February 24, 2013

Saturday Signs

Saturday Signs
By John R. Greenwood
East Side Rec Saratoga Springs N.Y.
My grandfather Elmer to the left of the trophy 
I headed to the Saratoga Springs Public Library to continue my search for a sign from Clem today. I soon realized that finding Clem himself might prove to be easier then finding a place to park. The city was a buzz so just getting to the library took some doing. By the time I had driven through the library parking lot, the parking garage down the street, and the block long city parking lot (twice) I began to rethink my agenda for the afternoon. I tend to be a little (very) knot-headed so my patience paid off and just before I ran out of gas a car pulled out right next to the front steps and voila I was on my way to new adventure. I started by pulling out the box of skating scrapbooks I found on my last visit.  Do you see how easily distracted I get. The ironic part was it caught the attention of another library patron who was nearby. She noticed what I was looking at and asked me about it. She seemed a bit shocked when I mentioned old Saratoga Winter Club albums. She then proceed to tell me she was in the Winter Club in the 1960's. I slid the box of memorabilia over to her and it was game on. Another sign answered.

Saratoga Springs City Directory 1948 
I then proceeded to the city directories. They have them dating back to the early 1900's.  It is so much fun leafing through them, I could do that for hours-and so I did. I started by going back to the first listing of Walter L. Clements.  Back then the directories listed the addresses of both your business and residence. I followed Clem's path to all corners of the city and back again. As most young men he had a couple different jobs in his early years. He did spend 90% of his life listed in the phone books as a sign painter. The most interesting discovery came in the 1948 city directory.  His father died in that time period. You know that because his mother was listed as widowed in the directory above. His twin sisters, as well as other family, lived at the same address as his mother. He too was living at that address at this time. This is where I started to assess today's sign from Clem. The address was 190 Lake Ave. This is just around the corner from East Avenue where my grandparents lived at the time. It was less than six houses away. The other connection that stopped me in my tracks was the fact that it listed his sisters as both being employed by the Van Raalte Company. That by itself wouldn't be exciting except for the fact that my grandfather was a foreman in the knitting department at that time. Not only would he have known the entire family, at least two of them would have worked with him at the time. The Van Raalte mill was thriving in those years. I have a binder full of information that my grandfather assembled in his later years. He describes the transition and improvements that were made at the time. He details some of the changes he was involved in that allowed the huge looms to produce some of the worlds finest lingerie and gloves of the period.

So now I possessed another lead, another road sign pointing in a new direction. I will now pull out my grandfathers documents to see if I've had a Clem connection I never knew existed. I stopped at the 190 Lake Ave. address on my way home from the library. I grabbed my camera and jumped out to snap a photo of the place. I could visualize everyone coming home from work and sitting around the kitchen table eating pot roast and buttered bread. Everyone exhausted from the labors of the day. I am told that Clem's twin sisters where deaf. The table conversation may have been a little different than what we would have experienced but I'm sure it occurred smoothly and with more loving signs than the rest of us might imagine.
Oh!, I have one more fun fact. My wife lived one street over growing up so the backyards face each other. And..., the house next door on the left of 190 Lake Ave;when my wife was a teenager she spent many days and evenings babysitting the children who lived there. It was the early 70's. We were starting to date at that time. How cool is that? Small world? You think?

I realize that these connections are not that strange in a city the size of Saratoga but its more than that. It's about the constant pull I have to keep looking for more signs. So far it has lead me to a dozen scrapbooks filled with my grandfathers memorabilia that I didn't even know existed. It has me looking at city homes that I've driven by for over fifty years in a totally different light. It has me cautious about touching a family nerve that someone may not want exposed. But for now I will keep searching for Clem's signs and seeing what they may be trying to tell me. After all, if I wasn't doing this I might have to do those home repairs I keep putting off. Mrs. G. may be a painting a sign of her own this very minute.

I want to thank everyone who follows along on my journey. This is post is number 300 for Raining Iguanas. I never dreamed that Raining Iguanas would become such a large and important part of my life. I can't explain the feeling I get when I hit the 'Publish' key that sends each post out into the world. It's scary, yet exhilarating. It has been 99% positive and 1% 'other'. I make every effort not to hurt anyone with my writing. I would never be a successful critic--although I often dream of being an investigative reporter exposing slime-balls who pray on the elderly or children. For now I will simply enjoy searching for a sign on a street near you. 


  1. Your search for Clem's sign has now reached the stage where you have many sub-stories. The Van Raalte factory, your grandfather, your wife, and others that you have mentioned. You have a book in the making! Your quest to find Clem info has opened up many stories within the Clem story. Like the plot and photos. -- barbara

    1. Thank you Barbara. I am having a ball with it too! To be honest, this is what I had hoped for when I began, I never dreamed it would yield such a wonderful bounty.

  2. Congratulations on 300, John!! Wish I was there for the for the very first post. It must have been (and still is) a strange and wonderful ride. Keep pushing that publish button. Diane

  3. Wow, it keeps getting better. Funny to see the directories with employer, or student or even widow listed. Boy have times changed!!!
    remember the old prefixes on phone numbers.
    As a youth my first number I remember was IVanhoe2-8852, then IV2-8852, and finally 482-8852.

  4. Congrats on 300 John!!! keep entertaining us!!!

  5. I've been enjoying your investigations throughout your city. It truly goes to show you how closely we really are linked with our neighbor (if we but knew it!)