The Crooked Lake Review

Fall 2005

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A Tilted Saucer of Delight


Grace S. Fox

Index to A Tilted Saucer of Delight

Part 2

Where You Are Is the Center of the World

The farm where I was born lies cupped in beautiful hills. A thread of a creek called Castle Creek runs though the bottom of the cup. It is a trout stream and one of the least polluted streams in New York State. The road that cuts through the farm is officially County Road 70. When I was a child, it was a part of R. F. D. (Rural Free Delivery) Route #2. Now our address is our fire code number. The coming of the mailman or mailwoman and the delivery of our newspapers created periods of rest and respite in our busy days. Sometimes we call our road Castle Creek Road but my father thought that was pretentious. In my grandfather's day the road actually followed the creek but, in the early years of the twentieth century, the road was moved to a cut along the hill. My neighbor of seventy years, Florence Cleland Schoonover, reminded me that her husbands' father, Ralph William Schoonover—always called Bill—built the road on the bank in 1916. This road curves sharply as the hill in its geologic time has pushed out, retreated back, been gullied by flooding rains or eroded by rills coming down from springs. When my mother made her first trip to the farm, she thought she was coming to the end of the earth. As the road goes by our house and onto a gentler slope, it straightens out.

When I was a child, it was a dirt road, muddy and rutty in spring and fall, dusty in summer, and, in some stretches, impassable during winter blizzards. During my seventh summer, the county road crew built a new macadam road and I discovered the delight of watching people work. For a spell of time during the severe winter of 1934, our mailman Meade Ostrander had to leave the road and cut across out fields where my father had made a track with the team and wagon on bob sleds. The winter of 1934 became the benchmark for all the severe winters of my lifetime. The Avoca Herald for February 15, 1934, states that Thursday, February 8, was the nadir, –44° below zero in the village at 4:00 A. M. It was colder in Haskinsville. According to our daughter-in-law's grandfather Floyd Alderman, the temperature went to 51° below zero on his farm on Neil's Creek. Our lowest temperature was mild in comparison, only a minus 34°. Stanley recalled that his sister Merldene, who was born in January, had to be kept in a basked by the coal stove in the dining room. A few years later in 1937 or 1938, when my sister Dorothy was teaching in the Brasted District two miles up the road from us, there was a two-week span of time when my father took her to work with the team and bob sleds. The road in the Brasted District drifts much worse than our stretch in the Beagle District because it is higher and the steep hillsides flatten out into plateau.

Now that Stanley and I are in our eighties, even the mild winters seem severe. I wrote a poem about Castle Creek Road. It's not a very good poem at least by Robert Frost's definition that a poem should start with beauty, add depth of feeling and offer a philosophy. So I shall say right out what I think and feel about the road. It is a road to lift the heart and welcome the homecomer. It offers peace and spiritual rest to the student or worker or "I've-got-to-go-to-towner," who is, in one of my mother's favorite phrases, "weary of well doing." Of course there are many more beauties than are depicted in the poem.

Serendipity on Castle Creek Road

Staghorn sumac with dark red spikes;
Stag and doe mesmerized by auto lights
Jump snowy bank and frost road
Up from the creek and thirsty goad;
Shy fox shows a glimpse of red:
The great horned owl swoops low,
A ghostly presence in a swirl of snow
On Castle Creek Road in January.
Blood root blooming on cut-down bank
Under a long needle pine in rank
With hemlocks in the little wood
Where old oaks and poplars also stood;
Yellow colts foot and dandelion,
Sunny patches you can rely on;
Pussy willows with golden anthers
Await nature's mix of his and hers
On Castle Creek Road in April.
Strawberry patch and jumping trout;
Daisy petals - "Love me - love me not";
Blue flag where the watering trough used to be;
Dark green foliage on every hardwood tree
Except the locust blooming white
Wafting scent into the shortest night,
Hiding bumble bees and oriole's nest.
Everything burgeons - nothing's at rest
On Castle Creek Road in June.
Flit of red, flutter of blue,
Nine young turkeys passing through;
Hoot owl on a telephone pole;
Squirrel cheeks bulging with hickory nuts swallowed whole;
Through Joe Pye weed's faded pink
Tawny twin fawns go down to drink;
Asters bloom under thimbleberry hips;
Migrating flocks assess their trips
On Castle Creek Road in September

