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Farmer's Wife : Winter
All farmers are collectors, and mine is no exception.
New Yearís Day found him in the middle house with a fat cigar
clenched between his teeth, painting sashes.
The sashes are very old. They
look like multi-paned doors or long windows.
Years ago they covered the celery beds in the early spring, acting
like miniature glass houses, or hot beds.
There were hundreds of them, and the task each winter was to repaint
and reglaze them, so they would be ready for the following spring.
The farmer has decided to take up this practice again, and use the
sashes for covering lettuce in cold frames, to harden them off in March
before he plants them in the field.
Before, when he was a little boy, winter was the time when farmers
rested. The harvest was in,
there was no roadside stand to worry about, and the farmerís father spent
the cold months ordering seed, making plans for the next season, repairing
and ordering the tools and equipment, getting ready for the hard, endless
work of spring summer and fall. Even
today there is a break during the winter; for the few weeks after Christmas, after the rush of selling
poinsettias and Christmas trees and before the work of seeding the early
annuals and perennials, he can slow down a little, organize, look around
Collecting things is a characteristic of farmers, and it can be
infuriating when, intent on clearing away clutter, one finds small piles of
unidentifiable bits of metal mixed with strange little pieces of
rubber and plastic, everywhere. On
the washing machine. Next to
the television. On the bedside
table. But the farmer would say
that he does not collect, he
saves things. For when he will
need them, or I will need them, or someone else, and itís a good thing he
saved that little bit of metal because they donít make them any more.
Or if they do, they make them out of plastic, which breaks, and
doesnít fit any of the tractors anyway.
They donít fit because the tractors are old.
The new tractor is a 1974 model purchased in 1994, the oldest
one a 2N from 1947, and there
is a 1953 Golden Jubilee model as well.
They are all Fords, bought
new after the War. Before that
they ploughed with horses and used trucks and Model T Fords in the fields to
pull the trailers.
The tractors still work fine, and usually can be fixed with something
the farmer has on hand. When we go to the Fryeburg Fair in Maine, we like to go to
the Farm Museum, and point out to each other which of the exhibits are still
being used on the farm at home. The
farmer has had offers from people who collect old tractors, but he is using
them. And if he ever stops
using them, I will put them in the front yard and string Christmas tree
lights on them in winter, because I am a collector too.
To the uninitiated eye, the heaps of stuff which clutter the garage
and the wash house and the back greenhouse look like junk, but the farmer
knows what is there and what he needs it for, or might need it for.
And come spring, sure enough, he does need some of it - and knows
exactly where to find it.
Here is a list of some of the things he saves:
seed catalogues, nuts, bolts and pins, piping pieces, electrical
stuff, broken stuff like motors and pumps for cannibalizing, ditto old
computers, bits of wood, old
keys, pieces of glass,old seeds, pieces of hose and fittings, receipts in no
particular order, nozzles, doors, old seed trays in odd sizes, old tools,
such as dibbles and wooden markers, a three-foot pipe wrench, partial rolls
of duct and electrical tape, wire, used softballs, bats, gloves and
scorecards, vintage copies of Life Magazine.
When I first knew him, he also saved old copies of The New York
Times, broken television sets, random pieces of carpeting and some
particularly repellent pieces of clothing from the 70ís, including one
polyester shirt with a virulent pattern of orange black and green flowers on
it. Maybe I shouldnít have
made him give it away. Now
itís retro, and hot. But
there are some times and places neither of us wants to visit any more.