Charles W. Bauhan (1861-1938), sketch of a dandelion gatherer, April 25, 1911. (Collection of Joseph Ditta)
In the early years of the twentieth century, after the Bennett family sold the bulk of the farmland surrounding their Gravesend homestead — the Wyckoff-Bennett House at 1669 East 22nd Street — the soil, no longer planted to crops, erupted in wildflowers. “The land, waiting to be developed, turned into meadows where as a child I gathered wild strawberries. Elderberries ripened for jelly, blackberries for pies.” So recalled Gertrude Ryder Bennett (1901-1982) in her memoir, Living in a Landmark (Francestown, New Hampshire: Marshall Jones Company, 1980). “In early spring each year, colorful dandelion gatherers came from the city with knives and worked in the meadows until almost sunset, filling huge bags and taking them away.” Gertrude’s mother, the poet Nellie May Bennett (1873-1951), penned a sonnet inspired by one of these women:
A hungry hawk could be no more intent
Than she with yellow kerchief, crimson shawl
And purple apron. Shabby, shapeless, bent
Above the field with eager blade, the call
Of mating robins fails to flush her seamed
And sallow cheek. Could she have been that gay
And blushing, dark eyed flower girl who dreamed
Of love and life in newer lands one day
In Italy? . . . With bold dexterity
She cuts the tender weeds, a silent thing
That moves from patch to patch inquiringly.
A leaf of autumn in a field of spring.
Upon her head she lifts her bulging load
And stately, proudly takes the dusty road.
Charles W. Bauhan (1861-1938), Dandelion gathering, April 25, 1911. (Collection of Joseph Ditta)
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