Herein I shall recount some adventures and some schemes.
Where to begin? The schemes, the schemes. They never ended. None but one made a nickel, and that was pure genius. It paid for the farm. Just one month in the late 1950’s, for example - $3,000 pure profit in scrap iron. (A new Buick cost less.) It was the junkyard.
Jean and his partner Buddy (Howard) Praetorius established P&H Auto Wreckers in Palenville, home of Rip Van Winkle. Rip would have been proud. There was so much goings on, never a dull moment. And there was always some booze around, usually home brewed in the cellar. Some first-class stuff, I might add. More on all that later. First, some of the losers and squeaky winners.
Jean Hervey originally came to Palenville during the war as the guest of the Praetorius family in their summer home. The Praetorius family came from North Bergen, New Jersey, where we also lived. Of age, Jean announced to our father that he was going off on his own. He moved to Palenville, got a job driving a truck for Knaust Brothers Mushroom enterprises, and bought an old grist mill on what is now known as Ralph Vedder Road in Manorville, Ulster County, New York, just down the road from Ralph Vedder’s house, the model for my watercolor in Chapter 7 of The Gunns Of Montague, “Home and a Warm Hearth”. He was still very much alive at the time. I went to the one room school on Route 32 on the Saxton Flats with his daughters Virginia and Shirley in 1948-49. Jean sold the mill to Red Praetorius some years later. His son Richard the licensed surveyor owns it as of this writing in 2006. Buddy and Red’s mother, Helen Praetorius painted the lovely oil of the road leading to the mill, viewable in Chapter 5 of The Gunns Of Montague, "Hunting Season".
My brothers and I used to come up from the city during hunting seasons and stay at the mill, without the benefits of plumbing or heating or electricity (Don’t ask). And I was made to go out in the dark, down to the millrun and get water as needed. I was scared to death and my brothers, why they just laughed and laughed. Not even a flashlight.
Up the road between the mill and Ralph Vedder’s was the site of one of the schemes, the cornfield. Jean was still being challenged for the draft in the mid-50’s despite a plate holding his leg in one piece. Therein lay the seed of the scheme… raising livestock. Livestock meant points and enough points meant a farm deferment. He got the points… we had pigs too. But how to feed them all? Answer… grow feed corn. He plowed and planted. I hoed and weeded. Only about five acres. Only. Know how many weeds can grow on five acres? Lots! Then, come Fall, someone had to pick the corn. Guess who? Jean would drop me off in the morning with a dozen big burlap bags. I had to pick and shuck enough to fill all the bags. He came back at night to pick me up. My compensation for this chore was nothing. Just the joy of being out in the fresh air was enough, I guess. In any event, every day I found a new pile of fresh bear poop, full of steaming corn. Not all that threatening in itself, but one day my discovery was accompanied by a thrashing through the brush alongside the cornfield. My friend, the bear, I supposed. The incident became the basis for the episode in chapter 8, “The Cornfield”, in The Gunns Of Montague.
Chapter 6 in The Gunns Of Montague, “The Hickory Forest” was also a real place… behind the old mill, where I used to go squirrel hunting. And Thomas F. Brown was my old coonhound. Good old Tom.
One fine day in October 1953, I loaned Jimmy “Nit” Gleason and Peter “Mousie” Riley .22 rifles and ammo, and took them squirrel hunting with me to the hickory forest behind the mill. How we got there, I can’t remember. We must have walked down the back way on the Manorville Road from Palenville – at least five miles each way – because none of us had a car or driver’s license, although that pesky little fact seldom deterred us later in our teens. We traversed the millstream, waded through the thicket on top of the ledge, put out some grouse while thrashing about. I posted the two of them along the ledge and took a spot further down, admonishing them to be quiet. It wasn’t long before I could hear them arguing about something or other, then the shouting got louder and then the shooting began. They were shooting at each other with my rifles. Bullets ricocheting off the ledge and trees. Fortunately, they were not very good shots. Scared the hell out of the squirrels though. I never told anyone about that incident. I never went hunting with them again either.
Selling off the calves brought cash. The pigs we sold except for one, and it we smoked, the old fashioned way. Jean gutted a fifty-gallon drum and fitted it with racks. We placed it on an incline (for natural draft – a chimney, if you will) along the side of the driveway. Somewhere we got a load of hickory logs, green. My job was to chop and sliver the logs into splinters small enough to catch fire and then smoke when smothered with soil for lack of oxygen. This was not fun. But it worked. To this day, that was the best tasting, tenderest pork - hams, bacon - I have ever eaten.
