Growing up on a farm was probably not my original destiny. We ended up there because my father was convinced it was his path to a life filled with a deep sense of accomplishment and belonging.
My mother came from a long line of northern Vermont farmers, and was born at the family farmhouse. My father, on the other hand, was the first child of Jewish immigrants, born in Flushing, NY, and raised to follow the upward mobility track.
After he met my mother, my father was exposed to the comforting security of life as a long-time member of a small, rural community. Even immigrants and their children who work their way up and achieve the American dream can suffer a lifetime of unease and insecurity over whether they really belong at whatever level of achievement they have arrived at. I’m pretty sure my father thought his in-laws had such a secure sense of belonging because they were farmers, and not from the fact that their ancestors had lived in the same area for well over a hundred years, and were white and Protestant like most everyone else in their farming community.
By the time his first two children (myself and a brother 2 years younger) had arrived, our father was working as a full-time professor at a college near Albany, New York. Although he had achieved the status and success expected of him, his hunger for the security that he sensed in farm life nagged and nagged at his spirit until he finally decided to purchase a rundown, raggedy old farmstead about 20 miles from the college.
I have only fleeting memories from the time before the farm, but having lived there from the age of five to my early teens, memories abound of life on the farm. When I call this a farm, try not to imagine a neat, white house with picket fence lined by abundant hollyhocks, lupines and sweet smelling roses. Or a red barn, freshly painted, with secure fencing surrounding lush pastures where healthy cows graze contentedly.
Don’t even think about imagining indoor plumbing, running water, or heat that is produced by turning up the thermostat. To be honest, we had running water. It ran from the well, through a rubber hose into a hand pump installed just outside the front door, on what could only be called a stoop, and not a very nice one either. I can’t imagine the pump didn’t freeze up during the winter. Of course, without running water, there was no bathroom.
We had an outhouse a short walk from the kitchen door. This was in the days before commercially available composting toilets, but it did eventually produce compost. Many years later my brothers and I paid a visit to the current residents of the house. They told us about how they found lots of interesting vintage bottles after digging that area up when putting in a foundation for a garage. Composting and recycling all in one humble facility! We were so very far ahead of the times!
After several years we did get an indoor shower (in the basement) and an indoor toilet. The story of how that finally came about will be told another day. And there will be stories, too, of the expansive nature of childhood play on an old farm outside a small town before the days when every stranger was suspect and neighbors actually knew your name.
If you would like to know what motivated me to create this blog site, please read here.
©Martha Hurwitz, 4/19/20