Archive » November 2021 » Columns

“Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”

— From “Big Yellow Taxi” by Joni Mitchell

The other day, I was rooting around in a drawer and found a box of matches from the long-gone but not forgotten Bavarian Chalet, that beautiful German-themed restaurant and bar on Western Avenue in Guilderland. I hadn’t thought about that place in a long time, but seeing that box of matches brought back all the old memories. Boy, do I miss that place.

Think about it: We used to have a world-class German taproom and restaurant right in town. How great was that? The only thing comparable is the bar and restaurant at the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, Vermont, which is a five-star resort and destination in its own right.

Yes, we had a place much like that right here in Guilderland at one time (minus the sweeping mountains and the whole “Sound of Music” vibe, of course). Wow.

The bar at the Bavarian Chalet had rich, deep woods, with consummate craftsmanship and accouterments. They had all the German beers on tap, and served them in those tall glasses that are so nice. The bartenders always wore fancy black and white uniforms, truly elegant.

Same with the servers: It was a very high level of atmosphere and service. There was always a wedding or banquet there as well, but the thought that you could just meet friends at a classy place like that, right in the neighborhood, is truly mind-boggling to me now. You really don’t know what you have until it’s gone.

I work with technology all day. Believe it or not, that’s not so bad. Where there is a problem, in general, if you look at the last thing you did, there’s a good chance you’ve found out what’s wrong.

So technology is fairly easy to deal with, in that it has rules, is predictable, and responds to clear, organized methods of work. It’s the people involved with technology that are harder to deal with.

People have good days and bad days, can be moody, sometimes spray you when they talk, get frustrated, etc. I’m sure you know what I mean. Even yours truly can be difficult to deal with at times I’m told, haha.

One day a long time ago, I had a really tough day at work. Everyone was being a jerk. It was miserable.

When I got home that day, I announced to my lovely wife, Charlotte, that I’d had a bad day, and because of that I wanted to go to the Bavarian Chalet to relax with a couple of beers. Many of you reading this know my lovely wife, but for those of you who don’t, be advised that she doesn’t need to take an assertiveness-training class.

“Hi, I had a really bad day at work, so I’m going over to the Bavarian Chalet for a couple of beers to take the edge off. I’ll see you in a couple of hours.”

“You aren’t going anywhere.”

“Um, I don’t think you understand. I had a really, really bad day at work. I need to relax for a while. I’m stressed out.”

“I understand perfectly. While you’ve been playing around with computers all day, I’ve been here cleaning, doing laundry, paying bills, vacuuming, answering the phone, and getting ready for dinner, all the while keeping two small children clean and entertained.”

“I know, but ….”

“There are no buts. You aren’t going anywhere. Instead, you will help with dinner, then you will give these kids baths and get them ready for bed while I give piano lessons to help pay the mortgage on this house.”

“But I had a bad day!”

“End of discussion. You aren’t going anywhere. Get used to it.”

In 35 years of marriage, that was the one and only time I had made that kind of request. Some guys would have just gone straight to the bar after work, but I’m not like that.

I really have always tried to do the right thing when it comes to my marriage and family. She was right, of course, but still. I could so badly have used a couple of those tall German beers on that awful day.

One time, my office booked the Bavarian Chalet for our annual summer picnic. There was a huge field outside where all kinds of animals could be seen.

That year, we had a pick-up two-hand touch football game. At one point, one of the ladies from my office was playing quarterback. She took the snap and then lateralled the ball to me.

Just in case you don’t know the rules: In football, if someone throws you a forward pass and you drop it, the play is over, but if someone laterals you the ball and you drop it, that’s a live ball, otherwise known as a fumble.

So with all my co-workers watching, the pressure was on big-time. Well, I grabbed that lateral, juked and jived a few guys, and then took off like a scalded cat and scored the touchdown. That really happened!

Just for that one sweet moment if nothing else, the Bavarian Chalet will always have a special place in my heart.

One of the best things about the Bavarian Chalet was the architecture of the building. It featured several graceful arches and an adobe style roof if I remember correctly. I don’t know about you, but I just love arches on buildings. That style is so elegant to me.

They also had a lot of windows looking onto their beautiful property; many long, decorated hallways that got you around efficiently; a large basement room for private parties; and of course that lovely u-shaped bar. The more I think about it, the more I miss all of it. Dang.

I’m not sure what actually happened to the Bavarian Chalet. I guess the land where it used to be is now a housing project and the Guilderland Senior Center. I’ve been in the senior center: It’s beautiful there, and the people who work there are awesome.

But, unless they start serving ice-cold German beer in tall, lovely glasses, it just isn’t the same.

The Bavarian Chalet was a true jewel, a neighborhood place that felt like a five-star resort. It is gone but it is most certainly not forgotten. Tschiirs!

