Archive » April 2020 » Columns

“The Two Rogers Solving the World’s Problems in Front of Kim’s West Wind Diner in Preston Hollow” was painted by John R. Williams, and features Roger Shafer on the left, and Roger Chapman on the right. “Kim’s place is no longer in business and the OFs almost had a wake when we heard that news,” says Williams.

The week that this retroactive OMOTM report is being worked on has not been an April month. Those cooped up with quarantines have not had much good weather to even open the windows and listen to the birds and peepers, or let fresh air in.

This COVID-19 is as nasty as are most viruses that get going. It seems they have a natural instinct like most newborns. They search out host-to-host and, once one is gone, the virus hunts down another, just like it knows what it is doing.

The virus has a general behind it, conducting the battle in an attempt to take over. The president calling it a war is correct — that is just what it is. Right now, we are in a retreat mode until our new generals and their troops come up with something to stop its progression. We need a new weapon, or maybe an old one modified.

The OFs did mention how blessed those of us on the Hill are. None of them, this scribe included, can understand how a person under full quarantine, living in a 900-square foot apartment on the 14th floor, is handling the situation.

This scribe thinks the most effective weapon we have in this battle is prayer — prayer that the researchers find a way to defeat the virus soon.

This scribe still receives phone calls and messages to hear how the OFs are coping with the stay-safe, stay-at-home attack on the virus.

Swallows confound

One OF had a different problem than the others in a way, and sent an email to describe his problems with barn swallows.

This scribe thinks we have covered this before but the scribe can’t remember when it was. The writer of the email answered his own question and this scribe thinks the OFs came to the same conclusion.

It was how to control those darn barn swallows. The bird makes mud nests all over. This scribe has never seen a barn swallow nest in a tree; it always seems to be in some shed we have made and the nest is under the eves.

This scribe does not know about the other OFs but some kind of swallow takes over this scribe’s bluebird houses. These swallows, too, have the pointy wings and dart around snapping up bugs.

The writer also commented that after complaining about all the fertilizer they leave around (and they do) the bird must eat well because they are really prolific in their droppings. The OF said the bird does eat its share of bugs.

Beyond the to-do list

A couple of other OFs said they are catching up on so much they left undone because it was not critical at the time. Now the OFs are getting things done that were not even on the to-do list.

Some said that, when the weather is decent, they are spending their time clearing brush around the pond, or working on lawn mowers and equipment that were just stuck in the barn when they became problematic.

One OF mentioned he has four old cars that just pooped out so he purchased another used car to carry on. Now he is fussing with those things and, if this virus goes on much longer, he may have four working vehicles.

Another OF mentioned his hair, and also his wife’s hair. They both need to be taken care of; however, his wife offered to cut his hair. That offer was not accepted. As soon as the re-opening of businesses is announced, barber shops and beauty parlors are going to be inundated.

Old days

The OFs who were farmers continue to go back in time and then jump to now and think of major earth-shattering events to change the lifestyle of everyone on the planet and not all of the troubles were of a medical nature.

They are able to remember the Great Depression of the 1930s, the dust bowl, and World War I and World War II — problems like that.

Some of these OFs remember back when they were younger and they went with their dad to purchase a horse. Their father would teach the OF the way horse dealers would sometimes try to pull a fast one before the deal was concluded.

The father would go all over the horse and even look at the horse’s teeth. The last thing his dad would do would take his knee and punch the horse in the stomach.

Now, if the horse passed gas, the longer and louder the better, his father would say, “Good horse.” Then using the name the Old Men of the Mountain are so fondly called (OFs) he would tell his son: 

A farting horse is the horse to hire

For a farting horse will never tire.

Deal made.


What now? This scribe and his wife have been in the house for a few weeks; the column and my painting has kept me busy, and actually this scribe has bit off more than he can chew.

I’ve been reading backwards in the little black book, which is filled with notes from the OMOTM’s breakfasts, and now it is interesting to try to conjure up what in the world the OMOTM were talking about when this scribe made one-word notes. Also, there are some notes that are not for the paper.

It is almost like going through old photographs and finding pictures that bring up the question, “Who the heck is that and what are they doing in our photograph album?” The same with these notes.

From Nov. 26, there is a note “Witch Hazel,” which this scribe remembers some of. But the major problems that the OFs were talking about that day were hemorrhoids. This remedy is not used by many, and even the term “witch hazel” is not used often.

One OF told the other OF (who had the problem) he wouldn’t know if witch hazel would help but the OF said change of diet might. Hemorrhoids are a malady that is mighty uncomfortable and if witch hazel would help, then use it; however, as some other OFs mentioned, there are plenty of creams on the market that are made just for this problem.

One OF said his parents always had a bottle of witch hazel in the medicine chest.

Another note on the same page that this scribe is sure he did not use is “teeth duct tape.” This scribe has no idea what that means. The OFs must have talked about it, or it meant something that would tie into a conversation — but what?

A few pages past that is the word “cloning.” This scribe remembers that topic a little bit and that chatter was: Would the OFs want to be cloned?

“Not now,” one OF said. “Why would I want to be cloned at 80 years old? If I could be cloned without  aches and pains, plus know what I know now about life, and my mind went with it, why not?”

A certain OF said the other OF missed the conception of cloning. His thought was, “If you are cloned, the other you starts out as a baby, so you would have to live 160 years to see yourself at 80.”

 “To heck with it,” the first OF said. This scribe thinks the whole concept of cloning is missed by these old goats.

The scribe found a note on a page going back to May 1, 2019 that fits right in with the project at hand. This bit of information is the making of a note that is OK for the immediate future like the one-word note but probably not good enough for tomorrow.

Things like phone numbers without names or comments on why these notes were written down, it is just the number. Directions to some place, and again, that is all it is — directions. No mention of who, or what, or where it is, just directions that could be to someplace important, or nowhere at all.

A note to look something up and when it is found wondering why it was there to be looked up because now it has no meaning. Why was it done? Just like this scribe’s book — why was that note there?

A one-word note on Jan. 7, 2020 was the word “names.” Now this scribe does remember what that was about. As we age and get to be OFs, many of the OFs see a person that they have not seen in awhile. The OF knows who they are but can’t put a name with the face.

The name is on the “tip of the OF’s tongue” yet it won’t come out. The OFs say they are stumbling to say something and all they do is make noises that sound like words. One OF said he reminds himself that he is like his grandmother who would run through the whole litany of grandkids’ names until she hit on the right one.

Then the reverse is true. Someone will mention Uncle Charlie, and the OFs know the name but can’t come up with the likeness, and the rest of the OFs could sympathize with that dilemma too.

One OF commented that we all have that problem. This particular OF said it is because the older we get, the more rubbish we have in our brains. In order to get information out, what we want to say has to sift its way through all that extraneous junk to find its way out and that takes time.

This OF said, “Sometimes days.”

This scribe might find more notes to share with you next week. In the meantime, there is this breaking news: Wearing a mask inside your home is now highly recommended. Not so much to prevent COVID19 but to stop eating.


Dear Caitlin, Robin, and Brenna:

The news from home is too surreal to comprehend. Though the global pandemic finally reached us in Afghanistan — compelling a whole series of base quarantines and countermeasures — what my unit now confronts is nothing like the havoc you’re enduring. We’ve no emptied supermarket aisles, no forced school and business closures, no social and economic hardships beyond the order to thoroughly wash our hands and vigilantly police the gates. 

I’m publishing this letter to you three here in The Enterprise because its readers are our extended family. You may be my sisters, but they are our neighbors. They’ve lived and loved the same sunsets, seasons, and back-country roads that we have; they’re the ones to whom we’ve turned time and again, who’ve always supported our family’s businesses, and who genuinely care what happens to us.  But while I want Enterprise readers to have situational awareness of this letter, it’s not for them — for they’re already in Albany County. This is a letter about facilitating safe passage back home.

I can’t imagine how stressed and anxious you feel; I’m sure it’s cold comfort to note that a microscopic parasite has finally united all of humanity in a worldwide shared experience. It’s a curious circumstance: Closer than ever, yet still keeping six feet away.

But the good news is that this will not be the crisis that ends it all, the one that changes everything, that tears our way of life asunder and rips everyone we love from our arms. Yes, life is still to get a lot harder for a while, and the virus will leave terrible loss in its wake. But like all things, COVID-19 will pass. And though much will be different, much will be the same: Schools and businesses will reopen, public spaces will come alive, a sense of normalcy will return, and we’ll find society right where we left it.     

Still, now’s as good a time as any to plan for “The Big One.” Whether it’s a solar storm that fries the electric grid, or an EMP blast that annihilates our communications networks, or those first hours after the machines gain consciousness, or an asteroid that darkens the sky with Earth’s own mantle, or a mutated descendent of today’s coronavirus that spreads even faster and more lethally through the species, your shared and exclusive imperative remains the same:  

Come home.

So let’s get to it. First, don’t bother stockpiling; leave those taller-order preparations to Albany.  There’s no point in amassing supplies you’ll ultimately abandon, and I promise you’ll have access to all the most critical things if you can just make it back home. For now, you need assemble only the items I beseech you to pack in your ready-to-go rucksacks, along with whatever your vehicle can fit.  That said, don’t plan on being lucky enough to drive all the way from origin to destination ….

