Yearly rituals: Rhythms of rural life – #atozchallenge

Yearly rituals: Rhythms of rural life. Twenty-fifth of twenty-six posts in the April 2017 Blogging From A to Z Challenge on the theme “Whispering Chimneys: My Altamont childhood” — where my genealogy journey began. Wish me luck — crossing the finish line tomorrow!

At Whispering Chimneys, yearly rituals reflecting the rhythms of rural life carried us through one year and into the next. And the first yearly ritual was my birthday in January!

My birthday parties were hit or miss in the winter weather — sometimes a good turnout, other times folks begging off due to a snowstorm or icy roads. But when there was a January thaw, my  birthday came off pretty well — with a nice big cake and a group of my little friends to help me celebrate.

Soon enough a real spring thaw awakened new life on our farm — and that included polliwogs in the cold creek that led to our pond. The pond had huge bullfrogs in summer. Hard to imagine that the little eely tadpoles I liked to catch in an old jar could grow into a hopping, croaking cacophony as warmer weather approached!

Easter was up next. We spread newspaper on the kitchen table and dyed eggs for the Easter Bunny to hide. Next day, we  hunted for them all over the house and played pick-pick to see whose egg would not break. A basket filled with chocolate and spiced (never fruit-flavored!) jelly beans was a special treat — as was Mom’s braided Easter Bread with colored eggs baked into it. Capping off the afternoon, we ventured out to visit the local Easter Egg Tree.

Striking a pose by the Easter Egg Tree (circa 1955). I have to admire the enterprising folks who created this simple attraction that brought such pleasure to us children each year. Photo: Norman J. Charboneau

After that came summer vacation. Dad worked at GE, which closed for two weeks — usually in July. So off we drove to parts unknown.

Sometimes we visited Dad’s family up north of Utica, N.Y. Other times, we headed off to local amusement parks. And once we went to Great Sacandaga Lake near Mom’s Gloversville, N.Y.,  home town — which was humongous and scary to navigate in a little motorboat!

Dad’s annual raise was always cause for celebration — because it was the one time each year that he took our entire family out to eat in a restaurant! Once we went to a German restaurant on State Street in Schenectady, N.Y., where I was awed by the waiters and the tablecloths — and pretty much everything.

August brought cicadas, with their whirring din — and that’s also when blooming swaths of brown eyed  Susans filled our back field. To this day when I hear cicadas or see those flowers, I am reminded of the farm in late summer.

Right after that school started. I loved my classroom activities — especially Show and Tell. At least until Dad found out I showed and told how he got a traffic ticket when he “rolled under a yellow light just as it turned red.” Dad was on the School Board, so he was not happy about this publicity!

The start of school also meant that October and Halloween were not far off. Rural children really didn’t go trick-or-treating from house to house because of the great distances. So instead I went to the annual Halloween Parade in Altamont, which featured a costume contest as well as apples, candy and sugared donuts. And one October there was a special surprise — my second brother Jeff was born!

In November came the laborious task of preparing turkey stuffing for the family’s Thanksgiving meal. My grandmother set out bread for a few days to “get stale.” Once it was dry enough, I helped crumble it into a bowl. Milk was added, followed by sausage, grated apple and herbs and spices — then it was stuffed into the turkey. There was always an extra pan of stuffing — and I would have been happy just eating that!

By then snow was falling and there was one more celebration before Christmas — my brother Marks’ birthday in December. He shared my problem of sparsely attended birthday parties due to weather cancellations. But no matter, we made our own party even if few kids showed up!

After that came New Year’s Eve and the cycle began all over again! Thus I ticked away seven years at Whispering Chimneys — until the time came for us to leave my grandparents behind on the farm and move to a house all our own in the suburbs. More on that in the next post.

Up next. Zooming off to Endwell. Please stop back!

 © 2017 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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X-mas Eve: Santa casts a spell – #atozchallenge

X-mas at Whispering Chimneys. Twenty-fourth of twenty-six posts in the April 2017 Blogging From A to Z Challenge on the theme “Whispering Chimneys: My Altamont childhood” — where my genealogy journey began. Wish me luck — almost there!

Winter was always a magical time at Whispering Chimneys — the farm near Altamont, N.Y., where I spent my early childhood.

Snow drifted up to our second-story roof, candles flickered in every room when the power lines went down — and there was ice skating on the pond and snow-shoeing in the side yard.

But the most magical time when I was little was X-mas — and especially Christmas eve.

The sound of reindeer hoofs

My bedroom was next to our largest chimney, and I had a little chimney closet where I kept my toys and books. On Christmas eve Mom or Dad would take out “The Night Before Christmas” and read it aloud before tucking me in.

