The Crooked Lake Review

Spring 2006

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A Tilted Saucer of Delight


Grace S. Fox

Index to A Tilted Saucer of Delight

Part 4

My first playmates were Doris and Louise Schenck whose father worked for Daddy so they lived in the hired man's house across the garden. It was a rough family with two older boys who were intimidating. I stayed away from them. The two girls were younger. I especially liked Louise who was nearest to me in age. Our play, one day, taught me the lesson up unplanned and unwanted consequences. One of us had caught a baby rabbit and Louise and I were arguing about holding it. I believe she had it and I grabbed for it. The result: the rabbit was choked to death. Thinking back I suppose the rabbit was not right or could not have been caught. Perhaps it was "scared to death." Perhaps, if we had known enough to let it go, it would have hopped into the bushes. But it died and I moped and felt guilty. I still do. It is a situation with its sad result that I have pondered many times. I'm sure it contributed to my disgust at cruelty to animals.

Doris was older than Louise and almost as rough as her brothers. Once we had a run-in on the playground at school. I was taking down the flag and Doris must have wanted to do it. She tried to grab the rope from me and I kicked her hard. She was barefoot and I was wearing shoes, so, for the first and only time, I emerged the victor. Many years ago I read an explanation of why boys like to fight. The author tried to describe the thrill of socking another person. I have to admit that it gave me a thrill to kick Doris and see her go crying to tattle to the teacher who happened to be my mother. I presume I was punished but I don't remember how. I expect I thought that satisfying kick was worth the penalty. Rereading the above two paragraphs makes me realize I was sometimes rough!

Both Schenck boys died untimely deaths, one of them, I think, by drowning. Doris is dead, too, but Louise, who married and divorced my cousin Richard Brown, still lives in Williamston, Michigan.

Doris's life was touched by tragedy soon after she married. Her young husband, William Timby, had lived in our neighborhood when he was a boy. Bill and Doris were living in the village of Avoca and had one little boy Richard when Bill was killed in a bus accident December 14, 1943. The bus was carrying workers from Wallace, Avoca, Bath and Savona to the Ingersoll-Rand foundry in Painted Post, a war materials industry. On its early morning run to work, the bus was sideswiped by a tractor-trailer rig. Eleven men were killed, one of them Bill Timby. Doris was pregnant; the baby was born dead. Later she remarried, first Charles Butler and, after a divorce, Steve Remchuck. Tragedy struck her again when her son Jerry Butler was killed by a train two days after his twenty-first birthday. A sad life! Richard Timby was partially raised by his father's sister, Betty Timby Hale and her husband Lee, long-time neighbors. After a career in the Air force, Dick and his family occasionally visit this cousin Kathy Hale Boyles. Kathy, her husband Dave and Daughter Autumn are still good neighbors and are the third generation of Timbys living on their creekside property embellished by Kathy's beautiful garden.

The Rooks followed the Schencks in the hired man's house. Edith Rook had been widowed and had two children by her first marriage, Murray and Celia Collins. Again, Murray was an older boy with whom I had little contact, but his younger sister Celia was an extra special playmate. We loved to play dress-up. My cousin Gladys, who had spent her summers on the farm as she was growing up, was married by then to a local young man Lafayette (Vet) Livingston. He was working his way through Pratt Institute in Brooklyn to become an engineer. Gladys and Vet earned their apartment rent by taking care of the apartment house. The tenants often sent used clothing down the service elevator to be disposed of. Some of the things Gladys could use but the fancy suits and evening dresses she brought to me for theatricals. There was a luscious brown velvet evening dress that I loved to prance around in. It was my lifelong model of elegant clothing.

Celia and I played with our dolls. My favorite doll was one that had lost one leg so we could play nurse and hospital with her. We played school and store. We played hopscotch on the sidewalk. We took picnic lunches to the upstairs porch or to the horse block in the front year. The block, lettered with my father's name, was never used as it was intended as a step for people getting out of a carriage. Suddenly, in the 1920's carriages were obsolete. The block has been used many times over the years as a hub for picnics and games and a stand to pose children for photos. Gradually, cracks appeared in the concrete; then grass grew in the cracks. A few years ago, Stanley made a new concrete top for the block so it will be a reminder of the "horse and buggy" days for another seventy-five years.

During our teen years, Celia and I were not close since we were not in the same high school class. I do remember the adventures of one summer, the summer before I went to college. Edith and Ernie decided to take Murray and Celia to the square dances in Roiyer's Pavilion at Demmon's Pond. These dances were held every Saturday night from June to November and were popular with young people for miles around. They were also held in contempt by some pious folk. Once in a while Celia invited me to go along. Actually, I think that Celia started dating the man she married that summer. Perhaps she met him at one of the dances. The dances were fun but I never became a good square dancer. I just didn't have the natural rhythm for it. Some of the changes were intricate and I never mastered them. I could dosey-do or allemande left or right. One of the dances that I recall was "Marching through Georgia" during which the caller maneuvered all the sets on the floor into a long diving and reaching-over pattern. Not every couple made it back to their allotted spot. There was much concentration and much laughter when couples got mixed up.

