a story lives forever
Sign in
Form submission failed!

Stay signed in

Recover your password?
Form submission failed!

Web of Stories Ltd would like to keep you informed about our products and services.

Please tick here if you would like us to keep you informed about our products and services.

I have read and accepted the Terms & Conditions.

Please note: Your email and any private information provided at registration will not be passed on to other individuals or organisations without your specific approval.

Video URL

You must be registered to use this feature. Sign in or register.


Farming History in New Hampshire


My grandfather and life on the farm in New Hampshire
Donald Hall Poet
Comments (0) Please sign in or register to add comments

My grandfather and I were particularly close. It was the first love of my life, and maybe the greatest love of my life. We worked together, haying. This was one of those old farms, multiple products, very… very little cash. He would milk, with his hands, seven or eight Holsteins, and sell the milk which a truck would pick up out the front. He also had 50 sheep and he sheared the sheep and sold the young males, that… that was a little cash. The milk went to a New Hampshire dairy during the summer but to a Boston one in the winter and a monthly check for milk would be $7, $10, $15.  But they had 200 chickens, they traded eggs, sometimes they sold them, but they often traded them in a little store where they could get coffee which they could not grow, and they’d get salt which they could not grow. For sweetness, they had honey from the bees. There were a row of beehives out by the barn and the great stout sugar maples all over the place, and in March for a couple of weeks my grandfather would haul buckets of sap and then boil it day and night. Somebody else would help… to help with the fire, because they had to go 24 hours a day. A wood fire, under the sap, to boil it down to syrup. And I know, well before my time, in 1912, my mother used to tell me that he and his father in law, the original owner here, made 500 gallons of maple syrup. They sold it for a dollar a gallon and all the figures are extraordinary, but with that they would buy land. They didn't believe in money or bank accounts or anything like that. Nor did the culture. It was not a cash culture. They had huge vegetable gardens and my grandmother, with the help of her daughters, would can, oh 400, 600 cans of string beans and peas and blueberries and apples. Blueberries and apples for pies all winter and they would live off the land a great deal  With their 200 chickens where they had many eggs and traded them and they could also kill a chicken on a Sunday or more likely a rooster or an old hen, boil it for six hours to make it tender enough to eat. Eating up here was not very good. But in the afternoons in the summer, my grandfather and I would go haying. At the beginning I just raked after, I had a great bull rake which was about four feet wide, where I'd clean up the scraps of hay. But then - he had a hired man briefly, $2 a week salary room and board - who would pitch on, but then the hired man went off and I took on the pitching on or we took turns. One of us would be on top of the load of hay, packing the hay. This was a horse drawn cart of course, hay rack [sic], and he, in the morning would use a horse drawn mowing machine to cut hay and then rake it with a horse drawn rake in the afternoon. There was never a tractor on this farm. There was never an automobile. The…we would then rake it into mows and… from the mows we’d pitch it up, taking in three or four loads of hay on a good day. Three usually, four would be a big day and stack it away in the barn, where the cattle would have it all winter and the sheep. We would salt the sheep once every week or two, but they were low upkeep except when they got lost, or when they managed to get through a fence. But… for refrigeration, there's Eagle Pond which is about a 150 yards to the west of the house which would freeze deeply in February and there would be ice cutting. I… I never participated because I was at school in Connecticut, but he would saw out great oblongs of ice and… and truck it up to the barn where he had an ice house and a lot of sawdust and of course it would keep through the heat of the next summer.  And often there would be chunks in there from two years before if he hadn't needed it, but you would need the chunks of ice in the summer to keep the milk cool overnight or it would spoil. And every morning he would carve out a chunk and take it down to the ice box which was out in the shed where we kept our food cool but not cold. The electricity had come in some point in the ‘20s but they didn't have an electric refrigerator until, oh I think after the war, late in the ‘40s maybe. For heat, the winters were the hardest time for working, because my grandfather would get up alone at four in the morning and milk the cows, and then pack a lunch, have breakfast here, pack a lunch and go up to the hills. He had 400 acres and every now and then he could sell some timber, and that's what put the girls through college, selling timber, but a lot of it was pasture land. He would go up into the hills as the wood lot, and chop wood, chop down enormous trees, and then cut them in sections and then split them, and then bring them down. When the farm was prosperous - you know all farms went into a depression about 1918, 1919 - they had maybe two or three horses and a pair of oxen, and the oxen would bring down the… bring the ice up and do the heavy work like the timbers but gradually they couldn't afford to keep oxen and just one horse did it all. It was an immense amount of work spending the whole day in sub zero temperatures. It used to be much colder than it is now. With a thermos of coffee and some bread and cheese, up there in the mountains, but that's what he did to provide heat for the winter. So the winter work actually provided cool for the summer and heat for the winter as well.

The 14th US Poet Laureate Donald Hall (1928-2018) was educated at Phillips Exeter Academy, then earned a bachelor's degree from Harvard in 1951 and a BLitt, from Oxford in 1953. He published many essays and anthologies of both poetry and prose including String too Short to be Saved: Recollections of Summers on a New England Farm, White Apples and the Taste of Stone, Without: Poems, and Ox-Cart Man, a children's book which won the Caldecott Medal. Hall was editor of the magazine Oxford Poetry, literary editor of Isis, editor of New Poems, and poetry editor of The Paris Review. He won many awards, including two Guggenheim Fellowships and a Robert Frost Medal. At the end of his first Oxford year, he also won the university's Newdigate Prize, awarded for his poem Exile.

Listeners: Kendel Currier

Kendel Currier started working for Donald Hall in August of 1994 as his correspondence typist. Later she took on his manuscript typing as well, and in October of 1998 moved 100 meters down the road from Donald and became his personal assistant, adding many various new tasks to her work. As well as working for Donald for the last 10 and-a-half years, Donald Hall and Kendel Currier share a set of great (or for Kendel great-great) grandparents, making them distant cousins and part of a similar New Hampshire heritage.

Tags: New Hampshire, Boston, Eagle Pond, Connecticut, WWII

Duration: 7 minutes, 1 second

Date story recorded: January 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008