My Great Adventures…..A Journal

This WordPress.com site follows my happy trails.

Month: April, 2013

Greyhound and Heroes

Mom’s sister Greeta and her husband Frank lived in Syracuse, NY. She also had a sister Doris and her husband Larry who lived in Newark Valley, NY. Both families had children who were close to the ages of the children in our family. Greeta and Doris raised their families in one area while our family was always on the move. It was always a special occasion when our families could get together. Grandma’s farm in Winthrop, NY was the place for summer meetings of everyone. In later years our families would visit each other at one home or the other. These visits weren’t really what you would call an adventure, just quality family time. My uncles Frank and Larry received a lot of respect from me.

Uncle Frank was able to visit our family in New York fairly often. He drove a Greyhound bus and would visit when his schedule allowed. If you want to be the most popular kid in the neighborhood, just have your Uncle park his big old Greyhound bus in your front yard. All the kids large and small got to experience the bus. After dark Uncle Frank would turn on the interior lights for us. He would turn on the PA (public address) system and let us talk into the microphone. It was always a special experience when Uncle Frank showed up. During the fall Uncle Frank would bring his shotgun and I would take him small game hunting in the local areas. Our bond, between an uncle and a young nephew, was based on mutual respect and honesty established from quality hours hunting together.

Dad and Uncle Larry had a common bond because they both served in the Pacific Theater during World War Two. Uncle Larry was very outgoing, friendly, and fun to be around. My respect for Uncle Larry came as a result of learning about his war experiences and injuries. Dad explained some of the things experienced by Uncle Larry. They were never forgotten. Having lost my paternal father in World War Two, I had great admiration for people like my step dad and Uncle Larry who survived the war. My relationship with Uncle Larry was never personal like with Uncle Frank, but he was special in my world.

My experiences with Uncles Frank and Larry were very brief………….the memories have been long term.

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Brook Cider

Our family rented a house in Louisville, NY. It was a good central location for Dad to get to work during the construction of the St Lawrence Seaway. We lived close to the Grass River. There was plenty of good hunting, fishing, and trapping within walking distance. Older children attended school in Massena, NY. Due to the large number of construction families in the area my sister Sharon and myself attended half day classes. This was a young teenagers dream. We caught our bus at 11:30 AM  for the afternoon session. This gave us from daybreak until almost mid day to pursue all kinds of activities.

Several of us teenagers in Louisville renovated an old building in the woods about a mile out of Louisville. It was our camp/clubhouse. People gave us old lumber, furniture, utensils , etc. for the camp. Nothing fancy, but the roof didn’t leak and the floor was solid. We had a small wood stove and used lanterns for light. In the fall we would have our own hard cider.

Apples dropped off trees or not good enough to sell for eating would be used by local people with apple trees or orchards to make cider. The apple season and cider making started after several good frosts in the fall. We would buy the cider at roadside stands or in local stores. It was reasonably priced. We had a great place in a cold brook for cider. The water was about four inches deep and fast moving. The sun hit the water in this location most of the day and the surrounding area got a good frost every night. We would set our gallon jugs in the water, loosen the cap, and leave it for several days. Good old mother nature, cold nights, sunny days, and cold water allowed the cider to ferment into hard cider. This wasn’t whiskey type, sour, hard cider that half poisoned you. This was slightly tart, barely sweet, hard cider suitable to drink. Nothing scientific, just give it the right conditions and let mother nature do her thing.We shared many meals of fresh cooked fish, fresh wild game, in season vegetables, and hard cider in that old building.

Most kids today wouldn’t consider a camp where you had to walk a mile……….and there Mom’s would never tolerate half day schools.

Bear Brook…….Life Lessons

There is no comfort in the world like that of a remote or wilderness camp. The warmth, smells, and security just wrap you up in good feelings. This was how my adventure at Bear Brook camp remains in my memories. It also turned into a good learning experience.

