Attending my Owego Free Academy 50th class reunion last night, July 22, 2023, it was great to see and chat with so many former classmates. We were the 100th class to graduate from OFA, and the first class to graduate from the new high school building – such honors! Being asked to give the prayer at the reunion dinner last night, it was an honor to thank our Lord for all His many blessings – of friendships, places we’ve been, lives we’ve built, and to thank Him for the friends who have left this life much sooner than any of us would have liked. We were given a great informative tour yesterday afternoon at the high school by the young principal – how can he be principal looking like a kid barely out of school! A lot has changed in the intervening 50 years, with great programs in place to help the students achieve their best and prepare for their successful launch into society at large. Having moved 15 times by the time I was 15, attending five different schools, learning to make new friends at each school, I’ve held onto many treasured memories. With the reunion in mind, I just had to share this blog originally posted in 2013.
Oh, the childhood memories of places we’ve been and the friends we’ve made! Don’t you just love to visit with friends from long ago, remember childhood fun, and recall the good ol’ days when life was simpler? I suspect we all have precious memories tucked away, ready to be pulled out every so often. It’s a chance to gaze back in time, to smile anew on fun shared by all. But, I’m just as sure I’m not alone in having some memories that bring emotions to the surface, and tears to the eyes.
Twice a year as our children grew up, we’d visit back and forth with my childhood friend and her husband, Hugh. Kathy and I were friends in East Palmyra – in church, in class at the Christian school, and in playing at our homes. We continued our friendship via snail mail after my family moved away in 4th grade, just before I turned 10. It was a very painful and emotional move for me – away from farm life, away from the best friends I’d ever known to city life in Clifton, New Jersey where I was born, and where my dad’s parents and siblings’ families lived. It was an unwelcome change. I hated city life, was horribly homesick, and cried for weeks.
But life got better as I let go of childhood pain and released the sadness. Though there were difficult times and events in Clifton, I now find many good memories to replay in my mind’s eye. It was an era when my sister and I could walk or bike everywhere without fear. And then there was the time we biked from our eastern side of Clifton to where our grandparents lived all the way on the other side. When my grandmother opened the door to our knock, trust me, she was not pleased… because no one knew where we were! Still, with the used bikes my grandfather gave us, we felt so rich! I also treasure memories of fishing with my dad in northern Jersey lakes, and of spending time with my grandparents. My grandmother was a former professional seamstress who taught me to sew clothes and quilts – and to rip it out if it wasn’t right and sew it over again, more than once as I recall! This little Dutch immigrant had an unspoken life motto – “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right!” How I miss her greeting us at the door with a hug and always sweetly saying, “Hello Dear!” in her soft Dutch accent.
Admittedly, my favorite memories are those of my childhood on the farms, and the fun my sister and I had back when there was no technology to ruin what games our little minds could conjure up. My earliest memories, though, begin after we moved back from Delta Junction, Alaska. My dad had a foreign assignment in the Army, stationed at Fort Greely before Alaskan statehood. He wanted to homestead, but my Mom wasn’t keen on the idea, so back to New Jersey we went. I’ve often wished I’d been old enough to remember the trip and the beautiful sights down the Al-Can Highway back to the States; but, then again, as I heard about the road without guardrails next to steep cliffs, of an old car with a steering wheel that caught at the most inopportune times (like coming around a curve and heading straight for a cliff when, at the last moment, the steering engaged again for my Mom, preventing us from plummeting off the cliff), maybe I’m glad I wasn’t old enough to remember that trip. Dad got rid of that car as soon as they got into Washington state, and they took a train east to Newark, NJ where my grandparents brought us back to their home.
Dad next went to work on the Everson Farm in Clifton Springs, NY. I have photos of that time, but my first memories begin when he worked on the Wychmere Farm in Sodus, NY. I clearly recall that, at age 3-4, we drove down a lane to a Lake Ontario beach where I floated in an inner tube. Seeing a ship on the horizon, my child’s mind feared it would “run me over!” Then, imagine my excitement when, while dating my husband-to-be, Ed, my friend, Kathy, and her husband, Hugh, took us to that very same lane and beach near Chimney Bluffs and it was totally familiar to me, remembered from all those years ago!
Next, on the Breemes farm in Marion, NY, my sister and I could be seen playing in and around the barn; milking “my cows” with an old tea kettle on the bank-barn’s wall ledge while standing on a bale of hay as Dad milked his cows, and throwing rocks into mud/manure puddles with my sister, accidentally following those rocks into the muck. My brother, Charlie, was born that year, an interloper to our fun… or so I thought at that age. Later, we once again moved back to Clifton, NJ where I attended kindergarten, a big girl walking several blocks by all myself to P.S. #15.
Returning to Marion, NY the summer after kindergarten, we had many more adventures with Fran and Betty DeVries while living upstairs in their beautiful Victorian house on their parents’ farm. I remember the layout of their barn, helping a few times to put milking machines together, watching their Dad put in silage with the belt-driven unloader off the tractor. My Dad knew Gerald and Joann from the Sussex, NJ Christian Reformed Church youth group when he was herdsman for old Mr. Titsworth after graduating Clifton High School. Actually, Mr. Titsworth was a direct descendant of Willem Tietsoort who settled in that area after the 1690 Schenectady massacre, purchasing extensive lands from the northern Jersey Indians. Unknown to our family back then, my genealogy research several years ago discovered Willem Tietsoort was related to one of my mother’s ancestors!
