January 27, 2013

Missing Hank

Missing Hank

When he passed away, I penned the letter below as a memorial piece for the family and friends of Hank Helwig. Hank was one of my early mentors. I knew Hank for many years. He was a driver when I worked at the Saratoga Dairy (Stewart's). I would then see him there daily during the years I owned Price's Dairy. Years later when I returned to work for Stewart's he was the driver I would learn the most from. I brought up his name in a conversation with an old friend recently. He asked who he was. I dug out this letter and thought I would reprint it here. Since I have been posting some Saratoga history of various sorts I thought some local followers of my blog might enjoy this simple piece about one of their own. 

Hank Helwig Remembered
September 3, 2006

Hank was a Saratoga original, ‘Old School’ is the term we use. It was the late 70’s and guys from the, ‘Old School’ were reaching their golden years. I was in my early twenties when I met the guys from the, ‘Old School’. Hank Helwig, Vic Price, Vinny Sarro, Nate Goldsmith, Charlie Dake, and Army Armstrong were just a few Saratoga originals that would cross my path as a young man. Hank was the youngster of that group but ‘Old School’ nonetheless. 
     Hank taught me to drive the ‘big trucks’. I can remember the first time I drove a split range transmission. I was coming up out of Troy on Route #7. Hank was on the passenger’s side, calm and collected as always. He was cool as a cucumber, relaxed and composed--until I had to down shift. I’m traveling 50mph pumping the clutch and I can’t do anything but grind hamburger. Will the real Hank please speak up? “What the hell are you doing? Slow down! Watch it! Pull this goddam thing over!” This lesson was over. I had to ride all the way back to Saratoga with my head down. I failed Hank’s driving lesson miserably. 
     Years later I would be priveliged enough to take over ‘Hank’s Route’ as it was known amongst Hank-Wannabe’s. Hank’s route was legendary. I still have the directions. There was ‘The South Troy Day’, ‘The Ravena Day’, and ‘The Kingston Day’. I was proud to take over ‘Hank’s Route’. I tried to do it the way Hank did. He took a lot of pride in his work. He was prompt, proficient, and always pleasant and cheery. Yes, it’s true Hank could be cranky on occassion, especially if he couldn’t find his hand-truck or if the milk was late. I learned over the years that just was just a cover. 
     Hank welcomed change like a fourth place finish at the track. I remember trying so hard to convince him to try a simple short cut that would make his route much smoother. NO WAY, NO HOW was he going to try it. It would take an Act of Congress to make Hank try something new. That’s ‘Old School’. 
     I learned a lot from Hank. We all did. He was a character, and in this day of homogenized, generic people we need more characters. He was missed when he came off the road, we missed him when he retired, and we miss him now. 
      To the Helwig family my prayer’s are with you. My thoughts and memories are with Hank, a ‘Saratoga Original’.

Yours Truly, 
John R. Greenwood

* A comforting side note: Hank's resting place is in the same cemetery as my parents. It is also directly across from theirs. I never visit them without stopping to say hello to Hank. 
It's funny how things go sometimes...

January 26, 2013

What's In A Nickname?

What's In A Nickname? 

Ralph Elmer "Grunt" "Terjessen" Greenwood
My father's 1942 Senior yearbook 

I have always enjoyed nicknames. I'm sure it comes from my childhood. I don't think my father called me by my real  name until I was in my 40's. Over the years my father called me any number of endearing nicknames; Peanut, Bub, Bud, Slug, Junior, Clyde, Clarence, and Buckshot, but never John. When he talked to others about me I was always Johnny, never John. All my childhood friends and relatives still refer to me as Johnny. There is one nickname that my father Ralph and I shared. It is not the most glamorous nor enviable nickname. My father was known far and wide as Grunt Greenwood. In my teens I was known by my closest circle of friends as Little Grunt. The origin of the name Grunt was born on the football field. Apparently with every three point stance young Ralph had to get in, it included an old man sound that I now make when have to pick up my dirty socks. Whether habit or heft, squatting or bending, a deep rooted grunt was the result. Thus a nickname was born over seventy years ago. What's amazing about this whole story was my discovery that it was included in my father's yearbook. Gladly I do not have the same distinction. 

