Pea Soup (A Forestport Garden)
By Tom St. Denis, 1998
Some time ago my-sister-in law, Gene’s wife, Anita, called me and asked me to do her a favor. "Please write down a few stories about your youth, especially as they relate to 'Father'." Now, there’s a challenge for you. Where does one get off writing stories about someone else’s experiences? It got me to thinking though and I decided, Why not? Why not write about my memories as they relate to the family St. Denis? The product you have in your hand is the result of that thought.
Where does one begin? How does one organize the myriad of ideas and memories that flood one’s consciousness when one tries to recall events that happened six decades ago? How does one remember them long enough to get them on paper? How do you set them down so that they are meaningful to those who were not there? What memories do you include and which ones do you exclude?
This narrative is neither accurate nor factual. Nor do I profess it to be true. It is simply my recollection of stories told both to me and by me during the past 68 years, stories told by my dad or by my mom; stories told by friends, relatives, siblings, or self. Based on these stories, I construct an anecdotal history of my existence. Others in the family may take a different tack regarding these experiences but this is my memory. Sometimes I attribute a story to me that may belong to Joe or George. Sometimes I tell a tale by Joe that belongs to Dad or vice-versa. I have heard these stories so many times and told them so often that I may have convinced myself that what is fiction actually happened, or, what actually happened is nothing but a story. Eva says that I remember things that happened when Joe was a baby. Eva was always jealous because I remembered things that she didn’t. Actually I didn’t remember more than she, just different things. I’m sure that she remembers a lot that I don’t. But there it is, memory is a fragile thing. This will not be easy, but here goes. Maybe it’ll be fun.
There are a lot of gardens in this world, and every one is different. Some are bigger than others. Some have pretty flowers while others grow only vegetables or weeds. Some grow in an unruly fashion while others are well shaped and tightly controlled. This is the story of one of those gardens with many pretty products and a few weeds. I don’t consider myself a pretty flower.
Seeds are Sown
It must have been cold in Quebec in the late 1800s. Or maybe it was a matter of economics. Whatever the reason, several people immigrated to the United States and some of them picked a spot even colder than Quebec: Forestport New York. Most of these new citizens were lumber jacks as there was a big market for pulp at that time. Forestport, located on the Black River, had several pulp mills in the late 1800 and early 1900s. The Gould Paper Company had established logging camps throughout the local forests and ,when my dad was a boy, the river was choked with logs waiting to be processed. Forestport was the thriving hub for all this activity.
Forestport, today, is a quiet little village at the entrance to the Adirondack mountains. It is hard to imagine but at one time the streets were filled with lumberjacks. There were horses and wagons coming and going. The shops and stores were thriving and the saloons were filled with music and noise. There was a Masonic Hall, an Odd Fellows club, Blacksmith shop, Millenary outlets, three or four hotels, boarding houses, etc. There was also a canal which ran from Forestport about seven miles to Hawkinsville (near Booneville). The canal used water from the Black River to float barges back and forth during those early days. Even when I was a boy and the pulp mills were all gone, the lumber industry was still in its last throws and the streets were still filled with lumber jacks. Many of the camps were still producing pulp logs but trucks had superseded the river as a means of transportation. There was still a huge ice house behind the Grand Union and the men would still cut ice from the pond and store it in the ice house under sawdust from the pulp-mills. We children would slip in there in the hot summer months and play in the cool air. Even today if one were to go out in the middle of the pond and jump overboard he very well might land ankle deep in sawdust. The canal while inactive was still maintained by the state and my friend’s father was the canal tender. My friend’s name was Pat Donovan and his father, Fred, used to take Pat and I with him when he made his inspection tours. He would drive slowly along the towpath and when he would spot something amiss he would send us boys out into the canal to check it out. We would pick up old buckets or tree limbs, etc. We really enjoyed these ‘jobs’. In the winter months the canal was frozen almost completely and if we had a good wind to remove the snow we used to skate down the canal for miles. Also, there was still a grinding mill down by the falls with a huge iron pipe (probably seven feet in diameter) running from the little catch basin below the dam. During the mill’s productive years the pipe was used to deliver water from the river to the huge grinding machines in the mill. The water would turn the wheels and the wheels would grind the material, whatever that was. We kids used to go into the pipe and run up and down listening to the echoes. The pipe was approximately forty yards long and we used to fantasize about what would happen if the water were to come in there while we were playing. Even though we worried, there was no danger. The catch basin had little or no water in it. In the spring however the catch basin was full to overflowing and the pipe was chuck full. Needless to say, we stayed away from the pipe then, in fact we could not have gotten in it if we wanted to. It was completely submerged under water. It was only in the hot summer when the river was very low that the pipe was available for our adventures.
When we were kids, polio was a very real threat and during the summer months (late July and early August) we were made to come in and take naps in the afternoons. My mother called these times ‘Dog Days’. I used to think she meant that dogs would bite us if we were out on those days. Maybe Mother thought so too. Besides polio there were some other very real threats: worms, the flu, colds, sore throat, and so on. Mother had a cure for them all. Sometimes, in fact most of the time, her cure was far worse than the bite. If Mom heard through the grape-vine that some kid down the street, or even in the next county, had worms, out came the kerosene can. A spoon full of sugar saturated with kerosene would take care of those worms. And if you had a sore throat be sure not to let her in on the secret. If she found out, a packet full of camphorated oil was slung around your neck for the not too near future. If it didn’t clear up your sore throat at least it kept anyone else from catching it. They wouldn’t come within thirty feet of you while you had that sock hanging around your neck. Her most reliable cure was castor oil. Every now and then she would buy a couple of gallons of this junk from Howard James and line us kids up to be cured. I never tasted anything so vile in my life. I think I prefer red turnips to castor oil and turnips made me throw up. Of all her cures my favorite was something she called a poultice. If you happened to cough a couple of times in her presence, off came your shirt and on went the gunk. She made some mixture of mustard, honey, and God knows what else. She would plaster that stuff all over your chest and put something warm, maybe a towel, over it and make you go to bed. Hell, maybe I had swallowed a bug or just got some air in my gullet, but she cured that cough. It is not too hard to understand her motivation, though. We had one doctor in town and he was a veterinarian. If she didn’t nip it in the bud we might all get sick. The problem was that once you got that gunk on your skin you had to wait for it to wear off. I get a big kick out of today’s moms worrying because their kids don’t take a bath every day. Hell, when I was a kid I never took a bath. In the summer we swam about every day but in the winter we just used a wash rag to clean up around the nasty areas. Once in a while Mom would snatch us up and throw us in a big brass boiler full of scalding water as if she were about to pick a chicken. If one was lucky enough to be first he got a reasonably good bath. After that, one just got soaked in someone else’s dirty water. We did not enjoy this treatment very much but we didn’t get to make the decisions.
While most of the immigrants were lumber jacks, at least one, Adolph DuPont, was an entrepreneur. He opened a livery from which to serve the lumber industry. Almost all of the transportation to and from as well as the work within the camps was done with horse-power. Adolph was my father’s grandfather. I do not know how many horses and rigs he had, but Dad told me that he was very, very busy transporting crews into and out of the lumbering camps.
When my dad talked about his youth, he told me stories about his grandfather’s livery and about the lumber camps. Such names as Pit Four, Chub Pond, North Lake, Camp Nine, etc. flowed through his language as if I were expected to recognize them. " We were on our way out from Chub Pond when the off horse took a notion to act up." or, "The cook at Camp Nine was the worst cook you have ever seen. His baking powder biscuits were so hard some of the guys used to drop them off the bridge to kill the trout." I didn’t know where Camp Nine was. I don’t know where it is today. I don’t even care where it is but my dad figured I knew and that was enough for him. I was about eight or nine.
The DuPont livery was located downtown and when Dad was old enough, he was expected to work in the stables and to drive the teams to and from the camps. It was here that Dad learned to love and respect horses. Adolph’s wife, Jenny (I’m not sure about this name) operated a store in front of the livery. I am not sure one could call it a store in the sense that we would think of store today. Maybe it wasn’t a store at all. Maybe it was a sort of restaurant. My recollection, and I very vaguely remember being there, is that the insides were long, maybe thirty or forty feet long. It was only about eight feet wide. There was a long counter running the full length and Grandma DuPont stood behind this counter and fetched what ever was required. I am not even sure she sold groceries. The only things I remember getting, she gave me. They were warm donuts or pieces of candy. From these two enterprises the DuPonts raised their family. (George, Alvina, Lena, Bertha, Millie, Florence, Jenny, Joe, and Dell). Lena and Alvina were twin girls.
Another of the immigrants who arrived in Forestport was George Albert St. Denis. I have no idea what George did for a living. I suppose that he was a lumber jack. George met and fell in love with Alvina DuPont and they in due course were married. I do not know if George knew the DuPonts in Quebec or not. I am of the impression that the DuPonts were from Three Rivers, Quebec and I know that Grandpa St. Denis (George) came from there. As a result of this union, on Jan. 24,1899 a son, my father, Joseph Adolph St. Denis was born. (I reckon that this name derived from Adolph DuPont and Joe DuPont but this is pure speculation.).
When Joseph was about two years old Alvina (Grandma) gave birth to a second child (a girl). The birth went very badly and both the baby and Alvina perished. George was devastated!. It was impossible for him to remain in Forestport and he was in no condition to raise a child. He surrendered young Joseph to Adolph and Jenny DuPont, the natural grandparents, and left the area, not to be heard from again until many, many years later. My belief is that he went to Washington state. We know that he lived there for most of his adult life. Although I say we didn’t hear from him for years, I think my dad told me that Grandpa did correspond with the DuPonts regarding young Joe’s welfare.
