Unedited Draft

~ Farm Life & Teen years ~

Canton, Maine ~ 1950 - 1957


Excitement is in the air next morning as Kenny and I explore. The attic has two bedrooms that will be mine and Kenny’s. Mummy chose the larger room, with the barnyard view for Kenny because, “He was a boy and needs to be able to see what in happening in the barnyard,” she said. That made sense to me, knowing my place as a girl was to stay mostly in the house playing with my doll family, etc. However, I wished I could have the larger room because I was the oldest, but that argument didn't stand up for Mummy.

My room looks out on the pasture and woods. It is small with a partially slanted ceiling, under which I would sleep for the next seven years. Those were the only finished rooms in the attic. The rest of the attic had no insulation and beams were simply exposed. Before winter, Daddy built a heavy “door,” complete with hinges, to cover the stairwell opening, keeping the cold air in winter and hot air in summer from drifting down to the kitchen.

The attached shed was a long building with two separate rooms right off our kitchen, with a heavy swinging door opening to a large area for chopping wood. We climb a staircase to the shed's second floor and I spy two old spinning wheels sitting in cobwebs. 

“Wow, look at these, are they real? I bet they don’t work now,” I said with excitement.

After looking a bit closer we conclude they don’t, even though neither of us knew how they used to work. Back downstairs we see the “back-house,” because it was inside the shed instead of an outside "outhouse." It was at the far end. We had to use “The Boston Globe” newspaper after Mummy read it, instead of expensive toilet paper. The newspaper came in the mail daily. We just would have to wrinkle it up well, to use it effectively.

The barn was huge and looked full of loose hay until the day Daddy climbed up to the loft and discovered it was pushed forward to the edge of the scaffold in order to look like the barn was full of hay. Daddy said it was really only a third full. That was the first lie the real estate man told him and Mummy. The second was that there was a public bus that went by the house every day. When Mummy heard there was no such bus, she felt stuck, with no way to get to stores. She had never gotten a drivers license and we didn’t have a truck, until Daddy bought one later.

Our big brown telephone hung on the wall in the kitchen. It had a crank on the right side and the receiver hung on the left. Each one of the seventeen parties on our line had a special ring and ours was four short rings. If we wanted to call someone who wasn’t on our party line we had to call the operator, located in town, by cranking out one long ring. Then we told her the number we wanted and she'd connect you.

In the back of the house next to the kitchen was the well that we pumped water from and carried it into the house. In the cellar, Daddy discovered three feet of ice that was beginning to melt. One day he saw a toad frozen in the ice and brought the chunk of ice outside where Kenny and I watched in amazement as the ice thaws out around the toad and he is still alive!

In order to drain the melting water from the cellar, Daddy has to put one end of a hose into the water and the other end stretching down the pasture slope towards the woods. I watch as he sucks all the air out of the lower end of the hose and eventually the cellar water begins to come out. I am amazed at his technique of using gravity to empty the water from the cellar. We keep checking it over the next few days to make sure the hose is stayed under water. 


We began school the following Thursday. The school was a two story brown shingled building with a flat roof that housed twelve grades and was five miles away in town. The school bus came to the bottom of our long driveway each morning. We were the first on the bus every day, so have to ride two extra miles up and back on Canton Point Road, which was mostly dirt, to pick up two kids which made the round trip to school and back each day, 18 miles. We’d get home at 4:15.

I was in fifth grade and Kenny was in fourth. He skipped first grade because I'd taught him to read. Out of twenty-three kids in my class in 1950, only nine graduated seven years later. It was always the largest class in the school. 

Before we moved, my teacher had started teaching me fractions, because she thought my new school would be teaching them and sure enough they were. Barbara was assigned to get me up to speed with the rest of the class in fractions, so each math class we go to the back of the room so she can tutor me. I really enjoy getting this special attention and she becomes my friend.

Since we had no electricity that first winter, I did my homework by the dim light of a kerosene lamp, with a green glass shade. In order to get electricity to our farm, the following Spring, Daddy and neighbor Mr. Keene, dug a mile of six foot holes to put in the electric poles. Daddy ended up digging most of the holes because Mr. Keene was sometimes unable to. After an electrician wired the house and barn we had bright lights everywhere and we were all extremely delighted.

Our first cow Daisy soon arrived and a bit later a grey work horse named Mouse came. Mouse is good natured and strong. Daddy loved him a lot. Mousie became dedicated to Daddy who was so proud of how hard Mouse worked for him. Over the years whenever a truck or a heavy machine got stuck in the mud, Mousie would strain and strain until pulled it out. Our only transportation to town for groceries, grain for the cow or other materials was with a wagon and Mouse pulling it, but within a few weeks or so Daddy had bought a pickup truck.