I went with a young man named Gerald O'Dell two or three times. We were at the age then and now when many young people are ready to get serious and get married, but I was off to college in September and had no thought of any permanent attachment. Perhaps this caused some resentment. Many years later, the son of this man married a neighborhood girl, Mildred Schoonover, and they raised a good-sized family before they separated. Mildred and some of her children are still my neighbors. My sister Dottie and her husband sometimes went to the dances, so did Gladys and Vet. After Stanly and I started dating, we went. The summer heat, the moonlight, the shimmering ripples of the water, the beat of the music and the skill of the band, the loving looks of all those young couples are unforgettable memories. By the time our children were teenagers, Roiyer's was gone. They did sometimes have square dances at 4-H. One year Leonard belonged to a 4-H square dance club and competed at the state fair in Syracuse. His club was taught Western-style square dancing which isn't quite so rambunctious as barn dancing. Mary belonged to the Beaconeer's 4-H Club when Mike and Pat Fetherston were the leaders. They held square dances at the Towlesville Grange Hall to raise money for the club. Mostly our children went to school dances where the music was rock and roll and the dancing much more informal. Lanny Meese, who grew up next door in the 1950's and 60's, is a square dance caller and is occasionally asked to call at the community hall in Howard.

After the Rooks left the farm, Ernie worked for Ingersoll-Rand in Painted Post where he and Stanley's dad were friends. They might have been involved in the tragic bus accident of December 14, 1943, but fate intervened. Stanley's dad was ill and Ernie's car wouldn't start so he couldn't get to the bus. For a few years Edith and Celia stopped to see us but then life separated us. Edith and Ernie had two children, Donny and Lucille. Murray is dead and Donny has moved south but I see Lucy often. She lives on Neil's Creek and is a well-known hairdresser. Stanley and I have her cut our hair. Lucille was active in both the local and state cosmetology associations. Their good work was to provide cancer patients with "Look good - feel better" therapy. When I was taking chemotherapy following a mastectomy, Lucille fitted me with a wig donated by her cosmetology association which also provided a bagful of various kinds of make-up. I wore more make-up for a year or so following chemotherapy than I had for years. It did make me feel better and partially compensated for the washed-out appearance caused by the drugs. Now Lucille is semi-retired and her husband Paul Preston can no longer do barbering.

One or two isolated playtimes bring me happy memories like colorful beads on a string. Our friends Kenneth and Mary Mattoon had a farm over the hill from us. They had a large family: Norma about my age and a passel of little boys. One July evening we visited them after chores were done. It was the twilight hour and we kids played hide-and-seek outside while the oldsters visited. It was a magical experience and my standard of a perfect playtime. Norma and the oldest boy Harold still live in the area and we see them often, especially Norma who goes to the same church. The December 14, 1943, bus accident hit that family. Because of the war time needs, Kenneth had gone to work at Ingersoll-Rand; Mary did the chores. Kenneth was killed that tragic morning.

Another set of my parents' friends who had worked on the farm when they were young was Owen and Alice Wilkinson. Owen gave up farming and went to work at Ingersoll-Rand. He was a skilled mechanic and supervisor. They lived on High Street in Painted Post. They had two children Phyllis a little older than me and Owen a little younger. We often had Sunday dinner with them and once a summer I spent a few days. Phyllis was a willowy, very pretty girl, and, to tell the truth, she made me feel like a country bumpkin not by her actions but by my powers of observation. I remember two adventures with Phyllis and her friends. One day we walked over to the river—the Conhocton River by then joined by the Canisteo—to swim. The river was muddy and there was a strong current but we waded along the bank. Another day we went to the movies and experienced a fire in the theater. It was not a serious fire but the audience was asked to leave. I was anxious to go and couldn't understand why Phyllis and her friends were hanging back. Perhaps they were showing off. Alice died in middle age of cancer and the family moved away. We lost touch.

Many of my sister's and my good times involved our cousin Gladys and her husband. Vet had a younger brother and sister who were my age and in my high school class. They had gone to country school, too, so we had lots in common. Loretta started when she was only four so she and Clarence could walk to school together. They had an older sister Florence and another older brother besides Vet. Orlo was killed in a tragic hunting accident. He was clambering over a fence when his loaded gun went off. Loretta and I became special friends in high school and have been friends ever since. Unfortunately, Loretta now is afflicted with Alsheimer's with its attendant memory loss, but her family tells me that when I send a birthday or Christmas card, Loretta remembers, if only briefly, who I am and the good times we had.

The Livingstons lived on the other side of Smith Pond and spent many happy summer hours swimming in the pond. When Gladys and Vet visited his folks in the summer, they spent time with us and often took Dottie and me swimming with them. I learned to swim there. A few years ago I wrote a poem about the experience that appeared in the Hornell Area Arts Calendar.

