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Yankee Friendship | The Farmer and the Newspaperman

Yankee Friendship | The Farmer and the Newspaperman
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I knew to stop my tractor with the front right tire alongside the crack in the curb to best place the wagon behind me for midday sun. I had done it so many times it was second nature. Most every day, from Easter to Thanksgiving, I set up my makeshift farm stand under a tired, old oak at the top of Ferry Road in Newburyport’s ‘Three Roads’ intersection. Like my dad and ten grandfathers before me, I worked the family farm and sold in town that which we produced with our own labor.

Late-Summer veggies, set out for sale at the old Three-Roads farm stand.
Photo/Art by Justin Chase
Late-Summer veggies, set out for sale at the old Three-Roads farm stand.

Having planned for a busy Saturday, I had packed the wagon with potted rosemary and baskets of winter squash, eggplant, and super juicy late-season tomatoes. I had also brought gigantic chrysanthemums, bursting with bright yellows, oranges, and rusty reds.

Jumping off the tractor and onto the grassy roadside, I readied to unload and set up an eye-catching display for prospective buyers driving by. As I put together a bench of apple boxes and old planks, I noticed the neighbor sauntering toward me down the sidewalk. He was a professor from a state school nearby and had previously made clear his disapproval of my farm stand.

A fastidious fellow, he seemed the type who woke each morning, looked for the grain, and then set out to go against it. For the past few weeks, he had called the police to have me evicted from the spot, but this was the first time he approached personally. He threatened to have me shut down, adding that he was a member of some city board.

Jumbo-sized mums line Newburyport’s Ferry Road at the old farm stand.
Photo/Art by Justin Chase
Jumbo-sized mums line Newburyport’s Ferry Road at the old farm stand.

I paid him little attention. Instead, I went about my day greeting customers, loading bags of veggies and stuffing those gigantic mums into the backs of cars. But still, I couldn’t shake thoughts of his threat. He obsessively mowed and swept the sidewalk in front of his house while he watched me interact with my customers. Then I noticed a particularly begrudging stare as his cheerful and lovely wife paid for two brightly colored mums to set out on their steps, just like my other happy customers.

Folks lined the street and made an event of shopping from my wagon. I knew many by name and looked forward to greeting them with their usual orders. ‘Three Roads’ was a social corner, with a comfortable interaction of strangers, friends, and old-school New England personalities. Some were customers, many weren’t. Friends stopped by with coffees in each hand. Others were walkers who happened by and ended up staying half-hours before they knew it. Many members of the police force checked in just to talk of childhood memories, and salespeople stopped to pitch their wares. My farm stand at ‘Three Roads’ became a hub for town news and saw a cross-section of New England life.

Catching word of a city official using his influence to threaten me, a man in a little red hatchback zipped in behind my tractor. He was a heavy, tired looking man in his late thirties and when he climbed out from the driver’s seat, he held a small grey dog in his arm. Though it was curious, I recognized him as the owner of a local newspaper, The Undertoad. I knew why he was there.

The Undertoad—Tom Ryan’s newspaper from his Newburyport days. The Undertoad—Tom Ryan’s newspaper from his Newburyport days.

Tom Ryan, direct and without small talk, got right to asking questions about the farm and our stand, the neighbor, and my right to sell on public property without a license. Though I had not met Tom before, his genuineness was so apparent I spoke freely and explained how the neighbor sprayed his political clout. I told him about the farm and our 12 generations working the same land, and I told him of a hundreds-year-old state law that allows farmers and fishermen to sell wherever parking is legal. Then I pulled an old tattered paper citing the law from my back pocket. Tom’s entire face seemed to smile as he read it. In his sharp and deliberate way, he asked a few more questions and listened long enough to hear answers before leaving. Then he said goodbye, and he and his friend climbed back into the little red hatchback.

As days went by, the neighbor’s threats ceased and calls to the police stopped. Though his compulsive sweeping and trimming of the sidewalk continued, I was left alone. Assuming Tom must have written of the situation in his paper, I picked up a copy of the ‘Toad from the packy up the street. There was no word of me, my farm stand, or of the neighbor. Tom never wrote of it.

