Andy Williams likes to sing, "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year."
Except he is usually referring to the tsunami of commercialism and sub-freezing temperatures that herald the December holiday season. As for me, I sing that phrase from the first day of October to the final day of the month.
The autumnal bliss that blankets our region is a veritable Hallmark card to rural Americana. The season invariably takes me back nearly a half-century to when I was growing up in Sidney. I'm sure it is the same for everyone. Only the names are different.
My dad and my brothers and I would spend a full October Saturday raking the leaves that carpeted our big backyard. The neighbor men were out doing the same thing, each shouting World Series updates back and forth over fences. I remember that we all wore plaid. I loved wearing plaid as a kid. It made me feel grown up somehow. I haven't worn plaid in 40 years.
The big event of "rakin' day" was the enormous pile of red, orange and green leaves that would soon be sacrificed to the God of Fire. Dad stood sentinel over the glowing pyre, dutifully holding a garden hose, which he never turned on. My brothers and I watched through the inky sky as tiny, dancing embers came down harmlessly in the distance. And the smell of burning leaves? Sublime.
Our area had a plethora of apple orchards and cider mills, and a trip to the fields was always an adventure. Edmeston, Unadilla, Franklin, Otego, Gilbertsville and beyond ... brother, this was "Apple Country!"
Around mid-October, the Johnsons would open their farm to our whole town. Our mothers would shop at Millie's farmstand, and ol' Walt would drag wagons filled with youngsters behind his big tractor out to see where "the witches lived." And he'd do it from sunup to sundown.
To many in my hometown, Walt Johnson was "Mr. Sidney." To us kids, he was just the friendly guy "who took us on a wagon ride."
Halloween was a night of great excitement in all of the towns that dot our region. Kids would spend hours on their costumes, right down to the littlest item, and then schlep on big winter coats to cover it all up because it was freezing outside. The neighborhoods came alive on Halloween night.
We were clever candy professionals in those days. We knew which houses gave the trick or treaters a pencil or a nickel, and we avoided them like the plague. A pencil? On the other hand we knew the exact directional coordinates of every house that dispensed chewy homemade popcorn balls, or chunks of fudge or even a FULL SIZE Snickers bar. Wow ... that was the mother lode.
Every Halloween night ended the same way, with a stop at Mrs. Logan's house for a candy apple that was heroic. A gigantic round McIntosh apple dipped in a sweet, red, sugary coating and "hard-cracked" to perfection. She'd jam a stick through the core and then wait for the kids to line up at the side door over her grocery store. The resemblance between the "Pied Piper" and Delphine Logan was not lost on the children of Sidney.
I'm sure the dads and kids of Worcester raked and burned leaves together in the old days, too. And I'm certain that Cherry Valley, Franklin and Milford had their own haunted wagon rides. And no doubt the Fly Creek Cider Mill, Willy's Cider Mill, Middlefield Orchards (and all of their predecessors) sold cider and apples by the ton long before today's generation ever stepped foot on a frostbitten October field in Central New York.
Some things change and some don't. I miss going on Mr. Johnson's hayride and I miss my Dad and raking leaves with him like I did when I was a boy. And I sure could go for one of those candy apples of my youth. Alas, they've all flitted away like the amber embers of the backyard leaf piles of my childhood.
But I still revel in taking my kids to the local cider mill (they insist on it, all four of them, from ages 13 to 28). And our Center City neighborhood still comes alive at Halloween time (and yes, our little ones know where the pencils are doled out).
"It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year." I agree, Andy.
You're just a couple of months late.
Now where can I buy me some plaid …Catch you in two.
'Big Chuck' D'Imperio can be heard on weekdays beginning at 6 a.m. on WDOS-AM 730 in Oneonta, and also on Thursday nights from 7-9 p.m. on WSRK-FM 103.9 for his "Oldies Jukebox Show." You can find "Big Chuck" on Facebook under Upstate New York Books. He invites you to contact him at email@example.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/bigchuck.
Andy Williams likes to sing, "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year."
