News from Vermont #271 - My Mom's Folks
September 19th, 2012
Hello again Maple People,
We're smack-dab in the middle of political season and I think most of us are getting a bit punchy with all the put-downs, puffy bravadoes, and blatant mistruths...heck if I advertised my business like these guys advertise themselves, nobody would come here! I shut 'em out as much as I can but they have affected my thinking a bit on one subject, the plight of women. I'll agree there are times that women take the backseat to men.
I'm talking genealogy here and I'm an accomplice to this problem: Morse is my surname and I'm righteous about it; I work at Morse Farm, boast about my seven generation Morse maple sugarin' roots, and know all my Morse grandpas by name way back to 1635! Ask about my mother's folks the Aikens, however, and it seems they sank into obscurity the day my mother married Mr. Morse back in 1937. So, with a "where's the fairness in that" attitude, I've recently been studying the other half of my heritage, my mom's folks.
My mom grew up "way down south", that is, southern Vermont, where colonists arrived much earlier than here in northern Vermont. In fact, according to Mim Herwig of Randolph Center (a distant cousin on my mother's side), a maternal ancestor of mine is documented as Vermont's first maple sugarmaker. My multi-great uncle, Mr. Alexander Kathan of Dummerston, boiled up his first batch in 1754, at least thirty years before my Morse ancestors even thought of making the stuff! That takes my Vermont maple roots back nine generations...chalk one up for the ladies!
A couple days ago I traveled down to southern Vermont for a little investigation. All remnants of uncle Alex' operation went away with the last virgin maple trees close to one hundred years ago but I did find a story in Putney (my mom's hometown. My aunt Tot is now matriarch of the Aiken family and lives in the same homestead where her grandfather, Edward Aiken, lived. She was quite young when Ed Aiken passed away but recalls him as a very friendly and memorable old man.
Edward Webster Aiken was a born fruit and vegetable farmer down in southern Vermont's Connecticut Valley "banana belt". Although his son, my grandfather George Aiken, reached relative fame as Vermont's governor (1937-1941) and US senator (1941-1975), Ed's loyalties always lay in making his small farm produce like the Garden of Eden. Even more spectacular than his crops was his way of marketing; he was a peddler. Right up into the 1940s, long after Vermont roads became populated by cars and trucks, and George Aiken had climbed the political ladder to national fame, Ed was peddling fruits and vegetables in Putney village from a horse-drawn wagon! This was so unusual, in fact, that "Life Magazine" planned to do a story on him. The story, no doubt trumped by things "war", never got published but Aunt Tot ended up with some professional photographs of old Ed making his rounds.
Tot showed me those photos that day and they sure did capture the unique old character that was Ed Aiken. After we viewed the pictures, she beckoned me outside where we walked across the road and down to her lower barn. When we opened the large, creaking door, there stood Gramp Aiken's peddler's wagon, covered by a thick film of dust and listing to one side, but unmistakably the same old wagon portrayed in the "Life" photos!
I felt a strong sense of déjà vu as I examined the wagon's built-in storage drawers and fabric-covered roof. I knew that my great grandfather had taken great pride in its design and from it, he had spent the best of his lifetime, rain or shine, plying his trade.Tot, approaching ninety, said she'd give me that wagon if I would pledge to keep it under cover and in the family. I left her that day saying I'd think about her offer..."under a roof...keep it in the family"...I considered the huge responsibility all the way home. The next day I found the perfect place here at Morse Farm for it and a gallery of those wonderful "Life" pictures; It'll be a great way to honor the family of my father's "better half", Dorothy Aiken Morse.
I think old Ed Aiken would be surprised at my way of marketing with News from Vermont and www.morsefarm.com ...he'd probably say "God it don't eat much hay!". That would certainly be true; it eats no hay and makes no messes but it sure does "gallop" fast all over the world. Yup, once Claude our Morse Farm tech guy pushes the button, News from Vermont moves out fast to all you folks. It's a great tool but it does take quite a lot of funding to keep it "galloping". That's why we so appreciate all your orders.