Today I would like to share some memories about Greene County passed on to us by Rubén García (1911-1994). García was a dancer, actor, community organizer, teacher, historian and an important person in Greene County for many years. I could write a whole column or two about García’s life, but today I want to focus on his first introduction to Greene County. In her book “Two Lives, Many Dances” by his only child and daughter Francesca García Pratten, she gives us in his own words, García’s first impressions of spending time here.
García was born in Puerto Rico and his family moved to East Harlem in New York City when he was two years old. His father ran a cigar store where Rubén helped out when he got older. One summer between his junior and senior years in high school while working in his father’s store he discovered an ad in the paper titled “Boy Wanted: Pick cherries on farm in Round Top, NY.” The ad went on to instruct interested parties to write to Stony Brook Farm in Round Top.
After gaining his parents’ (Papi and Mami) permission, Rubén wrote to the farm and waited for a response. He says the wait was agonizing, but finally a response was received. He got the job. He was to take the Day Liner to Catskill on Sunday July 4th, two days hence. In the letter was a check for $5 to be used to buy work clothes and pay his passage on the Day Liner. The letter said he would have Sundays off and he would get room and board plus $5 every two weeks.
Rubén boarded the Day Liner on Sunday as instructed. It was to be his first time away from home on his own. During the trip he wandered around the boat. A few observations: “I saw many amazing sights. There was a band playing, and there was a large dining room serving meals (Mami had packed his lunch). I passed small compartments, most of them empty. They had seats, very much like compartments on a train, but each room had a balcony facing the river. I was sure they were very expensive and thought that would be a nice private way to travel.”
On the boat to Catskill Rubén gets his first view of the Catskill Mountains. He says: “Suddenly I saw the mountains. I could hardly believe my eyes. I hurriedly…ran to the top of the deck. The heat no longer mattered. My heart was touched and I was almost moved to tears seeing mountains, so majestic, and so blue and green. I had only seen them in pictures and that did not do them justice. I clung to the rail, mesmerized, just taking the panorama in.”
When the boat got to Catskill, García nervously disembarked. He felt quite lost until a man approached him and asked if he was going to the Swartz Farm in Round Top. He said “Yes” and “My suitcase was whisked out of my hand and I was taken to a cab that was waiting at the entrance to the dock. I was the only passenger. The taxi was black, old and rickety, but at least I didn’t have to walk…I had no idea where or how far away Round Top was, so I asked. ‘It will take us a while, young man, take us a while,’ the driver said, not giving a clear answer.”
García tells of passing through the Village of Catskill, Leeds, South Cairo and finally Cairo. The driver explained that Cairo was pronounced K-row, not Cairo like in Egypt. Rubén says of his arrival in Cairo and the view: “I could hardly believe how close we were as the mountains rose to the sky right before my eyes.”
In Cairo Rubén’s driver turned left and headed for Round Top on a road that twisted and turned as it ascended the mountains. He thought: “I could never find my back on my own…I could hardly believe I was here and felt like I was in a fairy tale.”
Finally Rubén and his driver reached Stony Brook Farm. He describes his first impression as: “There were trees and grass everywhere. It was like living in Central Park.” He was shown to a small room off the kitchen where he would sleep for the next six weeks. He says: “We ate dinner, and since it was Sunday and late, there was no work to do. I would be shown around the farm and told what my duties were in the morning. Dinner was different than I was used to. No rice and beans. I was amazed! They had mashed potatoes! I went to bed early just as darkness fell.”
More of Rubén García’s great adventure next week. For those interested in Francesca Pratten’s book, it is available at the Greene County Council of the Arts on Main Street in Catskill.