Category Archives: A to Z Challenge 2017

One-stop recap of Whispering Chimneys: My Altamont childhood

One-stop recap of the twenty-six Molly’s Canopy posts in the April 2017 Blogging From A to Z Challenge. Thanks for joining me on the journey and leaving so many supportive comments along the way!

When the April 2017 Blogging From A to Z Challenge ended on April 30, I was happy to be among the survivors who completed the online marathon — for the second year in a row!

After generating twenty-six posts in just one month, I am craving a return to the more leisurely pace of weekly blogging as I continue to explore my ancestors’ lives and the research techniques I used to find them.

Yet I thoroughly enjoyed taking a deep dive into my early childhood this year and writing about my time at Whispering Chimneys — and I may follow up with a sequel about my early suburban life for A to Z 2018!

Still to come is my Reflections post about my second A to Z Challenge experience — but other than that, I am taking a blogging vacation in May!

Whispering Chimneys recap

Aerial view of Whispering Chimneys, the farm where I spent my early childhood (circa 1950s). Click to enlarge the photo, and you will see all the areas I wrote about — from the farmhouse, the barn and the mailbox to the pines, the cabins, my grandmother’s antique shop, our bailed hay ready for sale and the well tended fields of the working farm next door. And of course Route 20 right out front. Scan by Molly Charboneau

While I mentally recharge, here is a summary of the April 2017 posts about Whispering Chimneys: My Altamont childhood…where my genealogy journey began.

Please check out any you may have missed. Comments are still open on the later posts — and I love hearing from readers!

Please stop back on May 8 for:  Reflections on the April 2017 #AtoZChallenge!

 © 2017 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Zooming off to Endwell – #atozchallenge

Z is for Zooming off to Endwell. Last 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. With this post I’m also zooming across the finish line! Thanks for joining me on the journey!

Zooming traffic on Route 20 was the soundtrack of my early years at Whispering Chimneys,  my family’s Altamont, N.Y., farm.

Sure, there were quiet times on the cross-country interstate. Most nights there were long, silent intervals between the muffled whoosh of lone vehicles passing by.

But the rest of the time there was the steady roar of trucks, cars and farm equipment — and the amber cones of their night-time headlights — as they  rushed east and west to their destinations.
Route 20 in New York State (2011). A quiet time on the busy cross-country highway, which was the most tangible border between my childhood life on our family’s farm and the outside world. Photo: Doug Kerr /Flickr

In my early years, Route 20 was the most tangible border between my life on the farm and the outside world.

I could not cross or travel along the interstate without an adult as a passport.

I could wait next to the road for the school bus; yell across the highway to my friend Kathy, who lived on the other side; and even retrieve the mail, which brought me dangerously close to the zooming traffic. But to venture any further, I needed a grownup.

Into the zooming traffic

Fortunately, my parents and grandparents loved being part of the zooming traffic. So I rode in their cars to dance class, to church, to visit relatives, to go shopping — and even once to Boston on vacation.

Best of all were the trips to special local events — the circus, museums, parades and such. They were always a great adventure!

My second childhood home in Endwell, Broome County, N.Y. (circa 1957). Our maroon Dodge is parked in the driveway. That’s my open bedroom window on the second floor. Out back, the Susquehanna River replaced Route 20 as my new natural boundary. Photo: Norman J. Charboneau

Finally, the year I turned seven, we entered the zooming traffic and embarked on the greatest adventure yet.

We were zooming off to Endwell — to our new house along the Susquehanna River west of  Binghamton, New York.

And just like that I was transformed from a youngster in a household of mostly adults to the oldest child in a growing family — which now included two younger brothers!

A river replaces the roadway

Our Endwell house was smaller than Whispering Chimneys — a compact little Cape Cod with its attic turned into bedrooms. But its small size was more than made up for by a neighborhood bursting with children — 52 on our block alone at the peak of the Baby Boom!

No more yelling across the highway to my lone rural neighbor! From now on my home life would be punctuated by the raucous pandemonium of scores of children at play.

The roaring traffic on Route 20 was replaced by the ebbs and flood tides of the Susquehanna River — the new natural boundary near my second childhood home, where I lived until I left for college .

Whispering Chimneys: The long goodbye

And Whispering Chimneys? My maternal grandparents continued to live there for another fourteen years — and I’m glad they did.

Because the farm became our family’s destination for long weekends, holidays and summer vacations — a steady reminder of the pleasurable years I spent there as a young child.

Congratulations to my fellow A to Z bloggers, and thanks for joining me on this year’s journey! Watch for a Reflections post on May 8.

And please stop back on May 5 for a one-stop summary of this year’s #AtoZChallenge posts about “Whispering Chimneys: My Altamont childhood.”

© 2017 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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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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