By E.E. Bartlett (2003)
….” I was born in Borodino, in the town of Spafford, NY, on July 25, 1925. Borodino was a community of about 100 persons, located about seven miles south of Skaneateles, on route 41. When I was small, Borodino had a school (one room, one teacher, eight grades), a Methodist church, a Grange hall, a combination hardware store and tinsmith shop (which housed the post office), and two general stores, one of which was my father’s. There was also an abandoned hotel, which may have been a stagecoach stop long ago. This two-story building was unsafe, with sagging floors, etc. Children were forbidden to enter it, and adults had no desire to.
The reader should bear in mind that October 1929 was the start of the great Depression. Since I was only four years old then, my early memories are all of a time of frugality or austerity, a time of “use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”
“I have two brothers: Thayer was born in 1916, and George was born in 1918. My father Ernest was born in 1884, my mother Olive (Tripp), in 1890. My grandmother Mary A. (Sheahan) Bartlett lived next door; my grandparents George and Anna (Breed) Tripp lived in Syracuse, having retired from their farm in 1913.
Our house was built about 1820…it had been owned by my great-grandfather, Dr. John Vandyke Tripp, who had his office there. The property included a small two-story barn, built in a time when people kept one or more horses, and kept hay in the upper level. There was a chicken house and an icehouse, a curious structure with no windows and double walls, the space between…filled with sawdust.
There was a fenced-in chicken yard, then a space occupied by berry bushes, grape vines, and an apple tree…a big vegetable garden, about 70 by 150 feet, I guess. It provided a lot of food for our family…enough for our consumption in-season and enough more to be canned for winter.
….”The house had been built without plumbing, central heat, or electrical wiring…Our drinking water came from a dug well about twenty feet deep, between our house and Grandma Bartlett’s. Water for washing and all other uses was rainwater from the roof. “Conductor pipes” delivered it to a cistern in the cellar, under the dining room.
There was a pump on the floor near the cistern, operated by a long lever topped by two handles, like a lawn mower. This pump raised water to a big tank of maybe a hundred gallons, which was supported by a shelf in the tank room. From there it ran down to the bathroom and kitchen. Years later, this was replaced by an electric pump and pressure tank, so the tank upstairs was taken out. …Water was heated on the kitchen stove.
…Mother did the washing on Monday. The concrete laundry tubs were in the kitchen, and had hinged lids so stuff could be put there temporarily. The washing machine was rolled in from the back room, and water was heated on the stove. Both tubs were filled with cold water; one had bluing in it, I think. There was also a small tub with starch, for shirt collars and cuffs, for instance. Mother often made her own laundry soap, having accumulated six or more coffee cans of bacon grease, which was combined with lye to make soap. It was a powerful soap, which dried very hard and was often grated before use. Grating produced sneezy soap dust in abundance. The wet clothes were hung outdoors in warmer weather and in the attic in the winter. The wet things froze up there, but eventually got dry. Electric power was slow to come to the country. Before she had an electric washing machine, Mother had some sort of hand-cranked machine, I think. On washday, Mrs. Brewer would come to help. Grandma Tripp said that Thayer’s word for washing was “brew-brewer” apparently taken from the sound of the hand-cranked machine.
Before my time, and before the bathroom was installed, one had to use the outhouse. This was located directly behind the back room, convenient to the back door. I don’t remember using it; it housed several kinds of junk, and was taken away when I was 12 or so. Mother called it “the little house next door.”
The house was built before there was central heating. In my earliest memory, the house was heated by two stoves-a parlor stove in the living room, and a cast iron cook stove in the kitchen. Most people had a stove like this. On top, it had six round lids each of which had a socket so it could be lifted by a special tool called (obviously) a lid lifter. The lids were placed in pairs from left to right. The firebox was at the left end, and the stovetop was less hot on the right.
