Ukraine live briefing: White House condemns Russia’s detention of U.S. journalist; Finland clears NATO hurdle      Turkey approves Finland’s NATO bid, clearing path for it to join alliance     ‘Extensive’ failures marred response in Canada’s worst mass shooting      Ukraine live briefing: White House condemns Russia’s detention of U.S. journalist; Finland clears NATO hurdle      Turkey approves Finland’s NATO bid, clearing path for it to join alliance     ‘Extensive’ failures marred response in Canada’s worst mass shooting      Wall Street Journal reporter arrested in Russia by security service     King Charles III applauds German and British unity in defending Ukraine     Russia says notifications of ballistic missile launches will continue      Ukraine live briefing: White House condemns Russia’s detention of U.S. journalist; Finland clears NATO hurdle      Turkey approves Finland’s NATO bid, clearing path for it to join alliance     ‘Extensive’ failures marred response in Canada’s worst mass shooting      Ukraine live briefing: White House condemns Russia’s detention of U.S. journalist; Finland clears NATO hurdle      Turkey approves Finland’s NATO bid, clearing path for it to join alliance     ‘Extensive’ failures marred response in Canada’s worst mass shooting      Wall Street Journal reporter arrested in Russia by security service     King Charles III applauds German and British unity in defending Ukraine     Russia says notifications of ballistic missile launches will continue      

News of Otsego County

life sketches

Life Sketches: Retired Poultry Farmer Recalls ‘Roger’s Colossus’ in Face of Avian Flu Epidemic
Life Sketches by Terry Berkson

Retired Poultry Farmer
Recalls ‘Roger’s Colossus’
in Face of Avian Flu Epidemic

Recently, Roger and Diane Vaughn—who operated the only small commercial poultry farm situated along the Route 20 corridor between Albany and Syracuse—retired. Theirs was one of about 15 remaining egg-laying operations in the state. At one time, there were 15 small farms like theirs within a 15-mile radius.

Then, the average setup consisted of about 300,000 birds, which made the Vaughns’ flock of poultry look rather paltry. Nevertheless, this small operation, in spite of Diane’s help, required Roger, an octogenarian, to put in a 70-hour week caring for his hens and delivering their bounty to stores and restaurants within 25 miles of the farm. Their eggs were also sold retail and wholesale out of a small shop in close proximity to the coops.

It was ironic that with every detail about the Vaughns’ 2,000 chicken operation painting a diminutive picture, a colossal egg was laid by one of their Rhode Island reds. The gigantic brown egg weighed in at 5-1/4 ounces, more than twice the weight of an extra-large egg, which averages about 2-1/4 ounces. It was 3 and 1/32 of an inch long and had a girth of eight inches. The ovate giant couldn’t even fit on their antique egg grader.

Since 1964, when Roger and Diane came to live and work on his family’s farm, more than 82 million eggs have sold directly or gone out for delivery.

Roger said, “This was the biggest egg the farm had ever produced.” He thought he knew which hen had dropped the football. “She was always laying larger eggs,” he said. Without a time-consuming search for a tell-tale “natural” episiotomy, there was no way of knowing for sure.

For Roger, coming home followed a degree in poultry science from Cornell University and later an army stint during the Vietnam era as company commander at Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn, New York.

Roger and Diane eventually took command of what was originally called Vaughn’s Hatchery from his parents, who had been stationed there since 1932. The change from a hatchery to an egg-producing farm took place back in the late 50s, when the market for hatched chicks dried up almost overnight. Roger thought that the age of specialization was responsible for the change. The pace of dairy farming had stepped up so much that to have chickens for home use was considered an unnecessary distraction. Back when Sidney and Katherine, Roger’s parents, were running the place, a spring order of 50 hatchlings each was the norm from surrounding farms.

According to Roger, 75 percent of the eggs consumed in New York State were shipped in from out west, where grain is cheaper, or from tax-advantaged states like Pennsylvania. The reasoning was that, “the price of eggs was very competitive, so why bother raising your own?”

