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Pondering the Puzzlement

Chickens in backyards of the 'old Emmitsburg'

Jack Deatherage, Jr.

(2/30) When we bought our house in town in 1987 we would often wake to the sound of a rooster crowing on a farm along the Irishtown Road just a field or two beyond the edge of Emmitsburg. We could look out our back windows and think we were still in the country, not confined to the limiting lines of the town. Sadly that view is gone along with the crowing rooster. Now we often wake to barking dogs, slamming car doors and roaring truck engines. "Progress" I'm told. And I suppose it is for someone. Not me.

I'm one of those oddballs who remembers, fondly, the clucking of chickens in backyards of the "old Emmitsburg", the "pre-dual lane US 15 Emmitsburg" when it was still legal to keep a few chickens for eggs, or to raise a small flock of pigeons for showing, or squab dinners. I recall backyards mostly planted with vegetables instead of the weeds people refer to as grass. I ponder the death of the Emmitsburg I first encountered in 1958 when I was four years old. "Progress" I hear. Sure it is, for someone. Not me.

One of the features of the Irishtown Road that has stayed pretty much the same over the years is Bollinger's Field. I first knew the ground as Bollinger's Hill. I was a visitor to Emmitsburg in those days as we lived between Emmitsburg and Fairfield. Some winters one of my many cousins would grab a sled and off we'd go down Irishtown Road and up the Hill to slide screaming down that long slope trying to reach the ditch at its bottom. Some kids did make it that far but I never did. I recall Ernie Shriver trailing a long rope off the bumper of his Jeep so we could grab hold as he putted up the road towing two or more sleds behind. There was an old car hood that we used to drag up the Hill and pile onto, six or so kids, who would go spinning and screaming down that white slide.

A warmer memory is of the old barn that stood near the north alley and the Lutheran cemetery. The barn is long gone, but I recall sailing balsa wood gliders and rubber-band powered airplanes in that part of the field. The wind currents swirling around the barn used to lift the toys nearly out of our sight. The Hereford cattle that grazed the field would wander over to see what we were doing. At the time it never occurred to me those placid beasts were some of the animals I would eventually eat. I'm sure some of them ended up at Bollinger's Meat Market. Bollinger's beef has always been my standard against which other beef is measured, even though that business closed years before I moved into Emmitsburg.

Today when I think of Bollinger's Field I have a mix of fondness and anger. I was in favor of annexing the field into the town and letting the Bollingers develop it. Not that I wanted more houses and people in town, but because it was the right thing to do. If the town is going to expand then let the locals expand it, not some developer from somewhere not Emmitsburg!

Now the land waits - undeveloped and seldom farmed. Of the two, the farming possibility upsets me the most. I envision the field with cattle grazing it again and corn growing in the more suitable areas of it. I see an opportunity for a truly community farm where kids without a clue as to where their food comes from could feed a chicken, collect a basket of eggs, plant a garden, eat what they helped grow.

I can imagine a community farm, or at least a garden, but I doubt many others can. Well, I'm "old Emmitsburg" and my imaginings, like the town I used to know, are forgettable.

Read other articles by Jack Deatherage, Jr.