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Smith Jr., Edward Elroy

Manuscript provided by
Sylia (Smith) Khaton
Daughter of Elroy Smith


smith
Elroy Smith, photo from the collection of Sylvia Khaton.


Elroy E. Smith was born in Coram, Long Island on July 21, 1911, the second of seven children including Josephine, Helen, Marjorie, George, Mary and Savilla. The little country settlement of Coram in the Township of Brookhaven, County of Suffolk, State of New York, is located at the junction of The Middle Country Road and the Cross Island Road connecting Port Jefferson on the north shore and Patchogue on the south shore; both roads having been somewhat changed by modern construction and route numbering. The settlement was made up at that time of rather sparsely located, small, self sustaining farms except at the junction of the two main roads where there was a town pump for the benefit of thirsty horses, an inn, a saloon, a blacksmith shop, a general store and post office, a Methodist Church, and a one-room school. Prominent residents consisted of descendents of early settlers, mostly farmers, general tradesmen, small time businessmen, or politicians.

The Elroy E. Smith Sr. farm of about 12 acres was situated on the W. end of Coram on the corner of The Middle Country Road and Paul's Path. Nearest neighbors were grandpa and grandma Elsebough close by to grandpa and grandma Smith, the Caroli brothers, the Koscharas, the Lyons, the Fullwoods, and great-uncle Tom Smith. Going to the center of the "metropolis" you would pass uncle Kon Kaller's home, the Brush residence, the Pfundstein home and saloon, the Dake blacksmith shop, the Rovagna general store, on around the triangle to the home of Grant Smith. On the Patchogue branch was nothing but woods and a sanatorium. Across from the Grant Smith home was an abandoned house between the church and schoolhouse. On the Yaphank branch were the Hawkins and Farands. On the Mt. Sinai branch were the Vogels, the Stills, the Harold Davis and a Polish family. Continuing along the E. end of Coram on The Middle Country Road were homes of D. R. Davis, Everett Davis, Winfield Davis, the Hahns, and the Nilssons.

Long Island is a long, fish-shaped, glacially deposited sand bar with an out-washed southern plain having prominent bays and ocean front, a gently undulating interior, and some precipitous beachfront on the north or Long Island Sound side, strewn with much water-worn gravel and boulders. So the farms are sandy to yellow, sandy-loam; excellent for truck gardening, potatoes, and cauliflower. Dad was a small-time farmer turned dairyman. Our farm adjoined Moony Pond and there was much swampy woods, abandoned grassy fields, and timber surrounding us. This figured very prominently in my first explorations. Although I had no formal education in Nature, I could recognize flora and fauna common to that locality by appearance. I have since learned to know them by name. Among the trees were the American chestnut, the white oak, the black oak, the eastern juniper, the wild cherry, the chestnut oak, the willow, the white birch, the black locust, the black walnut, the sassafras, the scrub pine, the scrub oak, and some less common to my experience. Common flowers included the wild rose, violets, black-eyed susans, daisies, dandelions, trailing arbutus, moccasin flowers, bluets, goldenrod, and honeysuckle. Intermediate between trees and flowers were brakes, bull briars, huckleberries, dewberries, black raspberries, wild grapes, beach plums, poison ivy, burdock, Queen Anne's lace, sand burs, pear cactus, pokeweed, milkweed, cat tails, soapweed, laurel, etc.

Moony Pond was my special paradise of catfish, goldfish, painted turtles, spotted turtles, dragonflies, green herons, bittern, cranes, muskrats, ribbon snakes, sandpipers, bullfrogs, leopard frogs, spring peepers, toads, box turtles, kingfishers, and red-winged blackbirds. Other familiar fauna were crows, robins, barn swallows, English sparrows, whip-poor-wills, bluebirds, blue jays, cow birds, starlings, field sparrows, song sparrows, red headed woodpeckers, grey squirrels, woodchucks, red foxes, skunks, golden chipmunks, possum, cottontail rabbits, blue racers, hog nosed snakes, red bellied snakes, water striders, water beetles, sow bugs, earthworms, red ants, black ants, wasps, hornets, yellow jackets, bumblebees, all sorts of curious beetles, and many kinds of butterflies and moths. Such was my early environment - a never ending seasonal array of Nature's variety, and a community of people of all sorts of nationalities and stations of social prominence.

