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The Valley Reporter
P.O. Box 119
Waitsfield, VT 05673

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Compelled to respond to Back in the Day!

It is always so interesting to read each issue of The Valley Reporter. It really helps me to get in touch with my inner child and remember what it was like growing up here in the 1940s and 1950s. It is fun to look back and not stare, as they say. Some of it was good and some not so good, but there have been many changes over the years in Waitsfield and the entire Mad River Valley where I grew up for my first 16 years, anyway. 

There were no million-dollar houses and times were hard, but we had more community spirit and the ability to "make do" than does the current generation of Mad River residents, I believe. My father, Daniel "Drew" Bisbee, always told the story of how he earned only $7/week when I was born in 1937. 

However, he had free lodging in the hired man's house on his father's Round Barn Farm on the North Road, all the milk, butter and cream we could use, vegetables from the garden that were canned for the winter, and dairy cows that were slaughtered when they got old for hamburger and stew meat. We did not have chickens, but the Palmers, down the road (where Fred Messer lives now), had some. 

A little bartering for eggs and chicken could be done. My grandparents, the Walter Moriarty family who lived on Waitsfield's Bridge Street and ran a saw mill, also kept a few chickens that were slaughtered for Sunday dinner and for soup. It was always fun to take the chicken feet and pull the veins and watch the claws expand and contract! A great lesson in anatomy and physiology!

I never tasted a banana until after WWII and only had oranges when my aunt shipped them up from Florida. In the winter, ice was cut on the little pond by Mrs. Goodrich's house (now the Deheer home) and kept in our icehouse, covered with sawdust, to be used in my grandfather's ice box and to make ice cream from scratch.

My grandfather, Daniel Ralph Bisbee, kept a huge vegetable garden which I helped him with, collected honey from his many hives found around the 360-acre farm, and we had maple syrup made in the sugarhouse two miles up from the farmhouse (now my brother Daniel Drew Bisbee Jr.'s hunting camp). Unlike some of the hill farms, we had electricity in The Valley for as long as I can remember. Probably, this was through the rural electrification program done by Washington Electric Co-op back in the 1930s. (My parents changed houses with my grandparents right before the birth of my brother in 1939.)

The picture to be identified of old Gerry Stokes' store next door to his home brought back many memories. Of course, by the 1960s, his little store had become the Waitsfield Post Office, as shown in the photo. In my day, the post office was reached by climbing the Bridge Street steps up to what is now the Joslin Library. In those days, the library was entered by the current door on the Route 100 side, and what is now the children's room was the U.S. Post Office, run by Jack Smith's mother, Irene Smith. I believe that Katherine Bragg Johnson worked there as well.

Stokes's tiny store housed many treasures for the young! While our parents filled up with gas next door at Milford Long's gas tank (now the VG), we went to get "Green Spot," a soft drink that I have not seen since, at the tiny Stoke's store. We also could buy large candy bars for five cents and two sticks of red licorice for a penny! These were my favorites.

The library in those days housed all the Waitsfield Historical Society treasures, and I never seemed to find very many books that interested me there. My aunts sent me many more books with pictures, that were a bit more "modern" than what could be found in Mrs. Chapman's library. Yes, Ella Chapman was not only the seventh- and eighth-grade teacher on the third floor of the old Waitsfield School House, but she opened the library after school! (There was no library in our school, so it is good that we at least had this as an option.)  The only books I remember reading were the Bobbsey Twins and Nancy Drew mysteries.

Anyway, my thoughts lead me to believe that deflation may not be so bad after all! As a longtime taxpayer now living on mostly Social Security, I realize that next year we will not even have a cost-of-living increase, and with an increase in what we pay out for Medicare, many seniors like me will experience a net loss of income. Although this cannot in any way be compared to the hardship of those who have lost their jobs, it will still hurt.

Wouldn't it be great if all prices go way down, cars, houses, food, clothing and everything, so that our money would start being worth something again? The localvores have the right idea, I think, only most local produce prices are so high that we of little means cannot afford to buy local. Many new cooperative movements are springing up around the country in this time of economic hardship, and I believe that is a very good thing. 

We do not need or want to go back to the "good old days" of the 1970s through the 1990s, but we may be able to learn something from the generation that lived through the Great Depression and WWII. This new 21st century is offering many challenges as well as great opportunities for those who keep their eyes open and are creative and want to truly save our dying planet.

Although I have really rambled on and on, I hope that some of your readers will enjoy hearing about how things were living in north Waitsfield years ago.

Mary Alice Bisbee lives Waitsfield.


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