All posts by Molly C.

Recital: “I’ll never dance again!” – #atozchallenge

Recital: “I’ll never dance again!” Eighteenth 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!

Dance performances portray human drama and pathos, and my second recital as a child provided plenty of each — both onstage and off.

My mom started me in dance classes when I was five . I vaguely recall climbing a big flight of stairs to a studio above the Altamont, N.Y., Fire Dept. for my weekly lesson.

Ready to march off to my first recital at age five. I’m standing at attention by the porch at Whispering Chimneys, with Route 20 in the background. Photo: Norman J. Charboneau

My first recital came off pretty well. Sporting a harlequin outfit, I performed as Tweedledee the Clown in a group with a bunch of my little dance-class friends.

My onstage debut was so successful that Mom enrolled me for more classes the following year.

A sunlit storefront studio

These were held in a storefront studio, which I think was on the ground floor of the Altamont Enterprise building.

I remember a wall of mirrors with a long barre and sunlight flooding in through the front windows as my classmates and I practiced our ballet positions and pirouettes.

Hamming it up in the yard before my fateful second dance recital at age six. My tutu was powder pink! That’s our big crab apple tree behind me and the pine. Scan: Molly Charboneau

For my second recital, at age six, I wore a more sophisticated outfit of pink satin with a detachable tulle skirt — and ribbon-tied ballet shoes!

Before my recital, I hammed it up in the side yard at Whispering Chimneys for some photos.

All seemed well up until showtime. But when it was time to leave for the performance I didn’t feel well — at all.

Showtime drama

My mom did what mothers do: she put the back of her hand on my forehead. Not feeling a fever, she said I was probably just nervous. I protested, telling her I really didn’t feel well, but she was convinced it was nothing.

That’s when I pulled out all the stops, as children do: “If you make me go to this recital, I’ll never dance again!”

Alas, to no avail — so I got into my little pink tutu and off we went to Schenectady for the show.

Second recital program cover. I danced in the Mother Goose Ballet, a group performance. Scan: Molly Charboneau

After that, my memories are a blur. I recall being onstage and looking out for my parents in the audience during my Mother Goose Ballet number.

Next I remember being in my bedroom in the dark — tossing and turning and feeling a searing pain every time I coughed.

It turned out I had viral pneumonia. Mom told me years later that she had no idea because it came on without a fever.

“I thought you just had stage fright,” she said, and she felt terrible when I ended up being so sick.

My final image is of Mom sitting up all night at the little-kid desk in the corner of my bedroom — reading by my dad’s tiny desk lamp so she’d be nearby if I needed her.

Dance fever takes hold

After that, Mom never again enrolled me in dance class. Yet thanks to her earlier efforts my dance foundation was already set.

Soon enough dance fever replaced the childhood fever she failed to detect — and despite my hasty vow, I kept right on dancing.

Through junior high and high school (I never missed a dance). Through college and young adulthood (the freestyle and disco years). Later when I learned salsa, merengue, and cumbia  — and right up to last week when I went swing dancing with friends.

This enjoyable pastime is still a valued part of my life — and I’m grateful to my mom for getting me started all those years ago on the farm.

Up next – Standing up to the school bus bully. Please stop back!

 © 2017 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Quite impressive: My classmate drives a tractor – #atozchallenge

Quite impressive: My classmate drives a tractor. Seventeenth 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 more than halfway there!

When I was in first grade, most kids I knew were pretty much like me. They went to school, came home, played in their yard then went to bed — only to start all over again the next day.

If they operated a vehicle it was most likely a bicycle — and I had just barely graduated to a two wheeler. So imagine my surprise when I saw something quite impressive on the farm next door — one of my classmates driving a tractor!

The first time I saw him bump by atop the giant vehicle I could hardly believe my eyes. But sure enough he bumped by again — making wide circles as he tilled the field next to our back yard. How could this be? He wasn’t much bigger than me!

A real working farm

I thought about our farm Whispering Chimneys. Sure there was some chicken growing, hay mowing and a family business or two going — but my parents and maternal grandparents weren’t operating a real working farm. Not like the Mennonite family of my classmate next door.

By: NatalieMaynor

Their farm was really something. They rotated their crops — one year there might be clover growing near us, the next year corn, and sometimes nothing at all while the field lay fallow.