We burned wood, which came from Dad’s woodlot, a couple of miles south. The practice was to select, in the summer, the trees to be cut, and then hire someone to cut them in the winter. Cutting the wood included slicing the trunk and branches into lengths of about 18 inches, then splitting them into useable sizes and stacking the split wood so it could dry, or “season” until the next fall. We hauled the wood home in Dad’s truck, and stacked it in the woodshed at the back of the barn. May daily chore was to move firewood by wheelbarrow or sled from woodshed to house, and fill the wood box in the back room.
Part of the stove was a shelf, which ran the length of the stove, about two feet above the cooking surface. It had a “roof” above it and was intended, I guess, as a place to warm plates. Across the front, at cook-top level, and about two inches from it was a chrome-plated rod. It was a great place to dry mittens. The stove had a “back damper,” operated by a lever in back of the stove. In one position, it allowed the combustion products (that’s engineer talk for smoke) to go directly up the stovepipe. In the other position, the smoke was made to circulate around the oven first, thus heating the oven. I think this worked only if the fire was very hot, and sustained for a fairly long time. If one started a fire in a cold stove with the damper so positioned, smoke went into the room instead of up the stovepipe.
A cupboard back of the stove, a place to keep mittens and other winter things, supported the kitchen chimney. The brickwork of the chimney actually started about five feet above the floor.
The kitchen also had an oil stove, which burned kerosene. It had three burners, could be regulated to vary the temperature, and threw much less heat than the cook stove, but could deliver intense heat where you wanted it. This stove was important in summer, particularly at canning time. Mother had a little sheet-metal oven that she could put on top of it, and could bake more easily than in the big stove.
The stove in the living room burned coal, rather than wood. Coal required less tending, and was cleaner because there was little fly ash. Wood ashes are light and fluffy. When one adds firewood to a stove, the ash already there flies up and out, and settles on everything. A lady of the community was once quoted as saying she hoped she would never be so poor that she had to burn wood!
The stove was located near the doorway to the dining room, so it would warm both rooms. Its stovepipe went straight up, through the big bedroom and into the chimney in the attic. This chimney, I think rested on the load-bearing wall that separated the big bedroom from the “guest room,” and thus on the wall below that separated living room from dining room. One benefit of this arrangement was that the hot stovepipe warmed the bedroom. When I was six or so, the furnace was installed in the cellar, and the stove was removed.
Between the kitchen ceiling and the little room that Thayer occupied was an air duct, which delivered warm air to the bedroom. It also was a speaking tub, although I don’t know whether this was intended.
The house was built well before there was electric power. Houses were lit with kerosene lamps. (Whale oil lamps were out of style by then.) Even when I was 12 or so, many household still used kerosene lamps. In the store, Dad sold Aladdin lamps, kerosene lamps which gave a brilliant light. The lamp had a mantle, a cone of open weave like cheesecloth coated with wax and supported by a loop of wire. This mantle burned the first time it was used, and turned to ash, but continued to become incandescent and give a great light as long as it wasn’t damaged. Mantles were fragile, and damaged quite readily.
Before I can remember, and before there was public power, Dad set up his own lighting system, which I think was called the Delco system. There were a number of storage batteries in the cellar, connected to a generator, which started when a sensor told it that the voltage was low. This system provided DC power to store and house, but only for lighting.
When we first got electric power, it was 25-cycle power. It would run electric motors such as vacuum cleaners, etc., but only those specifically labeled 25 cycle. The 25-cycle was noticeable as a flicker in the lights, but nobody wanted to go back to oil lamps. We continued to use our battery-powered radio when we got AC power. Radios were impressive-looking devices in those days. I remember a big black box with a lot of dials (two variable condensers had to be adjusted) and several jacks for earphones. Loudspeakers came later. A long antenna was required, running from house to tree, or running around the attic. There’s the remains of one of those in this (Johnson City) house, which was built about 1916. Teenage boys built crystal sets. This involved tacking things to a board and connecting the assembly to an antenna (see above). In those days it was important to receive signals from remote locations, and brag about it. Thayer got a magazine called (RADEX (RADio index), which was for people who sought out radio stations. Dad sold radios in the store; not everyone had them. At World Series time, he (or somebody) would post the score inning-by-inning in the front window. As radio networks, grew, it seemed a matter of pride for them to announce a program as coming to you: COAST-TO-COAST!
