Archive » October 2019 » Columns

Musically, I came of age during the so-called “British Invasion,” when groups like the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, and The Who redefined what pop music could be.

I listened to these groups and others like them, often late at night on headphones so as not to disturb anyone else in our tiny Brooklyn apartment, leaving an indelible mark on me.

In fact, it took me decades to even allow myself to finally get to know and love other forms of music, such as classical, reggae, and even opera. Better late than never as the saying goes.

The one thing all the seminal ’60s and ’70s rock-and-roll bands had in common was prolific use of the electric guitar. While it had been around earlier, it was only during the mid- to late-’60s and beyond when it became the defining instrument for a generation of Baby Boomers like myself.

Guitar gods like Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and many, many others created such a cult of personality around the guitar that other once-common popular band instruments, like the banjo and accordion, got relegated to niche music like bluegrass and polkas. Such is the allure of the electric guitar that you can even bid on “air guitars” on eBay (case not included).

You would think that, loving the electric guitar so much, I would maybe have learned how to play at some point. Sadly, my parents either did not know about or couldn't afford music lessons for any of their three sons.

In addition, the Catholic grade school I went to was severely limited in funding for anything but the basics. I think in the fourth grade I got one week with a plastic toy called a Flutophone, and that was the extent of my musical education. Sad, really, when you think about it, as study and enjoyment of the arts truly helps makes life worth living.

Things changed for the better when I married my lovely wife, Charlotte. I really lucked out, as she’s been a paid musician since she was 14 years old.

I actually studied piano with her for about four months one winter but, when spring came and all the yard and other outside work needed to be done, I dropped it and never continued. Still, it was an enjoyable experience, at least for me.

I say “for me” because that very hard piano bench, believe it or not, gave me gas. Don’t ask me why but it did. Curiously, my wife says none of the hundreds of other piano and organ students she has taught has ever had this problem but me. I guess I was just (un)lucky, haha.

So, when I got the Guilderland Continuing Education flier in the mail and saw a Beginning Guitar course, I thought, what the heck, let me register and see what happens. The price was great and I was free when the four classes would be, so there you go; my first guitar lessons at the age of 60!

The classes would be taught at Guilderland High School by Don Warren, a professional guitar player, technician, and teacher, and also quite a character in general (just mention any guitar player to him and he either taught him, knows him, or knows someone who knows him and has a story about every one of them).

For the first session, Don had all nine of us sit around him in a semicircle. We were so close that the neck of my borrowed guitar (my wife lent it to me) was hitting the guy to the left of me in the shoulder.

But right away we got introduced to two chords and then had a week to practice them. You know when you seen a right-handed guitarist pressing strings all up and down the neck of the guitar with his or her left hand? Those are chords, and the G and E-minor I made that night and in the following week were the first guitar chords I've ever made in my life (hint: the G with four fingers is tough, E-minor with only two fingers is much easier).

The second lesson introduced us to two more chords, but it wasn’t until the third lesson that the real magic happened. Don had half of us played one chord on the “one and three” beat, and the other half of us play another chord on the “two and four” beat.

This doesn't sound like much, I know, but for me, to actually be playing music in any form with other people was simply amazing. It was transcendental in a way, almost like another level of consciousness.

I’m not kidding here: If you’re a musician, I’m sure you know what I mean. My wife says singing together in the choir is like that as well.

We had so much fun that Don apologized for not being able to provide a drummer and bassist for us to “jam” with. Holy cow, I can’t even imagine what that must be like.

When we started the course, Don said he would bet each of us $100 to a cup of coffee that, after the last lesson, we’d each be playing a dozen songs. So now we’re half-way through the last lesson and all we’ve done for four weeks was play the same four chords over and over.

All of a sudden, Don pulls out a sheet with the names of classic songs on them like “Brown-Eyed Girl,” “Fun. Fun. Fun,” and “Old-Time Rock and Roll.” Then he had us play those same four chords in succession while he played melody and, just like that, we’re actually playing all these songs.

Again, for a lifelong music lover yet non-musician like me, the whole experience was just incredible.

Now, just to be clear, I can’t play all those songs on my own. Heck, if after four lessons I could play the classic tunes by myself I’d be headlining at Caffe Lena in Saratoga.

But the point is, with only four chords, there are hundreds if not thousands of songs that can be played. All it takes is desire, practice — and a good teacher like Don Warren.

I was so enamored of the whole beginning-guitar experience that I’ve signed up for another class with Don. I hope my fat fingers will loosen up and I’ll me able to make my chords sound clear and crisp like they should.

Here’s one thing that gives me hope: My son-in-law plays violin in a professional orchestra, and he also plays piano, guitar, and drums. When he heard me practicing, he said I was way better than he was when he first started. Now a compliment like that, coming from such an experienced and versatile musician, really makes my day.

Who would have guessed, at this late point in my life, music would finally come to me. Miracles really do happen, if only you let them.


Tuesday, Oct. 22, The Old Men of the Mountain met at the Knox Country Café in the town of Knox.

This meeting was minus this scribe (fortunately or unfortunately). However, the scribe’s little book is full of notes that did not make the paper from previous meetings. It is just a matter of going back and catching up.

Some of the notes will never make the paper for one reason or another because they are libelous, raunchy, too political, too religious, and many are suspicious as to the truth.

One thing the Old Men of the Mountain are great at is storytelling and sometimes it is hard to discern which is truth and which is fiction. At the ages the OFs are, most of this is an honest contest between mind and body.

The mind thinks and says one thing, but the body says, “No way, monsieur; don’t even try it.” Once one OF came into a breakfast wearing a T-shirt that read, “If I wake up and nothing hurts I would think I was dead.” To the rest of the OFs this rang true.

TV not a draw

At some of the breakfasts, the OFs talk about the TV shows they watch. Some say the best channel on TV is the Cartoon Channel.

Many say they do not watch much TV, including the local basic channels. The news is hardly watched except for the weather. Some do watch the weather channel.

Sports are the big thing — football and baseball. Then come the DIY-type channels and for a few it is “Pickers,” “Pawn Stars,” and the Discovery Channel.

In essence, this is an eclectic group because this scribe is sure that at tables not heard from there are those who do watch the news, PBS, and some of the other channels that are politically bent one way or another to the particular OF’s way of thinking. I really don’t know if any OFs watch QVC.

When discussing this topic, one OF mentioned that the advertisers know old folks watch certain channels. On these channels, we take notice that most of the ads are geared to OFs like us.

Then one OF added. “Not me! On my channels, the ads are for cereal, candy, toys, and games, both whack-a-mole and video games. I am not going to get all worked up about how the world is going to hell in a handbasket. I’ll watch Bugs Bunny!”

Furniture: The right fit

One time, the OFs started talking about furniture and trying to find a comfortable chair. This may sound simple but, when the OFs were younger, comfortable furniture was not a problem.

These YFs would just fold their legs and flop. And many were so active they never even knew what a chair was; they even ate on the run.

Then, when the day was done, it was time to eat again, do homework, and go to bed. Types of chairs and sitting in a chair never entered their heads.

The most the younger OFs thought about chairs back then were not even chairs. They were tractor seats, car seats, truck seats, and wagon seats. Some of these were not designed for comfort, just there to keep the operator from having to stand up.

Now the OFs who get leg cramps and muscle aches realize types and kinds of chairs are very important. A couple of the OFs said that soft chairs are out and they are more comfortable in hard chairs.

One OF complained that all recliners are out for him because they are not long enough and, when extended, his feet hang over the end about two inches behind the ankle and that shuts off the circulation.

Most of the OFs said they need chairs with arms so they can push themselves up when they want to stand. Then there were the OFs who said they had their own chair at home where they spend a lot of time and were really comfortable.