Second, invest in two sets of printed roadmaps (you’ll want the backup). Your map set should consist of however many state editions are required to pilot you and your babies to Albany County. While two maps are sufficient to navigate from Massachusetts, a start point in California will require several. And though your trip will demand these resources only once, be sure to familiarize yourselves with the technology they contain in advance. 

Once every four months, travel an unfamiliar route using nothing but a roadmap to guide you. Put down your phone, turn off the GPS; these may not be available to you when the journey home becomes necessary. If you leave soon enough after The Big One, you’ll still have road signs to guide you. But take the time now to learn to dead reckon, following the contours of the road and recognizing terrain features. 

With your significant others, spend a quiet quarantined evening plotting a few routes back to Albany.  Avoid the highways; they may look like the most direct route home, but you’ll want to dodge high-density routes where traffic jams afford no means of escape. In making your way to Albany, the family car will be your single most important source of transit and security, so plan ahead to steer clear of that which might compel you to abandon it. Identify now how many gallons of gas it’ll take you and your kids to make the drive, and then keep a few gas cans filled in the garage. Use and replace their contents every few months so the fuel doesn’t grow stale. If the last journey home becomes necessary, gas stations may not be available either.

Third, buy a couple quality compasses and some durable wristwatches. Invest in a multi-tool. Make sure you have at least one sturdy flathead and Phillips screwdriver apiece, since vehicle license plates bearing the names of the states through which you’ll pass will be valuable commodities if cohesion fractures and state authorities close down the borders. (I’m not saying this is likely to happen, so much as I’m saying that it already did.) 

I say again: Long-term preparations exist at your destination — your supplies need only support your movement home. And on that note, there’s a common misconception that what separates us from animals is humanity’s capacity for speech. Of course that’s nonsense, and a blindness to the means by which our sentient furry counterparts communicate. But there is one thing that truly does make us distinct: toilet paper. We’re feral beasts without it.

So fine, go ahead and stock up on some portably-encased toilet paper. But don’t overdo it.  Throughout countless field-training rotations and deployments, I’ve come to learn — to my once abject horror — that toilet paper is an unnecessary luxury which takes up too much space in your rucksack. When The Big One comes, we’ll learn that we, too, are animals — as I’ve been repeatedly reminded when the basic hygiene of spartan environments has been reduced to leaves and the chance puddles I encounter. It was in those vulnerable and exposed moments that introspection revealed the only thing that really matters: family. So come home. In return, I promise to have toilet paper in Albany.

Fourth, if you must ditch the car, make sure you have sunscreen. Have comfortable hiking boots and an extra pair of shoes. You’ll want hand sanitizer and facemasks (in case that’s what The Big One dictates), baby wipes for dry-bathing, several lighters, and a couple canteens or water bottles. But since water is heavy, you’ll also need a portable filtration system. Know where the rivers and streams are; your state maps will contain the most obvious water routes, and you’ll want to handrail them as long as you can. 

Water will always be your most critical concern, and one you need to anticipate in all its forms and functions. For example, if the bridges are overtaken or guarded by whomever moves to occupy them, you’d better have two inflatable rafts (and a hand pump) strapped to your roof-rack for night passage across the river — one raft for you and your little ones, the other for the rucksacks and whatever else you can carry. (Bring a set of inflatable arm-floaties for each tyke, too, just in case.) And: Pack ponchos or a tarp, for rain will quickly illustrate how fickle a god is water.

Fifth, carry some cash for use in the few lingering days before people realize it never really had any value. Bring one first-aid kit for each member of your family. Extra socks. Prescriptions. Jackets.  Anti-chafing ointment. Knives. Sunglasses, since looking stylish will always be paramount no matter what crisis befalls us. Flashlights and batteries. Toothbrush and paste. Energy chews for mom and dad, candy for the kids. IBUPROFEN. It’s my firmest hope that you’ll recognize The Big One in time to drive the whole way back to Albany, but I want to make sure you’re equipped for worst-case scenarios, to best leverage the persevering tenacity I’ve always associated with each of you. 

Beyond that, you’re probably good. Matches and candles and soap and medicine, canned vittles, meals-ready-to-eat, potable water, pen-and-paper, seeds and shoes and clothes and tools and toys —  leave these to me. Leave to me the installation of renewable energy sources — microturbines and solar panels — and water purification and sustainable sanitation. These are the purview of a big brother and uncle, I guess. You need only equip yourselves for the journey back home. Bring my nieces and nephews safely back to where they belong, in Albany.  Return to the farmhouse in which we grew up, where we’ll regroup, reset, and reestablish networks with the friends and neighbors who molded us into the people we’ve become.

Sure, the winters are cold in Albany. But as any Russian will tell you, there exist few strategic defenses more effective than snow and ice. With the escarpment to our west, the Hudson to our east, and railroad tracks leading to communities beyond our county borders, we’re both protected and connected in Albany. Albany isn’t a last stand — Albany is the first step. 

Besides, Moo Moo and Pop Pop’s house has lots of books — more than I’ve ever read, more than most ever will. If the web goes dark and the grid can’t support computing, your children will still be able to get a world-class education from those dusty old books that served primarily as decoration for most of their existence. And in their waning years, can you imagine a wisdom more powerful than that which mum and dad yet have to offer? Best of all, when they get to be too senile, you needn’t worry: I’ll make sure we’re equipped with plenty of alcohol, so we can drink together until they make sense again.

On the day the world stands still and the phones go silent, I will begin my count. At 90 days, I’ll come find you. So don’t delay; there’ll be lots of things to attend to at the farm, and I’d rather not chase after you because you were dawdling (Brenna). If the time arrives, you’ll know it. Be ready. 

On that note — sixth — be sure to bring spare batteries to power your radio. I’ll give you the frequency and, every hour on the hour, discipline yourselves to conduct a five-minute comms check.  If you stay within 20 miles to the north and south of your latitudinal route, I will find you. I promise. 

But first — I need to get back from overseas, where I’ve seen firsthand how fragile a society can be.  This deployment has clarified my role as your brother, and as the uncle of your children. The arrangement I propose is simple: You bring your families to Albany; I’ll do my best to protect them.  And if The Big One never comes: Good! We’ll have plenty of dried food at family Thanksgivings henceforth.   

I love you, beautiful sisters. Never forget that Albany will be here to receive you when it’s time to rebuild. Only Albany. Always Albany. Where it’s easy to love the people who will join us in gazing out upon a different world. Where home will always be home. 

By car or by foot, over the river and through the woods, to Grandmother’s house we’ll go. 

Editor's note: Captain Jesse Sommer is a lifelong resident of Albany County, currently deployed to Afghanistan with the U.S. Army’s 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne).  He welcomes your thoughts at .


— From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Red Cross volunteers in Boston: Massachusetts had been drained of doctors and nurses due to calls for military service, and no longer had enough personnel to meet the civilian demand for health care during the 1918 flu pandemic. Governor Samuel Walker McCall asked every able-bodied person across the state with medical training to offer their aid in fighting the epidemic. Boston Red Cross volunteers assembled gauze influenza masks for use at hard-hit Camp Devens in Massachusetts.

— From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Red Cross volunteers in Detroit: Motor Corps and Canteen volunteers from the Detroit chapter of the Red Cross take a break from delivering supplies to flu victims. To prepare Detroit for what was to come from the pandemic, the Red Cross and Department of Health nurses cooperated together for home visits, food preparation, and child care.

— From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

A New York city street sweeper wears a mask while on the job in October 1918. Street sweepers were also arranged to work as grave diggers to assist with the bodies of influenza victims.

— From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Open-air police court in San Francisco: As the number of influenza cases in San Francisco rose sharply, the City Board of Health issued a series of recommendations to the public on how to avoid contracting influenza including avoiding the use of streetcars during rush hour, avoiding crowds, and paying attention to personal hygiene. To prevent crowding indoors, judges held outdoor court sessions. The Board of Health recommended all services and socials be held in the open air, if they weren’t cancelled.

— From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Ambulance duty in St. Louis: The Motor Corps of St. Louis chapter of the American Red Cross was on ambulance duty during the influenza epidemic in October 1918. The Red Cross motor corps recruited volunteer drivers and automobiles to supplement ambulances and chauffeur nurses from one quarantined house to the next. Through this volunteer system, approximately 40 nurses cared for about 3,000 patients who otherwise had no access to private nursing.

The normally pleasant days of late summer 1918 were overshadowed by an outbreak of Spanish influenza, initially affecting a naval training base near Boston, next a nearby army camp, then rapidly infecting Boston’s civilian population. Quickly reaching epidemic proportions and spreading out along the nation’s rail lines, wide swaths of the country were soon overwhelmed by the disease.

The disease originally surfaced in Spain in February 1918 as a somewhat milder form of influenza with widely scattered outbreaks over the summer, only to erupt in a second wave during the last weeks of August in a more contagious and virulent form. Not only was there a high death rate among the very young and old, unusually, a high mortality rate affected otherwise healthy 20- to 40-year-olds.

A tragic coincidence was, in late August, for the fifth year, World War I was raging in Europe. A huge military build-up had begun in this country after our declaration of war on Germany in 1917.

Since the United States had virtually no army at that time, training camps were immediately established, each housing 25,000 to 50,000 men — both volunteers and draftees — often crowded over capacity. Once training was complete, jammed troop trains transported the men to ports to be shipped to European battlefields in close quarters on troop ships, a perfect scenario for spreading the influenza virus.

Among these troops, there were many men from Guilderland and the surrounding area.

