I often wonder what my life would have been like if I’d grown up under different circumstances, or in a different place. Would I love the city (I don’t now!) or have this natural affinity for all things Nature?
I owe much of who I am to my parents and my family. My father passed in 1972, and my mother will be 90 next week. They raised me, and five other kids, in this house. That’s my father on the far left, my Mom third from the left. My aunt and uncle. And there I am, behind my father, playing in the dirt.
Our house was on 125 acres of woods and farmland. There were barns to play in, a pond, and total freedom to roam around out doors – something kids don’t have today. We were outside from dawn to dusk, unsupervised, and safe. When I think about that, I can’t imagine growing up any other way.
My love of horses probably started with these two. I don’t remember their names, my family just called them ‘the Belgians’ or the ‘sorrels.’ That’s Al – the fellow that sort of ‘came with the farm’ when my father bought the place in 1950 for $4500. And that’s actually the main road in front of the house, which dead-ended at our place. When my father bought the place, it was no longer an active farm – the house had been abandoned for five years, but neighboring farmers ran their cows on the land. Our big dairy barn was in rough shape, but the smaller barn was still good and we kept horses, pigs, goats, chickens, dogs and cats. We had gardens and corn fields.
In the very early years, my father worked in New York. Later, when he opened his own fabric store in town, he still had to leave the farm to go to work. On very rainy or snowy days, when the little creek at the bottom of the hill turned the road to a quagmire or a sheet of ice, it was impassable by car. On those days, Al would take the Belgians down the hill in harness, wait for my father’s big, black Pontiac, and the horses would pull the car across the bad spot in the road and up the hill to the house.
Sometime in the early 60s I think, the County asked permission to put the road through to meet with another road at the end of our property. My father granted permission. The road remained a dirt road until around 1965. Then, the town purchased the land at the end of the road and decided to build a high school. The whole road would have to be widened, and our old barns were in the way. They had to come down. My father took the boards from the old brown barn and panelled our huge living room with them – before recycling barn boards became popular. My brothers built a new barn for our horses, and we had to move the driveway from one side of the house to the other.
The road was paved, and even had a guardrail. We weren’t happy, but it was ‘progress.’ I was in the first sophomore class of the new school. At first, we were appalled at the traffic, but we got used to it.
My father later regretted giving permission for the road to be opened to the end – he said we should have kept it the way it was. And perhaps, we should have.
The house is still there – my Mom sold the place in 1985 or ’86. It’s all different now, of course – there’s houses all around, and the ‘new’ owners have painted the house a gold color. It looks smaller to me now, and much different, but I still drive by there from time to time, since it’s only about 10 miles from where I live now. I think one of these days I’ll stop by, and see if the current owners are at all interested in the history of the place.
For me, even though the house isn’t ours anymore, and everything has changed, this is still ‘home.’ This area is where I come from, and where I belong. It’s where I’m connected, where I know my way around, where I have stories and memories. And more amazing, after being away from it for 12 years, much of it isn’t all that different. Life is good.