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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Jets overhead promise and portend – #atozchallenge

Jets overhead promise and portend. Tenth 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!

At Whispering Chimneys, two things represented the larger outside world.

Out front was interstate Route 20 on which I traveled by car with my parents and grandparents –and later by school bus to Altamont Elementary.

And then there were the jets overhead — striping the enormous blue sky with their long white trails.

Commercial flights were relatively new in the early 1950s, so spotting passenger airplanes was a novelty. But military jets from nearby bases seemed ever-present in those post-WWII years.

Jetstream. By: Joe Hart

Sonic booms

I always looked up when the jets whizzed overhead, fascinated by their snowy vapor trails.

But at first I was terrified by the sonic booms that thundered over the countryside when they outran the speed of sound!

Fortunately, my parents and grandparents did a good job of explaining the startling noise — and after a while I got used to it.

Watching in wonder

I was a little post-war baby boomer when I gazed at the fighter jets streaking the sky — so I never thought about where they came from, where they were going, or what they were doing up there.

Then the jets’ glinting steel held the promise of flight, technology, and the wider outside world.

I never dreamed their airborne maneuvers might also portend a distant war in Vietnam that would profoundly affect my generation.

I couldn’t know about that then. All I could do was stare up at those jets with wonder.

Up next:  Kindergarten culture shock. Please stop back!

© 2017 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Ice skating on the pond – #atozchallenge

Ice skating on the pond. Ninth 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!

Children in upstate New York learn to ice skate right after they learn to walk. Whispering Chimneys had a pond that froze over in winter — so my skating lessons began early.

I started out with little double-bladed skates that buckled on  over my boots — tottering around on the ice while my parents yelled, “Slide, slide!”

It took a while to get the hang of it, but eventually I was sliding along with the children of my parents’ friends who visited our farm for multi-family skating parties.

The beauty of skating on the Altamont farm — and pretty much anywhere in upstate New York — was that all you needed was bitterly cold weather and ice skates, and you were good to go.

Preparing the rink

Vintage figure skates. Children in upstate New York learn to ice skate right after they  learn to walk. I learned on the frozen pond at Whispering Chimneys. By: Samantha Marx

Mom and Dad grew up in the Adirondack foothills, so they knew the drill. First up was clearing snow off the pond — usually by pushing a shovel along the surface of the ice.

Once the rough clearing was done, out came the long broom to fine dust and finish the job.

Then, for the comfort of guests, a fallen tree was hauled onto the ice to provide a log seat to rest on. Refreshments were packed up and toted along — avoiding a long walk back to the farmhouse — and the skating rink was ready!

Of course, ice skating had to be done carefully — which my Dad learned the hard way by trying a creative leap over the log. He spent the next two days in bed sitting on a hot water bottle.

Figure skates

However, I kept at it — and soon enough I graduated to single-bladed figure skates. So did my little friend Kris, who was in my dance class.

In the winter, when my parents visited Kris’s mom and dad — friends of theirs from college — Kris and I would repair to the creek across the street from her house for some serious skating.

We’d sit on a rock and lace up our skates. Then we’d scoot back and forth on the frozen creek — practicing our stops and teaching each other maneuvers — until our parents called us in.

Cold air, exercise and gliding, dance-like moves — an invigorating  foundation for a young girl to build on.

Up nextJets overhead promise and portend. Please stop back!

© 2017 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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