 — Photo from the Guilderland Historical Society

Ward’s store in the hamlet of Guilderland was also in business until the 1960s. Originally operated in the 19th Century as Olendorf’s, Thomas B. Ward operated it as a WGY store beginning in 1926. Both Petinger’s and Ward’s stores functioned as their communities’ post offices until their closing. Note that Ward’s had also added gas pumps. Petinger’s and Ward’s were the last of the many general stores that once had operated in town.

The Walmart and Amazon of yesteryear were the general stores found in almost every small community, crammed with an amazing assortment of goods.

The sight of the contents of Altamont’s F. & W.S. Pitts store in the 1890s would have boggled the minds of Guilderland’s 18th-Century settlers who were forced to be relatively self-sufficient except for a few necessities, items like tea, salt, or tobacco. Some of the town’s early tavern keepers, Nicholas Mynderse for one, sold or bartered these necessities in addition to selling alcohol and putting up travelers.

With the combination of Guilderland’s increasing population in the 1790s and the 1804 opening of the Western Turnpike, stores began to appear. Serving the small community of Hamilton near the glassworks early in the 19th Century, Christopher Batterman’s was probably the first.

Years later, when the 1845 New York State Census was taken in Guilderland, four grocers and seven merchants were counted. In addition to the hamlet of Guilderland, stores were recorded in Guilderland Center, Dunnsville, and Knowersville at that time. Jacob Crounse is known to have kept a store in Knowersville at this period.

The post-Civil War decades marked the heyday of the general store in rural America. Both the 1886 Howell & Tenney History of Albany County and Amasa Parker’s 1897 Landmarks of Albany County listed Guilderland’s general stores and their proprietors.

Dunnsville, Fullers, Meadowdale, Guilderland Hamlet, and Guilderland Center each had one, and Altamont had more than one. However, McKownville wasn’t mentioned in either volume, nor did a store show up there on the 1866 Beers Map. Perhaps a small store existed, but no record of it remains or an Albany store was in easy distance.


Catchy ads

Carrying a wide variety of goods, general stores sought to meet customer needs while emphasizing low prices, or at least the Guilderland stores were fixated on bargains, perhaps because of the numerous competitors in town. The coming of The Enterprise in 1884 provided the opportunity for clever advertising with lots of product variety and assurance of low prices aimed at drawing customers from the competition.

One simply stated “FIRST CLASS COUNTRY STORE.”

Several ads placed at the time of the Spanish-American War in 1898 by Altamont’s F. & S.W. Pitts were very eye-catching, especially since the headings were in a dark large font. “GREAT BATTLE! Not at HAVANA, but at ALTAMONT! Our battle is on high prices and we are confident of victory.” o

Another proclaimed “WAR! War has begun and almost everything is advancing. We offer the following at the same low prices.” Attached was a lengthy list of goods and prices.

The Pitts assured customers, “In placing bargains before the public, remember, we look, first of all to quality and then aim to sell it at lowest Albany or Schenectady prices.”

J.F. Mynderse sought to attract attention with “NOTICE: HOW TO SAVE MONEY.” Another ad stated, “SAVED anywhere from 20 to 50 dollars a year by trading at the ALTAMONT CASH STORE.”

Smaller stores in Dunnsville, Fullers, or Meadowdale where there was no competition didn’t advertise and they certainly didn’t carry the extent of merchandise the larger stores in Altamont or Guilderland Center did.

A selection of items listed in F. & W.S. Pitts’ ads illustrate a sample of the variety offered by the general store merchant. Food choices not available from the farm or backyard garden included cans of potted ham, olives, cans of salmon, pepper, raisins, currants, coffee, tea, codfish, molasses, candies, Malaga grapes and nuts.

Because baking bread and other baked goods was the housewives’ weekly chore, flour was always an important item, as well as baking powder, salt, and yeast regularly listed.

Personal needs were met by patent medicines, soap, gloves, shoes, rubber goods, overshoes, shirts, pants, ladies’ wrappers, various kinds of yard goods for home sewing, notions, tobacco, and jack knives. Household items included pots and pans, brooms, oil cloth, paints and wallpaper.

Not all of the town’s general stores would necessarily have carried so many foods and dry goods, some of which were probably considered luxury items for many farm families or a family where a laborer provided the sole income. And the stores with farmers as the majority of their customers carried fewer consumer goods and a good deal of animal feed, fertilizer, and items needed by farmers such as hay bands.

In 1900, when F. & W.S. Pitts when out of business, at their MAMMOTH CLOSING OUT SALE they offered “many thousands of dollars’ worth of goods” including  “dry goods, groceries, boots and shoes, flour, feed, patent medicines, paint, oils, wooden ware, stoneware (crocks), pants, shorts, underwear, umbrellas, whips, crockery, glassware, etc.”

