The Library in My Woodland

My parents bought their 80-acre Butler Township Farm in 1952 from Elizabeth Ramsdell. Her husband, Ray Ramsdell had passed the year before, and Elizabeth did not want to keep up the farm herself. After selling the farm on land contract to my parents, she moved to a huge home on Washington Street with her sister, another widow or perhaps an unmarried woman. I simply remember them as “elderly” and looking back, I find they were younger than I am now!
I remember going with my mother every month to make the farm payment to Mrs. Ramsdell. The Washington Street house was a typical late 19th century, Victorian home. While Mother had tea with the ladies in the parlor, I was allowed to close the 10 foot pocket doors on two sides of the grand foyer and let my imagination run wild on each step of the massive open stairway and landings to the huge, probably unused, upstairs. Closed doorways throughout the wide hallways held stories I could only imagine, hopefully saved for another day. For about an hour a month, I visited airplanes and railroad cars, hospitals and hotels, and mansions and palaces. 

But the 80-acre farm, itself, told many stories, as well. Its barns, bins, sheds, granaries, and coops narrated farm stories. Its pastures, fields, and creek nourished old tales and created new. And its remnants, found in the big yellow house, in each outbuilding, and throughout the acreage, held many narratives, as well. This is one of those stories:

It was a crisp autumn day. I went down the lane – not for a leisurely stroll but to run ~  down the lane and back again ~ repeat ~ you know the routine. Anyway, once I got to the end of the lane, I stopped running I was drawn to the depth of the woods ahead. The woods were beautiful . . .


. . . and the woods were quiet.  I heard only the faint sounds of bleating sheep from the Amish farm a few fields away, and, of course, of birds fluttering in the tall trees above me. I couldn’t make them out. They were hidden by the leaves, still on the trees but changing colors, one at a time, throughout the grove. Oh, how peaceful! I looked up through the trees and cherished the quiet.

I have read many stories in these woods, and one, in particular, I’ve been reading for many years, bookmarking my pages along the way. It’s a story set  generations ago – before my family bought the farm – a story set in the early 1900’s. The characters are Elizabeth and Ray Ramsdell, the former owners of the 80 acres consisting of some farmland, some pasture,  and some woods.

Like most farmers, tenants, and other country folk those days, the dumping ground was on the farm – usually in the woods, the rubbish hidden by the trees and leaves, where the plow needn’t furrow. After years of service, old machinery found its final resting place near a towering poplar or behind the trunk of a large maple.

Time passed, and iron wheels sunk into the soft black dirt while heavy fallen leaves and rotted bark composted more soil, further imbedding the discarded junk, or shall I say, the vintage treasures.

Season after season, tin cans, glass bottles, and broken pottery and dishes were toted by the farmer in a wheelbarrow or a bucket from the yellow house near the road, back the lane, and dumped in a pile in the thicket.

Years passed. Winter snows cover the wooded treasures; spring’s new life and fresh greens mask the stockpile of riches; and summer’s green ferns carpet the forest floor and hideout; but on autumn days like this day, when the green coverlet has dried and the brilliant foliage has not yet dropped to blanket the forest floor, the storehouse of times past is unveiled, and a story unfolds.

WindexPrevious autumn days have found me reading the chapter of a cleaning day in the yellow house. Mrs. Ramsdell had tried a new product for cleaning glass. It was Windex! IMG_2479And 70 years later, I had taken that little character, the spray bottle, up the lane to my house and placed it with other vintage pieces in my laundry room.

So on this sunny autumn day, I return to the story and pick up where last I had bookmarked.


Mrs. Ramsdell  had brewed coffee in her blue enameled coffeepot. She had boiled potatoes in the green enameled pan.

And either the Mr. or the Mrs. had filled a prescription. The pills were large and placed in a tall bottle. Today’s chapter  brought an unusual twist in the plot: original cotton, sealed in the bottle, after 70 or more years!

I read the story for a while, collecting my valuables: another ink well jar, white face cream containers, and a couple of new characters in this tale – two tiny bottles, one with an intact rubber lid, likely vials for the Mr.’s regular insulin injections.

So I carry my stash home –  through the woods, up the lane, all the while planning another day to browse the library in my woodland, to amass further riches, and to read another chapter of this story, written long ago.

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