Moving up the road to the spacious farmhouse on the Musshafen tenant farm brought more fun as we meandered the fields, and walked back down the road to spend time with Fran and Betty. My Dad bought a steer from Mr. DeVries to raise for beef. We girls named him Elmer… as in Elmer’s Glue we joked! My sister and I thought it was more fun running between rows in the garden instead of our weeding chore. Brother Mark was born here, with Charlie anxiously asking, “When can he play ball with me?” My Dad’s sister, Aunt Hilda, taught us the little song, “On top of spaghetti…” Needless to say, whenever I think of that song, it is always with images from that house as the poor little meatball rolls off our dining room table, out the back door, down the cement steps, down the slope, past the garden and under the lilac bushes this side of a small creek! We shelled endless piles of peas and snapped mountains of beans, and, I’m ashamed to say, threw some under those lilac bushes when we got tired of it all. We practiced our fishing techniques, aiming to put the dobber into a bucket though I don’t believe we were too accurate. We caught tadpoles and watched them grow legs while in jars before returning them to the creek to finish growing into frogs. And we even tried to fry an egg on the road on a very hot summer day… well, the adults always said it was so hot you could…!
Next, as tenants on the Bouman farm on Whitbeck Road just outside of East Palmyra, fun found us running with Ruth, Annette and Grace in the haymow, catching my shoe on baling twine and tumbling down to the wooden floor below, barely a foot away from the upturned tines of a pitch fork and getting a concussion; traipsing over the fields and through the woods; walking among the cows in the pasture only to be chased by a very indignant new mom for getting too close to her baby and barely making it under the fence with her hugeness right behind me; roller skating, only once, on a pond because we didn’t have ice skates; building snow forts; sledding down the hill outside the barnyard; playing telephone as we kids all sat in a circle, laughing at how the secret message had changed from the first person to the last; playing Mother May I, Red light, Green light, and Hide and Seek; learning to ride bike under Grace’s tutelage with a few falls resulting in scraped-up knees; playing at friend Kathy’s home, sledding down their hill and across the field when a train came through, freezing up and not thinking to roll off – thankfully, the sled came to a stop a few feet away from the track as I looked up in horror at the train rushing by; voraciously reading every book I could get my hands on, a life-time habit; and so much more…! Oh such fun!!
Then, abruptly, we moved back to city life in Clifton, NJ. Sadly, Dad left much behind, including the unique doll house made especially for us girls by our landlord when I was in kindergarten. Now, we enjoyed visiting often with our grandparents, and loved the family gatherings for every main holiday on the calendar. When brother Andy arrived, my sister and I, at ages 10 and 11, were responsible every week for months for hauling the family laundry in the little red wagon to the laundromat across the street from the bar at the top of our block, washing and folding it all (we became little pros, respected by all adults doing their own laundry), and getting to buy treats like 5-cent double-stick popsicles, way bigger than today’s version! We taught Charlie to ride bicycle in the former train station’s empty parking lot across from the end of our block, which is now all gone. Our Dad took us fishing to northern Jersey lakes and on Clifton’s Garret Mountain with its great vista overlooking the cities to the New York City skyline, all fishing holes from his childhood. We also enjoyed going to Green Pond for water fun where Dad’s sister, Hilda, and family spent the summers. We two girls enjoyed traipsing the city unsupervised without problems, walking or biking everywhere to parks, the city library, to Passaic Christian School and then to Christopher Columbus Junior High 12 blocks from home. I can still visualize so much of the city like the back of my hand, forever frozen in time.
After four years, my heart rejoiced when we moved back to New York state! We were slowed by heavy bumper-to-bumper traffic because of hippies everywhere on Rt. 17 finding their way to the the fields of the Woodstock Festival on Saturday, August 16, 1969. Our long drive ended at a house on River Road in Lounsberry, half-way between Owego and Nichols, where the odor of neighboring farms was heavenly. Here, my latter teen years were spent caring for three-dozen-some chickens, 6 Muscovy ducks and their newly-hatched ducklings (which grew to provide us with fine dining), my lamb, and mare, War Bugg, a beautiful grand-daughter of Man O’ War… along with the arrival of our youngest brother, Ted. I was, admittedly, very disappointed he was not a little girl, but fell in love with him and those big blue eyes as my sister and I helped care for him. After all, we were “pros” in baby care by then!
Meeting Edward, my husband-to-be, at our Owego Christian Reformed Church held at the Talcott Street Community Center, I began another new chapter. He was a dairy farmer with his Dad, so I moved to Spencer, making a new home, new friends, and a new life. Simply spending time recalling precious memories of family and friends in a long-ago world brings a few tears and many smiles to my heart… So, what cherished memories do you have that are waiting to be brought to mind and shared?
Going back home…
Linda A. Roorda
Going back home within my mind
To simple retreats of childhood days
Holding sweet memories of yesterday
Like quiet oases of rest and peace.
Stirring emotions that overwhelm
On traveling back to gentler times
With early images tucked far away
On pages engraved in a long-ago world.
For what could ever make me forget
The fears that then descended strong
With dog at fence and thunderstorm
To shake the world of toddlerhood.
While a life-long love was built in scenes
Of farming and learning beside my Dad
With laughter heard through carefree days
In adventures had by my sister and me.
The many homes of my younger days
Are shelters now for cherished views
As dear and precious memories enhance
Wistfully perfect they ever remain.
But tucked within the pages recalled
Are days of change and tender tears
Moving away and losing friends
Through a lifetime lived, they’re never forgot.
Yet often they say it’s just not the same
We can’t return to scenes of our youth
That life and times are forever changed
The rift between then and now is too great.
But as I gaze on all that once was
I find it’s okay to let the tears flow
As they wash away the lingering pangs
To leave my heart refreshed and clean.
So I shall always savor the joy
Of going back home within my mind
And holding dear those treasured days
Of childhood mem’ries and lessons learned.
Linda Roorda writes from her home in Spencer.