Nowadays, Thanksgiving and Christmas or Hanukkah holiday shopping represent a key part of a retailer’s profitability, but during the heyday of Guilderland’s general stores, the holidays pass by with no special advertising even though Albany retailers advertising in The Enterprise were appealing to the turn-of-the-century Christmas shopper.


Pettinger prevailed

Down the road in Guilderland Center was P. Pettinger, whose general store probably operated the longest of any in town under one proprietor, from 1884 to 1927. His customer base must have included many farmers, leading him to carry an extensive line of animal feeds and items useful on the farm in addition to the usual groceries and dry goods.

An innovative merchandiser, Pettinger offered to deliver orders by wagon. The early 20th-Century years brought listing of his phone number, Altamont 9-F-14, allowing customers with a phone to call in orders, which he soon was delivering in an autotruck.

After a few years, he added auto supplies such as tires, tube, spark plugs, oils, and grease to his inventory. A Socony (now Mobil) gas pump, probably one of the earliest in Guilderland, was installed in front of his store. Pumps also appeared in front of J. Snyder’s store in Altamont and Ward’s Store in the Guilderland hamlet.

Petinger, who for some reason dropped one “t” from the spelling of his name in mid-1904, also had an arrangement with R. Van Allen, proprietor of the Fullers General Store, to pay cash for baled hay and straw to be shipped out from the hay barn next to a West Shore Railroad siding in Fullers. This arrangement was included in his regular advertising.


Rural mail delivery, easy transport ended era

General stores were the casualty of change. In 1890, the 65 percent of the population who lived in the nation’s rural areas were forced to pick up their mail at a local post office, which was very frequently located in the community’s general store, making the townspeople stopping by to get their mail a sure source of potential customers.

Much against the objections of local shopkeepers nationwide, the United States Post Office’s rural free delivery began on an experimental basis in 1896, and by 1902 all farmers were having mail delivered to the mailboxes in front of their farms. Parcel post home delivery soon followed.

Sears, Roebuck & Company issued its first catalog in 1894 and soon was offering every product imaginable, including canned goods at low prices, delivered right to the mailbox. They were only one of many mail order firms.

Once cars and buses became common, it was very convenient to travel to Schenectady or Albany where the stores had a huge selection of consumer goods and supermarkets offered lower prices.

One by one, the old general stores closed down and the ones that survived became mom-and-pop grocery stores, which in turn faced competition from the growth of supermarket chains. By 1928, Altamont had an A & P followed by a Grand Union in 1932. However, the mom-and-pop stores usually offered credit, unlike the supermarkets.

Internet shopping is only the latest innovation in the history of merchandising in this country.

At this point in the pandemic, most people have used a front-facing video chatting app to connect with colleagues, friends, and family. Many of us have probably also looked at our screens and noticed the gray hairs, the frown lines, and the blemishes.

The American Society of Plastic Surgeons reports 15.6 million cosmetic procedures in 2020 despite lockdowns and mandatory shutdowns of elective procedures. Botox and soft-tissue fillers were the most sought-after injectable procedure, and procedures involving the face — rhinoplasty, facelifts, and eyelid surgeries — were the most sought-after cosmetic surgeries.

As we enter a post-pandemic life, we are unlikely to drop online chatting altogether. Companies have found it easier and cheaper to meet online, and the rise of new social media apps like TikTok will keep us cognizant of the way they look.

For some, a simple cosmetic procedure can greatly alleviate any personal dissatisfaction. However, many are unable to afford cosmetic procedures, and some continue to deal with anxiety and low self-esteem related to their appearances.

According to researchers at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, among people getting cosmetic surgery, approximately 7 to 15 percent have body dysmorphic disorder, a condition in which an imagined or slight defect in appearance causes significant distress and impairment.

To compound the issue, social media and entertainment media continue to popularize very high — some might even argue, unattainable — expectations of beauty through pre-planned or choreographed visuals, photo editing, and cosmetic procedures.

How can our society address this issue?

It starts with teaching ourselves that the images we are presented with might not reflect reality. They might be edited, filtered, or touched up.

It is also important that the media and entertainment industries be more inclusive and representative of our society — one that is filled with people of different cultures, body types, skin tones, ethnicities, and sexual orientation.

Finally, it is important to form positive, supportive relationships with the people in our lives and to talk about body image and self-esteem with our peers, families, and doctors.

This article is not medical advice and should not substitute medical judgement.

Community Caregivers is a not-for-profit agency supported by community donations, and grants from the Albany County Department for Aging, the New York State Department of Health and Office for the Aging, and the United States Administration on Aging.

Editor’s note: Kanthi Bommareddy, M.D. is a former Community Caregivers student volunteer.

This column with its report on the Old Men of the Mountain starts out like many conversations — with the weather. To keep up that tradition, today’s column will be no different.

Tuesday, Nov. 16, many of the OMOTM approached the Your Way Café, in Schoharie, looking at the cliffs at the end of Route 443 where it meets Route 30. Many of the OFs who arrived at the café around the same time commented on how beautiful the sunrise was with sunlight on top and dark shadows on the bottom.