Most of these adventures took place before the building of The New York State Thruway. Travel between New York City and Palenville was arduous. By car it was across the Hudson River on the GW Bridge or Lincoln Tunnel (there were no Tappan Zee or Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridges yet) then up Route 17 to Route 32 through all the towns and speed zones in between. The Adirondack Trailways buses followed the same route from the Dixie Hotel on 42nd Street in NYC. The famous stop I loved was the Red Apple Rest above Tuxedo Park, still there, but now a mere hospice of an old roadside restaurant.
As an aside, and I suspect that there shall be a few along the way… on Friday nights, finances agreeable, we hopped the 6:15 Trailways at Angie’s Palenville Rest to Saugerties and the Orpheum for a movie. Remember, there was no such thing as television as a practical matter. Our constant dilemma was choosing to exit the flick before it was over and get the last bus north, or stay through until the end, and then chance hitching a ride. It was eight miles home, uphill, then another mile for me down to the farm, and in sometimes below freezing weather. I can remember getting a ride once. Once! The rest of the time, we walked. Fingers freezing, even with gloves on. And, only two or three cars passing us for the entire walk!
Back to some schemes… Jean worked for Alpha Portland Cement Co., and one of the perks of the job was virtually all the cement an employee needed for home use and construction, free! So, Jean decided to go into the decorative concrete block building business. (I am sitting here laughing out loud as I type.) Somewhere (never disclosed) he managed to get a truckload of cast iron molds for the manufacture of concrete blocks. Each side of a mold must have weighed forty pounds, and there were dozens of them, and I had to load and unload these things on and off our truck and carry them into the barn (where they couldn’t be seen or someone might steal them), where they remained unused until the barn burned down years later. They may still be there, buried in the rocky, impenetrable earth, waiting for some archeologist to unearth a thousand years from now, and conclude that the site was a concrete block business. We never mixed a single batch of concrete, never made one decorative concrete block. All those millions of dollars slipped through our fingers. Maybe, at least it will spur some thought among scientists about what these ancient people who created these glyphs were like.
The mushroom plant… Mushroom growers thrived along the Hudson Valley in the 1940’s and 50’s, and they were all multi-millionaires… and, it was easy money. Just build mushroom beds in the old barn and grow mushrooms. Simple. All we needed was some dirt and some lumber. Two by fours, two by tens, two by twelves. Lumber. Lots of it, and preferably free. That is, at no cost. But where to harvest a great amount of free, ready cut, ready to build lumber? The answer required a search of Jean Hervey’s vast knowledge of area history. Where might there be a reserve of unused lumber “free” for the acquiring?
As luck may have it, there was extant an old abandoned saw mill on the side of the South Mountain halfway up Route 23A between Palenville and Haines Falls. Legend had it that there was a stockpile of cut lumber still there. The reason it was still there is because none of the local thieves were willing to go to the trouble of hauling it out of there one board at a time. No one, that is, except an enterprising entrepreneur who knew the value of a bargain when he saw it. And “free” was a good thing.
The boards must have weighed fifty to sixty pounds or more each, two by tens, fifteen feet long, rough cut, all warped to some degree and loaded with splinters. Picture the scene… near the recently washed out mountain road, a steep precipice, almost a vertical drop down to the creek over boulders, across the fast running water on slippery rocks or through the water itself, then a vertical climb up through the heavily forested mountain on the other side to the old saw mill, extricate a board from weeds and vines. They’re difficult to balance and carry down the mountain and up the creekside to the truck, so after a brief learning experience, we double up the load. We carry two at a time, me in front and Jean in the rear. Picture that, one hundred and fifty pounds of splinters, swearing and slipping and sliding down and up and across the rocky creek to the truck, which was illegally parked all the while we engaged in the enterprise. How we never encountered a State Trooper is beyond my understanding.
We had to make a few trips to reap the harvest, but when we were done there was nothing left at the sawmill for posterity. Back at the farm, my job was to hoist these mothers one at a time up into and onto the top rafters in the barn, where they waited patiently for the mushroom plant building to begin, where they waited patiently along with the two by fours described below until the barn burned to the ground, with nary one little button mushroom to show for the effort.