The answer may have been ORGANIC. People were paying more than triple for eggs that could be labled organic. Free Range Charlie, an egg aficionado from Brooklyn, touted, “egg cartons containing an assortment of naturally colored eggs: green, blue, brown, orange, pink from naturally fed, free range chickens had great appeal. Voila! You have organic eggs at designer prices!” But for many, the quality of the egg in regard to the color of the shell remains debatable. Also, washing eggs as the Vaughns did, removed a water soluble protective coat which then required refrigeration. In many other countries, unwashed and unrefrigerated eggs are still put on the market.

Maybe Roger’s Colossus celebrated a relatively new and expanding age of poultry specialization and the growth in popularity of back-yard chickens in light of the specialty egg business. Of course, for most people, a good fresh egg is all that matters.

The recent epidemic of avian flu has killed millions of chickens and caused prices to fly the coop, soaring to unprecedented prices—ironically, shortly after hard-working Roger and Diane retired.

Back when the big egg was on display in a storefront in downtown Richfield Springs, bets were on concerning the possibility of it being a “triple yolker!”

LIFE SKETCHES: Made in the Shade: There’s More Than One Way to Curb a Rooster
Life Sketches by Terry Berkson

Made in the Shade: There’s More
Than One Way to Curb a Rooster

Clever thinking plus antique lampshade equals crisis averted. (Photo by Terry Berkson)

I once had this beautiful tropical fish that was mutilating and eating up the rest of the fish in the tank. It looked like he would have to be flushed down the drain, but before doing so, I tried threading a piece of dental floss through his tail with a sewing needle to create a drag that would slow him down when chasing after the other fish.

“Isn’t that cruel?” my wife, Alice, asked when she saw the streamer trailing.

“It’s better than flushing him,” I told her.

LIFE SKETCHES: Heart of the House: Uncle Harry’s Gift of Conversion a Godsend
Life Sketches by Terry Berkson

Heart of the House: Uncle Harry’s
Gift of Conversion a Godsend

Terry Berkson’s grandmother’s drafty, 12 room “country” house in Brooklyn was serviced by a coal burning steam boiler, later converted by his Uncle Harry into an oil fired system.

In 1932, my Uncle Harry graduated from New York’s City College with a degree in aeronautical engineering. For more than a year he tried to get a job in that field but, likely due to the Great Depression, he was unsuccessful. So, he turned to the heating business where thousands of homes and industrial buildings were converting to oil to take the place of coal, which was messy and, in most cases, required a lot of physical labor. Maybe it was for practice or maybe he was just being a good son, but one of his first installations was in my grandmother, Fanny’s, drafty, 12 room “country” house in Brooklyn, where he converted a coal burning steam boiler to an oil fired system.

Life Sketches: The Ritz Crossing
Life Sketches by Terry Berkson

The Ritz Crossing

USS Darby (DE-218) was a Buckley-class destroyer escort in service with the United States Navy from 1943 to 1947 and from 1950 to 1968. She was sunk as a target in 1970.

In late November of 1965 my dad, in his yellow taxi cab, ferried me and my duffle bag down to the Brooklyn Army Terminal where I would board the USS Darby bound for Bremerhaven, Germany. Several other soldiers who had also gone to Preventive Medicine School were among the 1,400 troops that were about to cross the Atlantic. The water was calm for the first few days but, in spite of the smooth going, this guy, Harris, had already turned green. In fact, he looked seasick as soon as we set sail.

Life Sketches by Terry Berkson

Out On The Ice


One bitterly cold morning, Joe Gravelding, my muskrat-trapping partner, didn’t come to call for me. It was the weekend, so I figured he slept in knowing he could count on me to go and check the line. When I left the house, my dog, Pinkie, began to follow me. I threw a few snowballs at him and yelled for him to go home, but he kept trailing me.

Pinkie might sound like an effeminate name for a male dog, but he was no sissy. Every time a dog in my old Brooklyn neighborhood had puppies they seemed to have Pinkie’s black and white color and markings.

It was a dry, sunny morning and the snow crunched beneath my feet like hands rubbing on an inflated balloon.