On the best years they rotated the cows nearby! I loved to grab handfuls of grass from our yard and feel the cows’ warm breath when they poked their giant heads through our fence and rooted in my hands for the treat.

I decide to investigate

I decided to ask my classmate about the tractor driving the next time I saw him on the school bus. Only he wasn’t on the bus the next day, or the next — so I finally asked my parents about him.

“Oh, he gets time off school during planting season to help his parents on the farm,” Dad explained. Time off school? Really? Well, now I was even more amazed!

Here was a small boy — about the same age as me — who could already drive and got to skip school to do farm work. Quite impressive indeed!

Up next – Recital: “I’ll never dance again!” Please stop back!

 © 2017 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Peg: My postwar mom – #atozchallenge

Peg: My post-war mom. Sixteenth 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 more than halfway there!

Peg — my postwar mom — was twenty-four when we moved to Whispering Chimneys in 1950. She was a piano major and music education graduate of Potsdam College in Potsdam, N.Y — which is where she met my dad.

Before they married, she taught music at Garfield High School near Atlantic City, N.J. She even made the local paper for leading the children’s chorus at a statewide music association convention.

But after I was born, Mom took a hiatus from teaching that continued throughout our years on the farm. Which is not to say she wasn’t working.

Operating the cabins

Being a mother and housewife was a full-time job — and for a while she also helped run the farm’s three cold-water tourist cabins down by the road. Here’s how Dad described the job in his essay about the farm years (they being my parents).

Me with Mom on the running board of our maroon Dodge, circa 1952. Photo: Norman J. Charboneau

…they had the overnight cabins to make an income. This simply required that someone had to be home every night to sign in the tourists.

The following day the cabin had to be cleaned, the bedding and towels washed, and the beds made for the next guests. This lasted through one season and the next year the sign came down.

A steady presence

Unlike my dad, who left every day for work, my mom was a steady presence in my early life. She got me up, dressed and fed; spent the day with me; and put me to bed each night.

She was the one I ran to if I hurt myself playing or when I got sick — like the time I woke up with mumps, took one look the mirror and yelled, “Mom, I have no neck!”

My bevy of little girlfriends was also her doing because Mom made sure I socialized with her friends’ children — at our house, at their houses, at dance class, at church, at the public pool or for birthdays.

Civic minded

Mom hosted an electrical repair class in 1952. From the Events of Today column of the Schenectady Gazette, May 14, 1952. Source:

Mom was also community spirited and joined the local Home Bureau, a New York State-wide homemakers’ organization.

According to an article I found in the May 14, 1952 Schenectady Gazette, she even hosted an electrical cord repair class at the farm for the Home Bureau’s Evergreen unit — where I’ll bet my dad was the presenter!

The heart of our family

If Dad was the head of our family — its planner and project developer — Mom was its heart. And in this way, they balanced one another.

Mom was a trained musician, arranger and composer who had already led choral groups before I was born. And she imparted her artistic talents to us children from an early age. By the time Sound of Music was released in 1965, we were able to quickly learn the score and sing it four-part harmony on car trips.

Mom was a role model for balancing a creative life, a family  and a career (which she resumed after we children were older) — and for me, those lessons began in the early 1950s when we lived on the farm.

Up next – Quite impressive: My classmate drives a tractor. Please stop back!

 © 2017 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Out on the porch: An intangible essence – #atozchallenge

Out on the porch: Destination or state of mind? Fifteenth 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 more than halfway there!

Out on the porch of our Whispering Chimneys farmhouse I whiled away many an hour — as did my family.

And over the years the front porch evolved from a mere destination to a state of mind — tranquil, contained and ideal for watching the world pass by.

An outdoor multipurpose room

In warm weather, our porch served as a sort of outdoor multipurpose room connecting our side of the farmhouse with my grandparents’ side.

The front porch at Whispering Chimneys the year my family moved there, as documented in my baby book. Scan: Molly Charboneau

We had a regular-sized living room door that led out onto the porch and my grandparents’ big main door opened there, too.

Each door had its own set of steps onto the lawn — and a third set of steps at the side was great for running to the big swing set across the driveway.

The farmhouse had two other porches — a small one off our kitchen for toting groceries in and out and a rickety one we never used off my grandparents’ wing. But the front porch was where all the action happened.

A great escape

Out on the porch you could see and hear the traffic on Route 20. So it’s no wonder my first word was truck, not Mama or Dada — much to my parents’ disappointment.

