Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Elmer West

In the years before my brother was born. our family went tenting. We had two canvas tents, the green umbrella type that originated from my Dad's childhood and a larger saffron colored wall tent. We would meet new people at the camp sites and form instant friendships. Dad once took a neighbor's steaks out of their cooler and left a note saying "We were here. signed, the raccoons"

One summer's day we went to visit Dad's cousin Edith. She lived in the shadow of Moxham Mountain which was north of North Creek. She and her husband Dave lived in a low-ceilinged cottage and kept a greenhouse. My sister and I liked to sing "Davey Crockett" to cousin Dave, and, although he was generally pretty morose, he played along with us. Down the road from Cousin Edith there was a place for sale that had a log cabin, a small frame house, a sturdy log barn and 80 acres of land, both pasture and forest. Our tenting days were over, our family took up fixing up "The Ranch" (as in, "Meanwhile, back at the ranch ....")

There were piles of garnet studded stones left in fields and lichen covered stone fences in the many pastures. Such stones were a great place for kids to play. We made forts. We constructed stone houses with roofs made of sticks and straw. The glaciers that had been through this area left large boulders everywhere. On top of one glacial erratic across the road from the cabin, we put on variety show acts with singing and dancing . Once my sister got so enthusiastic with her performance that she danced right off the boulder. My sister remembers that my mother, who had been the audience across the road and up the hill, was there instantly to check for concussions and broken bones, but there was no injury. Meanwhile, I was back at the cabin, cracking up with laughter.

Out in the middle of the pasture in front of the cabin, was a lone boulder the size of a house.

We befriended Elmer West, who was around eighty years old. He earned income from the county by mowing the grass next to the road with his scythe. The dirt road was called "West Lane"(*now called Cobble Creek Road) and up the road about two miles at the end of West Lane were the houses and outbuildings that Elmer had built for his family and many children. He told us that the large boulder used to be a small stone that had been in his pocket and he threw it in the field where "it growed".

For us, Elmer was like the Indians that befriended the Pilgrims. He helped us raise our log cabin on jacks and replace the rotting bottom logs with new wood. He also helped us build a large screened in porch (from where we watched Patty's variety show). The porch had a cement floor and had slices of elm wood embedded in the cement. Elmer called the wood "ellem" and in turn we called him "Ellemer". He helped raise the porch beam by holding it up on top of his head, so we always enjoyed saying that Elmer used his head to make our porch.

In addition to his mowing the tall roadside grass, Elmer made a living an Adirondack guide. He took tourists hunting and fishing in the wilderness around his house. Year round, he served his company venison and gravy on biscuits and hundreds of four-inch bullhead fried in corn meal and bacon. He didn't worry much about seasons or hunting limits, and nobody else worried about his catching bullhead in fish in traps, either. Apart from the game he caught for food, his groceries were cigarettes, beer, Bisquick, corn meal and bacon.

He played the fiddle, the country way on his chest rather than under his chin, and I can only remember him playing "Red River Valley". His house was papered with Vargas girls. His bedroom, built into the porch, had no door. You got to it by climbing through a front window. Perhaps the furniture was there as he built the room around it.

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