EDWARD SMITH JR.
Elroy E. Smith was born in Coram, Long Island on July 21, 1911, the second of seven children including Josephine, Helen, Marjorie, George, Mary and Savilla. The little country settlement of Coram in the Township of Brookhaven, County of Suffolk, State of New York, is located at the junction of The Middle Country Road and the Cross Island Road connecting Port Jefferson on the north shore and Patchogue on the south shore; both roads having been somewhat changed by modern construction and route numbering. The settlement was made up at that time of rather sparsely located, small, self sustaining farms except at the junction of the two main roads where there was a town pump for the benefit of thirsty horses, an inn, a saloon, a blacksmith shop, a general store and post office, a Methodist Church, and a one-room school. Prominent residents consisted of descendents of early settlers, mostly farmers, general tradesmen, small time businessmen, or politicians.
The Elroy E. Smith Sr. farm of about 12 acres was situated on the W. end of Coram on the corner of The Middle Country Road and Paul's Path. Nearest neighbors were grandpa and grandma Elsebough close by to grandpa and grandma Smith, the Caroli brothers, the Koscharas, the Lyons, the Fullwoods, and great-uncle Tom Smith. Going to the center of the "metropolis" you would pass uncle Kon Kaller's home, the Brush residence, the Pfundstein home and saloon, the Dake blacksmith shop, the Rovagna general store, on around the triangle to the home of Grant Smith. On the Patchogue branch was nothing but woods and a sanatorium. Across from the Grant Smith home was an abandoned house between the church and schoolhouse. On the Yaphank branch were the Hawkins and Farands. On the Mt. Sinai branch were the Vogels, the Stills, the Harold Davis and a Polish family. Continuing along the E. end of Coram on The Middle Country Road were homes of D. R. Davis, Everett Davis, Winfield Davis, the Hahns, and the Nilssons.
Long Island is
a long, fish-shaped, glacially deposited sand bar with an
out-washed southern plain having prominent bays and ocean
front, a gently undulating interior, and some precipitous
beachfront on the north or Long Island Sound side, strewn
with much water-worn gravel and boulders. So the farms
are sandy to yellow, sandy-loam; excellent for truck
gardening, potatoes, and cauliflower. Dad was a
small-time farmer turned dairyman. Our farm adjoined
Moony Pond and there was much swampy woods, abandoned
grassy fields, and timber surrounding us. This figured
very prominently in my first explorations. Although I had
no formal education in Nature, I could recognize flora
and fauna common to that locality by appearance. I have
since learned to know them by name. Among the trees were
the American chestnut, the white oak, the black oak, the
eastern juniper, the wild cherry, the chestnut oak, the
willow, the white birch, the black locust, the black
walnut, the sassafras, the scrub pine, the scrub oak, and
some less common to my experience. Common flowers
included the wild rose, violets, black-eyed susans,
daisies, dandelions, trailing arbutus, moccasin flowers,
bluets, goldenrod, and honeysuckle. Intermediate between
trees and flowers were brakes, bull briars,
huckleberries, dewberries, black raspberries, wild
grapes, beach plums, poison ivy, burdock, Queen Anne's
lace, sand burs, pear cactus, pokeweed, milkweed, cat
tails, soapweed, laurel, etc.
Moony Pond was my special paradise of catfish, goldfish, painted turtles, spotted turtles, dragonflies, green herons, bittern, cranes, muskrats, ribbon snakes, sandpipers, bullfrogs, leopard frogs, spring peepers, toads, box turtles, kingfishers, and red-winged blackbirds. Other familiar fauna were crows, robins, barn swallows, English sparrows, whip-poor-wills, bluebirds, blue jays, cow birds, starlings, field sparrows, song sparrows, red headed woodpeckers, grey squirrels, woodchucks, red foxes, skunks, golden chipmunks, possum, cottontail rabbits, blue racers, hog nosed snakes, red bellied snakes, water striders, water beetles, sow bugs, earthworms, red ants, black ants, wasps, hornets, yellow jackets, bumblebees, all sorts of curious beetles, and many kinds of butterflies and moths. Such was my early environment - a never ending seasonal array of Nature's variety, and a community of people of all sorts of nationalities and stations of social prominence.
