Egg Deliveries from Local Farmer Bert Southwick | Here in New England
His friend Harold Kelley picked up the deliveries in his truck, but the first Friday Bert got out of the hospital, he climbed in beside Harold. He keeps the cart under cover during the winter now and lets Harold truck him around until spring. Then when the snow is gone and the fields green up, he tells Mischief it’s time.
One late winter morning with snow piled high on the ridge, I join the men on the route. I find Bert in the barn, carrying hay to his horses. “Good morning,” I say. “Where’d you find a good one?” he answers. With the barn chores finished, he squeezes through his narrow front door into the warm kitchen. His knees are shot, and if he sits for a while he rises stiffly before picking up momentum, so he doesn’t sit much, except to sort his eggs and pick feathers off them here in the kitchen, which is heated with the same black Glenwood stove his father bought after World War I for $35. That stove and a wood furnace below have warmed him since birth. I ask about backup heat as he readies his eggs. “Backup is me putting in more wood,” he replies.
Bert changes into a faded gray coat — “his Friday coat,” Harold points out, “only times he wears it” — and the men fill the truck with eggs and set off. At the end of the long rutted drive, Harold turns left onto Zion Hill Road, past the school that bears Bert’s name, and then pulls into the heart of Northfield. Bert tells of the changes in Northfield and Tilton brought by I-93 racing past their borders: how he’s seen houses that sold for $1,800 now fetching $240,000, his watery blue eyes reflecting amazement at how that came to be, and how for the past two decades he drops off eggs and rarely sees anyone at home, where for so long he’d be met at the door by mothers with a smile and cozy conversation.
Through the morning Bert fills his arms with cartons and places them inside the doors of houses, and from time to time he finds a few dollars tucked inside an empty carton. He carries a pencil in his pocket so that he can jot down figures, but he rarely does. At one house Harold asks, “Isn’t she away?” “She said to leave two dozen a week until she gets back,” Bert answers. “She eats more eggs when she’s not home.”
We stop at the local fuel oil company. A man named Walter Hill sees me sitting next to Bert with a notebook. “So they’re still after you,” he says. “Well, they’re down to pretty small entertainment,” Bert quips. The local librarian says, almost apologetically, “No eggs this week, Bert.” “Didn’t you work up an appetite?” he replies. And so the morning passes, up and down stairs, snatches of hellos whenever someone sees him.
We’re back at the farmhouse by early afternoon. Hours of chores stretch ahead. Hens are laying the next week’s batch. Slouching against the wind, Bert will soon head off to the henhouse with his wire basket. In a few days he’ll slaughter one of his pigs; there’s a waiting list for the sausage. The winter would be a lot longer, he says, if he didn’t have so much to do. With so much snow it’s hard to see spring, but Bert does. As soon as the soil warms, he’ll plant Swiss chard, potatoes, cranberry beans, corn — enough vegetables to feed anyone along his route who asks.
And one Friday in early May he’ll hitch up Mischief, load the cart with eggs and some horse feed and a cheese sandwich for himself, and he’ll start down the ridge, swing left on Zion Hill Road, eggs jostling behind him: a man with work to do who has found that he needn’t travel more than a few miles to see all he’s ever wanted or needed.