
some of them had means of their own; some had influential relatives
and friends and others, like myself, were struggling. How I
managed to get a small law practice started, which eventually
grew into a partnership and later other partnerships of which
I was always the head, is a long story and I need not go into
it here, but, in course of time the wheels began to turn, at
first slowly then more rapidly. In due course I became a member
of the Bar Association, the Press Club, the Bohemian Club, and
was active in the Association of Commerce.
However, after five years of
folly it was difficult at first for the boy, now a young man,
to settle down and become wise. He was dreadfully lonesome particularly
on holidays and Sundays. He pondered the question of finding
a way to increase his acquaintance with young men who had come
to Chicago from farms and colleges, who knew the joys of friendliness
and neighborliness without form or ceremony but it took a long
while for his thinking to produce results.
The impulse to review the scenes
of his boyhood became pressing and I finally set a day for my
departure. Uncle George, to whom I owed so much, met me at the
railway station in Rutland and drove me to his home in a phaeton
drawn by a successor of bay Billy. Uncle George was still continuing
his practice but his heyday had passed; he was taking things
easier at last. The impressive enclosed station had burned and
in its place had been built an unimpressive open station. The
voices of the porters of the three leading hotels, the Bates
House, the Berwick and the Bardwell, extolling the merits of
their respective hostelries in stentorian tones and bewildering
jargons, were conspicuous in their absence and Merchants Row
and Center Street were like streets of Goldsmith's deserted
village to the young man from Chicago.
Cottage Street where Uncle George's
house, three storied with mansard roof, was located was not
nearly so wide as I had pictured it. The welcome extended me
by Aunt Mellie and Cousin Mattie was genuine though subdued.
Many changes had taken place in the Fox family; the ring of
laughter was no longer heard and most of the children had gone
out from the family roof. Uncle George spent hours on the side
veranda away from the street apparently indulging in meditation;
he was as kind as ever but seldom spoke except in response to
remarks of others.
When I mentioned bay Billy, however,
he did show interest and said, "I have owned many a horse
in my day, Paul, and I can't recall ever having had a bad one
but the nearest thing to a human being I have ever seen in horseflesh,
was Billy. He had as much affection as any child and much more
obedience; he had ideas of his own but he was not headstrong.
He would follow my orders even though he knew they were wrong
but not without manifesting his disapproval. It was not difficult
for me to read his mind, though not so easily as he read mine.
Eventually I got to the point of taking his judgment in preference
to my own unless there were some facts in the case which he
didn't know. I wouldn't trust Billy to treat any patients of
mine, but as for matters within his jurisdiction, he was generally
the final word."
Cousin Mattie and I drove to
Wallingford the day following my arrival in Rutland. We took
the Creek Road and every turn of it was reminiscent of days
of long ago. It was the same road over which the family funeral
party had taken the remains of grandmother that October day;
the same road I had tramped frequently. As we approached Wallingford
landmarks became more and more frequent. We passed the Jay Newton,
the Robert Marsh and the Hudson farms, the fork factory, the
fair grounds, the Catholic church, the Hull farm house, the
Stafford house, and finally drew up before the old home, the
beloved home of my boyhood. Of course we visited the cemetery
next and spent reverential moments by the graves of our grandparents.
Within a day or two I had taken
up quarters in the Inn at Wallingford and was renewing my acquaintance
with old friends and familiar places. My Sabbath School teacher,
Anna Laurie Cole, was my most efficient and available assistant
in my efforts to build a bridge between the pulsating present
and the dreamy past; happily she still lives and still constitutes
my connecting link between the two periods.
One after another I visited favorite
spots. The swimming hole in Otter Creek near the covered bridge
where naked youngsters had disported themselves within plain
sight of passing vehicles, plunging from the rocks into the
creek, not so much from a modest desire to cover their nakedness
as from a more immodest desire to impress passing home folks
with the belief that they were imps of Satan turned loose. I
was sorry to note that new growths of underbrush had intruded
themselves in places, which in other days had been reserved
for the use of the feet of graceless youngsters. In other respects,
Otter Creek had not changed.
Next in order was Fox Pond of
the glamorous past. In summer, autumn, winter or spring, Fox
Pond was the piece de resistance, except when it had to give
way to the even more romantic charms of Little Pond.
The "ice bed," Childs'
brook, hillsides and mountains all were visited in turn. During
the days of my visit to the valley of my heart's desire, I had
ample opportunity to bring back to memory incidents of my boyhood
which had been obscured by the turbulent events of the years
which followed. In moments of quiet reflection on hillside and
mountain, I looked down into the valley through which Otter
Creek flows so peacefully and during such tranquil moments,
I was astonished at my resemblance to the boy out of whom I
had grown; amazed at times in the realization of the fact, how
few changes had taken place. Fundamentally, I was the same.
The two old folks whose bones were resting peacefully beneath
the soil of the cemetery down in the valley, had fashioned me
as definitely as an artist could fashion clay. Their ideals
had become my ideals and the process had come about so gradually
and so naturally that neither grandparents nor grandchild were
aware of it. Surely I had fallen far short of living up to these
ideals but the ideals were still there. The principles of my
grandparents had been made crystal clear; they could not have
been made more clear if the words integrity, frugality, tolerance
and unselfishness had been carved in gargantuan letters on the
bare face of majestic White Rocks.
There were moments while indulging
myself in daydreams on the mountainside when my conscience rebuked
me for not being up and doing; so many things needed to be done
in this busy world and there was so little time in which to
do them, and then the thought came to me that perhaps men had
to dream and where could there have been a more lovely dreamland
than this very mountainside.
One day while resting from my
climb on the top of a stone and rail fence which separated two
pastures, I looked down the mountain, beyond pasturelands where
cows were grazing, to the meadowland along the creek where the
hay crop was being harvested. The click of the mowing machine
was sweet music to my ears. The frugal farmer was rhythmically
swinging his scythe along the borders and in the corners to
save the few remaining wisps of timothy and clover with voluntary
crops of daisies and buttercups thrown in. The hired men were
loading cured hay of previous cuttings on hayricks for transfer
to barn lofts for use during the long winter months when deep
snow would blanket the meadows and bring nitrogen to the soil
to maintain its fertility. I was too far up the mountainside
to enjoy the exquisite odor of the new mown hay but I drank
in the peace and tranquility of the scene and stored it up in
my museum of happy memories.
I recalled the fact that somehow
many of my dreams had come true. I had visited the land of Tom
Brown of Rugby and Oxford; the land of Shakespeare and Dickens;
Burns and Scott; I had realized the witchery of the Lakes of
Killarney, the glory of the sunset on the Alpine Mountains and
the soft shading of Italian skies.
These and many other wonders
in many countries I had been privileged to see, without the
aid of grandfather but at the cost of years of unstinted toil,
danger and even hunger at times. Perhaps dreaming is not so
bad if one dreams good dreams and makes them come true; all
too soon my vacation would be ended and I would be back in the
The Road to Rotary from R. I.