Send It Down, Gabriel!
Harley Smith was a farmer who owned what is now the Haggerty place over on the west side of town. Our family now owns part of that property, the pastures across the road where his father's herd of Holsteins grazed during the summer. There is a good spring on the property, the water having been piped down the mountain and under the road to the milk house, where it cooled the large metal cans stored for pickup.
I have recounted in this column more than one story of Harley and his laconic wit, including the time he gave me a chain saw lesson without uttering a word (he just stood next to me and sawed through a log the right way) and his habit of showing up every Friday night at Tom and Nancy's farmhouse just in time for dessert. Harley and his wife, Dorothy, just sat against the wall, watching with anticipation as everyone finished supper.
Just after the first snow of the year, Tom and I were talking about snowplowing, and he told me about Harley's love of bad weather. As soon as a good size storm showed up, Tom's phone would ring and there would be Harley, shouting out with great enthusiasm, "Send it down, Gabriel!" Then he would go out, load up his spreader with sand and salt, and head out for the night. For some, the storm was a trial, but for Harley it was pure joy. His enthusiasm may have been fired by the notion of extra pocket money, but I doubt it. There was more to Harley Smith than that.
Last summer I stopped to talk with Gerald, a carpenter who used to work for Tom. He'd recently purchased a small red camp on the west side of town, and a few of the neighbors were complaining about the new piles of flotsam scattered about the yard. In response, and displaying a good helping of Vermont wit, he erected a fence to screen the yard-a bright red snow fence that, in places, was plastered with Tyvek (an industrial white paper-like material used to side houses). The fence was more of an eyesore than the junk.
With our trucks parked nose to end, we chatted at the tail end of a tired August day. Gerald has not had an easy life. I remember in particular one hot summer when he impulsively abandoned his measuring tape and hammer to work as a barefoot flagman for the road crew standing on hot, soft macadam. Evenings, during the years when he was not living at home, there were reports of Gerald parked by the side of a dirt road in the woods, camping out in his junkyard pickup. Or I might drive by Gerald riding his electric golf cart around town, quite happily cruising at five miles an hour.
But that summer evening, he asked if I remembered the 10-point buck that we had seen in our lower field a half dozen years ago. I said I did. He had snapped a photo of it and said he was going to have it tattooed on his back just to keep the memory. He grinned big and rolled another cigarette, and when I left him, he was still sitting in his truck by the side of the road, enjoying a smoke and thinking of all 10 points.
For many years, Russell was the town metalworker. He would fix hay wagons, balers, plows-you name it. When he got older and his balance was shaky, he had to go live at the nursing home. On Sundays, Susy and Junior would pick him up and bring him back to their farm. They strapped him onto a Cub Cadet with extra seat belts, and then they would take a picture as he rode around, mowing the front yard. The photo was placed by his bedside table so that during the week he could smile and remember that he was still useful.
During summers, our kids do farm chores: graining the beefers; feeding the pigs corn mush; picking strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries; weeding the raised garden beds; taking out the compost; helping to groom the horses and clean the tack. Just at sunset, there is one last chore. The door to the henhouse has to be closed and locked to keep our small flock safe from raccoons and foxes.
The first few times our son, Charlie, was asked to step up and handle this slight task, there was a lot of complaining. "I set the table" or "I fed the pigs" was the typical response. And then, of course, he went AWOL every night just at sunset. But then, as with his two older sisters, Adrienne and I noticed the change. At first, he went down to the henhouse after just one or two reminders, and then, at last, he just got the job done on his own.
One night last summer, I was up by the sap house and happened to see Charlie heading down the driveway to close in the chickens. He was half-skipping down the road, talking to himself, the western sky pale with just a faint hint of baby blue and wisps of cirrus. I could hear the brook running--it had been a wet summer--and then I saw Charlie make his way back up to the house through the thickening green of the apple orchard. I could glimpse his face darkly as the sun set, and all I could think of was Harley Smith at the onset of a snowstorm. I whispered, "Send it down, Gabriel," and turned back to finish my chores.