My Farm of Yesterday

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photo by Paula Sanger Violo

“Life is good when your best memories were made in the barn.” –Unattributed

My cousin posted this saying on Facebook recently and it got an immediate reaction from my sister and from me.

We know about barns. And farms. And memories. And a wonderful place to be a child.

The farm belonged to my paternal grandparents and Sangers had been on that land since the late 1700s.

The farm was a perfect place to ramble for hours, with no supervision, and the barn seems to have been the center of our activities.

I remember climbing a vertical ladder set into the wall, up into the haymow, and not being able to get down until my grandmother came from the house to help me.

I remember running away from home with a bandana tied to a stick, like I had seen on TV, and running as far as the milk house before I got hungry and went to the house for a sour cream cookie.

I remember swinging on a rope from one section of the haymow to another, above the head (and horns) of the bull tethered below.

I remember my sister singing and dancing for the milk cows, a captive audience, whose heads were held by stanchions until the milking was done.

I remember innumerable sleepovers in the haymow, with girl cousins, listening to the radio and talking about boys.

I remember waking up in the early morning of one of those sleepovers. The barn cat’s kittens were at that playful age where they demanded attention. One was batting at my face. The radio was on, “Hey, Jude” was playing, and dust motes of hay swirled in the early sun. And I knew life was good.

My memories aren’t momentous; they don’t make for dramatic story telling. But they make me.

The bluegrass band, The Gibson Brothers, grew up on a farm very near the Sanger farm. They, too, know about farms and memories and make the point better than I can:

They build them bigger now

They’ve got more land, they’ve got more cows,

Maybe they have found a better way.

It’s hard to say.

But I miss that old farm of yesterday.

 

I think memories make a man what he will always be,

And I’m not sure what I am trying to say.

But if there’s anything that I can add to this old world,

It’s thanks to that old farm of yesterday.

Farm of Yesterday

The farm is in sad shape these days–not in the family any longer, abandoned. But in my memories, and those of my sister and cousins, it’s still a magical place. Our farm of yesterday.

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photo by Paula Sanger Violo

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photo by Paula Sanger Violo

 

Spring Tradition: The Pancake Breakfast

IMG_6492In my continuing celebration of spring and all things maple, we spent yesterday morning at a very special place—a pancake breakfast!

My cousins own and operate a sugarhouse that has been going strong for three generations. For 44 (!) springs, they have worked with the local square dance club to host an all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast that is a tradition for people all over the North Country.

IMG_6488 When we arrive, the rural road is lined with cars and trucks, and folks of all ages are streaming toward the sugarhouse and the smell of pancakes. IMG_6538

We pass by an avenue of ancient maples wearing their battered sap buckets; I like the contrast of this symbol of spring and rebirth and newness contrasted with the cemetery beyond.

IMG_6488 - Version 2 IMG_6481It’s cold and rainy outside but the inside of the sugarhouse is warm and steamy and noisy. We greet family members and neighbors get caught up with neighbors.

IMG_6490The evaporator dominates the scene inside—this is where the syrup is made. The process needs attending to, hence the rockers, to provide the tenders with comfort and companionship.

IMG_6496 IMG_6493A huge mural by the family artist honors the way the sap was traditionally collected.IMG_6501

Today, though, it’s all about the food.

Pancakes and sausages are really only a vehicle for maple syrup.

IMG_6514Young runners keep the pancakes coming.

IMG_6507Almost no one leaves without getting some syrup or maple sugar or maple butter to take home.

IMG_6519The sugarhouse also serves as a museum of sorts, with lovely old artifacts of the history of sugaring down.

This fragment of an old maple shows signs of having been tapped many times over many, many years.IMG_6525

We eat our pancakes, we visit with relatives, we commiserate about the winter, we welcome spring.

The pancake breakfast is over and we immediately begin to look forward to next year!

 

 

Making Maple

maple article - Version 3My father died when I was seventeen. I have lots of old photos of him but this one, published in the local newspaper over 50 years ago, is one of my favorites. In it, he’s drawing off maple syrup from the evaporator on our farm.

My father was a farmer. He worked the farm with my grandfather, on land the family had been on since the late 1700s. Like many farmers he also drove a school bus, and then he went on to hold an administrative position in the school system and to serve as town supervisor.

Farmers may epitomize the concept of “hands at home,” growing crops and tending animals, fixing machinery and building what needs to be built. Highly self-reliant, with lives governed by milking times and the changing seasons, family farmers have always been at the center of what it means to be American.

My father was a dairy farmer; my sister and I didn’t like the milk we got at school or in restaurants because it didn’t taste like “Dad’s milk”!

But, of all the things he made, we liked the maple syrup best! For a short, intense period in early spring, when the temperatures are above freezing during the day but fall back below freezing at night AND before the tree get buds, many North Country farmers add “sugaring down” to their list of daily chores.

According to the article that accompanied this photo, my father hung about 700 buckets on sugar maple trees on our land. From these he collected upwards of 600 gallons of maple sap that would’ve been boiled down to produce about 150 gallons of maple syrup. He sold much of this locally.

But none of that mattered to us kids. For us, the process meant sweet sips of the thin sap straight from the tree and lots of lovely maple syrup on our pancakes!

maple article - Version 2