One OF mentioned that for some reason he even felt “safe” in his chair and could take nice long naps while in that chair. The OF said, if he had trouble sleeping at night, he could get up and get in that chair and fall fast asleep.

One other OF mentioned that where he is the most comfortable is not in a chair but the front seat of the car. The OF said his vehicle’s seat is heated, and has side and back lumbar supports and tips way back. When the “ole lady” is at Kohl’s. he is in the car either reading a book, or taking a nap.


According to a few of the OFs who were cozily crammed into the Knox Country Café in Knox to partake of their first breakfast there, one OF reported on what he overheard from a different restaurant he was in recently. 

In the booth next to him in this restaurant, the story he heard suited him to a “T.” This stranger, who was not as old as the OF, was telling the lady and other gentleman with him that he “didn’t drink or smoke anymore, or do that other thing either. I am like a dead man walking.”

The OFs who could match that at the Knox Country Café were:  Roger Chapman, Robie Osterman, Miner Stevens, George Washburn, Glenn Patterson, Mark Traver, Marty Herzog, Harold Guest, Wally Guest, John Rossmann, Mace Porter, Jack Norray, Lou Schenck, Warren Willsey, Russ Pokorny, Gerry Chartier, Elwood Vanderbilt, Bob Donnelly, Joe Rack, Paul Nelson, Rick LaGrange, Harold Grippen, and not me.


Lyme disease is caused by a bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi and spread to people through tick bites. In the United States, many infections occur in regions including the eastern states, northern midwestern states, and the West Coast.

For Lyme disease to exist in an area, both ticks and animals who have been infected with the bacteria must be in the environment.

For the tick to be able to transmit the Lyme-disease bacteria, it must be attached to the skin for 36 to 48 hours. Many people get infected by immature ticks called nymphs.

They are tiny, difficult to see, and most prevalent in the spring and summer. Adult ticks are larger, more likely to be seen and removed, and more common in the fall.

Ticks can attach to any part of the human body. They prefer areas such as the groin, armpits, and scalp. This does not mean they won’t bite and stick onto any other part of the skin.

To prevent tick bites, the use of insect repellents containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, or oil of lemon eucalyptus may help. Treating clothing with 0.5-percent permethrin can help also.

After spending the day outdoors, take a shower as soon as possible, check for ticks in areas like the groin, hair, armpits, and knees and put clothes in the dryer on high heat for 10 minutes in order to kill the ticks.

If you find a tick on the skin, you must take steps to carefully remove the tick to prevent becoming infected. You should firmly grasp the tick, using tweezers, and steadily pull the tick off of your skin. Lastly, you should clean the area with rubbing alcohol or soap and water.

Late Lyme disease can be prevented with the help of an early diagnosis and antibiotics. Lyme disease is rarely life-threatening; however, the disease can become more severe if treatment is delayed.

Some symptoms of Lyme disease include: erythema migrans (skin rash), fatigue, chills and fever, headache, muscle and joint pain, and swollen lymph nodes.

Erythema migrans is a reddish or purple colored rash. It usually appears three to 14 days after the bite. The rash occurs at the site of the bite and is shaped round or oval. The rash can spread over a couple of days and feel warm.

Some infected people do not develop a rash, but instead have flu-like symptoms.

Late Lyme disease may not appear until weeks or months after an infected tick bite. Some symptoms include: arthritis (especially in knees), nervous system symptoms (numbness, pain, nerve paralysis, meningitis), memory or concentration problems, sleep disturbances, and very rarely irregular heart rhythms.

Diagnosis includes measuring the antibodies in the body that are made to fight against Lyme disease bacteria. It can take many weeks after the infection has occurred for the body to make a sufficient amount of antibodies.

This means that it is possible for a Lyme disease test to come back negative in the first couple of weeks. After the infection is gone, the body continues to make antibodies for months to years. This makes it hard to use a blood test to determine a new as opposed to an old infection.

Usually those who are treated with antibiotics for early Lyme disease recover quickly and completely. The most common antibiotics for Lyme disease are: doxycycline, amoxicillin, or cefuroxime axetil.

Those patients who have persistent or recurrent symptoms may take another course of antibiotics. A vaccine for Lyme disease is not currently available.

Information for this column was taken from literature produced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, printed in a brochure and also available online: “Lyme Disease: What You Need to Know.”


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: Mary Alsunna is a University at Albany student who is currently volunteering with Community Caregivers. She will be writing columns on topics of interest for seniors during the Fall 2019 semester.


This Tuesday’s breakfast was at a type of the old-fashioned railroad dining-car diners in Princetown, called the Chuck Wagon Diner on Route 20. The Chuck Wagon-style diner first appeared in the early 20th Century along with many of the Old Men of the Mountain who this Tuesday morning had breakfast at the Wagon.

The OMOTM noticed the full moon, and many had a reaction to it by prowling the halls at night. Some were up especially early and out looking at the moon.

As most of us age, like OFs, the tendency is to lose hair. On a full moon, some of the OFs do go out and hope for the werewolf effect to grow hair, but hair on the knuckles is not that attractive.

The OFs roaming the halls are looking for the bathroom, because, as you know, the full moon does have an effect on the tides. Seeing as the bladder is full of water the full moon has an effect on that gland also.

Mice seek Warm homes

Now is the time the pesky little field mice start looking for a place to stay for the winter. These critters start to check in at their apartments in the house, barn, shed, or garage.

The OFs began talking about keeping these critters from moving in. The OFs mentioned how small a hole they can get into.

This changed the conversation to what they can do and what they actually do once they get into other places than the house. Rumor has it that peppermint oil is helpful in keeping them out. Mice don’t like the odor, but humans find it quite acceptable.

The OFs mentioned cars, truck, tractors and other pieces of equipment that are prime targets for these rodents to hole up in. One OF who is repairing a dozer for another OF said he has the engine all done and it runs perfectly.

However, the dozer can’t go anywhere because mice have made a home in the dozer’s clutches. The OF doing the work told the other OF who owns the dozer that it is a ton of work to get these varmints out.

The pathway to the clutch encasement is a maze, and exceptionally small, yet the mice found a way to get into this clutch. One OF mentioned storing a car that is run only in the summertime in a barn; an OF can find mice anywhere, in the exhaust, in the engine, even inside the car.

The question was asked, how can the mice get in where even water can’t?

One OF said that his father — way back when — not only fed milk to the cats but he also had a saucer outside the door to the granary for the snakes. Most OFs said they didn’t know snakes drank milk; this OF said they did.

The OF said that his father kept the snakes happy because they kept all of the mice out of the granary because they would chase them right into their holes. The only problem was occasionally a cat would grab a snake.

Laundry duty

The OFs discussed basically the women’s role in housekeeping. The following sentence will cause some consternation among readers, but in many cases it is the truth.

The quandary is doing the laundry. The OFs have to admit there are a few OFs who do their own laundry but it is only a few.

Then conversation was on how the laundry was dried when the OFs were young. To this day, some of the OFs remember how the sheets felt, and their aroma when they were dried outdoors, even in the winter time.

A few OFs still have the laundry dried outside but most do not. Their clothes are dried in a dryer. J. Ross Moore, an American inventor from North Dakota developed designs for automatic clothes dryers during the early 20th Century. This scribe’s wife thinks Mr. Moore deserved a Nobel Prize for his efforts.

One OF said that he remembers the clothes being dried on racks around the stove in the wintertime. This OF said this served two purposes; not only did it dry the clothes but it added moisture to the air and was the early form of a humidifier.

To take care of the house when the OFs were young was work. The OFs’ moms did the laundry, took it outside, hung it up, and then brought it in and put it away. Some did the laundry in a tub with a plunger-like thing and lye soap.

“A lot of work but we were clean,” one OF said.

