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News of Otsego County

Jim Atwell

ATWELL: Minnie Undrowned Again
LETTER from JIM ATWELL

Minnie Undrowned Again

Jim Atwell, a Quaker minister and retired college administrator, lived in Cooperstown, now resides at Woodside Hall.

Grandma hung up the telephone. “Mrs. Halpine from down the street. She’s forwarding a message from your Grandpa and Uncle Tom.”

“They’re standing on the pier with boat hooks snagged in Minnie Frederick’s coat collar, holding her head above water. She’s screeching protests.”

Grandma gave a snort. “I’d say, let her sink! Minnie puts on this show every November. Well, let’s see how she does without an audience!”

At Woodside Hall, Not One COVID Case In Year

At Woodside Hall, Not One COVID Case In Year

The Rules Are Clear, Says Proprietor,
But They Must Be Enforced Every Day

By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

Woodside Hall proprietor Stephen Cadwalader, left, and Administrator Joel Plue discuss anti-COVID strategies in the bright drawing room. (Jim Kevlin/AllOTSEGO.com)

‘When I was a child, a classmate was one of the last Americans to have polio,” said Woodside Hall proprietor Stephen Cadwalader. “What if COVID-19 is like polio? That’s what went through my mind.”

So here we are, a year since the coronavirus arrived – Governor Cuomo reported Tuesday was the anniversary of the first in-state COVID case – and not a single case has appeared at Woodside Hall, a nursing home in the imposing mansion at 1 Main St.

“I’m proud to say, we’re the only facility in the county not to test positive for COVID,” said Joel Plue, the home’s administrator since last September.

Asked to confirm that, county Public Health Director Heidi Bond concurred: The only one.

“We look at residents as an extension of our family,” said Plue, sitting in the bright drawing room across from the grand piano.

The home’s secret? It’s not so much a secret, it turns out, as rigorously applying generally accepted standards.

First, Plue continued, “we take care of our staff. If they arrive with even a sniffle, they’re sent home. They come back to work as soon as they test negative.”

ATWELL: No Need For A Brick
LETTER from JIM ATWELL

No Need For A Brick

Jim Atwell, retired hospital administrator and longtime newspaper columnist, resides in Woodside Hall these days.

How’d it happen?

Suddenly it’s 2020, I’m 82, twice a widower, living in a comfortable assisted living home. Well cared-for.

But, essentially, alone. The pandemic has us 18 residents quarantined, even from one another. Lots of time alone in one’s room, even with meals brought to us on trays.

Just now, however, despite prescribed aloneness, I have kept my room crowded with vividly remembered adults; ones who, because or in spite of me, shaped my life’s values. And one of those who loomed large was my Great-Aunt Mame.

In fact, you’d hardly think she could loom large in any way. Born in the 1870s, Mame stood just short of 5 feet. She was a registered nurse, though Lord knows how she changed bed sheets and helped patients turn over. But she did.

In late 1917, Aunt Mame felt a patriotic call to join an overseas nursing corps: She would cross the Atlantic and nurse the wounded boys then fighting “over there.”

That dear little woman had her trunk packed and was ready to climb a gangplank when – wouldn’t you know it? – the war went and ended on her!

Earhart Visited Here, Marker Says
HISTORICAL SOCIETY WINS RECOGNITION

Earhart Visited Here, Marker Says

By CHRYSTAL SAVAGE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

Mary Winne stands by the tree where she believes Arrie Hecox may have sat with Amelia Earheart during her 1921 visit. (Jim Kevlin/AllOTSEGO.com)

After losing his mother to appendicitis in the spring of 1921 at age 7, Arrie Hecox of Fly Creek found solace in Amelia Earhart three years later.

Walking back and forth to school, Hecox spotted Earhart, then in her 20s, at the inn that neighbored his family’s farm on Route 28.

“As you did in that time, they introduced themselves,” Arrie Hecox’s grandson, Michael Baker said.

In later years, Hecox told his story to newspaper columnist Jim Atwell, who included it in his 2004 book, “From Fly Creek: Celebrating Life in Leatherstocking Country.”

“What are you reading?” Hecox asked the young woman in a khaki shirt, jodhpurs and boot, who was seated under an apple tree.

“A book about airplanes,” she replied with a smile.

Earhart sojourn and what became the Famulare family’s farm in the 1940’s is about to be memorialized.

Earhart

The Fly Creek Historical Society announced its application for a “Legends & Lore” marker has been approved by the Pomeroy Foundation, and will be erected later this year.

That’s the historical society’s sixth Legends & Lore marker. Sherlee Rathbone, society president, said that means the Town of Otsego, where Fly Creek is located, has more than any community in the state.

The others memorialize David Shipman, inspiration for James Fenimore Cooper’s Natty Bumppo, as well as Cattown Road, Honey Joe Road, Bed Bug Hill and Panther Mountain.

Mary Winne, who lives on nearby Johnston Road, is a Famulare and was raised in the white clapboard cape across 28 from Simple Integrity’s headquarters.

When her family moved into the house in the 1940s, the living room had been divided into three bedrooms, she said; her parents concluded it had been a rooming house.

It’s also thought, she continued, that Earhart, the first woman aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, was friendly with aviators at an a airstrip in Frankfort, down in the Mohawk Valley, which kept her around for a while.

