Opinion

Remembering a simpler time

HOULTON, Maine — Writer and farmer Wendell Berry has written a great deal about connection to place. In his novel Hannah Coulter, he describes place as “…putting your own foot into your own shoe. Familiar. A comfort. I see the place itself, as it is, and I see all that we have done here, our long passing over the fields that was our living and our life.” 

I came back to that description after spending part of a morning recently with Jim Hogan on his farm in New Limerick. Hogan has lived on his family’s homestead and farm all his life and can recount when many of the various outbuildings and barns were constructed. He recalled the time at 16 when he and his uncle re-shingled the oldest barn and how the shingles remain in place today. 

This barn, originally built in the 1880’s, now stores hay for the horses, “his boys.” It’s a french roofed construction with forty-foot hand-hewn beams spanning its width. The barn remains sound and, in Hogan’s words, “keeps beautiful hay.” He remarked on the framework that used to be done on old barns like this and the knowledge needed to build this way. It’s also a testament to the kind of forest once growing here that produced the beams Hogan and I stood gazing up at over 120 years later.

The fifth of seven children and the only boy, Hogan and his siblings grew up helping his parents on the farm. They had two work horses, Trim and Champ, and a few cows and chickens. They grew everything their family needed and the only goods purchased in-town at the Grange store was a barrel of lard, sugar, and spices. At one time, the road ended at their dooryard and nothing was plowed beyond. 

On Saturdays, far-flung neighbors would strap on a pair of barrel staves or wooden skis if they had them, gather at the Hogan’s, and travel into town for errands by horse and wagon. They would come back with their goods and ski back to their homes. Hogan, with a slight shake of his head said, “Quite a life back then. Quite a life.”

  During summers, his mother Helen ran a “tea room” that was really a country restaurant in a small building on the farm. His father would cut ice from Nickerson Lake each year and fill the ice house that still stands just outside the kitchen. Hogan and his aunt were the ice cream makers, making six different flavors a day. He said his mother did quite well with the business – he still has some of the slips of what she used to charge. 

Summer evenings people would come and she’d cook them dinner. Hogan followed up with, “She was a hell of a cook my mother was, hell of a good cook.” If the story is to be believed, when his father Roy asked his prospective bride if she could cook, she said, “I can cook but you’re going to buy me a brand new cookstove.” And that’s what he did. The cookstove remains in the kitchen today, looking as shiny as it did 75 years ago. 

After Hogan got married and he and his wife moved into a house across the road, he continued working on the farm, along with having a job at the railroad. Both of his parents lived out their lives in the farmhouse and after his father passed away his mother lived there with help.  During those years, when Hogan was planning the planting of his annual crops, he would take into consideration the “so many acres to be grown for mother’s welfare.” To me, that is a statement of love and respect – love of mother and doing the utmost to keep her in the home she lived in and loved. 

“And I see all that we have done here, our long passing over the fields that was our living and our life.” He continues passing over those fields – baling hay, growing some oats and baling the straw to sell along with vegetables (he’s known especially for his Buttercup squash) at his farmstand. He continues caring for the buildings as best he can, a visual memory of all the Hogan generations’ connection to this place. 

Angie Wotton loves her work as district manager for the Southern Aroostook Soil and Water Conservation District. She also raises pastured pork and vegetables with her husband on their small West Berry Farm in Hammond. She can be reached 532­9407 or via email at angela.wotton@me.nacdnet.net

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