Monday, February 28, 2011

Ghost Closet

When I was growing up we called our house a two-story.  Today it would be known as a story and a half as the walls near the eaves upstairs were only about four feet high.  To reach the top floor there was a set of stairs consisting of 9 steps up to a landing where the stairs turned a right hand corner and continued up four more steps.  The top of the steps ended at another right hand corner into a hallway.  Beneath those stairs was another set of stairs descending to the cellar.
Beneath the hallway, next to the stairs, was a closet, but for whatever reason the closet didn’t continue the length of the stairs.  Near the outside wall of the house was, and is, a blank space of about four feet in width and length, and the height of the downstairs rooms.
When I was a very young child my older brothers pointed this area out to me, telling me it was the ghost closet.  Their version was that if the house ever collected any ghosts, that is where they had to stay.  It seemed to me a very good place for them at the time.  As there was no door they were locked in there.  That is until they informed me that ghosts didn’t need doors, they could pass right through walls without them.  That’s why it was a ghost closet.  No one else could use it.

When I was about six or seven, Dell was a couple of years older, and Ron another couple of years older yet, we all caught the measles somehow.  The cure at the time was to keep the victims in a dark room and wait.  Mom covered the dining room windows with blankets, set up a double bed there, and the three of us spent the next four days there.  I remember waking, feverish, in the night, and recalling I was in the room next to the ghost closet.  I watched it with fearful eyes until I fell back to sleep.  I just knew something spectral was going to come floating through the wall and move about the room.  It never did, but you couldn’t have convinced me it was not going to happen.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Patriot War

During the night of February 18, 1838 the State Arsenal located in Watertown, Jefferson County, New York was broken into.  Stolen were about 400 arms that had previously been taken from the British in the War of 1812.  Plans were underway for a foray into Canada to capture Kingston, Ontario in an attempt to aid Canadian rebels who were attempting to overthrow their British rulers.
The plan was to stage the attack from Hickory Island in the St. Lawrence River between French Creek (Clayton) and Gananoque, Ontario.  That city would be taken first and then the troops would march to Kingston.  Hundreds of Canadians were expected to join their American compatriots.  The date was set for Washington’s Birthday, February 22.  This plan was a complete failure with no men ever going further than Hickory Island.  The men marched across the ice to get to the island, but it was such a cold and bitter night that most turned around and walked back home.
On November 12, 1838 a 250 member group of Americans decided to attack the British Fort Wellington at Prescott, Ontario, across the St. Lawrence River from Ogdensburg, New York.  They landed about two miles east of Prescott at the site of a 60 foot tall stone windmill located on top of a 30 foot bluff.  The British, with advance warning, attacked them, and the Americans were forced into the windmill.  On November 16th a combination of 600 British and Canadian soldiers using artillery overcame the invaders.
During ensuing trials at Kingston, Ontario 11 leaders were convicted and executed.  One of those was a young man named Sylvester A. Lawton of Lyme, Jefferson County, New York.  January 4, 1839 he was taken to the court house at Kingston and hanged.
The 26 year old Sylvester 1812, was the son of Joshua 1770, son of William 1737, son of Isaac 1709, son of Thomas 1687, son of Isaac 1650, in turn the son of Thomas 1614 the original immigrant to Rhode Island in 1638, a full 200 years before the fated Battle of the Windmill.
Oliver Lawton of Saratoga Springs, New York was pardoned for his actions in the same battle, but scores of the attackers were banished to Van Diemen’s Land, which today is known as Tasmania, a large island off the southeast coast of Australia.
The photo is the windmill as it appears today converted into a lighthouse.

Saturday, February 26, 2011


Today is the last day of less than 11 hours of daylight for this winter.  It will be October 16th before it drops below this length again as it heads toward the shortest day of the year.
Although different methods have been used to keep track of it, time inexorably passes, one of the few things in our world that never changes.

I mentioned to a friend a week or so ago that I had no concept of endless space, or infinity.  I maintained that I can understand space being vast, but I cannot think in terms of never-ending.  My mind wants to wonder what is at the end of space?  My friend stated she had no problem understanding an endlessness concept.  Am I alone?

We all know that the earth travels around the sun.  How far do we travel in this manner?  Although subject to mathematical calculation problems it is approximately a 585 million mile yearly orbit.  Divided by 365 provides a 1.6 million mile daily trip.  That’s in the neighborhood of 67,000 miles per hour, and you thought you only went 50 miles on your hour long trip to Grandma’s house.  In this manner the earth travels its own diameter about every 7 minutes.  The earth’s orbit around the sun is not a circle, but more of an oval.  Strangely, in the northern hemisphere, we come about 4 million miles closer to the sun in winter than in summer.

As well as our season giving trip around the sun each year, the earth also revolves once a day providing us with our accustomed day and night cycle.  At the equator any given spot is moving at about 1,040 miles per hour.  All other points south or north of there travels at the same revolution speed of once a day, but the miles per hour are less, proportionate to their distance from the equator.

Beginning with our 50 mile trip, and adding 67,000 miles for our annual movement, and say another 500 miles for our daily spin, we find we moved about 67,550 miles in that hour.  All that for about 2 gallons of gas.  I spent $3.63 a gallon for that today, so for $7.26 it’s all quite a bargain.  Let’s go to Grandma’s.