The sun came up red in the beginning and then quickly changed to orange-red, and then just orange as the light crept down the mountain. This scribe told a couple of OFs as they entered the Your Way, “If I ever painted it like it was at first light no one would believe it.” The OFs agreed.

Once inside, the OFs were offering their normal greetings as other OFs filed in. Some of the conversation was discussion of the man and family of Bill Barthelomew who recently passed away, and that segued to inquiries of OFs who were in the hospital, or had just left and were home.

The OFs were genuinely concerned on how they were doing and anxious for their return to the breakfasts.

How that turned into a discussion of how much those pesky little fruit flies were this year, I will never understand. However, it seems all the OMOTM had problems with these little pests this summer.

Some used apple cider and vinegar to trap the little buggers, while others had their own remedies — some worked and some didn’t. One OF said that hanging a banana skin by the end where it was cut from the tree calls the fruit fly.

They are fruit flies after all. But then — what now? You have them in a bunch. How do you actually get rid of them? That was not mentioned. Every now and then, spray them with fly spray the OFs guessed.

One OF mentioned he purchased a sticky trap (trade name Dynatrap) that comes with 3-by-4 cards that are sticky on one side. This OF said that thing really works

You plug it in, a blue light comes on, and the light attracts the flies and soon they are trapped on the sticky card. One thing the OF said was that the card catches more than fruit flies.

It grabs regular flies and the occasional moth. This trap is chemical-free, and effective. When the card is no longer catching the pests, chuck it out and put in a new one.


Schoharie’s Nashville

The OFs talked about the park outside of Schoharie up on the hill where in the forties and fifties, and maybe even later, the good ole country boys would go with their banjos, guitars, fiddles, harmonicas, moonshine, beer, and some light bulbs and on Saturday night Nashville was no equal.

It was good ole country music by the good ole country boys, and all that could boogie danced the night away. At times, a fight or two would break out, and no one really knew the reason.

When the participants settled the disagreement, they would be back on the dance pavilion’s dance floor, dancing with the same ones they were just fighting with. Occasionally someone (who knew how to call) would form up squares for dancing and away they went.

These squares may have gotten rowdy at times, but all in fun. The OFs did not know if this type of amusement still goes on or not.


Way to go

Now to something completely different and, again, how it got started this scribe does not know, but it seemed to have started with the new higher toilets. Age creeps into a lot of things and now the OFs know it’s creeping up because it affects how they go to the bathroom.

It used to be that older people had problems getting up and out of chairs including getting off the john.

Then someone invented a riser and attached it to the toilet so it would elevate that older person. Apparently the plumbing industry saw the need and started building the higher toilets, and the contractors started installing grab bars so the older people could help themselves get off the john.

The OFs said, now that they own these higher toilets at home, when using the older-style lower toilets still found in public restrooms, they feel like they are sitting in a hole and do have trouble getting up, and they actually look around for grab bars.

Then one OF said that sitting on these higher toilets is “not the way to go.” This OF said your knees are supposed to be up and your back straight so everything is lined up and then it is not necessary to strain, especially if you have heart trouble.

The OF said the best thing to do is use the high commode with a stool so your knees are high. When it is time to get up, kick the stool out of the way and stand up. This OF said he still uses grab bars high or low.

This dialog on age reminded me that age is a relative term. All my relations keep reminding me how old I am.

The discussion went from the height of the john, to snow tires in one fell swoop. It was just necessary to be there and these Old Men of the Mountain were there: Joe Rack, Roger Shafer, Otis Lawyer, Glenn Patterson, Mark Traver, Harold Guest, Wally Guest, Miner Stevens, Bill Lichliter, Robie Osterman, Rich LaGrange, Marty Herzog, Jake Herzog, Paul Nelson, Henry Whipple, Lou Schenck, Jack Norray, Bob Donnelly, Dave Hodgetts, Herb Bahrmann, and me.

Once long ago, when this planet was first being formed, three old guys were pushed out of the cave so they would leave the ladies alone. These three guys grunted their displeasure and decided to hunt for something to eat.

For no particular reason, the hunting was easy and the three old guys had a good time and decided to do this more often. Soon other old guys saw the three go out and have a good time, so a few more put down their rocks from beating on other rocks to make dirt (because these guys were older than dirt) and joined in.

This group is still gathering today; though not the same guys, it is the same group. This scribe has often been asked how long, or when, did the Old Men of the Mountain begin.

This scribe hopes this answers that question and on this past Tuesday, Nov. 9, the Old Men of the Mountain met at Mrs. K’s restaurant in Middleburgh to keep up the tradition from having been kicked out of the cave by the women, to being kicked out of the house for the same reason.

Only now the OFs do not have to hunt for food, they just travel their round robin of hunting grounds where the food is prepared and brought to them.

