John Sillick Reprise
(This 774th Buffalo Sunday News column was first published on January 29, 2006.)
The John Sillick Reading Room at Royalton-Hartland High School
The quotation reads: The sky may be exploding on the horizon,
But the rumble of the belly is closer to home.
Bliss is where you find it.-- John Sillick
Last week I attended the dedication of an attractive section of the Royalton-Hartland library to former Buffalo News "Alps Road Journal" columnist, John Sillick. In a brief but moving ceremony, John's students and school colleagues read from his columns. For the many readers who continue to ask about him and for those who haven't yet met him, I offer one from 1999 recited at that ceremony. Recall as you read that John was also a full-time teacher:
"I'm not sure about anyone else's, but my life doesn't start and stop like the calendar says it should. As artificial as this New Year business is, it still provided grist for my writer's mill as I scribbled a couple of pages in my journal to describe good things that had happened in the past year.
"1998 was a busy time on the farm. We fenced about 20 acres of new pasture in the hope that we wouldn't have to import hay again as we had to do last summer. We reduced the herd by culling eleven cows and selling all last spring's calves. Our goal now is to raise fewer calves and do it better by not pushing the pastures as hard.
"We had a new well dug that exceeded our expectations and solved our barn water problems. Every time I look down in the casing and see a thousand gallons of cold water I feel rich.
"We reseeded a pasture section to an alfalfa and grass mixture. We logged some mature trees from the woods and had 4,000 board feet of lumber sawed for building and furniture making. The slab wood is still piled, waiting to be cut for winter fuel.
"In the fall, Kathleen brought out our book of collected columns and sold 95 percent of the first printing by Christmas. We enjoyed meeting friends at book signings and making many new acquaintances. On the essay shelf in the library in town, I found myself standing between Erma Bombeck and Andy Rooney, admirable company. "I'm living in a nice neighborhood," I told librarians Maggie and Eleanor.
"Over the year, we tinkered off and on remodeling a space for a family room. We put in new windows but got little else accomplished. Something else always came up.
"On the family front, things have gone well. The kids have had productive years at work and school."
"Kathleen and I enjoyed long visits with our sisters and their husbands. We have tried to give ourselves more time at home by reducing the hours we spend at our day jobs. I gave up advising the school yearbook, and Kathleen cut back her hours at the doctor's office to two days a week.
"The ledger of 1998 is full of the tally of everyday things, too: a thousand meals prepared, hundreds of loads of wash done, a tractor and a pickup truck overhauled, bushels of stuff from the garden harvested, 30,000 miles driven, manure hauled, firewood cut, windows washed, lawns mowed, chickens dressed for the freezer, maple syrup boiled, a half‑dozen cases of bovine pink‑eye cured.
"In between the bouts of work there has been time to swim, drink coffee with friends, say the rosary, go fishing, sit by a campfire, spend a week at the cottage, watch the sun rise and set, scout bluebirds, pray for rain, and fly kites.
"Our plans for 1999 hope for more of the same, with some additional things thrown in for good measure. We want to put in a new strawberry patch, pay more attention to both the vegetable and flower gardens. We want to try to share work more often, rather than work separately. We'd like to spend more time with my brothers' families who live close by.
"I wrote these things as the teacup got cold and my eyes got heavy. I listened to the wind whistle around the corners of this old house. Then I went to bed to rest up after a long year and get ready for a new one."
Unfortunately, things did not go so well for John. In September 2003, this young teacher and farmer died in a tractor accident. Thankfully we now have a memorial which will remind us of a fine friend.-- Gerry Rising