Life Sketches: Puffball hunting
Life Sketches by Terry Berkson

Puffball hunting

Yesterday morning I looked out the window and saw that a puffball was emerging from the ground at the edge of a hedgerow bordering our back lawn. It reminded me of an incident that occurred many years ago. I had taken my son and his friend, Junior, puffball hunting on a farm just outside of Warren off of Route 20. What’s different about a puffball from others in the mushroom family is that they can grow out of the ground overnight. And, if you don’t find and pick them in time when they are still pure white and firm, they dry out and shrink to a paper-like sphere that emits a dusty cloud of spores when squeezed, hence the name puffball.

It was early in the season and I wasn’t sure we’d find anything, but with the cooler weather already upon us I was looking forward to a quiet walk in the woods. Maybe we’d even spot some deer. The boys were about 8 or 9 and were excited to be on an expedition, but they crashed through the woods, talking and laughing and slapping tree trunks with sticks. It wasn’t the calm nature walk that I had hoped for and for sure we weren’t going to see any deer so, to get some peace, I lied and told them that if they made too much noise the puffballs would suck themselves back into the ground. That seemed to quiet the boys, but after an hour of searching we didn’t find anything.

Life Sketches: Cats in Key West
Life Sketches by Terry Berkson

Cats in Key West

Several years ago my wife Alice and I made a trip down to Key West, Florida and among other sites visited the house where Ernest Hemingway lived and worked on great writing projects like “A Farewell To Arms.” It was an interesting two-story structure, one of the few in Key West that was made out of stone blocks that had been cut and removed to create a cellar. There was a veranda that skirted the second floor and overlooked a spacious yard that was populated with palm trees and myriad tropical plants. Papa liked cats and one section of the backyard held a feline cemetery where among other names carved in stone was Marlene Dietrich. In the back of the house there was a catwalk that led to the second floor of a carriage house that provided a surprisingly neat space where the writer worked.

Column by Terry Berkson: A Miller’s Knot

Column by Terry Berkson

A Miller’s Knot

A Miller’s Knot

Bumped into Buster Whipple several summers ago at Joe’s Pizzeria downtown. He was up from Florida to attend his grandchild’s graduation. We hashed over old times, among them, days I used to work with him on his family’s farm. We were doing hay the year I was eighteen and headed for Brooklyn College in the fall. “You’re a good worker now,” Buster had said as I threw a bale onto the wagon. “But college is going to ruin you. You won’t want to bust your gut any more. You won’t come back.”

Buster had been wrong because the next summer I was once again on the Whipple farm tying bags of oats on the back of a combine driven by rotund and jovial neighbor Steve Spitko. We were in a large field across Route 20 from the new house where Buster lived with his wife and four kids. One of the guys working with me was an old man named Obie Marriot who wore bib overalls without any underwear. In spite of his age he was a good hand, big and powerful, and it was hard to keep up with him when on- and off-loading the heavy burlap bags of oats. Tying bags was a dusty job and working under a baking sun, it didn’t take long before I was as dark as a migrant worker.

Add a chicken in a cherry tree! Life Sketches by Terry Berkson

Add a chicken in a cherry tree!
Life Sketches by Terry Berkson

Late one afternoon several Christmases ago at the height of a driving snowstorm, I left my typewriter and looked out the kitchen window. There was a large bird roosting in our cherry tree. It wasn’t a crow or a pigeon or a morning dove. I knew those Brooklyn birds well. This was something much bigger.
The tree stood at the back of the yard against the fence, which was about fifty feet from the house. With the failing light and blowing snow, it was difficult to make out just what kind of bird it was. I didn’t have binoculars, but someone had once left a pair of pearl-covered opera glasses in my father’s taxi, and with those I could make out that the big bird in the tree looked like a chicken, one with those dark black and gray feathers.

My pregnant wife hadn’t talked to me for two days. Something I said or did had aroused her temper. It looked like it was going to be a heavy Christmas. I called, “Hey Alice, there’s a chicken in our cherry tree!”

“Yeah, sure,” she said from the next room. “And a partridge in our pear.”

Life sketches by Terry Berkson: Too stuck up for Thanksgiving

Life sketches by Terry Berkson:
Too stuck up for Thanksgiving

Several years ago, two friends from Richfield, Tiger Goodale and Rootie Marriot, came up the drive with what they thought was a good story for me to write.