Although many years have gone by, not much has changed: The OFs are still burning wood.

Some of the discussion on Tuesday morning was on the burning of wood. How much the OFs have or had on hand for the winter. How do the OFs feel the winter is going to go? What kind of wood do they burn?

That seems to be an ambiguous question, because most of the OFs know it is not a good idea to burn pine. This discussion seems to come up every year, but since the time in the cave, one would think the OFs had progressed more than that.

One OF, in a way, answered the question. Burning wood is more or less therapeutic and to this OF there is nothing like the aroma and the crackling of a wood fire on a cold and blustery winter’s night. But some of the OFs said they gave that up long ago; it is too much work.

Give them just a simple thermostat, a full tank of oil, and a furnace that works — and they are happy. If the OF is chilly, he just walks over and moves that ’stat up a degree.


Scribe’s challenge

This scribe is trying to report on what the OMOTM are doing, saying, traveling to or from, in or out of jail, anything different or unusual. However, for quite some time, the OGs are behaving themselves, and where they have been has already been reported on.

This makes the job of scribe a little more interesting because the scribe has to resort to older notes to see what happened and is still relevant.


Choosing an ice floe over assisted living

Going back in time, it was noted that assisted living was discussed, and was found not to be the best way to go. This scribe had a note scribbled “Ice Floe” and remembers what this was about.

Most of the OFs in that conversation thought at that time the Eskimos up north have the right idea. Place the old folks on an ice floe with enough food to last awhile and send them out to sea.

There the old folks would be able to make peace with their god, and prepare themselves for death. The ice floe would melt, and the old folks would be buried honorably at sea.

It would be, so the Eskimos thought, only their bodies would be offered to the sea. The gods already had their souls. This scribe does not know if any of this is right or not, but the OMOTM seemed to have some understanding of the ritual.

After checking with Google, it seems that this is a legend that is not entirely wrong. The common perception of taking Granny out to the nearest ice floe and setting her adrift is wrong. But yes, in the past, some Eskimos did kill old people when circumstances were sufficiently desperate.

The OFs would rather do this than go into a nursing home, or assisted living. This, if the scribe remembers correctly, brought out a few humms.

Most of the OFs are in some kind of pain or have another issue, but they never seem to complain. The pain of being left alone seems to be the worst and not many of the OFs look forward to that.

Wasn’t that a cherry dialogue to find? This scribe can see why it wasn’t reported when it was discussed.


No list, but desires fulfilled

Then a few weeks back, there was a note on “Bucket List.” It was found that not many of the OFs have such a list.

Some have the “I wished I did this or that” but not a desire to say “I am going to do this or that and call it a Bucket List.” The OFs think the term Bucket List is a new catch phrase for something many OFs have been doing for years.

Like saving up to go on an extended vacation in Hawaii or for some it would be Alaska. For one it was a desire to return to Normandy and the area where he served in World War II, and that “Bucket List” item (so to speak) was achieved.



It is with deep regret that this scribe must report on another Old Man of the Mountain passing on to meet with the other Old Men of the Mountain on their Tuesday morning cloud. Bill Bartholomew has gone to join that crowd. And, like all the others, he will missed be greatly.

Those Old Men of the Mountain who made it to Mrs. K’s Restaurant in Middleburgh with their woulda, shoulda, coulda, in mind, but not necessarily a bucket were: Paul Nelson, Harold Guest, Mark Traver, Joe Rack, Ken Parks, Rich LaGrange, Glenn Patterson, Jim Guest (guest of Harold and Wally Guest), Wally Guest, Otis Lawyer, Marty Herzog, Robie Osterman, George Washburn, Bill Lichliter, Paul Whitbeck, Jake Herzog, Gerry Chartier, Rev. Jay Francis, Lou Schenck, Jack Norray, Elwood Vanderbilt, Bob Donnelly, Dave Hodgetts, John Dabrvalskes, Russ Pokorny, and me.

We are already into November and the older the Old Men of the Mountain get, the faster the time goes. For time itself, yet for things not exactly related to time, they seem to take forever.

It takes forever just to get things done and there doesn’t seem to be enough time. However, on Nov. 2, Election Day, the Old Men of the Mountain met at the Middleburgh Diner in Middleburgh.

As always, the OMOTM discussed old cars, old trucks, and old tractors. That’s because of the ages of this group. It was obvious that one OF was tickled with what he had accomplished with his old Massey-Ferguson tractors.

To do this, he had to use 2021 technology. This OF proudly showed how he has gotten his old machine to run, along with sound effects. The OF passed around his phone, which had a photo of the machine running in his garage. The OFs were impressed as each in turn looked at the phone to see the display.

A simple phone does a lot more now than just making phone calls. Attaching the name “phone” to these devices does not sound right. Of course they can, and are, used to make calls but it seems most of the time the new phones get used for something else.

