Carol Gregson came to Northern New York State's Adirondack Mountains as a young, pregnant bride in 1945. She is still there in 2012. She brings to life and enriches her patch of the planet, which has been called "a six-million-acre civilized wilderness."< read all 1 reviews
Carol Gregson's 2007 second edition of her 2003 LEAKY BOOTS AND OTHER COMPLAINTS is undeniably autobiographic. I hesitate to call it selectively autobiographic. But some things are not there that I wish were. Thus, we can infer that Carol was born +/- 1925 and grew up in Seattle. Father and mother play insignificant roles in her narrative. He was in construction. She would reply to her distant married daughter's complaints about hard, cold living in the Adirondacks by observing how fortunate Carol was to be young and flexible. We never learn the parents' names or derivatively Carol's maiden name. We learn that Carol has a married sister in Alaska. We learn nothing of her early schooling. As for contrasting landscapes, Young Mrs Gregson's first impression of her husband's ancestral home in 1945:
"I found that his mountains were certainly wild and untidy, but they were not very high. ... I was used to a more vertical landscape. On the other hand, I had not actually lived in the middle of it."
Carol and U.S. Navy Gunner's Mate Second Class, husband "Greg" (we are never told the names his parents gave him) raised seven children mainly in the Adirondack Region of Northern New York State. We learn nothing of their schooling. But before she was 50, Carol Gregson was a regional leader for the State Parent-Teacher Association. So, yes, I wish there was somewhere a standard biographic sketch of the plucky heroine of LEAKY BOOTS. Perhaps the hoped for third edition will add one.
All that having been said, LEAKY BOOTS AND OTHER COMPLAINTS is very well written and illustrated by an octogenarian weaver, cartoonist, art teacher and legend known as "the Pottersville Complainer." I also have in the back of my mind some things that Carol Gregson told my wife Mary and me when we met her and daughter/driver Kris Moss in late June 2012 at an annual convention of the International Association of Torch Clubs (IATC). Those conventions rotate. In 2012 we (representing the Asheville, NC Torch Club) met in Portsmouth, Virginia on the Elizabeth River opposite Norfolk. Carol was the delegate from her ten year old Adirondacks Torch Club which meets monthly in much sung, history rich Ticonderoga, NY. We were bedazzled by her dry wit, story telling skills and seemingly limitless lore of her adopted land that has been called "a six-million-acre civilized wilderness," with over 3,000 bodies of water and perhaps 137,000 year round residents. For more on torch clubs in general see http://www.torch.org/
LEAKY BOOTS is full of tales of trees, berries, ginseng, coyotes, bears, snakes, skunks and humans. Carol Gregson is a player in every one of her 44 essays. And she produced all of the book's 45 black and white illustrations including two of pairs of presumably "leaky" boots. You will shiver with Adirondackian cold, slosh through the mud of spring and drive and drive and drive to get anywhere, including the nearest thing to a metropolis at Glens Falls, population 14,700. Other topics include square dance and all too brief summer's tourists and their returns for autumn's "leaf peeping."
But underlying the good humor, tolerance and optimism there is a dark side: the economy. The Adirondacks are gorgeous but there are few if any ways to grow rich there. Six unnumbered chapters are quite explicit on the struggle to escape poverty. I list them here together with the first page of each selected essay:
Adirondack Economics, 47
Adirondack Entrepreneur, 53
The Summer Job, 141
January Petition, 159
-- Greg's previous work experience as Gunner's Mate Second Class in charge of a gun crew "doesn't translate into anything in particular in civilian life." Why didn't he go to college on the GI Bill? "He'd had three and a half years of conformity in the navy and that had been plenty." In summer Greg and his father "established a vegetable route supplying hotels and resorts from the market in Menands," just north of Albany. Greg also hunted out and sold bargains in war surplus supplies.
-- "We made wreathes by the thousand for the Christmas season, and then there was the logging." And Greg and father shipped 40-foot cedar logs to New York City.
-- The Adirondacks abound in FOR SALE signs. Why? Everybody dreams of finding in the Gregsons' woods "the simple life." They mistakenly project the summer tourism bustle for the deadening cold of very long winters. They give up. They sell out.
-- "You will find yourself looking for a job in order to make ends meet -- just until summer comes. But there just don't seem to be any jobs. ... You get to be an expert at deficit spending. Your responses to overdue bills become extremely imaginative."
-- "When you have lived for awhile in these Adirondack hills, you learn to scrounge. Awhile can be defined in many different ways, depending upon how hungry you've gotten." Going into 1958 the Gregsons had five children. "... we finally decided that an income of $2,000 per year was just not going to support our ever-growing family." Learn how Greg's superior forestry skills found them living in relative affluence from 1958 - 1962 in a demonstration forest run by Syracuse University College of Forestry.
-- Later one of Carol's more fascinating summer jobs was to don an old-timey costume and demonstrate weaving and spinning at a tourist attraction called Frontier Town.
-- Carol Gregson wants to abolish January. "Can you think of a more unnecessary month? ... there are all those annual bills ... real estate taxes, and car insurance, and house insurance and heating bills, among other things." "I notice February has the decency not to last so long."
-- "I live in the Adirondacks. ... I once served time at a camping show in Boston, promoting Adirondack campgrounds. ... One Bostonian wondered whether that was in northern Massachusetts. I'm not entirely convinced that there is a northern Massachusetts." Most Adirondackers like Carol don't mind if you don't know where they live. "It's something like the fisherman who has a favorite fishing hole and he's not about to let on where that is." "One of my sons lives in Indian Lake. He says if the Adirondacks is 'nowhere,' then he lives in the middle of nowhere. He likes that."
Carol Gregson's husband Greg died in 1973, leaving her with a 100 acre RV and wilderness camp that Greg and sons had built to run by herself
In world war two, doing war work in Fort Worth, young Carol had taken a course in mechanical draughting. When she was 50, around 1976, Carol decided that to do more than eke out a living, she would become a teacher -- of art. She badly needed steady winter income. So she commuted first to a community college and then in 1980 took her degree in art education from a not very close by four-year college. In 1984 she earned tenure. Her financial future remained modest but for the first time as a widow secure and predictable.
Think twice before you race off to New York State's "six-million-acre civilized wilderness," take a quick look around and invest in a dream house. But you need not hesitate to find and read LEAKY BOOTS AND OTHER COMPLAINTS. You will laugh, you will cry! You will envy my wife and me for having recently come to know author Carol Gregson.
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