WBDY is an FM Radio Station that is located in the Bundy Museum in Binghamton, NY.
The Bundy brothers started The Bundy Company in Binghamton. One of them was an inventor; he invented a time clock that would record a worker’s arrival and departure times. The Bundy Company was melded two other ideas; Herman Hollerith’s data recorder machine (which operated on punched cards) and another inventor’s (Dr. Alexander Dey) time recording machine.
This triad became International Time recording Company and was eventually renamed International Business Machines in 1924.
IBM was born in Endicott, New York; about five miles west of Binghamton. It has, however sadly, closed its home base except for a few hundred office workers.
Bundy Museum is home to the history of Binghamton. It has dozens of old time clocks, a tribute to Rod Serling; “Twilight Zone” Binghamton born creator and legendary screenwriter, as well as a building set aside for the ANSCO Camera Business.
WBDY became interested in my very first blog; “INTRODUCTION (To a private archaeology on a public blog).” Therefore they interviewed me to determine how I came to write about a family that migrated from Salem, NY (very near the Connecticut border) to the newly opened “Indian Territory” in Chenango County, NY.
The interview starts at 33.30 minutes in the following audio recording. The first 33 minutes discuss another archaeology project which is currently occurring in Binghamton, NY.
The story of Epinetus Birdsall has been fragmentarily written in several official books. That is typical of those who do not write of themselves. Others write their stories for them. The writers do this in such documents as the United States Census, the Chenango American newspaper, the records of the county poor farm and a variety of town, county and state histories. The story you are about to read is what I know and have surmised about Epinetus.
Henry Birdsall, Epinetus’ grandfather, moved his family from the New York/Connecticut border to a beautiful piece of land in the township of Greene, New York. The year was 1814 and the wagon trip via the half-finished Susquehanna Turnpike was miserable. The trip took three weeks and two fingers from the left hand of his oldest son. His grandson, Epinetus was not yet born. Henry was accompanied on this move by two sons, eight-fingered Henry Jr. and Horace (who was more artistic than physical). There were also several daughters, and his wife, Abashaby.
Henry’s family cleared their river flat along the banks of the Chenango River. The upland part of their parcel remained virgin forest except for a few oaks which Henry had selected as beams for the home and barn. They were a Quaker family and lived by their own culture. One other family lived within walking distance from them; the Abram Storms. Abram had moved into this newly opened “Indian Territory” a few years previous. Although Abram was not a Quaker, he and Henry formed an immediate bond.
In the following ten years they were joined by two other families; that of Jean Guilliame de Besse and that of Dewey David. Jean Guilliame de Besse was a well educated man from France who had spent his youth in Spain and a few intermediate years as an international shipper. After several episodes of being pirated de Besse had lost his business and his fortune. He settled on the banks of the Chenango with his books, his wife, his beautiful daughter, and a deep love for trapping and fishing. Dewey David seemed more intent on building a fortune as a farmer. David’s namesake son, Dewey D. David, was the workhorse that the elder David used to reach his ambitions. Young David never had a childhood to enjoy.
Horace Birdsall married Triphosia and had a daughter and one son; Epinetus. The Chenango Canal was built in the early 1830’s when Epinetus was about ten years old. The canal cut through the properties of all four families. The elder David saw the canal as another method of making money. Henry Birdsall saw it as an intrusion upon his culture and his property. Henry’s vision was not disappointed. The canal-men brought vulgar language and habits with them. He was mortified to have his children exposed to this lack of decency.
David opened up his home (as a makeshift inn) to these men and the concubines that seemed to always be in tow. Young David was exposed to this raw part of humanity. Young Dewey David observed these faults of basic-man and they eventually formed a scab on his sensitivity. His childless past had already erased his ego. Young Dewey D. David’s only joy was wringing the necks of the passenger pigeons. His father made him net them in large numbers to be sold in Binghamton.
Epinetus was entering puberty when his Grandfather died. The Quaker culture of the Birdsalls had faded; some of it due to exposure to the canal people and the rest due to lack of strong-willed leadership.
Triphosia and Horace allowed a relative of Jean Guilliame de Besse to take Epinetus on a trip to New York City. It took a few days to make the trip up the canal to Utica. A subsequent short leg on the Erie Canal put them on the Hudson River. The next day they landed in New York. The de Besse relative had some business to tend to in the financial district.