I watch Daddy sit on a three legged stool he made and milk Daisy by hand. We have plenty of milk to use, but when I saw him dumping milk from the milk pail down over the hill just outside the barn, I asked, 

“Why are you dumping out the milk?” 

“I can’t sell such a small amount,” he says. “I need to get some more cows first, then I can sell it all.” 

“How many more cows?” 

“Well, maybe three or four, we’ll see.”

After we had electricity Daddy bought a milk cooler to keep the milk cold. Mummy keeps our food cold in the cooler by suspending them from a string in the cold water, ‘cause we didn’t have an ice chest. Well, we still had our old ice chest, but no ice to put in it. Daddy buys most of his cows from Mr. Dacon and as each new cow comes we give her a name, if she doesn’t already have one. Right after Daisy there was Molly the Guernsey and Betty the Holstein.


Whenever we heard anyone coming up the driveway it was an exciting event. We’d run out to see who it was. If it was Mr. Dacon with another cow, Kenny and I would watch while he opened the back of his truck and yelled at the cow to get her out. Daddy and the other farmers always yelled at the cows and hit them too. "It was a cow’s way of life," Daddy said. Gradually he built up his cow herd to around ten or eleven. He milked by hand twice a day and got six cents for every quart in 1950. Milking machines weren't invented yet. 

During our summers, Kenny and I helped Daddy put in pasture fence posts and every day we went after the cows in the pasture to drive them back to the barn for milking. I did not like that job. On the weekends we helped Daddy do other things around the farm. Once I went with him to check the pasture fence and watch him connect a six volt battery to the barbed wire fence. If the cows tried to break through the fence they would get an electric shock.


Mummy often read to me at bedtime; books like “Little Women," Alice in Wonderland, and maybe Black Beauty. Mummy thought reading was very important and wanted me to love reading like she did. As she read stories to me, I imagined the scenes and actors in my head. As I listened to the story I had vivid pictures of all that was going on in the book. My brain became accustomed to picturing things, which proved useful later on when I wanted to build something, I could see it already built in my mind.

For the first time in my life, I hear the peeping of many toads in the shallow pond out back in the summertime. I enjoyed listening to their peeping as I went to sleep. When I saw tadpoles in a jelly like substance, I couldn't resist taking them from the pond and putting them in a fish bowl to watch them grow legs, feet and a head and become big tadpoles but they eventually died. I never knew why they didn’t keep growing into adult toads.

In the winter Mummy has to get up around 5:00 a.m. to start the wood fire in the kitchen stove so it would be reasonably warm when we came down for breakfast. I got dressed at lightning speed to keep my skinny self from freezing on the spot. At night I crawl into bed under mounds of heavy overcoats which Mummy’s friends had given us.

The first winter on December 7th, Mummy announced our first calf was about to be born and I went to the barn to have a look. I was immediately shooed away by Dad, but not before I saw something grey and fish shaped coming out of the back end of Daisy. I sneaked another look as Daddy sliced open the grey sack with his finger and out pops a soaking wet and shivering baby calf. I thought that was a miracle and Daddy didn’t punish me for looking.

Mummy suggested we name her Pearl because it was Pearl Harbor Day. I learned how to feed her by putting my finger in her mouth and gently pushing her sucking mouth into a pail of warm milk, letting her suck my finger, which was a trick to teach her to eventually suck milk from the pail. A few months later a man drove up the driveway and parked by the barn. We saw Daddy bringing Pearl out of the barn. 

“Daddy, what are you doing with Pearl?” 

He responds, “I’m selling her to this farmer today.” Kenny and I immediately burst into tears, and began pleading with Dad, 

“No, don’t sell Pearl. I don’t want her to go.” We both cried and carried on so badly that Daddy didn’t sell our first calf; not then anyway.

Mummy loved the clean air, sunshine and quiet of the farm and so did I for a few years. Since I could only go to school and back, I had no chance to play with other kids and socialize outside of school. I wanted to, but Daddy couldn’t drive me anywhere, he was too busy and couldn't afford the gas. As a result I spent hours upon hours, days upon days, especially in the summers, outdoors playing with and discovering all kinds of wildlife. I easily and naturally fell totally in love with Nature.

In the winter Mummy taught me how to knit first, then crochet. As I got older, she showed me how to sew on my grandmother's Singer sewing machine with a peddle to make it run. I mostly had to remake all the hand-me-down clothes Mummy's friends sent us. I never had a new skirt, blouse, dress or slacks. I really enjoyed sewing a lot and creating to some extent, my skirts and blouses.

