My Great Adventures…..A Journal

This WordPress.com site follows my happy trails.

Category: High School

Office Next Door

My birthday is four days before my older sister Sharon’s in April. In 1962 we were a seventeen year old junior and an eighteen year old senior in high school. We had two younger half sisters and a younger half brother. Within two weeks of our birthdays we lost our step father in an automobile accident. He was the only Dad we ever really knew. Our real father died in World War Two and we were too young to remember him. Mom was left with five children. As you could imagine, this was a life changing event for our family. Huge amounts of sympathy, support, and services were received from people and organizations who truly cared. Mom decided to keep our home in the Merrill, Lyon Mountain area.

During my junior and senior years in high school we would visit the military recruiters offices in Plattsbugh. We knew them all by name and they were happy to establish a relationship with us for recruiting purposes. They were familiar with all the area school systems and their administrators. In March of my senior year I decided it was time to join the service. My father and step father both served in the Army. I felt an obligation to follow in their footsteps.

I approached the Army recruiter about enlisting. He sat and had a long discussion with me concerning goals, future, and the Army. Then he told me to get my butt back to Lyon Mountain and graduate. As soon as I graduated he would sign me up. He said he would call the principle, Buzz Harrica, and let him know we talked. The Army didn’t want me until I graduated. Out the door I went.

The office next door to the Army recruiter belonged to the Marine Corp recruiter. I walked in and explained the Army didn’t want me because I was quitting school. He reached over his desk, shook my hand, slapped me on the shoulder, and said we could make out my papers right now. The Marine Corp wanted recruits. He would make me a Marine. In less than an hour he contacted my mother and Buzz Harrica to let them know I would make a hell of a Marine. When passing the office next door on my way out, I waved my papers at the Army recruiter and gave him a big salute.

My enlistment oath was administered in Albany on March 21 1963. My first plane ride was from Albany to Beaufort, SC and a bus took us to Perris Island Marine Corps Recruit Depot. My next four years would see many great adventures.

There was no dwelling on past losses or decisions at Perris Island………….you were too busy running and getting your butt kicked.

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Building PreFab’s

I worked with my Uncle Lerald building prefabricated garages during a high school summer. Lerald and a friend named Bob were both good carpenters. They needed a third person to help shaking out the building parts, keep them stocked with what they needed, and pass materials to them when working above the ground. They were fun to work with and I enjoyed learning how to form and place concrete, frame, and roof the garages. We would place the concrete slab, arrange delivery of the prefabricated garage, and come back several days after the concrete was placed to build the garage. The three of us could completely build a twenty four by twenty four foot garage in about 11 hours. All of the garages included entry doors, overhead doors, and shingled roof. It wasn’t an easy day, but saved making a return for a partial second day.

We had a few garages in Vermont around Winooski. We stayed at the Essex Hotel. The first night in town we hit the bar for a cold beer after dinner. Lerald and Bob sat on bar stools and ordered our drinks. I was standing behind and between them, hoping the bartender wouldn’t refuse to serve me. We were on our second beer and the bar had a good crowd. Out of nowhere a man walked up, took my arm, and directed me to a table. When we were seated he identified himself as the manager. He asked where I was from. I was waiting for him to tell me to get out of his bar. Instead, he explained you couldn’t stand at a bar in Vermont and drink beer. You must be seated. We talked for a few minutes, he bought me a beer, and Lerald and Bob didn’t even know I was gone from behind them.

We built a twenty four by twenty four in Champlain. We had about an hours work left when the owner came home. Lerald had just finished hanging the overhead door and was showing him his new garage. Bob and I were laying the last couple bundles of shingles to complete the roof. I hit a nail a glancing blow and it went flying. Stood another nail, tapped it easy to start it, and sent it flying with another off center hit. I set the third nail at the same spot, reared back with the hammer, and swung as hard as I could. The nail went this time. All the way through the plywood. Problem was, so did my hammer. I heard the clunk on the concrete floor as my hammer hit about ten feet behind Lerald and the new owner. There was a nice neat hole where the hammer went through. I crawled down and tried to look invisible when retrieving my hammer. Lerald never even flinched. Just continued his conversation with the owner like this happened all the time. The owner never did realize what had happened. We sure didn’t tell him.

