Archive » December 2019 » Columns

Another Tuesday, another dose of bad weather; this time though, many Old Men of the Mountain made it to the restaurant.

This time, it was Mrs. K’s Restaurant in Middleburgh for the OMOTM to partake of their annual Christmas party. Patty at Mrs. K’s does it up round with cookies, cakes, and hors d’oeuvres.

The spread is rather lavish and, if an OF fills up on the cheese and crackers, veggie dips, and some kind of little pizza-like thingies (some of these things were pretty spicy), cookies and sweets, they would not have to eat breakfast. However, none of the OFs are so cheap they would pull a stunt like that.

The OFs found the weather to Middleburgh was really lousy, and many schools were closed. This meant the plows did not have to get out early to really clear the roads for the buses or so the OFs thought.

This may not be the case but most of the roads were a mess, and some of the roads the OFs traveled looked like they had not been touched yet. At least by six, seven, or seven-thirty in the morning, they weren’t.

But the OFs are seasoned winter drivers, and if the OFs did not think they were Barney Oldfield when starting out on the snow-covered roads they would arrive at Mrs. K’s in fine fashion.

Glad wishes were then handed out to all the OFs who made it to Mrs. K’s. (Getting home was another matter. This scribe hopes they all arrived home safely. If something happened with car and ditch meeting, most of the OFs are in no condition to push.)

During the holiday season, when friends and families get together, the discussion of the OFs on Tuesday morning was on who is related to whom, and what they are called. Cousins, nephews, first cousins, first cousins once removed, second cousins (some even brought up kissing cousins; this scribe doesn’t know if that counts), and cousins so far convoluted in the family tree do they even count anymore?

None of the OFs could make much sense of it, and the one that might really know was playing the guitar and singing Christmas songs along with other ditties so that he was not part of the conversation. (Two of the OMOTM were adding music to the festivities by playing guitar and bass guitar, which was a touch of the season that was great.)

One of the OFs who has passed on was fondly mentioned. This OMOTM would come to our December breakfasts in a complete Santa outfit, and he did not require a beard. This OF looked and played the part perfectly because that is what he did during the holiday season.

A story told by one OF about this OF who looked like Santa took place on Sanibel Island in Florida. These two OFs and their wives rented a double house together in Florida and were visiting Sanibel Island. While they waited to board a trolley to take them around the island, a little girl ran up to the Santa-looking OMOTM and asked if he were Santa.

Without skipping a beat, this OMOTM squatted down to her level because he was very tall, and he said “Yes sweetheart, I am Santa,” and he put a finger to his mouth, meaning shush, and he continued, “Don’t tell anyone you saw me. I am on vacation from the North Pole, and all the elves are up in the North Pole, busy making presents for next year. So don’t let anyone know I am down here, OK.”

The OF said that the little girl’s eyes lit up, and she went running to her parents, telling them she saw Santa. The parents, with great big smiles, flashed a high sign to the OMOTM who looked like Santa. The spontaneity of the OF’s response indicated to the OF telling the story that this OMOTM had been through this before.

A new kind of

doctor-patient relationship

The OFs have many continuing topics of discussions that include truck, tractors, cars, work, eating habits and food, trips, farms, and many others that are redundant. One that crops up so often that this scribe can almost sense it coming and that is — wait for it — doctors and health.

Many of the OFs have gotten to the point that they know and respectively call their doctors by their first name; they also know the wife or husband and kids of their doctors.

One OF was telling how a friend of his (and he gave his friend’s first name) had just invested in an antique car to fix up. This OF is also interested in antique anything, like many of the OFs, including cars.

As the OF went along with the dialogue, everyone assumed it was either a friend or relative. The banter back and forth and the topic of exchanging car parts led the OFs to think it was a friend.

Not until near the end did the OFs even realize it was the OF’s doctor. That is what one would call getting to know your physician, and why not?

These doctors are people, too, and hobbies and interests break down class and position, and even education. A Rhodes Scholar can play French horn, right alongside your plumber in the local band; the doctor can play the fiddle shoulder-to-shoulder with a good fiddler from the high school band; and both might play together in the local band.

For a miserable winter’s day, with some of the lucky OFs basking in their winter climes, the Old Men of the Mountain who did make it to Mrs. K’s in Middleburgh were goodly in number, and they were: Robie Osterman, George Washburn, John Rossmann, Harold Guest, Wally Guest, Roger Shafer on Guitar, Paul Nelson, Rick LaGrange, John Dabravalskas, Bill Lichliter, Jim Heiser, Glenn Patterson, Joe Rack, Mark Traver, Ken Parks, Otis Lawyer, Marty Herzog, Pastor Jay Francis, Russ Pokorny, Warren Willsey, Mace Porter, Herb Bahrmann, Jack Norray, Lou Schenck, Gerry Irwin on Bass, Elwood Vanderbilt, Fred Crounse, Roger Chapman, Harold Grippen, and me.

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Tuesday, Dec. 10, was a rare day in December. As some of the Old Men of the Mountain began arriving at the Chuck Wagon Diner in Princetown around 6:30 a.m. in the morning, it was dark, warm, and foggy.

The air smelled and felt like spring. A few OFs stood outside of the diner’s door and chatted a bit — soaking it all in before going into the diner. Then stepping into the light and warmth of the diner, they were greeted by the staff and a few patrons, saying good morning, and all starting idle chatter, and the feeling continued. What a great way to start the day.

A spoiler alert: There was a goodly group at the breakfast this Tuesday, unlike last Tuesday when only the brave showed up during the snowstorm. A few of the OFs who were at this breakfast (but not the last one) had to admit they were wrong on their guess of the amount of snow that would fall last week.

These OFs guessed 10 inches would be about it. Wrong!

For many, it was more like 24 inches and a few more inches could even be added for some. These OFs were not plowed out until later in the day, and some were working on snowblowing or plowing their own property out.

