My Mother is an only child and my Father has only one brother. So, in the realm of the typical extended family, my experience was limited to a single uncle and a small handful of cousins in New Jersey.
What my mother’s family lacked in adjacent generations, they made up for in another way. My Mother’s Mother was one of six children, providing my siblings and me with an army of Great Aunts and Uncles. In the absence of any family members close to me in age, it was my great aunts and uncles with whom we spent many a holiday.
All six of the children in my grandmother’s family, the Andersons, found spouses and got married, but only four of the couples chose to have children. The four that had children each opted for only one.
If the experience my grandmother and her siblings had growing up in a stern household in the Swedish immigrant enclave of Jamestown NY, was such that the next generation was all “only children;” then I’m pretty certain I don’t ever want to know why.
So, my mother (who grew up in Bradford, PA) had three cousins: David who lived in Buffalo, Dennis who lived in Jamestown, and Jimmy who lived in St. Louis. In the summers, my mom, David and Dennis would spend time at each others houses for several days at a time. No matter where they all ended up, the entire family remained “Jamestown-centric,” like it or not.
One summer Dennis was visiting my mother’s family in Bradford. When my grandmother poured him a glass of milk, he eyed it up and down, and before taking a sip asked, “is this Jamestown milk?” My grandmother, sensing she might have a problem on her hands, replied, “why do you ask?”
Dennis calmly stated, “I only drink Jamestown milk.”
My wily Grandmother didn’t miss a beat and said “well I’m sure glad we bought Jamestown milk then.”
When I was a kid, we visited my Great Grandfather in Jamestown, and with him the majority of my great Aunts and Uncles at least once or twice a year. I can recall a handful of thanksgivings where my Great Uncle Norman would choose to sit at the kids table with me and my siblings and do goofy things like put pepper on his Jell-O. There may have been some drinking involved.
And so it was. Apart from my father’s one brother, the majority of my experience with Aunts and Uncles included stories of streetcars, war rationing and Swedish traditions from the old country.
Then a funny thing happened.
All of the kids of my Mother’s generation moved far away from Jamestown. One in New York City, one in southern California, one in Colorado and my mother three hours from Jamestown, here in Rochester NY. Again, why they all wanted to “get the hell out of Dodge” is something in which I have no interest.
By the late 1960’s Jamestown was completely devoid of all Andersons born to my Grandmother and her siblings. In 1979 my grandmother moved from Pennsylvania to be close to us in Rochester. She ultimately won the Anderson sibling longevity contest passing away in 2013 at the age of 102.
With the younger generation as far-flung as they were, the Aunts and Uncles without offspring were left to face their old age relying only on each other.
My mother’s cousins looked after their aging parents, and as each moved on to the great smorgasbord in the sky, their affairs were attended to accordingly. Of course there were the two siblings who had no children and ultimately they had no choice but to rely on my mother for help in their twilight years. Being the only one even remotely close by, she was chosen by default. Being a dutiful niece she stepped up and lovingly did what needed to be done.
So, in addition to attending to the needs of my grandma here at home, my mother inherited the responsibility of managing the final years of both her aunt Genevieve and Uncle Carlton.
It has taken me 650 words to get you here, but this is a story about the departure of my Great Uncle Carlton, sort of.
Of my Great Aunts and Uncles, Carlton was by far my favorite. They’re all dead now, so I feel safe making that statement. Carlton and his wife Helen were among the best qualified of the six couples to be good parents, yet they were of the group that chose the childless route. He served in the Army, in WWII, in Europe, but never talked about it.
I remember visiting Jamestown one time in the spring of 1990. We were at Carlton’s house and sitting on his coffee table was a one-inch thick spiral notebook. My Great Uncle Paul arrived and immediately sat down on the couch, picked up the book and started reading it. Not long after he called Carlton over and they began energetically discussing the information on the pages.
Well, it turns out that the book was full of Carlton’s observations… of the weather in Jamestown. Three times a day: morning, noon and evening, he would make notes about what he saw out the window of his humble little house. The argument was part of Paul’s habit of coming over several times a week to read and criticize that which Carlton had seen fit to document.
These two were the purest embodiment of “grumpy old men” that I have ever seen.
When all was said and done, Carlton was the last man standing in Jamestown. On March 29, 2002 Carlton passed away at the age of 94.
Many others shared my love and affinity for Carlton. That, coupled with his funeral being the swan song of the Jamestown Andersons, his passing drew a larger than normal crowd.
On April 5th, 2002, I picked up my sister in my big red Dodge Durango and we headed for Jamestown. In Buffalo, we swung by the airport picking up my brother who had flown up from Baltimore that morning, and my mother’s cousin David who had flown in from California the night before.
The drive from Rochester to Jamestown is mostly the New York State Thruway, until you get to Dunkirk, when you get on Rte 60 heading south for 27 miles.