She also showed me how to tat. That was the most difficult, but I learned to use the shuttle effectively. The lacy tatting I made was sewed on to a cut off corner of a handkerchief to make it whole again. I only made one hankie 'cause it was too hard.


Mummy convinced me that God knew everything that went on deep inside of me. There was nothing he didn’t know, she said and I could not keep any secrets from him. She said Jesus would always love me and he also knew every single thought that I or everyone else had. If I lie or sin in any way and don’t ask for forgiveness I would end up burning in hell forever. That scared me a lot and I often would contemplate the “forever part” of burning. It seemed so torturous to me and I had trouble thinking about it. 

I was a bit skeptical of this amazing power of God and Jesus; to be able to know everyone on earth at this level simultaneously, not just me. But one time I “accepted Jesus into my heart” and Ma sent away for a silver ring that said, “I Am His.” I cherished it like a wedding ring, until the kids at school made enough fun of me for wearing it, so I quit. Who to believe; the kids or my mother? I was confused because I'd believed everything Ma told me, so far. Kenny and I decided to call Mummy Ma, 'cause that's what other kids called their mother.

We stayed on the farm each summer by ourselves. Kenny helped Dad with the farm work mostly and my summers become filled with delightful Nature explorations. There was something very special about being totally alone with Nature, discovering different flowers and little animals, sitting by the shallow brook, or just wandering freely over the pastures and exploring the edge of the woods. I became quite attached to Mother Nature.

The pond was always full of water by summer. Kneeling down on a flat rock at the edge one day, I peered into its shallow still water. I am utterly amazed at things that look like little sticks moving along the bottom of the pond. I called them stick bugs. Every summer I check to see if they are still there and they always were, but I never learned what they were actually called or if they were only in our pond.

At the end of each summer the little pond usually dries up unnoticed, but when I was fourteen or so, I took notice that all the toads would soon loose their pond water. I didn’t want them to die so I made a plan to take as many as I could, down to the brook across the road. I collected about twenty of them and put them in the big wooden box in the wagon. While waiting for Daddy to take me and them down to the brook, but they all hopped out and disappeared before Daddy got around to taking me. I was greatly saddened, but Daddy told me they wouldn’t have lived in the cold brook water anyway. I was very sad and felt so badly for all the toads I had gathered.

I was frequently alone with my beloved Nature, but I never dared to even consider telling Ma of the great love I felt. I was certain she’d belittle or criticize it somehow, so I kept my special love to myself. I was fascinated with all of the life I observed up close and personal in the pond, in the woods, or in the fields, from field mice, to ants, flies and the big grey spiders that were always in the barn windows.

One time when I was babysitting a mile up the road I noticed an encyclopedia there; much bigger than the one we had. I looked up ants and when I read about them I became so fascinated with their life, the next time I babysat I brought a pencil and paper. I spent hours after the kids were in bed, copying word for word, the exciting life of the ants and the different jobs they all had. It was utterly amazing to me how they lived and worked. Every time I babysat there I was, copying the life of ants.

On the farm I'd often sit just pondering Life and Nature in silence. I fell deeply in love with all of Nature’s creatures, not only ants, but flowers, the pond, the woods and the deer. I loved the barn swallows, the robins, the bluejays, the crows and especially my favorite, the chickadees. My only friends all during the long summers were the animals, flowers, trees and birds. I would sit among them in great delight, feeling so connected to them, sometimes feeling like I was them.

I especially loved birds and when I saw a bird book advertised in a magazine, I beg Ma for it. I had just received twenty-five dollars from a bond that her friend had bought me ten years earlier and it had matured so she allowed me to use it for the book. I was more than delighted when she sent for it.

The name of the book is “Stalking birds with Color Camera” I could hardly wait to look at it. It was the first physical evidence, that Ma could see, of my love of birds at least. I still have that book, over seventy years later. I secretly hoped that she would not guess how deep my feelings for Nature actually were. I worried she’d somehow trivialize my love, so I continued to keep those feelings to myself. I didn’t want to take a chance that maybe I loved Nature too much and she might disapprove of it for some reason. 

One warm afternoon as I slowly walked up the pasture slope towards the house, an unusually new feeling suddenly overtakes me. I stop and stand still for a few moments, awed by an experience that felt like I was the pasture ground and the grass I stood on, as well as all the earth and the space around me. It all felt like I was all of it too somehow. Then the feeling fades, but my connection and love seemed enhanced.

