Upper or lower crust meant little to us. Maw didn’t think much of those “high mucky-mucks in the Corner,” but she didn’t feel inferior. The cousins who lived in Barre or Montpelier or others who lived “down country” were not our superiors. But we did notice the cows’ annual struggle for dominance.
When the grass got green enough, Dad would let the cows out of the barnyard. What a thrill for the poor animals who had been confined to the stable all winter. Each day, they were let out to drink their fill at the water tub. One of us girls, holding a broom, stood in the road toward the schoolhouse. Another herded the cows toward the road to the Old Place. Thrilled with their freedom, the Jerseys started running to the pasture.
At the Old Place, one waved a pitchfork so they wouldn’t continue over the hill to Davidson’s. Usually, there was no trouble getting them in the pasture. After we put up the bars the fun began.
Each year each member of the herd had to prove and protect her position. The usually gentle Jerseys butted and pushed and shoved their sisters. Fortunately, none had horns. One elderly matron, the survivor of many years of this activity, gained first place. Another would have to be satisfied with second place, and so on until each one knew where she should go. Most of their first day out was taken up by this important activity. I don’t know what you’d call it. In hens, we say it is “establishing the pecking order.”
Much later I read a witty book that discussed how humans do the same thing. It may not be as obvious, but the result is the same. It took me a long time to recognize and accept this activity.
When I worked for Peerless Casualty Insurance Company in Keene, New Hampshire, I lived with Sib and June. At the office we females did the drudgery work, typing on manual typewriters, entering figures by hand (no calculators), filing. We had our place, and we’d better stay there. Sib and June lived in cheap rents, and we moved a lot. The only upper-status thing we had was Sib’s used Cadillacs. He had a three-quarter-ton truck for his business, but he was convinced that Caddies were a good make. So any time we were going north to the farm, as we usually did for the holidays, he had to tinker his used vehicle to make sure we’d get there.
Most of the Depression and during World War II, Dad drove a Plymouth. It was a used car when Dad bought it. Wayne braised a metal sheet over the fabric inset on its top, so it didn’t leak when it rained. After the War, Dad traded it in for a Ford coupe he bought from his nephew, Roger Jesseman. He didn’t worry about the make. Dad didn’t have to impress anyone by the car he drove.
I learned to drive with the Ford. Until I could save enough to buy my own car, Dad’s Ford carried me to my job at Luce Manufacturing Company in Groton. (Poor Dad and Maw had to do any shopping on weekends. How glad they must have been to get their own car back!)
It was at Luce’s that I met the pecking order in all its glory. Mrs. Engstrom, the office manager, drove to the farm to give me a job. She’d heard I’d been to business college and could do accounting. I enjoyed the work and learned a lot while I was there.
Luce was a self-made millionaire. He thought up products to sell and had gained and lost several fortunes. He’d thought up a dehydrating device to keep items dry on a boat or a cottage. He and Mr. Engstrom had bought the plant in Groton to assemble the device they called Blue Magic.
Luce drove a Lincoln. He had a plane. The pilot treated Mrs. Engstrom and me to a ride late one autumn. The leaves had fallen, so from the air, we saw a circle of color around each tree. Luce also had a yacht. He had a very posh accent, which was the downfall of Ethelynd Chase, who was taking his dictation. He wanted some parts for his yacht, and she thought he meant “pots!”
Befitting their lower status, the Engstroms drove a Chrysler. The rest of us drove ordinary used cars, all except Ethelynd. She had a Buick!