If I believed spirits walked the land

samandalex_200Morgan and I are planning a camping trip on our fragment of abandoned orchard in Moultonborough.

Both my sons are exceptional and they fill my heart with happiness.  I emphasize my love for them both so Alex doesn’t read anything into our not inviting him to join us.

We three have good, hard, simple, strong memories of this tiny spot in New Hampshire.  A lot of memories for the little amount of time we spent there.

People who have orchards write about them — indexJane Brox for one.  It would be hard to capture the struggle and resolve of working an orchard and the struggle and release of letting it go better than she has, and I’m not going to try. Rereading her books now, after putting our remaining 2.65 acres with apple trees up for sale, has rekindled memories and given words to many feelings never expressed.

Buying this orchard was really a crazy thing for us to do.  My husband Clark had non-Hodgkins lymphoma.  He was feeling good after his bone marrow transplant and wanted to spend his last years working for himself, with me, at home.  He wanted a bed and breakfast.  We looked at other b&b’s but kept coming back to the first one we visited — Olde Orchard Inn.

I’m not sure what he hoped for at this point in his life, but I like to think he found it.

On move-in day we stepped into the kitchen and the house gave me a warm, firm hug as if it were waiting for us for a long time. That feeling never wavered, even when I was alone in it day after night after day in the coldest of winters, with the snow piled high over my head, and the wind wailing outside the bedrooms windows.

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbHThe land took a little longer to get to know, but after our first harvest we knew we had chosen wisely.  It was hard work, but there was constant reward.  I still wonder about the people who lived and worked there before us and what they left behind.  If I believed in spirits or fairy godmothers or guardian angels I might be able to explain it better.

There were two or three innkeeper/owners before us.  But before them there were only the Young’s, the Larson’s, the Brown’s, and the Abenaki’s.

White settlers drove the Abenakis from their land around Lake Winnipesaukee in the second half of the 17th Century.

Larson era brick house (1)We know that Batchelder Brown bought 50 acres from the colorful General Jonathan Moulton in 1783 for 5 pounds.  General Moulton received a large tract of land as a reward for his successes in the American Revolution and sold parcels to Brown and others who served under him.  The Browns bought abutting property in 1791 and 1803 and members of their large family lived there for over 150 years.   One of the Brown men made bricks from clay by the stream, and built the brick addition when the family outgrew the original center chimney wood structure.  Mildred Carter (a Brown through a second marriage) married Peter O. Larson.  They bought the home and land from the Browns, planted the orchard, and gave it the name Homestead Farm. They shipped apples all over the country and sold them at a farm stand on Route 25.

The Youngs, who bought the farm from the Larsons in 1968, perhaps like my family, loved the land too much. Kate Young Caley writes beautifully of her love for the farm in her memoir.  Unfortunately as I read reviews of her book, this part of her story seems overlooked and unappreciated.

At some point lands were sold off, and houses were built on Orchard Drive.  Homestead Farm became Olde Orchard Inn in 1987.  I’m not sure of all the owners but one of them, was the town building inspector, and that may account for why the tiny bathrooms in some of the guest rooms and a good deal of the wiring look like they couldn’t have passed code!

We bought the land from the Senners who ran the inn for several years.  Grandma Mary, who would ride in the bucket of the large tractor and pick the apples high on the trees, was sad to go.

admin-ajax.phpPeople with connections to the land would visit. A Brown descendent sat down in the old kitchen and and spent some moments in the past.  Two Larson women visited and told me that as children on very cold nights they would sleep on blankets on top of brick ovens behind the central fireplace. These pilgrims would walk the orchard and visit the family cemetery.  We all agreed that there was something special about the house and land.  Guests would ask me about ghosts and tell me they felt a presence. One couple came back to renew their wedding vows because they felt the orchard a spiritual place.

100_0674The 1790 house came with a barn built even earlier, and over 500 trees on twelve acres. We spent our first months there fixing pipes and moving snow and figuring out how to keep warm. But once spring arrived the apple trees exploded with a flowery welcome.

We learned how to care for the orchard by trial and error. We joined Beginner Farmers and went to workshops at the Carroll County Extension.  We tried our best to figure out which apple was which, when to prune, how to keep the apples crisp for as long into the winter as we could.

hat rack treesThe orchard was rather comical. The trees had buzz cuts. Old huge trees were mixed in with newer, younger, smaller  hybrids. Some were espaliered but neglected. Others had grown so many suckers and water sprouts they reminded me of banyan trees.  We found cherries (the birds always got them before us), pears, and a few peaches scattered throughout. The pears did very well, perhaps because there weren’t enough of them to attract their own pests and diseases. The peaches withered away.

