I hadn’t thought about it before, so I was amazed when I realized that I knew someone who was a veteran of World War I. Well, we all did, those of us who had the good fortune to visit Adin’s farm in Center Lisle. What I understood was that he had gone into the army in 1917 and was sent to France. Mom says that’s what she had thought, too, but her research recently revealed that he went to England and was on a burial detail. Nevertheless, within six months of getting to Europe, he was felled not by a bullet or by mustard gas, but by the worldwide Spanish Flu pandemic and was sent home.
He never married, so he cared for his mother and lived the rest of his life in and within walking distance of the Baker family farmhouse where he was born. That’s where his big sister, Nancy Ethel, our Grandma Taylor, was born and grew up, as well, and their younger sisters Ruth and Lil.
Most of our time was spent in the front room that stretched across much of the front of the house. As you came in the front door, Adin’s big comfortable overstuffed chair was before you, between the big pot-bellied stove and the wall. To the left was a big window looking out on the front lawn and then a corner where a fainting couch stretched along the far wall. In most of my memories of Grandma Kate Baker, she’s sitting, resting on that daybed, wrapped up in a quilt.
Towards the back of the room, at the end of Grandma’s couch, was the dining table, ringed with chairs. Grandma Baker used to send me out to the front yard – really, a small pasture because periodically Adin let the cows into it “to cut the grass” – to pick dandelion greens to make into a salad. I remember that they were spicy and somewhat bitter, but putting salad dressing on them helped. Seems like sometimes she steamed them because I remember them being served warm.
Grandma Baker was blind by this time, but she must have had some “inner sight” because she pieced together quilts by feel and she cooked in the kitchen beyond this front room. She also read tea leaves. I remember her handing me a cup of tea after breakfast and asking me to drink it. Then she took it from me and looked into it carefully, noting the pattern of the tea leaves. I believe she told me that I would soon be taking a trip. And, you know, she was right, if you count driving home to Rochester as “a trip.”
As Tim noted in his blog post, a prominent feature of the front room was its “decoration” with what seemed like dozens of fly tapes – yellowish twists of sticky paper ribbons that trapped some of the zillions of flies that hung around . . . and then hung around stuck to the fly paper seemingly forever, as well. Out back off the kitchen, the grass grew to be several feet high. My main occupation when visiting Adin was pulling up lots of this grass and braiding it into long grass ropes that I strung like Christmas decorations all around the front room, competing with those fly tapes to add my idea of charm.
Upstairs in Adin’s house were bedrooms. Adin never finished the rooms upstairs, so the walls were brown wallboard with blotches of white polka dot paint stripes down them. There was no bathroom upstairs, so we used “vessels” when needed in the night. Usually, vessels were pots that were shoved under the bed, but I seem to remember vessels that were like giant vases lining the wall, almost like Egyptian statuary and nearly as tall as I was. That might not have been saying a lot, since I was a little kid. I just was glad that I wasn’t the one who had to bring the vessels down each morning to empty them and wash them out.
Adin’s room was downstairs, to the right of the front room but reached by a narrow hall behind it that led from the kitchen at the back of the house. Mom says that when neighbors who were hard on their luck came to Adin to ask for a loan, he would take them back to his room, strike the deal, then seal it with a shot of whiskey.
What did we do at Adin’s? He’d take us to visit the cows, if they didn’t come visit us in the front yard. He took us fishing. I remember using sticks with string attached and an open safety pin tied to the end. We did catch fish with that! Later, Mom said she learned that the fishing hole he took us to was a restricted state reservoir. But I think Adin figured he had as much right to it as anyone because he’d probably been there longer than the state had.
And I, too, remember shooting the rifle that Diana and Tim mention. What I specifically remember was that Adin told me, before I shot it, that the barrel was bent or something like that, so that I couldn’t use the sight on it to pinpoint my aim. He recommended that I look down the barrel and then aim for a spot several feet lower than what I wanted to hit, so that I’d have a chance at accuracy. That didn’t seem logical to me so I ignored his advice. And that is why I, too, could not hit the broad side of the barn.
A visit to Adin’s always included a visit to Aunt Lil’s store. She was Adin’s and Grandma Taylor’s “little sister.” I remember coming in the back door and tramping down the old wooden plank floor between aisles so crammed with stuff that it’s a wonder anyone found anything there. It seems we were looking for mayonnaise but we were as likely to find car sparkplugs as food. And there, in a little cubbyhole, was Aunt Lil sitting on a wooden stool at the cash register. I can hear her still, lacing her conversation with, “Don’tcha know,” just like Grandma did.
And we would go to the old farmhouse, where now Wendell and Joyce lived and worked the family farm. I remember sleeping over with our second cousins, Kathryn, Helen, Dawn, Anne and Rhoda, and giggling under the bedcovers while our mothers, all first cousins, caught up on all the family gossip.
During the days, Dad and Adin would take us kids around out in the pastures and to see the cows while Mom spent the visit gabbing with Grandma Baker. Besides being blind, Grandma was also deaf, so it was a very loud visit. I was often looking for things to do because there weren’t things to “play” with at Adin’s. I didn’t realize at the time how precious the memories of that place and time would become to me.
One winter day years later, just before I turned 13, Mom told me that Adin had been found lying on his front room floor, dead. The fire had burned out in the stove and it was cold. Piecing together the clues, Mom thinks this shy man who never married had died on Valentine’s Day. His niece Phyllis’s son, Wendell, found him two days later.
Mom and Aunt Esther took Julie and me to his funeral. I remember noticing that someone had placed a sprig of pine in his hand, to represent his love of the land. After reading Mom’s and Uncle Harold’s story about Haying, I now understand why.