Another OF mentioned today all the household gadgetry we have. For instance, there are different kinds of washing machines and dryers, usually side by side. Wash the clothes in one and, when done, stand in one spot and throw them in the dryer. One OF said there is a secret to doing laundry that he could never figure out, and that is what goes with what.

The OF said his wife has clothes all sorted in piles and the OF has no idea what is in each pile, and his wife has a fit if he throws something on the wrong pile. To this OF, laundry day is still work, but he has clean clothes thanks to a lady.

The Old Men of the Mountain who were showered, most shaved, and in clean clothes gathered in clean vehicles, and then drove to the Chuck Wagon Diner in Princetown, were: Miner Stevens, Roger Chapman, Bill Lichliter, John Rossmann, Harold Guest, Wally Guest, Robie Osterman, George Washburn, Rick LaGrange, Glenn Patterson, Pete Whitbeck, Roger Shafer, Duncan Bellinger, Chuck Aelesio, Richard Frank, Joe Rack, Warren Willsey, Russ Pokorny, Wayne Gaul, Ted Feurer, Mace Porter, Jack Norray, Lou Schenck, Mike Willsey, Gerry Chartier, Elwood Vanderbilt, John Dabrvalskas, Harold Grippen, and me.


— Photo from the Guilderland Historical Society

The Air-O Dance Hall, later called the Swiss Inn, was once located on Route 20 west of Dunnsville opposite today’s Victoria Acres. In recent years, it has again become the fashion for adults to enjoy wearing costumes and partying at Halloween.

— Photo from the Guilderland Historical Society

In viewing this postcard photo of Altamont’s village park, try to imagine a hodge-podge of shutters lined up along the fence in no particular order and a partial car body resting in the gazebo.

Before long, our door bells will be ringing, set off by excited, impatient, costumed children whose “trick or treat” is a demand for free candy. In the meantime, some wary homeowners fear older, mischief-making teens may pull a “trick,” resulting in vandalism in the neighborhood.

It hasn’t always been like this because Halloween was only established in Guilderland and surrounding rural towns in the last decades of the 19th Century, before becoming a popular event by the 1920s.

It all began with the prehistoric Celts in Ireland and Scotland where Samhain was the beginning of their new year. It was looked upon as a day when the dead came back to visit the living, things supernatural were about, the future could be foretold, and mischievous behavior was accepted.

When Christian missionaries came to convert the pagan Celts, they wisely allowed the Celts to keep many of their old customs as long as it didn’t conflict with Christian teachings. With All Saints Day the next day, All Hallows Eve became Hallowe’en.

With the huge influx of Irish in the 1840s and after, the name and tradition was brought along to the United States. The Scots added the happenings with the wearing of costumes that night. The customs took some time to reach out to Guilderland and other rural towns where there were few Scots or Irish.

Using the local columns of The Enterprise as a reference to get an overview of the appearance of Halloween in Guilderland, I followed the establishment of the holiday as part of the town’s cultural fabric.

In the years from 1884, when the local paper began publishing, to 1889, there is only one reference to Hallowe’en and that in a piece of fiction set in Scotland called “Spells, or No Spells.”

Guilderland was slow in joining the festivities because, while from 1890 to 1899, eighteen mentions of Hallowe’en show up, almost none of them relate to Guilderland. Feura Bush in Bethlehem reported all sorts of pranks and there were a few parties in other places.

The only mention for Guilderland was in the State Road (Parkers Corners area) column in 1895, which reported, “The ground was covered with beautiful snow, which made it quite difficult for the young men to perform their bag of tricks.”

Obviously the tradition of big boys having “fun” on Hallowe’en had spread. Guilderland Center’s St. Marks Church had a pumpkin-pie social scheduled on Hallowe’en, and there may have been a few private parties, but the town seemed otherwise quiet.

Hallowe’en happenings begin to pick up with the first decade of the 20th Century. Several churches planned Hallowe’en-night socials or suppers during these years.

Albany, home to a large Irish population, was the scene of a Hallowe’en Carnival that was an attraction to many in surrounding towns. With frequent local rail service, in 1905, Altamont “furnished its full quota of visitors to the Hallowe’en Carnival in Albany Monday and Tuesday,” The Enterprise reported.

This was not the only part of town represented there, and surely observers must have returned with ideas for future Hallowe’ens here in town.

During this time, private Hallowe’en parties given in Guilderland were beginning to be mentioned in Enterprise columns. One was at the McKownville home of William J. Knoles in 1906 when guests arrived “each arrayed in costumes representing the spirit of Hallowe’en.

Jack-o’-lanterns and pumpkins decorated the house, the first mention of jack-o’-lanterns in Guilderland. Masks or costumes were noted in two other party descriptions. However, in general, if there were other Hallowe’en activities, they weren’t noted in the local columns of the paper.

Mischief abounds

Hallowe’en’s other aspect was pranks and mischief, and at least some of Guilderland’s youth really took to that.

At different times during this decade, there was a complaint from Guilderland Center, relief from State Road near Parkers Corners that “that the young people … enjoyed themselves visiting the neighbors, but did no damage,” a comment from Fullers that Hallowe’en had come “with its usual gaieties and mischief” and word from Altamont that the boys should mind that their pranks are “amenable to law.”

It was obvious to Altamont residents one Nov. 1 that the “spooks and goblins had been out in force” the night before. Probably because in Altamont many homes and businesses were clustered closer together than in other parts of town, that’s where the most mischief seemed to have taken place.

With the coming of the decade of the teens, Hallowe’en had really begun to catch on with children becoming increasingly involved in Hallowe’en activities. A party at Guilderland Center’s cobblestone school for the “scholars” was given by their teacher, but this may have been an unusual event as school parties were almost never mentioned at this time.

A Meadowdale girl’s birthday party had a Hallowe’en flavor with decoration of witches and broomsticks. Girls who were members of the Altamont Reformed Church’s Laurel Band really got into the spirit with a party featuring jack-o’-lanterns, witches, black cats, ghosts, shrieks and groans, a skeleton, and a chamber of horrors.

Probably some adults had as much fun putting that together as the girls did being frightened. Another party brought out children dressed in many funny costumes, playing games and enjoying pranks.

There was growing popularity for adults to attend private parties, often featuring Hallowe’en decorations, costumes, games, and “stunts.” In the hamlet of Guilderland one year, parties were “numerous” with “groups of masked revelers everywhere on the street.”

Social Clubs such as the Fortnightly Club of Parkers Corners or Altamont’s Colony Club used Hallowe’en themes for meetings or parties. Hallowe’en events continued to be sponsored by churches.

Parkers Corners Methodist Church’s Social offered a seer to read fortunes and the opportunity to have your photo taken, probably for people in costume while, in McKownville, the Methodists were offering a prize for the best costume.

The evening’s activities now went beyond private parties and involved the wider community. Altamont’s children were on the streets “costumed as ghosts, spirits, elves, clowns, and various other characters.” This was very likely true in other parts of Guilderland as well.

Pranks continued to the delight of the older boys and to the aggravation of the adults. In 1910, the Altamont Village Board appointed Frank St. John as Police Officer just before Hallowe’en, using the occasion to warn the pranksters that “wanton injury to property or cruelty to dumb animals” would not be tolerated.

On more than one occasion during those years, pranksters entered the Settles Hill one-room school and created messy disorder.

The roaring ’20s

With the arrival of the roaring ’20s, Guilderland folks really got into the spirit of the holiday. Events, whether private or church-sponsored, seemed to have become more elaborate with masquerade encouraged by having prizes for the funniest or the best or prettiest or most comical costumes.

With the popularity of Halloween dances growing, there was a 1929 Mardi Gras affair (yes, it was for Hallowe’en) featuring dancing to the Castle Club Orchestra and prizes for the best costumes at Altamont’s Masonic Hall.

