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An Excerpt from My Long Island


An Excerpt from My Long Island
by Eleanor Ferguson, 1993
Recollections of Middle Island, 1920's-1940's


Rainbow Ranch

Rainbow Ranch

We lived for eighteen years and brought up our three children at Rainbow Ranch in Middle Island--as far as I am concerned, the best years of our lives.

 

In the winter of 1925, Don was employed to look over an orchard that was for sale. He was to report to the prospective buyer on its possibilities. He went over to Middle Island, looked it over, and reported that it was so good he had arranged to buy it himself. I don't think this was really ethical, but maybe it was more honest than giving an adverse report and then going out and buying it. His father loaned us the money. A hundred and fifty acres for $15,000. Not a bad buy.

The Randalls, who had once owned the farm, had planted the younger parts of the orchard. They sold it to two "city fellows" who ran it for a few years, enjoyed summers in the country, and had a tearoom for a while in the old house. It was from them that we bought it. Mrs. Randall still lived across the road.

There were some twenty acres in orchard--apples, mostly, but there were a few peaches--a nice old barn, a shed of like vintage, and a little house so old that the floors slanted in all directions and every door had been planed off at a different angle so that it would close. This house had been built about 1750 and had been a Post Office from 1811 to 1835. This goes back to the time when the mail came in by post rider, which gives Middle Island a kinship with the wild west and the Pony Express.

 

From where I sit now, I realize that this house was an historical treasure and should have been preserved for the ages. But to us, in 1925, it was just an old house with its sills gone and impossible to make livable. We had a living to make and a family to rear, and we wanted a modern house. So the little old house went. We did leave the great, seven-foot-square chimney and built the new house around it. There were three fireplaces, two back-to-back, big enough for five-foot logs, and a third between these two, of later vintage. This one fell apart when we tore the house down, disclosing a Dutch oven between the two big fireplaces. People had been puzzled over the lack of a Dutch oven in a house of this age.

 

We had to get the house built before we could move, so we sat down and sketched out what looked like a livable house. Mr. Scott of Yaphank was engaged as builder, to Uncle Peanuts' sorrow. Yes, Uncle Peanuts was still in Huntington and still building. He couldn't have built stronger than Mr. Scott but he might have given us a more efficient house, although we were not so far from the time when the height of efficiency was a hand pump in the kitchen sink, as opposed to a well and bucket in the back yard.

 

The house was built with no help from me. I saw it just once in all the time of its building and Don was much too busy with the orchard to fuss over house details. I was not one to demand a say in it all--I just assumed it would be fine. This was, no doubt, because Dad always attended to such things and I accepted life in a very unassertive way. I hope Mr. Scott appreciated his free rein.

 

We had a fine big black coal stove in the kitchen with a hot water boiler attached. It did annoy me that things had been so arranged that when one came through the front door into the living room, one's gaze went straight through the archway between living room and dining room and came point-blank against the hot water tank. I felt a lack of the aesthetic here, but didn't see that much could be done about it.

 

I managed the stove with good enough skill, and it did well by me except when the wind was wrong and it wouldn't burn right. Then I could be frustrated, but mostly I was quite fond of it and refused to part with it when we eventually left the farm. I was going to have it in use again someday, and I took unkindly to gas and electric stoves.

 

I used Mrs. Potts sadirons to iron our clothes. We had used them back at Medford, too. These irons did a good job but were a bother. They had to be heated on the coal stove, even in July. A detachable handle shifted from one iron as it cooled to a nice, fresh, hot one. You tested the heat with a wet finger and learned to tell by the hiss if it was hot enough. You also tried it on the end of the ironing board cover to see if it was too hot, not on the best linen table napkins.

 

We had a coal furnace in the cellar with a hot-air heating system. Don ran the furnace like an old master, and a coal furnace takes skill. We used the fireplace in the living room from November to May. Don made fires there that would have roasted an ox and it was God's grace that we didn't burn the house down, for that chimney was the one built in 1750, and mortar and bricks are not immortal.

 

We had a telephone from the beginning. It was a wall phone with a crank that we spun to raise the operator. Several neighbors were on the same party line. We each had our own ring, and everybody knew when anybody had a call. Our number was 75F11, and the ring was one long and one short. There were a lot of people who monitored all calls on the line. Our neighbor Mrs. Randall was one of these, and she would be upset when she was at our house and another number rang, for I didn't believe in listening in. This left gaps in her knowledge of her neighbors' doings.

