Archive » February 2018 » Columns

Dorothy Day who helped found the Catholic Worker Movement was put forth for canonization in the 1980s.

— From the United States Library of Congress

Governor George Wallace blocks the door, at left, to keep the University of Alabama from being integrated in 1963, while he is confronted by a deputy United States attorney general and the press watches.

I have often wondered what it’d be like to be the grandson of George Wallace, the former four-term governor of Alabama.

In particular, I have in mind when he stood in the doorway of Foster Auditorium at the University of Alabama on June 11, 1963, blocking Vivian Malone and James Hood, two black students from getting to class.

Wallace saw it as a way to live up to his inaugural vow: “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever,” six words that still sit atop the most-ill-famed shibboleths of the 20th Century.

Wallace said those words but they were writ by fellow Alabaman, Asa Earl Carter, a hopped-up Klansman whom the governor hired to write his words. Wallace tapped Carter because Carter knew the kind of violence the governor was attracted to.

The regular Klan had not been good enough for Carter; in the mid-’50s, he started a Nazi-style-shirt offshoot of the group called the “Original Ku Klux Klan of the Confederacy.” He knew it’d work, he said, because “the mountain people — the real redneck — is our strength.”

Much of that “strength” used to read the Confederacy’s periodical, “The Southerner,” which targeted the weak and the outcast, the sheep who needed a shepherd not a sadist of ridicule and violence. Some of the confederates were ready to take action.  

On Labor Day, 1962, six of them — Bart Floyd, Joseph Pritchett, James N. Griffin, William Miller, Jesse Mabry, and Grover McCollough — got lathered up to the point where they needed to “grab a negro,” “grab a negro and scare hell out of him.” That’s what the court record detailing the event says they said.

Newspaper accounts say the “Dirty Six” were riding down Huffman-Tarrant City Road when they saw a middle-aged black man walking with his girlfriend; his name was Judge Edward Aaron. He was a World War II veteran who some said was a bit “slow.” Maybe because of the war.

The mob grabbed Aaron, dragged him into the back of a car, and drove him to a cinder-block hole called “The Slaughter House.” They pummeled him with mockery and then hit him over the head with a tire iron, knocking him senseless.

Then one of the boys took out a package of razor blades, which they’d stopped off to get on the way, and proceeded to cut Judge Edward Aaron’s testicles off. As Aaron lay soaking in his blood, one of his fellow Alabamians poured turpentine of his bleeding self, I’m sure for further pain.

How do some people derive sadistic pleasure from hearing a fellow human-being squeal like a smitten pig — that they’re causing! The six dragged the bloody mess back into the car and, after going a bit, dumped him into a creek bed, leaving him for dead.

But Aaron lived and, when the facts were sorted out, the police took the six into custody. Concerned about their hides, two of the six turned state’s evidence; the other four got 20 years apiece.

But when my imagined “grandfather,” George, became governor, he shifted agency personnel around and the four were set free. Apparently severing the testicles of a black man for personal sadistic pleasure did not deserve a place in the Alabama penal code.

When I think of Wallace as a grandfather I’m overwhelmed with the thought of the work I’d have to do to disengage from my family’s social DNA, a gene that supports purging groups of human beings from the Earth like Nazi soldiers.

What a lot to chew on for a kid who’d like to live a life of justice, who not only does not wish to harm others but supports meeting the needs of every being despite race and creed.

Engaging with one’s social DNA is not a game. People are faced with realities that sometimes breed strange proportions.

When the American actor and filmmaker Ben Affleck found out his great-great-great-grandfather, Benjamin Cole, the sheriff of Chatham County, Georgia, was a slave-owner, he refused to go on PBS’s “Finding Your Roots” because that fact would be revealed to the public.

In another segment of the show, actor Ted Danson, wondering what he would find out, wistfully whined: Oh, please don’t tell me my ancestors were poor! Danson is wealthy but he knew that, if he found out “poor” was in his genes, he’d have to spend time examining the complex.

Social DNA flows from generation to generation like a tiny rivulet and pervades all who follow in the family, leaving each person to figure out the ways those genes drive him or her to ill or good. It’s not a minor matter.

Even those blessed with saints in the family are not exempt. The American writer Kate Hennessy, whose grandmother was Dorothy Day of the Catholic Worker Movement, introduces us to how she faced her derivation from a “saint” in a disarmingly personal way.

In her well-received 2017 “Dorothy Day: The World Will Be Saved by Beauty; An Intimate Portrait of my Grandmother,” Hennessy tells us how she worked through the gene of having one of the most revered Catholics of the 20th Century as a grandmother.

Day’s case, as you may know, was put before the Vatican by Cardinal Dolan, the Archbishop of New York, as someone who lived a life of “heroic virtue” and should be declared a saint.

Day had set up Catholic Worker communities around the country — and now the world — that offered hospitality to those in need of food, shelter, and clothing; many of today’s 200 communities in the United States have cots and hot soup waiting every day of the year.

And in almost every case, the Catholic Worker demonstrates against U.S. war policies that take food, shelter, clothing, and know-how out of people’s worth.

Those who come to the Catholic Worker are helped, no questions asked — unless they’re violent. There are no papers to show.

Finding herself “cast” into this saintly milieu — people attending to the needs of Skid-Row America without asking something in return — Hennessy said she felt like an “outsider.” The further you get into her book, the more you see, paradoxically, that she feels like a homeless person herself.

Hennessy reached the conclusion that, being needy herself, she could not attend to the needs of the more-needy, certainly not face-to-face. She looked at the social DNA that came from her mother, Dorothy’s only child, and realized the truth of what her grandmother said: “How little we know of our parents, how little we know of each other and of ourselves.”