Children had more activities to choose from. Fullers children enjoyed a party at their one-room school, but there’s no way of telling if it was a one-time event or if children were having parties in school as a regular thing. In those one-room schools, much depended on the individual teacher.

Over 100 costumed members of Altamont’s Lutheran Sunday School were treated to a supper at the church followed by stunts such as whistling “Yankee Doodle” after eating a dry cracker. The party-goers ducked for apples and pinned the tail on the donkey.

Girls in the Laurel Band dressed as “rubes,” ghosts, witches, Indians, gypsies, and even “vamps.” Children were mentioned going door-to-door in Altamont.

The pranks!

Then the pranks! A 1920 front-page news story carried a report to Altamont taxpayers from the school board.

“On the night of October 30th last the Altamont High School building was forcibly entered and certain depredations committed to the indignation and disgust of our taxpayers. The Board was shocked by the deplorable conditions they found.”

The names of the young men were discovered and apparently the leniency of the board toward the perpetrators caused much community anger. Justifying themselves, the board members claimed, since no material damage had been done, they hesitated to bring public disgrace on the boys, and no apology was required. Might these have been the sons of some of the most prominent people in the village?

Hallowe’ens of the 1930s began with the most famous of the Altamont pranks, still talked about more than 80 years later! The boys removed half of a hundred shutters from houses along Main Street, mixed them, and then lined them up around the fence of the village park.

Part of an auto body was resting in the bandstand, while on the roof of a refreshment stand behind the A&P, a wagon was perched. Soap decorations were on many a window.

Sadly, someone’s fence was taken down and broken up. Surely pranks were taking place all over town, but the village seemed to have had the worst problem.

An exasperated taxpayer, addressing an anonymous letter published in The Enterprise to Mayor Martin in 1934 demanded that something be done about the older boys and the damage they do on Hallowe’en.

By the mid-1930s, an attempt was made in Altamont to defuse the situation by having Hallowe’en parties at school. “There were spooks and hobgoblins in the children’s annual observation of Hallowe’en,” the paper reported.

In the classrooms, there was ducking for apples, pinning the tail on the donkey, and fortune-telling. The whole idea was, if children celebrated in “a quiet way” in school, they will be taught the lesson of respect for other people’s property.

That was apparently the inspiration for those classroom parties we all remember. Whether classroom parties ended the mischief is another question!

Adult parties and socials continued to be scheduled, but for a change there were commercial venues such as the Air-O Dance Hall, which had opened in 1930, where a Masquerade Dance with prizes and novelties and music by the Five Aces was scheduled for Hallowe’en that year.

War dampens Merriment

The coming of the war in 1941 put the damper on Hallowe’en festivities, except for children, and resumed slowly after the war’s end.

In 1949, the Altamont Kiwanis Club began the tradition of community groups becoming involved in providing Halloween activities with a party, inviting all children to the Masonic Hall, beginning with a parade originating in the village park led by Altamont’s fire trucks and the Altamont High School band.

Children received noisemakers and at the hall there were prizes, refreshments, and, for the older children,  movies at 9 p.m. It was a smashing success with 100 or more children taking part and the scene of overexcited children with noisemakers at the hall was described in the next week’s paper as “bedlam.”

Within two years, the Guilderland Center Civil Club and Guilderland Center Fire Department also began the tradition of an annual Halloween party.

However, the 1950s brought us the Halloween we remember and remains today. In 1950, the words “trick or treat” came into use.

A Disney Hallowe’en cartoon about Uncle Donald Duck’s three nephews — Huey, Louie, and Dewey — was called “Trick or Treat,” supposedly the origin of the familiar Hallowe’en demand.

Also at that time, candy manufacturers began Hallowe’en advertising in a big way and with that, modern Hallowe’en had come to Guilderland and all of America.


Approximately seven-and-one-half billion people wake up on a Tuesday morning but The Old Men of the Mountain know where about 45 OFs wake up on a Tuesday morning. It’s a little pinprick on the planet’s surface in one of the prettiest places the planet has to offer.

On this particular Tuesday morning, Oct. 8, some of these OFs woke up and headed to the Duanesburg Diner in Duanesburg to have breakfast.

One particular OF complained that the chairs were too heavy and they should have rollers on their legs. It is not that the chairs are too heavy, it is the OFs are getting so weak, i.e., to many of the OFs, five pounds is now 25 pounds. Other OFs chimed in on this and the waitress took this grumbling very well, in the nature it was intended, and she knew it.

The OFs didn’t care whether the chairs were five pounds or 50; they were just commenting on something, anything to pick up on what one OF said.

Then one OF said, “These coffee cups are too small.”

Yeah right! In fact, they are just like any other cup. The OF just wanted to add to the discussion, only this time the waitress was ready for him.

She said, “If they are too small, next time bring your own cup; we will fill it for you.”

Now the OF should remember this and the next time we are at the Duanesburg Diner he should bring his own cup.

The waitresses are as much fun as the OMOTM.

Get your flu shot

It is time to get your flu shots, and some of the OFs have already gotten theirs. One thing we should take seriously is that young children, and the elderly don’t want to do is get the flu.

The ability for these groups to fight off the effects of the flu is not like some 25-year-old. The OFs do give advice, as was said before, but this particular advice is surely good to follow.

Take it from the OMOTM who have had some suffering with the flu. They speak from experience.


One OF, who is on his computer a lot, came into the breakfast and announced that the OF with the pirate ship and skeleton crew were on the internet. It seems some passer-by took pictures of ship and crew and posted them on the net.

The OF who has this display already has people stopping and taking pictures — now he is afraid he will have more. This OF said he is going to put out parking meters. Not a bad idea.

Frustrating phone menus

Quite often, there are ads on television that depict something of interest, or it may be an ad in the paper. On television generally it shows a room full of people answering the phone.

The OFs say this is classic false advertising. The OFs say there really is only one guy in a closet with a couple of phones, a can of Blue Ribbon beer and wearing worn-out sneakers and no socks, answering only a few calls a day because no one can understand the menu to get through to whatever company it is.

One OF said he feels some of the biggest offenders are doctor’s offices and insurance companies.

Another OF said all he wants to do is ask a simple question. An example would be: If he wants to change A to B (regarding his insurance,) how should he go about doing that?

The OFs say he is given a litany of departments, each with its own number, none of which are relevant to what he is after. This scribe could go on with all the “if you want this, press 1, if you want that, press 2, etc.” but it would fill up the column, and the OF said none of the selections apply to what the ads either print, or television portrays.

Still another OF said one time he was talking to his doctor about these frustrating telephone menus and the doctor told him he hates to call his place because the menu doesn’t help at all.

The doctor went on to explain, “After I select what I think is right, it turns out it is wrong. I have trouble calling myself,” he said.

Flushing out a new topic

The OFs began talking about a subject they are all familiar with (and, as the OFs get older and older, they become even more familiar with) and that is toilets. This topic did approach the OFs conversation and the OFs were not discussing their use, but their function and how they are changing.

Their change is only physical. The process of power and vapor trap has not changed since the 1500s. The idea of the toilets has not changed since the construction of the Roman Coliseum which was started in 70 AD. 

“Now,” the OFs said, “We have a choice.” The toilets are either high or low, loud with a swoosh, or quiet, even ones that have electronic eyes that know when you’re on and off, or in front and leave and then they flush themselves.

One OF said many newly constructed buildings install the high ones. But, as technology advances, there are now the electric ones that turn everything to ash.

Now, that one has nothing to do with Rome and the Coliseum.  And to think that the wives believe we have nothing remarkable to talk about.

