(Mother of nine says balance key to good life)
By Sara L. Cummings - St. Albans Messenger Correspondent
FAIRFAX-Anyone searching for the secrets of lifelong success, happiness, and longevity might learn a lesson or two from Imogene Collins.
At 93, this native Vermonter and long-time resident of Fairfax continues to remain highly active in the community and according to many is a joy to know.
A mother of nine, grandmother and great-grandmother to many more, she is no stranger to the fine balance between hard work and light-hearted play as a means to maintaining one's health and well-being.
Imogene Collins, seen above (front row, second from right), always has lived an active life. How could she help but be busy with a family of nine children to raise?
To prove that, she can list among her many interests being a Boston Red Sox and Celtics fan and occasional casino enthusiast.
She says that the balance between work and play was struck early on her life when her time was divided between her family's dairy farm and the one room schoolhouse in Enosburg where she received her education.
Planting and handling farm chores, including caring for more than two dozen cows, all of which had to be hand-milked twice a day, was no small task from childhood through adult years.
"It was hard work, and the work had to he done every day, morning and night. I had a few cows that I milked, "Mrs. Collins said. "When the cows' milk production declined, they were shipped out on the trains in St. Albans.
"We had one little cow once that we called Pumpkinseed. She was just a little thing; she followed us around everywhere we went and we loved her. One winter my father told us that Pumpkinseed had had enough of the cold weather and he was putting her on the train so she could go to Florida!"
Even going to school was a bit of an adventure. There was one teacher responsible for educating eight separate grades in the core subjects of reading, writing, mathematics, history and geography, all the while keeping the fire in the woodstove from dying out and maintaining strict discipline among students of varying ages.
"There were only two or three to a class," she said. "The bigger boys would chop the wood to keep the schoolhouse warm. It would get so cold in there sometimes that we were all allowed to sit in a circle around the stove, which was in the middle of the room."
Neighborly gatherings, then, especially during the grueling winter months, were particularly helpful for breaking up the monotonous routine of the difficult and often stressful work that had to be done unconditionally.
"Four or five times a winter, all of the neighbors would gather for dancing. Someone would move all of their furniture out of the kitchen and the ladies would all bring sandwiches. There was nothing usually but a piano and a fiddle and oh, that was always a lot of fun," she remembered.
"The people all took turns hosting the dancing. Those dances were always a good time."
Wintertime sleighing and sliding, too, served as freespirited fun, and often there were plays carried out by local actors for the viewing pleasure of the community.
Mrs. Collins' tradition of a highly active lifestyle continued into her adulthood when she married and raised a family of nine children.
Annually growing and preserving everything that a family of 11 required in order to remain well fed throughout the long Vermont winters was no easy task.
"We used to pick and can some 400 quarts of blackberries," she said.
Maple sugaring was done with the use of horses, trudging from tree to tree through deep snow, carrying buckets to collect the sap, and boiling it down over great wood fires in sugarhouses that were lit with kerosene lanterns.
"That was before the sap lines," she said of advances in sugarmaking today. "It was hard on the horses, too. My father would be at the sugar house all day every day for weeks."
Even in later years, Mrs. Collins' jovial presence in her community has not waned. Her assistance and enthusiasm working with the Maple Festival in St. Albans has won her local fame. Her involvement with Franklin County Field Days is also something she has enjoyed.
She continues to crochet stunning pieces, as well, an example of which is displayed at the funeral home in Fairfax.
She said she finds immense joy in the company of others and in being productive.
For Mrs. Collins, the recipe for success, happiness and longevity seem to be found in working hard, maintaining community involvement, taking pleasure in the company of others, and always maintaining a cheerful disposition and a penchant for playful mischief.
"There was always plenty of hard work but there was always plenty of laughter, too." she said.
It has been said that laughter is the best medicine and Mrs. Collins will not argue with that.
"I'm always up for a joke," she said.
At left, Mrs. Imogene Collins (foreground) knits as her daughter, Mary Ellen Wright, of Essex, watches. The ninety-three-year-old Mrs. Collins can easily recall earlier days, but some things, such as family, fun and work are constants in life, she says