by Robert Hanaford Smith, Sr. Weirs Times Contributing Writer
No fair for me, and that was no fair to me. October 12th was Columbus Day. Every year it was Columbus Day, and every year on October 12th Sandwich Fair was held. I couldn’t attend the Sandwich Fair because New Hampton school children were required to go to school on that holiday unless it fell on a weekend, and I did not think that was fair. As the day approached the then one day fair was the talk of the town, and I spent the day in school wishing I could be at the Fair. The only consolation was that at an earlier date I had been able to attend Plymouth Fair. It wasn’t that I didn’t like school, and I can still remember walking with my siblings down the dirt road one-fourth of a mile for my very first day of school, but there are other autumn memories to share, so I will leave school for a moment.
Fall or autumn is considered the season of harvest, and that was true for my family when it came to potatoes, dried beans, pumpkins, squash, turnips, carrots, beets, grapes, apples, and wood. My Dad would sometimes hoe around the potatoes in the summertime barefooted because he liked the feel of the warm, sandy soil on his feet. I still have the special potato digging tool we used to lift the potatoes from the ground, leaving them in the sun to dry before placing them in bushel baskets or burlap feed bags and on to the potato bin in the cellar for winter storage. Carrots, beets, and apples were also stored in the cellar. I still remember a Saturday night boys 4-H meeting (the Hustlers) held in our living room when older cousin Kenneth Torsey illustrated by the use of his hands the large size of the potatoes grown in his garden. Peculiar shapes as well as size were traits we looked for in the potatoes we dug.
Autumn is apple picking time. We had our own orchard basically for our own use with a few apples to share with others, but our Smith neighbors at Rockledge Farm raised apples for commercial sale and our family was involved in picking and sorting and packing the apples. My brothers and I would begin our after-school and Saturday jobs by picking up apples that had fallen off the trees (drops) at ten cents a bushel , and when we were older were allowed to pick apples off the trees. I envied the accounts of some of my older Torsey cousins picking a hundred or more bushels in a day. Back at home we would use our drops to make cider with the old cider press and some years made enough to sell some of it. It was one of the pleasures of the fall season to taste the finished product after straining the cider flowing from the press through cheesecloth. It was nice when winter came to go down to the cellar after returning home from school, pick out an apple, go back upstairs and enjoy my apple as I sat reading a book by the wood stove, mindful of the old question: “What’s worse than finding a worm in your apple?” The answer being, “Finding half a worm.”
Speaking of wood, the harvest of firewood, though it could be a year-long project, became particularly important as winter approached. The axe, the saw, the sledge-hammer and wedge, and even the peavey (cant dog) to move big logs were tools of the woodcutter, and my brothers and I were expected to help my Dad with the task of preparing the heat source for the winter. To my knowledge my Dad never used a chain saw. The power to cut and saw the wood was man (or boy) power, except when someone was hired to help with a sawing machine, which was done when the wood had been cut in long lengths that needed to be cut into shorter pieces before being stored in the woodshed. I watched with awe as the saw rig with its big metal saw blade and chugging motor made quick work of the wood pile, accompanied by the sight and smell of the bluish-gray smoke spouted out by the exhaust pipe and the “blue air” type of language that my ears seldom heard flowing from the mouth of the machine’s owner. One corner of the woodhouse was reserved for the outhouse used by the household. We never referred to that room as an outhouse though; it was “the office”. The wallpaper covering the inside walls of that room consisted of newspaper, mainly that depicted the news of World War I and the battle scenes involved, particularly, as I remember, naval battle scenes.
My Dad was a mild-mannered man, but one day he became angry at me for a reason I don’t remember, and knowing I was about to face physical punishment, I ran with Daddy following close behind. Seeing the woodshed, I ran into that building and into the outhouse where I slammed the door shut and turned the wooden knob that locked the door, and refused to come out. After a period of time had passed, I opened the door, saw no sign of my Dad, continued as if all was well, and neither of us mentioned the incident to the other afterwards.
Dad was also a hard-working man and tried to teach us boys to help cut larger logs with a two-manned cross-cut saw. There are three words I remember my father repeating over and over to me as he tried to teach me the proper way to handle my side of that large, long saw: “PULL! DON”T PUSH!”. I guess I didn’t learn very well, because our sessions with the cross-cut saw didn’t last very long.
I started this column with one thing that school attendance deprived me of, so let me conclude with a few things the one classroom Hanaford School in New Hampton provided for me in those days of changing and colorful tree leaf colors and shortening daylight hours. The teacher had a hand-held bell she would ring to gather her students for the 9 to 3 daily sessions. Reading, writing, and arithmetic were the emphasized subjects of study, along with some geography, history and, of course, recess,with one teacher responsible for multiple grades (one through eight), there was much time given to individual study involving work books or sheets. Blackboards and chalk were used. We, at least in my early years, had inkwells in our desks, and pens to dip in our ink to write with besides our pencils. Penmanship was included in our lessons as well as weekly spelling bees before lunch on Fridays. The music teacher would visit once a week and we would sing as a group with perhaps a variety of songs. From short and simple songs for the very young, we went on to sing patriotic songs, including our national anthem, Christmas carols, novelty songs (Good Night Ladies & Reuben and Rachel), Stephen Foster songs , even love songs like Love’s Old Sweet Song and Beautiful Dreamer. I must add that we also sang the song that contains the words “ O dear! What can the matter be? Johnny’s so long at the fair.”