The following Sunday (before leaving New York) the de Besse relative took Epinetus to visit a newly-built stone cathedral. A high mass was scheduled and the two sat quietly and listened to the beautiful organ music which was a prelude to the mass. The entrance hymn was played and Epinetus was entranced by the procession of the priests and alter servers. The mass continued through the readings and Gospel. As the communion was about to be served the organ master played Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Lachrymose.” The choir joined in and the music, step by step, reached a crescendo that Epinetus could never have imagined. Then the music suddenly dropped an octave in tone and a much slower pace. The music then picked up its tone and its volume; step by step until the crescendo seemed to reach an even higher point.
Epinetus had no idea what was happening to him and neither did the de Besse who was watching over him. Epinetus’ eyes rolled upward into his skull, he fainted and fell to the floor, smashing his forehead onto the oaken pew in front of him.
It was quite some time before anyone could waken Epinetus. They had carried him to the back of the cathedral and laid him on a Hudson-Bay blanket. When he awoke, a stained glass window with the impaled body of Jesus was staring down at him. Epinetus stayed motionless until he was able to gather his wits. The de Besse and a few of the congregation, once assured that Epinetus was over his spell, allowed him to get to his feet. Young Epinetus and the de Besse relative walked toward the dock. They were just in time to catch the boat for the first leg of their return trip.
Neither Epinetus nor the de Besse ever mentioned the fainting spell that occurred during the performance of the Lachrymose. There appeared no need to worry Epinetus’ parents about the single occurrence. Neither de Besse nor Epinetus realized the deep effect that the music had on his soul or his extra senses.
A few years passed before Epinetus was to hear the Lachrymose again. It was a beautiful fall day. Epinetus sat on an old log that lay in the dark woods at the top of the hill overlooking the family farm. He was entering manhood and as he sat there he wondered about the changes he was experiencing. The woods were calm and peaceful.
Epinetus did not realize that young Dewey D. David was also in the Birdsall woods; seeking to kill whatever wildlife he could. The pigeons were not migrating and young David had no necks to twist and break. But he did spot Epinetus sitting on the log and was anxious to shoot at something. David decided that Epinetus would suffice for this urge.
As David stealthily stalked him, Epinetus was unaware of it. Suddenly Epinetus experienced a very strange feeling. Then, oddly enough he heard, as clearly as if he were in the New York City cathedral, the organ playing the Lachrymose, as well as the choir accompanying it. Note by note the music reached its crescendo. The volume of the choir and organ increased in lock-step with the ascending music. Then – – – that dreadful pause that Mozart had placed on mankind – – – followed by a lowering of the tone and the timing; only to repeat the triple crescendo of timing, tone and volume once more.
Epinetus’ eyes rolled back into his head as he experienced the Lachrymose for the second time. He neither heard the “crack” of David’s rifle nor felt the pain of the rifle ball that tore a hole in his scalp. Epinetus awoke at dusk. His hair was matted in blood and dead leaves were glued to it. He was able to get to his feet and make his way down the hill. As he approached the family compound he could hear his family calling for him. Luckily the ball grazed his skull and he would survive. His blood-soaked shirt belied the physical damage done to him. It did not lie about the psychological damage.
The truth never emerged about what young David had done to Epinetus. However, over the years people assumed what they believed to be the truth. David’s reputation was born out of known facts. He was involved in several horrible acts of violence that had occurred in 1849 when he rushed to California seeking a fortune in gold. This was followed by the murder of his wife and brother-in-law upon his return to the township of Greene. David saved Chenango County the cost of a murder trial by killing himself.
Epinetus carried on his life encumbered by his experiences and the unexplainable reoccurrence of the Lachrymose. The Birdsall compound was his refuge and he never wandered far from it. It was four years since he had been shot.
One late winter day he heard a deep growling noise coming from the river. He left the barnyard and walked over a small knoll to where he could observe the water. There was no water to be seen. The Chenango River was covered with thick blocks of ice that had broken lose upstream and floated down. This occurred due to an early thaw. Mixed in with the ice were several large trees that had been ripped from the river bank. The ice blocks churned and ripped at the trees. This is what had caused the growling noises that Epinetus had heard. He watched for a long time, mesmerized by the force of the water and ice.
That night the members of the Birdsall family took turns watching the river. The ice had created a dam and this caused the river to rise; threatening their homes. In the morning the river level stabilized and slowly fell. The thaw ended as fast as it started and the river ice froze in place. The trees were captured in the forceful grip of ice.
