Grandparents and Aunt Rita #AtoZChallenge

G is for Grandparents and Aunt Rita. Seventh of twenty-six posts in the April 2020 Blogging From A to Z Challenge on the theme “Endwell: My Elementary Years”— where my genealogy journey germinated. Wish me luck!

Before my brothers were born, my early childhood family team was my parents, maternal grandparents (Tony and Liz Laurence, who we called Boom and Gramps) and my mom’s younger sister Aunt Rita. We shared a large farmhouse with my grandparents in Altamont, N.Y. — and Aunt Rita lived nearby in Albany.

Maternal grandparents and Aunt Rita

But families grow and change. So along came my brothers, then dad got a transfer to the Binghamton area from his GE job in Schenectady — and before you knew it we were arriving in Endwell and my grandparents and aunt became episodic visitors.

Christmas 1958: A visit from my mom’s parents Boom and Gramps and her sister Aunt Rita. The baby doll notwithstanding, I also got a new bike that year (parked behind me) which gave me freedom of travel around the neighborhood with my many neighborhood friends. Photo: Norman J. Charboneau

The holiday schedule

During my elementary years, my parents worked out an equitable holiday schedule. My maternal grandparents came to our house for Christmas — and as shown above, my Aunt Rita joined them before her eventual move to San Diego, California. For Thanksgiving and Easter, we piled into the car for the three-hour drive back to my grandparents’ house at the farm.

In the summer, my brothers and I would travel on our own by train (and later bus) to visit Boom and Gramps. I went by myself at first — boarding the Delaware and Hudson Railroad in Johnson City, N.Y. and debarking at the Altamont train station, where my grandmother met me.
Landmarked Altamont, N.Y. train station, now used as a library (2011). I traveled on my own to visit my mom’s parents, boarding the Delaware and Hudson Railroad in Johnson City, N.Y. and debarking at the Altamont train station, where my grandmother met me. Photo: Doug Kerr, Altamont, N.Y.

Later my mom sent my younger brother Mark with me — and I spent much of the trip distracting him, especially when the train went through a dark, frightening tunnel en route.

A spirit of independence

When train service ended, my mom put us on the bus. Usually, I went by myself for a week (my grandmother was in charge of me) and my brothers traveled together for a separate visit (overseen by Gramps).

“I would never send you alone today,” my mom told me years later. “But back then, things were safer.” And I’m glad they were — because those lone trips to visit my maternal grandparents fostered a spirit of independence during my elementary years.

Visiting Grandpa Charboneau

My dad’s father, William Ray Charboneau, was another story. Grandpa Charboneau was was older than my mom’s parents — and a widower [my paternal grandmother Mary “Molly” (Owen) Charboneau had died when was 4]. So it was on our  family to drive north of Utica, N.Y. to visit him and my dad’s brothers, who lived nearby.

My dad’s father, Grandpa Charboneau (1958). Grandpa C was a widower and older than my mom’s parents, so it was on our family to drive north of Utica, N.Y. to visit him and my dad’s brothers, who lived nearby. Photo: Norman J. Charboneau

Grandpa Charboneau lived in a small house in Holland Patent, N.Y. (such a cool name, I thought) with a stream out back and an elementary school across the street. Around the corner, my dad’s oldest brother Uncle Owen and Aunt Gig ran a grocery/convenience store, which they lived above with Gig’s mother “Ma Mere.”

Grandpa Charboneau’s house as it looks today (2015). Visiting my dad’s father wasn’t as much fun as visiting my mom’s parents at the farm. Much better was stopping by my Uncle Owen’s grocery/convenience store near Grandpa C’s house. Photo: Molly Charboneau

Visiting Grandpa Charboneau’s house wasn’t as much fun as visiting the farm — but my brothers and I made due with fishing for pollywogs in the creek out back or hitting the playground at the school across the street.

Much better was stopping at Uncle Owen’s store and climbing up the stairs to the cozy apartment above — an experience that so impressed my brother Mark that he went on to a career in the supermarket industry, including a brief stint as a small grocery proprietor.

So although we kids had no nearby relatives during my elementary years, my parents did a good job of keeping us connected to extended family — an effort I appreciate as I continue researching my ancestral heritage.

Up next: H is for Howdy Doody and Hooper School. Please stop back.

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10 thoughts on “Grandparents and Aunt Rita #AtoZChallenge”

  1. I too wrote about my grandparents for the letter G, but sad to say two died when I was a baby; my father’s mother was a distant figure and only Grandad on my mother’s side was much of a presence in my life. It was good to read of your close relationships.

    1. Thanks, Susan. Having lost my paternal grandmother — after whom I was named — I know how you feel about those losses. But my dad was a great storyteller, so Grandma Charboneau remained a virtual part of our lives through his tales about her.

  2. I especially like the adventure it must have been to train (and bus) travel without an adult. I certainly understand the sense of independence and competency that surely fostered.

    1. It’s amazing to think about it now, but I remember being alone on the train in an old time-y car with itchy seats and circular fans overhead gazing out over the New York State countryside as we chugged our way north from Binghamton to Altamont. I was already a veteran of schoolbus travel from kindergarten and first grade, so it seemed natural — but in fact was quite daring for a small girl.

  3. That’s wonderful that you were able to see your grandparents so often even though they weren’t geographically close. My grandparents were close by and I spent a lot of my time with them. They are such happy memories. Weekends In Maine

  4. My family followed a similar pattern to yours, as my maternal grandparents lived in Massachusetts while we lived in NJ. My paternal grandmother lived upstairs in a 2 family house so there wasn’t much of a journey there. I remember spending many hours in the car driving to MA, but always loved the time I spent with my grandparents.

    1. Me, too. Visiting my grandparents — especially on my lone train or bus trips — was a nice break from my everyday family life, and also kept me connected to my first childhood home.

  5. We were close to family too. I often went to the city to stay with my maternal grandparents and got to visit with my great grandmother. There were a couple of kids my age around that I played with. My paternal grandmother was widowed and she made the rounds staying with her children on weekends, so we got her once a month. She made the best butterscotch candy and my dad would put it away and give us only one piece a day.

    1. I also had a set of out-of-town friends who lived near my grandparents, and it was fun to visit them, too, when I was in town.

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