by Jan Spies
“Our road was founded by the family Godfrey in pre-Revolutionary days. A stone’s throw beyond the green-shuttered, white Colonial house that was the Godfrey master house, there are a stone wall, two lilac bushes, and a doorstone, all that remains of the original Godfrey house. In the original house, the famous Gold Dragoons once met under the aegis of Colonel Gold during the years 1775-1779. Today the Gold Dragoons are again forming as a home defense unit to patrol the roads leading to the new dam and to assure enemy parachutists of an unhappy landing. If those first Gold Dragoons still meet in the early shades of evening, they must wonder at this new war. . . war the hard way, war from the skies.
“Every American war has been on our road . . . Godfrey Road. The Revolutionary, with a Connecticut Yankee pitchforking a Hessian officer down our road. The War of 1812 that a Godfrey captained. The Civil War with a bugle boy from the road writing letters home. The war that had a slogan, ‘Remember the Maine,’ and yellow fever that laid a soldier from our road to rest far from home. World War One saw a Major from our road decorated in France. The road is at war again.
“It is a different road now from the road that heard the creak of cart wheels turning, the lowing of cows being brought back from pasture, the not infrequent click of deer’s feet, or bark of foxes. It is two and a half miles long, dissected by a highway, but still scarcely more than a rutted country lane, still warily plodding to a hilltop, gaily dipping into an orchard, turning a cold shoulder to a brook that approaches it too closely.
“It is a road of old houses, trees old enough to have great-grandchildren, gardens that bloom from May to October. It is a road of neighborliness, of serenity, of peace. But it is a road girded for war again, ready to preserve its rights against the invader, an all-out road in this war for democracy. A road that a man in Australia things of when he thinks of home; a road that is home to a war correspondent, an artist who does war posters, a cartoonist who shows his opinion of the war to hundreds of thousands of readers, a manufacturer who turned his factory to war production. English refugees, French refugees, a man who organizes entertainment for the Army camps, women who are knitting, defense workers, a man who has two sons at some far-flung fronts. It’s war for every man and woman of our road.
“It is a different war for each of them. To begin with, there is the farmer on our road, the old-timer. His grandparents lived on the road, his father and mother lived there, and he has lived there all his life. If a human being can be called a root in the sense that he belongs where he is, then Levi is a root of New England . . . a root of our Connecticut road. It must have a special meaning for him, the meaning that a river has for a man who spends all of his life sitting on the bank observing life flowing past him, not intrinsically related to it. Levi is not intrinsically related to the people on the road because they are city people transplanted to the country. Not for them the deep knowledge of the season’s changes, the earth’s yielding, the patient planting. He blue eyes, set in furrows, see clearly what is hidden from them, but because these new people have come to his road, they are his charges.
“He is a true native of New England, kindly, simple, good, and wise, and all those other things they say about New England too. Shrewd, hard-bitten, fearless, the best friend a man could have, the worst enemy. But the newcomers are his friends. He cops wood for them, digs out their wells, and ploughs their fields. He brings them Yule logs at Christmas time, medicine when they are ill, tears when they die. He is the personification of the road, and now that the road is at war he chops more wood (for we face an oil shortage on the road), he farms longer hours; if he could be, he is kinder. If catastrophe came to our road, we would all instinctively turn to him.
“The Godfrey master house was built in 1790. It is guarded by two huge maples that wear the conventional wreath of robins’ nests in their hair, but that is as far as they allow the conventions to disturb them. Their limbs are set in foreboding gestures toward the north from whence the hurricanes come, they refuse to donate sap for any purpose whatever, and they encourage violets and daffodils to blossom close to their tire, old roots.
“The house, rechristened Fox Pass, is gracious, set in flower-beds and lilac bushes. A small orchard is part of its war effort. The farthest flower garden has become a kitchen-garden with strawberry plants, and vegetables. The vegetable-garden has been doubled in size, and the chicken house is in process of becoming a one-room residence . . . a self-sustaining unit for the duration. The little house will be heated with wood (cut on the place), and the root cellar and pantry shelf (filled with canned goods from the summer garden) will supply all the necessary food except meat.
“In the small house across the road, the air-raid warden, once a famous actress, gives almost full-time to her job. It is full-time there on the road, for the sound of the siren is apt to e lost unless on attends it carefully. And there is endless checking of water facilities, sand-buckets, general articles needful in case of fire, for the road has no Fire Department, but a small volunteer until that would have to go where the danger was greatest.
“Next on the road is a huge modern farm with refrigerator plants, a magnificent root cellar, hot-houses, horses and cows Due to the labor shortage, the whole family spends the week-ends and vacations planting, pruning, weeding. The war has a special meaning for them, with a young son hurrying toward the Air Force and spending his last civilian days for the duration taking rocks out of the hillside garden, setting plants in place, tending the cold-frames.