Later that week Epinetus walked down to the rivers edge to inspect his boat. He had forgotten about it and started to worry that the large ice blocks may have damaged it. Luckily it had been pulled high enough up the river bank and the ice had not reached it. This boat was Epinetus’ connection to the Terwilliger family who lived across the river. He had not seen his boyhood friend, Peter, since the beginning of winter. Epinetus returned to his home and told his father, Horace, that he was going to cross the river-ice and visit Peter. Although his father was anxious about the ice he was happy to hear that Epinetus wanted to get outdoors and away from the family compound. He agreed to Epinetus’ wish on the condition that they checked out the strength of the ice together.
Horace hung on to one of the trapped trees as he tested the ice close to shore. The ice was frozen solid. He directed Epinetus to hang on to the branches of the trees as he walked across the river. Epinetus was smiling from ear to ear; as only a young man would when on an adventure. He was about ten feet from shore when he heard those fearful and dreaded notes of the Lachrymose. A loud groan escaped from the ice beneath his feet. The whole river shook and moved at the same time. The ice dam was breaking up.
Horace yelled to Epinetus “come back” but it was too late. Epinetus’ spell of the Lachrymose had overtaken him. He had fallen down. The ice started tumbling in various parts of the river. The piece under Epinetus revolved, ever so slowly, and trapped his legs against the tree. Epinetus’ coat snagged on a branch and it kept him from being dragged under. Even in his semi-conscious state Epinetus could still hear Mozart’s black music rising in tone, volume and beat. The choir voices seemed clearer than ever. The music blocked out the pain of ice tearing at his legs. And then that dreadful pause that the genius Mozart had injected occurred once more. Again the voices and organ dropped and restarted, deeper than before. Strangely the escalation of volume and beat that brought the music from darkness had transformed it to a glorious and beautiful height.
Horace realized his son could not help himself. Leaping onto the tree he quickly worked his way out to where Epinetus was trapped between the branches and the ice. The father grabbed his son by the belt and yanked his legs free from the ice that gnawed at his son’s flesh. Once Horace had the coat free from the branch he was able to balance himself on the tree trunk and drag Epinetus back to shore.
The blood from Epinetus’ legs dripped from the tips of his shoes as Horace carried him toward the house. Horace normally did not have the strength for such a task but found a reserve as he half-ran, half-stumbled on the pathway. The crimson trail of fresh blood on the snow went unnoticed until later in the day.
Epinetus suffered no broken bones but had several deep gashes on his legs. One kneecap was exposed. Grandmother Abashaby and his mother Triphosia tended to the wounds with herbal compresses and boiled linen rags. It was early spring before Epinetus was able to walk in the fields and woods again.
Over the years Epinetus had several other brushes with death and each time they were immediately preceded by the dark yet glorious Lachrymose. Epinetus never talked about the phenomena with anyone; not even his parents. The years passed and Epinetus’ physical health had deteriorated from these near-death traumatic experiences. His mental acuteness remained but he became overly fearful.
That particular branch of the Birdsall family eventually dissipated due to the lack of males to carry on the name. Epinetus’ aunts moved to other villages and he could not care for himself. The Chenango County home for the indigent (Preston Manor) took Epinetus into its care in the late 1880’s.
One winter day Epinetus was sitting in the great room of “The Manor” when an aid came in to tell him that he had a visitor. Epinetus was pleased when he saw that it was the same Mr. de Besse who had taken him to New York City fifty years ago. They talked for some time before the subject of the cathedral came up. It was Epinetus who raised the subject.
“Do you remember that time when we went to New York City and I passed out in the cathedral?” asked Epinetus.
“Yes I do” responded de Besse. “Even though you were the one who passed out that was the strangest experience I ever had.” Continuing on he said “When they played that song, which I later determined was Mozart’s ‘Lachrymose’, I felt myself becoming very weak. I still think it strange.”
“Well, Mr. de Besse, you will think it even stranger when I tell you my story” responded Epinetus.
And with that Epinetus launched into the lengthy tales of his experiences and the Lachrymose. He related the Dewey D. David story, the experience when caught in the ice flow and several other similar experiences that I was also privaleged to hear. However, I simply keep them to myself because they are too dreadful to repeat here.
