February 27, 2016

Happy Days

Happy Days
By John R. Greenwood

Happy Days at the Greenwood's

My father passed away seven years ago today. My sister was with him at the hospital when he died. I was teaching a Defensive Driving Course at work when she called me. I got there as soon as I could but it was too late. Dad battled poor health for years. He was a tough son-of-gun and fought back death many times during the last years of his life. Mom lost her fight a few years before dad. This morning my sister sent me a short message reminding me what day it was. She even remembered the exact time. I guess when you're with the person when they die you never forget the details. Her message said she was going to try and write something for his Legacy Page today. She said she might have a hard time so maybe I could write something just in case. I pulled out an old album and I found this photograph. It's one of my favorites of the four of us. It's probably one of my sister's too. It was taken in the backyard of our house in Greenfield Center, New York around 1957. We lived there until the mid sixties. We had a huge backyard and a garden the size of half a football field. At the back edge of the property was large grove of pine trees. The Greenfield General Store was just one house away to the south. It was Mayberry RFD and we lived smack dab in the middle of it. We rode our bikes on the dirt path that ran in front of the dozen or so houses beyond ours. There was always a group of children playing somewhere. We were never bored and we were always on the move. These were the happiest of days. My sister was a few years older and she was always my hero. She looked out for me even when I was being a pest. I don't ever remember her picking on me or teasing me. Even when, as the boy and the baby I got quite a bit more attention, she never took it out on me. 

When I look at this picture I see happy kids with happy parents. They were happy days. My parents were married a long time and as with most families there were some not so happy times. But that's the way life goes. You cherish the good times and survive the not so good ones. They say you never really know what you have until it's gone but I think I always did know what I had. It wasn't perfect but it was the fifties and sixties and there was a lot going on. We got to experience all of it. My sister had the Beatles, and I had Theodore Cleaver. We saw man walk on the moon and John Wayne on live television. We were living the real-life Happy Days when Richie Cunningham was still Opie. 

My father taught me to fish and put the chain back on my bike. He also taught me how to drink and smoke. It wasn't nirvana but the good far outweighed the bad. It was life in general. I savored it then and I'm savoring it to this day. I loved my parents and I miss them. I love my sister, I hope she knows how much. I've enjoyed many happy days and I look forward to many more. But if the train stops tomorrow, I've had one heck of a ride thanks to my family. 

Dad, this one's for you.  

Here's a link to my father's: Legacy Page

February 18, 2016


By John R. Greenwood

My life in the last dozen years has revolved around signs. As I approached my fifties I began to see the signs of aging literally. I ended up dealing with all the typical old fart issues like cataracts, polyops, and scoliosis, oh my. You forge ahead whining about it along the way. In those travels I stumbled across some interesting signs that pointed me in different directions. You come to a point in the road where you have to decide which signs you’re going to follow. Fortunately for me I chose to follow some life changing ones. I was led to people who refuse to relinquish their dreams to aging or any other barriers they encounter. I’ve always been drawn to the underdog, the little guy who refused to give up. My favorite movie scene is from the movie Rudy where after opening his umpty-ninth Notre Dame rejection letter, Rudy Ruettiger finally gets accepted. It’s his unwavering desire to fulfill his dream that gets me every time. He refuses to accept the words, “You can’t”. 

Signs have given me strength especially when the destination brings me to people with pockets full of optimism. Don’t get me wrong, I can be the proverbial grumpy old man at times but that usually happens when I’m interrupted in pursuit of something shiny. One nice thing about decade six is the experience you’ve collected. You know that every high point will be followed by an unexpected car repair or power bill. Every loss is followed by the birth of another grandson or his game winning goal. Each winning raffle for a dinner for two will be followed by two years of nightstand losers. What’s most important is enjoying the losses as much as the wins. Life was never meant to be a plethora of happy. Read a history book. We have it pretty good, we just can’t see it through our overpriced Ray Ban’s. 
Following signs can sometimes lead to disappointment but if fear keeps you from taking that chance you’ll never know what you missed. 

