As I said last week, I cannot rake leaves without my late dad showing up. But he’s not the only one who joins me in my thoughts. There’s always the appearance of a fellow by the name of Michael Jerome.
I haven’t seen Michael Jerome in more than 25 years. I doubt he’d recognize me and can’t say for certain I’d recognize him. He’s never been to Pittston. And though he’s heard the word spoken from my mouth and even written it down, he knows little about our home along the Susquehanna River.
He does, however, know something about the Susquehanna, although I’m not sure he knows it is what brought us together for the first time in the mid ‘80s.
Since I was a boy I dreamed about going to Cooperstown, New York, to visit the Baseball Hall of Fame. But by my mid-30s, I still had not done it. Work, marriage, kids, something always got in the way. Then my pal Andy Petonak returned from a trip to Cooperstown and told me something I never knew. Cooperstown is the source of the Susquehanna River.
Once I learned that, I was off in a matter of days, taking along my dad and my Uncle Eddie, my mom’s brother. It was the summer of 1984, ten years before my dad died.
The Baseball Hall of Fame was everything I’d hoped it would be, but it was the Susquehanna that captivated my imagination and caused me to never look at the river the same way again. I came home and wrote a column under the headline “The Susquehanna was Meant to Glimmer.”
That’s because its source, Otsego Lake, was nicknamed “The Glimmerglass” by James Fenimore Cooper (Cooperstown, get it?) for the way it shimmers in the sun. The lake is close to 20 miles around. I found that out when I asked one of the locals if it was possible to run around it and he laughed. It’s 167 feet deep and has a limestone bed. The water in Otsego Lake is the water the people of Cooperstown drink.
During my first trip to Cooperstown, the one with my dad and uncle, I got to see the source of the Susquehanna from the railing of The Chief Uncas, a battery power mahogany boat, brought to Cooperstown by Adolphus Busch, of Anheuser-Busch brewing fame (Otsego County was big hops country), that had been cruising the waters of the lake for nearly a century.
The tour guide directed our attention to a large boulder called Council Rock, a meeting place for Native Americans at the time of the Revolutionary War, and next to it a stream flowing from the lake. This is the Susquehanna.
Once I learned the location from the lake it was easy to find it on land. It’s just a couple of blocks from the Hall of Fame. My dad and uncle waited on a bench in Council Rock Park while I made my way down a steep path to the water’s edge and, cupping my hands, took a drink of clear, cold Susquehanna River water. I couldn’t resist. My dad, an old farm boy, said he understood.
My dad enjoyed simple pleasures and surely, I am his son for one of my fondest memories of Cooperstown has nothing to do with baseball or the Susquehanna. It has to do with watching a fellow rake leaves. That fellow was Michael Jerome.
There were no websites in 1984, so I can’t say how I found The Inn at Cooperstown, a B & B where we stayed on that first trip. I may have spotted it in a pamphlet brought back by Andy.
Michael Jerome was the innkeeper. I’m trusting my memory here, but if I am correct, Michael left the world of high finance in New York City for the peace and quiet of the little village on the shores of Otsego Lake. He purchased the old inn that dates to the 1800s, restored it, and then operated it. Our first morning at the Inn, I got up early to go for a run and found Michael Jerome in his bathrobe whipping up blueberry muffins for our breakfast. He was a picture of contentment.
That afternoon, I watched him rake leaves. He was unaware of my presence and I kept it that way. He was the happiest, most peaceful person I had ever seen. And I never forgot it.
I told this story in a blog a few years ago and said I had a heavy heart because I had heard Michael Jerome had passed away. About a year later, he sent me an email to tell me I was wrong. His wife had come across the blog. I actually remember when they got married. He said they sold the Inn in 2003 but still lived in Cooperstown.
“If you thought I was content raking leaves,” he wrote, “you should see me shoveling snow.”
I can relate.
Ed Ackerman writes The Optimist every week. Look for his blogs online during the week at pittstonprogress.com.