Saturday, July 24, 2010

The end of the lawn mower saga

I have reported lawn mower adventures in earlier Notes (May 11 & 14, 2010). I did take the mower with the wandering knob back, waited forever while the fellow at Lowes' first tried to put on another knob that might not come unscrewed while I was mowing, and finally dug up another mower "out back" (the one I had purchased had been the display model, supposedly the last of its kind). The reason this one was "out back" was due to "missing parts," but when I said "Uh-oh," the guy assured me it was just the grass catcher, and since I had the one from the original mower I was all set.

So Mr. Lowes helps me get the new mower back into my car (I had had to have the woman next door help me get it in for the outgoing trip, as it is simply too heavy and unwieldy for me to manage alone), and when I got home I eased it awkwardly to the ground (that I can do on my own), and wheeled it down the slope to my back yard, and around to the basement door. In the basement I plugged it in so it could charge, and the next day I wheeled it out and started mowing the lawn.

And the knob fell off.

Well, hell. Obviously it was a design flaw. I was both disgusted and depressed. Was this thing made in Thailand? (See discussion of foreign-made air-conditioners, in my very first Note of June 8, 2008). Well, my lawn was terribly scraggly; I had to go ahead and mow the damn thing, trying to keep an eye on the knob, so as to catch it before it came completely unscrewed and fell off. Frequent pauses while mowing to reach down and tighten the screw. And a couple of times I failed to notice, and the knob fell off, and I only realized it because the handle started coming apart. So then I would have to go back and search in the grass for the knob.

And, as had been the case before, it took me three sessions to get the lawn completely mowed; I simply was not up to doing it all at once. Then I went into a blue funk, trying to decide what to do. Write an irate letter to the company? (Black and Decker, by the way. I thought they had good products!) I've long since learned that writing to a company can be very effective, but really, what could they do for me, except tell me to go get a replacement...which would have the exact same problem.

Should I take the damn thing back to Lowes' and just get my money back? Or should I go to the hardware store and see if I could get a knob that would stay on? Did they sell loose knobs at hardware stores? I really did like the mower, except for this problem, and really liked the idea of not having to pay someone to do my lawn.

My indecision was a decision in itself; I did nothing for several weeks. My landlord's son mowed my lawn for me once without my even asking; I later realized it was probably because John was again showing the house next door to prospective renters, and would prefer the lawn that lay in front of the parking area not look like a meadow.

Finally, the day came when I really had to mow my lawn again. Girding my loins for the Battle of the Wandering Knob, I got the front lawn mowed, and part of the back, when one of those times I failed to catch the knob before it fell off it managed to fall off in the path of the mower. And crunch, crunch, no more knob.

And thus, my decision was made for me. I looked at my receipt and saw that the 30-day no-questions-asked return period was long since past. But I called Lowes' anyway, and asked for a "manager with lots of power," and told the guy my tale of woe. And he said, "Well, m'am if you want to bring it back, you certainly can." "And get my money back?" "Yes, m'am."

Yay!!! I was out the door in a flash, trying to trundle the mower back up the slope to my car, with a handle that was trying to come apart in my hands. And then, of course, I couldn't get it into the car, and of course there was no one home next door. Well, a woman's gotta do what she's gotta do, so I walked two houses up, knocked on the door, and asked the middle-aged lady who came to the door if there were someone with muscle in the house who could help me put a lawn mower in my car. She told me no one else was home, but she'd help me. And she did. And I took the damn thing back, and got my money back, and that's the end of my trying to do something I didn't want to be doing anyway.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

And they think we sit around reading magazines

This past Saturday was Old Hallowell Day in new Hallowell. Very big deal that encourages citizens to celebrate their city (smallest city in the state of Maine), and bring folks in from around and about, to spend money at the local merchants. There's a road race, a parade, lots of junk food for sale down at the river, etc.

As usual our library had a book sale. It's generally the most successful of the three we have during the year (the others are during the town's Fall Fest, and at Mardi Gras), at least partly because it's held on the lawn, where passers-by can be lured in.

