Sunday, March 01, 2015

I submitted this piece to The Thousand Islands Sun, and it was published Feb. 18th, 2015. I hope this reaches an audience of non subscribers

 I've been having fun with Google Maps Street View in Clayton. From age ten to eighteen this house was my home, where I lived with my parents, Robert and Ruth Charles. I loved this house. The Foxes bought it after we moved to Syracuse after Dad retired as principal of Clayton Central School. As far as I know they are still enjoying it.

 After we moved here from our rented home on Beecher Street my mother hired Mr. Wiley to upgrade the kitchen and bathroom, and add a bath and a half so my grandmother could come and live with us. I followed Mr. Wiley around while he did the remodeling my Mom wanted; learned a lot about carpentry from just watching that gentle man. Probably he found me a nuisance, but he never let on.
I counted my paper route money out on my bed in the little bedroom on the first floor, until my grandma moved into it. Then I moved upstairs to the room in the back, facing the railroad tracks.
My favorite house in Clayton

 I Recuperated from chicken pox at eighteen in the room with the little window above the porch; heard Doctor Pilpel tell my Mom I might not recover, my fever was so high. There was a question about the future ability to father children, which turned out all right as Carol and I have two, and five wonderful grandkids. I did miss the CCS Class of 1960 trip to New York City, though.
Bryce Baker and I spent a lot of time in the silver maple tree that preceded the small one pictured on the right by the driveway. A great climbing and sitting tree, it was as big as or bigger than the one on the left, which my Dad planted after a storm took down the one it replaced. He paid me to take out the stump, which was just north (left) of the big one in the picture. The new one was a little smaller than the tree on the right is now.

 I learned from my Dad how to use a double bitted ax, and managed to get the stump out, roots and all, blisters and all. One blade for roots in the dirt, shovel the dirt, pry the root up, chop with sharpest side, rotate, chop with duller side, repeat. Persevere every day for an hour after school for a month and Bob's your uncle, the root comes out!
Just in front of that present day big tree was a seven foot section of iron railroad rail embedded in concrete, with an iron ring at the top. My Dad said it was used to tether horses in the days before cars. I knew there were others like it in town, some fancier but no sturdier, so I had no reason to disbelieve him. He paid me to dig it out also. Bryce and I couldn't break off all of the concrete with Dad's 3 pound sledge; but we got it out, put it my rusty old Radio Flyer wagon and hauled it to the dump (the present site of the skating rink/Lions Club ball field park) where Bruce Ackerman paid us a small sum for the scrap iron. We split the profit 50/50.
I learned to drive my Brother Dick's stick shift Plymouth on Graves St. Back out of the driveway, down the hill to the cheese factory, around their loop drive, back up the hill, and do it again. He made me take my test on it in Watertown. Would not let me take it until I could shift perfectly and crawl up and down the hill in first and reverse without hesitating. I drove nothing but sticks for fifty years afterward except for company cars.

 This is how it looked when we lived there in 1959. If you “drive” up Graves Street on Google, you can't see it now for the trees. Of course, “real time” being today, February 9, 2015, you might not be able to see up the street for other reasons; like snow, as it was the night before this storm in 1959.

 This photo was taken after a major snow and ice storm in 1952. My Mom told us not to leave the neighborhood because power lines were down everywhere. Our neighbor, Bill Lafountain (Mr. Lafountain to me) was a Niagara Mohawk Lineman, supervisor. When it did this sort of thing he was away from home a lot.

In the lower left you can see my Dad's snow covered '49 ford. He parked it that way to be sure it could get out. Of course he didn't need to because we lived less than a block from Clayton Central. I doubt he could have gone very far on those roads anyway, because we did not have snow tires or chains.

 In the center you can see the big silver maple we used to climb. Its branches are bowed almost to the ground. Just to the right in the background you can see the trunk of the smaller (but still large) maple that Dad had to cut down a few years later because of rot and the ice damage in '52. It's the tree whose stump removal paid for my new English bike in 1955.

 I had a hand me down fat tired red Schwinn, no gears, Bendix brakes and pretty worn out. I really wanted the black Raleigh 3 speed I saw at Gonseth's bike shop, and this stump removal got it for me as a 13th birthday gift from my parents, paid for out of my savings and my Grandma's contribution. I delivered papers with it as a substitute paper boy out of Merle Daly's smoke shop (I think I covered every route in town) and rode it back and forth to work at McCormic’s for four summers.