Building garages was good experience for a teenager…………..and the lessons on Vermont laws helped too.

Welfare Cookies

This post is primarily about food, but a little history comes with the boxes and cans. During the 1950’s and 1960’s the elected officials in our country at all levels of government were very careful to protect their public images. Sales of influence, lobbyist transactions, and corporate money exchanges always took place out of the public’s view. The voters and the populace in general would never condone such actions. Our food was effected by these practices because of these back room dealings. The congress received lots of money and donations from the farm and dairy lobby. The congress couldn’t return government money directly to them, but they could buy huge amounts of their products at inflated prices with government money. The politicians called it a food bank. The food banks bought horrendous amounts of food to pay political debts. Some of  this food eventually got distributed to the military, schools, and for federal welfare programs. As crooked as the deal was, some of the food was excellent.

Many people in the areas around Lyon Mountain and Merrill, NY received welfare and/or food assistance each month. The families who didn’t get food assistance would often trade goods or foods with those who did. The brick welfare cheese came in a plain box. The processed cheese was a blend of popular cheeses. Everybody liked this cheese. It made great grilled cheese sandwiches and baked cheese dishes. You couldn’t buy this cheese in a grocery store. It was an upscale Velveeta.

The welfare peanut butter came in a large tin can. It would sometimes separate during shipment with the oil on top and the solids on the bottom. A vigorous stirring would restore its consistency. This peanut butter had a coarse texture compared to store bought processed peanut butters. The flavor of this peanut butter was in a class of it’s own. A warm piece of homemade bread with real butter and welfare peanut butter was one of my all time favorite foods. The peanut butter cans had a cookie recipe printed on them. The “welfare peanut butter cookies” were a staple in everybody’s house. Many people bake them regularly today. I doubt they are the exact same cookie without the welfare peanut butter, but still good. My senses can smell those cookies in a warm kitchen while I’m writing.

Other welfare foods included beef or pork canned in natural juices, instant non-fat milk, butter, and other foods. The meats weren’t bad. The butter was excellent.

I liked the beef and pork too……………never did get thirsty enough to drink the dry non-fat milk.

Spring Treats

The Adirondack winters are long and cold. We always had lots of winter activities inside and outside. We didn’t dwell on the weather, as teenagers you took what was available and made the best of it. Shoveling snow, hunting rabbits, ice skating, and sometimes skiing were all a way of staying active during the winter. We seldom missed a school basketball game or a Sunday movie in Lyon Mountain. Scraping windshields and riding a few miles in a cold car were just part of getting where you had to go. Getting through the winter was just one of the prices we paid to get to warmer weather.

There is nothing like the arrival of the spring thaws after several months of snow and freezing weather. The snow starts to disappear, water is running everywhere, the roads are full of potholes and frost heaves, and it’s warming up. Mother nature is working diligently to blossom with new growth and colors to replace the drab of late winter. She is also cultivating and growing the first crop of the new season. Soon the wild leeks will be showing their leaves through the remnants of the snow.

Wild leeks are part of the onion family. The bulbs are like small scallions, but the plants are leafy. The wild leeks are a high test version of garden onions. Sort of a cross match between onion and garlic. They are known as much for their after smell, as they are for their taste. It’s easy to locate the person who has been eating raw leeks. Nobody is within ten feet of them. Sometimes for days. The leeks are strong tasting, but not unpleasant to eat raw. It’s the isolation you have to endure afterwards that is unpleasant. The leeks are outstanding for cooking. Use them to replace the onion and garlic in your spaghetti, soups, chili, and omelettes. Chop them up and include them in your favorite fried dishes. People won’t smell you coming if you eat cooked leeks.

The wild leeks grow randomly in the wet areas of spring. My favorite spots for them were sloping hillsides close to the Owly Out brook. The old pastures were slowly becoming overgrown with small trees and brush. Many people had their favorite places for leeks. When digging the leeks it was important to be selective and leave many plants for the future. I would never dig all the leeks in one area. The small early leeks were the best. The older leeks would become punky and bitter tasting. When digging leeks, always use an open top box to carry them home. Don’t fret about a little dirt still clinging to them. Keep them moist and prepare them for cooking or eating as soon as possible. My leeks were saved in baby food jars of refrigerated water or chopped into portions and frozen. For spaghetti, the leeks would be frozen with equal portions of green pepper.