Joseph was raised by his grandma and grandpa in and around the store and livery. Their son, George, (We knew him as Uncle George but in fact he was my dad’s uncle), was only a few years older than Joe and they were like brothers. Until the day my father died he was always very fond of George DuPont. Well into my adult years, when I would be home on a visit sooner or later my dad would suggest that we go see ‘Uncle George’. My children have very pleasant memories of Uncle George, Aunt Esma, and visits to their farm. Uncle George had a long scar down over his cheek that we always believed was received in a knife fight. We were allowed to believe this story until only yesterday (Oct. 27, 1997) Eva informed me that the scar was the result of surgery for cancer when he was a young man. It seems that Uncle George felt that everyone would think him weak if he admitted to this frailty. So, although Joe was a St. Denis he was raised with the DuPonts. His childhood was of horses, liveries, lumberjacks, the Black River and the north woods. When I was a boy I heard many a tale about horses and wagons and transporting the lumber jacks into the woods and back out again. My father was full of stories about camp life. His true love was horses, men, and the interchange between them. When he talked about horses he called them by name.
"Old Ruby was a beautiful mare but she was sneaky. You had to watch out for her if you got on her off side in the stall. If she thought you were not alert, she would try to crush you against the wall. I remember one time when she pinned me and I could hardly breath. I shouted for help but no one came. I asked Ruby to move over but she just looked at me as if it were funny. I finally got my arm loose and I let her have a good one right in her bread basket. She let out a bellow and shifted just enough for me to escape. I wasn’t angry, she was only playing... Old Jack, now, There was a puller. I remember the time we were pulling that hill just past North Lake. The roan, Sammy, was slacking and it was getting late. Snow was in the air and if we didn’t make Camp Seven within the hour we were going to get mighty cold. I begged Sammy. I cajoled him. I even threatened him. He just ignored my pleas. But Jack. When I spoke to him he put his shoulders into it. Come on Jack. Come on Boy. Pick that slacker up.---" On and on the stories flowed.
While the DuPonts were establishing themselves in Forestport another family was developing in Davenport, Iowa. Peter and Bertha (Maach) Larkin were raising a family of their own. There were eight or nine boys and one girl. The girl’s favorite joke was that there were nine boys in the family and every one of them had a sister. How many children? She also bragged that everyone in the family admitted that she was the prettiest of all. The Larkins were a happy family, living on a farm, and reliant on one another for entertainment. The girl (Veronica born 2/10/02) was our mother and she would tell us stories about Davenport almost every night when we were small. After dinner each night my dad would light his pipe, roll a cigarette, or just relax and my mother would start with her stories. My favorite story is the one mother told about the bump inside her eyelid. It seems that Grandpa and Grandma Larkin went to town one day and left the children at home in Mother’s care. While she worked and slaved over the hot stove in the kitchen; while she struggled with the washing and ironing; and while she swept and mopped the floors the boys played in the yard. (Remember whose story this is). Well, while she did all of these things she became so frustrated that she went out to frustrate their game. They were shooting a BB gun at a target and she told them to stop and to get to work. They just ignored her and kept on with their sport. "I’ll make them quit." she thought.
Every time one of the boys would aim she would run out in front of them and they would have to lower the gun. "If you do that again we’ll shoot you." They shouted. As soon as they would raise the rifle again, out she would dash and down would come the gun. This went on for some time and the madder the boys got the more mother enjoyed it. They kept threatening to shoot her and she kept running out and every trip she would shout, "You dasn’t! You dasn’t!" It was only a matter of time before nature took its course and the trigger was pulled. POW. They shot her in the eye. Oh, the moaning and groaning that went on. "We didn’t mean it. The gun went off by mistake. What will we tell ma? She’ll kill us." and on and on. "Don’t worry." she told them. "I’ll tell Ma that I ran into a nail with my eye. We’ll have to find a nail in the house so we can show her where it happened." she plotted. In the house they went and located a nail. When Grandma came home and wondered where the blood came from they showed her the nail. She believed every word. Until the day she died, Grandma never knew about the BB gun. What makes the story interesting is the fact that the nail they showed her was located deep into a corner and there is no way that mother could have run it into her eye. When mother died she still had the BB under her eye-lid.
We heard stories about tornadoes (she called them cyclones. One of the things she insisted upon is that she had seen a straw sticking straight through a telephone pole, blown there by a cyclone.), about harvesting crops (how she had had to cook meals for the numerous field hands that had come from miles away to harvest their crops.), migrant workers, etc. Dad would just sit there and smile. He might add a story or two but mostly he let it be her time. I remember that my dad had a Bugler cigarette rolling machine and he used to let us kids roll cigarettes for him. We loved it. (But I digress)
Although the Larkins were very happy in Iowa an event took place that was to affect us all. George Larkin, the oldest child, jumped into a frozen pond one day to save a drowning child. George was in his late teens at the time and the apple of Grandma’s eye. He successfully saved the boy but caught pneumonia himself and did not recover. This event so devastated Bertha that she pined almost to death. Peter tried and tried to bring her out of her depression but all attempts failed. Finally, Peter and Bertha reluctantly came to the conclusion that they would have to leave Davenport and find a new place to live.
Peter began to look for a new habitat. How he chose Forestport, NY. is anybody’s guess. While everyone else was following Horace Greeley’s advice, "Go west young man." my grandfather went east. In any event, he wound up in Forestport where he found a farm. My uncles used to tell us that it wasn’t much of a farm but they raised the finest rocks in New York State. While all of this was happening Veronica was somewhere in her late teens. (One nice thing about doing this review is that I learn as I go. Today, 12/20/97, several weeks after I started this thing, I received a note from Gerry outlining the Larkin heritage. It seems that Grandpa Larkin’s father John had been born in Schenectady and his mother had been born in Center Bridge, NY. I infer from this that Grandpa, Peter Larkin, was raised in New York state. I suppose that in their time of sorrow it was only natural that they returned ‘home’).
Grandma, (Bertha) wound up having eleven children, one or two (I think two- Terry and Larry) born in New York. My older uncles, those raised in Iowa, used to tell us kids that when we grew up they would take us out west where the Indians lived. We thought that Iowa was ‘out west’. Now that I have traveled the world over it is very humorous to me that they considered Iowa ‘the west’.
In the small town of Forestport it did not take Joe St. Denis long to notice this beautiful young lady and he began to shower her with his attentions. In a matter of time they were married and from this union came eleven more offspring: six boys and five girls. Joseph Adolph (6/21/22) was the first and was named after Dad. Then came Bertha (Betty) Marie (9/13/23) and she took Grandma’s name. Following Betty was Alvina Margaret (12/16/24). She took Grandma DuPont’s name. And then George Albert (3/19/26) named for Grandpa St. Denis. Following George came Homer Edward named for Homer Larkin, his uncle. Homer only lived a few months. He was overcome with Undulant fever and passed away (1927). Eva Rae came next (8/7/28) and although I do not know where the name Eva came from, (Eva says that she was named for Eva Mitchell who was a friend of mother’s at that time.) the name Rae was obviously a tribute to Uncle Ray Larkin. Those were what my mother referred to as "the big kids."
"The little kids" consisted of three boys and two girls: Tom (12/11/29), Gene (3/6/31) and Bill (5/17/32) and Gerry (10/10/33) and Pat (1/18/36). Although we all had our own names it appeared to me that we were more often referred to by title: "You little kids get in here." Or "Where are those little kids?" Or the one I remember most: "The little kids will do the dishes tonight." I don’t have any idea about from where my name was derived but Gene and Bill were both named for uncles. (Eva says that I was named after an ‘Uncle Tom’ in Iowa, but I don’t think they had any cabins in Iowa) The name Geraldine, too, eludes me as to origin but I know that Harriet Patricia was name for Harriet Hurley who was mother’s midwife for most of her birthing. Hattie ran the bar across the street from where the St. Denis’ lived.
One of the things that amused me as a child was the fact that my Mother had eleven children and then found out that her stomach was "in backwards". About three times a month she would bring it up during her after dinner stories. "I had eleven children and after all of that the doctor told me that my stomach was in backwards." We were flabbergasted by this story and asked her if she had it, her stomach, fixed. Her response was always the same. "Why should I? I had all you kids with it this way and I don’t see any reason to change it now." My mother was not one to contradict logic.
That’s the way our childhood went. Listening to mother’s stories and trying to make sense of life. When asked why we had such a pleasant life and why we had successful children, my sister Gerry had a ready response. "There are three reasons:" she said. "First of all we were poor." But we were raised during the depression and everyone was poor so we didn’t know it. Besides, being poor equips one to not expect things for nothing. If you really want something, you go out and earn it. When we were little (I mean tiny) kids we were out picking berries to sell or shoveling sidewalks for a dime. We learned to save our money until we had enough to buy what we wanted instead of expecting our parents to buy it. I remember that at the age of seven or eight (Gene would have been six or so) we sold Liberty magazines for a nickel apiece. The customer paid a nickel and we made maybe one cent. I sold Liberty and Gene sold something else, perhaps Good Housekeeping. We had a regular route which took in several miles and my mother made us go together so that we could take care of each other. We had little bags that hung over our shoulders and when the magazines were all gone we would fill the bags with empty bottles to sell at the store. Our customers all knew us by name and often had a cup of hot chocolate for us when we delivered. They often furnished the empty bottles. Everybody in town encouraged us to work hard and save our money. The whole town was like an extended family. I know that if any adult in that town saw us doing wrong they took it upon themselves to set us straight. Today, if some adult tells someone else’s child what to do, the parent takes personal affront. If some adult told me what to do, I darned well better do it -within reason, that is. If I were to go home and complain to my mother or father I would be in trouble again.
"Secondly," said Gerry. "We had a big family." We were never at a loss for something to do. We had nine other kids in the family to play ‘Tag’ or ‘Kick the can’ with. We could put puzzles together or play with our trucks in the dirt. Even during the thunder storms that raged through the Adirondacks we would find some form of entertainment. We used to find tin cans and sit on the porch and hang over the railing to fill the cans with rain water. When we got one pretty full we would use it as a weapon to douse someone else who was trying to fill his weapon. Soon the fight was on. There was no such excuse as "I’m bored." If we tired of playing together we could always start a fight. If you wanted to argue, there were plenty of takers in the St. Denis family. Everyone thought they knew more than everyone else.
