Tag Archives: #AtoZChallenge

Hollyhocks and botanical delights – #atozchallenge

H is for Hollyhocks and botanical delights. Eighth 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!

Whispering Chimneys, at ten acres, was on the small side for a farm. But it was plenty big enough for me to experience — as a little girl — the hollyhocks and botanical delights that abounded at every turn.

The spectacular nature show started right outside our kitchen door — where my grandmother kept an herb garden.

Peony. Photo: Molly Charboneau

She grew spearmint and peppermint plants there — and I loved to bruise their leaves and inhale the stimulating aroma.  My grandmother fertilized them with used coffee grounds, which I found odd and interesting.

Nearby, next to the chimney, were gorgeous pink peonies with their tender, sweet fragrance. Across the driveway was a large, lush  lilac bush — its purple flowers perfuming the air in spring. Also, a crab apple tree that filled with pale pink blossoms as the weather warmed.

Hollyhocks. Photo: Pamela Kelly

Out behind the house stood rows of tall hollyhocks. Their flowers and stalks bobbed and swayed in the western breeze — and their brown seed pods looked like tiny kettle drums.

Fabulous fruit

There was fabulous fruit on the farm, too. Near a creek that traversed our front yard was a huge old Northern Spy apple tree that dropped its lush fruit the ground each fall. I now make special trips to the farmers market to buy the Northern Spy apples I grew to love as a child.

Out near the barn were the berry bushes. Raspberries grew in chaotic profusion near a stand of pine trees — and I learned how to choose the ripest ones and pick them without pricking my fingers.

Brown-eyed Susans. Photo: Molly Charboneau

Elderberries  — used for pies or to make wine — grew up the back of the barn. My grandmother, who lived with us, was at constant war with the birds to be sure she got enough dark berries for her recipes. My handy grandfather finally erected protective netting to keep the birds away.

And every spring, wild strawberries popped up in the marshy areas in front of the barn — where I’d wade in wearing my golashes and eat as many as I could.

Brown-eyed Susans and Sunflowers

Rounding out the growing season were two sunny yellow flowers I am still fond of.

That’s me with our surprise sunflower (circa 1956). A seed from our chicken feed took root near the barn and this amazing plant grew and grew. Photo: Norman J. Charboneau

Brown-eyed Susans proliferated in the field out behind the barn — the one I had to approach carefully by making a big loop around the scary, water-less well my parents warned me not to go near.

And one year, a sunflower seed from our chicken feed took root near the barn, and a towering plant grew and grew!

My dad photographed me standing in front of this amazing sunflower plant — as tall as a grownup, its brilliant flowers turning slowly to follow the sun.

Up nextIce skating on the pond. Please stop back!

© 2017 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Gramps: Machinist and woodworker – #atozchallenge

G is for Gramps: Machinist and woodworker. Seventh 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 grandfather Antonio W. Laurence was a jack of all trades. Known as Tony to his peers,  he was Gramps to me and lived  with us on the farm when I was little.

Gramps was born in Gloversville, N.Y.  He was the son of Italian immigrant Peter Di Lorenzo (who anglicized his name to Laurence) and Mary “Mamie” Curcio, a first-generation Italian American who we called Little Grandma.

When Gramps, 48,  decided to move to Altamont — about an hour away by car — Little Grandma was beside herself.

“She cried and hugged him and carried on like he was never coming back,” Dad told me. Yet my grandparents were ready for a bold, new step.

Gramps and me in Gloversville, N.Y., shortly before we moved to Whispering Chimneys. Scan: Molly Charboneau

Their daughters  (my mom and Aunt Rita) were grown, and they were new grandparents. So off to Altamont they went with my mom, dad and me.

Gramps’s shop in the barn

My mom and grandmother were in charge of the house at Whispering Chimneys — but the barn was Gramps’s domain. And he wasted no time setting up shop there.