Those who made it to Duanesburg came from areas that had a little less snow than those on the mountain, but still it was a great effort for those OMOTM who did their own plowing and the road crews who worked through the night and kept the main roads open.

One OF mentioned that we don’t give enough credit to the workmen and women who are first responders. This includes those who keep our highways open and safe in all kinds of weather; also the power-line crews who are out in all kinds of weather to keep the power flowing for those who are invalids, and trapped in their homes.

These laudable people do their best to keep residents supplied with power no matter what. Many of the OMOTM fall into these categories. A few still are keeping up with these hardy workers while others have performed their duty for years and now age, coupled with health problems, keep them from participating.

Yacht or kayak?

On Tuesday morning, health, again, was one of the topics and how the OFs feel good health is better than money. This scribe has to go along with that wholeheartedly.

This scribe interjected into the conversation that these OFs thinks it is better to be able to travel someplace, or participate in some event on a hundred bucks, than to be able to go around the world with a million bucks and be sick and in the care of nurses. What kind of fun is that? 

One OF commented it depends on how young and good-looking the nurses are. There were a few who agreed with that. These OFs thought they could have a lot of fun on a yacht in the ocean with a couple of nurses.

Once they have seen a tree, they have seen a tree. A tree in East Berne, New York is the same as a tree in Japan, China, Italy, or France. A road with a tractor on it in South Berne, is the same as a road with a tractor on it in England, but on a big yacht, on the ocean, with a couple of young nurses — that is different.

“This OF is missing the point here,” another OF said. “You are sick, you OG, you hurt, you are drugged out, you don’t know what’s going on. There could be 100 nurses, you don’t care, you are sick. You might just as well be on the porch of a nursing home; you are out of it.

“I would rather have a couple-hundred bucks in my pocket headed towards a little cabin in Wells, Maine, in a car that is paid for, with a simple kayak on the roof, than on any big yacht where I have to be pushed in a wheelchair to the bathroom, and then helped into the stall.”

Uh-oh. Most could see where this topic was headed so the subject was quickly changed.

Cost of phones

The OFs then progressed into quite a discussion of cell phones, or iPhones, or whatever they are correctly called. Some of the OFs consider them pocket-sized computers.

It was noticed that some people (and some of the OFs are really into these things and know the ins and outs more than the others) don’t give a hoot; they feel they got along without them before, and they can get along without them now.

That is not completely true in this day and age. Most all the pay phones that used to be at every corner, and banks of them at every Dunkin’ Donuts, are now gone. Now it is necessary to pay hundreds of bucks for a cell phone either for the phone, or for the service.

Back in the day, when using a pay phone, it was only necessary to pay for the call that was being made. At the end of the year, the OFs’ phone expenses for this kind of service might only have been 40 bucks. Now the phone companies have got you for hundreds.

The OFs have to admit that the super-duper phones do a lot more than make phone calls now and someone has to pay for all this technology, and the people who develop it. It is hard for the average OF to comprehend how so much information can be stored on something no bigger than a small spiral-bound notepad, and it will also take beautiful pictures.

Not only does the cell phone do all this but the operator can punch in a few numbers and then can speak almost anywhere in the world. Kids today don’t give it a second thought.

It was good to see all the Old Men of the Mountain make it to the Chuck Wagon Diner in Princetown where this Tuesday we were entertained by a young lady playing the guitar and singing Christmas music. The OFs were also treated to a tray of cookies that was passed around to go along with the music.

The OMOTM who partook of all this, were: Roger Chapman, Harold Guest, John Rossmann, Wally Guest, Bill Lichliter, Roger Shafer, Rick LaGrange, Marty Herzog, Jake Herzog, Fred Crounse, Richard Frank, Chuck Aelesio, Robie Osterman, George Washburn, Russ Pokorny, Warren Willsey, Mark Traver, Joe Rack, Glenn Patterson, Herb Bahrmann, Mace Porter, Lou Schenck, Jack Norray, Gerry Irwin, Mike Willsey, Gerry Chartier, Elwood Vanderbilt, Harold Grippen, and me.

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Heavenly glow: Guido Reni’s 17th-Century “The Nativity at Night” shows blissful parents with their baby in a manger.

Whether you add an ox, a cow, or three wise men to the first nativity scene in Bethlehem, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph remain the stars of Christmas. For centuries, artists have shown the blissful parents looking down on their child stretched out in a manger — all three wearing a heavenly glow. Guido Reni’s 17th-Century “The Nativity at Night” is a good example.

Because the Roman Catholic Church wished to honor the Christmas trio, they set aside a day in December called The Feast of the Holy Family. It’s (supposed to be) a time for the faithful to reflect on how the “first family” showed them how to be better. But that may be more than the texts allow.

The feast is observed on the Sunday between Christmas and New Year’s and, should these fall on Sunday, the Family moves to the 30th. This year, they’re on the 29th.

To insure that the family continues to receive attention, over the years the Catholic Church has published documents explaining their essentiality. The Benedictine monk Bernard Strasser says in “With Christ Through the Year” that “The primary purpose of the Church in instituting and promoting this feast is to present the Holy Family as the model and Exemplar of all Christian families.”

A lot of people, when asked to describe this family though, conjure up the three in the manger scene and God forbid you interrupt the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s “Away in the Manger.”

For them, Jesus will always remain a child, thus they never hear what he said about “family” later in life. It results in a spiritual life that lacks the enlightened mind that William James described in 1902 in “The Varieties of Religious Experience.”

I don’t read that much about Jesus but I recently came upon a passage in John Dominic Crossan’s “Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography” (Harper, 1994) where he records what Jesus said about family later in life. Crossan says it’s an “almost savage attack on family values.”

And it started when Jesus was 12, traveling with Mary and Joseph to Jerusalem, like the family did every year, to observe Passover.

All went well until, on the way home, after a day on the road, Mary and Joseph couldn’t find their son among the family and friends who made up the caravan.