You cannot imagine my delight when I discovered the gorgeous raspberries galore —enough to make the richest raspberry ice cream and still have plenty for muffins and kuchens. I liked them because they practically took care of themselves.

There were special moments. We were picking up drops one autumn afternoon.  The sun hit the maples just right, and we sat down and took in the colors, said how lucky we were, and stopped work for the day.

100_0770We saw bear curled up under bushes; a baby cub up in the crab apple tree outside our window.  Sleeping deer left matted ovals in the grass.  Wild turkeys strutted across the field picking up whatever goodies they could find.  Fox would jump up and dive into the snow coming up with a snack every time.

wild turkeysPepper, our dog, would walk along with us plucking dandelions off their stems without missing a beat. He would pick the apples off low hanging branches.

Our second year’s harvest was our best.  I doubt we had one apple that didn’t have a blemish or a hole, but that didn’t matter to us.

Apple Tree, written & illustrated by Peter Parnall

From Apple Tree, by Peter Parnall

The following winter Clark started to fail quickly. He continued to plow but I did the shoveling.  We drove into Boston in early spring to meet Morgan for a Red Sox game, but Clark wound up in Dana Farber.  He went home to hospice. The apple blossoms came and went and the grass grew up to my hips. One of my first mornings alone a mourning dove called to me from the top of the barn.  A weight lifted off my shoulders and Clark was now free.

Mowing took 18 man hours.  When Alex was up, they shared the work, one on the tractor, the other taking the lawnmower up close under the trees.  It was my job now and it was when I really started to love the land.  I understood why Clark gave up when he no longer could manage the mowing.

The new Woodshed -- April 2015

The new Woodshed — April 2015

It was too easy to stay put, protected and comfortable on this magical land, to be the widow at the old orchard who only went into town to buy cheese at The Olld Country Store, or walked across the street for takeout at the Woodshed.  Too easy to create my fantasy of being the crazy lady standing at the door with rifle in hand, dressed in calico and little brown boots, telling the tax collector to get off my property.  Too easy to imagine a slim handsome stranger with a cigarette in a pickup driving up and staying on as the live-in handy man.

I put the inn on the market, split off a small piece in the back orchard for myself, and sold the house to a a woman who had spent some time at the house before it was an inn and had felt the pull of the place.  She and her husband moved over from England and  immediately hung a Union Jack from the flagpole.  Batchelder might have shuddered in his grave.

winter apple treesNow these 2.65 acres are on the market. My sons and I are ambivalent. We want to enjoy the land but we live too far away.  My neighbor who lives in the former apple storage building is under the spell also.  He mows the orchard while he can.

Perhaps someone will buy the property, put up a sweet little home, care for the pears, choose a few apple trees to pamper back to health, steal a few of the raspberry plants from the inn’s property, spend a few years carving out a tree from a behemoth gone wild, and find peace.

But if it doesn’t sell, that’s okay.

Sisterhood is Powerful

Kathie Sarachild -- credited with the the words Sisterhood is Powerful

Kathie Sarachild — the woman behind the title — google her name

My after college friends, the two women I hung out with in Boston from 1969 until 1975 when I finally moved out, having had it with doggie poo on the streets, a discouraging proportion of gay to straight men on Beacon Hill, and a neighbor across the alley who hosted orgies with the windows wide open, were okay attractive, intelligent, liberal thinking, book-reading, professionals with masters degrees making decent salaries.

MARRIAGE AND WORK

We weren’t girls who went to college only looking for a husband, but I am sure none of us would have turned the right one away had he come along.  I, for one, was engaged to a college sweetheart before coming to my senses.  Actually I was out of my senses when I dramatically, hysterical and in tears, in the presence of quite a few people, most of whom I didn’t know, at some gathering in a now-forgotten city in New Jersey, declared that our engagement was a huge mistake.  I had been building up to it.  Once said, I wondered why it took me so long to admit.

Marriage was important to us, and so were children.  And certainly, what was wrong with having someone it would be so nice to come home to.  

We were living the life of independent women, meeting for lunch at Grendel’s Den, and later for drinks and steamers at the bar in The Half Shell.  We devoured Anais Nin, Doris Lessing, and Simone de Beauvoir, but we weren’t exactly all on the same page.  They were getting fired up and fortifying their stance with Betty Friedan and Germaine Greer while I was fueling my angst and imagination with Violet Leduc and Caitlin Thomas.  

