When I had my first conversation with a neighbor after moving into my house off East Street, (two farms south of my grandparent’s farm), he posed a question to me. He didn’t understand why there were small piles of rocks dumped on the side of the woods on his property, and that of other neighbors. I knew exactly what the answer was. On this land, back in the early 70’s as a young teenager, I stood atop a huge potato harvesting machine pulled by a tractor. After the vines and dirt were mostly expelled by the machine, an occasional rock would pass by on the conveyor belt, to be picked up and thrown in a bin on the side of the machine. When the bin was full, the driver would pull by the side of the woods. We would pull a lever on the bin and dump the rocks. Mystery solved.
Alexander Lane off the south end of East Street is named after my Polish immigrant grandfather, Alexander Kosinski. He and my grandmother, Eva, bought a farm in Suffield in 1926 after selling their small market in New Britain, CT. They raised tobacco, farm animals (horses, pigs, chickens), grew vegetables, fruit trees and raised five children. They came to this country in the early 1900’s for just two reasons, freedom and opportunity. Their five children had eleven grandchildren of which I am the youngest, age 62. Although none of their five children attended college, the eleven grandchildren produced one medical doctor, two with PhD’s, four with Master’s degrees, one with a Bachelor’s degree and three that went on to own businesses or had successful careers.
Although my grandfather had long passed back in 1964, I would eventually work the fields on his farm. I have great memories of him. The land was rented by the Markowski family. My grandmother was still living on the farm until she passed in 1998 at age 95. One of my jobs working tobacco was to open the shed doors in the morning to let the tobacco cure, and close them at night. For this task I was given a “company tractor”. One late August evening, closing sheds, I followed dirt roads off Branch Road and headed north. Set way back from the road, deep in the woods was a garden. An elderly woman was tending her vegetables. I stopped the tractor to say hello. She offered me one of her ripe cantaloupes. Having no glove compartment, back seat or trunk on a tractor, I quickly impaled the cantaloupe on a hydraulic lever on my Farmall H, thanked her and was on my way. I pulled into my baci’s (Polish for grandmother, pronounced botchee) house with my treasure. We ate the juicy cantaloupe on her porch by a magnificent August sundown and talked about our day…..priceless. She was the hardest working woman I ever met. She tended to the farm and animals, grew vegetables and fruits, sewed, knitted, crocheted and cooked wonderful meals all while raising five children.
Working on a farm in my youth taught me many virtues. Resourcefulness – Make do with the tools you have or don’t have. There are always different ways to accomplish what you want even though the circumstances may not be perfect. Obedience/Taking Direction/Responsibility – be on time, do your job…simple. Humility – I once dumped a full rack of tobacco off Suffield Street – one of the worst transgressions on a tobacco farm. I was driving a Farmall Super M, my absolute favorite machine. I was driving too fast and was careless. My boss tore me up one side and down the other. I took loads of ridicule and teasing from my co-workers, and well deserved. I didn’t need counseling, a safe room to share my feelings or to pet some goats, I learned from my mistake and moved on. Failure is a building block of life and of your character. Dedication – One rainy Thanksgiving Day, in mid-bite of turkey and stuffing, my boss pulled in the driveway. He needed help taking down tobacco (which can only be done in very humid, rainy conditions, otherwise the leaves will crack). I quickly changed and worked that afternoon into the evening. Negotiation – Upon getting hired on the farm, my boss took me aside and offered me $2.25/hour. Having inside information that a co-worker on my level was making $2.50/hour, I quickly counter offered. After some yelling and screaming by my boss, he agreed, $2.50/hour. That skill has definitely come in handy in my career. Cooperation/Respect – Dad’s between jobs, Vietnam Vets that had just returned from overseas, college kids, older high school kids, younger high school kids all worked on the farm. We all had a job to do, and we worked like a well-oiled machine cutting, handing, hooking and hanging over 65 acres of broadleaf tobacco those hot summer days.
My son Kyle had the opportunity to work on a tobacco farm for a few summers. My daughter Julia also worked in her early teens caring for young children. They both learned all of the life lessons I mentioned above by learning responsibility that comes with working a job in their youth. Now they are young adults, and I couldn’t be more proud of them.
My house sits exactly where I cut that tobacco, or harvested potatoes. Sometimes I catch myself, pausing in my backyard on a hot summer day. I see that dirt road, tobacco barns, waves of green tobacco, people hustling about, the low purr of the tractors and blue skies. I wouldn’t trade those days for anything………who would?
Ray A. Dalrymple is a lifelong resident of Suffield. This article is dedicated to Jimmy and Victoria Markowski, Eddy and Dorothy Markowski and their families.