Pre-School

What does a small boy do on a farm with an older sister and no playmates except on rare occasions? Memory does not always serve and sometimes persists in recollection of the painful or embarrassing. Mother has always said that I was a good baby. That probably means that I followed a good schedule and did not giver her much trouble. But this did not last.

Whenever I reached the "traveling" age I exercised an insatiable curiosity and a propensity for taking things apart. This served to get me into lots of trouble, as for example, all machines and tools fell under my inquiring gaze and ended up taken apart but not restored to their original usefulness or to their rightful place. I took apart a hand powered sheep shearing machine and lost the parts among the hay in the mow. Most planes had their irons removed; spare door locks became a mess of unorganized parts; bits and braces served to drill holes in the most unsuitable locations (like the time I bored holes in the wooden milk cooler); a saw was for cutting most anything; and a hammer and nails were good for plenty of exercise.

On one occasion I drove about a quarter pound of small nails in what I thought was a pretty neat line across the windowsill. This was not quite as bad as the same treatment I gave the log that Pop used for a chopping block. Man! I'll bet that axe took an awful beating. Busy, that was I, always occupied and out from under my mother's feet. She would get suspicious when things were too quiet.

Once, she dropped in on me in the hen house where I had taken the cracked oyster shells and some eggs and was mixing up a rather unorthodox omelet. On another occasion I discovered that her hair brush was soiled; it was discolored for about an eighth of an inch on the ends of the bristles, and what better way of correcting this than to cut off the offensive ends. The job had gotten under way just long enough to indicate that the cutting was quite amateurish with respect to the original contour when one of my sisters informed on me. There was a short, Savilla Smith size tornado during which my posterior received rather uncompromising strokes from that same brush.

kids


Young Elroy Smith with his friend Harriet Photo
from the collection of Sylvia Khaton.

 

Sometimes for me there seemed to be too many sisters ready and willing to see that justice was served upon me. For example, the time I did something wrong and did not wish to face the music. So I planned to skip supper and sneak into the bedroom off the porch roof after dark. There was much calling and searching before and after the meal with no response. Acting on well-founded suspicions of my climbing ability, the girls thought of the porch roof. "there he is Pop, we see him up there." But Pop chuckled and pretended that he did not see anything. My little brother let me in the bedroom window, and mother, feeling that the weight of impending calamity hung rather heavy on my conscience, gave me some food and sent me to bed.

Family frustration with my filing system for tools, gadgets, nails, etc. usually ended up in a storm of protest from Pop before the offended ears of my mother, well garnished with some choice terminology not destined to find favor with the Lord and culminated by a dire threat "to buy a loc and by the great ----! # ? x % fix it so that so and so little (censored) won't be able to get his hands on anything." He never did though.

Just prior to school enrollment, about the five year old stage, Josephine and I began to broaden our sphere of influence. For some reason or other she always wanted to run away from home. So she was tied up to a tree convenient to mother's watchful eye about like one of pop's cows set out to graze on lush grass. Meanwhile, I became skilled in climbing trees and made trips to the homes of both grandparents, usually for sugar cookies. The only thing I can recall about great grandpa John Elsebough is that he was fond of me and especially of eliciting appropriate answers to questions which he put to me from the comfort of his porch rocker. If my replies were satisfactory he would say approvingly, "that's the ticket for the soup."

