I Remember When

stuck behind a cabbage truck

I Remember When

By Angie Brown, Guest Author

During the Great Depression, from 1923 to 1930, we had some of the worst and some of the best times of our lives.  My parents came from Poland in 1910 and settled in a small town in Western New York State called Olean.  Father found work on the Pennsylvania Railroad.  He never had a car, and he walked five miles to work and five miles back each day.  There were 10 of us children.  Polish was spoken at home, but when we started school, we soon picked up the English language.  In fact, my favorite subjects in school were English and spelling.

I recall my father spending many evenings mending our shoes.  He purchased shoemaker’s lasts in different sizes.  The shoe to be mended was laid on the last and the worn sole pulled off.  Then, tracing the bottom of the shoe on a new piece of leather, he cut out the right size.  After that, the sole was tacked onto the bottom of the shoe with special nails and properly nailed on, so that the nails would not go through the top part of the shoe.  With that done, he then trimmed the excess leather and instructed us to stain the edges of the new leather to match the rest of the shoe. He usually had a row of shoes to mend.  The repaired shoes were rather thick and clumsy at first, but we quickly broke them in and the shoes were serviceable for a long time. It met our needs.

On another occasion, a farmer friend stopped in front of our house to visit with my father, who was outside.  He had a load of cabbages in his truck to deliver for sale up town in Olean.  During the conversation, he mentioned that he would sell them for a penny a head.  My father perked up his ears and asked how many he had.  His reply was, “I have 100 heads.”  My father did some quick thinking, and the cabbages were carried into our cellar – all 100 heads — at a penny apiece.  We never ran out of the sauerkraut in the barrel in our storage shed that year!  We had a variety of ways to use sauerkraut, with kielbasa, pork chops and corned beef sandwiches.  To this day, I am very fond of cabbage.

Life today is certainly very different, but cabbage is still a staple.

(for more short stories by Angie, click HERE)

Mrs. Butterworth Teaches a Lesson

A maple syrup tapMrs. Butterworth Teaches a Lesson

By Angie Brown, Guest Author

This true story took place many years ago in a small town on the outskirts of Olean in western New York State. One spring day, on his way home from school, my 10-year-old son, Leo, noticed all the pails hanging on the sugar maple trees to collect fresh sap that was to be boiled down to make maple syrup.  He rushed into the house, saying, “Hey, Mom, let’s make some maple syrup, OK?” Now, the making of maple syrup was not exactly one of my priorities, mind you, but I didn’t want to squelch his enthusiasm. So, I thought, “Why not?  We could give it a try.  It might be fun.” And so, the ill-fated plan was hatched.

We waited until the following Saturday morning. Then, Leo borrowed his father’s drill and made holes in several nearby sugar maple trees.  Inserting the spouts and pounding in nails to hold the collecting pails, he was now ready for the sap to start running. Sure enough, it wasn’t long before we had enough sap to start with. So we collected the sap from all of our pails into one larger container, strained the impurities out and poured the sap into my canning kettle.  Setting it on the stove, we fired up the burner and began to envision delicious, homemade maple syrup for our pancakes. What a special treat that was going to be! Or so we thought.

The sap simmered slowly for several hours, and I wondered, “Why do people go to all the trouble of making a fire outside in a well-ventilated sugar shack, getting cold and standing around all bundled up, when it was so easy to do it right in the comfort of your own kitchen?” Then I went about my housework while the boiling continued.  I checked the kettle periodically and noticed that the boiling sap was just beginning to change to a very light brown color, characteristic of a high-grade maple syrup.  “We’ll soon have some maple syrup,” said Leo excitedly, rubbing his hands together and licking his chops.

But a little later, when I walked into the living room, our eager anticipation turned into alarm. I noticed a large, wet spot on the ceiling; then another and another! Then I noticed that the same thing was happening in the adjoining dining room too! Suddenly, a light went on in my head. That must be the reason for using the sugar shack; it allows the water vapor from the sap to escape through the vents, instead of condensing on the ceiling. In a panic, we stopped the boiling immediately, to prevent further damage to our ceilings; so much for our homemade maple syrup!

That day both mother and son learned a valuable lesson by trial and error; a little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing.  And we had plenty of time to let this little lesson sink in, as we waited anxiously for the wet spots on our ceilings to dry. I sure hope Mrs. Butterworth wasn’t watching!

