The following is a brief history of the farm at Tom’s Neck, Chappaquiddick. It is not an attempt at literature, just a simple story of places and persons with, here and there, a touch of philosophy. Since this year ownership has changed, the time seems right.
Although the family has been here on Martha’s Vineyard since 1638, the members do not think of it as their Island, but of themselves as belonging to the three cornered plot of land off the Atlantic Coast. If you are perceptive you will know there is a difference; if not, it could not matter less, for none could explain it to you.
The writer expects no praise, accepts no criticism, just hopes that some among you will enjoy that which she has remembered.
The family at Tom’s Neck Farm in that last decade of the 19th century included my paternal grandmother, whose husband had died when my father was 10. There were nine children, a grandmother and one aunt in permanent residence. Grandmother owned and managed a large acreage.
Boarded “Poor of the Town”
She boarded the “poor of the town” – the men working in the fields, the women in the house – care of the aged and ill, the babies – these were just common chores, besides which were the special projects, preserving of fruit and vegetables, making of butter and cheese, smoking of meat and fish for winter. In winter, wool was carded, spun, and woven into blankets and made into clothing.
Leisure was no problem in those days – there was none. The folk took turns reading and none lacked the common 3-R education. The fourth was geography. There were maps all over the house. Even when I can first remember, the west bedroom was papered with charts, not just the Vineyard, Nantucket, Block Island area, but the China Sea and the Northwest coast of Africa. No wonder Chappaquiddick has never seemed small to me. From it, I went around the world in my dreams and woke in the morning with charts to prove it!
The Did Not Rust
There is no record that anyone in the family fought in the Civil War though many ancestors were in the Revolutionary War and that of 1812. The old guns decorated the mantel or stood shining in a corner of the kitchen. They did not rust; our folk have never been rust gatherers. The guns were submitted to the same weekly cleaning that kept the moths and mice in an unsettled state for the quarter century of my grandmother’s reign.
Of her large family three did not marry, four married, but had no children, and of the two sons who did have wives only three small girls were born. Our father was bitterly disappointed at having no son and did his best to teach us boys’ ways and to be good companions for him. We went to the farm only summers for visits with one uncle who remained to manage there. The older generations had died and my aunts and uncles had gone their various ways all over the face of the sea, for those were still whaling days.
Uncle Charlie, our favorite uncle, was tall, blond and handsome, an excellent husbandman looking well to the needs of his land, the buildings, the animals, hired help and his two small nieces who visited him each summer. In just that order.
At the ages of 4 and 5, we roamed Chappaquiddick at will. Only five summer homes had been established at North Neck – none at Cape Pogue – five along the Katama shore. Five or six native white families lived in the centre of the island, about 10 Indian homes were scattered along parts of Cape Pogue Pond shore, southwest. We were on speaking terms with all the people.
We were entertained at a famous fireworks party each summer at the Marshalls’, had tea with Grandmother Child who was a second Queen Victoria. Riding on the ice cart behind a pair of oxen was one of our greatest delights. The elderly Indian who owned the ice pond, the oxen and the cart, was a fountain of wisdom with a philosophy of living that cheers me to this day.
He Loved His Land
He had pride, not false pride, but real. He believed in building better than those who had lived before him. He loved his land, his home, his oxen and the two little white girls he taught the mysteries of gee and haw along the sandy road to Katama and back through Clark’s woods.
There we always found time to pick a wild flower and chase a butterfly. He told us the names, English and Latin. It was easy to catch up, for the oxen were slow. When I see people driving from Edgartown to Gay Head I wonder what they are learning at 80 miles an hour except, perhaps, how to evade the law.
Ethel, the daughter of Professor Wesselhoeft, who spent her first 16 summers at their home on the Katama side of Chappa, is still my dearest friend.
The farm was a busy place in those days. All of Wasqua was pasture for 100 sheep. Cape Pogue pastured another hundred except that those were brought home in winter to the lower barn field where a large shelter and feeding rack made comfort for them and a play house for us in summer.
In those days our uncle ate breakfast in the kitchen with the hired men, a half dozen Portuguese of assorted ages. Lunch was a quick thing of small interest, eaten wherever the work was going on for the day. Only last week I saw hops growing wild and the thought came to me suddenly that they had been grown years before as “makings” for the very mild beer that was served mid-morning and mid-afternoon right in the fields. I still own the two gallon brown pitcher in which it was carried.