Those OFs who were at the Duanesburg Diner in Duanesburg and would like to go back to the days when the phone operators picked up the phone and all the OF had to say was, “Doc Walker please,” and the next thing you know you were talking to Doc Walker, or the phone operator would say he was out getting his hair cut, were: Roger Chapman, George Washburn, Robie Osterman, Miner Stevens, Wally Guest, Harold Guest, John Rossmann, Pete Whitbeck, Chuck Aelesio, Richard Frank, Karl Remmers, Joe Rack, Roger Shafer, Wayne Gaul, Jake Lederman, Ted Feurer, Lou Schenck, Mace Porter, Jack Norray, Rev. Jay Francis, Mike Willsey, Warren Willsey, Russ Pokorny, Gerry Chartier, Elwood Vanderbilt, Harold Grippen, and me.


The other day, my lovely wife and I were walking through a big-box store and I spotted a large box of mandarin oranges in individually wrapped serving cups. Great, I thought — a healthy snack I could easily take to work.

Eating something like that as opposed to junk food like doughnuts or cookies would be super, a sign that I was finally starting to take care of myself.

As I happily placed the box in the cart, my wife, who is not only beautiful but excellent in math (talk about winning the gene pool) said: “You know, you could just buy a big can of mandarin oranges and take some to work in a Tupperware container and it would be a lot less per serving than this.” Foiled again!

Still, I was so happy I’d even had the thought of getting some healthy snacks that I bought them anyway. When you’re in the mood to do something good for yourself, you have to strike while the iron is hot, lest the thought comes and goes, never to appear again (those doughnuts that are always on the table at work do look appealing, I have to admit).

So now I’m at work and I decide to partake of some mandarin oranges to see what healthy snacking is like. I place the little plastic cup on my desk and, while holding it with my left hand, use my right hand to peel back the plastic cover.

As I do that, in a split second, fruit juice spews out, I’m not kidding, two feet from that cup, all over my dress shirt, pants, desk, and chair. I literally sat there with my jaw dropped — I mean, this was not a can of Pepsi that had been shaken.

This was a small cup of mandarin oranges in fruit juice. Who would have had any idea that these were under some kind of pressure?

My hands became all sticky as I used a wad of tissues in a clumsy attempt to clean myself up. What made it even worse was I had to speak in front of a large group that day, and now my nice blue dress shirt was spotted with fruit juice. Unbelievable.

I had glanced at the box before I opened this cup. Nowhere on the box or on the cup itself is there any warning that something like this might happen, which I find appalling.

Think about it — I was only sitting at a desk when I opened the stupid cup and got blasted with fruit juice. Some folks, however, are so busy in life that they are forced to eat while driving. Can you imagine going down the road at 65 miles per hour, opening one of these fruit cups, and then getting sprayed in the face with juice? I don’t even want to contemplate that because it’s potentially so bad.

Here’s another thing: On the box, they show the cup filled with delicious looking, peeled orange slices, overflowing out of a cup. How good that picture looked is why I bought the oranges in the first place.

But guess what? In reality, there is a lot of juice in the cup, and the slices that are there are very small. What a joke.

That’s like when you buy a low-calorie or diet ice cream snack. On the box, it looks mouth-wateringly good. Then you open the package and you realize the only reason it’s diet or low calorie is because it’s super tiny. Heck, if I wanted that, I’d just buy Ben & Jerry’s and only eat two bites (more like try to eat only two bites; good luck with that).

So I called the company and they apologized and agreed to send me a refund. Then I suppose I could take the rest of them back to the warehouse store and get a double refund, buy why bother.

Nothing is going to make up for the fact that I had to stand in front of a large group of people and speak while wearing a shirt spotted with fruit juice. Oh man, that was rough. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not about style or fashion in any way, but I at least try to be clean and neat.

When I told this story to a friend, she told me she was familiar with this product. She said the “trick” is to position the cup such that the air pocket is pointing up at the place where you pull the seal before opening the cup.

The thought is that these are vacuum sealed, and by placing the air pocket up you can negate any back pressure. That may or may not be true, but why should you even need a tip to open a cup of oranges?

And even if the tip works, which it didn’t — I tried it over a sink and juice still spilled out onto my hand — anything like specific opening instructions or warnings most certainly should be printed on the box or on each individual cup.

If you want to, you can go crazy and spend your entire day complaining about things like this, calling companies to vent and getting coupons and refunds in return. I’ve had large plastic jugs of pretzels with the lid screwed on so tight I needed pliers to open it; bags of chips half empty and with many of them crushed already; yogurt with that liquid on top and very little fruit on the bottom; and on and on and on like that.

The good thing about when you call is then they get feedback and possibly change the product or packaging so hopefully the problem is corrected. But, if you have any kind of a life, and I sincerely hope you do, there has to be a better way to spend your time.

If I had just listened to my wife, I would have bought a large can of mandarin oranges like she said, opened it with no drama, drained it, and then doled out little portions every day in small reusable containers and been done with it.

Better for the environment — no single-use plastic to toss out every day — and cheaper, too. I just wanted, for once, to do something on my own that was really good for me.

Oh well, I’ve known for a long time that she’s always right anyway, and this just proves it yet again. Now I just need to learn to listen to her when she tells me something. We’ll have to wait and see how that goes.


— Photo by Mike Nardacci

Commemorating James and Guildford Otto who died in the Civil War, this severely weathered marble monument stands on a sunny hillside in the Town of Rose Cemetery and has always saddened the Nardacci family.

— Photo by Mike Nardacci

The impressive, near-pristine Briggs family monument, carved from gray granite still shows high polish after more than 100 years of exposure to weathering in the Town of Rose Cemetery.

— Photo by Mike Nardacci

Many marble headstones in Knox’s High Point Cemetery, with its elegant gateway, are still legible, due largely to the cemetery’s dry, sunny location.

— Photo by Mike Nardacci

Toppled stones gathered in a humid, shady portion of High Point Cemetery are heavily weathered, their inscriptions largely erased.

— Photo by Mike Nardacci

The Reidsville Cemetery with its wrought-iron gate seems the quintessential Helderberg burying ground.

— Photo by Mike Nardacci

The towering evergreens of the Reidsville Cemetery create a dark, humid environment conducive to many agents of weathering, destructive even to very hard rock such as granite.

Someone once described the goldenrod that seems ubiquitous this autumn as “quill pens signing summer’s eviction notice.”  Whether it was the blooming of goldenrod or some other harbinger of summer’s end that inspired the autumnal imagery of his classic, melancholy “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard,” English poet Thomas Gray wandered through a rural cemetery “Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife” and in the evocative silence brooded over the lives of the souls interred there.

From their names and fleeting scraps of information carved on their tombstones, Gray inferred details of their triumphs and tragedies, their loves and losses, and their aspirations and failures, now marveling at the longevity of some or mourning the brevity of the lives of others. He read more into the moss-encrusted stones than most observers would — or would care to.

But it is a little-known fact that, to generations of geology professors, country cemeteries have frequently served as outdoor laboratories for the demonstration of many aspects of the cycles of weathering and erosion.

These are points that can, of course, be easily made using a textbook with its graphs and photographs.  But geology — perhaps more so than any of the other natural sciences except for biology — is best taught as a field science.

This is a fact that I can personally attest to from memorable courses I have taken at Acadia National Park, the Grand Canyon, Mammoth Cave, and other venues in which the complexities of the effects of mineral content, climate, exposure, and age on the weather-erosion cycle are clearly displayed.

And in a number of those courses, the professors packed students into vans and shuttled us off to old country cemeteries in which whatever geologic principle being taught was clearly and sometimes dramatically displayed.

The idea for this article came to me on a hot day in late August during a visit to the Town of Rose Cemetery in western New York in which some of my mother’s ancestors are buried. The cemetery sits on the slope of a drumlin, a glacially-deposited hill that is one of hundreds scattered across much of western New York and the Northeast. 