As Atwell related it, Hecox considered Earhart, who would disappear in 1937 trying to fly over the Pacific, the “first love of (his) life.”

“When my grandfather heard (Earhart) went missing, he said he felt it in his heart that she was gone from this world,” said Baker.

ATWELL: ‘Sometimes A Firm Rap…
LETTER from JIM ATWELL

‘Sometimes A Firm Rap…

Jim Atwell, a Quaker minister and retired college administrator, lives in Cooperstown.

Remember me? For scores of years, I was a guy who visited with you through columns in local newspapers, most recently The Freeman’s Journal & Hometown Oneonta.

I loved doing it – until last summer, when the sky fell on me. Or more precisely, until I fell off our back deck, down four steps, and onto an unforgiving asphalt drive.
I was knocked senseless when my forehead hit the driveway. (Later, lots of stitches.) But as I caromed down the steps, I had reflexively led with my right hand. That meant the brunt of my body’s weight was transferred to my right wrist – and that wrist was trashed badly enough to leave a bone protruding.

What a missed news photo! Stunned Jim lying on the driveway’s hot asphalt, sun blazing down on him, blood seeping from his forehead and his shattered wrist. Oh, and nobody home to glance out a window and gasp at the disaster.

(My dearest Anne, now at rest, was already at Bassett Hospital, undergoing a chemo treatment.)

But an unlikely looking angel was at hand. Brian Chevalier had just finished mowing our back yard and actually saw me fall, as did two contractors working on a nearby house. They were at my side at once and met the immediate needs. One phoned the paramedics and the others rushed to block me from the blazing sun.

That pair dragged a tarp from our garage, and then the three together made tent posts of themselves. They held that heavy tarp above me till the paramedics arrived–for perhaps 15 minutes.

But here’s something to make me cry: The ambulance that came carrying paramedics was not Cooperstown’s own, which was already in service elsewhere. If I hadn’t been unconscious, how pleased I’d have been to know that it was the Fly Creek first responders who swung into our driveway – to “swoop and scoop,” as paramedics say.

For the story gets even better. The guy they scooped up that day was a blood-spattered version of one who, when he still lived in Fly Creek, had helped restore a proud fire department there, and who served for some years as its chaplain. Who’d have thought it?

My treasured friend Randy Velez, the Catholic deacon, does a lot of thinking about how in bad times like these, good people come storming onto the scene. Most of them would seem to be ordinary Janes and Joes, but suddenly they’re reaching beyond ordinarily attempts and doing the demanding, even the brave, even the heroic.

Randy says that he recently took a chance and gave sermon on this subject – and that he wasn’t met with frowns, but with thoughtful nods.

“Whom the Lord loves, He chastises,” reads Proverbs.

That sounds perverse, mean. But, as we’d say down South, the action is more like a firm “rap upside the haid,” a jolt meant to set our attention back to what’s really important to God and ultimately to us. And that’s one another.

For we humans are easily lulled and dulled by seemingly untroubled times. Sometimes we need stirring up.

And if you need a symbol of goodness suddenly awakened and springing to action, think of those three men standing in my driveway, their raised arms surely cramped with pain as they stood around me, sweat running down their ribs, holding taut that heavy tarp for perhaps fifteen minutes.

I say, “God bless those men!” And you? Please shout, “Amen!” And me? I promise to be more careful.

Even without my treasured Anne, I’d like to live on, hoping to balance the flood of kindness recently been poured on me.

ATWELL: Ailing, Married, But Separated By COVID

FROM WOODSIDE HALL

Ailing, Married, But

Separated By COVID

By JIM ATWELL • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

All right, friends, I’m back on the metaphorical horse, feet in the stirrups, reins in hand, hands on the saddle pommel. Which is to say, I ready to write to you again. And so, I’ll clop on.

Jim Atwell, a Quaker minister and retired college administrator, lives in Cooperstown.

Ours has been an interrupted correspondence lately. I never finished recounting my adventure at 15, when I traveled in luxury by overnight steam packet from Baltimore, Md., down the Chesapeake Bay to Norfolk, Va.

That account was interrupted abruptly (and painfully) by my plummeting head-first down the four steps from our home’s back deck to the asphalt driveway. Instinctively, I led with my right hand and so mangled my right wrist – compound fracture, protruding bone, etc.

Luckily l missed all that because the next thing to contact the asphalt after my hand was my forehead.

I was knocked cold.

Fast forward through blessed assistance by kind friends and neighbors, a rush trip by first responders to the hospital, two surgeries installing plates and screws that will henceforth devil any metal detectors I step near.

But, more to the point, that wrecked wrist also had another effect. It put me right out
of column writing for the duration.

Over the next weeks, I had lots of time to weigh accommodations to the problem. But something far more urgent quickly took over my every thought.

Under the same roof, Anne Geddes-Atwell and husband Jim were separated by coronavirus.

My dear Anne, who’d been fighting metastatic breast cancer for several years, was suddenly losing ground. That devilish disease, having wrecked several secondary systems, now found its way to her brain.

And when I was hauled to the hospital after my fall, my Anne was already there, losing ground precipitously. By the time my surgeries were complete, it was plain that all that could be offered to Anne was palliative care.