Always a Peace Offering
Dinner was different. Sister and I arrived at the back door in our blue denim bloomer suits, or sometimes without, if the tide had come up higher than our expectation, but always bearing a peace offering for Sara Martin, the housekeeper, widow of the first colored captain to take a whaleship out of Edgartown.
Blueberries, blackberries, fish, even an occasional lobster – for by the time we were 7 and 8 we were setting lobster pots not too far out in Cape Pogue Pond. Although we could have walked out to them we preferred to row – a dory of all things – one oar each. Not until years later did we learn that neither of us could really row alone with two oars. We just went around in circles.
I wish every little girl could have the kind of happy summers that were ours. The world seemed a peaceful place to us. The only harsh part of our day was when Sara, after having accepted our gifts, turned on us the familiar look which meant “baths”. Having soaked all day in salt water, we were what she called “renched” in hot fresh water in the tin tubs which sat on a long bench on the east porch.
This took two people – one hired man to bring the wooden buckets of water while, walking backward for modesty’s sake, from the stove to hand to Sara who splashed up from head to toe while admonishing us to rub ourselves with the bars of yellow soap.
“Use plenty – it’s cheap – I make it myself from lamb’s fat and wood ashes. Believe me, you folk aren’t breaking out with poison ivy while Sara takes care of you!”
A Whispered Voice
If I burst out laughing at a joke all my own when I pass by a drugstore decked out with every cosmetic item forced on a gullible, long suffering public, it is because the whispered voice of my little sister says from long ago, “Just like a hog scalding, and in public, too!”
The drying off was better. Sara draped each of us in lovely great bath towels, fragrant with sunshine, growing grapes and fresh cut hay with a hint of bayberry. The hired man and the hated buckets disappeared. We were whisked into the guest room. Dried each other and then were dusted by Sara with rice powder, orris scented. Then we dressed for dinner in starched gingham frocks, short white cotton socks and Mary Janes, not patent leather. We had never seen any here on the island – just plain kid skin, but shiny from buffing.
Our uncle seated us though we were grown ladies, turn and turn about at the foot of the table. The first course was Rose’s lime juice poured into little glasses from a decorated green bottle. It is sold to this day. I wonder who drinks it? Or does it just add flavor to something else? No need to tell you about the rest of the meal. Island people ate well in those days; only tea, coffee, flour, chocolate and spices came from away.
After Sara had served the last luscious item and the youngest hired hand had washed the last dish, we all went out to the Shop Porch to watch the sun set and to sing it over the edge into Edgartown. Then everybody went to bed – except my uncle who made one last trip to the barns to assure himself that all was well. If it was a nice warm night, I could go with him with Sara’s grey “kitchen shawl” wrapped around me. It was then I became friendly with Old Fred the carriage horse. I gave him a handful of rock candy out of the big ginger jar that was kept in the tack room.
Barn Owls and Hoot Owls
The family of barn owls liked me too. Not so the hoot owls that measured off the meadow, yard by yard, back and forth in the moonlight, hunting their uneasy prey. It was all right with me; I did not like them either, swooping down on innocent little creatures and being so ruthless. Uncle patted my head when I cried and gave me the newest baby lamb, just born that day, a very late one, sort of accidental.
I took it home to Oak Bluffs on the Monohansett, when our visit was over. The stewardess gave me a blue ribbon for its neck. No, my name is not Mary and it did not follow me, I chased it. That is another story and has little to do with the farm.
The year we were 12 and 13, that kind, gentle, good man died by his own hand. The others, brothers and sisters, had gone to far places, faced grave dangers and had come home unharmed, while he remained at home, cared for their property, earned for them good interest on their inheritance. I cannot talk about it. I loved him so much. If you are interested, it is in the old newspapers. A rare part of our lives had ended. The year was 1904.
For the next 10 years, the farm suffered from the doldrums. A sailor son came home, bitter over the death of his brother. The stock was sold, all except Old Fred, kept to make the necessary trips to town for provisions. Uncle fished and hunted or sat in the sun spinning yarns about his seafaring days. Unlike many boys of his day he had not run away to sea, but had shipped out of Edgartown on the whaler of a neighbor who later became his brother in law. The two sailed together for more than 40 years.