He stopped by a few more times that fall, visiting and watching folks whiz by. We talked of the farm, the city, and of the squirrels chattering overhead. We didn’t talk about the neighbor because the problem was resolved. Neither did we talk about Tom’s role in its resolution. Rather, we enjoyed a new relationship based on independence and snuffing out drama.

Tom is no longer a newspaperman. He’s up North where he belongs, now a hiker and a vegan. A transcendentalist, he writes of life in the mountains and of his personal relationship with the natural world. And, of course, of Atticus. I’ve also moved on from Newburyport and found a quiet life across the river on the shore of Amesbury’s Lake Attitash. Tom and I still chat, having rooted our friendship many years ago beneath the oak on the corner of ‘Three Roads.’

Tom Ryan, with friend, Atticus, doing what they do best—living simply up in the mountains.
Photo/Art by : Courtesy of Tom Ryan
Tom Ryan, with friend, Atticus, doing what they do best—living simply up in the mountains.

A few nights back we discussed what it means to be New Englander. “It’s all about a simple life,” Tom shared with relaxed tones, “We avoid drama up here and try to keep things positive.” I completely agree. Tom may not have been born into a multi-generation Yankee family, but the exchange we shared about standing ground, taking time to talk, and working hard to maintain independence sure are Yankee qualities. Maybe, being Yankee isn’t necessarily something one is born into, but rather a process. Maybe too, it’s just keeping things positive, simple, and helping out when another needs it.

Recently, I drove by that old, tired oak under which I used to sell my plants and vegetables. A hundred feet or so down the road was that very same neighbor, sweeping his lonely March sidewalk, and advertising his diligent little habit to passers by. I cracked a smile and haven’t looked back since. I suppose that too is a little bit Yankee.

Justin Chase


Justin Chase


As the 12th generation of a family that has owned and worked one of the country's oldest farms in Newburyport, Massachusetts, Justin Chase understands New England life. Since 1683, each generation of his family has passed down an increasing intimacy of the natural world, their Yankee traditions, and what it takes to maintain independence in New England. If he isn't roaming New England's outdoor treasures, or investigating its disappearing lifestyle, he's probably at home, writing about it at his Aunt’s old wood desk on a computer held together with duct tape that’s propped up by a couple old canning jars.
Updated Thursday, April 10th, 2014

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56 Responses to Yankee Friendship | The Farmer and the Newspaperman

  1. Dorothy Appleman April 10, 2014 at 4:27 pm #

    Always happy to read about Tom and Atticus. And to read about pushing back – ever so gently – against people who seem to want to take the joy out of life for the largest number of people possible.

    • Justin Chase April 10, 2014 at 10:09 pm #

      Thank you, Dorothy. Who was it who wrote, “Living well is the best revenge?”

      Enjoy your evening.

  2. carolyn bonier April 10, 2014 at 4:28 pm #

    Great story about you and Tom and Atticus! As I get older I so subscribe to the notion of simplicity, kindness and closeness to Nature.

    • Justin Chase April 10, 2014 at 10:00 pm #

      As do I Carolyn, though I wish I started younger. Thanks for your support.

  3. Betty F. April 10, 2014 at 4:43 pm #

    Simply put … thank you Mr. Chase for sharing your experience. Sometimes things that are left unsaid can still be felt in our hearts and that is a good thing. To be a friend or simply an acquaintance, with Tom Ryan and dear Atticus, is a gift. I look forward to traveling through New England, this summer, when my husband and I take one of our road trips. This article has heightened my curiosity about New England life and traditions. Again, thank you. Peace.

    • Justin Chase April 10, 2014 at 10:04 pm #

      Thank you very much, Betty, for sharing such warm words. You’re right about things being left unsaid. Sometimes it’s just better that way.

      I hope you enjoy your trip this summer. Have you ever been to New England?