I’ve found myself fighting guilt because I haven’t been writing as much as I had the last couple of years. I have to stop and talk my way through the minefield of should’ve’s and could’ve’s. Lately, signs have been pointing me to real signs. Signs like the one above or the one I made for the owner of my favorite farm called Bedlam. I took down some old picket fencing around my home and I couldn’t bring myself to get rid of it. I kept seeing potential in the weathered pickets. They seemed to be begging for more time, more opportunity. I stacked them neatly behind the garage and waited for a sign. That sign came from the inspiration I've accumulated from all the visual artists that have crossed my path in the last few years. Knowing my abilities as a fine artist were grade school level at best I thought maybe signs were pointing me toward sign making? 

So that’s where I’m at right now. I’m in the experimental stages of another pathway, another adventure, another direction. My advice is not to take the road less traveled, take the one in front of you and don’t look back. Don’t wait for the sky to clear or the wind to soften, go grab a paint brush and get walking.  

February 10, 2016

Three Families

Three Families
By John R. Greenwood

Merritt Cronkhite House -Built around 1834-35 Occupied by Cronkhite's into the early 1900's

Three Families
By John R. Greenwood

My visit to my mother’s (Kubish) family home in January 2016 was a wonderful start to the new year. Not only did it revitalize my desire to write it also gave me immense satisfaction knowing the feel and integrity of the home and property had remained intact for over 180 years. The Bouchard’s were gracious hosts by opening their home to me that day. They have a large family of their own and they know the value of, “the sense of place”. The sense of place the Bouchard’s home and property possess encompasses many generations but really only three families. As I dug deeper and deeper into the history of the home, property and the town itself, the more precious that sense of place became to me. I didn’t think that was possible. I was wrong. 

When Ray and I first spoke back in January he told me about a visit he had back in 1967. It was just months after they’d moved in. An elderly women showed up at the house and said she had some information they might like. The women’s name was Ida C. Standerwick. She was a Cronkhite and had been born on the property. Her father was Rueben Cronkhite and her grandfather was Merritt Cronkhite. She provided the Bouchards a wealth of information about the property and her experiences growing up there. Ray emailed me some photographs and a letter that he had retyped from a handwritten letter she’d sent him after her visit on 1967. I was like a child opening a Christmas package when I saw what Ray had sent me. The photograph of the Cronkhites standing in front of the home that held so many great family memories was a true gift to the heart. It was then that I realized how significant connecting with Ray and Carolyn had been. It clarified many things for me. I think everyone reading this will be able to identify with them. 

Very early photograph of the original tree lined Cronkhite driveway.
Ida Standerwick gifted the photo to the Bouchard's when she visited them in 1967.

This piece is not about genealogy, it's about more than that. I love family history and the information I assembled in the last few days has been a gratifying experience. The Cronkhites are not relatives. They built the home my grandparents would later own; the place where my mother called home; the place where her five siblings would live until they began families of their own. This piece is about how important it is to have something to connect to. I was barely ten when I’d last been on this property. Those were simpler times and the memories hung with me for a lifetime. My recent visit refreshed them and made them all the more valuable. This piece is about reconnecting with something you thought you’d never see again. I was fortunate enough to have someone open a door that allowed me re-entry into the physical past. Relocating a remote cemetery, seeing an old shed covered in it's original garb, seeing the rock covered hill that seemed mountain-like as a child, all swirled together to remind me how lucky I was to have lived a life full of so many great memories. 

The second point I’d like to make is how important it is to act upon your instincts. Don’t be stifled by the fear of the unknown. I think of all the years I drove past the long driveway leading to the old farm, too afraid or too busy to pull in and just knock on a door. It wasn’t as though Ray was a stranger. I knew who he was. He’d been a teacher of mine. He was known for his generous and helpful nature. This is just one of those things you say, “someday” to over and over again. You would think in a fifty year span I could have made someday, that day. 