Friday, February 25, 2011

More Firewood

After cutting, blocking, hauling, and splitting the tree trunks, the split wood was threw into a pile some six to eight feet high to await drying in the summer sun for use the following winter.  In the meantime the intact limb wood was piled also.  The first photo shows a pile of limb wood.  Sometime in late fall my father would decide it was time to start the Sandwich engine, belt it up to the buzz saw and cut the seasoned limb wood to stove length.
The Sandwich engine was a stationary engine, at least to the point it had no wheels or means of movement.  Its method of transmitting its power to anything else was through the use of a pulley about ten inches in diameter at one side.  An eight inch wide canvas belt was placed on the pulley and stretched to the buzz saw placed at the distance necessary to keep the belt tight.  The saw was held in place with the use of large bars pounded into the ground within the saw frame.  The second photo is of a Sandwich engine somewhat similar to the one my father owned, but not on the wheeled platform.
The next photo is that of a buzz saw.  The wooden table is hinged and tilts towards the saw blade.  A limb is placed on the table, tilted until the limb contacts the blade, and then continues until a 16” section falls to the ground beneath the blade.  The process is repeated as many times as is necessary to reduce the limb into 16 “ pieces.  Then another limb, or sometimes more than one, is placed on the table, and the entire process is repeated again and again until the pile of limb wood has been entirely cut into 16” lengths.
The last photo depicts the process in action. It can easily be seen this saw is a very dangerous piece of machinery with its large spinning blade, but I don’t recall ever hearing of anyone being hurt on one.

Thursday, February 24, 2011


Our family home was heated with wood and/or coal, as opposed to fuel oil or gas, from the time my parents married in 1925 through 1955 when I left that home, and beyond until some time in the 1990s.  By that time both of my parents had left this earth and my younger brother Fred and his wife owned the home and were raising their family there.
I recall that along about 1942 or ‘43 going with my father and older brothers to the woods to cut wood in winter.  In those days the felling of trees was done with a two-man crosscut saw.  Then the same saw was applied to the tree trunk as it was blocked up into burnable lengths of about 16” long.  The blocks were taken to the house intact, and then split with a common head axe into a more usable size.  The larger limbs of more than 6” diameter were also sawed in this manner, but those limbs of less than that diameter were loaded on the team drawn bobsled and taken to the house and piled.  Later, the next fall, the limbs would be sawed into the 16” lengths with the buzz saw.
By 1950 or so, my father bought a chain saw.  By today’s standards it would hardly be considered portable, but it surely was then.  It had a six or seven horsepower four cycle engine with a 48” bar attached.  Out on the end of the bar was a removable handle, with which a second man could help the operator.  The engine had to remain in an upright position, so the entire bar assembly was built in such a manner it could rotate 90 degrees to a side wards angle so the saw could be used to fell trees.  This was a vast improvement over the old two-man crosscut saw, even if it did weigh nearly fifty pounds.
Although my father’s saw was a Homelite, rather than a Mall, I have found this photo to be useful for an explanation.  The Homelite bar was 48” rather than the 24” or so that this one appears to be, but the end handle was approximately the same.  Between the engine and the handle formed of pipe there is a silver ring.  The entire assembly from that ring to the end of the bar would turn by loosening the ring.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Northcountry Notes

Our days are slowly warming, as spring nears.  We had a couple of days with temps in the 50s last week which reduced the snow depth to where, once again, I can travel through the woods and fields on my ATV.  On Sunday, the 20th, I rode all the way back to the pond to take note of any changes that may have happened in the past month or more.
After crossing the pond, turning around, and heading back toward home again, I noted I was following a set of tracks of an unknown animal.  I might guess it was a fox, or possibly a bobcat, by the size of the paw prints, but I’m not that good with tracks to know.
Then I noted that they had ventured down onto the ponds surface as can be seen in the next photo.  It can also be noted that snow melt on the surrounding meadows caused a water flow through the sluice pipe under the road. 
I then shot a photo of the north side of the road to show there was no open water there, so the flow was under the ice.  The original beaver house is at the upper left corner.  I saw no actual wildlife in my travels.

About 11 a.m. today, February 22, George Washington’s birthday, my wife and I were sitting at our kitchen table conversing.  She faced the window behind me.  She was taking note of several small feathers floating by the window, and inquired of me their source.  I turned to see the same feathers she had been watching.  I deduced that there must be a hawk in the lilac bush, but I could not spot one.  Then I looked downward to spot this fellow enjoying breakfast.  Holding his prey in his talons he systematically yanked feathers and allowed them to follow the wind.  This gave him a ready access to a warm meal.
In the first photo you can note the square tail end denoting a sharp-shinned hawk.  The second photo shows the reddish colored lower parts and white chest area. 

