Woodworking again: Friends and neighbors

By Dave Wood
Posted 5/29/24

Love your neighbors, yet tear not your hedges down. ~ Proverbs 27:10

You may talk of the tyranny of Nero, but the real tyranny is the tyranny of your next-door neighbor. ~ Walter Bagehot

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Woodworking again: Friends and neighbors


Love your neighbors, yet tear not your hedges down. ~Proverbs 27:10

You may talk of the tyranny of Nero, but the real tyranny is the tyranny of your next-door neighbor. ~Walter Bagehot

Good fences make good neighbors.  ~Robert Frost

No doubt, the above quoted wise men have a point. If you don’t believe me, just ask my Grandpa Ralph Wood; well, no you can’t, for he died six decades ago, but not before he showered me with tales of his least favorite neighbor, who lived upriver from Grandpa’s farm on River Road. Before we get into Grandpa’s bete noire, by the name of Joseph Augustine, I must tell you that Grandpa Ralph was a soft-spoken gentleman of the first order, wouldn’t say poop if he had a mouthful, minded his own business and his large farm, on which he raised steers, hogs, milch cows, sugar beets, corn and oats. He fussily constructed concrete sidewalks around his property, and his pride and joy was a new ventilated hog house with an oil-fired cauldron that cooked his pig feed. His dairy herd was one of the first to be enrolled in the newfangled DHIA milk testing program and he was one of the first farmers in the neighborhood to plant the newfangled forage called alfalfa.

Come to think of it that might well be why he couldn’t manage to cool his jets when he reminisced about that goldarned neighbor, whom he always referred to as “Old Man Augustine,” who lived about two city blocks away at Sunny l Farm. Augustine was a Huguenot from West Virginia, who came to Whitehall to become one of its first carpenters, but soon turned  his attention to farming, Not REGULAR farming, mind you, but  something that today we might call faded value-added farming (Ginseng, Farmstead Gouda, etc. etc.). Joseph Augustine was high on honey, sunflowers, all manner of stuff that was unconventional in his day. His grown sons Clarence and Ku Klux Klansman Frank, who were known far and wide as the “Ferret Brothers,” raised three types and sizes of the creepy rodents which were thought to rid one’s barn of rats and other vermin. Thousands and thousands of ferrets, including new varieties of studs to keep their herds from inbreeding, according to the brochures which they mailed nationwide.

“But that tribe never took much truck with its normal livestock,” Grandad mused to me, sucking on his sliver of plug tobacco. “Nope, one day I dropped into his barn and he showed me his new ‘invention.’  Damned if he hadn’t built a barbed wire fence atop  the wooden enclosures of his calf pens. ‘Keeps the calves from falling out of the pens into the alley’ he explained. Seems the ferret boys hadn’t cleaned the calf pens for so long, that the manure on the floor grew so high, calves were looking down on us from on high, through that barbed wire.”

Obviously, not the kind of herd control pleasing to a man who fed his pigs warm slop. And not that only thing that got Grandpa’s dander up.

“But that wasn’t the half of it. Everyone in the neighborhood dreaded communal silo filling. Most of us planted corn for shelling and sileage. Not old Augustine. He planted sunflowers which grew to 12 feet at least, then he ran a binder through ‘em, and the binder twine bound them two feet up the sunflower stock, leaving the ten-foot tops flopping in the wind. Not much fun trying to maneuver those bundles into the silo filler.

Worse yet, John Augustine had other interests than value added-ag. Like religion. He began as French Huguenot, then became a “shouting Methodist, then a four-week Baptist, and kept searching for The Answer.” When he fell ill, my grandma asked his second wife about his chances for recovery. “Well,” said his spouse, “If Joe don’t make it, he’ll probably get to Heaven—God knows he’s tried enough ways.”

Grandpa, the fallen away Baptist, gets the last laugh in the Old Man Augustine Saga.

“One morning Joseph’s milch cows broke through his miserable fence and ended up in our front yard, so your grandma had to herd them back to Sunny Farm. That night cousin Doc Van Sickle and I were amusing ourselves on Main Street watching a revival meeting. Sure enough, Old Man Augustine took center stage and proclaimed that just that morning his cows were missing. ‘I fell to my knees in the driveway and asked The Almighty to return my cows. In a matter of minutes the cows came back, Praise the Lord!!!’”

Grandpa’s comment to his cousin the dentist: “If Old Augustine spent less time on his knees and more on mending fences, my wife wouldn’t have to play Lord Almighty so often.”

Woodworking again, Dave Wood, farming, neighbors, agriculture, column