Another local legend was that there was a horde of two by fours sitting at the site of an abandoned chicken farm just waiting for someone to claim them, once again up the side of the South Mountain. We made our way cautiously up an old gravel wood road alongside a rather small cliff – only an eight or ten foot drop over the gravelly edge - with Jean’s favorite workhorse, his ancient Allis-Chalmers tractor, with a homemade trailer of welded pieces of angle iron from unknown sources hitched thereto. Low and behold, there were neatly stacked piles of weathered two by fours with our name written all over them and a big imaginary sign saying, “take us, we’re free!” Our very own personal Home Depot. So we loaded up and took the first load home. Once again, I stacked our fortuitously-gotten gains up in the rafters of the barn, unwittingly creating a majestic funeral pyre of schemes yet to come.
Back up to the chicken farm for an encore. This time, the gravel in the wood road was too loose and the ascent too steep for the tractor to get traction. The trailer was the straw that broke the Chalmers’ back. I had to lift it up and unhook the lynchpin while Jean eased up on the tension. It worked just fine. The trailer was loose, the Chalmers lurched forward, and I got my right arm caught under the tow bar and the trailer headed downhill over the cliff, dragging me along with it, my elbow ploughing a furrow through the gravel, just as neat as in a farmer’s field, and over the edge we went. Thankfully, the trailer wedged itself between the cliff and a young sapling growing out of the shale halfway down, and I was hanging free. Had a nice gravel rash and gouge in my forearm from my elbow to my wrist, but I was alive. Another small miracle in the overall scheme of things in our adventures. Did I mention that Jean laughed and laughed! It was hysterical!
And then there was the cabins scheme, designed to attract the resort trade. Once again, from some undisclosed abandoned location, this time I think it was a campsite, Jean acquired some old ‘log’ cabins, about five or six. He may have actually bought them. This was fifty years ago. Somehow, he jackassed these things on a flatbed truck and unloaded them in the oak forest facing our million dollar view of the mountains. The scheme… to rent them and make a pile of money, as usual. Then came the fun… digging the well. Only the plan was not to dig it with shovels. Because of a high water table, Jean got the genius idea of blasting the well, as in blasting with dynamite. Real dynamite. Dynamite from another unnamed, undisclosed source. (I think it was against the law to possess or explode dynamite at the time, or blasting caps, of which we had a generous quantity and which were a lot of fun to set off in the yard. If asked, I shall deny all knowledge of this portion of the scheme.) So, after dowsing the most advantageous location, Jean and his ‘team’ of demolition experts planted a generous number of sticks of dynamite in the hole, covered them with hundreds of pounds of shale (to reflect the blast downward), lit a slow burning fuse (we had those too, and yes, we tested them to make sure they were ‘slow’ burning fuses), and ducked behind nearby trees and boulders. The blast went off with a bang. A really, really, big BANG! Raining for a hundred yard radius, those hundreds of pounds of shale and an additional ton of earth and rocks, leaving a crater deep enough to bury the cabin that had, until that moment, been nestled anonymously within the zone of death. After the ears stopped ringing and the team dusted off the shards of shale, the laughter began, and they laughed and laughed. Hysterical! But, no water. Did I mention that he never hooked up water or electricity or plumbing to any of the surviving cabins? And none of them were ever occupied? Not even by itinerant homeless wandering vagabonds? Nobody! Maybe chipmunks. And, like so many of his real estate enterprises, the cabins all eventually stooped and sagged and collapsed under the weight of the seasons. Vestiges of a moss-covered roof can still be identified among the ancient oaks that shelter the blast test site.
The Bees. It had to be the middle to late 50’s. Carrie and Don Whateley were living with Jean and Doris on the farm; Carrie was either pregnant with Speedy or he was newborn. Don worked on construction in Vermont; he left in the dark and came home in the dark.
Somehow or somewhere, as per usual, Jean came home with a beehive or two and all the equipment to extract honey from the hives. Another scheme of pure, unadulterated genius! Let the thousands of bees do the work; we gather up the fruit of their labor. Free! The magic word again!
We had the hats, the nets, the smokers, the extracting machine, which was nothing more than a galvanized garbage can and a centrifugal device that was powered by a hand crank (my hand) and a small-geared transmission. The honey combs were sheared of the protective wax with a heated spatula, placed vertically in the extractor and spun, very fast, until all the honey flowed out of their perfectly hexagonal cells and into the bottom of the garbage can which was drained periodically and the honey preserved in sterile jars. Easy money. Except you needed a lot of bees to get a lot of honey and we were suddenly out of suppliers. The grand plan of the bees was to refill the combs, which were dutifully replaced back into the hives. But it took a while. It takes a lot of bee spit to fill a jar of honey. Fall was coming, and bees needed blossoming flowers and trees for pollen.