The third thing that made us successful, according to Geraldine, was that "We were much loved". And we did know that. My mother and father were very loving people. My father used to send me to bed ‘without any supper’ because I had been mischievous. Also, I never ate vegetables. My mother would tell me that if I didn’t eat my veggies I would not live to be sixteen. My dad told me that if I didn’t eat my veggies I was going to bed with no supper. I never was very concerned because I knew that in a matter of time my mother would be coming up the stairs with ‘a little dish to tide you over’. With ten children to nourish and succor, my mother always seemed to find a way to make each one feel special.
I think that there was a fourth element of our success story. We always had chores to do. The first I remember is when my father would cut up logs with the neighborhood men, using a buzz saw. After the logs were cut up into manageable lengths and we had carried our share home it was Joe’s job to saw the logs into stove lengths. It was then George’s job to split the wood and carry the pieces to the kitchen where they were stored in a big wooden box behind the stove. After George had completed his chore it was up to me to sweep around the box and clean up all of the shavings. The girls also had tasks to do every day. My first remembrance is that I was envious of George and that he was envious of Joe. Everyone wanted to move up to a more challenging chore. As soon as I was big enough I inherited the splitting job and Gene inherited mine. I think it was this craving for a better job that instilled the work ethic into the St. Denis family.
ROOTS GROW DEEP
I do not know what "the big kids" did for entertainment but I do know that my uncles Larkin obtained great delight pestering us "little kids." They would come over to our house and play tricks on us time after time. One should probably remember that some of these uncles were not much older than we were. In fact my uncle Larry was younger than my brother Joe. It used to amaze me that Joe had an uncle younger than he was. I think that we were their ‘Nintendo’. They had no television. They had no theater. In fact although we did have radio, it wasn’t very reliable. If one wanted to listen to his favorite program he must sit right next to the radio and even then he had to continually tune it. I remember many a time when my father was trying to listen to the news and he would make us kids go outside because between the static and our antics he could not tell what was going on. I say we had no movie theater but that is not strictly true. We had a man come to town when I was a wee lad and he had a movie camera and a penchant for movies. His name was George Sprague. Mr. Sprague went around town taking reels and reels of film about everything that was going on. About twice a month he would hire the Masonic hall and show the movies to the public. He would have some movie that he had rented such as The Lone Ranger or Lucky Teeter and the Hell riders. When the main feature was over he would show the local events. Everyone wanted to attend because one might find himself a movie star. Anyway, mostly, if we wanted entertainment we had to create our own. These bigger guys used us for a good deal of their entertainment.
They would blindfold us, put us on an ironing board, and tell us they were going to lift us to the ceiling. All the time they were "lifting us" they were rocking us to and fro and stooping down rather than raising us. After about five minutes of this exercise they would be flat on their backs and we would be about ten inches from the floor. Our imagination, however, had us up over their heads, way up to the ceiling. "Don’t wiggle! Hold still! You will fall!" All of a sudden one of them would shout, "OH NO!" and they would spill us from the ironing board. Our little hearts would pound a mile a minute We were only about ten inches from the floor, but we didn’t know that. We were so scared that we would cry. As soon as we began to cry they would say. "Don’t cry. Don’t cry and we’ll give you some frosting." They would take us to the kitchen where they would stir up some sugar with water or, if they had it, milk. (Some frosting: sugar and water.) Still, these were depression years and even sugar and water was pretty neat. I remember these guys bragging about how tough they were. After a stint of muscle showing, they would resort to weight lifting to prove to us just who was the strongest. Out came the broom and a stack of books. One of the guys would lie on his back on the floor, extend the broom at arm’s length, and instruct us kids to put some magazines on the end. With much grunting and groaning he would raise the broom up from the floor and we would measure the distance. Now it was someone else’s turn. A big to-do was made every time and while one of them was exhibiting his ability to lift the books another one was rolling up his sleeve and showing us his huge muscle. We little kids would watch and listen with wide eyes. It a was non stop Keystone Kops brawn contest.
I remember one incident that left a lasting imprint. They taught us how to fly. Grandma Larkin lived on top of a big hill and she had a great big maple tree in one corner of her yard.. About forty feet down the hill was another. These grand fellows, my uncles, had found a little tin airplane someplace. Always inventive, they rigged up a rope from one tree to the other. They then hung this airplane from the rope on two pulleys and they had an airplane that would fly. The little tin airplane was big enough to carry two of us kids . "Get in." They urged.
I remember very clearly their lures: "Don’t you guys want to learn to fly? You don’t! Why not? Are you too little or are you just afraid? We think you are afraid. You’ll never grow up if you are afraid of everything. How are you going to learn if you don’t ‘give her a try’?" Etc. "Who wants to be first?"
Well, you can guess the result. We couldn’t wait to get into that airplane. Once they got us in there they told us how brave we were and pulled us to the very top. After a little more talk about ‘derring-do’ and ‘big guys’ they let us go. Down that rope we went. We probably reached a top speed of three to five miles per hour. We were really flying. It was not the speed, however, that was important. It was the brakes that got into your head. The airplane made one of the quickest landings I ever saw. No, scratch that. I ever heard. No, better yet, I ever felt. I did see things but it wasn’t the landing I saw. It was stars. We, after a few trips, had worn the bark clean off that bottom tree. Not to mention the bark worn from our personal limbs.
Another favorite trick of theirs was to lock us in the town jail. That’s right. There was a jail in Forestport, but it was deserted. It was down by the bridges across the road from where the blacksmith shop had been and no one ever went down there except us kids. If I remember correctly the jail was not even on a foundation. When you would walk into the building the whole thing would rock and roll as if it were just sitting there on the rocks. There were two iron cells in there and they had iron doors that went CLANK when closed. We would go down there to play but we were always careful to stay out of the cells because they scared us. If the big guys were tired of us little kids following them around town they would tell us to go home. We did not respond too well to these instructions. Soon they would get tired of telling us and they would snatch us up and take us to the jail where they would put us in a cell. It wasn’t funny now because they always had a padlock with them and they really locked us up. We might be there for five minutes or thirty minutes. I do not remember being in there much longer than that but when you are small, thirty minutes seems like thirty days. They didn’t help much by telling us about beasts and bad men. While they were locking us up they were always talking to each other. Maybe it was about the guy that hanged himself ‘in here’ last night. And then there was the guy who found two other kids in here and took them into Blake’s Hills and tied them to a tree where he set them on fire. You get the picture. Although we complained and cried about being left alone, their response was. "That is what you kids get for tagging after us when we told you to go home." I now know that they really didn’t leave us there, they just told us so and then went out of sight and watched us fret. After we hollered and yelled for a few minutes they would return and tell us they had seen a bear headed our way, or that Mom and Dad were looking for us and that was the only reason they were setting us free. "Maybe you guys had better head for home." These guys were really good to us and spent a good deal of time teaching us how to fish and hunt, but they sure enjoyed playing around and scaring us.
I must be careful, here, and not paint all of the flowers with the same paintbrush. Most of my uncles were grown up and married before I was born. I never knew my grandfather Larkin. He died before I was born, (1924). The older uncles had to look out for and support my grandmother. As they grew older and became men they went out into the world and created their own gardens. Harold, we called him Halley, Homer, and Ray stayed around the Adirondacks. The other guys, Gene and Pete, went in search of jobs and wound up in New York City. It was Bill, Marx (Mike), Terry, and Larry that were still at home when I was a boy. Later on they too, along with Grandma, moved to ‘The City’. But that is another story.
The same is true about the ‘big kids’, I don’t have a lot of recollections about them. They were quite a lot older than I and my memories are mostly about the ‘little kids’. I remember that Betty was pretty, that she had a terrible temper, and that she was vain. I don’t mean this in a pejorative sense. I only mean that she would not be seen dead in dirty clothes or with her hair undone. I don’t remember ever seeing her in her pajamas. When I was about nine our house caught on fire. Mother was cooking breakfast, the grease caught fire and she couldn’t put it out. It was about seven o’clock in the morning. I was sent on my bicycle to the fire station to sound the alarm. It was about four blocks to the station and I went at top speed, still in my robe. I rang the siren, sounded the alarm, and jumped on my bike and made it for home. When I got there smoke was billowing out of the windows and under the eaves. Everyone was out of the house except Betty. "Where is Betty?’ I asked. "She will be along soon. She’s doing her hair."
Alvina was a beautiful girl who was afraid of her own shadow. We lived on the ‘back street’ when Patricia (Patsy) was born. Alvina must have been ten or eleven years old. Next door was a two story house and a widower, Louis Alney, lived there. His bedroom was directly across from Binie’s. About eight feet separated the two windows. At night, when Louis’s light was on and his shade drawn, the ‘big kids’ would tell Binie that Mr. Alney had a steamer trunk in his room and that he kept his wife’s bones in there. When he got lonely, he would dig out the bones all strung together with twine and dance with them.
"Can’t you hear the music? He’s doing the waltz. If you go up to your room now you can watch his shadow dancing with the skeleton. Look there on his shade. See the shadows. Look. She’s dancing too." It wouldn’t take long to have Alvina in pure terror. Across the street was a place with a garage in which Skinny Herrick had hanged himself. Fertile ground indeed for stories of the macabre.