Christmas at Whispering Chimneys in 1951. That’s me in front with Mom and Dad. Rear, from left: Boom (Mom’s mother), Grandpa Charboneau (Dad’s father) and Gramps (Mom’s father). At left, with just her elbow showing: Grandma Charboneau (Dad’s mother). Photo: Rita Mary Laurence (Mom’s sister).

Of course the minute they left the room, I was at the frosty window searching the sky for the reindeer pulling Santa’s sleigh.

There was nothing like our creaky old 1850s farmhouse for convincing my I heard distant sleigh bells or hoofs on our roof — so I was up and down many times before I finally fell asleep.

Then one year, I could stand the suspense no longer. I got out of bed and tiptoed slowly down our big central staircase to see if Santa had come — and that turned out to be the most magical year of all!

Santa casts a spell

The stairway and main hall were dark, but when I reached the bottom the living room was ablaze with light. And there by the tree were Mom and Dad and a pile of presents!

“Was Santa here?” I asked excitedly. “Did you see him?” My parents looked up, startled.

“What are you doing up?” asked my mother, moving quickly across the room and gathering me in her arms before I could see too much. My father joined her and they took me back up to bed.

“Did you see Santa?” I asked them again — since Santa had clearly dropped off our presents. “No, we didn’t,” said my father.

“But you were there when he came?” I asked. “Yes, we were,” Dad said, looking over at my mother. “But Santa must have cast a spell over us.” A spell? How mysterious. “That’s right,” Mom agreed.

“We were sitting at the kitchen table talking,” Dad continued. “Santa must have put us to sleep, because when we woke up and went into the living room the presents were already under the tree.”

Well, how about that? Santa had actually been to our house! Maybe I had heard his reindeer after all. And who knew he could cast spells?

“Now, you go to sleep and in the morning you can see your presents,” said Mom. Then they tucked me in again and went back downstairs.

That night, I drifted off to sleep thinking about Santa sprinkling sparkly dust over my parents so they wouldn’t see him leave the gifts — and so we could all enjoy his surprise on Christmas morning.

Up next – Yearly rituals: Rhythms of rural life. Please stop back!

 © 2017 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Whistleberries: My first nickname – #atozchallenge

Whistleberries: My first nickname. Twenty-third of twenty-six posts in the April 2017 Blogging From A to Z Challenge on the theme “Whispering Chimneys: My Altamont childhood” — where my genealogy journey began. Wish me luck — I’m in the home stretch!

My maternal grandparents lived with our family at Whispering Chimneys — but they had their own set of friends and social life over on their side of the farmhouse.  And it was one of their friends who gave me my first nickname: Whistleberries.

My grandmother (we called her Boom) ran a country antique and collectibles shop down by the road. To keep the shop stocked, she and Gramps went to country auctions. That’s where they met Electa and Floyd, who became regular visitors to the farm.

I called them Aunt Electa and Uncle Floyd — though they weren’t related to us — and they seemed to be another well-matched couple. Electa was outgoing with a hearty laugh and personality as big as all outdoors — while I remember Floyd as more subdued.

At the dining table

During one of Electa and Floyd’s visits, my grandparents must have been babysitting me, because we were all gathered around their dining table together. My grandmother made Boston baked beans.

On my maternal grandparents’ porch at Whispering Chimneys circa 1951. That’s me in the middle on my Aunt Rita’s lap, with my grandmother to my left and my grandfather in front of her, next to the unknown lady in the dark dress. The couple in the foreground looks right to be Uncle Floyd and Aunt Electa. Scan: Molly Charboneau

When Boom brought the steaming crock to the table, Electa said, “Well, what do you know — whistleberries!”

She was referring to the beans’ gas-inducing properties — but the idea of whistling berries started me laughing and I couldn’t stop!

After that, every time Electa visited all she had to say was “whistleberries” and I would collapse with laughter. Over time this morphed into, “Hey, Whistleberries!” when she saw me — and thus my first nickname was born.

The big hug

The other thing I remember about Aunt Electa was her big hug. If my brother Mark and I were around, she’d head right for us with her arms outstretched — and when she hugged you, you knew it!

In fact Mark, who was only about three, used to stiffen up in anticipation as soon as he heard her voice — and when Electa hugged him his little face would turn red!

Electa and Floyd were just two of many friends in my grandparents’ lives — but they were among the most memorable from my childhood.

Canajoharie country auctions

I wondered what became of Electa and Floyd, so I did some research and found Aunt Electa’s obtuary on Find-a-Grave. Turns out they were from Canajoharie in Montgomery County, New York — which is probably where my grandparents them on an antiques buying foray.

Friends, associates and neighbors like these can help us find our forbears in a sea of records — and they can also tell us a bit about our ancestors’ lives.

Aunt Electa and Uncle Floyd are prime examples, and I am so lucky to have met them.

Up next – X-mas at Whispering Chimneys. Please stop back!