Once again, the gods of resources and desperation were looking over Jean Hervey’s shoulder. Word arrived that The Catskill Mountain Bee & Honey Farm was going out of business and liquidating its assets, which as luck would have it, included about 100,000 workers, all unemployed, willing to work for food, undocumented, but better than aliens. So Jean and Don became partners in this newest of enterprises. They now owned The Catskill Mountain Bee & Honey Farm.
We spent days carting the hives back to the farm. First, controlling the bees, coaxing them into the hives, closing off their entrances, jackassing the hives onto the truck, me sitting up there to make sure they didn’t tip over during the journey, all of us getting stung. Back at the farm, unloading, placing hives at strategic locations around various farms with pollen rich blossom potential the following season. A grand scheme. We couldn’t count all the money we were going to make. So, how was the honey harvest the following year, you might ask? There wasn’t any. Someone in charge forgot to insulate the hives for the particularly brutal winter in store that year and the poor bees all froze to death. The hives were abandoned, graciously donated to the farmers wherever situated.
Apple Jack. The honey business took place in the cellar, a typical old, damp, 200 year old farmhouse cellar. I had a lot of winter fun down there at night, shooting rats and field mice with .22 birdshot and a flashlight. We also skinned and cleaned our wild game, the muskrats I trapped, and - the big event of the Fall – making applejack.
As usual, Jean knew of an abandoned farm (with the typical house about to fall down) and a small apple orchard. The apples were abundant and ripe for the picking. So, off we went with bushel baskets and burlap bags to gather up the drops for apple cider and lug to a local cider mill to be pressed. And did we ever have cider. Barrels full. The sweetest cider imaginable, pure unadulterated, unpasteurized (and nobody ever got sick). We couldn’t drink it all, we had so much. Eventually, it produced another famous by-product - hard cider, which was enjoyed by the local privileged few. Then before the hard cider turned to vinegar, we distilled it into its essence – applejack, almost pure alcohol, potent stuff, as strong as Laird’s, the stuff you buy for big bucks. We had a cute little copper still powered by propane gas burner, with a copper coil coming out of the top, coiling around and down through a bucket of ice and dripping its precious liquor into waiting gallon jugs. And we had lots of gallons of the stuff. (One year we did the same with a harvest of cherries – pure, crystal clear cherry brandy!)
Jean took a batch of frozen applejack (actually, it was more like slush, a Slurpie®, if you will) to work one night to share with the repair gang on his shift. They had some orange juice on hand, and they made screwdrivers with it (they actually stirred the mix with screwdrivers, I was told). Great going down, a little on the cold side, but it took their breath away just right. Then the cramps set in; then the howling and screaming and the prolific passing of gas and then suddenly, things took a turn for the worse, and the boys started trotting, and trotting, and the trotting didn’t stop until all the King’s horses had fallen exhausted at the finish line, in pain, drenched in the effluent of the night’s libation, praying for death. And Cursing Jean Hervey. This story became the basis for “Why Boys Shouldn’t Drink Apple Jack”, Chapter 16 in The Gunns Of Montague.
And then there were the properties bought at tax sales, the genius idea of our oldest brother. The idea, naturally, was to make a bundle of money, buying for pennies, reselling for thousands. Fifty years later, it could be reviewed as an exercise in academics. There was no money to be had, only bother. Two examples stand out in my memory. One cozy little cottage in Coxsackie, which Jean sold to some poor unfortunate soul for a pittance, and no money down. Jean took back a purchase money mortgage for the full purchase price. The poor buyer had no money, after all, and Jean Hervey, being the generous person that he was, took pity on the wretch. The reason the wretch had no money was because he was a ne’er-do-well and never had any money, or employment, or hope of employment, or desire for employment. So the mortgage went unpaid, never made one payment, for years and years until one day I learned of the fiasco and asked him why he didn’t foreclose on the mortgage and at least rescue his investment. “The house fell down,” he said. It just fell down. It wasn’t there any more. Just a vacant lot not worth paying the taxes on, so it went to someone else for unpaid taxes, some enterprising entrepreneur, just like Jean and our genius oldest brother. The other moneymaker was a frame house here in Catskill on Division Street. Same story, same ending; only this house he just rented. Until it too, fell down. I found out when I asked him the address; I wanted to look at it. “It’s not there any more,” he said. “What happened?” I asked. “It fell down,” he said. Another vacant lot he would lose for unpaid taxes. Since I was a little kid, I have watched with amazement this local phenomenon, houses just ‘falling down’. Amazing!
