It’s foliage season, also known as “bus season,” at Morse Farm. Although a bit unorthodox compared to other farmers’ gleanings of corn or wheat, my take includes meeting interesting folks who live all over the world. I always make light of my name to bus groups. “My name’s Burr,” I say, hesitating for effect, ”That’s my winter name!” It gets a laugh and sometimes a gentle brainteaser from the audience, “What’s your summer name?” To that I respond, “Ain’t summer ‘nough t’bother with!”
“Burr” has been my handle for 65 years now, dating back to the day Dot Morse gave birth to me and 3-year-old sister Susie couldn’t pronounce “baby brother.” Although much more thought usually goes into naming a puppy, “Brrrrrrr” stuck to me like a blizzard snowstorm to the January countryside.
For formality’s sake, they did give me a proper name, Harry Irving Morse Jr. but I didn’t pay much attention to it until I got to Montpelier High School and everyone started calling me Harry. Enter the beginning of decades of confusion in my life. For years and years, I didn’t know my name. From high school on through two colleges when someone asked me my name, I’d agonize and hesitate, “Bah ... Bah...Barry” or “Hur ... Hur ... Hurry.” It would often end with the person giving me a gentle pat like, you know, I wasn’t quite “right” and walking away. It really got tough when I went away to the Army, where my little quirk sometimes ended in 25 pushups. “Git down n’give me 25, trainee. Then maybe you’ll remember yer name!” Here in my waning years, it’s pretty well settled out. I always use “Burr” except for occasional times, like with the IRS, where an alias just don’t “cut it.”
A while back, a visitor from the South approached me after my sugarhouse presentation: “Ah was struck bah yer name and thot y’might like t’hear ‘bout mah friend.” He went on to say that his friend Joe named his newborn son “X.” “That’s right, just X,” he said, “and ah’ll be dad-gummed if Joe dittn’t do it juss so the boy’d always know how t’sign his name!” I laughed at the man’s story, but also found it a bit troublesome that the dad minimized his son’s intelligence even before the kid had a chance to grow up.
And speaking of intelligence, my last “weird name” subject comes from right here in the neighborhood. Dave Newhall, also known as “Buffalo” Newhall, grew up on a farm right on the edge of the Winooski River in Middlesex. When he was a young man, the farm got split in half by the building of Interstate 89. Buffalo had to find work elsewhere but the demise of the Newhall place never took away his nostalgia. Even though he says that he “failed English and hated history,” he went on to vicariously “live the farm life” through writing about central Vermont farm life and, what else, history.
In his simplistic style, Buffalo writes about things as varied as “Going to the Sugarhouse for Sugar-on-Snow” to “Gone Hunting” with an O. Henry ending (he doesn’t own a gun). He’s currently writing his memoirs and says he’s made a deal with his daughter to have them published after he dies. When that day comes, and I hope it’s not for a long time, it’ll be a must read.
I recently asked Buffalo how he got his name and he didn’t have a clue: “They just started calling me Buffalo one day” he said.
It seems that over time, people take on the essence of their names. I can’t imagine not being a “Burr” (sometimes, no doubt, a burr in people’s sides). I hope that X grew up to be a famous brain surgeon just to spite his old man, but I know the scoop on Buffalo Newhall. Like the noble beast whose name he shares, he represents history, country living, and an essential slice of Americana.
Burr Morse operates Morse Farm Sugarworks. He lives in East Montpelier.
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