My aunt accompanied them during the pleasant months, but remained on one of the islands in the Pacific during the hard seasons, though she really made her home in New Zealand. Another aunt, Mary, married to Capt. Benjamin Worth, lived on shipboard longer periods of time, using the long hours as school teacher preparing many of the younger members of the crew for their college examinations.
A Chance to Earn
In those days, seafaring was not only a way of life – it was often a chance to earn money for an education or to have a bit toward a start in business. Going to sea in those days no more made each boy a whaling captain than coming to do summer work in Edgartown nowadays makes every college boy a hotel manager.
Aunt Mary liked winters in Chile, and from there sent beautiful furs, rugs and blankets. More interesting to my sister and me were the gifts which arrived from China: silk fans, small dolls with Chinese faces and clothes, collapsing drinking cups, eggs of a dozen colors all held in one outside, real-sized egg. For our mother, there were lovely cups and a silken shawl.
Aunt Mary visited China only when the ship went up river from the China Sea to a famous shipyard for overhaul. Auntie shopped at Shanghai, nearby. Those far places were more familiar to us than New Bedford or Boston, for until I was 15 I had not visited Boston, and only New Bedford for a round trip on the steamer, going up the street to Pat’s for an ice cream soda while the freight was being loaded.
In 1904 we moved to Edgartown and made more frequent visits to the farm, taking over baskets of cakes, cookies and pies, for there was no longer a housekeeper. Uncle was good with “boil and fry”, but poor at baking, saying he never did have the right hat for it. Whoever went over carried the mail, the Saturday Evening Post and a copy of the Sunday Times. Uncle could catch up that way with what was going on in the world. His idea of the daily news was that it was no different and far less interesting than what he had already lived through. He had scant interest in the efforts of Christian Endeavor, even less in W.C.T.U.
Horseshoe Crabs and Gulls
A waterfront brawl or a drunk on Four Corners, though utterly terrifying to us, was less than nothing to him. On the other hand, if the nestful of horseshoe crabs was about to take to water at Pasenges Pond we were led down ever so quietly to watch the amazing march to the sea. We were taught to watch the gulls – in order to tell which fish were running.
He knew “yarbs” as well as any doctor and owned a complete medicine kit that he had used at sea. We might look, but never touch – many of the contents were poison – the rest very sharp, for cutting off legs! At about which time we decided our day had been long enough.
Old Fred was hitched to the buggy and we drove to town, though I know now we did not drive – Fred took us. Once at the Point, he could be trusted to wait until the ferryman rowed over and got us aboard the sharpie, whereupon he promptly turned around and jogged the three miles back. I used to think he unharnessed himself, Houdini style.
By that time Uncle had bought out the rest of the family. There was no income and they were all glad to sell. My father and the two remaining brothers turned to trapfishing which was a good money maker for the next four years. We lived at the farm spring and fall, driving Old Fred to the Point, going through the routine of turning him about and heading him for home. He made great pretense of haste for the short part of the road where we might see him, but once around the bend at Caleb’s Pond just meandered along, grazing his way home, arriving just in time for his noon ration of oats and a long drink of water from the wooden tub filled at the long handled greenpump.
The Old Horse Knew
No one ever curbed Fred’s thirst as was done for the work horses. Father maintained that the old horse knew more of the chemistry of his own anatomy than the rest of us put together. So he ate and drank at will. Just before 4 in the afternoon, he was in harness again to fetch us home from school. Winters we lived in town, summers at Cape Pogue. Since the trapfishing is really a different story all of itself, I shall leave it out of the Tom’s Neck Farm history. No matter where we two sisters were, we were never lonely.
I had told you that our father was disappointed that we were girls and did his best to make up for it. We learned the ways of winds and tides, of birds and all small creatures. The ancient art of “heave and haul” for bluefish at East Beach became as familiar to us as hanging May baskets was to most girls of our day, which was more than 60 years ago.
My small sister refused to learn to shoot. She was afraid of guns. Perhaps she was right. There are four ounces of shot embedded in the stair wall of the farmhouse to prove that in careless hands a gun is a dangerous toy. Since some of the skin of my Aunt Nell’s shins went into the wall along with the lead, there is even to this day a firm rule that all guns are to be unloaded outside the home grounds.