We did not have electricity. We hadn't had it at East Setauket either, so we were twelve years without it. We had kerosene lamps that sufficed nicely. I hated to clean and fill them, and was prone to leave the job till supper time, which meant that I took rather kerosene-smelling hands to the stove. The big table lamp went from the living room table behind the loveseat to the middle of the dining room table for supper. This doesn't make the ideal centerpiece, and we always rejoiced when spring advanced to the point where we could have supper without the lamp. I have never quite recovered from that. It is still a great day when we have supper by daylight. It was about 1935 when the power lines finally came through on Middle Country Road and we all hooked up. Our house had been wired when we built it, so it was not much of a job.

 

It must have been late winter when we bought the place and Don was all agog to get in a full season's work. The orchard had to be pruned and the brush cleared away. He was at Middle Island all day every day. He got hold of a young man in the neighborhood to work for us. This was Al Cattle. Don wanted an all-around farm worker but also one who was good with machinery and Al was highly recommended as a "good hand with cars and such." He was more knowledgeable than Don, but he was rather what Dad called a "bale-wire mechanic." It is the wonder of the world that these two ever kept tractor and sprayer and water-pumping system functioning long enough to get the work done. It was standard procedure for the sprayer to break down just as they got out to the orchard with a full tank.

 

If it wasn't the sprayer that went to pieces, it would be the well. I had spent my life with broken well rods at Medford and the subsequent joys of keeping house with what water you could haul in from the neighbors. Dad was never so happy as when they were fishing for the rods. If well rods break so often, I never could understand why they weren't so constructed that they could be raised without days--yes, literally days--of fishing. Dad enjoyed this, for he loved an emergency, and he loved solving problems, but it drove Don mad. He had no patience with inanimate objects and wanted only to get on with the raising of fruit.

 

The cider operation was another bale-wire setup. It was in the old barn on the rise behind the house. The barn was really another museum piece. It must have been built at the same time as the house, for it was put together with wooden pegs, and I'm sure had had hand-split shingles. The cider press sat on the dirt floor of what must have been the cow stable, and the tractor that ran it was hooked up outside the back door. Cider making is a sloppy job anyway, and this got really sloppy. Besides that, it got cold along in November.

 

The whole neighborhood was interested when we bought the farm. They took a very dim view of us at first. They were quite frank in predicting that the rich man's son would fall flat on his face and give up fruit growing in short order. I'd love to have heard the predictions around the coal stove up at Pfeiffer's store. But the talk died down, and we were eventually accepted in all kindness.

It was old Mr. Bayles next door who scoffed loudest. He had a front-row seat, as their house stood higher on the hill and looked down on our place from the west. He had a poor opinion of both city fellows and rich men's sons. The name of Richard M. Bayles is well known among Long Island historians, for he wrote several books on Island history. He was a real patriarch of a man--tall and stooped and with long white hair and beard. The most kindly of men, but the kids stood in awe of him. They called him "The Big Man." His wife, "Grandma Bayles," was a sweet little robin of a woman who loved all children. She remembered the days when the schooners plied Long Island Sound and came in on the tides to load cordwood.

 

Richard M. was a surveyor, which was a good occupation for one dealing in history, and he was a printer, so he could print his own books. He had an office next to the house and here were his presses and his fonts of type. Some of this equipment is at the Carriage House Museum in Stony Brook now, in the print shop. So fast does today become yesterday and history. He was an insurance agent also, so Richard M. had many strings to his bow.

 

He had two sons. Thomas was married and he and Gertrude and their sons, Elwin and Donald, lived in quarters that had been built onto the office. I think this was supposed to be temporary, but it became their permanent home and they seemed quite content and comfortable. The second son, Albert, lived at home and remained a bachelor all his life. He was a carpenter and hammered many a nail into the barracks at Camp Upton in both World Wars. Eventually he gave up this work, took over the insurance business, and did a little printing on the side.

 

Mrs. Randall lived alone and was the complete and typical country woman. Her house was as neat and clean and stark as a hospital ward. She had a big garden and loved flowers. When we knew her, her active gardening days were over and she just enjoyed the perennials that ran wild on her hillside. Coreopsis blazed gold farther and farther afield every year as it seeded its way along, some little old iris survived, and a peony or two, but what I remember mostly was the phlox. This had seeded as exuberantly as dandelions and had run out to the worst and most awful magenta shades.

 

Like all country women, she was generous in sharing her garden. She would come over along toward fall with handsful of phlox seed and scatter it all through my flower beds. What could I say? She must have wondered why phlox didn't "do" for me, for I pounced on every phlox seedling as it showed its innocent head and yanked it out. But she was a kindly, friendly neighbor.