      • Betty F. April 11, 2014 at 11:05 pm #

        Hi Justin,

        I have been to Vermont and Maine. I am so excited about the upcoming trip in August.

        Again, thank you and have a peaceful weekend.

  4. Rebecca April 10, 2014 at 4:46 pm #

    Thank you so much for sharing this fantastic story about you, Tom Ryan and Atticus! I admire Tom Atticus and Will!

    • Justin Chase April 10, 2014 at 10:01 pm #

      You’re welcome, Rebecca. This is a memory I’ve kept in my back pocket for over ten years and it felt great to put it to words.

  5. Nancy Mikitka April 10, 2014 at 4:49 pm #

    Thoroughly enjoyed reading your article, Justin, especially the part of Tom Ryan and Atticus stopping by your farm stand. As I read, I could picture your setting up your farm stand and would have loved to have been able to stop by to purchase some of your wares. Being able to purchase directly from the farmer is a wonderful privilege. What a legacy your family has left from generation to generation and in turn given to those fortunate enough to be able to purchase produce from your labors.

    • Justin Chase April 10, 2014 at 10:06 pm #

      “As I read, I could picture…” Those words of yours, Nancy, and about the highest compliment you can pay a writer. Thank you very, very much.

      (Rumor has it my dad is setting up this week!)

  6. Mi Mi and Hugs April 10, 2014 at 5:03 pm #

    I so enjoyed this article and would have loved to come to see all the wonderful goodies at your farm stand. I have been a longtime admirer of Tom, Atticus and Will. Thank you so much for sharing Tom and your friendship. This is a great article.

    • Justin Chase April 10, 2014 at 10:12 pm #

      Thank you for taking time to comment here on the blog. (chatting with readers is sort of my favorite part). If you’re in the area, rumor has it my dad plans to set up this Sunday. I think I’ll pop by to check it out!

  7. Wendy C Morgan April 10, 2014 at 5:10 pm #

    I really enjoyed your article. It is a shame there is usually one person that tries to spoil things for the rest of us. I have read Tom Ryan’s book Following Atticus and listened to the audio version, it is wonderful. I had the pleasure of meeting Tom, Atticus and Will in Norwood, MA a few weeks ago. He is a kind and gentle man and at some times very funny. I also follow them on Facebook. He lives in one of my favorite places the White Mountain of New Hampshire, where I have been vacationing of 43 years. Things are so much simpler there.

    • Justin Chase April 10, 2014 at 9:57 pm #

      Thank you, Wendy. You’re right about that one person. (I’m sure he’ll read this and it’s secretly making my night great!) And you’re right about the mountains. It’s a simpler place. I’ve come to believe it’s because they make it that way.

      Enjoy your evening, Wendy, and thanks again for checking in.

  8. Christine Stanley April 10, 2014 at 5:21 pm #

    I am a former New Englander, now a Midwesterner, I so enjoyed this article. I have been following on FB Tom and Atticus and love the stories. What a pleasure it is to read this article. I can almost picture this spot cause there are so many like this in the backroads of New England.

    • Justin Chase April 10, 2014 at 9:55 pm #

      Thank you, Christine. You’re right about the spot. Every New England town has one. It was really funny how it became such a gossip hub. I had to be really careful to listen and not talk! Thanks for stopping in.

  9. Gayle A. April 10, 2014 at 5:31 pm #

    Such a wonderful way to have met Tom and Atticus back where all began. Having left Newburyport Tom lives, writes and speaks his heartbeats, he is a blueprint of a man… a gentle, kind and enlightened soul, one with nature and his beloved Attius and Will.