The OFs can remember when the phones had operators and you could ask the operator to get the person you were calling. In the town of Esperance, New York, the operator could see out to the street from a large window in the telephone office.

When calling the garage, you would say (this is an actual number) 19 the house, or say 19 the garage, and the operator would do it, or the operator might say (actual stated conversation), “Milton is not there; I just saw him go into the tea room. I’ll dial that for you.”

Also the OFs remember the phone number for the doctor was 1, the phone number for Mexico (a local tavern) was 2, and the phone number for the artificial inseminator was 3. It was much simpler then.


Lots of bear and deer

The OFs have mentioned recently that bears are on the prowl. Tuesday morning again, bear sightings were reported, but added to it was the amount of healthy looking deer roaming around, not only in the woods, but in some of the OFs’ yards and fields.

There does seem to be more than normal. The OF’s sightings are mostly rural and Encon will, of course, bring us up to date on this situation.

One OF mentioned bears may be only around here; the OFs have no idea about the other tiers of the state. Maybe in some other areas  the bears don’t appear and our region has them all.


Hollow Halloween

Halloween has come and gone, and there was no mention of it at the breakfast. Apparently not many (if any) of the OFs decorated for Halloween, or had any great influx of kids.

No one even mentioned decorations of others like they do at Christmas time. This scribe has seen a few cute decorations when he was out and about, some really clever.

Of course this scribe didn’t wander very far, Altamont and Voorheesville, and a little bit in Guilderland Center was about it. Fall decorations — that is another story.


Prices jump

The cost of living has been touched on at a couple of meetings, but just around the edges. However, at this meeting, it was discussed quite a bit.

To the OFs, it is getting out of hand in a hurry. One OF mentioned that prices are not just inching up but are jumping by leaps and bounds. Another OF thought it was supply and demand and likened to all those unloaded boats, and scarcity of truck drivers.

One OF mentioned he had to sell his plane because it was just too expensive to park it and maintain it, let alone supply the fuel to fly it.

Some of the OFs wondered who was paying the demurrage (a charge for detaining a ship, freight car, or truck) on the ships just parked offshore. Some thought it might just be like the railroad, or trailers left off to be loaded or unloaded. In those cases, it is the company that pays that fee, not the railroad.

It was thought that many hobbies of this type, like flying, boating, golf, even maybe fishing, will go by the wayside because it will become too expensive to maintain participation in them when on a fixed income. That will be a shame.

One OF mentioned how much harder he had to work now compared to just a couple of years ago as a truck driver, and that the pressure applied made the job not only physically more exhausting but unsafe.

Another OF who was just discharged from the hospital said that previously the care he received in the same hospital was good but that this time he compared it to being in hell. The OF attributed this to lack of help and overworked staff.

The OF mentioned some of the particulars as he saw them, but this scribe is not going to mention them because it may just be an OF grumbling because things were not like they were before, and he was just repeating what he was told by overworked employees.

The OFs keep asking, “Where has everybody gone?”

It seems just like a little while ago so many were unemployed it was making news as one OF put it. One other OF answered that it was just the news people, making news where there wasn’t any.

This OF said, if you wanted to work, there was work, and people looking for workers. That again the scribe does not know.

The scribe only knows what he reads in the paper like this media clip from The Miami Herald: Man married, sentenced on same day.

Then one OF capped it all up by saying he is so old he has been through all this before and there is no sense “bitchin’” about it; it tain’t gonna change, and it will all work out in the end.

The OF may be right, but in this case: Will the end be worth it? The older the OFs get, this can be said about many things.

The Old Men of the Mountain who made it to the Middleburgh Diner and showed up in their fancy cars and trucks and not their old tractors, with mismatched tires, only one fender, and no cowling (a removable metal covering that houses the engine) were: Paul Nelson, Harold Guest, Wally Guest, Marty Herzog, Bill Lichliter, George Washburn, Jake Herzog, Gerry Chartier, Russ Pokorny, Lou Schenck, Herb Bahrmann, Jack Norray, Paul Whitbeck, North Carolina guest Jay Williams, and me.

The Erie Canal in historic autumnal splendor was captured by John R. Williams in a painting commissioned by Ruth Easton. “Her husband says that every morning she has a cup of coffee and sits and shares time with the painting for about an hour and then starts her day. It hangs over their fireplace,” said Williams.

On a really miserable early Tuesday morning, Oct. 26,  with rain, fog, wind, blowing leaves, puddled roads, and truck spray, the Old Men of the Mountain managed to make it safely to the Chuck Wagon Diner in Princetown for their Tuesday morning repast. To some of the OMOTM, it was comforting to spot the warm, greeting lights of the diner from the gloom of the morning’s weather.

