One of the grand daughters of Henry, Amie Lou Taylor (offspring of Henry’s son Warren born 1919), submitted an essay for her Proctor, Vermont High School English class. The title was: “The Story of an Average Vermonter.” This essay of memorable recollections of Henry Reuben Taylor’s life won first prize as the best in her class, for which Amie was awarded a gold watch. Here below is the essay that Amie submitted:
“Frustrated cantankerous old fellow” (1) and “the cocky old goat” (2) were used to describe him. He wasn’t the sort of fellow that one reads about in the newspapers. He was an honest, homey man who lived his life in a quiet but typical Vermont manner.
He was born in 1876 and was schooled in Plymouth, Vermont, where he was a classmate of Calvin Coolidge. At 29, he married Gertrude Hammond and soon moved to Sherburne. He purchased a farm there adjoining the farm that he one day hoped to inherit from his mother. He borrowed the $1400 to buy the house from John Davis in 1907 and paid at a 6% interest rate. At the conclusion of the repayment of the loan, all the family gathered on the front lawn with Mr. Davis to witness the burning of the mortgage. (3)
He had a particular reason for choosing the farm that he bought. The fields were flooded in the spring due to a natural barrier located on the Bates farm (his mothers). He realized that someday he would own both farms and be able to alleviate the condition, gaining many extra acres of valuable flat growing lands. His second youngest son, Warren, tells of contributing his entire life savings of 65 dollars earned from trapping, to aid in paying for tools, including a shovel, to dig out the area. Every spare moment was employed down at the river bank with a shovel, digging drainage ditches with limited success. Although this was a lifetime goal, it was never fully realized. (4)
Life was hard in those days. He did many things to sustain his family’s existence. One summer, he raised 100 hogs and sold them to the Albany (NY) packing company. Milk from his cows was sold to the Crowley Cheese factory, and the cream that wasn’t picked up by a Boston firm was churned into butter and peddled weekly in Rutland. (5) Another year, his wife was in charge of the raising of 1200 hens. (6) He also resorted to more traditional methods of making money. He maple sugared every spring, cut and sold logs, had a herd of 20 to 30 cows, and raised vegetables, both for selling and family consumption.
Even with limitless industry on behalf of every member of the family, they were always very poor.
“We were always broke. Never had anything. We wore hand-me-down clothes and lived in rags. It was amazing even that we got a hold of enough to keep us going. But we were happy – as happy as we could be.” (7)
For several years, taxes couldn’t be paid, so he kept his last two boys home a year between grammar school and high school. During these two years, he finally got caught up on his taxes.
He was rather restrained in his dealings with the town’s people. He wasn’t the type that mingled. (8) This attitude might have been attributable to his physical stature, which was a mere five feet and hunchbacked. The townspeople called him “Humpy” behind his back. (9)
He was, however, well enough thought of around the town so that he held numerous offices. From 1919 to 1935, he held town positions varying from school director to grand juror, auditor, and agent. (10)
As the years advanced, so did the size of the family. By 1925, he had four sons and three daughters. In 1934, tragedy struck the family in the form of his wife’s death. This placed an increased burden upon his family’s already strained existence. Her hard work and cheerful disposition had always been a light in the dark, and things were much altered by her demise.
He was always too busy to neighbor. In fact, his neighbors remember him only for his antics. One relates how he used to lock up any of her livestock in his barn if it wandered across the boundary. “Then he would come over and pound on the door,” she said. She went on to say that one time he came over with one of his sons and asked if he could cut a few hemlocks. Not knowing why he wanted them, she somewhat dubiously acquiesced. By the end of the day, he had fashioned her a nice new gate because he felt that it might help to keep her cows from escaping. She guessed there was some truth in poet Robert Frost’s saying, “Good fences make good neighbors.” (11)
Another neighbor should remember his Yankee shrewdness. Upon arriving at his pasture one morning, our typical Vermonter noticed a new calf was missing, but he mentioned it to no one, not even to members of the family. Well, at the town meeting the next year, a neighbor came up to him and asked, “Hey Humpy, did you ever find out what happened to that calf of yours?” He looked him right in the eye and said, “Why yes, I did. You took it.” “How’d you know?” was the somewhat taken aback answer. The immediate response was, “I never told anyone about it, so the only ones who knew were the person who did it and me.” (12)
One time, he had a misunderstanding with the church people and temporarily refrained from attending services. Some farmers came to him and asked if they could conduct a horse drawing contest on his property Sunday mornings. They offered him five dollars for the right, and he agreed. However, as the church was experiencing monetary problems, he contributed the money to the church coffers. A while later, when the church was more financially prosperous, a group of citizens drew up a petition asking him for discontinuance of the horse drawing. His reply was, “The money is just as good, whether from under the devil’s belly or over his back,” but the horse drawings were stopped. (13)
Medical facilities were poor, and many times he was on the brink of death. On one occasion, he fell on his head off a wagon of hay, breaking his neck. This injury disabled him for five or six months. He experienced the harsh diseases of small pox, diphtheria, and scarlet fever. An acute case of appendicitis called his eldest son home, causing him to miss his high school graduation. The head of an axe lay buried in his head too, but was unable to kill him. The will of the Vermonter was able to overcome all sorts of death warrants. Relatives often referred to him as, “a man of nine lives.” (14)
He had a reputation as a smart man. After a while, no one would play checkers with him because he beat all comers. His sons used to challenge him to games of chess, but they never beat him. When he could find no one against whom to play, he would engage in ceaseless games of solitaire. He had a fantastic mind for figuring. He could do the most complex algebraic problems in his head. While most people had to have a piece of paper, a pencil, and an hour, he needed only a little chore to keep his hands busy and a few minutes of thought to correctly solve the problem. Word problems are still circulating through the family which he did mentally, which puzzles presented hours of calculations to others. (15)
Perhaps the most famous word puzzle, passed down through two generations of family, that he loved to pose to confound people is this one:
“The combined ages of a ship and its boiler are 49 years. If the ship is twice as old as the boiler was, when the ship was as old as the boiler is, how old is each one?” (15b)
The horse power provided by real living horses was most common to him. Roads were rolled for sleighs rather than plowed for cars. Many were the days when he borrowed a team of oxen from a friend in Plymouth and snaked logs from the woods.
