Green Valley :: Abbey Farm
It is so strange what we remember and what we don't. For many weeks I was the sole "mother" for 10 children and I don't remember them. You'd think I'd have those original 10 seared into my mind, but they come and go in flashes.
Maybe the truth of the matter is that, while I had the matriarch role for a bit, I didn't feel maternal. They weren't "my" kids, if you know what I mean. I thought they were funny and wise, but didn't especially love them or expect them to love me. I heard from one of them recently -- Missy A. -- and was reminded that she was only 5 years younger than me. So we were really more like fellow travelers on the Yellow Submarine Line, all escaping from something, all on our way to uncertain adulthood, temporarily drawn together by Lee Ricketts and his blue bus, landing for a while at Abbey Farm on a hillside in the Catskills.
"Abbey Farm" was a parcel on Green Valley's Buck Brook Farm property. Buck Brook Farm below us was a mature operation, housing about 30 kids and maybe 10 staff. Until we arrived, our acreage was the responsibility of an old dairy farmer Sam and his wife, who lived in a trailer opposite the big old farm house. They owned a herd of giant (to this city girl) cows.
The farmhouse had a modernized kitchen, a big common room, and bedrooms enough for Lee and the boys. The front porch was perfect for watching thunderstorms pass through the valley and sipping on Lee's homemade apple wine.
The girls and I lived in bedrooms over a garage. It was the first time in my life that I had a bedroom of my own. I can't think of that room without hearing the Jackson Five singing "Never Can Say Goodbye" and Carole King singing "It's Too Late," even though I don't remember anyone having a record player or radio.
I don't remember cooking at all, but it must have occupied a good part of my day. I don't remember baking bread, but I can smell it and taste it. We churned our own butter -- heaven. I do remember supervising dishwashing and long conversations at the sink with Nickie N. about his lack of hygiene.
I'd avoided pre-breakfast exercise in Florida but couldn't be a scofflaw here. We dragged out of bed at 7 A.M., hiked up and down hills for what felt like an hour, then had a big breakfast. (Did we eat breakfast down at Buck Brook? I wish I could remember.) After breakfast, everyone was supposed to do farm chores for the morning. At that time of year the big task was "picking rocks." At first I thought it was cruel make-work, but learned that the freeze-thaw cycle of winter heaved big rocks to the surface, rocks which had to be moved in order to run a tractor over the land without mishap.
The men -- Lee, Sam, and Zeff from BBF -- also had some serious conversations about haying. Was it tall enough? Was it dry enough? I wondered where all this hay was that they were discussing. I was surprised to discover it was the tall sweet grass that was all around us. City Girl gets wise.
The afternoons were for schoolwork (daily essays and haiku) and play, except when it finally came time to do the haying. When the grass was dry enough, it got cut and baled. Then we all went out to pile the bales onto a flatbed pulled by the tractor. It was sweaty, sneezy, communal work. When we finished, the kids were treated with sodas and the adults got the most deliciously cold beers I could ever imagine.
Evenings were for relaxation. We often went down to the lower farm to mingle and watch rented movies. That's where I met Paul S.
I arrived at Green Valley School in Orange City Florida in February 1971. Around May, Lee Ricketts and I drove 10 kids north to the Catskills to start our own little farm adjacent to GVS' Buck Brook Farm. I left the Green Valley family, with my future husband, in August of 1972.
Green Valley was a residential program for troubled kids and a sixties-style commune for its staff.