Monday, February 21, 2011

John Jackson: Grama and Grampa

The Wallkill River near Walden, New York
Photo by Deep Shot @ Creative Commons

I had a personal relationship with only one pair of grandparents.  My father's parents have been dead for over 100 years. My father was very young when they died and did not volunteer much information about them if, indeed, he had much to share.  I know that my grandfather Jackson was named Amos Ezekiel Jackson and that he was born in Sheffield, England.  When he first arrived in the USA, he worked as millwright in a knife company in Middletown, NY.  After several years in that position, he moved to the New York Knife Company in Walden, NY. I have the impression that he had a drinking problem.  There was a family story that on occasions when he was fired for drunkenness, he could and did shut down the factory(it was powered by waterwheels) in such a way that he had to be re-hired so that he could start it up again.  True or not, it makes a good story.  Since my father had a brother thirty-five years older, I assume Amos had more than one wife.  That's all I know, or think I know.
     The grandparents I knew were Harvey and Rachel Halwick, my mother's parents.  Since my mother was married at fifteen and I was born when she was twenty, I knew my mother's parents when they were still quite young.  My mother was the only surviving child of their marriage, so that I didn't have any competition from uncles, aunts or cousins.  My brother was five and a half years older than me so that I had the position of an (almost) only grandchild.  I've often speculated about how they got together.  Rachel was born a Terwilliger, an important family in the mid-Hudson Valley.  Pictures of great grandmother Terwilliger, who was also alive when I was young, seem to show a rather grand dame.  I know that, when he was young, Harvey worked as a gardener on a large estate in the neighborhood.  Could it have been a case of the daughter running off with the hired help?  In any event, it was not an altogether happy marriage.  They seemed to get along pretty well but Harvey was a drinker.  He was fired from the gardener job and they moved to Walden.  They both took jobs in one or another of the three knife factories in town but Harvey couldn't keep a job very long.  Paydays were his downfall.  By the time I knew them, Harvey had settled into the role of a house-husband and Rachel worked at a sewing machine in the local underwear factory.  Her machine was right across the table from my mother's.
   Harvey tended a large garden, mostly flowers, and worked around the house.  Since their house was only a short walk from my elementary school and they school didn't have a cafeteria, I would walk every day over to Main St. where Grama and Grampa  lived and have lunch with Grampa.  He made me lunch.  I particularly remember canned spaghetti, a great favorite of mine.  On weekends, Grama would often make sugar cookies, another favorite, so that lunch with Grampa was great for me.  I would sometimes help out in the garden, occasionally doing more harm than good.  Another Grama specialty was her version of vanilla ice cream.  It was only available in the winter since it consisted of snow, condensed milk and vanilla.  In those benighted days, it was a huge treat.
   In those days, I was a demon moviegoer, seeing usually at least three shows per week, two of them double features.  The double features were Saturday and Sunday matinees.  The third was a single feature on Tuesday evening that also featured bingo or a prize drawing.  On Tuesdays, I always went to the movies with Grama.  I don't know how I managed it but I have the definite feeling that I also often got to the Thursday double feature as well.
    Grama's brother, Uncle Arthur, a tugboat captain in New York Harbor, would occasionally visit.  Those were fabulous occasions both for his colorful persona and the fact that he always gave me a nickel, a big deal in those days.
   Grampa's brother, Uncle Roscoe was also a drinker and lived for a while in a derelict car on the edge of town.

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