The sales are lucrative fund-raisers for the library, but they are a lot of work, much of it hard physical labor. When people bring donated books in, one of my staff has to go through them, pulling out any we might want to add to the collection (someone will have to check them against the catalog, to make sure we don't already have them), tossing any that are in too bad a shape (it kills me the way people "hate to throw away books," so will bring us stuff that's grown mildew, sitting in the attic or basement for years, which we then have to throw away), then put them into one of the several boxes we always have sitting on the office floor. One box holds hardback fiction, another, paperbacks, another, kids' books, another, cookbooks, etc. When a box is full it has to be labeled and carted down the stairs to our dark, dank basement.

This last step is the initial "hard physical labor;" carrying heavy boxes of books carefully down stairs and around to where they can be set down is not fun. But the real killer comes the evening before a sale. All those boxes that have been collecting for months have to be brought back upstairs, along with the long tables that they will be set out on (and no, there is noplace to store them upstairs). For the past three sales we have had the use of three brawny young men from the local pre-release program, which has helped enormously, but there are still plenty of boxes to be carried by the rest of us. The first couple of years that I was in this job the volunteer helpers were almost all elderly members of our Friends' organization, and their equally elderly spouses. I was always worried someone was going to drop dead of a stroke or heart attack.

Fortunately those folks have pretty much retired from the field, but unfortunately, younger blood, and muscle, has not stepped in to replace them. Last Friday night the volunteers who showed up were two middle-aged male members of my Board, one younger, though not really young, female member, and two other women, also no longer young. And the 63-year-old library director, who has the physical strength of a guinea pig, and the stamina of a four-packs-a-day smoker (note that i've never smoked in my life). I had sent out a plea for volunteers in our monthly newsletter, which goes out to a large number of patrons electronically, and a print version of which is distributed around town. Had also sent a Reminder email a couple of days before the event. The only responses I received were from two also-no-longer-young-women who apologized that they weren't going to be around, or they would certainly help.

Where are the men? Where are the teenaged kids? I hate lugging boxes of books up and down stairs (and note that all books not sold, except for those I'm quick enough to toss into boxes set aside for trash, have to be re-boxed and taken back downstairs at the end of the sale); and for the Old Hallowell Day sale that re-boxing and labeling and carting is done in the heat and humidity of a typical Maine summer's day. I had also volunteered to work one of the cash tables for the last hour of the sale -- because of the shortage of volunteers for that task, as well -- though I ended up spending most of the hour doing the aforementioned weeding of books that were obviously not going to sell, no matter how many sales we put them through. I was able to do this because the president of our Board, who had nobly agreed to walk in the parade, carrying one end of the library's banner, had returned from the parade and collapsed into the chair next to his wife, who was helping me. Business was very slow at our table -- the Friends' items-for-sale table, rather than the regular cashier's table -- so I left them to it, condemning myself to standing under that heartless sun, discarding or repacking books.

So we made lots of money, and thank god it's over.

Friday, July 16, 2010

A window on the past

[Note that this continues the two previous posts.]The next morning I'd planned to drive on to Binghamton, but since I hadn't had time to search out the Prentiss Cemetery, where members of the Rockwell side of the family were buried, I made the decision to try to find that first. After all, when was I likely to be in this neck of the woods again? That's a long drive from central Maine...

But once again, I got lost. Part of the problem is that the maps will refer to County Rd 4 or Guy Beardsley Rd., but the roads themselves are completely without signage. I was again pulled over, puzzling over my maps, when I saw a woman up ahead pull into her driveway, and decided to go ask her if she knew where Prentiss Cemetery was. She didn't, but assured me that one of the librarians at the public library would undoubtedly be able to help me. This kind lady was named Pat, as I saw from her mailbox, and she insisted on leading me back into town, and to the library, and introducing me to (as I was later to learn) the archivist, Leigh Eckmair. Not only was Leigh able to direct me to Prentiss Cemetery, but when she learned what families I was interested in, she started pulling out all these published genealogies, and notebooks, and boxes of records. Turns out the Coles and the Rockwells were among the major families of the area throughout the 1800s, and this little library is stuffed to the gills with information on them.

Oh, frabjous day. Talk about serendipity. Even though I had told my friend Kathy to expect me between 10 and 11 -- and it was 10 o'clock now -- I knew I had to take advantage of this unexpected golden opportunity. And I was pretty sure my being a couple of hours late would not upset my friends unduly; they're not the kind of people to get bent out of shape with worry or irritation in such a situation. So I spent about an hour looking through "stuff' -- with Leigh kindly photocopying a number of things for me -- then made a mad dash for the cemetery, which is very small, and old (1795), and where a 20-minute search produced Amos Rockwell's large gravestone. Then I was on my way, though determined to return, on my trip back to Maine the following Tuesday. Especially because, just as I was leaving, Leigh had produced a diary belonging to William Cole's mother. Imagine! A chance to read about an ancestor's life, in her own words!