I had another unusual kind of experience one day upstairs in Kenny’s bedroom. For some reason I was sitting on his double bed with its white iron head and foot rails, when I notice how loud the stillness was. It seemed downright deafening to my ears. I am surprised at how silence can feel and sound so loud, without making a sound.

That winter, as I walked out from in front of the shed towards the barn, onto our icy driveway, a white jack rabbit suddenly skids to a stop on the ice at my feet, attempting to change direction. I bend over immediately and scoop him up. 

“Hold him by his ears,” I hear Ma say. She found a box to put him in. We are pretty impressed with my capture and showed Daddy and Kenny. I loved watching him close up in that box. We released him to the woods when it got dark.


Sometimes at night in bed while trying to go to sleep, I couldn't stop thinking. So one night, I finally discover a new and valuable trick to help me fall asleep. I say the words "blank, blank, blank, blank," over and over in my head, focusing on the brownish tan color and the wiggly black bubbles and things that seemed to make fluid designs inside my eyelids. It worked so well I used it often to help me fall asleep and still do on occasion, along with special breathing.

The next summer, Kenny and I go with Daddy to visit Mr. Ranks, a farmer near town. He has caged rabbits and Kenny and I love watching them. We plead with Daddy to let us each have one. Daddy said we could have one, if we build a hutch for them first. Excitement hits me right away. I could hardly wait to build my rabbit hutch.

Daddy said we could use the old boards and rusty nails from an old broken down building out back of the barn. I loved building. I had a natural talent for it and was very proud of my work. I used Daddy’s handsaw, clawhammer and a foot long section of a railroad track, turned upside down where it was flat, to straighten nails on. It worked extremely well. Daddy got us some half inch wire mesh for the rabbit's round droppings to fall through in their cage. 

My rabbit was grey and I named her Pauline. Kenny’s was a half black and half white, a "Dutch" rabbit, he named Peter. He ended up building one hutch, a bit smaller than mine, but I built two large ones total, because Pauline soon had babies. After a year or so, Ma made us move them all to the back of the barn, where she couldn’t smell them. We didn’t clean their cages often enough.

Since I enjoyed building the hutches so much, I got a strong desire to build a dog/doll house for myself, ‘cause there was still enough wood to use. I built a floor and walls and even an attic with a small square hole leading up to it. I was so proud of my “house” and I could actually crawl into it. Kenny tried to copy me, but his “house” had crooked boards that created cracks you could see through. but mine, it was solid and square.

We always seemed to be in competition with each other. I was jealous of him because he was allowed to do things I wanted to do, like driving the tractor, but I couldn’t ‘cause I was a girl. Since I was older I could do most things better, but there was so much Ma disapproved of about me already; my skinniness, nervousness plus my apparent inability to just be a girl, so she often compared me to Kenny who was always much more approved of than I. We argued and fought a lot and a few times didn't speak to each other for weeks at a time.

In mid-summer Daddy mowed tall grass and let it dry out for hay. One day after he mowed a patch of grass, I discovered a nest of baby field mice very close to the ground, so close the mower blades went right over the top of them. My first urge was to take them home and keep them for pets, but then I thought their Mummy would miss them, so I didn’t. 

One other time I did find a traumatized field mouse in the hayfield and kept him for a “pet” in a wooden box in my bedroom. Field mice have shorter tails than house mice and when I ask Ma how come, she replied, “Field mice are a different breed from house mice and are a lot tamer also.” He made a nice pet for a while.

When I was about fourteen, Daddy let me sit on the raker while Mousie pulled it around and around the field raking up hay into piles. All I had to do was guide him and, when the raker was full, pull a lever to empty it leaving a pile behind. One afternoon after we were through raking, I had the most terrifying experience of my teen life.

I asked Daddy, “Can I ride down to the barn on Mousie’s back can I, pleeeze?” 

Daddy helped me up on his back and then he said firmly, 

“Hold on tight to these harness handles and go around to the back of the truck and follow me down.” 

I said, “Okay, I will," but as soon as Daddy turned his back and as I tried to make Mousie go in back of the truck, he had other ideas. He was not going to follow the truck down under any circumstances. He knew he was done for the day, so he just headed straight down the hill to the barn, trotting at first, then galloping at top speed with terrified me on his back, hanging on “for dear life.” Ma was in the barnyard thankfully, and stopped him in front of his stable. I was off in a flash. 

On the way down, I had visions of Mousie going straight into his stable, which would have knocked me right off of him, ‘cause his doorway was only as high as the top of his head. Poor Daddy ran all the way down from the field so afraid I’d fall off.