Dad loved to hunt and fish. He was notorious for getting to the best hunting and fishing locations before anyone else. On our first day at Bear Brook my hunting companion was Uncle Bob. Dad had a special stand and wanted to get on it before anybody else left camp. He was out the door before breakfast was half cooked. Uncle Bob hunted along some old burn areas with a lot of young growth trees and shrubs while I quietly followed. There was a good frost on the ground when we left camp. By mid day the sun carried a lot of warmth. We stood on a low hill watching a fairly clear area in the warm sun. Uncle Bob said “Kenny, if I was a big old buck I’d be laying down in the sun and taking a nap. We should do the same thing.” He found a downed log to recline against while facing the sun and made himself comfortable. In no time Uncle Bob was sound asleep. His nap lasted about twenty minutes and my eyes were continually scanning the area looking for deer. As I look back Uncle Bob had his priorities in order.  The deer probably did too. There was no way, however, you would catch this thirteen year old napping in the middle of the day.

Dad taught me a lesson in animals and living on this trip. We were watching for deer on the edge of a beaver pond. A beaver’s nose broke water in the middle of the pond and the beaver immediately slapped a warning with his tail and swam away underwater. It sounded like a cannon going off in the quiet of the woods. Dad explained the difference between a beaver’s behavior and a deer’s behavior. The beaver is very familiar with his surroundings. When it surfaced it immediately knew something wasn’t right, because we were standing near the pond. The beaver sounded the alarm and went away. A deer in the same situation would react completely different. If you remained motionless and downwind the deer would never notice you. If it did sense you were there, the deer would curiously approach to confirm your presence. The disparity between the two animals is also very distinct in some people. Certain people have a very high awareness level and sense of alertness. Others just plod through life with very little awareness and let their curiosity get the best of them.

These memories with Dad and Uncle Bob were special…………..and the persons names Dad used to illustrate his lesson will never be told.

Bear Brook……..getting there.

My Dad and his brothers had a hunting camp named Bear Brook. My first opportunity to go to Bear Brook was a deer hunting trip at thirteen years old. The camp was located out of South Colton,NY in a remote area of the Adirondack Mountains. It was accessed by a crude road during it’s early years. When dams were constructed on the Raquette River the reservoirs cut off the road. A long boat crossing was required to get to the road. A haphazard collection of Model A’s, old trucks, and old tractors were accumulated at the river to provide transportation to the remote camps.

Our adventure started on a Friday evening after everyone finished work and had a few beers or drinks. Dad’s brothers Jim, Harold, Bob, and brother in law Bill were with us. It was about ten at night as we departed on the two hour trip to the boat landing. Everybody had a few more drinks along the way. The boat was pulled out of the water and upside down above the shoreline. We brought the motor with us. The boat was put in the water, had the motor installed, and was loaded with all our gear. We had a lantern and a couple flashlights. There was a little grumbling and arguing as everybody packed the boat and we headed across the river. The night was partly cloudy and the moon provided enough light to get across the open water and close to the landing. A flashlight was used to determine our exact landing spot. We were probably on the water forty five minutes.

They had an old steel wheeled Fordson tractor with a big two wheeled trailer behind it for transportation to camp. It’s the middle of the night. Everybody, but the thirteen year old, has had more than a few drinks. The magneto is installed on the old tractor and it is hand cranked to start. The trailer is loaded with supplies. The only light we had was a flashlight held by somebody in the trailer because it took both hands for Uncle Bob to steer and operate the hand clutch. We had good road for a little ways before crossing the first swampy area. The mud in the ruts was two feet deep and the trailer axle was dragging the center of the road. If the trailer got hooked on a rock or old stump the front end of the tractor would come off the ground. Bob would dump the clutch and the front end would slam back into the mud. Riding in the trailer was near torture, but better than following on foot in the dark. Bob had to back up several times because the front end would jump the ruts and head into the trees. Bob complained he couldn’t see. Dad complained he couldn’t stand up long enough to hold the light. The moon was shining bright by the time we hit camp.