 

The Bayles place had been carved out of the old Randall farm so our land adjoined theirs on three sides. I envied Gertrude in the spring, for she looked out of her kitchen window into our blooming orchard to the west. I had to walk back through a patch of woods to see and smell apple blossoms. Not that it was a hardship, and I did it often.

 

I would walk back to the orchard in all seasons with the kids, but especially at apple blossom time. Then we would pack up our lunch every day and go back to eat under a pink and white apple tree ahum with bees. I think this was Don's idea. This was a grand time for him, with early spraying done, a respite before the petal-fall spray, and the whole prospect of a bumper crop spread before our eyes. A good bloom is a gorgeous sight. Of course there are many disasters that can hit between bloom and picking basket, but your hopes are high in May. The fragrance of the apple blossoms and the hum of bees is still with me along with the joy of our whole family in our own orchard.

 

Don was never really a farmer for that includes all the many facets of life on a farm, including the proper care and feeding of machinery, but he was a wonderful fruit grower. He had learned much from his two years at the Farm with Dad, and he read and studied. When the fruit came in from the orchard there was no doubt that he knew his business and when we put on an exhibit at one of the fairs there was no handsomer fruit to be seen.

 

Our ultimate effort came when they offered a prize at the Mineola Fair for a display fruit exhibit. The best of our fruit moved into the living room and Don spent a whole day and a whole night packing. I had grown up on fairs and it was nothing new to me to have the entire living room floor paved with the choicest apples so that a bushel of the super-choicest could be selected and packed. Don packed bushel boxes and bushel baskets of apples and sixteen-quart baskets of peaches and pears and crabapples. He prepared specimen plates of each variety--five perfect, matching specimens on each plate.

 

We set them up at the Fair, and I filled a cornucopia with the loveliest fruits I could find, setting a rosy peach against a golden Winter Banana apple, a striped Gravenstein in a nest of purple-bloomed Hyslop crabapples. And then we bedded down the whole exhibit in kinnikinnick, just as we had done for the Grange exhibit back in 1921. This was an old trick of Dad's, to tie an exhibit all together with a background. I can still show you the spot on the Coram-Port Jefferson road where the kids and I gathered all the kinnikinnick.

 

What beautiful things the apples were, and what a joy to work with. Everybody had a favorite variety and the kids were as choosy as anyone. A Delicious eater would pass by the McIntosh or vice versa. I had different cooking uses for different varieties. Through the season I moved from one to another. Of the summer apples I liked Ohio Nonpareil and Summer Rambo--two of our really old varieties. Ohio Nonpareil made a pale, smooth, tart applesauce, while Summer Rambo sauce was darker and more meaty. Both were good, but it was the Rambo I used for pie.

 

The best apple pie in the world is made with Gravensteins, preferably Red Gravensteins. I early decided I'd have to learn to bake a good apple pie if I was going to live by, and with, apples. So I kept at it till I did achieve a reputation for being a good pie baker. Actually, the family had no other pies to compare, so they became addicted to my ways with them.

 

Ours was an old orchard and we had some very old varieties. In this day of rediscovering and preserving old varieties, that orchard would be a treasure. Some trees must have been fifty years old, a newer section was half that age, and Don planted still more. He cleared a piece north of the main orchard and put in Cortlands. This was a new apple at the time--a cross between McIntosh and Ben Davis. A most unlikely cross, but it was a marvelous apple. The fruit was flattish-round and of a deep, dark red, with that lovely bloom that dark red fruit assumes. The flesh was white and crisp and firm. They were wonderful to eat raw, made a good pie, and baked beautifully to a white puff of softness. They are still a favorite of mine.

 

The Ben Davis was a very old apple and one valued for its keeping qualities. True, they would keep forever, and be as undentable in June as they were in October. Don always said they "had the rich flavor of new-mown cork." There was a little old lady who ran a boarding house in Yaphank and she bought Ben Davis from us "because they keep so well." Our Ben Davis were among the old trees and Don could see no purpose in giving them houseroom, so he grafted them over. It took him at least three years but when he got through he had Stayman Winesap and Delicious instead of corky old Ben Davis. This was a real satisfaction and money in the pocket.