What does a small boy do on a farm with an older sister and no playmates except on rare occasions? Memory does not always serve and sometimes persists in recollection of the painful or embarrassing. Mother has always said that I was a good baby. That probably means that I followed a good schedule and did not giver her much trouble. But this did not last.
Whenever I reached the "traveling" age I exercised an insatiable curiosity and a propensity for taking things apart. This served to get me into lots of trouble, as for example, all machines and tools fell under my inquiring gaze and ended up taken apart but not restored to their original usefulness or to their rightful place. I took apart a hand powered sheep shearing machine and lost the parts among the hay in the mow. Most planes had their irons removed; spare door locks became a mess of unorganized parts; bits and braces served to drill holes in the most unsuitable locations (like the time I bored holes in the wooden milk cooler); a saw was for cutting most anything; and a hammer and nails were good for plenty of exercise.
On one occasion I drove about a quarter pound of small nails in what I thought was a pretty neat line across the windowsill. This was not quite as bad as the same treatment I gave the log that Pop used for a chopping block. Man! I'll bet that axe took an awful beating. Busy, that was I, always occupied and out from under my mother's feet. She would get suspicious when things were too quiet.
Once, she dropped in on me in the hen house where I had taken the cracked oyster shells and some eggs and was mixing up a rather unorthodox omelet. On another occasion I discovered that her hair brush was soiled; it was discolored for about an eighth of an inch on the ends of the bristles, and what better way of correcting this than to cut off the offensive ends. The job had gotten under way just long enough to indicate that the cutting was quite amateurish with respect to the original contour when one of my sisters informed on me. There was a short, Savilla Smith size tornado during which my posterior received rather uncompromising strokes from that same brush.
Sometimes for me there seemed to be too many sisters ready and willing to see that justice was served upon me. For example, the time I did something wrong and did not wish to face the music. So I planned to skip supper and sneak into the bedroom off the porch roof after dark. There was much calling and searching before and after the meal with no response. Acting on well-founded suspicions of my climbing ability, the girls thought of the porch roof. "there he is Pop, we see him up there." But Pop chuckled and pretended that he did not see anything. My little brother let me in the bedroom window, and mother, feeling that the weight of impending calamity hung rather heavy on my conscience, gave me some food and sent me to bed.
Family frustration with my filing system for tools, gadgets, nails, etc. usually ended up in a storm of protest from Pop before the offended ears of my mother, well garnished with some choice terminology not destined to find favor with the Lord and culminated by a dire threat "to buy a loc and by the great ----! # ? x % fix it so that so and so little (censored) won't be able to get his hands on anything." He never did though.
Just prior to school enrollment, about the five year old stage, Josephine and I began to broaden our sphere of influence. For some reason or other she always wanted to run away from home. So she was tied up to a tree convenient to mother's watchful eye about like one of pop's cows set out to graze on lush grass. Meanwhile, I became skilled in climbing trees and made trips to the homes of both grandparents, usually for sugar cookies. The only thing I can recall about great grandpa John Elsebough is that he was fond of me and especially of eliciting appropriate answers to questions which he put to me from the comfort of his porch rocker. If my replies were satisfactory he would say approvingly, "that's the ticket for the soup."
He soon died and great grandma moved in with Pop's folks, the home going to a family by the name of Yarrington. These newcomers I recall for two episodes in my life. In the first instance, we made a trip to Port Jefferson ship yards to watch the launching of the first troop carrier built there for use in WWI and on which Mr. Yarrington had proudly worked. The crowd seemed huge to me. It was noisy and confusing. I failed to see the christening from the precarious perch on Mr. Yarrington's shoulders in spite of his gesticulations. The boat slid down the ways. I slid down to terra firma amid the disappointment of those concerned with what I ought to have seen. We all went home, to my inward satisfaction at being restored to the security of familiar grounds. And the war went on while I remained oblivious to the significance of it.