Local life as usual

As usual, life was good for most of Guilderland during August that year. Those fortunate enough to own an automobile were out on motoring trips. Others stayed close to home, visiting friends and relatives, attending church services, or socializing at meetings or events like the ice cream social at St. Mark’s in Guilderland Center.

However, it was noted in that community’s Enterprise column that, during the last week of August, five women were ill, though with no details. Otherwise, life seemed normal.

Endless local events were on tap to make September a very busy month. The Altamont Fair ran from Sept. 17 to 20 that year, on one day attracting 10,000 people. Guilderland voters gathered at the polls on Sept. 14 to vote on the local option to turn the town “dry.” A large turnout, including newly enfranchised women, cast their ballots at the only polling place at the town’s recently acquired building in Guilderland Center.

School openings, numerous church services and activities, meetings of Red Cross groups, family reunions, Saturday night movies at the Masonic Hall, the usual social calls all led to an amazing amount of social interaction among town residents. But only the Guilderland Center and Parkers Corners columns mentioned illness, again nothing specific.

However, in nearby Albany, influenza cases suddenly spiked during late September and it’s very likely many cases had begun to crop up in Guilderland unannounced in the local columns.

Most newspapers, whether weeklies like The Enterprise or city dailies, gave limited coverage of the epidemic, which by mid-September was raging not only in Boston or Philadelphia, a city that was particularly hard hit, but also in smaller cities like Albany where, by early November, 7,091 cases were reported.

Freedom of the press was limited during World War I. Federal legislation forbade any reports critical of or disloyal toward the government, anything unpatriotic, or anything that would hurt the war effort. Stiff penalties could be imposed. Papers tread carefully, fearing too much news about the epidemic would have a bad effect on morale.

Albany’s Health Officer seemed to believe it was not a serious epidemic, forcing Dr. Herman Biggs, the New York State Health Commissioner, to issue a letter to newspapers of the state on Sept. 27, 1918, asking them to warn their readership “to brace for the epidemic.” He also requested that physicians report cases of influenza and pneumonia in their locality. This message did not appear in either of the next two weeks’ editions of The Enterprise although anyone who read an Albany daily surely would have been aware of it.

Guilderland readers took notice on Oct. 4 when, at the bottom of The Enterprise’s front page, a report of a Coeyman’s soldier’s death from influenza and pneumonia appeared. That fall, he was the first of local soldiers in our immediate area to die of influenza rather than war wounds.

That same edition of The Enterprise reported that Earl Becker, stationed at the naval recruiting station in New Haven, Connecticut, came home to Altamont on a 48-hour furlough, and, having contracted Spanish influenza on his way home, was quite ill. He fortunately recovered and returned to duty.

Otherwise in Guilderland, that first week of October life went on as usual. At the Masonic Hall, a traveling stock group performed a different play each night for five successive nights, attracting large audiences. Church groups and fraternal organizations met, church services were held, and children attended school. Only the Dunnsville and Guilderland Center columns reported a small number ill, but with no mention of influenza.

Hit with a vengeance

The disease hit town with a vengeance during that week because, by the time the next week’s Enterprise was in the hands of readers, churches and schools had closed. At the bottom of page one, a short notice stated that, at the request of the Board of Health, no public gatherings could take place in Altamont for several days.

“Both of the churches will be closed all day Sunday, the movies, lodges, prayer meetings, Sunday Schools and society meetings will be discontinued on account of the prevalence of the Spanish influenza which has made its appearance here,” The Enterprise reported. According to the notice, only a few cases had been reported in the village and it was thought these rules would help to halt the spread of the disease.

Page five of the same edition carried a brief notice from the Surgeon-General of the United States Public Health Service that he had issued a publication dealing with the Spanish influenza, which contained all known available information regarding the disease. Anyone interested could send for the publication by mail.

In the meantime, there were already thousands dead in East Coast cities such as Philadelphia, New York, and Boston. In 1918, the federal government was not very involved with national health issues but, as the situation worsened, the Surgeon-General sent out a communique to newspapers across the nation.

Prominently headlined atop page one of the Oct. 18 Enterprise was: “Uncle Sam Gives Advice on the ‘Flu’” with the warning that “droplets” from sneezing, coughing, or even hardy laughter could infect others. It was the local officials, however, who actually stepped in to take action to prevent the spread of the disease and, in urban areas, also dealt with the huge number of deaths.

At this time, Guilderland Center’s correspondent reported, “The epidemic of grippe (the old-fashioned word for influenza) is so prevalent in our village there is scarcely a home which has not had someone ill.” Church services were cancelled as were meetings of the Red Cross, Christian Endeavor, and Sunday School lessons. The Liberty Bond Drive meeting with its out-of-town speaker also had to be cancelled because the speaker had the disease.

Although several McKownville residents had been stricken, it didn’t stop that community’s baseball team who “rung down the curtain on the season” with a dinner at Albany’s Keeler’s Restaurant. This must have taken place before Oct. 9 though, because the epidemic had become so critical in Albany that on that date everything was shut down as cases there mounted into the thousands.

Another complication of our involvement in the war was that, out on the Western Turnpike in Fullers, there were two couples under the care of Voorheesville’s Dr. Joslin. During October 1918, about 38,000 American doctors were either serving overseas — such as Guilderland Center’s Dr. Hurst — or at military training camps, placing an additional burden on the doctors remaining at home.

It was reported that, in one day that October, Dr. Joslin treated 58 influenza cases, obviously traveling far afield if he were paying house calls from Voorheesville over to Fullers.

Numerous names of influenza sufferers are mentioned in the various Enterprise columns from all parts of town, but the progress of one case described repeatedly was that of Millard Cowan, a well-known Altamont resident first reported suffering from influenza in the Village Notes column Oct. 25. He was under the care of Dr. Cullen and a trained nurse.

A week later, even though it was cited that the epidemic of influenza in Altamont had practically ceased to spread, the most serious case was Millard Cowan, “critically” ill for more than a week. Developing pneumonia as a complication, “for several days his life was in the balance. We are now informed that hopes are entertained of his recovery although it will be several days before he is out of danger of a relapse.”

The next week, Cowan was slowly recovering. “Of the many cases in this vicinity, Mr. Cowan’s was the most serious of all,” the columnist wrote. It was predicted he would be around again in a few weeks’ time. 

Another week later, he was “recovering very nicely,” the columnist wrote, noting it was four weeks ago Thursday that he had come down with the illness. His nurse, Miss Hadley, left Monday, seeing he was considered out of danger. Thursday he sat up for the first time.

Cowan didn’t return to his job in Albany until the second week of January. In the meantime, his wife had received the tragic news that her brother on duty with the army in Europe had died of influenza and pneumonia.

Schools close

Schools closed at various times in various parts of town. Those that were noted suspending classes were Guilderland Center, Guilderland, Dunnsville, Meadowdale, Parkers Corners, and Fullers. Altamont’s school, which housed grades one through twelve, closed on Oct. 14.

Dr. Cullen ordered Altamont’s school to remain closed even though other activities in the village were allowed to resume. After three weeks, the school was permitted to reopen, but grades one and two and grades five and six (at that time two grades to a classroom) were dismissed on Tuesday for the remainder of that week due to sickness. Even Prof. Hook, the high school principal, had had the flu.

Flu kills soldiers

Into early November, Guilderland was fortunate that, while much of the population had had the influenza, there seemed to have been no fatalities here. However, it was reported in the Nov. 8 Meadowdale column that “a telegram was received here Saturday stating that Matthew Hennessey was seriously ill at Camp Wheeler, Ga.”

The next week, word came that Harry Mesick of Altamont “who was inducted into service about three weeks ago and sent to Camp Wheeler, Ga. with a number of other young men of this vicinity, was taken sick shortly after arrival, died last week. His body was buried near the camp. His sudden death came as a shock to his friends here, who deeply sympathize with his family.”

The next week, news came that “Matthew Hennessy died on Tuesday, November 5 at a base hospital in Georgia, age 21 years. His funeral was held at St. Matthew’s Church.” These two men and the Coeymans soldier were among the 43,000 servicemen who died in the influenza pandemic, more than the number of Americans who were killed in battle during World War I.

Winding down

During the month of November, there were still many local cases of influenza reported, but the number seemed to be winding down. December brought virtually no reports of new cases.

However, in January 1919, there were many new cases. Settles Hill farmer Walter Gray died early in the month. and a few weeks later Clarence Osterhout, age 34, died at his home in Altamont after being ill less than a week.

Then, the numbers dropped and by spring Spanish influenza seemed to have disappeared from town.

To this day, the actual origin of Spanish influenza isn’t definitely known — certainly not Spain. Some researchers claim China; others theorize it all began in Kansas.

Estimates run as high as 50 million people or more who died worldwide; of those, 675,000 were Americans. While Albany suffered over 450 deaths, Guilderland’s comparatively low mortality rate — and it’s possible there were additional deaths not listed in The Enterprise — was probably due to its rural character and cancellation of activities.


— Photo from Frank Palmeri

This ball-peen hammer was saved from the junkyard with citric acid and a vision of its worth.

There’s a saying that goes, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”

With COVID-19 and all the changes that has entailed — social distancing, trying hard just to score toilet paper, and now wearing masks any time you go out — we all could use some lemonade. Well, I got a little the other day.

I was using some of my found time from not commuting to work to clean up part of my basement. There in a dusty corner I found an old ball-peen hammer that I don’t recall ever seeing before. It was in really bad shape.