Mr. de Besse kept an eye on the large grandfather clock that stood in the corner. He was mesmerized by the Epinetus’ stories but he knew it would be getting dark in a few hours. The clouds foretold of snow and de Besse had a long trip home to Berkshire. His horses and carriage were in excellent shape but the darkness and snow would double the time his trip would take.
“Mr. de Besse, would you have a cigarette that you could give me?” asked Epinetus.
“Yes. Of course” replied de Besse. “Let us go out on the back porch to smoke. We may bother others” lied de Besse. His real reason to move to the outdoors was for a breath of fresh air. Preston Manor had a large population of people with incontinence problems. De Besse was concerned that he might not be able to stomach the odor when mixed with the smoke.
“Thank you” said Epinetus as he rose from his chair. He led de Besse through a hallway to the back door. When they had reached the outdoors de Besse removed a silver cigarette case from an inner coat pocket. He opened it and held it out in an offer for Epinetus to take one. Epinetus did so and de Besse took one for himself. De Besse fumbled for a match in a compartment on the side of the cigarette case. He finally removed one and struck it on the side of the metal case. The flame lit up Epinetus’ face. At that very moment both men heard the first strains of the Lachrymose. De Besse saw the fear in Epinetus’ eyes. Epinetus reached out to hang on to de Besse’s coat for support. Both men lost their footing on the ice that covered the top step.
The music played while they hung on to each other and, as if in slow motion, they spun a full half-circle. Their feet seemed to dance as they sought firm footing. Slowly the two men went down together, elbows smashing on the flagstone steps, then their heads bouncing off the sharp corners. Slowly the music played; then sped up note by note until it reached that Mozartian glory, accompanied by the cathedral choir.
When they reached the bottom of the stairs the bright red blood spread out over the ice coating. De Besse’s head was cracked open and gray matter was exposed. Epinetus had blood streaming from his ears and nose, one arm twisted grotesquely under his body. Their music continued for two more refrains and ended only when their hearts, in unison, stopped beating.
I had been watching them from the window of the great room as they had departed for a cigarette. They were discovered some hours later; after darkness had fallen. It was only then that I arose from my chair and went to my room. The music was too beautiful. I could not leave any sooner.
This blog, like my own life, has gone full circle.
As a young boy I loved to write the stories that my mind saw.
Right or wrong; I now do it again.
This post, as you will see below, will link to my first two posts on “WordPress.” It also links to a fictional story in “Short Stories of Waldo.”
These links have a specific purpose; they form the end of this story.
So the end is the beginning and the beginning is the end.
But we must get on with the story so that you understand how such a strange thing is possible.
My special thanks to those of you who followed all 57 posts in this series; and also to those of you who will read the many other posts within the links. You will have to make use of the
to move from post to post in the last two portions of this ending.
§ EPILOG §
The sheep never recovered their eyesight but lived normal long lives.
George Park never obtained the information he was looking for about Jean Guilliame de Besse.
And you never did find out what happened to the Birdsall family after they departed the house of Juliand.
But wait! All is not lost.
Other relatives of Jean Guilliame de Besse and George Park visited Epinetus at the “Preston Manor Home for the Indigent.” If you wish to read that rather eerie story then click on the sign in the front yard of Preston Manor.
But not so fast. You may want to hear the Jean Guilliame de Besse story. You know; the one that Esquire George Park was never able to draw out of Epinetus. For the start of that story click on the picture of Jean Guilliame de Besse (aka Bessac) below.
And last but not least; we really must finish the story about Henry Birdsall and his family. However this is not a eerie story, or a family story or a fictional story. It is the story of two families who lived in Greene, New York. There is nothing solid that ties the families together; only their identical surname and location give this allusion.
It is a story of comparative facts. Some may find it boring yet others may find it enlightening. I leave it up to you. To read these facts click on the following canal picture.
The Birdsall caravan arrived at the Juliand home; however, it looked abandoned with the shutters and doors closed.
Epinetus told George Parks the following.
“’Mistah Birdsall’ came the unmistakable voice of Samuel. They looked around and finally saw Samuel scrambling up from the river’s edge. ‘Mistah Birdsall’ Samuel called again with obvious joy. ‘We been worry’n bout ya; supposed to be here last week.’”
“’Had some trouble Samuel’ replied grandfather as he waved his hand toward the wagon. ‘My son is broke up, I have some blind sheep and my horses are lame.”