L. gave herself a birthday party with girlfriends every year.  We were all at her mother’s house celebrating.  I must have stepped out of the room, probably to attend to an uncomfortable contact lens, which was a constant source of squinchiness during my twenties.  I vividly remember returning to the kitchen where the talk was about discrimination against women in the work force:  less salary, no respect, limited prospects.  Women could be librarians, sales clerks, secretaries, and beauticians:  cooks but not chefs, teachers but not principals, nurses but not doctors.

They talked of how women need financial independence to be in control of their own destinies.  Not all women chose to marry, or were chosen to be married, and many who married found themselves trapped in uncomfortable if not intolerable situations.  If they married, they wanted the right to work even though they knew it still meant that hubby expected his working wife to be at home, relaxed and lovely, with drink in hand and dinner on the table, and children clean and done with homework every night when he returned from the job.  And so forth. 

Everyone stared at me when I walked into the room and said something like:  “It’s ugly in the work environment.  It’s stifling, stressful, competitive, demeaning, nasty.  How many men enjoy their work, or get to choose?  No man should have to wake each morning, rush off to the office or factory, squelching his spirit to make the boss happy.  Men are suffocating in mines and in bureaucracies acting out scenarios that make them cringe.  Women don’t have many choices, but if my only choices were entering the so-called man’s duplicitous work world or staying at home in the woman’s realm, well I’d rather be barefoot and pregnant.”  Or something like that. 

From then on I was Aunt Tom.

ABORTION AND BIRTH CONTROL    

In my senior year at high school I dated an older boy who adored me because of my innocence, and would have been very happy to take it away.  He thought fear of pregnancy kept me a virgin.  But my fears went deeper than that.  He gave me a book to read about abortion, illegal at the time.  It spoke to the different options available to women of different economic and social classes, and of the many reasons women chose to terminate a pregnancy, and of the disastrous outcomes of back alley botches.  It all made sense to me, but it did not have the desired effect – or perhaps he was just interested in my education?

A few years later, in a conversation about the pill and abortion, a college roommate told me her mother had had an abortion.  My ambivalence showed, and so did my roommate’s annoyance.  By the end of the conversation, however, I knew if an untimely or inappropriate pregnancy should occur, I would opt for abortion – even an illegal one.  I was still lily white at this time.

I did go on the pill almost immediately when I met that college sweetheart.  The local doctor in my college town refused to give me a prescription and shooed me out with a moral berating.  My beau’s sister lent me her wedding band and sent me to her own ob-gyn and all was well – for me, and for her family who really didn’t care very much for me. 

No one in my circle of friends, acquaintances, family, favorite authors, or historical heroes truly believed that the decision of whether a woman got pregnant or ended one had anything to do with the law.  The law was just something to work around – an outdated nuisance.  And this law was based on religion beliefs.  Everyone knew from seventh grade American history class that there was a separation between church and state.  We read The Scarlet Letter, a tale of adultery taking place in a Puritan colony in 1642, before our enlightened founding fathers wrote the Constitution setting the separation of church and state in stone!  

Curious about when the pill was first available to women in the United States I asked the computer.  The FDA approved it for contraceptive use in 1960.   I also learned that Eisenhower thought that birth control was not in the government’s purview.  At least that’s how I interpreted his words the first time I saw them out of context on The Pill.  He was quoted:

I cannot imagine anything more emphatically a subject that is not a
proper political or governmental activity or function or responsibility.

Miraculously discovered  in Mom & Dad's matchbook collection two days ago.

A timely discovery in Mom & Dad’s matchbook collection

Wow!  Eisenhower was once more on my side.  Birth control was not a government issue. 

When I went back online to do some research, I found more.  The sound bite was taken from Eisenhower’s response to a question at a press conference in 1959.  He was asked for his reaction to the recommendation that the United States provide information on birth control to countries asking for help to alleviate crippling overpopulation.  The rest of his answer:

This thing has for very great denominations a religious meaning, definite religious tenet in their own doctrine. I have no quarrel with them; as a matter of fact this being largely the Catholic Church, they are one of the groups that I admire and respect. But this has nothing to do with governmental contact  with other governments.  We do not intend to interfere with the internal affairs of any other government, and if they want to do something about what is admittedly a very difficult question, almost an explosive question that is their business.  If they want to go to someone for help, they will go unquestionably to professional groups not to governments. This Government has no, and will not  as long as I am here have a positive political doctrine in its program that has to do with this problem of birth control. That’s not our business.