 Late 1940's early 1950's
My father Ralph Greenwood and my grandparents Joseph and Johanna Kubish
I called my grandparents Baba and Zedo

If you have an old friend you keep planning to contact or an old place you keep meaning to return to, don’t wait another day. Get on your bike, get in your car, grab your sneakers, get a plane ticket, most of all get moving. Don’t sit idle waiting for memories to come to your door. Get out there and create a new one. I’ve become inspired by my new found friends Ray and Carolyn. Their kindness will have a long-lasting affect on me and my future adventures. 

I asked Ray if he minded me sharing the letter Ida C Standerwick had sent him. He never hesitated for a second, he encouraged me to use anything he’d shared.  I was fascinated by the letter and the information it contained. I will insert it here. 

Merritt Cronkhite Home 

Merritt Cronkhite built the house about 1834-1835. It was well constructed, the cellar with it’s thick walls was immune to frost. Bricks lined the walls to add protection from the cold. I think the cistern was not built until the house had a slate roof. I do not know it’s date. The cellar had rows of bins for storage of potatoes and apples, the winter vegetables of carrots and squash. We had a variety of apples called, “Rusty Coats” that lasted until the early variety, “Astrakhan” came in early July, so we were never without apples. My father sold the first quality apples for table use, others were taken to a cider mill, converted into cider, then stored in the cellar where it became vinegar, which found a market in grocery stores in town. There were also shelves to hold a supply of canned fruit, jellies, preserves, and pickles.

The original layout of the house was changed somewhat after my grandfather passed away. The stairs went up from the back hall, and a bed sink or recess was removed from the living room and a closet built in it’s place, and the stairs turned around going up from the front hall. The back hall became a kitchen. A small bedroom opened from the living room. The original chimney had a fireplace with crane, pot hooks, and hand irons. We took them with us when we left the farm, and eventually they were installed in our home that my husband and I built on Staten Island, living in it 42 years until we came to Ossining in 1958. The mantlepiece in the parlor is the handiwork of my grandfather, as well as the woodwork under windows, baseboards, and doors. The porch was added at the time of other changes. 

The yard on the south side of the house called, the front yard, had many old-fashioned flowers, peonies, bee balm, flowering current, phlox, both pink and white, a bed of ribbon grass are some that I remember. Under the parlor windows were old fashion double roses various shades of pink, there were two lovely tress, one a balsam, the other a spruce. There was also a pear tree that bore pears that ripened in the winter, stored in the cellar. 

In the picture you can see a wee bit of picket fence built around the yard. My mother always had a flower bed in the yard near the porch.

At the end of the lane approaching the house, were three large willow trees. As one turned up the hill toward the house there was big butternut tree on the right. In the picture you can see it’s branches and the rock on which I spent happy hours, my play house. The well was at the foot of the hill on the left as you went up the hill to the house. Water was drawn by bucket on a chain, turned by a handle. One could see the bottom of the well where water came in through a rock. It was never dry. I do not know the present source of water supply. There was a spring on the left hand side of the lane as you leave the main highway, source of a small brook. East of the butternut tree were several black walnut trees. We let the squirrels have them, but we enjoyed the butternuts. Near this group of trees were two buildings, one a shop which had all sorts of tools, including some kind of a contraption used to mend harnesses. Nearby stood a grindstone for sharpening the farm tools, especially the scythes and axes. 

The other building housed the swine in winter time. It had a chimney and a big iron kettle used to cook provisions for the pigs. The kettle was used for the making of soft soap. In the summer time the pigs were moved to an outdoor location beyond the barns, near the corn crib. The corn crib was built with air space between the upright boards and was set on posts two or three feet above ground to provide ample airspace. After corn had been cut and husked, the corn was stored in the crib. One other important building was a small smoke house near the shop. It was quite tightly built, had a small door, inside in the center was an iron kettle in which a smoldering fire of corn cobs and hickory wood was built to provide the smoke to cure the hams, bacon, and slabs of beef for “dried” beef. 

