Toby and I like to watch old black-and-white movies, especially to see the clothing on the men with wide lapels, double-breasted suits, wing-tipped shoes, and ladies with beautiful hats, matching gloves, handbags and high heels.
We are alert to the background furnishings and décor, too. One particular movie brought back a flood of memories for Toby of the house they lived in on Mason Street in Schuyler Falls when he was young.
He started his description right at the back door of the woodshed, then the kitchen complete with an old kerosene pot-burner cook stove. Those things were dangerous and I’m sure many mothers were glad when they got a gas cook stove.
That was what my mother said when I asked her if we ever had one of those kerosene stoves. She related one occasion when my dad got up early (as he often did, being a farmer), filled a large pan with water, set it on the stove and turned on the kerosene pot burner to heat the water. He then went to the barn, not realizing that the fire was too high.
Mum said she woke up to a soot-filled bedroom where she and I were sleeping upstairs, black all around my (chubby) face in my bassinet. When she went downstairs to see what was burning, she found that the high flame had sent soot flying into the room, hanging off the curtains and the furniture.
When my father came in from the barn and discovered what was going on, she said he immediately went to Fort Covington and bought her a new gas stove (after he cleaned up the mess, I imagine).
Toby also told me about the woodstove in their kitchen, which kept the house warm during cold winters. It was his job to fill the water reservoir before bed every night. He said they appreciated the warm water in the morning, especially when it was so cold that the hand pump froze.
The Mason Street house also had a wood stove in the living room with a pipe that ran up through the ceiling, through the main bedroom and out the roof, keeping the upstairs bedrooms somewhat warm.
I remember that, too, in our farm house; the problem was there was very little insulation in the walls back then and wood fire or not, warm feet hitting a cold wooden floor in January was quite startling. We didn’t linger long before making it downstairs where it was cozy and warm.
Most of the older country farmhouses had a bedroom downstairs for grandma and grandpa when they became too old to climb the stairs. Toby’s parents slept in that room, off the living room, and the babies always slept in that bedroom, too, where it was warm and near their mother.
These older homes also had an outhouse. Toby said this house had a fancy one, inside the woodshed, with a wooden walkway. My grandparents, Walter and Bernice McGibbon, lived in an older house, too, with a “privy” off the woodshed. It was pretty fancy, by standards of that day. It had a large, medium and small option for those little butts.
I was born in 1947 and as long as I can remember, there was an inside, water-running bathroom in Nanny and Grampa’s house, for which I am most thankful.
Toby and I talked and laughed about these memories through three cups of coffee and had a great time reminiscing. Afterward, I thought, “Gee, he can remember all those details, but forgot to get bread when he went to town.” Oh, the highs and lows of getting old.
One last thought, as always, please be kind to each other. The world needs more kindness.
Susan Tobias lives in Plattsburgh with her husband, Toby. She has been a Press-Republican newsroom employee since 1977. The Tobiases have six children, 18 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. They enjoy traveling to Maine and Colorado, and in her spare time, Susan loves to research local history and genealogy. Reach her by email at email@example.com.