Our telephone was a party line. There were about ten phones on the line, each with its own signal. Ours was two long and two short; the one at the store was two short. Each phone had a hand crank on the right side; one used it to crank the signal of the person called. The store made connections to the outside world when needed. A person would crank two shorts, and tell the person at the store the long-distance number to be called. At the store, we could use some switches to connect our phone to the long-distance operators in Syracuse. When we got the called number on the line, we could switch again, so that the tow lines were connected. If the store was closed, one couldn’t call long distance. Later on, there was a switching arrangement installed in our house, so we could do the switching from there as well.
The telephone instrument was big, about 30 inches high, made of oak, and hung on the wall. Inside a box at the top were two big dry cells, called telephone batteries. There was also a shelf for a note pad. This was altogether a country phone; in Syracuse, Grandma and Grandpa had a phone of the type you see in movies about the 30’s. It had a dial; you didn’t have to tell the operator what number you wanted.
Dad went into business in partnership with Emerson Burroughs in 1908, I think. They bought a going business, and worked hard to make it grow. After a few years, Emerson decided to leave, and take over a store in Otisco. Dad bought him out, and continued on his own. They remained good friends, and the families were friendly as well.
A country store had to be a general store. There wasn’t enough business to support specialty shops. Dad’s store sold groceries, shoes, paint, nuts and bolts, plow points, kerosene, yard goods—I could go on a while. Because he catered to a summer trade, (people who had summer cottages on nearby Skaneateles Lake) Dad also stocked fishing tackle, swim suits, etc. and dealt in boats and motors. The store clerk was on the road three days a week, taking orders from customers in the mornings, and delivering in the afternoons. As I first remember it, the grocery-store part had shelves up to eight feet high on both left-and right-hand walls, with counters between them and the customer. The practice was for the clerk to stand behind the counter and get the merchandise off the shelves as the customer asked for it. When I was eight or so, Dad affiliated with the Independent Grocer’s Alliance (IGA), which called for a rearrangement to a more modern style, with open shelves and a checkout counter. For a year or so, there were even potted palms on top of the shelves.
The store was open from about 7 AM to about 9 PM, six days a week. There were several local characters, farmers and others, whose habit was to spend the evenings hanging around the store. They weren’t there to buy anything, but rather to gossip, or to discuss shotguns and dogs, and other topics of national concern. They were harmless and quiet, but I used to wonder whether their wives thought this a normal family life.
There were no planned hours on Sunday, but it was not uncommon, particularly in the summer, for somebody to come to our house needing something from the store. Summer people weren’t inclined to allow us a private life. Once we went to the store on Sunday, others would often notice that the door was open, and it was hard to get away.
Dad went to Syracuse on Monday and Friday to buy stock. He stopped at a bank in Marcellus on the way in, and stopped at Grandma/Grandpa’s house for lunch. They lived on the south side of the city, on his way to downtown. Sometimes Mother would go too, if she needed to shop downtown, for instance.
Dad would buy cheese in wholesale lots. (A whole cheese weighed 30 pounds or so, and he bought several at a time, keeping them to age in the cellar of the store until they were “sharp.”) Some of the summer people became especially fond of this cheese, and might even make a special trip from Syracuse to get this well-aged cheese, apparently not knowing that the cheese came from Syracuse in the first place.
The LoBellos were produce suppliers who brought the oranges, bananas, etc. that we sold in the store. I suppose they came once a week, at lunchtime. Their idea of lunch was to buy a pound of cheese and a loaf of unsliced bread. The bread was sliced lengthwise, and the cheese inserted. This so enthralled our family that for years a big sandwich was known to us as a LoBello sandwich. When people got automobiles, country stores sold gasoline. Dad’s pumps were at the corner of the store, at the intersection of two roads. His father was fatally injured here while preparing a base for the pumps. I think a car coming from Skaneateles was turning left, and took too wide a turn. This was well before I was born.