Hennessy’s book is not a Catholic book. It’s about her grandmother and the movement she started of course, but it’s really about how a young woman deals with a delicate social DNA that’s part of her being — a DNA that mandates every person is responsible for alleviating the pain and suffering of every other — without a payoff.

Thus Hennessy’s book is for people who wish to examine their social DNA and how their particular genetic soup drives them toward good or leaves them mired in a swamp of violence.

The lifelong task of figuring this out is what it means to have a spiritual life, to being a “practical mystic,” as Dorothy said. And attending to one’s spiritual grounding, she added, requires at least three hours a day.

If you think this is a hard row to hoe, she would agree; she once said, “Love in action is harsh and dreadful when compared to love in dreams.”

If I were to imagine an inaugural address Kate Hennessy were to give today, following in the footsteps of her saintly mother and grandmother, I know I’d hear: “Love today, love tomorrow, love forever.”


Most of the Old Men of the Mountain found their way to the Hilltown Café in Rensselaerville. On Tuesday, Feb. 13, the OMOTM almost filled up the restaurant, so this scribe believes most of the OFs got the message of the restaurant change.

What to do when you are old?  The OFs are quick to insert that little nuance “age by numbers only,” which was more or less a theme of this morning’s breakfast.

How do you manage your “stuff?”  This “stuff” includes your property and your money. When the OFs reach an age where anything can happen and the OFs want to protect their assets from the clutches of the courts and the government, what course should they follow?

After all, as one OF put it, he worked a lifetime to acquire what little he has, and in this lifetime he spent much time dodging the grabbing hands of said government. He felt the government did all it could legally do to grab his money while he was working, and he wasn’t going to let them win out in the end because he felt the government took more than its fair share the time he was working.

One OF suggested it is not only the government, it is nursing homes and other institutions that want it all. Sometimes, if you ticked off your kids, they, too, might want to get their hands on whatever you might have acquired.

One OF said, “Let them fight over what I have. There is not much money and the rest of the ‘stuff’ they may wind up taking to the dump because I was going to anyway.”

Some of the OFs have their financial arrangements taken care of, and some don’t quite know what to do. One OF suggested at this stage of life it might be a good idea not to be too secretive about what he has.  For instance, other people (whom the OF knows he can depend on) should know about the OF’s situation and those people will know if something out of the ordinary is going on.

Pain meds

Still in the aging theme, another topic the OFs touched on was pain medication. The OFs talked about over-the-counter medications; one suggestion was, “What the heck? At our ages, take what works.”

The OFs discussed the advantages of one over the other and it seemed that Aleve works much better than Tylenol — at least for many of the OFs. Aleve is not supposed to be taken when taking some other particular meds.

The OFs are not doctors and are not prescribing anything. However, some OFs say taking Tylenol is just like taking a glass of water, or a handful of gumdrops. It is interesting to note how the OFs agree on these items, but can’t get together on which lawn mower is the best.

The OFs discussed hydrocodone and found most could not take the stuff. One OF said that, after a particular surgery, the first set of pills he was given in the hospital contained hydrocodone. This OF said he had hallucinations that scared the living daylights out of him.

He said he felt like he was walking, and would swear he was walking, only when he looked at his legs they were perfectly still. Then he said he felt like one of his arms was at the side of the bed hanging down, and the other was across his chest.

They weren’t, of course. One was at his side and the other arm was in back of his head; however, all situations were so real it could have been the other way around. At one point he thought he had four arms.

The OF said he refused the next pill and said he would take the pain — to heck with that stuff. The OF said the doctor changed the hydrocodone to Tylenol 3, which he understood was codeine. That worked and he only took the Tylenol 3 twice.

Kids ask for everything

The last topic was geared to kids and the times. The OFs say they don’t remember when they began giving in to their kids. Somehow it seems the OFs think they must have. The OMOTM’s kids are worse (in some instances) than the OFs think they themselves were.

The OFs to a man did not remember asking their parents for anything. The OFs took what they got and were more than happy with it. Some remember getting help purchasing their first car or motorcycle, but they worked for it. Mom and Dad did not just up and give them a vehicle.

Today, it seems kids are asking for everything from $150 sneakers, to cell phones, to TVs, so they can play their games, which can also cost in the hundreds of dollars. The OFs think they must have started this with their kids, but don’t really remember when.

The OFs have often traced this (what may be called a problem) back to Fifth Avenue marketing along with well-designed advertising, creating a demand. This has been coupled with the rapid development of communications, and World War II mixing all kinds of people together and finding the farm boy wants what the city boy has.

One OF thought it really wasn’t us wanting things; it was that we did not know there were things to want. Maybe a shotgun, or high-top boots, but not much else.

Those OFs who made it to the Hilltown Café in Rensselaerville (because they wanted to) were: Roger Chapman, Bill Lichliter, Harold Guest, Robie Osterman, George Washburn, John Rossmann, Karl Remmers, Bob Snyder, John DeMis, Chuck Aelesio, Richard Frank, Lou Schenck, Ted Feurer, Gerry Irwin, Mace Porter (Welcome back, Mace), Herb Bahrmann, Jack Norray, Marty Herzog, Jake Lederman, Glenn Patterson, Mark Traver, Otis Lawyer, Jim Rissacher, Wayne Gaul, Mike Willsey, Warren Willsey, Elwood Vanderbilt, Harold Grippen, and me.


If you’re like me, you’re always looking for a fresh and affordable way to exercise. Changing your routing every now and then is a great way to keep the fire going and get you on the path to health and well-being.

Well, today is your lucky day, because I’m going to share with you my new workout routine. It’s called the SNO workout, which stands for the “Shoveling is Never Over” workout.