In the third photo you can note the white feathers along the outer edges of the tail.  Although not a rare bird, it is unusual for us to see one, and I was happy that it stayed long enough for me to get about 20 photos of it.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Back In New York

Upon the complete family’s arrival back in Jefferson County, New York they stayed with Cora’s father in Natural Bridge only three weeks or so before Will found a place to rent only a short distance away.  The closest school to their home was about three miles away by the roads.  Will walked through some woods marking trees with strips of cloth marking a path for the children which shortened their trip to about a mile each way.
It was only a short while until the family moved again, this time to a small dairy farm.  Will took care of the dairy cattle and also worked off of the farm.  Still yet in that busy year of 1919 they moved once again.  This time it was to what was called the Corners Farm.  It was while living there that during a heavy rain storm Cora went outside to turn an eaves drain spout from one barrel to another to catch washing water.  As she grasped the drainpipe lightning surged through the sky.  Cora felt the effects of this strike and fell headfirst into the full water barrel.  Will pulled her out, laid her on the ground, and held his hat over her face for whatever reason.  At any rate Cora regained consciousness and Will carried her back into the home.
About a year or so later, in 1920, they moved to the Pat Gleason farm in Antwerp.  On that place Will worked the dairy farm on shares with the owner.  During 1921 Will moved on, this time to the Hunt Farm between the villages of Theresa and Antwerp remaining there one year.  Over the past couple of years Will was slowly purchasing his own farm machinery, piece by piece.  He had also bought his first automobile, a Model T Ford.  The first time he drove it he managed to get it into reverse instead of forward, backed it into a buzz saw, and left saw tooth holes in the back of his car.
In 1922 the family moved again, this time to the Arnold Farm in Philadelphia, Jefferson County, New York.
In 1923 they moved to the Bogart Farm near Alexandria Bay, New York.  Will’s oldest son, Clarence, whom we’ve not heard of during this tale, lived next door with his wife Goldie.  His brother Clinton, back from Saskatchewan, moved in with them.  They remained there for two years, a long time in those lean years.  It was at this time, in 1925, that my father, Lloyd Benjamin Lawton, married my mother, Alice Pearl Halladay, and they struck out on their own.
Photos are representative, not actual. 
Our days here in northern New York are about two hours longer than back in that pre-Christmas period of the shortest days of the year.  It’s only a week until February is gone for another year.  Will March come in like a lamb or a lion, and leave in the opposite manner as the old adage goes? is showing some relative mild weather for the transition from month to month.

Glasgow, Montana

When the family finally arrived at the ranch they found it to be a small one-room log cabin located within a grove of cottonwood trees.  It was attached to between 300 and 400 acres (possibly 320, a half section, or half of a square mile) of barren land, scrub brush, and trees.  The two boys sleeping quarters were on a mattress on the floor of a loft reached by climbing a hand made ladder.  Will and Cora hung a blanket across one end of the cabin to separate their bedroom, while Clara had a bunk in the kitchen.  The entire cabin was heated with the wood-burning cooking stove.
The property was located on a hill overlooking the confluence of the Milk and Missouri Rivers.  At that point the Missouri flows from west to east, while the Milk flows past Glasgow south to it.  The ranch was probably on the north side of the Missouri.
The land was a clay shale and so sticky when wet that the children were not allowed to go outside to play during or after a rain.  One day Clara was sitting at the kitchen table near a window.  When she happened to look up a large cat was staring in the window at her.  Her father, fearing if he ran outside the cat might dive through the window, shot the cat through the window from inside.  They then grabbed a lantern to find that he had shot a large wild bobcat.
As it was 40 miles to the nearest school, in Glasgow, Cora refused to spend the winter on the ranch.  Will met an elderly couple that ran a small horse and cattle ranch just outside of Glasgow.  As the elderly couple wished to go to Florida for the winter, an agreement was made for Will to operate the ranch for the winter, and his family moved into the ranch house.
In the spring of 1919 after the return of the ranch owners, Will sold nearly all of their belongings, including their wagons, and with the money bought railroad tickets for all of the family members, but himself, back to northern New York where they moved in with Cora’s father and his second wife.  Will then worked long enough to purchase the use of a boxcar for his team of horses, loaded them and himself, into the car and made it back to New York, thus abandoning his second homestead in eight years.
Will’s son, Clinton, who had remained in Saskatchewan, ultimately abandoned that land, and by 1922 he also was back in New York.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Ernfold, Saskatchewan to Glasgow, Montana

Will Lawton married Mary Houghton and they had two boys Clarence in 1893 and Clint in 1894 before Mary died young in the mid 1890s.  Cora Baker and George Lester had three children Ada in 1884, Raymond in 1886, and Charles Lester in 1887.  Then, it has been said, George returned to his native Canada where he had a wife and family, leaving Cora with three small children.  At the beginning of the twentieth century Will and Cora began life together and had Lloyd in 1905, Floyd in 1907, and Clara in 1911.
Will and family, minus Clarence, began homesteading in Saskatchewan, Canada in 1911, and remained there until 1918.
Even with free land, the family was unable to earn a living.  They raised wheat, boarded the local school teacher, and yet were unable to pay the taxes on the property.  In the meantime Cora’s son Charles Lester had homesteaded near Glasgow, Montana in the United States, almost due south of Will and Cora.  In 1918 Charles joined the United States Army to fight in World War I.  He was hurt before ever leaving the United States, and died willing his mother his homestead in Montana.  Will and Cora left their land in Canada with Clint, and began the approximately 200 mile arduous journey to Montana.
With a team of horses hooked to a wagon covered with a tarp, and another light spring wagon, Will, Cora, the three younger children, a dog and a duck headed south.  They met bands of friendly roaming Indians, but the children were not too sure about that friendly part.  They also wandered into herds of sheep tended by men on horses and mules.  Young Floyd had an appendicitis attack which delayed the trip for about a week at a ranch.  About a month after the beginning the travelers finally arrived at Glasgow.  Cora broke down and cried when she discovered there was another forty miles to go to get to the homestead ranch which overlooked the confluence of the Milk and Missouri Rivers.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Saskatchewan II

The first photo is of the modest home near Ernfold, Saskatchewan, Canada of the Will Lawton family.  Standing in front of the home are, left to right, Lloyd, Will, Clara, Cora, and Floyd.
The second photo is, left to right, Lloyd, Clara, and Floyd.  Both photos were taken in 1917.

