The arrival of spring has always been a reminder of my Grandmother’s garden. My Grandfather bought the farm at the end of Woodend Road in 1904 surrounded by the beaches of Long Island Sound, and along the Lordship coastline of Stratford, Connecticut.
I remember, from living there, the wonderful scent of the Salt Sea air. I wonder what it must have been like before the development began after the Great Depression, and into the War Years. To walk along that coast must have been spectacular.
I miss the crystal blue water and the sailing ships, collecting seashells on the sandy beach overlooking the sea world, but I miss the farm life more. That is why I am here in Tioga County where I can see the fields turn green under the golden sunbeams. The sound of the tractor up on the hill is relaxing. It renews you and reinforces the life you once knew.
There’s so much to see in Tioga County. Spring herds of young deer running through the fields, kicking and bucking like wild ponies playing hide and seek in the cornrows. New York is a bird sanctuary with so many lakes and the shore, a variety in its topography, hundreds of species live here, and some never leave. The Song Sparrows will stay throughout the year, singing their sound all winter long. In the spring you’ll see a Scarlet Tanager or maybe a Black and White Striped Warbler coming back to enjoy the summer.
By 1950 the farm at the end of Woodend Road was the only farm left in the town, giving my brothers and I the unique experience of living a country life, and one by the sea. It was a vast farm, at one time reaching within two miles of Short Beach. We picked bushels of sweet corn right up to the Avco Lycoming building, and one of the largest defense plants in the area.
The last time I saw my Grandmother Julia she was 92 years old and was sitting under the grapevine, heavily laden with Niagara grapes, looking out to a field of clover where the beautiful white and sorrel Welsh pony Susie is, grazing the big square wooden arbor that is surrounded inside with handmade wood benches. It was a good place to sit and mull over the day with a serving of Nonma’s pink lemonade.
Nonma and Nonmo raise draft horses to work the land. Every year Nonmo painstakingly oils the mahogany railings to prevent the draft horses from escaping for a fresh shoot of grass, or an apple. Charlie will always find a way out, bringing the whole gang with him. His gentle nature and fun-loving spirit made Charlie something special. He lived on the farm for over 28 years. Two great big barns, freshly painted grey, made a comfortable home for the draft horses.
Susie needed a home of her own. Nonmo built her a small barn with all the amenities; two box stalls including heat and utilities. Nonmo knew his draft horses were a necessity of farm life, but it was alright with him as an innovative man that they were retired enjoying their warm clean barns, juicy apples, sweet carrots, kind words, and the soothing drone of tractors.
On special occasions we would dine upstairs in a brightly painted yellow kitchen. We sat in the upstairs parlor, painted in a pretty plum color with matching purple flowered furniture and a heart shaped wood carved settee that looked out over the garden, where Nonma works hard. This is where she worries about her three sons that are fighting overseas. The rosary beads in the branches of the pear tree help Julia keep the vigil.
I have been saving the best for last, the farmyard entrance, 90-feet wide, 30-feet deep, and a rock garden of no equal with a gate set right in the middle. Open the gate and walk down the path looking around to the left and right, 45- feet of garden stretches out to either side, bringing you into the midst of the farmyard I’ve just described. The flowers are pinks, periwinkles, and plenty of variegated pachysandra, a field of black-eyed Susan’s with an array of the prettiest petunias. A fragrant patch of peonies and a troupe of roaring tiger lilies mixed into the rocks and shells from the sea, gathered from the woods and the shore, a medley of color presenting itself as a ground covering fireworks display. More radiant than anything you’ll see in the sky on the Fourth of July. A silent explosion, with only the honeybees, the humming birds and a breeze off the ocean, would set this garden in motion. Tended only by my Grandmother, using only her hands deftly weeding and cultivating. Only her heart and soul makes the garden grow. Julia started this garden over 100 years ago.
After World War II ended in Sept. 2, 2045, and on the following Memorial Day of 1946, Nonma and Nonmo held a gala event in the garden for the soldiers who lived in the town. They sat under the arbor telling their stories, a banquet prepared by their wives and mothers, wine made from Nonmo’s Niagara grapes. In the shade of the apple orchard my Grandfather, an Italian immigrant now an American citizen, raised the American Flag and sang all three versus of the Star-Spangled Banner.
In the upstairs parlor, painted in a pretty plum color, photographs from that day were set in silver polished picture frames, teaching all of us over the years what Patriotism means.