  10. Dusti Rhoades April 10, 2014 at 5:48 pm #

    Mr. Chase,
    I enjoyed your article so much. My Mom grew up on a farm such as yours near the VT border of NY State in the 1920’s & 30’s. She always taught us to respect and to benefit from home grown fruits, veggies, flowers, home made items from country kitchens, and all the wonderful bounty available directly from folks like you. As a result, I have done just that, always preferring to seek out farm stands instead of relying on grocery stores for the freshest & tastiest of goods.
    I was excited to read of Tom Ryan’s magical effect on making the world a better place for you. I have only recently found Mr. Ryan and his companion Atticus M. Finch, on Tom’s web page, and also in his book, Following Atticus. They are a remarkable pair of climbers! And their story is such a delight and so compelling, that there are many thousands of us who have “liked” them on Facebook. Tom is a unique fellow, Atticus is a unique companion,and now their friend, William Garrison is a remarkable part of their world. I hope there will be other stories in Yankee Magazine that tell of Tom Ryan;s perspective on respect, companions, love, climbing, symplicity, his closest friends, bears, and life in the White Mountains.
    Thank you for sharing your article with us .

    • Justin Chase April 10, 2014 at 9:53 pm #

      Dusti- I enjoyed your comment so much I’ve read it three times now. You’ve packed a lot of positive energy into a couple paragraphs. That’s a special place along the border between VT and NY, filled with rolling farmland and steeped in history.

      Every farmer I know appreciates every single customer who takes time from their day to stop into their farm stand. Each customer—each sale—makes an enormous difference.

      Enjoy your evening, Dusti. Thanks again.

      • Dusti Rhoades April 11, 2014 at 2:26 pm #

        Three times! Wow… I am flattered. Speaking of my Mom’s home, made me realize that it has been a very long time since I’ve been up there. I’m glad you were familiar with that area. It is easier to say that her home was an hour west of Manchester, VT, in the rolling hills with mountains surrounding, than to say that she was near the edge of the border of NYS.
        It is still “God’s Country” up that way with very few changes in the landscape, except that farmers & working farms sadly dwindle as the years go by. I have often thought that I should write stories in honor of my Mom & grandparents’ lives there for Yankee Magazine, but have never attempted it. Technically, they were not New Englanders, but they certainly were in their hearts. I’d like to think a bit of their spirit was “installed” for me as well. Thank you for your kind words & response. I’ll look forward to reading more New England articles on your blog! Your article here was so vivid regarding home grown bounty and perseverance despite adversity. Thanks!

  11. Georgia April 10, 2014 at 6:47 pm #

    Loved this story. Follow Tom and Atticus blogs. This was a real treat! Thank you!!

    • Justin Chase April 10, 2014 at 9:48 pm #

      You’re entirely welcome, Georgia. Thanks for taking time from your evening to comment.

  12. Robert Plamondon April 10, 2014 at 7:38 pm #

    Great article! Having had the pleasure of meeting Tom and Atticus, I enjoy reading about their exploits. I have no doubt in my mind that Tom took on many causes while in Newburyport ….and left that area a better place than when he arrived there. My wife and I feel blessed to have met the duo.Best to you in the future!

    • Justin Chase April 10, 2014 at 9:48 pm #

      Thank you for the well wishes, Robert and for your kind words of my article. And you’re right about Tom—he did a lot of good in that town.

  13. Guyanne Harris April 10, 2014 at 7:53 pm #

    I have absolutely fallen in love with Tom, Atticus and Will. I’m not a Yankee, actually quite the Southener but I’ve noticed that at the core of most of us just beats a caring heart. Southerner, Northener, basically all the same when we chose to set aside our differences and focus on our likeness, our love of animals, this incredible earth, and our fellow travelers, (minus crabby old neighbors, lol).

    • Justin Chase April 10, 2014 at 9:46 pm #

      I agree, Guyanne. The entire East coast shares a rich history of agriculture, perseverance, independence, and respect for traditions. Thanks for stopping by the blog!

  14. Rebecca April 10, 2014 at 8:18 pm #

    Thanks so much for a glimpse of Tom Ryan. My husband and I so enjoy his writing and look forward everyday to news of Tom, Atticus and Will.

    • Justin Chase April 10, 2014 at 9:45 pm #

      As do I, Rebecca! (Though I’ sure you knew that already). Enjoy your evening.