The school was about 300 feet east of our house. It had been there for many years before my time. My two brothers attended there, as well as my father and my mother’s father. I think my father’s parents grew up in Mottville, and I guess my mother must have gone to school in Willowdale, which was closer to Grandpa’s farm. Our school had a fuel shed in back for coal and wood, and a sort of hall in the front with entries to boy’s and girl’s toilets. These were called chemical toilets-holes in the ground about ten feet deep, lined with steel and containing some sort of evil-smelling substance. In this hall or entry, just inside the front door, was the bell rope. There was a bell up in a belfry, like in a church, and the bell was run at the start of school, at the end of recess, at the end of noon break, and at the end of afternoon recess. The teacher often delegated the bell ringing to a favored student. I never rang the bell.
There were usually about fifteen children in school. The school had to teach eight grades, but there weren’t always children in every grade. The teacher’s desk was on a platform one step up, facing the room. Several rows of student desks faced the teacher. The first item was the pledge of allegiance. We had a nice flag: silk, with a gold fringe. I think it was purchased while I was in school there. Following the pledge, we had “deep-breathing” exercise, and then we could start school. Each grade had recitation in several subjects. The routine, as I remember it, was for the teacher to say something like: Third grade reading, stand” (they stood next to their desks) “Pass” (they moved to the front of the room and sat on the recitation bench facing the teacher). Each one was called upon to read part of the assignment. Then they got the next day’s assignment and returned to their seats. The next class’s recitation followed. Older children were expected to help younger ones with their assignments. This was pretty informal; a little kid would pick up her book and walk to the other side of the room for help, during a recitation of another class. This help session was required to be carried on in low whispers only.
We were in school in the mid-thirties, when bootlegging and the depression had given rise to gangster activity, which got a lot of attention in the newspapers and radio. Gangster names were well known, even if not admired. Names I remember from that time were Pretty-boy Floyd, Baby-face Nelson, Bugs Moran, Al Capone, John Dillinger, and Legs Diamond. Since violence and gunplay were big in the news at the time, the influence carried over to our recess play, which was most often a version of “cops and robbers.” Sticks would do for toy guns, but we had a lot of toy guns, too. After recess we laid them on the old square piano that nobody played, and they made an impressive display. Once the district superintendent of schools made an unplanned visit, and was amused by our arsenal.
In my early years, the teachers were not professionals, but rather local women who were available. When I went to first grade, the teacher was Ruth Wood, whose parents lived about a mile north of the Borodino crossroads. On one of my first days, I entered the school dragging my feet. Miss Wood noticed, and said “Edward, pick up your feet!” I sat on the floor and tugged at first one foot, then the other, then said with some indignation: “Waddaya mean, pick up your feet?” This was a favorite of hers for some years. In his time, my father’s favorite teacher was Mr. Unkless, a Civil war veteran, and father of Dad’s friend Clarence, who studied law and became district attorney and later county surrogate. Mr. Unkless could identify trees better than anyone, and could sharpen pencils better, too. At recess there were usually children gathered around to get their pencils sharpened. No pencil sharpeners then.
When my grandfather was in school there, the students used slates rather than paper and pencil. One drill was to have the students add a column of figures and run to the teacher with it when finished. Grandpa’s classmate Perry Rich, who later was our local tinsmith and postmaster, could add figures faster than Grandpa could, so part way through the exercise, Grandpa would say “How you coming, Perry?” which made Perry forget the number in his head. Then Grandpa would finish and run to the teacher first.