And so, on the same day and in the same vehicle, she and I were moved to Cooperstown Convalescent Center – I for rehabilitation of my hand, she to be given every comfort possible for as long as she lived.

And it was then that the pandemic came home to our marriage. The Center was under strict quarantine, and newcomers had to be in separate quarters from all others, and from one another, for the first two weeks after arrival.

This policy may sound draconian, but it has spared the Convalescent Center from having cases of coronavirus entering the Center to spread among residents.

Think of the county-wide horror stories of convalescent centers devastated by the virus.
At our Center, there have been no cases. None.

For Anne and me, though, the policy meant that my dying wife and I, though in rooms only 70 feet apart, could not see, much less kiss or even touch one another. Marital relations for us were phone calls several times a day, the best we could do.

But no one could have shown us more empathy than the staff who tended us. A nurse, standing behind my chair would squeeze both my shoulders.

“Your dear Annie asked me to bring this hug to you.” Her love, delivered second-hand. Bless such caregivers!

There’s more to tell. I’ll wait till next time.

ATWELL: All Ashore That’s Goin’ Ashore
Front Porch Perspective

All Ashore That’s Goin’ Ashore

Jim Atwell, a Quaker minister and retired college administrator, lives in Cooperstown.

Well, I’d circled the Baltimore inner harbor dockings and stood a bit, suitcase in hand, gazing up at an impressive three-domed building, each dome flying a huge pennant reading, “Old Bay Line.” And alongside the building a gangplank beckoned me. It climbed at a fairly steep angle to the main deck of the S.S. President Warfield.

Suitcase clutched with left hand, I hauled myself up the gangway’s handrail to the deck. There stood a tall smiling black man dressed in a starched white uniform. As I extended a hand, the man spoke in a rich baritone.

“I take it you are Master James Atwell?” Awed, I smiled and nodded. “I am James, your personal steward. If I may take your suitcase, I’ll escort you to your stateroom”

And he meant stateroom. Down a long corridor that seemed to be following the ship’s keel, several decks below. James bowed and stepped ahead of me and turned on lights in a room easily 20 by 20 feet. Its main part held a double bed, an easy chair, and desk. James gestured to the desk.

“Just in case you have some polishing to do on your speech,” he rumbled in that deep baritone.

Oh, and over there is your bathroom.” The last-mentioned took up 5 square feet – and even featured both tub and shower.

“Now, after you’ve settled in, Master James, you’ll have plenty of time to walk all the way around the main deck of the President Warfield. Just follow the outside rail and you’ll get a real sense of your home for the night.

“When you hear a brass gong sound, on deck and indoors, it’s calling you to the dining room. I’ll come looking for you so you won’t be late.” He grinned and winked.

“Mind you, we have quite a meal waiting there for you!”

James followed me back to the gangplank, and from there I headed aft down the starboard main deck of the 200-foot ship. Off to my left was the same view from my stateroom portholes but now broadened to a full panorama of the inner harbor all the way across to Federal Hill and past it to the flag (still there!) above Fort McHenry.

Still heading toward the stern, my quick glances in portholes showed a kitchen that could easily accommodate a restaurant, then a well-stocked bar, and then the dining where, as James had said,

“quite a meal would be served to me.”

A few more portholes and suddenly I was glancing into somebody’s stateroom – and shocked, her hand to her mouth, an elderly woman was staring back at me!

Shame-faced, I broke into a shambling trot past a couple dozen more portholes, my eyes fixed across the harbor at distant Federal Hill. But by then I’d reached the ship’s stern and could surmise that
the ship had, minus space for preparing and serving meals for all its overnight guests, almost as many main deck staterooms sternward as it had forward of the gangway where I had boarded.

Ten more minutes’ walk brought me up to the President Warfield’s bow. Departure preparations were under way there, and I saw a deck hand cup his hands and shout down to the dock, “Loose the bow line!”

I guess the man down below caught a glimpse of my head and, realizing there was an audience, snapped a salute and shouted back,

“Aye, aye, matey!” I laughed aloud when he loosed the hawser, a good 4 inches thick, by flipping the two loops of the massive clove hitch up and over the top of the deck piling. They struck the pier below with a deep report but were hardly still before five men edged me aside and hauling the hawser first off the dock and into the harbor, and then up the ship’s side.

They didn’t take time to coil the hawser but dragged it across to the deck to the port side and started hauling it sternward there. I wondered why this extra work. Someone down starboard side was bellowing into a megaphone:

“ALL ASHORE THAT’S GOING ASHORE!” They were about to raise the gangway and draw it aboard. That done and with the stern hawser also hauled aboard, we’d be separated from the land.

My 12-hour voyage had begun!

Next time: The shipboard feast.

ATWELL: Off To Civitan Convention, Lad Sailed On Packet Line

FRONT PORCH PERSPECTIVE

Off To Civitan Convention,

Lad Sailed On Packet Line

Young Jim Atwell embarked for Norfolk, Va., on the Baltimore Steam Packet Co.’s SS President Warfield, named after the company’s president.

