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Picture Page 38
More Pictures and Commentary about Obscure Oteseraga County Corners

Camping out

Well, it's been a while, hasn't it, and here we go once more...maybe for the last time--again! Many Freddyites consider Freddy Goes Camping a top-tier Freddy title despite its containing the first instance of Mr. Brooks's distorted characterization of yours truly. Aside from the crude inaccuracies concerning my ethics and behavior, it really is a pretty good read, I'll have to admit. Camping, like so many of the other titles in the Freddy canon, is based upon real people and places, some of whom and which are illustrated in the photo to the left. You don't have to be an expert-level Freddyite to identify the two campers. Go ahead...I'll wait while you rummage through your brains. See. Pretty easy, wasn't it? Yes, that's a young Bannister (left) and C. Jimson at a campsite on Oteseraga Lake. Camping out enjoyed widespread appeal in these parts. There were plenty of little public and private campgrounds all around the lake, and the further north you went into the Adirondacks, the more you found. It was somewhat on the arduous side to go camping back in the days as the concept of lightweight equipment hadn't been developed to any extent. Tents were of the heavy canvas type, and your camp kitchen was essentially all the stuff from your kitchen at home that you could lug to your site. It was a chore to pack up and set up, but once you had established your camp, you were free to enjoy the pleasures of nature, blackflies and mosquitoes and the occasional marauding bear notwithstanding.

Physical culture

Here's another photograph of C. Jimson at a site on Stony Point up on the northern shore of Oteseraga Lake demonstrating his enthusiasm for Physical Culture, which was all the rage among a small subset of Oteseraga County denizens, particularly the idle rich. The denizens of the poor and middle classes were too busy working their cans off to pay their mortgages, put food on the table, and clothe their children to care much about the fads of the well-to-do. I doubt that you young whippersnappers would know anything about the phenomenon of Physical Culture, so I refer you to this article which explains it pretty well.

Today there is such a big flapdoodle about obesity--or being fat as we used to say in plain English when no one blinked at someone's speaking directly. Nowadays, not passing on that second helping of chocolate cake has become nearly a statutory offense. In my opinion, if someone wants to gorge himself into the zeppelin-like proportions of a bloated walrus, he should be left to do so without the fat police trying to make him feel guilty about so simple a pleasure. Of course, when later he cannot squeeze through a standard doorway or fit comfortably in a car, he shouldn't blame anyone but his self-indulgent self.

 

Hotel dining room

While we're on the topic of food and self-indulgence, here's another view of the Centerboro Hotel's main dining room. The hotel underwent many renovations over the years and this picture would be of one of the earliest. Here one could smoke and eat to one's heart's content without being eyeballed by self-righteous, non-smoking slenderellas. In case you're wondering, I neither smoke (anymore) nor gorge at the trough. I weigh a little less than what I did when I graduated from Centerboro High School back in 1939. Not wishing to find myself unable to get out of a chair under my own power or walk more than a city block without wheezing, I keep myself fit through abstemiousness and daily exercise. Aren't I wonderful? Even so, I wouldn't at all mind traveling through time occasionally to stuff myself on the hotel's delectable fare...particularly the sauerkraut and pork dinner...and then lean back to savor a cup of piping hot black coffee and a Lucky Strike.

Old, old Main Street

I don't believe I've published this photo of Centerboro's main drag anywhere else on my site, and I'm much too occupied with other things to flip through all the pages to find out. Some readers have written to inform me that I seem to be afflicted with a case of terminal nostalgia...as if I needed to be told something so obvious to the most impoverished intelligence. Do I believe that the past, especially the golden age of the good old Centerboro of the '40s and '50s, is preferable to the present? Yes, indeed I do. Even if at this moment I did not, a short stroll around present-day Centerboro would be enough to convince me that the complete dismantling of today's shabby and stupid-making transplanetary human "culture" would not be a bad thing. Well, enough of that. Here's a brief recapitulation of Centerboro history. In the late 1800s, Centerboro was just another upstate jerkwater town with not much to recommend it other than its relative freedom from the defects of urban life. On the other hand, it also suffered from a general lack of sophistication, its ethos being informed largely by the bucolic pursuits of farmers. During the first half of the 20th century, a manufacturing base took hold, and, as the Chamber of Commerce claimed, Centerboro became "The Community of Opportunity," a tag that smacks of the kind of silly boosterism lampooned by Sinclair Lewis. Centerboro's decline began in the 1970s with urban renewal which destroyed whatever charm the downtown area once possessed and the closing down of all the industries which had employed almost everyone who was employable. In the years since, I'd say that Centerboro has regressed to a state of its inhabitants scrabbling and struggling to make a living in a service economy. The trolley you see running down the middle of Main Street is an apt metaphor for the history of Centerboro. The trolley used to run from one vacant end of town to the other, with a few interesting stops in between. Come to think of it, one could say the same for the entire region, state, and country.