It most likely came with a wood handle originally, but that was long gone. Instead someone crudely welded a steel rod to the head. But that wasn’t the worst of  it.

The entire thing was covered in rust so dense and deep I imagined it had been in the maintenance room of the Titanic, soaking in saltwater for the past century. That’s how mangled and cruddy this old hammer looked.

I keep a pail around to toss in scrap metal. When it fills, I take it to the scrapyard. I get a few bucks for the metal and keep it out of the landfill. Hopefully, it gets recycled, which is a good deal.

So I was just about to toss the hammer into the bucket when at the last second I had a thought. It’s a trick I learned a long time ago from fooling around with old motorcycles.

I got out an old coffee can, filled it with water, and mixed in about a half-cup of citric acid. Then I dumped the hammer in there and just waited. For the first couple of days, it looked like nothing was happening.

Then, on the third day, the water started to turn black. Soon after, I pulled out the hammer and like a miracle the worst of the rust was gone. I then cleaned it up, using a wire wheel in a drill and, don’t you know, that sucker looked great.

I wound up adding a handle made from a broken shovel, and I painted the shaft. Now that ball-peen hammer, instead of rotting in a landfill or being recycled, will be used by me and probably others when I’m gone. Now that’s what I call making lemonade from lemons.

You can get citric acid at any health-food store. It’s cheap, environmentally friendly, and gently removes even the worst rust in a safe way. It’s also great to run in your dishwasher every now and then. It makes it really sparkle inside. Gotta love it.

The initials for citric acid are CA. These are also the initials for the words Change Agent. The citric acid really was a change agent for this hammer.

That got me thinking about how you and I can be change agents for someone who needs it. I keep reading about so many people who have no friends and no one to talk to. I even saw how in New York City they were forced to bury many, many “unclaimed” coronavirus victims in common mass graves. How heartbreaking.

Sometimes folks just need someone to talk to. That’s all. Someone who will just listen and not judge. That’s what a change agent is. Maybe it can come from a friend, a relative, or you or I.

If doing something simple like listening can get someone back on track, wouldn’t it be great? Who wouldn’t like that? That ball-peen hammer was close to being tossed out. It got a new life. Maybe, in these so, so tough times, we can help bring someone else back to life.

The City Mission in Schenectady is a huge change agent. That’s why I support the mission, which takes in folks who are really down on their luck and often have nowhere else to turn. The mission gives them four things — shelter; food; a Bible; and, perhaps most important of all, someone to listen.

In many cases, and I’ve seen it over and over, the mission gets people back on their feet to where they become productive and engaged members of society. If that’s not God working directly through people I don’t know what is.

Citric acid is a change agent. The City Mission is a change agent. We can be change agents as well. It starts by just listening.


The Old Men of the Mountain did not meet again this week — only in thought.

When they do get together (after being cooped up for weeks), this scribe feels there won’t be many stories to tell, only how or if they went out for groceries, or how many trips they made to the bathroom, and how their snacks have increased in size and quantity.

A few who commented they used to watch very little TV, now seemed to be planted in front of it.

Also, a few of the few said how hard it is to find anything to watch on TV and they are tired of seeing nothing but the virus, and how many TV stations seem to be wallowing in how many are sick and how many died.

One OF said it is almost like keeping score in a ball game. 

Another OF has gotten so tired of this baloney he does not watch the news; he watches cartoons, and the old good sitcoms, or maybe a good old movie on TCM.

TV mores

Speaking about TV, this scribe found an article in the old notes that he hadn’t written about. This was an item about kids on TV.

The OFs remembered back when they were kids, 9 to 16 years old or thereabout, and the fact that they would never-ever sass back to their parents the way that kids are portrayed in the sitcoms of today. Even their language would not be tolerated.

The kids portrayed today show very little respect to their parents, and seem to be complete wiseguys/girls. One OF mentioned that the kids on TV are more on a par with their (TV) parents even when these kids seem to be very young.

To this OF, the TV show-parents seem to encourage this type of encounter. This OF said, in our day the kids did not seem to open up with the parents on their feelings — they went to other kids. Many were actually afraid of their parents.

This OF thought there were two ways to look at this change in today’s attitudes. This OF added that, with his kids today, and his grandkids who are not kids anymore, he really doesn’t know which way is best.

For instance, he feels that the portrayal on TV today might be a good thing because his grandkids, even when they were young, could carry on a conversation with adults and were not afraid of them. However, the lack of respect for adults, and the appalling language is very concerning to him.

COVID diet

A current event, which a few OFs mentioned, is on the self-quarantine that is recommended during this run of the COVID-19 virus. This virus has had some real side effects, other than a touch of boredom, and that is some are putting on weight.

No getting out and about — walking up and down the driveway doesn’t seem to be cutting the mustard. This scribe thinks the few are speaking for many of the OFs in their eighties and beyond.

Some of the readers and some of the OFs might have seen this recommended diet that may or may not help. Here goes:

— Breakfast: 1/2 grapefruit, 1 slice whole-wheat toast, 8 oz. of 2-percent milk;

— Lunch: 4 oz. lean broiled chicken breast, 1 cup steamed zucchini, 1 Oreo cookie, herbal tea;

— Mid-afternoon snack: Rest of the package of Oreos, I quart Rocky Road ice cream, 1 jar hot fudge;

— Dinner: 2 loaves of garlic bread, large pepperoni-and-mushroom pizza,1 large pitcher of Pepsi, 2 Milky Way candy bars — and, to finish it off, entire frozen cheesecake eaten directly from the freezer.

There, that should do it!

Now the scribe thinks he will go and get something to eat.


— Photo by Inigo De la Maza

On Wednesday afternoons during the summer I turned 13, my grandfather and I would hop into his rack body truck and head to the farmers-market auction in Hightstown, New Jersey. If the bidding went well, we’d come home with a load of Jersey tomatoes.

Pop had as customers in his Staten Island enterprise a hospital and a large orphanage but most were mom-and-pop grocery-store operations. No matter the size, when customers put their order in for tomatoes, they knew Max had “Jerseys.”

I knew of “the Jersey tomato” from my grandfather’s business of course but also from the following summer when a peddler from Jersey asked me to work with him. Every day of the week, he’d cross the bridge to Staten Island with a truckload of produce and, neighborhood to neighborhood, would sing to the front of the houses in operatic fashion what the day’s fare was. He was very funny.

One day he’d have peaches, the next watermelons, and then a load of corn, but only one item a day. When he came piled high with tomatoes and the customers surrounded the truck, no one ever asked Moe if he had “Jerseys.” He just came from there!

Indeed no peddler had to “push” Jersey tomatoes throughout Jersey, metropolitan New York, metro Philly, and even parts of upstate New York in summer: Tomato-lovers in the region had a love affair with “the Jersey tomato.”

If a peddler came to a neighborhood without them, he’d get a cold shoulder and, if he dared come back, he came armed with an apology and an until-death-do-us-part commitment to “the Jersey.”

Of course when agribusiness took over the culture of farming in America — the history is there for all to see — tomatoes like “the Jersey” didn’t make it through the war. Agribusiness agents wanted varieties that shipped well, had shelf life, and could easily be picked by machine. Of course “the Jersey” didn’t fit the bill and gradually faded from the kitchen table.

The same was true for many other “indigenous” varieties of solanum lycopersicum — for the Latinists among us — such that you could hear frustrated shoppers at the supermarket referring to the offerings before them as “cardboard.”

And yet, as if some horticultural Circe had hexed the country’s taste receptors, Americans were drawn to an “idealized” tomato — red, round, shiny, hard, and unblemished — and it seemed the more a variety approached the ideal, the more it lost the sweet-acidic balance of that “old-fashioned flavor.”

Heavily-ribbed varieties and varieties that showed prominent blossom scars — the tomato’s belly-button — disappeared from the shelves of Ersatz & Sons Supermarket. The scar was too much to bear and the ribs looked like mumps.

A symptom of what was happening can be found in a 1990 scholarly article by Yonatan Eklind and colleagues in the journal “Euphytica: International Journal of Plant Breeding” titled “Genetic variation and heritability of blossom-end scar size in tomato.” The first sentence reads, “Large blossom-end scar is a disorder in tomato fruit which reduces its marketability.”

Disorder? The Freudian tomato doctor was ushering taste into the genetic dustbin.

There are a few things that need clarification here. The first is that, and it might seem surprising, there is no such thing as a “Jersey tomato” in the same way there is no such variety of cantaloupe as Saratoga County’s famed “Hand Melon.”

When I interviewed Aaron Hand in the summer of 1986, preparing a two-part series for The Enterprise on the famed Town of New Scotland’s Bender Melon — it appeared in our Aug. 28 and Sept. 4 editions — Hand said he and his father grew Harris Seed Company’s “Harvest Gold.”  There was no such thing as a “Hand Melon.”

In the same way, “the Jersey tomato” had no “Jersey” in the family’s genes but was made up of three varieties of tomato.

The first was Hall of Famer “Rutgers,” which breeders at Rutgers University’s New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station developed and offered to the world in 1934.

The second was the seductive “Ramapo,” which NJAES worked on for eight years and finally released in 1968.

The third branch of the family tree was the “Moreton,” which oddly enough did not come from Jersey but from the breeders at the Harris Seed Company in Rochester.

When New Jersey farmers tasted it, they took it into the “Jersey” family right away; it was the first hybrid grown on a large scale in the state and everybody loved it.