However, I learned to use guns. First, a lovely little pearl handled revolver which had been treasured by the family for years. After that, a Winchester rifle worked very well for me since it had a slight distortion to the left and I suffered an astigmatism which threw my vision toward the right. Together we were a good shot – if the target were still. I never could hit any moving thing. The next was a pair of handsome dueling pistols Father had purchased for $5 at an estate sale in Oak Bluffs, silver and ivory mounted and housed in blue crushed velvet. The height of elegance and a glory to use – a glory all too short lived.
A Roof for a Pair of Pistols
Father was offered $100 for the pistols and since he was building our house and was buying shingles for the roof, they went. Often as I open the door and walk into Summer Street House, I am amused at the thought of the trade – a roof over my head for a lifetime for a pair of dueling pistols.
Come the big day, Father started me on a new venture – to use his double barreled shotgun. We went through the whole routine – how to stand, to sight, to keep the gun balanced properly – all but the small important item of relaxing, not bracing against the recoil. I will argue the point with any man from the commander-in-chief of the army down to the most casual of rabbit hunters.
I still do not understand the actual muscular workings – they are the same as good sailors use in rough weather, stiffen one leg, slacken the other and nobody falls. Well, there was I – both shoulders taut, and with the first blast I was flat on my back, the precious weapon on the ground before me.
Father, without even holding out a hand to help me, picked up his 12 gauge, saying, “By thunder, you are a girl,” and walked off.
Carefully I rolled over, got to my feet, brushed myself and muttered toward his retreating back, “Yes, Sir Benjamin, I am a girl, from right now,” and become completely feminine.
Three years later I was married and in the next four years had two children. At the moment when I laid my infant son in my father’s arms, he said, “He will make it all up to me and I shall have you, too!” Very satisfying – he and my son spent many happy hours together. But I never could be persuaded to let him teach my young daughter to shoot.
Fourth Year Latin
Our home in Edgartown was finished – though not quite, for the upstairs baseboards were not on – but we moved in anyway on my birthday of May, 1908. I was taking fourth year Latin – Virgil – and French irregular verbs.
My sister lay on her stomach on the floor in her room, I in mine, while she held the dictionaries and hissed at me the words I missed. Father used to say at breakfast, “I don’t know what marks you girls are getting in school, but I am failing in common orientation. When I wake I am never sure whether I am in Ancient Rome, Modern Paris or right here in the new house. Guess it is time I put those baseboards on.”
The whaling uncle had bought a smaller house for himself on Chappaquiddick with less land than the farm, but the advantage of a pleasant pond and a running stream at the back. We called it Tisdale Farm.
Sister and I still made trips to the old farmhouse. We brushed away the spiders, frightened the mice, and while I oiled the guns Sister polished the furniture – pieces ranging in age from 1640 to 1900. A woman once said to us when she stopped by for a drink of water, “I have just had my whole house redecorated.”
If she had hoped to impress us, she failed, for with an extra hard rub on the top of the rosewood Victorian sofa, a glance at the 200 year old grandfather clock, and a swift kick at the bayonet of the Revolutionary War gun, my sister said, “How wonderful; we have not even finished furnishing this one yet”.
Then somewhere from an evil as old as Eve herself, Sister asked me in a mild housewifely voice, “Were you planning to put out the furs from Chile to air?”, and from the same source I replied, “No, it is sort of dampish out. I think I’ll wash the Canton China.” The woman knew she had met her match, not in money, but in possessions and the love of them. And that Eve is everywhere.
A Memorable Visit
One Saturday in September we made a memorable visit to Tom’s Neck Farm. We picked tall swamp blueberries, beach plums and grapes, then dug a bucket of clams; too much for us to carry and Old Fred was too frail to be used any more. A neighbor offered to fetch the stuff to town the next day. Just before starting home we made a trip to the vine-covered little house out back where a white lattice shaded three sides.
Old Fred followed, standing between the door and the lattice. No amount of clucking, admonishing to back up or go away, had any effect. Even a trial to duck under his belly further down until it was I who backed into the wee house. My sister tried, only to have him flatten himself further toward the ground beneath him. It grew dark. My sister began to cry. I had pains which I feared were starvation, but proved to be too many blueberries.
Just as I began to consider the humiliation of being found dead in the little house, which fact would of course be in all the newspaper, the voice of our father thundered, “Where are you?”
Irate or not, he had never been so welcome. A yowl from Sis and a howl from me assured him we were in no danger. By that time, Fred had backed out meekly and had begun to nibble at the lush grass that grew in the immediate vicinity, acting as though it had all been a normal day in his life. As we tearfully explained what had happened, Father remarked completely without pity, “One good clip on the nose would have backed that horse out two hours ago and saved me a round trip to the farm”.
