Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The Farm Where We Grew Up

Looking back on it now, it seems like a slice of heaven, that 100 acres in rural New Jersey where I grew up. It was called Maple Lane Farm because it sat at the base of rolling hills, at the end of a 1/2 mile long lane lined with huge maple trees. The nearest little town was Califon. The house and barns sat at the base of the hills, looking out at a wide valley, with our fields spread out before us. There was the big white house, built in 1800, and several barns and outbuildings. A huge apple orchard spread across the field behind the house, and in the spring time it dazzled us with blossoming pink and white trees, preparing for the abundance of apples to follow. There were so many that most of them were eaten by our sheep and the deer, but we certainly had our share. Walnut and hickory trees provided us with abundant nuts. We had huge gardens with every variety of vegetable, strawberries, and flowers. Mom and Anne canned, pickled, and froze food throughout the harvest months.Every summer, we climbed to the woods at the top of the hill behind our house, carrying big metal pails which we filled with wild strawberries, so that our mother could make jam. We ate as much as we could, but still brought home pails full of berries. On other trips to those woods, with our beloved Anne, we gathered plants and moss to make terrariums. My brothers and I went up the hill and into the woods often. I had a favorite spot, a sunny grove of white birch trees, where I liked to sit alone and commune with the world and imagine what my grown-up life might be like. This view looks across the fields towards the farm, with the hills and woods behind.
Looking down at the farm from the middle of the apple orchard. Right about here I spent many hours sewing soft, velvety leaves together. They grew on a particular weed, and I thought they made perfect doll blankets - for a few hours at least!Here are my brothers and I, in the sheep pasture, riding in the wagon that my father pulled behind his tractor.

A favorite pastime for all of us four children was playing in the big red barn. It had a huge hay loft, full of baled hay, and a chute where the hay was thrown down into the barn below for the sheep. We reached the hay mow by climbing a wooden ladder. Just thinking of it, I remember the sweet smell of the hay, and the golden dust that rose up and glinted in the sunlight as we climbed around on the bales. We built forts out of hay bales, and tested our jumping and climbing skills by rearranging higher and higher piles. We were strictly forbidden to get near the hay chute, for fear we'd fall through and get injured, but all of us went down that chute as soon as our Dad was not nearby. It was our version of a big thrill.

Another favorite activity was to forage in the feed bins where the sheep feed was kept. Some of the feed had lumps of molasses in it, and we kids loved to sort out the molasses pieces and eat them. Our Dad, again, tried to curtail that activity, with little success.The house had a huge attic and a full basement, where we played hide and seek, often with our many cousins. The dog slept on a huge shelf at the top of the basement stairs. My dad had his desk down in the basement, and there was a cold room for food storage. A large coal furnace sat in the middle of the basement, with a room full of coal next to it. Dad periodically disappeared into the basement to shovel coal into that furnace. Big steam radiators heated each room, and I spent many hours leaning against the radiator in my bedroom watching the blaze of autumn leaves on the maple trees, or later, the ice storms that turned the world into a glistening wonderland of twinkling ice.

In the first years we lived there, the kitchen table was a fold-out one, kind of like a Murphy bed. After eating, it folded flat onto the wall. In later years, our parents remodeled the place and made a huge new kitchen, the absolute center of all family activity. There was a mud-room (a place to remove coats and boots when coming indoors), but it was rarely used.

Upstairs there were four bedrooms. Outside my bedroom window was a lilac bush, so hauntingly sweet in the spring months when it bloomed and filled my room with its fragrance.

We all learned to drive the tractor when we were very small. I have photos of myself at age 9 driving a tractor and pulling a hay wagon full of hay. When I was 14, my brothers and I bought a car together for $25. We drove it endlessly around the big field in front of our house, so that by the time we were old enough to get our driving permits, we had all been driving for years. Here we are, with our pride and joy!


Rexroth's Daughter said...

Sigrid-- What a fantastic journey through your childhood. I grew up in the "Garden State" too, and I never really understood why it was called that. But you lived it! How beautiful it was there. Later on in my teens, we used to drive out to your neck of the woods and go swimming in Cokesbury. It was beautiful country out there. I love your car photo!

Barb Cabot said...

These photos and your lovely childhood memories are treasures! What wonderful, rich memories. Thanks so much for sharing the wealth. Warms my heart!

Sigrid Jardin said...

RD, Oh Cokesbury - that was so close to where we lived, right in the neighborhood. New Jersey was extraordinarily beautiful back then - I'm sure there are still some tucked away parts of it. Little Califon is growing into a commuter area for New York, and our lovely farm already has been subdivided with a house built up in that orchard. :-(

Barb,So glad you're enjoying my stories. I was lucky to have grown up in this wonderful place.

Jean said...

C'est une grande chance de passer l'enfance à la campagne , dans une ferme .
It is a lucky to pass childhood to the countryside, in a farm.

pablo said...

Lovely bit of nostalgic remembrance. I feared that it would have a sad ending (tract housing was what I imagined), but you pulled it all together nicely. A pleasure to share in your memories.

Sigrid Jardin said...

Jean, Merci, et oui, era tres beau, l'enfance a la compagne!

Pablo, I hope there never will be tract housing there. Last time I visited, there was still plenty of open space left! It has been fun remembering that bucolic childhood.

adagio said...

The photograph of you(?) on the swing is truly stunning. The distinctive light/dark contrast; the placement of the swing at the outer edge, silhouetted against the sky; the leafy 'roof'. As with many of your childhood photographs, I have a strong impression that the photoghrapher has taken a very conscious approach to his/her work. It is clearly not simply a case of naive trigger-happiness.

TDharma said...

bucolic, indeed! and your lovely teacher, "Aunt Jane." What a wonderful, wholesome, creative and free childhood you all had! I love that you and your brothers bought a car so young and got to tool around in it. Splendid. A joy to read.