 In the background behind the car is the other Grave's house. Ours was the Peter Graves house, built in the late 1800's according to the wooden letters in the concrete front steps. I think the letters are still there, but the wood is long gone. Next door was the Tiffany home. North of our lot was a vacant field, often sown to timothy, to which I was violently allergic in the growing season! Just north of that was the concrete block cheese factory, built about the same time we moved. On hot summer days, if the wind was just right and the tanker hadn't come by yet, you got a pretty good whiff of the whey tank that sat just south of their driveway. Some days you could smell the Limburger cheese they made as well. I never have been able to eat that.

 The photo with the boy petting the cat the cat was taken in the then updated kitchen of the house, with the door to the mudroom in the background. The boy is Bryce Baker, my best friend through school at CCS and long after. Bryce passed away a few years back. I miss him.

 The cat in the picture was Rusty, who lived happily to a ripe old age of 18. Once, when we were about 15, Rusty tangled with a king snake in the yard next door where Mr. Tiffany had a hen house, with a large manure pile next to it, occupied by that snake. We heard Rusty yowling, and when we went to look we found him wrapped in the black coils of the snake, which had to be 5 or 6 feet long. We didn't want to kill the snake as they are good at keeping varmints under control, but it was killing my cat! We got shovels from the back cellar entrance and whacked at its head until it let go. It was one of those times you wanted to have your camera at hand, because people never believed us, but I didn't really have time to run in the house and get mine.

 Another time my brother's friend, Bill Carpenter, came by with his beagle. The dog treed Rusty in that big maple in the photo. Rusty skinned up that tree easily, and sat out on a branch that overhung the driveway. The dog stood under the branch, baying up at the cat enthusiastically. After about 5 minutes of that, the cat calmly dropped the seven feet or so off the branch right onto the beagle's back and hung on with his claws. The dog turned around in circles for a few seconds, and then went ki-yi-ing up the dirt road south of our house for about 200 feet before Rusty calmly jumped off into the grass at the side of the road. Dog never bothered him again.

 That cat had nine lives, I believe. One fall my Dad and I were scything the long grass in the large back yard behind the house and Rusty could be heard meowing strangely on the other side of the cow pasture fence. We went to look and that cat, which was a large yellow orange tiger, had a buck rabbit in his mouth nearly as large as he was!

 He was making the strange noise because he couldn't open his mouth or that rabbit would get away. We made him turn it loose. It was quite a lot worse for the wear, but had gotten a few kicks in with the claws on its powerful hind legs, and probably a few bites. It wasn't long after that Rusty developed skin ulcers, and they became infected. Bryce and I had to put him in a big box and drive him to Watertown to be treated. The vet said we really needed to put him down, as he was too sick to stay with us anymore. I had rarely seen Bryce so sad. We had both grown up with that cat, and we were very silent on the ride home.

Bryce Baker in the middle of icy Graves St., whey tank to his left

 We also had a pure bred collie dog when I was supposed to be old enough to take care of one. We got him at what today would probably be considered a wildcat breeder, but back then they were good, carful folks who loved dogs, and bred them to sell, but only a few at a time. Mike (Prince Michael on the pedigree papers) was a typical pure breed collie; very affectionate and loyal to a fault, but exitable. When I was in high school he started coming to the door by the music room, and patiently waiting for me to come out. If someone let him in he would either come to my homeroom door or go to the office where my Dad was usually to be found. That always meant a quick trip home for me to get him shut in the house until school let out.

 The back door shown in the picture with Bryce Baker petting the cat led to a mud room where boots and outdoor clothes, laundry detergent, snow shovel (in winter) and a big laundry tub were kept. Twice my mother had to give Mike a tomato juice bath after he tangled with a skunk while guarding the back yard at night from such critters. Sometimes he came home covered head to tail in manure smelly mud from the pond next door where the dentists' office is now. He was fond of chasing the cows in that pasture, and we finally had to put him on a cable lead with a wire running from the house to a pole so that he would stop chasing after things. It did not make the stock owner happy to have him chase his cows either!

 It's funny to drive by on a well paved street, past the dentists' office and the fire house, right on up to East Line Road. Back when we lived there the paved road ended about 70 feet south of our driveway. It was rutted and big sharp rocks stood up in the holes that could cut your tires, or flatten bike tires if you hit them.

 The Calumet fire team used to come roaring up the street to the hydrant across from our house and practice hooking hoses to it. Carol and I lived at French Creek Marina for a few years back in the early part of this century, and could hear the roaring of engines as they did a much more sophisticated version of that, and still do today.
I often wish I could live in Clayton in the summer (I don’t know if I could ever take the winters there now!) but it is not possible. We do love to visit though, and even though Carol was born in Rochester she, through force of habit since I keep taking her back, has grown to love it there as well. But never in the winter! We love to see the pictures in the Thousand Island Sun, but that's as close as we want to get to a River winter!

Joel Charles,
Cumming, Georgia, 2015