The Old Men of the Mountain by John R. Williams
On Tuesday, the 2nd day of July, the Old Men of the Mountain met at the Hilltown Cafe in Rensselaerville. Up in the Helderbergs, like the OFs imagine around most of the Hilltowns, driving can be a challenge at times. This morning the OFs complained about the drizzle and the fog with one OF missing his turn because he could not see through the patch of fog and he became lost for a spell. Most of the OFs ran into the same situation ─ fog, drizzle, rain, clear then repeat, then repeat the repeat. Still in all many made it to the Hilltown Cafe and filled it up.
The banter was fast and went from one topic to another, starting with barn cats and farm animals, to how many miles waitresses and waiters put on their shoes running back and forth to kitchen cabinets and counter tops, to airplanes, to the sugar-added coal tar called syrup, and the real stuff from the maple tree, to gardens, hearing aids, snakes and turtles, whales and dolphins, to the design of the newer cars, and getting old. Now all this scribe needs to do is expound on these without getting wordy.
The OFs that had farms had barn cats. Lots of barn cats, and no mice, or if there were any they didn’t last long. Sliding back the stable door in the morning especially in the fall, winter and early spring all the animals would start to stir with the sound. The cows lying down would start to stand and the cats that would sleep on a particular cow, generally at the back hip or right on top would jump down, and the others would show up from their own hiding place in the barn, and gather for their morning ration of warm, fresh milk.
One OF mentioned that he can’t remember ever feeding the cats anything, just the morning and evening milk. Most of these cats were untouchable; a few were friendly and could be petted. Sometimes, one OF said, his Mom would pick a couple out for pets, and they were house cats but again not fed anything like cat food…they ate what the dogs ate…scraps and mice.
The OFs also discussed the way the cats were taken care of when they became injured, or had distemper, or how most of the animals that became incapacitated were dealt with. It was humane, and done with a considerable amount of sadness, but in many cases prevented the spread of certain diseases. Today every farmer would be arrested.
In the spring and in the fall the turtles migrated from one place to another. Many of the OFs have watched some of these migrations for years. A couple OFs said they have pictures of snapping turtles that must be 14 to 16 inches across but they are not going to monkey with these things to find out if they are 14 and 3/4 or 16 and 1/2. Two of these critters are so old they are green with mold on the top of their shells. One OF said that there is one that crosses the road going from a winter swamp, to a summer pond and this sucker is huge. The neighbors and this OF have stood on either side of the turtle and stopped traffic until he/she is able to complete this part of his/her journey. The turtle ambles halfway across the road and has to stop before continuing on; the road crossing takes at least 15 minutes.
Trying to alter the direction of a box turtle, or any other turtle is fruitless. They just turn around and proceed in the direction they chose. One OF said he saw one head toward a swampy area, and the turtle was out in the blazing sun so the OF picked it up and took it to where he thought it was headed in the swampy area and put it down and left it. He came back, he said, in a couple of hours and there was the same turtle in the blazing sun a few feet from where he picked it up still headed in the direction of the swampy area. Go figure.
The OFs don’t know how much of this is just coincidence in each separate encounter with these creatures or if that is true with all of them because one OF said he found the same thing happens with snakes ─ not just one but quite a few. This OF said his wife did not like snakes up around the house and he said he did not want to kill them because they were so helpful to the environment, so he would gather them up put them in his pocket or in a backpack and take them about a mile or so away and let them go in a hedgerow. The OF said no matter how many he hauled away they still had snakes.
One day the OF saw a snake head for the stone steps leading to his house, so he grabbed at it and missed. On the second grab he was quite a ways to the back of the snake and the major portion of the snake was in the hole. The OF said those suckers can pull, but he pulled harder and the tail broke so now the snake had a Z shaped tail. The OF took it and let it go where he generally let the others go. Two days later what is going down that same hole? The snake with the broken tail. “No wonder I couldn’t get rid of them,” the OF said, “They just kept coming back.”
The OF talked about countertops, and the new craze of granite or stone or concrete countertops. All the OFs that were in on the discussion advised against using this type of countertop. Two of the OFs said not only did the contractor advise against it when remodeling their kitchen but so did the supplier. One OF said when they were doing their kitchen they were at the supplier looking at the granite displays they had and the kitchen designer hesitated, and said she would gladly sell the OF the granite because it was a lot more money but she did not think the OF would be happy with it. In this case the contractor said the same thing.
One OF said they were advised against getting these glass top stoves, by again the contractor and the supplier. Hmm. Do they know something the rest of us don’t?
One OF said his countertop is tile that he did himself, with his own design breaking pieces of tile, and grouting them in. Some of the OFs are more talented than others.
Those OFs that attended the breakfast at the Hilltown Cafe in Rensselaerville, and always attempt to find their way home, even from Rensselaerville, were: Frank Pauli, Harold Guest, John Rossmann, Robie Osterman, Bill Krause, Bob Benac, Art Frament, Jay Taylor, Herb Swabota, Steve McDermott, Roger Fairchild, Dave Williams, Miner Stevens, Roger Chapman, Lou Schenck, Mace Porter, Gary Porter, Jack Norray, Ken Hughes, Steve Kelly, Roger Shafer, Bill Rice, Henry Whipple, Duane Wagenbaugh, Ted Willsey, Bill Lassome, Rich Donnelly, Mike Willsey, Elwood Vanderbilt, Harold Grippen, Gerry Chartier, and me.