The Other I

August 31, 2017

My life on the farm

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 8:27 pm

The land my parents bought was, to put it mildly, undeveloped.  There were three hills, surrounded with acres of low-lying swamp land.  But they were the foundation of my father’s Dorothy Day dream.  On top of the biggest hill he built the main family house.  He called bulldozers in to build a dam, and transformed the biggest stretch of swamp into a five-acre lake which was ultimately stocked with the blue gill and bass fish which provided us with our Friday suppers.  Another elevated spot by what became the lake provided housing for Dad’s parents – our grandmother and grandfather – and for his brother and sister.  Another swamp was converted into a celery farm by his brother when he returned battered and bruised from his war-time military service.

Another house eventually became the home of the Black man, Phil, and his common-law White wife, Ethel.  Phil had also served in the military during the war, but racism was still so blatant that he could not get a job with any construction crew.  Despite the fact that he risked his reputation as a lawyer, Dad hired him, telling us that no Christian can be a racist.  Phil was essential to the running of the farm, and, although I’m sure he never knew it, is the reason none of us are prejudiced.

The Big House on the Hill, early 1950’s

By the early 1950’s, the house had several additional wings added to the original square box to accommodate the growing family.  Fields had been turned into pasture land for the cows which provided milk and eventually meat for our daily sustenance.   The calves’ liver that marked our Saturday evening dinners stand out in my mind, as the multiple chicken dinners stand out in the memory of one of my brothers.  Apple and pear trees populated what became an orchard, and Quonset huts, no longer wanted by the military after the war, were converted into chicken huts, cover for the pigs, barns for storing hay, stables for milking the cows, and a beach house by the lake that became our summer playground for swimming, our winter playground for skating and sledding down the hill and over the ice.  We played hide-and-seek in the summer wheat fields, and joined in the harvesting picnics in August.

By then we had become The Big House on the Hill.

It looks enviable, doesn’t it?  And yet by the time I was six years old, I decided I wanted to live in New York, and by the time I was seven, I had devised a plan.

Yes, it was beautiful.  In all seasons.  I remember with deep gratitude the richness that has lasted a lifetime that my childhood there gave me.  We were very fortunate.  But it wasn’t utopia. I hope to explain in my next post why I didn’t – and still don’t – share Dorothy Day’s Dream.


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