Panicked, they bolted back to the city to find the boy, which they finally did, in a temple, sitting among rabbis, listening to what they had to say, but also asking questions, the weight of which made observers turn their heads and say: Who is this kid!

The miffed mother and father went up to the boy — to use a certain parlance — and said: Hey! what’s going on! We’re at our wit’s end! Have you lost your mind! Is this how you treat your family! Is the Holy Family thing off?

And the boy, still racing from the discussion on the moral questions of the day, says — to stay with the parlance — What are YOU doing here! I’m at work! Have you no sense of calling? Why ARE you here!

The two were stunned, the good book says, because they had no idea what the boy was talking about.

I’ve always imagined them saying back — to stay with the parlance — Hey, you! Shut up! Get in the car! You don’t talk to your parents that way! Wait till we get home.

It’s a funny image, isn’t it, the Holy Family of Christmas — advertised by the Roman Catholic Church as teachers of how to be better — themselves in a tizzy: mother and father in the front seat and the kid in the back.

The Gospel of Thomas says the separation language got worse, “Whoever does not hate father and mother,” the older Jesus says, “cannot be followers of me, and whoever does not hate brothers and sisters ... will not be worthy of me.”

Hate? Hate Mary and Joseph? Is this the kid from the manger speaking?

And I must mention that Jesus, by introducing the concept of worth, was entering big-time into the field of economics. Later, as you know, he set a standard for price that was breathtaking.

I’ll add one more from Mark who says that one day Mary shows up at one of her son’s gigs — maybe he was 31. She sends a message, letting Jesus know she’s outside, with his brothers, and maybe he could step out and say hello.

When Jesus hears this, he doesn’t go: Wow, my mother, my brothers are here! Are they OK? Tell them to come in.

No, he says, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” It must have driven the messenger nuts.

The gospel says he then turned to the crowd and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

The messenger must have dropped a second time, hearing a proclamation on what it means to be a follower, a member of the Christian-Christmas family. That is, a loving community is your mother and brothers, a community that allows you to be born again.

Norman Brown in “Love’s Body” (Random House,1966) says that the issue of who’s your mother and brothers is the great political question of the day, of any day, and of every person who wishes to excel spiritually into adulthood.

Look at the annals of psychology, study the mystics, it’s not a Catholic thing or a Christian thing or even a Buddhist thing, but the struggle every person faces with how much they will give to the commonweal, to the outsider, to the good that cements a community of worth.

“Silent night, Holy night” is the quiet that allows a soul to find their community of worth and to create a Christmas in which they become the newborn child in the manger.

William Blake described the firmament as the Mundane shell we are all born in, like a womb; the Christians describe that womb as a living protoplasmic shell whose nutrients — like the yoke of an egg — feed each soul equally from the start and never flag in commitment.

That then is the message of Christmas, that every human being born — whether from a womb, a shell, or the firmament of community — can achieve divinity like Jesus did.

And that’s what the texts allow.

Feliz Navidad a todo el mundo.

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— Photo from Frank Palmeri

Frank Palmeri plays his ‘Natick Nelly’ every night.

If you read my last column, you know I'm now playing guitar for the first time in my life. Here’s an update on my new-found musical proclivities.

Turns out I really like playing guitar. Even at this early stage, after only a few group lessons, I know enough to get enjoyment from just strumming a few chords and practicing.

So I decided to give my borrowed guitar back to my wife and buy one for myself. I did some research and found a perfect guitar that would work for me, both in my price range and beautiful to look at.

Yet, when I went to the local guitar store, picked it up and started playing it, the magic just wasn't there. There was nothing wrong with it — it was brand new after all — but I just wasn't “feeling” it. Hard for a computer guy like me to be so subjective about something, but it is what it is. That guitar just didn't “light my fire.”

Then we went to visit my daughter who lives near Boston. Just on a whim, I decided to visit another location of the same guitar store chain that was located there. Sure enough, they had the exact same model guitar on the floor that I had tried in Albany yet, when I picked it up and started playing it, there was an entirely different feel.

This one fit me perfectly, and when I strummed it, the tone was so pure and clear I couldn't believe it was the same model that I hadn’t liked in the other store. Stupidly, I left the store without buying it. That night, I couldn't stop thinking about it, and after trying out a few more guitars I realized that “the one that got away” was without doubt the guitar for me.

I didn’t want to drive all the way back to Boston again so I called the store and they said it would be no problem shipping it for free to the Albany store, and that it would only take a day or two. Great, so I paid on the phone and then waited.

And waited.

And then I waited some more. To make a really long story short, a “computer problem” caused me to have to wait two weeks to get my guitar, but it was worth the wait. Why something simple like shipping a guitar should turn out to be such a big deal is a mystery, but it all worked out in the end, and now I get to play “Natick Nelly” every night so there’s that.

Stranger is why two identical versions of the exact same guitar should be so different. At my price level, we’re talking about mostly machine-made items so there should be a lot of consistency.

Reminds me of the time me and my buddy bought the exact same model of motorcycle. Mine was hard to start but got good gas mileage. His was easy to start but got worse gas mileage.

Maybe my guitar has wood from a tree that aged better, who knows. Guitar players I’ve told this story to all tell me the same thing, though: once you find “your” guitar, you will know it and you should just get it. So there you go.

As far as learning to play, my second group class has just ended, so now I have all different types of guitar instruction going on: YouTube videos, books, a separate web-based instructional class, and friends who play.

Of course, the number-one thing they all agree on is practice, practice, and more practice, but the sheer variety of beginning guitar suggestions and techniques is quite extraordinary. For example, I have a friend who plays in a band, yet his fingers, especially his pinkies, are really crooked. Doesn’t seem to matter at all, as he just gets the job done one way or another.

