Thursday, August 25, 2005

Memories of High Woods

My daughter Caitlin called me from New Mexico last week. An old Santa Fe buddy of hers, whom she's known for years, had just found out that she's Harvey Fite's had somehow never come up. It turns out that Dewey lived in High Woods for several years back in the 70s, and worked for Bill Johnson, our neighbor, who did some backhoe work for Harvey, clearing out some of the areas in the back.

So Dewey was visiting in the east this week, and he stopped by yesterday. We shared reminiscences of Bill Johnson, one of the great characters of this area. I told him that my first recollection of Bill came from when I was a small boy, and my parents warned me to never, ever, take a ride with Bill in his truck. Bill was a cowboy, they said, and he drove his truck as though he were riding a horse.

Sadly, the occasion never came up. I would have hopped in that truck in a heartbeat.

But Bill, who actually did know a great deal about motorized vehicles, since he made his living owning and operating heavy equipment, may have been from High Woods, but he was a real cowboy. I've never seen anyone, including Gary Cooper, who looked so much like a cowboy -- tall, blond, weatherbeaten, laconic, totally comfortable with himself.

Thinking about Bill made me think about High Woods when I was growing up. A tiny community of neighbors, neighbors who embraced with pride and affection this strange sculptor who was building this strange thing in their midst.

High Woods back then consisted of the church and the general store. The general store was owned by Henry Wilgus. The store was in the front of the building, and you could get Necco wafers or milk and eggs or fishing tackle. Behind the store area was a kitchen where short-order meals were prepared. The rest of the building was a huge room which contained a dance floor surrounded by tables. The tables were used for eating, drinking beer, and playing euchre. Little notes on paper plates on the wall told who had been skunked by whom. The dance floor had a jukebox that played 78 RPM records -- chosen, I believe, by Henry Wilgus. There was no rock and roll. The names of the songs were written in ballpoint pen, in Henry's handwriting, all capital letters, with dashes in between each word: SHRIMP-BOATS, MOCKINGBIRD-HILL, DAVY-CROCKETT, THE-YELLOW-ROSE-OF-TEXAS.

But the dancing was done on Saturday night, to live music. It was square dancing. There was a fiddler -- Perce, his first name was, and I've forgotten his last name, sadly. And a square dance caller. One tune remains in my head fifty years later:

The first two ladies cross over, and by the opposite stand
The second two ladies cross over, and you all join hands
You bow to your corner lady, and honor your partners all
You swing your corner lady, and you promenade the hall

If I had a girl, and she wouldn't dance, I tell you what I'd do
I'd buy her a boat, and set her afloat, and paddle my own canoe

This same verse and chorus were repeated four times, but it's not as repetitious as it sounds. In every square dance which calls for partnering up with your corner lady, and the opposite ladies crossing over, a repetition of four means that by the end of the dance, you will have danced with every lady in your set.

Wilgus's General Store is gone now, and with it, the ferryboat life preserver, painted white, that Henry hung from a tree as one came up the hill toward High Woods from Mount Marion, which read


And nothing has replaced it. No convenience store--nor are we looking for one. So High Woods is now the church, and a wonderful church it is. They have an Easter sunrise service every year at Opus 40, weather permitting. And every Labor Day they have their church fair, with a bazaar and delicious roast beef luncheon. We go to the fair every year...but back in the days I'm remembering, the 1940s and '50s, things were a little different. High Woods is small now, but it was smaller then, and Glasco Turnpike was a little-traveled country road. So on the morning of Labor Day, the whole community would turn out at the corner of Glasco Turnpike and High Woods costume. Everyone in homemade costumes, even some homemade floats. We would parade around the High Woods block -- High Woods Road to Wrolsen Drive, back around to Glasco Turnpike and then to Church Road, where the fair would begin.

In the early 1950s, Harvey bought Bard College's old Model A fire engine. He needed it for the pump, to empty out his pools for fall cleaning. But he restored it beautifully -- new paint, polished brass, and the insignia, in gold paint against the fire engine red: HIGH WOODS NO. 1.

It worked. It ran, it pumped water. Harvey and Bert Wrolsen and a few others even took it and helped out at fires. But I remember it most from the Labor Day parades. There were two unofficial grand marshals: Harvey in his fire engine, Bill Johnson on his palomino. A community that took pride in its church and its great, strange work of art, in its sculptors and its cowboys, its farmers and quarrymen and old ship's carpenters. A community where a sculptor from Texas could woo and win an elegant lady from New York and Rome, taking her square dancing on Saturday night at the general store.


Quit Smoking said...

Hello fellow fisherman,

Did you know that 16% of the U.S. population goes fishing at least 16 days a year?

Did you also know that over 75% of the nations fishermen do not fish during "prime time"; fish feeding hours?

Those precious few moments before twilight can be absolutely magical. Even up until 11pm at night, the largest predators of any species feed ravenously.

Don't believe me? Check out Daniel Eggertsen's story, and a picture of a couple of his catches here : "Evening Secrets plus more"

I want you to do me a favor and try it out so I can see what you think of it, and if it works for you as well as it did for me.

You will be one of the first to try it out.

Gone Fishin',


elliesue42 said...

Thank you so much (belatedly) for your wonderful recollections of Wilgus' Store. In the late 40's-early 50's I spent summers in Highwoods with my grandparents and have fond, fond memories of the store. I remember the bingo games held there in the summer...if I'm correct they moved the firetruck out of the building so they could accomodate chairs and tables. I'm headed back there next month (March) and never tire of driving around and recalling much simpler times.

djboggs said...

Tad, I am still working on tales of my grandfather's country store. I love these posts. I remember that fire engine and I even have some pictures of one of the church fair parades. dj