Sunday, December 30, 2007

Visiting Adin's Farm By Sue Kinsella

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.

When I knew Adin, he was retired from farming and living in the “new” house down the road from his birthplace, the one that Nancy and Diana refer to in their blog posts. He had built this new house from the planks cut from the trees he dragged out of the forest in his “spare time,” as Mom described in her story about Haying At Adin’s. She thinks he might have sent away for the blueprints from the Sears & Roebuck catalog.

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.

Pictures: Grandma Kate and Adin, Center Lisle in July of 1955, Center Lisle in July of 1957 (hoping Ma can tell us more about this update on the house!), Adin, Dan Kinsella and Sue Kinsella, and the last picture is of Aunt Lil and Grandma Taylor.


Sue Kinsella said...

Are these the right pictures of Adin's house? I recognize the cars, but the pictures of the house and the drive up to it don't look familiar to me at all.

Granted, when I used to visit there I was even younger than Judy keeps claiming to be. But in my memory we turned off the road into a pretty straight driveway to the house. And the house was white and had several fairly narrow steps up to it - you can see them in the picture with Great Grandma Baker and Adin. And I definitely don't remember a porch or garage! Not only that, but I thought the front yard had some kind of fence around it, to keep the cows in when they "cut the grass." Ma, Nancy, Diana - can you shed light on this? Is this a different house?

BTW, Pat added some pictures to Mom's Haying At Adin's story. Click on the arrow for the November listings and it'll come up. There's a wonderful picture of my mother there when she was 25 (and a pretty cute little baby with her, I might add).

Thanks, Pat, for putting this up. I'm wondering what everyone else remembers.


Anonymous said...

Sorry, that is NOT Uncle Adin's house. His was the one in the picture of him and Grandma Kate. I grew up next door to him. I lived in the old farmhouse most of my childhood. I loved going through the pasture to his house. For me, one of the best parts of his house was the bathroom. It was across from his bedroom. We did not have a bathroom in the old farmhouse until just before we moved out.

I love this site. Your Mom (CB) told me about it. Thanks for all the work on it. I check it out a lot, even though I am not a 'TaylorBaker Cousin'. I am a 'HowlandBaker Cousin'.
Love to you all,
Kathryn Barron(was Wood- Gladys' oldest)

Pat said...


THANK YOU for the correction! I am working off of my Pop's slides, and when it says 'Center Lisle' and has a house, I think it must be the house written about.

I am younger than Sue and just younger than Tim. While Tim has memories of Adin's, I don't except for the Baker reunions and jumping in the hay from the top of the barn loft.

This blog has shown me that there were several house/farms in Center Lisle that were Baker-oriented, so I apologize.

Ma will sort out which house this is when she gets here again.

And, please, continue to add comments!

We can make this a HowlandBakerCousins blog also.

If you want to write a story/memory about anything (like Sue or Diana or Tom), just write it up and email me at:

I also have copies of Dad's slides which include MANY pictures of Baker reunions (from the years of 1964 and 1975). As I do not know many of the people in them and I am quite young in them, no doubt again, you and Sue know many of the characters!

Sue Kinsella said...

Kathryn, so good to see your comment here! Do you know which house the pictures are of?

I can't speak for Pat, but I have been considering the name of this site to mean Taylor AND Baker family Cousins, not necessarily only Bakers who are also Taylors. That's why I've been sending notes about it to Dorothy Maffei. So, in my mind, this is a place for you, too. Especially because we all loved your grandma, our Aunt Lil, so much, as well.

Pat, the "jumping in the hay from the top of the barn loft" was at still another house, Uncle Freddie's farm. And that's a whole 'nother set of stories we should get into! I remember milking the cows there, and drinking warm, just-milked milk, and . . . I know that the Lochners have memories from then, as well. But I don't think I know quite where, geographicaly, that was. Lots to sort out!

Anonymous said...