Other friends do things their own way as well, yet they all play well enough to play with other people on a regular basis. I’m still new enough that going “by the book” is what I'm trying to do, but it’s all good. Just to be playing anything after going my whole life without is fine with me.

Learning guitar, like learning anything — typing, motorcycle riding, dancing, etc. — follows a definite pattern. When you start out, you have to think about everything and progress is slow, slow, slow.

Then, over time, if you stick with it, all of a sudden what you had to think about just happens and then you’re finally doing it without thinking. That’s progress, what we call developing a skill, and it’s a great feeling when it happens.

I like to think of it this way: Every time I practice, I get a tenth of a millimeter better. Someday that will add up to a meter, and then watch out!

Another thing I notice about playing music is that you can’t be in a bad mood when you do it. In fact, if you are in a bad mood or feeling negative, it just makes you feel better.

It’s like a feedback loop develops, where you play and hear sounds (hopefully good sounds) and then that inspires you to play some more. In fact, playing music makes you feel so good I’m thinking a lot more music making in the world would mean a lot fewer problems in the world. You just can’t be angry when you’re making music, it’s as simple as that.

Here’s a funny thing about guitar stores: When you go into one, nine out of 10 times, someone, either a customer trying out a guitar or an employee demonstrating a guitar, will be playing “Smoke on the Water,” the classic rock staple by Deep Purple. Turns out the main “riff” is only four notes, and even I can play it:

da da DAH

da da DAH da

da da DAH

da da

It happens so often, it’s just amazing. I mean, it’s a great song with an ultra-catchy tune, but imagine if you worked there. Listening to that all day must get old quick.

Let me leave you with a true story. I’ve been watching “Saturday Night Live” my entire life. They used to do a sketch called “Wayne’s World,” where Mike Myers and Dana Carvey played these lovable stoner types who hung out in a basement and had all kinds of crazy things going on.

What interested me was how the sketch always started, with Wayne “shredding” a distorted electric guitar at high volume. I always loved that, so one day, maybe 20 years ago at this point, I went into a local music store:

“Hi, I’d like to buy a cheap electric guitar and an amp.”

“Do you know how to play guitar?”

“No, I don’t; I just want to do that Wayne’s World thing and have a little fun.”

“OK, in that case, I’m going to suggest you get an acoustic guitar first. It will be much easier to learn on and you can get an electric on later when you learn how to play.”

“Um, look, I don't even really want to play guitar. I just want a cheap electric guitar and an amp so, you know, after a long stressful day at work I can just go in the basement, yell out ‘Frank's World,’ and make a lot of noise.”

“I understand, but really, you need to start on an acoustic guitar so you can learn to play properly first.”

This went on for about 10 minutes when I finally decided to just leave. The guy would not sell me an electric guitar.

Fundamentally he was right I’m sure — playing an acoustic guitar first, as I am now, is certainly a good idea . But, if he had sold me that damn cheap electric guitar, knowing how I am, I most certainly would have, at a minimum, taken out “Guitar for Dummies” from the library and would have been playing much, much sooner than now.

Whatever happened to “the customer is always right,” anyway? By the way, that store went out of business not long after. I’m not surprised.

Oh well, I’m finally playing a musical instrument after all this time, and that’s just great. Party on, Wayne! Party on, Garth!

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Last month, The Greenwich Journal and Salem Press — published just a stone’s throw to our northeast in Washington County — celebrated its 177th anniversary as one of America’s oldest continuously published newspapers.  

Last week, in the wake of the heartbreaking death of its 44-year-old owner, that historic local publication locked its doors and shuttered the windows, retiring a voice that for nearly two centuries informed Washington County’s citizens, expressed their ambitions, and chronicled their colorful lives.   

Heavy sigh.  2019 has offered too many occasions to note that all good things must come to an end.

By this point, you’re no doubt sufficiently familiar with my neuroses to be unsurprised that this news sent me into a full-blown panic.  Ergo, I hereby DEMAND answers of Enterprise co-publisher Melissa Hale-Spencer, and have thus assembled the following list of seven questions, presented with as much hysteria as the typeface will permit:

1. WHAT IS THE ALTAMONT ENTERPRISE’S CONTINGENCY PLAN IN THE EVENT OF CATASTROPHIC CATACLYSM?!?!  

2. HAS THE MANAGERIAL STAFF CODIFIED THE EDITORIAL LINE OF SUCCESSION?!?!?!

3. HOW DOES THE ENTERPRISE INTEND TO PERMANENTLY PRESERVE AND MAKE PUBLICLY ACCESSIBLE ITS VAST DIGITAL ARCHIVES?!?!?!

4. WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOUR QUARTERLY BUSINESS PROJECTIONS DON’T EXTEND TWO CENTURIES INTO THE FUTURE?!?!?  Relatedly: WHO WILL CARRY FORTH THE ENTERPRISE’S BANNER AND MASTHEAD IN THE YEAR 2219?!?!  

5. DID SOMEONE WRITE DOWN THE WEBSITE’S ADMIN PASSWORD JUST IN CASE?!?!?!

6. WHERE IS THE ACCOUNT INFORMATION FOR THE DAMN ELECTRICITY BILL, AND HAS IT BEEN PAID OR NOT?!?!?!

7. IS ANYBODY LISTENINGGGGGGG?????

While the probability that Ms. Hale-Spencer will soon be abducted by extraterrestrials is admittedly slim, denying that possibility is statistically irresponsible.  It’s simple math, folks: 2 + 2 = 4.

Sure, you’d be forgiven for forgetting that Ms. Hale-Spencer is mortal.  At the helm of the Altamont Enterprise since 1994, she’s become an award-winning institution in her own right, breathing new life into this vibrant and venerable local publication.  (It’s a stupendous feat at a time when the carcasses of celebrated print publications line the morgues of local counties and nationwide markets alike.)  

But nothing lasts forever.  And almost by design, the new media which has emerged to fill the void left by the loss of regional news outlets like The Greenwich Journal and Salem Press usually lack the journalistic standards, credible research, and diligent reporting which — at its best — define the local print media industry.  