Margaret Sanger, at the age of 80, challenged Eisenhower to a debate “to put him straight on the question of planned parenthood.” 

Googling on, I found that Eisenhower’s words have been used to back up both pro and anti-birth control constituencies throughout the years.   

What did he actually believe?  More than that, what did he actually say?  I see the words, but what is a “positive political doctrine?”  What about a “negative political doctrine?” Did he choose his words carefully or was this an Obama “You didn’t build that” moment. 

As a former archivist and one who loves finding the answer, I know this topic requires more in-depth original document research.  What I’m finding online are various bits and pieces of history strung together to promote opposing agendas.  It is hard enough to approximate the truth in news and history when it is written by journalists and scholars with high standards for their work.  It’s impossible when writers and news commentators and our politicians lie outright, and twist and contort words and make up facts to promote themselves or promote fear.  Eisenhower is merely an interesting aside here.  This is not a dissertation, just my silly blog post, and I can’t devote weeks to find the answers. I’m clearly pointing out that I know not of what I write.  And neither do a lot of  “experts.” 

Eisenhower Birth-CurbWhatever his personal opinion on birth control – his official answer to the US getting involved in population control overseas was “no.” 

A few years later however, Former President Eisenhower, along with Harry S. Truman, “agreed to serve as co-chairman of the honorary sponsors council of Planned Parenthood-World Population,”  co-chair of Planned Parenthood, or co-chair of a financial campaign for Planned Parenthood – take your pick.  It depends upon where you look.

He did say, however, in a message to Planned Parenthood in 1968:

“Millions of parents in our country — hundreds of millions abroad — are still denied the clear human right of choosing the number of children they will have. Government must act, and private citizens must cooperate urgently through voluntary means to secure this right for all peoples. Failure would limit the expectations of future generations to abject poverty and suffering, and bring down upon us history’s condemnation.”

Planned Parenthood’s Fact Sheet on Republicans on Choice, Family Planning, and Privacy, a teacher’s aid, interprets Eisenhower’s words as his seeing “reproductive rights for what they are — basic human rights.”

Yes!

But according to Donald T. Critchlow in The Politics of Abortion and Birth Control in Historical Perspective (1996) Eisenhower agreed “after some hesitation” which is interpreted in wiki.answers that he agreed “albeit reluctantly.”

It is outrageous that abortion and birth control are still controversial political issues.   The people who vote for political leaders who hold women in such contempt that they deny them safe and simple health care and control of their own bodies are living in a fantasy.  It may be a religious fantasy.  It may be some sick sexual fantasy.  Or it may be something as simple as the fact that their parents voted Republican, and so then do they.

However, the stupidity and the level of hate and fear shown by today’s outspoken anti-women’s leaders in the Republican Party and the church do not reflect the opinions of the majority of voting Republicans or churchgoers, and certainly not the opinions of most Americans.  The leaders of Republican Party in past decades were more realistic and compassionate (before George the 2nd changed the meaning of the word) in their approach to women’s health, family planning, unwanted pregnancy, and unwanted children.   Check Planned Parenthood’s Fact Sheet again.   Of course, PP also knows how to cut and paste to their benefit.

AND SO?

I was about thirty years old and sitting at my aunt and uncle’s kitchen table.  Two of their sons were my age and married.  They were curious why I wasn’t.  I said because I have everything I need – money, a job, a home, friends.  I’ll marry if and when I find the right someone or the right man with whom to have a child.  I wasn’t big on single motherhood. I’m not sure what they thought of my answer or of me.  It was spontaneous but it still seems right.

Who knows why I married?

Reading about the life of the late Shulamith Firestone I was struck by all that the feminists of my day accomplished and how doggedly our government is nibbling away at women’s rights — basic human rights.   I was also struck by how so many of those activist women’s lives turned tragic.

No, I was not a feminist.  But because of the feminists I am the woman I am now, and I am fed up.

It wasn’t all roses

Today is Fathers Day and I had a show-stopping conversation with Morgan.  His dad, my husband, passed away in 2006, when Morgan was 22.  We were talking about choosing a partner for marriage.

