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Greene History Notes: Memories of my boyhood

Durham Center Museum. The one room school that Vernon Haskins attended is on the left.
November 5, 2019 10:39 am

A busy week for me. Therefore I have decided to offer an entertaining reprint of a newspaper piece that has not seen the light of day for over 60 years. It was written by the late Vernon Haskins (1904–1985), founder and curator of the Durham Center Museum. For many years Haskins wrote a newspaper column called “Yesteryear” which appeared weekly in the “Coxsackie Union News,” “Examiner Recorder” and “The Middleburg News.”

Memories of My Boyhood

By Vernon Haskins

There is something about these cool crisp autumn mornings that bring back fond memories of yesteryear. That blasted alarm clock used to ‘sound off’ at an early hour. You would stick a foot out from under the patchwork quilts to sort of test the atmosphere, and then quickly draw it back in again.

Finally, you managed to shiver into your clothes and find your way down to the kitchen. In a little while a fire would be crackling in the old kitchen range and life seemed worth living again.

One of my pleasant memories is of those stacks of golden pancakes and sizzling sausage that ‘fired our boilers’ and started the day. Wild honey from that bee tree, some real maple syrup, a generous coating of butter, and a pancake was food for a king.

It used to be one of my boyhood jobs to get the cows in from the pasture each morning and night for milking. Barefooted, I used to trudge over the hill toward High Rock to the faraway pasture. It seemed as though the cows were always in the back corner every time. My feet were often almost numb from the cold and what a pleasure it was to stand in the warm spot vacated by a cow.

Sometimes I think those cows tried to hide from me in those pre-dawn hours. The tinkle of a cow bell usually was a give-away. When an old owl would hoot in the adjacent woods or a fox give his awesome bark from the hillside, it would have scared a city kid half to death, but us country boys were used to such things.

We boys used to have a sort of contest each year. Each spring we tried to beat the other to the first swim at the old swimming hole. In the fall we tried to outdo the other in going barefooted the latest in the season. Wonder we didn’t die of ‘pew-mownie,’ but we rarely got even the sniffles.

Later on in the season, we sort of got the urge to do a bit of trapping. Skunks were our main catch and we were not always too welcome at school after a session with the skinning knife and the stretching boards. Wonder what would happen to a boy today if he came into one of our modern schools smelling a bit strong after a trapping expedition?

Yes, we had our trials and tribulations back then too, but I’ll be doggoned if I don’t believe that we were a lot more contented. The kids today have everything, yet do not seem to be more satisfied. The grown-ups seem that way too. Seems like we are always trying to outdo the other guy. Maybe it is better, but sometimes I wonder. Peace of mind and contentment are some things that are mighty rare today.

To reach columnist David Dorpfeld, e-mail or visit him on Facebook at “Greene County Historian.”