Drumlins and related glacially-formed hills called kames have frequently served as the locations of cemeteries, partially because their elevation above the surrounding landscape has symbolic meanings, but also because their composition of an unconsolidated mixture of soils and rocks makes them well-drained — ideal for burials.

One thinks of the high and windy hill that is the site of the Grover’s Corners cemetery in the melancholy third act of Thornton Wilder’s classic play “Our Town.”

Perhaps it is partly the inevitable association of cemeteries with Halloween that evokes their solemn atmosphere, and in this one even on a bright late-summer day there was a particular monument that has always saddened our family.

It stands a little over five feet tall and is carved from white Vermont marble, a very ancient rock formed during the Ordovician Period, some 450 million years ago, during the event known as the Taconian Orogeny.

The ancient ocean known as the Iapetus that lay off what is now the east coast of the United States was beginning to close as the process known as plate tectonics brought small land masses into collision with it, pushing up mountains and forming marble through metamorphism of pre-existing limestone.

Next to the monument, a bronze receptacle holds a flag, indicating that two of the dead memorialized here — my mother’s great uncles — died in the Civil War. The young men were inspired by the powerful words of  “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” — “As [Jesus] died to make men holy/Let us die to make men free.”

Their tombstone records that one of them named James Otto starved to death and was buried in Andersonville, the infamous Confederate prison in Georgia; the other, his brother Guilford, is actually interred here.  He and a fellow soldier were murdered by a Pennsylvania farmer with pro-slavery sympathies when they were sent to him purchase horses for the troops.

The memorial must have been splendid when it was erected around 1865. Today, the graven inscriptions recording the young men’s sacrifices have become difficult to read. In a decade or two, the inscription will be obliterated and it will stand as do so many other old marble headstones and monuments, their honored dead anonymous.

Marble is a very hard, dense rock that resists the absorption of water from rain or melting snow and therefore does not easily break down due to freezing and subsequent thawing in the process known as physical weathering; however, marble is composed of calcium carbonate, and as any high school chemistry student knows, calcium carbonate dissolves in acid.

Falling rain and fog pick up minute amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, producing a mild solution of carbonic acid. Ordinarily, carbonic acid of this strength is harmless to plants and animals but over many years it will slowly but relentlessly dissolve any calcium carbonate surface in a process known as chemical weathering.

Consequently, given that the monument was erected in Rose Cemetery over 150 years ago, it is surprising that the inscriptions are legible at all. But their saving grace has been the fact that the monument is situated on an open slope facing south, which means they are exposed to sunlight virtually all day when the sun is not obscured by clouds.

This results in the constant warming and drying of the surface, preventing its rapid dissolution and largely preventing growth of lichens and moss — the same factor that causes them to grow mainly on the north side of trees. They secrete small amounts of natural acids that in a damper, more sheltered environment can wreak havoc on organic or mineral surfaces — such as marble headstones.

Farther up the slope is another monument marking the graves of some other ancestors — in this case, my mother’s great-grandparents, whose surname was Briggs.

It was carved from gray granite, an igneous rock brought perhaps from New Hampshire or Maine and formed during the Devonian Period, in an event known as the Acadian Orogeny, some 380 million years ago; at that time, an ancient landmass known as Avalon — which would eventually become Europe — was subducting under North America and creating massive amounts of igneous rock through explosive volcanic action.

The monument stands over five feet tall and its rectangular base holds a massive sphere, an unusual design in this relatively modest graveyard. But although it, too, is over 100 years old, from its appearance one might think it had been placed there last week.

The sphere and the sides of the monument were highly polished and on a sunny day the reflection from the sphere can be blinding. Granite’s two major constituents are visible crystals of feldspar and quartz, both of which are capable of appearing in a spectrum of colors, though varying shades of pink and gray are most common.

The important fact is that neither of these minerals is easily susceptible to chemical weathering and given the extreme hardness and density of the stone and its openness to sunlight, even after a century the monument looks as fresh as if it had been erected very recently.

Almost all of the older headstones and monuments in the Rose Cemetery are carved from either marble or granite and their presence tells another story. Neither of these stones is found locally near the Rose Cemetery; they must have been imported from out of state and their inscriptions carved painstakingly by hand — which bespeaks the affluence of many of the cemetery’s silent residents and their families.

Contrast this one with many of the mossy pioneer cemeteries scattered throughout the Helderbergs in which many of the headstones of the hard-working people buried there were carved either from the native limestone or the local somewhat porous sandstone — both dating from the Devonian Period — and observe how the names of the deceased and their memorial inscriptions have largely vanished.

However, the High Point Cemetery above Altamont on Old West Road with its elegant entrance gate and meticulously-constructed stone wall is another example of a southerly-facing country graveyard in which both marble and limestone monuments a century or more old are still well-preserved.

Many of these stones are carved from marble but they face the southwest, and the view across Old West Road to a wide field is unobstructed by trees; consequently, the stones are dried and warmed from sunrise to sunset on days when the sky is not mostly overcast.

Many of the headstones are on a gentle slope and apparently were never set into concrete bases, and as a result they show the tilting common among monuments in older cemeteries caused by the slow, steady downward movement of the ground known as soil creep.

Frequently, in older cemeteries, this can cause the stones to topple, but High Point Cemetery is obviously lovingly maintained, its grass trimmed and even its very old headstones mostly upright. 

However, a collection of toppled, heavily-weathered markers in the shaded rear of the cemetery has been set aside against the old stone wall, their inscriptions mostly vanished along with record of the deceased they were intended to memorialize.

And, in a few cases, small, closely-spaced, rough-cut markers without inscriptions — harvested, perhaps, from tilled fields or pulled from stone walls — tell sad stories of deceased infants.

Shade can help to speed the forces of weathering and erosion in a humid, changeable climate such as ours — and a prime example is the venerable old cemetery near Reidsville.

With its ancient, very tall balsams and spruces, the cemetery is situated behind an evocative, slightly rusted cast-iron fence — the stereotypical locale for a Gothic ghost story. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Reidsville was a village with a population of over a thousand.

Largely due to the quarrying activities that supplied the attractive sandstone known as Helderberg bluestone to many localities in the Albany area, the village grew, at one time boasting a hotel, a popular tavern, two churches, two retail stores, and a blacksmith shop — traces of which have largely disappeared.

The quality of the granite and marble stone monuments in the cemetery is once again evidence of the relative affluence of its occupants. Yet, although the majority of the headstones face east and could therefore be expected to get drying sunlight at least in the morning, the immense trees cast much of the cemetery into shadow and their thick boughs steadily drip moisture from rain and melting snow.

Some of the trees show the growth of the lichen commonly known as “Old Man’s Beard,” which resembles Spanish moss and flourishes in very humid boreal forests, especially those near great bodies of water such as the Acadian Coast of Maine and Canada. The damp, pitted ground surrounding many of the old headstones is deep with mosses, which do not flourish in sunlight.

As a result, even some once-stately granite monuments show evidence of heavy chemical weathering and are stained by dark lichens.  The contrast between them and some equally old, much-less-weathered stones in the more open rear sections of the cemetery is sharp.

And especially on a gloomy autumn day, the scene epitomizes Thomas Gray’s lines:

“Beneath those rugged elms, 

   that yew-tree’s shade

Where heaves the turf

   in many a mould’ring heap’

Each in his narrow cell

   forever laid,

The rude forefathers

   of the hamlet sleep.”

(In Gray’s time, the word “rude” had nothing to do with manners but rather denoted “unsophisticated.”)

In recent decades, upright stone grave markers have largely gone out of fashion due to the great expense of preparing them and in many newer areas of cemeteries they are prohibited, replaced by bronze markers which lie flat upon the ground.

