The tractor broke down, but Sally Hicks is still kicking.
Primed for her fast approaching 83rd birthday, the Providence city girl turned Scituate farmer credits “keeping busy” with longevity and happiness.
“My kids know, don’t ever leave me without a running tractor,” Hicks laughed as she stepped through the door of her home’s sun porch. “That tractor has been here as long as I have.”
She looked toward the late fall frosted fields. The sun was shining on her land.
In the middle of one field, the old piece of trusty farm equipment sat idle, its soft parts slowly deteriorating; a leather and heavy metal meal devoured by the elements.
Sally was working as a waitress in her family’s diner more than 60 years ago when she first met Earl Hicks.
He was selling welding supplies and loved stopping by Hope’s Diner, on Route 6 in Foster, to order Sally’s mother’s beef stew.
“He loved my mother’s beef stew,” Sally repeated, blushing.
Earl was 15 years older. Sally didn’t care.
“I used to be hot stuff back then,” she said, as she stepped high over mounds of snaking field growth. “That’s our old Massey Ferguson tractor. I’ll get her running again.”
Sally Hicks is becoming a regular at the Johnston Senior Center.
“I went to BINGO and all of a sudden I’m working there,” she laughed. “I help out by selling cards. And I still play of course. I love to play BINGO.”
At 19 years old, in 1959, Sally moved from her parents’ home in Providence to her new husband’s family farm in Scituate. Six months later, Earl’s mother died. She had been the primary animal caretaker on the farm.
The vital position now vacant, Sally had little choice but to step up and fill Earl’s mother’s big pair of barn boots.
“Earl’s parents and family had been in the area for almost 200 years,” Sally said, seated at her kitchen table, spreading newspaper clippings, photos and war medals across its surface.
“Earl’s mother had a heart attack and passed away and there was no one to milk the cows or handle the farm,” she recalled. “I had never milked cows before. I was never on a farm.”
Eventually, in addition to cow-tending, Sally learned how to care for pigs, rabbits, goats and sheep.
She and her husband increased the farm’s herd little by little, until it reached 200 cows.
One poor mother cow birthed triplets — a rare occurrence for a heifer. The event led to a big story in the Providence Journal, headlined, “The Hickses Unhappily Announce: Triplets.”
Earl Hicks had been to war; as a sailor he served in the Pacific during World War II.
“He was an old Yankee and didn’t like to spend money,” Sally said, smiling and looking at his old sailor photo.
Sally and Earl Hicks had six children; four girls and two boys.
“They all had to work the farm,” Hicks said. “I’d like to give them some credit, where credit is due. From oldest to youngest, there’s Tammy, Kim, Barbara, Jesse, Sue Ellen, and Jamie.”
Sally’s kids participated in the local 4H Club.
“I was their 4H leader,” Sally remembered. “They had a lot to do with the farm. I should include them, because it wasn’t just my husband and I alone.”
Sometimes, it was tough to determine which herd was more difficult to wrangle: the animals or the kids.
“As they got older, it certainly was the kids,” Sally laughed. “They were all good kids. The farm kept them busy.”
Earl Hicks died in 1995. Shortly after, a lifelong family friend, Frank Lewis, who lived nearby, moved in to keep Sally company.
He owned and worked on racecars — mini-sprints and widow makers. Sally helped him.
The pair became regular fixtures on automobile racetracks throughout the northeastern United States.
“I met a lot of nice people,” Sally said. “The best people in the world are race people.”
Frank was also a veteran. He had served in the Army.
They eventually married in 2006, and Frank Lewis, who had been fighting a terminal cancer diagnosis, passed away later that year.
Sally just started slowing down when she discovered the event-packed calendar at the Johnston Senior Center.
“I’m a pusher,” she said. “I’m a go-getter. I only slowed down because I recently had heart surgery.”
She walked out into the middle of the field and stood next to the broken down old Massey Ferguson tractor.
“It looks like it’s just about done,” she said of the stalled antique; its tires starting to deflate, flattening and sinking into the soil. “We’ll get it going again. It’s not done yet.”
Editor’s Note: This is the first installment of a new ongoing Johnston Sun Rise series titled “Senior Spotlight.” The Sun Rise will be interviewing local seniors about the interesting lives they’ve led, and publishing the results. If you’d like to nominate a senior for our Spotlight series, email Editor Rory Schuler at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 401-732-3100.
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