2017-03-08 / In This Place

Over the Hill and into the Woods

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by Trish Adams

I had no knowledge (I promise!) of the startling and sad news about Kirkside Retirement Home closing when I prepared this week’s column. My goal was to spotlight our new “Primetime” page (6A) for adventures in the “golden years” by finding archive stories about our elders. So I unearthed the news of Kirkside’s initiation as a home for the retired. Did you know that it began as a home for ministers and others who had spent their working lives in service to the Reformed Church? Since then, it has had an important community role, providing a cozy and companionable home for the retired of every belief, including to my knowledge some quite interesting heathens and pagans!

July 7, 1950

Kirkside Dedicated Home For Retired Preachers

Kirkside in Roxbury was dedicated Tuesday afternoon, June 20, as a home for aged Ministers, Missionaries and other full time professional workers of the Reformed church in America. Remarks were given by several. First was Rev. Willard Dayton Brown, D. D., secretary emeritus of the Board of Education, Reformed church in America. He gave a history of the movement to secure Kirkside as a home for aged Ministers. He told of how the idea was brought before the General Synod, and then that through the interest of Dr. Gilbert J. Palen of Roxbury, that Frank J. Gould became interested, finally purchasing the home and presenting it to the church in memory of his sister, the late Helen Gould Shepard, whose home it was for more than 30 years.

The house now Kirkside, was built in 1865 by Liberty Preston and was the Preston homestead for many years. Mrs. Shepard, then Helen Miller Gould, bought it about 1902 and purchased additional land from 1904 to 1908 in connection with it. She was born June 20, 1868, and died December 21, 1938, at the age of 70. The dedication day was her 82nd birthday.

She married Finley J. Shepard January 22, 1913. Following Mrs. Shepard’s death in 1938, her husband owned the estate until his death in August 1942, when it was purchased by W H. Ullman. Mr. and Mrs. Ullman decided to sell the place due to poor health and after negotiation it became the property of the General Synod of the Reformed church in America, April 1, 1948. Mr. and Mrs. Ullman kept River cottage another year then sold that also to become a part of Kirkside, in 1949. George B. Mattice, caretaker was greatly praised at the splendid way he has kept the grounds. Kirkside has a vegetable garden started and a strawberry bed.

Rev. and Mrs. Anthony Van- Westenburg came as directors in November, 1949. The first occupants, Rev. and Mrs. Benjamin White came about February, 1950. They stayed at River cottage until Kirkside opened April 1, 1950.

There are now nine people there. Next, Rev. A. L. Warnshius, D. D., treasurer ot the General Synod Reformed church in America, spoke of his personal memories of Mrs. Shepard and expressed his belief that the project would have made her very happy.

Kirkside is the property of the General Synod of the Reformed church in America. The church as a corporation owns property, including Hope college and other property of which Kirkside is one acquisition. Howard Springsteen of New York is the president.

Next, Carroll G. Hinkley, super visor of the Town of Roxbury, gave greetings and a welcome in behalf of the residents of Roxbury, who are happy to see the lights of Kirkside again. Rev. Anthony VanWestenburg, director of Kirkside, scheduled on the program, was not well, so Mrs. Van- Westenburg took his place and gave a most appropriate talk. The plaque was unveiled by Rev. Frederick A. Bauer, New York city, president of the Minister’s fund. The plaque carries the inscription, “In Memory of my Sister, Helen Miller Gould, from her loving brother, Frank Jay Gould, 1949.” The plaque is at the side of the front of the home. Rev. Herman E. Luben, pastor of the Gould Memorial Reformed church, gave the prayer of decation. The closing hymn was “For All the Saints who from their Labors Rest.” Following the program, cookies and punch were served by the ladies of the Gould Memorial Reformed church.

In my quest for good “senior stories” I was immediately remind- ed of two of my favorites from the archives, Grampy and Nana from the columns of Maggie Scudder in the mid-1950s. Grampy and Nana were Maggie’s parents with their own interesting past from the bustling neighborhoods of Brooklyn, but they “transitioned” into farm life and the household of their busy daughter’s family completely. On that search, however, I found this episode from Maggie’s life, which illustrates succinctly how far we have come from the days when the older generation either lived with, or was sustained by other means, in the community, rather than being sequestered to specialized living arrangements, however wonderfully equipped.