The SNO workout is free from about November (and sometimes October) until about March (and sometimes April) if you live in the great Northeast. Who needs a gym membership when you have the SNO workout? What a great day it is when you find you have something so effective available to you that is free and always there (during the winter, at least).

The great thing about the SNO workout is it’s so easy to fit into your schedule. Wait, you were planning on going to work today? No, no, no, not before you get a SNO workout so you can get your car out of the driveway. This is truly the only workout that plans the schedule for you. How easy is that!

The SNO workout is a total, full-body exercise. You name it — legs, arms, shoulders, and especially lower back. After the SNO workout, your whole body will be quivering as your well-worked and totally depleted muscles beg for mercy. Try getting a workout this good at the gym. No can do!

Don’t think because you have a snow-blower or a plowing service that you can’t take advantage of the SNO workout. There are always the walkways, that narrow space between the house and the fence, the deck, around the cars, and plenty of other places were the SNO workout is the best way to remove snow accumulation and get your exercise in.

Trust me, if you live in the Northeast, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to take advantage of the SNO workout.

But, Frank, you ask, how can I be sure I’ll get the SNO workout each and every winter? Glad you asked. It’s so easy. You only have to remember two things:

— Stop complaining about the cold while threatening to move to Florida; and

— Stop complaining about the taxes while threatening to move to Florida.

If you can do these two things, you can have the SNO workout every winter! Yay!

I know, I know, you still don’t believe the SNO workout can form the basis of an effective exercise program. You want to make sure you get in enough work to burn a lot of calories and really look and feel your best.

That’s the great thing about the SNO workout — you never know how much snow accumulation there will be or how long it will last. Trust me, sometimes you can get the SNO workout for days and days at a time. How great is that?

Then, just when you think your exercise is over, the town plow comes by, and instantly you’re exercising again at the bottom of the driveway and by your mailbox. Just when you thought your SNO workout was over and done for the day, you’re now getting your second round of calorie-burning workout goodness.

Feel the burn, baby! Thank you, Mister Town Plow Man!

Still haven’t gotten enough exercise? No problemo! Go to your neighbor’s house and do the SNO workout there. Heck, come over to my house and do the SNO workout right in my driveway. I won’t mind.

I’m old and I need a break from the SNO workout every now and then. Don’t let me stop you from getting into the best shape you can!

What kind of an investment do you need to perform the SNO workout? Not much, really. All you need besides your normal winter clothes are a couple of snow shovels.

The first should be one of those “pusher” shovels for when we get only a couple of inches of snow. This shovel works the hamstrings great. Get into a rhythm with this shovel and you’ll really explore the aerobic aspects of the SNO workout.

The second one should be a regular snow shovel. This is the one you use when it drops so much snow it’s just a sea of white outside. Now you’re working your entire body, especially your arms and lower back.

Keep up the SNO workout during this kind of snow accumulation and you’ll be the muscle king on the beach when summer finally comes. Try not to kick too much sand in the faces of all those wimpy guys who don’t live in the great Northeast like you do!

Is this the greatest exercise program ever or what? The fun literally never ends during our wonderful, long, drawn-out winters. So if you live in the great Northeast, don’t worry about how to stay in shape when the weather turns cold. Just remember the SNO — Shoveling is Never Over — workout, and you’re good to go for months at a time.

They say: No pain, no gain. We say: No snow, go home!

P.S. Keep a lot of Advil on hand. You’re going to need it.


On Tuesday, Feb. 6, the Old Men of the Mountain met at the Home Front Café in Altamont. The Home Front was out of sequence because the restaurant that usually follows the Duanesburg Diner was closed for vacation so we swapped the two restaurants around.

The way this winter is going we can’t blame them for being away for awhile, but the OFs will be back there next week. See how congenial and flexible the OMOTM are?  Just as long as the OFs get fed they are good with it. There is a big “however” here and that is: Did all the OGs get the message?

The big news of the day was noted and for the OFs this is really big news! A couple of OFs came in with a news report that McDonald’s French fries promotes the growth of hair.

That got the OFs’ attention because at the ages of these OGs there are not too many full heads of hair. Some are fortunate enough to have some hair, and even some of those have thick wavy white hair.

To most though, the hair has gone the way of the comb, brush, or stuck to the inside of knit winter caps, and even the pillow has collected some. One OF said he wore his off on his bed’s headboard.

The OFs who reported this news did not mention if the hair was specifically grown on the top of the head. It was questioned that maybe it was elsewhere on the body, and not wanted there. This scribe wonders how many of the OFs are going to go to McDonald’s and have just a double order of French fries with a cup of coffee every day and see what happens.

The reporters did not mention if the report they heard said how long the study was, or how long anyone had to wait to see results, and what about the ladies? Maybe they would have to shave their legs twice a day to keep up with it. The OFs have not heard of this complaint though.

A quick glance at Google showed that it’s not eating the fries that makes the hair grow, but it’s a chemical that is added to the fries (in order to prevent the cooking oil from splashing), which is used to stimulate hair growth.

Winter woes

The OMOTM were concerned about people they know who are dealing with cancer and other maladies this winter. This prompted the OFs to discuss cancers that the OGs and their spouses have had — cancers that hit close to home.

It was surprising how many were part of this group and how the newer treatments work. One OF suggested that maybe all these campaigns, and fundraisers for research on cancer is beginning to pay off.

An OF thought it might not even be a medical person that comes up with a major breakthrough but some computer geek who is working in the same field who could hit on a solution and find how these things get started.

An OF brought to the attention of the OFs the dangers of antifreeze. This OF mentioned about having animals die from ingesting antifreeze. Other OFs joined in and mentioned that they have had a cat die from eating the stuff.