Leeks are called ramps in the Appalachian and Blue Ridge mountains………. real leeks come from long cold winters near Lyon Mountain.

 

Full Moon Rides

My first trip across Chateaugay Lake on the ice was with Ernie Grew’s grandson Roddy. While skating ponds were common, we had never lived in a place where you could walk for miles on a frozen lake. We wore snowshoes and backpacks. Our destination was what Roddy referred to as Shatraw’s Camp. It was a hunting camp on the backside of the lake towards W mountain. There was no road access to the camp during the winter. You could snowshoe across the lake to the area we called seven chimney’s. We caught the road on the backside of the lake and followed it to camp. From the time we left the Merrill boathouse, until we returned two days later, we never saw a sign of any person. The snow was a couple feet deep and everything was pristine and quiet. It was also very cold and clear.

I never put a vehicle of my own or my families on the lake in the winter. That didn’t stop me from riding with others. There were several people who loved to get a vehicle on the lake ice at night when there was a full moon. The conditions had to be right. Obviously, the ice had to be thick enough to take the weight of a carload of people. The snow pack on the ice had to be fairly low so large expanses of ice would be bare of snow. If the ice had any more than a foot of snow over the whole lake, the drifts from the winds could be several feet deep. If a vehicle out on the lake got stuck, you were had. We usually drove onto the lake with all the lights off at the Merrill boathouse. From the boat house we would head towards the Island, but never go near it. We would go about half way between the Island and South Inlet, never getting close to shore. The full moon was better light than the headlights because there were no shadows.

It took a while to get up to a decent speed. If you let off the gas and cranked the steering wheel hard, the vehicle would do slow motion revolutions across the lake. When the vehicle stopped spinning we would orient our position before moving. If  clouds obscured the moon or the wind blew the snow, the only reference point from the lake was the lighting at the new shaft on Standish Road. Drifting and sliding around on the lake was a real joyride. You never moved unless you were sure of your bearings. You stayed in the center portions of the lake.

We didn’t dwell on air pockets in the ice…………….we were too busy enjoying the full moon and the ride.

Apple Pickin’

The Champlain Valley area just west of Plattsburgh was a great apple growing region. The hot days and cool nights of summer provided excellent growing conditions. The early frosts and warm fall days brought out brilliant colors and texture to the apples. The apple picking season helped a lot of families in Lyon Mountain.

The apple picking season around Plattsburgh was too short and the volume too small to attract the migrant workers who picked various crops for a living. This allowed the use of local area residents to pick the apples. Many people from Lyon Mountain picked apples to supplement income. Mothers who couldn’t work full time, people who wouldn’t work full time, young people without jobs, and students all picked apples during the short picking season. Many people returned to the same orchards for years on end. Students could get excused from school to pick apples for short durations.

If you didn’t pick many apples, you didn’t earn much money. If you didn’t show up early and on time at the orchard, there was always somebody to take your job. If you started early, stayed busy, and didn’t bruise your apples the money was good. The orchards were full of people who knew each other. The chatter, joking, and sometimes bickering made the day go by fast. We would leave town before daybreak in order to be ready to pick as soon as it was full daylight. My group averaged four or five students and three or four unemployed people who were out of school. We all rode in a 56 Ford pick-up. Three or four in the cab and the rest in the back.

We carried all kinds of lunches with us. We started picking early and stayed in the orchard until late afternoon. Our lunches were supplemented with apples, but they never lasted past eleven o clock. We would get counted out on our apples, pick up our days pay, and spend a portion of it on food going home. Sometimes we’d get a cold beer to wash down the food. It was all a great time and we got paid for it. Students could only pick for one week before returning to school. No one ever abused the privilege.

Apple season was notable because hunting season wasn’t far behind. The leaves were changing, the frosts were more frequent, and the winter skies were sneaking in.

We weren’t the best apple pickers………………but nobody in the orchards had as much fun as we did.

The Bridge

There wasn’t any public transportation within twenty five miles of Lyon Mountain. The teenagers and young adults who didn’t have cars had a pretty efficient method of getting to the Hollywood at the lake or the Skyliner in Malone. Single people who had cars very seldom left town on Friday or Saturday nights without a car full of people. The same held true when going to the Miners baseball games on Sunday. Nobody would go to a ball game with only a couple people in the car.