When our youngest daughter Mary was growing up, one of her tasks was to walk the dog. She would have walked anyway, all our girls did, but taking the dog made the walk more fun. She wrote a poem, too, which was published in the Hornell Area Arts Council calendar. The red dog mentioned in the poem was Molly, a beautiful and loving Irish setter whom we raised from a pup. Of all the dogs we have had over the years, she was our favorite even though we have looked for twenty-five years at the chewed corners of our valued, hand-painted footstool made by folk artist Betty House of Wallace. Mary's poem:

At Sunset

At sunset walking
I saw
Raspberries ripening
A red dog running
An indigo bunting
A field shining gold
With mustard weed.

The branches of Castle Creek join in the meadow below our house. This is on our neighbor's property owned throughout my childhood and the early years of my marriage by Merritt and Nettie Wightman and now owned by Kitty Ormsby. Our road follows the north branch. Years ago there was a road along the south branch but it washed out in a destructive flood in the 1870s. A vestige of it gave way completely in the Flood of 1935. The south branch has its beginning in a lovely spot called by all the locals "The Old Castle." There is a little pond, naturally called Castle Pond, and a narrow glen with a falls. The rill starts in the springs and swamp of the Lyke Farm in the Brasted District. Below the pond is a great meadow in a natural amphitheater used once a year over the course of seventy-five years for a motorcycle hill climb. In my grandfather's time, the farm was owned by a branch of the Wessells family who were cousins but, in my lifetime, it has been owned by the Schoonovers. All the neighbors had stories about fishing, albeit illegally, as the area is posted by the Castle Creek Fishing Club, or of picnicking there. My story was published in the Corning Leader, December 26, 1989. Another account of the "Old Castle," written from my perspective as town historian was published by Bill and Martha Treichler in their Crooked Lake Review.

Following is my personal memoir:

The Old Castle

The "Old Castle" was for us—both my sister Dorothy Shults Bartlett and myself and for our children a far country in a nearby place. It is a beautiful spot.

We would get the key to the gate from Hite or Florence Schoonover and drive or walk slowly down the farm road through some brush and an old orchard into the woods. Each yard we traveled separated us from the prosaic activities of a farming community and introduced us to the sweet world of a half-tamed wilderness. Soon we would see the pond. Perhaps the pair of cranes, which inhabited the marshy west end of the pond, would fly up with ungainly legs dangling. Of course, there would be trout breaking the surface of the water, for the fishing club members kept the pond well stocked. Dragonflies and water skippers swooped along the edge of the pond. I suppose there were mosquitoes but they didn't make an impression on my memory.

The fall of water on the spillway out of the pond reminded us that nature is never silent. We might follow the outlet of the pond through another gate into the great meadow which is the base of natural amphitheater. It is here that the hill climb takes place. Or we would make our way through the brush into the ravine that leads up to the Lyke farm.

I remember going to the hill climb and being bored. Of course, the aficionados of motorcycling are having a great time. Everyone there would be uncomfortably hot. The "Old Castle" lies deep within its hills and there is no breeze. Besides, the hill climb was held in the hottest part of July. I think that only once did we officially enter the "Old Castle" on hill climb day and pay for the entertainment. All the neighbor kids in my day, and in my children's, walked over our pasture hill. We came out on top of the climb and merged with the crowd. It made us feel naughty, but now I realize that no one minded.

My cousin Gladys Hopkins Livingston and her husband Vet liked to hike in the "Old Castle." Gladys had spent happy times there during her teen years with Mildred Schoonover (McCann) and Pete Conner (Margaret Peck). Vet would offer whoever was with them 50 cents to walk up the hill climb track without touching hands to the ground. Fifty cents was a small fortune to a child in the depression years of the 1930's but I never achieved it. The hill is just too steep.

When my boys, Tom and Leonard, were in their early teens, they and the Meese boys and Darrell Garner went to the "Old Castle" after the hill climb and looked for treasures left behind by the crowds of people. The traffic past our house on hill climb day is heavy and the oldsters, no longer interested in the hill climb itself, enjoyed sitting on the porch and "watching the world go by."