After eighth grade one had to go to school in Skaneateles. When Thayer went, there was no school bus, and students’ families had to provide transportation. Dad paid Harry Amerman for Thayer’s ride with Harry’s son Donald, who was a little older than Thayer and drove a car to school. Bus transportation started a few years later. When I went to high school, the bus contract was held by George Talcott, who was my third cousin, I think. (His mother and my mother were cousins.) George lived in Borodino, and the bus route started from there. I started going to Skaneateles in the eighth grade, and rode the bus for six years. I took an extra year to get some subjects that I would have gotten earlier if I’d had a competent guidance councilor. The bus ride took about an hour each way. There were no late busses, so when I stayed after school for football practice I had to find my own way home-about eight miles. Evening social activities, dances, etc., were pretty much out of the question. I wasn’t old enough to drive a car, Mother didn’t drive, and Dad’s evenings were taken up by store or other tasks.
When Dad went to high school, he and other boys boarded in Skaneateles in the home of my mother’s aunt, Lettie Burns. One of the chores was to wash the dishes. One evening when he was washing with some rag that served as a dishcloth, Dad remarked to the other boys “I think I’ve got Lett’s shirt tail.” Aunt Lett was a little frosty toward Dad for years thereafter.
When Grandpa Tripp went to high school, he went to Baldwinsville Academy, the public school in B’ville. When I was in school, that school was still called Baldwinsville Academy, and Baldwinsville was still called B’ville. B’ville is a town on the Erie Canal, a few miles north of Syracuse. I don’t know why Grandpa went to school there. Mother went to school in Skaneateles, and was center on the girls’ basketball team. She was center because she was tall (5’7”). I think she must have lived with Aunt Lett at school times, but years after Dad was there. Mother graduated from Central High School in Syracuse. I think Aunt Lett must have moved there while Mother was in school.
Grandma Tripp was one of three (Breed) sisters: Lettie, Anna (Grandma Tripp) and Helen. Aunt Lett was widowed early, and was a landlady most of her life. She had no children. In my first memory, she owned an apartment house in Auburn. Grandma said that when Aunt Lett told her about buying the place, she said there was a “nigger” came with the place—“a good respectable nigger, I guess”—(the way people talked then).
Aunt Helen, the youngest, was the wife of Will Sanders. They had three children, Ethel, Russell, and Esther. Uncle Will would never use children’s own names. To him, Ethel was “Reuben,” Russell was “Sam,” and Esther had some pet name, but I’ve forgotten it. Uncle Will was a successful farmer, and an able small-town politician. A Democrat in a Republican community, he was elected town supervisor, and then chairman of the county board of supervisors. After he moved from Spafford to Sennett, he was supervisor over there too, I think. He was fun to be with.
Our local church was the Borodino Methodist-Episcopal Church. Although the Methodist Church had long ago grown out of the Episcopal Church, the hyphenated name was a remaining tie. It was a small church, with a pulpit front and center. As one faced the pulpit, the choir was at the left, maybe four or five persons, accompanied by an old pedal-powered reed organ. In the other corner, at the right, was the “A-men corner,” where the pews faced left, toward the center of the church instead of facing forward. My parents told me that at one time that was a sort of cheering section for the preacher. Certain old men sat there and encouraged the preacher with utterances like: “Amen, brother!” or “Hallelujah” or something. I don’t remember anyone ever sitting there. Wish I had. I thought I’d like to sit there and yell “Hallelujah,” but that wasn’t something one person did alone. Those pews were removed when I was in high school.
I was confirmed in the Episcopal Church in 1943, after I had finished high school. This was while Father Miller was the rector at St. James in Skaneateles. Father Miller wasn’t married, and lived alone in the rectory there. It had been his practice to invite a high-school boy to live there with him. I guess George was the third one to do this. Father Miller became very fond of George, like the uncle we never had. He took George on trips to New York, for instance, and once for a week to Monhegan Island, off the coast of Maine. Father Miller was close to our whole family. As a result, Thayer was confirmed, and later so was I. Father Miller continued a close relationship with George through his college years, the war, and George’s professional and married life. When Father Miller retired, he chose to go to live in Elmira, where George had his home.
As early as I can remember, our family life was closely tied to Skaneateles Lake. It was about a mile away, and was not just a fun place, but also an important business asset. Along the shore, people had summer cottages, and bought groceries and other supplies at the store. Dad also had several cottages that he rented to summer tenants by the week, or month, or season. Two of these were quite small, and were located on state land at Borodino Landing.