In an age where Instagram influencers unabashedly manipulate their photos, “deep fake” videos look more real than reality, and paid advertisements masquerade as factual reporting, the Altamont Enterprise nonetheless remains an unassailable staple of objective truth and dignified integrity.  It’s our shared imperative to preserve this hometown newspaper. 

To be clear, I’m not just referencing the Enterprise’s physical manifestation; the “paper” component isn’t the essential product, so much as the classic vehicle by which that essential product is delivered.  

The essential product, of course, is the information that the Enterprise contains.  And information never grows stale; the Altamont Enterprise is as vital and useful now as it was in 1884 when its first issue tumbled off the presses.  

Today, the Enterprise emerges from more than just presses. I’m routinely impressed by the diligence of Enterprise staff as they leverage the power of podcasting, Facebook Live, email newsletters, digital newsfeed announcements, Instagram stories, and one of the internet’s most navigable websites to reach us wherever we may be, whenever we need the update.

But my exalted congratulations for this weekly publication have less to do with its form than its function, for there’s an even more critical observation about media outlets, generally, that is truest about the Enterprise, specifically.  

And that is this:  The Altamont Enterprise is a mirror — a reflection of us, an opportunity to take stock of who we are and what our locality deems important.  

It’s the core legacy bequeathed unto us by those who inhabited Home before we arrived.  It was in its pages that a conception of “place” first came into being, in a manner that could be reported, recounted, and recalled.

Even now, it’s through the Enterprise and its letters to the editor that we develop a sense of “us”.  As communities grow increasingly transient and individuals slip into more isolated existences, exploring the Enterprise cover-to-cover affords readers a chance to peek into the lives of the genuine neighbors who share a connection to this little corner of the planet.  By listening or contributing to that ongoing conversation, we develop an identity that binds us together, instilling significance into the municipal boundaries which unite us in the first place.  

Take a second to consider what you’re reading right now.  Have you taken for granted that our letters to the editor are written by neighbors, edited by neighbors, and then published by neighbors for the benefit of neighbors?  

What you’re holding in your hands isn’t managed by some far-off corporation with only the remotest of passing concerns for local affairs, driven by a bottom-line commercial imperative that cheapens and determines coverage.

Nor is it the chaotically unconstrained emotional slugfest of social media, as illustrated by the hilarious Oct. 30 Facebook comment thread on which our community’s worst impulses amassed in response to the Village of Voorheesville’s cautiously tentative proposal to move Halloween to Saturday on account of rain.  (I’ve never before witnessed angry-face emojis weaponized with such elegant precision.)

Not everyone has access to such a robust independent press.  It’s no hyperbole to claim that the Enterprise embodies that most sacred of Constitutional ideals in our American experiment.  For what else is freedom but the right to have a thought, and to then publicly express it? Can it even be called “democracy” if voting citizens are nonetheless uninformed, and unconcerned with each other’s welfare?     

As it happens, I’m writing this op-ed on Veteran’s Day, and am thus reminded of what I actually defend in my capacity as a Servicemember.  (To that end: Thank you for your service, Enterprise!) 

In January, I deploy to fight in a distant war in an even more distant land far away from home, in service to a country whose freedom affords Americans the space to continually renew themselves.  The best part of our country is its promise, its encapsulation of ideals, and the fact that it contains the people I care about most. From the other side of the world, the Enterprise will keep me connected to it all.

Less a Voorheesvillager, or a New Yorker, or even an American, it’s most accurate to define me as:  “A reader of the Altamont Enterprise & Albany County Post”. Because no matter where the Army takes me, I can always claim a place in that demographic — among the people of the Hilltowns, the New Scots and Albanites, the Guilderlish and Bethlhemites — where the issues on which the Enterprise reports remain the ones for which I feel the most direct responsibility, the ones I’m most able to influence, the ones that are most worth influencing.

This Thanksgiving, take a moment to think of the people of Washington County, whose stories just became a bit harder to tell.  Then offer either silent or raucous thanks, as suits you, to the heroes of local journalism: To the Sean Mulkerrins of the world, and the Elizabeth Floyd Mairs and Noah Zweifels, the Michael Koffs and Carol Coogans, the Ellen Schreibsteins and Holly Busches, the Jo E. Prouts and Cherie Lussiers, the Marcello Iaias and myriad local columnists.  

And then, lend your indignant voice to my righteous fury as though we’re posting on Facebook: “WHAT’S THE PLAN, HALE-SPENCER?!?!”  Your flock demands answers, and your heroes deserve a permanent home. For as long as there exist Old Men of the Mountain — the ranks of whom I’ll one day join — there must always be an Enterprise to chronicle their exploits.  

Since penning my inaugural column last January, I’ve been honored to be a part of this 135-year-old organization, addressing those whose perspectives have been similarly shaped by the view of a sun setting over ancient Helderbergs.  In high school twenty years ago, the Enterprise published my adolescent musings via the Helderbarker insert; it’s a privilege to speak to that same audience from the Enterprise’s opinion pages now.   

And in exchange for your collective indulgence — for tolerating my monthly trespass on these opinion pages — I offer the following verses so that you might join me in toasting our own beloved Gray Lady.  Ahem:  

By newsstand (and by newsfeed), on Thursday the Enterprise comes!

It contains a collection of articles covering all of the things that we've done.

The faces inside look familiar, for we’ve seen all these faces before—

some more weathered than in the past, but still faces of those we adore.

A PTA meeting makes excellent reading when it’s written up in the news;

the zoning board… local sports scores… an assortment of your neighbors’ views.

And what could be better for letters to editor than a citizen who reads?

You don’t always get the news that you want; you get the news that you need.

We know all these names—these names are the same as the names of our children and friends.

That’s what makes this news so important: it’s news of the Home we defend.  

