Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Dorcas Wright: Brookfield, 1939

The old Brookfield schoolhouse, now a private home. The photograph is by Jessamyn West.

This is part II of Dorcas's memoir about growing up in Brookfield. (Part I is below.) Dorcas is working on an extended memoir, so she considers this a rough draft.

There were about six other children in the village and that first year there were a total of nine students in the village school. No running water, two "two-holers" in the back of the woodshed for toilets (one for girls and the other for boys). Needless to say, no one tried to linger in the johns. A big wood stove heated the building. When that stove was cranked up, if you were facing the stove you were too hot but your back was cold and your feet were always freezing. A few years ago, after we had done a lot of renovating to the schoolhouse, I had a chance to visit with a very old man who had been a student at the village school. Forrest Upham came into the kitchen, looked around, went into the living room, and stood about where the old stove stood. Looking carefully, I guess to see if there was anything left of his memories. "I went to school here, you know. Coldest goddamned place in the world." He was right, you know.

We spent a lot of time by the pond, collecting frog's eggs, fishing and swimming whenever weather permitted. Sometimes we got a surprise dunking when it wasn't planned. Wild apple trees, probably started by cores dropped from some student's lunch, grew by the shore. As kids, we knew where every type of apples grew and remembered our favorites. We had a dress code. The girls wore sweaters and skirts, probably woollen, and hideous long brown cotton stockings held up by garter belts. We wore one outfit for the whole week, changing into work clothes after school to keep our  school clothes clean longer. Baths were once a week on Saturday.

So that was the Brookfield that we arrived at in late august 1939. The family moved into the Fisk house, which Aunt Jessie had purchased from her brother and sister after their mother died in 1935. My father had lived in Brookfield with his grandmother when he was a boy. He used to tell me about being sent by Grandmother Fisk with a basket to dig up freshly laid turtle eggs. She would scramble those eggs and have them for supper. Dad said that they tasted kind of fishy.

Anyway, he was no stranger to the village. We had visited Jessie many times and were not really unknown, but it was hard to be accepted in these small Vermont towns. That first winter my mother and I were terribly lonely. Mom had four sisters and four brothers all living in the Lyndonville area. Dad's family lived in St. Johnsbury. They all were a big part of our lives. The winter was cold. The Fisk house was literally freezing. Plants froze in the bay window while the wood stove was burning. We had a little Scotty dog named Cookie. Somewhere she found a half of a pig's head that had been slaughtered and brought it home. Cookie nudged it under a doormat and was very protective of it. The floor was so cold that the head never thawed and finally Mother was able to get it away from the dog and get rid of it. The only heat upstairs came through a register in the floor. It didn't do too well heating the room, but it was a great place to keep track of what was being said down in the kitchen.

Dad had two hired men to help with all the animals. A young fellow from the Bronx named Tim Tracy lived with us and took care of the horse barn. A local handyman helped Dad in the dairy barn, shoveled roofs and did other jobs that needed tending to. We delivered milk to the village. That was mostly my job. Sometimes I loaded the bottles onto a sled and pulled the sled or hitched up a horse to a big sled. At sometime in those years I had a young pair of steers that I was training to be an ox team.

Perley had improved the ice harvesting business and had bought tools imported from Canada. One tool was a gasoline-powered saw that was self-propelled. The ice was kept cleared of snow, which made for good skating before the harvesting started. The ice block should be clear so that one could read a newspaper through 24 inches of ice.

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