One of the ways the youngsters could earn a small amount of money was to capture gophers.  The government paid ¼ cent bounty for each gopher tail presented for payment.  Lloyd and Floyd earned school clothes money in this manner.  Most children went barefoot all summer, saving their shoes for winter usage.
On one occasion the three children remained home while Will and Cora went to town for supplies.  The children were upstairs playing.  When they started down the open staircase they spotted a huge hairy form in the room.  The boys loaded the gun and sat on the stairs waiting for it to move.  Finally Will and Cora came home to discover what the boys were afraid of was an old buffalo hide coat inadvertently left in the house.
In the fall a single wheat threshing machine made the rounds of all the local farmers.  Thirty to forty men followed the machine from farm to farm each helping the others.  One fall Cora took the job of being camp cook for the threshing crew.  Each day she and the children would prepare three meals, mostly of meat and potatoes, for the men.  Only after the men ate and returned to the fields were the children allowed to partake of the leftovers.
Because the land was flat and barren of trees, a friend of Cora’s from back east sent her a silver maple tree which was duly planted next to the house.  Beyond all odds it grew, and neighbors would come to stare at the only tree for miles around.  Some seventy years later Clara was watching a television program about western Canada homesteading.  A small snippet of the show showed what Clara was positive was their old homestead home, yet with the tree growing next to it.

Friday, February 18, 2011


In 1905 two events transpired that later affected my family.  August 27th of that year my father Lloyd was born unto Cora, the second wife of his father, and in that same year Saskatchewan became a Province of Canada.  Early in the year my father was six years old, his father, along with his son Clinton by his first wife, packed some farming equipment aboard a Canadian Pacific Railway train car, and alit in Ernfold, Saskatchewan.  As Clint was 18, he got a quarter section of land as well as his father Will.  The two parcels of land attached to each other.
Later that same year, the remaining four family members went to the new homestead.  Floyd had been born in 1907, and Clara that same year of 1911.  That first winter the family lived in a dugout cave in the side of a small raised area.  Will, Cora, Clint, Lloyd, Floyd, and Clara all lived deeper in the cave, while the horses and cow lived nearer the entrance.  During 1912 a small house was built with three upstairs bedrooms and a living room and kitchen below, which was a vast improvement over the cave.
The family raised wheat, each year a little more than the previous, but never enough to sustain life, pay taxes, and remain solvent.  When berries were in season several families joined forces to go to the berry fields some forty miles distant from their homes.  With every man, woman, and child working together over a two to three week period, all families would gather and can enough for a winter’s supply.
The family remained in the Ernfold area until 1918 when they moved on to a homestead in Montana.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Old Friends And Neighbors

An old friend came to visit today.  I don’t see him often, and when he approached my door I was unsure who he was.  He is a few years younger than I, but when we were children I used to go to school with his older brothers, Dick, Arthur, and David, who was about my age.  Their family lived a couple of miles from where my family farmed.
While I spent some 15 years in the military service, the younger pair, George and Larry grew to manhood.  The youngest of the family, Larry married a young lady named Elizabeth from Tappan, NY, near where Larry had been working in a hospital.
When I left the military service I owned a home on the Dezell Road that my family lived in for exactly six years.  Larry and Liz bought a home directly across the road from me where they lived with their two children.  During that period the two families were great friends, and shared many an evening with the elders chatting and drinking coffee, while the children played together.
Then we moved a few miles away, closer to where I had been brought up.  Within a year or two Larry and Liz also moved away from the Dezell Road home.  We didn’t see each other much for many years.  As they lived some forty miles away, we saw them only a few times over the ensuing years.  Two years ago I drove to their home for a pleasant two hour visit one fine afternoon, and I’d not seen them since, but now and again I thought of our old friends and neighbors.
This morning, as he climbed my front steps I wondered who he was, although he seemed very familiar.  Then he spoke and I instantly knew.  He entered and drank a cup of coffee with Nora and I, and it was as if he had been here yesterday.  Before leaving I offered him the use of our bathroom as it didn’t seem fair to feed him coffee and then send him on his way with a full bladder.  He took me up on the offer, and when he returned to the kitchen where Nora and I remained he spoke, “That room that is now your bathroom used to be my bedroom,”  for this is the very same home that he was raised in.