They had been in the Genesee, one of the local watering holes, when this guy came in and told how he or some other one-legged man — they didn’t make it clear — was up in a tree, building a stand for hunting, when his prosthetic leg fell off and landed on the ground right under the nose of his Saint Bernard.

It sounded like a good story. It reminded me, in fact, of celebrated writer Flannery O’Connor’s tale where a man romances a woman in a hay mow just so he can run off with her wooden leg. When I pressed them for details, they told me I had better get them straight from the horse’s mouth and gave me a phone number to call, which I did, but there was no answer, so I just left my name and number on the answering machine.

Life Sketches by Terry Berskon: Father of the man

Cousin Ben, age 15

Life Sketches by Terry Berskon
Father of the man

Several years ago I received a wedding announcement from my cousin Francine who lived in the town of Savigny Sur Orge, which is a 20-minute train ride from Paris, France.

She said that her son Ben had finally married his girlfriend whom he had been living with for ten years. The girl, Isabelle, is a doctor and comes from a small French village where there hadn’t been a wedding for 17 years, so theirs was a grand occasion where almost the entire village population attended. Ben and Isabelle worked for Doctors Without Borders and had made friends in many countries from which about 130 people came to attend. Francine wrote that the wedding party walked along cobblestone paths accompanied by musicians who played instruments dating from the middle ages. The reception was held at an old castle and because a majority of the guests were from Latin America, much of the music was from Mexico and Brazil.

Life Sketches by Terry Berskon: Peckulating Chickens

Alice Berkson

Life Sketches by Terry Berskon
Peckulating Chickens

The hens I finally found in late spring last year were now laying prolifically. I was feeding them mash but they were scattering it around the coop and yard so I switched to pellets that for the most part stay in the feed pail. Good egg production continued but I noticed that feathers were missing from the necks, breasts and rear ends of some of the birds. It wasn’t Romeo the rooster. He had been a gentle sweetheart. The girls seemed to be pulling each others feathers out — not all of them, just a few. One in particular was missing more feathers than the others. I assumed she was at the bottom of the proverbial pecking order. I didn’t think the feather-pulling was due to a lack of protein because the feed I was using had a high protein content. Also, allowed to free range, the birds had access to worms, bugs and greens that aid in providing them with a well balanced diet.

Life Sketches by Terry Berskon: Remembering a Corvette summer, lifestyle

Five decades after buying it, columnist Terry Berkson still has his dream car. (contributed)

Life Sketches by Terry Berskon
Remembering a Corvette summer, lifestyle

Back around 1960, I religiously watched the television show “Route 66.” A fine formula: two guys traveling across the country, meeting all kinds of people, trying to leave things in better shape than they found them before moving on. Martin Milner was the collegiate type; George Maharis was streetwise and a little crusty. Their Corvette, not the most practical car to go cross-country in, was a symbol of freedom and mobility with little room for emotional-type baggage or for that matter Samsonite-type either.

These days, such heroes would travel down the road in a Jeep or a four-wheel-drive pickup. That way they’d be able to take on hitchhikers or lost dogs or whatever any particular episode’s script threw at them. But not Milner and Maharis. During one show, they found themselves in an Oklahoma oil field.

For lack of an alternative, they used their Corvette to power a drilling rig. They removed a rear tire from its rim and then used the mounted rim to drive a belt that was attached to the oilrig. Simple, here was the Corvette, justifying itself, serving mankind as well as an imaginative story line.

Years later, I lived out my own “Route 66” fantasy when I got my ’63 roadster. Friends and relatives criticized the car for being so impractical, which pressured me to prove the car could be as useful as a four-door sedan. One time I drove home from the lumberyard with a couple of bags of cement on the front fenders. Another time I put the top down and loaded three ten-foot Lombardy poplars onto the jack storage cover behind the seats. Each burlap ball around the trees’ roots weighed over forty pounds.
This evidence notwithstanding, my cousin Charlie said when I got married, “Well, I guess you’ll get rid of the Corvette.”