 

We had an early tomato crop that was really precious. This was what farmers call a "catch crop." It fitted into the complicated schedule of raising fruit. We had the advantage of being able to start our own plants in the greenhouse, which we had moved from East Setauket, and they were at least in bud when they were set out. When winter pruning was done, there was time to get the greenhouse going and start the tomato plants. When the early spraying was finished and there was a pause for the orchard to bloom, the tomatoes were set out in the field behind the barn. This was a high spot, fairly safe from the late frosts. Then in July, when spraying was finished for the season and the fruit was developing, the first tomatoes ripened. Like everything Don raised, they were super tomatoes and he developed a super pack and got a super price. When ordinary tomatoes brought seventy-five cents a basket, Don got three dollars.

 

When the first good summer apples came in--the Ohio Nonpareils and Rambos--we opened the stand. This was just a series of steps on a table with a roof overhead supported on cedar posts. I think Dad was responsible for this, and he designed the Rainbow Ranch sign. Don also had a giant red apple constructed of metal and this hung out closer to the road. It certainly caught the eye and it became a local landmark.

 

From July to the end of November, the stand was the focal point of all farm life. This was where the fruit moved out and the money moved in, and what we took in during those five months was our yearly income. By the following June our resources were mighty low and everybody needed new shoes. But of course by June all three kids had given up shoes and they ran barefoot all summer.

 

The stand season started quietly with tomatoes and early apples, but then came peach season. From late August through September it was a madhouse. People came from far and wide for our peaches. We started the season with Golden Jubilee and Cumberland, the former spicy and yellow, the latter white and pink and so mellow and sweet that it was a sin. Sliced together and topped with cream stolen from the top of the milk bottles, they were heavenly eating. Then we went into Hale and Elberta and Belle of Georgia, the main crop. These came in for the Labor Day season when all the summer people packed up and went home in time for school. They all stopped at Rainbow Ranch for peaches. Then people settled down to canning and they all came back to get some more.

 

We went into the good fall apples like McIntosh and Cortland. Fall Pippin and Maiden Blush were two of the fine old varieties of fall apples. People were ready to make pies again with the lazy summer days behind them, and kids needed apples in their lunch boxes. So every day was busy and the weekends horrendous. It took all of us to man the stand.

 

In early fall, the kids gathered black walnuts from our many trees, spread them in the ruts of the farm roads and let the truck husk them as it hurtled from orchard to storage cellar to stand. This was their racket, and they had the money from the sales.

 

I made jams and jellies through the summer and fall, and this was my racket. My desk was bought with one year's proceeds. Since I made some 1500 glasses in a season, this apparently didn't net me a great deal. I made raspberry and currant jelly, which brought me the patronage of Mrs. Otis of Bellport. She eventually took all I could make. She was the widow of the Otis elevator man and she traveled around in basic black and pearls, with an attendant companion and a very nice driver.

 

By late October we were into Delicious, York Imperial, Baldwin, and Rome Beauty, and the cider season opened. We would close up the stand just before dark and move the fruit to the storage cellar. This was a mad race with the last of the daylight, for there was no light in the storage cellar. All kids rallied for this wild loading and unloading, and the late customers continued to clamor. We kept a few jugs of cider on the front porch, and any apples that had been ordered and paid for, but after dark we were through.

 

Supper was quite often baked beans (hot out of the coal stove oven), lots of bread and butter, and applesauce. Then we all collapsed in front of the fire and counted money. I would unload the cash box periodically during the day and bring in handfuls of bills which I cleverly concealed among the books in the bookcases. Don always had an excellent idea of what the take should have been, and more than once I had to hunt out another book and its cache.

 

November was the month for winter apples. It could be slack during the week, but the Sunday drivers swamped us. Thanksgiving brought a great demand for cider. By then we were about out of apples, even cider apples, so we closed the stand. In December and January I went back to housekeeping and Don started the pruning and planning for the next season. A couple of times he went over to the Bellport Coast Guard Station on Fire Island for wintry vacations. He walked the three miles across the bay on the ice. The Captain was an old friend from Point O' Woods days, a bayman with generations of baymen behind him. Don would walk the beach, gather skimmer clams for the cook, watch the rum-runners making for the Inlet, and thoroughly enjoy himself. The men came over once a week for supplies which they transported on sleds and we would meet them on the beach at Bellport. They looked like a group of Eskimos coming across the ice.

 

In the early days, I was responsible for the stand. We did not have a steady stream of customers then, and I could go about my housework and keep an ear cocked for the sound of a car horn. This was not too bad until our second, Anne Van Dyck, came along in 1927 and it was a bit difficult if I had her in the tub or was nursing her. The poor child's lunch was interrupted more than once. When she was born and I was in the hospital for ten days, Badger came out from New York to keep house for Don. As noted earlier, Badger was my grandfather--my mother's father--John Alonzo Jones. He had always been handy around the house, and he liked to cook, so he volunteered to come out and supply three meals a day.