The second nickname discovered when I unearthed this piece was, "Terjessen". I didn't know how to pronounce it, let alone know what or who it was referencing. Thank goodness for Google and the internet or I would probably never know the answer to my question. My initial search kept sending me to Norwegian ancestry sites. Nothing that showed up made any sense. Since my grandfather was heavily involved with speed skating I thought maybe it was a famous Norwegian skater. I had to look a little deeper. In the middle of my search I had a hit that looked promising. It was a 1942 newspaper article from the area that referenced a, "Stretch Terjessen." He was a local basketball star of the New York State Basketball League. He played for a team named the Glens Falls Lions. The article referenced an upcoming game between the Glens Falls Lions and the Troy Trojans at Troy's La Salle Gym. Bingo, I had a winner. I have no doubt that was the origin of dad's second high school nickname. I'm sure dad saw the Lion's Stretch Terjessen play at the Convention Hall on Broadway in Saratoga and assumed his idol's nick name. 

So in my search for a sign from Clem I stumbled upon another sign, another mystery to follow. It reveled another piece of family history. I can't explain how much fun this mission has been so far. I hadn't finished this piece and I got an email from a life long friend. He told me he had been following my blog. He shared a memory of my father that I could faintly remember. He threw out another Saratoga entrenched name and asked if I remembered it. Not only did I remember the name I instantly saw another vein of gold running down another shaft in the gold mine. 
Yes, I'm glad to say, another sign...

January 24, 2013

Voted The "Jiviest"

Voted The "Jiviest" 

Ralph Greenwood

adjective, jivier, jiviest. Slang.
resembling, suggesting, or characteristic of jive; lively. 

1940-45; jive + ey

The negative numbers on the thermometer could not keep me from visiting the library tonight. The Saratoga Room was open and I was still in hot pursuit of more signs from Clem. I did find signs but they were not from Clem they were from my father Ralph. 

I began the night looking through old Saratoga High School Recorders from the late 1930's and early 1940's. My hope was to find an ad for Clem Signs in the back of the year books. Many yearbook ads were from longtime city businesses. Since I had proof that Clem was listed as a sign painter in the 1940 Census I was hopeful to find an ad promoting his livelihood. I didn't find any such ad but as I thumbed through the 1942 yearbook I stumbled across an entire page listing the senior superlatives. Things like 'most likely to succeed' and 'most talkative' etc…There were male and female names for each superlative listed. What I saw in the middle of the page was my father's name, Ralph Greenwood. I never made the senior superlatives but apparently Ralph did. I expected to see him voted most talkative or nicest smile. I was stunned to see him voted, "Jiviest". Say what? Jiviest, what the heck is jiviest? Is it even a word? 

Apparently it is and apparently the word originated between 1940 and 1942. Is it possible that Ralph invented jivieness? After all he was the jiviest in 1942! I never knew. His sense of humor was legendary but his jivieness had been kept a secret for over seventy years. Although come to think of it, Ralph and Helen did tear it up when a jitterbug was cranked up loud and the beers were three or four deep on the bar. So that was my sign for today. It caught me like a high fastball and backed me right off the plate. An unexpected sign of jivey. A 1942 history lesson in library searches. But wait, don't run away too fast, a Walter 'Clem' Clements connection was not too far away. If you continue down the list you will see right below the 'Jiviest' is the 'Most Artistic'. I'll be a son-of-a-gun it's a Clements; Bill Clements. Was he related to Clem? Was he a brother or a cousin? Here we go again, another damn sign...