"Do you know who I just saw out by the street light? I’m not positive but it looked like Skinny Herrick. He had a turtle neck sweater on so I couldn’t see his neck. I think there was a big welt there though. He looked at me and said something but it only sounded like a gurgle. I think he was headed for Louis Alney’s house. Maybe they are going to go up and dig out the bones." Those uncles coupled with the other ‘big kids’ could get Binie in pure hysteria in a matter of minutes. I remember that a few years later when we lived up on the hill (Grandma’s old house) I tried to get in on the act. That was always one of my problems: trying to get in on the act. In this house there was a stairwell that came down about twelve steps to a landing and on one side of the landing was a bathroom and on the other side a parlor. The stairwell was very dark and the landing was partitioned off with drapes. I heard Alvina coming to the stairwell to come down while I was in the bathroom. All was very dark. I had seen the big kids scare her and I was going to take my turn. I listened for her to come down a few steps and wrapping myself in the drape I stepped out onto the landing and said "HOO, HOO". I didn’t scare Alvina one bit but I so scared myself that I began to bawl. I must have been about six or seven. The uncles in conjunction with the other ‘big kids’ could get Binie in pure hysteria in a matter of minutes. It was a great delight to them and to us little ones too, but I’m sure Alvina did not find it much fun
They could raise the hair on our necks too. When Grandma lived on the hill, there was a big house across the road that belonged to some folks from Utica. It was a beautiful home and the grounds were well kept, but it was always empty. The big guys told us that the reason no one lived in the house was that a lady had been murdered there. Every night, especially if the moon was out, the floor in front of the fireplace would turn red with blood. No matter how many times the floor was scrubbed, the blood would show up as soon as it got dark. "It just seeps up through the cracks". Several families had lived there but it was too much trouble cleaning up the blood every day, so they moved out. "Where does the blood come from?" We would ask.
"What do you mean? It must be coming from the corpse. She is buried there under the floor. She’s still bleeding from the stab wounds."
If we got to whimpering they would tell us that we had better stay away from that place. We stayed away!
George is an enigma to me. He was about four years older than I and I have very few memories about him. I do remember that he was not very pleasant to me. I don’t know if it was his fault or mine. I know I wasn’t a very great joy to him. He didn’t like my smile, (he called it a smirk). He didn’t like my laugh. He told me that I laughed too much and that it wasn’t a real laugh but one that I had made up. He was quite a lot bigger than I and I didn’t argue with him much. He liked to argue with his fists. George was a very talented athlete. He was the star basketball player in high-school and he played minor league baseball. He was tougher than a knot and nobody gave him much trouble when he was a teenager.
Eva was more my age and I have many, many pleasant memories about her. She picked berries and sugar plums with us. She swam with us. She even got into trouble with us. She could get into trouble by herself, too. I remember the story about the time she was pestering my brother George and Sonny Larkin. I can not vouch for this but I have been assured that it is factual. Anyway, she kept following these two older boys around and they kept telling her to leave them alone. They were two or three years older than she and they didn’t want her tagging along every place they went. I know Eva pretty well and I can assure you that if she wanted to do something, neither Hell nor high water could restrain her. Well, these two boys took her up into Blake’s Hills, tied her to a tree, set the grass on fire, and went off and left her there. I haven’t heard how she was discovered but I was told that the flames were just about to catch her skirts. I am not too surprised by this story because I remember both George and Sonny (Harold) as being ornery to us ‘little kids’.
It was Gene (or Genie as my mother would call him) and I who received most of this "fun" My mother called everyone by his baby name. She called Joe Joey and me Tommy. George was Georgie, etc. She called me Tommy until the day she died. I was about fifty years old. My kids used to get a big bang from hearing Mother call me Tommy. She even called the other kids in town by there baby names: Billy Shanks, Teddy Grower, Bobby Coscumb, etc. One time when I was stationed in Puerto Rico I discovered one of my Forestport acquaintances there. His name was Vernon Rubior (In Forestport when he was about four years old we called him Bumby-pronounced boom’-be). Vernon was the chief enlisted man at the base hospital, a very prestigious position. At the Non Commissioned Officers Club on Ramey AFB we had a special lounge for the top three grades and the other NCOs were not allowed in there. If you were there, you were ‘somebody’. One day when Gerry and Mom were visiting us at Ramey I took Mom to the lounge for lunch. While we were sitting and talking with some other senior NCO friends, who should walk in but Vernon
‘BUMBY RUBIOR!!’ Mother shouted. She then commenced to relate stories about when Bumby was a child; about his dirty diapers and about his runny nose. You know the routine. Vernon was crushed. Who wants to be known of as Bumby? Who wants to reminded about his snotty nose? It was great fun for the rest of us however because from then on when Vernon walked into the lounge the cry went up: BUMBY RUBIOR. (Again I digress).
Of all my siblings Gene and I were the closest. We were only a little over a year apart in age and we were both of the same sex. Eva and I were close but it was a different kind of closeness. She thought she was in charge and I was not easily managed. She would tell me what to do and I would do everything in my power to resist. She would get mad and chase me down and beat up on me. And she could do it too. That is, until I got much older and could take better defenses. There is nothing more belittling to a boy than being beat up by a girl. After that, she might beat me up and then again she might not. Don’t get the wrong impression. Eva and I were very close too, but like I said, it was a different kind of close. Once she found out that a fight was almost a toss-up she decided I wasn’t so bad and we became quite good friends. Eva and I spent many an hour together sitting on different chairs. This was my father’s favorite punishment. Whenever we would irritate him with our bickering, he sentenced us to solitary confinement. "You, Tom," he would say. Always very quietly. "Get up on that chair and stay there ‘till I tell you to get down’. And you, Eva. You get on the chair in the parlor. Same rule." Dad would then promptly go to sleep on the couch.
There we were, two children five or six years old sitting on hard chairs for what seemed to be hours on end while Dad slept. First Eva would start to squirm and then she would whisper, "Tom. Ask him if we can get down now."
"Psst, Psst, Dad" I would say. "Psst, Psst."
"What now?" He would grumble.
"Can we get down now?"
"No! I told you I would tell you when to get down". he would say, and back to sleep he went. Pretty soon I could see Eva peeking around the corner. She was still on the chair but only her foot fulfilled the ‘on the chair’ requirement. She might have a deck of cards or a checker board in her hand. Next it was me on the floor, stretching out toward her where we could whisper or play a silent game. My Dad was always of good nature and when he would catch us on the floor he would grunt or move around so we could return to our perches before he fully awoke. We had probably been on the chairs, mostly with one toe, for about fifteen minutes, but to us it was an eternity. It is hard for "little kids" to sit still. At this time in our lives we were indeed "little kids" When Grandma lived on the hill I was only about five years old. Eva may have been one of the "little kids." I don’t really know where she fit in. After Homer Edward died, there was a separation of about two and one half years between George and Eva and she may have been considered one of ‘us’.
I remember that Grandma had a great big crab-apple tree about half way down the big hill. I mean, this tree was big. My recollection is that it was about three feet in diameter. It was probably only about eighteen inches across but to my five year old eyes it looked like it reached all the way to heaven. Any way, this tree produced more crab-apples than you could believe and when they fell to the ground Grandma used to send us ‘little kids’ to gather them up. She would equip us with a basket and tell us to "fill it up." When we surrendered our bounty to her she thanked us and told us that there would be plenty of goodies for us, "Come winter." When those cold winter days arrived Grandma always dug out a quart jar of preserved crab-apples. What a wonderful treat they were. They were about three times their original size, and just as soft as they could be. I do not know but, remembering them now, it seems as if they were preserved in sugar-water and cloves. She always left the stems on them and we would grab them by the stem, pop them into our mouths, and pull the core out, leaving the good parts to be savored. After two or three of these apples we were hurried on our way to return to our shenanigans. Between these crab-apples and Jumbo peanut butter, it is hard for me to say which I remember more fondly. There was one childhood delight that I liked even better than Jumbo peanut butter or Grandma’s preserved apples: We never bought bread at the store when we were little. Mother baked bread about three times a week. When she baked, she made about a dozen loaves. While these loaves were in the oven or on the cooling board, mother would knead up a new bunch of dough, add a little sugar, and deep fry gobs of it. When the gobs came out of the grease they went into a paper bag filled with sugar. After a thorough shaking the ‘bread doughs’ went into a big pasteboard box on the back of the stove. We were allowed to have as many of these delights as our little stomachs would hold. We would come running through the kitchen from our games, grab a handful of treats, and retreat to the game again. Often there would be kids running through the kitchen who didn’t even belong there. Mother didn’t seem to mind. I think she was proud of her ‘bread doughs’.
Last year(1996) I discovered a shop in New Orleans that sold pastries called ‘Benets’. When I bit into my first one I almost jumped up and shouted, "Bread doughs". They were exactly like mother’s. On investigation I found that ‘Benets’ were a French Canadian doughnut, brought to New Orleans by the Cajuns. While I was in Louisiana I also discovered a town by the name of Natchitoches, (pronounced Nackidish) the first European settlement in Louisiana. It was founded by St. Denis in 1714. This St. Denis was sent from Quebec to the Louisiana territory by the King of France. His mission: to found a port. Although he came from Quebec, I don’t know if he was from Three Rivers. Marilyn, my grandson Michael, and I visited the city and took pictures. A beautiful city indeed. I would like to do some more research on this subject.
While Gene and I were in trouble most of the time, Billy was the apple of mother’s eye. Gene and I were skinny little kids. Our clothes hung on us like drapery. Usually we had a hole at the knee or elbow, our shirttails were out, and we had our belts as tight as we could get them. Mother used to say we looked like two gunny sacks tied in the middle. Besides being little ragamuffins we were in some kind of hot water most of the time. Bill, on the other hand, was always neat and tidy. Billy was never skinny either. As soon as he got big enough, mother used to say, "You boys take Billy with you. Watch out for him. Don’t let him get hurt." Hell, Bill was a better athlete than Gene and I combined. Not only was he a better athlete, but by the time he was five, he was bigger than either of us. He could do anything we could do and probably do it better than we could. When Bill got to high-school he was on all of the school teams. Bill fell out of a tree one day in front of the doctors office, Downtown Forestport, and broke his arm. Gene and I were swimming at the Point, two miles away. When we got home we were in deep trouble because we had not taken better care of our ‘little’ brother. He was our responsibility and by God if he got hurt it was our fault. Maybe mother was right though because Bill had trouble with that arm until the day he died. The bone was shattered and even after he was a man the splinters of bone would every now and then work their way out of the arm. Maybe we should have taken a little better care. I remember one time when we were coming home from church school. I was walking about fifty yards in front of the other kids. Gerry and Pat were there as were Gene and my friend, Pat Donovan. The boys were throwing rocks at some birds on the telephone wires. Bill threw a big cobblestone at the birds and it came down in the middle of my head. I was wearing a ski cap with a tassel on the top and the stone took the tassel off. It also took a big chunk of my skin off. Gene says that the blood spewed like a fountain. I rushed home and mother fixed everything up. She was very good at not losing her cool when one of us got hurt.
