Winter 1997

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Autobiographical Sketches


Floyd Griswold Greene

Floyd Griswold Greene wrote this account of his family and his early life for his daughters.
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Conclusion

Part Six

In my early years my natural bent was mechanical and I used a part of my leisure in building things, and in tearing down things already built. When I was small my uncle Charlie Green gave me a boy's set of carpenter's tools which were a great joy to me.

The period from 1886, when my mother and Mr. Pealer were married, to the fall of 1892, when I went to Hornellsville to high school, was spent in growing up, with the other village boys and girls, going to the village schools, working on the farm on occasion, and, in general, leading a happy and quite serene life.

As to my schooling, I have already mentioned going to school at Lima and on Oak Hill. In Rogersville, I attended mostly the school in the little district school house that is still used there, on the side street over by the creek. In my day, there were, at times, in the winter, more than 50 pupils there, with but one teacher. In the center of the room was a large wood stove. The seats were not the modern kind, made in a factory, with the seat turning up, but they had been made by a local carpenter years before. Around the stove was a row of seats, on which we sat to get our felt boots thawed out, and dried out, when we came in from riding down the long steep hill on our sleds during the recess and noon-time. There was a recess period during the forenoon and afternoon. The school hours were from 9 to 12, and from 1 ro 4. As the felt boots, with the rubbers taken off, steamed up from the heat of the big stove, it got a bit smelly in there. Two students sat in each seat, and while it was unduly hot near the stove, it was unduly cold in the corners of the room. Water to drink was obtained from a pail in which a dipper sat. Every now and then two students would take the pail to the Day well nearby and get a fresh pail of water. The strategy was to get early drinks from the pail, because after the dipper had been used by a number of small fry with colds and runny noses it wasn't too clean.

During the time that I went to that district school I was given the steel sled that we still have at 916, and I could go down that hill as fast as any of them. Most of the sleds were home-made ones, and I felt very proud of mine from a Dansville store. That hill is so long and so steep that it now seems a wonder to me that more boys and girls were not hurt there, but I cannot now recall anyone having been seriously hurt.

It is a wonder that we kids learned anything at the district school. Most of the text-books used were those handed down from the various parents, and they were of all sorts. The various classes were called to the front of the room, and did their reciting in the presence of all the school, a system that did not help studying for those not reciting. In my usual modest style I claim that as a student, I was as good as any of them. I was unusually good in spelling, and, in the occasional "spelling down" tests, where we chose sides, I generally headed one side and Mettie Thomas the other, and it was nip and tuck as to which one of us would eventually spell down the other. Years later, up at the Hornell Sanitarium, in a similar affair, I "spelled down" the Sanitarium patients. It so upset the nervous women patients that Dr. Walker put a stop to "spelling down." My, how I do hate myself.

There came a time when an elderly college professor named Conant showed up in the village, with his wife, and revived the defunct Rogersville Union Seminary, which in its day, earlier, had been quite a famous private school. My mother, father, I think, and some of my uncles and aunts had gone there, and at one time my mother taught music there. It had never lost its right to conduct regents' examinations. Conant (George) set up shop, he and his wife living in the Seminary building. It was not too long before he had around 50 pupils, a number of farmer boys coming in and living in the building, also. As a rule the fathers of such boys had gone to school there years before. Among them, were Deo and Charlie Kreidler, whose father, Russ Kreidler, was an old student there. Both Deo and Charlie so qualified there in high school subjects that both of them obtained Cornell scholarships, and eventually became lawyers. Conant was surely a good teacher. His wife set up a lower grade school, in which Wade and I were pupils. Her school was more or less a joke. She didn't know too much herself. In answer to the problem as to the great powers of Europe, instead of naming the countries—England, Germany, etc.—she said the answer was the King, Prince, etc.

I finally did get into Conant's school and tried the regent's examinations in the preliminary subjects and passed them; so that when, in the fall of 1892, I went to Hornellsville to school, I was able to enter high school. Finally the Conants folded up their tents and left Rogersville and I never knew what became of them. There were a few sporadic attempts to continue the school right after this, but nothing much came of them, and, after quite a few years when the old building was empty and used only for occasional lectures, political meetings, etc., it was sold to the Hornell Lodge of Elks, who dismantled it and made it into a club house over at Loon Lake. I have been to a number of Steuben County Bar Association picnics over there, and much of the building looked quite familiar. Some of the remains of its former glory when I went to school there were a skeleton, a microscope, and a number of dead snakes in bottles.

