Remembering Bender farm history firsthand as it was lived

To the Editor:

The Altamont Enterprise always prints things of interest, and reading your articles brings back memories (lots of them). Now that the holidays are over, I thought I would send you a few.

Regarding the Bender Melon Farm, that you wrote about on Dec. 12 I grew up on the state road, Route 85A, directly across from the Voorheesville Road, and attended New Scotland’s one-room school for six years from 1933 to 1939.

I was very distressed when my home was later destroyed for a gas station. That home had a long history — from the 1700s (possibly the oldest in the community). It had been a roadside inn for most of those years — with a big cooking fireplace, crane, ovens, the whole thing.

At the left of the structure there was a well, an orchard, and a stone smoke house out back; a bar and dance hall were to the right. The dance hall even had a bandstand, small, for a couple of guitars or fiddlers, probably, and may have been added at a later date.

Mr. Bender established his farm across the road. He had to contend with some drunk workers on occasion — the tavern was too accessible for them. Relieved when Prohibition came into effect — his problem was solved — and the inn suffered business problems!

With rumors about annulling the law, Mr. Bender again saw problems looming and bought the inn, turning it into three adjoining residences.

It was two stories. Downstairs, there was a porch and upstairs, a gallery porch across the entire front. The orchard, well, and smoke house all still there.

We lived in the third one with the dance hall —a door gave access to our home. My friends and I used it as a playroom on rainy days.

We used the smoke house as our ranch-house base for forages into the wilds of woods and farmland on our stick horses (usually the Lone Ranger and Tonto — taking turns).

I lost the skin off of my tongue testing out the fact that a wet tongue does stick to iron pump handles in freezing weather! I also broke an arm falling out of one of the apple trees.

Next door lived the minister, his wife, and daughter (very fortunately my age). It was a lovely big “manse” and our side lawn went right to their driveway — where I learned to ride a two-wheeler with many cinder-filled knee injuries in the process. Driveways were not gravel. Everybody in those days used cinders from their furnaces.

On that side lawn was a village fire alarm  — a large iron ring suspended from a simple frame and a sledge hammer on a chain to “ring” it with.

I’m not sure who it called as the village did not experience a fire while we lived there. Possibly the stables under our dance hall had been for a horse-drawn water tank.

Living there my father paid our monthly rent to Mr. Bender, who in season, would send him home with a basket of “seconds” from his delicious crop. How we loved that!

Changing to another feature from about two weeks ago — Jane Perry and her rescue birds:

When I was in high school in Altamont, my boyfriend stole a baby crow from its nest and gave it to me. I brought it up on hamburger, cat food, or anything he considered palatable as he got older.

He lived froo, outside by then, but was very companionable, flying to mty shoulder and combing my hair with his beak saying “Pretty Carol, pretty Carol” quite understandably.

We named him ‘Mert’ (after the telephone operator in the old radio comedy show “Fibber McGee and Molly”). 

My boyfriend had an old model A Ford “convertible.” Since the canvas roof had rotted off, we had an open car. Mert would sit on the top of the steering wheel, watching the road when we took him for a ride. When he saw cars or people we had taught him to say “HONK” at full volume.

He had a small number of expressive words and when we would say, “What cha’ say Mert?” (also stolen from the comedy show) he would choose from his vocabulary an appropriate comment. We bonded!

Mert passed away when I went off to college — I couldn’t take him with me to New York City.

Blackbirds are all very smart. I had my boat-tailed grackle living and traveling with me in the 1980s. He didn’t learn to speak — but was very companionable and traveled by car all around the country, flying free at destinations but always flying back to sit on my head (no — never ‘pooped’) to go back inside homes or motels from Maine to Florida to Washington State.

I wrote of his antics for my Enterprise column in the 1980s. He bathed with me in the tub, using my knee as a resting spot after seriously splashing about in the hot water. He also liked to “share” our meals — and particularly my husband’s Scotch on the rocks! He did have a propensity for stealing small objects: jewelry, cigarette butts — lit or not — and other collectables for his nest, a basket which hung from a beam in our kitchen. He was a house pet, much to the consternation of our cats and dogs, who he like to tease and then fly off to some high perch for safety!

He passed away when I disappeared from his life for six weeks — surgery and the nursing home. My comment would be: Do not become a “BirdMom” as the bird may die without you.

Carol  DuBrin

Fort Peirce, Florida

Editor’s note: At 91, Carol DuBrin divides her year between Florida and Altamont. You can hear her life story at AltamontEnterprise.come/podcasts.

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