“A team of oxen could snake a bigger log than a team of horses. They would just lean against the yoke, chewing their cud. You could holler at them and whip them and they wouldn’t move a bit faster.” (16)
A little later, he got a Model T truck which he used to peddle his butter in Rutland. The weekly Rutland trip took place on dirt roads, winding up through Sherburne Pass. It was a tough drive occupying an entire day for the round trip. The journey was utilized not only for vending purposes but also for buying all the supplies which would be needed for the coming week.
With the automobile age came the electric age. Kerosene lamps had always provided light, but now with the changing times, electricity too came to his house – one electrical outlet. He couldn’t afford to have the house wired, so one outlet provided all the electricity, via miles of lamp cord throughout the entire 3?story house. (17)
Yet he was old fashioned in some ways. He was dead against smoking and drinking, except for medicinal purposes. In fact, he kept a bottle with him justfor such purposes, used only for sickness. (18)
An individualist was one thing that he always was. In a state where a Democrat was an oddity in those times, he was a Democrat. (19) This tendency dated back to the days when his father was imprisoned for debt. His family fought the case and $30,000 later emerged victorious. The prosecutor was the Republican who ran the town of Plymouth. The money that went to fight the case was to have been destined for his college education and so his enmity toward the Republicans is quite understandable. (20)
He had a dry sense of humor, like many Vermonters. A favorite pastime of his as he got older would be to sit in his rocker by the fireside and compete with his sons in a story telling contest. He would start out by relating a mildly fantastic or funny story, and each person competing would try to out do the previous one. Those listening to the contest would usually be besides themselves with laughter, but those participating would never crack a smile. (21) His humor went beyond the bounds of the family too. Many times he would ask a cashier in the A&P Grocery Store if she had seen Ann Page around. (22)
Our character is not unusual. He is just a representation of an age in a particular era and area. He was a Vermonter by heredity, by birth, by action, and by choice. He was an average Vermonter. He was Henry Reuben Taylor – my grandfather!
(1) Mr. David Edgar (home Sherburne, VT), interviewed by Amie L. Taylor 11:30 AM 26 Feb 1966.
(2) Mrs Hazel Taylor (home Sherburne, VT), interviewed by Amie L. Taylor 1:30 PM 26 Feb 1966.
(3) Mrs Florence Taylor Hall (home Sherburne, VT), interviewed by Amie L. Taylor 11:00 AM 26 Feb 1966.
(4) Mr. Warren Taylor (Pittsford, VT), interviewed by Amie L. Taylor 8:00 AM 16 Feb 1966.
(6) Mrs David Edgar (home Sherburne, VT), interviewed by Amie L. Taylor 11:30 AM 26 Feb 1966.
(7) Warren Taylor, op. cit.
(8) Mrs Hazel Taylor, op. cit.
(9) Mrs. David Edgar, op. cit.
(10) Walton’s Vermont Yearbook, 1919-1921; 1927-1935
(11) Mrs David Edgar, op. cit.
(12) Warren Taylor, op. cit.
(13) Mrs Florence Taylor Hall, op. cit.
(14) Warren Taylor, op. cit.
(15) Mrs Amelia Wargoski Taylor (home Chittenden, VT), interviewed by Amie L. Taylor 10:30 AM 20 Mar 1966.
(15b) Warren Taylor, Jr.; remark inserted 16 May 2008.
(16) Warren Taylor, op. cit.
(17) Warren Taylor, op. cit.
(18) Mrs Hazel Taylor, op. cit.
(19) The Rutland Herald, 21 May 1948, under picture.
(20) Mrs Florence Taylor Hall, op. cit.
(21) Mrs Amelia Wargoski Taylor, op. cit.
(22) Mrs Hazel Taylor, op. cit.