No Fanfare

Part I

I'd like you to meet a man by the name of George, just George. George was born in Hudson nearly nine decades ago. It was 1911, "during the William Howard Taft administration," he smiles, releasing that delightful high chuckle of his. "My father and mother were British subjects," he explains. His father was Canadian and his mother was from Ireland, subjects of the British Empire they were, George was born an American.

When the time came for baptism, George's father took him over to the Catholic Church. "You'll have to go around to the back door," he was told. His father said, "No," and took him down to the "Old Italian Church, down on Front Street." A smile appears on George's face, "That's where I was baptized." Years melt away, vanish; his voice fills with pride.

Let me say a word about George's smile. His is an easy smile, freely given and directly connected to his eyes. The eyes that peer through the frameless wire glasses are the eyes of a man much younger than his years would suggest. These bright, wise eyes and engaging chuckle intrigue, reflect the soul of a man who possesses a great love for life and for living.

"Nobody's interested in me," his hand gesture waves off, dismissing any importance. I silently disagree.

He speaks about the construction of Mt. Carmel Church on Second Street in 1919 and the old Italian Church on Front Street becoming a Synagogue. The more he talks, the more displeasure appears on his face; his words echo the sad recollections and irritation experienced by so many with regard to the closing, several years ago, of the Mt. Carmel Church.

George's father was a chauffeur. He drove a 1921 Pierce Arrow for Mrs. Isaac Newton Collier, one of the wealthiest women in town at the time. Mrs. Collier lived in the house that later became St Michaels Ukrainian Orthodox Church on Second Street. There was a park across the street, where Irv Schroder & Sons factory stands, she owned that, too. In the summer George mowed the park for twenty-five cents, in the winter he kept it shoveled. She paid him fifty cents for that work. "They didn't over pay in those days," George adds.

"Partition Street is the oldest street in town," he tells me, "used to be called the Old Wagon Road." George loves history. He produces a beautiful hardcover book on the history of Hudson and Columbia County. He handles the book with the care and familiarity one accords an old friend. He confides, "I read it in dribs and drabs."

George graduated from St. Mary's in June of 1929, "Just in time for the Depression," he chuckles. After graduation he went to Canada for a couple years, but returned in January 1931 when his father died suddenly. It was at that juncture that he decided to remain in Hudson, make it his home for life.

George is very sharp when it comes to dates and facts and events. He talks about trolleys and recalls when most of the side streets in Hudson were dirt. In the 1920's the dirt streets were covered with concrete. He remembers affixing a pair of steel wheeled roller skates to a 2 x 4, then nailing an old soapbox onto the front to create a scooter. "They were all homemade. You could hear us coming a mile away," he chuckles recalling the racket the steel wheels made on the concrete. "After they blacktopped it you couldn't hear it anymore." The loss, having some of the fun taken away nearly eighty years ago, is instantly reflected on his face, as if he were ten years old and it had happened only yesterday. "Now they're ready made," George says referring to skateboards and the folding metal version of that same scooter all the rage with today's kids.

George needed to find a job. He worked around doing odd jobs for a few years. With the Depression in high gear and regular meals a rarity, George told himself, "Go somewhere there's food, I can't eat money." So, he found himself a job at the St. Charles Hotel. He first apprenticed, learned by watching and doing and before long George was a full fledged cook. "I watched how they did it and I just caught on. I never went to college. Now you gotta go to the Culinary Institute. Everything was home made in the old days." It is a simpler, less complicated time George recollects.

The waiters at the St. Charles in the late 1930's were all German, up from New York City. "That's all you heard all day was German." There was one exception, one of the waiters hired happened to be Jewish. Owing to the horror and turmoil in Europe, this made for a rather touchy situation. The German waiters mercilessly picked on this poor Jewish fellow. One day tempers flared and a fight broke out. Thinking quickly, George hid all the knives out of sight. Moments later, the principals in the fight poured into the kitchen seeking implements of destruction. Finding none, the tensions eased and, thanks to George's quick thinking, a crime of passion was averted. Shortly thereafter, war was declared with Germany and all the German waiters were let go, confrontations ceased.

We'll take a further look at George in "No Fanfare Part II" when we talk next time, From The Road.

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