An alloy of copper and other metals, bronze tends to resist chemical dissolution although after decades of exposure to moisture it may weather to a dull shade of green like a copper penny. But being at ground level, if not carefully maintained, these markers can soon be covered by grasses and weeds, hiding their inscriptions as surely as if they had been dissolved away.

A walk through a cemetery, especially one with familiar names on the memorials, may bespeak many aspects of the history of a town and its inhabitants along with many other profound thoughts that cemeteries are supposed to bring.

But a close examination of its location, the composition of its monuments and their condition reveals much about its geologic history as well: accounts of continental collisions, ancient rock changing through metamorphism, new rock forming from violent volcanic eruptions, and the much more recent passage of the great ice sheets. In all — a veritable textbook of geology.


Here we go again. It seems like this scribe just sent this article to the paper. However, it is Oct. 1 as I write this and the year is flying by. The Old Men of the Mountain met at the Your Way Café and we are ready for a weather report on this particular Tuesday.

The early arrivals (there are quite a few OMOTM who have things to do and they do arrive early) traveled in the dark and driving rain, with fog on the mountain thrown in for good measure. What fun! Even so the Your Way Café was there as a beacon with its lights on, coffee brewing, and the staff ready. That eliminates the weather and turns it into a good morning.

It is strange how conversations morph from one subject to another within a single topic. This exchange started out with TV shows; one of the shows was “American Pickers.”

Many of the OFs like this show because they have much of what the pickers are looking for right in their garages and barns. One OF said his whole house was furnished in what the pickers are looking for.

Then it quickly led to what must be an OF trait — the observation of the props used in many TV shows. This began as a discussion of Adirondack chairs and what is a true Adirondack chair and what are similar but not true Adirondack chairs.

This discussion then somehow worked into a discussion on Korean and World War II vehicles — especially the jeeps.

One OF said that the Korean War used World War II jeeps, and another OF who was in the Korean War raised an objection, saying they didn’t use World War II jeeps in Korea; the jeeps he drove were newer.

This OF even had a picture to prove it. The Korean War was from about June 1950 until 1953. The jeep was already modified by that time and called the CJ 5 and, when the Korean War broke out, they just used the same vehicle, calling it the MB38 and these vehicles were then all painted olive green and sent overseas.

Proving who you are

Again, conversation was about getting the enhanced license and one OF asked what he needed at the Department of Motor Vehicles to get an enhanced license. The reply from many of the OFs was to bring everything, including the name of the boat your mother and father came over on.

The OF replied, “Will the Mayflower do?”

The OF said he does have a passport (not much help here). All that will do is allow the OF to use that instead of a birth certificate. This OF still needs all that other stuff.

One OF said he bets they will still send him home for something. This OF thinks it is a contest between the staff at DMV as to who can send the most people back to bring in more information in a single day.

Hints on downsizing

This scribe does not know the reason for the frequent discussions on downsizing. Maybe it is the snowbirds leaving the nest to warmer climes at this time of year. The OMOTM had another OF at the breakfast Tuesday morning shaking hands and commenting he “will see ya next year.”

This time, the downsizing was on what to do with items you don’t want, the kids don’t want, and friends and neighbors don’t want. One OF suggested Craigslist.

This OF started telling of items he has put on Craigslist and how fast they sold. Some of the OFs who are not that computer savvy wondered how that worked because they have tons of stuff to get rid of and some of it is in pretty good condition.

One OF said he isn’t going to get rid of anything. He is going to leave all his possessions for his kids to hassle out. This OF said he still is using most of these things and rarely purchases anything that he isn’t going to use.

The OF who uses Craigslist says he has sold some pretty big-ticket items and has had friends who have done the same. One friend of the OF sold almost a house full of furniture in 43 minutes. Hmmmm.

Another OF mentioned that there were other online sites available that it was possible to sell items on but he didn’t know how any of them worked.

Another OF said, “Do they take anything? I would like to put the ole lady up for sale and I wouldn’t ask much either; heck, I would even deliver her for free.”

Hard work

The OFs, as a rule, at each breakfast discuss work; we have said this many times. This time, the talk was about what work was the worst job that most of the OFs who were farmers had, but were glad to leave. 

Those jobs were hooking up the stone boat to a couple of horses and then going to pick rocks. That was the hardest work for man and beast on the farm, the OFs thought.

Rocks in the field do not need any seeds — they just come up year after year. Gathering them up and taking them to the hedgerow, or the rock pile, was back-breaking work, and the horses didn’t like it either.

Dropping the hook of the chain on the stone boat into the whiffletree would make the horses turn their heads and give you the dirtiest look ever because they knew what was coming.

However, one OF mentioned that he would rather pick stones than mow hay away in the barn on a hot, humid day.

Those OFs who drifted back into their younger, more robust days, when they didn’t go to bed hurting, but now go to bed with tons of hurts and then wake up in the morning with the same hurts, were glad to shed some of those hurts for a little while at the Your Way Café in Schoharie, and those OFs were: Roger Chapman, Bill Lichliter, Robie Osterman, George Washburn, John Rossmann, Bob Benac, Harold Guest, Wally Guest, Jamie Dairah, Richard Frank, Chuck Aelesio, Joe Rack, Glenn Patterson, Mark Traver, Otis Lawyer, Rick LaGrange, Ken Parks, Karl Remmers, Pete Whitbeck, Lou Schenck, Herb Bahrmann, Mace Porter, Jack Norray, Marty Herzog, Mike Willsey, Joel Willsey, John Dabrvalskas, and me.


— Photo by Dennis Sullivan

Teens at the East Greenbush Community Library welcomed spring with this artwork.

In a dozen different ways I heard people say, after Hurricane Dorian visited death upon the Bahamas, “I can’t imagine what that’s like.”

Of course I, too, was deeply concerned about the devastated souls there, but my thoughts turned to the imagination. Did those people mean that the suffering they saw was so great that their imagination couldn’t take it all in? Were they saying the imagination had limits?

Sometimes when people say they can’t imagine something, they are speaking figuratively but I think what folks were saying about the Bahamas is that they lacked the means to project themselves into the shoes of another.

Again, were they saying the imagination has a ceiling? What are its powers? And what is its purpose in life?

Google “imagination” on Wikipedia and you’ll find a dozen reference works that expound on imagination from a variety of angles — cognitive, poetic, psychological, economic, and political — but that list might be my gloss on the text.

If I had to define “imagination” this very moment, I’d say the mind has an ability to make images, or to combine images that previously appeared and were lying dormant until called upon. Like soldiers in the reserves.

But there are times when images crop up on their own and parade themselves before the mind’s eye — the oculus mentis as the Roman writer Cicero called it. A man can be sitting under the shade of a tree taking in the summer breeze and all of a sudden images of his grandfather appear and start running across his mind like the frames of a movie.

When I taught school years ago, I used to ask students where the imagination resides and they struggled to come up with an answer; they had a hard time placing consciousness too. The question was: Does our awareness of our self in relation to that self, and in relation to other selves, have a locality?

Whatever your answer is, we need to keep in mind that the imagination is a tool of consciousness put into play when we feel a need for a new conceptual world view — to remedy something that’s missing from our lives. The imagination is the daughter of scarcity.

That is, the imagination arose, developed, and continues to exist, because homo sapiens needed a tool to invent, reinvent, capture, project, introject, images to help people meet their needs. In this sense, the imagination is related to dream. When John Lennon chanted his peroration “Imagine,” he was asking the human community: What is keeping us from treating another’s needs as our own?

Historically, the Roman Catholic Church responded to this question with a “mystical body,” a paradigm that says the imagination is an agent of utopia, an envisioner of a world in which the needs of all are met, structurally. Nobody’s left out, they say, according to the gospel of Jesus.

Such a view is an antidote to the static and ill-will people generate when they minimize or dismiss the needs of others. Some do it with insolence and go nuts when they hear the word “utopia.” They flush it from consciousness like a bug pestering their wits while calling the bug a “nut job.”