That was more than five decades ago. One time, when my elderly but high-spirited Aunt Ruta came to Brooklyn from Richfield Springs for one of her week-long visits, I took her for a ride in the roadster.

“It’s a snazzy car,” she said, “but this seat is like sitting in a hole. My aunt liked to read Star magazine and always had her eyes peeled for Burt Reynolds. She had read an article in Star telling how Doris Day managed to look so young.

“She put Vaseline all over her face before she went to sleep,” my aunt explained.

Aunt Ruta tried the Vaseline treatment for several months. The pores of her skin eventually clogged, leaving unsightly, oily blemishes her old eyes couldn’t see. Alice and I told Aunt Ruta what she was doing to her complexion and urged her to discontinue Doris Day’s magic formula.

“Maybe I’ll switch to Jergen’s lotion,” she replied.

“Let’s give you a facial first,” Alice suggested.

Aunt Ruta’s pride kicked in, “I don’t need …”

“Would you want Burt Reynolds to see you now?” That won her over.

My aunt sat on a stool as my wife began steaming and scrubbing her face. “We need some sort of suction,” Alice said, discouraged. She was about to give up when I thought of the t-junction on the vacuum advance line feeding the distributor on the Corvette. It would surely do the job.

“Let’s go out to the garage,” I said with my aunt in tow.

“What for?” she said holding back. “Is this going to hurt?”

“Trust me,” I said as I seated her in a chair next to my car. I cleaned a long piece of rubber vacuum hose with alcohol and throttled the Corvette’s engine up to a fast idle. At about 800-rpm the manifold produced about 22 inches of vacuum which created a suction that could be regulated.

“Are you crazy?” Alice whispered when she came out to the garage and saw my set-up.

“I know what I’m doing,” I said pressing the hose into her hand.

Alice, in a huff, grabbed it and reluctantly went to work on Aunt Ruta who seemed to shrink in the chair. The contraption worked like a charm.

I took in the scene: Garage doors wide open. My frail aunt leaning far back in the chair as the Corvette’s engine cooked. My wife busily vacuuming Aunt Ruta’s deeply wrinkled face. A dream come true. Just like “Route 66.” My car had become one of life’s essential daily tools. Now, Milner and Maharis weren’t the only guys to have used a Corvette in an oil field.

“What do you think Charlie would say about the Corvette now?” I asked my wife.

Aunt Ruta’s leg kicked as though she were having a tooth pulled.

Then Alice declared, “He’d say you can get just as much suction from a station wagon!”

Life Sketches by Terry Berskon: Watching old western reminds me of shootout on Angel Hill

Life Sketches by Terry Berskon
Watching old western reminds me of shootout on Angel Hill

I watched the movie “Shane” the other night and the shootout at the end brought back memories of a local shootout that used to take place every year in the middle of August:

“Hold it,” Teddy Dziadik Jr. said quietly as he shouldered his shotgun. Chuckie Crist let his hand drop to his side. Dziadik swept his gun across the horizon several times. Then he said, “okay!” and Crist lifted his hand and pulled on the rope that released the spring that sent a clay bird climbing into the sky. The barrel of Dziadik’s gun followed the bird’s path until suddenly there was a blast and all that remained in the air was powder. The shooter had connected again, preventing the next man in line from getting a shot at the same clay bird. That’s the way the competition, called a shootout, worked. Several men, usually six or eight, lined up in anticipation of the clay pigeon’s release. Then the bird was launched and the first man in line, the one who was nearest the release, would shoot. If he hit the bird, he was in the clear, but if he missed, the next man in line could shoot, and if that man connected the first man would get an “O” and so on until the shooter was O U T of the competition. There were other details to the game but what I’ve described should give the reader a general idea.

Life Sketches by Terry Berkson: Cultural differences can be bridged with care

Life Sketches by Terry Berkson
Cultural differences can be bridged with care

In December 1965, I and 1,400 other soldiers set sail from Brooklyn on the USS Darby, the last troop ship ferrying our soldiers over to Germany.

After that, the military used planes and an eight-day voyage was reduced to an eight-hour flight. During the frigid crossing, there was little to do and we were shown a lot of frivolous movies. Looking back I see this would have been an excellent time to educate the new troops about the people whose land we were about to “invade.”