January 23, 2013

The Adelphi A's

The Adelphi A's 
Searching For A Sign From Clem

After posting a cry for help on a Facebook Group Page called, "You might be from Saratoga if...", I received a tip from Saratogian Robert Wheaton. Robert said that the four A's on the front doors of the Adelphi Hotel were painted by Walter 'Clem' Clements. I went back to the photo of my milk truck (Seen Here) and looked at the lettering of the Price's Dairy he painted in the 1980's. You will see that the fonts are quite similar. I would almost bet they were done with the same set of stencils used on the Adelphi's doors. I can still remember the day Clem painted the milk truck. Local plumber Ron Coleman brought Clem out to my house in his pickup truck. Clem set up a pair of six foot step ladders and laid a heavy plank between them creating a mini scaffold. He measured meticulously and laid out the letters in a gentle arch. I found myself fascinated by the detail required to fit everything so perfectly. I recall it being a nice spring day, sunny and clear. When Clem was situated I jumped in one of my other milk trucks and left him to work his magic. I remember how pleased I was when I returned at the end of the day and saw the results. The calligraphy-themed font seemed to bring the truck to life. It was a great looking specimen when it was all done. It was the pride of my fleet. My next wish would be to find that 40 year old truck and the handcrafted sign from Clem that graced it's sides. I hope with each new visitor reading these post I gain a new investigative friend. I know there are more signs, I can feel it in my soul. The soul never lies...

One of the four Adelphi A's

More Clues...

More Clues...

I think everyone who has read my posts about Walter 'Clem' Clements wants to know what this search is all about. I will try to explain. 

I possess this unwavering desire to find a left over, covered over, painted over, hidden sign from Clem. I know one still exists in the city of Saratoga Springs--I just have to find it. I have wanted to do this for quite a long time. My thought was to use my discoveries as fuel for my blog.  A sort of daily journal of my search. I was confident it would reveal a varied array of characters and sub-stories. So far that has proven to be true. I have met some wonderfully helpful people at the Saratoga Springs Public Library. I have met several new people online who have helped with links and suggestions. I have discovered a couple surprises along the way. In my search of old newspaper archives I found both obituaries of my great-grandparents on my father's side. I am named after my great-grandfather so it was a little unsettling to see the newspaper clipping stating that, John Greenwood died at the age of 72. It was fun to learn my great-grandmother's first name was Hattie (Harriet) because I always loved delivering milk to Hattie's Chicken Shack.  Hattie Mosley was one of the sweetest and most giving human beings I have ever known. It's nice knowing I have her first name intwined in my own family.  There is something pulling me, pushing me, urging me this way. I can't with all honesty tell you exactly what is fueling this passion to pursue a local sign painter's story. Clem passed away over a decade ago but I can assure you his artistic spirit is still alive and singing a vibrant song. Only moments ago after posting a request on a Facebook group page named, "You might be from Saratoga if...",   a couple responses showed up providing me with my next set of clues. I am now convinced that Clem's story is just beginning. Stayed tuned for more, "Searching for a sign from Clem." 

January 21, 2013

Holy Cow It's Clem!

Holy Cow It's Clem! 

The Glory's of Old Saratoga
That's the G rated version of my ecstatic outburst when just a short time after posting a request for help in finding a sign from Clem, one showed up at my doorstep. I didn't even have to leave my house. I will be forever grateful to photographer Stephen Puliafico for his rapid and heart stopping response to my plea for assistance. He sent me a link to this 1964 Knickerbocker News article that not only referenced the subject of my search it also included a photo of him. The photo shows a checker-shirted Walter Clements (Clem) painting meticulously with gold gilt. My instincts may prove to be more accurate than I first imagined. Not only was Clem a sign painter who loved his craft he was involved in rescuing a portion of Saratoga's historic past. At first I thought Mr. Puliafico's link was spam but I recognized his name and fortunately I checked out the URL he provided. I am being totally honest when I say my heart skipped a beat upon seeing the photo of Clem. I was nine years old in 1964 and I lived in the nearby Greenfield Center but my grandparents lived in the city just a few blocks from Broadway. I am sure Clem crossed my path in some way during my younger days. This adventure is just a few days old and it has already surpassed my expectations. Seeing a simple photo of Clem would have been great but seeing this one confirms my idea that Clem had more artistic desire than to just paint signs. This discovery will keep my investigative juices flowing. I now have a thank you card to pen and a favor to repay. Wow, this is fun!  

*Note: The link to the article takes a minute to upload. Be patient, it's worth the wait. 

January 20, 2013

1940 Census

1940 Census 

Searching For A Sign From 'Clem'

Researching the 1940 Sixteenth Census of the United States of America I was able to find some interesting facts. In 1940 Walter L. Clements was 31 years old and living at #293 Nelson Ave., Saratoga Springs, New York with his parents Frank and Elizabeth Clements. At the time he is listed as owning his own sign painting business. He worked 4o hours a week and 50 weeks per year. 

