January 1995

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Jack MacCaul


Robert V. Anderson

During the summers I spent along the southern end of Lake Keuka in the nineteen-thirties when I was growing up I came to know a number of people who might be called characters. There was Jack MacCaul. He had unusual opinions and there were many stories about him. Jack drove professionally; he wore sunglasses when he drove at night, and he claimed that dark glasses cut down the glare from approaching headlights—which it may very well do. But how many people would wear shades for night driving?

Jack liked to go berrying and he had a favorite spot high up in the hills west of Pleasant Valley. One sunny warm day he drove his car as far as he could and then walked on up. There was nothing special on his mind. He just enjoyed the soft breeze and picking berries until he heard a sneeze followed by heavy breathing and crashing branches. Jack's version of the episode is that he knew that it must be a bear picking berries for himself, so Jack went on picking and the bear wandered off in another direction. However, Jack didn't bring home any berries or even the pail that he had taken. Other tellers of the tale supposed that Jack had gone leaping down the hill and lost both berries and pail in his rush. Anyway his wife Bertha was put out when he didn't bring home any berries or the pail. Jack had picked berries there for years and felt that he had first rights to those berries. The bear, probably one from Pennsylvania, was an intruder. The New York bears had sense enough to stay in the Catskills or the Adirondacks.

Jack had come from Canada. Like the bear coming from Pennsylvania, Jack had wandered across the Canadian border one day. Nobody challenged him or noticed, or cared. In those days when he arrived, some people driving into New York from Canada had illegal liquids with them. But no one gave Jack any trouble. He obtained a job and eventually settled down in Hammondsport. Jack made no secret of being a Canadian and in those days of greater personal freedom from governmental regulation, nobody mentioned to the immigration authorities that he was in the country illegally. After a while he became distressed by the situation—he couldn't vote because he wasn't a citizen, and he wanted to vote. It was not difficult for a Canadian to come to New York and become a citizen of the United States, but Jack felt that he wouldn't be able to do that because he had entered illegally. He needed to get back to Canada and re-enter New York properly, but how to get back to Canada legally? As I recall he finally went to Canada as a tourist, came back, and was naturalized. Anyway, he died in Florida.

I can't remember all the stories that I heard about Jack MacCaul. He was a real person. Don't we all want to be unique? Why not be a character?

© 1995, Robert V. Anderson
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