“The Jersey tomato” therefore was three varieties and its lovers never knew which of the three they were taking home from the farmstand.

As far as agribusiness goes, the “Moreton” is a “soft” tomato, an imperfection its agents could not abide. They nixed it almost immediately.

They were right, of course: The shelf life of a “Moreton” is no more than from when the gardener cuts the stem to when the family sits down at dinner to eat it.

But, as we know from the diverse displays of heirloom tomatoes we see at farmers’ markets and even supermarkets today, a bottom-up rebellion occurred. The heavily-ribbed and belly-button scarred outcasts escaped the darkness of the therapeutic couch to sun themselves in the open-air markets of the neighborhood.

Among those who led the rebellion were Diane Ott Whealy and Kent Whealy when they started Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa in 1975.

Worried about the loss of seed-gene diversity because of agribusiness’s dismissal of the varieties it couldn’t control, Seed Savers began gathering seminal treasures that had been part of farms and gardens for generations, in some cases centuries. The Exchange now has 20,000 varieties, many like the “Moreton” and “Ramapo.”

The inventive scientists at NJAES also joined the rebellion. In 2008, they created the “Rediscovering the Jersey Tomato Project” through which they were able to resurrect the “Rutgers,” “Ramapo,” and “Moreton,” announcing to New Jersey that they were returning treasures that had been stolen from them. They now offer seeds for all three.

When it comes to heirlooms, I always keep several copies of Carolyn Male’s titillating “100 Heirloom Tomatoes for the American Garden” on my bookshelves. I give away several a year.

The book is beautiful. Through thick-papered glossy photos, Carolyn’s centennial picks are shown on the vine and, in nearly every case, how they look sliced.

That late master gardener, who grew more than 1,000 varieties of tomatoes, never minded pointing out the imperfections of her babies. She says “Lillian’s Yellow Heirloom” is subject to “catfacing.”

But, in every case, Carolyn finds the words to sing a psalm of praise to each. She describes her “Brandywine Pink” as “winey, robust, mouth-watering, sweet, tart, and complex.”

On winter nights, I bring the heavy tome to bed and start paging through as I did the year before, wondering what seed I’ll start on St. Patrick’s Day.

In the next room, I have under lights 15 varieties of seedlings just sticking their heads through the soil, the great “Dester’s Amish,” “Black Brandywine,” and “German Lunchbox” among them.

“German Lunchbox” is a red the size of a small tennis ball but tastes like a beefsteak and does not stop; last year I was picking them in October.

But I must add that I now have a new vade mecum, by Craig LeHoullier — Carolyn Male’s heir apparent — a beautifully- and creatively-done “Epic Tomatoes: How to Select & Grow the Best Varieties of All Time.”

It sounds like he’s talking big but on every page it’s like: Set ’em up, bartender; Jersey tomatoes all around.


The Enterprise — Mike Nardacci

Rocks in one of the many stone walls in the Helderbergs are easily forced out in winter frosts, creating gaps.

The Enterprise — Mike Nardacci

Potholes are ubiquitous during the seasonal changes from winter to spring, but this one is particularly deep.

The Enterprise — Mike Nardacci

The cliff behind the ice column that forms annually at Thacher Park is laced with fractures that expand and release rock fragments in winter and early spring.

The Enterprise — Mike Nardacci

A multi-ton boulder of hard metamorphic rock has been cleft in two by ice that formed and expanded in a fracture.

The Enterprise — Mike Nardacci

Due to frost wedging, great slabs of rock have spalled from this limestone outcrop south of the village of New Salem, forming a steep cliff.

The Enterprise — Mike Nardacci

Along the Beaver Dam Road, this exposure of the Esopus shale is gradually being reduced to gravel by frost action.

The Enterprise — Mike Nardacci

The impressive profile of Potash Mountain looming above Lake Luzerne formed when several small glaciers descending from its summit carved its pyramidal shape.

“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,” Robert Frost wrote, “That sends the frozen ground swell under it,/And spills the upper boulders in the sun,/ And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.”

Of course — Robert Frost being Robert Frost — the astute reader soon realizes that the “something” to which he is alluding is a symbolic force beyond the natural one of a frost heave. “Frost is writing about something other than FROST,” a professor of mine once told our class, a statement fraught with multiple meanings. 

Nevertheless, this time of year the natural — and frequently destructive — effects of the past winter’s ice are in evidence just about anywhere one cares to look — perhaps most annoyingly in our pock-mocked city streets and country roads.

Appearing first as fine lines often resembling the strands in a spider’s web, fractures caused by the natural wear and tear of moving traffic begin to lengthen and interconnect, producing jagged pieces of gravel and leaving behind little indentations; these then also interconnect and become even larger pits which fill with water — and then the tire of your car hits what looked like a shallow puddle in the road followed by a sickening thud and the shuddering of both car and occupants.

And the culprit is frozen water — or, rather, the alternate freezing and thawing of water, phenomena that occur throughout the winter at our latitudes but become particularly frequent and destructive when winter begins to loosen its grip. 

The phase change of water from liquid to solid and back again wreaks destruction on any exposed porous surface and occurs repeatedly throughout the seasonal transition.

“Stay where you are until our backs are turned!” is what Robert Frost calls the “spell” to keep boulders in a stone wall in place, though the words themselves betray their futility. How often in February do we see work crews filling in potholes with steaming blacktop — only to have the fill ripped out and scattered forlornly over the road surface following the next snowfall or slush storm?

When torrential floods or massive snowstorms occur, we become all too aware of water’s destructive power in its various states, but because of its ubiquitous nature, we otherwise tend to take it for granted.  However, among many other ancient people, the Egyptians knew that their civilization depended upon the water in their great river — Egypt being “the gift of the Nile” — and they worshipped a god called Hapi as its spiritual embodiment; ancient Greeks built temples over springs, whose waters were considered not only essential for life but sacred.

Water is weird

But outside of a science classroom, we often tend to forget just what weird stuff water is. Reversing the behavior of other natural substances, water occupies greater volume as a solid than as a liquid, which is why a can of soda or a bottle of beer placed in a freezer will shatter when the liquid expands as it freezes;  likewise, unlike other substances, its density decreases when it becomes a solid.

And the phase changes of water involve amazing numbers of calories. Physics students know that, while it takes only one calorie of heat to raise one gram of liquid water by one degree Celsius, it takes 540 calories to vaporize that one gram when it reaches 100 degrees Celsius.

Take one calorie out of a gram and its temperature will drop by one degree — but if that gram of water is at zero Celsius, 80 calories must be removed to make it freeze. As it does, it will expand and become less dense, which is why ice floats.

And a good thing it does — for if ice were denser than water it would sink, causing many of our ponds and lakes to freeze solid in winter, wiping out all the life within them.

Most vitally, water is the absolutely essential ingredient for the existence of life as we know it, which is why the scientists known as “exo-biologists” are excited by the prospect of subsurface oceans on the moons known as Europa and Enceladus that orbit Jupiter and Saturn respectively.

Several years back, an early-season hiker on the Indian Ladder Trail at Thacher State Park was injured by a falling cobble-sized rock ripped from the cliff by winter’s ice, resulting in an extended closure of the trail. Apparently trying to conjure images of a dark conspiracy, an area daily newspaper subsequently published a story with a headline to the effect that the park maintenance staff “knew of” the danger beforehand. 

Of course they did — and so did every kid in New York State taking Earth Science! The implication that “something should have been done” is ludicrous. The mile-long trail follows the base of a cliff made of several different rock types, all of which are heavily fractured through natural weathering processes and all of which absorb water that freezes in winter, resulting in the shattering of rock known as “frost wedging.”

A photo taken in the Adirondacks shows a multi-ton boulder of the metamorphic rock known as schist that has been cleaved by this process. No amount of vigilance before the Indian Ladder Trail opened for the season could have accounted for every single crevice or fracture that was in danger of releasing a rock fragment.

The Helderberg escarpment has been eroding for millions of years, and the process will continue for millennia to come.  The broad talus slope that descends from the escarpment into the valley below is made up of billions of tons of rock weathered from it, ranging in size from giant boulders to sand grains — and these fragments do not fall without violent results.

The rocks of the Helderbegs generally fall into one of three types of sedimentary rock, formed hundreds of millions of years ago in the seas of the Devonian Period: limestone, shale, and sandstone.

Of the three, because of its density, limestone is generally the most resistant to weathering by frost wedging, though natural acids in rain and groundwater will cause it to dissolve. From a limestone outcrop south of the village of New Salem, great slabs of rock have been wedged by ice accumulating in the natural fractures in bedrock known as “joint partings,” forming a steep cliff .

Shale is petrified clay and can easily absorb water that can cause a solid rock exposure like one on the Beaver Dam Road above Thacher Park to be reduced to a pile of gravel by frost wedging. The talus slope below the the Helderberg escarpment is formed mostly from the on-site weathering of porous shale and sandstone bedrock, though it is littered with immense jagged boulders of the Manlius and Coeymans limestone layers that have broken away from the cliffs and gone crashing down from the plateau.

Ice Age changes

Much of New York State’s landscape was changed radically starting 1.5 million years ago with the onset of the Pleistocene Epoch, more commonly known as “the Ice Age,” though it was only the most recent of several that Earth has experienced over the billions of years of its existence.

