Seth Harley had the closest farm to my hometown, back in the fifties.
It was a dairy farm that milked maybe eighty cows and sat on about a
The town boundaries had not changed, in a formal sense, for almost two
hundred years, but the area was still growing and the good farming
land closest to the town was worth more to a builder than what most
farmers could ignore.
To the North and South and East, all the ground that bordered the town
had gone over to the house builders. On the Western boundary, which
was where Seth's land was, his neighbors on either side of him had
already sold out - but Seth still held on.
Aunt Jessie Harley (she was called that by both young and old, for as
long as anyone could remember) had borne Seth three daughters and two
sons. Charlie, the oldest, lost his life on an atoll in the South
Pacific in 1944, and his younger brother, Michael, met the same fate
on Christmas Day of the same year, during a famous battle in Belgium.
Aunt Jessie kept the stars in her window until the day she passed.
The children of the town were much enamored of the Harley property, as
you can imagine, and old Mr. Seth never had a harsh word for any child
that crossed his ground. We would ride our bikes along the road that
went next to his orchard, and sometimes took an apple or two, without
fear of consequences.
Our favorite place to gather was his woodlot.
It was called, "Harley's Woodlot", but it was more like a park than
any park in the town.
It described an area of about two acres and held the most marvelous
trees in it. There were oaks, both red and white, walnuts and
butternuts (which we locals called black and white walnut), sycamores,
and maples, both hard and soft. It is probably where I fell in love
My favorite, and I was not alone in this, was the single huge beech
tree, which sat in a clearing in the middle of the lot. As wide as it
was tall this, above all others, was the tree that gave rise to our
childish fantasies. In Summer it was a cave, with heavy leafed
branches hanging to the ground, and all manner of mysteries
encompassed in its folds. In late Fall it was the climbing tree, the
tree that tested you and your brethren, and who could climb to the
It was often the case that Mr. Seth would stop on the hill above the
woodlot and watch us at our games. He would wave. We would wave.
To see the place would give you pause, as there was not a twig on the
ground, neither was there any tree with split and hinging branches -
it was a place of nature but also of order. You see, Mr. Seth allowed
any of the poorer families in town to come and take away the deadwood,
so that they might have a few more warm nights, when they could not
pay the coal man.
Mr. Seth passed away, in his bed, on a Sunday morning in the Spring of
None of his daughters had husbands who were farmers by nature. One
was a schoolteacher. Another was a carpenter. The third was not
spoken of within the hearing of children.
The farm was put up for sale and everyone figured that pretty soon the
houses would start going up.
Well, they did, but it turns out that there was a part of Mr. Seth's
will that dealt specifically with the woodlot. Mr. Seth had left the
woodlot to the children of our town, with the proviso that the town
would enlarge its boundaries to include it, and would not use its own
efforts to clear away the deadwood.
For the first time in about two hundred years the town petitioned to
change its boundaries. The Township to the West gave its blessing
To this day it is the best park in town, and the cleanest.
And the plaque at the entrance does not say, "Harley Park", it says,
in large wooden letters, touched by the merest hint of gilt:
tjwatson1ATcomcastDOTnet (real email)