February 10, 2019

The Chair

The Chair 
By John R. Greenwood 

This story is about more than a chair. This simple little antique ladder-back contains a lifetime of family history, family friendship, and family memories. It has traveled around Saratoga County for its entire life. I don’t believe the chair was intended to be a family heirloom at first, but based on the journey it has taken since the 1960s that is what it has become. 

This story was revitalized recently when I received a phone call from Judy (Atwell) Cleveland. Judy’s family lived adjacent to ours growing up in Greenfield Center. She called to tell me she had a chair that my parents had given her when they were downsizing to an apartment back in the early 2000s. She described it briefly and asked if I remembered the chair. At first, I didn’t, but as she described where it sat in the house I was finally able to visualize it. Because Judy knows I wax a little nostalgic, she thought I might like to keep the chair in the family. I knew my grandfather had refinished the chair and given it to my mother and father. He was a skilled antique furniture collector and refinisher and did dozens and dozens of pieces after he retired. What Judy told me that I didn’t know, was that my grandfather had also re-caned the seat himself. That is no simple task as you could imagine. As a kid growing up, it was just another chair against the wall in the living room. Now, with the additional knowledge of the seat, along with the fact that someone had taken such good care of a part of my family’s history, the chair began to take on an entirely different look. She told me the caning was very brittle so the only one allowed to sit in the chair for the last several years was a cherished Teddy Bear. I hope Teddy didn't commandeer Judy’s husband Ken’s recliner now that the ladder-back was gone. 

I told Judy how grateful I was for her thoughtfulness and a few weeks later I stopped by to pick up the chair. 

This is where the story really begins. 

Judy and Ken live in Judy’s childhood home. The home I’d visited hundreds of times throughout my Wonder Years. The very minute Ken opened the back door I was flooded with a wave of fond memories. The stories told around their kitchen table. The beer induced pranks that our fathers played on one another. The laughter and good times that were generated in that house and neighborhood began to overwhelm me with emotion I couldn’t control. I could see my old backyard from the kitchen window, the grove of pine trees where I covered myself in pitch and boyhood joy. There just a few feet away was my old minibike trail that led to old friends that enriched my life. Out the other window stood two giant maples that hosted a neighborhood swing that seemed to swing so high you could touch the treetops. Just a few yards west was the old firehouse our fathers built and manned as volunteers for decades. The firehouse where I competed in a Pinewood Derby and received my first Merit Badge. The firehouse where my wife and I danced our first dance as husband and wife. The firehouse where I learned how to drive a firetruck and roll up a 2-inch canvas firehose. On the other side of the stone wall was the field where our fathers flooded the village skating rink late into the cold night and “The Hill” where toboggan runs lasted forever. The field where we sped around in old field cars was now a forest, but the sight of my friend Rick, rolling a Volkswagen Bug over and over with nothing but a lap belt and his Bell Motorcycle helmet on, was as clear as the smile on my face. The dirt path where I learned to peddle my first bike was right outside the door. The country store where I got my first cavity and cashed my first leaf raking paycheck. The store that had a wooden bench out front with my initials and a hundred others carved all over it. There was a time I knew every person, in every house, in every direction for a mile or more. Our old cabin that a handful of pre-teen boys built themselves, lay just out of sight, in the woods on the other side of the hill. The cabin where we played tag in a scotch-pine field, in the light of the moon, laughing until our sides hurt. The cabin where we hid stolen pumpkins and warm beer. The cabin where we told jokes, farted and watched old Shep singe his wagging tail on the fire-red wood stove. Vision upon vision came rolling over me like a freight train. As I tried to thank Ken and Judy for their kind gesture of returning that little ladder back chair I started to well up. I couldn’t stop, I tried. It wasn’t sadness, it was gratitude beyond the words. I was truly blessed with an unbelievable youth and life. The friends and experiences I’ve accumulated are priceless treasures. I can’t tell you how lucky I feel for having enjoyed the people and stories of small-town life. The chair, the gesture, the opening of that backdoor was a gift too large for words. 

Judy and Ken, Dot and John, Diane, Jackie, Rick, Gary, Brian, Bill, Chris, Paul and Jean, Randy, Greg, PM, Duane, Kevin, Bob, Bill, Barry, Harry and Edna, John and Dutch, Bill and Pearl, Doug, Dot and Bill, Charlie and Philly, Perrin, Brad, Chip, the list goes on and on. Thank you, thank you for the friendship, the mentoring, the meals, the open doors, and watchful eyes. 

Thank you for the chair, the memories, and the time…


January 27, 2019

Young. Old. Just Words.