By JIM ATWELL • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

Fifteen years old. Never away from home overnight without my parents. And yet, wonderful! Sprung loose for two days on my own – with the night in between to be spent on a 250-mile trip on a steam packet, traveling down Chesapeake Bay from Baltimore, Md., to Norfolk, Va.

Jim Atwell, a Quaker minister and retired college administrator, lives in Cooperstown.

I owe that dazzling adventure to the Annapolis Civitan Club, which had a junior branch in my high school.

I was an officer of the junior club and several times had spoken at the senior club’s luncheons, reporting on our doings.

Admittedly I’ve always had a wide vocabulary and an easy flow in using it. And, impressed by the skills, the senior club’s president hatched a bright idea: The Civitan national convention would be gathering in June, down in Norfolk – about a thousand Civitaners from across the country, conducting the organization’s business by day and conviviating, genteely, in the evenings.

The Annapolis president’s idea: Why not send this well-spoken, if scrawny and bespectacled, boy down to Norfolk to address a plenary luncheon session? He’d wow them, of course, and cast admiration back on the Annapolis club.

I’m presuming my parents were at first uneasy. But the club president, an old friend of both, convinced them I’d be watched over – and, I think, clinched the matter by pointing out how valuable a listing this venture would be on college scholarship applications.

So, almost before I knew it, I was deciding the most exciting part of the venture: how to get to Norfolk. Annapolis Civitan offered two options: One, I could be flown down from and back to Friendship Airport (now Baltimore/Washington International) outside Baltimore. Mind you, I’d never flown before and so found this possibility very exciting.

But the alternative! A 12-hour trip each way, to Norfolk and back, on the S.S. President Warfield. I wasn’t conflicted for long. It’d be south by water, back by air!

Only a couple of days got me ready. I’d shot up a bit since getting a dark gabardine suit, and Mother had to turn down and then iron down pants cuffs before the legs touched my shoe tops. I already had a natty Tattersall shirt, a red necktie, and, of course, a bronze Civitan medallion for my buttonhole. Look out, Norfolk!

On departure day, I was picked up for the drive to Baltimore by a member of the senior club. He was an oculist by trade; perhaps that automatically makes for a very careful driver. He surely was.

I was raring to get going on my adventure. But my driver putted up the 30 miles of dual highway to Baltimore at a stately 45. He kept his window open to wave by the drivers of cars and trucks that, going 55 and 60, stormed up and careened around us, often shaking their fists. My oculist smiled and waved back, smiling. I closed my eyes finally and began to examine my conscience.
But we weren’t crushed or run off the road after all and finally parked quite close to our destination, Baltimore’s inner harbor. But keep in mind that, when I stepped out of the car, it was into a scene of 65 years ago.

Today, the whole sweep that curves around the harbor is a posh destination for tourists and shoppers. But back then, first impressions were of smells, though the main ones very pleasant. For the giant factory and packing plant of McCormick Foods fronted the road where we had parked, and the air was rich with the scents of spices and herbs ground there, then packed into signature red tins.

Delighted, I drew in scents that put me in my mother’s kitchen at Thanksgiving or Christmas, with a hefty turkey sharing the oven with mince and pumpkin pies; and arranged along the stovetop, lids ajar, were those little red tins. They’d been playing their part in a feast’s preparation.

I thanked and waved at my smiling oculist driver, and was glad to learn later that he’d putted safely back home. And, since I had a couple of hours before boarding the ship, I could amble along at a pace that would have gratified my oculist chauffeur.

The S.S President Warfield was not named for a U.S. president, of course, but for the steamship line’s president. (Interestingly, close kin to him was Bessie Wallis Warfield Simpson, whose philandering with England’s royalty raised hob with that country’s kingly succession and brought about an abdication.)

Since I was traveling light with just a small suitcase, I could easily amble along a roadway paralleling the water and separated from it by lines of sheds, each with a dock extending out eighty or so feet. To the docks were tied local boats that had hauled melons, tomatoes and even blue channel crabs from Maryland’s Eastern Shore. More common, though, were literal banana boats, up from Central and even South America with cargos of bananas, plantains, and other tropical fruit.

All this made my walk an exotic one – even though I was still only 30 miles from my home. But hang on! More excitement lies ahead.

In a next column, I’ll climb the gangplank onto the President Warfield and entering a world of elegance that dazzled me.

ATWELL: No Need For A Brick

FRONT PORCH PERSPECTIVE

No Need For A Brick

Jim Atwell, a Quaker minister and retired college administrator, lives in Cooperstown.

Nope, I’m not addressing you from the front porch – it’s icy out there. Rather, I’m sitting just inside a front window, woolgathering.

Though, in fact, it’s not wool-gathering that I’m doing, literal or figurative. Just now I’ve been spending our prescribed aloneness running through gratefully the crowd of adults who shaped my once young man’s values. And one of those was my Great-Aunt Mame.

In fact, you’d hardly think she could loom large in any way. Born in the 1870s, Mame stood just short of five feet. She was a registered nurse, though Lord knows how she changed bed sheets and helped patients turn over. But she did.

In late 1917, Aunt Mame felt a patriotic call to join an overseas nursing corps: to cross the Atlantic and nurse the wounded boys then fighting “over there.”

That dear little woman had her trunk packed and was ready to climb a gangplank when, wouldn’t you know it? The war went and ended on her!

