Left in Andover: Archaeology in the family dump

Editor’s Note: The Chester Telegraph welcomes Susan Leader to our family of columnists.  We’ve known Susan for many years, seeing her as a talented potter who is thoroughly invested in her community. Little did we realize until recently just what a talented writer she is. Please join us in welcoming her!

By Susan Leader
© 2019 Telegraph Publishing LLC

The smattering of rusty metal, glass bottles and chipped crockery that comprised our farmhouse dump when I was a kid is an archaeology dig waiting to happen, witness this rusted milk can, still lying in situ, labeled “A.W. Ward, Andover, Vt”.

In the mid-1950s, before bulk milk tanks became mandatory and our area was defined by numerous small family dairy operations, my dad ran a milk pickup route. In his own words:

“There being no other applicant, I got the job of hauling milk in cans from isolated farms to a big truck headed to a large creamery in Springfield, Massachusetts. It was a two-hour deal, using my own truck, from 2 a.m. to 4 a.m., paying $13.00 nightly, enabling us to develop our own farm (cut flowers, strawberries, truck-gardening) during the daylight hours.”

The old milk can

Historian Paul Searles, in his book Two Vermonts: Geography and Identity, 1865-1910, divides Vermonters into two camps: Downhillers and Uphillers. He credits the disappearance of the largely Uphiller pre-bulk tank era small dairy farm of my childhood to the do-gooder efforts of Downhillers (nominally better-educated town dwellers) eager to modernize the state while simultaneously preserving its rough-hewn image for the sake of promoting tourism.

Vermont’s relative environmental cleanliness, of course, continues to be one of its key attractions. In the interest of full disclosure, let it be known that our farm hosted not just one, but two private dumps.

Both were favored hunting grounds for my little brother and me, where we spent many a joyous hour kicking our feet through rusted-out elbow stovepipes and misshapen window screens, all the while our parents believing we were out performing chores.

Once, I went searching and searching for the perfect glass bottle to hold my homemade potion — Kill or Cure — which I had made by squeezing the juice from dropped apples between two flat rocks. I still have the bottle, labeled, and its contents, notably fermented.

A model of recycling, my mother wrapped our family’s worn out clothes and discarded textiles into neat bundles to store in our breezeway, to sell to the ragman on his yearly rounds. Presumably, he in turn separated out any woolens to peddle to the local shoddy mills.

The kitchen leavings, my mother fed to her chickens or disposed of immediately onto the compost pile, where they commingled with the night soil my dad extracted from the outhouse clean-out pit. The latter, no doubt, is what made the garden at Popplewood so exceptionally fertile.

Newspaper and cardboard, of course, were welcome fire starters. The occasional plastic trash we accumulated, I am not proud to say, my dad burned in an open garbage can. I can still smell the sickly sweet odor of it wafting through the air.

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Filed Under: Community and Arts LifeLeft in Andover

About the Author: Vermont native and noted potter Susan Leader grew up on Popplewood Farm in Andover. At age 17, she was inspired to take up the potter's wheel by "a charismatic potter" from the Society of Vermont Craftsman. She spent 18 months apprenticing at pottery villages throughout Japan. She returned to Popplewood Farm, where she and her husband, fiddle player John Specker, raised their two daughters.

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  1. Catherine Marino says:

    Kudos, Susan. Beautifully written. A feast for the senses. I thoroughly enjoyed it!

  2. Thank you Susan💜🌿 What a delight to read your column today. Your memories are a treasure trove themselves and I am so looking forward to reading your columns going forward ! Wonderful 🎶🌿🌷