This was the location of a steamboat landing early in the 20th century, when people didn’t depend on autos for transportation. At that time, a family who lived in New York City or Philadelphia would come to their summer place by taking the train to Syracuse, then the trolley to Skaneatles, then the steamboat. There were at various times three steamboats: Glen Haven and City of Syracuse were two of them. I don’t remember the third [Ossahinta]. Glen Haven was the name of a resort hotel at the south end of the lake. It burned down, I think. The steamboat City of Syracuse was finally sunk a few hundred yards south of the village, in about 25 feet of water. I remember seeing it once through the ice. (The lake always freezes at that shallow end.) When scuba diving became popular, every bit of metal was removed from it.
I remember the steamboat dock at Borodino Landing reaching twenty feet or so straight out, then ending in a T section that I suppose the steamboat tied up to. (Before my time) The dock was supported by wooden pilings about ten inches in diameter. In Dad’s younger days, there was a floating steam-driven pile driver, which was used in building these docks in six or more locations, on both sides of the lake. This pile driver was eventually beached at Ten-Mile point, where it eventually disintegrated. I think the steamboat also delivered building materials, maybe by barge, for building some rather grand “cottages” on sites not readily accessible by land.
The pilings were vulnerable to ice damage, and eventually the ice demolished the dock, and others as well. When the lake froze over, every fifteen years maybe, the ice was a devastating force. In the spring, as it started to melt, the wind caused it to move south to north, and it knocked down or pushed asided anything in its path. One spring, there was left a pile of ice about eight feet high, right next to one of Dad’s lakeshore cottages. If it hadn’t stopped, it would surely have destroyed the building.
In addition to the two lakeshore cottages, there was another located a little south of the landing, on a private road shared with a dozen or so neighbors. These building lots on the lakeshore were brought individually, as far as I know, by the cottagers, from Clair Bockes, the farmer who owned the land. Dad’s cottage had four bedrooms upstairs, and a kitchen, living room, dining ell, and wrap-around porch downstairs. There was originally no bathroom, since lack of electric power made it difficult to supply enough running water. Space for a tiny bathroom was later taken from the back porch, putting the bathroom next to the kitchen.
During the Depression, many people didn’t have a steady income. There was a carpenter named Ed Thater who ran up a sizable grocery bill at the store. He and Dad reached an agreement that he would work off the debt by building this cottage. It was always an income property; it was not intended for our own use.
Painted gray, it was referred to as the gray cottage, until we got into naming properties, when it was named “Shale Shore.”
Later on, three more properties were added: a secluded one south of Ten-Mile Point was best reached by boat. Father Miller decided this one should be called “Rest Assured.” There was one on an especially nice lot on East Lake Road, about five miles north of Skaneateles. It was named Kenwood, and had the name worked into the siding of the gable. Then there was one on a wooded lot, about a half-mile north of Borodino Landing. This was acquired with about 390 feet of lake frontage. Dad sold off two building lots of 100 feet each, and sold the guest cottage with 65 feet. I think after these deals, he got the property for close to nothing- a pretty good deal, since cottage had four bedrooms, a sleeping portch, and a bathroom upstairs, with living room, dining room, kitchen, and porch downstairs, and had about 125 feet of lake frontage. In the summer after I got home from the war, he and I had a good time reworking it, with some professional help. He was retired from the store by then. This last one was called “Trail’s End” since it was reached by about a half-mile of private dirt road.
I remember winter as my favorite time of year. There seemed to be a lot more snow than we have now, and as children we got a lot of fun out of it. Snowdrifts came in the same places every year. One sizable one reached from the corner of the house about fifteen feet into the back yard. A couple of times I tried to hollow out a cave, using the little shovel that was meant for removing ashes from the kitchen stove. This same drift was astride the route from the back room to the well. Once we tunneled through it. Of course, the snow was firmly packed by the wind. When we shoveled it out of the driveway, we cut in out in blocks. Ashes from the basement furnace were hauled to the garden and spread on the snow there. Dad made an ash-hauling toboggan from a piece of plywood and half of a cheesebox, or rather two halves. This would carry several garbage cans filled with ashes, but was too clumsy to ride on.
