BUD GURNEY

by Carol Masiello

     In every issue of Journeys, I happily share the encounters I have been blessed to have with local characters. These individuals are eclectic, eccentric, energetic and in some cases, downright outlandish. I then make a poor attempt to describe these people so you can visualize everything about them as you read. This time I am having a problem choosing a catchy description for my latest victim. My notes have the following descriptions of this issue’s local gem, "The Energizer Bunny with Velcro shoes"; "Will Rogers with a chocolate donut and on humor’s edge" and "Yankee Trader par excellance." I further described him as "small, wry and loves to tell dirty stories"- stories with all the local dirt and not what you're thinking!
     In a series of videos filmed at the Sutton Senior Center and produced for Sutton cable television, Bud Gurney bears his soul, or his mind or whatever it takes to bring a smile to your lips and a glimmer of joy to your heart. He is the headliner this day and like any professional performer, he warms up the crowd before delivering his command performance. To heat up this crowd of eager listeners, he tells a few tales of local cronies he knew while growing up in Sutton.
     He describes Peter or "Pedor" as he called him, an old Lithuanian that always had a cigarette hanging under his nose. "What about Mae Hall?" he asks the crowd. Bud came home from three years in the service, (he still had manners then and a sense of chivalry), and he went to see Mae. She looked at him and shouted, "I was the first one to wash your dirty
a---." Confused and somewhat intrigued, he learned that Mae had been the town's mid-wife and that was why she could make such a claim to know about his more, ah shall we say, personal attributes. By now the audience is rolling with laughter and he comes in with his coup de grace, the story of how he became deaf in his left ear. Wally Johnson purchased two new oxen, Huntley and Brinkley, and asked Bud to board them for bit. As Bud was feeding the two animals in his barn, Bud walked behind one of the animals which let loose Mother Nature's gas right into Bud's left ear and that is why he is deaf. Bud thought the animal blew his brains out but he was happy to realize he had no brains to loose, so no real damage occurred. By this time the audience is all warmed up and he sets into his performance.