"Poor little Billy. Did you hurt your brother by mistake?"
In a matter of a few months the story was that I had hit Billy with a rock. Forty five years later when we were all at Gene’s house in California and mother was making tarts for Joey, I asked her if she remembered the incident and she started right in on me again about how I had hit my little brother with a rock. One of the family heirlooms is that mother maid tarts for only one person: Joey. The time in point, mother finished the tarts and Joe, who was driving in from Portland, wasn’t there yet. She asked Gene and I if we wanted some tarts while they were hot and I replied, "No thanks, Mom. We’ll wait until Joe has his fill and then we’ll have what’s left." Gene and I thought that was real funny, but my mother’s response: A stamp of her right foot and the remark. "You boys!"
As I said, Gene and I were in trouble most of the time. One time when we were about ten and eleven we really got into trouble. Along with some other boys in town we broke into a home (Spencers) down in the Goose Pasture and stole a rifle. That wasn’t bad enough but we had to shoot out the lights in all of the rooms, thereby ruining the plaster. We did not have any police in Forestport so the state trooper, Romey Vaugn, was called in to investigate. When we heard that the jig was up and that we were under investigation we decided to hide the rifle. We were big time gangsters so we thought it out really well. We broke the rifle in half and buried one half in Spencer"s pasture and the other half we took to Donovan’s chicken yard where we buried it under about three feet of dung. We were all questioned at school by the trooper and everybody but me ‘cracked’. Since I was the oldest, the fault wound up being mine. Gene was my number one accomplice and he shared the brunt. Billy was not involved or at least Mother and Dad never knew that he was. As a result of our experiment in crime Gene and I were put on probation for one year and every month Mother had to take us to Utica to see our probation officer. We would ride the bus or maybe Terry would take us in his car (We loved every trip. While we were there we got to go shopping, had lunch, went to the circus, or did some other wonderful thing while the other kids were in school). We really learned our lesson. Is that what one calls ‘tough love’? I guess mother had her hands full with Gene and I. No wonder she loved Bill so.
Geraldine was the peacemaker. She was rarely in the midst of trouble but, if she was, it was because she was trying to help someone else out. Gerry was and is very smart. Too smart for the rest of us. To this day Gerry is the glue that binds. She makes the rounds and makes sure that everything is copesetic in the family.
Patsy was one of us. She was trouble on the hoof. She could get you in trouble without even trying. If you got too close she could give you an elbow to the ribs that would draw tears. If you were to respond in kind, the worst wailing you ever heard took place. To hear her cry one would think she had a broken arm. Dark clouds immediately appeared on the horizon. My dad would not stand still for boys hitting girls and especially if they were ‘little’ girls. ( I could hit Eva if I wanted to because she never screamed. She would just dust herself off and commence to tear me up. I learned not to hit her, the hard way. Pat was quite a lot younger than I though, so I didn’t get in much trouble there. Gene did. I think that Pat delighted in getting Gene in trouble. He never got the elbow unless Dad was handy. She knew that he was pretty good at letting you have a good rap in the muscle with his knuckles. Like I said, if we got tired of playing together we could always start a fight. Tom is the only one that never caused any trouble.
Anyway, it was Gene and I who did almost everything together. Bill tagged along a lot when he got big enough but if I went swimming, it was Gene and I. If I went to pick berries, it was Gene and I. If I shoveled snow it was Gene and I. If I got locked in the jail, guess what. So did Gene. It got so bad that when I was in about fourth grade, I looked around one day and there was Gene, in the same classroom. Once again it was Gene and I. We weren’t in the same grade but we were in the same room. We must have had two grades in the same classroom. Forestport Central School was an interesting place.
It was a two story building with two entrances. The north entrance had a sign above it: GIRLS, The south of course was BOYS. I went to this school until the seventh grade and I don’t remember anyone differentiating these two entrances. The first, or ground floor was for the grade school students and the second was for high school. Again, there was a stairwell for the girls and another for the boys. When we were in grade school we were not allowed upstairs so it was great fun to sneak upstairs when no one was looking. We would ask to go to the bathroom and instead we would sneak up the girls’ stairs and run down the upper hallway as fast as we could, hurry down the boys’ side and then return to class before someone could catch us. It doesn’t seem like much now but as a second or third grader it was great sport.
My first grade teacher had a very colorful name: Hazel Purple. She was an excellent teacher and I remember her even to this day. I also remember my fifth grade teacher, but for a different reason. My first recollection of her was of the roll call the first day I was in her class. She was going through the roll and when she came to my name she didn’t call it out. She said. "OH NO. Not another one." She had had George and then Eva and now she had another one. She liked me all right, it was just the shock of it all. Besides I didn’t cause her much trouble, I spent most of my time in the cloakroom. Behind the student body were two (or three) closets with doors that rolled down, like a garage door, to about two feet from the floor. I would be setting there minding my own business and this fifth grade teacher, Ms Butler, would say, "Tommy St. Denis."
"Go to the cloakroom please."
I didn’t argue, I would just get up and park myself in the closet with the door down. I kind of liked it in there. While I was in there she couldn’t hit me. One day I asked her if I could go to the basement. (that is what we called the bathroom). "No." she said. "You just want to play in the hallway." I sat there a while and then asked her again. Again she refused me. I was hurting pretty badly so I just reeled it out and urinated on the floor. She was so furious that she broke a hard-cover geography book over my head. I would rather have been sent to the cloakroom. My father didn’t think it was very funny either.
One day Mrs. Butler came to us and told us that Dad’s Aunt Dell, who lived in Constableville, was a friend of hers, and that she (Dell nee DuPont) wanted us to come visit her for the summer. I do not remember whether Ms. Butler told Gene and me or whether she told my parents. In any event, this was during the depression and my parents were glad to farm out two mouths, especially two that were in their prime as far as getting into mischief. We went to visit for two weeks. Aunt Dell lived on a big farm and we had quite a time. We had all we wanted to eat; we had a new environment to explore; and we were treated very well. Now, Gene and I were not the two most retiring kids in the county. If there was trouble to be had we knew how to have it. Aunt Dell understood kids and she always gave us something to keep us busy. Still, we were not to be denied. They had a great big bull on the farm. He was so big that they could not keep him in a stanchion. They kept him in a box stall. They also kept a ring in his nose. Gene and I were fascinated by this beast. When no one was around, we could tease him a little bit and he would snort and kick. We could rub a stick on the side of the pen and he would paw the ground and snort. Sometimes we would be really frightened and would go outside the barn, behind the bull, and begin to scratch on the walls with a big stick. One of us would scratch and the other would look through the window and watch the bull. This guy could really stir up a fuss. We finally got him mad enough to break the door of his pen. That was a great delight to us. We were now motivated to work even harder. Soon the bull broke himself out of the barn. Now we were scared to death. We were probably ten or eleven years old. Away we ran. Straight to Aunt Dell. "The bull is loose, The bull is out, Help! Help!"
Aunt Dell didn’t bat an eye. She got an ax handle from the barn, called her little dog, and marched out into the field. It did not take her long to convince that bull that the safest place in town was in the barn. She had a stick through the ring in its nose and she led it like a baby. Gene and I stood there, aghast. We didn’t know where the safest place in town was for us.. As Aunt Dell herded the bull to his stall she told us, "You boys! Git to the house!" While she was making repairs in the barn, Gene and I were in the house sweating bullets. She soon arrived and very quietly gave us a big hug and some milk. "You boys sure were scared." She said. She didn’t know the half of it. But it wasn’t the bull we were afraid of. We had some great times on that farm.
Bill and I went to the farm for two weeks too. I do not remember if it was the same year or the next. My guess is that it was the next. Aunt Dell was smarter than to have me over there twice in the same year. It was different when it was Bill and I. Gene and I were little rag-a-muffins, but Bill was always well groomed. That is what made it so funny when we had only just arrived with Ms. Butler and she took us to the house to tell Aunt Dell that we were there. We went onto the back porch and Aunt Dell came out to meet us. She had been doing some laundry. As we introduced Billy to her, he turned around to greet her and he backed right into a tub of hot water she had there. In he went, beautiful clothes and all. I couldn’t help it if it was funny to me. I began to laugh and immediately, I was in trouble with our hostess. She saw no humor in me laughing at ‘that child’. That was not Bill’s only tumble: Every day we had to clean out the gutters behind the milk cows. We had a wagon and horses that went down the center of the barn between the two rows of cows. We, (Bill, the hired hand, and I) shoveled the manure into the wagon. .It was a very odious, maybe I should say odorous, job. When we got to the far end of the barn we had to go over a small bump, kind of like a speed bump. On the back of the wagon was a step where one could ride while the wagon was in motion. We were not walkers. We were riders. But, Bill was not a very good rider. You guessed it. Straight in. Head first. Up to his shoulders. I nearly cracked up. In trouble again.
When I was small I spent an inordinate amount of time with my father. The depression was in full swing and it was very difficult for Dad to make a living. He took whatever job he could find and he wound up driving a dump truck for Joe Gordon or driving a snow plow for the Town Of Forestport, or some other such task. He built a cabin for Fred Bosworth up on Woodhall Creek and in his spare time he worked for the Railroad. I was not very old when he started taking me with him on the jobs if he could. If I was in the snow plow, he made sure that I knew my responsibilities. As we went down the road, often in the middle of the night, my father worked the Vee plow and it was my job to work the wing. He would tell me, "Lift up the outside now. Now lift up the inside. Watch out for that fence, lift the outside.. You’re clear now. Put it back down." He was a wonderfully patient man. When I rode with him in his gravel truck and we would pull up to an intersection, he would stop and look down the road on his side and if I didn’t say something , he would wait awhile and then say, "Well." It didn’t take me long to learn. When we stopped for traffic it was up to me to clear my side. When all was clear I was to say, "All clear" or "Clear over here" Sometimes I would have to report, "You got one coming." It was during these work stints with my dad that he told me his stories of the horses and of the lumber camps.
