Hard living in old Vermont

Ron Patch

Below is from Sam Ogden’s book, titled, “The Cheese that changed many lives.” It takes place in Landgrove.

….“This was the Colburn store. We pulled into the dooryard and stepped onto the porch, and thence through a glazed door into the dark interior of the store. It took a moment before our eyes adjusted to the gloom engendered by a paucity of windows whose few dirty panes were festooned with cobwebs.

Ogden
Sam Ogden at the anvil. Photo provided.

“When it became possible to see, we discovered a room approximately thirty feet square, with shelving around the four sides of it. These walls had once been whitewashed but now were dingy, and on every shelf, and these extended from floor to ceiling, there were all sorts of merchandise. Every inch of the floor was taken up with piles of cartons, crates, bags, shovels, gas masks, trenching tools, whiffletrees, lanterns and other objects which far from being in mint condition, and whose unexpected variety was bewildering, to say the least.

“Immediately on our left as we entered was a short counter, and behind this counter, Budda-like in girth as well as in serenity, the proprietor peered from behind his round-framed spectacles. He said nothing at first, but the cheese that we were looking for reposed on the counter close to his right elbow; soon we were talking to him, and what he had to say got us all stirred up. We heard from John Colburn that he and his brother, Charles, owned most of the land in the village, and that they, along with the other property owners, were anxious to unload their holdings…

“…. Of all the rooms in the house, but two were occupied, and none of us ever penetrated further than the kitchen. This was the room in which John lived principally; here he cooked and ate and sat by the window and rocked. I remember that the large wood-burning stove was always buried under a pile of eggshells; what he saved them for we shall never know, though he did use them in his coffee, but he never consumed them at one-tenth the rate at which he accumulated them. Behind the stove there were two packing crates, one used as a wood box, the other as a waste bin, which he must have emptied from time to time, but which was always full to overflowing, in spite of the fact that the place he reserved for the disposal of tin cans was just outside the nearest window. By the time we came to Landgrove this magnificent pile of tin cans had reached a height well above the top of the lower sash. Without malice, it can be said that John was not a good housekeeper. If he ever washed a dish, or swept the floor, there was never any visible evidence that such domestic activities had taken place….”

In the early 1970s I would drive around the country looking for an old house where I might buy antiques. The above story written by Sam Ogden reminded me of a few experiences I had in those days as below.

One day at the end of a dirt road I came across an old weathered farmhouse. The weathered clapboards had not seen any paint in decades. There was an old barn whose roof had fallen in. I got out of the truck and walked up on the porch and knocked on the door. Junk was everywhere.

A scrawny old man with a long, gray beard came to the door. Introducing myself he invited me inside. His clothes were very old and many sizes too large. Suspenders held up his dirty and patched trousers. The place was dark and dingy and sparsely furnished. There was a heavy layer of soot covering everything in the house.

There were two or three old wooden flour barrels, a table and one chair with piles of rubbish here and there. One of these barrels was full of boxes of saltine crackers. The crackers were his diet and would account for his malnourished appearance.

As I talked with the old man I realized he was very timid and not accustomed to company. As I went through the rooms it was evident the old man didn’t own much. In those days I was a smoker so I asked if I could smoke. “Yes” he replied and he timidly asked if he could have one.

He broke the filter off and removed the tobacco and put the tobacco in his mouth to chew. He said it had been a longtime since he had any tobacco. I tried to buy as much as I could but the old man had very little.

I spent $16 but my smallest bill was a $20. I felt bad when he couldn’t make change so I told him to keep the change. A couple weeks later I found myself over his way again. I stopped at a store and bought him a bag of groceries, mostly dry goods like beans and coffee. I bought two pouches of Red-Man and a couple plugs of Days Work. When I gave him the groceries he began to tear up. I never saw him again.

The next meeting of the Chester Historical Society is Thursday, Oct. 26, upstairs of Chester Town Hall. NOTE the change in location. The monthly slideshow will include photos recently donated by Duncan Ogden and Ted Spaulding.

This week’s old saying is from my mother. “It’s not how much you earn. It’s how much you save.”

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