‘The Colorful Characters of Clinton County’
I was watching a clip of Donald Trump slip-sliding his way down that ramp at West Point and immediately thought of Dennis Rose. “Gription,” Dennis would have said. “Trump’s shoes ain’t got enough gription.”
Well, if “gription” isn’t a word, it oughta be. Dennis used it to describe what was wrong with his own sneakers during a basketball practice one afternoon long ago in the Carlyle High School gym. (I didn’t witness this word coinage myself, those being pre-Title IX days, when the sportiest we girls could get was playing dodge-ball in that same high school gym. While wearing bloomers. Honest. Bloomers.)
Dennis’ locution was colorful, but, trust me, there were other Clinton County denizens who made him seem pasty-pale in comparison.
There was the guy named Bill who rode his bike everywhere. Sure, no one bats an eye at an adult on a bike now (even sealed in Spandex), but back then a grownup riding a bike caused, well, comment. Indeed, we kids were told to “stay away from that man.”
Come to think of it, there was at least one other bike-riding adult in my very small town — Orie, the guy who ran the Linotype machine at the Carlyle Union Banner. And yes, I stayed away from him too. But mainly because he didn’t suffer summer-job-holding high school girls gladly. (Read about these, my first workplace adventures, in “Those Were Banner Days Indeed.”)
In addition to Bill and Orie, the bike-riding adults, we had Skinny Man and Skinny Lady. (Note the capitalization; this is what they were called, by one and sundry.) Skinny Man and Skinny Lady was a mother-and-son duo — and we are talking a grown son here, like in his forties — who were indeed very skinny. Maybe because they walked everywhere. They walked to church. They walked to church chicken-and-noodle suppers. They walked to church fried chicken suppers. They ate a heck of a lot of pie at those suppers. And still they were very skinny.
Oh, before I forget, there was also Regina, whom I dubbed the “uncleaning lady.” Regina had the most colorful language of anyone in Carlyle or even Clinton County. What came out of the mouth of that tiny little lady would make a sailor blush. I missed most of her tenure, my mother not having “help” when I was growing up. But I sure heard the stories. “Out of your nests, you $%#&%&* kids!” she’d shout as she stomped up the stairs to move dust around and gather laundry to shrink. Bless her heart, she was a terrible cleaner, but no one had the heart to tell her, much less fire her. Besides, she adored my Dad, whom she called “Henry Dale.”
One of our town’s most colorful characters — besides my Dad himself; we’ll get to him in a sec — just passed on to the Technicolor Land On High. My Middle Younger Brother Roger, he of the scandalously short shorts in the photo above, sent me the obituary. Until I read it I never knew his real name was Clarence. This guy, known by one and all, young and old alike as “Dugie,” was a legend in his own time.
When Dugie wasn’t playing wiffle ball (“He put the game of wiffle ball on the map,” Roger says) he was hanging out at the Texaco Station, trading stories and Dugie-isms with the other local characters. One day, completely out of the blue, he announced he was getting married. “Man can’t spend his whole $#@!!! life hangin’ out at the Texaco Station,” he famously proclaimed.
Speaking of the Clinton County Fair. My Dad, as previously mentioned, was pretty darned colorful himself. Not only did he have a wide circle of Coffee Buddies he would regale with stories every morning at the McDonald’s at the edge of town, he did things like compete in a Clinton County Fair contest called “Mr. Legs.” Well, maybe it was the Chamber of Commerce. But at any rate, some civic group cropped the heads off photos of a bunch of local men wearing shorts and displayed the photos around town, whereupon the citizenry was urged to vote for the one with the prettiest legs. Dad, of course, won.
Now it’s time for me to wave bye-bye too. Until next week, here’s wishing you shoes with great gription, a banana bike to tool around town on, and a bunch of buddies to hang out with at the Texaco Station. Or whatever colorful equivalent floats your particular boat.
Amagansett, New York. June 2020