Tuesday, September 4, 2018

A Good Name

The Rising Hotel, Lake George, Hague, NY

The morning sun cleared the top of the wooded hill to the east of the stable, sending  fingers of light through unshuttered windows. 
The bay gelding stamped a hoof, stirring the chaff on the stall floor into dancing specks.
A fly landed on his shining neck, causing his hide to twitch.
"Easy, Dan."
Mac stroked the gleaming, just brushed coat, checked the last harness buckle. 
Satisfied that all was secure, he backed Dan from the stall, led him toward the shed where the farm wagon and family buggy were parked.
On the shady side of the barn, the light  held a pearly dawn quality and the August morning was cool.

Mac guided Dan between the buggy shafts and they crunched across the dooryard to the fence at the back porch.
From the hen house a rooster heralded the day; a hen triumphantly announced production of an egg. 
Mac's brother, Andrew, appeared in the barn doorway, a brimming pail of milk in each hand.
The screen door opened onto the back porch and Mac hurried to help with loading of the farm produce to be carried to the hotel on the shore of Lake George.

Winters in the Adirondacks were cold and long; narrow mountain roads often drifted in with snow; summers were too brief and busy.
From late May til early September 'summer folks' swarmed to the lakeside hotels and boarding houses to exchange the stifling heat of cities for the clear cooler air of the lake-dotted mountain hamlets.  Hotel proprietors boasted of 'setting a fine table' and depended on the locals to supply fresh produce, eggs and milk.

Mac's little sister, Julia, was in charge of feeding the flock of Plymouth Rock chickens, collecting and washing the eggs, packing them in clean straw for the trip down the mountain.
She stood now at the edge of the porch, neat in flowered calico, soft brown hair in a plait down her back, lifting the crate of eggs towards Mac's reaching hands.
Mother sailed through the door, starched apron rustling. In quick succession she set out a basket of green beans, picked the previous evening, the cheesecloth covered buckets of blueberries that Mac and Andrew had gleaned as they ranged along the slopes of Tongue Mountain in slumberous afternoon heat.
Jugs of milk, gleaming glass jars of raspberry jam, a pail of small new potatoes, yellow crook-neck squash heaped in a basket. 
Julia passed items to Mac who stowed them carefully in the buggy while Mother supervised. 
At last with the milk and produce settled to her satisfaction she retreated to the kitchen reappearing in a moment with a large cloth-covered crock which she deposited on the porch steps. 

'Mind you don't dally, Mac, the butter needs to stay cold.' And she was gone, the screen door slapping behind her.
Left alone, Mac, who wasn't at all prone to dallying or wasting time, contemplated his collection of baskets, buckets and crocks, decided he could devise a more efficient arrangement to insure that nothing was spilled on his trip along the rutted dirt road.

Around him the August morning bloomed;  cobwebs shimmered in the dewy grass, barn swallows swooped in and out the open stable doors.
So accustomed was Mac to the sounds of the farmstead that he heard them as muted background--the cluckings and scratchings of the hens which Julia had loosed from their overnight confinement;  the delighted whinnies of the sorrel work horses, Dick and Bess, as Andrew dished out their grain; work sounds drifting from the graphite mill, the subdued clattering from the pantry sink as mother attacked the breakfast dishes.
Pleased finally with the rearrangement of containers, Mac turned to lift the brown crockery bowl of butter balls into the spot he had cleared. 
The cows, on summer pasture, were producing quantities of rich milk; Mother trusted no one else to handle the milk and the making of butter.  Meticulous in all her housekeeping, she gave extra attention to the care of milk as it was carried in night and morning.  She stood over Andrew as the milk was strained from the foaming pails  and poured into the shining bowl of the cream separator. Skim milk and thick yellow cream were decanted into glass jars that had been washed and rinsed with scalding water, then rushed down cellar into the damp coolness of the earth-floored larder.
Cleanliness and neatness were high on Mother's list of priorities.

The bowl was heaped higher than usual, the muslin covering bulged over the butter balls.
As Mac lifted the crock, swung it toward the buggy, an edge of the towel slipped from under the twine binding it in place and a butter ball bounced into the short grass at his feet.
Mac landed the bowl carefully on the buggy floor and with a mild sigh stooped to retrieve the fallen butter ball. 

Mac picked up the butter, still in its cheesecloth wrapping.  Turning it over he picked off several blades of grass, and not finding evidence of dirt or grit he moved to replace the butter ball in the crock.
Behind him the screen door opened, swung shut again with a twang of hinges. The porch floorboards creaked as Mother sailed to the edge of the steps. 
"Mac!" Her voice was sharp with exasperation. "Whatever are you doing?"

Before Mac could gather his wits to answer, Mother continued, "Surely you're not thinking to pedal butter that has been on the ground!"
Mac held the butter ball out for her inspection.  "Its not dirty," he protested. 
Mother's tone rose a notch.  "Not dirty?  It landed on the ground!  I saw through the pantry window!"
Taking the butter ball, Mother sputtered, "It landed on the ground--where you've been standing--where the horse has been--where the chickens have pecked!"