“Samuel looked at Uncle Henry but dared not approach him. Samuel then studied the sheep with a puzzled look. Finally he went to the horses with self assurance and gently touched their legs while studying the open wounds made by the brakeless wagon.”
“Samuel spoke with more confidence than Grandfather had ever heard him speak before.’Mistah Juliand, he be on the Caribbean again. He tell me to have you stay in da house when you arrive. You take care of da boy. I take care of da horses. Da sheep – – I canna help – – maybe my missus know how.’”
“Grandfather replied that he would not feel comfortable staying in another man’s home. Samuel insisted; ‘Mistah Juliand be plenty mad with me if’n you don’t stay, please help, you stay Mistah Birdsall.’”
“Grandmother Abashaby had another one of those secret conversations with Grandfather Henry. Grandmother’s eyes flashed toward Uncle Henry, then to the sheep and finally on the horses. Grandfather apparently relented and spoke to Samuel. ‘All right Samuel, but just for one day.’”
“Samuel’s eyes brightened. ‘Mistah Birdsall, da house be unlocked. You take da family inside, I take da horses and wagon in da barn.’”
“Eventually realizing that he had overlooked a social requirement Grandfather said ‘Samuel, this is my wife Abashaby, my son Henry, and my younger son Horace.’ Then by age he started with the oldest daughter. ‘And these are my daughters Hester, Fanny, Abashaby, Rachel, Deborah, Eliza, and Polly.’”
“Samuel acknowledged each person with his bright eyes that complemented the big smile on his face. ‘Big family Mistah Birdsall, nice big family.’”
“Grandfather had promised to stay one single day in the Juliand home. That soon extended into four days thanks to the insistence of Samuel, the excellent meals that his missus provided, the availability of a warm bath for everyone, and the good care of Henry and the horses.”
George Parks was quite curious as to how the Birdsalls got out of the mess they were in.
Epinetus gave a wry grin at George’s lack of faith in old time ingenuity but said nothing; other than continuing on with the story.
“An unseasonable warm breeze blew most of that evening. The family and livestock rested comfortably; except for Uncle Henry and the horses. A nice campfire was built and after evening prayers the family recounted their experiences of that day. They prayed again; both thanking ‘The Light’ for sparing them a worse fate and asking Him for safety on the remainder of their journey.”
“The next day was spent at the same campsite. Everyone was assigned a chore except for Uncle Henry. The younger girls were assigned the task of searching the trail and adjacent woods for any pieces or parts of the broken pails or wagon. Other goods thrown from the runaway wagon were also gathered. The older girls did their best to re-assemble the pails and bind them together.”
“Teamwork” spoke George.
Epinetus looked askance at him for interrupting the story; however he gave George a big smile to acknowledge the fact the George was finally getting the drift of things.
“My father Horace and Grandfather Henry were busy attempting to rebuild the brakes for the wagon. Grandmother Abashaby tended Uncle Henry, the lame horses, and the blind sheep. All this while she also separated the girls who were constantly arguing. Grandmother Abashaby also smoothed over Grandfather’s frayed nerves after he had misdirected his frustration towards my father Horace.”
“Father Horace finally won Grandfather’s admiration by building a unique system of linkages to replace the broken brakes. Father Horace also contributed his skilled wood crafts by combining the pieces together with dovetails, mortises and tenons; all that done with three tools; a knife, a small wood chisel and a wooden hammer. Grandfather’s misery turned to joy when he realized that he had a son with such capabilities. Grandfather praised my father Horace for his hidden talents by giving my father a big bear hug and dancing around with father’s feet dangling above the ground.”
George thought “quite a picture those two” but he said nothing. He had learned not to interrupt Epinetus after he had received that last glare.
“Grandfather and father spent the remaining daylight hours testing the new braking system. First they simply yanked the brakes on and then released them. After several repeats of this process they then set the brakes and both of them put their shoulders, weight, and the strength of their legs against the back of the wagon to see if they could move it. When they were satisfied they hooked up the horses. This in itself was a chore because the horses remembered the previous day’s disaster. Finally the horses were fastened and the brake released. A test ride both downhill and uphill proved the workmanship was excellent.”