October 17, 1952

From Feminine Furrows Plowed by Maggie

Yesterday after breakfast, Pat and I decided to drive out Windham way to see Cousin Jenny. Cindy had been home from school for two days with an ordinary case of Margaretvillitis, so we thought we’d leave her and Grampy to keep each other company. Soon after we saw Nancy safely onto the bus, we loaded the rest of the family into the faithful sedan and started out. We had a very pleasant visit.

As almost the last of a vanishing generation, Cousin Jenny and Grandma had a happy time exchanging news of the various branches of the family. It seems hard to believe how far afield the members of a family move. There are cousins, nieces, nephews, grandsons and granddaughters and other descendants scattered all over the northern half of the United States. Although most of the relatives under discussion were completely unknown to me, it was delightful to hear about life in an era nearly forgotten.

Old folks seem to remember the joys and activities of their youth so well—so much better than they can remember yesterday’s weather. Perhaps that quirk of memory is one reason why they are so patient with the impulsive actions of their grandchildren. They seem to bridge the entire middle age span, so that they are, like some children, more understanding of basic principles.

Cousin Jenny was talking to us about some of her neighbors. She said, “They shouldn’t bicker and squabble so. They’re both almost old enough to know it won’t help. He’s 75, and she’s most 74. Youngsters of 50 or so can’t be expected to know how useless it is for a husband and wife to argue and disagree.”

Cousin Jenny’s only help is a young man of 80, Robbie. He had been a rover, never married, worked at any trade in every state in the Union. He arrived at her home one morning, offering to split wood in return for breakfast. He has stayed two years as her devoted friend. He cooks her meals. He gave us a sample of his oatmeal bread, baked that morning. He scrubs the floors, does the monthly marketing, makes the garden, and occasionally shoots and cooks a woodchuck.

Driving into the grassy entrance to Cousin Jenny’s clearing is like moving back into local history. There are a few concessions to the present. Cousin Jenny has a tiny, battery-powered radio, she buys evaporated milk and creamery butter. But they have to draw their water from a nearby well. They clean and trim their lamps daily. Once a month Robbie gets a woman to come in and stay with Cousin Jenny while he goes to town to get their supplies for the next 30 days.

For a man who served as a roustabout with the Ringling Brothers circus, who worked in the acid factory when Smithville was a rough factory town, who learned to spin at ten and swear at six, this is indeed a strange life. Robbie likes to talk and really appreciates a new audience. He worked on the Gilboa reservoir while that was being constructed. He asked us very seriously how many men had been covered with concrete so far in the Downs- ville dam. His story was that anyone who happened to be injured during the pouring of the concrete at the Gilboa structure was promptly covered with wet cement to conceal the corpus delecti. At this point I decided his imagination was more potent than his memory, so I sat back to enjoy some more Paul Bunyan stories of this locality.

Cousin Jenny had never had children, so she was very much interested in ours. Kitty was, un- commonly, on her best company behavior except that she was too shy to talk. Since Cousin Jenny is crowding 90 and is blind, there was very little communication achieved between the oldest and the youngest of the family. Kitty did show the beautiful compassion of which children are capable at most unexpected times. Just as we were leaving, she climbed on Cousin Jenny’s knee, threw her arms around the thin neck, planted a hearty, moist kiss squarely in the middle of the wrinkled cheek. The smile that lighted the withered, tired old face, stayed long after Kitty skipped happily out the door.

And more from Maggie, this a characteristic story of Grampy’s determination never to give up on a good idea . . . Grampy was the keeper of the vegetable garden and stalwart member of the regular morning and evening milking crew.

Sept. 25, 1953

I have had my brother and his wife visiting on the farm for a few days. Red, my brother, has had wonderful time. He wandered in the orchard admiring the apples remaining on the trees, and bewailing the waste of the fallen apples. I have not been able to can the apples fast enough to prevent spoilage. Red and Grampy found old wine press in the cellar. The two of them spent several hours cleaning up the press. Then they dropped several apples into the press. They manipulated the screw. They twisted and turned. They finally loosened the business and walked away to talk over the situation out of my sight and hearing.