 

He helped on the stand too, and developed a real interest in the operation. He was a striking old gentleman, a good salesman, and had a way with people. The customers liked him and readily bought the "straight Baldwin" cider that he kept behind the stand for "special customers." In actuality, this was the cider that was beginning to bubble in an interesting way. Don always told people frankly what it was, and many preferred it when it had achieved a bit of sparkle, but this was not Badger's way. He was a bit of a con artist. We were so amused by him that we let him have his fun. By 1930, when William Cashman was born, we had regular help on the stand and life was simpler for me.

 

The three children had a fine life. They had free range of the whole farm--150 acres of woods, orchards, and fields--as well as all the woods surrounding us. When they were small I kept them within sight, but that still gave them all the area they needed for their small doings. As they got bigger, they rode the truck back and forth to the orchard and raced among the trees. They went off by themselves into the woods and explored. In the spring they found arbutus and lady's slippers, in the fall Indian pipes, and in the winter wintergreen berries and ground pine for Christmas decorations.

 

We always had a dog who was at their heels all day, and this was a good life for a dog, too. It is only in these days that a dog leads a dog's life--penned in the house, taken out for necessary walks on a leash, and never a chance to race and sniff and explore the world. Our dogs spent the whole day exploring.

 

I feel strongly that this is the best way for children to grow up. On a farm they have all the time they need to grow, internally as well as externally. As plants need nourishing soil, sunshine, and sufficient moisture to bring them to maturity, children need surroundings that nourish the soul, and time--the slow, sure time of Nature--to develop their personalities. I had this kind of childhood and I know full well that sitting in a violet bed and feeling was far more constructive than were the music lessons and the dancing classes.

 

There was always something going on, from the first turning of the soil in the spring--disc-harrowing the orchard and the field behind the barn where we raised the early tomatoes--to the first ripening fruits and on to the final picking of the last apples. Occasionally, when the kids got bored, they would go out and hunt for black widow spiders. We were fairly well supplied with them, but they lived under rocks and in other such secretive places. Sometimes they were found in empty apple boxes that were stacked conveniently in the orchard, and once I found two in a basket of peaches that had been left by mistake in the orchard overnight. Don liked creatures like this, and he kept black widows in match boxes. You learn awfully fast to open a match box cautiously. Nobody ever was bitten.

 

Although the kids had free run of the orchard, they also knew the rules, which meant no picking of fruit from the trees. Windfalls, yes, but not the perfect fruit. There were two exceptions. In the middle of the main orchard, near a stone pile, was an old Red Astrachan tree and a Yellow Transparent, and these trees were theirs. They were early July apples that came in before the stand was open so they were quite expendable. We had our share of applesauce--and nothing smells better than that first pot of applesauce simmering away on the stove--but mostly the kids ate them. They scrambled through these two trees and reached and picked and crunched like so many squirrels.

 

This had been my joy at Medford--to sit in a fruit tree and eat. It came hard to me to forego that pleasure on our own farm, but I could readily see Don's point. This fruit was our living, and also it was his pride and joy. Just once, I rebelled. Rufus Seward, an old friend from Sea Pines, was visiting, it was peach season, and I announced to Don that we were all going back and eat peaches off the tree. He was too shocked to protest and we all marched back--Rufus, the three kids and I--through the woods to the peach orchard. And eat we did. This must have satisfied me for I never did it again.

 

In January of 1934, we had the blizzard to end all blizzards. Long Island was not noted for heavy snows, and the highway departments were caught unawares. They had trucks and they had the snowplow attachments, but in most cases the plows were not where the trucks were, and the drifts were so high that they could not get to the snowplow sheds without the plows. A real stalemate. It was ten days before our road was cleared, and it was a state road. Somebody broke through with horses sufficiently so Don could walk down to the Stewarts for milk. No mail came in and no traffic moved.

 

Don shoveled away around the back door and the kids managed to get out and wallow in snowdrifts. Billy was so small he couldn't manage it so he slid down drifts on his stomach. We had a pantry and cellar full of food, the results of my summer's canning, and the potatoes we always stored. There was coal for the furnace and the stove, wood for the fireplace and kerosene for the lamps, so we were quite self-sufficient. With such deep snow it was impossible to work at the pruning, so we were all in the house together. It was lovely. We read and played games, Don played the mandolin, and Edith and I picked at the piano. There is much to be said for the togetherness of a blizzard.