“Upon awakening the next morning the family found that the ground was dry enough to avoid skidding. After breakfast they prayed and set out westerly and downhill. Eventually they neared Greene. They passed a small abandoned cabin that sat down in the hollow near a generous stream. Behind the stream was a peculiar hill; long, narrow and not too high. Uncle Henry commented ‘It looks like a hog’s back.’ Grandfather sat upright and studied the hill. ‘Yes, and it is a good trout stream also” he stated as he remembered Mr. Juliand’s comment about fishing at ‘Hogs Back.”
“Late that afternoon they arrived at the Juliand home. It looked abandoned with the shutters and doors closed.”
“After noon meal and prayers the family proceeded on their downhill route again. Almost immediately the wagon hit a wet and slippery clay patch. It slid into a thicket of saplings. The wagon’s brake mechanism lodged against a young tree. The horses became excited and lunged forward. The brake-bar that had become wedged in the tree broke as the horses stormed downhill. Grandfather pulled the reigns tight but the horses paid little attention. The wagon slammed against some larger trees; first to the left and then to the right. Wooden pails tied safely to the wagons sides were smashed into splinters. Uncle Henry was thrown from the wagon and against a tree. His limp body lay on the ground as the horrible spectacle went on. The horses attempted to come to a halt but the momentum and weight of the brakeless wagon forced them to lunge forward again and again.”
George, mesmerized by the story, inhaled deeply on his cigarette and held the smoke in his lungs for an interminably long time.
“When the un-Godly mess of equines and wagon finally stopped, Grandfather leapt to the ground with rope in hand. He tied a front wheel of the wagon to a nearby tree. By that time the women and my father Horace had raced to Uncle Henry’s side. Grandfather ran uphill to meet them.”
“Uncle Henry lay on the ground moaning but no wounds could be seen. Grandmother and Grandfather were able to help him to his feet. After taking off his suspenders and shirt they could see the damage. One or two broken ribs poked at the underside of his skin but did not break through.”
George, without realizing it let an “Oh my God, the poor boy!” escape from his lips. Epinetus looked at him skeptically but then continued on.
“Grandmother Abashaby had each child rip a small strip off their blanket. These were tied together to form a long piece of cloth. She had two of the children hold Uncle Henry’s arms in the air as she made several circles around him. She carefully wrapped his broken body with this makeshift bandage.”
“Once again the Birdsall family made an early and unplanned camp. The weather had improved and the snow was melting quite rapidly. Uncle Henry and the horses were inspected several times. No additional damage was discovered on Uncle Henry. The horses had torn skin in several places on the back legs where the wagon hitch had hit them. Luckily they had no broken bones but only a few tender muscles. Grandfather applied some salve to their legs. He had stored this salve in the wagon for just such an emergency.”
George finished his cigarette and Epinetus took another one of his long breaks with his eyes closed. George could not determine if Epinetus was resting emotionally or physically. When Epinetus opened his eyes he continued on as if there were no break in time since he last uttered a word.
“How did they ever carry on after that?” asked George.
Epinetus said “They just carried on as if nothing had occurred; except for the injured.”
“The Birdsalls and some of the livestock had a quick and meager meal of old biscuits that morning. Grandfather made a decision that the three blind sheep would be trussed with rope and would ride on the wagon. ‘Everyone else will walk today’ stated Grandfather. However, Grandmother Abashaby took Grandfather aside for a quiet and rather secretive conversation. When the discussion was finished Grandfather had tears in his eyes. He walked over to Uncle Henry and said ‘you will also ride the wagon today.’”
“Uncle Henry protested; ‘I am fine Father. I can walk.’”
“’You will ride and that is my decision. Is that clear?’ demanded Grandfather.”
“Uncle Henry shook his head ‘Yes’ and smiled a knowing ‘Thank you’ when he realized that Grandfather loved him. Uncle Henry perceived that Grandfather was embarrassed about not realizing how much pain his son had been in throughout the night.”
Epinetus’ eyes welled up with tears and he again fell silent. Once he gained his composure he was off again with his story.
“With the wounded loaded in the wagon the Birdsall family started the nine mile downhill trek. Almost immediately Grandfather saw the dangers. The draught animals were losing their footing in the mix of mud and snow. The wagon wheels tended to slide sideways in the brown pudding created by the horses and oxen.”
“Only a few miles were gained over the morning hours. The family stopped and had a meal of biscuits and jerky. The children gathered up as many wild ferns as they could and fed the sheep, horses and oxen. The chickens received a hand full of cracked corn and the piglets were fed a mash of bad wheat and snow.”