Mom & Dad at JFK 1990

Morgan said a thoughtful, tender thing to me, at least that’s what I heard.   He said that he and his younger brother Alex have an idea of what a good marriage can be because of the way their parents, Clark and me, stayed together and remained committed to each other for over 25 years.  That’s the model they have in mind, and they are looking for partners with which to do the same.  But oh, my words are so clinical and cliché.  His words were so very much more human, more Morgan.

Clark and I were truly each other’s best friend, there for each other, no question.

Morgan and I spoke about other things too – work, the addition, his cats, air conditioning, July 4th weekend, the cicadas.  And then we hung up.

And then I began to worry.  

In my efforts to make sure my sons are certain that Lee does not mean more to me than their father, have I led them to believe that Clark and I had a fairy-tale marriage?  Will they be endlessly looking for fairy-tale relationships?  As a young girl I believed in fairy-tale romances and marriages.  As an older woman I believe in fairy-tale romances and marriages.  But in-between I learned that it isn’t all lovey-dovey and happy til death do we part. 

There were days during my marriage, and sometimes there were weeks or months when I wondered why or how or when.  Do I really love him?  Would I be happier with someone else?  Am I trapped?

We never fought and I can’t remember ever raising our voices at each other.  I’m pretty sure that is true.  Two of the men I dated after his death, and the one that I am living with now get to that frenetic, shouting state so quickly. 

Arguing with men, with anyone actually except my mother and a few employees (I loathe being in a supervisory position) was new to me, and very uncomfortable, and so I talked about it, trying to understand this hurtful dynamic in a relationship.  One of my “dates” thought that Clark must have been hen-pecked.  How else could he not have gotten angry with me since I was such a controlling, demanding woman?  I don’t see that. 

Clark was level-headed, calm, comforting.  When I totally crashed the computer in our bookstore, leaving us without any inventory or purchase and sales records, he treated me gently and with concern as I walked around constantly crying, mute, and in a shadow for three weeks.  Even when he was hurting with cancer, he found the way to help me through my anxiety and craziness over my mother’s violent and ugly onset of Alzheimer’s and the difficulty of getting her, her friends, and her independent living facility to accept the fact that she needed help.

Another one of my “dates” thought that Clark must have been a saint.  I don’t see that either.

Lee doesn’t analyze.  He just knows that we are both a little bit (hah) high strung, and get frustrated easily.  Of course, I think he is the provocateur, but we won’t go there.  If we’re not laughing at ourselves in an hour, we kiss and make up in the morning.   We know we’ve got a good thing going and we aren’t going to let our big fat egos and our insecurities mess it up.

Clark and I may have talked and discussed, compromised, but I don’t even remember doing that.  We just thought the same way.   We successfully owned and operated two small businesses together.  We built one house and did major improvements on two others.  I guess we were a good match.  

He wasn’t very exciting though. 

When we were courting he had a dream of sailing around the world.  This sounded like heaven to me.  After several years I realized this was definitely just a dream.  He was much too cautious, too responsible, and he had a nightmare of an experience sailing the Marion Bermuda Race in 1979.

Only once did I see him lose it.

That was right after Morgan was born.  He had recently changed jobs, and had given up smoking.  Who knows exactly what brought on the anxiety attack that sent him to the hospital and then to bed for months.  If ever I would have left him, it would have been then.  But somehow both he and I got through it.   Yes, he did get stuck when he was diagnosed, but who wouldn’t, and he soon started looking for answers.

Later on, as he got sicker and weaker with his non-Hodgkins, our life got smaller and smaller, but it was actually a dream.  We were living in a 200 year old home that smiled on us.  We hardly ever left it.  Our children were off on their own. 

It felt to me as if I was getting to know a new Clark.  We spoke of what was happening to him and what would become of me.  We were delving into places that we never had entered before. We were falling in love again. 

Perhaps I have rewritten history for myself and for my boys.  It is hard when you are juggling jobs and children to take the time to love each other.  As I look back now, which I am so lucky to be able to do, I wish we had taken more time for ourselves and were more expressive of our feelings.  At the time I was proud of our stoicism.  It seemed to me that we just understood we were with each other and we didn’t have to prove it to each other over and over.  And I think he felt the same.  We never doubted. 

We were fortunate we had a quiet, close time at the end of Clark’s life.  He made it possible.  He is the one who wanted us to buy that big, rambling house – a bear to maintain – on nine acres which needed constant mowing and care.  I wanted to say “No.  We don’t need an apple orchard.  What are you crazy?   All that spraying, all that work?”

But because I knew I had another life on the way, I would have done anything with him.  

And we did good