Later that day Pat asked me how the cider-making was going. I was non-commital. Pat wonder- ed audibly to Grampy just how he could chop the apples. Grampy raised his eyebrows but offered no comment. Early the next morning Red was cleaning up an old, long-unused sausage grinder. Then the two men alternated intervals of furnishing motive power for the grinder. By dropping the apples into the grinder and allowing the pulp to drop into the press they had a workable outfit. Since the project was started merely as a whim, the very small quantity of cider was immaterial. What was there was good.

The following episode in Maggie’s chronicles occurred at the end of a severe cold snap, so cold and so long that when she speaks of the thermometer hitting 20, that’s a note of rejoicing and relief! Not so much for Grampy though . . .

January 22 1954

That day last week when the thermometer hit 20 will remain in our memories for years. Pat had just brought in the mail. He was sitting in the living room with his back against the stove scanning the paper. I was ironing with my back against the open oven door, ironing was the warm- est job I could think of. Nana burst into my kitchen laughing so hard that she was staggering. She gasped, “Look at Grampy!” I dashed for her house.

In front of her open oven door stood Grampy, disconsolate, sodden, shivering Grampy. He wobbled on one leg, then the other peeling off dripping trousers. He was shivering so hard that the icicles hanging from his curly locks tinkled. The icicles from his nose quivered in sympathy. I back-tracked immediately. Nana was still telling Pat how Grampy had slipped on the icy floor of the milk house, balanced precariously on one foot for several seconds before plunging head first into the water. Even now I shiver when I think of hitting such cold water. From the milk house to Grampy’s back door is about 75 feet. Grampy set a new speed record for the distance but it took enough time at that to form all the glittering icicles.

After Grampy got into dry clothes, and thawed the ice off the kitchen floor where he drip- ped in the changing process, he came in to give his version of his bath. I found Pat’s bottle “for medical use” and gave Grampy a good dose. By dinner time Grampy was warm and dry on the outside with his hair, beard and moustache in their accustomed curls, and comfortably warm and friendly on the inside.

February 4, 1955

Washing Milking Machines

Grampy has one of the coldest jobs on the farm. He washes the milking machines night and morning right after Pat finishes the milking. Nights are not quite so cold. He finishes the machines, then dashes into the house to warm his hands over my stove. It’s nearer than his own kitchen. Mornings test the intestinal fortitude of any man. With the mercury sinking into the bulb and the frost boring its white way into the barn via the bolts, nails, and the iron handle on the door, Grampy faithfully goes through the ritual of rinsing the milk things in cold water, washing in a special detergent and sanitizer, dissolved in lukewarm water. Then the long rubbers are hung up to dry. It is a trick in this weather to get the long squirmy rubbers hung up before they freeze in some shape absolutely impossible to hang over Pat’s home-made drying rack. The large 16-quart milker pails are rinsed and left until after breakfast, when it is warm (?). Then they are scrubbed with a brush and sanitizer, rinsed and inverted. By the time Grampy has the rubbers taken care of, and Pat has the pulsator heads carried into the house, Grampy is well satisfied to leave further scrubbing until after oatmeal and hot cakes.

March 17, 1961

Her 80th Birthday

Roxbury, March 13—Miss Alice B. Van Doren celebrated her 80th birthday Monday, March 13 at Kirkside where she has been a resident for the past nine years. Miss Van Doren was a missionary in India for 49 years, coming to Kirkside upon her retirement in 1952. Her birthday was observed by a real Indian dinner of rice and curry at Kirkside, and a shower of postcards from friends all over the country.

If you want more stories of Grampy and Nana, you’ll find them on-line in my columns. There is one where the children lock Grampy in the silo, the tale of the notoriously smelly turkey from the Brooklyn days, and who could forget the time Nana blew a hole in the ceiling with a chicken? Search for “Grampy” or email me at graphics@catskillmountainnews.com if you’d like a list with dates. If you want more of Maggie’s columns, go to the archives, www.nys historicnewspapers/middletown.com and search “furrows” from the years 1952-1957. It is such an unusual word, you will get a tidy output of Maggie’s columns and little else! Clarke Sanford was about the only other person who ever used that word by the 1950s. Speaking of Clarke? He’s up next week! Let’s see if he’s already talking about fishing even before opening day, or if spring fever has hit him in some other way!

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