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Middlebrook Valley

Middlebrook Valley News

In this Issue:

Grackles Are Back! Says Chuck Eaton
Alfred Slack: Middlebrook Road's Oldest Resident
Peeper Time: Remembering Rick and Mo
West Fairlee Center Church : A Quiet Spot
Bobcat or Lynx? Inquiring Minds Want to Know

Issue I, Vol. I

devious GracklesThe Grackles Are Back!

The grackles are back, according to Chuck Eaton, landlord extraordinaire. Mr. Eaton was observed early in the morning of April 2nd running across the yard in his bare feet, carrying a double-barreled shotgun. Shortly thereafter several loud explosions were heard. Mr. Eaton called this reporter minutes afterward for a detailed and exclusive report.
“Those sons of bitches are back!” said Mr. Eaton. “What sons of bitches are those?” this reporter asked Mr. Eaton, rather calmly she thought considering the hour. “Those damned grackles!” said Mr. Eaton heatedly, “didn’t you hear me shooting at them?” “Why yes I certainly did,” said this reporter, she has grown rather used to hearing her landlord shooting at things.
According to Mr. Eaton, grackles will burrow into the siding of buildings and there make their comfy nests, destroying in the process insulation, wiring and the peace and quiet necessary for the contemplative life. It also will make it necessary for him to do a great deal of work that has already been done once and should not have to be done again. It further poses the very real danger of fire from wiring chewed by grackles, though how they manage to chew anything with beaks this reporter has no idea.
by Zelda


Alfred Slack: Middlebrook Road's Oldest Resident

West Fairlee Historical Society

Alfred E. Slack of Middlebrook Road comes from a long line of Vermonters living in and about West Fairlee. The Slacks’ common ancestor is believed to have been an Englishman, William Slack, who settled in Attleboro, Massachusetts, perhaps as early as the 17th century.
Hersey and Damaris Marston Slack were the parents of Fred Marston Slack, Al’s father. Fred was working as a machinist at the Ely copper mine when he first married about 1894. His first wife died shortly after childbirth, but West Fairlee’s Roger and Ken Southworth are the grandchildren of that union.
George Warren, originally of Waterford, Vermont, and Ida Smith, the parents of Al’s mother, are both buried in Post Mills. Al’s mother, May Eveleen Warren Slack, was born in West Fairlee on Mill Street in 1880 in the house where Rita Blake now lives. At one time the family lived on Cook Hill. “Eveleen” attended the West Fairlee Center one room school now called the Community Club.
The first of Fred and May Slack’s four children, Kathleen (1904-1942) was born in Post Mills but Al and Ruth (currently Ruth Slack Jackson of Passumpsic Point) were born in Worcester, Masschusetts. About 1914 the family returned to Barker Road in Post Mills where Bradley was born. Fred worked at the fishing rod factory in Post Mills and Al attended first grade at the Post Mills school.
The family moved to Northumberland, New Hampshire, and eventually back to Worcester where Al finished high school in 1926 and drafting school in 1929.
A Lake Fairlee summer cottage on Camp Billings’ point, built about 1905 in Thetford just a few feet over the West Fairlee town line, came to be owned by Al’s aunt, Jessie Slack Jenkins. “This was home” for Al’s migrating family and officially became his own family’s property about 1940.
In 1940 draftsman Al often waved to an unknown young woman in Upton, Massachusetts, as he went off to work. One of WWII’s first draftees, he finally introduced himself to her as he went off to join the army. At age 32 he was about to receive an early discharge when the news broke of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Four years later, after decorated service in France, Technical Sargent Slack returned and resumed his courtship of Barbara Ruth Green. They were married in 1949, bought their Middlebrook home in 1969 and moved back to West Fairlee on his retirement in 1973.
Al and Barbara have no children but love gardening in the beautiful Middlebrook Valley. They are active in the Post Mills Congregational Church and West Fairlee and West Fairlee Center affairs. They enjoy books on tape and a huge collection of 78 RPM records. Barbara, an enthusiastic cross-country skier, was the oldest walker to finish the 1996 six mile charity Crop Walk around Lake Fairlee. Their Lake Fairlee cottage looks across the cove toward Ruth Jackson’s home and eventually will pass to their good neighbors in Camp Billings.
Middlebrook Road salutes it’s oldest resident, Alfred Eugene Slack, born October 16,1908


