By John R. Williams
Tuesday, Feb. 5, the Old Men of the Mountain met at the restaurant of Mrs. K’s in Middleburgh. The OFs noticed that, though it is the dead of winter, the attendance at the breakfast does not seem to have tailed off.
Thankfully, the OFs have been joined by some new fellows from off the Hill and off the farm who have decided that enough of the rat race is enough. When the OFs who desert us in the winter (for the warmer weather) return, the OF contingent will be considerable — a force to be reckoned with.
The OFs talked about how small farms (at least in the Northeast) are dwindling down to a precious few. Government regulations make it so tough they can’t compete.
This fact, according to the OFs, has been known for a long time and our state and federal legislators do not care at all that it has been happening.
The OFs maintain that it is big money all along that runs the show. But one OF remarked that it has been that way since the Battle of Hastings. Another OF said it is no more than the advancement of time and the development of technologies that move things along.
With farming, it was speedier transportation that started it all; now it is the ability to preserve foods for longer periods, and the computer.
Wool can come from all over the world, cheaper than we can produce it here; blueberries are brought in year ’round from all over the world — oranges, seafood, you name it, the OF said, it is summer somewhere and climate-controlled ships as big as small cities can haul this produce from anywhere in the world in a matter of days.
One OF said there has to be something this country can do to save the small farm. The OFs did not mean gentlemen farms but farms that families actually had to make a living from.
A drive around the countryside shows decaying barns, unattended scrub fields producing nothing but weeds. You will see old, once-beautiful farmhouses falling into disrepair.
It is sad, plus it is costing us four bucks just to take a little 20-mile ride, and that (in many cases) is just getting someone out of the city.
“Yeah,” an OF added, “and look at the corn that is used for that same 20 miles. That corn could be put into corn meal, or feed, or something that will sustain life instead of just burning it up like a gasoline additive. What is wrong with this picture?”
The old homestead
This conversation led to the OFs talking about going back to the old homestead, and, as one OF said, the old adage of not being able to really go back home once left for awhile is correct.
It is hard. Houses have gone, or have fallen down; what once were stores many times now are just empty lots. People that the OF remembers have aged just like he has, and they either have moved on, or are not the same as the OF remembered them.
The character of the town is just not the same as when the OF was in knickers.
The changes are more subtle to the OFs that were born, raised, and still are occupying the old homestead. For the most part, the changes are slow and absorbed by the OFs who hung in there.
Conversations between the OFs who have left, and the OFs who have stayed are interesting, especially when the OF who has left asks about this or that and the OF who has stayed comments on what happened to who, or what.
It is surprising that some of the changes are so slow the OF that has stayed has trouble remembering, and sometimes can’t remember at all what happened.
This leaves the returning or visiting OF with a slightly empty or nostalgic feeling, while the OF that stayed just grumbled at the changes but went with the flow because he did not realize there was even a change until the visiting or returning OF brought it up.
This brought up the same old discussion of the cost of living and how it has gone up at a rate much faster than anticipated.
The OFs attribute some of it to just numbers. The numbers of illegal immigrants, and just numbers of people who have to be taken care of — the OFs included.
One OF said he thought the other OF was right. We are beginning to grow like amoebas. And then, he added, that, besides the corn item mentioned above, the cost of food and fuel, building materials, entertainment etc., and then the government wants to take away what little we have left over to pay for education and medical attention for 11 million people who don’t legally belong here.
“If these people are not documented, how can they be paying taxes?” one OF said.
The debate went on but enough of that.
In our area (and a good part of the country), we all know it is winter and the OFs discussed furnaces — i.e., what works and what doesn’t. It was not surprising that some of the OFs made good heating decisions and some didn’t. Some of the OFs mentioned the old “octopus” coal-burning hot air monsters that were in their older homes, which had to go.
Not many people burn coal anymore but some thought that maybe we should go back to that.
When the OFs were burning coal it served multiple purposes. Not only did the coal keep the OFs warm but they were able to spread the ashes on the walk so people wouldn’t be slipping all over the place.
Now the OFs have to use chemicals, or salt to do the same thing.
“Which is better,” an OF asked, “to burn oil or gas, then have to use another chemical in the winter for safety, or to burn coal which we have plenty of?”
Some OFs have these newer high-efficiency furnaces that atomize the fuel so that it burns to the point that all the heat in the oil is used, and the stacks run cool enough so the OF can put his hand on it.
Add that to the fact that the OFs no longer have to shovel out coal ashes and lug them outside and it’s easy to see why the newer furnaces have taken over.
Keeping warm in the winter and cool in the summer is big business and the older this OF gets he says, the more he wants to be at a pretty constant temperature. He continued, “When I was on the farm, I could be in a hay mow at 120 degrees and not really mind it, or I could be breaking a hole in the pond for the cows to drink at zero degrees and not mind it. Now, let the temperature get below 40 and I am freezing, or above 80 and I am camped in front of the air-conditioner.”
Those OFs who made it to Mrs. K’s Restaurant in Middleburgh, and glad most cars and trucks have good heaters and air-conditioners were: John Rossmann, Jim Heiser, Glenn Patterson, Bill Krause, Steve Kelly, Roger Chapman, Dave Williams, Otis Lawyer, Mark Traver, Frank Pauli, Harold Guest, Roger Shafer, Robie Osterman, George Washburn, Gary Porter, Mace Porter, Jack Norray, Lou Schenck, Henry Whipple, Don Moser, Jim Rissacher, Ted Willsey, Elwood Vanderbilt, Mike Willsey, Harold Grippen, and me.