Chapter 9. Hyman Perlin: Farmer (part 2)

There are reminiscences that are vaguely recalled because of the distance of time, the viewer's age or the distance at which it is observed. There are other reminiscences that are recalled in detail. And there are some reminiscences that are both at the same time. Let me give you an example:

When my family arrived at the hotel in 1934 there was a huge icebox in the kitchen. Dairy items were on the right side, meat on the left, with a large space in the middle for fruit and vegetables. There was no freezer. Every day the handyman/dishwasher would place a cake of ice above the middle section.

In the winter the ice was cut from a deep lake about half a mile up the road. One winter I went along to see the men cut the ice from the lake, bring it back to the hotel property and put it into the icehouse. I have a vague recollection of the cutting of the ice because I had to stand at a distance from the lake (near the road) since my mother thought it was too dangerous for me to be near the cutting of the ice.

The ice was cut from the lake, chopped into blocks by the "professional" ice cutters, and placed onto my grandfather's stone boat, which was made of two oak planks joined by a couple of cross boards bolted together. Stone boats were normally used to carry large stones, and were low to the ground so you could roll stones on them rather than lift the stones. My grandfather also used his stone boat to carry blocks of ice cut from the lake. Once the stone boat was full of ice, our horse would pull it over the snow-covered road, and I would hitch a ride, all the way back to our house.

The icehouse was not a house in the sense that we think of a house. For one thing, it was underground. The blocks of ice were stacked on top of each other, each separated from the next by a layer of sawdust so they wouldn't melt together. Safely stored like this in the icehouse, the blocks would stay frozen throughout the year. Through the summer and warmer months of the year we would pull them out, one by one, to bring up to the big hotel icebox.

One year my grandfather decided that the icebox in the kitchen should be modernized into a refrigerator. He figured that the change would save time and labor. After that, no more rides on the stone boat for me.

And then there was the building of the chicken coop. In this case, I didn't actually see the construction process, but I heard about how it was done. My grandfather and father decided it would be better to build a large chicken coop, so they could keep more chickens at once, and more chickens meant more eggs. In those days, you didn't hire an architect or construction engineer - you figured it out for yourself. And you didn't need a building permit either.

To build his chicken coop, my grandfather employed the services of a sawmill several miles down the road. My grandfather chopped down some trees from his forest beyond the hayfields and brought them to the house. Then the people from the sawmill came by in trucks and picked them up for cutting. I was not allowed to go into the forest while this was going on.

So for a time, everything was all off limits to me. I couldn't go down to the lake because of the ice chopping, and I couldn't go into the forest because of the tree chopping. This greatly limited my range of exploring. On the other hand, I must admit, I never fell into the water or got hit by a falling tree.

The cut lumber was kept at the sawmill to dry over a period of time. Then it was returned to our property. My grandfather hired a couple of men from town to help him build the chicken coop. I wasn't allowed to go near the construction site until the buildings were complete. Once the new coops were completed, my grandfather put in a thousand new leghorn chickens. During the winter the daylight hours were shorter, and my grandfather had read somewhere that you could fake the chickens out by making them think it was still summer. So he had electric lights installed in the new coops, with an automatic timer to switch on the lights at 4am. The ploy worked: every day the leghorns would think that the sun was up at four in the morning, and we had lots of eggs the whole year round.

The automatic timer changed his living in another way. He had the electric timer put in so he could read on Friday nights without breaking the Sabbath prohibition of switching on electrical appliances.

We had never had a freezer until we got refrigeration for the big icebox. We bought a large freezer and put it in a cinder block building. In order to be sure that nobody would steal it, my grandfather first put the freezer on the site, and then built the cinder block house around it with a door that was narrower than the freezer.

The hotel could now offer meat without having to order it from the butcher for specific times. My parents and grandfather decided to keep a new born calf for several months. It did not go to the pasture with the other cows. The calf was placed near the barn where the best grass grew and where the other cows couldn't go. A pipe was hammered vertically into the ground. An O-ring was placed over the pipe. A heavy rope was tied to the O-ring. The calf could graze in the circle. Periodically, the calf was moved to another area.

Every day when I came home from school I would spend some time with her. The end of June was coming and I knew that the calf was due to be slaughtered soon. My grandfather told to me that the calf was not a pet but part of the business. A dog or a cat could be a pet. The butcher came and took away the calf. Several days later he brought back the cut, portioned meat. That summer, I ate only chicken until all the frozen meat was gone.

As a child, I saw all these things going on around me - the expansion, the building, and the improvements. I was led to believe that my grandfather was saving money by cutting his own trees for lumber or that he was using his own labor to reduce costs. I thought it cost him practically nothing. I never realized although he was saving costs for labor and materials, there were substantial expenses involved.

There were no credit cards 70 years ago. And, apparently, there was no credit without collateral for my grandfather. Recently I found that Hyman Perlin took out nine loans (mortgages and bonds) between 1923 and 1941.

It wasn't until World War II that the hotel made money. People were earning good wages during the war, and with gas rationing and shortages of everything you would want to purchase, there was plenty of discretionary money for vacations. The Catskill Mountains, with its proximity to New York City and the low fares on the Ontario and Western Railroad, became the ideal vacation destination.