There are rare times people today have memories of actually meeting a person who was born in the last third of the 19th century. Those people are pretty much gone these days. I do however, recall one such person in my lifetime. When I was a youngster, Mr. Biggie lived next door to our family on the dirt road in the Cavendish Gulf. His front field stone steps were lined with smooth egg shaped stones his late wife had collected from various river beds. Mr. Biggie was the person who connected our family to the previous century. Knowing him was also a front row seat to the memories and stories of a man who was living in a time before most modern conveniences.
Mr. Biggie was basically a quiet neighbor. He rarely ever stopped by our house and when he did he usually just stood in the driveway to talk to my folks briefly. He didn’t have a phone so he wasn’t someone to bother people asking favors. I couldn’t tell you if he ever even used a phone. His relatives only stopped by once in a great while in the summer, and usually for just a short visit. I often went to his house to ask him if he needed anything, like shoveling his roof and steps.
I spent hours listening to Mr. Biggie talk about what it was like when he was young. At 14, he had a job working on a logging crew, and back then, they used horses for help with work and for transportation. In this case the horses skidded the logs out of the woods. One of his jobs was to actually stand on the cut logs and drive the horses as they pulled them along the rough ground. One day while working, Continue reading
Winter has always been a fun time of the year for kids in Vermont, even though the adults are worrying about the heating bill. As the snow mounts up, kids see it as a great opportunity to make another snow fort, sliding trail, or make a higher ski jump.
When I was a kid growing up in rural Vermont, I remember we had an old logging road that opened up a clear path on the side of the mountain next to my house. We went to great lengths to groom the “sliding tracks” in the middle of it. Kids from all over the valley came together to go there and slide down the hill. There were only a few slight corners on the trail, and depending on how fast you were going, and on what you were riding, the curves were usually fairly easy to negotiate. Even so, there were several times I barely made it to the bottom in one piece!
One winter day, one of the neighbor boys named Joe came over to slide down this particular hill. He brought his toboggan that fit three people. We dragged it up the steep part of the hill to the spot where the pines started to get a little thicker, on the first flat area. It was a long way for a couple of kids, probably between 1/8th and ¼ of a mile. Joe was to be the back passenger and use his feet to help brake and turn the back of the toboggan. I was the front navigator as I kneeled and used my hands to twist the front curve of the contraption.
Joe always seemed to have a wide grin on his face when we were ready to start our “flight” down the hill. I think we were both over anxious. About half way down the trail, there was a railroad crossing with snow banks on either side of the tracks, and you could catch air going over them. Then there was a steep straight away all the way to the dirt road at the bottom, which was flanked by very high snow banks. We would turn sharply before we got to the first snow bank and slide sideways up to the edge of it to stop. (At least that was the plan.)
This particular run started off with a heart stopping push and we quickly got into position as if we were Olympic bob sled contestants. I was kneeling and Joe was holding down the back as we passed quickly through the first clearing and swung into a narrow corner. I could see on the edge of the trail was a low brush pile. I gripped the curl on the toboggan and leaned to the left, and yelled for Joe to put his boot into the snow to slow and help turn the rig. He did as told, and put his foot out, but instead of slowing us down, he caught his leg in the brush heap. Before I knew it, he was pulled right off the toboggan and my ability to slow down was suddenly gone. My heart was racing as I thought of the snow bank at the bottom Continue reading
Growing up in the country in the 1950’s, we often used the landscape for play. the “Big Rock” as we all called it was in the background of many good times. It was also the location for a couple of catastrophes of mine.
I recall my early tree climbing training. I’m a self- taught tree climber, school of hard knocks type lessons. A couple of the neighbor boys and I were out near the big rock and the older and bigger of the two, Keith was discussing how he could climb the wild cherry tree that grew in the stone wall. I decided that was good idea too, and began climbing right behind him. He was, as I said taller and had a longer reach so he was able to grab the first limb and begin upward progress right away. I jumped and barely grabbed the branch, but followed right behind, mimicking his choice of limbs.
We were quite a ways up and I was right under Keith waiting to take the next branch. As he went upwards, I put my arms up and grabbed the branch he was standing on. His weight evidently was all the strength the branch could muster, and as I pulled with my hands and searched for a place to get footing, the branch snapped. Continue reading
It was a beautiful fall day in Vermont, and the bow and arrow season for deer had just started the weekend before. It was a week day and there was no school that day. I hadn’t had my drivers’ license for that long but I had quite a bit of experience driving back roads and standard shift vehicles. A neighbor was anxious to go deer hunting with me and we decided to ride around looking for a good place. Due to the fact there was no school, my little brother was also home. I was 16 and he was 10, and I didn’t particularly want to have him ride along or go hunting with me at the time. I felt that I was older and shouldn’t have to babysit him when I wanted to go out in the woods, but he insisted on coming along.
