Chapter 8. Hyman Perlin: Farmer

Why did my grandfather buy a farm? He had an urgent valid reason to buy immediately. When the Great War (World War 1) started in Europe in August, 1914, my father was almost 16. My grandfather was worried that the United States would get involved and institute the draft. My grandfather decided to buy a farm. Farms in Brooklyn were expensive because developers were purchasing farms to use the land for apartment buildings. My grandfather decided to look elsewhere.

He anticipated the exemptions of farmers and oldest sons. The Selective Service Act of May 1917 established local draft boards. They were responsible for, among other things, registering men while taking into consideration their needs in the areas of agriculture as well as special family situations.

Every man between the ages of twenty-one and thirty-one was required to register. The second draft was in June 1918. This included everyone who attained the age of twenty-one after June 1917. My grandfather purchased a farm in rural Sullivan County in an old town that was newly populated by Russian Jewish immigrants. He closed on a property in August of 1918. The draft registration was held in September of 1918, and included all men between the ages of eighteen and forty-five (my father was one of the group who registered his occupation as farmer). Nov 11, 1918 was the end of the war. My father never served in the army.

My grandmother was ecstatic to have a farm of her own. She had lived in Brooklyn for eight years and had always wanted to go back to the land, since she had grown up on a farm in Europe. She would now have six cows and a horse, and 110 acres of farmland, half of which was cleared for planting, for grazing and for hayfields.

My grandfather was very happy with the acquisition because he had been an independent itinerant carpenter in Europe. When he had arrived in the United States he worked as a carpenter for someone and although he was very good at his profession and was made a foreman, he was still working for someone else. This move gave him an opportunity to be independent and to make his own decisions.

The one who was the big loser in this move was my aunt Mary. She was fourteen and had lived in Brooklyn for eight years, went to a large school, had many friends, and had an urban outlook. Here on the farm she was very much isolated. She was now living in a place that had no telephone, where they had to generate their own electricity, and were more than two miles from town, with no means of transportation other than horse and buggy. The closest high school was in Woodridge, more than four miles away.

In the long run, one of the biggest losers may have been my grandfather. He was a gregarious individual who loved to be with other people. In the summer, when the hotel had guests, he spent almost all his time schmoozing with the guests. In the fall and winter he was very much isolated, except when he went to town. His only source of news was the Jewish newspaper, which came by mail. His only reading material in the house was that newspaper. He would spend as much time as he could in town. Once in town he would go from store to store bantering with the merchants. My grandfather told me an interesting story about his neighbors Sam and Julia. Julia was an extrovert who loved to go to town and speak with the women there at a time before they owned a car. One day Sam and Julia had gone to town together. He wanted to go home in their horse and buggy, and she wanted to continue talking with a woman friend of hers. Finally Sam threatened that if she didn't stop within five minutes, he would take his pants off right in the middle of town. She ignored him and continued to talk and at the end of five minutes he stood up in the buggy, unbuttoned his pants right there in the middle of town, and let his pants down. Everybody stopped to look and saw that when he pulled his pants down, he was wearing another pair of pants underneath.

During the summer months when there were guests, I very seldom spoke Yiddish. During the fall and winter when I was with my grandparents I spoke English with my grandfather, Yiddish with my grandmother, and Yiddish when they were both together. I was not aware that my knowing how to communicate in Yiddish would come in handy in life. For example, after I was married I had a summer job delivering sodas for a local bottler. I delivered to small hotels, bungalow colonies, and summer camps. On one occasion I was delivering sodas to a Yeshiva summer camp. I was speaking in Yiddish to the rabbi who ran the camp, and a little boy with a shaved head and long payas was watching us and listening to our conversation. When the rabbi left and I was going out to the truck, the little boy looked at me, and with an inquisitive look asked "Du bist a yid?" (Are you Jewish?) I answered, "Yes."

Many guests came to the country for fresh air, fresh food, and cooler temperatures than were to be had in the city. If you've ever eaten fresh food on a farm, you would understand what that meant to them. For example, eggs that had been picked that very morning and eaten at breakfast tasted much different from eggs that people could buy in the stores of New York City, which had been picked as much as a week or two earlier. Milk that was fresh from a cow tasted different from milk that had been pasteurized. Before 1938, when the State banned non-pasteurized milk from being served in hotels, there was a group of guests that showed up every day at milking time to drink warm milk fresh from the cow. In Greek mythology, nectar was the drink of the gods. To these guests nectar was warm milk fresh from the cow.

When I was about ten or eleven years old, I used to take the other children who were my age up to the berry fields to pick blueberries for the guests' dinner. One morning when we were going to pick berries we walked past the cornfield, and the corn was beautiful. All of the kernels were even and the corn was ripe for picking. And as everybody knows, corn picked in the morning and eaten the same day is better than any corn you can get in the supermarket. So I decided that the other boys and I would pick the corn and the guests could have it for dinner. We went back to the barn and brought a couple of bushels up to the field, and picked seventy-five ears of corn. I was so proud of myself when we walked into the kitchen; I showed my mother what we had done. That was when she told me that I had gone to the wrong cornfield. The ears we had picked were used for chicken feed. There was a different cornfield for corn that was grown for people.

My grandfather had several areas for cultivation on the sides of the hayfields. He grew corn and potatoes in those fields. Every several years he would plant alfalfa on each of the fields.

Everyone asked if you had a farm, did you ever have trouble with wild animals. And the answer is yes. We never had to bring any animal to the veterinarian except once. The two dogs decided to chase a porcupine. They ended up getting quills in their noses. My father drove them to the veterinarian and had the quills taken out. They never again chased any more porcupines. I guess they got the point.

Our dishwasher was also our handyman. He would come up in May and stay until we would close the hotel in October. One September he had a stand-off with a skunk. The result was, the skunk won. My grandmother wouldn't let him in the house for a month. My grandfather had the handyman wash himself with tomato juice numerous times during that month, until the smell was gone.

There was a raccoon that was a problem for a while. We didn't allow the chickens to roam, but we did have the door open so they could walk around within a fenced area. There was a raccoon who once in a while would crawl under the fence, grab a chicken, pull it out, kill it and eat it. The chicken house was about seventy-five yards from our house. My grandfather had bought me a twenty-two caliber rifle for my birthday, and I tried to shoot the raccoon but no matter how many times I shot, I never hit him. We finally had to dig a trench, lower the fence to about six inches under the ground, and slant the buried part of the fence outward. That way, when the raccoon would dig, he would just run right into fence, and wouldn't be able to get under.

By now, you may be asking, "What did we do with all that milk and all those eggs when there weren't any guests?" My grandfather was a member of a farm co-operative. Milk was collected every day and eggs once or twice week. We had 1,000 leghorn chickens, each laying about 250 eggs a year. That's a quarter of a million eggs and everyone had to be candled to weed out the ones that had blood spots. The candler was a metal container with a light bulb inside. There was a hole on the side of the container to allow one beam of light to escape. Each egg had to be held up to the light. The eggshell is similar to an opaque piece of glass so a person could see a clear yolk or a spot. The room had to be totally dark. After the egg was checked it was placed in an egg crate that held thirty dozen eggs. It was mindless work so I did it on the night that I listened to three radio shows, Fibber Magee and Molly, Jack Benny, and Fred Allen. I did the work once or twice a week. From the age of 12, that was my responsibility.

The hotel helped support the farm, and the farm helped support the hotel. For one thing, the farm saved the hotel the cost of buying food. For example, on our farm we had two kinds of chickens. One kind was leghorns, that laid eggs, and the other kind was Plymouth Rock, which were for eating. We never needed to buy chickens or eggs from a store.