Sam Ward

Sam Ward built our barn over a hundred years ago with timbers from the Flanders’s ninety-year old barn. Sam worked in the local Boston and Maine quarry, cleared fields, ran his farm, and built houses for Edward Cummings around Silver Lake. Cummings’ son, the poet EE Cummings, eulogized Sam, the first caretaker of the Cummings’ farm on North Division Road. Cummings’ poem reads in part:

sam the man

At age twelve, I remember seeing EE Cummings drive down the road in his Model A Ford to visit Sam’s widow, Mame. The poet sat ramrod straight looking neither right nor left all the way to Mame’s house at the end of our field. Cummings wasn’t the only one who enjoyed Mame’s company. We still have her picture on our mantle. When she was in her eighties, she ruefully told me that she had never seen the ocean.

Sam died from a fall going downstairs to feed the pig under the barn. The stairs were narrow, steep, and dark. I helped my father rebuild them. Except for the pad of concrete for the pig, the dirt floor of the basement was covered with six to eight inches of chicken manure, which it became my job to remove with a shovel and a wheelbarrow. Some mornings, my friend Raymond Ward came over to help so we could go early to The Head for swimming.

I remember with sadness having to replace the big doors that exited the basement of the barn. The doors were thick with wooden patches nailed on top of wooden patches. One door had a small guillotine opening, like a dog’s door, to let the chickens out. I replaced the broken beams in the basement designed to hold up the barn’s first floor. With the bark still on, they hung precariously from the knob and tube electrical wiring. Sam had a lot of trouble with flooding in that basement. Me too. Problems like these unite generations.

Ward.Stevens house

Sam built the place in stages. First was the original house with two small upstairs bedrooms, one of which holds a bow window that starts a mere six inches above the floor. Next was the barn set on the south side of the house to keep the cows warm. Last was the link between the house and barn. It contains a separate stairway to additional bedrooms and to the top floor of the barn where early on in breathing masks we cleared out the last of the dried and decomposed hay. Although the two stairways served two isolated groups of bedrooms, I recently punched through a wall and installed a small trapezoidal door that united that which for a hundred years had been separate. Now, the ghosts of times past have unimpeded passage through the entire house.

The first floor of the barn led to a two-hole privy that we occasionally used when the indoor plumbing failed. More importantly, however, it contained on the south side a generous stall for two cows accessed by an exterior ramp and a four-foot door. Once, while carrying a large box full of bottles down the ramp, I slipped and fell on my back. With horrendous pain I inched my way forward into the grass where I lay thinking the jig was up, only to recover about twenty minutes later. We replaced the ramp with a deck and a set of stairs. Satisfactory for me, though nothing a cow could negotiate.

We kept the door, the interior walls, and the floor of the stall, and opened up the south wall with windows to make a sunroom—now the most used room in the house. The history of the house exhibits a move toward the sun in which the living room moved from the oldest and darkest part of the original house through the connecting link to the southernmost brightest side of the barn. Sam would have appreciated the move. He had graced the exterior gables of the house with sunbursts, an artistic extra in those early days.

A modern heating system in the basement enabled us to remove the old linoleum in the barn to reveal huge 18-inch planks. I confess, however, that most of the barn’s interior now lies swaddled in insulation covered with new rough lumber. To use a barn is to lose a barn. Insulation, heat tapes, plastic sheeting, and power tools: Sam had nary a one. Stout as a bridge rugged as a bear.

Peter Stevens

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