Chapter 2 – The House
The House, located on North Road out of Pulaski, sits on the side of a long sloping hill. It used to be great sport to take our sleds to school at the top of the hill so that at the end of the school day it would be a mad race to see who could go the fastest and farthest down the road. If conditions were good, packed snow and ice, one could coast almost to the Route 3, the Sandy Creek “Y”. Of course, that meant a ½ to ¾ mile walk back upgrade to get home which was a ¼ mile downhill from the school. Go figure … It was fun, I was an active youngster. We didn’t worry much about traffic. In fact, if we heard a car coming down the road we would all run out to watch it go by and wave to the people. Also, if anyone heard an air plane all activity would cease until that faint speck would be spotted and observed as long as possible. The house was built probably around 1825-1840, just a basic northern farmhouse. The front door, which no one used, opened to an open hallway with stairs to the second floor. The stairs to the cellar were located directly under the first set of stairs. At the entrance there were two doors, one on each side of the hall. To the right was what we considered ‘Moms’ side and to the left was ‘DGs’ side of the house. That is the only way I recall any of us kids referring to our father. David Gladston, DG, but not to his face. By the same reasoning, my mother’s father was GN for George Norris Hilton.
To answer Heather’s question regarding the reason for moving to the farm. I must admit I never really thought about it very much. I would suspect that considering the economic times during the Great Depression, a large family and other considerations it made sense to do as most others did and engage in subsistence farming. This meant growing as much of your own food as possible and, with a few cows, make enough off the milk check to buy clothes and pay the taxes.
My dad worked full time as a fireman on a train engine (New York Central) until he accumulated enough seniority in the “Brotherhood” to become an engineer. I recall twice he snuck me aboard the engine for an overnight run to Massena, Oswego and back to the Syracuse yards. This run was, I believe, called the “Hojack”. Can you imagine, a 6-8 year old boy riding in a train engine all those miles, un-friggin’ real. Actually there wasn’t a damn thing to do except stare out at the dark night going by and stay the hell out of the way. Once in a while I would be allowed to turn my cap around and lean out the window like the fireman or engineer. I think I even pulled the whistle cord a time or two. Now remember, this was a STEAM ENGINE, not a stinking diesel-electric. This had a real train whistle not a bull horn.
Now, back to the house. The cellar was spectacularly unspectacular, other than the spider webs, ear-wigs and centipedes. Laid up stone walls, sandy dirt floor, wooden frames holding plank shelves for home canned goods, bins for potatoes, onions, squash and other dry keeper vegetables including cabbage and apples. Some of the cabbage was destined for the kraut crock. This storage area was vital to our existence. If it wasn’t filled chock full in the summer and fall, you could get pretty hungry in February and March when the woodchucks started coming out. By then the winter hog was long gone and the chicken flock couldn’t stand too much more thinning out. Jars and jars of tomatoes, green and yellow beans, beets Swiss chard, sweet corn, carrots, pickles, relishes, tomato sauce and my favorite home made chili sauce. NOT SALSA, rich tomatoey, cinnamon, clove, onion, pepper-flavored “tail end of the garden CHILI SAUCE.”
The “Winter Hog” was butchered in November when it was determined (hopefully) that the cold weather was ready to stay. After being well chilled overnight it was split and carried into the cold pantry. This was a windowless room on the north side of the house behind the kitchen and was the wall of the woodshed. Along the cold interior wall was a broad shelf which was the full length of the room. The hog halves would be laid out on the shelf and broken down into large portions. The choicer portions were used first to safe guard against loss by an onset of warm weather. This was living “high on the hog.”
As the winter progressed the pickins got slimmer and some nights there was not much of an entrance other than boiled potatoes and milk gravy with bits of pork trimmings. Canned corn or tomatoes and warm Johnny cake ensured we didn’t starve to death. After supper, for a snack there was usually popped corn or, on occasion, mom would make a small plate of simple fudge. 2 cups sugar, 1 cup of milk, boiled to soft ball stage. Stir in a teaspoon of butter and pour onto a buttered plate. Vanilla or cocoa could be added during cooking as a special treat.
During the summer, with no refrigeration available, meat was limited to what was at hand. DG had to use the truck to get to work so we were left with no transportation to the store 6 miles away in Pulaski. We ate a lot of woodchuck. Actually it was pretty good. They are a very clean animal.They eat nothing but grasses and sustained countless generations of Native Americans.
As young boys we delighted in going fishing or frog hunting. In the fall it was time to seek mushrooms and puff balls. Wild berries and nuts supplemented our food requirements. If Brother Dick had ammunition for his gun (.22 caliber) and a careful aim we would enjoy pigeon pie or a pheasant for a change.
Mom really liked it when we came home with a nice stringer of fish. It didn’t matter what kind; bullheads, suckers, sunfish, bass or pike. That woman loved fish. Cleaned, dusted with a little salt and pepper, coated with flour and fried in hog fat and a slab of Johnny cake on the side, it sure beat anything from McDonald’s.
Each side of the house was the same. From the front hallway you entered into a front parlor which on DG’s side contained a nice old table and leather “Morris” type chair. On the table was the standard kerosene lamp. I recall a book shelf that had an illustrated copy of “Dante’s Inferno” on one wall. The other significant item in the room was the round “Oak” parlor stove. I swear this thing would hold ¼ of a cord of good hard wood and hold a fire for 2 days.
Next: Chapter 3 – The Father