Born during the latter years of the great depression in 1938, I lived through the remainder of that.  I’ve lived through World War II, the Korean Conflict, The Cuban Missile Crisis, The Viet Nam War,  The Cold War, Desert Storm, The Iraq War, Afghanistan, and a few other skirmishes here and there.
I’ve lived for years without electricity, central heating, running water, bathroom facilities, refrigeration, school buses, and television, to say nothing of modern electronic gadgets.  I’ve cut and split wood for heat, I’ve carried countless hundreds of cords of it into a home by the armload.  I’ve pumped water by hand for family use as well as watering a barn full of cattle and a few odd chickens, horses, pigs, cats, dogs, and other assorted animals.  I milked cows by hand, pitched hay with a fork, loaded oats and corn on wagons with a fork, drove horses that worked, and pitched manure by hand in the dead of winter.
I’ve used an outhouse when the temperatures were way below zero degrees, and let me assure you it doesn’t take long.  I’ve walked to school for years, and walked home again at the end of classes.  I played in the meadows and woods.  Parks and recreation buildings were unheard of.
Times were tough, work was hard, but I always had a close family to rely on, and I expect my ancestors would tell me how easy I had it.  All in all, life’s been good to me.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A Little History

At the end of the Revolutionary War there were several factions yet at odds.  Obviously Great Britain and the several Colonies were not at ease with each other.  Another faction to be considered was numerous separate American Native tribes.  The newly separated colonists were not too fond of those Natives that sided with the British.  Also those same newly freed American Revolutionists were a bit antagonistic to the Colonists that had remained loyal to the British King and were known as Loyalists.
Isaac Lawton, born in 1730, was the great great grandson of Thomas Lawton the original immigrant along with his brother George, to Portsmouth, Rhode Island.  During those troubling times Isaac remained loyal to King George III.  After the fighting was over he found it necessary to leave his Rhode Island background, and settled briefly in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania along with other Loyalists.
However King George III decided it was prudent to remove his followers from their current abodes for an environment that was somewhat safer for them.  In 1783 several ship loads were offered a new arrangement whereby they were transported to the sparsely occupied area known as St. John, New Brunswick, Canada, which was yet under British control.  There Isaac lived out his days and died June 4, 1810.
Darlene Lawton Love is a descendant of Isaac, and maintains the following website.  Those who have an interest in the Lawton family may want to at least take a look.

Sunday, February 13, 2011


February 12th was Abraham Lincoln's birthday.  He was a good and honest man, and there aren't too many of us left.

Rote is a word meaning learning without comprehension.  In other words if you do something enough times you should learn how to do it, but you may never understand the mechanics of how or why it works.  Rote is often used in the training of animals.  The animal learns that if it completes certain steps it will be rewarded, yet does not have the capacity to understand why or how this is accomplished.

As older age creeps up on me I find that rote comes into play more and more as time passes.  For instance, I have owned and operated computers for over twenty years now.  My first was a Apple II E which I obtained about 1990.  I have learned over the ensuing years to operate newer models in a fairly decent manner.  Yet the past couple of years I have noted certain operations that used to be almost automatic no longer are.

Often I open a page, such as CNN International News.  From there I might open another page to read a linked article.  When I want to return to the CNN page again I’m unsure what to do.  Should I click the return arrow, or must I exit the page?  Often I am unable to clearly make a decision so I do one or the other, in a rote manner, and see what happens.  This is one of the tribulations that come with the onset of senility.  I know I am experiencing it, but there is nothing I know of that I can do about it.  If I at times seem confused, it’s because I am. 

Friday, February 11, 2011

Defying Gravity

I took another look at the icicles on the back of my house today to see if they had fallen yet.  Much to my surprise they hung even lower than a couple of days ago.  At first glance I thought the snow had slid further down the roof, but upon closer examination it appears to be approximately where it was.  Only the icicles are longer.  It seems the bright afternoon sun melts a little of the snow, which runs down the roof under the remaining snow to drip down the back side of the overhanging snow, and forms ever lengthening icicles.  In comparison to the photos of a day or two ago, the end icicle is about a foot longer now.  How long can the snow hold together under the ever additional weight?  The icicle probably runs all the way down from the roof in back of the snow, and thus is attached to the roof.  The snow alone couldn’t possibly hold all that weight.
The second photo is of the bank in my front yard plowed there from cleaning the driveway area.  It is about five feet high and seven or eight feet thick.  When the kids were young they would have had it riddled with snow caves and forts.  Alas, they grew up one day.
The third photo is to the left of the former and closer to the house.  That’s my neighbor John’s home in the background.  There is a small patch at the top of the left hand end of this bank, right in front of the apple tree, that is all that can be seen of the top of Doc’s dog house.

Matching Wits

Marilyn Vos Savant at one time was known as having the highest IQ ever recorded.  Whether that is true or not is now questioned, but at any rate she is a very intelligent person.  She writes a column in the weekly magazine “Parade” entitled “Ask Marilyn” in which she answers questions posed by the public.  You may get a copy with your Sunday paper, if you happen to read one.

In her January 23, 2011 column she answered a question dealing with dividing the profits of a flooring job.  Rick and Dave were to split the profits 40 % to 60 %.  She gave a complicated mathematical method of splitting the $6,000 profit based on the number of hours each worked versus the 40-60 factor.

Starting Monday February 7, 2011 Marilyn began publishing letters sent to her, all disagreeing with her formula of money division, yet all basing their answer on the amount of hours worked.

February 11, 2011 Marilyn published on the Parade website the following email that I wrote January 23, 2011:

Leo Lawton of Ogdensburg, New York, writes:

Marilyn: The problem clearly states that Rick and Dave agreed to split their profits 40-60. The profits were $6,000. The split would be $2400-$3600. All the rest of that stuff is smoke and mirrors. There was no mention of how many hours each had to work. Even if one had completed no work at all, the split would remain the same.