(For more articles by Angie Brown, click HERE)

Waiting and Watching… Willfully

English: Butcher shop in Finley, New South WalesWaiting and Watching… Willfully

 by Angie Brown, Guest Author

One November morning, I was waiting just outside a butcher shop in a friendly neighborhood in Olean.  My husband, Henry, was supposed to come by in a few minutes to drive me home with my purchases.  But, because he was delayed, I had a lengthy wait ahead of me.  Nevertheless, I didn’t mind, because I had entertainment while I waited. Directly across the street was a good-sized field, about the size of a city block.  Local residents preferred to use the unpaved foot-trail that crossed through the empty lot, instead of the paved sidewalk, because it was a shortcut.

As I stood there waiting, two roughly tousled boys appeared, about 10 or 11 years of age.  They walked through the ankle-deep snow carrying a child’s bed frame, a crib as it were.  I was intrigued and hoped my husband would be delayed even more.  I wanted to see what these boys were up to!

The youngsters carried the bed frame through the field, across 8th Street, and started up the steep slope on Sullivan Street.  I couldn’t believe they would attempt to climb that hill. Persisting, however, they finally reached the top, where they tarried for a moment to catch their breath.  Then they slowly ascended about seven steps to the side door of a large house.  I saw them groping for a better hold and easing the bed frame through the doorway, where they disappeared. Shortly, they came out without the bed frame and proceeded to take the same route back.  Then, here they came again.  This time, they were carrying the mattress and proceeded to the same destination.  Leaving the mattress, the boys retraced their steps again. Next, I saw them carrying what appeared to be a large, empty drawer.  I could hear the younger one complaining and the older one reassuring him. It was all they could manage, to carry those heavy pieces of furniture, one right after the other, all that way through the snow and up that steep hill.

After the boys had made two more laborious trips with empty drawers, I began hoping that my husband had stopped for lunch somewhere, because I couldn’t leave now; I had to see what was coming next!  Sure enough, the chest of drawers, minus the drawers, was being carted, the same way to the same place. My husband had still not returned for me, and I breathed a sigh of relief; at least I got to see the baby’s room furnished!

Apparently, the family was in the process of moving, and all hands — big and small — had to be available to help.  The short-cut proved to be a great convenience for the two boys.  It was quite an effort for them, to be sure, but they probably felt a sense of pride in being able to do something meaningful that helped with the family move.

I can just picture them in my mind now, rehashing the episode to their children in the future: “You know what we had to do when we were your age?” And I can imagine how the furniture got bigger, the snow deeper, the trek farther and the hill steeper each time the story was re-told!

(For more articles by Angie Brown, click HERE)

A Little Olean History

A Little Olean HistoryBradner Stadium

by Angie Brown, Guest Author

In May of 1930, from all over the city, the streets in Olean, NY, were filled with groups of school children marching in orderly fashion.  They were headed for the East Olean Park, where they all assembled to perform at the baseball field, Bradner Stadium.  The civic leaders and school teachers planned something different for this Arbor Day.  They came up with an exciting idea, making this an exciting day.  I was in the eighth grade and a part of it, so I  remember it well. As far as I know, this was the only time this presentation was carried out.

All of the school children from the age of about ten through high school would execute, in unison, simple exercises at the stadium.  The exercises were practiced and perfected in the classrooms.  The children would wear pastel colored dresses and shirts.

On the day of the presentation, the weather was perfect: warm and sunny.  Each teacher led her class through the streets, on their way to the stadium.  Extra police were on duty at every intersection.  Traffic was diverted to one-way and was sparse.  Arriving at the park, the groups were escorted through the short tunnel to their designated places on the field.  With pride and joy, the parents and friends filled the bleachers.  It was a “full house.”

Right on time, the music started and the exercises commenced, a beautiful spectacle of arm raising and foot stepping of hundreds of youngsters, all in unison. The pastel colors added to the beauty and pageantry of the students’ movements on the ball field.

At the close of the program, the audience was encouraged to join in singing the national anthem with the students. An enormous applause ended the gaiety and excitement of the performance.  What an artistic presentation for all the people of Olean to enjoy, and such an encouraging and fulfilling endeavor for the students!

(For more articles by Angie Brown, click HERE)