Uncle Charlie Dalaba was one of the helpers many times for sugaring. He was a bachelor for years. Then he married a lady preacher, pastor of the Bakers Mills Pentecostal Holiness Church. Esther Thomas was a city girl from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, and before her conversion and ministry she had played in theaters. One name she mentioned was Helen Hayes, who was a child. When the opportunity for a part in a movie came, she listened. The child must have curly hair, which she did not have. Her mother thought her daughter would make a good actress and carefully curled her hair. Esther got the part and a movie career.
In the country, Aunt Esther Thomas Dalaba decided to learn what she could about her new way of life. One of those experiences led her to go watch the making of maple syrup. Aunt Esther was so large that walking was impossible. The men helped her onto the lumber wagon box and gave her a joyride to the back roads. Over the bumpy roads and swaying on the seat as the wagon wheel hit a stone, she laughed with pleasure and some alarm. What a good sport.
Aunt Esther enjoyed Christmas caroling. One winter the church group caroled with Uncle Charlie as its teamer, fastening his team to a pair of sleighs. It was after church service, and the night was cold. The sleighs glided over the back roads. The carolers were bundled in winter clothes, with a few robes and blankets to keep warm. The group had a wonderful time singing. Aunt Esther sang so beautifully, and she easily led the group without copies of the music.
There were many times when Papa took his family to church on Sunday afternoon by horse and sleigh. Edwards Hill Road led to Hillmount Farms from Route 8 and was, with most side roads then, a dirt road. In winter the snows filled the roads very fast, and when the winds blew there were many drifts. It was not always good for our car to travel in those days on some Sundays. The horses were a close second for comfort and probably more fun. At least there wasn’t the chance of getting stuck in the car.
In March 1940, my sister Pansy, who was pregnant with her second child, was taken with appendicitis while the road was drifted with snow. Papa used the “jumper” to take Pansy off Edwards Hill Road to get to the hospital. Delora was born September 22, 1940.
One holiday the Ranger’s brother, Wilber Dalaba, took his family across our back fields, traveling with horse and cutter. My Aunt Inis’s parents, Bertram and Belle (Dunkley) Bateman, lived on the Chatiemac Road, about two miles eastward cross-lots from our house at Hillmount Farms. And once we visited the George and Cora (Millington) Allen family, next door to the Batemans. Their son Keith Allen had a severe toothache. His mother wrung out cloths of very hot water to put on his face. Few people went to doctors or dentists in those days.
Sometimes horses had to break out the snowdrifts along the road in winter. Usually after a bad three-day blow men got together and shoveled to make it easier for the horse to go through. Later the snowplows or tractors of the day would come and plow more. In earlier years the horses did a lot of snow plowing.
The Ranger had a stoneboat. It was turned up in the front like a sleigh runner, but it was flat on the bottom, to which the horses were hitched. They drew it, and the Ranger went through the meadows and on the gardens to pick up stones. The stoneboat held great weight and was ideal. The stones would be taken away and often used in a wall or made into stone piles often used as a fence or divider. Many of these still remain as outlines of farms. In 1980 some stone piles furnished stones for the fireplace in my husband Earl’s and my home down Edwards Hill Road from the old family farm. Carl Schaefer built the fireplace in 1980. Joyce Reidinger was a mason tender. Earl collected the stones and rocks from different places, some of great historic interest.
Around many old farms, some long overgrown now with trees and underbrush, lovely stone wall fences and heaps tell the story of the people who worked and grew there. They are worth a trip to see. Take a sandwich and a camera.
One large divider of stones lies in a sort of valley between where Papa had plowed a large field for buckwheat and the road that went across Hillmount Farms to Chatiemac. This hill where the buckwheat field once was is loaded with pine, cherry, and other trees. Today there is little left to tell the story of the man’s labors both in plowing and in sowing for a harvest of buckwheat. On the north side there is a field and a road. The Ranger would choose a quiet day with no wind and climb that hill to sow the grain.
Who uses the stone piles now? Maybe a few snakes or perhaps chipmunks or squirrels know them as home. They can feel safe as they peek out from the rocks to watch sightseers go to “Big Rock,” often called “Dunlap Rock.” Many people still visit Big Rock. Big as a small barn, it was stranded in the woods by glaciers.
Now there is no one to play on the stone piles. There are no cows to look for greener pastures on the other side. Is life getting better? Is city life more interesting? Do we want the fast pace for our children? Can we ever revert back to the little farms that were called home, where children laughed and played, and parents worked, loved, lived, and where a man knew the trees and the ground from which he drew his food? Is life better? Or have we lost the art of living? Do you want the bright lights of the city instead of the light of the Milky Way, the North Dipper, or the Northern Lights?
The full moon in the country is a lover’s moon—love of life, love of family, love of God, and love of the land. It is the lesser light to rule the night and the seasons. Long may it be seen here!
Reverend Daisy Mavis Dalaba Allen wrote these essays as a part of her 1997 book Ranger Bowback: An Adirondack Farmer, about life on a farm in Baker’s Mills in Johnsburg, NY in the early 20th century. Selections from the book are published here with the permission of the Allen family. Special thanks to Kjerstia Allen, Ed Zahniser, Evelyn Schaefer Greene, and Jan Reelitz for making this available for publication. To order a copy of Ranger Bowback: An Adirondack Farmer, send $10 to Kjerstia Allen, PO Box 47, Bakers Mills, NY 12811.