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Back in the Day

Memories of roughing it in Wilton



Photo by Andrew Tinker

During WWII, my brother and I were away from our hometown of Wilton for five years, living on our great uncle’s farm in Clayton, Massachusetts. Once victory had been declared, our mother wanted to be reunited with her two boys. She told us that we were moving to a house on a half-acre lot on Belden Hill Road.

I was her older son, and had really taken to farm life. I especially loved working with the cattle, and expressed my desire to bring a young Jersey heifer and my small flock of chickens back with me to Wilton. Mom made it crystal clear that there was no space to house, let alone raise, a future milking cow. I did manage to persuade her—and perhaps more important, the Goetjen moving crew—that I should bring my chickens with me. The crew would not allow my chickens in the van, but they did determine that the crate I had made for my poultry equipment could be tied to the rear of the van as it was too “ripe” to be inside. For my chickens, we removed the back seat of Mom’s car and left the trunk of her 1936 two-door Plymouth sedan open so the poultry could have air. A very big concession. I was elated. 

I had no place to keep my flock except in the dirt cellar under the house. Turns out that was the least of our problems. The kitchen was falling away from the main house so we had to stuff rags between the two structures before the cold weather set in. There was no electricity, no running water, no indoor plumbing, and no central heating. But we did have lots of enthusiasm. We all had chores. I was the “pump man” in charge of the outside hand pump and hand-dug well, as well as the “heating engineer,” overseeing the kerosene cook stove. We had a two-seater outhouse in the backyard that my mother, bless her, used well into her 80s whenever there was a power outage in Wilton. She was one tough lady. 

For bathing, we used a porcelain painted tub (about 30 inches long by 20 inches wide and eight inches deep), that was placed in the center of the kitchen floor. Any water that spilled in December was there until the spring thaw in March. It was almost like having our own private indoor skating rink!

My brother and I were accustomed to both privation and ice. During our stay on the farm, we had lived in similar conditions. We cut our own ice from the farm pond for keeping the farm milk fresh, so I still refer to a refrigerator as an icebox. 

Once we had settled in, I started building a backyard coop for my flock and moved the birds into the small shed around Thanksgiving. The hens that entered the enclosure were probably quite relieved they had not met with the same fate as the big rooster. (He was delicious.) 

Every spring I bought baby chicks from the feed supply store in Norwalk and started new flocks. I built a small box and placed it on a couple of stools in the kitchen, using 100-watt light bulbs to keep the chicks warm and healthy. 

Until late in my senior year of high school I sold eggs to several of our neighbors and was even awarded a Boy Scout merit badge for poultry keeping. Carle-ton Weed, one of Wilton’s old timers, was tasked with checking me out for the badge. He asked, “Have you managed to make any money with your chickens?”

 “I never made any profit,” I replied. “Not a nickel. Just enough to buy feed and equipment, but not much else. That’s why I got a job working at Golden Herd Dairy Farm over on Chestnut Hill after school.” Carleton Weed just laughed and honored my badge application.

Many years later, when my mother was well over 90, my son and I demolished the old coop, and the two-seater outhouse in the backyard. There’s a good chance that it was the last outhouse in Wilton.

Did we suffer? Despite the hardships, there were lots of good times and good humor, thanks to wonderful friends and neighbors. For me, those were some of the greatest experiences of my life, and my memories of those days remain vivid. I have often wished I could have given those same experiences to my own kids. 

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