One OF had a relative who was an alcoholic and this relative was unable to get hold of some alcohol to satisfy the craving and he drank the antifreeze and died. This prompted some OFs to check their supply of antifreeze to be sure it is where it is not easy to get to, and one OF said he was going to see if there is the required skull and crossbones to advise people that it can be poisonous.

One OF mentioned the antifreeze does not have to be fresh. They had a car that leaked antifreeze unbeknown to them. The antifreeze was in the vehicle well over a year. Their cat was seen licking it and a couple of days later it was found dead on the back porch.

Apparently, there are two basic ingredients in antifreeze. One is ethylene glycol. That is the nasty one where very little ingested by your pet can do it in. The other component is propylene glycol. This takes a lot more to make them sick or have their four paws to the air.

Spice of life

Buried in many of these columns are what specific items the OFs use and how each OF insists the items he uses are the best. Collectively, it is another OF microcosm of the general populace from soap, to cereal, to bedding, to vehicles (and tractors, of course), to grass seed, to clothing including shoes, to household cleaning supplies, to choice of music and types of movies, to types of tools, to choice in women.

The OFs identify with “variety is the spice of life.” Each one insists that what he chooses is the best. Sometimes an OF will admit he made the wrong choice and claim “it” is a piece of junk, whereas another OF will disagree and say “it” (that item the first OF just complained about) is the best ever.

Most of the OFs agreed that on hand tools Craftsman tools were one of the best. They don’t know what is going to happen now that Sears has sold off the Craftsman line. Is the lifetime guarantee for the OF’s life, or the life of Sears? One OF said there are a gazillion Craftsman tools out there and in use every day. Well, we shall see who has the guarantee.

Those OFs who understood that the switch of our restaurants had been made and who showed up at the Home Front Café in Altamont were: Roger Chapman, John Rossmann, Robie Osterman, George Washburn, Bill Lichliter, Low Schenck, Jack Norray, Chuck Aelesio, Mark Traver, Warren Willsey, Mike Willsey, Rev. Jay Francis, Elwood Vanderbilt, Harold Guest and guest Carolou Kristofik, Harold Grippen, and me.


When an independent spouse or parent needs a little or a lot of help with daily living, we often are unprepared for it. The transition from independence to dependence for those needing care — and for those providing care — can trigger conflicting emotions and stress.

For parents and adult children, providing care and accepting support may be an opportunity to reconnect after many years apart in adult life. However, it’s not easy. And, it’s a journey unique to each of us; therefore, family caregivers and those on the receiving end of help often find that writing about their experiences is very meaningful.

With that in mind, Community Caregivers invites interested individuals to register for an upcoming Writing Workshop for Caregivers. This event is also open to Community Caregivers’ volunteers who serve others in the community.

The workshop will be held on Wednesday, March 7, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. in the Normanskill Room at the Guilderland Public Library at 2228 Western Ave. in Guilderland. Light refreshments will be provided.

The workshop leader is an award-winning author, columnist, and teacher Diane Cameron. Diane also has also been a family caregiver herself and once directed the Community Caregivers. She loves to help new writers begin their work. We are pleased that Diane has graciously offered to share her time and talent with us.

This fun and hands-on writing workshop will help you tell your own story or the story of a person you love. You can keep it or share as a gift to your family. You may also intend it for publication. In case you are wondering, you do not share your writing with others during the workshop.

Pens and paper will be provided. Registration is required, and we ask that you let us know you are attending no later than Monday, March 5. Again, please let us know if you would like to attend. Call 518-456-2898 to register or email me at

Community Caregivers Inc. is a not-for-profit organization that provides non-medical services including transportation and caregiver support at no charge to residents of Guilderland, Bethlehem, Altamont, New Scotland, Berne, Knox, and the city of Albany through a strong volunteer pool of dedicated individuals with a desire to assist their neighbors.

Our funding is derived in part from the Albany County Department for Aging, the New York State Office for the Aging, and the United States Administration on Aging. To find out more about our services, as well as volunteer opportunities, please visit or call us at 518-456-2898.

Editor’s note: Linda Miller is the Outreach and Education coordinator for Community Caregivers.


January was just about to give way to February when on Jan. 30 the Old Men of the Mountain met at the Duanesburg Diner. We were not too far from the day when the guys in their top hats drag the groundhog from its slumber in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.

The OFs can’t remember when this oversized rodent was ever right on how long the winter will last. Winter hangs on for six weeks no matter what.

One OF has just returned from some time in Jamaica at the Montego Bay resort. He reported that he had a great time at the resort, but he added that they are having a problem in Jamaica with some type of uprising and that 73 people have been killed since the first of the year.

From the first of the year until when the OF got there were only about 20 days. He said there was so much to do at the resort that he did not feel it was necessary to wander off the property into town.

The eyes have it

The OFs continued their previous discussion on eyes — particularly the common cataract surgery. All the OFs around where this scribe was sitting have had good luck with this procedure but in varying degrees.

Some experienced immediate recovery from the surgery, while some took more time to heal. The OFs who had to wait for their vision to come back said it eventually exceeded expectations.

The OFs said that eye drops were required but the need was not the same for all the OFs. One OF at this scribe’s section of the table claimed he was not too religious about using the drops. After a while, the OF said, his eyes seem so normal he often forgets to use them at all for three to four days.

Another OF also said he did not have a routine for putting in the drops, but his eyes do tell him that they need to be fed.

Avoid cooking, eat out

Many of the OFs asked one another if they have tried the new store in Knox, which (as of this writing) is not yet a store but a take-out restaurant. There are also some tables so that you can order in and eat there.