 

School could have been a real problem to us, as it had been for my folks at Medford. We were in the East Middle Island school district. When we moved there, it was a one-room school, unchanged in the quality of its teaching as it was unchanged in the quality of its amenities. The former was provided by the teacher the school board could get cheapest; the latter consisted of a wood stove, a bucket of drinking water with a dipper, and an outhouse.

 

Progress crept in just in time for our children. A new school was ordained by the County Supervisor and Don worked his way onto the local school board. The new school had two classrooms, an office, an auditorium, plumbing and central heating. Two rooms meant two teachers and the cost of the whole operation was outrageous to the diehards and to the old-timers who had no children to consider and went, anyway, on the old theory that what was good enough for Grandpa was good enough for them. Don soon became Chairman of the school board and held the job for twelve years, which got our three through elementary school. He held out for good teachers at a decent salary but it wasn't easy. There were fair teachers, pretty good ones, and one really great one--Ruth Jones.

 

Ruth Jones deserves a whole chapter to herself. She was a lovely person of the caliber to teach in a select girls' school, but she had fallen in love and married Tobe Jones, a fruit grower in Yaphank, so her lot was cast in the rural areas. Ruth loved teaching and she had a wonderful feeling for children. She gave the youth of Middle Island more than the three R's--along with a sound elementary education, she gave them a touch of culture.

 

When we moved to Middle Island in 1925, high school didn't enter into the picture at all. The State was responsible only for elementary education. Occasionally, young Middle Islanders with ambition and ability aspired to high school, but in this they were on their own. First they had to convince their parents, some of whom considered it sheer nonsense. Many of the parents had emigrated fairly recently from Poland. They were fine people and hard-working farmers and they eventually came to see the value of schooling for their children, but in those early days they could not always see much beyond hard work--by the age of fourteen, a boy was ready to pull a man's weight on the farm, and a girl was helpful both in the house and in the fields.

 

Once the hurdle of parental permission was surmounted, a girl--they were mostly girls, as I remember--had to find a place to stay in Patchogue, for there was no commuting. A job as a mother's helper usually worked out, and I think these young people must have gotten more out of high school than the resident pupils because they wanted it enough to fight for it, and that's a great incentive. Again our timing was right and our children went to Port Jefferson High School, courtesy of the School District.

 

Although Middle Island in our time was populated largely by Polish farm families, it had been a spot on the map since Colonial days. Middle Country Road carried what traffic there was from the west end of the Island to the eastern settlements. The Hallock Inn in Smithtown and the Old Horn Tavern out at Ridge testify to this--they were the night stops for the stagecoaches. And there were old houses to prove it had been a community--the Ritch's place west of us, and our own old house. In fact, the old house that we acquired and, alas, pulled down was one of three built by the Hutchinson brothers. The one at the foot of our hill, behind two big white pine trees, was known as "the house where Cynthia Hutchinson hanged herself." I never heard why. That house was lost to a gravel company, as our place eventually went--sold for a fabulous sum for a gravel pit.

 

The third Hutchinson brother built still further east of us, at the top of the next hill. This house was owned by Ed Pfeiffer in our day. Mr. Pfeiffer ran a typical country store and acquired the Post Office, so he was quite busy. One went there for the mail, a loaf of bread, a gallon of kerosene, and perhaps a horse collar or a pair of work shoes. He carried them all. He also had one of the early gas stations and it was here that we gassed up on the trips from Medford to Wading River in the IHC days.

 

Mr. Pfeiffer was a small, wiry man who talked in a husky whisper. He had been kicked in the throat by a mule (or was it a horse?) in earlier days, and I guess he was fortunate to have any voice at all. He had married one of the many school teachers who came and went in the little school. Between them they ran a tight ship. If you asked for a pound of sweet potatoes, you got a pound--if they had to cut off an inch of sweet potato to achieve it. School teachers never lasted long in rural areas. A sure way to find a husband was to take a rural school.

 

Among the old Middle Island families were the Rulands, the Randalls, the Stills and the Swezeys. There were our neighbors, the Bayleses, and the Van Horns who lived in another of the really old houses east of us. In fact there were two Van Horn houses. Two maiden ladies lived in a once-charming little house on the shores of Artist Lake. That one just disintegrated and disappeared after they died. The other, belonging to brother and sister Marion and Violet Van Horn, was moved when the road was widened. It quietly collapsed during the moving, so Marion had to build a new one.