  15. Sandy April 10, 2014 at 8:27 pm #

    Excellent article, Justin! Loved hearing about your multi generations working the land and how you befriended Tom and Atticus. Thank you for sharing the memories and the thoughts on what it means to be New Englander!

    • Justin Chase April 10, 2014 at 9:44 pm #

      Thank you for such kind words, Sandy. This whole thing has me considering writing a piece on the farm as well. I appreciate you taking time from your day to comment.

  16. cathy sehovich April 10, 2014 at 9:01 pm #

    Great story. Sooo Tom. Really enjoyed it.
    Thanks for sharing it.

    • Justin Chase April 11, 2014 at 8:31 pm #

      You’re quite welcome, Cathy. And thank you for reading and stopping by with a comment. :)

  17. DJF April 10, 2014 at 9:06 pm #

    Glad to see old friends Tom & Atticus in Yankee!

  18. Margo April 10, 2014 at 9:49 pm #

    It is always a pleasure to read about Tom Ryan and his wonderful friends. Tom strikes me as someone who is always thinking about what he can do to make his community a better place and keeping a thoughtful tone as he expresses his wonderful experiences in the mountains where he lives. Bloom where you are planted. I do not know who said that, but it seems that he has done that very well. Atticus and Will are the best examples of just being! Thanks to Tom, of course, for giving these two canine friends the love and opportunity to enjoy their lives in such a glorious way!

  19. Pat April 10, 2014 at 10:16 pm #

    Loved the article! Anything about the adventures of Tom & Atticus makes my day!

  20. Tamah April 11, 2014 at 8:23 am #

    Love the story, and love the spot, for that is where I first met you and Jamie and your smiling faces!
    Happy memories of boat shaped window boxes you so carefully created and kept safe in the greenhouse for me so the temperamental New England late May weather couldn’t harm them until we needed them for our celebration. I remember thinking how kind you were to care about flowers in that way and I was lucky to have met you both! xo

    • Justin Chase April 11, 2014 at 8:21 pm #

      Tamah! Thanks for stopping by the blog. I remember those window boxes very well. We left them in the greenhouse in part for protection, but also to force the trailing alyssum and vinca vines to fill in nicely. xo right back at ya.

  21. Alice Santarlasci April 11, 2014 at 10:18 am #

    I really enjoyed envisioning your farm stand. I wish you were still there. Yeat! The neighbor sounds quite like the current city councillor for Ward 4. As a fairly new citizen to this jewel I truly love the history.

    • Justin Chase April 11, 2014 at 8:22 pm #

      Wicked funny, Alice. Thanks for adding that little touch of old school Newburyport to your comment. Also, look for the farm stand this Sunday… maybe. My dad is talking about setting up again this year.

  22. Christine April 11, 2014 at 10:35 am #

    What a way to start a glorious day with a double dose of kindness, cheerfulness, and hope for a world so far removed from healthy values you described in this article.

    Each morning, I check in at “Following Atticus” (Facebook) for some spiritual food and a healthy start to the day. Now, I will be able to also “stop by” Yankee Friendship and “Outdoors by Cracky” to continue the “feast”! Does life get any better than this? !

    Best wishes!

    • Justin Chase April 11, 2014 at 8:24 pm #

      That’s a nice sounding routine you’ve set up for yourself, Christine. Thank you for including me. Tom indeed writes some great stuff to start the day.

      Thanks for taking time to share your thoughts here on the blog.

  23. Mike Lucas April 11, 2014 at 10:39 am #

    Thanks Justin for the wonderful article. Thanks for putting Tom and Atticus in your story. I follow their adventures every day. Again, thanks for the story.

    • Justin Chase April 11, 2014 at 8:25 pm #

      You’re quite welcome, Mike. Thanks for reading and following along. (It makes the labor of love all worthwhile).

      Enjoy the weekend.

  24. Sharon L Walker Fox April 11, 2014 at 10:39 am #

    When I lived in Newburyport growing up….there was a popcorn cart at three roads! It s always been a gathering place of neighbors! What great place to be from! Miss it still today.