In the picture, the building parallel with the house was a long building with an open shed at one end for storage of implements, and farm wagons, midsection was the woodshed and the portion at the right also had a chimney and facilities for cooking and a brick oven for baking bread. This was used in the summertime- (No air conditioning or electric fans in the “good old days”). A stairway led to space for storage of smaller farm tools, odds and ends of lumber.

The picture also shows a bit of the “carriage house” where ordinary wagons for business and pleasure were kept. The barns were built in the form of a right angle. One portion had stables for horses and storage for hay and grain. The other portion had stables for the cows with space overhead for more hay. West of the barns and adjacent to them was an orchard of apples and peaches. Beyond the orchard were three fields separated by stone walls. These were cultivated, oats, corn, buckwheat in rotation. There were several trees bearing chestnuts on the north side bordering on the wooded section of pines. There was a large boulder in the woods. It must still be there. We called it “The jumping off place”. These woods had an abundance of spring flowers, trailing arbutus, wild orchids, and trillium among those I recollect. The ground was covered by a creeping vine, “evergreen” we called it, but I think it was princess pine, not sure, also there was a carpet of wintergreens with berries so pleasant to eat. 

The fields on each side of the lane past the little cemetery were under cultivation, potatoes, garden vegetables mostly. Near the brook marsh marigolds grew in early spring. We called them cowslips and gathered them to cook like spinach, leaves and blossoms too. With the exception of two fields, land on both sides of the highway east extended to the property line of the next farm home for many years of Mr. Hawkins. On south side of the highway were meadows and more woods, much being hardwoods, maples, etc… In all there were more than two hundred acres. A large area north of the cemetery plot was the pasture for the cows. Maple trees grew along the lane and elsewhere here and there. In springtime they were tapped and the sap made into syrup or sugar. 

August 1967 
Ida C. Standerwick


The week after my visit I found this same letter and additional information downstairs in the archives of the Greenfield Historical Society. Historian Ron Feulner showed me all the Cronkhite information he had on record. I didn't have enough time to investigate all of it. It will take another visit. I can't wait.  

Three Families Memories
Pick a Generation
The letter simply added more interest to my search. I could remember the fruit and apple trees, the bins in the cellar, the wide variety of plants and flowers that surrounded the house and yard. Ida and her memories, along with mine and the Bouchard's all ran together in this wonderful tapestry of an old farm and the land that it sat on. What a gift it was to be able to enjoy it once more. Like a vintage wine that sat undisturbed for decades, I was able to pop the cork and relive the sights, smells, and sounds of a 50's childhood. 

Ida C. Standerwick was born on the Cronkhite property 4/23/1880. She died in May 1973 at the age of 93. She was a school teacher who lived and worked in Staten Island NY. I found her listed in the book of: Proceedings of the Continental Congress of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution, Volume 25. April 17-22nd 1916. 

The poem below along with other valuable Cronkhite history was found in the "Brief Genealogy of the Cronkhite Family by Leora Mae Greene Hildenbrand 

 “ Leaf after leaf drops off, flower after flower, 
    some in the chill, some in the warmer hours;
    alive they flourish, and alive they fall,
    and earth who nourished them receives them all.
    Should we, her wiser sons, be less content to sink 
     into her lap when life is spent?”
   “Aye thus it is, one generation comes, another goes
     and mingles with the dust, and thus we come and go,
     filling up some little space- and thus we disappear 
     in quiet succession, and it shall be so till time 
     in one vast perpetuity be swallowed up.”                       

                        Walter Savage Landor.

This story will continue I promise. I plan to revisit the Bouchard's soon. 

"Happy Days"
My father Ralph holding my sister Joanne, 

my aunt and uncle Anne and Steve Pasek, my grandparents Joseph and Johanna Kubish
Seated is my mother Helen holding my cousin Henry Ebert.

* Note: If any of the information I've shared is in correct or incomplete I apologize. I do my best to get it right. Much of what I share is done from memory, and time and distance have a way of clouding the clearest mind. In that regard I'm at a severe disadvantage. I welcome any feedback that might aid the accuracy of my accounts.  
                                                              John R. Greenwood