Between the Past and 'That Future's Future'

August 07, 1994|By PETER A. JAY

Hartland Four Corners, Vermont. -- The New Yorker, a Mr. Edwin Morgan, knew nothing of Vermont, but after one of his daughters married a country lawyer from Windsor, he ventured north to see her. The visit was to have a remarkable long-term impact on many lives.

Not unlike other New Yorkers before and since, Mr. Morgan found Vermont enchanting. And the land was so cheap! Farms sold for a few dollars an acre, and soon he'd bought one near here. It had a barn, a small brick house, and a wonderful southern view toward Mt. Ascutney. He planned to come and visit often.

As it happened, this initial spate of enthusiasm waned, and after some years passed Mr. Morgan gave the farm to another daughter -- not the one living in Windsor -- and her husband. They loved it. In the years just before World War II they came almost every summer, bringing their six children.

It was truly a farm then, with a small herd of Jersey cows and a year-round hired man. The six children explored the hills and dirt roads, rode the farm horses, and swam in Lull Brook, the stream that gave the place its name. When they married they brought their spouses. Sometimes they even came back in the wintertime, to try snowshoeing or skiing; a place over in Woodstock had just put in a rope tow.

Old Mr. Morgan died, and so did his son-in-law. But his daughter Elizabeth had become a confirmed Vermonter, and after she was widowed she spent most of the latter part of her life there. As she aged she gave up the dairy cows and moved into Windsor in the winters, but she held onto the Lull Brook farm and at one time or another took most of her 18 grandchildren there.

The grandchildren adored her. Some she taught to drive on the back roads before they were of legal age. Others she led out on snowshoes, even when she was in her 70s, to see some new vista she had just discovered -- one which she insisted you

simply couldn't appreciate from the road.

Her enthusiasms were legendary. She loved dogs, old houses, morning sunlight, back roads just cleared by the snowplow. And she had enormous charm; once she talked herself out of a traffic ticket by explaining to a New Hampshire police officer that the only reason she'd been going so fast was that she'd thought she had a chance to break her personal speed record to Boston. To her grandchildren, Gran meant Vermont; Vermont meant Gran.

Mr. Morgan's daughter Elizabeth has been gone almost 20 years now. Two of her six children have died, and the grandchildren are graying. Most have children of their own, and one of the oldest is a grandmother. The Lull Brook farm is still in the family, but it's rented out.

Elizabeth's youngest daughter has a farm of her own not far from Lull Brook, but none of her other descendants live in Vermont. That's not surprising; there's a kind of centrifugal force that pulls most families apart as the generations pass. Family reunions are attempts to overcome this, even if only for a moment.

When this family decided to hold a reunion, it was hard to imagine either a more congenial or a more appropriate place for it than Vermont. And so it was that three generations assembled here last weekend, coming from Oklahoma and California, New Mexico and Maryland, among other places.

The oldest were the grandchildren of Mr. Morgan, the four survivors of the six who had summered at Lull Brook before the war. Then came their children, the first cousins, and their children, the second cousins. The first and only member of the next generation, an infant great-great-great-granddaughter of Mr. Morgan, remained at home in Philadelphia.

With the gracious permission of the tenants, there was a picnic on the lawn at Lull Brook farm. It was a true New England day, bright sunshine alternating with rain showers lasting just long enough to drive the faint-hearted under a tree. The younger second cousins, undeterred by the weather, swam in the pond. Ascutney stood in its proper place against the cloudy southern sky. Many photographs were taken.

One day years from now, perhaps, some of those young second cousins, middle-aged people by then with much of their life behind them, will come across the photos of that gathering in the summer of 1994. And their thoughts will fly back and forth between the past and what Robert Penn Warren called ''that future's future.''

In the photo they'll see their parents and think how much younger they looked, and note for a moment or two the faces of the grandparents who are no more. And they'll begin to wonder, poignantly and inevitably, about the yet-to-come time when their own children and grandchildren will be middle-aged people, peering backward curiously across the decades -- at them.

Peter A. Jay is a writer and farmer.

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