Of course, because of the trip and the awful weather, the weather was an opening topic. The concern of the OMOTM was flooding and, if the rain keeps coming as it has, the Schoharie Creek, and the Mohawk River were concerns of the OFs. It was more the creek and, if it should overflow its banks again, one OF mentioned the valley of Schoharie would start to get a bad reputation for those thinking about moving there.

Another OF thought that, of all the planning that people do to try to outwit Mother Nature, they are up against a vulnerable foe. One OF said it looks like both coasts are being hammered by the ole gal just to show us who is in charge. Seems rain doesn’t fall. Raindrops.

One OF who was not a farmer asked what happens to all the corn that has turned brown and maybe soaked by the creek on the flats around Middleburgh, Schoharie, and up Route 30 towards Gilboa? A farmer told him that the value of the corn is in the kernel; the brown stalks are good for decoration.

If it is going to be silage corn, that is a different story. Silage corn was done long ago.

A completely unrelated-to-anything question was asked. What happens to emails that say they are sent, the computer says they are sent, and everything looks normal, but the recipient does not receive them?

Where do they go? Are they out there in electronic space looking for a home? Do they just go nowhere and disappear? The OFs are wondering.

Also, at the table Tuesday morning, the OFs discussed the Erie Canal. The OFs briefly mentioned a little history of the canal, which in the early 1800s took about 28 years to complete and was mostly dug by hand.

One OF said much of it was made deeper and wider during its lifetime. Another OF said that also over the years it was not quite as romantic as it now sounds. Little towns sprang up all along the canal and the canal in many sections was like a sewer.

Some of the OMOTM have taken trips on the canal. One OF mentioned he took a trip on the canal that was horse-drawn, as were the original barges on the canal.

This OF mentioned that, at the end where they turned to go back, the tow rope sagged and dragged along the grass, and snakes by the dozen slithered out of the grass and into the canal. The OF said after they turned around (which took a while) and started back, the rope did the same thing in the same place and then the snakes slithered back into the water.

The OFs wondered why the snakes did this. These snakes knew the barge was going to turn around and come back. Why not just hang around in the water for a bit, wait for the boat to go back, and then climb back in the grass?

The scribe says thank goodness the OFs don’t think like snakes. The OFs also assumed these were common black snakes, and according to their size the OF said he was pretty sure they were.

Another very interesting comment came from one of the OFs. He said that one of the OFs lives in a house that was built of stones that were rejected for use in the canal.

One OF knew that the Onesquethaw Reformed Church, on Tarrytown Road, was built from stones rejected for use in the canal. To check this information out, this scribe called the OF in question.

The OF confirmed that his house was, in fact, built of rejected stones from the canal, and so was the farmhouse across the street, and the houses around the corner just a bit down from him. The houses and the church can be seen from Clarksville, or off Route 32.

Make a turn on Tarrytown Road and there is a small cluster of these rejected-canal-stone structures not too far down or in from either direction.

One OF mentioned doing a commissioned painting for a couple who had shown a long-time interest in the Erie Canal. They sent definite instructions of when, where, and what was to be in the painting.

The painting was for the lady of the house, and she wanted the locale at Big Nose, and Little Nose.  This is where the ancient Mohawk River and the glacier cut a pass through a granite spur of the Adirondacks, just west of Schenectady.

Thank goodness the artist knew where this was; it was to be painted as if it was fall and also be colorful with a horse-drawn barge with people. That is being very specific.

With all the talk about rocks, and rejected rocks, at one time for the lock at Sprakers, New York, there is part of that lock wall that is still remaining. A ride along the canal is interesting, fun, and educational.

The Old Men of the Mountain who were at the Chuck Wagon Diner were looking out the window at the unending change in the weather were: Rich LaGrange, Miner Stevens, Roger Shafer, Paul Nelson, Marty Herzog, Robie Osterman, Bill Lichliter, George Washburn, Jake Herzog, Glenn Patterson, Mark Traver, Joe Rack, Otis Lawyer, Bob Donnelly, Dave Hodgetts, Paul Whitbeck, Rev. Jay Francis, Harold Guest, Wally Guest, and me.

Rubén Darío in 1915, the year before he died at 49.

I started studying Spanish in a university classroom years ago when I needed to converse with people at the Albany County Jail who’d been locked up for coming to the United States without papers.

Early on, I talked to the prisoners with a college student as my translator but, after being stood up twice, I took charge: Español.

I have an advanced degree in Greek and Latin and studied French for years and later Dutch, while writing a book on crime and punishment among the 17th-Century Dutch in Albany (Beverwijck then), and had an interest in language since high school, maybe as an altar boy.

And when I started to study Greek and Latin and French, I took an interest in how language works — its linguistic forms — as well as how people pick words to say what they need to say; there’s also the matter of the range of meanings a word can have without losing its identity — words can stretch only so far.

A problem in the United States today is that a sizable portion of the population turn words upside down at will, using them to mean what they do not, and cannot, mean — causing anxiety in everyone. At one time “that” meant “that” but the schemers say “that” now means “this” or some other text du jour. It’s an upheaval that batters at the walls of sanity. And the greater the battering the greater the loss of consciousness.