We accumulated many cats on the farm over the years and they seemed to love catching chipmunks, mice and bats. Kenny and I rescue them whenever we can, hopefully before the poor victim dies. The most interesting bird I saved from death, was a bat. To my surprise, when I stretched out its long webbed wings, I saw little claws on the ends of the wing joints. To my young teenage self this was an amazing discovery. 

Kenny and I decided to take the bat upstairs to his bedroom for an experiment. We had learned that bats made an echo of some sort to keep from bumping into things and we wanted to see if he would do that. We string a rope across the room and hang a blanket over it. Then we watch the bat fly around and around, never bumping into the blanket, so we knew his echo worked, but we wondered why we didn’t hear him making any sound. 

Each summer during haying season, Kenny and I had to help Daddy in the hayfield by tramping down the hay as he pitched it up with a three pronged hayfork to the truck. Tramping hay was the hottest, stickiest job ever, in the heat of summer and I hated it. Hayseed stuck to my sweat and was so itchy. That was the worst job ever. Usually just Kenny tramped. My chores were limited to what Ma allowed me to do, I think.

When I was old enough, I did get to do something I liked, which was to help Daddy unload hay from the truck into the barn. He'd back up the fully loaded truck halfway into the barn, through the main sliding opened door, stopping under a big hay fork which was on a pulley way up high. Then he'd lower the opened hay fork fast so it would plunge into the hay in the truck, and grab a fork-full.

I would hook Mousie’s tracer up to the rope pulley and slowly drive him out of the barn until Daddy hollered “stop.” The big fork of hay would travel up to the ceiling pulley which triggered it to go horizontally back into the barn as far as Daddy wanted it to go. Then he'd trip the fork so the hay would fall down in the loft. Sometimes there wasn’t enough hay from our farm to fill the barn so he'd have to go cut someone else’s grass, let it dry then haul it home. 

One special experience I had with Daddy was when we went to get a load of hay from a farm closer to town. After our lunch he gave me a couple of dollars to go to the store and get whatever desert I wanted for us. It was completely up to me what I bought for desert which felt really good. I loved that extremely rare feeling of being completely in charge of getting whatever I wanted! 

I walked the quarter mile to town and bought a white rectangle shaped cake with maple walnut frosting. Daddy liked the same kind of cake that I did and we each ate half, but he warned me saying, “Don’t tell Ma.” I never did. That was the closest time Daddy and I ever spent together, other than playing checkers. Daddy was a checker champion I think. There was no beating him at checkers. He taught me how to begin with special moves and I learned well, ‘cause nobody could ever beat me as an adult.


In my early teens, I didn't seem to have much interest in things other girls were interested in; boys, hair styles, perfumes, dresses, etc. Boys only poked fun at my skinny body with no hips and joked about my tiny boobs. When I began wearing a bra some kids would pull the elastic in the back to snap it to get my reaction. I was tall and skinny with red hair that nobody except my brother had. Not much about my physical body resembled a girl. Plus I never got to socialize with kids outside of school.

I felt so shy in my defective and ugly self, it scared me to be in social situations, because I’d usually get made fun of somehow, so I became convinced I must be no good. But wait…they are making fun of my last name and how I look too. My last name is Butcher, so I get called “Butch” which feels condescending. I don’t know what to do. I am so angry at myself for being stupid, skinny, shy, round shouldered, red haired, freckled, now “Ugly” is added by a girl who called me that twice. Oh, no! I cry inside, as my spirit slowly shatters.

The worse part is, I never know why I am so disgusting to others. Robert always punches me in the arm when he passes me. Once I saw Jean glaring at me with hate in her eyes and I hadn’t done a thing to her. I had even stayed over at her house once and was always friendly toward her. I hated the way I looked all throughout school and I could not change anything, so I just endured the ridicule keeping it inside, for there was nobody I could ever tell about it.

Even though I didn't have to do a lot of farm chores and got to stay in the house, I didn’t learn how to cook or clean or make bread. I only learned how to make frosted cakes, chocolate fudge and molasses cookies. I didn’t even have to keep my bedroom clean, I just did that on my own, when I felt like it. I had a walk-in closet with the chimney running through it up to the roof, making it kinda warm when there was a fire in the stove downstairs.


Many, many years later in the seventies, just before Kenny died, we had a phone conversation in which he explained how he hated that I could stay in the house and he had to do all the chores. I knew he didn't like me much and I was quite stunned to finally hear why. Nobody had told him, or he just resented that Ma wouldn't allow me to do farm work because she believed that was men's work and girls belonged in the house. 

