Litchfield County Sketches

By Newell Meeker Calhoun

Litchfield County University Club
1906

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VII
A Deserted Farm


ALL about the county there are deserted farms. They have gone back to Nature, aside from a stretch of meadow or a bit of arable land that some one cultivates on shares. You shall see the crumbling chimney, a clump of lilac bushes, some straggling spotted lilies by the old well, and a cellar half filled with rotten timber. Here is the smoothly worn stone doorstep, pressed by the feet of three generations, and sitting down upon it and looking off toward the Delectable Mountains the imagination restores the old homestead to its former glory.

The house was a story and a half high, lai'ge and rambling, with a huge chimney in the centre. This was built partly of stone and partly of brick, and had in the kitchen an immense fireplace. The children loved to stand within its capacious arch at night and see the stars. Colonies of chimney swallows were at home in it during the summer, and the whirr of their wings could be heard by day, and the soft call of the mother bird to her young at night. The snow drove down the chimney and made the fire sputter, while the wind made eddies on the hearth, miniature tornadoes, to the delight of the childi'en. The kitchen was long and narrow, and was the living room for the large family. On the front of the house were a sitting room and a parlor, with an entrance hail between them, and opening off the kitchen a pantry and a bedroom. The sitting room was used for the cold winter evenings and for receiving friendly calls, while the parlor was opened ouiy on state occasions. Both rooms held diminutive stoves, with large heating capacity. Running round chimney was a favorite amusement, when the cousins came on a visit. Through kitchen, parlor, hail, and sitting room the lads chased the lassies, and had their reward if not too bashful to take it. In the parlor there were a funeral and a wedding, when a son went away to the home prepared for him, and a daughter to make one for herself. The house swarmed with life, f or there were ten children who called it home, and many cousins who lived near by. What shoutings and merrymakings were here; what hopes and fears and glad anticipations! This old cellar was filled with potatoes, apples and other good things. Those now scrubby trees down yonder used to be laden with russets, greenings and seek-no-farthers in the old days. How they welcomed the boys and girls, as they came with baskets, bags and barrels to gather the Autunin store! Where the weeds and brambles grow so luxuriously was the garden, containing not only the usual vegetables, but sage, thyme and sweet marjorarn. Down through the centre of it, by the side of the walk, grew old-fashioned flowers, pinks, bachelor buttons, four-o'clocks, verbenas, stocks and many others known only to the mother of the house, who loved them all and cared for them as she did for her children. As you swung the garden gate there was a bed of fennel -"meeting seed"-on one side, with caraway, while on the other there was tansy. They are all gone but the tansy. Bravely it blossoms still out there by that broken down stone wall. Some plants and shrubs cling to the soil better than men and women. The great world does not tempt them so much.

This farm was rocky, but by no means stenle. It used to produce finel under its owner's careful cultivation. It fed and clothed and educated ten children, and in the mean time paid for itself. When its owner came to it with his wife and five children he was obliged to go into debt heavily in order to possess a home for his wife and growing family. How it was paid for will be a mystery, only in this instance we know it was done honestly. The father rented a pew in the meeting house four miles away, dressed his children suitably for meeting and for school, gave to missions at home and abroad, paid his bills, and after long years of hard, self-denying labor cleared the farm of debt. It was done on the cooperative plan. The mother was cook, butter and cheese maker, dressmaker and tailor. It was no unusual thing for her to make a garment for one of the children after they had retired for the night, and that by hand, for sewing machines were then unknown. Children by the age of nine or ten became bread winners. They not only helped indoors and out, but actually did many things whereby money was earned. In the Summer they gathered mint and herbs for the family doctor, and in the Autumn picked up chestnuts and walnuts, which were sold to buy boots and shoes. During the long Winter evenings, when the lessons, were disposed of, they put on hooks and eyes. These were gotten at the country store- a bag of hooks and a bag of eyes and a bundle of cards. Some were stuck on and some sewed on. Gathered about the long table, with a pile of hooks and another of eyes in front of them, they "ran races," to see who could put them on the fastest. On Saturdays there were stints to be done before sliding down hill or going off on some looked and longed for excursion. The table was supplied in this way with tea and sugar, and the children with many articles of clothing. Habits of industry were thus early formed. Life was not all a play spell. They early knew the worth of things, albeit it was at times at the expense of going without them. Having earned shoes, they were more interested in taking care of them. There was no piano in the house, there were no music lessons, no skates, and no sleds except the home-made ones. The boy never owned a sled until he went away from home, save perhaps one made either by himself or his father. Playthings there were none, save those that were given from without the home, or were of home construction. A hard life, you say? Yes, it was a hard life in a way, but of necessity. Still, there were wonderful compensations. The dear parents would not have chosen to have gone without so many things, or have had their children go without them, but they would pay their debts, secure an education for their children, give them religious advantages, and themselves have the luxury of fulfilling the Master's command to preach the Gospel to every creature. Not being able to go themselves, they would send. They had to work, and they wasted no sympathy on their children who had to labor.

Some one may ask how it was that this farm came to he abandoned. It came about in a natural way.. The children grew up arid began going away from home. The boys went to the academy, and two of them to college, where they paid their own way for the most part. The other son preferred a trade to the farm, and the father said that if the boys did not care to work the land he would not keep it. So it was sold, and the family that still remained moved into the village, near to church and postoffice. Then there came swift changes in the old homestead. The land was not so carefully tilled by the next owner. After a while he died, and the widow rented out land and sold the hay, a sure way to run down the best of farms. Then the house was closed Winters, and finally, the owner mdved away to live with one of her married children. It was rented afterward to one of those gypsy farmers who move almost annually. Without repairs the house soon became untenantable, stood with open doors and broken window panes, was occupied now and then by some tramp who made his coffee on the hearth and cursed his luck in the old kitchen where the loved household was wont to kneel at family devotions. And so it went on, and storms and snows and rains all had a hand at its destruction, until the farm was sold for a few hundred dollars, in place of thousands that it once brought. The last owner cut off the beautiful timber for logs and firewood, and then abandoned it. He comes on a Sunday to look after and bring salt to some cattle that he is pasturing in the fields, grown up to brush so that he finds the herd with difficulty. He has stretched a barbed wire along the top of the tumble-down stone wall, felled some brush and patched up a line fence, and gone his way.

The old farm lives in the memory of its past, and holds dear the scenes of other days, when its lovers and friends made it to b]ossom and bring forth abundantly. Its pleasure now, aside from thinking of the past, is to nestle and nourish every living thing, to welcome the dewy mornings and the rosy sunsets from its hilltop, to live in the songs of the birds and the abundant wild vegetation, which, wandering out from stone wall sides and fence corners, is taking possession of the soil. And the old farm is glad that anything is willing, content and happy to stay upon it; that the birds and the wil.d flowers and the berries make it their home; that Summer sunshine and Winter's warm blanket of snow still abide with it; for God does not abandon the old farm.


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