Crestfallen, Mame and her small trunk ended up back in Annapolis. Because my mother had mailed the trunk for her, it was delivered from the train back to her home. Mame went there and unpacked it, including the stash of chocolates that she had been sure would cheer the injured doughboys. She left the trunk behind.
Donkey’s years later, after Mother’s marriage and my brother’s and my plopping
onto the scene, that small green trunk became a major prop for our childhood games. We’d climb in and out of it, fire volleys at Hitler and company from behind it. You won’t believe it, but I once took down Herman Goering and Heinrich Himmler with a single shot!
During those times, though still a part-time nurse, Aunt Mame was a regular visitor to our house, and she shared many meals and stories with us. Among the stories, ones about her quashed trip across the Atlantic figured strongly. And between us, Denny and I created fictions of her exploits, as if she’d actually gone there.
When I think of our visits with Mame, we three were often together under the dining room table, propped back against the comfortable curling legs. Mame, of course, was of a size to be at ease under there, and happy in our ready acceptance of her as an equal in games.
I was grown and in the Christian Brothers as Mame grew old, deaf, and steadily more infirm. Pulling some strings, I got her a place in a Catholic nursing home just outside Washington, D.C.
Our dear mother took care of Mame’s now empty house. She had spent a hot, humid July day at Mame’s, mowing grass and taking down dusty lace curtains to bring home and wash. Those curtains were soaking in our basement when, upstairs, she was stricken.
It was a massive cerebral hemorrhage, and she stayed conscious just long enough to
groan protest to Pop’s picking
her up from the floor and carrying her to their bed.
My brother and sister-in-law arrived at the hospital just after they brought Mother in, and after a 30-mile drive through pelting rain, alternately clearing the windshield and wiping away tears, I got to the hospital just in time to kiss my mother’s lifeless forehead.
Days later, my brother, his wife Shirley, and I went to Washington to tell Mame. She brightened at sight of us but was looking behind us for sight of Mother.
Mame was profoundly deaf by then, and it fell to me to kneel, face inches from her ear, shouting
“Mother has died! Mame, Mother is dead!”
And I was just that close to Mame as it dawned on her face the terrible thing I was saying. Within days, it was the death of her.
Those are awful memories, but by no means my strongest of that diminutive lady. Perhaps the strongest is from my teenage years when, while I helped her up onto our front porch, she took a step ahead, and bright-eyed, smiling, faced me head on.
“Boy! You’re just growing
too fast! I’m going to have to put a brick on your head!”
No need for a brick, dear old girl! Especially to stop growth of my love for you!

ATWELL: No Need For A Brick

FRONT PORCH PERSPECTIVE

No Need For A Brick

By JIM ATWELL • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

Nope, I’m not addressing you from the front porch – it’s icy out there. Rather, I’m sitting just inside a front window, woolgathering.

Though, in fact, it’s not woolgathering that I’m doing, literal or figurative. Just now I’ve been spending our prescribed aloneness running through gratefully the crowd of adults who shaped my once young man’s values. And one of those was my Great Aunt Mame.

Jim Atwell, a Quaker minister and retired college administrator, lives in Cooperstown.

In fact, you’d hardly think she could loom large in any way. Born in the 1870s, Mame stood just short of five feet. She was a registered nurse, though Lord knows how she changed bed sheets and helped patients turn over. But she did.

In late 1917, Aunt Mame felt a patriotic call to join an overseas nursing corps: to cross the Atlantic and nurse the wounded boys then fighting “over there.”

That dear little woman had her trunk packed and was ready to climb a gangplank when, wouldn’t you know it? The war went and ended on her!

Crestfallen, Mame and her small trunk ended up back in Annapolis. Because my mother had mailed the trunk for her, it was delivered from the train back to her home. Mame went there and unpacked it, including the stash of chocolates that she had been sure would cheer the injured doughboys. She left the trunk behind.

Donkey’s years later, after Mother’s marriage and my brother’s and my plopping
onto the scene, that small green trunk became a major prop for our childhood games. We’d climb in and out of it, fire volleys at Hitler and company from behind it. You won’t believe it, but I once took down Herman Goering and Heinrich Himmler with a single shot!

During those times, though still a part-time nurse, Aunt Mame was a regular visitor to our house, and she shared many meals and stories with us. Among the stories, ones about her quashed trip across the Atlantic figured strongly. And between us, Denny and I created fictions of her exploits, as if she’d actually gone there.

When I think of our visits with Mame, we three were often together under the dining room table, propped back against the comfortable curling legs. Mame, of course, was of a size to be at ease under there, and happy in our ready acceptance of her as an equal in games.
I was grown and in the Christian Brothers as Mame grew old, deaf, and steadily more infirm. Pulling some strings, I got her a place in a Catholic nursing home just outside Washington, D.C.

Our dear mother took care of Mame’s now empty house. She had spent a hot, humid July day at Mame’s, mowing grass and taking down dusty lace curtains to bring home and wash. Those curtains were soaking in our basement when, upstairs, she was stricken.

It was a massive cerebral hemorrhage, and she stayed conscious just long enough to
groan protest to Pop’s picking her up from the floor and carrying her to their bed.

