Floyd Griswold Greene wrote this account of his family and his early life for his daughters.
You girls are all familiar with the cottage at Woodville, Canandaigua lake, "Lake View." The first time that my mother and I went there was before she and Mr. Pealer were married, when, probably, I was 7 years old. I suppose we were the guests of Mr. and Mrs. Ira Day. The cottage was built about 1880, and the main idea was that it was to be for a fishing spot. Ira Day, his brother DeAllyon Day and Grandpa Pealer, all farmers at South Dansville, Steuben County, New York, joined in buying the lot and building the cottage. The only woman in the partnership was Ira Day's wife, Martha. The material in the cottage and barn was, mainly, from an old farmhouse on the Day farm that was torn down, just beyond the school house at the edge of the village at the foot of the hill. It all had to be taken by horses and wagons the 22 miles to the lake. I think that in the lake diary which we have it tells about how the 3 men and Martha lived in a tent on the side hill, and in the barn, and fought mosquitoes.
The 3 wonderful round-bottom boats were built by William Barnhart, a carpenter-fisherman who lived across the road where George Kistner lived when you knew the place. When Barnhart lived there, there was not just one house, but two one-story cottages close together, one for living purposes and one for sleeping purposes. Later they were combined into one house, of two stories. The boats were always painted blue, and on one of the seats of each boat was painted in red the name of the one owning it; that is, "P. P. Pealer," "Ira G. Day" and "DeAllyon Day." We called the boats by the name of the user. The DeAllyon Day boat was the only one left when we sold the cottage. Those boats seemed to be unsinkable. They would ride upon the crests of the waves, no matter how high, but would not turn over or sink. When I was a relatively small boy, one night when the lake was very rough two men who had imbibed too much hard liquor at the hotel started out to cross the lake in a flat-bottomed boat. When nearly half way across the boat capsized and threw the men into the lake. They yelled "Help, help," and I can still hear that call. It paralyzed me with fear at the time. Charlie Barnhart and others heard it, also, and they ran down to our boats and started out with two of them. Charlie later said that he knew the lake was so rough that no other boats could make the trip without capsizing. When the boats neared them, one of the men shouted that he could hold on no longer and would have to let go, but the other one said he saw a light coming and to hang on. And thus both of the men were rescued. Whether the experience cured them of drinking I do not know. Probably not.
Getting ready to go to the lake was something. We generally went twice a year, right after haying in the Spring and just before potato digging in the Fall. I don't recall how Wade and I were able to get away from school for the couple of weeks in the Spring and the three weeks in the Fall that we were there. Of course that was long before the days of autos and our means of locomotion was a team of horses from the farm, pulling a democrat wagon, packed full of people and goods. My mother and whoever was working for us at the time always had a very busy few days, getting lake supplies and cooked goods together. It was 22 miles to the lake, a good 41/2 hours drive for the heavy farm horses. Mr. Pealer would get up at an unearthly hour, so as to get packed up and out before the heat of the day, largely for the benefit of the horses who were not accustomed to long driving trips. I remember his standing around with his watch in his hand, frequently looking at his watch, until my mother; who was doing the best she could, would get pretty nervous. The tenant from the farm would drive us over, sometimes coming back the same day if it was not too hot, but sometimes waiting until the following day.
In the very early days it was possible sometimes to drive the wagon up to the barn above the house, and to keep the horses in the barn. Then the small boys had to carry the stuff down to the house. In later years, the road was not so good, and the wagon would stop on the dirt road below the house, and we would carry the stuff up. The house was quickly opened up and the men folks went down to get the boats out, as Grandpa Pealer was always anxious to get things in shape so that he could start fishing in the afternoon. I was always pretty good in helping him to get his fishing tackle in working order; which it bothered him to do after he had the accident which destroyed so large a part of his right hand.
Grandpa Pealer was a super-fisherman. He knew where they were and how to get them. He never still-fished—that is, sat still in a boat with the lines thrown over the side; neither did any of our crowd for that matter. He always trolled; that is, rowed the boat slowly, with a long line reeled out behind the boat, so that, if possible, the hook and bait would pass just over the weeds in which the fish would be located. There seemed to be many more fish at that end of the lake when I was a boy than later. Early morning or late afternoon were the times when the fish bit best. Grandpa Pealer had a copper box with a cover, about the size of a large market basket, and would put his fish in there in water until, reaching shore when he had finished fishing, they were put into the big fish box—first of wood and later of zinc—that was kept in the lake near the shore.