In the Helderberg area, the steep faces and flat tops of Bennett Hill in Clarksville and Vroman’s Nose in Middleburgh show the effects of the movement of the continental ice sheet. Laden with rock fragments torn from bedrock by frost action, the glaciers acted like gigantic bulldozers sculpting and scraping the bedrock, often with spectacular results.

Pyramidal Potash Mountain that looms above Lake Luzerne got its unique shape when several small glaciers descending from its summit tore away its dense metamorphic bedrock.  Had the glaciers persisted for a few more thousands of years, Potash Mountain might have become a miniature version of Switzerland’s Matterhorn.

A graph of daily temperatures as the year in the Northeast progresses from January to June would show a constant variation from cold to warm and back to cold again. It must be remembered that an “average” temperature is simply the mean between two extremes, and it is not unusual in this part of the country to have a day in the 70s in February and a snowy day in May — though the general temperature trend obviously is upward.  

Warm days and below-freezing nights are said to be ideal for maple syruping. But they certainly can wreak hell on our roads and rocks.


By Everyone’s biggest concern right now is how to avoid contracting COVID-19, so let’s address some key preventative measures to keep ourselves safe and healthy.

It is believed that this disease is mainly spread from person to person, so the best defense is maintaining a safe distance from other people. COVID-19 mainly spreads through the air, especially when another person coughs or sneezes, so it is recommended that you maintain a six-foot distance from other people when you are in a public space (i.e. buying groceries, going to the pharmacy, etc.).

It is also extremely important to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds after being in public spaces, blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. If soap and water are not available, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer should be used. All care should be taken to avoid touching your face.

Frequently-used household items, such as doorknobs, counters, appliances, desks, and phones, should be wiped down daily, if not more often. What can be used to effectively disinfect? Options include diluted household bleach solutions (one-third cup of bleach per gallon of water), alcohol solutions (at least 70 percent alcohol), and most household disinfectants registered by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

According to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s “New York State on Pause” executive order, all nonessential gatherings of individuals of any size for any reason have been temporarily banned. When it is necessary to go out in public, individuals should avoid crowds and maintain a minimum six-foot distance from one another.

The best way we can work together to prevent the spread of this disease is to practice social distancing by staying at home as much as possible, especially since New York State currently has such a high rate of COVID-19 cases. Even if you are feeling well, it is possible that you could still be carrying the disease and inadvertently be putting others at risk by going out. 

Additionally, “Matilda’s Law,” named for the governor’s mother, is currently in effect in New York State. The purpose of these guidelines is to protect residents who are older than 70 and individuals with otherwise compromised immune systems (i.e. cancer patients, transplant patients, individuals with HIV/AIDs, etc.).

In addition to the guidelines recommended for everyone, these individuals are instructed to remain indoors at home, except for going outside for solitary exercise. They should wear a mask in the company of others and any visitors should take their temperature before they enter their home.

One last note, although solitary outdoor exercise is still encouraged to stay healthy and fit, please avoid contact sports, playgrounds, basketball courts, etc. to help prevent the virus’s spread. We are all in this together; let’s work together to keep our loved ones and neighbors safe.


For over 25 years Community Caregivers has helped those in local communities who may require a little assistance while they remain in their homes and live independently with dignity. Through a network of dedicated staff and volunteers, clients receive reassurance calls, friendly visits, help with transportation, shopping, and light chores. Caregivers are also provided support through education and respite visits. Community Caregivers is always seeking new volunteers and clients. For more information, visit or call 518-456-2898.

Editor’s note: Caroline Weiss is a second-year Medical student at Albany Medical College.


This report will have just a few current comments and there are only a couple of email communiqués. The conversation would be on what the old men are doing to amuse themselves during the virus situation.

The OMOTM are not much different than the rest of the country with what they can do, and right now that is not much. At our ages, not much is the norm.

Reading the comments, this scribe thought now is the time for the hind-sighters to come out of the woodwork, along with the I-would-a’s. They don’t know (using the hard-to-pin-down “they” here) they don’t even have a clue, and if they had to handle the situation at hand would probably pull the covers over their heads and stay in bed.

The OFs at one time talked about how much has changed in the years that the OFs could remember well until now — from farming with horses to men on the moon. One OF commented it is quite a lifetime we OGs are having and it is not over yet.

One of the notes not used in my little notebook is the word “driving.” This was a conversation that this scribe does remember (quite a bit of) because driving years ago is nothing like it is now.

Most of the OF farmers were driving from the time they were 9 or 10 years old, and one OF said even younger. By the time the OFs were 11 years old, they could back a four-wheeled wagon loaded with hay over a barn bridge and into the bay to be unloaded, and this feat was achieved with a steel-wheeled tractor and the only power assist on those things were the muscles in your arms.

The farmer OFs went all over when they were in school and truly could use the sentence, “License? I ain’t got no license.” The reason for this was because they weren’t old enough to apply for one.

One OF remembered making a stand for a rooster to fit behind the steering wheel of a car and taking Mr. Noise (a pet rooster) and tying him to this stand. This rooster looked exactly like he was driving the car.

Then another YF would get down under the dash and in front of the rider’s seat he would work the pedals with his hands. Another YF would get in the back seat and give directions and through town they would go.

The car looked just like it was being driven by a chicken. The problem is that, in the town of Gallupville, there were not that many people out and about to impress with their efforts but, according to the OF, they had fun anyway.

Now, though it may seem stupid, this exhibit showed off the driving skills acquired by being on the farm. None of these OFs had a license.

And, another thing!  Not only driving — but living 70 years ago. Life truly was much simpler and certainly more civil.

It was necessary to drive these old vehicles — they did not drive themselves. We had hurts and some diseases that eventually were cured and the dentist was not fun, but times were simpler.

Because of the simple times, the police were much different. However, they did not have the pressures of today with all its violent behavior.

More than one OF reported on being stopped by the police for some erratic driving maneuver and more than once no one in the car had a license yet the officer would more than likely say, “You boys get that thing home right now, and don’t let me catch you driving like that again.”

Nothing was said at home beyond, “Don’t drive again tomorrow and just don’t do whatever made the officer stop you for doing.”

The OFs did some brainless things, but they did not destroy or vandalize. Boy! It is different today!

But that was 70 years ago.

These are but a few of our catch-up notes from the scribe on behalf of the Old Men of the Mountain.

Closing from the internet:  

I was so bored last night I called Jake from State Farm just to talk to somebody. He wanted to know what I was wearing.


The Enterprise — Marcello Iaia

Clayton Ogsbury’s gilt-framed portrait hangs at Enterprise Printing and Photo at 123 Maple Ave., long the home of The Altamont Enterprise, which has since moved across the street to 120 Maple. Clayton Ogsbury was the brother of John D. Ogsbury who had owned The Enterprise. 

Newly discovered veins of gold and silver in the western territories attracted hordes of fortune seekers in the years immediately following the Civil War. Joining the exodus west was David Clayton Ogsbury, a 22-year-old who had grown up with his brothers and sister on the Settles Hill farm worked by generations of Ogsburys since the 1790s.

Feeling there was little future for him in this area, the adventurous Clayt decided to relocate to the Colorado Territory in 1869. Before boarding the Albany & Susquehanna train at Knowersville, he made his goodbyes to his parents, brothers, and sister. Rev. William P. Davis, pastor of the Helderberg Reformed Church where Clayton had always attended services, had also come along to wish him godspeed.

Denver, Clayt Ogsbury’s new home, had become a bustling town within a few short years of its founding. Quickly obtaining employment, Clayt Ogsbury began to invest in mine shares. A few years before, gold and silver discoveries in the mountains of southwestern Colorado had led to the establishment of several small settlements in that area.

Rumors of rich silver lodes supplying amounts as much as 500 ounces per ton had reached Denver, inspiring the ambitious young Clayt Ogsbury to relocate to the rough mining town of Silverton, a community high in the mountains, reachable only by trails, some years cut off for months by heavy winter blizzards.

In 1877, before the winter snows blocked the mountain passes, Clayt returned to Denver where he began the rail trip east to visit his childhood haunts around Knowersville. He reconnected with family and friends, bringing with him a souvenir, an engraving of Silverton and the surrounding mountains.

Drawn from a recent landscape painting, the print would enable everyone back in Guilderland to visualize the spectacular scenery and mining operations of his new home.

On his arrival, family and friends, delighted to have him back in their midst, found a mature, self-confident, successful man, who impressed everyone with his demeanor. Assuring his father that he was now quite prosperous, Clayt promised to pay off the mortgage on the Ogsbury farm, handing over several gold nuggets to his elderly father with the promise of more to come.

The first documentary evidence of his residence in Silverton was a liquor license dated 1879, a common way to make a living in a mining town of that period. During the next two years, Clayt was also mining some claims in nearby Ophir with the colorful names of Little Dora, Empire, Cocktail, and Ajax.

Ogsbury named marshal

In Silverton, his reputation of being a sober, hardworking, responsible man of integrity led to his being named in 1880 as court bailiff. A year later, on May 9, 1881, Clate (as his name was always spelled in Colorado) Ogsbury was appointed town marshal of Silverton.

Almost immediately, he made his first arrest, a fugitive robber on the lam from another county. At the same time, he continued his mining ventures with a new claim called “Crown Jewel.”

Silverton in 1881 was a typical western mining town, its main street lined with a mix of saloons, dance halls, and gambling dens frequented not only by the locals, a rough bunch in themselves, but also by  tough hombres passing through. The Diamond Saloon was perhaps the most disreputable of the lot, offering drinks and dancing with the “ladies” employed there, all under the watchful eye of “Broncho Louisa.”