Marilyn responds:

Say, maybe you should become a judge, Leo!

I take this as a high compliment, considering the author.

Uncle Fred

Uncle Fred, who wasn’t really my uncle, was born July 10, 1868.  His full name was Fred Eugene Lawton, and he was the next youngest child born into the family after my grandfather Will Benjamin and Will’s twin sister Wealtha Betsy Lawton.  This, of course, makes him my father’s uncle, not exactly mine, but he was always known as Uncle Fred to me.
Fred grew up in the Philadelphia, Jefferson County, New York area, and married Minnie Bowles the last day of December 1890.  Minnie died in January 1938, about six months before I was born, without ever having any children.
In August of that same year the seventy-year-old Fred took unto himself a new bride.  The blushing bride, Bernice Patchen, was all of 16 years old.  A year later she became a mother to a son Paul, so Fred at age 71 became a father for the first time.  As Bernice died November 17, 1952, Fred outlived his second wife by nearly five years as he died June 4, 1957.
I don’t know if the first photo will be readable or not, but it is Fred’s obituary from the Watertown (Daily Times), Jefferson County, New York June 5, 1957.
The second photo is of Fred as an elderly man.  I was not there at the time to be sure of what really happened, but it appears he was attacked by one of the Jefferson County notorious flying fish.  As I can only detect three showing fingers on his right hand, I think the fish is attempting to swallow Fred starting with the index finger.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

My First Cottonmouth View

I arrived in Jacksonville, Florida about May of 1960 for a stay of some three years.  By the time I had been there for three years or so I’d heard plenty about cotton-mouth moccasins, but I had never seen one personal and close-up.  I must admit it was not my fondest desire to do that anyway.
I lived in a mobilehome park with no nearby water sources such as creeks or rivers so I had no particular thoughts I would wander into one.  On 103rd Street where the park was located there was a Gulf gas station next door.  I bought all of my gas there as it was handy, and I knew and liked the man who owned and operated the business.  I don’t know why, but fifty years later I just can’t recall his name.
One day I stopped for gas as usual and there on top of an upended fifty-five gallon oil drum lay a dead cottonmouth.  Even though I wanted no part of touching one, or any other close relationship, yet I just had to get near and look it over.  It’s head was at the near edge of the drum.  It’s body crossed the diameter of the drum and hung about a foot down the opposite side, so it must have been about three and a half feet in total length.  I don’t know how it was accomplished, but the mouth was propped open with two sticks each about five inches long, one on each side.  The inner mouth and throat was pure white, yet a sort of opalescent hue at the same time.  It seemed very scary to me, but that was probably my inner fear rather than a real fact.  The mouth opened so wide it would have been possible to have easily stuck my complete balled up fist inside without touching any part of it, but you couldn’t have paid me enough to have ever done that.
The snake was unusual in that it had four definite sections.  The head was large, but the neck was much thinner.  Then the body thickened three or four times larger than the neck to about a four inch diameter.  Finally the tail beginning at the end of the body was much smaller again, like the neck.
That is the only time I ever got really close to a cottonmouth, and let me assure you, if that snake had twitched any muscle in it’s body I would have instantly set a record for the 100 meter dash.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Interesting Patterns

I cropped the first photo to show the interesting patterns of the icicles.  Isn’t it odd how they cross over each other, and then the shadows bring out a yet different aspect?  What could cause such an odd array of frozen water?
A slightly larger view allows you to see what happened to cause this mess of angled swords of Thor.  It is at the juncture of the two sections of my roof at the rear of my home.  The snow is sliding down the two separate sections of roof, but pivoting at the intersection causing the two sections’ icicles to angle differently.  Also their weight causes them to angle toward the building as they remain suspended from the mass of snow.
The third photo gives a more realistic view of the oddity in context with the entire home.  However this view makes my pickup slide-in camper appear to be forlorn setting alone lost in the expanse of winter’s snowy grip.  It sets on six points, three jacks and three barrels, to preclude a chance of it lying on it’s side as a result of the March winds that are coming as sure as death.  No, the sawhorse didn’t get left behind by the roofing crew.  It is placed strategically to warn the snowplow of a hidden booby trap.  It straddles the cover of a septic tank entrance hidden in the foot deep snow.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Mississippi Canebrake Rattlers

While living in Mississippi in the late 1960s I resided in a mobilehome park owned by Flint Hobgood in the small village of Marion, about ten miles from where I worked.  Marion is but three or four miles northeast of Meridian.  I regularly traveled Lizelia Road, a narrow rural lane, on my commute from home to work.
During a late fall day my brother Dell and I were driving along Lizelia Road leisurely traveling from his home to mine.  As we had no particular task in mind we were chatting as we drove along.  Ahead there was a pickup truck parked along side of the road.  We paid particular attention as it had a dog box built onto the pickup box, and we were hunters.  As we slowly began to drive by the parked vehicle Dell said, “Look at them things.”
I said, “What things?”
He said, “Them snakes!”
I couldn’t see any snakes in the road and said so.  Dell said, “Not in the road, on that truck.”  I then was getting past it, so I braked to a stop to see what he was so excited about.  We got out and started a conversation with two men near the old beat up pickup.
They, like us, were merely driving along minding their own business when they spotted a snake crawling across the road.  As it was a big rattlesnake they decided to destroy it before it destroyed some man or beast.  One of the men had a .22 caliber rifle so he shot the rattler in the head.  As they were looking it all over and discussing it’s size, another equal to it began crawling across the road also.  The men shot that one too.
The men’s truck had a box constructed of full 4’ X 8’ sheets of plywood.  The box thus was 8’ long, and 4’ both in height and width.  They had hoisted the two snakes up and laid them crossways across the top of the pickup box.  The tail and head ends each draped about a foot down each side, making each rattlesnake about 6’ in length.
It was not my first ever encounter with rattlers, but they were the largest I ever saw.  I was never too sure about it, but both men insisted they were going to take the snakes home and eat them.  “Hey, don’t let me stop you, but I’ll pass.”