Edna Garble

This is a photo of a woman of whom you've not heard mention in the Freddy books though she was the younger sister of Mrs. U. and Herb Garble. Of her story there is little more to say that wasn't spread around town like so much manure to make the weeds of gossip grow back in the '30s and '40s. Generally, Edna Garble was called a "bad seed" and marveled at from about the age of four until her late teens when she had someone snap this photograph of her. In grammar school she enjoyed sticking pins into her classmates, stealing from the cloakroom, and fighting on the playground during recess. The older she got, the more outrageously she behaved. I will not go into any more of the details of that sad history here as it would serve no good purpose. Finally, just after Edna managed to get through high school, the Garbles decided that enough was enough and secretly sent Edna away for the same treatment that poor Kennedy girl received. After Edna's recovery from the simple procedure, she was brought back to Centerboro where she lived with her parents for many years. Because no one knew what had actually happened to Edna, everyone was amazed at her having become a completely different person after her "vacation." There was no more screaming, shouting, swearing, punching, kicking, scratching, and gouging. Instead, you'd find Edna staring blankly at the pigeons in Sibney Memorial Park or watching leaves float down the little creek that ran along the southern edge of town. To Mrs. Underdunk's credit, she took in her sister after Mother and Father Garble passed away and cared for her until Edna joined them.

The Halseys

That's Gert Halsey there and her husband Ethan, brother of Herbert, owner of Halsey's Hardware downtown. As you know, farming has always been an chancy enterprise rife with accidental dismemberments and rather too dependent upon the laws of supply and demand to allow for much peace of mind in any given farming family. However, Ethan never lost much sleep, and though he may look like your typical dull hayseed, he was anything but. Ethan found interesting ways to lessen the tedium and worries of farming. As a self-proclaimed druid, he once built a two-story pyramid of hay bales and then set it on fire to celebrate Beltaine. He also raised ostriches, played the fiddle for the local square dance club, worked as a professional wrestler known hereabouts as "The Tractor," served as the CHS wrestling coach during the off months, and depicted his twelve children on a totem pole which he carved himself and displayed in his front yard. One idea he talked up among his neighbors during the Martian visitation to Centerboro in 1955 was that Martians might make for good eating, but he never followed through on that concept, more because of lack of opportunity than willingness to give it a try, I'd think. Gert was content to stay in the background and roll her eyes, but she must have found sufficient reason to stay married to Ethan as they made it to their fiftieth and then some.

Tipsy Uncle Ben

Uncle Ben is portrayed as an eccentric and laconic loner in many of the Freddy stories, and to a large extent, he certainly was. For whatever reasons he may have had and which shall always be a mystery, Mr. Brooks toned down the true magnitude of Ben's oddness for the series. Today, Ben would probably be regarded as a relatively harmless geek, but that's only because the general level of social lunacy has risen so high since Ben's time. Just browse around on YouTube or visit fark.com if you need convincing. In any case, you can read more about Ben's adventures and eventual placement in the Oteseraga County Custodial Asylum elsewhere on this site. According to the note on the back of this photograph from the Bean family albums, this is Ben celebrating the first successful test of one of his most profitable inventions, The Benjamin Bean Nearly Odor-Free Distillation Works which produced copious amounts of alcohol without the accompanying smell of mash. Canning jars of "the product" were sold at a most reasonable price and tax-free throughout Oteseraga County for two or three years until the feds discovered the still up in the middle of the Big Woods and put an end to the enterprise. The feds were unable to prove a direct connection between Ben and the operation of the still and could not disprove his claim that he had intended it to be used strictly in the production of industrial solvents and cleaning solutions, so he was never prosecuted for moonshining. As for "the product," it was quite good. I think I might still have a jar out in the toolshed!

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Infamous CHS football game

This photo from the Bean family albums is of the football game during which Frederick disgraced himself, his family, his school, and Centerboro. I know that I have gone on at some length about this game before on my site, but I think there's such great significance to it that I cannot resist a reprise. I think of it as a distant antecedent of the disgraceful sports scene of today with its pervasive stench of drugs, and lying, and showboating overpaid celebrity-athletes. I guess that the current preoccupation with sports and celebrities does help divert our gaze away from the state of the world, which surely would make us sick to our stomachs if we paid mindful attention to it. Remember Juvenal? Oh, right. Never mind. I doubt whether he's taught anymore in high school. Should you have attended Centerboro High School in the '30s, you would have made his acquaintance in Mrs. Norman's Latin classes and would know what the following quotation means without having to Google it: "…omnia, nunc se continet atque duas tantum res anxius optat, panem et circenses." And so it goes...