An unsuspecting patron, unaware that the usual customers were the roughest element in the town, complained to Marshal Ogsbury after discovering he had been stripped of all his valuables. The marshal promptly arrested “Broncho Louisa,” who, after spending a night in jail, soon made her outraged feelings known to the regulars at her saloon.

By coincidence, riding into town late that same day were Burt Wilkinson, Dyson Eskridge, and an African American known as the “Copper-Colored Kid” — three cowboy members of the notorious Stockton-Eskridge gang. All three had a price on their heads, the result of misdeeds in Durango in a nearby county.

The Copper-Colored Kid was also wanted in Texas, where a $1,200 reward had been posted. First stabling their horses in a livery stable several blocks up the street, the three headed for the toughest dive in Silverton, the Diamond Saloon where the angry clientele was still seething over Marshal Ogsbury’s treatment of their “Broncho Louisa.”

Early on the evening of Aug. 24, 1881, Luke Hunter trotted into Silverton. He was the sheriff of La Plata County, where Durango is located, and he carried warrants for the arrest of Wilkinson, Eskridge, and the Copper-Colored Kid.

This man of no integrity and little courage let all and sundry know that he had the warrants, most likely to warn the outlaws to hightail it out of town, sparing him any unpleasantness. However, the action at “Broncho Louisa’s” must have been just too good because the three gang members decided to stay put.

Shot in the line of duty

When Hunter went to find Ogsbury to inform him of the warrants, the marshal wanted to get additional backup, but the sheriff, who may have thought the three outlaws would be gone by then, insisted that there would be no problems.

Hunter, Ogsbury, and a man named E.W. Hodges began to walk down Silverton’s main street. Approaching the Diamond Saloon, Ogsbury became aware of a man lurking in the shadows. As he peered to get a better look, there was the explosive sound of a shot.

Ogsbury crumpled, falling face forward with a bullet lodged just above his heart. When Hunter and Hodges turned Ogsbury on his back, he groaned. But as more shots were fired from the saloon, they quickly retreated without ever returning fire. Clayt Ogsbury died in the dusty street.

Cut off from their horses at the livery stable down the street, the three desperadoes fled on foot and were able to get out of town without having one shot fired at them. A short time later, they sent the Copper-Colored Kid back into town to retrieve their horses, but he was quickly captured, arrested, and put in jail.

The next evening, angry locals stormed into the jail, “overpowered the jailer,” and lynched the “Kid” in his jail cell. The local newspaper later reported the incident in racist terms.

Clayton Ogsbury’s funeral was attended by 500 people. Afterward, his body lay in state in the courthouse for several hours and then a huge procession followed it to the cemetery. All of Silverton’s businesses had closed in his memory.

That very day, a telegram arrived from Dunnsville, New York with Ogsbury’s family requesting the return of the marshal’s body. It was disinterred, embalmed, and the coffin taken over mountain trails to the nearest railroad to begin the long journey home, accompanied by Rev. Harlan Page Roberts, the minister of Silverton.

With the common belief in Silverton that Burt Wilkinson was Ogsbury’s killer, reward money reached the sum of $4,000 for his capture. Wilkinson and Eskridge had escaped, hiking on foot, finally getting shelter at a friendly ranch.

Ike Stockton, leader of their gang, had no qualms about “arresting” Wilkinson and turning him in for the reward money. Within 24 hours after being jailed, the locals “overpowered the jailer” and as they had the Copper-Colored Kid,the locals hanged him in his cell.

At about the same time, in early September, a solemn crowd of over 100 people gathered along the D & H tracks by the tiny Knowersville depot, waiting to pay their respects as the train carrying Clayton Ogsbury’s coffin pulled in.

The Helderberg Reformed Church was packed to capacity the day of his funeral when Rev. H.P. Roberts of Silverton, assisted by the church’s pastor Rev. Samuel Gamble, led the service. After the funeral, the crowd followed the coffin across the road, climbing the hill to the cemetery for burial. At his gravesite a stone was later erected with a carving of his marshal’s badge prominent on top where it stands to this day.

Settling his estate

In October 1881, J.H. Ogsbury and John Ogsbury, Clayt’s father and brother, showed up in Silverton to settleClayton’s estate.  According to the San Juan County Historical Society’s archivist writing in 1986, the estate records are incomplete.

According to the late Arthur Gregg, Guilderland’s town historian, Ogsbury’s father had delayed going west until spring. When he went to Silverton, he took with him a “country justice of the peace” who was not competent to deal with the complexities of mining claims. Clayt’s father received only a few gold nuggets and enough from a bank account to pay off the mortgage on the Ogsbury farm.

Arthur Gregg would have known both John D. and his son, Howard, very well and would have gotten family information from them. Ogsbury family members claimed it was an incompetent lawyer (who very well may have also been a justice of the peace) because there should have been rich mining interests as part of this estate.

With the amount of lawlessness in that area at that time, it is very likely Clayton Ogsbury’s mining interests were taken by someone else before his family had a chance to establish their claim, losing out on what could have been a fortune.

John D. Ogsbury, Clayton’s brother, became the owner of The Altamont Enterprise and hung Clayton’s photograph and the engraving of Silverton that Clayt had brought with him when he visited in 1877 on the wall where he could see it as he worked at the press and where they remain to this day, a memorial to a man who died doing his duty.


Alfonso Cortés celebrated the magnificent genízaro tree of Nagarote in his poem, “To the Historic Genízaro”: I love you, old tree, because at every hour/ you generate mysteries and destinies/in the voice of the evening winds/and that of the birds of dawn.”

Dedicated to Steven White

One night in the middle of February 1927, when he was 34, the great Nicaraguan poet Alfonso Cortés woke with a start. He went to his father’s room and said something was wrong; he didn’t feel quite himself.

His father said it was probably something he ate and suggested taking magnesia. Alfonso went back to bed only to return a short time later saying, “No, Daddy, something very serious is happening to me, I am not able to sleep and terrible ideas are coming to me.”

It was his Rubicon; the family never forgot the day: February 18, 1927.

And to the whole family — father and sisters (the mother died two years before) — it remained a mystery as to what occurred. In his autobiography, “El Poema Cotidiano,” which came out in 1967, Cortés called it “a hair-raising vision like the one in a profound style the Prophet Job refers to.” He felt he’d been sent to Dante’s Hell.

In her biography of her brother years later, Maria Luisa Cortés, said the family referred to the event (and all the after effects) as “nuestra tragedia.”

How ironic that, as a 12-year old, his classmates at the Instituto Nacional de Occidente in León called Alfonso “el poeta”; now, at 34, his neighbors and fellow poets referred to him as “el poeta loco.”  

No one doubted Alfonso had had a serious break with the reality he, his family, and fellow citizens of León, were familiar with. His close-knit family found themselves in a bind. They wanted their kin nearby but Alfonso needed supervision and sometimes restraint — he flew into furias, raging fits — but there was no insane asylum (manicomio) in León and the warehouse in Managua was out of the question.  

So the family decided to keep him at home, devising a way to chain him up and then link the chain to a beam in the ceiling. Maria Luisa said, “The poet continued to be chained up in a room which had a view of the street, always with a thick chain which hung from a strong beam.”

“So as to provide more comfort for him,” she goes on, “a bed was set up on which he slept (the same wooden bed over which we had kept vigil for my mother); days later by his request a trunk was brought to his room containing books and manuscripts which he read every day. On a number of days after reading this he had a severe attack, he was completely uncontrollable, and began to rip the papers and destroy the books.” The furias.

But there were periods of quiet lucidity when the fam took the chains off so the poet could stretch and maybe strum his guitar. The room had a single window that he spent a good part of the day looking through, thinking about space and time and being and God.

Ernesto Cardenal, a major Nicaraguan poet in his own right — the saintly maestro died last month — grew up in León not far from where Alfonso lived. In a brilliant introduction to a book of 30 poems he put together in honor of “el poeta,” he says that, when he was 8, in 1933, he attended the Christian Brothers school just a few blocks from the Cortés home. He passed by it every day.

Cardenal said on one occasion the front door of the house was open wide so he could see at the end of a corridor a man chained to the ceiling. When he got home he anxiously inquired what was going on. The Cardenal family servant told the boy he had seen “el poeta loco.”

Cardenal said one afternoon, when the kids were playing in the schoolyard, Cortés, having broken free of his chains, ran amongst the kids, terrifying all — he hurt no one of course. The school authorities called the police; they came and took Alfonso home.

I won’t list the conjectures his contemporaries offered as to why Alfonso went mad — one said it was his mother’s death — but he told Cardenal at one of their many meetings later on that, when he started writing poetry at 7 or 8, his soul opened to literature and “locura” simultaneously.

Cardenal realized, “I believe in fact that literature and insanity had been one and the same thing for him ... Craziness and poetry begin with him from the same dark source … .”

There is considerable truth in what he says; anyone who has taken the time to look into Alfonso’s work, soon sees no difference between the poems he wrote when he was “sane” and those he wrote after se volvió loco.

When for strange reasons the family home was sold out from under them, the sisters finally agreed to take their brother to Hospital de Enfermos Mentales in Managua, where he was given shock treatments. There he remained until 1965 — 21 years, five months confined — when his sisters brought him back to León and cared for him at home. He died in 1969.

