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Stories around the electric fire

The guys who oversee the town transfer station (aka the town dump, but some stuff does get transferred for recycling) keep warm in a tiny room attached to the big pit where the nonrecyclable trash gets tossed. You go in there to buy town trash bags or to renew the sticker for your car that lets you go there. Inside, a TV is often on, and, at this time of year, there's a three-bar heater running.

There are two guys there: one is in his sixties and the other is in his thirties. I was renewing my car sticker, which meant showing my registration. "Oh, you live in Drowned Woods.1 I always get lost driving there," the young guy says. "You know," says the older guy, "I used to go hunting up there, before it was developed. I knew every twist and turn, every stone and tree. But not now."

And then we got to talking, and he told some awesome stories about the town, 50 years ago. When he was little, a grand house that's now down the hill from the town common was right on the common. (It was bought for a dollar and moved to its present location in two halves, for $30,000. Now it's apartments.)

"It looked just like the Addams Family house," he recalled."Spooky. Two old ladies, twins, lived there. They couldn't have been taller than five feet. My mother told me that a two-headed calf was born at their farm once. I remember when we went to that house with the Boy Scouts, on a paper drive. We were shaking as we knocked on the door. It opened with a creeeeaaak, and lo and behold, there mounted on the back wall, was the two-headed calf. My mother's story was true!

"The old ladies didn't want us to go near it, though. They had all the magazines bundled up for us, big stacks. We thought, old ladies, Home and Garden, right? We threw them into the truck. But when we looked at them later, you know what they were? Playboy. They were all Playboys!"

He went on to speculate that they must have belonged to the women's now-deceased husbands or sons. Sure, that's what it must have been ;-)

I asked him about a building that's falling down by the railroad tracks where I used to tap maple trees.

"Oh that was just one of the buildings for the State School. Hank Shay, the last blacksmith who worked at the State School--you know, when they used draft animals to run the farm--stayed there. You know how he died? Kicked by a horse. He was kicked by a horse and went right downhill."

Getting to hear town history from an old-timer is so wonderful.

1Not its real name. The development is named after one of the drowned Quabbin towns.


( 24 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 22nd, 2016 06:51 pm (UTC)
How cool! Town history from the people who lived through some of it is the best ever!!!
Jan. 23rd, 2016 12:58 pm (UTC)
It really is, and the atmosphere was just right: a tiny room, a cozy (electric) fire.
Jan. 22nd, 2016 07:06 pm (UTC)
Wonderful stories. And I love that you took the time to hear them. How many stories to do we miss in rushing around on our busyness.
Jan. 23rd, 2016 01:00 pm (UTC)
It was a good case of person-who-has-stories-he-wants-to-tell meets person-who-really-wants-to-hear-stories, heh.
Jan. 23rd, 2016 12:17 am (UTC)
The State School is heart-sinking - it reminded me of the book
Dear Enemy, with its cheery, brutal certainty that farm schools were exactly the right thing to establish for the "feeble-minded".

Thinking of that has rather swamped my reactions to the part about maple syrup, but of course that is super-cool! and magical, and wow! :) Why is it "used to"? It sounds blissful! and the history from someone who knows, too - I'm sorry for poor Hank Shay - and yes, spooky, for sure, the two tiny ladies with a two-headed calf.
Jan. 23rd, 2016 01:05 pm (UTC)
Yeah, the stuff about the State School is very grim--I just figured I needed to offer an explanation for what the term meant, in case people wondered. But yeah, it's a whole story on its own, and then some.

The maple tapping is "used to" just because it's a lot of work, and while it's exceptionally fun, it got to be that the other things I was doing made trying to fit the maple tapping in stressful--which seemed crazy. The trees are still there--each year offers the chance to do it again. That's a big comfort. Kind of like not growing a proper vegetable garden: I can always reassure myself that maybe I can do it next year.
Jan. 24th, 2016 05:04 am (UTC)
Have you read the book I mentioned? It's the sequel to Daddy-long-legs, also by Jean Webster, and is intriguing as a presentation of views then felt (in that social milieu, at least) to be progressive.
Jan. 25th, 2016 04:42 am (UTC)
I haven't read the book, but yes, things that seemed progressive in the past can seem horrifying nowadays ... a good object lesson in that, no doubt.
Jan. 23rd, 2016 01:14 am (UTC)
What fascinating stories!
Jan. 23rd, 2016 01:06 pm (UTC)
I thought so too!
Jan. 23rd, 2016 03:46 am (UTC)
In New Mexico the town museum was three blocks from my school. When I was in the third and fourth grades I would visit it after school. Inside the museum was a stuffed two headed calf. And yes, I was thinking about the two headed calf this week. (Not kidding.)
Jan. 23rd, 2016 01:07 pm (UTC)
That's crazy-marvelous about the synchronicity of your thoughts and the post--it seems like a superpower, almost.
Jan. 23rd, 2016 04:58 pm (UTC)
Nothing too out of the ordinary because I had been thinking for some time to visit the museum if it still existed. I have also been thinking of visiting the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum I visited when I was eight. I love the Southwest.
Jan. 23rd, 2016 01:51 pm (UTC)
Oh wow, the two-headed calf on the wall! That's a great detail. So creepy and Gothic.
Jan. 23rd, 2016 10:29 pm (UTC)
I need to take a photo of the house (it looks very non-creepy nowadays: painted in pink!)

I wonder what happened to the two-headed calf head[s]
Jan. 23rd, 2016 03:01 pm (UTC)

What a great post! Thanks for putting it together. I was/am fumbling on the mobile app trying to find my way around (flist, where are you?), and it feels like i stumbled in on something charming. Thank you again.

Jan. 23rd, 2016 10:29 pm (UTC)
I'm happy to have you stumble by :-)
Jan. 23rd, 2016 09:53 pm (UTC)
And people say the oral tradition is dead! No they don't but what a treat to get to listen to these! This is actually one of my favorite parts of working with old timers from The State School. Sadly I'm moving closer and closer to the category of Old Timer....
Jan. 23rd, 2016 10:28 pm (UTC)
When the Old Timer was talking about hunting up in our neighborhood, I thought of you and your childhood playing back there....
Jan. 24th, 2016 09:00 am (UTC)
Some eerie resonances there - the house of twins, and the two-headed calf, getting split into two in order to be moved.
Jan. 25th, 2016 04:42 am (UTC)
Wow, you've teased out more twinning than I'd thought of, bringing in the division of the house into two for its transportation. Cool.
Jan. 24th, 2016 06:39 pm (UTC)
Sounds like a great conversation, and some cool stories.
Jan. 25th, 2016 04:43 am (UTC)
It was old-time stories just the way you like to hear them.
Jan. 30th, 2016 04:26 pm (UTC)
My grandfather was a farrier, and I think he had some pain and injuries that lasted most of his life from his work, including some jittery horses. Such a different time, so few connections to it anymore.
( 24 comments — Leave a comment )

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