Uncle Jim enjoyed walking alone behind us……………and didn’t have to share his pint with anybody in the trailer.

Fire Keg

In Northeast New York State there is about as much winter as there is any other season. Winter sports and recreation are very popular because most of them can be enjoyed for many months. One of the popular activities for children has always been ice skating. Every place we lived in New York had a local or neighborhood skating pond. These ponds were all sizes, shapes, and descriptions. Most were natural ponds not maintained by anyone except when the snow was shoveled off to allow skating. There were no buildings or infrastructure to support the skating on rural ponds.

When we lived in Winthrop the nearest place to skate was a series of small ponds which bordered a railroad track. We would cut cross country through the woods to get to the ponds. We would carry our skates tied together and hanging around our necks or over one shoulder. We usually had a snow shovel and sometimes our hockey sticks. Our parents never went to the ponds. Older children looked out for the younger ones. One of my great adventures happened on these ponds.

Many boys in their young teens carried matches when fishing, skating, or spending time in the woods. We often gathered wood and kept a fire going as we skated. My fire was built inside an old spike keg we found beside the railroad. The keg was on the ice adjacent to the area we had shoveled off for skating. The fire was built while everyone took off their shoes or boots and put on their skates. My new shoes were covered by black rubber overshoes. When my skates were put on, the shoes were set near the side of the old keg, but back far enough to keep from catching on fire.

We skated for several hours during overcast weather with some gusty winds blowing. It was a fun day. I went to check the fire in the keg and found it burning on top of my new shoes. A gust of wind had rolled the keg sideways. It only took a minute to get the fire away from my shoes, but they were destroyed. How stupid of me. The only way to get home was with my skates on. It was a long somber walk home. Carrying matches was not good, but burning up my shoes was a disaster. Mom would be unhappy. It would be a long few hours waiting for Dad to get home, then it would be time for the belt. I was in a winter sweat watching the clock.

Dad sat me down with a big frown on his face to hear my story. When my story was complete he stared with a blank face, then broke into a huge laugh. The shoes were incidental………… but that laugh hurt almost as much as the belt would have.

Asian Flu

In 1957 and 1958 the world and the United States suffered the Asian Flu Pandemic. When this illness hit our family it left a profound memory with me. The radio, television, and newspapers were full of daily articles on the illness. My memory is very vivid as to the conditions our family endured at the time. (In order to give an accurate description of the impact of this pandemic my Google Search provided background details.)

The 1957 Asian Flu Pandemic (sometimes called Asiatic Flu) spread from China to the rest of the world during 1957 and 1958. There were over two million deaths worldwide. The United States suffered seventy thousand deaths. The first wave peaked in October and deaths were mostly school children, young adults, and pregnant women. When the schools resumed classes in the fall it allowed the disease to spread profusely through the close contacts in classrooms. A second wave hit the elderly population in late winter.

Our family, like most others, brought the disease home from school. It hit the youngest children first as it progressed from person to person on a daily basis. Within a week everybody in the family was seriously ill except for myself. There were no screams of pain or agony, but the eerie silence was overwhelming. Homes with five young children are only quiet in the middle of the night. To walk into the house and have near silence indicated how really bad this illness effected everyone. Just when Dad thought he was going to get around it, he too found himself bedridden.

The weather outside was pretty cool with a lot of overcast days. When things were really quiet in the house it felt good to get out in the brisk, fresh, air of autumn. The silence lingered outside also. The yard was completely empty except for our animals. It was the only time I can recall when you could ride our neighbors horse and no one was there to share the ride with you. It seemed like the world was engulfed in gloom.

It seemed like forever at the time, but everyone recovered and their strength returned. Our family was only one of millions who survived the Asian Flu. We had no long term effects from it. Like most Americans we resumed our normal lives.

The American children of today grow up without flu pandemics………..may they never experience that kind of gloom and silence in their homes.