(Last Line)
Walter L. Clements - Sign Painting

The Census indicates Clem received three years of high school education. He was still listed as a sign painter in the 1954 phone directory. I wrote about that in a previous post. Knowing that he was still painting signs into the 1980's is a sign in itself. It's a sign that Clem was a career sign painter who had mastered his craft. I have always felt Clem possessed a vein of frustrated artist as many of us do. Growing up through the Depression he knew the value of a dollar and the importance of an honest days work. The fact that I can remember his red signature, "Clem Signs" scattered throughout the city of Saratoga lays testament to his talent being sought after and wide spread. My goal is to find a remnant, a gold nugget, a signed sign somewhere in this historic city. I will track down any lead to find one of those signs; those signs from 'Clem'.

January 19, 2013

Searching For A Sign From 'Clem'

Searching For A Sign From 'Clem'

My blog Raining Iguanas is about self expression. Are you who you want to be? Many die never realizing their dreams. Many never even define them. Many live entire lives searching for the answer to one simple question. Who am I? The title above encapsulates that question. Come along for the ride. You may recognize the scenery. 

I can't with any precision determine when I first encountered sign painter Walter Clements. I know it was in the late seventies. As a young father I was handed the opportunity to purchase a milk business named Price's Dairy. It was in those early days of carving out a living for my growing family that the true search may have begun. I had a truck, a milk truck. It was in need of a new breath of life. It needed a fresh sign-a sign from 'Clem'. And so the journey begins; me, a young father with aspirations of being a successful business owner putting food on the table with his own hands.  Young hands with missing parts and fresh calluses. A sign painter with a love of a sip of something stronger than water. You take the two and add a city in the midst of redefining its own hopes and dreams and you have a story. 

Looking back now I'm sure I had crossed the path of Mr. Clements long before I approached him for his talents. Because I can't recall a specific instance, I will begin with the day I asked him if he still did sign work. At that time 'Clem' was deep into retirement age and working piece meal for a local plumber.  At least that is my recollection. After all this was over thirty years ago and the plumber has since passed away. I recall Clem frequenting a watering hole named The Turf. It's likely that's where Clem and I met for the first time.
This need to find a sign from Clem has been following me around for years and I can't tell you why. It seems as though it goes back to my child hood when I first saw that simple little signature beneath one of his local signs. It was such a simple little signature. But now as I think about it I realize that sign painters don't normally sign their work, but artists do. It may have been an advertising brand but I couldn't help but think it was more of a pride-in-my-work statement by Clem.
The more I thought about the vein of this piece the more I realized it was more about my own yearning for artistic expression. I may be romanticizing the story but I haven't been able to shake the desire to pursue it to see where it takes me. My hope is to discover some buried treasures along the way and maybe some buried treasures within. If you've ever been tickled by something unknown you may want to stick around. 

Clem's Last Price's Dairy  Sign 
(circa. 1984)
Walter Clements always signed his work in the bottom right hand corner "Clem Signs." My hope is to search the city of Saratoga Springs for any remaining signs of Mr. Clements. I want to document the search and the stories it brings. If you know of anyone who can help me in my search for a sign from Clem please send them my way. This is going to be fun.

January 17, 2013

Price's Dairy

Price's Dairy 
By John R. Greenwood

I just returned from the Saratoga Room at the Saratoga Springs Public Library. I had a great time and found some interesting things; one of which was this page from the 1954 Saratoga phone directory. I would not be born until the following year but the two ads at the top of this page would end up having a large impact on my life. I grew up playing in the fields and hay mows of Brookside Dairy in my early years living in Greenfield Center, New York. It was a wonderful farm and it's memory is dear to my heart. 

In 1979 I was twenty-four, married with two sons and purchased Price's Dairy from Victor Price. I paid him $100 cash per week. There aren't too many people who can make that statement. I ran the business for the next ten years. As you can imagine, my heart did a little double take seeing both of these ads together. I love that the phone numbers were two and three digits. 

