Memories and Musings: Baby, it’s cold outside

By Gene Gallelli

Accepting a job as principal of an elementary school located in a small town north of Watertown, New York seemed like the right decision for our family and my career.

The river of tears that accompanied my departure later turned into a rushing stream when my wife and two daughters left the secure, friend-laden comfort of our home in West Seneca, to join me in one of the coldest places in the world, Antwerp, New York.

After countless house tours with a local real estate agent, the house my wife Pat selected for the family was a majestic, one-hundred-ten-year-old structure with a curving staircase, wrap-around porch and an ancient oil furnace with a mind of its own.

Since it was spring when we moved into our Antwerp domicile, everything seemed idyllic: the neighborhood was full of children the ages of our offspring, the scent of flowers flooded our senses and our neighbors, Jim and Clara Tucker, quickly became lifelong friends.

The Tuckers had a beautiful in-ground swimming pool that we were welcome to use anytime—our daughters thought they had died and gone to heaven. Pat and I also enjoyed taking a refreshing dip from time to time, then relaxing in a poolside lawn chair, sipping a cold beverage and asking endless questions trying to understand the local culture.

During that first summer and fall living in northern New York, the family secured many friendships that have remained close, dear and active to this day. We were introduced to deer sausage and rib roast, but were pleased to discover that hot Italian sausage and peppers were a local favorite at the Drum and Bugle Corp picnic.

Then winter blew in!

No one in the family had ever lived in or visited Alaska; but there, in Antwerp, at Fort Drum which our house bordered, was where soldiers were trained to function in freezing, Alaskan-type weather!

The family soon learned that in the winter you don’t live in Antwerp, but, rather, survive there.

Snow was in a class all itself, piled so high at both sides of our two-lane road that children had to be careful of the power lines dangling above their heads. It took a half-tank of gas to warm the car, if it started, and clearing the windshield ended the overworked lives of many plastic window scrapers.

In addition to the North Pole cold, adjusting—a euphemism—to the odorous, stingy heat of our cranky oil furnace led to many purchases: heavy coats with hoods, electric blankets, a car engine heater, electric room heaters, and the endless, costly furnace oil. Totally frustrated, cold and open to advice, a friend suggested a Franklin Stove.

But that’s another story.