Twos and Fours

The farmhouse our family rented in 1958 was in the center of a long straight stretch on a paved rural road between Winthrop and Raymondville. There was steady traffic on the road. We would usually see a car every fifteen to twenty minutes up until about nine at night. We didn’t play near the road, but could see cars coming from a good distance in each direction. One of our constant activities after dark was watching for specific cars.

Prior to 1958 all cars had one headlight on each side and most had only one tail light on each side. The new 1958 Chevrolet completely changed the headlight and tail light configurations. The 1958 Chevrolet had a new and distinct body style like no other car. The 1958 was the only year for this body style. It is very recognizable if you see one today. The car had large chrome bumpers, wide grilles, and lots of trim chrome. It was the lights that helped make this car so unique and different from every other car on the road.

The 1958 Chevrolet had two headlights on each side. They were something to appreciate during the day. When you saw the car coming after dark with all four headlights shining it was a wonderful experience. When somebody hollered, “Here comes a new Chevy”, we would all run to a vantage point to watch the car approach from a distance. This four headlight deal was something to fascinate all of us. No one had seen this many lights on a car before. We would be lucky to see one at night every few days. It was a big event to our yard full of kids.

As the cars passed we got an extension of excitement because there were also two or three tail lights on each side in the rear of the car. Mr. Chevrolet sure had some beautiful new cars. The adventure of these fantastic cars and their lights has always stayed with me. Little did we know they were the precursors for what became standard equipment on most manufacturers cars in the next model year.

Chevy engineers hit the jackpot in 1958………how many cars can you recognize from a distance by their headlights shining today?

Speech n Music

Dad’s youngest brother Bob and his wife Ida built a new home a few miles out of Waddington. Bob and Ida had four small children. There home was located on a sloping hill above a creek. Their was an old pasture between the house and the creek. Across the creek was miles of undeveloped woodlands and swamp areas.

Bob and Ida’s oldest son Tommy had a medical condition which severely restricted the passage of air through his wind pipe. At five years of age Tommy had gone through several surgeries. He had a permanent tracheotomy tube installed in his lower throat. All of Tommy’s breathing was done through the small metal tube instead of through his nose and throat. With the exception of his breathing tube, Tommy’s only other problem was his ability to speak normally. The therapists had taught Tommy to talk around his damaged voice box and wind pipe. Problem was, he sounded exactly like Donald Duck. You could understand every word he said and carry on conversations with him. Tommy was a very active five year old boy. His medical condition left him some limitations, but he loved to holler, jump, run, laugh, and play just like all children. Watching Tommy overcome his adversity was more of a life adventure than a great adventure. He impressed me with many lifetime memories.

Bob had a hound dog used for deer and rabbit hunting. His name was Ol Rattler. This dog was the Elvis Presley of hunting dogs. All hounds have a distinctive baying bark when they are pursuing game. It’s very easy to recognize the dogs from long distances by their voices. Deer and rabbit hounds hunt mostly during the late fall and winter. The rural area where Bob and Ida lived allowed Ol Rattler to be loose most of the time. Once in a while he would cross the creek and go hunting by himself.When Ol Rattler got onto a fresh scent it was something special hear. If he was on a deer he would go completely out of hearing range and return again in a big circle. The rabbits would make much smaller circles than the deer. A good hunting dog doesn’t catch the game. There job is to keep them moving to give the hunters better chances of getting a shot. Ol Rattler had a very distinct long, rolling, bay that was like music coming from the woods across the creek. Bob could tell what he was running and the area the game would travel as it circled. The sound of Ol Rattler hunting was a great adventure of a bygone era.

Tommy’s impaired speech spoke our language…………Ol Rattlers music was all his own.