He soon died and great grandma moved in with Pop's folks, the home going to a family by the name of Yarrington. These newcomers I recall for two episodes in my life. In the first instance, we made a trip to Port Jefferson ship yards to watch the launching of the first troop carrier built there for use in WWI and on which Mr. Yarrington had proudly worked. The crowd seemed huge to me. It was noisy and confusing. I failed to see the christening from the precarious perch on Mr. Yarrington's shoulders in spite of his gesticulations. The boat slid down the ways. I slid down to terra firma amid the disappointment of those concerned with what I ought to have seen. We all went home, to my inward satisfaction at being restored to the security of familiar grounds. And the war went on while I remained oblivious to the significance of it.

Later on Mr. Yarrington's daughter got married and I was introduced to the institution of the "Chivaree" from adult conversation, about the "goings on" on the wedding night and the sight of a queer looking fiddle in their front yard. It was played by drawing a long, heavy plank across the flexible, well-resined sides of a packing box. Such music!…fit only for sound effects in a jungle thriller. The fish silhouette on top of the flagpole was also well-perforated, as I learned, from some indiscriminate shooting not exactly designed to hit that target.

Grandfather Smith was almost a second father to me in those days. He would start his round of chores with me and his tomcat "Booz" in tow. First the granary where the cat pounced with such agility and perfection as to snag two and three mice at one time in paws and mouth when the feed barrel was tip tilted to reveal their nesting or hiding places. Then the chickens were fed; the eggs gathered; the stock fed; and perhaps the cow milked. And of course, there were many strange machines which we did not have at home. On a day when Pop and I were there together, I was not long getting into the barn to play with a hand-operated thresher. It was such fun to get the huge fan going and to see the belts move while other parts shuttled back and forth to send grain one way and chaff another. In my enthusiasm this day I got my little finger in between two gears that pinched away a sizeable piece of flesh. Like my own boy Philip, I ran screaming more at the sight of blood and damage than with pain. In his usual gruff ("well, what now") voice, Pop wanted to know what I had done. In fear of reprisal I fibbed about smashing two rocks together but he looked skeptical and told grandma that I was out there messing around in the barn with the machinery.

Pop was not so patient about explaining things as grand pa (for example, grandpa and I were walking 'cross lots" to the store one evening when he took time to point out significant stars) but when I stood around watching, Pop might take the occasion to explain something. He gave me a good lesson in hitching the horse so that I still remember the bridle and bit, the collar, the hames, breast band, bellyband, traces, reins, hip strap, breeching, and crupper. And all these things were put on, taken off, and hung up in a certain order. Mostly, I learned from Pop by close observation and reasoning why a thing would be just so. He did not always do the right thing; as when he beat an animal over the ribs, garnishing the whole affair with the choicest expletives. Being son and heir I copied faithfully until I could see that cows do not give milk nor horses respond to command except under favorable conditions. And all that proceedeth out of the mouth of man should edify him; tensions are better relieved in other ways.

The events on the farm were many and varied. It was a life of almost complete self-subsistence. Now I watched the hog killing, which at first frightened me into the confines of a closet. Pop, all six foot plus of him and 225 pounds of solid muscle, did most things by brute force; being as some put it, capable of picking up two ordinary men and banging their heads together. He would chase a hog into a corner of the pen, upend it by a leg, straddle it, and slit its throat. We were fascinated by the butchering operations from the building of the roaring fire around the huge iron kettle for boiling water, to the actual scalding of a hog gaffed in the hind legs and sloshed up and down in a barrel of hot water, tilted at the end of a plank way, to the scraping off of the hair, gutting, and hanging to cure. We children were given the bladder to inflate with a piece of macaroni and use for a football.

Grandpa smoked hams and bacon according to the best custom. The fat side pork was salted down to be used all winter in various forms. Some fat went into the production of laundry soap. The heart, liver, and spare ribs were used right soon, while the remainder ended up in what I still think was the finest sausage available according to an old family recipe.

Milking time was an occasion for us to stand around pestering the hired hands. Some were cooperative and talented in such arts as imitating train whistles or whistling through their teeth. "Helping" with feeding chores was fun for five or six-year-olds. Some of the time Josephine and I had cousin Earl Kaller over for playtime. Once we were amusing ourselves by running up and down the cellar door. Earl ran up forward and then backed down like a locomotive going downhill, all the while yelling, "watch me", until he upended into a washtub full of sour milk destined for the hogs.