Then there was the hotdog van. Yep, the scheme this time was to make and vend sandwiches to construction sites or just roadside rest areas. Fully set up with sink, stove, fridge, shelving. Only the engine was shot. It was a gasoline engine and at the time Jean was engaged in the wholesale and retail propane gas business (another story), so he figured that rather than rebuild the gas engine, he would buy a propane gas conversion kit and convert the engine himself in his spare time. (He was an excellent mechanic, by the way.) So he did, hour after spare hour, week after week for the entire roadside rest – sandwich season, until winter set in and his interest waned and he sold the truck to another entrepreneur for what he had paid for it, not including the cost of his labor.
Which was a happier ending than the time he took it upon himself to rebuild a chainsaw. Taking hours from start to finish, dismantling and replacing ring, valve, plug, timing mechanism, filing each individual saw tooth to surgical sharpness. Then pulling the starter cord to kick it off and get busy cutting up that load of firewood waiting for the stove. Crank, crank, crank, for what seemed more hours, cursing all the while, until finally his patience, which had already been stretched to the limits by the nature of the project got to him and he hauled off and threw the chainsaw about a hundred feet in the air and it came down breaking into all its component parts and he stormed off cursing all sorts of bugaboos. I didn’t say a word.
But the junkyard was his crowning glory. Not to denigrate his foresight, but his inspiration and model, and that of Buddy Praetorius, was Post Brothers Auto Parts, which made a fortune during and after the Korean War (the one that was after Jean). There was more money to be made in junk cars and used parts than could be spent. That dream came true. New car dealers were plagued with trade-ins of pre-war cars, 30’s and 40’s, that represented nothing to them but a problem. Little resale value; lot of wasted space. P&H would buy up all the used cars that the local dealers had lying around, virtually unsellable, for as little as ten dollars each, twenty at a time. My job was to steer the cars home behind Jean or Buddy, who towed. My major concern was not to try and run a red light. I still didn’t have a license. Another interesting aside – one night a car ran off the road in front of the farm. I walked down to investigate the commotion and flashing lights to find a family friendly New York State Trooper in control of the scene. He told me to get the tow truck and pull the car out of the ditch. I said I didn’t have a license. He said, “I don’t give a goddamn, get the truck and tow this guy out of here.” So I did. And I made a small towing fee in the bargain. Such was life in the country back then.
It didn’t take long to build an inventory of a few hundred cadavers lined up just waiting for desperate organ donees. And there were lots of them. In the 50’s, upscale employment was scarce. IBM was not yet even whispered about. Farm labor paid fifty cents an hour. When someone with a ten-year-old car needed a radiator or brake cylinder or a spare tire, they couldn’t afford a new one. P&H Auto Wreckers had the solution. The bucks added up to a lot of money. I could actually rebuild brake cylinders and carburetors (ever hear of them), weld with an electric arc welder and cut with an acetylene torch. My supply of personal cars was endless. I traveled with four spare tires in the trunk. All bald. There was no such thing as inspection in New York yet. I had a black 1947 Chevy coupe once that broke down in Allentown, Pennsylvania. I rolled it down the street to a local junk yard, took off the plates, hitched a ride home, got another duplicate black 1947 Chevy coupe, put the plates on it and ran it until it, too, stopped. Never bothered to change the registration. Why bother? It was a mere formality, after all.
The dream waned over the ensuing decade. People could afford to buy new cars, and the market for used parts on our old car inventory dwindled. Around 1958 or ’59, I can no longer remember the date, but I can recall vividly the incident. Jean established a new business with longtime friend, Lou Pilatich, “The West Athens Scrap Iron & Metal Corp.” to capitalize on the enormous amount of scrap lying around Greene County backyards and driveways. Buy more old cars; cut them up along with the existing yard cars, load on railroad freight trains and ship to refineries for recycling. A great idea. They leased a New York Central Railroad siding for ninety-nine years, complete with a cute little station house and a big, old-fashioned safe (to hold all the money), a big commercial scale and a future of nothing but big bucks. They were ready to go. Only as luck would have it, bad luck that is, the bottom of the scrap iron market fell out literally on the day they signed that ninety-nine year lease. Suddenly, the cost of oxygen and acetylene and the labor to cut up the scrap cars cost more than the recycled scrap iron would bring. And the market did not recover for many, many years. They were lucky to be able to squeak out of their lease and maintain financial solvency. But that was the end of the dream.
