My Great Adventures…..A Journal

This WordPress.com site follows my happy trails.

Category: Junior High

Hot Hair

My sister Sharon and myself enjoyed visiting our grandparents on our paternal fathers side of the family. They lived in a small home in Madrid, NY. Both were in their early eighties. Staying with them, observing them, and listening to their life stories was a unique experience. There had been a lot of changes in the world between the 1870’s and the 1950’s. They had great family support during their later years from friends and family.

Grandpa broke his collarbone while plowing roads with a horse drawn plow after a winter storm. When it healed the two bones were offset by about a quarter of an inch at the break. As he got older it was a nagging injury. Otherwise, he was very healthy for his age. He smoked a pipe in his favorite rocking chair and watched television in the evening. Grandpa loved fresh and stewed tomatoes. We got a big kick out of him because he always put sugar on his tomatoes.

Grandma was diabetic and gave herself daily insulin shots. She kept her insulin in the refrigerator. She was always busy with household chores and cooking. She had a curling iron used to curl her hair. She would heat it over a burner on the gas cook stove, roll her hair in it, and let it curl. All would be well until the curling iron got too hot or she left it in her hair too long. The house would be full of the smell of burning hair. She never let it bother her and we were always amused when it happened.

They had a clear blue plastic film taped over the front of the television set. We never figured out the purpose of the blue film, but it had to have something to do with their vision. There was a narrow stairway to the upstairs bedroom where they slept. They stayed up pretty late watching television and were always up early in the morning.

Their next door neighbor had a holstein dairy. Many times Grandpa would walk the barn with me during evening milking. He missed the days when he was able to do all the chores himself. He kept his old scythe on his back porch and once took it out beside the house to demonstrate how to properly use it. He was very efficient with it even with his age and the collar bone injury. It was a part of his life he didn’t want to separate with.

Grandma and Grandpa lived a long rewarding life together…………..how lucky to share some of it with them.

Downstream

Dad loved trout fishing. When season opened in the spring we would sometimes fish before all the ice melted from the rivers and brooks. We seldom fished when we didn’t catch trout.  We often traveled to fish the St. Regis River near Nicholville, NY. The river just upstream from Nicholville was good trout fishing. The water was two to three feet deep in most wide areas. There were many boulders, steep rock banks, and large deep pools. You could not fish this stretch of river without wading back and forth across the river. One of my fishing adventures happened on this stretch of the river.

Dad, Uncle Bob, and myself were fishing in the late spring. The weather was cool and breezy. The water was cold enough that you got out fairly often and let your legs warm up. Dad and Bob were wearing wool outer shirts. I had on an old leather jacket. As usual, Dad sprinted down the steep hill, hurriedly crossed the river, and headed for the best fishing holes. Uncle Bob fished upstream and crossed the river while I fished downstream. We were all catching fish and enjoying the day. When you’re catching fish the cool weather and cold water become secondary. By mid morning I could just barely see Uncle Bob upstream about half a mile away. Dad was long gone upstream.

Crossing the river was tricky. The water was between my knees and belt while negotiating across the round rocks laying in the bottom of the river. It was a constant balancing act to keep the current from knocking you down. About a third of the way across the river the current swept me off my feet. After a few tumbles by the water my reflexes kicked in, got me on top, and started me swimming for shore. This all took place while being carried rapidly downstream. My leather jacket was like wearing a straight jacket and trying to swim. Nearing shore the rocky bottom allowed me to regain my footing. One boot and sock was missing. My hat, creel, and fish were gone. The fish pole was still in my right hand, but the reel housing was broken. My whole body was shaking like a leaf, but there were no injuries. No one was in sight. My landing just happened to be on the opposite side of the river from where we parked. After a prolonged rest, my only alternative was to recross the river and get on the same side as the car. Every step, change of depth, and change of current got my attention. It was a great feeling to hit the other side.

The lost boot and battered reel weren’t that big of a deal………..the lost creel with the fish really hurt.

Axed

My step brother Preston was several years younger than I was. Like all younger brothers he was always anxious to accompany the older children. We had a considerable amount of freedom as to where we went. There were times when our parents allowed the younger kids to go with the older kids.

The Grass River ran through Louisville. Upstream of town the river flowed deep and slow. There were some clay banks with deep holes to provide good fishing. The best swimming hole around was just upstream of the bridge in town. About a mile above town there were nice grassy knolls in the pastures adjacent to some good fishing holes. As young teens we would fish at night and camp on the grassy knolls until the following day.

Our parents allowed Preston to go camping with me on one of the overnight trips. He was allowed near the river to fish, but there would be no swimming for him. It was his first camping trip without Mom and Dad. We gathered up all of our gear for the night. We had food, fish poles, tarps, and sleeping bags. It took two trips during the afternoon to get everything to the site. We arrived to set up our camp late in the afternoon. We spread our sleeping bags out on the tarps and rigged up our fish poles along the edge of the river. We gathered wood for a fire so we wouldn’t need to use coleman lanterns after dark. There were about six of us in camp and Preston was by far the youngest. By sunset we were ready to settle in, eat supper, and start fishing before dark. Preston was wound up like an eight day clock. He helped everyone, gathered wood, and was looking forward to starting the fire. He decided to chop some more firewood with the short handled, single bit, axe in camp. We didn’t really pay much attention to what he was doing. Preston stood a short piece of firewood on end and was splitting it with the axe. The axe glanced off the top of the wood, rotated, and hit him in the shin just below the knee. He let out a howl and grabbed his leg as he hit the ground. He was bleeding pretty good from a two inch cut on his shin. He was tough enough to stop howling and tried to hold back the tears, but his camping trip was over. We strapped a rag on his leg and I carried him home piggy back.

Preston’s first camping trip with the older kids was memorable…………..and he had the scar to prove it.

Don’t Fart Sideways

The small rural communities in upstate New York were generally pretty good locations to raise children. There was a sense of camaraderie and security that couldn’t be found in larger cities and metropolitan areas. You couldn’t fart sideways without everybody in town knowing it. Neither could anyone else. People were much more tolerant of each other and everybody was a member of the community. Many wonderful memories come from these communities. The community shared telephones and local social functions.

We lived with party line telephones while growing up. Very few people in rural towns could get private telephone lines. Most lines had three or four families on them. Each phone on the line had it’s own ring sequence. You only answered the phone on your ring sequence, but you heard the ring of all the phones on your party line. When making a call it was common courtesy to make sure nobody was talking on the line before dialing. You could listen to other peoples conversations if everything was quiet in your background. People could also hear your conversations if they were nosy. With five children in the family it was seldom quiet enough for listening in on our neighbors. It was common for someone on the line to break in on your conversation and request time to make a needed call. It wasn’t the greatest system in the world, but it was adequate. If you wanted a telephone it was going to be a party line.

Most small communities had a community center or town hall for social functions. This was before town halls became dedicated buildings for town governance. In Louisville the community hall frequently held square dances on Saturday nights. Local people brought their musical instruments and provided the music and entertainment. Women would bring cookies and other snacks to enjoy while square dancing. Men brought their beer and bottles, but they were consumed outside near their cars and not inside among the children and young adults. The dances were called by many different people. The hall would be full of people of all ages. The floor would fill with square dancers for every dance. There were no fees or charges to these dances. They were a means for everyone in town to get together and socialize. No bickering, no politics, no exclusions. Just everybody having a good time. Everyone had a sense of belonging. My older sister Sharon and myself spent many wonderful Saturday nights at the square dances. We walked home with other teens our ages when the dances ended at eleven o’clock.

Everybody knew your business in a small town…………but breaches of privacy and identity theft didn’t exist.

 

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.

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?