Gramps was a skilled machinist who had studied auto mechanics in Detroit. He was also a veteran of my great grandfather Peter’s garage and auto parts business. So it wasn’t long before Gramps had his own business going at the farm.

You name it, he’d make it and sell it. He chopped cabs off of old trucks and turned the beds into horse trailers to sell to local farmers. He made folding wooden log holders for fireplaces. At one point he even covered the side of the barn with hand crafted birdhouses.

Becoming handy

The barn at Whispering Chimneys. Gramps used the barn at the left for his shop, adding windows and filling it with tools and equipment for his home-based business. That’s probably his pickup truck parked outside. Scan by Molly Charboneau

Gramps’s shop was a fabulous place for a young girl to become handy — and once I was old enough, I loved hanging out there.

The atmosphere was so different from inside our house — and fostered my lifelong love of hardware stores.

His long workbench was covered with tools. And when I got my hands dirty I’d race to dip them into the pungent, squishy hand cleaner Gramps kept in a tin — then wash them off with pebbly pumice soap. A far cry from the olive oil soap my grandmother preferred.

Gramps also had a gigantic tool-and-die machine for cutting and shaving metal to size — so there was always a shallow pan of oil filled with curly, silver metal shavings. And one time he cut a small round disk, drilled a hole in it and hammered in my name so I could wear it as a pendant.

Household ingenuity

Gramps also applied his ingenuity to household repairs and improvements to keep the family safe. One of his innovations was a bell cord across the driveway — like the ones in filling stations — so a bell would ring in the house to alert us when a car drove up.

Best of all, Gramps built us children a fabulous swing set from scratch, joining heavy pipes together and cementing the feet into the ground so it couldn’t tip over. You could swing and swing and that set would never budge — giving us a safe birds-eye view of the surrounding countryside.

Up next: Hollyhocks and botanical delights. Please stop back!

© 2017 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Freddie Freihofer: My T.V. debut – #atozchallenge

F is for Freddie Freihofer: My T.V. debut. Sixth 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!

Home delivery was a way of life in the early 1950s before big supermarkets existed.

Milk trucks dropped off quart bottles with thick cream hovering at the top. Diaper services brought freshly-laundered weekly supplies right to the door of new mothers.

And for children like me — in New York’s capital district — there were bright red Freihofer’s Bakery trucks going house-to-house with the bread, cookies, pies and cakes!

They didn’t just deliver, either. Freihofer’s had a regular show on our local WRGB television station.  The program’s official name was “Bread Time Stories” — but we all called it the Freddie Freihofer Show after the bakery’s mascot, a cartoon rabbit.

My 1955 television debut on the Freddie Freihofer show. That’s me in the second row, third from the left. My birthday cake is in the last row, third from the left. Scan: Molly Charboneau

My T.V. debut

I was a huge fan, so my parents sent in my name — and in 1955 I made my T.V. debut on the program. Because the show taped on my actual birthday, I even got a frosted cake with my name on it — along with an 8-by-10 glossy photo of me with the other children.

A memorable event! And one that stays with me, along with the catchy Freddie Freihofer theme song. So please sing along as you watch the video below and enjoy a bit of upstate New York broadcast history.

Up next: G is for Gramps: Machinist and woodworker. Please stop back!

© 2017 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Elephants, mastodons and local excursions – #atozchallenge

E is for Elephants, mastedons and local excursions. 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!

Although we lived way out in the country, my parents and grandparents were good about taking me to local events and regional attractions.

I have fond memories of the elephants, mastodons and local excursions that I experienced as a young child. Here are highlights of some memorable outings in the vicinity of our Altamont, N.Y., farm.

Ringling-Barnum Circus (Schenectady). This is probably where I saw my first elephant. But what I vividly remember was the clown who rushed up and fake-kissed my mom to the laughs and applause of the crowd. He appeared from nowhere in a blur of polka dots and gave Mom a dancer’s dip to add a flourish to his antics. My goodness — how exciting!