George lit up a cigarette and executed a few smoke rings without realizing that this artful act had become a habit.
“That night they lay by the warming fire wrapped in their blankets. The last pieces of wood had been reduced to embers. The large meal and the previous uphill battle had put every Birdsall into a deep sleep. A few flakes of light snow drifted down, landing lightly on the standing fibers of their wool blankets. Some of the flakes melted into miniature glistening spheres of water. Most of the flakes remained in their crystal forms; some six sided, some eight sided and all with a matrix of frozen spines that joined the structured sides together.”
“My father, Horace, told me that he could feel the snow but was too tired to pay any heed to it. But soon he was awakened by a very stiff breeze. He arose and shook his blanket. Everyone was still sleeping. As he approached Grandfather he said ‘Father, it is snowing and becoming windy.’”
“Grandfather replied ‘Yes, I see, stoke the warming fire.’”
“’But father, there is no more wood’ replied my father.’”
“’See if you can find some nearby’ answered Grandfather.”
“As my father retrieved a few scraps of wood Grandfather Henry studied the snow and winds. He did not like what he perceived.”
“’Horace, forget the fire’ commanded Grandfather. ‘Do you see any low hanging pine or hemlock?’ My father responded in a positive manner. ‘Then break them off and bring them back to the wagon’ said Grandfather. ‘Stay Close so as to not get lost in the darkness.”
“The breeze turned to wind and Grandfathers directions turned to shouts. The commotion awoke the remainder of the family.”
“’What is happening Henry?’ asked grandmother Abashaby.’”
“’I am not sure but I believe a blizzard may be coming. Take the children and wrap them beneath the wagon! HENRY’ called Grandfather to my uncle. ‘Can you help Horace collect tree limbs and boughs from the pine and hemlock?’”
“Uncle Henry stated ‘yes Father, my hand does not hurt’ although every family member knew better.”
“My father, Uncle Henry and Grandfather scurried in the short visible circle around the darkened campsite. They gathered the limbs that had not been used for the warming fire. Pine and hemlock branches snapped as the men collected them from the nearby trees.”
Epinetus told the family story that had been repeated over and over when he was a child.
“The wind continued to increase in velocity as the snow increased in density. My father Horace and Uncle Henry piled dead limbs against the wagon with directions flowing from Grandfather. The pine and hemlock boughs were quickly woven into the limbs. It formed an almost impenetrable mask from the elements. Finally, when all four sides of the wagon were enclosed, the three men crawled under one of the wooden and needle curtains to join the women.”
“’Oh, Horace, Henry and you also Henry’ said Grandmother Abashaby, addressing Grandfather last, ‘Look at you!’ The dim light of the single oil lamp illuminated the three human snowmen. The women all scraped at their hair and clothes to remove the snow and ice that was imbedded on them by the severe wind.”
Epinetus took a moment to let his emotions settle down. He was caught up within the story as he told it to George.
“The whole family sat there together, each wrapped in their individual blankets. The wind, as it gained in ferocity, found its way around and through the boughs. It whipped into one side of the makeshift shelter and out the other side it taking precious body heat with it.”
“’Mother, I am cold’ cried one of the younger girls. The older ones understood hardship and shared the fears of their parents; however they remained cold but quiet. The three men shivered for hours but eventually regained some of their body heat. Uncle Henry shivered the longest but it was not from the cold. He had re-injured his hand while gathering boughs and it was throbbing again. He was near the point of shock. Only his mother, Abashaby, noticed. She took him in her blanket-wrapped arms and, almost unnoticeably, rocked him. It was soothing and he forced himself to sleep in order to avoid the pain.”
Epinetus alluded to George that each member of the family had a fear that they would die that night.
“At first-light the family finally spoke to one another. The fear of the blizzard had kept them silent through the darkest hours. The fierce winds had subsided and the sunlight reflected off the white snow.”
“Grandfather was the first to venture from their bough-cabin. The northeast side of all the trees were plastered with two inches of snow. The southwest sides were bare. An abundance of pine and hemlock boughs were now available. The wind had ripped them from the high trees and scattered them around.”
Epinetus sat back in his chair for a few minutes and shivered with the emotions of his own thoughts. Finally, he continued with his story.