Around that time President Charles De Gaulle was in the process of kicking American troops, who had
been there since World War II, out of France. It appeared to be an ungrateful act, given the help we gave to that country during the war. Still, I was stationed in Germany, and I observed how young American soldiers, lonely from being away from home and ignorant of manner and customs, could misbehave, could get into fights, could harass women and own the label of “the ugly American.”

While we were crossing the Atlantic there could have been something said, by way of a documentary, about being a representative of your country and to put your best foot forward and thus win the hearts and minds of our hosts. But the opportunity to get this across was lost and instead a lot of “bad boys” were unleashed in Germany as well as in France. I don’t mean the majority. It just took a few to spoil it for the rest.

German nationals called my base in Ludwigsburg, “Gangster Barracks.” I’m sure the same dynamics were afoot in France.

I already knew they didn’t like American soldiers in Germany but I didn’t encounter unfriendly vibes from the French until attending the running of the bulls in July of 1966 in Pamplona, Spain. I am a Francophile, because of my maternal grand-mother’s origin being the French mountain town of Auvergne. People can tell when you like them, and so, at that time, rather than being abusive, the French sitting at my table at Pension Mendoza were merely condescending. They teased me about President Kennedy’s widow cavorting with the shipping tycoon, Aristotle Onassis. They thought it was inappropriate and disgraceful. The conversation boiled down to, “You Americans don’t know how to behave. No wonder De Gaulle is kicking you out.”

How could I defend myself, the former first lady and my country? How could I come back at them? The solution: a little fabrication. I told these sophisticates I had read in the newspaper that because France was kicking us out, we were sending back the Statue of Liberty. All mouths at the table dropped open. One guy choked on the hearty red wine he was drinking. I kept a straight face. They had nothing to say. Now we were kicking them — in the form of their lady — out of America.

I had them! Even if they found out an hour later that my story was untrue, for a time this naïve American was on top and out maneuvering the smart Europeans.

As a civilian several years later, I was returning to Paris from the south of France with my wife, Alice. We had been visiting friends I had made back in the Pamplona of ’66. They were actually two of the people who had been teasing me about Jacquelyn Kennedy. Our arrival was early in the morning and the banks were still closed. We wanted to have breakfast but for some reason no one would accept American Express travelers’ checks. We had tried several places.

There was a kiosk back at the train station where lots of souvenirs were for sale. I studied the display for a while trying to decide what I could buy with a check, and hopefully get change in francs, so we could have breakfast. I kept asking the woman behind the counter questions in broken French about different items. Finally, the woman impatiently said something that amounted to, “What do you really want?”
I told her that we needed cash to buy something to eat. She looked at me for a long time, pulled out 20 francs and said, “Here, go have breakfast.” We did, and later we went to the bank to exchange our money. When I returned to the kiosk to reimburse the woman and buy her combination letter-scale and pencil sharpener, she announced for all to hear, “Look at this crazy American. I give him 20 francs for something to eat and he returns to pay me back!” It seemed at the time that the French, following De Gaulle, had removed the idea of payback from their code of ethics.

I think the reason I had some degree of success in dealing with the French is because I made an attempt to understand them and speak their language. Americans tend to think that, “since we are the greatest country in the world,” everyone should speak English. For many of us a trip to a foreign country is like a trip to the zoo. I once heard an American tourist in Germany say, “Hey Gladys, look at this guy! He’s wearing those leather pants!”

My aunt Rose made a trip to France to visit her daughter Francine. When she shopped at a grocery and they didn’t give her a bag for the items she bought, she made a big stink. “What’s the matter with these people?” she wanted to know. “Mother,” my cousin said. “In France you bring your own bag.” That’s the way they do it to avoid wasting plastic and paper.

Wouldn’t it be great if we got to know something about a country before we started to deal with its people? “When in Rome, do as the Romans,” is really a good idea. Armed with a little experience, I’d like to borrow and bend a phrase coined by the great humorist, Will Rogers, who almost said, “I never met a foreigner I didn’t like.”

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