The Curreys’ sons, Jon, 27, and Rob, 28, form the nucleus of the group, backed up by Rob’s wife, Joy, Art’s siblings andtheir spouses, cousins, neighbors, friends, and even members of the Finnish family that Art stayed with as a foreign exchange student in high school. When the guest-workers gather around Betty’s long, maple kitchen table in their flannelshirts and Carhartts, with their bed-heads tucked under caps, it feels, says Jan, “Like there’s no place you’d rather be.”
That this flock of professional people and college students all show up, in arguably the North’s dreariest season, to exhaust themselves with 12-hour-plus days for pay doled out in gallons of syrup, is testament to Art’s knack for teaching the satisfaction that comes from rural labor. Count among those lessons the time, decades ago, that Art, Jan and their boys hand-planted 3,500 spruce and pine seedlings on their Fowlerville homestead—trees that grew to be a U-Cut Christmas tree business that helped put the boys through college.
“Dad always seemed to find a project that he used to develop a relationship with us,” says Rob, a graduate student at Duke University in North Carolina. “Shared work, shared burden, that’s the way our family bonds. It’s weird and maybe a little twisted but that’s the way we are,” he adds with a laugh.
Come maple syrup season, the helpers who’ve rallied fill Betty’s big farmhouse and a smaller one adjacent to it, sleeping in beds and on blow-up mattresses and eating whatever recipe Jan and Betty have pulled together in two Crock-Pots or a roaster in the morning. Once in a while everyone gathers to watch a movie after dinner. But within minutes, Jan says, the folks who’ve claimed the three comfy recliners are snoring.