I spent about an hour and a half the following Tuesday morning pouring over that diary, which was really more a day book than a diary. Elizabeth Rockwell Cole tended to be succinct. Most entries began with a weather report ("Pleasant but cold," or "Very cold", etc.) then most often it was "R. [Richard, her husband] went hunting," or "R. went to town," or "R. did chores." There was a lot more of what R. was doing each day than she herself. One day, though, she "finished throughing the wood in the wood shed" [it took Leigh's assistance to figure out Elizabeth meant "throwing" -- her spelling was not always the best]. Another day she and R. "cleaned out the stables;" on another they "moved the manure." This was a hardworking farm woman, for sure.

I was hoping to find some reference to Elizabeth and Richard's son William, my great-great grandfather. Since the earliest entries (that I saw) were from 1870, by which time William was living in Texas, I was hoping to find at least some reference to his death, perhaps some mention of bringing him back to be buried in the family plot. When I was just about to give up -- I really had to get back on the road, for that long drive to Maine -- there it was, on March 15, 1872 (William died in Feb.). On this day Elizabeth did go to town, to "the office" (how she always referred to the post office) where she "found the letter with the sad news of dear William's death." And her next sentence was, "Oh can he be dead."

The next day she and R. "took the sad news to [their married daughters] Emma and Jennie. Emma took it real hard." (Emma was just a year younger than William, and apparently they were close.) The day after that Richard and Elizabeth saw Emma again and "she cannot let go of her brother."

This was affecting. I was seeing the past. I was seeing the real people who were my ancestors, dealing with what real life was throwing at them. I wanted to read and read that diary...but I had to head on back home.

But you may be sure, I shall return.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Adventures in cemetery hunting

[Note that this continues the two previous postings.] Something I couldn't help wondering, as I drove through the area where my great-great-grandfather grew up, was how he could have exchanged this beautiful country for steamy hot south Texas. The two-lane roads I was driving on wound through green valleys sprinkled with healthy-looking farms, a number of them good-sized dairy farms, lying among hills completely covered with trees. But of course in winter it isn't green. It's frequently white, and it's cold. Perhaps William Cole disliked cold and snow. And maybe he was madly in love with Mary Jane Casterline, and willing to live wherever she wanted. This is the kind of thing you really want to know about your ancestors, more than when and where they were born.

Gilbertsville, which contains the town hall for Butternuts Township, is a very small (population 375 as of 2000 census), pretty town, lots of big old trees, attractive old houses. Not the white-with-black-shutters kind you see so much of in New England, but Victorian two-stories of different colors, many with front porches for sitting and watching the world go by. In 1983 the whole village won status as a Historic District recognized by the National Register of Historic Places, a real triumph for local citizens and people concerned with historical preservation, as they had been fighting for many years to keep a dam from being built on Butternuts Creek, which would have resulted in the entire village being flooded.

There's hardly any business at all -- I saw a quilt shop, an ice cream shop, a hardware store that at first I thought had gone out of business, it was so beat up. The cutest little library you could ever hope to see, even cuter than my little library in Hallowell, which was built to look like an English country church. The Gilbertsville Free Library looks like a small, overturned stone boat. Originally built as a school in 1818, it has served as the library since 1888. Inside it's all dark wood, with the bookcases built into the walls. This library was to prove an absolute gold mine of information, but more about that in a moment.

First, I had to get to the town from Oneonta, seventeen miles away, where I'd stop to have a quick meal, and buy batteries for my camera, since I'd discovered, as I was getting ready to leave Maine, that the batteries on said camera were dead (there's always something). I was trying to follow a map I'd pulled off the Internet, but those little back roads simply didn't run the way the map indicated they should. At one point I was idling at a stop sign, pouring over that map and my regular New York state map, when a car pulled up behind me (practically the only traffic I'd encountered since I left the highway 10 minutes before). I ran back to ask if they could direct me to the town of Gilbertsville. It turned out they lived on the edge of same, and suggested I follow them. When we reached their house the male half of the couple came back to my car and told me where he and his wife thought I would be able to find Brookside Cemetery, where various ancestors were buried.