As I grew older, the front porch became a great escape. It had Adirondack chairs where I could sit and take in the view — with flat arms wide enough for snacks or a coloring book. And the porch roof provided cooling shade on a sunny day.

From the porch I could spot the letter carrier delivering the mail, so I’d know when to head down to the mailbox. And sometimes I’d find my grandmother out there — working on her knitting while she kept an eye on the antique shop — and we’d have a chance to visit.

A special feeling

There was a special feeling on that porch — an intangible essence of my early childhood that I thought I’d lost when we left the farm and later when I moved to New York City.

But then I visited the Queens Farm Museum one quiet weekday — and as soon as I sat out on the porch of the Adriance farmhouse the familiar feeling returned.

And just like that, I was back on the porch at Whispering Chimneys as if it was yesterday — surveying the world and watching the traffic go by.

Up next – Peg: My post-war mom. Please stop back!

 © 2017 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Norm: My postwar dad – #atozchallenge

Norm: My post-war dad. Fourteenth 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 more than halfway there!

Norm — my postwar dad — was twenty-six when we moved to Whispering Chimneys in 1950.

A Navy veteran of WW II, he was also an electrical engineering graduate of Clarkson College in Potsdam, N.Y — which is where he met my mom.

Our maternal grandparents lived on the farm with us — and the original plan was for all the adults to “go into business together.”

Gramps opened his machine shop out in the barn and Boom, my grandmother, started selling antiques and collectibles from her roadside store. My mom’s job then was raising us children.

Dad and me on the running board of our maroon Dodge, circa 1952. Photo: Peg (Laurence) Charboneau

A job at GE

And my dad? He became the sole family member with an outside job.

He went to work as an engineer at the General Electric company in Schenectady, N.Y. — a giant multi-factory complex left me awestruck whenever we drove by it.

Yet my early memories of Dad are from when he was home — puttering around doing household repairs, trying to eke a garden out of impossible soil, or getting behind the wheel of our maroon Dodge for family outings.

Gardening fiasco

After he retired, Dad wrote an essay about his youthful aspirations for the farm and how they fell short. So I’ll let him tell part of the story. (It’s written in third person, with “they” referring to our family.)

They could have beautiful gardens of flowers and vegetables, living off the land like the pioneers. They had a farmer plow up an acre to grow the tomatoes, carrots, beets, peas, lettuce, and beans.

What the heck? My brother Mark, 2, watches Dad try to grow vegetables in impossible soil. In the distance is the working farm of the Mennonite family next door. Photo: Rita Mary Laurence

Then they discovered the soil was clay, rain turning it to mud, which built up on the shoes an inch thick. Then the sun baked it to brick hardness with big cracks running through the rows of plants.

The poor carrots and beets could not penetrate more than two inches. The tomatoes did well but became the home of the green tomato worms, munching so loudly they could be located by sound.

Giving chickens a go

Dad gave gardening one last shot — planting strawberries in a far field above a creek behind our house — then abandoned the idea and moved on to a new plan.

Next project was raising chickens for eggs and meat. The barns provided a convenient location even having mangers for nests. The family kept business records, tabulating the cost of chicks, feed, and floor shavings.

They counted the eggs produced and realized that they could buy eggs for the same money at the local market. They did have the chickens to eat, but this meant the revolting task of killing the birds, plucking the feathers and eviscerating. Ugh!

Ugh is right. Well into my adult life, I could not eat chicken skin because it brought back memories of plucking wet feathers off freshly-killed chickens when I was little.

Press coverage of Dad’s 1956-57 stint on the Guilderland, N.Y. School Board (last paragraph). I recently found this Schenectady Gazette article while doing newspaper research. Source:

Life lesson: Try new things

Thus, project by project, Dad gradually moved away from the hope of small farming and embraced his new engineering career.

He also became active in the local community — even serving on the School Board. I was pleased to discover this tidbit in the April 12, 1957 issue of the Schenectady Gazette.

And Dad continued to embark on new projects throughout his life. He even self-published a mystery novel and started a blog when he was an octogenarian — which I wrote about in Norm’s eightieth birthday.

Dad’s can-do willingness to try new things has inspired me since I was little. He died five years ago today and I still miss him.

Up nextOut on the porch: Destination or state of mind? Please stop back!

© 2017 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin