Grindstone Island News - August 19, 2001


There are only two more Sundays of Grindstone News.  The last church service is September 2, and then this reporter will be off to other busyness. The summer has flown.  And, as it always does, the days have been so full that sitting on our swimming rocks for as long as we wished has seldom been possible.  The river has been warm,  but the one good rain we had this week could not bring the brown leaves back to green. We keep hoping the great pearl-gray clouds that puff up every day on the horizon will pour their water onto the poor hickory tree so it will get through the winter and be green again, healthy and vigorous next May.


This week the two concerts directed by Eliza Moore as part of her schoolhouse project to study the history of music in the islands centered the conversations of almost every group on Grindstone.  On Wednesday, the first concert was given in the Opera House in Clayton. Eliza’s mezzo soprano voice and fiddle threaded together each of the ten scenes of the evening.  The children of the island danced and sang the early history from the time of the Indians through the French Canadian settlers, the missionaries, the loyalists, and finally the Americans.  Robert Bikwemu sang an Indian Christian prayer, looking much more cherubic than he looks to us every day, Bobby Bazinet and Brian Parker carried a huge log across the stage to remind us of the logging, the first industry here in the islands, and the other children sang to Eliza’s fiddle, a variety of songs, Indian, French, Scottish and, finally, “My Country ‘tis of thee, Sweet land of liberty”.

The evolution of the early north country culture unfolded before our eyes. A Scottish jig and a Scottish lullaby choreographed and danced by Debbie Donaldson gave those of us who live near the old stone quarries a hint of what  life was like here in the last half of  the nineteenth century.


It must have been a little gentler, with more dancing and song, than I would have imagined it from tramping over the high granite outcropping on Thurso Bay. But the memories of Mrs. Joseph Tercott reported in a copy of a newspaper from 1947 make it seem that those were good times, Thurso seems a welcome place to live and work.  Audrey Lashomb gave me the clipping this week.  She had just found it in some papers she was going through. Here is Mrs. Tercotte speaking: “My husband was a blacksmith. But the quarries here offered steady wages and so he went to work in the quarry as a sort of a boss.


“When you go out of this settlement towards Clayton, you will see a granite quarry at the right beside the road, and my husband had that quarry.  We got some very choice stone from the quarry and at one time we had 35men working there.  At that time the stone business was booming and we on the island, were getting out paving blocks for Chicago and other cities in the west, where transportation could be by boat.


“While my husband was in the quarry business I was running a boarding house and was sure making money fast, but very hard work...” (more of Mrs. Tercott’s story later.)


The next development Eliza pictured in music was the coming of the church to Grindstone Island. After an  excerpt read from “The Centennial of the Grindstone Island Methodist Church”, the audience sang in unison two of the congregation’s favorite hymns, and of course, one was “Shall We Gather at the River”.  Then “Take Me Back”, a poem Rebecca Lashomb wrote about the island schoolhouse  when she was ten years old, introduced a scary story from the island that the children in the schoolhouse program had written, “The Base Line Road Witch”. Finally, they sang a song they  wrote  about Charlie Matthews who loved to clog.


Next some of the old folks did two square dances.  Robert Bikwemu “called” one of them, and we hope he spends many hours this winter learning more “calls” so he can help Bubby at the Saturday night dances, and we can do quadrilles more often. His grandpa, Bob Smith can help him!


So time passed, and it was time to remember Mae Irwin.  Here Eliza was joined in singing by her mother, Celina Moore, and two Clayton young people who surely are professional, Amy Castor, soprano, and Sean Brabant, baritone. Mary Jane Austin was back with us this year at the piano, keeping together the whole concert. Greg Lago’s set design and lighting took us back to the time and place, simple and elegant, and manageable, almost, even in the wind at the Squash Court!


The Squash Court, the summer home of Mike and Peggy  Mole,  is where the performance on Friday evening took place.  There, the children did the early history scenes outdoors on the wide lawn overlooking the river.   The wind was strong and it was a little hard to hear, but being able to look out on the leaping waves was worth losing some of the words.  The children loved dancing and singing in the wind, and the Indian scenes seemed lots more fun. Inside, where the wood walls of the squash court make music wonderful, Eliza, Cellina, Sean and Amy sang the twenties songs once more to Mary Jane’s accompaniment, in the more intimate room, surrounded by friends.  I hope I can hear “The Baite” to the music Eliza wrote many more times. He is a favorite poet for me, and her melody, like an Irish or Scottish folk song was haunting.  After the music was all over, after we had devoured the pot luck deserts and wet our whistles and proclaimed the whole event a great success, caravans of cars wound through mysterious pastures, puzzling the cows into silence as we carefully opened and closed each gate, and went on back down the roads to the cross roads where we finally parted, each group driving slowly through deep dark lit with stars, to their own homes.


On Thursday, about fifteen people met at the schoolhouse for another of the history projects.  Mary Clancey, (the Irish Indian lady), told several Indian folk stories, beginning with Skywoman and the formation of the Thousand Islands, that illustrate,(here I quote Mary) “the natural and spiritual way most native Americans live, even today.” She brought “two artist’s prints painted by an Onondaga Indian named Eli Thomas of theWolf Clan.  Hidden in these beautiful pictures are spiritual stories.  One was about a marriage and showed the living tree of the family. The other picture was of the Eagle  and the Great Spirit.”  She also showed a “fluke coup stick and a ceremonial sweet grass brush.”


She talked mostly about the Mohawk Tribe of the Iroquois “that was very active in the Grindstone area.” We have learned a lot about Grindstone’s history this year, and it has made us curious to go on finding out more about earlier life on this small piece of earth that was dropped out of the blanket so long ago.


At Dodge Memorial Hall, on Saturday night, the folks from the north side of the island, The Marras, The Meeks, and Bazinets, with the help of some Garnseys and Clara Carnegie from the south side, (and  others, I am sure) served an Italian spaghetti dinner, meatballs and all, even not-so-Italian ice cream with chocolate sauce and a cherry for desert.   Yes, they are among the great Italian cooks!


At both the dinner and the dance, we had a special guest, Dr. Josephine Murray.  In her honor, the members of Dodge Hall brought back the Grass Creek Blue Grass Group,  Bubby Bazinet called several squares, and the band played  at least two waltzes for everyone to dance to. Josephine grew up coming to Midriver Farm on Grindstone every summer, and got to know many of the real islanders.  Emmet Dodge used to tell us about her climbing trees to prune them, and Erma Slate ( the Slate farm is adjacent to Midriver) is her special friend.  With her two nurses, she stayed in the little cottage where Harry and Urch Slate are living. It made a lovely evening for Grindstone islanders to have her at the dance once more.


On Sunday, The Rev. Wendy Rhodehammel, the District Superintendent of the United Methodist Church in the North Country,  joined us in worship at the 10:30 service. Instead of a scheduled potluck lunch, a few people had enjoyed a pancake breakfast which  Bruce and Elaine Brooks, with Milton Rusho and a few other helpers, served early in the morning before church began. So already, we were in a convivial mood when the minister, Dick Petry, called us to worship. Debbie Donaldon danced an interpretation of the pastor’s reading of Psalm 46, Carol Marsh sang “There Is a Balm in Gilead”, the children’s choir sang when they came in from Sunday School, and the adult choir sang a favorite hymn, all to celebrate the day of Charge Conference. We even managed to find time for two hymns.


After the service, we fled from the building for a few minutes of air. Then the congregation reassembled in the sanctuary for the Charge Conference.  The Reverend Rhodehammel called the meeting to order, and the very first business was to invite The Reverend Dick Petry and his wife, Mary, to return to minister to the Grindstone church next year. We also thanked them for, in the midst of all of their pastoral work, reupholstering the pulpit chairs that needed it so badly!


After a report by Andy Davison of the work of the Church Council during this year,  we elected members to that council for the years 2002 to 2004.  These are the elected members for the classes:  2002, Irma Slate, Kitty Paxton Garnsey, and Doc Schwartz; for 2003, Andy Davison, John Marks, and Caroline Larson;  for 2004, Aleatha Williams, Joan Flint, and Margaret Taylor.  Trustees were also elected:  for the year 2002, Fred Jackson; 2003, Bruce Brooks; and for 2004, Phil Marra.  To the nominating committee for 2002, we elected Irma Slate; for 2003, Margaret Taylor; and for 2004, John Marsh.


The chairperson of the Church Council will be Andy Davison, vice chair, Aletha Willliams; Secretary, Kitty Paxton Garnsey; Treasurer, Doc Schwartz;  Parish Pastor,

Margagret Taylor; Members at Large, Irma Slate, Margaret Taylor, John Marks, and Carolyn Larson.


We then proceeded to a discussion of the state of the Carriage House, and what to do about it. As usually happens, in the end, a  committee was  appointed  to do further investigation of the possibilities open to us.


In 1947, Mrs Tercotte had some interesting things to say about the church property. “But the changes I’ve seen here!  For instance, I saw that church built and the services started within before it was anywhere near completed.  I saw that hall built over on that other corner.  They had people take stock at $100 per share and we expected it to be a great help to the community.  But now they are going to take it down for the materials in it, as it is not used any more. (The Pope house on Thurso Bay was part of that building. A new hall, Dodge Memorial, soon took the place of the old one.)


“I saw the church sheds transformed from a place to stand horses, to a real nice community house and the ladies here have one end we use right along to quilt in and do other work.  I think the biggest blessing we had here was that well at the church...a sort of a community well.  It is drilled in hard granite rock 90 feet and we have splendid water.  We all go to that well for our drinking water.  Before the well was drilled, we  had to do the best we could for water for the table.” 


Whatever we do, we must preserve that good drinking water for the surprising number of people who still come to fill their bottles with its good water.  We should, probably, have the water tested once a year to make sure it doesn’t become polluted. But we should also try to preserve the hominess of the community house, and make sure that whatever changes we make, it still seems to be home to all of us,  fulfilling its original function of bringing people from all parts of the island together.  A few years ago, Brenda and some of the other ladies quilted there again. We can’t tell what ideas might be wakened in our discussions of how to keep it functioning “right along”, building up our community. Certainly, we must preserve a building for a meeting place for Sunday School, and for whatever meals we want to have.


After Doc Schwartz presented the treasurer’s report, the Charge Conference was closed by the Reverend Rhodehammel, and we all went off to our variously lazy Sunday afternoons.


Here are a few notes: Thursday, August 23rd, at 7:00 p.m., there will be an open information forum at Dodge Hall to discuss three bills that are in the federal legislature right now, recommending that  the Army Corps of Engineers do some dredging and blasting to widen and deepen the navigation channel, and that the Sea Way be privatized, with a private group assigned to operate it.  Stephanie Weiss from Save the River will be the key speaker, and other knowledgeable members of the Save the River Group and the Grindstone Island Research and Heritage Center will be with her. This is an important meeting.


Friday August 24th, at 7:00 p.m.,there will be an art exhibit at the schoolhouse.  Greg Lago and Will Salsbury will show some of their river art.  I am also going to bring along a couple of new portraits to give to the island people who “sat” for me.


River Shack will provide the music for the dance next Saturday night at Dodge Hall.


About how to make a gut bucket:  I had a good talk with Bob Bazinet,, and I found out how it is really made:


The gut bucket was a stringed instrument that Bob Bazinet,  prized member

of the fifties Grindstone  band, built himself of stuff he had around.

He turned a big washtub upside down so the metal on the old wood floor

resonated loud and deep. Then he somehow fixed a one-by-four to stand upright on the bottom of the tub. At the top of that upright, in a notch,  Bob inserted another one by two on its side to work like a see-saw. The gut bucket string was a piece of clothes line. One end of the line  knotted through the short end of the see-saw.  The other end was drawn through a hole in the bottom of the bucket and fastened tight in place by a seaman’s bulky knot. Bob played it, standing,  one foot on the wash tub, his bent left elbow pumping the cross board,  making taught the clothesline so it played   the note it ought to play when Bob strummed  his three right fingers raw. Bob’s Grindstone Island great bass viol gave us our square dance beat. Oh---that was a home-strung, boisterous while ago.


Next week there will be a big box ready at the church to hold whatever we bring for a special offering to the whole Liz “Brown” family, food, clothes, books, whatever you think they might like to receive.  It’s a hard time for them now, and they are always in our hearts.   So it is.  Aminta Marks