The "Old Castle" is a great place for picnics. One of the first picnics I remember was and end-of-school picnic by the pond. We little kids couldn't swim but we waded and splashed at the end of the pond and made enough racket and got muddy enough that the various mothers urged us out of the water. The Schoonovers kept the meadows around the pond mowed for the fishing club and the great meadow at the foot of the hill climb mowed for the Hornell Motorcycle Club. They made wonderful playing grounds for us youngsters who had all the pent-up energy of school to work off.

It became a tradition in our family to have our Labor Day picnic at the "Old Castle." The challenge in our kids' day was not to walk up the hill climb but to hike up the ravine on the south side of the pond. The creek is very narrow there and the path very rocky. There is a waterfall to admire and ledges and outcroppings to clamber over. We looked for caves but never discovered any that appeared large enough to safely harbor runaway slaves or hide caches of stolen loot. Columbine and wild asters bloom. We savored late raspberries and blackberries. I saw my first jack-in-the-pulpit seed pod like a cluster of rubies on a stick on such a walk. Now, when we go, I take the gentler walk through the woods.

When Stanley and I and our friends, Gordon and Barbara Margeson, were newly marrieds, we decided to walk the full course of Castle Creek. We took a picnic and made a day-long jaunt. There were places where we walked in the creek to avoid the brush and brambles. I even remember what we ate: ham sandwiches with lettuce and tomato on homemade bread and lots of lemonade. Barbara brought peaches and some extra good cake. Everything tastes great on such an expedition. Good company, good conversation, good food and now a good memory.

Thirty years later we hiked with John and Margaret Barry and their children, J. J. and Emily, and Matt and Andrea Reisen with their daughters Christina and Juanita. Emily was a babe in a pouch carrier but Margaret made the complete hike to the top of the ravine.

The "Old Castle" is a wonderful place to go for renewal.

"The Child is Father of the Man"

—Alfred, Lord Tennyson

There is a core of feeling and thinking in each person that psychologists tell us is a combination of inherited genes and early childhood experiences. It is the spring from which comes the strength of the individual to withstand the pressures and evils of the world around us. It also is the conscience that holds back the individual from adding to the evil. There is not much that can be done about the pressures since everyone's needs, desires and expectations impinge on others either casually or profoundly. Like all those who have pondered the evils of the past hundred years: the Holocaust, for example, or the lynchings of Negroes, or the more recent violence of car and airplane bombs, of drive-by shootings and gang-drug-gun urban warfare, I try to understand how survivors continue life with dignity and even joy. I believe that it is because as some survivors have said, they had take-it-for-granted nurturing in their early years. How can one pinpoint the exact gene or childhood experience that created such or such a thought or reaction? One can't. With this introduction, I'll write on to describe some of my childhood experiences and leave the indescribable to the novelist.

My earliest memory is a happy one. It is of bedtime stories. My father and mother sat in the den after all the chores and supper work were done, my father in a big, deep-upholstered chair always covered with flowered cretonne and my mother at her writing desk in the chair I'm now sitting in. It is oak with arms and a high back and very comfortable. I can't picture my sister who was nine years older than I, so, I suppose, she was doing lessons or projects at the kitchen table. I climbed into my father's lap and he read to me. The book that I remember from my youngest days was the Chimney Corner Stories. The stories were for very young children and included such all-time favorites as "The Little Red Hen," "Peter Rabbit" and "The Three Little Pigs." The story that I loved best and demanded every night was "Little Black Sambo" who ate the piles and piles of pancakes. In recent years "Little Black Sambo" has been taboo although a rewritten version of the story called "The Story of Little Babaji" appears in the 20th Century Children's Book Treasury, from which I read to Grandson Gregory before he went to school. To me Little Black Sambo was another child I could and did relate to. As I grew into adulthood, I never could understand or tolerate prejudice against persons of color or different ethnic groups. I know now, of course, that Little Black Sambo was India Indian, not African—no matter. The story taught me empathy with someone different from myself and gave me a life-long armor against bigotry. Most of all I remember sitting in my father's lap and hearing great stories, the greatest of all to my childish ears "Little Black Sambo."

