Left in Andover: Following the golden thread

By Susan Leader
© 2019 Telegraph Publishing LLC

A sermon by the distinguished guest preacher the Rev. Roland T. Heacock, presented at Simonsville Church in the summer of 1966, was instructive as to how to live a righteous life.

The imagery was striking in his “Golden Thread” sermon: “I am giving you a thread, a golden thread which you will wind and wind into a ball for the rest of your life and in the end will lead you to Jerusalem.” It raised a lot of questions for us literal-minded Leader kids. Not entirely, however, for the expected reasons. For our parents had taken the other-way-round in their quest for fulfillment, following their hearts from Jerusalem to Andover.

At the Book Nook, Herb Leader, the Rev. Heacock and Susan Leader.

My folks first met when they enrolled in an agricultural training program at the State University at Farmingdale on Long Island in 1945. Two years later, married and with my older sister, 7 months old, in tow, they made aliyah (literal meaning: “going up to Jerusalem”) to a kibbutz in Mandatory Palestine.

As was customary, my sister was placed in a children’s house and my parents labored in the kibbutz fields and dairy. Here is a letter my mother wrote to her parents in the Bronx:

December 29, 1947
Dear Folks,
We are finally having some cold weather, which can be compared to the month of April back home. Christmas Day in the Holy Land was warm and sunny. We read that you had 2 feet of snow in N.Y. In the 5 weeks that we’ve been here it has only rained 2-3 times and this is supposed to be the height of the rainy season.

Rosa and Dad in Mandatory Palestine.

The wheat crop will surely suffer and I expect to see bread rationed in the future. I have certainly picked up a lot of Hebrew in a short time and it feels good.

They have a very charming custom here to have a celebration upon the slightest excuse whatsoever. For instance in the vegetable garden when we finished harvesting the potatoes we had a potato latke party. They were absolutely the best I ever had. …

On Shabbath we took Rosa all around the meshek (farm) to see the animals. … She plays and laughs with the other babies. At mealtime she sits at a little table in a little chair and looks all grown up. The Hebrew equivalent of Rosa is Varda. Do you think we should change her name?

We are quite safe here so don’t worry no matter what you read in the papers. I have worked in the vegetable garden most of the time, lucky me. Otherwise I have worked a little in the kitchen, in the pardes (orchard) picking up grapefruit, mending socks for babies, cleaning the 6-year old dormitory and once I de-matted dry grass from which they make mattresses.

Herb is gradually losing a little bit of weight thank goodness. He is working in the forest chopping trees and making fence posts so he’s right at home.
Love to All, Micki

The Leaders aboard ship returning to the U.S.

Due to the political situation in Israel and may parents’ own evolving needs to live privately as a nuclear family, after two years they made the decision to leave the kibbutz. They landed back in Vermont in 1949, and Andover in 1950.

During my own childhood, Hester Hemenway, at the other end of Middletown Road from us, was a driving force keeping the Congregational Church in Simonsville alive, long after the heyday of this Andover hamlet.

The church deed was conditional upon religious services being held at least thrice yearly, otherwise the property would revert to the original land owner. At one point in my memory, the building became literally a ‘Land of Milk and Honey’ when it fell into such disuse that a swarm of very productive honeybees took up housekeeping within its inner walls.

My dad had become acquainted with Heacock, a distinguished African American preacher who owned a vacation home in Weston in the ‘50s and ‘60s. We got to know him through our book barn in the mid-1960s, and were proud to host him for dinner whenever he dropped by. We attended Simonsville Church on the occasion of his guest sermon there.

Our copy of Heacock’s ‘Understanding the Negro Protest.’

In 1972, The New York Times eulogized Heacock, the author of a prize-winning book “Understanding the Negro Protest“ influential during the Civil Rights Era. The Times quoted his 1960s inaugural sermon to his Yankee flock in Stafford Springs, Conn.:

“It is a sad commentary on the state of democracy and Christianity when an obscure untalented Negro minister takes over the pastorate of a tiny rural Connecticut church, that it is big news … the Christian church should hang its head in shame at its snobbery, racism and class-consciousness.”

In his final sermon, however, he seems to have made peace with his flock, declaiming, “We have exerted a strong and wholesome influence in the field of race relations, particularly in the Christian church.”

In a similar vein, Hester and the Simonsville Ladies Aid Society were invariably welcoming to all comers, true believers and non-Christians alike.

The doors of Simonsville Church were open to all. Restoration is under way for this lovely old building.

My dad was ambivalent reflecting upon the vicissitudes of our having been the first self-identified Jewish family in Andover.

The balance registered positive, however, when toward the end of his life, one of our long-time neighbors told him that we had been “Good for Andover.”

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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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