Also about this time Pop embarked upon an expansion program intended to make him a dairyman supreme. The west end of the old barn was removed to attach a new structure for the herd of cows. This exposed several nests of hen eggs that had long since been given up by the hopeful tenants. A quick appraisal led to the conclusion that the reliability of these eggs for cooking purposes was questionable. So, we three had a glorious time testing our marksmanship against what was left of the barn wall. By the time the eggs were gone, we were thoroughly splattered with the delicate aroma of hydrogen sulphide. When Earl got home his horrified mother burned all his clothes and hustled him into the bathtub. Josephine and I were placed in a deep excavation with unscalable log walls built to store a supply of ice harvested in the winter from Moony Pond. She was removed first for cleaning because she had to help with the preparation of supper. But I languished there among some playthings for an extended time because I loudly and abusively bewailed my fate as passers-by derided my condition in tormenting terms. Not many more escapades were to involve cousin Earl, because Uncle Kon soon moved to Patchogue.

Some little kids were dropped on their heads when they were young, so that one could account for their queer behavior in later life. I was different; I was 'bited by a bee"; not just once, but several times. My initiation occurred when I watched a big, beautiful bumblebee entering a large blossom. All I could think of was to have that bee in hand where I could see the detail much better. When I closed a small fist around him "de tail" seemed to possess a rare wallop. About the time the fourth Smith baby came along, I was exploring the outer reaches of a big apple tree limb, holding on to young shoots that grew upward. There was much buzzing overhead and presently I was target for a whole squadron of hornets. Amid much fearsome yelling and thrashing of limbs that only provoked the demons all the more, Mother's nurse came a-running and summoned Pop. He stood tall enough beneath the limb to reach up and catch one of the most enthusiastic high divers you ever saw! Lucky I was not stung to death with mad hornets seeking revenge for having their nest shaken up. This may account for the great zeal I had for locating hornet's nests and pelting them to pieces with sticks, stones, apples, or other missiles.

Pop often took me along on wagon trips to distant neighbors with whom he had business. One home quite often frequented was that of Daniel Davis, whose son Lester was a dairyman like my Pop. While they dealt in milk and cow trading I was entertained by a gramophone, listening fascinated to those early recordings of song and comedy. It was as marvelous a machine then as television is today. Another delight on such visits was special food. Mrs. Davis, for example, made the best doughnuts a small boy ever tasted.

Some wagon trips were made to Port Jefferson or Patchogue, usually for the purpose of selling produce to stores or house to house: corn, tomatoes, beans, strawberries, watermelons, etc. The most fun was to peddle watermelons in the Italian section. Hordes of children followed up the street, entreating mothers and fathers to buy "mellones". The longest trip taken during the year was to the county seat at Riverhead to visit the annual fair. This was a must visit for all farmers to make any season a great success. Pop exhibited produce and earned many blue ribbons. Once the family went by train from Medford station when I was too young to really enjoy it or recall very much. We did arise before dawn to meet the train; a four mile drive. We passed some of the famous Long Island duck farms along the way. One could hardly forget the acres of white ducks in streams and feeding areas. We arrived back home in the dark of evening in time to go to bed again. So, for me, here was a rude awakening from slumber at an unearthly hour of the morning and a belated return to bed; punctuated by an interlude of driving, first ride on a locomotive that blew a cinder in my Mom's eye, strange scenery passing by the train windows, all sorts of carnival sights and smells at the fair, horse races, vaudeville acts, ice cream cones, endless walking…it was all too much for me!

The second trip to the fair was made by horse and surrey all the way and back. On the way, Uncle Kon Kaller and Aunt Myra passed us in their early model Ford with the shiny brass radiator and the top folded back. How nice, they thought, for Eddie to ride with then IN A CAR! No sir! No amount of persuasion would suffice to separate me from the surrey and ride in that contraption. Now wasn't I a chump? Most kids today would just as soon DRIVE a car without benefit of passing through the bicycle stage.