Mac stood resignedly, waiting for the tirade to ease.
Mother's round cheeks were rosier than usual, her blue eyes glinted with irritation.
She blew out her breath with a small huffing sound, "Hmmmmph!"

In a milder tone Mother explained, "We have a reputation--I have a reputation. Byron Rising has a reputation to maintain.  He advertises the freshest produce, fresh eggs, the finest sweet cream butter; he's proud of the table he sets for the hotel guests."

Mac shifted from one foot to the other, anxious to be on his way.  Dan shook his head, swished his tail. The harness jingled.

Mother continued, coaxing Mac to understand. "I'm known for the way I keep my kitchen, the way I handle the milk--just as you and Andrew are known for finding the best berries on the mountain.  You take care to pick carefully, no green berries, no leaves and twigs in what you pedal to the hotel.  Julia washes every egg--no smears, no fluff or straw sticking to eggs that come from this house."

Mac twitched at his galluses, considered the wisdom of an answer.
Before he could formulate one Mother concluded her homily.

"We have a good name," she stated quietly, "A good name for honesty and hard work, a good name for selling only the best. I'll unwrap the butter, scrape off the edges to be sure its clean and I'll use it for baking, but its been on the ground and its not going to be passed off at the hotel!  Now, you'd best be going before the morning heats up."
The screen door slapped behind her rustling calico skirt; a chicken squawked; Dan snorted between the buggy shafts.

Mac pulled out the pocket watch secured to his suspender loop with a leather shoelace. A quarter to six!  He untied the reins from the fence post, climbed to the buggy seat.
"Right, Dan," he said, "We've taken too long getting ready to commence this trip. You'll need to step lively to have these goods pedaled to the hotel before the summer people want their breakfast."

Mac wheeled out of the dooryard, turned onto Battle Hill Road.  
August mist rose in thin silver veils from a neighbor's meadow;  the scent of wood smoke from breakfast fires mingled with that of dusty roadside blooms and swaths of curing hay.
Dan's hooves beat smartly on the hard packed surface of the road. Mac drove easily, the leather reins in his right hand, enjoying the soft summer morning, pleased with the good load he was 'pedaling' to the trim hotel with its white paint and wide veranda facing the blue waters of Lake George. 

Shortly he would be pulling in at the back door of the hotel.  He knew from other trips that the steps would have been swept, the big front porch tided, the rocking chairs lined precisely to take advantage of the view toward the tree-lined ledges that rimmed the other side of the lake.
Crisp white curtains would be fluttering at the upper windows.  Cook and her serving girls would be bustling in the kitchen, making ready for those guests who would soon be early arrivals in the big dining room. 

Mac would wait with Dan while Byron Rising tallied the produce, counting the eggs, weighing out the green beans and the yellow squash, calling for a clean container to carefully transfer the blueberries from the bucket. Mr. Rising might comment, "Can always count on you Lewis boys to bring in the biggest berries!"

The day was warming into mid-morning heat when Mac turned Dan back up the mountain road. The empty buckets and baskets at his feet rocked gently when the buggy rumbled over a rutted stretch of road.  Folded carefully in Mac's shirt pocket was the slip of paper on which Byron Rising had copied the details of the delivery, a total due neatly penciled at the bottom of the list.
At the end of the month there would be crisp bills and silver coins to add to the little hoard squirreled away in the old blue sugar bowl, added funds to see the Lewis family through another Adirondack winter.  

Mac let Dan take his time on the steepest climb heading home. Puffs of dust rose under the buggy wheels as Mac pulled into the  dooryard.  Dan would be rubbed down, brushed, turned out into the pasture after being offered a bucket of fresh water.

The buggy, unloaded, had been parked in the shed, Dan tended. The sun ascending toward its mid-day zenith  had warmed the dooryard.  
Julia poked her head round the back door, smiled at her beloved big brother. 
"I heard you coming up the road, " she declared. "I've got a glass of cold buttermilk and some fresh  gingerbread ready for you. Mother has water hot to wash the buckets and crocks as soon as you bring them in.  Andrew has gone out to scythe around the garden fence."

Mac grinned at Julia.  "Sounds like we're all working hard this morning. After all, we've got a good name to live up to!"

Grampa Mac with son Billy circa 1919.
Mac was in his late teens when the story of the butter ball took place.
He married in December, 1913 and moved to the Vermont side of Lake Champlain, to become a partner in the farm purchased a year earlier by his wife's parents. 

From an 1890 advertisement:
Rising House, Hague on Lake George
This New House is located in one of the most Healthful Localities on Lake George, commanding an extensive view of the lake, with fine facilities for
Supplied with Mountain Spring Water, Fresh vegetables, milk, butter and eggs.
B.A. Rising, Proprietor, Hague, Warren County, New York

No comments:

Post a Comment