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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 him. 

       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.