Grade School

By the time of first grade there were about four of the seven Smith children and more acoming. Playmates increased in number, activities increased in variety, and horizons were further removed. We began to have family activities that were basic to character formation. Foremost of these was regular attendance at Sunday school. Saturday night baths were taken in a washtub, sitting down for the wee ones and standing for the larger. In winter it was behind the Round Oak wood stove with a bed sheet offering about as much privacy from teasing companions as a beach cabana in a windstorm. It was a familiar sight to see the Koschara children from Moony Pond Road wending their way to church in beautiful white, starched Sunday best. We were slower and usually followed them. Grandpa Smith was superintendent of Sunday school, a very devout man and a pretty nice figure with his white goatee (a device, I am told, he grew to cover a scar left from a burn contracted in fighting a forest fire). Prominent workers in the church were the daughters of Grant Smith: Angeline and Emma who taught, or played the foot pedaled reed organ with the old hymn book mice nests in its innards; mother Still who also taught and supervised plays or programs; and the older Koscharas and others who did similar yeoman service in the name of the Lord. We were called to Sunday morning church school services by the old familiar bell that was rung by pulling on a rope and that nearly shook the church to its foundations. Evening services were mostly for adults, coming from quite some distances in their rigs, which would be parked in a long shed in inclement weather or in winter. Sometimes sleds or carriages contained foot warmers filled with hot coals to supplement warm blankets. Pop and Mom did not get to church very often partly because of the endless chores connected with the farm and dairy, getting the kids ready, preparing a big chicken and dumpling Sunday dinner, etc. Also, Pop maintained that there were a bunch of "damned hypocrites" with whom he would not associate. He always showed up at Christmas services when mother Still put us through our program of plays, pageants, or recitations. Pop asserted that we might be apt to "make fools of ourselves, knowing us as he did", and I can recall times when we obliged him. He was most proud of me when I recited "Jest 'Fore Christmas", a poem which he had recited as a boy. Being a Junior, I was called Edward to avoid confusion. Some of the girls called me Eddie and Pop called me Ed. So, the poem seemed appropriate in many ways:

Jest 'Fore Christmas

Mother calls me William, Father calls me Will,
Sister calls me Willie, but the fellers call me Bill.
Mighty glad I ain't a girl; druther be a boy
Without those curls and pantaloons 'ats worn by Fauntleroy.
Love to chunck green apples and go swimmin' in the lake
Hate to take the castor oil they give for bellyache.
Most all the time the whole year round there ain't no flies on me.
'Ceptin jest fore Christmas when I'm as good as I can be.

Got a yaller dog named Spot; sic him on the cat,
First thing she knows, she don't know where she's at.
Got a clipper sled and when us kids goes out to slide,
Along comes the grocer cart and we all hitch a ride.
But sometimes the grocer man is worrited and cross,
He reaches at us with his whip and larrups up his hoss.
I jest stand there and yell, "aw ye never teched me!"
Ceptin jest fore Christmas, I'm as good as I can be.

Grandma, she says, when I grow up to be a man
I'm gonna be a missionarer like her eldest brother Dan
As was 'et up by cannibals on some lonely Ceylon isle
Where every prospect pleases and only man is vile.
But grandma ain't never been to no wild west show
Or read the life of Daniel Boone, or I guess she'd know
That Buffalo Bill and cowboys is good enough for me!
Ceptin jest fore Christmas, I'm as good as I can be.

The old cat sneaks down off that perch of hers
And wonders what's become of those two pals of hers
Ol' Spot he hangs around so solemn like and still;
His eyes, they keep a-sayin' "what's the matter, little Bill?"
But I am so perlite, and tend so earnestly to biz,
That mother says to father, "how improved our William is."
Father, being a boy hisself once, suspicions me
When jest fore Christmas I'm as good as I can be.