I have heard uncle Hub tell that when he went to school there, there was to be some out-door celebration and he and another boy had the concession for selling lemonade. They wanted it to be red lemonade and somebody had told them that red lemonade was made by putting cochineal bugs in it. So they got some bugs, and sprinkled a bug or two on top of each glass of lemonade. But they soon found that that wasn't the way to do it.

Fifteen years or so after I had gone to school at the Seminary, and after I had gone through high school, law school, had been admitted to the Bar and had returned to Hornell as division claim agent of the Erie RR, someone got up a picnic of the old students of Rogersville Union Seminary, and I was slated to give the main address. So, I got up a speech, and somewhat like Henry Clay who recited his to the horses, I declaimed mine to myself when I was out on the railroad on my work. But, sad to relate, the morning of the picnic, it rained pitchforks and I couldn't visualize anybody being there, and I did not go. It turned out later that a few hardy souls did show up, but nobody ever heard my speech. They didn't miss much, I am sure.

In recent years there have been nothing like the number of children in Rogersville that were there when I was young. At one time we had 5 baseball clubs in the village, which would have required a total of 45 players. Of course on the older teams were farmer boys who did not live right in the village. I was in the youngest club and Wade was in the next older. My mother made us suits of red pants, mine with black stripes down the legs and Wade's with white stripes. Gil Flint was pitcher of the oldest team, and John Wellington, who was a good ball player when young, has always claimed that Gil was the first man to throw a curved ball. In any event, baseball was the main summer sport of the village. I remember that one time I borrowed a lot of good lumber boards to build a backstop at the ball grounds from Grandpa Pealer's board pile back of our house. He was not sure whether he approved of it, but he didn't make me tear it down.

Other towns had baseball teams, including Canaseraga, Fremont, Haskinsville and Loon Lake, and our teams played them, and, once, even Wayland. Other summer sports were wrestling by the various boys in the evening up around the village store. In Rogersville, as in other small country towns, most of the men used to gather at the village stores in the evening, and the boys mostly followed suit. I must say that Grandpa Pealer rarely did that, but nearly always stayed at home. He was a great home man.

A favorite early evening game in summer was "Barbary Holler, holler or I won't foller," where one side scattered out around in the nearby lots and the other side sought to round them up. When a boy of the rounding side yelled what is quoted above, the hunted boy was supposed to cry out and thus give some kind of clue to where he was.

In winter all of the boys had skates of a pattern not now in use, and we skated on the mill pond, in back of Eveland's house; the same pond where we went in swimming in summer. The skates were only strapped on at the front. To fasten the back a hole was cut into the heel of the boy's shoe, across which a metal plate was set, which had an oblong or oval hole in it. In the center of the heel of the skate was a raised metal projection, with a top so made that when it was inserted in the oval hole, and turned at right angles so that the front of the skate was at the front of the shoe, the skate was locked on. The hole in the heel would fill with ice and snow as we walked along and we had to dig it out with a bent horseshoe nail, before putting the skates on.

The skates were made of cast iron, and I had only started to use one of the very first pairs I ever had when I skated into a crack in the ice, and broke a skate in two. I was heart broken, even if the skates did cost only 25 cents. That, then, was a lot of money for a boy of 8 or 9.

From Beechville, a mile or so above Rogersville, to a point a mile or so below, there was a steady grade down hill, and on a few occasions when the roads were icy, the more courageous young men of the village would go up with a long sleigh to Beechville, place a man with a small sled at the end of the tongue of the sleigh, and come down through the village at a great speed with the sleigh filled with standing men, and going, it seems to me, almost a mile a minute. It was a wonder that there never were any accidents. One time they had a fife and drum corps playing on the sleigh as they raced down. "Ras" Wellington, father of John, had been a fifer in the Civil War, and John also played a fife. Have forgotten who played the drums.

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Conclusion
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