My widowed mother (nicknamed “Hester” by me) and I were experiencing our first winter in our remodeled country schoolhouse which boasted a telephone but no electricity or running water. We moved in April 30, 1949, so spring, summer, and fall months offered little challenge. We owned a new, two-door, black Plymouth. I worked with a survey party in the Greenfield district of the Massachusetts Department of Public Works. My journal relates events.
January 4, 1950, Wednesday. We have stickers for the windshield this year instead of new registration plates, but since the theft of stickers and blanks from the Registry Office in Malden all cars in the state are required to be inspected and receive additional “OK” stickers.
Last week’s cold and wind gave place to mild weather with temperatures in the upper fifties. Sunday, in briefs and T-shirt, I walked up to the highest spot on the power line where there is a fine view to the north. There’s a vertical ledge up there where some animals, probably deer, have been in the habit of backing far enough over the edge to let their droppings fall free—a natural latrine.
Since our party started working in the Northampton area I’ve been driving over Norwich Hill and Route 66. That way is 19.8 miles to the Vets Hospital on Route 9 in Leeds. By way of Westfield it’s 9 miles farther.
While working in our woods Monday afternoon I glimpsed a rabbit on the run with his little white tail bobbing. Last evening I walked down the abandoned wood road which leaves Carrington Road just south of Bear Den Brook bridge. It’s passable but overgrown with laurel and briars. Occasionally the path tilts in attempt to precipitate a walker to the rocky bottom. Farmer Walter Allyn (my father’s cousin) told me that his relative, Joseph Allyn, used this route to haul ties down to the railroad.
January 10, 1950, Tuesday. Last Friday was so rainy I didn’t go to work. Instead I went up to tax collector, Kenneth Allyn, to pay excise tax on my Plymouth.
Kenneth told me about a Southampton man who started digging a well in his cellar. He got down 25 feet with a electric pump to remove water seeping in as he dug. He was loosening soil with a crowbar when suddenly the bar made a hole in the bottom, slipped from his hands and disappeared. He got out of the hole and dug no more. Later he sounded through the hole with other equipment and found no bottom. Either a great, water-filled cavern is below his house or a fast-flowing stream that carries sounding equipment with it.
Over the weekend temperatures fell very low. Saturday I cut down another of the poplar trees across the road. Wind, which blew in fierce gusts all night, had died down, but when I had the trunk cut through, the wind rose and threw the tree opposite to the direction I wanted it to fall. I had it propped, but couldn’t pull it back. Besides, it was partially hung in another tree and threatened the road. All I could do was knock the prop loose and hope for the best. The trunk crashed across the road loosening the telephone wires and flattening a barbed wire fence. However, in twenty minutes, I had the road cleared so I could go to Russell and notify the phone company that repair was needed. I was glad to have cleared the mess as I met two cars on the way down. The service man arrived in half an hour by 11:30. He tightened the wires, and by noon we could again contact the operator. Sunday was too cold for outside work.
Hester said Stella Williston phoned today from the farm a mile up the mountain. They have sold the little white calf, but now have a young bull which she is going to name Noble. A favor? Just after Christmas Stella’s two daughters, May and Florys, braved the mud to bring Hester a honey comb, candy, and a birch log holder for two candles, laurel and pine cones. They appreciate Hester’s walking up to see their mother.
January 16, 1950, Monday. We’re in an ice age. O be joyful and praise the Lord who sendeth rain instead of snow in winter. It filleth thy well with water (over three feet deep already). It overlayeth the land with ice, so that when thou goest for the water of thy well thou slippeth upon thy nether parts and learn in humility of His mightiness.
Last Friday our icy road made driving an adventure. I could wish for one more guard post on the approach to the new bridge. The car slid down the sloping shoulder of the road till I wondered what could keep it from slipping over the retaining wall into the brook.
Charles Peckham got his last batch of logs sawed into boards and has them piled to season beside his barn in Russell. But every Saturday and Sunday he, with daughter Dorothy, little Charles and the horse, come up to get out more logs.
Uncle Sam and Aunt Florence (Noble) Boyce are going to get a new Plymouth, but not until March 1.
Having rain instead of snow gives me better opportunity to cut brush and firewood. Last Saturday was very mild. When the sun came out in the afternoon I took off my jacket in hope of salvaging some of last summer’s tan.
Saturday night between eight and midnight we got the side sweepings of a northwest gale. The house vibrated. I worried and prayed that the wind would stop. Instead I should have thanked God for giving me a sturdy little building that has stood since 1845. With more faith I might have slept through it. Anyhow, the wind continued, and God took care of us in spite of me. Only one shingle came off the roof, and a coating of dust blew through the cracks in the gable wall of my attic bedroom. The old wind seems to be kicking up again tonight.
January 31, 1950, Tuesday. It snowed so hard that we didn’t go out. Bessie Sibley had given us a new Audubon Bird Guide that cost three dollars. While working in Amherst I saw eight yellow throated vireos in a hedge row. The bird book says they are persistent singers, but these were too busy finding food to even chirp. Probably our mild winter brought them north too early to snow covered New England.
Lil Albrecht told us about free movies presented Saturday evenings at Sage Hall, Smith College. She cautioned us to come early. Hester and I were the third car to arrive and had the choice of the parking lot. Inside we chose the back row, left side, and discovered that Mr. Albrecht and Lil would sit there too. Most of the audience was ancient ladies, probably retired faculty. There were quite a few men and children. Smith students must have sat in the balcony as that was where JoAnn went after coming to speak to her father and mother. She’s in her senior year, and gives her own concert Sunday. A group passed speaking French, and I understood much of what they said. More language practice was coming. The evening’s film was Spanish with Imperio Argentina in “The Ballade of Dolores.”
Last Sunday Mr. Peckham drove up in his Chevrolet to see how many more logs, scattered on the meadow, needed to be hauled to the mill. We determined my east boundary along the top of brook bank from the power line to the bridge. Making a reel for my 100-foot tape with a broomstick spindle, I measured between the points with triangles so that I can calculate the angles.
Outdoor, survey work is healthy. Running lines in the middle of busy highways involves risk, but we don’t take chances. Usually we’re on country roads. Surveys take us all over, and I’m thrilled to travel while other folks are shut up in factories or offices. The trips to Provincetown last November wouldn’t have hap
pened without survey.