My brother and sister-in-law arrived at the hospital just after they brought Mother in, and after a 30-mile drive through pelting rain, alternately clearing the windshield and wiping away tears, I got to the hospital just in time to kiss my mother’s lifeless forehead.

Days later, my brother, his wife Shirley, and I went to Washington to tell Mame. She brightened at sight of us but was looking behind us for sight of Mother.

Mame was profoundly deaf by then, and it fell to me to kneel, face inches from her ear, shouting, “Mother has died! Mame, Mother is dead!”

And I was just that close to Mame as it dawned on her face the terrible thing I was saying. Within days, it was the death of her.

Those are awful memories, but by no means my strongest of that diminutive lady. Perhaps the strongest is from my teenage years when, while I helped her up onto our front porch, she took a step ahead, and bright-eyed, smiling, faced me head on.

“Boy! You’re just growing too fast! I’m going to have to put a brick on your head!”

No need for a brick, dear old girl! Especially to stop growth of my love for you!

ATWELL: If Not For A Buttonhook

FRONT PORCH PERSPECTIVE

If Not For

A Buttonhook

Jim Atwell and his grandmother, who as a little girl narrowly survived falling down a well – prospectively allowing her grandson to live among us today.

By JIM ATWELL • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

Some years ago, I had dinner at Great-Grandpa’s house down in tidewater Maryland. It’s a handsome brick house with dormers, and it used to face a clear view across the fields to broad West River.

But realtors overran the area, and the fields filled up with houses for commuters to Washington.

Jim Atwell, a Quaker minister and retired college administrator, lives in Cooperstown.

And Great-Grandpa’s house is now a restaurant – a high-toned French one, mind you, down there in Shady Side, a hamlet once home only to truck farmers and to men who fished, dredged oysters and hauled enraged blue crabs from the Chesapeake’s tidewater.

We ate our dinners in an expansive, open-beamed addition to the house. It had been built out over the old backyard. It was tasteless of me, but I couldn’t describe the backyard as it once was.

“You know, the privy would have stood right over there, between the hat rack and the waiter’s station.” My fellow diners grimaced and went back to their goat’s cheese and endive vinaigrette.

But I sat fascinated. “And this table,” I added, “is probably just about over the old well.” If we were above that
well, I was at a spot crucial to my life.

For about 1880, a toddler, Great-Grandpa’s youngest daughter, fell down the family well. My grandmother.

As little boys, my brother and I would sit open-mouthed as she told the story – which she only knew from adults who repeated it later, shaking their heads. She’d been playing in the sunny back yard with another little girl and perhaps meant only to look curiously down into the well’s darkness. But she tumbled in, head first.

The other tot came into the busy kitchen, pulled at her own mother’s dress. “Annie Owings is down the well,” she lisped. The women ran shrieking into the yard. Neighbors’ doors banged open and a half dozen people rushed to stand around the well hole, peering down in horror.

The little girl was almost completely submerged. Only one foot jutted above the water in a tiny, high-button shoe. Men bent themselves over the well rim, stretching, clawing down toward the water.

But the shoe was just out of reach, even for the tallest of them.

Then a quiet voice said, “Lemme try, cap’ns.”

And a tall black waterman stepped to the well, drawing from his pocket a buttonhook. Lying down on his stomach, he leaned over the well rim, bent his torso down into the darkness. He reached down with the hook, stretched himself even farther, snagged the shoe’s topmost button. And drew Annie Owings out of the darkness, back from death.

“They rolled me on a barrel to get the water out,” Grandma would say, “and finally I coughed and started to cry.”

I told Grandma’s story to my table companions, and we sat silent. Then we toasted her and that buttonhook. And the tall black man, name unknown, who saved her life. And also opened life to my father, my brother and me.

I’ve thought of that distant day often since our meal at Great-Grandpa’s. An event 60 years before my birth almost meant I wasn’t. No big loss for the world, I know; but a considerable one for me.

How many other near misses, I wonder, were there for me, back across the generations? Beyond forebears who might have been snuffed by wars, plagues and falls down wells, what were my chances that all the right conceptions would take place, across all those endless generations? It’s dizzying, strikes me wordless.

And makes me wonder about a human’s value. Maybe each of us should say, “What am I worth? I’m only here by sheer blind luck.” Or maybe the opposite: “I must mean something since, despite unthinkable odds, here I am.”
Here we are, headed for a second darkness, gifted for a bit with life.

By that fact, maybe we owe something to all those faceless ghosts – humans who could have been. But never were.

Front-Porch Perspective Avast, Maties!

Front-Porch Perspective

Avast, Maties!

Editor’s Note: Only a partial version of Front Porch Perspective was published March 12-13.  Here’s the full version.

By JIM ATWELL • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

Nope, I’m still not sitting on my front porch, laptop frozen to my lap. Maybe after I spot a first crocus, I’ll try writing out there again. Hey, I’m old and a bit ditsy – but not nuts.

Jim Atwell, a Quaker minister and retired college administrator, lives in Cooperstown.

Meanwhile, last week some whimsical friends did find a way to distract themselves and me from the winter. They organized a pirate party and held it at our house.

