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Snapshots: Ellen Young

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Posted on January 18, 2010 | Blog Category:
By Andrea Suozzo



Ellen Young's yellow farmhouse sits on a rise of land in Shoreham, set apart from the road by a tidy stone wall. Inside, the wood beams of the living room hold paintings, and two old wooden wheels hang from the ceiling. All of the decorations in the room have memories attached, stretching back to a time when a small dairy farm and 30 cows could easily support a family.

Ellen grew up just a few yards down the road on a dairy farm run by her parents, Ada and Joseph Burgess. Years before, in 1888, Ada's parents had come to Vermont from Canada and bought the 300-acre farm.

"The farm certainly supported our family very well," said Ellen. "It wouldn't today."

Today there are no cows on the farm — the people who bought the farm from the Burgess family bought extra land and raise pheasants there.

But long before that, Ada's parents ran a successful farm. After her brother died, the family hired Joseph, a young man from Quebec, to help out with the animals. Joseph spoke no English and Ada spoke no French, but they became friends all the same. Ada could understand some of what Joseph was saying, since her parents had spoken French to her as a little girl, and they found ways to communicate. Soon enough, the two were married, and Joseph, who had had only a few years of schooling, resolved to learn English.

"He took his coming here very seriously," said Ellen. "He thought that if he were going to be an American, he needed to become one."

So he asked for the English names of things, then wrote them phonetically on pieces of paper. While he was on the plow in the fields, he would pull out the paper and repeat the names he'd learned over and over, adding words one at a time to his knowledge of the English language.

Around 20 years after Ada and Joseph had gotten married, long after Joseph had learned English and become an American citizen, officials stopped the family at the Canadian border as they were returning home from visiting his family. They informed Ada that she was not an American citizen and that she could not re-enter the country of her birth.

It turned out that according to a 1907 citizenship law, a woman acquired her husband's citizenship upon marriage, meaning that an American woman who married an alien within the United States lost her citizenship. In 1922 the law was changed to make a woman's citizenship independent of her husband's, but since Ada had married during that 14-year stretch, she was not an American citizen.

At the consulate in Montreal, the officials were sympathetic. Ada's lack of citizenship was merely a bureaucratic error, and it should have been reinstated after 1922. Nonetheless, the family was in Montreal for two weeks waiting for the papers to be processed.

Back home in Shoreham, the dairy farm was busy. Ada and Joseph had five children, two boys and three girls. The two boys were the oldest, and they did much of the farm work, along with an uncle who lived on the farm.

The three girls — Ellen was the middle one — were sometimes called upon to help pushing hay. They would stand at the corners of the barn and grab the hay bales as they were tossed, spreading them out until the hay was knee-deep and when they tried to walk, they risked falling on their faces. Apart from that, the girls didn't do much farm work.

"My mother had milked from the time she was a little girl, and she milked until she died — she was 90," said Ellen. "She said, 'Don't ever learn to milk, because you'll milk for the rest of your life.' And it's true. If one of the boys needed to go someplace, it was Mom who went to the milk room."

Instead, the girls' job was to come out to the barn with their mother when she had to milk, to hold the cow's tail out of the way and sing to help pass the time.

Ellen went to Castleton College to become a teacher, and taught in Middlebury for several years. After she married veterinarian Ward Goss, she took a break from teaching to do bookkeeping at the animal hospital and to take care of her children.


Ellen Young with her six children on a recent Christmas — from left, in back, Amy, Patty, Dale and Betsy, and in front, Lawrence, Ellen and Ron.

Ellen, Ward and their six children lived in a house on Washington Street in Middlebury, where the Middlebury Animal Hospital is today. During the summer of 1968, when her youngest was eight months old and just after her oldest child had turned nine, she took the children on vacation. In the middle of the night while they were away, the house burned to the ground. Dr. Goss was in the house at the time and died in the fire.

"At first I just couldn't think. But I knew I wanted some place where I felt at home — something I knew," said Ellen.

So she and her six small children returned to Shoreham, and she set out to fix up the house just down the road from the farm — the house where her grandmother had lived, which had sat empty for years. Once she had fixed the house inside and out, she set about collecting things that would turn the house into a home.

Ellen stayed at home with her children, returning to teaching only after the youngest had entered grade school.

Around five years after she moved into her grandmother's house, she met John Young. A neighbor friend had been trying to introduce them for some time.

"I said, 'I have six kids. I don't need a seventh one to take care of,'" said Ellen.

But her neighbor succeeded in bringing them together, and eventually they were married.

"He took me with six kids, and some of them were teenagers by then," she said. "That's not a fun time to start raising children. He did a good job."

That was 35 years ago. It's been three years now since John Young died.

"You don't ever get over missing them," said Ellen. "I just feel fortunate that I had two very good marriages."

Over the years, Ellen filled the house with her own paintings, old tools collected from the dairy farm and all sorts of odds and ends. Now there's barely an inch of the house that doesn't have a story associated with it, and Ellen has books and books of stories she's written down — stories of her life, of her travels and of her children and grandchildren. She gives the books she's compiled as Christmas presents so that the stories won't be forgotten.

"I always tell them that if they write it down, it's always there," she said.

Andrea does reporting and online media for the Addison Independent. You can find her on Twitter here or see other Snapshots entries here. Feel free to weigh in on this post or suggest future topics, either in the comments section below or at andreas [at] addisonindependent.com.

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