Peeper Time : Remembering Rick and Mo

For some time now we've been hearing geese overhead, they're heading north again. We have mallards camping overnight in the drainage ditch down in the meadow here almost every night, they settle in just before dusk with great honkings and flutterings. Last weekend when my sister was up from Boston, the ice was almost gone from the middle of the lake. When we drove by after picking her up at the bus station, the remaining thin sheet glittered in the moonlight; we remarked at the time how beautiful it was. The frogs that hang out in the vernal pool had already hatched and were croaking away like mad every night. But it wasn't until this last week when I heard the peepers that I knew spring had finally arrived.

Because just like the coquis of Puerto Rico the peepers have a Green Song that they sing here in Vermont and nothing can really start to grow and turn green again until they start their nightly singing.
The Hall boys came over this afternoon, they stayed for supper while Muf went off to do some last minute errands before they leave for San Diego. After supper all three boys went off down the road to the tree fort. I sat on the deck and listened to their shrieks and hollers echoing down the valley, and then the peepers started singing. Peeper time is a time of new beginnings, of the greening of the world. But for me peeper time is also a melancholy time, a time of remembering, especially now that I'm living here at Elmwood Farm, the Eaton family home, again.

Rick Eaton died during peeper time and Mo slightly after so it's during peeper time that I remember Rick and Mo the most. The day I first met Mo was the day after his wife Margaret had died. Barry, the man I was seeing at the time (and whom I eventually married, only to divorce him fifteen years later) had gotten to know the Eatons while doing some work for them and Mo and Margaret had adopted him to the extent that he once told me he felt closer to them than his own parents. They had invited us for supper one night but three days before the appointed evening Sam Eaton came over to the shop in Thetford to tell us that Margaret had died. Barry and I drove over to Middlebrook Road to see Mo. We knocked on the kitchen door and someone hollered "Come in!" and we did. Mo was sitting at the end of the big kitchen table. "Sit down, sit down" he roared "have a doughnut! We are suffering a 'doughnut glut' as Rick says!" He scared the daylights out of me. Mo was a big man, not heavily built, indeed he was somewhat spare but he seemed big to me that day and as time went by he only got bigger. A little over six feet, he was wiry in the way that only comes from a lifetime of hard work. After Margaret's death he had women up and down the valley bringing him pies and casseroles, there wasn't a single woman in the valley that wasn't after Mo for he was also a very attractive man with piercing brown eyes.
It was after this first encounter with Mo that I gradually became acquainted with the Eaton family, Mo, his sons Rick and Chuck, Chuck's wife Carol and their three children, Chris, Elizabeth and Sarah. I can't really remember the first time I met Rick, but when I met him he was a little older than I was then, in his early 30's. A stocky man, with a full dark beard, he was so loud one hardly noticed the legs twisted from cerebral palsy and the steel crutches that he pulled himself along with. Rick told the most obnoxious jokes (at top volume) and had the worst taste in puns I have ever encountered in a living human being. One could not help but laugh with him he took such obvious delight in them.