Fred was lonely and had not wanted us to leave. We walked to the Point in silence, went to bed without supper, sustained by the blueberries which in my sister backed up before morning and in me backed out. We knew little about the “birds and the bees” but digestive processes were no secret to either of us.
Old Fred Mourned
Old Fred died mysteriously that next week. We mourned him sadly – perhaps not just Fred, but that another happy part of our lives had come to an end.
The next part of this is a bit difficult for me to tell. Not that it hurts me now – it is part of Island folklore – but at the time I suffered far beyond reason. The whaling uncle had decided to sell the Farm, but not to any of his brothers or sisters. He wanted it to go to the next generation. Since I was the eldest, it was offered first to me for $1,500 – almost 1,000 acres on Chappaquiddick, complete with house, work shop, two barns, two sheep sheds, orchards and gardens.
I had no money of my own and when I asked my in-laws, they were of the opinion that no one would ever want to live on Chappaquiddick and they were not about to invest any money there. So the property was offered to my sister, whose husband, being a wise and long visioned man, borrowed the money, bought the Farm and gave it to her. My father was made manager, he and mother moving into the farmhouse for the long, busy seasons – though they still lived at Summer Street House winters.
The type of hired help had changed. The Portuguese people had established themselves as artisans – carpenters, plumbers, electricians – seldom available for any other work, but a few brief months in summer when they combined quahauging, which paid well, with running boats for summer people, paying even better, and built up their status by the wearing of captain’s caps. Edgartown broke out with a veritable rash of gold braid and buttons.
From Northern Europe
This left the Edgartown farmer dependent on hired hands from Northern Europe – men very young who came to escape the required two years of military duty. You older people will remember that America did not have such at the time.
The Farm again became a busy place. Asparagus was the cash crop. It grew wonderfully well on its sandy soil. Mother owned a flock of a hundred sheep, that being all which, without Waqua that my grandmother had sold before her death, the farmlands would support. The sheep money was hers, also the care of them except that Father “dipped and docked”.
One Sunday each June two men who were expert at shearing came over for the day to help. It is my recollection that they were shepherds who worked for the Forbes family. Their day off was like the postman’s holiday – but they seemed to have a happy time. Old friends came from far and near to exchange news and jokes while passing the unshorn sheep to the shepherds and pushing the shorn ones out through the proper gate to the tree lined lane which took them to summer pasture.
No good shepherd in those days ever allowed anyone to throw his sheep for shearing. He did it himself – one quick flip, the left hand holding the sheep down while it laid back the fleece which the right hand had cut. These men could turn over to the carrier a roll of wool inside out that was as neat as the absorbent cotton you buy in a blue box at the drugstore, and almost as white, for the sheep were Hampshire Downs, white with black nose, ears and foot.
Any black one that showed up was a delicious dinner for someone before his voice changed. Hampshire Downs do well in New England, fat and small boned, while other kinds do better in the West where longer drives from pasture to pasture are necessary.
Back of the Iron Stove
There was nearly always a baby lamb or two in a box back of the iron stove in the kitchen. Mother was always glad of a helping hand at feeding time and the children loved to hold the bottles while the little motherless ones guzzled with unbelievable speed. I have a picture of my mother feeding four lambs at a time, two cream bottles in each hand.
A large herd of milch cattle was purchased, Guernseys, with an expensive pedigreed male. The milk was plentiful and good, supplying the ever increasing number of summer residents. The young stock, pastured close to the swamps, gradually grazed deeper and deeper which, in turn, widened the arable fields. The Farm again went through the normal routine of graze, plant, plough under and plant again, until every inch of it was fine land.
Sheep were still summered at Cape Pogue and if one or two were slaughtered there, with the hides left to clutter up the landscape, Father just remarked, “Fellow must have been hungrier than we are”.
I recall one autumn afternoon when the young Scandinavian hired boy and I drove to the lighthouse, had a cup of coffee with the keeper who was happy to have company. We were half way back up the Cape when the old chaise we were driving gave way just like the one in the poem, not piece by piece, but all at once, and we had still three miles to go. I had been teaching the boy English, with the help of the little book given immigrants by the United States government.
With a deep bow he said, “By your leave, Madam”.
