In a late-1962 issue of a popular women's magazine Redbook, there was a contest with a monetary prize for the best short story written by a young woman telling why she thought her marriage was a success. After writing my thoughts, I felt my attempt was not good enough to submit, but I kept it for my children . . . .
Windham, New York
January 2, 1963
I don't know how many years of happy marriage constitute a successful marriage, or how old you may be and still be considered young. My marriage was doomed from the beginning, according to the friends and relatives who knew the circumstances surrounding it. As I look back over the years, although it was a struggle and there were many obstacles to overcome, there were so many happy times to balance the scale that I don't believe I would change a thing.
Perhaps I should start at the beginning. I met my husband Win after graduating from high school in Pennsylvania. He had been a student of my aunt who taught in a little one-room school in the Catskill Mountains of New York State. Because I was completely exhausted from both studies and social life after graduation, my aunt invited me to spend a few weeks with her on her mountain farm so I could rest and prepare to return to school for a post-graduate course in the fall. I had been registered to attend Cornell University but was notified that I would need one more year of French in order to be admitted. It was finally decided that I would take the course while remaining with my aunt in the Catskills. It was a beautiful summer that year, and before I realized what was happening, I had fallen in love with Win, and he with me. I was very reluctant to return to school after being proposed to at least a dozen times that summer. I tried to keep my head, and kept telling myself that I wanted an education before settling down to married life, and that this was probably one of the much-warned-of "summer romances". And so I returned to school in the fall as planned. To make a long story short, at the end of October love triumphed, and on the afternoon of Halloween we eloped.
Needless to say, my entire family was very upset. My mother had passed away when I was ten years old, leaving me in the care of the most wonderful grandparents, two aunts, and my father. My father had since remarried, and my stepmother and I never quite reached a happy relationship.
Those of you who have always known the comforts of city or suburban living can't begin to visualize the difference in living on a Catskill Mountain farm that had not been modernized in any way. We had no electric lights or any modern appliances of any kind. The little "Chick Sale" at the end of the winding path out back (a long path, I might add, when it was below zero in the winter months) replaced the indoor plumbing and steam heat I had been accustomed to. There is an old joke, about that--one of the old-timers said, "Years ago folks ate indoors and went to the 'john' outdoors, but nowadays, with all these newfangled patios and barbecue outfits, they eat outdoors and go to the 'john' indoors!" Another little inconvenience I forgot to mention was the stove, which had an insatiable appetite for wood, and ash pans that were always in need of being emptied.
My husband and I finally moved into part of his parents, farmhouse, where we were to work the farm for half the income--which we later learned was all the milk from the cows that one could drink, all the garden produce one wanted to raise, all the wood one had the strength and ambition to cut, etc., etc., but practically no money.
My family was very worried, and predicted that I wouldn't stick it out for more than a few weeks. I thought it was all very romantic (at first). Autumn in the Catskill Mountains is one of the most beautiful seasons of the year and one of God's loveliest creations. We were very happy. I polished kerosene lamp chimneys with a vengeance. I learned how to dig potatoes, stoke up a wood fire, and start a fire with little scraps of wood. Then came the winter, with its huge drifts of white snow and sub-zero weather. At first I thought I just couldn't take it, that perhaps I had made a mistake, that I just wasn't cut out for this sort of life; but I was determined to make my marriage succeed. Soon I began to enjoy romping around in the snow and riding down hill in the evening, then returning to the warm glowing fire and drinking hot chocolate.
It would take a full volume to describe the gradual changes in our farm life. There were very lean years when our three children were small. We picked luscious wild strawberries in the early summer, and then, in season, the jet black blackberries for our breakfast fruit. Our only recreation at the end of the week, after working from sun-up to late in the evening getting in hay, putting up quart after quart of vegetables we raised to keep the wolf from the door during winter, was to pack a lunch and take the children to an old swimming hole over in what was called "Mill Hollow" for a Sunday picnic and swim. My husband and our two sons loved to fish, so very often they spent the afternoon fishing. Then, back home to get the cows down out of the mountain pasture lot and get the evening milking done.
