03 November, 2012

A Yankee Life

 It has been a very long couple of days, and this entry is about neither Cape Cod nor Paris.. I went to visit my great-grandmother’s niece, my grandmother’s cousin Rhoda. She entered hospice less than a week after her 86th birthday.  She cared for my mother and her own younger brother when they were children, he in curls and the two on ponies or 1940s bicycles. Since my childhood, the rather ramshackle home she grew up in was one of my favorite places. Rhoda’s mother cooked on a woodstove, had no “modern” bathtub or shower, oilcloth on the table, and a farmyard well into the 1970s. All of this steps from the University of Massachusetts,Amherst. Now a sprawling metropolis, it began as an agricultural college.  Rhoda’s husband cared for the livestock at UMass for five decades. At their own farm, she always took me to see the horses and rabbits. I pumped water into an old cast iron tub in the pasture, while she chatted with my mother for hours in her tiny kitchen above her mother-in-law’s. 

My mother, Rhoda's brother and their cousins c. 1944
With Rhoda 2012

I visited the farm during the year that I lived in Amherst in graduate school.  My daughter pumped water into the same tub.

Her husband George died several years ago, and the farm was sold to the town of Amherst.  There is a huge controversy over what to do with the farm, preserve it as historic green space or use it for soccer fields.  I took my son there recently; it is abandoned and sad, curtains still in Rhoda’s windows.  It is a very typical New England farmstead, with a white clapboard house behind a privet hedge, two barns, rolling pastures and old apple trees. 

Rhoda has been in an assisted living facility for a while, and she doesn't know me when I visit, but she enjoys my company.  She smiles when I talk about my mother and grandmother and my great-grandmother, her aunt.  I will miss this connection to all of them, and the wonderful woman who was so special to my mother.

Photo: Friends of Hawthorne Farm