March, the best winter month

Peter Farrar loaned me a 100 page typewritten manuscript written by his maternal grandfather Philip Tiemann. Philip and his wife Isabel arrived in Cavendish, Vermont in 1933 at the height of the Depression. Money was scarce. They left New Jersey behind and entered a world unknown to them. They came with a son Wyeth, and two daughters, Ann and Joyce. Ann was Peter’s mother. To date this manuscript has not been published.

Like most city folks the Tiemanns knew nothing about country life. They had to learn how to cut firewood, raise chickens, milk a cow, gardening and rebuild an old house they called Windy Hill. I select this portion of Tiemann’s manuscript as March is upon us.

“The first of March was like spring. Such days come to deceive one into thinking winter is over. It induced me to make up an order for vegetable seeds, which was fun, altho it still was months to out-door planting time and longer yet to getting a crop. This realization took some of the joy out of life, as we had only a few jars of tomatoes and pickles left in the cellar and some dried beans in the attic. Having to spend more for food really hurt.

“However, keeping busy is a good antidote for worry. There remained plenty to be done in the house. Isabel just then was scraping and cleaning some of the old spruce panels preparatory to their being put in place above the kitchen mantel. This required I first remove plaster and lath and fill up the stove-pipe hole….Of course the kitchen again was a fine mess, but when the panels were in place and the small strip of sheetrock ceiling fitted in against them it made a nice-looking job.

“When we first came to Windy Hill we used to be amused by the stories of the varied uses to which a kitchen might be put. But no longer. That March a couple of sick hens were only the first in a procession over the years of livestock needing special attention and warmth…Eggs had increased to about 16 a day, almost 100%, one of them weighing a quarter of a pound. But still no calf.

Philip Tiemann holding a black lamb followed by a ewe. Photo provided by Peter Farrar.

“By mid-month the winter really started to break. Altho replenished quite regularly the snow was settling, and as the frost came out of the roads they degenerated to that horrible condition of muck and ruts which annually brought traffic to a standstill. In short, it was ‘mud season.’ The children thought this was fine as they began a month’s holiday, meant to co-inside with the bad going.

“As many days were pleasant I continued tree-pruning, doing six apples and the big old crab. This was interrupted when Dan put his foot through the floor of his stall, and I found it so rotten it required complete replacement. I luckily was able to get at the mill (the same place that ground my meal in the fall) some thick planks of elm, the best of flooring for a stable. Dan was scarcely earning his keep, with only an occasional job now that the wood was all hauled. Nor was it good for him to stand so much of the time in the barn. We used him for occasional trips to the village, as when Wy and I drove to the freight office to pick up some rolls of roofing for the chicken-house.

“A boy calf at last arrived, – on March 17 so of course he was ‘Pat.’ It was quite an event for the children, who had been most interested in the progress. Fortunately there were no complications other than ‘caked bag’ which is not unusual. The cow’s udder became hard and feverish, partly, in this case, because the calf was limited in his energetic efforts (bunting and kneading and working at the teats) to get food. We wanted to wean him promptly. Hot compresses and rubbing in a salve, together with regular milking, soon worked a cure.

“While this was going on we were setting a few sap buckets, borrowed with spouts – from our good neighbor. ‘Don’t bore the holes too deep’ he cautioned me. ‘The sap layer of wood is just inside the bark. Put them on the sunny side, not much higher than the snow level.’ ‘I don’t suppose we will need very much, ‘I remarked. He snickered. ‘Well, it takes about a barrel of sap to make a gallon of syrup.’ I was skeptical, but he wasn’t kidding. We emptied a dozen buckets, more or less full, twice a day for a couple of days and soon had pans of sap steaming on every stove in the house before it snowed and spoiled the run.

“The bad weather also held up my plan to paint the eves in the rear of the house…Instead, I prepared some seed ‘flats’ (shallow boxes of any convenient size) with earth and planted yellow tomatoes, onions, cabbages, and cauliflowers, – a bit late as it proved; these things start slowly and should be in by Lincoln’s Birthday.”


  This week’s old saying is from Joseph Stalin. “It’s not important who votes. It’s only important who counts the votes.”

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