And what, you ask, is that? Why it’s an indeterminate number of adults, middle-aged or (in my case) decrepit.  It centers on some slapdash costuming, eating and gulping ersatz piratical fare, singing appropriate chanties (“Fifteen men on a dead man’s chest,” etc.) and, if adequately oiled, attempts to dance the hornpipe.

As to the ragged hornpipe dancing, quoth the Bard, “Oh, piteous spectacle!”

By luck, no clear photos survive, especially of the hornpipe. Several pirates might have to remain in disguise for years.

But the edibles that the invading pirates hauled into our house – well, they were gob-smackingly, lip-lickingly grand. Cheeses and cold meats, jumbo steamed shrimp, a smoking kettle of what its maker called “shipwreck stew.” For the last, I presumed to suggest a more piratical name. The cook humored me, and her splendid stew was renamed “slumgullion.” (You might look that up.)

My own contribution was a specialty from my home state, but one that sounded, I thought, suitably violent: Maryland beaten biscuits. And making them involved every pirate present.

After mixing a batter similar to pie pastry, though lard was an essential ingredient, one rolls the result into a flat sheet and then beats it with a mallet for twenty minutes – if the biscuits are just for home folks. But if company’s coming (or pirates), pound away for a half an hour.

What a rollicking, communal project that pounding became! When the most attractive of the marauders was taking her turn, she matched her malleting’s rhythm to dance steps – and that got the rest of us swaying and singing. ”Sweet Georgia Brown!”

To me, that will remain the highpoint of our pirate

partying. But the biscuits turned out as memorable, too.

A half hour of pounding gave the seeming pie pastry a soft, puckered texture. It was easily rolled into a long snake. Then pieces were pinched off the snake’s end, each about the size of a golf ball.

Each of these was rolled to a perfect sphere and added to those already placed on a jellyroll pan. The low sides, please note, will reflect heat and add something special to the baking. Don’t’ ask me how. It just does!

Oh, and when two dozen golf balls are arranged in rows of six, the tops of all are lightly pricked on with a household pattern as unique as a horse farm’s brand. Then into a hot oven for around 12 minutes. Watch closely! They should not brown, but only tan.

Now, take a hot biscuit and split it: a unique fragrance and a texture, not flakey, but at once firm and cushiony.

Lay across that open biscuit a thin slice of country ham. No! not cold and just out of the refrigerator! A paper-thin slice at room temperature. The biscuit’s heat will release the ham’s flavor.

If you should suggest that all the above somehow merges cookery with magic, any beaten biscuit cook will respond, “Damned right!”  Though if the responder is a family grandma, she’ll more likely just grin, wink, and click her tongue against her upper plate.

You’ll get no secrets out of her. Tight-lipped as a pirate, is she!

Jim Atwell, a retired college administrator and Quaker minister, lives in Cooperstown.

ATWELL: Avast, Maties!

Front Porch Perspective

Avast, Maties!

Jim Atwell

Nope, I’m still not sitting on my front porch, laptop frozen to my lap. After I spot a first crocus, maybe I’ll try writing out there again. I’m old and maybe a bit ditsy – but not nuts.

Meanwhile, last week some whimsical friends did find a way to distract themselves from the winter. They organized a pirate party and held it at our house.

And what, you ask, is that? Why it’s an indeterminate number of adults, middle-aged or (in my case) decrepit. It centers on some slapdash costuming, eating and gulping ersatz piratical fare, singing appropriate chanties (“Fifteen men on a dead man’s chest,” etc.) and, if adequately oiled, attempts to dance the hornpipe.

As to the last-mentioned, let Shakespeare nail it: “Oh, piteous spectacle!”
By luck, no clear photos survive, especially of the hornpipe. Several pirates might have to remain in disguise for years.

But the comestibles that the invading pirates hauled into our house – well, they were gob-smackingly, lip-lickingly grand.

Jim Atwell, Quaker minister and

retired college administrator, lives in Cooperstown.

ATWELL: Seizing The Moment

FRONT PORCH PERSPECTIVE

Seizing The Moment

By JIM ATWELL • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

You know me. A synapse sparks inside my skull, and I’ve shot back 1,000 years to grab a good story. Sorry, but it’s an old habit. And after four-score years, I’m unlikely to break it.

And, besides, in this instance, this one’s not a 1,000-year leap, but only 954. That takes us back to 1066 AD, a date that’s been stuck to the inside of your skull since fifth grade.

Jim Atwell, a Quaker minister and retired college administrator, lives in Cooperstown.

In 1066, your teacher said, King William of Normandy controlled much of eastern France. On a clear day from the coastline there, he could gaze across only 20 miles of water at something very tempting to him: England.

William was sure he remembered a former English king, now dead, had made him a vague promise that William could succeed him on the English throne. But when that old boy died, nobody called William to tell him to pack his bags and paddle right across the Channel.

Instead, word came that they’d crowned somebody named Harold, not a kingly name at all. Further, according to William’s wholly objective spies, Harold was a ninny. He was too indecisive to run a village shop, much less a kingdom.

“Indecisive” had no place in William’s vocabulary. And so, absent invitation, he did pack his bags, plus 7,000 soldiers and lots of horses. Then he waited, but not for long.

For in late September 1066, the prevailing Channel winds swung westward. That’s when William stood on his lead ship’s quarterdeck and shouted, “Anchors aweigh!” which is to say, “Hoist anchors!”