Most of the OFs said it should become a great place to stop and get something for supper on the way home from work. Another OF mentioned that, if you and the little lady had a tough day, it was a good place that is close to many on the mountain, so the OF and the aforementioned little lady can go and grab a bite. Then no one has to cook!  

This not-cooking bit is great for the OFs because the wives of many OFs have had way too many years of cooking for these OGs. Actually, some of the OFs themselves don’t mind cooking and are good cooks (especially from late spring to early fall) when they can fire up the ole grill and char up a few burgers.

No dress code

The Old Men of the Mountain are a microcosm of the general population — at least those in the Northeast and north central parts of the country — in how they dress. It was not the warmest day when the OFs were at the Duanesburg Diner in Duanesburg, New York but how the OFs were dressed coming into the diner, and once there, varied. Some came with coats like they were going to top of Mt. Washington; others came in simple jackets, and still others had on a couple of layers with light jackets.

Once inside, some took off their coats, while others kept them on; some sat at the table in shirt sleeves, and one was even there in a short-sleeved shirt open at the neck. This is the way they were decked out even though the temperature outside was the same for everybody, and the temperature on the inside was the same for everybody.

It is easy to understand why in a large or small office building it is tough to satisfy everyone with the thermostat.

Down in the dumps

Another topic touched on was town transfer stations, also known affectionately as the “dump,” and this is where most of the interaction of the mountain people takes place. It is the social center of the towns. Some might think it is the school, or the church, but it really is the “dump.”

Quite often on dump days, some of the OFs are known to advise another OF that he is going to the dump and would this OG have any trash to go. The atmosphere is generally very friendly as well as informative.

It is amazing to some of the OFs what some people consider trash but to the OF it is a treasure. However, some things really are just trash and should have been taken to the dump long ago.

One OF mentioned the barge of trash from Long Island that no transfer stations would take and the barge of trash just meandered around the ocean — for how long this OF did not know. For all this OF knows, it is still plying the waves of the ocean looking for a home. More information can be found by Googling “Long Island garbage barge.”

Before the world became a global economy, most products and food were manufactured or produced close to home and did not need all this packing that we have today. An OF said, "if we are going to ship apples two- or three-thousand miles away, we had better pack them very well. If we are going to get grapes from two- or three-thousand miles away, they also should be packed pretty well."

This OF feels that the basis of our whole trash problem is the global economy and way too many people to feed and provide for.  

One OF said he just bought a new vacuum cleaner, and the box and packaging weighed almost as much as the vacuum cleaner, and the instructions were like a small novel in size because it was written in so many different languages. This substantiates the trash problem (assumption of OF number one).

The world is now one global economy, and tractors made in the United States going to other countries are passing ships on the oceans with tractors made in other countries coming to the U.S. This may be a good thing or a bad thing, but it sure keeps money in circulation.

Those OFs who made it to the Duanesburg Diner in Duanesburg to share the wealth in our own little pinprick of the planet were: Roger Chapman, Miner Stevens, Bill Lichliter, Robie Osterman, George Washburn, Chuck Aelesio, Richard Frank, Roger Shafer, John Rossmann, Harold Guest, Marty Herzog, Mark Traver, Glenn Patterson, Lou Schenck, Gerry Irwin, Rev. Jay Francis, Mike Willsey, Warren Willsey, Bob Benninger, Bob Fink, Elwood Vanderbilt, Harold Grippen, and me.



— Photo from Mary Ellen Johnson

The original banner carried by Guilderland’s Wide Awakes hung for decades in the cellar bar at the Mynderse-Frederick House. Over time, the deterioration of the fragile fabric led to its disintegration, leaving this circa-1970 photograph as the only visual evidence of Guilderland’s support for Lincoln in 1860.

Splintered over the contentious issue of slavery, the 1860 Democratic convention nominated Stephen A. Douglas as its presidential candidate while breakaway Democrats nominated J.C. Breckinridge and John Bell as alternative presidential candidates.

After Republicans nominated Abraham Lincoln in May 1860, jeering Democrats called him nothing but a railsplitter. Describing Lincoln as a “third-rate country lawyer,” the Democratic New York Herald sneered he would be a “nullity” if elected. Others were of the opinion he was a coarse backwoodsman.

Thousands of Republicans rallied to his defense, working to secure a Republican victory in November, among them many Guilderland men. Of the town’s 1,600 males, a sizable number joined the Wide Awake movement to promote The Railsplitter — a Democratic jeer had become a Republican mark of pride!

The Wide Awakes had originated earlier that year in Connecticut when a crowd of supporters at a Republican gubernatorial campaign rally appeared in glazed caps and capes carrying torches, making an impressive display for the crowd. The Hartford Courant complimented them, describing the men as “wide awake.”

As soon as news of Lincoln’s nomination became known, Republican men began forming “clubs” adopting the name “Wide Awakes.” In our area, Albany was the first to organize, mustering in 200 men to march on the Capital for a Republican meeting.

Within two weeks, they claimed 1,000 members in the city. The club’s constitution and background information was printed in a form easily sent out to parties eager to initiate their own group of Wide Awakes. Thurlow Weed’s Albany Evening Journal, the Republican voice of the city, was filled with reports of Wide Awake activities all over the area including Guilderland in the few months before the election.

Near the end of August, a Wide Awake Club had “been formed and uniformed in the neighborhood of McGoun’s [McKown’s] in Guilderland. Three other clubs are to be organized in town, forthwith.”

A week later, another calling itself “Company B,” probably from the Guilderland Center section of town, had organized. The other two clubs were most likely from Dunnsville and Knowersville although there were no further notices of specific Guilderland groups forming.

