Saturday, August 10, 2013

A Worklife Gem

Every so often you come upon a book that plunks you into a work life with stunning clarity. I lucked into such a volume while vacationing recently in Middlebury, Vermont. There in our room at the Swift House Inn was "46 Years of Pretty Straight Going: The Life of a Family Dairy Farm" by George Bellerose. The cover was extremely inviting; the design by Mason Singer first-class, showcasing beautiful duotone images photographed by Bellerose. But the text is what really drew me in. It's mainly an oral history. The author asks the right questions, records the answers accurately, and keeps himself out of the way. 

Larry Wyman as pictured in "46 Years of Pretty Straight Going."
Photo by George Bellerose,
courtesy of the Vermont Folklife Center.
Yes, I stayed up late every night until I finished "46 Years." For a corporate historian, this kind of personalized business history is more involving than any novel or mystery. What a life Larry and Grayson Wyman had during their 46 years of farming in Weybridge. Not an easy life--for the most part, not much different than a 19th century farming life--but a worthwhile one, despite all its personal and financial demands.

The ending is sad. It explains why family farms have been decimated, and why the Vermont I fell in love with during my teen years has gradually been depleted of all those cows that used to dot the landscape. (The New Jerseyan in me feels compelled to note that the Wymans grew up in the Garden State--in Chatham in the 1920s and 1930s. They always knew they wanted to farm, however, and they migrated to New England early on.)

Unfortunately the Vermont Folklife Center, which published the book, was closed the weekend of my trip. I would have liked to congratulate them in person for an incomparable achievement. I was delighted to read that various grants allowed the book to be donated to all public libraries in Vermont. In 100 years -- maybe as few as 25 years -- people will read this book to understand an almost vanished way of life. A review of the book by the Oral History Association is here.