Category Archives: Blogging from A to Z 2017

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.

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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.

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Mailbox madness – #atozchallenge

Mailbox madness. Thirteenth 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 halfway there!

On a family farm, everyone pitches in to get the work done — and Whispering Chimneys was no different. So at age five I was given a task, too. That’s when my mailbox madness began.

Our rural mailbox sat on a pole way down at the end of our driveway — dangerously close to the whizzing traffic on Route 20.

Since my mom and grandmother were usually busy in the house — and busier after my brother Mark was born — I was assigned to go down and pick up the mail.

Me at five standing by our well. Behind me, way down at the end of our driveway, stood the dreaded mailbox. Photo: Norman J. Charboneau

Seems simple enough, right? Walk down the drive, take out the mail and bring it up to the house.

However, the job came with a scary set of instructions: look both ways, make sure no cars or trucks  are coming, never step into the road, get the mail out quick, close the box, make sure the flag is down and hurry back up to the house.

Both my mom and grandmother were trained teachers, so they probably walked me through the daunting task a few times. But after that, I was on my own — and that’s when my imagination ran wild.

A formidable foe

I’d seen cartoon trucks on T.V. — with growling faces and bouncy tires — capable of dancing off the road in pursuit of someone. So I knew I was up against a formidable foe.

That’s why I gave myself a daily pep talk on my walk down the drive about ways to elude the frightening tractor-trailers that barrelled by with a banging gust of air or — worse yet — a blaring horn.

  • “I’ll rush to the mailbox, get out the mail and run up the driveway before the next truck goes by,” or
  • “If a truck comes I’ll dive into the bushes so it can’t see me, then get the mail after it passes,” or worst case scenario
  • “If a truck comes when I’m at the mailbox, I’ll squeeze close and hope the it goes by without chasing me.”
Our mailbox looked like these. When the clasp stuck, I dove into nearby bushes or clung to the pole if a tractor trailer truck zoomed by. By: Moosealope

For a while menacing cartoon trucks even showed up in my dreams — and I’d wake with a start just before they got me. Mailbox madness indeed!

Gaining confidence

Yet as I made more and more trips down the driveway, my fear of the trucks began to fade — and I started to dare myself into “close calls” from which I always escaped.

I’d spot a truck in the distance and tell myself, “If I don’t make it to the box, get the mail, and get back onto the driveway before that truck goes by, I’m dead.” Then I’d pelt off at a run to complete the task.

Once in awhile, the mailbox clasp got stuck and I had to make an emergency dive into the bushes to “save my life” — or cling to the mailbox pole as my clothes flapped in a truck’s wake.

But most of the time I beat the trucks, retrieved the mail and stood in the driveway saying, “Hah!” as they zoomed by.

And thus, little by little, I gained confidence in ways my family probably never imagined when they first sent me down to get the mail.

Up nextNorm: My post-war dadPlease stop back!

© 2017 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Liz: My modern grandmother- #atozchallenge

Liz: My modern grandmother. Twelfth 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!

My maternal grandmother — Elizabeth (Stoutner) Laurence — lived at Whispering Chimneys with us when I was little. Gramps called her Lisbeth and her friends called her Liz.

But I came up with her family nickname — Boom — when I mispronounced Grandma as Booma. The shortened version stuck and seemed to capture her assertive no-nonsense personality.

Boom and me in Gloversville, N.Y., shortly before we moved to Whispering Chimneys. My maternal grandmother Liz was always fashionably dressed and accessorized, with every hair in place. Scan: Molly Charboneau

She was young as grandmothers went — only 45 when I was born — and always kept up with the latest fashions, footwear and accessories. She was modern in other ways, too.

While Grandma Charboneau (my dad’s mother) never learned to drive — Boom loved to get behind the wheel. She wasn’t shy about hitting the gas pedal, either.

Boom even drove cross-country once with my Aunt Rita — Mom’s younger sister. And after we moved to the farm, she wasted no time setting up her business.

Boom’s antique shop

While Gramps got his shop going out in the barn, Boom cleared a building down by the road and opened an antique shop specializing in country and early American antiques and collectibles.

“She absolutely loved that shop,” my mom told me. And I did, too.

