Thursday, November 1, 2012

The legacy of our Valois 'frontier' women

I drove up to our lake cottage this week as we were battening down for Hurricane Sandy and a Nor'Easter to simultaneously arrive and I was once again struck --- awe and admiration --- for those hearty women who lived up here year 'round for most of their lives.

My mother at her 80th birthday party, with her neighbor and friend, Mary Crouch.
My mother, Louise Schwartz, chose to winterize our summer cottage in Upstate New York and make it her permanent home after my father died and after we had a brief fling living on Sanibel Island. She wanted to come home to her roots, her family, and this cottage on Seneca Lake was always the love of her life.

She shoveled out her car (no garage or carport) to drive over the icy Searsburg Road to Trumansburg to teach, and later even farther, to Dryden.

It was before the Finger Lakes Wine Trail was even an idea. Or legal.  No wineries, no local restaurants --- just Sheik's Oasis, our corner bar that occasionally threw a frozen pizza in a toaster oven. So it took neighbors and friends to make it through those long winters.

Mary Sullivan Crouch lived next door in a farmhouse her family had owned since she was a child. They would call each other daily to catch up on their news, make sure they were okay. Sometimes Mom would tell me they hadn't seen each other for weeks during the winter, even though they could probably have waved to each other out their bedroom windows.

And they did it as single women living in the country for many decades.

Our house on the left, Mary's below
One time Mom told me she hadn't been out of the cottage for a week. Literally. Not even as far as the mailbox. Way too treacherous with ice and snow, she said. I couldn't wrap my mind around it, as someone who has followed the sun to warm climates for most of my adult life.

But as I went up to the lake house to make sure nothing I left in the front yard would get picked up and smash through the front picture window, as I thought about getting the water shut down before the first real freeze this week, I was in awe.

Awe that this was such a challenging place to live and that she and Mary were up to the job. Didn't even question it.  That they would get snowed in until the plow showed up, that the water pipes would occasionally freeze, that Mom would shut off the second floor to try to keep the downstairs warm enough and the utilities affordable. And that they still loved it.

I stood on our overlook watching the northerly winds blasting down the lake, feeling the temperature drop, the rain come on. I looked up at the huge trees surrounding our little cottage, limbs swaying in the breeze. I thought about a story that my cousin's husband, 'The Bear' told me --- that when Mom was snowed in long enough she would call John and he would show up on his snowmobile with a pack of cigarettes for her. Otherwise, she was 'just fine.'

This summer our neighbor down the hill, Ruth Rundell, passed away at 87 years old. Mom died at 83. Mary died at 93. These three amazing women are gone, the three cottages passed on to the next generation. They were hearty, strong women, good neighbors always.

It's a beautiful legacy. One I hope to live up to....

Louise in her garden on the shores of Seneca Lake


Ellen Barone said...


I always love reading your blog posts, but as this one comes so close to home, I'm especially touched by it.

I know my parents thought the world of your mom and I'll be passing this along to them to read, too.

Kindest thanks for sharing your world and words with us,


Michael J. Fitzgerald said...

Nicely done Admiral... those three women would be worth a book... Hey! There's an idea...