August 12, 2010

Coffee Hour at “Echoes on the Lake”


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Scene 1: The Yearbook

Scene 2: Mr. Roach

Scene 3: Elderly Suicide

Scene 4: My last day

     While visiting Edwardsville, New York, and staying at the Sunnyside of Black Lake cottages*, I walked across the street for my morning coffee at Echoes on the Lake, a small-town Mom & Pop store. Following are scenes gleaned from my visits.

 Scene 1: The Yearbook

     Local customers, sitting around a table in a small-town corner Mom & Pop store in Edwardsville, New York, scrutinized on photos in a small book—the 1962 Erie County Technical Institute yearbook.

     Two were 1963 alumni who had met at the coffee machine two days


previously. They never met while students at the community college in Williamsville, New York. Nancy was a resident of Morristown, New York, who studied to be a dental hygienist. Carolyn was a transient, staying in the cottages at Sunnyside of Black Lake, across the street from the store. Nancy had invited Carolyn, to join several persons—other locals—sitting at the two tables in the back of the store, conveniently located by the coffee machine and sandwich/pizza  counter. Locals wandered in and out, sharing the camaraderie which characterizes “coffee klatch” gatherings found in many corner stores where people gather for their morning coffee. Later, someone described Nancy as the “sunshine of the day,” saying that when she left the store, the “the bright dawn colors were reduced to a boring pallet.”

     No one could identify us in the early pictures. They laughed when we were finally identified.

     Nancy told me she was recovering from the death of her husband nine years previously. Having had a wonderful marriage, it was a difficult experience. She was grateful she had completed the course at E. C. T. I., which provided her with work.

      Her experience at E. C. T. I. differed from mine. Her first room rental was unsuccessful, so she went to the housing office, and found a room with the MacVittie family in Williamsville, with a woman who became a second mother. The daughter, Susan MacVittie, also studied medical laboratory technology, but I do not remember her.

     I lived at home. Three-quarters into my second year the family situation became intolerable. I had to leave or I wouldn’t successfully complete my studies. I went to the housing office to inquire about available rooms. I was told if I moved out of my family home I’d be kicked out of school. It was a no win situation—stay at home and fail the courses, or move out and be kicked out of school. I found an apartment and moved, but not inform the school.

     Neither of us participated in the social life of the college. I worked three jobs, and commuted between the city and two suburbs, one for school, one for a second job—all without a car.

     Our mothers had recently had a baby. Her mom’s baby was born March 8, 1963, the day before she turned 19. My mother had a baby in May, the month I graduated.

     She didn’t attend her graduation, it wasn’t important. She had her wedding planned that day. I did attend, but don’t remember much about it.

     Originally, Nancy had planned on becoming a nun, but couldn’t sew. They said someone else could sew for her. Her future husband, whom she had just started dating, took her to the interview.

     “Can you see me being a nun?” she asked. “How long would I have lasted?”         

       I originally planned on being a teacher, but Buffalo State Teachers College rejected my application. Their loss.

       We met for coffee each of the five mornings I stayed in Edwardsville. I promised to send her copies of pages from the 1963 E.T. I. yearbook, which she didn’t get. It’s sitting in front of me, so I will copy the pages tomorrow.

Scene 2: Mr. Roach

     Nancy introduced me to everyone who came in for coffee. One man was Mr. Roach.

Mr. Roach

     When I heard his name, I asked him if I could take his picture, his profile. He good-naturedly agreed. Then I told him why—that it would be interesting to pattern the caricature of my cartoon character, Cochran Cornell the Cantankerous Cockroach, after someone named “Roach.”

     Mr. Roach made some suggestions: Cochran Cornell needs a cane or a staff, and a monocle, and perhaps a glowing light around his head. People might call him a preacher (although he isn’t).

     Mr. Roach explained that Roach is a French name. When the Roach family moved from France to Germany, due to King Richard, noble people went to Ireland, where they changed the name to Roche.

     I just surfed caricatures of cockroaches on the Internet, which led me nowhere. I must find a kid into art so s/he can teach me to do caricatures!

Scene 3: Elderly Suicide

     The following experience at Black Lake is more serious, and demands a future post on the elderly caring for other handicapped elderly.

     Monte went for a bike ride early in the morning. All was calm along the road.

     As we prepared for the day we heard sirens. When we drove past a cottage about ¾ of a mile distant from our cabin, we saw at least six police cars. A woman in a wheelchair was talking to a police officer.

     “It’s something quite serious,” I said to Monte. It was. A man had commit suicide.

     The scuttlebutt at the store went in all directions, as it is wont to do. Police cars traveled a hundred miles an hour. Why? He was already dead. If he wasn’t, they should have called an ambulance. He was 84 years old, and his wife’s caretaker. He shot himself in front of his wife.  He should have taken her too—there’s no one left to take care of her—they had no children. It’s tough being a caretaker. He shot himself, the wife grabbed the gun, and it went off a second time. His teeth were found on the wife. He stopped at the store for a newspaper every morning. Something put him over the edge. “Red” just found out he had cancer. More people commit suicide on Wednesday than any other day. He was a most miserable bastard, ornery. He is one of God’s children. Robin (the store owner) always got a smile on his face.

     Ultimately, the facts will separate from the fiction. The truth is the seriousness of suicide in older people: The risk of suicide in the elderly is high. Teenagers and young adults are usually considered to have the highest risk of suicide. This isn’t the case. Non-Hispanic white males over the age of 80 have the highest rate of successful suicide in the U.S., with a risk of suicide six times higher than the general population.**

     I cannot imagine how hopeless I’d feel if, even at my “youthful” age, I was caring for a handicapped spouse, combined with a diagnosis of cancer. May “Red” rest in peace.

Scene 4: My Last Day

     When I went for coffee on my last day, Nancy wasn’t there. I joined the locals, who were discussing farming. There was a contest on between two men, to see which part of a field would produce better.

     “If you spray on day 21 there will be no weeds. He didn’t do that.”

     “I’ve been at farming 65 years—it’s too hard to stop.”

     “Remember the old steel seats (on the farm machinery)? If you sped a rate of six or seven miles across the field you’d be dead. Now there are seats…now they are so big you don’t fall off, and the wheels are so big.”

     “There are five farms on the road, they have more land, they were dealing with thousands of dollars back then, now it’s millions (of dollars). A chopper costs $300,000 today. If you don’t change, you can’t stay. I don’t want to live like the Amish.”

     “Farmers always say they eke out a living. They have more money…”

     “My family got the farm in 1834, it’s been in the family for seven generations.” 

     Nancy arrived. She was delayed by making cookies for someone who had a death in the family, and she said she knew if she was late “I would hold down the fort.” It was her husband’s 76th birthday.

     She noted that “coffee klatches” served community residents. “People come into the store for coffee daily, with different baggage.”


     My week ended. It had been much more interesting by meeting Nancy and the other locals who made me, a transient, feel welcome. We may never meet again—or, perhaps we shall. It doesn’t matter. Hopefully all the participants are better for having had this week. I know I am.

     Oh, yes. I came away with two definitions. Professionalism: profound stupidity. And Buffalo Chills: The Buffalo Bills Cheerleaders.



*Sunnyside of Black Lake: Black Lake Rd., Hammond, NY, 315-375-6742 : 



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