Even so, his stalwarts couldn’t respond by singing “Anchors Aweigh,” (since it wouldn’t be composed till 1904 and first be sung at an Army-Navy game, where it inspired the Midshipmen to a 10-0 victory over the Cadets.)

But William’s seadogs could each reach up and tug their forelocks (origin of the military salute), and then bellow out, “Aye, my lord!” Then they began  cranking up anchors by the hundreds.

The westerly winds held steady, and in just a few hours, William’s own ship, first of his invasionary force, plowed into the shore to “quench its speed in the slushy sand.” (Somebody else wrote that phrase much later – and with steamy overtones that shocked Victorians. If you don’t believe me, look it up yourself.)

OK, I’m pausing just a moment, wondering if I’ve dropped the reins of free association, and the horses have run away with me. Well, tough taffy! I’m having too much fun to rein them in. . .

“Now,” as good old Paul Harvey used to say, “for the rest of the story.” Anxious to be the first ashore, William swung one armored foot over his landing boat’s side and planted it firmly in the sandy slush. (Sorry.) But then, alas and alack!

When he swung down the second foot, he must have caught his boot’s toe on an oarlock. And so what next plunged into the mud were his royal head and face, neck and shoulders, hands and forearms.

Horrified gasps from everybody clambering out of nearby boats.  Sancta Maria! The king on his hands and knees in the muddy water! If this is an omen, it’s a hell of a one for starting an invasion.

But wait! Just watch this how this canny guy saves that disastrous moment and spins it into a triumph!

William rears back on his knees and pauses, water squirting from every crack in his armor, eyes closed seemingly in prayer. (They are really stinging something fierce from grit and salt water.)

Then he slowly stands, but not before grabbing up two fistfuls of mud.  He holds these up in triumph. and he shouts. “See how I grasp this land as God has destined!”

In that one boffo instant, brilliant Will turns falling face-down in the mud into something solemn, God-intended: He’s kissed the coastline, then knelt in prayer, and then triumphantly raised up those symbolic clumps of mud. What a guy! No wonder they started calling him “The Conqueror”!

As you might imagine, I’ve always held that moment in William’s life as the very symbol for anybody’s rescuing victory from the jaws of defeat. It’s quick thinking that does the trick.

And for my many years as academic administrator, it worked for me more times than not. But not always, and not on my very first day as a dean when, in terms of appropriate dignity, I might as well have plunged headfirst into plashy mud.

No room to tell you about that in this column.

So now I’ll add only this: There’s a guy living in Hastings right now, in 2020, who’s profiting greatly by association with William, even though the latter’s been a-mouldering underground for nine hundred plus years.

This contemporary of ours is making a great living by constructing sidewalks all over East Sussex.

His ads all call him, “William the Concretor.”

ATWELL: Where Everybody Know Your Name…

FRONT PORCH PERSPECTIVE

Where Everybody

Know Your Name…

By JIM ATWELL • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

I’ll admit first off that I’m not writing this on my front porch.  It’s as cold as, well, January out there, for heaven’s sake! And so I’m settled on a comfortable couch back in the family room. Cassey the dog is with me, sprawled on her back, nose almost on my keyboard. Though her face is upside down, she is staring at me fixedly, intent on willing my fingers away from their silly drumming so they can be used to scratch her stomach.

Jim Atwell, a Quaker minister and retired college administrator, lives in Cooperstown.

I press on, pretending not to notice the tractor-beam pressure coming from her. It’s a battle of wills, and who wins? No contest. I couldn’t match that dogged determination.

All right, the scratching done, I’m back to giving you full attention. I think you’ll enjoy what I have to tell you. It’s about a recent visit to my old hometown and the special joy of seeing old friends. I don’t mean Annapolis, place of my birth. I’m talking about Fly Creek, the place that birthed me into life in Leatherstocking Country.

Early on a recent Sunday morning, Fly Creek General Store owner Tom Bouton showed up to take me out to breakfast. We’ve been friends for 25 years now, he having bought Aufmuth’s Store just about when I moved north.

Tom knew that my Anne was away just then and I was home alone, tending that determined dog and Gracie our cat, placid but as tough as the dog, any day.

As we left the house, Tom suggested we drive out to the “crick” and eat at his store. Great idea, I thought. I’d likely see some old friends.

Well, it turns out that two congregations meet in Fly Creek every Sunday morning. The first gathers at 11 in the handsome 19th Century Methodist church, its congregants well dressed and ready for prayer, fine music, and a good sermon.

But the second congregation gangs up earlier in Tom’s store. Usually all male and casually dressed, they show up for coffee, jokes and lots of bustin’ chops with one another. When Tom and I walked in, there were whoops and shouts of  “Hey, Jim! Welcome back!”

They’d saved my old seat by the front window – no one, one bozo said solemnly, had been allowed to sit in it since I was last there. It’s the “Atwell Chair of Distinguished Bull—-,” he continued, and no match for me had yet been found.

Tom and I sat with that wondrous, raucous crowd for close to two hours – and we did manage to eat breakfast, too. What a great time!

“Old times there are not forgotten.” And I’m not just whistling “Dixie.” Though I did just quote it.

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