The officers elected by the first two groups were listed and included several well known local men. “Seventy-four members have been enrolled. Guilderland will do its share in redeeming Albany County,” the Journal wrote.

“Paramilitary” is a 20th-Century term often used nowadays to describe these Wide Awake clubs. Members appeared in a standard uniform of oil-cloth cap and cape, had a hierarchy of officers, and studied Hardee’s Tactics to form lines of march to parade in formation.

However, instead of weapons they carried torches set on poles, the caps and capes meant to protect them from dripping oil and sparks. Disciplined groups of uniformed men marching through the streets could make citizens very uneasy, except as the New York Tribune pointed out, businessmen and professional men, highly respected in their communities, were very much involved in the Wide Awakes.

This was certainly true of Guilderland where M.H.Frederick, the Guilderland Center hotel keeper; Thomas Helme, the McKownville physician; and Peter Shaver and Elijah Spawn, both former town supervisors were Wide Awake club members. Stephen V. Frederick, described as “a worthy scion of the best Republican stock of Guilderland,” was elected supervisor the following year.

To pique everyone’s curiosity, meetings and rallies were announced ahead of time, usually being held at night for maximum effect. When the evening arrived, large crowds turned out to watch the spectacle as the Wide Awakes arrived, marching in parade formation, their oil cloth caps and capes glistening in the light of their torches.

Often they were accompanied by a band or were themselves singing Wide Awake songs such as this one:

       …Lift the banner on high, while from the mountains and plain

          The cheers of the people are sounded again,

          Hurrah! For our cause — of all causes the best!

          Hurrah! For Old Abe, Honest Abe of the West!

In describing a meeting at Princetown, just west of Dunnsville, the Albany Evening Journal reported, “The great feature and attraction of the evening were the Wide Awakes with their neat uniforms, their fine discipline, and their better singing. The clubs of Guilderland can take down the Albany boys in singing, and better yet they can make their own songs.”

In rural areas such as Guilderland, these meetings were held at local hotels. Kelly’s in Princetown is mentioned twice, Frederick’s Hotel in Guilderland Center and McKown’s Tavern in McKownville are also noted. Additional meetings were held in Dunnsville and Knowersville, where the location was called the “village hall,” most likely referring to the Inn of Jacob Crounse, the local community center in those times.

Crowds were so large that inevitably the gathering moved outdoors for the spectacle and speeches. The Oct. 26 Albany Evening Journal reported:

“The meeting at Knowersville last evening was the largest, most enthusiastic and effective meeting ever held in town. A fine Pole was raised, surmounted by a Beetle and Wedge, (both were tools used by railsplitters) and a magnificent banner, bearing the names of Lincoln and Hamlin was run up among cheers of the crowd. In the evening, the meeting was attempted to be held in the village hall, but it was found wholly inadequate to accommodate the multitude.

“On discovering there were more outside than inside the hall, the meeting was adjourned out of doors when stirring and eloquent speeches were made by Messrs. Raines of Ontario, Watson of California and Gerhard and Benedict of his city.

“The Town of Guilderland is in excellent trim. It will give the Republican Ticket a large majority.”

Frequently occurring at these meetings was the raising of a pole. In addition to the pole at Knowersville, one was erected at Kelly’s in Princetown, attended by Guilderland Wide Awakes, “from the top of which a streamer was thrown to the wind on which was inscribed the names of LINCOLN AND HAMLIN. That being done the pole was duly consecrated with three hearty cheers.”

Always part of the program was the presence of two or more speakers. Sometimes they were local men of prominence such as Dr. Fred Crounse Jr. who addressed the crowd at Kelly’s Hotel or Mr. Benedict, the district’s candidate for the State Assembly. Every now and then, an outsider like Mr. Watson of California was on the program. These local rallies often attracted large crowds; one at Kelly’s Hotel was estimated to be in the hundreds.

Think of the novelty, the excitement, the entertainment of torchlight parades, bands and male voices raised in song, speakers who sometimes came from far away, and poles being raised in these small hamlets. But the real spectacle was to be had when a nearby city hosted a huge rally and local Wide Awakes from the nearby towns of Guilderland, New Scotland, Bethlehem, and Knox were invited to join the big parade.

Hudson held the first out-of-town rally attended by Guilderland Wide Awakes when 21 “packed” railroad cars left Albany to take part and, among the hundreds on board, were 25 uniformed Guilderland Wide Awakes under Captain Martin J. Blessing. Shortly afterward, Albany scheduled its own rally.

The day after this event, the Evening Journal’s headlines screamed, “The Grand Wide Awake Demonstration,” “The Capital of the Empire State in a Blaze of Light,” and “Most Thrilling Torchlight Parade Ever Witnessed on the Continent.”

Claiming 50,000 people witnessed the 7,000 Wide Awakes who were marching in a “line of glittering torches, the river of dancing fire, roman candles without number were discharged.” The houses and businesses of sympathetic Republicans were illuminated along the parade route the paper said, and “Cheers and huzzas resounded and echoed, at times almost deafening.”

All that, and 19 brass bands of martial music accompanied Wide Awakes from as far away as Canajoharie, Gloversville, Saratoga, Ballston, and Kingston who came to parade. “Thousands of persons” came from country towns and surely the Wide Awakes and spectators from rural Albany County were there as well.

In the days immediately preceding the election, the Albany Evening Journal sternly preached to area Wide Awakes, “The time has gone by for mass meetings and big parades … attention to detail is needed.”

Wide Awakes were instructed to see that all Republicans were registered, act as poll watchers, challenge irregularities, and go out to bring in delinquent Republican voters. Election Day came and went.