Ah, yes what would we do without the "kindness of strangers."

Brookside is a very pretty country cemetery, with lots of the local "big, old trees." It isn't that large, but large enough for me to spend over an hour walking and driving around it, trying to find the Coles. I was just about to give up -- it was almost seven p.m., the sun was all but gone, I was getting hungry again, and knew I had to go find someplace to spend the night -- when I spotted a very tall, imposing monument across from where I was. I had visited virtually every other area in the cemetery, some of them more than once, but not that one. I was thinking, "No, it couldn't be that." But of course, it was.

I took pictures, but really could not determine if William Cole was, indeed, buried there. There were a number of small stones around the monument, which might very well have marked the actual graves of the several people listed on the monument, but they were sunk so low in the earth they couldn't be read.

At last I tore myself away, made the 20 minute drive to a town with the unlikely name of Unadilla, where I found the old-fashioned Country Motel, with a little old lady in a knick-knack cluttered office, complete with yapping small dog, running it. Was amused when I moved my stuff into my room and discovered I had to plug in all the electric amenities -- microwave, small refrigerator, air conditioner. Then I discovered that even plugged in the ac wouldn't work because there were no knobs on it. When i went back to the office to report this situation the LOL said, "Oh, yes, I'd forgotten about that. The last person, I just gave him a screwdriver, but of course he was a man..." And she gave me another room, into which I had to move all my stuff from the original room, and where I again had to plug everything in. But at least the ac had knobs on it.

Next: Serendipity

Sunday, July 4, 2010


[Note that this continues the previous post.] Nearly 30 years ago I became interested in tracing my family tree. This activity was helped along enormously by stumbling on a published genealogy of the Camp family, which enabled me to trace my father's paternal lineage as far back as the Thomas Camp, originally of Virginia, who pretty much supplied the South with its Camps. The man had two wives who each produced twelve children, all but three of whom were boys, who all went on to have a whole slew of children, most of whom were boys.

The maternal side of my father's family has been harder to trace. His mother's father, Robert Terence Quinn, was from Liverpool, of Irish parents -- my only ancestor to immigrate to the US. later than the 1600s -- and to this day I have been unable to learn anything more about his family. He came to this country alone, at a very young age, and did not enter at New York or Boston, as did so many Irish immigrants, but at Galveston, Texas. During the 1880s the ships that landed at Galveston were almost all German; hence the large number of Germans to be found, rather surprisingly, in Spanish-flavored San Antonio. Although some of those ships could have stopped at Liverpool, Robert Quinn is not on the passenger lists (now available online) of any of them. My father believed young Robert stowed away one of these ships when it was docked at Liverpool, was probably put to work when he was discovered by the crew, but was never on any official list. One of the family mysteries, hopefully to be solved one day.

Then there's my fraternal grandmother's great-grandfather, Jonas Casterline, born, according to his army papers, in Seneca County, New York in about 1815. He served in the U.S. army in the early 1840s, fighting Seminoles in Florida. He married a young army widow whose husband had been killed by said Indians. He finished up his service in Corpus Christi, Texas, where he was mustered out in 1845, and a few of his descendents are to be found in south Texas to this day. But I have been able to learn nothing about his parentage, or the rest of his ancestors.

For many years Jonas was one of only two Yankees this girl with a very southern heritage had been able to find in the family tree. The other, William R. Cole, married Jonas's daughter, Mary Jane Caster-line, in about 1869. I knew from the 1870 census (for Refugio County, TX) that William was from New York, but never knew where in New York, or how he came to be married to a Texas belle.

Several years ago I had posted queries on some of the online genealogical forums (e.g., about William, but never got any response. Last fall I tried again, and this time received two responses that opened a floodgate of information about William, his parents, and their ancestors. All of a sudden the Camp family had a very substantial Yankee heritage indeed, going all the way back to a Miles Morgan who immigrated to Plymouth Colony from Wales in about 1636.

