Category Archives: Blogging from A to Z 2017

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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Standing up to the school bus bully

Standing up to the school bus bully. Nineteenth 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!

To get to first grade from our farm Whispering Chimneys I had to board a school bus with forty or so rural children — many older than me — for the half-hour drive to Altamont Elementary.

My Kindergarten trips came and went with little fanfare — I think we had a bus of our own, since we only went for half a day.

But my first grade bus — filled with kids from first to sixth grade — brought life’s starker realities crashing into my little world.

Multi-grade mayhem

I remember waiting by the telephone pole at the end of our driveway then entering the big yellow vehicle — where the multi-grade mayhem threw me for a loop.

For the sixth graders, though, the trip was old hat. They’d been there before and had mastered the bus culture — a wild bunch of preteens who pushed the driver’s patience to the limit.

“All right, youse guys, sit down now!” our driver would bellow above the din as we younger children quaked in our seats.

Heading out to first grade the year I stood up to the school bus bully. Scan: Molly Charboneau

But the older kids just ignored him — running out of control in the aisle, kissing in the back seats and bringing blushes to the faces of us youngsters with their rowdy behavior.

“You could hear that bus coming before you could see it,” my father told me years later. And it was sure no picnic being on it!

To calm things down the school authorities established assigned seats. Each bus seat was to hold three children — an older one with two younger kids as “buffers.”

The bully barks his  orders

Wouldn’t you know I ended up with the worst spot — a middle seat halfway back next to Chuck 1, the school bus bully who sat on the aisle. My first-grade classmate Linda, who lived closer to school, got the window.

Chuck laid down his ground rules the first day:”You’re gonna do what I say and no talking.” His overbearing demeanor told us he meant business. The daily ritual went downhill from there.

“Hold my books, and don’t drop them,” he would command, thrusting them at me. Then he’d sneak off in his flannel shirt and cuffed jeans to kiss the girl in the last seat.

Every day it was the same — I had to sit still, hold his books, hold his jacket, stop talking, do whatever he said while he ran amok until the bus driver yelled. I was a nervous wreck.

“What did he do today?” Linda would whisper when Chuck was out of earshot — and I’d quietly fill her in on the latest outrage. She was sympathetic, but she only got on five minutes from school.  I had to ride alone with him most of the way — and I was miserable!

Taking a stand

I don’t know if I told my parents (Mom says I didn’t) — but maybe Linda told hers or we might have complained to our teacher or perhaps someone overheard us telling other kids on the playground.

But somehow the school got wind of Chuck’s misbehavior — because one day, out of the blue, our principal Mr. Alland showed up at my first grade classroom and called me out into the hall.

There next to him stood Chuck. I had never seen him off the bus before; the older kids went to class in another wing. Standing in the hallway next to a grown man, he suddenly appeared weak and small.

“I understand this boy has been bothering you on the bus. Is that true?” Mr. Alland asked. I was nervous. I never expected it would come to this — a one-to-one showdown with my tormentor.

But when I looked at Chuck — the boy who had bullied me, who I never wanted to sit with again — I knew I had to stand my ground. “Yes, it’s true,” I said. “No, it’s not!” wailed Chuck — but Mr. Alland just looked down at him and shook his head.

The next morning when I got on the bus, I had the seat all to myself. Chuck had been permanently moved to another seat — probably up front  where the bus driver could keep a better eye on him.

When Linda asked “What happened?” after we picked her up, all I could do was smile.

Up next – Tadah: Third blogiversary! Please stop back!

 © 2017 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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  1. Not his real name.

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.

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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.

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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.

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