"Farm work was for boys and men," she always would say and boys are important on a farm, to help with the chores. It is expected for sons to do farm work.” 

She often said, “Had I known I’d end up on a farm, I’d have had six boys."

Later after Kenny died, I realized that must have been the reason why he was so jealous of me growing up and why he hated me. So for my whole teenage life and thereafter, he had blamed me. 

Meanwhile the “boy” part of myself wanted to run and climb. I named one of our trees in front of the house “Sneakers-on” because you had to have sneakers on to climb it and I loved climbing it, but Ma disapproved. 

“Why can’t I climb trees?” I asked one time.

“You’re a girl and you have to be careful, you might tip your womb and that isn’t good for a girl. It is okay for boys to climb. Girls are not as strong as boys, they’re more fragile and you shouldn’t be straining yourself like that either. It bad for your female organs. Boys are built for rough and tumble, but girls aren’t.”

“Why not...?” I asked perplexed. 

“Just obey me and don’t run so much or climb, like I am telling you.” 

The focus is mainly on stopping me from acting like a boy. But for me it feels so natural and I loved running and climbing as well as building. 

I ran and climbed anyway, 'cause it felt good. I am a better builder and climber than Kenny was, even if I was a girl. I named my favorite climbing tree “Sneakers-on” and Kenny climbed the less desirable one nearby, but I did let him climb “Sneakers-on” occasionally.

I sometimes tried to take advantage of Ma’s beliefs about me being a weak girl, like when Daddy stood over me at the pump one time and made me pump the water to fill the bucket for the cows that came to drink. I protested that it hurt my insides, but Daddy didn’t buy that. I also protested that carrying wood in my arms to the kitchen was too hard, but he didn’t buy that one either.

During my high school years, I began to hate the summers, because we didn't have television, I couldn't socialize with other kids and of course no movie going. Ma thought movies were kind of a sin. The "Internet" hadn't been invented yet.

One of the things I did do “in the house” was listen to fifteen minute soap operas on a radio, often with annoying static, like “Just plain Bill,” “The Guiding Light,” “Lorenzo Jones,” etc. I began to hate every weekend with only homework and no socialization. I so wanted to socialize with other kids, outside of school, but I knew there was no chance for that...ever. Daddy was just too busy, gas was expensive and Ma didn't drive.

My high school social experiences were mostly of being teased and made fun of by other kids. I couldn't have normal conversations with boys because I was too afraid of them. At home I felt undeserving of Ma’s love because I was so unlike her physically. She would often say in a disgusting tone, “Look at you, you’re nothing but skin and bones; skinny just like your father.” I finally realized that must be why Ma didn’t love me.

Throughout my growing up years, Ma frequently communicated her disapproval of my skinny, nervous body and admonished me for not being a husky girl like she was.

"You take after Daddy," she'd say, trying to sound like I couldn't help being skinny, 

"He was always skinny when he was young." She didn't seem to like Daddy very much though; always putting him down for one reason or another. I've never seen them hug or show any kind of affection at all, ever.

If I ever cry or express my feelings, I am immediately shamed. Crying wasn’t okay. The voice of Ma’s scoldings usually were, “You ought to be ashamed of yourself,” or “Take yourself out of yourself and look at yourself.” This one admonishment paid off big time in my later life, as I was discovering who I really was.

Over time, I gradually stopped expressing my feelings. Why were my feelings so bad? I kept wondering that, but no answers came. Later I learned families in the forties and fifties never mentioned feelings or emotions they had, let alone discuss them, but I didn’t know that as a teenager. 

Daddy would always say, "Children should be seen and not heard."

Suffering alone and in silence was almost unbearable. One day it was so bad, I say to Ma after school, “I’m not going back to school ever again,” but she just tried to reassure me saying, I’d get over it. Not only do I keep my great love of Nature inside, but I keep my pain and shame of being made fun of at school inside also. 

I knew Kenny hated me, but sometimes we did play chess together. We'd have brief discussions about kids at school, but not about anything of an emotional nature. In high school he was invited by some  neighbors to visit them and learn electronics. He learned how from them and loved building radios because of them. I was jealous of the attention he got.

As a young girl always alone, I wondered and thought about many things. I didn’t know any role models, mentors, or family members to ask important questions to. There were no such thing as school counselors or anyone who could encourage me or explain what was wrong with me. Ma would never approve of anything I felt for sure, so I grow up assuming my feelings just don’t matter to anyone. Since I didn't have anyone to share them with, I just keep them to myself, but they eat at me from inside, leading to a life of "quiet desperation."

