Big John Dalaba spoke of his land as himself. A few years before he died in 1951, he and my father Howard Zahniser stood looking out at the view of Crane Mountain from our cabin that his daughter Pansy and husband Harold Allen built on the part of the family farm Big John and his wife Hester had deeded to them as a wedding gift in 1938.
A corner of the cowshed built onto Pansy and Harold’s barn still sat on the Dalaba farm, not on the gifted part, which my father and mother Howard and Alice Zahniser had bought in 1946. Harold and Pansy then sought to move downhill to a larger, flatter farm with far better road access for the long, cold, snowy winters.
“Part of your barn is on me,” I heard Big John confide to my father — as neighbor talk not assertion of ownership. He still ran his cows on our place, fencing off the cabin, before we’d arrive in August, a two-day drive then from our home in a Maryland suburb of Washington, D.C. We camped overnight on the drive to the Adirondacks, in the late 1940s and early 50s. Sometimes Dalaba cows breached that fence, and we four kids had to pick up the cow pies as our first camp chore on arrival, which was okay for the mostly dried ones we were tempted to toss at each other. As pastureland uphill began to recover from the close cropping of grazing, blackberry bushes grew up to make berry picking our chore, too.
We ate the berries on oatmeal and on ”cold” cereal or in blackberry fried pies our mother Alice cooked over the open wood fires for our summer life without electricity or running water — unless we ran the buckets back from the superb spring across just on the other side of our access road. The spring was our refrigerator, raided sometimes by raccoons or black bears. In those days the hamlet of Bakers Mills two miles down our Edwards Hill road on Route 8 had a general store with gas pump and post office, all but a post office now long gone in our new world designed by automobiles.
After Big John Dalaba died, Hester sold a piece of land that corrected the cowshed aberration, making it “sit on us” now. These days our grandchildren vacation here, sleeping in tents in the mowed, so-called yard. Stray things still roost in memory from the annals of our former summer world. For example, at Thanksgiving the Dalabas dined on oysters not turkey, or how Big John would call his potato field the potato “chunk.” Also, in the 1950s and 1960s, the ghosts of former habitations once up the hill behind us were just out-sized lilacs, or cellar dents. We siblings, now having survived our parents, can still relive all this without speaking.
Photo of Howard Zahniser Cabin in Bakers Mills by John Warren.