Later on Mr. Yarrington's daughter got married and I was introduced to the institution of the "Chivaree" from adult conversation, about the "goings on" on the wedding night and the sight of a queer looking fiddle in their front yard. It was played by drawing a long, heavy plank across the flexible, well-resined sides of a packing box. Such music! fit only for sound effects in a jungle thriller. The fish silhouette on top of the flagpole was also well-perforated, as I learned, from some indiscriminate shooting not exactly designed to hit that target.
Grandfather Smith was almost a second father to me in those days. He would start his round of chores with me and his tomcat "Booz" in tow. First the granary where the cat pounced with such agility and perfection as to snag two and three mice at one time in paws and mouth when the feed barrel was tip tilted to reveal their nesting or hiding places. Then the chickens were fed; the eggs gathered; the stock fed; and perhaps the cow milked. And of course, there were many strange machines which we did not have at home. On a day when Pop and I were there together, I was not long getting into the barn to play with a hand-operated thresher. It was such fun to get the huge fan going and to see the belts move while other parts shuttled back and forth to send grain one way and chaff another. In my enthusiasm this day I got my little finger in between two gears that pinched away a sizeable piece of flesh. Like my own boy Philip, I ran screaming more at the sight of blood and damage than with pain. In his usual gruff ("well, what now") voice, Pop wanted to know what I had done. In fear of reprisal I fibbed about smashing two rocks together but he looked skeptical and told grandma that I was out there messing around in the barn with the machinery.
Pop was not so patient about explaining things as grand pa (for example, grandpa and I were walking 'cross lots" to the store one evening when he took time to point out significant stars) but when I stood around watching, Pop might take the occasion to explain something. He gave me a good lesson in hitching the horse so that I still remember the bridle and bit, the collar, the hames, breast band, bellyband, traces, reins, hip strap, breeching, and crupper. And all these things were put on, taken off, and hung up in a certain order. Mostly, I learned from Pop by close observation and reasoning why a thing would be just so. He did not always do the right thing; as when he beat an animal over the ribs, garnishing the whole affair with the choicest expletives. Being son and heir I copied faithfully until I could see that cows do not give milk nor horses respond to command except under favorable conditions. And all that proceedeth out of the mouth of man should edify him; tensions are better relieved in other ways.
The events on the farm were many and varied. It was a life of almost complete self-subsistence. Now I watched the hog killing, which at first frightened me into the confines of a closet. Pop, all six foot plus of him and 225 pounds of solid muscle, did most things by brute force; being as some put it, capable of picking up two ordinary men and banging their heads together. He would chase a hog into a corner of the pen, upend it by a leg, straddle it, and slit its throat. We were fascinated by the butchering operations from the building of the roaring fire around the huge iron kettle for boiling water, to the actual scalding of a hog gaffed in the hind legs and sloshed up and down in a barrel of hot water, tilted at the end of a plank way, to the scraping off of the hair, gutting, and hanging to cure. We children were given the bladder to inflate with a piece of macaroni and use for a football.
Grandpa smoked hams and bacon according
to the best custom. The fat side pork was salted down to
be used all winter in various forms. Some fat went into
the production of laundry soap. The heart, liver, and
spare ribs were used right soon, while the remainder
ended up in what I still think was the finest sausage
available according to an old family recipe.
Milking time was an occasion for us to stand around pestering the hired hands. Some were cooperative and talented in such arts as imitating train whistles or whistling through their teeth. "Helping" with feeding chores was fun for five or six-year-olds. Some of the time Josephine and I had cousin Earl Kaller over for playtime. Once we were amusing ourselves by running up and down the cellar door. Earl ran up forward and then backed down like a locomotive going downhill, all the while yelling, "watch me", until he upended into a washtub full of sour milk destined for the hogs.