“Beyond the big farm and across the road from it, there is a French Provencal cottage that has made itself very much at home on the New England road. It has graciousness and charm and the first daffodils that bloom in the spring. No one knows why they bloom there first, but they may have some reason of their own. Perhaps they learned a wayward efficiency from the master of the house. He is meeting the war problem by putting into effect his Work Simplification plan, which will increase war productivity by fifty per cent. This plan is already in use with DuPont, Vultee Aircraft, Republic Steel, and others. But it is hard to believe that sheer efficiency makes daffodils bloom a week ahead of time. Perhaps the stonewall they grow beside is warm.
Two English women have made a practical, self-sustaining farm of their home. They have chickens, a vegetable garden, berry patches, and, last year, they raided their beehives for eighty pounds of honey. This year, they think the bees are aware of the sugar rationing and will double their output. Honey for defense, a motto on our road. One of the sisters was a V.A.D. in the last war and is hostess to homesick English sailors. Funny, this seems like home,’ one of them told her. ‘No funny,’ she retorted, ‘this road goes winding back a long ways. The Godfreys came from England, my boy.’
The road dips down a steep hill and crosses the highway where the mailboxes wait for mail from places the mailman can’t pronounce. The censor has stamped the letters. They are so precious that the hand that reaches for them trembles with eagerness, with joy. Johnny is a long way from Godfrey Road, but he hasn’t forgotten a single thing, not the neighbors, or his pet horse, or the pies that ma bakes on Saturdays. What’s the war about? About getting it over with and getting home to the road. ‘I have a picture of you folks in front of the house tacked up in my tent. It sure looks great.’ Tents in a row under a stabbing sun, mail-boxes in a row on a peaceful country road, but the distance between them is only as long as it takes to say, ‘There’s a letter from Johnny.’ Yes, in the house back of the mail boxes, there are two sons in the service . . . a soldier and a sailor. When it’s over, they’ll both claim they won the war . . . well, what’s an Army without a Navy, and vice versa?
In the old house across the brook, there are two small children. Their father hasn’t seen the baby. He writes from Australia, where he is a war correspondent. He writes publicly about the war and privately about the baby and about his three year old son and about what joy it will be finally to be coming home. His wife is organizing a special fire brigade, volunteers from the 5:31. She is also responsible for a plan to double up on trips to the station, trips to town, general conversation of tires and gasoline.
In what was once the little white schoolhouse, a war correspondent from Berlin has written his book, Strategy of Terror. He is not attached to Colonel Donovan’s staff, engaged in sending war news, authentic war news, to Europe by short wave. His wife, who came from Europe with him, whose family are in Switzerland now, says, ‘I’m ashamed to have too much to eat. My mother has so little.’ She will be a citizen soon, and then she can do ever more ware work that she is doing now. She works in her vegetable garden a great deal. She has even learned not to shrink with the plans pass overhead.
The house at the top of the road, the last house on the road, is set in gardens and orchards. Two small boys and a dog run through the grass, and in the big studio their father draws his strip cartoons of family life as they live it. ‘Thad’ and ‘Boopy’ are excelling models of what boys all over America are thinking and doing in these days of the new war. They are a little more serious than they were last year. They know more words, more names on their maps. They would rather be at home than any place else, because suddenly that house with protective wings outspread has become precious to them. They explain what they feel when they way, ‘We listed to the English kids broadcasting to their mothers and fathers back in England.’
In spite of the way that the lives of the road go beyond it to wars on other continents, to war as it is fought in our own nation’s capital, to war as it stems from our own great cities, the life of the road itself makes the war a practical issue. Conservation is a byword; more than that, it is a by-product. What was once discarded is saved, every hand turns to making the most of what there is. Once trip to town, in one car, suffices where before cars hummed casually over the road. The road turns out full force for town meetings to put down any hint of useless expansion, to suggest more general ways to conserve. During canning season, the women will share, not recipes along, but the fruits from their orchards and berry patches, the vegetables from their gardens, the chickens that can be canned against winter needs.
Our road is a country road, remote from city activities, but it is not an escapist’s road; it is a peaceful road, but it is a road at war, too. It does not say this is the first war for democracy or he last war for freedom – it says I saw war on the ground, muskets and bluecoats; I saw war at sea, war between brothers, war to end wars, and no I’m seeing all-out war. Back of every soldier is his family, back of every soldier is the road he left waiting for him to come marching home. That’s always been the end of war, it will always be the end of war, the long march home to your own road.
This article came from Vogue’s First Reader, 1934. Although we have not been able to discover the history of Jan Spies, we thought it was such a wonderful article that we wanted to share it with you. Published in The Chronicle, Winter 2014