So its wash your face, and comb your hair
And don't wear out your shoes
And don't bust out your pantaloons
And mind your P's and Q's
(one couplet here I do not recall - Ed)
Say "yes'm" to the ladies and "yessir" to the men.
And when there's company, don't pass yer plate fer pie again.
But thinking of all the things you'd like around that TREE
Jest fore Christmas, be as good as you can be.

(Author unknown)


Holidays and Summer

Christmas was becoming an occasion of great joy in our family. All capable hikers went forth into the woods north of our home to find a shapely cedar. It fell to my lot to cut it and to make a suitable stand for it. Trimmed branches served for decorations and material for handmade wreaths. We also found a plant called ground pine that was excellent for wreaths. Popped corn was used in the same manner as long strands of tinsel by putting it on string. A family custom of exchanging gifts insured a wide variety of same until the offspring became too numerous to make it financially feasible for all the uncles, aunts, grandparents, etc. to act the part of a good Santa. The church program followed whatever was done in celebration at school and included gift exchanges around a towering tree laden with oranges and boxes of candy. Christmas morning witnessed some of the earliest risers for any day of the year, thumping down the long stairway in big bounds or sliding down the banister to be "first". Most gifts were very practical, either something to wear or a toy such as sleds, skates, wagons, etc. Stockings held nuts and fruit and small gimcracks. This was it! This was the occasion for indulging the small fry; the rest of the year was apt to be a long drought with no birthday parties, special overnight guests, or big treats.

In the summertime the barefoot season began. How can one forget the feel of hot sand, the fun of running in the rain and splashing in the puddles, the sand burs or sharp stubble, the soft grass, or the occasional stubbed toe? All berries and fruit growing on the farm, growing wild, or found unattended on abandoned premises was fair game for on-the-spot consumption or gathering. "Mom, we found huckleberries, millions of them. Give us some containers so we can pick some for canning." Mother always looked upon the estimates with skepticism. But we would start out with far too many pots and pans for small fry to have the patience to fill, let along quantity available. Still, there accumulated considerable stocks of jams and jellies made from blackberries, huckleberries, beach plums, wild cherries, and grapes. Our apple trees were never pruned or sprayed. Like Topsy, they just "growed". The only variety I know for sure was the crab apple. Others were either good for pies or not and very likely to be inhabited. The girls often played dolls and house in the shade of the apple trees. Cows were allowed to graze in the orchard and all over the lawn in lieu of mowing. This was superior even to modern riding mowers except the residue might be confused with third base on the home ball diamond and slid into or otherwise trespassed upon with unseemly results.

Fourth of July was always the occasion for shooting off caps with hammer or stone all day long. Rarely could we afford the luxury of an automatic devise. We also had fun with small firecrackers that misfired as often as not, becoming sizzlers when broken open and the powder ignited. At that time there were no laws controlling fireworks but there should have been for our own good. Sometimes we had larger firecrackers that we used to blow tin cans sky high. The real treat came when Pop returned from the general store well after bedtime with the big surprise. We all tumbled out of bed and sat on the front porch while Pop set off pinwheels, Roman candles, sky rockets, flares, sparklers, and special ones. We were lucky to be allowed to hold a Roman candle or a sparkler. If the money situation allowed there was ice cream all around at the end. Next day it became big game to find misfired items or locate the expired and grounded rockets.

In the Fall the big activity at home was gathering black walnuts. For a week the stained hand became the badge of successful shucking of a good supply of nuts laid by in the attic to be cracked on the bottom of one of mother's irons, and eaten behind the wood stove, or to be used in a walnut cake or cup cakes. Yummy! The big event of the Fall was the Ladies Aid Fair, second in importance only to the County Fair. The good ladies of the church prepared a one-dollar chicken dinner that was out of this world for quantity and quality; a fact easily attested to by the crowds coming from miles around. There were booths well stocked with the non-conversational end product of many a quilting party. Many the lucky purchaser of a high quality quilt, apron, doily, handkerchief, etc! For the children there were grab bags, game booths, and ice cream and candy sales. This was a big occasion for meeting those seldom seen and for keeping the church on a sound financial footing. Praise the Lord and pass another chicken leg!

