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Posts Tagged ‘cheese toast’

As I write this, it’s a grey, rainy day. It’s cold, too, which doesn’t help much. I’ve been sequestered inside for most of the time, finishing online homework and (gasp!) reading a book, building a fire, making dinner. Bacon and potatoes. It was lovely.

I also took a quick walk around Greenfield Village. If you’re not from my neck of the woods, Google Greenfield Village, or The Henry Ford, as it’s known today collectively with the other attractions it’s partnered with. Yes, it was rainy and crappy out, but that’s one of my favorite times to go. For one thing, I get the whole place to myself. No people to dodge, no trying to ignore inattentive parents letting their kids do things that aren’t allowed, like feeding the geese or climbing trees. I don’t have to talk to anyone, I can just soak up the whole place, the ambiance, be myself and let the memories of working there for so long come flooding back.

They’re good ones, the memories, especially those from days like this at the farm. We’d hardly get any visitors, only a few brave ones dared to squelch their way down the dirt path of the farm lane to us. When they did come, we would welcome them warmly into the toasty kitchen and because there wasn’t a line out the door, we could spend some extra time talking with them. It was nice, like having company over.

Many times, though, on days like this, we’d barely see a soul and those were days when we became family. Of course, all of the chores would still have to be done. This isn’t Disneyland, it’s a real working farm from 1885. Animals have to be fed, stalls mucked, fields plowed, the stove and fireplace cleaned out and lit, water pumped, cows milked, dinner cooked, dishes washed, all of the things that made, and still do make, it real. On days like this when I had to work outside, it would be miserable. My boots would be soaked through with wet from the barnyard, full of poo and mud all mushed up together, the hem of my dress in deplorable condition. The Period Clothing department that made all of our clothes would look at us in dismay when we’d bring things to be repaired, but hems and pant cuffs got the worst of the abuse from the manure/mud combo we’d put them through. (Pigs would also bite our clothes, or cow horns would rip something. We were not Period Clothing’s favorite people.)

At the time when I worked there, the draining system hadn’t been improved yet, so we had to wade through a small lake to get from the house to the barn and back. Even the chickens were smart enough to stay in their coop or the barn where it was warm and dry. None of the animals wanted to be outside, but we still had our work to do.

Milking the cow, or cows, was a job we’d fight over on these raw days so that our hands would be warm, although I was felt badly for the cow in question. We’d get our bodies warmed up with the physical work, but our fingers and toes would be frozen and soggy. When it was time to come in for a quick break, we’d be so grateful for the warm wash water put out for us by the ladies in the house. We’d scrub up the best we could and come into the sitting room to dry out by the fire for a while, boots off, sometimes stockings and bonnets, too, hung over the fire screen and placed close to the flames, steam streaming up from the wet things.

We’d drink coffee, eat some cheese toast or cookies, and just talk while our things dried and we watched the rain come down. If it was dinner time when we came in, dinner could last a long while, especially if there was nothing pressing that needed to be done in the barn or the manure wagon didn’t need to be emptied out in the back forty or in the fields, as it often did. It was during one of these rainy days where I slipped on a wet wagon wheel while climbing back into the manure wagon and would have bashed my forehead open if it hadn’t been for my friend and supervisor quickly grabbing me by the wrist and yanking me to safety. Usually, though, unless absolutely necessary, those things would be put off a day or so until it was a bit drier. Hopefully, there would be a bit of dessert left over from a baking day and we’d boil another pot of coffee. I can still smell the combination of coffee, fire, food, and wet wool drying by the fire.

There were other buildings in the village where it was lovely to be on a rainy day, such as in the Gristmill. One could spend an entire day in there without seeing anyone except for when you went to have dinner at the farm with everyone. I used to get a lot of reading done on those days, or crochet, or cross stitch. I would sing entire musicals to myself with no one to hear me but the ghosts. I wouldn’t have wanted all the days to be like that, but sometimes, when it had been crazy busy with school children and other visitors for days on end, a quiet, rainy day was delightful.

The temperature will be going up this week and the sun will eventually come out. Greenfield Village will be full of visitors again, as it should be. Geese will be teased, trees will be (illegally) climbed, but most importantly, more people will fall in love with the place, as I and so many others have over the years.

Maybe they’ll learn what I already know: it’s a wonderful place to spend a cold, rainy, day.

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Autumn is here!!! I’m so excited! Temps are cooler, leaves are changing, the bugs are (slowly) dying. We can light fires in the fireplace, go to the apple orchard, even though we don’t go very often, and celebrate Oktoberfest over at the neighbors’ house. Fall is my favorite season of the year. Winter is Michigan is beautiful, but evilly cold and sloppy. I loathe the heat and humidity of summer. Spring is nice, although too short as we tend to jump right from winter to summer here, but autumn has all of the feels that I adore. It’s a welcome respite after sweating since the middle of May, about a week after it stops snowing. No kidding: we had the air conditioning on less than a week after turning the heat off this year, 50 degrees to 95 degrees in a couple of days. Anything over 82 makes me want to melt, so these last couple weeks of beautiful weather has been a balm for the soul. The 75% cool weather British Isles/Northern European mutt part of me trumps the 25% hot weather Sicilian part every time.