My sister and I got to Buffalo and picked up Doug and David without incident. We got off in Dunkirk and grabbed some fast food before heading south on the smaller road.
Looking at what time it was and the miles left to travel, we were running a few minutes late, so I was doing what I could (in the words of every father ever) “to make good time.”
Route 60 is fairly rural, but it runs through several small towns before emptying out in Jamestown. I crested a hill doing the posted limit of 55, but I failed to see the speed reduction to 35 as I entered the town of Cassadaga.
I was immediately pulled over by Officer Hover, who had caught my transgression with his trusty radar gun.
I am no stranger to speeding tickets, but to be pulled over with my siblings and cousin in tow was a bit embarrassing. They thought it was hilarious. I dutifully handed over my license and registration and waited patiently for my ticket.
Officer Hover was in his cruiser for at least fifteen minutes, making our on-time arrival all but impossible at this point. When he finally did emerge he approached my car very cautiously and as he made it up to my window I could see that is right hand was resting on the top of his holstered, but unstrapped gun. As his sunglasses-clad head came into the frame of my window he said, “Please step out of the car sir.”
I quickly complied as Sarah, Doug and David did their level best to suppress rather violent laughter.
Officer Hover asked me if I knew I was driving on a suspended license. This, of course, was a complete surprise to me. However, according to the little cop computer in his car, I had an unpaid speeding ticket from Long Island in 1996. The speeding ticket I did not deny, but I do remember paying it and furthermore I renewed my license in 1999 and the DMV had said nothing about it being suspended.
Office Hover was not interested in my explanation. He issued me a speeding ticket, plus a citation for driving on a suspended license, which in NY is a misdemeanor. Suddenly Uncle Carlton being dead was the least of my concerns.
I was not allowed back into the driver’s seat, and was directed to choose another driver to pilot the Durango on to Jamestown. After checking his Maryland license, Officer Hover allowed my brother to take the wheel and we were once again on our way to Carlton’s funeral.
We arrived fifteen minutes late, but we immediately knew we had not missed anything since my parents were still in the parking lot of the funeral home as we pulled in.
My sister wasted no time in telling of our law enforcement adventures, but my parents’ reaction to this news was conspicuously flat. Well, it turns out that Officer Hover had a taste for speeding Nazarians that day, and no fewer than forty-five minutes before my encounter, he had pinched my mother for the very same offense.
We celebrated the life of J. Carlton Anderson, returned Doug and David to Buffalo, and for the last leg I grudgingly handed my keys over to my sister.
The next day I went to the DMV, where they printed me my entire NY driving history, including my 1999 renewal of a completely unencumbered license. I called the court on Long Island where I was informed that due to a flood, they had lost several years of records and the computer had gone a little haywire. They apologized for suspending my license and told me all I had to do was send them proof of payment and they would take care of everything.
I had paid the ticket with a money order and had long since lost any proof of the transaction, so I was forced to pay the ticket again.
Then there was the small matter of the misdemeanor of which I had been accused, but not yet convicted.
Sometime in May, I put on a suit and with all my paperwork neatly organized in a briefcase, I headed to traffic court in Fredonia NY. The session was set to start at 7:00pm, but I arrived by 6:30 and checked in with the clerk. I was told to take a seat in the gallery and wait for my case to be called.
As I sat reviewing my documentation, several other defendants came into the courtroom and after a few minutes, it was clear that perhaps I was a bit over-dressed. So much so that at one point the bailiff came over to me and said, “Lawyers wait for their clients in that room over there.” I politely replied that I was not a lawyer and I was there to defend myself. He asked my name and then went over to the clerk. He leaned over the clerk’s desk and said, “That guy over there, he’s defending himself, his name is Nazarian, he is wearing a suit and everything. Call him first.”
The judge called my case, I presented my documentation and he immediately dropped the more serious charge of driving on a suspended license. He then looked down at me from the bench and asked, “Were you speeding?”
At that point I thought it best to cut my losses and accept the speeding ticket, which I did. I paid the clerk and walked out to my car.
When I finally got home that evening, there was a note in the mail from cousin David in California. He wrote:
Thank you again for picking me up in Buffalo and driving me to Carlton’s funeral. As you know I, much like you, have been going to Jamestown, for one reason or another, for my entire life. However, I had no idea as I climbed into your car that afternoon that I was about to experience the BEST TRIP TO JAMESTOWN EVER! And for that, I will be eternally grateful.
I put down the note, taking some comfort in knowing that this ordeal, though inconvenient to me, had brought joy to some. I thought for a moment about all that had led up to my final Jamestown chapter, taking a moment to acknowledge just how much of who we are comes from those who came before us.
I grabbed the plate of dinner my wife had left for me in the fridge, and over the whir of the microwave heating it up, I poured myself a tall, cold, glass of Jamestown milk.
Copyright © 2015 – Stephen S. Nazarian – All rights reserved.(Jamestown Milk)