I remember the faint smell of powdered ginger when I opened some of the tins — and the old rocking butter churn from the shop that she used as a decoration up by the house.

Whispering Chimneys Antiques, my maternal grandmother’s antiques and collectibles shop at the farm. Scan: Molly Charboneau

Boom named her business Whispering Chimneys Antiques and took full advantage of its location along Route 20 — a major thoroughfare before the New York State Thruway was built.

To stock the shop, Boom and Gramps went to local auctions — and made some fast friends there. They also belonged to the Grange up the road, which helped her network in the local farming community.

Besides all of that, Boom was like a second mother to me. According to my baby book, she was right there alongside my mom for the big events in my young life — like my first word or when I walked for the first time.

A well-matched couple

I didn’t know it then, but my grandmother eloped at 18 to marry my grandfather against her mother’s wishes — which I wrote about in A Valentine’s Day love story: My grandmother elopes.

Strong-willed and determined, Boom applied that same spirit to her antiques business — and at the farm she and Gramps appeared to be a well matched couple.

When she had ideas, Gramps had the practical skills to assist — building this and that as needed, like a sign for the shop or a bank of windows to let light in.

Together they made a good team. And they were a beloved part of my family team for my first seven years.

Up nextMailbox madnessPlease stop back!

© 2017 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

Kindergarten culture shock – #atozchallenge

Kindergarten culture shock. Eleventh 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!

Up until Kindergarten, I lived on our farm Whispering Chimneys with my parents, maternal grandparents and my brother Mark — who wasn’t born until I was four. So I was used to quiet times in a rural setting surrounded by grownups.

Sure, kids came over for birthday parties and such — and I could yell across the two-lane highway to my neighbors Kathy and Carol Ann when I went down to get the mail.

But these were mere episodes in my otherwise tranquil country life. Even my weekly dance class with the daughters of some of my parents’ friends was a small gathering that only lasted about an hour.

The Kindergarten crowd. That’s me standing tall in the middle of the third row, sixth from left, at Altamont Elementary. Once I got used to it I loved school. That’s my teacher Mrs. Cudney at the left. Scan: Molly Charboneau

Room full of kids

None of this prepared me for Kindergarten culture shock. Gone were the contemplative times of amusing myself with whatever came to hand on the farm — replaced by a room chock full of boisterous children and a half-day schedule of activities.

Altamont Elementary provided my parents with a Happy Days in Kindergarten handout, which I still have, outlining the goals for us youngsters. It featured a more structured itinerary than I was used to.

  • Arrival – Remove wraps, play at tables.
  • Group Meeting – Roll call, prayer, flag salute, visiting time.
  • Group Activity & Unit Work – Building with blocks, easel & finger painting, clay modeling, drawing, doll corner, imaginative play, puzzles, etc.
  • Clean Up
  • Quiet Time – Records, poems, finger plays
  • Story Time
  • Music Time – songs, rhythms, rhythm band
  • Active games – Outdoors when possible
  • Unit Work – Animals, farm, zoo; seasons & holidays; store, post office.
  • Manuscript Writing – If the child shows readiness to learn handwriting.
  • Life skills – Safety habits (like safe street crossing); Health habits (like washing hands before meals); Attendance (showing up for school).

Yikes! And all of this crammed into a two-hour session — either 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. or 12:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. — though I can’t remember which one I was in.

My ticket to ride. My school bus tag from the first day of Kindergarten — and my first solo trip off the farm. Scan: Molly Charboneau

On my own

To top it all off, I’d be heading there on my own because the booklet said, “We encourage Kindergarteners to come to school alone even on the first day, as self reliance and independence are qualities we hope each pupil will develop.”

So my mom pinned a little school bus tag on me, and off I went each day for the round trip commute to school. And after a while a funny thing happened — I got to like it!

The feel of the finger paints gliding across slippery paper, the story time books Mrs. Cudney read aloud, the clamor of the noisy rhythm band — and even my mob of classmates — became a part of my new life away from the farm.

Sure enough — just like the booklet said — Kindergarten was my first step toward independence.

Up next –  Liz: My modern grandmother.  Please stop back!

© 2017 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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