I went to the library in search of another story but as I am prone to do I got a little sidetracked. The good news is I was able to confirm the correct name of the person I want to write about. I only knew him by his nickname. I needed to confirm his real name so I could find his obituary. I needed a starting point and now I have it. My next step is to find the obituary. I want to see if there are any descendants. My goal is to talk to someone in the family before I continue to dig any deeper. I am excited. I can't wait to get back to the library. 

What did I learn today?

I learned a lot while researching a story today.

#1- The first thing I learned was to pay better attention. The library has one entire room dedicated to the city's history and it has it's own hours. The Saratoga Room at the Saratoga Springs Public Library is open either 9am to 5pm or 5pm to 9pm, depending on the day of the week.  If you go at 2pm on a 5pm to 9pm day you will be disappointed. This should highlight the inadequacies of my researching skills.

#2- A man of my age should be more comfortable navigating a library. I was like a first grader looking for the Red Turtle bus on the first day of school.

#3- The Saratoga Springs Public Library is worth every tax dollar we fork over. It is a beauty. It was packed with people from three to ninety-three and they came in every size, shape and smell. It is a joyous place.

#4- Library parking is more challenging than Survivor- Time Square. 

#5- A library would be nice place to live. 

The flagpole that stands proudly in front of the library is dedicated to Tom Indiano. Tom was a classmate of mine. Every trip to the library brings his huge sense of humor and booming personality back into focus.  

January 15, 2013


By John R. Greenwood
Walls are beautiful from both sides
It is time to climb the one before me
It is time to see what it looks like from the other side
You are welcome to join me
I have arrived at a wall that has me wondering what is on the other side. I have a writing project in mind. It's something I can't really describe because I haven't yet defined it in my own mind. It involves a character I knew from my years running Price's Dairy. Price's Dairy was a milk delivery business my wife and I owned and operated from 1979-1989. We bought dairy products from places like Saratoga Dairy (Stewart's Shops), Crowley, and Hood and delivered it to restaurants and small corner stores throughout the Saratoga Springs, N.Y. area. In those ten years I amassed a long list of friends and acquaintances that I will remember fondly for the rest of my life. One character in particular has haunted my imagination for years. This post is somewhat of a teaser and also a much needed kick in the pants for me. Because I don't know exactly how to define what I want to do, it has kept me idling in park for way too long. I figured the first step is to warm up the keyboard, and the next step is a trip to the library. I need some very basic information before going any further. So I will leave you hanging at this point because I have to, not because I want to. I hope to begin outlining my project in the upcoming days. My thought is to bring everyone along for the ride, posting my research as I go. I will never know whether I have an idea worth pursuing if I don't take the first step. 

January 12, 2013


Art work by Kim Nelson

By John R. Greenwood

Barn of weathered roughness 
strong red boards taught and dry
physical brute unscathed by time 
decades piled high as hay 
his feet soaked with tractor smells
work ethic stance proud amongst men
landlocked ark for calf and hen
loyal sentinel standing proud at pastures edge

For Real ToadsThe Sunday Challenge

January 05, 2013

Peace of Quiet

Peace of Quiet
By John R. Greenwood

peace comes quietly in the dark still of predawn
so soft the light I feel the warmth 
or so I think
with tilted ear  a sound so distant my own heartbeat roars
a solitude thick like putty 
small squares of yellow oozing from windows as I pass 
no human awake or left on the earth it seems
a quiet peace is a warm coat and cool air to breathe
December morning's gentle embrace 
so sweet the snow smell when its fresh from it's maker

This is my submission to d'Verse Poets Pub - The prompt was PEACE. 