A Long Time to Get Home
I gave the stilted, “It is permitted”. Faster than I can say it, I was lifted up on the horse and Oscar was holding what seemed like a half mile of harness in front of me. He was frugal and not about to waste good leather. It took a long time to get home. For some reason, the sheep had not the same respect for a ridden horse as a driven one, so at frequent intervals Oscar or I, sometimes both, got off to chase the straying sheep out through the cedars on to the road again.
Since my father had brought the flock up from Cape Pogue pasture many times himself, he knew just how onerous a chore it could be, so he was waiting to let us in to the home pasture, turned the horse over to the Polish boy who was extra hand that summer, and walked to the house with us where Mother had a hot supper waiting in the kitchen.
I tried to have Oscar tell his story in English, but Father and the Polish boy who understood English better than he could speak it, were so anxious that the story had to be mine after all.
The fact that my sister owned the Farm failed to make any real difference. My children and I were in and out as freely as though it were mine. There were times when her children spent weeks at my house and my little folk were always welcome at Tom’s Neck. It was a happy time for everyone.
Then once again the world changed. Europe was at war and since wars seems to be an epidemic thing, soon America was at war, too. Not that it mattered to the old guns which were prime ornaments in the dining room at Tom’s Neck Farm. Their greatest turmoil was still weekly cleaning.
A Famous Man
The husband of my sister was already a famous man – graduate of Exeter, Harvard, Harvard Law. A scholar, a teacher, a lawyer, a noted mathematician – he was sent for by the War Department to be put in an important position in Washington. He was to be part of the “great brain”. He went to Washington, enjoyed a pleasant lunch, came out top man in a heated argument, and went home to Concord, Mass., to volunteer in his country’s service.
He believed that in a democracy no man should be given perferment – that each should earn his place in the sun. So Roger Sherman Hoar went into the Coast Artillery – a private. One of his first assignments was to carry cases of live ammunition from an unannounced source to a ship in Boston Harbor. During that day which was for Roger just another exciting day, for all of Roger’s days were full of vigor and the joy of living, one of his group came down with scarlet fever!
The whole party of ammunition carries was quarantined on a small island in the harbor – three weeks – during which the Army was hunting for Roger. As he told it, he played some croquet, taught some math, played horseshoes, learned a bit of Spanish and acquired prickly heat. In all, a rather pleasant, slow-going interlude in a fast paced life. Washington caught up with him and, having run out of arguments, he compromised and went to Aberdeen Proving Ground, an officer, to study and teach ballistics.
His Flag Still Raised
There, on the results of his work, he wrote a textbook which for the next 30 years was used at both Annapolis and West Point. But Roger Hoar’s story is a long and glorious one, far beyond my power to write. Let it be said that the family at Tom’s Neck Farm is proud of him, and each morning his flag there is raised and each sunset sees it lowered carefully, folded and put away on his desk for the night. If you have the right sort of heart for listening, there comes a faint sound of music that dances over the meadows and dies out with the changing tide at East Beach. Some people hear only the slap of the halyards against the tall white flagpole.
The war took three of the hired men who were replaced for the duration by an elderly, crippled cook who was left in Edgartown by a coastwise schooner because of an injury he had suffered. After one look at him, Mother decided she would do her own cooking and the man was put to work in the fields. There, he alternately worked and rested – when my father was looking and when he was not. Yet we were fond of Cap.
That year, my children and I went to the Farm for weekends. Two brothers of my mother, beyond age of military service, replaced the other two hired men. We played cards evenings while Mother popped corn or made World War I cookies – barley, flour, molasses and raisins. Any of you remember?
Too, do you remember how we in Edgartown all went to the Captain Worth House then owned by the Wilson Crosbys – to make bandages and surgical dressings? The house was open day and night and nearly everyone in town put in whatever hours he or she could spare. There were a few supervisors who taught or tore apart according to the quality of the work.
Feeding the World, Too
There was so much work to be done at the Farm that my parents remained all winter of 1917-18. It seemed that America not only was fighting the War to End All War – fighting for Democracy – but feeding the world at the same time. The Farm kitchen was a vast factory for canning vegetables and fruit – with a very new style, very dangerous pressure cooker known as “the thing”.