 

Then there were the Bubbs on Bartlett Road, and Aunt Minnie Ashton in the very ancient Ashton house next door. There was a story about hiding the family silver behind a brick in the Ashton chimney to keep the raiding British from finding it at the time of the American Revolution. Adam Bubb came from "out east" and he married Jerusha Munsell, whose family was related to the Ashtons and was equally old. In fact, it was the Munsell Road that ran through the middle of the Medford Farm. Adam raised vegetables and had a route out in Eastport. He would bring back a load of ice, so he also had an ice route. He supplied us--a bit erratically--and we were thankful for ice in the icebox most of the time. Their daughter Beth and I became very good friends. Mrs. Bubb talked much of Brother Than, about when he "went to war" and "after he came back from the war." It was some time before I realized that Brother Than's war was the Civil War.

 

We had other friends on the Bartlett Road, none other than the Bartlett ladies. These were two maiden ladies of fairly advanced years. Agnes was tall and thin, Maud shorter and decidedly plump. When we first knew them, the children had a little difficulty with their names but Billy figured it out--Miss Agnes was the one with the lavender teeth. They were an interesting pair with an interesting background. They were Brooklyn aristocracy and their father had been a judge. He owned many acres of land in Middle Island. There was a back road that went through this property which Dad had found years before and liked to use. Like me, he much preferred a back road to a main one. There was a row of tumbledown sheds along this road that Dad said had been slave quarters. I'm not at all sure of this, but they may have been of the same vintage as the house, which was indeed old.

 

I have no idea if this was old family property or was bought by the Judge but, as far as I know, it was only used as a summer residence. They came out by LIRR, of course, and the train stopped for them at the Bartlett Station. I daresay this was a whistle stop like the Farm. Now it is just a spot on the railroad about a mile east of the Farm where the Bellport Station Road crosses Long Island Avenue.

 

They were forced to come down in the world when the Judge died and it was found that he had very little to leave to his wife and two daughters. All those acres and acres of land, but not much in the bank. The girls, however, decreed that Mother should never know and that she should continue to live in whatever lap of luxury she knew. So, by the time Mother died, there was even less for the girls, and luxury became a thing of the past. They had their house on Pierrepont St. in Brooklyn--one of the old Brooklyn brownstones--and the Middle Island acres with the house there. This was a very old house and quite large for the age in which it must have been built--around the early 1800s, I would guess. It was little changed when I knew it, and it is gone now. After their deaths it stood empty, and eventually was so vandalized that it was torn down.

 

Julia Muirhead had run the tearoom in our little old house. She was a cousin of one of the city fellows. Later she set up in an equally old house in Coram. She was very successful, for she attracted ladies who had the leisure to drive from Syosset or Bayshore or Quogue for a cup of tea and a piece of the fabulous orange cake that Julia made. The Southampton-Montauk crowd stopped en route. From west to east and back again, one had a choice of Montauk Highway or Middle Country Road. There was no Expressway and no Sunrise Highway, so going through Coram was as easy a way as any, and Miss Muirhead's Orchard Tearoom prospered. She even served Eleanor Roosevelt one day, and to her she confided the secret of the orange cake. Nobody else ever got it.

 

Another highly successful establishment was the Dutch Oven Inn. Badger was tired of the city and the New York flat, and was still too young--at eighty--to quit working, so he conceived the idea of building and running an eating place. Albert Bayles helped him with the heavy work of framing, but he finished the rest himself. He built the Dutch Oven Inn around a replica of the Dutch oven in our house, and his menu consisted mainly of dishes he could bake in this oven--baked beans, nut bread, and apple pie. He also served clam chowder.

 

He developed a small, enthusiastic clientele who found his place attractive and interesting, his food good, and Badger a fascinating character. Nobody knew him as plain John Jones. I don't think any of his customers would have believed that his name was not really Mr. Badger. John Jones just did not fit that striking, white-haired, white-bearded old gentleman. He told a good story and, like my Dad, was not averse to making a good story better. There were many long, leisurely lunches down there, and Badger's Dutch Oven Inn did quite well.

 

Loring also established a business on our property. He had gone to Michigan State University to study forestry although, in spite of his upbringing on the Farm, subjected to the endless preoccupation with growing things, he cared nothing for plants and the last thing in the world that interested him was forestry. However, he had become a good runner at prep school and he was all for going on to a college track team, and Michigan State had a good track team. He became captain of the track team and a 4:21 miler. And then a strange thing happened. In the course of pursuing forestry, he ran into landscape design and discovered that this was for him. He must have absorbed a lot by osmosis all those years on the Farm, for he became wonderfully knowledgeable about plant material and became as good a grower as a designer.