I often desperately wished that my emotional pain was physical bruises, so other people could see how much I was suffering. Later in 2002, remembering these young experiences, I wrote this poem about a chubby girl who probably felt as I did as a teenager. 

Broken Spirits

Physical pain, so easy to see

A ragged little boy with scars on his body 

that automatically scream

Please, please, please somebody help me

We rush to his aid giving sustenance freely

Feeling badly for him we didn’t help early

We shout to the world this shouldn’t happen

and make up a law to punish the batterer

The plump little girl sits silently near,

Waiting her turn for someone to hear

Shy to speak up but polite as can be 

While screaming inside somebody,

somebody please, please help me

Her spirit long broken by unkind words

Hurt not recognized, pain not heard

Nobody listens so no one can know

All of her suffering, where does it go

In a short while we’ll all just forget

The sweet little girl who sat on the step

but long we’ll remember the physical scars

And thoughts of the boy will tug at out hearts.


I spent many, many nights after getting in bed, contemplating about why kids hated me so much. Then just before going to sleep sometimes, way deep down inside something would clearly say, “I am great.” It was a feeling or a knowing that came to me more than once and it felt so very true, even though I have no external evidence of it. I find myself believing that I am great without knowing why. I kept believing that in my adult life, regardless of how much I was discounted and made fun of, until my Junior year.

Whenever I was being too loud, begging for something, asking too many questions or being too talkative, Daddy was famous for saying, “You cannot always have what you want, ” so he thought I should keep my thoughts, feelings and wants to myself. I remember after a bad scolding, or a leg whipping, Daddy would usually say, along with some explanation for the punishment, “But you know Daddy loves you.” I never quite believed that. I didn’t know what love felt like anyway, so I couldn’t tell for sure what he meant.


For some reason, I hung on to a deep feeling that I was loved by Jesus, so I believed something must be good somewhere in me, even though I didn’t feel loved by my family growing up. I was also told Jesus loved me in Sunday school when I was younger also.

When I was fifteen, after my Sophomore year ended, I spent the summer in Wakefield, MA., with my cousin Margaret, her husband and four sons. That was a great summer. One day when I wanted to buy a couple of pairs of pants we go to a clothing store. I end up buying two pairs of boys “Chino” pants that fit me really well. They had deep pockets and fit so much better than girls slacks did. I loved them, more than words can say. After exiting the store, Margaret asked me in a negative tone of voice, as we were crossing a street, 

“Why on earth did you buy boys pants?” 

I could only look down at the street feeling so ashamed. I never got new clothes on the farm for school. All I wore were “hand me downs” from my Mom’s friend’s in MA. Girls had to wear skirts or dresses in school and this was the first time I got something new from a store, that I liked. My joy was crushed.

That Fall in my Junior year things seemed to get much better at school. The principal, Mr. Gibson asked Kenny if he wanted to play boys basketball. He was the tallest boy in high school. I was also asked if I wanted to play on the girls team and Mr. Gibson drove us home from practice and games. 

I was thrilled that I could play basketball. I thoroughly enjoyed feeling somewhat important and not so flawed anymore. I began to develop a bit of self confidence. I loved playing and was fairly good at it. I sometimes played Forward, which I loved, but mostly Guard and I notice my reflexes were extremely fast.

I didn’t like that we could only play on half a court though, when the boys could play the whole court, but girls had different rules that didn’t allow us to run the full length of the court. I knew girls had to be cautious about running, because of our sensitive organs. 

I am usually insecure and afraid of other kids, but the name calling and negative attitudes towards me seemed to stop in Junior High. I didn’t experience any more ridicule or name calling, so that was a great relief. I began to feel almost normal and more valued. It felt freeing somehow.

One day Kenny told me how to sneak into the principal’s office and look in my student file to see my IQ score. So one day, I did just that. My score was “above average.” I was pleased and felt a bit more self confident, especially after Mr. Gibson had told me one day that a classmate, who was a straight A student, didn’t score as high as I did on the IQ test. I was immediately impressed and amazed at what I could maybe achieve, if I tried harder, like Mr. Gibson said. I did wonder how it could be the my classmate could get straight A’s with a lower IQ than I had. I began to feel like maybe I could get higher grades.

The next summer I spent with Ma’s friend Myrtle, her four foster daughters and her grown son, Ronnie, in Wilmington, MA. Since I had turned sixteen, Ron got me my very first job as a waitress in a restaurant. I didn’t even know how to serve customers coffee. I was extremely naïve. I had no idea how to talk with adults. I was fired after only one afternoon. Then he got me a job in a roadside stand that his friend owned. I was almost fired, but Ron must have persuaded his friend to let me stay. They gave me a hairnet and I kept the job for the summer. 