Lincoln was victorious, but not in Albany County. In spite of their disappointment, the Wide Awakes marched in a victory parade in Albany, a notice in the Albany Evening Journal calling for Wide Awakes from city and county to participate. Numerous Wide Awake balls were planned.

Guilderland’s Republican men had been part of a national movement in one of this nation’s most important elections.


There has been an ongoing debate about whether dogs are smarter than cats or if other animals are as smart as people. I grew up in a household with dogs and then had cats later in life, so I have some thoughts on the subject.

But, to be fair here, I am not a behavioral specialist, animal psychiatrist, crazy cat person, or dog-centric pet aficionado. I like most animals (generally more than most people) and find them all pretty pleasant.

But is any given animal smarter than another? And how do animals, in general compare to humans? I suppose that depends on what you think indicates intelligence.

In my younger years, I had gerbils, hamsters, mice, fish, and even a chinchilla (yes, they really are that soft). In all cases, they exhibited behaviors that might, or might not, constitute various levels of intelligence.

But this raises a question. Is it fair to compare animal behavior to human behavior? For instance, have you ever watched a dog sniff at a vertical surface before peeing on it? According to experts, the dog is smelling and getting information from the dogs who also peed in that spot and then leaving his or her own message to add to the urinary bulletin board.

The thing is, we have no idea if your dog is leaving the next chapter of “War and Peace” or a snotty comment about the grooming habits of the beagle on the next block. But for a human to do the same thing would require pen and paper, a computer, smartphone, or a can of spray paint.

In other words, dogs can naturally communicate in ways that require us to use advanced technology. So, who is smarter?

As I sit here at the computer, peeing on a virtual signpost in cyberspace, one of our cats inevitably climbs into my lap and curls into a classic cat loaf. I oblige with a little ear or neck scratching, and purring generally commences.

So, without using any form of technology, the cat has attained a state of utter bliss and relaxation. Most humans spend money, energy, and time in a futile attempt to reach such a state. A purring cat has attained oneness with the universe without Ambien, weed, booze, meditation, yoga, travel to exotic lands, a hike in the woods, or a lengthy bike ride.

Dogs seem to be able to achieve the same state with a simple belly rub. So again, who appears more advanced intellectually?

So, which is smarter? A cat or a dog (drumroll please)?

Well, I’d say they’re about even on average (though science suggests dogs have the edge). If you look at the behavior of the average cat or dog, you find they have simple needs (eat, sleep, poop) and are generally in a pretty good state of mind.

They own nothing, owe nothing, desire very little past the aforementioned basics, and generally glide through their lives in a pretty effortless manner. They play, wander about, nap with great frequency, and wait for us to take care of their basic needs. Overall, they have us pretty well trained.

So, as you drive your over-engineered gas guzzler to your bland, unpleasant office through dangerous traffic, all in an effort to earn money that you hope will allow you to buy things that bring you happiness, think of your cat or dog napping in the sun.

While you answer the phone; sit through endless, pointless meetings; do work that, in many cases, is boring or downright unpleasant; and then return home tired, and frustrated, what suddenly makes you feel better? When someone crawls into your lap and purrs or jumps up happily to greet you at the door. Of course that could be a kid, pet, or spouse.

Maybe the real answer is that animals are way smarter than humans because, for all of our technology, we’re just watery meat sacks full of angst and insecurity while animals are more self-actualized and content on a bad day than we are on our best day.

I have no idea if dolphins have already come up with faster-than-light travel or if Chihuahuas nailed the unified field theory 1,000 years ago, but they all seem happier than we are, and they also do a lot less damage to the planet than we do.

So again, are animals smarter than people? I suppose, if we ever develop the technology to actually communicate with them, we might find out. But I doubt it.

I suspect most humans don’t really want to find out that the Basset hound next door cured cancer before lunch and left the formula sprayed on the stop sign at the corner of Main Street. It just wouldn’t make us feel very smart.

Editor’s note: Michael Seinberg says he believes that all animals are likely smarter than humans. Evidence? No animal has ever been observed watching Fox “News” voluntarily. Any questions?


It seems hard to keep up with all the changes that are swiftly coming in this new digital era. There are so many great advances that help old people.

Many older adults are learning how to use iPads and smartphones, which allows them to “video chat” with family members far away or to see their photos and videos on Facebook. These advances provide personal contact and pleasure to keep in touch with family and friends in ways that were previously only available by letter and telephone call.

Important uses of technology are also helping caregivers and older adults. Recently, New York State approved the operation of the ride-hailing services Uber and Lyft that expand transportation options for people to travel to doctor appointments or for other activities.

Other new technologies allow family members or caregivers to monitor an older family member living alone. Perhaps you have heard of sensors that will provide an alert if the person being monitoring has not opened the refrigerator by lunch time.

Technology can promote social connections; computer software allows groups in aging-in-place “villages” to connect members who have similar social interests, such as book clubs or movie-discussion groups. Technology also can assist individuals with tracking their own health and preventive-care needs using smartphone apps.

Apple recently announced plans to allow doctors and health providers to upload patient medical records to a health app on the patient’s iPhone.

Alan S. Teel, M.D. has pioneered the use of technology to help his elderly patients stay at home in his rural state of Maine. In his book “Alone and Invisible No More,” Dr. Teel advocates the use of internet-based technology tools along with volunteers and paid assistance to help elders remain at home and remain connected to their communities.

His company, Full Circle America, offers services including: “quick call” buttons, video and sensor monitoring (as noted in the refrigerator example, above), friendly reminder calls and a Circle of Care. The Circle of Care approach helps the individual identify people who can assist and support him or her, including family members, friends, neighbors, and volunteers.

