By Brenda Reeser
Grant Brisbane lived on Ridge Road, Dingle Hill on the farm below the one my parents owned. His ancestors were Anti-renters in the l840’s: farmers who made a united effort to seek reform against unfair and feudal privileges. Patroonships were abolished in America and Grant’s family was responsible for helping to change this system, giving the right to every man to own and farm his land.
I knew Grant for other things; growing up as a child up the road from him, and later, when I spent time by myself in my new home which overlooks the Pepacton Reservoir. In the fall, I would stay here to be with my mother and to prepare for the holidays ahead, while my husband, Doug, went back to the office in Dutchess County. The nights were long and I was happy when the telephone rang and Grant was calling to chat about his garden. It was a welcome diversion and when he shared stories with me, I felt as if I was personally experiencing his deep-rooted love for making things grow.
Grant milked Guernsey and Jersey cows, small, pretty cows known for producing a high butterfat content. Farmers were paid by the percentage of butterfat. And because Grant owned grazing and pastureland beyond my parents’ farm, at milking time it could get tricky driving his herd back to his main barn. Communication was important so as not to get the herds mixed.
“You could set your watch by Grant!” my mother used to say as she watched him and his dog, Scissors, walk past our house each day at precisely 4:30 pm to bring his cattle home. He was a burly man with curly strawberry hair. He wore overalls and a striped farmer’s cap. He took deliberate, long strides while carrying a stick to drive his cows. Perhaps because he was work-hardened, occasionally Grant would lose his patience with a wandering cow. “Come on, hee ahh,” he’d yell, raising his stick as the cow quickly stepped back into the herd.
My mother would watch Grant and gaze out at his farm from her kitchen window, finding comfort in the glow of the light that shone at the northwest corner of his barn in the evening. Just knowing that someone else was there on a dark autumn night was important. That’s how worthwhile connections were made in a rural setting. My mother never felt isolated.
I appreciate the quiet beauty that these hills offer in the fall, especially the colorful bouquets of wild flowers and the spicy must smells of the autumn leaves. On the telephone, Grant treated me with warmth and consideration as we talked about his garden. He told me how big the zucchinis were, and he shared a recipe for acorn squash (using his own maple syrup). And his potatoes tasted better than those from the year before!! These talks gave me a special sense of togetherness and harmony. And like his barn light that shone for my mother at night, the talks were a comfort to me as well. Something that I have not forgotten:
Grant had a fatal accident with a saw. My mother swaddled him in bed linens to try to stop the bleeding before the Andes Emergency Squad arrived. Like so many people who cared for him, it is difficult to comprehend why this had to happen. However, I realized soon after this miserable accident, that I had to focus on the gifts he gave to me when he was alive. That’s how many who knew him had to sustain themselves…knowing that he loved us and believed in us. That simple truth provided so many of us with a base to work at being good people.~