In the summertime, William and Minnie piled the kids into their Stanley Steamer and trekked over the sand and dirt roads of Maine and New Hampshire to the farms of William’s sisters, Dell and Nettie, high on Croyden Mountain, near Newport, NH. They’d start before dawn so they could watch the sun rise as they ate breakfast on Breakfast Hill, looking down and watching the mist rise from the valley below. As the day wore on, they’d stop at historical places and enjoy the beauty of the countryside. Once they came down a hill and a huge boulder had washed down a hillside, blocking their way. At the bottom of each hill, the kids would tumble out and gratefully stretch their legs with a walk up the hill as the Steamer “slowly made the grade” – with Mother Minnie “encased in a duster and veil.” Always they stopped at the local springs, drinking the fresh water right out of the earth.
The sisters’ farmhouses were well scrubbed – “immaculate but also homey and livable,” Frances recalled. Just before the Davis’s arrived after their long, dusty journey, the family would stop by the Sugar River where the kids would wash off and change into their Sunday best, ready for the bountiful dinner of “homemade goodies” they knew awaited them at the farmhouse up the mountain. Each year, the two sets of Uncles and Aunts would be out on the lawn waiting for them, ready with a “warm, loving greeting.”
Nettie and Ellie Coming’s “Maple Wood Farm” was just up the road on Croyden Mountain from the farm of sister Della and her husband, Henry Sawyer. In summers Frances and Hollon stayed at Maple Wood Farm for several weeks. Hollon helped around the barn and trimmed the lawn, which felt “like stepping on a velvet carpet,” Frances recalled. Uncle Ellie bought Frances her first pair of rubbers, “black and shiny,” which she took to bed with her and then put on to go out and help him feed the chickens and milk the cows. Frances helped her Aunt Nettie with the housework, the milk equipment, and gathering the eggs. Together, the children helped with the haying. In their free time, the kids enjoyed the freedom to explore – such a different landscape compared to Sanford, the “second largest town in Maine” at the time. One afternoon Hollon and Fran decided to ride one of the cows and they put a saddle on its back, preparing to mount, when Uncle Ellie came out and said, “Now Hollon and Frances, you shouldn’t do that to a cow.” Because Frances would later marry a farmer, she was grateful for the skills she learned at Maple Wood Farm – polishing the lamps in the house, preparing the milk stools and lamps for the barn, cleaning the cream separator, and taking care of the animals.
Nettie and Ellie managed a large sugar orchard and occasionally the kids would get to help them tap the trees in the spring, then make the maple syrup and maple sugar right in the woods. The season always ended with a big party. They’d give the children some syrup to place on the snow until it hardened and then let it melt in their mouths. Each year Nettie and Ellie sent a ten-pound pail of syrup and a batch of small maple sugar cakes for the Sanford clan to enjoy as long as they could make it last.