A Snake Tale

I’m nearly terrified of snakes.  I don’t know why, or exactly when, this inordinate fear developed.  When I was a young lad my brothers and myself used to play with garter snakes, and would have scoffed at the idea they might be dangerous.  Yet as I experienced a number of encounters with poisonous species in my twenties and thirties I learned a healthy respect for at first, and later began to fear them.  By the time I was in my later thirties I would no longer touch a garter snake.  One of my first rather disconcerting experiences with a poisonous reptile didn’t even happen to me, yet I almost break out in a sweat as I remember it today.
I hadn’t lived in Jacksonville, Florida too long in the early 1960s.  My wife and I had met another young couple named Rodney “Rocky” Lewis, and his wife Harriet.  They had a baby born unto them during that period of time.  Shortly after the baby’s birth they took it to Valdosta, Georgia to meet both sets of grandparents for a weekend.  Only a few days prior to that they had rented a small cottage near the bank of the St. John’s River.  When they returned from Georgia, near midnight Sunday, Harriet entered the house in the darkness, and laid the baby down on their bed before turning on the light in the bedroom.  As she snapped the switch on the light she turned to the baby to begin preparing it for bed.  There, on the bed, within inches of the baby was a coiled cottonmouth water moccasin.
Although nearly passing out with fright, Harriet managed to contain herself for the few seconds it took her to gently draw the baby back from the snake and pick it up.  She ran from the house to where Rocky was removing bags from their car.  She handed the baby to Rocky, and only then did she scream and go into hysterics.  She utterly refused to ever enter that house again.  They drove to our home and spent the remainder of the night with us, rented a different home far from the river the following day, and Rocky had the job of moving their belongings.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Quiet Sunday

We were so very lucky to have some more snow fall on top of what we previously had.  At least we had time to clean up the last storm before this one arrived.
In the first photo a friendly critter surveys his surroundings while helping himself to a few tidbits of a smorgasboard.  He can’t understand what is happening across the road.  If he were a chicken he’d cross over there and find out, but…
In the second photo we can see what the bluejay was watching.  It is the aftermath of my grandnephew Brian getting his ATV stuck while attempting to push the heavy snow from his yard.  His brother Patrick had to pull him out with the four-wheel-drive pickup.  We won’t mention that this was the second time for this event.

The third photo shows that now those two have left the area, even if temporarily, our friendly little woodpecker came to visit, and partake of whatever that stuff is stuck in the suet.

In the fourth we can note the woodpecker has moved over a few feet to that square tree with the icing on top.  He is probably studying that thing attached to the other square tree to determine if it is edible or not.  He has no realization of what a thermometer sending unit is for an indoor/outdoor temperature rig.  The barn in the background used to belong to my brother Lawrence.  It is where he at one time milked his dairy twice a day.  It now belongs to his son Bernard, and is across the road from my home.

Friday, February 4, 2011

A Boating We Will Go

I bought a small wooden boat and engine while in Jacksonville, Florida during the early 1960s.  It was all painted up a pretty white, with bright red trim, and I was sort of proud to own such a fine example of prestige.  It wasn’t everybody that had their very own boat, no matter how small it may have been.
I decided to drop it into the beautiful water of the St. John’s River one bright summer evening.  Towing it down the road on its trailer, we were in a long string of cars.  One stopped for a red light, causing the entire string behind it to stop, except for the guy behind me.  He only stopped after hitting the engine of my boat.  Although I wasn’t happy, to say the least, I found no damage so we each continued on our separate ways.
I got the boat into the water, and Nora and I climbed aboard, off to explore the nooks and crannies of the river’s edges.  We were moseying along about as fast as it would go, which wasn’t all that fast, when with no warning the boat did a square 90 degree turn to the left.  Nora and I managed to stay in it, but just barely.  We were probably a half mile from the boat ramp, but unexpectedly friends of ours, Al Vredenberg and his wife, happened upon us.  I lay on the front of my boat and held on to the rear of his while he towed us back to our starting point.  Let me tell you that was a long way, hanging on to each boat with my hands.  People were not meant to be tow ropes.
It seemed that the lower part of my boat engine was separated from the boat attachment by several rubber mounts to decrease engine vibration to the boat.  Apparently when the car hit me previously, it either broke some of them, or weakened them to the point they separated while going down the river.  This allowed the engine to turn sideways all by itself, and caused the boat to go into the uncontrolled turn.
I bought new parts, installed them, and sold the entire rig.  I decided boating was not my thing, so I bought a motorcycle to play with.

