‘Tis the gift to be simple, ‘tis the gift to be free;
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be...
- Shaker Song
When my computer and I returned home after a two-week "writing vacation," I thought I would never get the assorted cords, plugs, and equipment hooked up again. The solution? Replace the 6-plug extension cord/surge suppressor that must have died somewhere en route.
Remembering my rural New England upbringing, when I related my frustration to a friend by saying, "Life was simpler on the farm," she said, "That would make a good title for a column." Then I remembered something else: my brother's and my visit with our favorite farmer-uncle some years ago, and the simple way he described his life...
He could have been retired, when he sold the farm where he had lived for 40 years or after his wife died. But maybe it was because of those fulfilling years, or the prospect of a too-lonely life, that he agreed to move to a retreat for troubled youth in New Hampshire, and manage their farm.
The nostalgia began as we crossed northern Massachusetts and into New Hampshire, past other farms and clumps of white birches standing like sentinels along the winding, country roads. But when we stepped into his "little house," saw the stacks of firewood and smelled the wood-burning stove, the years melted instantly away. We were back at our grandparents' house, and our uncle was home again after the war. We children had probably just filled the wood box, Grandma had swept the wood chips back from the middle of the floor, and the family had gathered around the stove to listen to the grown-ups swap war, horse, and people stories. Now, he had an hour or so before it was time to "feed the hosses," and we were his welcome guests.
Part of the therapy at Green Pastures Estates was to work the land with as little farm machinery as possible. They had a tractor to bale hay and spread manure, but used horses for everything else. Since my uncle was responsible for the care and acquisition of the animals, his fodder of horse stories never seemed to run out. As soon as we were seated around the stove he began...
"I had this fella trying to sell me a pair of colts - wanted $1500 for the pair, he said. But I told him, ‘I don't want your colts.' So he dropped the price: $1400, $1300 - all the way down to $700 - while I kept telling him, ‘I don't want to buy your colts.' A few days later another fella said, ‘I met a man the other day who had a pair of colts for sale. I told him I'd buy the smaller one, but he said, he'd only sell the pair."
"Well," my uncle continued, "that gave me an idea. I told this fella I'd buy the pair of colts and sell him the smaller one for $700, which he agreed to do. Then I went back to the fella with the colts, told him I'd changed my mind, and offered him $600 for the pair, just a little under the last price he had quoted me. We agreed to split the difference and I paid him $650. Then, when I drove to the other guy's house to drop off his colt, he said, ‘You know, I believe I'd rather have the larger one.' Okay, I said, but I'll to to charge you $900. ‘Fine,' he says, so I unloaded his colt and drove away with $250 more than I started with, plus a colt I later sold to someone else for $1500."
After we all stopped laughing, I asked him if he'd ever considered selling used cars.
"I don't have much use for cars," he said, which reminded me of a car story of my own a few days before.
I had flown most of the way, but had picked up a rental car to drive to my brother's house. I approached the entrance to the Mass. Pike and attempted to retrieve my toll ticket. It was already dark and I had to search for the button in my strange car to roll down the window. By the time I found the button, and a half dozen impatient drivers had appeared behind me, I realized I was too far away to reach the ticket. I pushed on the handle to open the door, but these newfangled cars lock when the car turns on and I had no idea where the locks were! By the time I found the lock, the ticket had disappeared and the angry motorist jam had grown. Just as I was about to abandon the car, the ticket reappeared. I snatched it like a hungry bird and quickly sped away.
Anesthetized by the warmth of a wood stove and surrounded by dear people I too seldom see, I was tempted to agree with my uncle. At that moment I sensed more value in filling a wood box or going out in the cold to feed the "hosses," than fumbling through modern, ever-changing technology for a ticket to race down a heavily-traveled highway, only to need another ticket for the return trip.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer and author of the book, As Long as the Rivers Run: Highlights from Columbia County's Past. Email comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)