My First Home: The builder took off

My First Home
. —Heidi Berton for The Boston Globe

It was 1948 when our family with four children under 4 moved from Yonkers, N.Y., to Arlington, Vt. Dorothy Canfield Fisher, a well-known writer, was on the school board and in charge of finding us a house.

She had just hired my father to teach at the high school: industrial arts, math, and driver’s ed. He was also hired to lead the choir and the band. I still have the letters she wrote to my parents describing how excited she was that work had begun on our new home. The last letter, however, announced that yes, the foundation had been poured, but the builder had skipped town. She found us an old farmhouse with an extensive front porch. The Battenkill River flowed out back, Route 7 passed out front, and up the hill, freight trains rolled by at regular intervals.

Just three years before, my father had fought in the Battle of the Bulge. At the end of the war, he was surprised to find out he was now the father of twin girls. He was given extra points for the new additions to the family and happily was able to return home sooner than many other soldiers. I have only recently thought what a refuge the beautiful countryside of Vermont must have been for my father after the trauma of war.

My parents furnished the upstairs bedroom with Army-surplus bunk beds that had ropes for support under the thin mattresses. All four children slept in that bedroom with sloping ceilings. The only other room on the second floor was reserved for visitors from Yonkers like my eccentric Aunt Mayme. Mice liked that room, too.

My father was so concerned about a fire in the old farmhouse that he set up drills. My brother Don, the oldest, was instructed to rush up to the window in the upstairs bedroom, hook it open, and supervise the rest of us as we climbed onto the roof below and down a ladder. We couldn’t wait to do it again.

In the summer, my father planted a huge vegetable garden across the street and carefully surrounded it with a tall wire fence to keep out the woodchucks. He fashioned a special contraption that sent a red flag in the air when one entered the garden. We were to shout “Red flag!’’ when we saw it. The plan was for my father to grab his rifle and run across Route 7 and into the second floor of the barn near the garden, which would give him a good view of the woodchuck. I remember the red flag popping up, but the plan was never implemented.

We had bonfires in the backyard of the house and fished and swam in the river. We climbed the hill in front, crossed the railroad tracks, hiked, had picnics, and hunted for bright orange salamanders.

The old farmhouse is still there on what is now Historic Route 7A. It looks pretty much the same. I am grateful for the idyllic life we lived there as a young family.

Alice Gardner, who wrote and illustrated the upcoming children’s book “St. Peter’s Fiesta,’’ lives in Beverly. Send comments to Subscribe to our free real estate newsletter at