Sometimes when Dad was working for the town, he would take me with him and drop me off at a little stream in the woods with my lunch bucket and some fishing gear and instruct me to, "Catch us a good supper." He would be back in a few hours to pick me up. I just loved my life as a boy.
One other time I was farmed out for the summer. One of Dad’s co-workers lived about seven miles from Forestport and he had a ten acre farm, a grocery store, and a chicken ranch. His wife also operated the post office. The man’s name was Henry Rubior and he and Dad must have made some sort of deal because before I knew it I was living with the Rubiors and cleaning chicken coops, collecting and weighing eggs, driving tractor, and doing what ever else the Rubiors instructed me to do. It worked out for all concerned. Mother had me out of her hair; The Rubiors had a cheap hired hand; and for me it wasn’t that bad. I had all I wanted to eat. The people treated me very well. And they paid me fifty cents a day. I went to their house when the school summer break started and I kind of figured I’d be home to start school the next fall. That is not the way it worked out. When school started I just went on living on the farm guess I was there as long as they wanted me. Before I got on the bus in the mornings I had to milk six goats, gather eggs, and do whatever other chores Mrs. Rubior required. It kind of made me feel good to have responsibilities like those. During the summer break Gene came up to the farm to stay with me for a couple of weeks. During that period we had to clean out the two chicken coops. Each coop was about forty feet long and each was full of chicken shit. When I say full I mean full to about four feet deep. They had not been cleaned in years. The Rubiors also had a hired hand named Clarence Gouger (Two Thumb was his nick name). Between the three of us we forked all of the manure into a wagon and then deposited it on the farm acreage. We worked our little hearts out but we enjoyed it too. After a couple of weeks Gene went home and I was left there with Two Thumb. He was a pretty good guy but he was very insecure. I used to tease him until he would get so mad that he would threaten me and try to beat me. The trouble was that he couldn’t catch me and by the time he got around to nabbing me his anger was all gone and he would just try to lecture me. Clarence had been born with a double wide thumb on his right hand, hence the nick-name. My father told me that he had been a great baseball pitcher in his prime. I don’t remember what caused me to go home. Maybe the Rubiors had all they could take. I just know that before the snow fell I was home again. I must have been in sixth grade because the next year we moved to Booneville and I was in seventh grade there.
Gene and I, (Bill too for that matter) were pretty much left to do what we wanted in the summer months. We would get up early and be gone, often times, before mother knew where we were going. She never seemed to worry about us. We might go berry picking, or go up to the dump to find treasures. We might go to the river to fish or we might go for a swim. We had plenty of places to go. When I was a little guy there was only one way into the village from Aldar Creek: down by Gallager’s, across the two rickety bridges, and into the town square. Often times the spring run-off would threaten the bridges and everyone was a little tentative about crossing them. Sometime in the mid thirties the state decided to eliminate this problem and they began construction on a new highway, one that would cross the pond above town and eliminate the need for the bridges. To us little guys this was a great adventure to watch. We would spend days on end sitting up on top of Blake’s hills watching the heavy equipment ripping a new pass out of the mountain. If we were to get bored we would go to the dump and gather up some old tires. It is amazing how much fun we could have rolling those tires down the ravine and trying to hit the heavy equipment.
It was always fun to go to the town barn and watch the big trucks go in and out or to talk with the mechanics. There was a spring up there and the drivers would give us some of their lunch and we would fetch water from the spring. Boy, that water was cold and good. If we wanted to go fishing, there were literally hundreds of places to fish. Many of them were off limits but that just made them more inviting. If we had no line, we could go to the Grand Union store and Howard James would give us whatever we needed. He was one of the finest men I ever knew. He understood that we had no money but he never let on that there was anything wrong with that. "Where you boys going?" He would ask.
"We wanted to go fishing but we’re out of line." We would answer.
"How you fixed for hooks?"
"Well. We don’t have any of them either."
"Where are you going to fish?"
"Down below the bridges." We would answer.
"Don’t go near that falls". He would warn.
"Here is some line"
And with that he would roll about twenty feet of store string out for us. Then he would fish out some hooks and send us on our way, more times than not with some cupcakes or a moon pie.
Mr. James had a long loading dock all along the north side of his store. Here he stored his empty bottles, used cartons, etc. We used to find empty bottles around town and bring them in to redeem the deposit: two cents for small ones and a nickel for the quart size. Two or three bottles was enough for a candy bar. When times got tough or if we were too lazy to search, we would sneak out to the loading dock, gather up two or three bottles, roll them in the dirt, and take them in for our bounty. We thought we had that wonderful man fooled. I now realize that he had us fooled. "Where did you boys find all of these bottles?" He would ask.
"Up by the town barn. or, Down near the spring." was our claim.
"Keep a sharp eye out, and you may find a few more." He would offer.
We would exit with our candy, and pat ourselves on the back for being wise. We were a long way from being wise. I now realize that he knew perfectly well where those bottles came from. If my older brothers or my dad had found out what we had been up to we would have been wearing our butts on our shoulders. Howard James knew that, too. He must have figured we would straighten ourselves out. But it took me a long time. I’m still working on it. I wasn’t always bad. I was good once. I distinctly remember mother telling me one time, "You are a good boy." Eva would have thrown up at that statement. In fact she would flatly deny that I was ever worth much. (It just now comes to me after relating these anecdotes that, while I thought for all of these years that the reason my dad took me with him more than the others was that he loved me a lot, and that I was fun to be with. That wasn’t the reason at all. He took me with him because my mother told him to. "Get that hellion out of my hair." No wonder they shipped me to Aunt Dell’s and to the Rubior’s).
Even after we moved to Rome and Gene and I were working at the bowling alley, they farmed us out to Uncle Gene in Brooklyn. We spent a couple of weeks down there visiting our relatives . We had a great time. Uncle Gene’s father-in-law called us apple knockers but they treated us very well. We went to ball games, toured the city, and even attended the first major league ball game that Jackie Robinson played. My uncle Bill would take us to Manhatten on the subway and we had never seen anything like that before. They don’t have subways in Forestport. The train would get to wobbling and he would tell us that it was important that the conductor get the timing just right. If the train coming the opposite direction was also swaying the conductors had to make sure that our car shook one way while the neighbor car shook the other. Otherwise the two trains would collide. He assured us that it was only important if we were riding the local. He called the the loco. Like I said, we had a great time. Mother must have been ecstatic with Gene and I both gone at the same time. Last week when I came to this startling insight, why Dad carried me all over, I called Eva and told her about my discovery. Her response was just what I would have expected: "Nobody ever accused you of being quick, Tom." Eva always understood me.
As for swimming, We had options you would not believe. There was The Point, Gallager’s, the Bog Hole, Pea Soup, Still Water, and Togg’s, just to name a few. And if we wanted to be daring, there was a stone quarry about two miles from town where we were forbidden to tread. It was deep, cold and had lots of sand dunes. The water was green and we called the place "Blue Waters." We would go there to skinny dip. If girls were there, so much the better: We would turn somersaults in the water so our butts would show and we would call to the girls, "The moon comes over the mountain." What a thrill. If someone were to mention Blue Waters it became, immediately, the pool of choice. In an effort to keep us away from there the adults told us that it was full of quick sand. That only made the place more intriguing.
The Point was a quiet beach on Alder Creek pond. This is where most of Forestport swam. The water was warm and the ‘drop’ was gradual. There was usually some adult there taking a dip. This is where most kids learned to swim. Gallager’s however was completely different. It was in the river, the water was ice cold, and the drop-off was abrupt. A pulp mill had been there years before and the shore was reinforced to hold back the soil and to keep the water deep. The big guys had built a six foot high diving platform there and they had erected a tower about ten feet above the platform. This is where the brave went to swim. Downstream about one hundred yards was a waterfall about eighteen feet high. The current ran swift and if you were not a strong swimmer, you were in danger. Above the dam was a pond about two hundred yards across and several miles long. In the middle of the pond was a rock about the size of a kitchen table. The big guys would swim out to the rock and beckon to the weak of heart to "give it a go." I never did try to make it out there, but Betty tried it once and nearly drowned. The story about that was enough for me. It seems that she got about two thirds of the way to the rock and then decided that she could not make it. She turned back and really could not make it now. I forget if Uncle Bill saved her or if it was Grandma’s dog, Pug. It was at Gallager’s that we learned to dive. In fact, we used to dive off the platform before we could swim. We would dive in and swim to shore before we came up for air. We thought we were pretty big. The Bog Hole was a quiet spot in the river below the bridges. It was really shallow, but the water ran fast and we could wade upstream and ride the current down. We did not spend much time there. Pea Soup was a favorite spot for the romantic set. It was located on Woodhall Creek, and although there was a camp on the shore the camp was usually empty. The water here was very cold. Along the shore were several big rocks. In fact the shore was a huge rock. One could go into the water and then lie on the rocks and soak up the sun. Still-Water was just a wide spot in the river about two miles below the town. We would sneak away to this hole when we wanted to be alone. Out in the middle of the river was a big island and we would swim across the still water and roam the island. There were blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries there, and, if one got hungry, he had only to swim thirty yards and he was in a virtual garden. Togg’s was a big favorite with the people who lived on Dutch Hill. It was on the opposite side of Alder Creek Pond from The Point. When we were very little kids, not yet able to do more than the Dog Paddle, we would wade out as for as we could at The Point. Then we dared each other to try to make Togg’s. Away we would go. Full speed ahead. I don’t know now how we lived as long as we did. I used to reach Togg’s completely worn out. Sometimes I would be so tired I would nearly cry. Sometimes I did cry. But always we laid down on the bank and thanked the Lord for our continued existence. We were only about six or seven.