Almost everyone worked hard, sustained by the sense of emergency, drawing on unguessed strengths. The plague of Spanish influenza struck the Island, just as it did the rest of the world. Strange how each war in the history of humankind has its own particular illness to record. The Island had only three doctors and two nurses during World War I, and no hospital. The little family at Tom’s Neck Farm was fortunate in that the flu did not strike in it in spite of Mother’s going out each day to help neighbors who were afflicted. On those errands of mercy, she brought a baby or two – without any doctor.
Then suddenly the war was over, with as little cause for its end as there had been for its beginning. My brother in law moved his family to Wisconsin where he built a beautiful house which might well have been moved from North Water street in Edgartown or from Concord, his own home. He and my sister were determined to give their children as much of New England and its traditions as possible.
The daughter was educated at Radcliffe, the first son at Exeter and Harvard. They spent all their summers at the Farm and the short holidays there, too, for it was left open for them until after Thanksgiving. They brought classmates. Together with my family, they made a timber shattering group. Somehow the old rafters stood firm, only the guns quivered and rattled and needed a bit more oiling.
Peace Was Uneasy
Father would look at them and remark, “The Peace seems a touch uneasy”. As, of course, it was.
But, at the Farm, things went well. The hired men returned. More were added. My sister came home each summer. Life went on comfortably for all of us. We worked hard, but in those days that was the mainspring of living. The children loved the Farm, were glad to help wherever needed so long as there was time out for swimming and “sundown fishing”.
When the Depression came, Father and his men cut enough wood to pay the taxes, kept enough milch cows to be able to sell the milk in summer, though winters he gave it away to parents of large families. He used to say his immortality would be as long as friends remembered him; and it has been long indeed.
The uneasy Peace became World War II. Sherman, my sister’s elder son, had worked each of his college summers at Bucyrus, from foundry to accounting, being trained to take a position there close to his parents’ home. Instead, when war came he went into the Air Corps Engineers, to build airstrips ahead of the time they were needed. North Africa seemed to be the place where he was most needed, but all around the Mediterranean there are strips he planned and supervised. The old house shivered at the very thought of it.
When he went into the C.I.A. to help keep the Peace which had been so dearly won, the guns rattled once more and murmured among themselves, “If it must be done, why not from right here where freedom from oppression started?”
I have often wondered if Sherman, when things got difficult, thought back to the comfort of Tom’s Neck Farm and drew strength and courage from its serenity. Ben, the younger, went too, the gentlest young man I ever saw, who would walk around a worm in order not to hurt it. He was tail gunner in a bomber over the Pacific, island after island, even Japan. He, like his brother, never speaks about it, and I never ask. The daughter’s husband, a lawyer, joined the judge advocate department. They all came home safely, except for the emotional scars every soldier carries. The boys came out men.
It seems strange that right now another generation is involved in saving for us the right to grow a garden, plant a tree, have a town meeting, and fuss about beer cans in the highways.
My sister’s oldest grandson is a graduate of Annapolis, an officer, and headed for Vietnam after a summer on maneuvers in the Mediterranean. Her second grandson, a graduate of Annapolis, is training with the Marines and in September will be in Vietnam too. My own grandson, Jeff White, has put in four years in the Navy and is now back at college. My grandson, Donald Warren Vose Jr., is in Manila, carrying by air supplies to Vietnam, bringing back 138 stretcher cases each trip.
Our Debbie White, who has spent all of her 21 summers with me, will be graduated from Wheaton next month and plans to go into government service, preferably foreign. Dianne Vose Durawa is in Africa with the Peace Corps.
Disturbing Spiders and Mice
Today I have been at the Farm, oiled the locks, the guns, the hinges, disturbed spiders and mice. The hired boy has taken down the colonel’s flag, folded it and put it away for the winter in a camphor chest. I have written a note on the west porch blackboard – “Hi, kids, everything O. K. See you next summer. Love, Auntie Glad.”
I walked out and closed the door softly behind me. Lonely? No. The old house sort of creaks and settles as though bracing itself against the onslaught of the sixth generation in my time. The old jinx of just girls, and few at that, has been outwitted or outlived or something.
As I pass by the gray split cedar post fence that encloses my grandmother’s garden, a faint sound of music comes to me as it dances away over the meadow toward East Beach. That which the heart remembers can neither be given nor taken away, and by the time I am home the voices of all those I have loved and have loved me will have followed me up the harbor to the winter house on Summer street, for the tide will have changed once more at East Beach. To a stranger it would be just the slap of the halyards against the tall white flagpole, lost by the time he had reached the gate.