We always had skis. They were primitive by today’s standards, held in place by a single strap. We would go a quarter-mile or so to fields that sloped toward the lake, slide down the steepest part, take off the skis, and climb back up. Great fun. As winter progressed and more snow accumulated, sleds took the place of skis. After a thawing period, the partially melted snow would freeze to an icy crust that was great for sledding. The crust would often form on top of a foot of snow, and be strong enough to walk on.
My ankles were never strong enough for skates, but I had them and tried. There was a marshy place across the road from the school, where we sometimes tried to skate. There was always snow that had to be cleared, and then one had to skate around clumps of grass that grew in this month. There were better places, but of course further away.
Once when I was eight or so, the whole of Skaneateles Lake froze over. The ice was a foot or so deep, more than enough to support one. On cold days, the freezing went on, and the expanding ice would crack with great booming sounds. Down the middle of the lake for a long distance, the ice piled up six feet high or so, apparently along the major crack. The wind swept snow off the ice in patches, so we tried to skate there. Dad made a sale by tacking on an old sheet to a light frame. This helped to go with the wind, but if one came from a bare patch to a snowy place, he usually fell down there.
The lake is spring-fed. There are many places where spring water bubbles out of the bottom. A swimmer notices this as a sudden cold spot in not-so-cold water. In winter, the effect was to provide moving water, which didn’t freeze as fast as the water around it. I found one of these places on the frozen lake, and suddenly dropped into cold water up to my armpits. My mother, afraid for my health, dragged me up the hill and home, about a mile. I suffered no ill effects, of course.
There were a lot of things to do in the summer; some were work, and some were just fun. The garden was planted around Memorial Day. Grandpa always planted the corn; the rest of us planted other things. As soon as things sprouted, the garden had to be tended, until everything was harvested. A hoe was our constant weapon; we left them at the garden, leaning against the fence.
Soon after each rain, we hoed everything to loosen the soil and preserve moisture. When it didn’t rain, we hoed around everything to get rid of weeds. A particularly troublesome weed was quack grass, which spread by sending out long roots, which sent up new grass every six, or eight, or ten inches. We canned stuff in season, as I’ve described, and also sold some produce in the store. Corn was a particular favorite of the summer people, and there were some who insisted it had to be fresh-picked from the garden, while they waited. They’d drive into our driveway and interrupt whatever we were doing. These people were hard to ignore; they were an important source of our summer revenue.
The store had to have priority, of course, Sometimes during the summer, a lot of people would come in at once. With the clerk on the road three days a week, Dad would often be the only one tending store. If our home phone rang, the message would likely be simply: “Help!” Then whoever was available would go over and pump gas, or weigh out sugar, or take money, whatever. In those days, fireworks were legal, and starting about July 1, one of the front windows would be filled with firecrackers, rockets, roman candles, etc. I appointed myself chief fireworks salesman, and spent close to full time at that window.
Another important task for us was the rental of the lake cottages. They all had to be cleaned at the beginning of the season, sometime before Memorial Day, and watched over whenever tenants changed. Sometimes Dad could rent to one tenant for the whole season, but often it was only for a week or two. Each cottage included a rowboat with the rental. These boats had to be made ready at the start of the season-sometimes painted, always cleaned.
We always had a motorboat for our own use. When not in use, the motor was removed, and the boat slid under one of the lakeside cottages. Sometimes we took a picnic and went to Jenny’s Point, a place a few miles south of the landing, where a big summer cottage had burned down, and the place abandoned. The place was inaccessible by land, having been built in steamboat days, when people could give a grocery order to the steamboat, and have it delivered the next day. There was still a boathouse there—big, two-story with a balcony inside. There was never anyone there, and it was a great place for a picnic.