My first memory of an event away from home is of going in the car with my parents and sister to Geneseo to see a pageant commemorating the sesquicentennial of the Clinton-Sullivan Expedition that, in the Revolutionary War, destroyed Indian villages and crops in the Finger Lakes Region. Because the expedition broke Iroquois power, it opened Western New York to pioneer settlers after the war. I visualize sitting on a hillside, eating a picnic lunch and watching groups of Indians and blue clad soldiers milling around. What I remember best about this family trip, though, was how thirsty I got on the way home. I must have whined continuously because I hear my mother apologizing for not bringing an extra water jug and saying, "We'll soon be home, we'll soon be home." Today it's about an hour's drive, but with the cars and roads of 1929, probably two hours then.

This event was held on September 14, 1929, so I was four and a half years old. There is a thread connecting this story and the "Little Black Sambo" one. Evelyn Seymour, a close friend of my mother's from her teaching days, went from teaching to being librarian in the children's room at the main Rochester Public Library. She had sent me Chimney Corner Stories for Christmas when I was almost three. Since she was a native of Geneseo, she invited us to go with her to the pageant in the Leicester Bowl. Evelyn had a sister Lulu who lived in Geneseo with their father. When my sister was in Geneseo Normal School, she spent many happy times at their home. Mr. Seymour wrote a novel about events in Geneseo. I tried to read it but it was too dense for a child. I have had a life time interest in history—did it start at a commemorative pageant? As I write this, my husband is trying to recall his memories of the event. His family went because his Aunt Gladie and her family lived in Leicester.

Some memories aren't so happy. I especially remember tugs of will with my mother. I can see myself sitting at the dining room table staring at a dish of stewed tomatoes. I did finally gulp them down. Another image is of me sitting on the back steps nursing a grudge against my mother because she wanted me to do something "now" and I was procrastinating as long as I could. The chores I remember were carrying wood, bringing pails of drinking water from our well in the old garden, setting table, wiping dishes, and, when I was a little older, hanging up clothes and ironing simple things like pillowcases. Nothing much changes in the struggle between parent and child. I recall a nightly joust with our youngest daughter Mary to motivate her to set the table at least a minute before Stanley walked in the back door from the evening milking. We wanted to eat supper before the news came on. A few years ago during their annual visit, our daughter Jennie and her daughter Allison had an age-old spat: Mother:"You never do what you are supposed to do when I ask you to do it." Child: "You hate me — You're mean to me." Actually Jennie and Allison are the best of friends.

I remember some comradely times with my mother especially when she was teaching me household skills. She was a good teacher, patient and encouraging. I see myself sitting in the sun-drenched sewing room learning to darn socks and to embroider. Momma tried to teach me to crochet but I didn't have the patience for it. I loved to read and always had a story to finish.

My mother subscribed to the Ladies' Home Journal and my father to the Saturday Evening Post and the American. They both enjoyed the National Geographic. They saved all the issues in piles in the attic and, as I grew older, I spent hours reading the wonderful stories. I remember with affection Scattergood Baines stories from the American and Tugboat Annie and Jeeves from the Saturday Evening Post. The Ladies' Home Journal stories were mostly serial romances or mysteries — I like them, too. I didn't pay much attention then to the National Geographic. Now it is a favorite for the whole family. Eventually all the old magazines were tossed out except the National Geographics. When I them down from the attic a few years ago, the whole family spent the winter reading them. Our son Tom, who lives in the farmhouse, devotes a closet to them and adds their monthly issues. The magazines were the cause of an argument with my sister Dottie that is as clear today as when it happened. Or course, in the winter it was too cold to go to the attic to read so I brought the piles of magazines downstairs to the living room much to my sister's disgust. By then they were tattered with loose covers. On one of her cleaning sprees she was determined to throw them out. I was outraged and complained tearfully to Mamma who intervened with a compromise. I could keep the magazines in the living room if I kept them in neat piles out of sight behind the davenport. Dottie still didn't approve but she acquiesced.

Index to A Tilted Saucer of Delight
Copyright 2005, Grace S. Fox
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