When I was working as a partner at the Third Rail Restaurant in Fairlee Rick would come in on quiet winter nights and read aloud from Winnie the Pooh. In the middle room, close by the stove, a glass of draft beer always close at hand, he would read chapter after chapter of Christopher Robin and Pooh's adventures. Rick put some people off he was so boisterous at times but he had the most gentle soul of any human being I have ever met. He not only read endless chapters of Pooh to us, the captive audience at the Rail, but to children in the local hospital, he went down there several times a week to read to them.
When Rick died he was living alone in an apartment in Montpelier while he went to school. He died from a simple thing, stomach flu; just a bug killed him. Because of his physical problems he was more prone to dehydration than most and this is what ultimately killed him. Carol told me that when they found him his hand was stretched out towards the phone and this I will always remember, that he died reaching for the telephone. We were living with Mo at the Farm at the time
The morning of his funeral I walked up the road to the West Fairlee Center Church to help clean the church before the service. We dusted and vacuumed the already spotless little building, polished the pews and put flowers round. Memories of that morning are irretrievably mixed with the smell of lemon oil and of lilacs. The little church was packed that afternoon. The Reverend Gary Waite led the service, a tall thin man dressed invariably in an old fashioned frock coat. He said that although he and Rick met but rarely he heard of Rick on every pastoral visit. Whenever he went to people in need, Reverend Waite said, he could be sure that Rick had been there first and his parishioners would be full of Rick's visit, repeating the latest awful joke or self-deprecating and hilarious story that "Ricky" had left them with. After the service everyone came back to the Farm for refreshments and that evening I sat on the porch and listened to the peepers sing

Mo took to spending every winter in Arizona after that, he was having a lot of trouble with his breathing by then. Carol and Chuck moved down to the Farm from Saint Johnsbury and Mo built himself a little house across the road, up in the horse meadow. He no longer came home in the early spring. He said it was because his old bones could not take the spring rains but I always thought it was because he could not bear to hear the peepers sing.

One spring Chuck called us. Mo was very sick out in Arizona, he said, and Chuck was going out to bring him home. Chuck hired a hospital plane, a Learjet staffed with two nurses and when the plane landed at Lebanon airport there were seven of us there waiting for it, our faces pressed against the chainlink fence as they carried Mo's wasted body off the plane.
I cried when I saw him, he looked like an empty shell, a dried husk containing the spirit of a man who by that time I loved as if he were my own father.

We cared for Mo round the clock, in shifts, day and night and waited for death to come. But Mo fooled us. He did not die. He grew stronger and lived all that summer and the next winter. Hooked to oxygen tubes, unable to breathe without them, he lived. When my son was born I went to visit Mo and brought my child to meet him. Then, one morning, in the spring, we got a call. Mo had died. In the night he had had some sort of seizure of the brain, he had woken and in terrible, unbearable pain he had picked up his gun and put it to his head and pulled the trigger.

Once again Reverend Waite led the service. Once again the little church was full. During the service Reverend Waite said that Mo was a man larger than life, that he might have sprung full-blown from one of the Louis L'Amour novels he loved to read, and that was true. At his death he took a strong man's way out. He took control of his life by taking control of his death.
I miss Mo Eaton but never more so than here at the farm during peeper time.


The West Fairlee Center Congregational Church

West Fairlee Historical Society

Rev. Josiah Fuller organized the West Fairlee Center Congregational Church in 1809. The first house of worship was built in 1811 and replaced by the present structure in 1855 after the first building was destroyed by fire. The cost of construction was $2000.00. The interior of the church is a pale peach, with a white pressed tin ceiling. The plain wooden pews and unadorned interior offer a serene and restful atmosphere in which to worship or simply contemplate the glory of the Universe, which come to think of it amounts to the same thing.

curved leaf


Bobcat or Lynx?

by Zelda

Is it a bobcat or is it a lynx? Everyone is dying to know what the feline seen crossing the meadow several times in the last year or so really is. It has been observed four or five times crossing the meadow below the Farm in broad daylight and once was nearly hit as it bounded across the road in front of this reporters car as she returned home from class late one evening.
The answer is that it is both and I quote now from the Encarta 98 Encyclopedia:
“Generally, four species of lynx are recognized: the Spanish lynx, which is listed as an endangered species; the bobcat, also known as the wildcat, which is widespread throughout the United States except for the midwestern Corn Belt; the Eurasian, or northern, lynx; and the Canadian lynx.”


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