So to all my neighbors and ne’er-do-wells, let’s raise our glass for a toast:

“Three cheers to the Altamont Enterprise and the Albany County Post!”

#SayonaraStewarts

****

Captain Jesse Sommer is a paratrooper in the United States Army’s 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne).  He is a lifelong resident of Albany County.

Editor’s response: Of course, The Enterprise will rely on its subscribers in years to come, when this editor is long gone, to support the journalism vital to democracy, whatever form that takes.

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Most people in our area know what the weather was like on Tuesday, Dec. 3.

Dec. 1 and 2 dropped a little bit of snow in the circle of the Old Men of the Mountain. Some had as much as 30 inches, and some 27.5 inches. That is a collection of little white flakes to pile on top of one another.

The breakfast for Tuesday, Dec. 3, was at the Duanesburg Diner in Duanesburg; for some of the OMOTM that is their furthest diner west and they were the ones who were there.

Now let us recall how the eighth worst storm in the area (since records started to be kept) affected the OMOTM.

On the second of December, there were 10 to 12 inches of pristine white stuff in my driveway. The plow arrived at 8:30 a.m. and made it disappear into banks of pristine white stuff.

So — on Dec. 3, this scribe arose, checked his driveway at 5:30, 6:30, and 7:30 a.m. It was noted that there were about 8 to 10 more inches, which had managed to find the driveway in the night. At 8:30 a.m., the plow still hadn’t arrived and so a phone call was made.

However, it seems that this scribe wasn’t the only one who needed a plow and it wasn’t until 11:30 a.m. or so that the driveway was cleared enough to use.

This scribe then received a phone call around 6 p.m. Tuesday night, and the caller said he had gone to the restaurant in Duanesburg and thought he was going to be the only OF there. Eventually, a couple more OFs came through the door and these three thought they would be the only ones there; then three more showed up and it began to feel like a group.

That made six hardy souls out of 25 to 30 who usually attend the breakfasts.

These six brave, hardy, fearless, valiant individuals have kept the reputation of the OMOTM intact.  Neither rain, sleet, snow nor things that go bump in the night will keep these OFs from having their breakfast and social gathering ruined.

They deserve a Huzzah! From all the others who were unable to be at the Duanesburg Diner on Dec. 3. 

However, not all is lost, because in the future this will give us something to discuss and complain about. The good part is that our record of 30 years of meetings is intact.

The column will be short this week because this scribe did not want to use conversation not used from previous breakfasts. Give the credit to the brave souls who did make it and they were: Glen Patterson, Joe Rack, Harold Guest, Wally Guest, John Rossmann, Elwood Vanderbilt, and not me.

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— Photo from the Guilderland Historical Society

A photographer recorded this scene at the Foundry Road intersection with the Western Turnpike opposite Willow Street where, after a heavy snowfall, horses and sleighs still owned the road and the early automobile was stranded, embedded in a snowbank. 

— Photo from the Guilderland Historical Society

Ice blocks have been cut from Tygert’s Pond not far from Osborn Corners and loaded on sledges. They will be hauled to ice houses to be stored for later use. Note the horses were blanketed when standing in the cold while the ice was being cut and loaded.

— Photo from the Guilderland Historical Society

In front of the Hilton farmhouse, these children sit on what appears to be a bobsleigh with its two sets of runners.

Swirling flakes of a November snowstorm once signaled the beginning of sleighing season, bringing joy to people of all ages. A century or more ago people looked forward to a snowfall of several inches when travel by sleigh would be smooth and quick and farmers could use sledges to easily haul heavy loads such as logs or blocks of ice.

Sleighs came in many sizes. Cutters were designed for one or two people, while larger bob sleighs or “heavy” sleighs could accommodate additional passengers. An 1895 Altamont Carriage Works advertisement in The Enterprise offered a line of Portland Cutters, Pleasure and Heavy Bob Sleighs.

Sleighs could even be ordered from a Sears Catalog. In 1902, the Sears catalog offered Portland Cutters priced at $16.95, $19.90, and $22.50 while a luxurious Russian Bob Sleigh was $46.90.

In addition to individual ownership of a sleigh, livery stable owners had on hand one or more designed to carry many passengers. Huybertie Pruyn, a wealthy young Albany girl, who in her memoirs written in later life, described riding on a sleigh that hauled as many as 20 young people from Albany on the Western Turnpike to Sloan’s Hotel in Guilderland by having the passengers seated along both sides facing each other.

In addition to passenger sleighs, there were work sledges for hauling heavy loads by farmers and other businessmen. Stephen Lainhart, a farmer living on his ancestral farm near Altamont, often made references to sleighs in his diaries covering the years from 1859 until the time of his death in 1923.

The anonymous authors of Enterprise columns covering the various parts of town from 1884 until the 1930s give frequent references to sleighs or sleighing weather until automobiles and plowed roadways ended what had been standard winter transportation.

We look back upon riding in a horse-drawn sleigh as romantic, but in their day, they were considered strictly utilitarian, necessary to get around on business or errands or to church and various social events on snow-covered roads.

Sleighs had to be brought out of storage when the snow began falling; in spring, they were washed and stored away. An early winter visit to the blacksmith or farrier was necessary for your horse or team because studs were needed on horseshoes to get through the snow.

Theft, a downside

Gliding over the snow, especially on a crisp, moonlit night with sleigh bells jingling was exhilarating. However, sleigh ownership brought some downsides. Sleighs and horses left unattended in a hotel shed could easily be stolen as one man discovered when his horse and sleigh disappeared from the Dunnsville Hotel shed while he was inside. Fortunately, the thief apparently just needed a ride as the horse and sleigh turned up in Altamont a short time later with the thief long gone.

Isaac Van Patten was a local youth who paid an intoxicated visit to Schenectady where he absconded with a horse and sleigh from one hotel shed, cruised the city for a time, stopped at another hotel, traded the first horse and sleigh for another, eventually making his way back to his father’s home in Fullers Station where he hid the sleigh and put the horse in a stall.