Thursday, February 3, 2011


I have a snow bank in my front yard about five feet high amassed by plowing snow from the communal driveway I share with my daughter and family.  The storm here was nothing compared to some others areas, notably in the Midwest, but we did get more than we’ve had at one time in quite a few years.

It may not be perfectly precise, but about 6:30 AM, Friday, February 4, 2011 is probably as close as you need to get to being the middle of winter.  Starting then it’s all downhill rolling toward the first day of spring which starts at 6:21 PM, March 20, 2011.

If you hadn’t noticed yet, the days are getting notably longer.  Back on the first day of winter, last December 21st, our day was 8 hours 46 minutes in length.  Friday, February 4th, our day will be 9 hours 56 minutes, an hour and ten minutes more of daylight, nearly an hour of that in the evening.  These facts are for the top of New York State, or the 45 degree North Latitude region, half way between the equator and the north pole.  They vary with latitude.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Our Northern Neighbors

Are you aware that Pelee Island, Ontario, Canada is in southwestern Lake Erie.  It is the southernmost inhabited land in Canada.  South of Pelee Island lies Middle Island, the southernmost land in Canada, although uninhabited.  South of that, yet within the waters of Lake Erie at about 41 degrees 38 minutes north latitude, is the southernmost point of Canada.
Believe it or not, parts, or all, of 27 states within the United States lie north of that latitude.  They are Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and, of course, Alaska.  You knew about that last one all the time, didn’t you?
When you think of your northern neighbors, think again because some of them are not as far north as we usually think of them.
Now, just for fun, if you were to follow a compass due south from Middle Island in Lake Erie, which is about due north of central Ohio, where might you walk into the Gulf of Mexico?  What if I told you that Middle Island is approximately 900 miles from the east coast at Boston?  So, as Jacksonville, Florida is near the east coast, then a point possibly somewhere around 900 miles west of there might be close?  Would that be in Louisiana, or maybe eastern Texas?  In fact, following a compass south from Middle Island would have you pass maybe 50 miles or so west of Jacksonville, and you would ultimately go swimming in the gulf somewhere south of the Tampa/St. Petersburg, Florida area.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Just Stuff I've Heard

My oldest brother, Bert, told me once there was an old adage that said:  Half your grain, and half your hay, must remain on Groundhog’s Day.  Seeming as winter is approximately half over then, it makes perfect sense.

Punxsutawney in a Native American tongue means ‘Land of the sand fleas.”  That’s almost as good a claim to fame as being noted as the last bastion of the ridge running coal miners.

As Punxsutawney isn’t all that far from Pittsburgh, it may be that this whole Groundhog’s Day thing is some sort of advertising gimmick for the Superbowl.  It doesn’t hang in there with clothing malfunctions, but the Steelers got to make do with what they got.

If you believe everything you hear or read, you might want to look into the tale about February second being forty days after Christmas, and as such Mary, mother of Jesus, went through a rite of purification on that date, and that started the whole bit about Candlemas Day, which is the same day as Groundhog’s day.

When I was very young my Daddy said something about groundhog, and I thought he was talking about sausage.  That’s not true, I just made it up.

On February 2, 2022 when you say the date it’s going to sound like a train going by. Too, too too, ohhh too too.

Trucking Along

I think it was 1954, but I’m not positive.  Mort Backus decided to quit the milk route he had been running, and he started a used car business.  My brother Bert bought the truck and milk route from Mort, and in addition to running a dairy farm, he began the tedious job of hauling milk from dairy farms to the milk plant in town.  It was a seven day a week job, rain or shine, hot or cold, but then so too was farming.  Like the mail, that milk had to go to the plant every day.
Bert soon found that running a milk route, with its repair and upkeep costs added to day to day expenses, was just about a break-even endeavor, and if he was to enjoy a profit it had to be from using the truck in some other manner in addition to the primary job.  This brings us to the moving business.
Bert started to take on an occasional job of moving people from one home to another.  He would normally take a fairly long hard look at the household belongings, take into consideration the distance to travel, account for our time, (I was his helper) and quote a job price to the homeowner, take it or leave it.
One day a little old lady stopped us on a street in town, and asked what Bert would charge to move her several blocks away, right in town.  Without leaving his seat in the truck, Bert noted it was a very small bungalow, quoted her $100, and offered to do the job the next day.  The lady accepted.
After milking the cattle the next morning, then running the milk route, we pulled up to the house to begin the quick-money good-profit moving job.  The house had a cellar.  Bert had not noticed that.  That cellar was packed almost solid with glass bottle canned goods.  We had to carry those bottles a couple or three at a time from that cellar, up a set of narrow stairs to the truck, place them where they wouldn’t get broke, and then another trip, and another, and another.  We managed one trip across town that day, and didn’t even finish the cellar.
The second day we finished the cellar, and started on the birds.  Yes, the little old lady had rooms full of birds in cages.  One or two at a time for hours we removed them to the truck.  One more truckload that afternoon.  Then a flying (pun intended) trip across town to spend some more hours unloading the squawking menagerie, as well as the remainder of those blasted bottles of pickles, beans, and whatever.
On the third day it was back for finishing the one-day easy $100. job.  That was the day we had to recruit help to move the piano.  As we pulled away from the new home for the third, and last, time, Bert turned in the seat, and said to me, “If I ever decide to take a job again without looking at it, I want you to kick me right square in the ass,” and with that we laughed off and on all the way home.