I got a crush on Ronnie because he seemed to value me and was so helpful. He showed me how to drive his car and took me for my driving test which I passed with flying colors. The DMV instructor told me how impressed he was that I used the emergency brake and gradually released it while backing up into the street after turning into a driveway to reverse my direction. I felt a new pride in myself after that experience. 

Ron had promised Daddy he’d buy a car for him, unbeknownst to me. I wanted a car, so I save up about three hundred dollars from working and Ronnie took me to buy a 1941 green Chevy. He wouldn't let me drive it home though, but I was so happy to have my own car. When I told Ma it was my car, she didn't believe me so I went to show her my car registration. I then discover it has been taken from the steering wheel, where it was supposed to be kept. Daddy had it. 

Ma told me that Ron had promised Daddy a car and that was the car, it wasn’t mine she told me. I was stunned and angry. I felt so betrayed I didn’t speak to Daddy for several years after that. We never discussed anything about “my beloved first car.” 

I continued my ongoing hatred for Daddy, since he “stole” my car and I began to hate the farm and my life on it. I had no chance to socialize outside of school, no friends, felt unloved, ridiculed and put down by others my whole life. I was ready to run away. I had a solid plan in place to escape from the farm, on my own. I told Kenny what I was planning, that after graduation, I would pack a suitcase and go down on the road and hitchhike away.

During the fall of my Senior year I was able to drive my best friend’s parent’s car to Lewiston, thirty miles away. Barbara gave me the highest driving comment I ever got. The compliment she gave me was,  “You drive as good as a man!” I was so proud of myself and felt full of self confidence, even though I tricked my Mother into letting me drive that distance. Mr. Gibson had made me call home to get Ma’s permission to drive to Lewiston. After Ma said, “No you can’t drive that far,” I immediately pretended on the spot, to have a facial expression of excitement that Mr. Gibson could see, along with a fake smile. Then I hung up and lied to Mr. Gibson with real excitement saying, “She said I can drive, but to be very careful!” He believed my “act.”

I had zero input to our Senior yearbook. I hardly knew who was in charge, but I noticed the popular kids gathering information for it. The quote that they put beside my senior picture was, “Do you not know I am a woman, when I think I must speak.” I was unhappy with that quote because it seemed condescending and not something I'd want, if I had a choice, beside my picture. 

I was definitely outspoken, having never been taught etiquette or polite social behavior and speech. They did publish a poem I wrote for an assignment once. It reflects my life long consistent love of Nature.

Winter Scenes


This day, made bright by winter’s distant sun,

can be, at times, so very, very cold.

This oak tree, once alive with budding limbs,

is now so desolate, bleak, and barren.

These fleecy clouds, so many miles away

turn loose their flaky holdings around us.

These meadows, now blanketed by winter,

were once alive with animals of summer.

This chilly wind, preceding icy calm,

sails laden clouds on to blot out winter’s sun,

and send a spotless covering down on earth’s

gloomy fields.


Karen Butcher   age 17    1957

At graduation practice I was told to take shorter steps when walking down the aisle because my gait was too much like a boy’s; too long. None of my family came to my graduation. I told Ma she didn’t need to attend, that I understood she didn’t have a ride. I knew my Dad didn’t have time to drive to it anyway ‘cause there was always farm work to be done.

After the ceremony was over, I panicked because I needed a ride home and Barbara and her boyfriend had told me they’d take me, but instead they wanted to go off by themselves for a short ride and come back to get me. I did not understand and so I followed her closely to her car. I was so afraid I’d be stranded that I insisted they don’t leave me. 

After she tried unsuccessfully to reassure me they’d be back to get me shortly, they relented and allowed me to go with them. I sat in the back seat while they drove to the top of the hill and kissed. I had no idea why they would do that. So I began my almost adult life, extremely naïve, not knowing any life skills, least of all socializing and with zero relationship skills, not even when to say please or thank you to people.

Ma began suggesting I go and live with my Aunt and Uncle in Quincy, Massachusetts. She told me I could get a good job in the city and there was no work for me here in Canton. So I agreed to go live with them and somewhat relieved I didn’t have to go through with my own escape plan. 

I was seventeen and a half when Uncle George drove up to get me in June of 1957, seven years after he first picked us up at the train station and took us to our new home. Unlike the joy I felt then, I was equally joyful to be leaving seven years later, to start an adult life in the city. Little did I know I’d be fumbling my way through that adult life with no mentor and no guidance from anyone about to how to function in the world as an adult.