He was in bed sleeping it off when the city police arrived and, finding the evidence, charged him with grand larceny. A good lawyer got the charge dropped to intoxication and he got off with a $10 fine. These incidents were rare, but did happen from time to time.

Runaways

Sleighs were pulled by one or more horses, hard-working and long-suffering animals, which on occasion, having great sensitivity to unusual sounds or motions, suddenly became uncontrollable runaways, much to the regret of any passengers who happened to be in the sleigh at that moment.

The “cars” or trains was one of the most common causes of runaways, giving a fright to a skittish horse, which took off from in front of Mynderse’s store in Altamont. The young lad waiting in the sleigh was dumped out as the horse fled down Church Street (now Maple Avenue), where the horse and sleigh ended up in someone’s yard.

In this case there was no injury or damage, unlike an incident in Guilderland Center. This occurred when a rather loud group was returning from a lively social gathering in the village. Apparently spooked by the jolly noise of the sleigh’s occupants, the horse took off.

As it ran out of control, one woman panicked and, leaping out of the careening sleigh, landed on her head, remained unconscious for hours and was still “prostrate” at the time of the column writing. In the meantime, the onrushing sleigh tipped over, flinging out the other passengers who were uninjured. But by then the empty sleigh had collided with a hitching post, separating the box and rear bob from the terrified horse and front bob. Both were discovered the next morning in Voorheesville.

Although there never seemed to be a fatality, there were the occasional person “quite seriously injured” as a Guilderland man was when tipped out of his cutter. Or having a very close call as John Blessing did when crossing the West Shore tracks in a heavy snowstorm; he and his horse were just clear of an oncoming locomotive as it demolished his sleigh but left Blessing and his horse unharmed.

Another runaway scenario that almost seems like an episode in an early silent movie occurred on Altamont’s Main Street in 1920 when village Doctor Cullen and Arthur Dorsett were gliding quietly down Main Street in a cutter.

Meanwhile, a team of horses that had been hitched to a heavy sleigh at the depot broke free, and thundering wildly down Main Street were about to overrun Dr. Cullen and Mr. Dorsett in their cutter.

Thinking fast, Dr. Cullen turned, and leaning out the rear of the cutter, he hoped to deter the pursuing team by striking them about their heads and faces with his hat while Mr. Dorsett was attempting to keep ahead of them. Fortunately, the men found a place to pull off as the runaway team raced by, finally floundering in a deep snowbank.

Most sleigh rides were quiet affairs and it was only a small number that ran out of control.

Road problems

It was certainly convenient to do errands or chores, go to church, carry on business, or pay visits by sleigh, but the roads weren’t always snow-covered throughout the winter due to thaws or sometimes a lack of snow.

And then sometimes there could be too much snow, especially if blizzard conditions had piled up high snow drifts across roads. Then farmers had to get out with shovels and clear a way through the drifts on the road in front of their farm to allow the horses and sleighs to get through.

Stephen Lainhart’s diaries mention having to shovel to open the road past his home after heavy drifting had taken place on many occasions. If his diaries are any indication, there was certainly much more snow and lower temperatures in those days.

At least once when temperatures were extremely low, he took his son in the sleigh back and forth to the Dunnsville District No. 2 School down the hill on Dunnsville Road near the Turnpike, a goodly distance from his home.

Chores and ‘jolly times’

Sleighs or sledges were used by farmers for various chores such as taking produce to market or, if they had surplus hay to sell, taking it to the nearest depot where a dealer in hay would buy it for shipment to a nearby city.

Ice houses had to be filled and the huge blocks of ice were hauled from ponds where it was cut to ice houses to be stored. Trees taken down in the wood lot were brought closer to the house to be cut into firewood or moved to a sawmill to be cut into lumber. Certain heavy chores were deliberately left until winter.

Although there was a rare tale of a sleigh theft or the occasional story of a sleighing accident, the endless mentions of sleighs in The Enterprise are almost always about transportation to church-related services or activities and social events and visits to friends and family.

For most people, a sleigh ride to a social event was greatly anticipated and highly enjoyed. Groups would pay a surprise visit to someone who always seemed to have plenty of refreshments for the crowd of visitors who always seemed to have had “a jolly time” or “an enjoyable evening” when reported in the next week’s Enterprise.

One description from the hamlet of Guilderland said, “A sleigh ride party of about 20 of the elder people of this place were pleasantly entertained at the home of Mr. & Mrs. H.S. Kapp of McKownville last Friday evening. The occasion was a complete surprise to Mr. & Mrs. Kapp.”

Other evening destinations included revival meetings and donation parties for ministers or someone in need.

Local hotel keepers benefited from good sleighing weather and were busy with city parties who enjoyed a sleigh ride out to a country place such as Sloan’s for an evening of dinner and dancing before heading back to the city many hours later. Sloan’s was the most well-known, and an 1891 note in The Enterprise mentioned “the good sleighing weather brings quite a good many parties from Albany to Sloan’s.”

The Fullers columnist once observed seven sleigh loads from Schenectady had passed through on their way to Sloan’s. In her memoirs, Hubertie Pruyn told how she and her wealthy Albany friends enjoyed trips to that “old Fashioned tavern” with return to Albany in the wee hours.

Another destination was the Altamont Hotel and, in Guilderland Center, Borst’s Hotel drew out-of-towners including the Bellevue (Schenectady) Euchre Players Club who challenged the Guilderland Center Euchre Club for an evening of dinner and card-playing.

Special sleigh rides were great treats for children. It would be difficult to top the sleigh ride provided by Jesse Parker when he transported the teacher and pupils attending District No. 14 School (Bigsbee at Fort Hunter) to the Van Curler Theatre to see “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”

Another lucky group were the 26 McKownville young people who were taken in two sleighs to the Methodist parsonage in Guilderland where they were royally entertained.