We had an aquaplane (before the days of water skis). This was a floating platform, or tiny raft, which was towed by the motorboat. Because it floated on its own, the boat didn’t need to tow it fast. Some boys at a cottage nearby had one; one of them dressed in long black dress and a black hat, and rode on the thing carrying a black parasol. I hope they got a picture.
Borodino, in the 30’s, was largely a community of old people (people of my grandparents’ generation). Most were retired, and many had family nearby. Some of these were addressed by their first names; others were not. It wasn’t disrespectful for me to call our neighbor Charlie Craig by his first name, although he was old enough to be my grandfather. On the other hand, the old ladies were almost always addressed as Mrs. Robinson, or Mrs. Becker, etc.
Charlie and Maggie (Craig) lived next door. Charlie was past the age of full-time work, but had several assignments: He started a fire in the Grange Hall’s heating plant when it was called for, and was our grave-digger at the local cemetery south of the village. Charlie had a horse named Maud, who occupied a little shed in back of their house. She got very little exercise, but occasionally Dad would arrange for her to pull our cultivator in the garden. A member of the family always led her, so she wouldn’t step on the plants. Mother used to judge winter temperatures by Maggie’s windows. If they were covered with frost, it was a real cold day. Maggie’s cat was considered fair game by our dog, and about once a week the cat would be treed outside Maggie’s back door. The cat had Maggie trained to bring a rocking chair and hold it about her head, so the cat could jump down into it.
Maggie lost her mind in the early 40’s. She’d come over and say, “There’s an old fool over there who says he’s Charlie Craig.” Then Charlie would come over and say, “I don’t know what to do with her.” After a couple of years of this, they died within two days of each other. After they died, Jack and Mame Coar occupied the house. Mame was Maggie’s sister. There had been three Murphy sisters: Mary, Maggie, and Mamie. Mary was Mrs. Streeter who also lived in Borodino. Jack and Mame had lived in Syracuse, where Jack was a streetcar motorman, I think. Neither Mame nor Maggie had children.
The Grange Hall filled a number of needs in the community. It was a place for meetings, plays, dances, etc. It was owned by the local Grange, officially Patrons of Husbandry, an association of farmers which had been a strong political force nation-wide in the nineteenth century. By the 1930’s, its influence was waning, and it was more or less a social club, with membership open to others, not just farmers. Mother and Dad belonged, but attended only when it was their turn to entertain (provide ice cream and cake).
The hall was-or is- a sizable building, rather like a church, with a belfry, which I was told, had a bell in it, although I never heard it ring. It had a stage with a roll-down curtain that was painted with a country scene. I remember a play performed by local talent once. It was furnished with benches in the style of Windsor chairs, light weight, strong, and hard to sit on. These were readily moved aside to make room for dancing, or for the Grange’s meeting ritual, which called for a certain amount of marching around.
We inoculated school children there, bringing them from the surrounding one-room schools. The hall was also the location for political parties to caucus. Caucus was an open meeting, rather like a New England town meeting, I supposed. I attended on in 1946, I think. This was the Republican caucus, presided over by Charlie Lieber, who was as close to a political boss as we had. Charlie wasn’t a boss at all, but he liked to proceed. The purpose of the caucus was to select the Republican candidates for local offices.
Grandpa Tripp told a story (perhaps apocryphal) of a time when a known Democrat openly attended the Republican caucus. Now everybody knew everybody else, and everybody knew this man was a Democrat, so the chairman thought he’d entertain the assembly. “Are there any Democrats here?” was the question. The man raised his hand. “Are you a Democrat?” answer: “yes” “Well, is your father a Democrat?” answer: “yes” “Well, was your grandfather a Democrat?” answer: “yes” “Well, if your grandfather was a jackass, and your father was a jackass, what would you be?” answer:”I guess I’d be a Republican.” Grandpa loved stories like that.
This is all the interesting stuff I can remember for now. (Assuming that this has been interesting.) I’ll keep this on file; maybe I’ll think of something to add someday.