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Life at Twin Pines Farm

Posted October 1st, 2018  |  By A4A.admin

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A Woman’s Life on Twin Pines Farm, 1845-1938 tells the story of poet Nancy Huxtable Mohr’s family through poetry, photos and items from her farm and other collections during the era of the Suffragist Movement. Mohr’s book, The Well, Poems from Twin Pines Farm, is based on the diaries and letters found in a pine trunk recounting the lives of Mohr’s grandmothers, along with family stories passed through generations and Mohr’s own experience growing up on the farm in the 1950’s.

Nancy Huxtable Mohr was born a farmer’s daughter and raised on Twin Pines Farm in Upstate New York. She graduated from Cornell University and has a California State Teacher’s Credential. She lives in Northern California and has worked in the arts for 50 years both professionally and as a volunteer and taught with California Poets in the Schools. She is published in literary journals. The Well, Poems from Twin Pines Farm is her first book. Mohr was the Development Director at CSMA from 1985-88, and believes strongly in the mission of the school and the value of the arts.

Meet Nancy, enjoy her poetry, and learn more about the Women’s Suffrage Movement at the artist reception on Sunday, October 7 from 3pm-5pm.

Tell us about your inspiration for the book.

The Well, Poems from Twin Pines Farm, was inspired by letters and diaries found in a pine trunk at the farmhouse where 200 years of family have lived. I grew up with stories about our ancestors and how they settled in the wilderness of Upstate New York. The men’s letters and diaries told about milk production, health issues, and the other struggles of farmers. The women’s stories were about children and the hard work of the household, as well as the farm, war, religion, their inner lives and personal struggles - all ripe words for poems.
I have always been fascinated with these stories - especially the stories and letters from my 3 grandmothers, starting with Rhoba Williams. She walked from Rhode Island to begin a new life with her husband and two small children in 1797.
The farm passed through the women in my family mostly; it also seemed appropriate that my poems centered on them. When you tell the stories of their lives, you tell the story of the land. I was inspired to write the book when I realized that many of the young people in my family, including my grandchildren, had no idea about their ancestors. Stories had stopped being told around the table. Hopefully, they now have a better idea of this rich heritage.
In addition, my years growing up on the farm in the 1950’s have inspired many poems. The second half of the book covers my life as a child there and reflections on it from a life 3000 miles away.

What is your writing process like?

I have been writing poetry since I was a small child. My Great Aunt Maude loved poetry and read it to me constantly when she visited. My Great Aunt Laura was a poet and a force of nature. She was president of the Robert Browning Society in Boston and gave poetry recitals up and down the East Coast. When she visited us on the farm, she would stand on hay bales at family gatherings and force everyone to listen for long sessions of poetry.
They both taught me that to be a poet is a solitary and a shared passion. I have studied poetry for years, both in college and after, in poetry groups and in independent study at Stanford. A night owl, I do most of my writing in the wee hours when the house is quiet. I belong to two poetry groups for shared critiques once a month.
I send poems to various quarterly magazines on a regular basis and have become very comfortable with rejection! This is my first book, although I have also written a chapbook titled Seasons.

Please share details about your own life at Twin Pines Farm.

I was born in the 1950’s into a huge farm family in Central New York. I still have approximately 100 relatives in a 10 mile radius, plus many others scattered across the country. I had wonderfully loving and fun parents and 4 siblings, plus a huge assortment of aunts, uncles and cousins. In addition to dairy farming, my father taught in the local high school for 30 years and was a NY Assemblyman for 14 years. In addition to raising 5 children and running a 15-room farmhouse, my mother was a librarian and a social worker, as well as doing all the flowers for the church and running a 4-H program. Needless to say, they understood hard work! They carried the same strong message of the importance of faith, patriotism and being good caretakers of the land.
Our mother was a big believer in the importance of music and art. We did housework on Saturdays with the noon program from the Metropolitan Opera. I took piano lessons for 8 years and of course, reading and poetry were ever present.
Our extended family has a history of military service, social work and community involvement.  We still gather once a year on the 4th of July and celebrate our love of family and country together (this year, there were 94 of us). As a 12th descendant of Roger Williams of Rhode Island, I am very lucky that our family has a strong interest in preserving our New England heritage. When I was little, the kids were lined up according to height at family gatherings and had to go down the line and recite our lineage back to Roger Williams. If you couldn’t do it, you were eliminated and the last kid standing won.
We had a huge farm to roam and discover our own adventures. In the summer, we were sent out the door and told to come home at mean time. We had chores in the house and on the farm, as well as our own animals to raise at county fairs. We had a flower and vegetable garden that was at least half an acre. Freezing and canning were a summer project for everyone. Tapping trees for maple syrup was a winter project that consumed the family for a few weeks as winter fell away. All of it was good for poetry!

Tell us about the photographs and objects on display as part of the exhibition.

The watercolor and lithograph of Twin Pines Farm are from my personal collection, along with the black and white photographs of the land at Twin Pines. I included three pictures of my paternal grandmothers and poems from the book. The exhibit contains a collection of objects from Twin Pines, items from the 1845-1938 era from Vickie Grove (CSMA’s Executive Director), and objects on loan from the Museum of American History in Palo Alto. Because the exhibit focuses on the time period of the Women’s Suffrage Movement, there are examples and pictures of the era’s style of dress and sashes that were often worn.

What else would you like to share about the exhibition?

The first effort to give women the vote in the United States was in Seneca Falls, NY in 1845 - not far from Twin Pines Farm. Petitions signed during the era show several relatives signed, but not my grandmothers. Maybe they were too busy tending to children and working the farm. I have no doubt from their writings that they supported women’s rights. Because this is the 100th Anniversary of the Women’s Suffrage Movement and this is an exhibition to commemorate it, my presentation on October 7 will focus on the time period of 1845-1938. These are the dates of my great grandmother Helen’s life, and also includes my great, great great grandmother Rhoba and great great grandmother Elizabeth. When the 19th Amendment passed in 1920, my grandmother Helen was 85 and no longer living at Twin Pines.

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