We swam almost every day in the summer but sometimes we just roamed the countryside looking for excitement. Above Pea Soup, Woodhall Creek ran for about thirty miles through the forest. It was a rapid river with steep canyons and swift water falls. We loved to go there to fish or just to play in the stream. A couple of miles upstream from Pea Soup the creek ran under a big railroad trestle: Buffalo Head. We would go up on the trestle and walk the tracks hoping a train would not come and run us over. It was about forty feet from the tracks on the trestle to the water and there was no way we could get away if a train were to come while we were on the trestle. We braved it anyway. We were about eight. When that got boring we would place a penny on the tracks and wait for a train to smash it. When the train passed we would wave at the engineer and he would blow his whistle. We thought we were pretty big.
My dad worked on the railroad off and on. The big boss was a man named Commiski. I asked my dad one day if he had ever been afraid. "Oh, I have been scared a few times." `he said. "But I have only been afraid once. I was working on the railroad and one of the guys who had a terrible temper hit himself on the shin with a sledgehammer. ‘Jesus H. Christ’ he shouted. And then he began to curse. The air turned blue. He used every curse word there is and then he started all over again. Pretty soon he sat down and put his head in his hands. After about three minutes, he started all over again. Again the sky turned blue. I could handle all of this". My father said. " I wasn’t afraid yet. But then the man took a quarter out of his pocket and put it on a stump. ‘There’ he said, talking to God. ‘I dare you. I double dare you. If you are so almighty, come down and get that quarter.’ That is when I got scared. That is the only time a was ever afraid".
About every other Saturday, if my father was ‘out of the woods’ we would have to clean up the yard. We would load the pick-up with junk and Dad would take us to the town dump to off-load it. By the time my father got home with the truck, we had taken a short-cut home with most of the same junk. He used to just grit his teeth and say something like, "Well, I guess you have to have something to play with."
It was not always summer in Forestport. In fact my uncle Terry told me that he fell asleep one day and almost missed summer entirely. Summers were short and winters were long but we enjoyed winter too. The guys used to build a great big fire right in the middle of the lake and we would skate all around it. One time when I was a little tike I was trying to learn to skate backwards. We were on Alder Creek Pond. I was skating around trying to get my balance and my tongue must have been out about a foot. The big guys kept telling me to put my tongue in and I would try, but as soon as I would concentrate on balance and movement in reverse I would forget about my tongue. You guessed it. Down I went, my feet out behind me and my tongue hanging out. When my chin got to the ice I clamped down pretty hard and almost bit my tongue off. I don’t know how they saved it but somehow I can still ‘hold my tongue’. We never saw skis with harnesses in my day. The only pair I ever saw as a child belonged to Nelson Gordon, a guy about Joe’s age. But then Nelson had everything: the best looking car; the most marbles, the neatest clothes, etc. We didn’t need harnesses on our skis. We skied all over the mountains with flat skis with straps of leather through them in which to place our feet. About ever five minutes we would have to stop and scrape the ice out from the strap so that our feet would stay in place. We had a great lady in town named Laura Furnier who would take us all over Blakes Hills on cross country excursions. There is a place outside of Forestport called Little’s Mountain and we used to go there to ski. I thought it was about two miles high and we thought we were great skiers to navigate that hill. A few years ago I went up to Little’s Mountain and got the surprise of my life. That damn mountain is only about forty yards high. I still, today, have a set of the old flat skis in my garage. I am sorely tempted to take them up to Colorado, Purgatory is only a few miles from where I live, and watch the looks of the pros as I ski down their slopes. When I was still quite young I had a trap-line up above Little’s fish hatchery. I would catch mink, muskrat, weasel, and once and a while a fox. My dad was good about letting me run this line by myself and he also let me carry a rifle with me, just in case. My father was always teaching lessons. When he would lend me his rifle he always made me count the shells. When I came home I had to account for every shell. If I had fired some, I had better have the empty cartridges to account for my shots. I guess he was teaching me about life even when I was having fun.
When winter was just about over the sap began to run in more things than our loins. The maple trees around Forestport, of which there were plenty, began to send there sap up the trunks to start new life. Many of the people around town collected the sap and made maple syrup. We, of course, tried to get in on the game. We would help tap the trees and put the spouts in the taps. When the buckets would get fairly well filled we would help gather the sap into big pails and carry them to the hearth where the sap was boiled down for syrup and even for maple sugar. I don’t remember ever getting paid any money for all of this work but we usually got all the syrup we wanted. Mr. Pierce made syrup and he was always glad to have our help. In fact, much of my childhood was spent up at Pierces farm. We would just show up and he was always glad we were there. We would help him feed the cows, mow the hay, spread the manure, or anything else that needed help. Mr. Pierce had three horses: Two big white work horses, Jack and Nellie, and one ex-cavalry horse name Mandy. When we would finish working the hay out in the fields Mr. Pierce would unhook the work team and ask us if we wanted to ride them home. We were ecstatic. Their harnesses had two big horns on them and he would lift us up there and tell us to "Take em to the barn." Later on, after I had learned to ride fairly well, Mr. Pierce would let me ride Mandy any time I wanted too. This was a real thrill because she was a riding horse and she loved to run like the wind.
Mrs. Pierce was only rarely seen. We would be marching by the house on our way to the barn, Gene and I, and she would come running out and grab us up and drag us into the kitchen, set us down at the table, and pour us a glass of buttermilk. "You boys are going to blow away in the wind if I don’t fatten you up." she would report. Whether we liked buttermilk was not in question. I could just barely stomach it but I knew that if I wanted to play around that farm I had better not cross Mrs. Pierce. In spite of here attempts Gene and I gained not a pound.
When we lived in Grandma’s old house, up on the hill, there was a very nice man living just at the bottom of the hill, Johnny Porter. Mr. Porter had been the butcher at Fred Little’s meat market and he might have been yet for all I know. I only know that he was very kind to us kids. We used to go to his yard while he was sitting in his easy chair on the porch. While he sat there and talked with us we would play marbles and asked him questions. He had a grandson, Howie (Howard) Porter who was about my age and he and I played together on occasion.
Out behind Mr. Porter’s house there was a little brook and we had, over the years, dredged out a pond in the stream and from this pond we would gather tadpoles, frogs and what have you. One day Howie and I found a bunch of lumber and we asked Mr. Porter if we could build a camp out by the stream. He did not hesitate. "Sure." he said. "Go ahead and If you need some advice, come ask me." In a matter of a few weeks Howie and I built a cabin complete with bunks, a table and chairs. I scrounged up a auto generator from one of Dad’s old vehicles and Howie rounded up a battery. We constructed a water-wheel to drive our generator and we soon had a six volt electrical system complete with light bulbs mounted inside of pie plates. Mr. Porter was pretty impressed with our handiwork. We were only about twelve.
My brother Joe was of special importance in our lives. Joe was about seven or eight years older than I and because my dad was so busy making a living (Often times he, my dad, was in the woods for weeks on end) Joe was my male identification image. I come to Joe’s age by a marvelous extrapolation: Mother had a child about every fifteen months. (I think she confused six weeks with six months). Anyway, since there were five children between Joe and me I come to the magic figure of seven years by multiplying fifteen months by five: seventy five months or about seven years.. Joe taught us ‘little kids’ how to swim, where all of the berry patches were, how to track wild animals and everything else worth knowing. I remember trying to learn to swim. Joe was very patient. He took us to The Point time after time. He made us wade out as far as we could and then we would tell us to put our faces in the water and swim to him. After a few days of working with us he brought out a jackknife from his treasures and offered it to the first one to really swim. I don’t think any of us earned it. After a respectable interval, Joe’s patience wore thin. He took us to Galliger’s where the water was deep. There was to be no wading there. Since I was the oldest I got the first instruction. He took me up onto the platform and threw me in. "Now, by God, I’ll bet you swim", he laughed.
Joe sang us songs and told us tales. He had great respect from the 'little kids'. Joe tells the story about one time when he and Freddy Bosworth wanted to hunt on Mr. Pierce’s land. They drove up to the house and Joe got out to ask for permission. Mr. Pierce said. "Sure Joe, Go right ahead but do me a favor, will you? While you are out there in the field look for my old horse. He’s very old and sick and I need to kill him. If you will shoot him while you are out there, I’ll come out in my wagon after a while and pick him up and dispose of him."
"Sure. I would be glad to help." Said Joe, and away they went, he and Freddy. As they drove down the lane, Freddy asked, "Well, what did the old man tell you?". About that time Joe spied the old horse and he responded, "The old goat told me we could not hunt on his property and I have a good mind to shoot his horse." With that he stopped the car, got out and plugged the old nag. Freddy got all excited.
Joe, was full of stories to keep us on our toes. He was always telling us about the big bear he had just seen, or about the beaver dam up on Little’s creek where the trout were so big he couldn’t pull them in. If he did manage to get one ashore, he had to kill it with a log before he cleaned it. Otherwise it might bite his hand off. Or he might look at us quietly, roll his eyes, and, in a very soft voice, tell us about the three does and the little fawn he had just seen over in the woods behind Galliger’s. When Joe told stories, the hair on your neck stood up and sometimes you would visibly shiver. One day Joe came home with a horseshoe magnet. "What are going to do?" Gene, Bill, and I asked.