- Big Chuck
My pal Brucie, savior of Sidney's hospital
Ask any hospital administrators if they've ever heard of a closed hospital in New York state that has ever been re-opened. They will say, "Impossible." In a half century of going through records you can't find any.
Catching a whiff of 'Vermont Vapor'
We just came back from a weekend in Manchester, Vt., and my wife insists that something "magical" happens when you pass the state sign. "I think they spray 'Vermont Vapor' out of the sign or something," she opined, "something that actually changes us."
Selections from the virtual mailbag
Well, it's time to open up the email bag, and it's really full!
Recalling days of 'Doughnut King'
In 1969, I was "The Doughnut King" in Sidney.
Opera great's visit still a thrilling memory
Opera singer Marian Anderson (1897-1993) has been called the "most distinctive American voice of the 20th century."
- Monday, February 25, 2013
Film clip a window into Oneonta's past
One of my radio listeners sent me an astonishing piece of video recently. I posted it on my Facebook page (go to Facebook, search "BIG CHUCK") and it has been viewed by well over 1,000 people in just a week.
- Monday, February 11, 2013
Many made stop at upstate naval base
My father was in the U.S. Navy. Not for long, but he did enlist out of high school in 1944. He did his naval training at Sampson Naval Training Base in Romulus. Shortly after Dad's basic training, he was honorably discharged because of a health issue. So, although his service was brief, I needed to find out as much about it as I possibly could.
- Monday, January 28, 2013
Local foods worthy of national spotlight
Well, President Obamaâ€™s second inauguration is over and we can all breathe a sigh of relief and satisfaction.
- Monday, January 14, 2013
Remembering lives of the not-so-famous
I write about 25 columns a year for this paper. And I must admit, this annual one is always my favorite. A lot of famous people left this world last year, including General Norman Schwarzkopf, Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, jazz pianist Dave Brubeck, singer Andy Williams and TV's George Jefferson actor -- Sherman Hemsley.
- Monday, December 31, 2012
Canines create unforgettable moments
Last year, I used my holiday column to pay tribute to my dog, Stella. The darn dog actually received fan mail after that, and has insisted that I do a shout-out to her canine colleagues each year around this time. So, to keep Stella happy, here goes.
- Monday, December 17, 2012
Nothing like an old-fashioned movie theater
What is it about a movie theater?
- Monday, December 3, 2012
Chuck's daughter returns to a town full of memories
My daughter Frances, OHS Class of 2000, came home for Thanksgiving last week after not having been in her hometown for nearly five years. I asked her to be my "guest columnist" to share her thoughts about coming home for the holidays. I hope you enjoy her story.
- Monday, November 19, 2012
Time to move on after grueling campaign season
Nobody likes a presidential election campaign better than I do. But this one darn near took a piece out of me.
- Monday, November 5, 2012
One nasty hurricane more than enough for one lifetime
Hey, Sandy! Don't let the door hit you on the way out.
- Monday, October 22, 2012
Latter-day stunt men still knew how to thrill
What is it with all these crazy stuntmen all of a sudden?
- Monday, October 8, 2012
Andy Williams, last of the great crooners
When singer Andy Williams died a week ago, it truly was an end of an era.
- Monday, September 24, 2012
Senator's farm was all I imagined
Many years ago, when I first arrived in Oneonta, Daniel Patrick Moynihan was the senior senator from New York state. His top aide, Ross Frommer, used to come into the radio station for interviews and to tell my audience about the various legislative efforts involving "their senator."
- Monday, September 10, 2012
Family's history includes ancestor who knew Lincoln
- Monday, August 27, 2012
Making up for lost time on Facebook
If there ever was a true-blue phenomenon, it is Facebook.
- Monday, August 13, 2012
Father's Day gift prompted my first fish story
My family has given me a lot of interesting Father's Day gifts over the years. This year the wisenheimer 15-year-old in the house decided to bestow a special present to me on "my day."
- My pal Brucie, savior of Sidney's hospital