But of all the fascinating information I was suddenly discovering, the most amazing, to me, was that my great-great-grandfather, William R. Cole, was born and grew up in the same county as, and just a few miles from, the small town where this girl from Texas had chosen to go to college, Oneonta, New York. Is this a heluva coincidence or what? At the time I went to school there I didn't even know I had an ancestor named William Cole, since my interest in genealogy did not develop until several years later.

At any rate, I decided this trip to Binghamton to see my friends provided the perfect opportunity to take a look at the little communities associated with the Coles and the Rockwells (William's mother was a Rockwell). There is a web site with the rather macabre name of There I had found pictures of a grave marker for William's father Richard, as well as for his grandfather, also Richard. I wanted to see these graves for myself, and also, hopefully, solve a mystery that had arisen. On this same web site, when I did a search for William R. Cole, I came up with the same grave marker (which is actually a big, impressive monument). Could William be buried there? I knew he had died in Texas (according to family tradition, he stepped on a rusty nail and died of blood poisoning, at the tender age of 25), but it occurred to me that perhaps his body had been shipped back home. I wanted to see if I could find out. I did know that I had never been able to find a grave for him in Fulton, TX, where his wife Mary Jane is buried.

So now that I've bored you with my family history -- which was the motivation for my little side trip -- I will tell you what I found in the beautiful, bucolic countryside of Butternuts Township, Otsego County, New York.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

In preparation for the future

I just returned from several days spent in upstate New York. I went with two purposes in mind. One was to watch the son of one of my college roommates graduate (as salutatorian) from high school. I've mentioned this delightful family before (see Note of June 8, 2009); it's always a great pleasure to spend time with them, and Bryan is a very nice, smart, funny kid, so I felt inclined to witness this rite of passage of his.

There were a couple of noteworthy things about the graduation ceremony, as far as I was concerned. One was the row of kids sitting right in back of us who were determined to make as much noise as they possibly could, every time anyone they knew crossed to get his/her diploma. I couldn't help wondering why there were no adults with them, why no adults from the school made any attempt to calm them down. Eventually I turned around and said, "Guys, let's hold it down a little," because I dislike the adult abdication-of-responsibility thing. One of the kids actually said, "Sorry," and they were a tiny bit less obnoxious over the next few names called.

The other thing I noticed was the obviously casual dress of many of the graduating students, underneath their graduation robes. A lot of the girls wore flip-flops -- a phenomenon I'd also noticed at the college graduation of my goddaughter last year -- although a decent number wore heals. But what I found really appalling were all the boys with bare legs showing beneath their robes -- evidence that they were wearing shorts -- with big clunky shoes or sneakers worn without socks to finish off the look. Good grief. Why on earth didn't their parents insist that they wear slacks, shoes and socks?

Quite possibly because they didn't think it was important. People so rarely dress up for anything anymore, even going to church. Maybe wearing shorts on a hot summer's day seemed practical to those parents...but note that the event took place in a very air-conditioned "Events Center" at Binghamton University. And come on, if graduating is such a special occasion, doesn't it deserves a little something special in attire?

My friend Clifford occasionally bewails the (as he sees it) complete moral deterioration of the country. I'm not sure I can concur with that, but I myself am dismayed by the national deterioration in dress standards. I miss seeing people look nice. I deeply regret that people no longer seem to think "looking nice" matters. All that's important is being comfortable, which all too often translates into looking like a slob. And if you're young it's important to look like your peers, so you all look like slobs, or tacky (the slut look) or stupid (the baggy pants).

My friend Joey has a very entertaining photo blog, which you can access through the Fascinating Photos link on this blog. He often takes pictures of people he sees at state fairs (he loves going to state fairs), the horse races, or just on the street. In many of these pictures the way people are dressed is frightful. They would say they're dressed "casual;" I would have to say they are dressed without style, taste, grace or any idea of what looks good on them.

But whaterya gonna do. Supposedly fashions go in cycles, so I'm waiting (have been waiting for quite some time) for the more formal style to swing back around. Like hats! Remember when everybody wore a hat for special occasions? Heck, men used to wear a hat all the time. Every time I see an old movie in which even the criminals wear hats -- not backwards or sideways baseball caps but fedoras and Milans and Panamas -- I think what a shame it is that particular fashion has gone out of fashion. Will it ever return? Along with stockings (everybody goes bare-legged now, even when wearing cocktail dresses!), and the occasional "nice" dress? We can only hope.

The other reason for my trip to New York appears in my next posting.