    • Justin Chase April 11, 2014 at 8:27 pm #

      I remember a popcorn cart there, Sharon! I also recall a little lemonade stand as well.

  25. Kathleen April 11, 2014 at 10:54 am #

    In this age of agribusiness, I admire your tenacity and commitment, Justin, to preserve with great love and resolve the legacy of the hard work and dedication the generations of your family gave to the land.To stand firm on the belief that our country’s strength began with those who loved and farmed the land is a gift to us all. One we should never forget. Thank you!

    “Only after the last tree has been cut down, Only after the last river has been poisoned, Only after the last fish has been caught, Only then will you find that money cannot be eaten.”

    -Cree Indian Prophecy

    • Justin Chase April 11, 2014 at 8:28 pm #

      Thank you, Kathleen for such kind and thoughtful words. I love that adage you shared, by the way.Thank you for citing it. I never knew where that came from.

  26. Joyce April 11, 2014 at 12:39 pm #

    Dear Justin, I so enjoyed reading this article and was directed to it by Tom. You have a gift for writing; your words literally transformed themselves into pictures as I was reading this article and I could almost smell the flowers and see you at the corner. My daughter and I were also fortunate to meet and be befriended by Tom and Atti when we opened a small family business in Newburyport. When they moved up North a little bit of our daily dose of joy went with them. I keep a picture in my mind of the door opening and Atti running in followed by Tom.
    I wish you the best of luck, but I have a feeling that whatever you choose to do, it will be successful. Best regards.

    • Tom (& Atticus) April 11, 2014 at 7:15 pm #

      Joyce, we don’t make it back to Newburyport all that much any more, but without you and Sam at the coffeehouse I find there’s one less reason to miss the city we used to call home. But I do miss the both of you. I hope you are well. And you are right about Justin. He’s destined for wonderful things.

  27. Linda April 11, 2014 at 8:14 pm #

    Excellent article about a very interesting character – Tom Ryan.I am a Yankee and my family has been in New England for 354 years. Before my father’s recent passing, we learned through a professional genealogist that my father’s family arrived here in 1660 from England. In the 1770’s a great grandfather was given a grant by the King of England to settle land in New Hampshire – so the line of all my great grandfather’s have had deep roots in New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut. My 7th great grandfather died at Valley Forge in 1778. A great uncle, was a General under George Washington and I have a letter that Washington wrote to my great uncle thanking him for his service. Despite my Yankee roots and history, I am not allowed to interact with Tom Ryan on Facebook and I don’t know why. Facebook is a social media, designed for sharing thoughts and ideas and for interacting without judgement. I love dogs and hiking with dogs and enjoy seeing his picture, quotes and posts. Tom Ryan, please accept my friend request, thank you !

  28. Marybeth Cauffman April 12, 2014 at 1:38 pm #

    Justin, what a great article about your life and experience in Newburyport. You have a way of transporting us to that time and place with your words. And, of course, I enjoyed hearing about how your friendship with Tom and Atticus began. How wonderful that both of you found your paths.

    • Justin Chase April 14, 2014 at 8:50 am #

      Thank you, Marybeth. Those were fun times and I enjoyed writing of them. Sitting down to out the memory to words flooded my mind with so many details that I could have written a million more words.

  29. Marybeth Cauffman April 12, 2014 at 6:32 pm #

    What a great article, Jason! Thank you for taking me back to that time and place so clearly with your words. I could see and smell everything you described. And of course I loved to learn how you became friends with Tom and Atticus, and how each of you found your current paths. Thanks again!!

  30. Heidi April 14, 2014 at 11:00 am #

    Great read. As a former New England small-town reporter I understand the value of giving back to a community that shared so much with me. By the way, my dad is much like the antagonist in your post. It always comes down to a lack of self-esteem.

    • Justin Chase April 15, 2014 at 10:53 am #

      Thank you, Heidi.I appreciate you stopping by with kind words, though I’m sorry to hear of your dad. But I suppose it takes all kinds.

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