Mentions of young people from Settles Hill, Altamont, Dunnsville, McKownville, Guilderland Center, and Guilderland being taken on sleigh rides show up at various times and usually ended up at a destination for refreshments and sometimes games. The special rides for children continued into the 1930s.

And a few Guilderland residents took their last sleigh ride in M.F. Hellenbeck’s sleigh hearse to one of the local cemeteries’ receiving vaults to await spring burial.

The automobile made the sleigh into an antiquarian object of curiosity. The time of their necessity and usefulness was over and, except for a special occasion, were abandoned in barns and wagon sheds. An era had passed.

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This scribe is beginning to wonder how many times he can write where and when the Old Men of the Mountain meet. It has always been on Tuesday, but where varies, and also comes and goes.

This past week, it was the Your Way Café in Schoharie. With some of the OMOTM, “your” way can mean just that — which turns out to mean “my” way. So on Tuesday, Nov. 26, the Old Men of the Mountain met at the Your Way Café in Schoharie.

The next item is strange — but true. Two of the OMOTM had all their teeth extracted and new ones installed at the same time. Their conversation over many weeks has been basically the same: “Have your teeth come in yet?”

For many of those weeks, the answer was no. Lo and behold, within a couple of weeks, they both got their teeth. At the breakfast Tuesday morning, the usual discussion was replaced with, “How are you making out with your teeth?”

This question followed a conversation on what were the best kinds of pies to eat because one of the OFs ordered blackberry pie with whipped cream as a dessert for breakfast. The OFs then started talking about berry pies, seeds, and teeth.

One OF with the new teeth said that seeds don’t bother him since his teeth fit really tight. So tight, in fact, that at times he has trouble getting them out.

A third OF sitting next to him (who also has installed teeth) told him to put some water in his mouth and they will come out easily. This third OF said he needs duct tape to keep his teeth in.

Problems with GPS

Another OF talked about a huge Schneider tractor trailer stopped along side of the road just past the circle at Price Chopper in Slingerlands and the post office, heading south on Route 85. If anyone knows this area, he knows there is a bridge just down Route 85 and it is low

Backing this rig up at this circle and getting his rig onto Cherry Avenue, in Delmar, then Kenwood, then back into New Scotland was going to take a few cops. This circle does not lack for traffic.

One OF said this particular truck must be following GPS (Global Positioning System). This OF said there are two things with GPS. Those things don’t tell you about low bridges, or sharp turns that big rigs can’t navigate.

The other problem with GPS is that it’s necessary to know how to spell. If anyone is a lousy speller there is no telling where he is going to wind up.

One OF piped up that even fold-out road maps didn’t give you information on low bridges and sharp turns and, if you can’t spell with a regular road map, finding where you’re heading may be impossible.

This segued into discussion on how there should be some kind of GPS that tracks you and your car and guides you to your car in a parking lot or garage. The OFs started telling stories about losing their cars in parking lots. This scribe is beginning to assume this is a routine problem with everybody — young or old.

Mall mysteries

Most of the tales told on Tuesday morning were about going in one door and coming out another door of large malls, then wandering all over, looking for the car in the wrong parking lot. One OF said he and his wife did this at a mall.

They did what the OFs were talking about, in one door and out another. The OF said they went up and down each aisle and, seeing no car, they finally decided to go to security and report the car stolen. The OF said, “Not until we pulled the door open to go back into the mall did we realize this was not the door we came in.”

Another OF said they (he and his wife) were in the same position, wandering all over to look for their car. The OF said he was just about at the end of his rope and beginning to panic when a stranger asked them, “Are you guys in trouble?”

The OF said to him, “Yes, we can’t find our car.” The fellow asked him, “What kind of car is it?” and said he would help them find it.

The OF described the car to him, and the helpful stranger said, “Oh that car! That gray Saturn is right over there.”

“Sure enough,” the OF said, “There it was.” The guy pointed right to it.

It is getting so that the OFs should notify their next of kin when they are going to be in large parking lots. Just in case.

Natural foods lead to long lives

The OFs began talking about diets, and how many are on diets because their doctors told them to go on them. It was gathered that these are not fad diets but diets geared to specific problems.

All of the diets seemed to make sense, and as these diets were discussed it was found the diets all had something in common. Apparently certain foods are not too good for anyone, but maybe a little bit might be permitted once in awhile.

Salt was one of the biggies, and breads and pastas were another. French fries with salt? That was a no-no.

It was found that many of the foods are well known that should not be eaten, but they are the ones that are so good. Looking up and down the table made it clear that most of the OFs were eating stuff that is on the bad list.

One OF mentioned, “Hey, I am 85 years old; I am going to eat what I want.”

This is true. The OFs got to be OFs by doing what they did all their lives in the way of exercise and eating. Maybe we should write our own book on how we got to where we are.

One OF thought it was because we ate what we ate when were 5 years old to our teen years and most of it was natural. All the chemicals that are found in food now were not around when we were growing up so we got a good start.

Maybe we should all forget what not to eat and go back to natural foods without all the additives. There was a big “Hear! Hear!” to that.

Those OFs who made it to the Your Way Café in Schoharie and ate what they wanted, whether it was healthy or not, were: Robie Osterman, Roger Shafer, Rick LaGrange, George Washburn, Miner Stevens, Bill Lichliter, Harold Guest, Bill Rice, Wally Guest, Chuck Aelesio, Glenn Patterson, Joe Rack, Ken Parks, Jim Heiser, Otis Lawyer, Lou Schenk, Jack Norray, Mace Porter, Gerry Irwin, Herb Bahrmann, Rev. Jay Francis, Mike Willsey, Warren Willsey, Henry Whipple, John Dabrvalskas, Jim Rissacher, Marty Herzog, Elwood Vanderbilt, Harold Grippen, and me.

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