NNY Folklore: Back when winter was really winter in the north country

Photo courtesy Town and Village of Canton Historian's Office. A man walks on a Main Street sidewalk, Canton, beside banks of snow so high that he might well not be able to see the traffic alongside. Scenes like this one were typical not so long ago.

Photo courtesy Town and Village of Canton Historian’s Office. A man walks on a Main Street sidewalk, Canton, beside banks of snow so high that he might well not be able to see the traffic alongside. Scenes like this one were typical not so long ago.

Sometime recently I realized that I am from the last generation of rural north country residents who may have attended school — at least their first few years of school — in a one-room schoolhouse. Actually, my little St. Lawrence County hamlet of Hopkinton was pretty advanced. We went to a two-room schoolhouse, with the first three grades downstairs and grades four through six upstairs. It wasn’t until my sixth grade year that the new elementary school was finished and we had a classroom of our own. In the 1940s and 50s, multiple small schools in rural towns combined forces, built large buildings for grades kindergarten through 12 with all kinds of extra features, and nearly everyone rode The Yellow Peril — the school bus — each day. That fact inevitably inspired a predictable observation from our elders: “You young ones have it really lucky these days. When I was your age, we had to walk to school, rain or shine. A mile and a half. Each way!” Isn’t nostalgia great? Things from the past always look better (or bigger or stronger or harder or worse, even) than the present and, certainly, the future. [Read more...]

Fraser family of Harrisville a folk music powerhouse

Varick Chittenden

Varick Chittenden

It was the winter of 2005 when I first met the Frasers. To write a story with a St. Patrick’s Day theme, John Golden, at the time a Watertown Daily Times columnist, had been invited to the Fraser home in Harrisville for a rehearsal for the upcoming St. Patrick’s dinner at the St. Francis Solanus Catholic Church.

For nearly 10 years, the Frasers provided the entertainment, their gift to their home parish. John knew of our interest at Traditional Arts in Upstate New York in all kinds of traditional activities in our region. Shortly after his visit, he called to urge me to see and hear the Fraser family as soon as I could. On the night of the dinner, my old friend and music enthusiast Paul Fischer and I trekked to Harrisville to do exactly that.

“Wow!” I said to Paul, as we left the church basement after a good meal and lots of good music. “These folks are the real McCoy. Aren’t they great?” [Read more...]

A homecomong, 50 years later — north country style

Retired anesthesiologist Dr. Alan Pritchard of Sodus, St. Lawrence University Class of ’63, recaptures moments of freshman orientation, beanie and all, in St. Lawrence’s 2013 Reunion parade. Tara Freeman/St. Lawrence University

For one long-awaited weekend beginning May 30, they came — from Albuquerque and Albany, Boise and Brooklyn, Wiscasset and Watertown. Those travelling the farthest flew in from Alsace, the Channel Islands and Alaska; others are as close as Potsdam, Madrid and Canton. It was the 50th reunion for St. Lawrence University’s Class of 1963, my own class. It was a great homecoming and it has received rave reviews ever since.

Thirty classmates, scattered all over the United States, planned details for several months. St. Lawrence staff at all levels turned themselves wrong side out to make it a success. No details were overlooked. For our class, the celebrations began with a reception at the president’s home Thursday afternoon and ended with a Service of Remembrance for deceased Laurentians at Gunnison Memorial Chapel Sunday morning. In between, there were so many activities that we could barely keep up — breakfasts, lunches, dinners, campus tours, a day trip to the 1000 Islands, faculty lectures, open houses, a walk/run, lawn parties and music , cocktail parties and the always popular, annual SLU Alumni Parade on campus followed by a huge picnic, to name a few. [Read more...]

Mac and cheese, please, and a side of personality

Varick Chittenden

For those who travel on their stomachs, food is an important part of discovering a place and what goes on there. What’s popular and special may depend on what grows well there — like beef in the Midwest or seafood on the Maine coast — or who has settled there — like Cajuns in the bayous of Louisiana or Mexicans in the Southwest. The north country isn’t known as a food destination, but there are plenty of places for good food. If fine dining is your preference, there are numerous restaurants with professional chefs and great style. If your taste runs to fast food, the franchisers have surely found us, with their carbon copy menus, cookie cutter buildings and efficient service that appeal to many. [Read more...]

Sir David: ‘Please pass the chicken and biscuits’

Varick Chittenden

Word of the death of former Congressman David O’Brien Martin this past November was received back here in the north country with both sadness and praise. As both a loyal son of the region and a dedicated military man, at his passing he was particularly celebrated for his successes in Washington as the driving force behind creating Fort Drum as we know it today. [Read more...]

How do Thanksgiving traditions come to be?

Varick Chittenden

As Stephen Colbert says, “Thanksgiving is a magical time of year when families across the country join together to raise America’s obesity statistics. Personally, I love Thanksgiving traditions: watching football, making pumpkin pie, and saying the magic phrase that sends your aunt storming out of the dining room to sit in her car.”

[Read more...]

The new obit: How your life will be remembered

Varick Chittenden

“He loved golf, spearmint-leaf candy, jazz, blues, laughter, the company of good friends, a good story and a well-mixed stinger. He was a kind, patient, loving man who dedicated his life to his family and helping others.” — Michael, 69, Sackets Harbor.

[Read more...]

‘New immigrants’ with black buggies fitting in

Varick Chittenden

For most of us who live in the north country today, having people from other countries and cultures move nearby hasn’t been a very common experience. They may speak another language among themselves, go to a different church, eat different food, celebrate different holidays or have different values. Getting used to each other is a challenge. For a century or more, most new arrivals adjusted to local ways pretty quickly, quietly kept their own ways, or left.

[Read more...]

How a special rock became a landmark

Varick Chittenden

“North country on the Rocks!”

That sounds like a tabloid headline for some kind of disaster set to befall us. Or maybe it’s a fancy new cocktail, created by a local bartender with a sense of humor. Not this time. This time it’s really about rocks — outcroppings, road cuts, boulders — that are a significant part of the local landscape north of Albany.

[Read more...]

Small town personality lives at the post office

Varick Chittenden

When I was a boy of 10 or so in the 1950s, a daily trip to our little post office in Hopkinton was part of many townspeople’s routine. The mail would come in around 9:30 a.m., so on school vacations or Saturdays, I’d try to get there early, in case something really special would come. Maybe it was a letter from cousins in Iowa or a seed catalog in February.

[Read more...]