As millions of Americans care for themselves enclosed at home during this viral tsunami, I’m sure few will come upon Alfonso Cortés in the course of their extended reading. The irony is that they, all of us, are in the same situation as the mad poet; we too are confined by walls; we see the world through a little window.

In honor of his window and the life it wrought, Alfonso wrote a now-famous poem “La Ventana” —  “The Window.” The first two lines read: Un trozo de azul tiene mayor/intensidad que todo el cielo.

“Trozo” in Spanish means “a bit” or “a piece of” and “azul,” as we know from azure, is blue. Thus the poem begins, “A little piece of blue”; of course, he’s writing about the sky he could see outside his window.

He then makes the extraordinary claim that that little patch of blue had more intensity than the entire sky (todo el cielo), the sky everybody else could see. Cielo is also the word for “heaven,” and for “marvel” and “delight.”

El poeta loco was telling the world outside his window that, within a tiny frame of life, one can experience a reality equal to, no, greater than, all the delights even heaven can offer.

The cynic will say: What! That guy was nuts! And I say, what do you see through your window and how does that match up with the greatest delights heaven offers you? Now of course it’d be: no coronavirus.

When he still lived at home, from time to time, Alfonso had to be taken to the hospital in Managua for tests. On the way in the car, he used to see out the window the magnificent genízaro tree of Nagarote, said to be 950 years old.

He needed to celebrate the tree. In an equally-famous poem “To the Historic Genízaro,” he writes: I love you, old tree, because at every hour/ you generate mysteries and destinies/in the voice of the evening winds/and that of the birds of dawn.”

As you, America, look at the world through your coronavirus-glazed window, what kinds of mysteries and destinies do the voice of the evening wind and the birds of dawn bring to you?

You’d better watch out; start talking that way and you’ll wind up in a manicomio.


One of my long-time favorite hobbies has been collecting quotations from wherever I can find them. The other day, I picked up an old woodworking book and found this gem that I must share:

“Your skill in carpentry is limited by two things: aptitude and attitude. You may think you don’t have an aptitude for carpentry when, in fact, it is your attitude that is holding you back.” David and Jeanie Stiles wrote that in “Woodworking Simplified.”

Can you guess why this quote is so great? Because you can use it for anything you are trying to do or want to learn. Substitute any of the following for carpentry and it’s just as good:

— Guitar playing;

— Ballroom dancing;

— Swimming; or

— Learning Mandarin

I’ve always said that, no matter how bad things get, there is one thing that you and you alone can control, and that is your attitude. Truly, learning how to do that is really the key to being productive; engaged; and, if not outright happy, at least satisfied or content.

All of us have had our worlds changed due to coronavirus and its many ramifications. I’ve not been able to see my grandson in months.

Worse than that, the Guilderland Public Library is closed. Not having access to my library is probably the worst part of the virus for me and I know many, many others. So many services are just on hold.

If you don’t believe me, sign up for your library’s RSS feed (Really Simple Syndication, a type of daily web update that you can receive in many ways) and watch all the canceled activities come through. It’s so sad.

Still, because I can’t get my book fix, I dug out this old woodworking book and came upon this quote. So there.

When I first got into IT (Information Technology), one of the attractions was that someday I’d be able to work from home. Back in those days, I was living in Brooklyn and working in Manhattan, so anything that could keep me out of subways, buses, bridges, and tunnels was something I wanted.

Then, when I finally got an IT job, my life became enmeshed with four-inch thick IBM manuals and the other tools of the trade that could only be found in the office. Plus, no matter how good the technology became, you can do more in a five minute, face-to-face conversation with a co-worker than in hundreds of emails, texts, or face-times.

So I never wound up becoming a telecommuter, but with the coronavirus I was directed, for the first time in my career, to work from home if possible.

Mind you, just because you have the ability to work from home doesn’t mean it’s provided for you. In my case, I’m using a second-hand desk in a spare room with a cheap Windows laptop computer I bought a few years ago.

The chair I have cost $5 at an office-surplus store. The keyboard is from some older computer that I long ago binned, and the monitor is one my son tossed out a long time ago. Using this patchwork mix of equipment has changed my normal 20-minute, 10-mile commute to a simple walk downstairs.

No doubt there are some advantages to telecommuting. I can be in my pajamas all day; see beautiful birds outside my window; stretch or run in place between tasks; and use my own bathroom.

But I still miss my Dilbert-like cubicle and being in close proximity to my co-workers. It’s just not the same having us all be separated like this.

We are all forcing ourselves to change our attitude about this because we have to, of course; “social distancing” is a necessity in these dire times. But, like retired athletes always tell you, they miss the camaraderie of the locker room most of all. Believe it or not, cubicle dwellers like me miss the water cooler and its social aspects just as much.

So here is where it’s all about attitude. We need to learn to use this forced time at home to our advantage. That saved commuting time is found time.

In my case, I can use it to practice guitar, exercise, or clean up my messy garage and workbenches. Those are all great things that I need to do more of. You have things you can do with this found time as well. Take advantage of it now as it won’t last forever (at least we hope it won’t last forever).

Let’s not forget our friends and neighbors during these tough times. The restaurants are closed but are open for take-out, so put in an order. And be sure to thank the clerks in the stores that are open — supermarkets, hardware stores, etc. They are making it possible to have some semblance of normalcy. That is so great. Let’s make sure we support them as much as we can.

Truly, attitude is the one thing we can all control, and we need to control it now more than ever. Good luck and stay positive!


When you live with three cats with wildly diverse personalities, and then add in four babies of different ages and personalities, you get something akin to a barely contained chemical reaction. The best part though, is how much both species actually have in common.

For instance, the 2-year old granddaughter likes to knock things over, throw things, kick things, and generally cause mayhem, just like our cats. If I build a tower of blocks, Audri will grin widely and promptly send it flying to great guffaws.

Then, without batting an eye, she’ll pick up blocks, hand them to me and suggest I build another tower. Quickly! She doesn’t have all day!

The cats prefer to knock things off counters, desks, and other flat surfaces usually in the middle of the night or in direct proportion to cost or breakability. I think they smile when doing it too.

The handling of food is also quite interesting. The cats will prowl about, meow loudly, and make every effort to trip you as you serve them food. The toddler will repeatedly say, “Snack!” and lead you by the finger to the kitchen and cry uncontrollably if she doesn’t get the correct food in under 1.6 seconds.

The 7-month-old twins are a bit easier as they mostly just eat formula. Of course, if Mila gets hungrier than she likes, she will howl at a volume that has been known to peel paint off walls and send cats scattering faster than using a vacuum.

Miles, Mila’s twin brother, is a little mellower but will get vocal too, just at a lower volume. And their cousin, Sullivan, at 1 year is a very quiet fella but able to empty a jar of baby food in nothing flat.

So both species want food and will let you know it, in roughly the same manner.

Playtime for both species is quite an event. Our cat Romeo will jump halfway up the wall if he sees light bouncing off my watch and reflecting on the wall.

The twins will bounce up and down in a bouncy seat with great panache and Sully has turned the Jolly Jumper into a gymnastic event. Toys elicit similar reactions with Sully attempting to eat or at least taste any and all toys.

The cats just prefer to bat things all over the house until, without fail, the toys end up under the stove. Audri will carry toys all over the house and leave them in seemingly random places. I mean it’s great to find blocks in the couch, puzzle pieces in plants, and small plastic people under furniture.

Of course, one issue that does come up during playtime is when the kids see the cats and want to play with them. The cats do not see the fun in this and generally disappear in ways that would make Houdini proud.

Sylvie can go from asleep on the couch to under our bed upstairs so fast you start looking for a time machine or transporter. Romeo just turns 180 degrees as soon as a baby approaches him. But, to be fair, he has allowed the kids to pet him on occasion. If I’m holding them and I sedate him. Nibbler, our tiny half-feral calico, simply leaves the ZIP code if she spies a tiny human.

Outdoor time is a big hit for both species. The cats love to be outdoors, killing small animals, lying in the sun, and leaving various organs and body parts for us to find. They also enjoy walking up and down the street and hoping someone will feed them.

The kids are all about outdoors too. Sully will attempt to consume any and all objects within his reach be they animal, vegetable, or mineral. The twins just enjoy staring wide-eyed at everything and looking cute. And Audri is queen of all she surveys from the playground on Maple Avenue to our backyard and every muddy puddle, snow drift, or interesting object she encounters. And of course, she also enjoys chasing the cats all over the yard.

And the final area of inter-species agreement is sleep. The cats can and do nap anywhere and anytime it suits them. The babies, well, they do sleep but rather randomly.

Audri is usually good for a solid post-lunch nap as is Sully, but only for us, less so for his mommy. The twins sleep whenever, usually after a meal or a long run in the bouncy chair.

Mila is the worst with an infant case of FOMO (fear of missing out) despite the fact that she’s not even clear on what she might be missing. Miles is a little better, but both twins will fight sleep usually when their parents are the most exhausted.

Oh, I forgot. Our son also has two cats: twins called Fester and Gomez that live on his side of the house and revel in tearing up his apartment, running around the neighborhood, and getting into it with our three.

So, there you have it. Four grandbabies, five cats and a 140-year-old house. It’s never boring on Lincoln Avenue.

Editor’s note: Michael Seinberg says he takes time out of the daily madness to feed his Betta fish, Bruce, who seems unbothered by the chaos around him. So far.