……A long time ago in a galaxy that seems far, far away, there was a remote farm on a dirt road in Andover VT. This farm was the home of East Hill Farm and School. Founded in the 1950’s as a summer camp, it soon grew to include a high school in the 60’s and a grade school in the 70’s, with cows, sheep, chickens, horses, oxen, hay fields, a sugar bush, and just enough logging for firewood (which took quite a bit since they used cross cut saws, not chainsaws, and axes not motorized woodspliters).
A fire ripped through the main barn in 1973, destroying the barn and killing some stock. My grandfather hauled his bulldozer in to bury the dead animals and my family and I helped to build the new barn later that summer. This was my introduction to East Hill Farm. The minute I heard it was a school without homework, I asked my parents if I could go and I attended East Hill from 4th grade through high school, and also worked as a camp counselor.
Last weekend I returned, with my boys, to Andover for an East Hill reunion. The classes were small, I only had 3 other 12th graders in my graduating class, so it was a full school and camp wide gathering. There were no invitations sent out, just an event page posted on Facebook. There was an hope of maybe 25 people showing up, and we doubled that!
The farm stopped being a school sometime in the 1980’s, but it’s still owned by the same family. Being there was a day of flashbacks. The boys and I spent a good hour just wandering the farm. It was like opening a picturebook from the past. We walked past the “corner cabin”, which had once acted as a dorm. It was really a not-so-air-tight cabin, with one small propane heater, 12 bunks, and many “ventilation” holes that allowed snow in on your blankets in winter. . . and it was a long run to the outhouse. It is now in poor shape and being used for storage. There was another log cabin that was a wood-fired sauna built generations before by Finnish settlers. That was how we got clean – you’d sweat and scrub yourself down with luffa sponges, then jump in a pool or a snowbank and pour on buckets of cold water. I reconized fields that I had mowed, distinctive looking trees that I remembered as soon as I saw them, rusted old pieces of farm equipment that had aged, but were still in the same spot 30 years later.
Then there were the people, the songs and the dancing.
Sitting in a lopsided circle, on the lawn, we told each of our names, times at the farm, and present residence. In the telling there seemed to be a real longing to recreate “a day in the life of an East Hiller” with people we hadn’t seen, maybe hadn’t even thought of, for decades. There were calls for morning meetings, work details, rebuilding 1st and 2nd dinner bells, and many calls for music and dancing.
A big part of the East Hill experience was the music and dance, from singing graces before meals, to singing along with a guitar to “Good Peanuts” in the evening. And we had dancing every morning. It was most often traditional circle dances, with some contra and square as well. To hear these 50+ people spanning generations of time singing songs that we all seemed to know and remember was fantastic. Music triggers memories, sometimes clearer than an image. Even though I started that weekend with just a vague recollection of the steps to the traditional circle dances I once knew, the minute the music started, the dance steps were remembered.
It was good for the mind, spirit and body to reunite with campers and schoolmates from all those years ago, to hear their stories and follow their life paths to the present. Even better, I had a chance to share stories and pictures with my kids that were from when I was their age. Now, back in Cabot, we’re getting ready for their new school year and it’s remarkable to think of them building their own histories, that they will one day be looking back, a long time ago, and far, far away. . . .