Along the way, there were lots of amusing episodes, however, as you the reader may gather. And lots of amusing characters. One of my favorites was Danny Malone.
I’m not sure where he came from, could have come up from North Bergen with the rest of us, but he had no difficulty fitting in. Danny was a firm believer in marriage. He had a lot of ex-wives around. And bill collectors looking for him. But Danny had a quality that I could not help but admire. Nothing bothered him. Nothing! He was the most easygoing, friendly pal you could hope for. Never an unkind word uttered. Always there when you needed help. Give you the shirt off his back. A lot like my brother. Big, potentially dangerous, but gentle in his heart. We did a lot of adventuring together.
When I say that nothing bothered Danny, I offer the following anecdote. With the advent of television, naturally, there was a plethora of TV’s that didn’t work, maybe needed a tube or something. Danny figured he’d capitalize on the scarcity, the vacuum, if you will, of qualified TV repairmen in Palenville and opened up a TV repair shop next to the Pine Grove Hotel. Almost as soon as he opened the doors, people were bringing in their old TV’s for repair. He was overwhelmed with opportunity. Months later, when people began to call and inquire when their TV was going to be ready, he decided to go out of business, with the same enthusiasm and thoughtfulness with which he started the business. He called everyone who left a TV and told them to come and pick it up. When they got to the shop, the floor was strewn with parts, tubes and resistors and various other electronic components of everyone’s TV’s and he told them all to pick out whatever was theirs and take it away. He didn’t know how to put anything back together. Was he bothered? Not one whit! But he didn’t charge anyone either. He was an honest man.
My favorite Danny and Jean story took place in the summer of 1959. Danny was in the market for a car and Jean Hervey had that car, a 1947 Plymouth four-door sedan. It was one of twenty that we towed home from a dealer in Kingston at a cost of ten dollars. Jean sold it to Danny for fifty bucks, which Danny didn’t have. He seldom did. So Jean let him have it on credit. Easy. Pay me when you get it. The very next day, Danny pulls into the yard towing a boat, an outboard, complete with motor. It was a 1938 era ‘Tomahawk’, a very unstable boat built like a canoe, a narrow beam and pointy. “Come on, let’s take it for a ride on the river,” he said. So we piled into the Plymouth and we were off.
Discussion followed about the finances of buying boats, like how did you manage to pay for the boat when you didn’t have any money for the car? Answer – I used the car as collateral and took out a bank loan through the dealer to pay for the boat and motor and trailer. Great! What a deal, Jean and I agree. Danny was a genius when it came to money.
We get to the Hop-O-Nose Marina on the Catskill Creek, and we ask about putting the boat in the water. Well, it turns out that you can get a free cradle lift into the creek if you lease a docking berth for the summer. This being the start of the summer boating season and the dock rent only five dollars a month, we (we) jumped at the opportunity. Only Danny didn’t have the five bucks for the first month’s rent - but I did. So, Jean and I and Danny became instant partners. After all, it was Jean’s Plymouth that made it all possible.
After a day on the river, and nearly capsizing the boat because of its narrow beam and inability to take a sharp turn or permit us to stand up and pee off the side, Danny decided that he needed a new boat, so back to the marina, up in the sling and onto the trailer again and back to the dealer he and I went for a new boat. A brand new boat, with a new trailer and a much bigger motor.
I speak of this now from firsthand knowledge. I was there. We actually traded in the old boat and trailer and motor, fully encumbered and unpaid for, for a new $1,300 outboard runabout, seating four in plush leather-like seats, using the old boat and the Plymouth, once again (the fifty dollar unpaid for Plymouth) as collateral. We waited while they installed the hardware on the boat. It was so new that it hadn’t gotten onto the sales floor yet. And we drove off. With a brand new boat. No money changed hands. Danny signed some pesky legal forms, which he regarded as a mere formality. Before we left, Danny decided that we should have an extra gas can on board, just in case, and for another five dollars, I became a full partner in the adventure. So far, Danny’s cash outlay – nothing!
