Life at the Church Farm: Recollections of Dorothy Zaring
Between 1910 when I was born and 1943 when I got a job with the U.S. Military Intelligence at the Pentagon in Washington, the Church family spend most of each summer at the farm in Ashford. The only extended vacations away from the farm were part of several summers at Chatham Bars Inn on Cape Cod, several weeks for two years at Madison, and my time as a girl's camp, Kineowatha, in Wilton, Maine. I reluctantly evolved for the minimum amount of time at camp the first year, but the second year I delightedly signed up for the full two-months session. Other than these periods, the summers were spent at the farm where we rushed as soon as my brother's school, Noah Webster, was out. The Oxford School, which I attended for eleven years - first grade through high school - closed a little earlier in the summer than his. We went up in early June and went back to Hartford right after Labor Day - always for me with the same sad wonder with which I leave the farm today: "Shall I ever see it again?"
The summers were wonderful. We were outdoors all day, in the woods up by the spring, up in the north pasture picking huckleberries, down across the meadow to go swimming in the deep hole, paddling in my brother's canoe on the pond, playing tennis on the grass court. The huckleberries we picked, we felt, were much more lively than blueberries. The one's my brother picked he often sold to his Grandmother Church - whose farm they were growing on. They still mean home to me, and years later I was surprised to have them served as dessert in a country restaurant outside Warsaw, Poland.
It was fun to watch from the hill then tennis being played below. You saw the ball being whacked, and then after what seemed at least five minutes, hearing the sound of the whack. A frequent guest play was an Englishman who lived in Warrenville in the old inn that was one of the first on the old Boston Post Road. He was wonderful at tennis but had a somewhat dubious reputation as a bootlegger. The tennis court was a great joy - except in the mowing, the marking with lime, and pushing the heavy iron roller filled with water - to smooth out the bumps sometimes created when the neighbors' cows occasionally jumped a fence.
Our own cows were better behaved. They left the barn by walking down an inside ramp into the barnyard, and then up the lane to the woods. At the end of the day, they were fetched by the caretaker's wonderful English shepherd - yes, named Rover. He did this very dutifully, though to be sure, sometimes stopping on the hillside for a rest or perhaps a little privacy. We loved him as if he were our own and even thinking sometimes that he was.
The Churches were picnickers. These were usually in the woods among the large rocks and ferns back of the springhouse, or along the wall across the road at the end of the sheep run. They often included, when in season, ears of corn impaled on green willow sticks and thrust into the fire until blackened but still a little raw inside. Some of the equipment for these outings which still survives was sophisticated: in particular, a folding picnic table (now in the bathroom) and an elegant wicker-covered suitcase that contained all the necessary knives and forks as well as blue and white plates and cups that come from Sweden. We had winter parties sometimes and skated on the pond, the shore lined with Japanese lanterns.
Laurence and I both had friends who would spend weeks visiting us, making do with the facilities: there was the cold shower in the woodshed and down the ramp from it the privy; there was no inside bathroom until the mid-20s when one was made from a child's small bedroom; and electricity did not come until after my brother died in 1931.
My most frequent guest was Trudy Laflini who later became the wife of General Sidney Giffin, one of NATO's architects after World War II. She remained a close friend, and shortly before her death she wrote me: "Those will always be for me the golden years." For me, too!