Somehow I came up with the idea that if I scared him with my driving he’d want to stay home and leave us alone. I told my neighbor friend, David, that I was going to drive in a wild stunt to scare my little brother into wanting to be brought home. He grinned as if he thought it was a fun idea and was ready for it. We were a couple of miles from my house on the dirt road, and headed toward Cavendish and in third gear. The car was a 1964 Chevy station wagon, 3 speed standard on the Continue reading
My little brother was a creative and mechanically oriented person. He was good at fixing just about any engine or vehicle. He worked on keeping his toys running and fixing things to use. In his younger years, one of his teachers in junior high, decided that the best way to work with a bunch of unruly adolescents was to bring in a bunch of non-functioning small engines and let them have at it. Evidently, that was an approach that worked well and kept them focused for a little while. Then as opposed to now, it was more common to have hands on experience during the early 1970’s, teachers could get a little more creative with their teaching methods! My brother was often getting excited about riding snowmobiles and two wheeled vehicles. He was a good outdoorsman. He did a lot with my father and they frequently hunted together for deer and turkey. I’m sure he kept Dad’s lawn mower running smoothly.
When I was in college and working on a teaching degree I would come home periodically to see my folks. My brother and sister, both younger than me, lived at home. During one visit that I remember, Jeff was a teenager building a mini bike as he called it. It was a gasoline engine from a mower and a few metal rods welded together to make a frame. He made a nice throttle on the handlebars and it looked reasonably balanced for speed and comfort. He was proud that he made it himself, taking time to find the parts and piece it all together.
On this visit of mine, he invited me to take a ride on it. I thought about it for a minute and decided to oblige him. I mounted the seat and he gave me a couple of lessons on how to operate the controls he had fashioned for it. I sped out of the driveway and up the dirt road a half mile or so. I turned around up near the intersection at the “Y” that went up over Densmore’s hill.
My ride home was a fast and furious one. While I tried to Continue reading
Living in the country on a dirt road allows for many adventures in youth, including fun outings on the spur of the moment. Fishing in nearby streams that follow the contour of the valley in Cavendish and Chester Vermont, was one of those summer activities I enjoyed as a kid. The season always started on the second Saturday in April and coasted along until September which made it a perfect summer pastime for school vacation. My father was a great fisherman and came home with a fresh catch for supper often. I wasn’t as good at it but enjoyed catching a few good sized brook trout. I spent more time fishing alone than with friends because I had to meet my mother’s “get home so I can make sure you haven’t drowned” schedule. There weren’t many kids my age to go fishing with either, and it seemed that the one neighbor that was close to my age was always luckier than I was, and he didn’t hesitate to tell me so, which made me feel a bit inferior as a fisherman.
One day we were feeling like an adventure and took out a couple of horses for a ride. At the last minute we decided to take our fishing-poles with us. It appeared this would be a less strenuous trip than even on a bicycle. No pedaling, just hold the reigns and the pole crossways in our fingers over the front of the saddle. Every time we came to a good fishing hole we could just tie the horses up to a near-by safe tree and walk to the brook and throw in the line. The creel was a canvas bag with waterproof interior so if we caught any fish it would keep the leather saddle dry.
After fishing on the Dean Brook Road about 2 ½ miles from home, we turned around to head back. The ride was pretty uneventful and the horses were calm for the most part. The closer we got to home the more anxious we were to make it a more exciting ride. I recall David was on my right and I was posting along at a slow trot. He decided he’d like to kick it up a notch and we began to trot faster and then canter. Suddenly, and unbeknownst to him, the hook he had placed in the eye of the pole bounced loose and swung over just enough to catch in my Continue reading
During the time adolescence turns to adulthood, dreams become prevalent about what profession might bring both satisfaction and large earnings. When I was in college, in the early 70’s, the time between semesters brought a couple of jobs I had randomly acquired. These soon fell off the list of things I’d choose for future careers.
I will be the first to admit that I am someone who has been described as accident prone. I have been getting injured since clumsy toddler-hood (check my mother’s entries in my baby book) and have not had a respite from damaging my body since.
Despite all the signals, I still found myself working a construction job building a bridge in southern Vermont. The job had a variety of risky tasks to perform working toward its completion. Safety rules were not as diligently observed then as they are now. The owner of the construction company decided to recycle the steel beams that spanned Continue reading
As an antique dealer, I’ve been on hundreds of meetings with clients to buy antiques and collectibles. Each time I enter the home of a potential client to make a purchase, it is a very curious and unpredictable conversation. I’ve bought some wonderful and valuable items and I’ve also bought thousands of average and interesting, yet not so valuable items. I always enjoy looking at things, no matter what they are. It’s an adventure to view people’s personal collections, or items they have accumulated during the setting up of their own homes. Yard sales create similar excitement when I find something I take a fancy to. I have bought tools that I use, and pieces that add to my personal collections and interests. I also like to find things my wife and daughter can use and enjoy.
One of my most vivid memories in my years of antiquing was when Continue reading