Yours truly, 3 months old
Many readers have badgered me for the earliest known photograph of me, and here is the least objectionable one, taken by my grandfather shortly after my birth. It shows my good side. My poor mother labored mightily to bring me into the world, and between her and my father, she was the one who more thought the whole production worth the effort. Mother was the type who always looked for the good in others and prayed for the salvation of those in which goodness was next to impossible to find. Consequently, I received many second chances and lessons in genuine charity from her. My father, on the other hand, was less likely to show sympathy or compassion. For example, when I was about 11 or 12, I was assigned lawn mowing duties at my grandparents' house a couple of blocks away. I didn't half mind the chore as I always was treated to Gramma Anderson's cookies and lemonade when I finished up, and Gramps invariably slipped me a quarter--even though I was supposed to do the mowing at the family rate; i.e., gratis. There was only one hitch. Gramps and my father kept bees, and I had to mow around the beeboxes out back under the big apple tree. Usually I didn't bother the bees and they didn't bother me, but I got my share of stings, too. The first time I got nailed, I complained tearfully to my father. All he said was that I'd get used to it, that Gramps actually let bees sting him for his arthritis, and I should stop blubbering and finish the lawn. Of their styles as parents, and not to gainsay my mother's, I'd say that my father's better prepared me for life.
Muzkiski's Bertie

How 'bout a fun pet photo now! This little fellow got no mention in the Freddy books at all, even though he was probably the best-known of all Centerboro canines. His name was "Bertie," and he was owned by Stanley Muzkiski. Bertie had free run of Mr. Muzkiski's movie theater. It was not unusual to be watching a newsreel or feature and suddenly feel a cold, damp nose nuzzling your hand as Bertie looked for a petting. Most people at least tolerated Bertie, and only the most hard-hearted could resist giving him a good scratch behind the ears. When a movie premiered at his theater, Mr. Muzkiski got a big charge out of dressing Bertie up as one of the stars and turning him loose in the lobby for some pre-show entertainment. This is a photograph of one of Bertie's get-ups that Petey Muzkiski snapped at his uncle Stanley's house. I don't recollect what movie was opening that day or who Bertie was supposed to be. In my opinion, the best costume Mr. Muzkiski ever created for Bertie was definitely that of Sheriff Will Kane for the opening of High Noon.

 

 

The Duda brothers

The Duda brothers, Marek and Piotr, were my musical inspirations when I was a lad. The family lived next door to my friend Petey Muzkiski's grandparents on the south side of town in the late '20s and early '30s, and I remember listening to them practicing the sax and accordion when I was over visiting Petey. In this photo, Marek (more commonly known as "Lucky") and Piotr ("Pete") are giving an informal neighborhood recital in the Muzkiski backyard. The Dudas never went on to become anything near a national sensation or travel with any of the well-known big bands of the time, but their local fame was considerable, and they were content with that. They put together any number of ensembles over the years and kept playing until the early 1970s. There being a sizable Polish community concentrated in the neighborhoods surrounding Centerboro's Polish Catholic church, the Duda boys were always in demand for baptisms, confirmations, weddings, anniversaries, and the occasional birthday party. The Dudas actually have a tenuous connection to the Freddy series through Maxine Coubos (q.v.) who occasionally fronted their bands for a lark when they played a gig at some local nightspot.
Maxine Coubos

And, speaking of Maxine, here's a nice picture of her. She was the by-blow of Frieda Coubos and an unnamed peddler from Pennsylvania, and first cousin of Mrs. Wiggins, Mrs. Wogus, and Mrs. Wurzburger. Frieda never revealed the identity of her paramour, and her gestation and delivery of Maxine was the talk of Centerboro. Today, there would be scarcely an eyebrow raised, would there? Maxine was gifted with an extraordinary set of pipes which made her into a local and regional celebrity-parvenu. Eventually, her talent was her ticket out of Centerboro. As a little girl she expressed a desire to sing in a church choir, but certain uncharitable true believers in certain Centerboro congregations made sure that Maxine didn't get the opportunity owing to the circumstances of her nativity. Not to let that stop her, Maxine sang in every vocal group she could join in the Centerboro schools and took private voice lessons from teachers more open-minded than the religionists had been. Once out of high school, Maxine got a job waitressing in the Centerboro Hotel and became the vocalist for lots of local bands. She was quite a draw Saturday nights at the old Willow Bend Inn. Believe it or not, she was lucky enough to get discovered at the Willow Bend by a talent agent who had stopped in for a beer while on the road between Albany and Buffalo. In less than a week, Maxine had packed up and taken off. We lost track of her in these parts because she changed her name and never came back. In leaving Centerboro for better prospects, she was much like Minx Bean, the wayfaring sister of Freddy and Jinx. In fact, she and Minx were but the first trickle of a later gush of Centerboro expatriates who felt hemmed in and unfulfilled in ho-hum Oteseraga County. It is even more boring here today, but that suits me just fine as I approach my eighty-eighth birthday next October.