 

When he decided to have a nursery and landscape business of his own, we let him have the ten-acre field at the back of our property for his nursery stock. He patiently built up his stock and began to get landscape work as well as maintenance work. He lived with us for seven or eight years and became a very solid part of the family.

 

World War II crept up on us gradually, as it did for the whole world. Slowly but inexorably, it reached out for us all. In mid-1941, the Army Air Corps (predecessor of the U.S. Air Force) came to Don with a request to organize an aircraft spotting post. The newly formed Ground Observer Corps consisted of a network of spotting posts all along the eastern seaboard, each manned by civilian volunteers who reported every aircraft flying over. Sightings were reported by telephone to a Filter Center where aircraft movements were tracked on a map. The purpose was to provide early warning in case of a possible German suicide strike against our coastal cities.

 

So Don rallied half a dozen young fellows and decreed that the field across the road from the stand was indeed a spotting post. It was manned for a few hours now and then when the Air Corps planned to send out flights for the sole purpose of being spotted. In 1941 air traffic was not what you could call congested. The boys had to run across the road to our house to phone in their reports on the party line. It was Don who made the first report--a flight of B-10s in the south.

 

Then came Pearl Harbor and the whole United States went to war. The enlistment centers were mobbed, the young men disappeared, and old men, very young men, and women came forth to take over the home front jobs. And the Ground Observer Corps went on around-the-clock duty. Thanks to those few dry runs, there was an organization to call on, and a few who knew what was expected of them and how to do it. Don was Chief Observer and got it all organized.

 

It is a matter of great pride to me that I took the first wartime watch of Dudley-92. For a few days, all we had was a post in the ground with a board on top to hold the reporting forms. Then a shelter was thrown up and then a windbreak of brush. Loring called this the Boma. Any good African knows that a boma is a defensive enclosure. Ours was a defense against the north wind.

 

Finally, a small building contributed by the Highway Department was erected higher on the hill, west of the Bayleses, and we used the phone in the Bayles kitchen. A wood stove appeared. Eventually we had a direct phone line to the Filter Center. In time, Donald Bayles built us a tower that took us some thirty feet up in the air and gave us much better coverage. A twenty-four-hour, seven-day-a-week schedule was worked out and men, women, girls and boys came from Coram and Selden as well as Middle Island to serve their two, or four, or six hours a week. As service-age men disappeared, other people took over.

 

The day after Pearl Harbor, Loring put down his pruning shears and digging fork and enlisted in the Navy. Nobody had any false ideas of this being a short and easy war, and nobody made plans for "after the war." So Loring sold his hard-won nursery stock for a fraction of what it was worth and went off to become one of the first radarmen. He was a member of a Navy beach battalion and took part in the amphibious landings at Gela in Sicily and at Salerno on the Italian mainland. He returned stateside for officers' training and then was sent to Guam where he was involved in top secret communications.

 

Sometime during the spring of 1942, Don announced that he had to get back into the Army. I made no protest for I saw how it was with him. He had already talked of selling Rainbow Ranch and going into small fruit somewhere on the North Shore. He had been trying out raspberries and had become fascinated with them. When we went to Middle Island, I had expected to spend the rest of my life there and I asked nothing better. I loved the place, and I loved the work, but I could see how he felt and had accepted it.

 

I took over the spotting post and was Chief Observer for six months. Don hired George Lymber to run the farm and George did manage to get the crop in. By then, all the help we could get was high school boys. It was a case of doing the best you could with what you could get. I knew there would not be another season for us at Rainbow Ranch, so I settled for just getting through this one and getting the place sold.

 

And that was not easy. It was not the time to sell a farm. Eventually, Leo Lentin came to look at it--a most unlikely prospect. He had a very fine dress store in Patchogue, and why he wanted a farm was as much a mystery to the friends who came with him as it was to me. But Leo had, apparently, a love of the land, and he wanted a farm. Moreover, he could well afford it. So he bought our 150 acres for $15,000--the same price we had paid for it.

 

The greatest wrench for me was leaving my garden. When you have spent eighteen years building up a flower garden, your roots are as deep in it and as firm as those of the phlox and the lilacs. The only way I could manage was to ignore it the whole spring. I just wouldn't look at the crocuses and tulips.

 

I did succumb to taking a small clump of the little English sweet violets with me--those white and pale lavender ones that were my very first memory at age three. So perhaps this is a fitting place to end this book of memories.


 

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