Dear Milk Streeter,
It’s the second weekend in August, which means it’s time for Old Home Day: the annual town parade and carnival. Last year, it rained cats and dogs just after the parade ended. Thunderstorms threatened again this year, but they held off just long enough for the parade and some fun at the carnival afterward. (This year, nearby Granville had a celebration on the same night and also offered fireworks; things are competitive all over.)
This year’s parade had two memorable floats: a mastodon being attacked by cavemen (and one cavewoman) and a bug-eyed monster that sprayed water and spewed smoke. There were local marching bands, bagpipes, fire trucks, plus free candy thrown to the crowd. The carnival doesn’t change much year to year: the spin-the-wheel cake contest (the winner gets to choose a locally baked cake), French fries, plate breaking, the maple syrup wagon with milkshakes and maple cotton candy, dunk-the-dope, win a goldfish and lots more. See below for photos.
I ran into an old friend at the parade, Valerie—she and her sister Susie live just below Beartown in the old home place. Since Charlie Bentley died, Susie and Valerie have had to look after his horses, including Sasparilla, Trouble, Tiger Lily, Little Queen, Sandy and Roany. It has taken so long to settle his estate that the eight beneficiaries are now down to six! At this rate, there may be nobody left.
Tom and I have been out in the woods, moving tree stands for the fall hunting season, checking out deer trails and mowing logging roads. Tom is honorary president of The Old Rabbit Hunters Association and, after hunting with Mr. President for over 30 years, I recognize that his office requires a certain deference, even when moving tree stands.
Mr. President designated himself as the ground man—he held the bottom of the ladder—and I was accorded the job of climbing to the top, undoing the rusty ratchet straps and then gently coming back down, now that the stand was no longer attached to the tree. We took it apart and moved it to a better location. Once the stand had been reassembled and pole-vaulted up against the tree, I once again climbed the ladder to reattach the straps. I realized, a good 20 feet up, that the stand was not centered on the tree. I informed Mr. President of the situation and he shouted back up, “Well, just jump back a bit and reposition it!”
Think of standing on the top of a tall ladder leaning against a house, leaning back, pulling the ladder away from its moorings, and hop-scotching it over to one side. I looked down and asked a rather unconcerned Mr. President if this was, in fact, a good idea. He replied, “See that small birch to your right? If anything happens, jump for it and shimmy down to the ground. You’ll be fine.” Out of respect for the office, I did as I was told and, sure enough, the stand is now centered.
It should be noted that Mr. President presents the calm face of equanimity under almost all conditions, except during the run-up to deer season. As we inspected the new location of our tree stand, Mr. President worked himself up, his voice edging into a higher register. “Yup, I can see two good runs within 75 yards, and there is a nice gut off to the right where the big ones will come up the mountain. We’re going to shoot an eight-pointer this year. There’s going to be some good eating!” He went home to rummage through the Cabela’s catalog for tick-repellent hunting clothes and a shoulder brace for his crossbow.
A pretty good crop of apples on the trees this year, lots of rabbits and lots of deer as well. Tom and I were sitting on the deck at the cabin and a doe loped along through the lower meadow. They jump up with their back legs as they lope. I guess saddling and riding a deer would be pretty uncomfortable.
I ran into Mike, who lives just down the road. He was getting his cows ready for the Washington County Fair. They need serious haircuts and trimming to compete for a blue ribbon, but so does Mike. His hair was sticking out every which way. I asked him about it and he said, “Well, I get my hair cut three times a year: once before the Washington County Fair, once before Christmas and once in the spring.” No need to go overboard!
I also ran into Joe Nolan, who was brush-hogging my upper fields. Joe is a hard worker; he was raised on a farm and has been milking cows on weekends for a friend for over 20 years. He’s not much for curtains and domesticity but he knows a whole lot about farming, farm equipment and hunting. He uses a '70s International Harvester with a 10-foot brush-hog, which makes quick work of mowing. People like to talk about two Americas. Well, there are indeed two Americas. People who know how things work (and can fix them) and everyone else! If you can’t sharpen a chainsaw, change an oil filter, fix the plumbing, replace the hydraulic hoses on a backhoe, know the difference between red and sugar maples, hill potatoes or field dress a deer, well, you aren’t that useful in this part of the world. Hats off to the people who keep things running.
I’m often asked why I call this missive Swearing Hill News. In our town, there are two mountains directly across from each other: Swearing Hill and Minister Hill. That pretty much sums up the local humor. When a sign for Tudor Road was put up in the '60s, the family across the road erected a sign that read, “Skidmore Boulevard.” And it’s happened more than once that a farmer shakes hands with an out-of-towner while holding on, with the other hand, to a section of electric fencing. It’s a place of little things, like the sign at the country store that reads, “If we don’t have it, you don’t need it.”
That’s about it for this month. Hunting season is coming up, so I’ll probably be spending time at Cabela’s just like Mr. President. Maybe a shooting tripod or a new set of hunting socks?
Founder, Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street