From the March 27, 1970 edition of the Vineyard Gazette:

When a man likes what he is doing, he is likely to stop one day and look back and realize that a good portion of his life has passed as if it were only a moment in time since he began. Something like that happened this month to Ralph Harding of Chappaquiddick. It was 40 years ago on March 17 that he first began to work for the Charles A. Welch family on Pimpneymouse Farm, that domain of some 200 acres where today the third generation of the family, Slaters and Potters, enjoy the pleasures Chappy offers the young.

“It feels like it was just yesterday,” Mr. Harding said the other day of that decisive day 40 years ago when he first joined, in a very real sense, the Welch family.

Mr. Harding came to the Vineyard that year to visit his cousin, Charles Harding, who was then the Welches’ caretaker, and it was only a few days later that the visit turned into a permanent stay and he began to work on the farm.

He was no stranger to the Vineyard. He had grown up in Bourne, and in the summer of 1924 he had come to work in Oak Bluffs as a pinboy in the bowling alley.

In 1930, when he began his new life on Chappaquiddick, Pimpneymouse Farm was more rural, in the sense of remoteness, than it is today. The lines to carry electricity and telephone service had not been extended that far inland on the smaller island. The late Mr. Welch envisioned Pimpneymouse as a working farm as well as a summer retreat. Fresh vegetables were raised in abundance, and a small herd of five cows produced a quantity of milk far beyond the needs of the Welch family. Both vegetables and milk were sold during the summers to other families on Chappy.

Mr. Harding has been a part of the life of the three Welch daughters almost all of their remembered lives. Miss Ruth Welch, who lives in Switzerland, was about five years old when he first joined the family. Edith, whom most of Chappy knows as Edo although she is now Mrs. Robert G. Potter Jr., was then only two. And Hope, now Mrs. Allen D. Slater, had just turned a bounceable seven months.

They all grew up with Mr. Harding as a special friend, and now in their turn Mrs. Potter’s and Mrs. Slater’s children are doing the same. The afternoon of children for him has extended to other Chappy youngsters who liked — and still like — to congregate at Pimpneymouse.

“They used to call me the Pied Piper,” Mr. Harding said, “because so many children were following me about all the time.”

After Mr. Welch’s death in 1945, Pimpneymouse Farm’s vegetable and dairy business was discontinued but life, as it is manifested by the special Welch vitality, continued. Eventually, the emphasis shifted to horses, and until three years ago, between 35 and 40 acres of the farm were turned to hay, and Mr. Harding did all the haying. And of course, he has been very much on the scene for the annual Pimpneymouse horse shows given annually to benefit the Cerebral Palsy Camp.

By this time, he had become the sole caretaker of the property. He succeeded Frank Drake in the job in 1949, some years after Mr. Drake had taken over from Mr. Harding’s cousin.

Through the years, a separate but interconnected life was developing for Mr. Harding. He came to Pimpneymouse as a young bachelor. He was to meet, court and then marry the former Miss Marion Devine, who died four years ago, and to have a daughter of his own, Marion, now Mrs. Alan Duckworth, and a grandson, another Ralph. He and his own family live just a five-minute walk from Pimpneymouse. On his own place, Mr. Harding had always kept his own garden, and one bumper year he raised 47 bushels of potatoes.

So the years went by, and so did a part of a life as perhaps life can best be lived, accumulating the affections to be given positive expression. There were gifts for Mr. Harding from the Welch family and from their cousins, the Cheever Tylers. And there was a special party attended by as many members of the family as possible, assembled on Chappaquiddick to honor their loyal friend.

There were letters, too.

“The gift we have for you I hope, in a small way,” Mrs. Slater wrote, “will indicate how very much it has meant to Mother and the three of us to have you a part of the Welch family for 40 years.”

From Switzerland, Miss Ruth Welch wrote: “I was just over 5 when you came, and to me it seems I have already led a full life in those 40 years. It must be funny to see us all grown up and another generation coming along . . . Many times you must have laughed at our ‘projects’ and been amused by certain things we did, yet you were always there behind us, and we could depend on you, just as Daddy did in 1930. That is a rare privilege in life, to really be able to depend on someone, no matter what.”

These words help explain, if any explanation were necessary, why Mr. Harding said this week, “I don’t know of any better family to work for.”

Now at 61, the Pied Piper of Pimpneymouse hopes to continue working, as he with typical modesty said, “as long as I can do any good.”

Compiled by Hilary Wall