By Charles Cooley
IN AUGUST OF 1941, Justin Tucker, of East Warren, fell off a load of hay and broke his leg. That would not have been of any consequence to me except that Justin Tucker happened to be my older sister’s father-in-law and he needed someone immediately to milk his cows and feed the calves since he was in the hospital in Montpelier. I was the most available soul.
I was fifteen years old and lived in Randolph Center. The farm where I had spent those fifteen years had something interesting happening all the time. I remember it as a very happy time even though I was expected to contribute to the farm work. Sometimes I had to sandwich the Dick Tracy radio program between chores at the end of the day, but Mother and Dad were reasonable about it as long as I got the job done. When the night chores were done, any young people on the premises were allowed to play until it was time to go to bed. That frequently meant a couple of hours of kick the can, a version of hide and seek.
I had never spent an overnight away from home and had hardly been anywhere outside Vermont until August of 1941.
The Tucker farm looked like a disaster to me.
East Warren lies on the western slope of the ridge that some call the Braintree Mountains. It overlooks the Mad River Valley and faces the main ridge of the Green Mountains to the west. Although it was hardly fifteen miles from Randolph Center as the crow flies, I was no crow, so it took about fifty to sixty miles of driving to get there. Anyone who has recently driven from Roxbury to East Warren over the road that connects those two places might think I was fortunate to be going to such a beautiful place. I’m here to tell you I found very little that I was accustomed to when I was delivered to the Tucker farm as the chore boy of the hour.
East Warren had no collection of houses that could be considered a village. It is somewhat problematic to claim it needed a name. This was before Mad River Glen and Sugarbush changed the economy of the Mad River Valley, so there was a magnificent view across the valley of the higher mountains to the west. At that time, the only commercial activity in much of the valley was farming, lumbering, and sugaring.
The Tucker farm looked like a disaster to me. There were only about ten cows and a few calves. That was fortunate because the milking machine was run by a gas engine that was a bit tricky to start. There was no electricity, no radio, and most of all no one but Mrs. Tucker in the household. I had to get the cows milked by six o’clock every morning so that the milk truck could carry the milk to market in Waterbury. Several times I failed to start the engine and had to milk by hand. When I finished my chores at night I could read, but there was no electricity and the light was not very good, so instead, I went to bed and felt homesick.
In fact, I was homesick most of the time until I came home, and I remember it as an illness that almost disabled me. But disability was not an option, and I kept the cows and calves alive until I came home to a family that I appreciated more than ever.
Although I left Vermont to go to school in Chicago two years later, I don’t recall a single moment of homesickness then or at any other time in my life. I had developed an immunity as a result of my experience in East Warren.
Excerpted from "The Summer Justin Tucker Broke His Leg and Other Stories" by Charles Cooley, to be published later this year by Korongo Books. "The Summer . . . " is a working title. Another possibility: "Mostly Farming." The book is a collection of essays, and Charles's sense of humor infuses its pages. If you are familiar with his writing and would like to suggest a title, now or later, don't hesitate. You can leave one in a comment below or send it to us in an email. —Sara Tucker, Korongo Books