(For a bit more about Frieda Coubos, look here under the entry for Mrs. Wiggins.)

A photo of members of an early Board of Education of the Centerboro schools. (Warning: skip to the next picture now if you're not in the mood for a brief rant.) Back in the good old days when we walked to our neighborhood elementary school instead of being ferried to its doors by overindulgent, anxious mommies, we got grades in deportment, effort, reading, writing, spelling, geography, grammar, arithmetic, history, physical education, music, drawing, personal appearance, and citizenship. We were inculcated with basic facts and skills by no-nonsense teachers who were not our pals or facilitators or anything else of the sort. When we moved on to junior high and high school, the knowledge and skills we had thoroughly absorbed were further developed by teachers who had majored in areas like mathematics and history, not pedagogy. Students were grouped by ability and tracked by inclination. By the time a Centerboro High School student reached June of the senior year, he or she had a body of information worth knowing and could accomplish worthwhile things. A CHS graduate was prepared to assume the role of a responsible citizen and contributing member of society and did just that. Some went on to college or business school, and others went directly to the farm, military, a job or trade, or started a family. Yes, I know it's a different world today, but from where I sit, it's a pity that's true. In old Centerboro, you used to be able to count on a Board member's being educated, of good morals, civic-minded, and professional. Today, you wouldn't be wrong if you described a typical candidate as an ax-wielding, loudmouthed malcontent.

Sniffy's wifey
This is Sylvester "Sniffy" Wilson's wife, and her name, which eludes me at this moment, was not Aroma or anything of the sort! I think it may have been Doris or Dorcas. It's no coincidence that Mr. Brooks transformed the real Sniffy into a skunk in the series, for as a frequent vacationer in Oteseraga County, Mr. Brooks would have been aware of the Wilson family's pet skunks, the one in the photograph being but one of many they kept over the years. Mr. Brooks also would have been aware of the faint bouquet of sewage that always issued from Sniffy no matter how hard he scrubbed himself at the end of a day's honest labor--and no surprise, naturally, owing to Sniffy's profession. (See last item listed here.) It was never a pleasure to sit next to Sniffy at the lunch counter at Dixon's or stand in line behind him at the bank, but owing to his good nature and usefulness about town, no one ever made a stink about it.
"Wicked Watt"

Do you remember the oculist from Freddy and the Popinjay? Of course you do, but I'll wager you don't recall his name, right? Probably not. Well, I won't keep you guessing this time. It's Pickthorn Watt (standing) who is more known in these parts for bumping off people than fitting them with spectacles. The villains of the Freddy series are small potatoes indeed compared to Watt. Certainly, Mr. Brooks would not have included Watt in the canon had Watt's murderous binge occurred before Mr. Brooks began penning Popinjay, but as things turned out, Watt's notoriety bloomed after the publication of this minor title, and to those of us who knew Watt, it cast a permanent pall over the book. Now I know you're curious about the details of the rampage of "Wicked Picky" as he came to be known, but they are much too dreadful to present on this PG-13 site, so I refer you to the Centerboro Public Library's local history archives where your search should begin with the newspaper clippings beginning November 9, 1946, and ending November 9, 1947, when Watt, literally red-handed, was finally apprehended by the authorities. Some say that the full moon of 11/9/46 set him off, but it was more likely that he began his career of mayhem after having been called in by the IRS, jilted by his fiancee, dismissed as a church deacon, bitten by his neighbor's dog, and rejected for membership in the Centerboro Rotary Club--all within the two weeks preceding the full moon. Of course, even though Watt's deeds rivaled those of the fictional Sweeney Todd, his neighbors and pewmates described him as--you guessed it--a quiet fellow who kept to himself. There is no lesson to learn from "Picky" other than you just never know what's going to set one of us "third chimpanzees" off.

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