It was a big day in the life of the family when the power company purchased the right-of-way and began to string lines past our old farmhouse, and we finally had our first refrigerator. (Before that we kept food in the cellar in a screened-in box and the milk in quart jars in the cold springwater vat by the barn.) That's one of the things I loved about the farm--the crystal-clear cold spring water.
By this time I had learned all by myself to paint and paper. I did all the decorating of the eight-room farmhouse myself, except when occasionally one of Win's aunts came to give me a helping hand. I had put up literally hundreds of quarts of garden vegetables, made many jars of home-made wild strawberry jam (which we gave as Christmas gifts when there wasn't any money to buy gifts), learned how to cut wood on the end of a crosscut saw, and could polish kerosene lamp chimneys until they sparkled.
I don't think our three children, although they went without many things their city cousins had, would have traded their farm pets for any of the things money could buy. They had a spunky little pony, half Welsh and half Shetland, whose mother died when he was born, that they named Nicky and raised on a bottle; a pet raccoon, full of mischief, named Cooney; a baby hawk they raised, named Henry; and a little gray squirrel who ate toast with them every morning at the breakfast table; plus many frisky kittens, puppies, bunnies, pheasants, calves, and chickens they raised for 4-H.
As I look back I remember so many of the good things that the hardships are dimmed in my memory. Have you ever climbed a mountain early in the morning when the birds are awakening, the dew is still on the grass, and the sun is just making its appearance over the edge of the horizon? It's one of the most rewarding experiences one can have. Every time I went after the cows for the morning milking and stopped for a moment to rest, I would look around and think, "God's in His heaven and all's right with the world."
Before I finish I must tell of one really funny incident (there were many during the period I was getting adjusted to country life). There was always a financial problem, and if my husband had a chance to earn a few dollars by doing outside work that didn't interfere with farm chores, he took it. One day he took the job of election inspector, against his better judgment because he couldn't leave to come home for the evening milking. I assured him, even though I had never milked alone, that with the aid of our son Jim, who was twelve, I could accomplish the chore. All would have gone well except that the white-wash man decided to make his annual visit that day to white-wash our barn (a Board of Health requirement). No one had told me that cows are terrified of a newly white-washed stable--something about the glare of fresh, bright white really excites them. Win had our dairy of 40 cows trained to come in the narrow back stable door single file, each to her own private stanchion, where they stood eating the grain placed before them while their stanchions were being closed. They filed in that night in their usual orderly manner, but, after reaching the lines of stanchions, they took one look at the fresh whitewash job, turned on their heels, and all 40 of the old gals made a dash for that little old narrow barn door. Since the old barn was weaker than those 40 milkers, something had to give, and it turned out to be the whole back end of the stable--it went out flat on the ground! I can't quite recall how we got them back in the barn and milked, but we did. Jim said, "Gee, Mom, big deal. Daddy's making $10 working and we tear the whole end out of the barn." I was scared to death of Win's reaction when he came home and found out what had happened. When he walked into the barn I was in tears. He just stood there looking at the gaping hole that had once been the end of the barn while I described, between tears, what had happened. Finally he just roared with laughter till he too was in tears. All he said to me was, "I always wanted a double door in the back of the barn, and now we'll have one." And we did.
I haven't space enough to tell you of all the money-raising projects that helped pay the many medical expenses, or the wonderful way our three children cooperated by working summers to make it possible for them to go to college, or the grand relatives who sent packages on the holidays when there was no money to buy the children "store" presents.
We now have all the modern conveniences--I no longer have to bathe in an old wash tub in front of the old wood stove or heat all my wash water on top of the stove, but I don't think I will ever be any happier than I was during those years. God has been good to us and has answered my prayers that I have been able to raise our three wonderful children, the youngest of whom will graduate from college in June, as her two brothers have before her. I still consider myself young, as I was young when I had my family, and I have made what my friends and relatives consider a success of a marriage that they had predicted would fail from the very beginning!
We have now been married for 66 years! Our three children live very happy, successful lives, all with college educations and good positions. We no longer live on the farm, and haven't for many years, but those experiences have helped to shape the lives of us and our children. We hope these values will be passed on to future generations so that they may find as much happiness as we have found through all these years.