Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Dorcas Wright: Brookfield in the Forties

Brookfield student body. Dorcas is middle row, center.

Dorcas has been writing about the Brookfield of her childhood. She moved there from Lyndonville as a youngster, and today she is writing a memoir of the little village as seen through the eyes of a deeply impressionable child. Dorcas is a member of the Hale Street Gang's Tuesday group, and yesterday she read a beautiful passage about haying with her dad—just the two of them and a horse to pull the wagon. (D'Ann said it reminded her of a Breugel painting.) I'll post that excerpt a little later. Meanwhile, here is Part III:

Vermont had some very cold, snowy winters around the early forties. Children had a wonderful time. There was hardly any traffic and the roads were usually badly plowed so they made excellent sliding. On some nights it was possible to slide from the top of Bridge Hill to East Brookfield. We had to have a truck lined up to carry kids and sleds back to the village. Sometimes we would tie a rope to the back bumper of a car and get dragged back up the hill. It certainly would never be safe to do that now.

Horses were still being used in the winter to deliver the mail. We used to rent horses to the rural carrier because there were days when it was easier to drive a horse than it was to dig out a car.

The local church provided some social events, but it was hard because there were so few young people. In the summer we looked forward to "vacation Bible school." There were summer people who added to our church population.

Mostly our recreation centered around the pond and the floating bridge. 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. Aunt Jesse had attached a raft about midway on the south side of the bridge. There was no sunscreen then and no one was aware of the effect of sun on skin cancer. We soaked up those rays by the hour.

When we got bored with just lying around, we would head for the store, where there was a soda machine where the caps would fall into a container. A kid could have great fun with a handful of soda caps. One of our games was to stand on the top rail of the bridge and toss a certain number of caps into the water, then jump in and retrieve them. The person who brought up the most caps won the game. You had to judge the timing so that you didn't jump too soon and create so many bubbles that you were unable to see the caps, or wait so long that the caps had sunk lower than you could catch many of them. The older boys liked to dive off the rail and swim under the bridge, coming up on the other side. There were always a few moments when we all held our breath waiting for them to surface. They always told stories about how many scary things they encountered under the bridge, such as long tangled weeds, hanging chains and a skeleton or two. No adult seemed to worry about the danger we might get into. The younger children learned to swim at the cove where the water was shallow. My sister Debbie could swim like a fish at four.

Brookfield Pond today.

The 4-H clubs were very active. They provided recreation and a lot of education. I was involved in cooking, sewing and gardening. The drill of the time was to finish with a perfect project. It was easier in the cooking classes to finish with edible and reasonably perfect-looking muffins. But in the sewing projects it was another thing entirely. The hand-stitching had to be neat and eight stitches to the inch, it should look as neat on the backside as it did on the front. By the time the project was finished you hated the item you were making. A lot of girls were really turned off because of this stress for perfection and never did sew again.

The boys raised dairy animals learning how to groom them and show the animals at fairs and other competitions. Many young farmers got their start with herds they had raised themselves.

The adults played cards. Eighty-eight was the favorite, along with Oh Hell (also called diminishing whist), where one less card was dealt each round until there was only one card to bid on. If you didn't make your bid it was "Oh, hell" and there was one more card dealt each round until the number of cards dealt was the same as when the game started. The game could get quite lively. That was when the kids would crowd around the register upstairs and listen.

Other times there were dances at the schoolhouse or more often at the Masonic temple. Everyone went from babes in arms to grandpas and grandmas. The waltzes, fox trots and polkas were danced to, but more popular were the old dances—the contra dance, line dances . . . Best of all were the square dances. Perley Keyes called the squares. John Harford played the drums. His eyes would be closed and he looked for all the world like he was sleeping, except his hands never missed a beat. Four couples made up a square, three called dances were a set—tunes like "Honolulu Baby," "Marching Through Georgia," "Duck for the oyster, duck for the clam, duck for the hole in the old tin pan, and all swing your partner." What good wholesome fun it was. As kids we danced in the schoolyard at recess, without music but singing the calls. It sure burned a lot of energy.

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