My first two playmates of profound, lifetime influence were Robert Lyon and William Nilsson. They were about two years older than I and for preference played together. But if one or the other was not available I was sought after to fill in. And on many occasions it was all three to face the world. World, watch out! Pop called us "birds" or "hellions". "Well what are you birds up to now?" Mr. Lyon referred to me as "Tomcod" or "Shitepoke", the first nomenclature sounding somewhat affectionate, the latter derisive. I have since learned that they denote a small fish and a little green heron respectively. Our territory extended for a radius of a mile from the town pump. Nothing escaped our prying or trespassing. We knew where all the fruit trees were and when the fruit was ripe. We knew when the goldfish of Moony Pond were in the shallows: the watermelons ready for stealing; unpleasant chores were impending, etc. These were "signs" or symbols of activity that made long summers an almost endless delight.

We swam in the pond without bathing suits or conceded a maximum of underwear bottoms to chance onlookers. The swim was most refreshing on hot summer days, while the lying on the shores in the grass beneath the shade of a willow, served to transport us in spirit to unworldly bliss. Those were times of talk and contemplation or dreams of things scarcely within realization. Sometimes we fished, just for the fun of hooking them. It was done with a straight pin neatly curved into a hook with a string for line and a small willow sapling for a pole. To catch fish on hooks without barbs was quite a trick. Doughballs were used as bait. When the twig bobber indicated a good tugging bite a fast reflex action on the part of the fisherman served to send the fish flying in a great arc overhead to shore or even into the bushes. Catfish were allowed to die because they had stingers. These were bony spines, one extending dorsally and two ventrically. Once in a while the derelict catfish treatment backfired on us, for the stiff carcass with erect spine could be very painful on bare feet. Goldfish were exclaimed over for their size and coloration and thrown back in the pond. Some goldfish were so pale as to be like minnows. These we called silverfish.

The devil seems to have figured prominently in my life by tempting me at times when my conscience should have won out. These temptations were often in the form of a person of persuasive powers. Pop grew lots of melons and kept his eye on the ones that promised to be winners at the annual Fair. He was nursing a nice big Kleckly's Sweet watermelon towards that goal when it happened. My playmate for the day was a New York City summer guest at the home of the Catholic priest at the manse on the Selden Coram boundary. He came down the hill to play with me much out of great curiosity for the farm. "Lets pick it and eat it," he suggested. After much discussion pro and con the thing was accomplished, with grave doubts on my part as to the success of the method. Sure enough, we had no sooner ensconced ourselves in the nearby woods than Pop made the discovery. We heard his stentorian voice booming from nearby where he had apprehended Bob and Bill and was accusing them. My friend and I bolted from good cover to sparse along the fencerow leading to home. The two accused, needing a quick reprieve and having sharp eyes for moving objects, saw our retreat and pointed us out to Pop. We tried a fabricated story but soon had to admit the affair. No serious consequences accrued from it. But a guilty conscience is often worse than a spanking. I was always ashamed of this episode. A certain amount of watermelon stealing was always expected by farmers. It was the particular melon we took that mattered in this case.

Postscript

My father wrote this story for his children when he was gravely ill and knew he would not have much more time. Maybe by recalling his own wonderful childhood memories, he hoped we would recall our good times with him. As I began to look over it again as an adult I realized how much his childhood influenced the way he raised his own children. We went on many a camping or fishing trip as a family. We always had a garden and eating watermelons fresh from our own patch was a summer delight. But most of all, he left us a sense of the wonder of the natural world and an appreciation for all the people in it. In this way life in Coram, New York touched three children decades later in Galesburg, Illinois.

 

Provided by,
Sylvia (Smith) Khaton
January, 2001

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