 © 2017 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Vaccination: A doctor’s office drama – #atozchallenge

Vaccination: A doctor’s office drama. Twenty-second of twenty-six posts in the April 2017 Blogging From A to Z Challenge on the theme “Whispering Chimneys: My Altamont childhood” — where my genealogy journey began. Wish me luck — I’m in the home stretch!

At some point in my young life, maybe when I was five or six, I had to go for a vaccination. I’m not sure what it was for. I just remember it involved getting a shot — and I was nervous about that needle.

Mom drove me to the doctor’s office — up Carmen Road past St. Madeline Sophie’s Roman Catholic Church where we went every Sunday. Along the way, she tried to buck me up.

“It will feel like a little pinch, then it will be over,” she told me. That didn’t sound so bad. It was probably more the newness of the experience that bothered me — entering unknown territory and not sure what to expect.

At the doctor’s office

When we arrived at the office, there was a doctor (he wore a white coat over his suit) and a nurse (she wore a white uniform with a sweater and a little hat).  My mom and I were both in dresses (folks dressed up to go to the doctor back then).

Doctor’s office. I remember one particular childhood vaccination because of the swooning drama right after I got my shot! By: goblinbox_(queen_of_ad_hoc_bento)

The nurse seemed nice. She picked me up and sat me on the examining table — where I swung my dangling feet back and forth nervously.

As my mom stood behind me, the nurse pinched my arm and quickly gave me the shot.

Mom was right, it really wasn’t so bad — and I might have forgotten all about it, except for what happened next.

A swooning drama

The nurse suddenly got a shocked look on her face and rushed around the table behind me. “Doctor!” she called out — and I turned around to see Mom slumped on the floor. She had fainted!

Next thing I knew, the doctor rushed in and they helped my mom onto the other examining table where they fussed over her until she came around. Meanwhile, I just sat there with my sore arm — all but forgotten.

How could I know Mom couldn’t stand the sight of needles? Or that all the while she was telling me not to be nervous, she was probably nervous herself? Or that she had to overcome her own trepidation to be sure I got my shot?

For years I laughingly thought of this incident as the time I was upstaged by Mom — but now I realize it was one of those small acts of everyday bravery that it takes to be a mother.

Up next – Whistleberries: My first nickname. Please stop back!

 © 2017 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Under the pines: Family reunions – #atozchallenge

Under the pines: Family reunions. Twenty-first of twenty-six posts in the April 2017 Blogging From A to Z Challenge on the theme “Whispering Chimneys: My Altamont childhood” — where my genealogy journey began. Wish me luck — I’m in the home stretch!

If I had to pick a spot at Whispering Chimneys where my genealogy journey began, it would have to be under the pines.

That was the only shady location large enough to accommodate a picnic table and benches. So under the pines is where my parents and grandparents entertained relatives in the summer — and where I first met many of my extended family members.

Day to day, there might be a car parked under the pines to keep it cool. And sometimes I sat under there to read. But this spot really livened up when family came calling — mainly my maternal grandparents’ siblings and their families from Mom’s Gloversville, N.Y., home town.

My mom’s family from Gloversville

My grandmother’s younger brother — Uncle Andy Stoutner — would be there with his wife and two daughters. And her younger sister — Aunt Margaret (Stoutner) Rothbell, a widow — would attend with her daughter.

A family picnic under the pines at Whispering Chimneys. I got to know my maternal extended family at these summertime family reunions. Photo: Elizabeth (Stoutner) Laurence

Gramps would invite his only brother — Uncle Joe Laurence — and his wife and two daughters. And before she moved to California in 1956, Mom’s younger sister — Aunt Rita Laurence — would join us, too.

On the farm, we had no relatives living close by — except maybe Aunt Rita who had an apartment for a while in Albany. So it was through these summer reunions that I got to know some of my mom’s family and hear about the old days when they all lived in Gloversville together.

North Country visits to my paternal relatives

My dad’s Charboneau family — his parents, four brothers and their families — lived further away in New York’s North Country. So we usually went to visit them on car trips — making a flurry of stops at Holland Patent, Sequoit, Boonville or at the Adirondack lakeside camps they all repaired to in the summer.

In this way — either under the pines at the farm or on summer road trips — the idea of a larger family began to take root during my childhood. Who knew that three decades would pass before this early awareness would finally grow into a pursuit of my family history?

Yet most genealogists will tell you that’s often the way the process works — that the time for memory and reflection usually arrives at midlife after the tasks of younger years are completed.

That’s the way it was for me — and I’m grateful that when I finally decided to look back and begin researching my family, my childhood memories from under the pines were still there to draw on.

Up next – Vaccination: A doctor’s office drama. Please stop back!

 © 2017 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Growing family trees one leaf (and road trip) at a time