Coming full circle to quench our thirst
“Today old Fergie, his primitive farming equipment, his stories, his way of living. our old barn, my Father andMother are only pleasant, wonderful memories. Simpler and peaceful times become increasingly more important in my life as I grow older. The seemingly endless days of summer—and age of innocence and childlike appreciation of the little things in life all have emerged in my persona.” --Author, 2017
This simple country man often imagines a better time. As the immortal baseball philosopher Yogi once mused, “the future isn’t what it used to be.” I don’t know exactly what knuckle balls were bouncing around in Yogi’s head but I think I agree with this philosophical icon. The Greek poet Hesiod was not to my knowledge a Yankee baseball fan in 700 B.C., but he was even then lamenting the passing of aGoldenAge. In fact, archeologists recently uncovered an 8,500-year-old cult in Cyprus that had apparently rejected the Anatolian world.
So I am in good company. My mind is increasingly fueled by nostalgia which comes from the Greek meaning ” home coming or return” and the “pain or ache” to do so. Being nostalgic like I am was once considered a serious, sometimes fatal, medical ailment. Today, however, it is regarded by most psychologists as a very positive emotion, improving mood, social interaction, etc. Returning to an earlier time— a simpler and more understandable period—is good for your mind and physical well being.
One of my flights of nostalgia begins recently in sleepy rural Brookfield, the stillness only occasionally broken by a passing vehicle, tractor, or barking dog from a nearby farm. It’s an early fall Sunday morning and I’m sitting in the empty Baptist Church, listening to my lovely and vivacious musically-gifted wife practice the hymns she’ll soon be playing during the upcoming church service. The two weathered old wooden church front doors are open to bring in fresh air. I sit and relax, enjoying the “free concert.” Then I hear it coming up the street.
“Clip- clop, clip- clop, clip-clop” ... the clip-clopping gets louder as is an unfamiliar low rumbling sound on the road pavement. Then I see it through the open doors. A black Amish vehicle pulled by a fast trotting bay road horse pulling it almost effortlessly. My glimpse is brief, as the wagon sped by the church and up the hill out of the village. I returned my attention to the beautiful church music. Lois turns her equally beautiful face towards me. She is ready to bring joy to the congregation beginning to
Horse- drawn vehicles are far more common in Brookfield now that Amish families have moved into the surrounding hills, the rumbling noise that I heard on that Sunday morning being the iron rimmed wooden wheels of their horse drawn vehicles. The Amish of course use large draft horses, usually Belgians, for the more demanding field work and heavy load pulling. At a very early age, Amish boys learn how to harness and drive both the heavy draft horses and the lighter horses for traveling.
Brookfielders are now seeing what was once common in this community and all across America. Our 21st century “revolution”—which covers virtually every facet of who and what we are today--really only began in earnest in the second quarter of the 20th century. Before World War I, horse power—the four legged kind, not the internal combustion one— was still the most widely used means of transportation and work in America, although closely rivaled by the explosion of railroads beginning after the Civil War.
Beginning after World War I, the automobile revolution -- accompanied by the development of powerful farm tractors and the demand in the burgeoning American cities for more rapid, clean and more reliable transportation by the immigrant influx and industrial and commercial unprecedented explosion -- marked the end of the horses as countless millions of faithful dobbins were permanently “put out to pasture.” The days of urban congestion, traffic jams and angry and impatient drivers were upon us and remain so today.
In rural America the pace of life also changed. Horses could no longer meet the increasing production and marketing demands as small farms became bigger and the machine revolution continues today. The old ways of farming became as archaic as the horse and buggy. The sounds of working horses in sleepy Brookfield slowly died out and have died out for many generations, until the Amish came to live and work largely in the old ways.
The last Brookf ield farmer to use only horses was a long time family friend who was for many years the unofficial care taker of land my Utica born attorney father purchased west of Brookfield in the early 1930s. We called him “Fergie.” (Clayton Ferguson) He was an old man when we knew him best as rough and tumble, very frisky, tow headed siblings. Fergie took care of our property when we weren’t there, including a f lock of sheep that he fed in the winter. He also hayed our open fields with loose hay in those days that he fed the sheep when the weather got bad. Fergie was a unique person. He would pull his own teeth with a pair of pliers if the ache got too bad. He and his wife lived in a semi-livable chicken coop. He had a couple of cows and two draft horses named Molly and Major. I learned so much from him and the type of life that he lived and generations before him.
My recollections of hot, summer days helping Fergie hay our small acreage the old way bring back wonderful nostalgic remembrances. A few snippets follow as a coda to these happier times...
... Soon the hay rack looked like a large rising loaf of homemade bread on four wheels. It was time to head back to the barn and unload. After sticking our pitch forks into the side of the moving load, we scampered as fast as we could cross lots and soon were dipping out cups of ice cold water from our faithful old spring. How wonderful the pure water tasted on a hot July day... The two wooden sliding doors of the ancient barn’s hay mows were wide open. Fergie carefully guided his team and wagon onto the plank floor. It’s a tight squeeze He pulls the team together into a tight corner, allowing the hay rack to be completely inside the barn next to the mow to be filled. The horses patiently stand until the hay is unloaded.
Our thirst quenched we join Fergie in the barn. We climb up a homemade wooden ladder built into a vertical hand hewn support beam. I wonder now how many similar hands and feet made the same ascent. The barn’s roof was sagging and uneven now. Its hemlock boards full of holes and cracks, allowing the barn swallows easy access. Fergie tosses up our pitch forks and soon he is forking up the loose hay. Fergie knows how to make a load and also how to unload it. We kids in turn carry the hay to all parts of the mow, stamping it down as we do. The summer days are hot. The closer we get to the roof line, we become increasingly hot, sweaty and hayseed itchy. As Fergie tosses up forkfuls of hay, he usually tells us stories from his long life. Before you know it the boards on his hay rack are empty. We had been so engrossed in his story we had forgotten the time, our aching muscles and occasional hand blisters. Unloading two loads of loose hay were a day’s work. Soon it’s time for Fergie to return to his small farm several miles down the valley. He has milking and other chores to do, but he is never too rushed to come up to the camp and join all of us in one of my mother’s delicious suppers. Soon it was time to go. He hitched up a light wagon and down the dirt road he went. Good weather was predicted for tomorrow and we would see him again in the forenoon...
In so many ways coming full circle is an endless theme in all our lives. All we have to do is take time to think back about the good times. It gives me great strength and comfort. Only the ice cold water and shallow well remain from those wonderful times, having flowed sparkling pure, clean water from the earth every second of my entire life. In fact, my amazing wife Lois and I still drink it every day. A constant reminder of the pitch fork and loose hay days.