Replica of the Cohoes mastodon. Photo: City of Cohoes

Museum mastodon (Albany). In 1866 an excavation in Cohoes, N.Y., unearthed an excellent mastodon skeleton. In the 1950s I saw the mastodon on display at the State Education Building in Albany. But what I remember most was the hairy replica displayed with it. My tiny jaw dropped as I gazed up at what looked like a towering elephant with giant tusks — and wearing a fur coat. Amazing!

Gene Autrey’s stage show (Troy).  From 1950-56 the Gene Autrey Show starred the country-singing cowboy and his comic sidekick Pat Buttram. My parents sat me by the T.V. to watch — and in March 1955 my mom drove me in heavy snow to their personal appearance in Troy. The duo sang and told jokes up on the lighted stage — and I was awed, at five, by my first theater experience!

Thatcher Park (Altamont). Even more awe-inspiring were tales of the Native Americans who once bravely traversed nearby Thatcher Park. Some followed a precarious trail through a crevice way up on the cliff face — astronomically higher than the steep hall stairway to my second-floor bedroom! I remember swimming in a pool jam-packed with children in the bucolic park — an early introduction to the natural settings I’ve grown to love.

My first visit to the Catskill Game Farm in Greene County, N.Y., in the early 1950s. Photo: Norman J. Charboneau

Catskill Game Farm (Catskill). Opened in 1933 as a giant petting zoo, this 900-acre Catskill Mountains farm featured sheep, deer and donkeys in the early 1950s. During my first visit at age four, I came face-to-face with a gentle burro eager to eat the tiny food pellets out of my hand! Sadly, this landmark closed for good in 2006 — but my childhood memories of the Game Farm endure.

Up next: F is for Freddie Freihofer: My T.V debut. Please stop back!

© 2017 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Dandelion wine: An ancestral brew – #atozchallenge

D is for Dandelion wine. 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!

Every spring when dandelions pop up their yellow heads, I’m reminded of the Altamont, N.Y., farm where I lived until I was seven with my parents and maternal grandparents — and  eventually two younger brothers.

Later, when we moved to the suburbs, those dandelions would become my dad’s enemy — a signal that he was not taking proper care of his lawn.

But on the farm, dandelions were part of the natural order of things. Their bobbing heads could be enjoyed, picked and smelled — or just mowed down along with the thick, untamed farm grass.

More than that, they were the key ingredient in the homemade dandelion wine that Dad brewed in the unheated room off our kitchen.

Hand harvesting

Dandelions, Aurora, N.Y. (2016). My childhood task of picking flower heads to make dandelion wine turned out to have an ancestral  connection. Photo: Molly Charboneau

“Just pick the yellow flower, nothing else,” Dad would instruct, handing me a little-kid pail.

The he might relax in an Adirondack chair on the farmhouse porch and watch the traffic go by on Route 20 — or putter away at some household repair — while I went to work gathering the blossoms.

I remember racing around the yard looking for dandelions as if I was hunting for gold — seeing how quickly I could fill my pail to the brim with the sunny, warm, fragrant flower heads.

Each time I delivered a pail of flowers to Dad — my hands sticky with their tangy sap — he’d pour my harvest into a larger bin until it was filled with enough dandelions to start brewing the wine.

Ancestral brew

For years I recalled this flower-picking ritual as just a fun time on a spring day. But once I started studying my family’s history, up popped an ancestral connection.

The dandelion wine recipe Dad used came from my Italian-American grandfather Tony Laurence — his last name anglicized from Di Lorenzo. He was my mom’s father who with us on the farm.

Gramps inherited the recipe from his Italian ancestors back in Gloversville, N.Y. — and who knows how long the dandelion wine instructions were passed down in our family before they got to him.

So when the wine was ready and Dad let me taste a spoonful of the bitter brew, I had no idea I was also imbibing a bit of my family heritage.

Up next: E is for Elephants, mastodons and local excursions. Please stop back!

© 2017 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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