Almost always Grandpa Pealer would come in with from 6 to 12 pickerel in his box. In the Fall, in deeper water, he caught many pike, some of them weighing 5 or 6 pounds. One day, when the lake was so rough that the steamboats did not dare run, he stayed out all day, bobbing around on the tops of the waves in his round bottom boat, and came in with 60 pickerel. At times there would be 100 fish in the box. Of course there came a time when Wade and I fished some, and then, too, the many guests would fish, also. Whenever a guest left, Grandpa Pealer saw to it that he took a good mess of fish with him. We generally had fish twice a day at the lake, and took many home when we left, which were distributed among the neighbors at home.
My mother never liked to fish. After Mr. Pealer and she were married he bought her an oil silk line, but I doubt if she ever used it. She would go out with him in a boat for a ride, and at such times he would put his fish-line out and often catch fish, but she wasn't interested in fishing as such.
Our closest friends were Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Cook, and Mrs. Cook's sister, "Mate" Howard, who was a hunch-back, but a very fine person. Those three went out for a large part of our stay at least once a year and sometimes twice. A glance through the lake book will show what a large number of guests we had there. At home mother usually had help but out there she had none except for what the guests did, and I have wondered how she ever stood it. She cooked fish over a hot, greasy pan, with a wood fire, for hours, and no-one ever helped her with that. As you all know, mosquitoes were always a problem out there. They were of the singing kind, very annoying in the night if they got into the house, and I have a mental picture of my mother wandering around in her night gown trying to corral and kill mosquitoes. Mr. and Mrs. Cook were both very heavy snorers, and between the bull frogs in the marsh, the snores, and the mosquitoes the nights were plenty noisy. Then around 4 in the morning Grandpa Pealer and the other adult fishermen would get up to get at their fishing, while the females and small boys would turn over and get in some of their best sleeping until about 8. When breakfast was ready a towel would be pinned to the awning in front and the fishermen knew it was time to come in and eat. And they were always ready for it. Lake life seemed to make everybody much hungrier than normal.
Autumn was beautiful and comfortable at the lake. By then the mosquitoes were not so bad, the colorings of the hills were wonderful, the grapes and peaches were at their prime, and the fishing was best. The only draw-back was that it got dark so much earlier and the evenings were long for the small boys. The grown-ups visited and played cards. A favorite stunt of mine was to crawl in behind the two or three people who would be sitting on the front of that big day-bed which Ruth now has, and go to sleep, to be routed out by my mother when it was time to go to bed.
Grandpa Pealer, while not a church member or an active religionist, observed the Sabbath quite strictly. He would never permit farm work—other than the chores—to be done on Sunday, nor would he permit fishing on that day at the lake. When we had guests, generally on Saturday afternoon the men folks would wash out the boats, and then on Sunday if the lake were not too rough, all would pile into the boats for a long row down the lake, sometimes taking lunches along. One time we rowed the 6 miles to Seneca Point, thence across the lake and up the other side, and then back to Woodville, a total trip of nearly 15 miles. One of Grandpa Pealer's favorite short trips was to go over and see the Wetmores, who lived on the other side of the lake a mile or two down.
One time at the lake Mate Howard, who walked with crutches, fell down at the foot of the hill and dislocated a shoulder. At that time I was large enough to help carry her up to the house and, later, to observe the doctor from Naples set her arm. I was so interested in it all that it had a good deal to do with confirming my intention to become a doctor, and especially a surgeon. And I am not so sure that it was not that same year that I did, in fact, start in at the University of Buffalo medical school.
In the earlier years of our stays at the lake there was much more of a swamp along the lake shore above our boat-house and big water snakes were common in the swamp. There were three Ellison brothers, one of whom was an ardent snake hunter. I have seen him locate and kill big black snakes at least 5 feet long by grasping them by the tail and snapping their heads off. One time he made a miscue and one of them bit him and he had a bad arm for quite some time. Once one of those big black water snakes got into our fish-box through one of the slots along the side. He ate a fish, which so swelled him up that he couldn't get out, and, naturally, when we found him in there we killed him.
We used to have a big flat boat, which was used in fish spearing expeditions at night up in the inlet. A light in the front of the boat made from burning pine chips would attract the attention of the fish. The spear was 10 or 12 feet long, with barbs on the end. The spearsman, standing in the front of the boat, would try to spear the fish that came near. Before I was too old, though, somebody stole the boat and that ended the spearing.
It was right after Uncle Theodore's death that Uncle Charlie and my mother talked over the idea of my going to the "Hornellsville Free Academy," now Hornell High School. My uncle offered to see that I had board and room, tuition and books. It was most generous of him. I had passed the necessary preliminary regents' examinations at the Rogersville Union Seminary. So it was decided that I should go, and I did so that fall of 1892.
From this point on, these inconsequential memoirs consist of excerpts from the letters which passed between my mother and me, with inserted suggestions here and there.