Some of my favorite memories of fall were made when I was working for Greenfield Village. For those who are not Michiganders, Greenfield Village is an 80-acre complex that is a part of The Henry Ford, an institution founded by Henry Ford in 1929, an outdoor museum consisting of many buildings, most original, some not, that are important to American history. I worked there for almost eleven years, mostly in the Village, and loved every bit of it. It’s a serious thrill to be around buildings and objects that have seen so much history. I worked in the museum a bit, not as exciting to me, but the majority of my time was spent in the Village.

I worked on Firestone Farm for three years. Firestone Farm is the farmhouse and barn where the tire mogul, Harvey Firestone, was born and raised in Columbiana County, Ohio. It was moved to Greenfield Village, piece by piece, in the 1980s and has since functioned as a working farm from the 1880s. There, I learned to cook on a coal-burning stove, to care for farm animals, and to run a house with no running water, which comes in handy when the kitchen sink breaks. We sheared sheep, butchered pigs, washed dishes by hand, and grew crops on nine acres. They still do. Every season had its chores and jobs, but autumn was the best! It was harvest time, when all of the hard work over the summer was finally coming to an end. The canning was done, no more weeding, and the little kitchen was snug and cozy.

Fall mornings on the farm were my favorite. The walk from the building where we punched in at the time clock to the farmhouse served as a portal through time. With our shawls pulled tight against the chill and bonnets properly on, the employee parking lot gave way to a small pond at Ford Motor Company and then the back barnyard where, if it had been a nice night, the horses were waiting outside for us, particularly my favorite, Mouse. They knew that they were about to get fed so they would follow us along the last bit of the road, snorting, their breath visible in the frosty autumn air as we greeted them. The sun would be just rising when we got there, bathing the house, barn, and frosty fields in a rosy glow. We would crunch down the gravel path, house people and barn people separating and going their ways. Although we knew that very soon, our little world would be filled with visitors, it was, for the moment, our own private farm and we settled into our roles. Outside, animals were fed, the barn was cleaned, cows milked, water barrels filled. Inside the house, the stove and fireplace were cleaned and lit, water was pumped for cooking, dishes, and washing (nothing modern there), cooking started, and coffee beans ground. When the morning chores were done, just before opening, there would be coffee and cheese toast for all in the still-chilly-but-warming-up kitchen. Cheese toast, made of homemade bread, butter, and large slices of muenster or cheddar, toasted in the oven of a coal stove, I’m convinced, is food of the gods. I’ve tried to replicate it at home in the oven and toaster oven, but it is never the same. Those quiet, still, moments are some of my best memories.

Another favorite part of the season was The Headless Horseman, a magical evening program. Back before the Village streets were repaved with curbs, some of us farm folk would act out the story of poor Ichabod Crane and his fateful meeting with the headless Hessian soldier, as written by Washington Irving. We would pile visitors in the horse-drawn wagon and as they traveled through the village, a black-caped storyteller (my Marty) would tell them the tale as it came to life in front of their eyes with real characters and horses. They saw lanky Ichabod, plump-as-a-partridge Katrina Van Tassel, Bram Bones, and other partygoers dancing at the Van Tassel house, normally the Giddings House during the day. The wagon then went where normal visitors never went during the day, into the woods in back of the Village. They watched Ichabod ride away from the party on his borrowed horse, Gunpowder, and followed him through the woods where he met the infamous Headless Horseman, who wore a fabulous costume designed by our period clothing department. The Horseman rode one of our big, black, Percheron horses and would burst out of the woods with an explosion of fire. The entrance was so impressive it terrified our horse that originally played Gunpowder and we had to use a different one. The visitors witnessed the chase through the woods as the wagon raced after them, the woods illuminated by fire barrels, Marty’s voice rising with the action. The chase continued back through the Village, past the Susquehanna Plantation House where the Headless Horseman picked up a flaming pumpkin, just like in the story. They would race on horseback all the way to the covered bridge where, as the story goes, the horseman’s power ended, but by the time the wagon slowed down to approach the bridge, there were only the remains of a smashed pumpkin and Ichabod’s tricorn hat. The schoolmaster was never seen again, at least, not until the next show. After the wagon had crossed through the fog-filled bridge, they would hear the thundering hooves of the giant horse on the wooden planks and would turn to see one last glimpse of the horseman, sword held high, still searching for a head.

That program was probably the most fun I’ve ever had. The horses enjoyed it, too. They would be pacing, raring to go before each performance. We did that program for three seasons and I was able to play Katrina, Headless, and work behind the scenes with lights and props. Unfortunately, the new roads meant that we couldn’t race horses around in the dark anymore, but it was something that we put our hearts and souls into. There’s nothing quite like racing a horse around the Village at night, pounding up a hill and through a bridge through the darkness, praying to God that they can see better than you can. At the end of it all, we would be exhausted, but exhilarated, ready for the next year. They have a very cool Headless Horseman for the Halloween Walk now, but it’s not the same.

My time there was full of moments like that, too many to list here, but every autumn when I can feel the change in the air, my mind returns to those days. I know that I can never go back; the combination of people and circumstances could never be duplicated, but the memories are rich and I treasure them. Oldest child works there now, not on a particular site, but as a seasonal presenter. He gets to work the Halloween Walk this year and I hope he makes as many wonderful memories as I did. I’m a bit sad, though, that he won’t experience what I did. That being said, this seems like a good day to go and wander the Village to relive some memories.

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