“Grandfather checked each item of livestock. The chickens were in good condition because their crates were covered with a large piece of canvas. The oxen were in surprising good shape as were the horses. The piglets had huddled together and that had saved them. The sheep had suffered the most damage. Although their heavy wool kept them warm, Grandfather found that three of them had their eyes frozen and were blind.”
Epinetus looked at George to determine if he was still listening to his story.
He was; so Epinetus continued.
“The next six miles were a steady uphill climb. The tangled brush, stumps and boulders added to the constant falling. The exertion of the uphill trek was taking its toll. The exhausted state of the pilgrims was soon replaced by joy as the hills and tree tops melted away into a blue sky! They were at the summit of the hills that had drained them of their energy. Of course there were other hills in the distance but they appeared to be lower than where the family stood. Grandfather announced that it would be all downhill from there to Greene.
By now George was intent on hearing what Epinetus had to say.
“The Birdsall family held a short meeting and decided to quit early and enjoy a small celebration. A cooking fire was lit and the children gathered wood for a larger fire to warm themselves by. Pickled pork was pulled from a barrel and Grandmother Abashaby mixed flour and spring water for biscuits. Prayers were said both before and after the meal. The warming fire was lit and Grandfather Henry told stories about his grandfather. The stories centered around Great-Great-Grandfather’s trip from Europe to Long Island, and, the final settlement in Connecticut. My father told me that it was dark and cold by time the last story was finished. Everyone was wrapped in a blanket and they collectively contemplated the stars.”
George pulled a pocket map from his coat and unfolded it in his lap. Epinetus was curious as to what he was looking at. Finally he asked, “Looking for something Mr. Parks?”
“Yes, I am attempting to determine where you stayed that night.”
Epinetus replied “As far as I could ever figure it was somewhere near Coventry or Coventryville. We looked for their camping spot years later but could never quite determine where it was. Nothing looked familiar to my father or Uncle Henry. Trees had been cut down and other trees had grown – – – nothing looked the same.”
Epinetus hung his head down.
”It was only nine miles downhill to their next destination but they had no idea of how horrible those nine miles would be.”
Epinetus shuddered. At first George Park thought that Epinetus was cold. But as the story progressed he was sure that it was the painfulness of the story that made him shudder. George’s thoughts returned to the thoughts of cold night and the family wrapped in blankets.
George Park wondered “Is Epinetus really going to tell me more about the final leg of the family’s pilgrimage?”
It sure sounded like it.
“The family finally reached Unadilla just south of where the Ouleot Creek joins the Susquehanna River. The river was quite high but still negotiable via a horse drawn ferry float. Uncle Henry informed me that it took several trips to ferry the wagons and livestock across the Susquehanna. Grandfather vigilantly watched upstream for floating trees. He had not forgotten his float disaster at Bainbridge.”
“My father Horace told me that when the family reached Unadilla proper Grandfather located a wheelwright. The man replaced Grandfather’s leather wheel bearing with a steel one. The wheelwright was very impressed at the ingeniousness of Grandfather’s quick fix. He was even more amazed that it lasted as long as it had. Grandfather paid the man twenty-five cents and the Birdsall family was on its way the next day.”
Epinetus became quite excited as he repeated what his father had told him about the trip from Unadilla to Greene.
“The map and the compass told Grandfather that Greene was almost due west from Bainbridge; – – – ‘Jericho’ at that time. As you know, Mr. Parks, Unadilla is in the Susquehanna Valley as well as Bainbridge However, the terrain told a different story. The path westward from Unadilla to Bainbridge was well worn and free of roots or boulders. The same was true of the first three miles out of Bainbridge; after that, it was a terrible journey.”
“It was obvious that a few wagons had previously made the trip. These signs were comforting but hardly very helpful. Saplings hid the previously hewn stumps from which they grew. Grandfathers draft animals tripped on the stumps. If the animals missed the stumps then the wheels usually did not. The wagons would come to a jarring halt that threatened to tear the wheels off.”
Epinetus, sitting in his chair, would lurch forward, then backward, in order to emphasize to George what it must have felt like.
“Every once in a while one of these stumps, or a hidden boulder, would throw someone from the wagon or ox cart. It soon became practice for most everyone to walk behind the wagons instead of riding. They would still get thrown to the earth as hidden roots and fallen limbs caught their feet. Minor wounds were suffered by everyone but major injuries did not occur. Only Uncle Henry was in pain due to his crushed hand; and even that pain was subsiding.”