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"Old Joe” – Rolled His Own

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.

Joe Pullaw River manOne 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.Joe in skiff

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.

HIgh water 1952Over 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 …Granny and Nana

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!”

  • Joe rolled his own.JPG

    Joe rolled his own.JPG

  • The boathouse from the West side in 1961.

    The boathouse from the West side in 1961.

  • Joe in the back of the

    Joe in the back of the "Chief" with a cigarette in hand.

  • Joe (left)with some of the family and today‘s catch!

    Joe (left)with some of the family and today‘s catch!


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Kimberly Pullaw Delaney
Comment by: Kimberly Pullaw Delaney
Left at: 12:43 PM Thursday, March 15, 2018
Mr. Patterson, thank you for sharing your story. Joe Pullaw was my great grandfather. I was fortunate enough to meet him, and do have fond memories of visiting him. I would have been too young, or perhaps old age had mellowed his feistiness, as I just remember a kind old man.I did find myself smiling as you recounted tales of a grumpy man. The generations that followed Joe have been know to be stubborn with a quick temper, but most importantly we still have a profound love of the river.

Thank you again for sharing,

K. Pullaw Delaney
peter brooks
Comment by: peter brooks
Left at: 12:45 PM Wednesday, March 21, 2018
Joe, Was our neighbor in the west end near the Skelding subdivision. I would cut through Machar's woods on the way home. One day Joe jumped out and scared the "S--T" out of me. Always went to the top of the Bay Road to King Street and along after that. I would sit for hours picking his brain about the river. Whether it was fact or fiction I was always mesmerized. His son Walt and his grandson Tod were friends growing up also. Pullaws one of the great Gananoque river families. Thanks for the piece Jack. I was on the Bay Dock the night they brought your grandfather Frank off the island and also stayed many times at Axeman after Labor Day with "Nana" when she would be alone until she left for Summerland Key early October. Great people
Kathie Patterson
Comment by: Kathie Patterson
Left at: 7:35 PM Thursday, March 22, 2018
Really great Memories appreciate Jack sharing these special memories. Ive also been going to Axeman since a baby but was too young to remember Joe other then .. he worked for my grandfather.
Thank you so much Jack’s wonderfully remembered and written. Please continue to share ..we all gain from it. Kathie
Paul Harding
Comment by: Paul Harding
Left at: 12:38 AM Friday, March 23, 2018
I'm intrigued by the title of this article because, in the many years I knew Joe Pullaw as a street neighbour and a boathouse neighbour, I never saw him smoke. He would climb the hill at The Bluff, stopping to sit on an outcropping of rock that appeared to have been put there as a bench for him. I, like Kim, don't remember any grumpiness, though 'gruff' might be an appropriate adjective. But the smile in Jim King's photo perfectly captures the Joe Pullaw I saw almost every day. A iconic 'river man'. Thanks for the memories.
Tom King
Comment by: Tom King
Left at: 7:25 AM Friday, March 23, 2018
I used to keep my boat tied up below Bluff Park for several years when I was a teen. "Old Joe" had his boathouse down there as well. Quite often, at the end of the day as we were both coming in off the river, we would make the long climb from the boathouses to the top of the bluff together. Joe would always stop and sit on the old stone wall for a while to catch his breath. Many times I would sit there with him and listen while he regaled me with stories of his life on the river. Joe was a true River Rat and I certainly value the memories of those chats that we had!
Jack Patterson
Comment by: Jack Patterson
Left at: 7:00 PM Sunday, March 25, 2018
Thank you for your note, Kimberly. Thank you all. The 'Billy-Goat' analogy was not mine though I endorsed it. I did have to, 'clear-out' when it got stormy and I was 'waked-up' when the ice was slung. But likely, the 'dust-ups' occurred only when our grandfather was in residence. Not that he wasn't a fine man. He was. The honors and accolades are heaped up. Including letters from Eleanor Roosevelt and, especially esteemed, the Queen. New York City ... Manhattan ... clamor and uproar ... taxies to the airport ... on-again off-again Mohawk Airlines. Hm. Might we forgive a little? I picked him up once and we went, as usual, to Yazell's Dairy Bar there (Route 12) on the U.S. side. Almost always he would remark on the transition from noisy congestion crossing Broadway and quiet peace and tranquility on the river. And let me say too, the principle feeling in the family, the abiding feeling, is affection. "Good Morning, Joe" my mother would cry out ... and, despite the caveat, my grandmother adding, "I remember Joe as a great old Joe mostly ..." The his picking blueberries and presenting them to her in his cap. My grandmother, otherwise, not given, not at all given, to sharing feelings. So thank you. And maybe Kimberly you come out and visit us one day.