Young. Old. Just Words
By John R. Greenwood

“Young. Old. Just Words...” - George Burns 

I released this bottle a few weeks ago on a visit to Washington County. All my other bottles have been released in the city of Saratoga Springs. I hadn’t set any bottles free since earlier this year. My life had clogged with other responsibilities and my focus on writing had blurred. It wasn’t as though I’d gone completely off grid. In 2018 I had stories published in five issues of Simply Saratoga Magazine. The Winter Edition that came out last week is my first for 2019. As I contemplate retirement and the next phase of my life, the subject of age keeps knuckle-punching me in the arm. Having spent forty some years processing, selling, delivering, and picking up milk I’m trying to prepare myself to living a life simply drinking it. Retirement is not a comfortable word for me. The fact that I have Studs Terkel’s 600 page book “Working” on my bookshelf should provide a clue that work holds a special place in my life. Based on my struggle with the word ‘retirement’ itself, it would probably be a good idea to hang on to my alarm clock. 

I’ve had a good run, I should be looking forward to owning my own days--and I am. The difficult part for me is the fact that my head and mind don’t match the creaks and groans of my body. It brings to mind a poem I wrote a decade ago called, “Man Mirror.” I’ll re-share it here. 

Man Mirror

It is a special mirror
Unlike the female version 
Man Mirror is magic
It flattens, flatters and fixes
Man Mirror creates strength 
Full thick manes of blondness
No hesitation, no insecurity
Man Mirror inverts numbers
52’s become 25’s
Wrinkles become muscles
Grey t-shirts transform 
Dads into starting quarterbacks 
Boys into men
Men into boys
Man Mirror steamy and hot
Make reflections like 
No imperfections
No flaws
All appear clean, cut, and vibrant 
Who can resist the vision that stands there
Strong, tall rippled Adonis
Man Mirror
Man Mirror
On the wall
Who’s the fairest of…

The poem is true to a man’s interpretation of themselves. We all think we’ll live forever. We don’t see the same thing our wives see. It’s a healthy place to reside—until, the rust starts to fall off. Then we can’t believe what’s happening. For now, I’m content and comfortable. I’m optimistic about the days ahead. Its normal to approach the end of a 45 year career with trepidation. The difficulty lies in feeling like it began yesterday. 

I hope whoever adopted this bottle understands the feelings behind the phrase. It’s meant to battle back the fear of aging. As the AARP mailings flood my mailbox and overflow my recycling bin I refuse to buckle. With busload after busload of my fellow baby boomers lining up for flights to the Sunshine State I plan to remain right where I am. I’ll continue to unfurl my snow-rake and pull the snow from the roof’s edge. I’ll relish in the ankle-high maple leaves each fall. I’ll anticipate spring with the fervor of a young farmer. I’ll ask for my senior discount if I want it, and I’ll refuse it if asked. I enjoyed my fifties more than I ever imagined. My sixties have caught me off guard and unprepared. I’m not afraid--maybe a little nervous. When all is said and done, I have no regrets, only thanks. Thanks for all the friends, stories, and experiences that I’ve been blessed with. Add to that my family, and my work, and I hit the life-jackpot. 

Isn’t that what it’s all about? 


Just a word… 

December 29, 2018

It'll Drive You To Drink

It’ll Drive You To Drink
By John R. Greenwood

It’s a short little road, not more than a half-a-mile long. I’ve lived on it since 1981 when there were just a few homes. I remember it being a dirt road in the 60’s when Pepper’s Turkey Farm was a thriving family business. Now it’s the NYS Thruway of my neighborhood. I’m not against growth and progress. What I do wish, is that people would take more pride in the neighborhood where they live. 

Today is the last week of 2018 in the foothills of the Adirondacks and it’s 40 degrees out, with no snow in sight. Its Saturday morning and a walk around my 1.5 mile block seemed like a nice way to start the day. I grabbed my music and headed down the road. There’s a short stretch of my road that is lined with a tall grove of pines. Its part of the original Farone family farm. Fortunately the property remains in the family. It’s the same spot where I almost walked into the side of a black bear lumbering across the road this summer. I’ve spent my life exploring the Adirondacks, but my most exciting wildlife experience came just a few hundred yards out my backdoor. In that very same spot is where I took the photographs you see here. Last fall there was a noticeable increase in alcohol related litter around the entire perimeter of my block. In this particular spot it seems to have tripled in just a few months. The sight sickened me. The fact that this debris field surrounds a bright yellow “Children In Area” sign angers me! The anger is compounded by the fact that not only is this person using my neighborhood for a literal dump, they are also behind the wheel of a car knocking back a bottle of wine while children play, joggers run, and people walk just a few feet away—people who want to enjoy the beauty of where they live. This is not just a neighborhood problem, it’s a problem with our current society in general. Society is rapidly being divided into people who care about more than just themselves and people who only care about themselves. It’s a divide that is widening by the minute. 

I’m not sure how we right this ship, but I do know how I intend to address it in my little corner of the world. I decided to informally adopt my little road and with every walk I’ll collect a bag of litter. Today I started by filling a small bag with the single serve wine bottles I found in just a 20’ swath under the “Children In Area" sign. On my next walk I’ll bring a bigger bag, and maybe, just maybe my neighborhood wino will pass by without running me over. And maybe, just maybe a spark of self-respect will overcome them. And maybe, just maybe, they will find it in their heart to make the extra effort going forward to throw their bottles in the trash and not the side of a country road.