The bridge crossing the brook about halfway between the post office and the gas station was a common meeting spot. The bridge was centrally located to meet people from both ends of town. Anybody driving through town had to cross the bridge. The bridge wasn’t real close to any homes. You could see a good distance in either direction. For the teenagers who smoked it was easy to keep your cigarettes hidden from traffic and neighbors. The rock masonry side of the bridge was comfortable to sit on and the pipe pedestrian railing was good support if you were standing.

If you were hanging out with nothing planned, the bridge was the place to be. You wouldn’t sit on the bridge very long without company. If you wanted to get out of town on the weekend, the bridge was the place to catch a ride. If you drove a car and were going out of town you would drive the length of town going up, swing through Phillips Court, and head back down Sweden. If your car wasn’t full when you hit the bridge, you took as many people as possible. That’s just the way it was. The younger teenagers got their rides. When they started driving they offered rides to the kids who didn’t have cars.

If you came to Lyon Mountain from Merrill, Standish, or Chazy Lake it was easy to get back home if it wasn’t real late. Just hang out at the bridge. Somebody passing by would recognize you and give you a ride home. Everybody looked out for everybody. If you were driving a car and trying to find someone in town, go to the bridge. Somebody would know where they were. Such is life in a small remote town.

If things were quiet during the week we often filled a car and just rode around locally. If we could get several cars together we would play hide and seek with cars full of people. Every car load was like a little traveling circus. We would laugh so hard our sides would ache. It was a great bunch of young people just enjoying life.

Nobody could sneak by the bridge…………….and if you could have, somebody would have known where you were going.

StillWater

My family rented a house from Lewis Grew in Merrill. His father lived nearby and had a gas station with Amoco gas. If you owned a Coleman lantern or cook stove Amoco was your gas of choice because it contained less lead than most other brands. We always had a can of gas just for our Colemans. There were big pastures behind the houses for about a quarter of a mile. The pastures were between the Owly Out Brook and a small ridge which ran northeast towards Panther Mountain. There was an old wood road which followed this ridge for a couple miles toward Panther Mountain. On the other side of the Owly Out Brook was a wood road which started at Supley’s gas station and ran about two miles northeast. This road terminated at some beaver dams on the brook at the edge of a large swamp. This area was called Stillwater. As teenagers, we hunted and fished all over the areas on both sides of the Owly Out Brook.

We converted an old horse shed into a camp near the Stillwater beaver dams. The camp could sleep four people. It wasn’t uncommon for us to attend a school dance on Friday night, catch the bus to Merrill, and hike into camp for the weekend. The road was barely passable with a four wheel drive. The only time we ever saw a vehicle was when old John Kaska would have somebody drive him in to see if Johnny Joe and Larry Joe were ok. They would drive by slow in a jeep, turn around at the beaver dam, and drive back out. They might wave at us, but never stopped to talk. We could hear them coming a mile away so the cigarettes and beer were out of sight. In the evenings we would evenly split all the kitchen stick matches for our poker games. If we tired of poker we played pinochle. Fried potatoes, eggs, bacon, and coffee always started our camp days.

In the winter Doug Begor got a wood stove out of their garage for camp. We put it on a toboggan and dragged it two miles through the snow at night. It took four of us several hours to get it to camp. We earned our heat.

We crossed a small creek on a log a few hundred feet from camp. My younger brother Preston was in camp with us on a very cold morning. We warned him to stay away from the creek. Sure enough, he fell off the log into the creek. His clothes froze so hard we had to carry him into camp because he couldn’t bend his legs. You’d a thought he had been gut shot. He spent a lot of the day drying his clothes by the stove. He was very fortunate we were close enough to assist him.

Myself, Jim Moulton, and Bob Bowden skipped school to do some camp repairs for hunting season in our senior year………..Buzz suspended us for three days.

