A couple of years ago, Nan, in her blog, Letters from a Hill Farm, introduced me to the writer Gladys Taber, who was born in 1899 and died in 1980. Not only did Gladys Taber live a long life, but she was also a prolific author who wrote plays, memoirs, and fiction. In addition, she was a teacher and an editor.
Gladys Taber is perhaps best known for the memoirs she wrote about Stillmeadow Farm, a house built in 1690 in Southbury, Connecticut. Gladys and her husband, along with her friend “Jill” (Eleanor Mayer) and her husband, jointly purchased Stillmeadow Farm in the early 1930s. The two families lived in New York City, and they wanted a place in the country where their children could freely play outside on weekends and holidays. Because there had been a murder in the house, the two families were able to buy Stillmeadow below market value. Taber writes, “The previous owner had shot his wife and killed himself….The ghosts never bothered us…They had loved our house, that I knew. And I felt they were happy because we were were giving it life again.” Eventually, after Glady’s divorce from her husband and the death of Eleanor’s husband, the two women lived full time at Stillmeadow Farm, where they grew much of their own food.
I started the Taber oeuvre with Stillmeadow Daybook, and I was immediately hooked. Taber is exactly the kind of writer I like to read—smart, generous, shrewd, funny, and wise. She was someone who appreciated and took solace in the natural word and in everyday things. Taber loved Shakespeare, and she loved to cook and feed her family. (The two interests are not incompatible.) She loved dogs. Finally, Taber had a fine writing style—vivid yet precise—and a fine mind.
Right now I am reading The Best of Stillmeadow: A Treasury of Country Living, a compilation of previous books about Stillmeadow. The Best of Stillmeadow is edited by her daughter, Constance Taber Colby, and the book is divided into 12 sections, with each section corresponding to a month at Stillmeadow. The Best of Stillmeadow starts with a Foreword, which, of course, chronicles how Gladys and Eleanor (she is called Jill in all the books) came to live at Stillmeadow Farm. From the Foreword the book moves to January, the first month of the year, back in the days when even Connecticut had lots of snow and very cold weather. (Taber’s descriptions of Connecticut winters then sound like Maine winters now.)
Here is a description of the comforts of January: “Those of us who stay in the valley make out very well. We build up the fires…and the soup kettle over the hearth makes a pleasant simmering sound….corned beef and cabbage and flaky potatoes cooked in the rich liquid make a handsome meal for anyone….Open a well-done potato and spoon over some of the long-simmered juices, and there you have a dish fit for anybody.”
And much later, in July, here is Taber’s take on squash: “People who do not care for squash are usually those who rely on store vegetables. A crook-necked squash should be picked when it is not much thicker than two thumbs. The skin is pale and waxy, not knobby and mustard yellow. It should be easy to slice with a table knife.”
In The Best of Stillmeadow, I’ve only reached July, when the farm pond is thick with algae and, Connie, Gladys’s daughter, watches with horror as her mother swims in the pond anyway, this pond with “frogs, turtles, waterbugs, and…a water snake now and then gliding along the edge.”
I’ll eagerly keep reading, and when I’m done, I plan on checking out Taber’s Still Cove Journal, which is available at Winthrop’s own Bailey Library.