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The Bride Raised a Bull Calf

SOMETIMES you have to stand back and look to see where you are. I think of Velma Fernald, for one. Velma was an amiable young woman of pleasing statistics, and somehow she got afoul of Felix Fernald and he took her to bride. Felix was a bachelor and lived at Pittston Farm, where he was clerk for the Great Northern Paper Company. Pittston Farm was not exactly a farm, but was the operations base for that region of Maine called West Branch, a matter of several million acres with logging camps, roads, dams, and spring drives. In the beginning, woods operations had ``farms'' for the horses during the summer, but horses had begun to decline, and now Pittston Farm had machine shops, storage, commissary base, living quarters and cookshack, and also the telephone switchboard for all the company telephones in the region. Before radio, which is used now, all the outposts were reached over the single-wire lines. The ground was the other side. The line was on porcelain insulators on trees, and any chance limb could drop and make A.G. Bell look foolish. Speaking over these woods lines demanded lungs, and listening surmounted crackles, hums, and diminishing returns.

When Felix and Velma were married, he brought her to Pittston Farm and she became the telephone operator. Velma was a happy bride and she loved Pittston Farm. Better than 20 miles into the real forest, where the North and South Branches join to flow into Seboomook Lake, she had her earthly paradise with spruce grouse at her bird feeder, deer on the lawn, serenity and beauty, rousing good woodland friends at table, and she kept reminding herself of all the rich people in the world who didn't have money enough to buy what she was being paid to enjoy.

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Then one day Felix said, ``It's all ar-ranged - pack up; we're going on our vacation!'' ``Vacation!'' Velma said to me. ``Why should I go on a vacation? I was living a vacation!'' But she packed up, and they went to Boston so Felix could have his vacation. ``I've never forgiven him!'' she would say, but with a laugh.

I think, in the same vein, of Cecile Laroche, who was born in Montreal and was a typist in a law office when she went on her vacation to a ``cabane'' on Lac T'emiscouta, down by Rivi`ere du Loup. There she made the acquaintance of Emile Vachon, who owned a considerable farm and had never been to Montreal.

When the romance developed Emile went to Montreal for the big wedding, but only after he found neighbors who would take care of his considerable dairy herd while he was gone. When he brought Cecile home, she began learning the ways of a rural housewife, and also the basics of farming. She was, she told me, much annoyed at Emile about his wedding gift to her. Her city life hardly made her ready for it: He had given her a three-weeks-old bull calf.

``You have no idea!'' she told me. ``From my first day in my new home I had to go to the barn first thing and take care of that thing!'' Emile made her. He made her do everything right. She groomed the beast and kept him on clean straw. Whatever she was doing in the house, she had to drop it and go to the barn and look after the calf.

The calf would drag her around on a rope until she learned what to do about that. When he was weaned she'd carry his feed in a pail, and when he snorted with joy at this kindness he would blow warm milk and mash up her sleeve.

Cecile would give a little shiver as she recalled how sticky the stuff was, and how Emile would laugh and tell her she was learning things very well. By that time, Cecile realized that Emile knew what he was doing, and that she did, indeed, learn things well.

When the calf began to get his growth, she had a staff and a bull ring, and everyday she had to lead him about for exercise - Emile said, ``Not just for him, but for you, too!'' Meantime, Emile thought up other ways to instruct Cecile, but raising up the bull calf was the lesson she liked best to talk about, and she would tell about the first time she led him by rope toward his waiting mother. He broke for it, and she was dragged the length of the barn - somehow unable to let go of the rope.

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But then Cecile would round out her story with a suitable moral, making it clear that in the end she appreciated what Emile had arranged. Emile was careful to make her understand that farm animals are to be treated kindly, but without emotion.

There came a time to let the young bull go. Cecile had cared for him for three years, and now at the Livestock Breeders' Auction she held him by the staff while her wedding present was bid off for $56,000.

About the Artist From a rural farm in upstate New York, Anna Mary Robertson (Grandma) Moses, a self-taught painter, gained worldwide recognition as a folk artist. Her work, gathered from collections nationwide, is showing at Galerie St. Etienne, celebrating its 50th anniversary, now through January 13, 1990 in New York City.

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