Teel’s approach seeks to be comprehensive by incorporating the human as well as the technological elements. It’s a rapidly developing field with many companies vying to offer “tech” solutions to monitor the well-being of elders.

These new products enhance the ability of older persons to remain living at home longer; we all need to be aware and keep educated about what is available. Community Caregivers staff will continue to study these new products and innovations so that we can provide information for our volunteers, individuals, and family caregivers about new options.

While nothing can substitute for human contact and caring helpers, technological innovations may hold part of the answer to help those who need assistance to live well at home.


Community Caregivers Inc. is a not-for-profit organization that provides non-medical services including transportation and caregiver support at no charge to residents of Guilderland, Bethlehem, Altamont, New Scotland, Berne, Knox, and the city of Albany through a strong volunteer pool of dedicated individuals with a desire to assist their neighbors.

Our funding is derived in part from the Albany County Department for Aging, the New York State Office for the Aging, and the United States Administration on Aging. To find out more about our services, as well as volunteer opportunities, please visit or call us at (518) 456-2898.

Editor’s note: Michael Burgess is a health policy consultant for Community Caregivers.


Tuesday, Jan. 23, the Old Men of the Mountain met at the Your Way Café in Schoharie to break bread together. It is a darn site more than bread that becomes broken when the OMOTM get together.

Eating is one thing all the OFs do together on Tuesday morning at our round robin of restaurants. Some of the OFs eat more slowly than they used to because swallowing for them is not like it used to be. The old esophagus is getting tired and some foods become harder to choke down but, as one OF suggested, it is good to get the swallowing bit checked out and make sure that’s all it is — the OF has an aging esophagus.

One general question asked on Tuesday morning was, “What have you been doing this last two or three weeks?” This scribe was a little surprised at the answers because this usually active group (for the most part) said “nothing.”

Some have come to the breakfasts and just hung out when they returned home; they did not go to their shops, or barns, or “man caves.” The weather and clouds shut them down.

As this scribe listened, it became clear this phenomenon was definitely weather related. For some reason, at my end of the table, the blahs really took hold. I predict this circumstance won’t last long — these OFs have too much to do and are not a bunch to let projects pile up.

Mechanical spies

If we didn’t have new techno toys, the OFs would not have much to talk about. We would be back to cars, trucks, tractors, and boats. Trips, kids, and shop work would be thrown in for good measure.

However, this time the conversation centered on people talking to gadgets that talk back and give answers, or can be programmed to have some other gadgets work for you so the OF won’t have to get up from his favorite recliner. The OFs, for the most part, are dead set against these round, mechanical spies.

“What if the machine decides not to listen?” the OFs said.

If you ask it to unlock your garage door and the device decides not to unlock the door and every time you went to open the door mechanically the device re-locks the door. The device has programmed all doors to lock, and it has also programmed all electrical appliances to turn on and overheat.

The only way out is through a window and it is impossible for you to shut any of it down. You stand on your lawn and watch your house burn to the ground and a maniacal laugh comes from the coffee table in living room.

Remember “Hal” in the movie “2001 Space Odyssey” or the people in the Pixar movie “WALL-E” who did nothing for themselves?

This brought the OFs to mention the cameras in China that use face recognition, and how they can track anyone in a city of over one million people. The camera was demonstrated to a reporter from the BBC and and he was shown the operation center where all this tracking is done.

The demonstration was definitively scary. From knowing nothing about him but (for this demonstration) considering him a person of interest, they took a picture of him from a camera at an intersection and in seven minutes he was surrounded by police at a bus station.

The OFs covered many details of the demonstration that would take up too much space here. One OF said, “It wouldn’t work on me. My face is so ugly it would break the camera.”

Going the way of the dodo

This conversation continued, telling how the OFs who are mechanics and the OFs who are handymen are being pushed to extinction because the technology of today requires tools that are in the $1,000 to $10,000 range.

How can the OGs who drive newer models afford tool prices like this to tinker with their vehicles, like changing their own oil?

One OF mentioned that we are getting to be like our grandparents when vehicles were taking the place of horses. How about our grandmothers when the washing machine came out?

An OF said his mother told him that her mother was actually afraid of the first washing machine, which was run with a small gas engine. His grandmother told his mom it didn’t get clothes clean and she used a round tub, washboard, and wrung her clothes out by hand, and dried them on the line, until she was unable to do laundry.

One OF added, “That is just like many of us OFs with the self- driving cars, and the electric cars. We don’t trust them and the younger generations can’t wait to get their hands on one and these kids wish the technology would hurry up.”

Send me out to sea

Then we started checking up on the OFs who are ill and we were brought up to pace on their well-being. This led to a discussion on nursing homes.

The OFs, to a man, said from what they have seen of these places they do not want to have to go there. The Eskimos might have the right idea: Give me some food, put me on an ice floe, and send me out to sea.

One OF said, “Why, in so many cases, does life have to end like that?”

There was no answer.

Another OF said, “If we were smart, there are insurance policies that provide for 24/7 home care until you enter the tunnel of light. I don’t know what the premiums would be but I bet they would be substantial.”

The Old Men of the Mountain who met at the Your Way Café in Schoharie — with the early birds receiving a thorough art lesson on an original painting hanging on the wall in the restaurant — were: Roger Chapman, Robie Osterman, George Washburn, Harold Guest, John Rossmann, Chuck Aelesio, Richard Frank, Karl Remmers, John DeMis, Mark Traver, Glenn Paterson, Lou Schenck, Jack Norray, Gerry Irwin, Bob Fink, Bob Benninger, Henry Whipple, Bill Rice, Wayne Gaul, Jim Rissacher, Russ Pokorny, Warren Willsey, Mike Willsey, Elwood Vanderbilt, Harold Grippen, and me.