Old Joe – rolled his own.
Maybe Joe worked thirty years for my grandparents – no matter exactly how many years. What is important is I grew up with him.
A Gananoque native, he came out to the island in his work boat, named the Squaw, everyday, maybe even Sundays. Originally, the family used Joe's boat - The Dorothy. That was in the early years, when we rented Wood Island. Then we bought Axeman Island, a 5.5-acre Canadian Island.
Joe would arrive with a supply of ice, and the welcome milk and food supplies. He would then stay for the day - to help!.
In those days I would have said Joe did all kinds of “stuff” – everything in fact, except he did not 'handle' or 'manage' – that was left to my grandfather, Frank Breyer.
This division of powers often led to arguments and we children would clear out and let the knuckleheads settle, which if I remember, ended in maybe/likely/eventually - a tie.
One day Frank came up from the big city (NYC) to the Chaumont, NY airport. Nobody really wanted to pick him up. Chaumont was a very long way from our island, boat to shore, the bridge two ways, customs, etc.
Frank would attempt to, 'pass-run customs'. He was always stopped, and this was embarrassing to his driver. But perhaps, what he really wanted was to have Joe travel over to get him.
With the Squaw traveling no more than 15 mph, the long distance to Chaumont and back, and with Joe not always sure he might be held at the border for some past minor infraction, Joe said, “Oh no, Frank.' Over the years, stories were told about strong-headed clashes between the two. The end to the relationship came eventually, although how it was left is in some doubt, with Joe saying, "I told him I quit.” … Frank’s answer, “He did not quit, I fired him!”. Yes, remembering Joe and my grandfather recalls the story of two Billy goats … always going head-to-head.
But Joe was central to our lives and to our island, as were all the River-men or boatmen.
I remember this gruff/grumpy man, slamming ice blocks into the tin-lined icebox. This was a welcome task, but he liked to do it early, waking everyone and everything.
Muttering … Bam/Crash!
Our mother (Betty Jane) however, fond of Joe, calls out, cheerily … “Good Morning, Joe!”
Joe Rattles the ice tongs.
Marjorie, 'Nana', my grandmother, lived 100 years, Joe not far behind.
Over time, Joe purchased Fort Wallace Island, near the US boundary, and at the east end of Grindstone Island. He was often there working on his cabins, but he also found time to stop by with flowers for both my grandmother (Nana) and great-grandmother (Granny). Both were aspiring artists – often painting the flowers Joe brought.
In the later years, Nana wrote a book for the family, “5 Generations; A Memoir”, with several sections covering the purchase and life on Axeman, including her memories saying, “Joe was great in improvising. He would use nails or bobby pins to fix this or that", adding, "I remember Joe as a great old Joe mostly, but when a periodic urge … overcame him, he was quite impossible for several days after …
He had a real feeling for the island and joined me with gusto, in clearing up the 'jungle' as he called it. He also loved to pick huckleberries, place them into his cap and present them to me."
But now … 60 years later, I remember that to get down to our cabin at night, beyond 'the jungle', on the path passing where Joe burned our garbage, still smoldering since morning … and being sure the boogie-man was not going to get me, especially once a month during the full moon, I would call out to my mother, “I'm coming” and would get her cheery, "Ok!" reply. Then thanks to Joe and my grandmother's clearing work., I felt safe on my route, skipping across the two little bridges to the cabin.
Yes, Joe did, "roll his own". On some days even now, I am sure I see him there, in our boathouse, at the head of the main slip ... sitting on a bucket, wetting one edge of his cigarette paper with his tongue ... and then there he is, using both hands to twirl it into a 'joint' ... crushed at both ends. He does look satisfied with his work!
Well, maybe I don’t see him, but his influences on me as a boy growing up in the summers, on an island in Canada, has lasted. Hmm, for sure.
By John Patterson, Axeman Island, Lake Fleet
John F. Patterson, or Jack, is a long time island resident on Axeman in the Lake Fleet Group. He has spent summers on Axeman since every year since 1938, save one. He is a proud outdoorsman, having hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2002, from beginning to end. He has also hiked substantial portions of the Pacific Crest Trail, from the Mexican border to Lake Tahoe and further sections to the Columbia River. He is a graduate of Dartmouth College. John had a long career in various aspects of Finance, culminating in 1978 when he opened his own business, JF. Patterson and Co. Builders, in Westport, CT. He is also an avid reader and researcher and today, Jack says, “He is mostly retired!”