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Tuttle's Family Farm | House for Sale

She smiles, too, when she speaks of her father. He was, she says, the consummate farmer. In the late 1950s, as an experiment, he cleared an acre of wooded land, just to see what it must have been like for the earliest Tuttles. He chopped the pine trees and cleared tractorloads of rocks. The soil was so acidic, so steeped in pine needles, that it took seven years for anything to grow. And the field was so remote it couldn’t be reached by irrigation. Some years the raccoons ate everything before the crops were ready. But that wasn’t the point: The point was that Hugh Tuttle could do what John Tuttle had done. Lucy knew that her father thought often, in the fields, about his ancestors. He felt connected to them through farming.

That sense of connection to her ancestors pulsed in Lucy’s veins, too, but she couldn’t be a leader on the farm: couldn’t clear an acre as an experiment; couldn’t plant an orchard or chop it down. As a teenager, she could only work in the store with her mother and a half-dozen other teenage girls, hired in the summer months to help serve as many as 1,000 customers a day. She could only look out the window at a nearby field, where teenage boys weeded the rows of carrots.

Lucy felt little passion for working the cash register. So in her early twenties, she left home in 1967 to pursue a life of the intellect in Europe; seeking high culture in Paris, she arrived just in time for the student riots of 1968. She stayed six years, teaching English.

While Lucy was gone, a reporter from Life magazine visited Dover to write a story about what appeared to be the imminent demise of the family’s farming legacy. Lucy read the article on the banks of the Seine, not the Bellamy. Tuttle Farm, the article proclaimed, would die with Hugh Tuttle. He had hoped that his only son, Will, would take it over. But Will, then 24 and a graduate of Tufts University, was working instead for Campbell’s Soup as a sales representative.

“People say to me, ‘How can you not take over? Think of all the tradition you’re letting go!'” Will was quoted as saying. “But you really have to love it to undertake anything like that. By the end of March my father starts cussing about how the snow isn’t melting fast enough. He just loves farming. The fact is, I just don’t get a kick out of seeing something grow.”

Lucy knew that her father had no expectation that either of his daughters would carry on the family’s farming legacy. Without Will at the helm, he didn’t expect the farm to go on, although Becky–19 at the time of the article–had begged him for the chance to try her hand. She was the true farmer of the family, the one with the green thumb and a deep love for the land. But Hugh wouldn’t hear of it. Later, when she married and moved away, cutting ties with her parents and siblings, making almost no contact for years, Hugh felt vindicated. Women, he reiterated, become wives, not farmers. But Lucy suspects that if he had let Becky farm, she wouldn’t have turned her back on the land or the family.

In Paris, when Lucy read the magazine, she felt the tug of her own roots, pulling her back to the farm. So in 1974, she came home–with manicured nails, speaking French-inflected English. Again, she helped her mother run the farm stand. Occasionally, she received letters from her European friends in glamorous, translucent blue air-mail envelopes. Her parents eyed them skeptically.

Lucy threw herself into farming, hoping to impress her father with her zeal. She married one of those farmhands she’d once spied on in the fields. She attended plant-science classes at the University of New Hampshire and shared the latest advances in farming technology with her father. She came up with new ideas, ways to carry the Tuttle farm into the future. But nothing in farming was new to Hugh Tuttle.

“I tried that 20 years ago, and it didn’t work worth a damn,” he’d say. So she confined her ambitions to running the store.

Will had come home in 1972–swayed, in part, by his father’s searing quote, printed in Life for the world to see: “It’s kind of tough when you turn out one son and you hang all your hopes on him and they don’t materialize.” By the time Yankee published its profile of the Tuttle Farm in 1981, Hugh seemed aware of the burden he’d placed on his son but not aware that there might have been other options: say, hanging some of his hopes on his daughters. He explained to the reporter that it was the family tradition to pass the farm down to the youngest son in each generation. “We were in a difficult position as parents,” Hugh said, matter-of-factly. “We tried three times and got only one boy.”

It seemed only natural to Hugh for Will to take charge, but he wasn’t ignorant of the weight of his hopes on Will’s shoulders: “This poor kid, from the time he was 5 all his aunties and grandparents would say, ‘Well, Willy, I suppose you’re going to be the farmer in the next generation.’ And the poor kid hated every minute of it. And I didn’t handle it well. I expected too much of him as the only son. I wanted him to love the place so much that I drove him away.”

Will, who suffers from hay fever, was literally allergic to his father’s lifestyle. Lucy still remembers one summer, in their teens, when Will purposely gashed his hand with glass to get out of weeding the radishes. But in 1981 Will told Yankee that returning had been the right decision. “I feel so strongly about the place now,” he said, “that I have a hard time believing I didn’t want to do this.” He also revealed a more modern vision for the farm’s future: one that didn’t depend exclusively on the youngest son. “I don’t stick my thumb in the soil every day and say it’s mine, and in 30 years it’ll be my son’s,” he told the reporter. “I like to think I’ll hold as much hope for my daughter as for my son.” Lucy noticed, however, that he didn’t mention his sisters.

Will’s labor freed up his father to spend more time with the family he’d left behind in the days when he’d spent 18 hours a day working the fields. When Lucy’s son, Evan, turned 3 in 1981, Hugh stayed long after the birthday guests had left, building a model garage for Evan’s growing collection of toy cars and trucks. Lucy sat on the rug and watched them. She felt a sudden surge of longing for the connection she hadn’t forged with her father in her youth–while, through farming, he’d bonded instead with the Tuttles of the past.

“My father is a wonderful grandfather,” she told Yankee. “I have very few memories of him when I was a child, because he was always in the fields, but he’ll take Evan for rides on the tractor. Every night in summer I have to take Evan down to the farm so he can sit on all three tractors and grip the steering wheels.”

Updated Tuesday, October 9th, 2012
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