Old School

It’s a shame all students can’t attend a school like Lyon Mountain was before the bureaucrats forced it into centralization. It wasn’t just a school. The school contributed countless services for the community and the residents. The school staff and many of the teachers lived in the community. We knew the teachers personally and professionally. Every student knew every teacher and the grade they taught. Most of the teachers knew the majority of the students and their parents. Staff, teachers, and students often interacted with each other away from school. The school was a community within itself. The town was too small for secrets. Everything that happened in school was known throughout the community and everything that happened in Lyon Mountain was known throughout the school. It wasn’t always perfect, but everybody was part of it.

Buzz Harrica ran the school in the years I attended. He was a man who earned, and received, respect. He expected every student, including his own children, to maintain discipline in his school. He expected the teachers and staff to treat the students with respect. He also bent over backwards to provide services to the community.

The school cafeteria was used for Fireman’s Bingo one evening each week. When the mine employees had a union meeting it was in the cafeteria. The school had movies on Sunday evenings for the public at very low prices. The school buses would run to Chateaugay Lake, Standish, and Chazy Lake to provide transportation to and from the movies. If there was a home basket ball game in the evening, the buses ran their routes for the games. The town library was provided space at the school. Everybody had a bathtub at home, but few homes had showers. The school showers were available for use by everyone when there were no activities at school.

We all know high school discipline has it’s short comings. Teen age students are going to test the rules. It wasn’t uncommon for Buzz to grab a problem student by the collar of their shirt and hold them suspended against a wall while explaining the virtues of discipline. He also used language they clearly understood. I never provoked Buzz into losing his temper, but had a couple of heart to heart conversations with him in his office. He always let you sweat for a while before calling you into his office. When you were seated in front of his desk, he threw his pack of camels at you and told you to have a smoke. He would then discuss the problem with you man to man. He was straight up about what he could accept and any discipline you were getting for your infractions. He would shake your hand and send you back to class. You got his message.

The Buzz Harrica’s of today don’t have time for community and students……………it takes all their time and resources to keep the schools funded.

 

Paintin’ Alcatraz

Mom’s brother Lerald and his wife Lee lived in Malone. During the summer of my sophomore year Uncle Lerald had a dry cleaning route for American Cleaners in Malone. He also had a carpet cleaning business. He gave me a part time job during the summer to help him with his work. Aunt Lee had at home work doing laundry and ironing for one of the large adirondack summer youth camps. Aunt Lee maintained their home, tended three young children, and ironed for hours every day. Lerald cleaned a lot of carpets in the evenings and on the weekends.

Uncle Lerald had a great personality. He could approach and converse with anyone. He loved to joke with people and had quite a knack for telling some notorious false stories about everything and anything. He also loved to drink beer, play his fiddle, and party. I was sixteen. He was fun to run around with. We would walk into a bar and he would order beer for both of us. He chattered non stop while the bartender served us, usually some big story about who I was and where I came from. His favorite story was when we worked on the paint crew at Alcatraz. Said we just couldn’t stand gray paint anymore, but it was a nice boat ride every day.

Working and running around with Uncle Lerald was non stop hilarious from dawn til dark. The American Cleaners route took us from Malone to Fort Covington, Bombay, Moira, Dickinson, Dickinson Center, West Bangor, Bangor, and back into Malone on Franklin Street. We hit most of the streets in every town and populated areas along the route. We would return cleaned items and pick up dirty items. Customers wanting items picked up would put a large card with a red “A” in their window.

We had a delivery in Fort Covington. Uncle Lerald told me not to laugh when meeting the lady. He said she would be wearing a dress and black tennis shoes with knee high stockings. This sounded like a typical Lerald exaggeration so I shrugged my shoulders and laughed it off. We hit the ladies driveway going much too fast. She was bent over cleaning some flower beds when Uncle Lerald entered the driveway, locked up the brakes, and slid to a stop five feet behind her. The dust was flying everywhere. I just knew she was going to kill him and wished I had a place to hide. She jumped forward, stood up, and asked Uncle Lerald if she scared him. She was dressed just like he said.

Lerald always claimed a family had a chimpanzee on a dirt road out of Dickinson Center. I’d always shake my head and laugh at him. Sure enough we were going by one day and he slammed on the brakes almost putting me into the windshield. The big chimpanzee was on top of their car hopping up and down. No exaggeration to this story.

Aunt Lee passed last year. Uncle Lerald still lives in Malone…………….it’s amazing Aunt Lee let him live this long.