Recycled Bouquet

Recycled Bouquet
By John R. Greenwood

By the time a husband and wife have been together for three quarters of their lives they will have accumulated a trunk full of memories. They will also be in tune with each others likes and dislikes. I like most husbands learn slowly, but after 38 years exchanging anniversary cards, the odds of me getting it right are increasing--ever so slightly. Today we finished taking down the Christmas decorations inside and out. It involves packing up totes full of ceramic Santa's, stuffed snowmen, colorful wreaths, and tangled lights. I experienced my first workout of 2013 by running up and down the attic stairs like an NFL running back doing preseason drills up to the cheap seats and back. By the time the dust had settled and the needles were vacuumed away we were both ready for a break. Mrs. G. poured a cup of coffee and nestled down with her laptop. I headed out to Orange and Ugly for supplies to begin our next DIY project. I also grabbed the fall collection of empty soda cans and water bottles to turn in. I took them to Price Dropper because it is in close proximity to Orange and Ugly. After doing the bottle-can machine shuffle I grabbed my receipts and went inside. Fortunately I had a blank grocery list so I went directly to the Floral Department just inside the door. I picked out the sunniest bouquet in sight and laid it down on the counter. I was pleased to find out they could cash out my bottle return receipts as part of the transaction.  The cashier did a head-snapping double-take when the well behaved register proclaimed it OWED ME .49 cents. Well it might not be a blog worthy story but it did make my day. It also made my wife smile when I recounted the tale of the recycled bouquet. And so it goes in this simple life of give and take. 

Man Football Gold
As I sit here typing away and intermittently gazing up at the AFC Wildcard game I catch the distinct aroma of fresh made Chex Mix drifting from the warm glow of the oven. 

This life is not about expensive cars in the driveway or summer homes on the lake. It is about bouquets of fresh flowers and warm Chex Mix.

January 03, 2013

Who is that?

Who is that?
By John R. Greenwood 

It sneaks up on you slow, like an attack-snail. You're in your late twenties and your friends ask you to play softball. You dig your glove out of  a plastic bin in the back of the garage. You show up and play nine innings like there was a scout from the Yankee's sitting in the bleachers with a clipboard. You wake up the next morning and fall to the floor with leg cramps so bad you have tears in your eyes. You blame it on being out of shape. 

Now it's your early thirties and you drop your toothbrush in the toilet when you spot that first grey hair. You panic and call your wife to come and verify. She smiles lovingly and says it's no big deal there's only one or two. 

You break the forty barrier in waist and age. You swear off junk food and join the Y. You try keeping up but the Ibuprofen in your gym bag rats you out. You lose a few pounds and convince yourself 38's aren't so bad and 36's are only a salad away. You surrender to games of one-on-one with the guy in the sweat suit and headband who shoots with two hands and wears velcro sneaks from Payless. You win by 6 in a game to 11. Your mind hears a crowd roar, then realize it's really a busload of After School Programers swarming the court. You hit the showers and stop for pizza on the way home. 

Fifty is not so gentle. Fifty hits you like a twenty-five year old Tyson. Thirty-seconds into the first round you're flat on your back mumbling WTF happened? You come home to AARP mailings overflowing your mailbox. There are messages on your answering machine reminding you of your colonoscopy on the 5th, and your cataract surgery on the 15th. The smirky little turd at the drive-thru gives you the senior discount in hopes of a bigger tip. Here's a tip, "You should have stayed in school."
You get grumpier by the day (which end at 8pm). Your hair looks like the fuzz on a Mohair sweater. You're pissed at the world because it won't slow down. 

But I have to tell you, there is something to be said about looking at the tail end of fifty. I have never been so confident, happy, satisfied, or content. I have learned more in the last five years than I did in fifteen years in school and twenty plus years earning calluses. Life is what you make of it. Don't blame others for your shortfalls. If you want something bad enough, then go get it. Sometimes luck finds you and hands you a gift. Embrace it if it does, but if it doesn't, then embrace what you do have and remember that there is always someone else out there who has it worse. 

So look deep into that mirror. You may not feel like doing cartwheels over the airport runway on your forehead but if there is a still a little twinkle in the eyes staring back at you, consider yourself better off than a Tyrantosauras because I'm pretty sure they're extinct. 

January 01, 2013

Stand Alone

"Don't ever think the poetry is dead in an old man because his forehead is wrinkled, or that his manhood has left him when his hand trembles!
If they ever were there, they are there still."
-- Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. 
Stand Alone
By John R. Greenwood

Never doubt the voice.
Never pause to question 
If you live to breathe 
Prepare to stand alone

When looking in the mirror
Be proud the sound you see
A story told worth telling
A dream is one held dear

No magic potion formula
No secret handshake known
Will change the heart that drives you
To stand as one alone

Happy New Year