French flowing from Greek and Latin is a Roman(ce) language so I was interested in how words went from parent to child — as well as how the child develops a common language. It’s more than Deus becoming Dieu.

And though language constricts the tongue by summing matters up, my long-term interest has been in how language frees. Which always involves the subjunctive — the mood of doubts, possibilities, fears, and wishes — containing the secret of how a society comes to exclude some from a bounty meant for all. As in justice for members-only.

The kids in my first class, 101, were 50 years younger. They all had Spanish in high school — I was surprised to see how well they spoke though sometimes it seemed hollow, as if they were skating on top of the tongue.

And they knew nothing about grammar — society’s agreed-upon rules for saying things economically, being understood with the littlest effort — I cannot recall one of them asking the teacher how a society learns to speak cordially.   

For me, the toughest assignment in 101 was the five-minute presentation each student had to make at the end of the semester, in Spanish, in front of the class, no notes. The speaker had to use nouns and verbs in flowing sentences: no rattling off vocabulary.

We were told we could speak on any topic we liked.

At the end of each chapter in our text there was a short selection in Spanish of the work of a famous writer or artist — a poem, an essay, a biographical sketch.

One of the writers featured was the Nicaraguan poet, Rubén Darío, whom the book called the Father of Modernism, El Padre del modernismo.

What stunned me was not that he shaped how poetry was done in “the colonies” but back in Spain as well. He was a revolutionary: a sea flowing back upon itself, the vanquished a conqueror.

I picked Darío for my talk.

Just about every other kid — I hate to say all — picked something like “at the beach” (a la playa) or “drinking cerveza”; a complex topic was “cerveza a la playa.” But maybe somebody did do Frida Kahlo.

On days that presentations were made, I was amazed to see that none of the kids seemed nervous — I think because they had PowerPoint at hand — everyone made a PowerPoint presentation: the playa people showing slide after slide of beautiful white beaches stretched along beautiful blue water — a back-from-vacation travelogue — and the cerveza contingent projecting guys in party gear celebrating cerveza, 20-year-old dorks — excusez moi — skating along the bottom of the tongue.

When the slide was something the kids found funny, a titter ran through the room — they saw themselves. I heard nothing about Spanish-speaking cultures — here, Spain, or anywhere. Maybe someone did do Kahlo?

I grant the age gap between me and my classmates as well as the divide in education and culture — I taught at that university — plus I’m a poet in love with language: but I thought maybe one or two would be interested in someone who changed the way people lived.  

To tell the class about Darío, I did not use PowerPoint — I don’t like it — but came with pieces of poster board — 12-by-30 inches or so — on which I’d pasted pictures of Darío and his environs. Following good pedagogy, I panned the photos left to right across the room, slowly, so everybody could see, holding them high for the mezzanine, while giving my spiel en Español.

I did not see eyes sparkle with Darío, nor faces light up over modernist poetry in Spanish, not even interest in someone who had such an impact on life that people called him Father. There was no titter.

Something about the beach/beer presentations bothered me. They dismissed the treasures of the Spanish-speaking-Spanish-writing art and culture world, the lives of those who shape the common tongue.  

The kids accepted my posters; I think they were saying, let’s give the old guy a break — which I’m not doing here, calling them on their juvenile beer/beach infomercials.

I made my disappointment known to the Spanish Department, asking if there was a way to get the kids to be serious, to submit to a foreign culture, address the Spanish-speaking world in words beyond beach and beer.

The next semester, when it came to choosing topics for our talk, the teacher handed out a sheet with a list of acceptable themes — poets, writers, architects, people of justice — I wondered if I’d had a say in it.  

One thing I liked about my Spanish classes — and language classes in general — is that, when someone makes a mistake, the teacher doesn’t wait till the end of class to correct the error, or write a letter, but corrects the student in the flesh on the spot in front of all — “Willie, it’s not manana it’s mañana” — which I liked — correction and redemption rolled into one.  

There’s more to say, in that the poet who moved into Darío’s house, after his family left, was Alfonso Cortés. I presented him to the class the next semester, pasting photos on placards like I did with Darío, and later I wrote a paper on him that I presented to a local poetry group — translating his poems.  

There was no need to mention Cortés at the jail but at least the prisoners and I could speak as one. In one case ICE got involved — the local agent was a woman of justice — the deported soul was back in a week.

How sad these days that even the guy next door turns words upside down and seems to relish the doubt and confusion he creates, even in the suspicion and hate that follow — a spike in the human heart.   

America is having such a hard time admitting She’s crazy, that She’s split and quartered like a side of beef, begging for therapy. Words fly by with such vehemence and rage that people at Anger Management think they’re in Jurassic Park.

And I went to every class with an open mind.