The Joy of a Smith Pond Swim

The young people moved lightly, airily
Through the lowings of the Hamilton cow pasture,
Through the soft dusk of a humid July day,
Through the mists of sixty years.
It was a hopscotchy walk
As they jumped over cow plops
Or swerved to avoid the rocks
And talked their ordinary talk.
At the shore the boys and girls separated,
Disappeared into swampy groves,
Swiftly pulled on swim suits
Of scratchy wool or shrunken cotton.
They flung themselves into the water
Blissfully warm in the cool night air,
They floated and swam, splashed and splattered
In a dance to their timeless past and mysterious future.

When Vet retired from his job as powerhouse engineer at the Bakelite plant in Bound Brook, New Jersey, he and Gladys came back to the Livingston farm to live. After Vet's death in 1973, Gladys continued to come summers until her death in 1994. One of their sons and his wife, Lorren and Barbara Livingston, still own the farm and spend vacations there. Vet and my sister's husband Al Bartlett played golf. My sister Dottie, Gladys, our cousin Vi and whatever relatives were on hand made a weekly trip to the Corning Glass Center theater on Thursday afternoons to see the production that was on the boards that week. Summer is such a busy time on the farm and our youngsters had so many activities to keep up with that I seldom went—maybe once a summer. I do recall a couple of Agatha Christie mysteries. Our daughter Jennie graduated from Barnard College and son Leonard from high school in 1976 so naturally we took them to 1976 at the Corning theater. When Mary graduated from high school in 1893, the Corning theater offered Brigadoon and the comedy, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. Brigadoon seemed more appropriate for a high school girl so we chose it. Mary and I enjoyed it but Stanley didn't care for the ballet. For years he reminded us that we chose the wrong play from his point of view.

Stanley and I were more likely to take the older children or our friends from my teaching days, Fred and Marie Wood, to the Bristol Valley Playhouse outside Naples on Saturday evening or Sunday afternoon. Two plays that I recall being well performed at Bristol Valley were Ibsen's A Doll's House and Hedda Gabler. I had studied A Doll's House in a drama course in college so was familiar with its strong feminist theme but it was an eye opener for Stanley. During my years of teaching high school English I often taught Ibsen's An Enemy of the People with its modern theme of industrial pollution and municipal callousness. The Bristol Valley Playhouse was actually on a hill overlooking the valley. It was a beautiful location on a large acreage. The management mowed the extensive lawns and set out picnic tables so we often took a lunch with us to enjoy before the play started. The organization still offers plays but now they are produced in an old church in the Village of Naples.

The Livingston family has been a part of my life since my birth. Gladys's children and grandchildren visit often and send photos of their activities. Two of the grandchildren stayed at the farm for extended visits. It is a special pleasure to hear from Liz Thomas Roesener and Greg Livingston. When I was doddering my way through my latest bout with cancer, the Livingstons visited often. Jean's husband, Earl Thomas, is a retired professional cook and they brought us special meals that I could eat or invited us to the Livingston farmhouse for dinner. One of the best soups we ever had was Scotch broth that Earl made. Following is a poem about the Livingstons and one of their visits to our farmhouse. The poem was written in 1987 so we must have been celebrating the Constitution.

Don Quixote of the Jerseys

A group of adults stood on the porch of an old farmhouse
Participating in a time-honored ritual
Commemorating the birth of a nation.
Roman candles fountained from the horse block;
Skyrockets showered red, white, and blue over the lawn
To the consternation of the resident bat
Who flew by once but did not reappear;
Pinwheels tacked to trees whirled in colorful glory;
Glittery snakes popped and hissed along the sidewalk.
The ritualists ignited a galore of sparklers
And relived childhood wonder at the Fourth of July splendor.
William Lafayette Livingston beamed at the gathering
Pleased with the knowledge that his fiery windmills
Had provided delight to his relatives
And honor to the Fourth, albeit illegally,
It is a remote farmhouse.
Ten weeks later he stood on a bunting-draped platform
In the Gouveneur Morris Inn at Morristown,
Bedecked in colonial garb, suitably sedate,
He was a stand-in for his ancestor William Livingston,
Dubbed the "Don Quixote of the Jerseys" in the Tory press.
William Livingston — Great landowner, Governor of New Jersey from '76,
Leader and hero of the New Jersey campaigns during the Revolution,
Member of both Continental Congresses,
Member of the Constitutional Convention and its committees,
Signer of the Constitution!
Livingston's tilts at windmills are revered by generations
Who call themselves Americans and Jerseyites.
Two hundred years of liberty and law were honored that night,
Two hundred years of tilting at windmills
The Bill of rights rocket shields our daily lives'
Roman candles fountain over free, enfranchised black citizens'
Women spin their pinwheels bright
And sparklers beam promises of freedom around the world.

Note: William Lafayette Livingston is the grandson of Oscar and Alice Livingston who were lifetime residents of Avoca in the Smith Pond area and the son of my cousin Gladys and her husband Lafayette (Vet) Livingston who lived most of their adult lives in Fords, New Jersey.

Index to A Tilted Saucer of Delight
Copyright 2006, Grace S. Fox
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