Also about this time Pop embarked upon an expansion program intended to make him a dairyman supreme. The west end of the old barn was removed to attach a new structure for the herd of cows. This exposed several nests of hen eggs that had long since been given up by the hopeful tenants. A quick appraisal led to the conclusion that the reliability of these eggs for cooking purposes was questionable. So, we three had a glorious time testing our marksmanship against what was left of the barn wall. By the time the eggs were gone, we were thoroughly splattered with the delicate aroma of hydrogen sulphide. When Earl got home his horrified mother burned all his clothes and hustled him into the bathtub. Josephine and I were placed in a deep excavation with unscalable log walls built to store a supply of ice harvested in the winter from Moony Pond. She was removed first for cleaning because she had to help with the preparation of supper. But I languished there among some playthings for an extended time because I loudly and abusively bewailed my fate as passers-by derided my condition in tormenting terms. Not many more escapades were to involve cousin Earl, because Uncle Kon soon moved to Patchogue.
Some little kids were dropped on their heads when they were young, so that one could account for their queer behavior in later life. I was different; I was 'bited by a bee"; not just once, but several times. My initiation occurred when I watched a big, beautiful bumblebee entering a large blossom. All I could think of was to have that bee in hand where I could see the detail much better. When I closed a small fist around him "de tail" seemed to possess a rare wallop. About the time the fourth Smith baby came along, I was exploring the outer reaches of a big apple tree limb, holding on to young shoots that grew upward. There was much buzzing overhead and presently I was target for a whole squadron of hornets. Amid much fearsome yelling and thrashing of limbs that only provoked the demons all the more, Mother's nurse came a-running and summoned Pop. He stood tall enough beneath the limb to reach up and catch one of the most enthusiastic high divers you ever saw! Lucky I was not stung to death with mad hornets seeking revenge for having their nest shaken up. This may account for the great zeal I had for locating hornet's nests and pelting them to pieces with sticks, stones, apples, or other missiles.
Pop often took me along on wagon trips to distant neighbors with whom he had business. One home quite often frequented was that of Daniel Davis, whose son Lester was a dairyman like my Pop. While they dealt in milk and cow trading I was entertained by a gramophone, listening fascinated to those early recordings of song and comedy. It was as marvelous a machine then as television is today. Another delight on such visits was special food. Mrs. Davis, for example, made the best doughnuts a small boy ever tasted.
Some wagon trips were made to Port Jefferson or Patchogue, usually for the purpose of selling produce to stores or house to house: corn, tomatoes, beans, strawberries, watermelons, etc. The most fun was to peddle watermelons in the Italian section. Hordes of children followed up the street, entreating mothers and fathers to buy "mellones". The longest trip taken during the year was to the county seat at Riverhead to visit the annual fair. This was a must visit for all farmers to make any season a great success. Pop exhibited produce and earned many blue ribbons. Once the family went by train from Medford station when I was too young to really enjoy it or recall very much. We did arise before dawn to meet the train; a four mile drive. We passed some of the famous Long Island duck farms along the way. One could hardly forget the acres of white ducks in streams and feeding areas. We arrived back home in the dark of evening in time to go to bed again. So, for me, here was a rude awakening from slumber at an unearthly hour of the morning and a belated return to bed; punctuated by an interlude of driving, first ride on a locomotive that blew a cinder in my Mom's eye, strange scenery passing by the train windows, all sorts of carnival sights and smells at the fair, horse races, vaudeville acts, ice cream cones, endless walking it was all too much for me!
The second trip to the fair was made by horse and surrey all the way and back. On the way, Uncle Kon Kaller and Aunt Myra passed us in their early model Ford with the shiny brass radiator and the top folded back. How nice, they thought, for Eddie to ride with then IN A CAR! No sir! No amount of persuasion would suffice to separate me from the surrey and ride in that contraption. Now wasn't I a chump? Most kids today would just as soon DRIVE a car without benefit of passing through the bicycle stage.
Grandma, she says, when I grow up to be a
The old cat sneaks down off that perch of
So its wash your face, and comb your hair