But nut-job language is a smoke screen; it reflects a deep deep fear of the depths of one’s soul.

Walt Disney — the Walt of Mickey Mouse — demonstrated his utopia by creating animals, people, worlds, and fantasies and then — across the vast multi-acre venues he built — showcased the lives of those animals and people with life-scripts he wrote for them.

When the maestro launched his famed Fantasyland in the summer of 1955, he told those who gathered there that this was his “world of imagination,” a world where “hopes and dreams” come true.

Sounding like a poet, he spoke of a timeless land of enchantment, a land “of chivalry [where] magic and make-believe are reborn and fairy tales come true.”

But he let the crowd know that this land is accessible only to “the young at heart — to those who believe that, when you wish upon a star, your dreams come true.”

What a sales pitch! Imagine: not living on a star but just wishing on it, and you wind up in the lap of eternity.

Keep in mind that Disney — and utopianists of his ilk — let his imagination take him where it had to go; or maybe he needed to go somewhere and called upon it to bail him out. How else could he meet Snow White, Peter Pan, Pinocchio, and the ever-endearing Thumper?

As a scholar of the human condition, I’ve been long interested in the imagination’s ability to allow a person to project its self (consciousness) into the life-circumstances (consciousness) of another, and feel sympathy for that other. Ethicists say that, when a soul gets good at this, it finally has a moral compass.

A lot of people know the Adam Smith who penned “Wealth of Nations ”— a core capitalist manifesto — but earlier in life Smith showed interest in the imagination’s ability to help one person connect with another through feelings of sympathy, what today we’d call empathy.

In “The Theory of Moral Sentiments,” he said such a process is radically transformative — I see no other way to read the text.

One wonders how the Smith of a nationally-sanctioned-private-wealth-production ideology squares with the Smith of empathy, his version of a mystical body, that there’s only one boat.

Utopia is a world, a country, and local communities where people treat the least as the richest among them. In a somewhat oblique way, that’s what the radical American documents of the 1770s were reaching for.

Some of the 2020 candidates for the presidency of the United States seem to reaching for the same thing. It’s certainly a far cry from a political economy where one person can drive another in the ground and live unimpeded.

Some say the driven-down deserve such treatment because they’re losers, lazy, dumb, and lacking pedigree. Maybe they’re a Mexican working in a cement plant breathing in deadly dust or a dark-skinned fellow wearing a dastaar in the front seat of a cab.

The Walt Disney in me says hogwash to those who deny that human worth is based in need — not age or gender or race or any other demographic accident: but need — and that all quid pro quo economies are non compos mentis.

Never mind $15 an hour; let’s put everyone down for a $100,000 a year (including students), and let’s provide everyone with a modest shelter of choice, and let’s guarantee the means to stay alive (health) without imposing tariffs.

Of course in such a society there’s paperwork, there are conflicting differences, and cheaters of ill repute, and those who’ll pull the wool over the eyes of a child for a measly sawbuck.

But, in the world of Walt Disney, the world of a world he brought into being, at least everyone says: I know how you feel. And lots of them do something about it.

Or is that a dream too hard to imagine?


Ah yes, it is another Tuesday and the Old Men of the Mountain met at the Country Café in Schoharie. This Tuesday, Sept. 24, the OMOTM formed in front of the Country Café to partake of their first cups of coffee of the day.

While standing there, the OFs noticed how festive the front of the café was decorated for fall. They looked up and down Main Street and saw that the decorations seemed to say, “Come in and have some hot cider and a couple of cider doughnuts.”

One OF mentioned that each season has its own particular smell. The air was crisp, and the straw bales in front of the restaurant enhanced the early smell of fall and the barn.

Unfinished work

Some of the OFs have some construction projects going on, and they would like to have them completed before winter’s winds begin to blow. Thus began a rousing conversation on contractors not showing up after they start a project.

To all OFs who were having work done, the complaint was unanimous. The percentage done on each job was different but all jobs were not finished, and, on one job, the contractor could not even be found.

One OF said there seems to be a universal connection between all the contractors. It seems that they start one job and then go to another in a few days, and maybe even another one after that.

Then, when each one of them is underway, the contractors will come back to you, drive in a few nails and then go on to the next until your job (which was supposed to be done in a few weeks) stretches into next year.

One OF said he thinks it is the little private contractors way of having job security.

Another OF said that he had his kitchen redone, and had the same experiences only the contractor never came back to do the finish work. The OF said he finally finished the work himself and found that the contractor had gone south to work on a big job.

This led to furnace work. One OF asked if any of the OFs knew of anyone who was good at maintaining furnaces.

Some names were thrown out but the OFs didn’t really know any of them personally. They did know some who worked for fuel oil companies but were not able to come up with an independent guy who went around fixing furnaces.

Spectacles needed

Then the OFs got on the scribe who really screwed up the names. The scribe reported one OF as being in attendance and he wasn’t, and he did not report on another OF who was in attendance but not accounted for.

To this scribe’s defense, in a way these two are alike in height and build, and from a distance they could look alike.

After the column was done, this scribe received an email from the one listed as in attendance but he wasn’t there. He was in Texas on a leg of a 4,000-mile motorcycle trip. (See what you can do when you retire young.)

The one who wasn’t there didn’t complain. Apparently, the scribe needs better glasses.

Water wheels

This column mentioned some time back the subject of water wheels as a source of power. For some reason, we began talking about this again.

The reason may be because the working wheel that runs the Caverns Creek Grist Mill, on Caverns Road on the way to Howe Caverns, in Howe Cave, New York, has been closed for some time. The OFs thought this was a shame but, as one OF reported, it is need of extensive repair.

Another OF remembered going to this mill a couple of times and buying a few sacks of cornmeal. You could watch the cornmeal being ground by the stone in the mill.

The stone was run by the water wheel. At those times, this mill was being run by a young couple who were dressed in period garb. The OF thought at that time this had to be a labor of love because they surely were not going to get rich off this operation.

Finding checkpoints

This scribe forgot how this conversation began but it was somehow tying in sports cars and gymkhanas and hikers. The gymkhanas had chec points and trinkets to collect and the hikers were leaving notes in boxes and taking a trinket, then leaving a trinket for someone else.

Somewhere along the line with the hikers, latitude and longitude became part of it. The scribe does not remember if the information was from where the hiker left or not, but this is interesting because it teaches how to use this important information when hiking, or even traveling, especially if the OF is a pilot of a plane.

Many sports cars are open vehicles and, at some of the checkpoints, one of the trinkets to carry would be inflated balloons — maybe four or six tied with a string. The trick is to drive down the road in an open vehicle and keep those things in the car and maintain the legal speed limit.

Keeping peace

The OFs talked about keeping peace in the family, This scribe doesn’t know about this.

This scribe thinks, if the family squabble is really out of whack, don’t come to the OMOTM for advice, get professional help, but the OFs did talk about it.

Oh, and about the lost boat in a previous column? It was found. It broke free from its moorings and the wind had blown it clear across the lake.

Those OFs who were at  the Country Café on Main Street in Schoharie, and how the peace talk of family battles using the OFs’ suggestions might lead to all-out war, were: Rick LaGrange, George Washburn, Miner Stevens, Roger Chapman, Bill Lichliter, Robie Osterman, Roger Shafer, Glenn Patterson, Joe Rack, Mark Traver, Otis Lawyer, Harold Guest, Wally Guest, Pete Whitbeck, Richard Frank, Chuck Aelesio, Bob Benac, Jamey Dairah, Wayne Gaul, Jake Lederman, Ted Feurer, Mike Willsey, Joel Willsey, Elwood Vanderbilt, John Dabrvalskas, Allen DeFazio, Harold Grippen, and me.