"Come on," he said. "I’ll show you guys some magic." He took us into the woods, down to a little stream, and began to work the magnet around in the soil. Pretty soon he pulled it out and, behold, it was covered with iron filings. To four, five, and six year olds this was wondrous indeed. But that was only the beginning. He took a little cup of these filings home with us and began to explain magnetism. (He called it magictism). First he got a piece of plain paper. He spread the filings on the paper and had us each shake the paper around. "Be careful," he said. "Don’t spill them." Then he had us pass a stick all around the paper. "Try passing it underneath," he would say. "Is anything happening?" Of course nothing happened. Now it was his turn. He would look at us with those big eyes of his, furrow his forehead, and begin to utter magical phrases. In the meantime he moved the magnet around under the paper and gave the command: "Attention." (TEN-HUT) was the way he pronounced it. The little filings immediately stood up. His next command: "Forward March". and the filings began to move around in perfect order. We were awestruck. When the game was over, he explained about magnetism, north and south poles, and anything else he thought we could understand about nature. What a wonderful teacher he was, and what a wonderful school teacher he would have been. When Joe was about fifteen years old, he went to work for the local barber, Bill Stevens. Mr. Stevens came to love Joe and Joe certainly loved him. It was plain even to me, somewhere around seven, that Joe was in heaven at the shop. He had lots of people to talk to, tell them his stories, and everyone encouraged him to expound. I used to go to the shop just to see my brother. He always greeted me warmly and immediately got out coloring books, water colors, and paint brushes. He would set me to work and then go back to his hair cutting. Mr. Stevens never seemed to mind and I sometimes stayed there for hours. Joe would cut a while and then come over to see how I was doing. "Just a little too bold," he would say. Or "Add a little more yellow." ---"Lighten it up with water."---"Don’t be afraid to brush it on." He was very good at painting and I loved his attention.
One day Mr. Stevens sold the shop and informed everyone that he was moving to Lowville, a town about fifty miles down the Black River. Joe was in a real quandary. He wanted to keep barbering and he loved Mr. Stevens. He also loved his family and did not want to leave. Mr. Stevens made it plain that Joe was his favorite person and that he wanted Joe to go with him. After much wringing of hands and discussion with mother, Joe decided to go to Lowville. That is about the last I saw of Joe until after the war.
We had a wonderful home life. My father was wonderful with children. He was patient in the extreme. My Aunt Julie (Homer’s wife) said to me one time. "Tommy, you should have seen your dad when you kids were little. We used to go over to your house on Sunday mornings and your dad would be sitting in his easy chair trying to read the paper. There would be one kid riding on his foot. Another would be pulling on his arm. One would be crawling between him and the paper and the last would be standing behind his chair combing his hair. He was unperturbed." Just a few years ago my sister Alvina told Gene and I that Dad was a wonderfully patient man; that he had never struck any of us kids. She was right of course. My dad was a wonderfully patient man, but she was wrong that he never struck any of us. She could not believe Gene and I when we told her that we had had our share of spankings. Maybe he didn’t spank the rest of them but Gene and I were needful of special treatment.
My father loved to play cards. He taught us kids every card game there is. We learned Rummy, Pitch, Euchre, Pied, King Pied, Three handed pinochle, Two handed pinochle, Double pinochle, Poker, Cribbage, and the list goes on. Until the day he died, if you were to walk into his house, and he was seated at the table, he would reach for a deck of cards and maybe the cribbage board. Patience and cards go together.
One time Mom and Dad visited us in Arizona. Cindy was just an infant. We took them to the Grand Canyon and while we were there we rented a cabin to stay the night. Marilyn and I went to bed but Mom and Dad stayed up to play cribbage. Now, in cribbage, it is impossible to score nineteen in any one hand. Of course this was a challenge to my mother. We could hear them in the kitchen.
Mother: "Fifteen two, Fifteen four, Fifteen six, Fifteen eight, and an eight card run is sixteen, and a pair is eighteen and one for his nibs. NINETEEN."
"Count them again.
"Fifteen two, Fifteen four, Fifteen six, --- NINETEEN.
"Count them again."
On and on until: "All right then. You count them."
"If I count them they belong to me." He would say.
Marilyn and I chuckled quietly to ourselves.
We took them to Old Tucson to see the movie set out there. While we were there, some actors had a shoot-out in front of the saloon. A few minutes later we were in the saloon getting a sarsaparilla when the actors came in. One man at the bar was wearing a star. Mother got very excited. "Joe, Joe." She whispered. "The Sheriff."
I realized that in her naiveté she thought that this was a real sheriff. I started to say something to help her understand and my father gave me the elbow.
"You leave her alone." he whispered. "If she thinks he is a real sheriff, let her think so."
How wise he was. How romantic.
Geraldine told me that on the way across country Dad got real tired one night and pulled over to the side of the road to rest. It was pitch black outside and Mom was afraid. They had been there but for a few minutes when another car, actually a truck, pulled up in front of them and some men got out to check the tires or something. Mother shook my father and, in a very excited manner, said. "Joe. Joe. It’s the Klu Klux Klan." When they got farther west and were traveling through the high mesas of Utah or New Mexico mother was on the edge of her seat watching the bluffs just in case there were Indians. My mother was a wonderful person with a terrific imagination. My father had learned long ago to just let her be and enjoy her naiveté. Oh, that I had his wisdom.
I remember another time when he exhibited his sagacity. It was Christmas and we were living in Rome. I was stationed at the air base there. I was over at Dad’s house when they decided to go out for a Yule tree. I had no tree either so I told them I would ride along and get one too. As we headed down town Mother told Dad that she didn’t want to go downtown to get a tree, she wanted to go to the fire station at Delta Lake.
"We can do just as well downtown." Dad remarked.
"They have better trees at the fire station, Joe"
"Let’s look first." he said. "You might find one you like here, and we won’t have to drive way out there."
"Okay, but they have better trees at Delta Lake."
After visiting just about every tree lot in Rome, (There were several trees that I liked there but mother assured me that I would fine a better one at the fire station.) we started for the lake. It is about nine miles to the foot of the dam that holds back Lake Delta. At the foot of the dam the road forks. One branch goes up the hill where the fire station is located. The other branch winds around under the dam and follows the lake for about seven miles to the village of Stokes. When we got to this fork mother said. "You turn left here, Joe." Mother could not drive but she could tell everyone else how. I knew that she was wrong and I started to tell my dad.
"You mind your own business." he said. "She knows where she’s going."
With that he proceeded to turn left and away from the station. We drove along under the dam, up the hill, and along the lake. "It is right along here." said Mother.
On and on we went. "I know it’s just a few more feet." she said.
Meanwhile I’m in the back seat trying desperately to keep a straight face. When we reached Stokes my mother looked at Dad and said. "You knew all the time that we were going the wrong way, didn’t you?"
"Honey, I thought you knew the way better than I."
Dad knew how to get along with my mother. He often did it with tongue-in-cheek. I remember many times when she would be on his case and he would just sit there and listen while she reminded him of every mistake he had ever made. On and on she would go and his rejoinder was usually, "Yes Dear." But, on more than one occasion he would respond with, "I’ll tell you what dear. You play for a while and let me sing." Mother really appreciated remarks like those. One time when we ‘little kids’ were still really small mother decided to leave. They had been ‘at it’ for a while and she told my father. "I’m leaving!"
"Good!" he said. "Take the kids with you please. I could use a good sleep." He knew she wasn’t going anywhere. She could not drive. He went into the house and went to bed. My mother was furious. She called my brother Joe and uncle Terry home and got them to back the car out of the yard. "All right." she said. "You kids get in. You big boys better go along too.". We all piled into the car: four or five ‘little kids’, two or three ‘big kids’, the big boys, and I don’t know how many neighbor kids. There were arms and legs everywhere. Heads were sticking out the windows and tempers were growing short. Mom revved up the engine, put the transmission in LOW, and popped the clutch. Tires screeched, kids bawled, and away we went, down both sides of the road. It is a good thing that there was little or no traffic in those days. We wound our way for about twelve or thirteen miles from two lane roads; to one lane, to dirt. Finally, Mother decided that she had ‘left’ for a long enough time period. He would be sorry now. The problem was that she didn’t know how to turn around. In fact she could not find reverse gear. The big boys knew where reverse was but they were not very good drivers either. There we were, way up in the woods on a dirt road and no one knew how to get us home. The big girls cried. The little kids laughed and giggled. The big guys tried to get us turned around and got us in a ditch. And Dad "Was going to be sorry now." We had enough manpower to pick the damn car up and carry it home so in a matter of time we got it turned around and away we went again. Arms were still hanging out of the windows. People still didn’t know who their neighbor was and the big girls were still blubbering. Somehow we made it back through town and back into our driveway. Mother went sailing into the house yelling, "Joe. Joe!. We’re home now."
"Damn." my father said. "I just got to sleep."
One time when I was much older, my dad told me an anecdote about mother’s ability to drink. He had been in the woods for about two weeks and when the crew got back to Forestport, the guys wanted to go to "Mikes" ( the local tavern) to get a brew. Dad didn’t really want to go but it was the macho thing to do. So, away they went. Well, when the crews came out of the woods it didn’t take long for the news to get around. Mother knew he was in town and that he had gone to "Mikes". One drink led to another and maybe and hour passed ( remember, this is Dad’s story.) while mother stood on the porch or watched out the window for Dad to come home. The temperature in the house must have been rising rapidly. Finally mother decided to teach him a lesson. She got into here finery and paraded down the street to "Mikes" And then she did the unthinkable. She walked right in and right up to the bar.
"Well". She said. "I guess if you are not coming home and would rather drink, then I’ll just have to drink with you."
Dad said that he was aghast. "I’ll teach her a lesson about drinking." he thought. "She doesn’t know how to drink. I’ll get her stewed and she will have a terrible headache in the morning. She will never do this again."
"Good." said Dad. "What will you have?"
"I’ll have a slow gin fizz." my mother retorted.
"Give the lady a slow gin fizz." he said to the bartender.
After about three of these my dad thought that my mother would be ‘high as Gilroy’s kite’ he told me. He was beginning to get a buzz on himself but my mother was just sipping her drinks and having a good time talking to the other people. Pretty soon, my father thought that he had better get her out of there and take her home before she got sick. "Let’s go." he said.
"I think we had better." he said.
He told me that when they got home he could hardly navigate the steps and mother was just as steady as a rock. "She will have a beauty in the morning." He thought. When morning came he awoke to mother’s singing in the kitchen. "She was just as bright as a bell." he told me. "Hell, she could drink me under the table anytime." he said.