     I should prepare you, Bud loves to lie or shall we say "Bud creatively rearranges the facts" in order to make the story come across in a way that will stay in your heart. He loves to stretch the truth till it breaks but who can argue with a man who wears Velcro shoes? As he put it, some things we lie about or some things we tell the truth about. Like any good story teller, he is more concerned with the impact the story makes on you than with the accuracy of the details. For the sake of delicacy, I will need to leave out some of the more "colorful" details and stories Bud recanted that day in the Senior Center. Lest you become confused as you read on, this is not a story about Waters Farm but a story of Bud and the special relationship he developed with a woman who understood the fragile balance between historical preservation and historical extinction.
     Bud is 81 years old and in a quick two hours, he only spends 13 minutes speaking about his life outside of Waters Farm. He was "one of four brats" growing up in the rural town of Sutton. His dad was a "foreigner" from Millbury and always told Bud he was lucky to be born in Sutton, people accepted him. Bud's mom was from Sutton and could trace some of her family back to the Mayflower. Growing up, his favorite memory was the time spent with an uncle who had a farm. I can imagine this rascal climbing stone walls and playing cops and robbers with other little ruffians. After a tour of duty in the Army Air Corp, he returned to Sutton and settled down to start his own electrical company. His sweetheart was Ruthie and he made it clear to her he didn't want an Irish engagement…he did not want to wait 40 years to marry her. They were married for 48 years, had three children (lost an infant boy) and to hear him tell it, he was the boss "wink wink." He now lives with two donkeys, two horses and one dog named Chloe. Bud found Chloe sleeping on one of the beds that morning so after his talk he will have to go home and straighten her out. Somehow I can believe he will do that.
      When he asked the crowd at the Senior Center what they wanted him to speak about, the unanimous demand was, "Tell us about Dorothea." The Dorothea they eagerly wanted to hear about was Dorothea Waters Moran who donated the famous Waters Farm. Like Mr. Bo Jangles, he settled himself into his chair, took another bite of his donut and began to weave the story. With Bud, it is hard to tell where the man and the project separate. He is as much Waters Farm as is the house and the acreage.
     The kickoff question for the soliloquy was, “were you related to the Waters?” His answer, "just about everyone in Sutton was related to the Waters, they were like dog manure -they were everywhere." Back when New England towns were being settled, men would search everywhere to try to find a woman they were not related to, they searched high and low and according to Bud some lucky men even found women in snow banks. Happily, we leave this piece of history and move onto the main topic. Dorothea Waters Moran was getting along in years and the farm she loved so much, the farm that had been in her family for six generations, would be in peril when she died. She was considering preserving the place when she was introduced to Bud Gurney. He was a local character who served on town boards for years when some local people approached him and suggested he speak to Dorothea about preserving the farm.   Slowly this little man developed a relationship of trust and friendship with a woman who was never allowed to have friends growing up. Bud became the childhood friend she never had, someone she could share secrets with, someone who would bring her dreams to life in the Waters Farm project and someone who would make sure her every wish was obeyed to the letter. Their friendship lasted 17 years till Dorothea died at 92 years old in 1987.
     What was the glue that bonded these two oh so different people together? Dorothea came from a wealthy family that wintered in NYC and summered in Sutton. Bud was jjust a brat that loved to tell dirty sto ries and shoot the news with the locals. Whatever it was, it made some beautiful magic, magic that we all benefit from. In order to understand their relationship we need to know what tugged at his heartstrings and helped him to earn her trust. Dorothea went to school with the "lace curtain Irish" and so desperately wanted friends. Her father was a learned musician and insisted she practice the piano for hours prior to going to school. One day Dorothea skipped practice and went to school early in an attempt to develop some friendships. This trespass against her father's wishes would never be repeated; her lesson time was doubled and her spirit of rebellion quashed.
     Another glimpse into her difficult childhood was a story about her graduation. Dorothea eagerly awaited her eighth grade graduation; all the girls wore new white dresses and were given bouquets of flowers when handed their diplomas. Her father was the dignitary who handed out the diplomas and flowers; she could not wait till it was her time to graduate. She dreamed about wearing a beautiful white dress and how proudly she would walk up to her father and be handed her flowers and diploma.
     Three days before her graduation, her father pulled her out of school because "she had learned enough", dashing the dreams of the white dress and bouquet of flowers. Bud tells us that as he heard these stories about her lonely childhood; about the strict rules she had to obey, he felt a small amount of animosity grow toward her father. He realized though her father was a product of his own times and upbringing and he could be no more than what he was raised to be. But these stories nourished his sympathy for the little girl who did not get her dress and her flowers. In his own way, Bud tried to give her the attention and respect she never earned from her own father.
     Like a young couple, they began the courting dance for the future of the property. One day she looked at our little imp and asked, "What would you do with the place should I give it to you?" His articulate reply, "What the hell do I know?" And this, my friends, was the way Bud would do everything, with humor and by the seat of his pants.
     So a deal was made. The house and five acres were donated to the town of Sutton. Dorothea's lawyer suggested the creation of a foundation which should get a lease for the property from the town, this would expedite obtaining grants for their dream. They negotiated a 99 year lease from the town and the planning began.
     Dorothea was emphatic the house would not be a museum; it was her home and visitors were to sit on the furniture, walk on the rugs and touch the kitchen utensils. In the beginning, there was a fair amount of dissention on this point, Bud advocated for Dorothea's wishes but "the women picked the hair out of his ears." So the Waters Farm Preservation, Inc. was established and this weeded all the "agenda driven people" out of the way protecting the purity of the project. He then sought out the best women he could find to get the project rolling; Bud has found that when you want work done, you get women involved. They are the detailers and the drivers, their organizational skills are unmatched in civilized societies and he just let them go. Men are good when you give them a project they have a special skill or interest in so he portioned out projects for the men who wanted to be a part of history. The project was, and still is, all volunteers who share the vision of Dorothea as transmitted by her voice - Bud.
Now they had the house and the farm, what should they do with it? How could they do service to the importance the farm had in the framework that was their community?
     Bud went to Maine in search of history. It was in Dixfield, Maine, settled by Sutton people, where he heard of what was a relatively new concept, a living history museum. Following the axiom that had helped him achieve much to this point, he got a woman involved. He spoke to a woman named Billy up in Maine and she guided him through the living history museum enterprise. She demonstrated how you educate, excite and enforce the "who, what, where, when and why" of our early pioneers. She was able to convey the permanence that a museum like this has with the visitors, the staying power of the information, and the impact of actually seeing it authentically right before you.
     A group of volunteers went up to Billy's living history museum in Maine and lived the way people did in the 1850's, primitively. They baked, spun, wove and shoveled manure. They were allotted two quarts of water a day to wash up. The women were not happy. They had to use the two "backhouses", a 3 holer and a 2 holer. An accurate picture of what life was like was now etched in their minds and now they would be excellent teachers when they returned to Sutton.
Billy developed an educational program for them for the schools. Bud came back and told Dorothea that the farm would be turned into a living history museum like the one in Maine. This was glad news to her; the farm had been a living farm for six generations so the tradition of living would continue. It is ironic that her father insisted she would never get the farm and here she was the owner and the progenitor of its legacy.
     Slowly they increased the acreage of the farm, slowly they increased the collection and slowly they began to tell a story. Bud set about to save pieces of history from other farms headed for the developer's wrecking ball and as he tells it, "I don't mind begging if I know who I am begging from."
In Manchaug he set out to acquire an English style barn from the Darling farm. He got a call asking him if he wanted to come and take any of the stuff in it before it was torn down. Bud said he wanted the stuff and the barn. Thus it began. In 1995 the blacksmith shop came, in 1996 the shingle mill came and in 2005, the sugar shack was added. Bud will never stop taking stuff till he dies.
Now the question is who is going to take over protecting Dorothea's legacy when he dies? How will the vision and the plans be protected from new people changing it? He sat down with a lawyer and the entire journey was written down and documented. Dorothea's will and written desires for the project were reviewed and a formal mission statement and plan were drawn up. This will ensure that the success will not be corrupted by succeeding generations of well meaning volunteers.
     As the meeting broke up and the camera was put back into its travel case, Bud finished his chocolate donut (the black ones don't bother his stomach), drank up the last of his coffee and gave himself a pat on his back. His audience was pleased, the time was spent in genial good humor and he kept Dorothea's memory alive. One or two old timers like him started to count how many buttonwood trees were left in town and a new patter of stories began. His love of a good story is infectious and his sense of humor is incorrigible. I left the Sutton Senior Center wishing there were more Energizer Bunnies like him; our history would be in excellent hands. If every town had a Bud who loved to share a good story, if we all had a Bud who just wanted to do the right thing by a lonely lady who never had a friend, think of the rich cultural history we would be blessed with today.
     I hope he was gentle with Chloe when he got home and found hersleeping on the bed.

Bud Gurney passed away in 2006.