ANNIVERSARIES..... by Jane Keown         (from June-July 2004 Print Blackstone Daily)

The spring breezes are once again freshening the landscape. Some of the fruit trees have started flowering, beginning an annual cycle which will result in the wonderful fresh fruit of summer. Newly plowed fields dry in the sunshine, awaiting the harrow and the planter and the crops that will grow on them. The apple trees show pink buds, which means that by Mother's Day weekend, they should be in full bloom. Spring is here in all its glory, and those of us who still work in agriculture know that there are many long months to go before we'll get a good rest. But the rewards of working the land and growing food and flowers include the intangible as well as the tangible, and we draw as much comfort from the new life around us as the plants themselves. This is the exciting season of rebirth and hope for the future.

Spring is a time for stupendous gatherings and milestone events. Most everyone that completes a course of study...from kindergarten to doctoral programs... graduates in the spring. Proms are held at the high school, and there are concerts and recitals to attend to celebrate a milestone in musical accomplishment. Spring is still a popular time for weddings, and therefore, many of the people I know celebrate anniversaries in the spring. Recently I overlooked sending an anniversary greeting to my friends Gail and Rich, who celebrated their thirty-first anniversary. I plan to send them a card with the caption, "Belated anniversary greetings from one corner of the Blackstone Valley to another." Sounds kind of cute, and at least they'll know I haven't forgotten their big day.

The town of Sutton is having a REALLY big anniversary this year: its 300th. Like so many other folks in town, I have been involved in committee work for a couple of years now, laying the foundation for what we hope will be a celebration worthy of the town. This town celebration coincides with our family's 80th anniversary on the farm, and we will celebrate that as sincerely as we celebrate the town's big year. Last year we celebrated the 90th anniversary of the big trees on the farm, of which only a dozen or so are left. Those trees were planted in 1913 as a part of the consortium known as the Drew Fruit. I learned of the date our trees went into the ground from Leon "Papa" Black, who was employed by my father as the picking crew boss throughout my youth.


Papa Black had worked for the Drew Fruit Farms, and each year they planted farms in different central Massachusetts towns, starting in Grafton [on Keith Hill Road] and finishing up in Charlton. There were actually two orchards planted in Sutton in 1913, ours and one on Armsby Road where Pleasant Valley Country Club is currently located. Of the several pieces of land planted by this group of investors, ours is the only one still actively engaged in agriculture. At the end of the Great War [also known as World War I], the consortium fell apart, and the various investors were given one of the farms in payment for their financial commitment. Bill Greene of Grafton received ownership of the McClellan Road property, and he subsequently sold it to my grandfather in 1924. We've been here ever since!

I don't know when Papa Black started working for our family, but he was not around twelve months of the year. In the winter, he cut wood in northern New England. I remember him telling stories of hauling logs across Lake Winnipesaukee on the ice using teams of horses. He harvested Christmas trees, too, and sold them from his house on Route 146. Most everyone in Sutton bought their tree from Papa Black. Papa also helped Dad with the pruning, as he was very expert about trees. In fact, his ability to predict the bushels of fruit on each forty-foot apple tree was quite remarkable. In those days, pickers were paid piece work, meaning they got a certain amount for each bushel picked. Since all the trees held different crops each year, and since it was important for morale not to show favoritism, Papa had to assign the trees in an equitable manner. A picker might grumble if he were assigned a "light" tree, but Papa always made sure that the next tree had a good crop, and thus the assignments were balanced. He could predict the crop of each tree to within a bushel. I am still amazed by that feat.

There was a "Mama" Black, too. Her name was Viola [although everyone at the farm called her Mama]. She worked on the packing line, mainly taking out the "B-grade" apples. When there wasn't packing to be done, Mama would have Papa take her fishing. They loved to go for horn pout, which they caught with long bamboo poles. Often after one of their fishing trips, Papa would stop by with a bucket of fish for our dinner. Dad would clean them and my mother would cook them in the oven, using a special recipe she had developed that made them taste pretty good [unless they had been caught in Lake Ripple, where the fish always tasted muddy!] Papa Black stocked our pond with pout and gave us a couple of bamboo rods so we kids could learn the joys of fishing. I was always afraid of the horns on the fish, so secretly hoped not to catch any [and my hopes were generally realized.] It was fun to have something to do that involved being at the pond, and so we enjoyed fishing, even without much actual success.

It's fun to think back and remember how things used to be and who peopled our world years ago. That's why anniversaries are important celebrations- they remind us of how we got HERE. But I've taken enough time away from the tasks at hand. There are still seeds to be started, seedlings to transplant and plants to be potted. It's time for me to put aside the past and concentrate on the present, or I won't have much to look forward to in the future. I'm greenhouse bound!