My imperious grandmother’s sister, maiden aunt Rose, was considered “frail.” She rarely saw anyone outside her coterie of effete friends who frequented the old Metropolitan Opera on 39th and Broadway. The opera house with its Grand Tier restaurant run by Louis Sherry, originally from St. Alban’s, VT, offered a glamorous shelter from the prescriptive and formal uptown society into which she was born. To uphold appearances, my grandmother engaged a gay escort for Rose. Though from New Hampshire, Cliff was debonair and offered her an arm when she appeared in society.
Meanwhile, we were growing up next to Volney Farr’s farm in Morrisville. Aunt Rose had often expressed a desire to see Vermont and, when I was six, decided to brave the overnight train trip to Waterbury where my stepfather and I met her. She brought a steamer trunk for her five-day stay that he managed to wrestle into the back seat of our pre-war Plymouth sedan.
Our house was surrounded by Mr. Farr’s pasture and, between milkings, 28 Guernseys and Jerseys munched hay and clover on three sides of our new house. At breakfast the first morning, Aunt Rose announced to our surprise that the cows were thirsty. My stepfather explained that they had water bowls in the barn and that the grass was mostly water. She would have none of it and insisted we bring those parched cows a bucket of water. Not wanting to imply any judgment of Mr. Farr’s husbandry skills, my father begged off and left promptly for work, leaving me and my mother to dissuade Aunt Rose from rescuing the thirsty cows.
After breakfast Aunt Rose said she was going for a walk. Less than an hour later, we heard a faint scream from the backyard. My mother and I ran to the window only to see Aunt Rose standing in the dewy grass with one hand holding a tin pail from the garage that she had filled with water, and the other hand on Mr. Farr’s electric fence. To my young eyes she seemed to be vibrating. My mother raced out, pulled her from the fence and helped her inside and onto the couch.
My stepfather could hardly restrain his laughter when he heard the story at dinner. After supper, however, he called Mr. Farr to ask if he might give Aunt Rose a tour of the barn. Aunt Rose fell in love with the animals and could not keep from stroking their soft flanks. Mr. Farr even showed her how to milk.
On the way back to the station, she asked my stepfather if Mr. Farr loved Mrs. Farr as much as he loved his cows.