Focus on History: She is now sending Christmas gifts

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My grandmother, Margaret Cook, was a widow with three small children in Randall during World War I, supporting her family by feeding soldiers who guarded Lock 13 on the Barge Canal against German saboteurs.

One of the soldiers was Private William J. Allen of Fonda who told Saturday Globe newspaper, “[Margaret] has been cook for the boys at Yosts [across the river from Randall] since the war broke out and 14 of ‘her boys’ are in France and seven more are in training camps. She has mothered them all and the boys look to her for smiles and other necessities as well as for their meals.

“The boys in France who have boarded with her she does not forget but sends them cigarettes or money to buy them. She is now sending Christmas gifts.”

Were snow banks bigger when we were younger? There could have been more snow. Other old timers have told me though that years ago the snow was plowed, but not removed.

During the 1940s, Amsterdam native Richard Ellers said the snow crunched underfoot. “That crunch is linked in my memory to walking to Christmas midnight Mass at St. Michael’s Church from our home, a flat on East Main Street downtown.”

In his upstairs flat, Ellers could hear a Salvation Army bell ringer on the street below, “There was only single pane glass on the windows. I also can still hear the clink-clink-clink of snow chains on cars driving below. Occasionally every third or fourth clink would be counter pointed with a double thunk, which was the sound of the ends of a broken chain slapping the underside of a fender.”

Shirley Spurles Baroody spent 11 years of her childhood at the Children’s Home, an orphanage at 81 Guy Park Ave. in Amsterdam. The home closed in 1957.

In December, the matrons at Children’s Home asked each child for a list of three gifts wanted for Christmas. Baroody remembered getting paper dolls and white socks. The women’s clubs of Amsterdam put on a Christmas party every year for the home. 

Jacki Vogel’s parents, Alphonso and Catherine D’Alessandro, owned the Gift & Hobby Shop at Lark and East Main Street in Amsterdam, “I vividly remember Christmas Eves when others were gathering to celebrate the holiday.  My dad would still be in the store, awaiting people coming to pick up their layaways. They always went the extra mile to try and locate a special toy that someone would want for a child.”

Amsterdam native Donald Isburgh recalled Christmas Eve services at St. Ann’s Episcopal Church on Division Street. “This was in the years before other local churches had their own Christmas Eve services, and the church was so crowded that the ushers had to set up extra chairs in the center aisle to accommodate everyone.”

When I was young, we went to a candlelight service Christmas Eve at First Methodist Church on Division Street, torn down for urban renewal in 1973. I was always impressed that the choir marched in holding hymnbooks and candles while singing. No one ever tripped and started a fire.

My family used a machine called the Recordio to make 78 RPM discs on Christmas to send to my Aunt Winnie and Uncle Al in Florida. Dinner was always turkey and always good and, after visiting Aunt Pansy, Uncle Percy and their three sons, we came back home and ate yet another meal with Aunts Gladys and Vera.

The Recordio made the move when our family relocated to Amsterdam’s Peter Lane in 1957.  At some point, unfortunately, our machine was discarded along with our Recordio discs.

Categories: Opinion, Opinion

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