My Mother and Father and their Dog
One of the missions of the Hubbard Hall Writers' Project is to gather stories of rural life. One of the missions of this blog is to share stories of the dogs I love. I realize that if it were not for dogs and rural life I would not be in existence. You see it was both that brought my parents together. My mother came to Vermont, a vacationer from Long Island; a teenage girl who stopped at a farmhouse in East Randolph and picked from the pick-of-the-litter the hound pup that my future father had picked for himself.
Her parents would bring the family up from Long Island to stay at a one-room schoolhouse they had purchased at the intersection of four dirt roads at the top of a hill in Bethel, Vt. The schoolhouse came complete with a potbelly stove and an outhouse. Over the next 20 years they would transform it into a camp and in turn a home. But in the beginning it was a schoolhouse, built in 1901, where children would walk the dirt roads to school and where eventually my mom and her family would come to vacation. The story goes that a prominent Bethel citizen told my grandparents that the schoolhouse was for sale and encouraged them to buy it to stop a dispute between competing factions in town who wanted to get their hands on it.
My father grew up on the Gifford Farm in East Randolph, Vt. where Dr. John Pearl Gifford, founder of Gifford Hospital and the man for whom my dad is named, was born. Today, my uncle and father own the property -- my uncle, the side of the road with the barn and the farmhouse, my dad, the side with the other small house and remaining land. Nearby is the oft-photographed Gifford Covered Bridge. The farm has been in the family over 200 years. When my grandfather was alive he kept a herd of Jerseys and in later years my father introduced Holsteins. Although he farmed most of his life, my grandfather also had "to work out" as my father calls it. He worked for the Agricultural Stabilization Conservation Service and as Deputy Commissioner of Agriculture for two years. When my grandfather suffered his stroke in the early 1990s, the family sold the cows and equipment. Today, my uncle rents out the barn to another farmer.
Four years after picking my father's favorite dog, my mother returned to the farm in East Randolph to show it off. My dad took one look at her and fell hard. My mom was not so easily swayed. She thought at first he was a younger man (he wasn't) so she initially turned down his invitation to the Fourth of July fireworks, but her mom convinced her to give him a chance and a year later they were married, eventually giving birth to me and three sons.
As good a rural story as any, I suppose, and one that is fairly common -- Vermont being full of transplants or "flatlanders" who fell in love and forged a marriage with these Green Mountains and the people who live among them. The thing I love about this story is that this marriage came about because of a dog. It yielded offspring that never strayed far from their rural home. Today, one brother lives in the schoolhouse, another in the small house my father owns on the family farm. I live only five miles from the first and 10 from the later. I still love to walk the dirt roads of both, where I can't help but feel connected to my family, the past, and a way of life that although always changing somehow manages to feel lost in time. I live among dogs, too, often strolling with my pugs down those very roads. And, in those moments I embrace both the land that is home and the dogs that I love as if they were the very reason I was born because in essence they are.