Genes & Personalities

We had a neighbor who kept a shetland pony behind our rental house in Winthrop. Our cousin Cheryl also had one at our grandparents in Raymondville. The horses always drew a lot of attention when there were kids around. Both of these shetland ponies must have inherited some donkey genes from their ancestors. If you had something they could eat they could be very friendly. They could also be very stubborn and mean. Nobody could get along with the neighbors miserable little horse. It would kick, bite, refuse to move, or run away if it had a place to go. Cheryl was able to handle her shetland pretty well, but it often tried her patience too. Most of us kids disliked that little horse as much as he disliked us. We kept our distance and let him have his space.

We moved to a rental farm house. It was owned by a family named Munson who had a large dairy. They had a pinto horse named Queenie. Queenie had a pasture close to our house and we would ride her bareback around the old farm. Two or three of us would ride at once. Queenie would take it all in stride. She was the complete opposite of those shetland ponies. She was always great with small children. She had limits with the older kids. She would veer under a low hanging branch or try to rub your legs up against a tree if she was ready to go home. It wasn’t done maliciously, just a reminder to tell you it was time to go home.

We had a pet goat named Daisy. If anything Daisy had some lamb genes. She would follow us like a little puppy. Regardless of what we were doing outside she would be right in the middle of it. We milked her late every afternoon. When she saw us with the milk pan she would jump on the old outside picnic table and stand patiently while we milked her. Her milk always went straight to the refrigerator. Our whole family enjoyed having her for a pet. We let her run when we played outside, but kept her penned otherwise. She looked too much like a deer and we feared she would get shot.

Munson’s also had a huge angus bull with a bad disposition. He didn’t need any other genes. He had a large ring through his nostrils with a six foot logging chain attached to it. If he ran the chain would get under his front feet and trip him up. It was the only way to control the bull. His pasture was secluded and surrounded by stone walls. We would sneak up to the stone wall and watch him from a distance. He was a magnificent animal. We felt sorry for him. We respected him too.

Animals have personalities and traits inherited from generations of breeding………….like people, they have no control over their genes.

Stitched

One of my early interactions with a doctor occurred not long after our family moved back to New York. My sister Sharon and I attended junior high school in the nearby town of Brasher Falls. This was pretty exciting. It was the first time we had been to a school where grades seven, eight, and nine had their own school building. We were used to grades one through eight in elementary school. Grades nine through twelve attended a high school. It was also the first time we rode a bus to school and didn’t have to walk.

We were playing softball on a makeshift ball diamond behind the school. While dusting off from a hard slide the third baseman told me there was a hole in my blue jeans at the knee. Reaching down to check the hole revealed a big lump on my knee cap. The lump was about the size of a quarter and maybe a quarter inch high. There was a cut on my knee, but it wasn’t bleeding much because of the dirt packed into it. The knee wasn’t real painful, more of a discomfort. Coach took one look and sent me to the nurse.

The school nurse was a jovial lady in her forties and not overly concerned about my injury. She had me sitting on a wooden chair and she sat in her desk chair. She pulled my pant leg up above my knee, placed my leg in an elevated position on her lap, and extracted a nice thin rounded rock from under the skin of my knee cap. This wasn’t real bad. When she lifted up the flap of skin where the rock had been and poured it full of alcohol things got bad in a hurry. The injury wasn’t painful, but that alcohol set me on fire. My whole leg was shaking like a leaf in a windstorm. She topped that off by scrubbing the wound with a large swab of mercurochrome. A school van took me home.

Mom agreed the cut needed stitches. Dr Cudlips office was a mile down the road. Dad had our car at work so off I went on my bicycle. The doctor recleaned and stitched up the injury. Returning for a follow up the doctor removed several pulled stitches and put in new ones. On my second follow up he scratched his head and asked, “How did you get here?”  My answer, “On my bike”, didn’t impress him at all. He said, “Son, these stitches will be pulled out before you get home if you ride that bike. If you have any left after a week tell your Mom to cut them out. You’re wasting my time!!”

Dr. Cudlip was right. Mom removed the remnants of my stitches a week later………..and the scar isn’t too bad.