It was an unusually hot day that day. Rainy with high winds coming in off Lake George from the Southwest. At 82 Degrees, everyone knew this would be a scorcher…Mid May in Hague New York, generally speaking, didn’t see the mid 80’s.
The year was 1930, and in spite of the rain filled skies, Calista Streeter was giving birth to one of her 21 Children.
Streeter Hill sits calmly above a commanding view of Lake George. You can scan from the Islands on the North almost to the Islands in the South. It’s impressive, but in 1930 no one was thinking about the view.
The Nation was in the grip of the Great Depression. Large families were the norm back then, but even still, 21 was a BIG family.
They lived in a house that had three bedrooms, and zero indoor plumbing of ANY kind. The old outhouse stood off the north side of the home, just down three wooden steps from the porch that wrapped around two sides.
Walter Streeter was there. He welcomed another son to the family, had some dinner, and then walked down the hill in search of some liquid refreshment. As usual, he managed to find it.
My Father, Robert Sr., was the chosen one, at least THAT day. It would be the last of his “chosen” days for a number of years to come. He would be chosen, again, in the 8th Grade, to quit school and find work to help support the family. That would be the end of his formal education.
Many times, he would be chosen, to wander down the hill in search of HIS father…inevitably ensconced on a bar stool, assuming he could still sit upright. Many nights it fell to the younger man to make sure the elder got home safely.
There would come challenges. There would be long days of hot labor, and later, as he got older, the labor simply got harder. Thousands of hundred pound bags of Soda Ash from train to mill, slung over both shoulders.
He would find his happiness in a community 10 miles away, where he would live out his days with the love of his life, Anne.
He called her Netta, as her real name was Annetta. She called him Robert, and together they built a life and a family, of which I had the great good fortune to be a part of.
He would be 89 this day, had not his heart given out on him in September of 1980, at the age of 50.
A mentor to many, a father figure to just as many, and a towering, funny, happy go lucky guy, just pleased as punch to be in a place he loved with the people he loved.
He was not, as I have written in the past, someone to trifle with. Quick with a gentle hand, he could be equally intolerant of certain things. You didn’t mess with his family, you didn’t break the rules, one of which was to be a Gentleman at ALL times. Speaking back to your mother, for instance, brought instant justice in the form of a firm hand on your backside.
As I grew older and perhaps even less smart, he also grew older and much wiser. His insights, gentleness, kindness and friendship, meant that almost everyone he met became a friend, and they remembered him then, as they do now.
An unforgettable human, and yet a simple man mad of sterner stuff. He could be quiet and unassuming, but he could make you laugh until there was no laughing left inside you. He had that unique ability to just tip his head to you, and you KNEW that you mattered to him.
I remember going off to war. It was my time and my place. We never argued about it, it was a generally accepted principle that we would all have a turn. We sat on the rock on Streeter Hill, looking out over that same view as the day he was born there, and he gave me perhaps the best advice I’ve ever gotten.
“Keep your head down. Pay attention to what you’re told. Listen to people who know what they’re doing, and ignore the ones who don’t. Don’t be stupid and come home safe.”
He was a bit more “colorful” with his words, but that was the general gist of it all.
I did come home, and we sat together, on that same old rock, a few more times over the years. I think it somehow became “OUR” spot. The place where the elder held court, and the junior paid attention and learned.
As the years unwound, I have now lived 15 years longer than “the man” did. He will ALWAYS be THE MAN, and no other could ever replace him.
I probably only miss him when I breathe, and I really only need his advice a hundred times a month or so.
May 22nd was rainy again this year. Not as hot, but rainy.
And often. Very often. I ponder the logic in WHY a man with such GREAT answers to questions untold, left us all so soon.
Happy Birthday Dad.