Dear KIds,
I, too, think of this site as one for any Taylor, Baker people and that includes all those related to any Baker or Taylor [ or married to, etc!]
and this slide has been mismarked! I think it is Merle Barrows home in Pitcher. He was son of Aunt Nell and uncle Dell and they lived in Center Lisle across from back of store. He was a well driller, married to Viola and the picture of Tim as a 3 yr old holding the cat by the neck was taken at their place I think!! God knows I never wanted her to see that one, as she was very particular about her cats, as well as anything hers!!!
And the jumping in the hay that I remember took place at Adin's old farm [ Wendell's place], in that lovely old barn. That is where we Taylors used to do same and you kids did it to one Baker reunion. It was fun to watch!!! The Baker reunions were started by Aunt Lil after my mother died in 1970 as a way of keeping us all together [ thats my memory, anyone else remember it differently?] I have talked to Neil Maffei of this site and he will take it off for Leona so maybe she has a thought!!! CB

Sue Kinsella said...

Okay, so who were Nell and Dell, whose son would drill a well? (My goodness, we've got poetry just saying our famiy's names!)

I think we need a family tree here!

I do remember that we used to go to Merle and VIola's and Dad used to go hunting with Merle. But I don't think I ever figured out where Merle fit in the family.

Maybe we already have a family tree sketched out in one of our family books, or maybe Mom would be willing to draw it up, going back to at least the Nell, Dell, Florence, Kate and Byron generation, and including the Howland families? If you could scan that, Pat, and put it up as a picture that we could blow up when we need it, that could help sort things out a bit. If there's help that I can provide on that, let me know. I just got a scanner that I need to learn to use.

Anonymous said...

Nell was Byron's sister. Dell was her husband.
Uncle Freddy and Aunt Sylva lived just outside Edmeston. And, for those who are wondering, (are there any?) Aunt Sylva is Lil's next to the oldest daughter. There were a lot of reunions at Aunt Sylva's house when Sue and I were kids.

Tom Kinsella said...

Hi Kathryn.

I'm enjoying all the commentary. Pat, Beth, and I had much fun at two or three Baker reunions jumping in the hay at Wendell's during the early 1970s. I remember thinking, "this is kind of dangerous," when exploring the loft and slipping down 8 or 10 feet between the bales and having to scale the hay to climb back out.

I too remember Aunt Lil fondly. Once Beth and I (we must have been 10 and 11) brought some catnip to show Aunt Lil who was visiting at our cottage in Canada. We just thought she'd like to see it. She certainly did. She grabbed the stalk and ate a few leaves.

Pat said...

And Tom's eyes went wide and his voice stammered as he struggled to decide if Aunt Lil was not quite all there or just going back to her farming roots: "Aunt Lil. That's catnip. And you're eating it!"

Tom Kinsellla said...

It's true. That was my reaction. She must have been well into her 80s at that point. Now that I'm older, I find myself sampling small amounts of catnip, too. It's minty. So I think Aunt Lil was returning to her roots.

Anonymous said...

Grandma never left her farming roots. One time, when I was peeling potatoes for her, she made me peel the peelings. I left too much potato on them. She was really thrifty. When I was a teenager, she and I went grocery shopping about every week. She drove over the narrow, twisty roads between Center Lisle and Marathon at speeds close to 60 MPH. She was really something.
By the way, this site is almost like a reunion to me.
lots of love,

Pat said...

Well, who knows if any one will discover that comments are still being left on this post, but Kathryn, I LOVE the image of having to peel the peelings of the potatoes! It sounds like the beginnings of a Leno joke.

As I listened to the Aunt Lil recording, it was clear that she was peeling potatoes for Ma as she reminisced. I wonder how close THOSE peelings were!


Sue Kinsella said...

Hey, Pat, I discovered that comments are still being left on this post. Like little gems. Such fun!

Anonymous said...

Well, I am here and having read all the comments I will add my 2 cents!If you really wanted to have a blast you should have been with me when I took Aunt Lil to my friend's, Cliff. antique business! She would say [ sotto voice] What does he have on that pot? I wpuld whisper. $10. She would scream, $10? I bought one of those for 10 cents!! [ never mind that was 50 years before]!! So the visit went and Cliff and I have laughed over it ever since!! He understood! CB