Back to the marina, up in the sling, back in the water and we’re out on the river going like hell, having a rip-roaring time. As partners, we all enjoyed equal time using the boat, which turned out to be lots of time. The only problem was buying the gas. Money was tight. Danny was unemployed. I was unemployed. That summer, as a matter of fact, I charged all my gas and when I went back to Muhlenberg Jean paid the bill. But I did look for work; I think I actually worked for a few weeks at the cement plant until I was canned. Could have been my attitude.
I met a sweet young blonde up from the city that summer and we had a great time. She had never been on a speedboat in her life, so I imagine it was quite a thrill for her. We did a lot of recreating out there on the river, under the Rip Van Winkle Bridge, in broad daylight, doing some serious sunbathing, etc., as insatiable nature intended.
That summer ended, as others have before and since, with fond memories of many, many moments in the sun. The marina finally pulled out the boat after repeated attempts to find the guy who rented the dock space after paying for only one month’s rent. The finance company repossessed the boat after exactly no monthly payments had been made on the loan, and who knows what actually happened to it or about it. I was gone. Nobody knew that Jean was involved and he had no legal liability in any event. Where Danny was, nobody knew or wasn’t telling. Jean never got a dime for the Plymouth and didn’t care. And Danny? Did I mention that nothing ever bothered Danny Malone? Nothing!
The sad downside of a rather sensible project, not just a scheme, was planting a vineyard, growing grapes, producing wine. Jean had a small arbor of grapes in his garden. Jacob Bittlingmeyer, a displaced Austrian and reluctant former conscripted servant of the Wehrmacht and POW of the Russians in WWII did the annual trimming, a lost art. But Jean thought big; he was a big thinker. He saw acres of vineyards thriving in the rocky shale, so he set upon the task. This was in 1985.
A few years earlier, I had become acquainted through Louie Pilatich with one Henry Paley, a charming man. He and his wife had bought property along the Hudson and were renovating. My life-long friend Ralph Brescia was the architect on the project. Hank was also a viticulturist, and had just completed or was still planting vines on the side of the slope parallel to the river just like those along the Rhine in Deutschland, when he suffered a fatal heart attack. I was shocked; he seemed to be robust and the picture of health.
The summer of 1985. Gabriella had just turned sixteen and we were going to Europe for a few weeks. But first, we had some family business to pursue, a day trip to Brandon, Vermont with Jean to locate graves of our ancestors. We found Great-gr-gr-gr-grandmother, Abigail Robbins Carver behind the First Congregational Church with some of her children, our aunts and uncles and cousins, but that was all. Then we took another day trip to Philadelphia to find Aunt Aurelia; there she rested in the Mount Vernon cemetery with first husband, Charles Harkness and a purported son, Edwin Palmer. On the way back home, we paid our respects to our father and his father, Virgil Temple Hervey, and our grandmother, who is buried in her second husband’s family plot, the Zimmermans. Jean stood before the headstone and read it aloud, “Tizzerman, Tizzerman,” he repeated. Well, ‘Tizzerman’ is not ‘Zimmerman’, and Gabe and I screamed. Laugh! We thought it was hysterical.
The next day, sitting across from Jean at his kitchen table, he rubbed the fingers of his right hand and kept saying, “My fingers are all tingly.” But it didn’t stop. He rubbed and rubbed; the tingling didn’t stop. He was exhibiting the early signs of a stroke and we didn’t realize it. Nothing was done. No precautions taken; no rush to the hospital. No thought given to it at all. We landed in Paris on Bastille Day, July 14, and Jean suffered the stroke on July 17, 1985 and lived paralyzed on the right side of his body for twenty years. He wasn’t expected to live. He wasn’t expected to survive pneumonia as an infant, either. But he did. Jean Hervey was a survivor. I often wonder if he would have survived the last stoke had I had the foresight to demand that he be taken to Albany Medical Center where, I later learned, they had a Stroke Center with Neurologists on staff, instead of that useless Columbia Greene Memorial Hospital where he died on January 21, 2006.
What is the connection between these two sad anecdotes? The vineyards. Both of these creative, seemingly healthy, active, forward-looking imaginative men were looking to the future by planting grapevines, to some a symbol of eternal life, their fruit and their wine, gifts of the gods, a miracle of the earth and its bountiful plenty, celebrations of rites of passage over the millennia. And both of their dreams came to an abrupt, tragic end.
I can see the label on the boutique wine bottles that never were to be, with the 1947 Chevy tow truck sitting next to the barn, - “Jean Hervey’s Junkyard Red”.
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