by Robert H. Benson
written in 2009
I, Robert H. Benson, was born February 28, 1927 in the Parsonage of the West Lenox Baptist Church, the second son of Harry and Frances Phillips Benson. According to an entry in my mother’s diary, I arrived at 6:00 a.m. on a Monday morning weighing in at 8-¾ pounds. My parents had moved into the parsonage when they were married, the parsonage being empty as the minister lived in the area and commuted. The parsonage is still in use today, but now has electricity, running water, and even indoor plumbing. My brother, Howard, was also born there on June 3, 1925.
Howard and I attended the Acre Lake School, one of many one-room schools in Lenox Township. This building was converted to a home and still continues to be used as one.
Today, in 2008, we hear “Things have not been so bad since the Great Depression.” Well, those were the years I grew up in. We didn’t know we were poor—both grandparents had farms. Dad worked for his father (sawmill) who had several other employees. There were times when Grandpa could not meet his payroll, but no one quit. Even a promise of pay was better than nothing. Every family raised a pig, had chickens, a cow, and grew a garden.
I thought things were great. I had a little bank with a slot on the top to put coins in. Periodically we would take the bank to Hop Bottom National Bank—they would open it and remove the coins and deposit them in an interest-bearing account. Wish I still had that bank, I am sure the antique value would be more than the few coins I put in it.
In 1937 Grandpa moved the mill to Jackson Township. Dad bought a house and we moved up there (the house you call Great Grandpa’s house). I lived there until I was married in 1949. Prior to this, the mill was moved to the location where timber had been purchased so Grandpa (Fred) would move his family (and crew) from place to place. Some of these moves were in New York State, Bradford County, Tunkhannock area, and places in between.
I went to the Lakeview School for 6th and 7th grades. This was a two-room school (no trace of it remains) next to the present Mennonite Church (Baptist at that time). Howard went to Oakland High School.
Howard died of cancer at home on February 14, 1940, in the middle of the famous Valentine’s Day Blizzard. It was bitter cold with heavy snow and blowing wind for two days. All the roads were closed. John Hall brought the undertaker in with a horse and sleigh. I remember standing at the top of the hill, looking down toward the Lakeview road. All you could see was men shoveling. Years later when the blizzard was mentioned, someone remembered shoveling out the hill. The funeral was held in the North Jackson Methodist Church and many helped shovel that out also.
The Lakeview School closed, and I went to Jackson School for 8th grade, then to New Milford for 9th through 12th. High school was great, no responsibilities, just fun. Wonderful life, but there was a war going on. Three of us boys in my class turned 18 in February of 1945 (David Gelatt, Stuart Pease and myself) so we went to Binghamton and enlisted in the Marines “For the duration of the National Emergency” with the understanding that they would not call us until after graduation.
Stuart did not pass the physical for the Marines so he was then drafted into the Army. He was in Italy at graduation time. Dave and I left for the Marines in June of 1945. Dave and I were in boot camp at Paris Island, South Carolina, when the Atom Bomb was dropped and the war came to a speedy halt.
There was a point system in effect so those who had been in longest got out first. For the next year or so I was stationed in Camp LeJeune. Apparently, my name was omitted from a list to go somewhere so I remained in North Carolina, but my mail went to China, I did not get paid, etc. Eventually, things caught up and I worked in the discharge office—“great duty”—until I was discharged.
I came home around August 30, 1946. There was a Celebration Rodeo at the Harford Fair Grounds. Dad wanted to attend so I went with him. All he talked about was what we would do tomorrow. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go to work, but, to work I went, in the sawmill for the next 20 years.
I did not have a car—there were no cars for sale, new or used, in 1946, so I was stuck at home. There was an active youth group at Church, which I attended. One night Joan had a friend staying with her. Another fellow wanted to take that girl out after MYF so someone had to escort Joan. I think I volunteered. Anyhow this has been going along for over 60 years. As I say, I came home from the Service and married the closest available girl.
Just before we were married I bought a 1937 Plymouth. It was not a very reliable car—often had to push it to start in cold weather (and sometimes in warm weather), but it took us to Virginia and back on our Honeymoon. Joan also had a 1936 Chevrolet that had been her father’s, but it was not in good shape either. Dad loaned us his car to go to the hospital when Ellen was born.
On April 10, 1949, Joan and I were married in the North Jackson Methodist Church by Rev. Howard Thomas, the minister who married my parents and had fished with my Grandfather Phillips. I also joined the Masons that year.
Ellen was born on August 7, 1950, weighed 7 pounds and 12 ounces. In 1954 we bought the place where we now live. Paid $6500 for house and 70 acres—you buy an ungood house; you spend the rest of your life working on it. Living next to Dad and work, we could get by with one vehicle. Money was still scarce, but we could live cheap. We had a big garden, even ate four deer one winter. Beef has tasted better ever since.
On May 20, 1963, Scott was born, weighing in at 8 pounds and 5 ounces. By then Ellen was old enough to babysit and was a great help to us.
I served 18 years as a Jackson Township Supervisor (3 terms) and plowed snow for them. Very low paying job but along with sawmill and construction job, kept me busy.
In 1966 I quit the lumber business and went to work on construction. I liked the sawmill, but as Dad was getting older, the equipment was also getting old. It would have taken a lot of money to replace and restart, and, as I had never been involved in the business end of things, I thought it might be better to try something else.
I got a job on construction (at the Blue Ridge High School) with Gerard and Pettinato. I had to join the union. Construction paid much better and I had pretty steady work and continued with the union for 15 years. There was lots of driving since most of the work was in the Scranton area.
In 1968 I broke my arm at work—a bad break, still have plate and screws in my arm. Ellen graduated from high school and started college and both my mother and Joan’s grandmother died. I also quit smoking and had my teeth pulled. Some year, huh?
In 1981 I quit construction. Scott would not go to College so we decided we could get by on less pay in an easier job. The sewage plant operator job was soon opening up at Blue Ridge so I began taking courses, applied for the job, and was hired. Sewage Plant operation required a licensed operator. The retiring operator did not have a license. I took the test as soon as possible, passed the exam, received a certificate to operate the plant and received a raise in pay. It still only paid about half what construction paid, but had better benefits and a shorter drive to work. It was also a much easier job. After 10 years, I retired at age 65.
I had a problem with skin cancer on left cheek periodically for many years. I went to Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, NY for extensive surgery, which took care of the problem in 1986.
Life has been very good to us. Have had a two week tour of England and Wales, cruised to Alaska with family and friends, cruised through the Panama Canal and Caribbean, 50th anniversary trip to Hawaii, across northern United States (always wanted to see International Falls, MN and Mount Rushmore) as far as North Dakota, have visited many former presidents homes and/or museums, two trips to Texas and quite a few to Florida. Also went across Canada via train and cruised to Nova Scotia with Jud and Ellen. We feel much more comfortable nowadays traveling with them. Old age cuts down your confidence.
In 2006 I began having problems walking; a local doctor called it “drop foot.” He suspected a pinched nerve in my back or somewhere. After x-rays, scans, etc. nothing showed up. Eventually, at Geisinger in Danville, I was diagnosed with ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease in April 2009. There is no cure or treatment. There is an ALS Association that loans you all sorts of things to make life easier, for example, a transfer board. The one they loaned me is a smooth shiny piece of plywood two feet long and 8 inches wide. You use it to slide from chair to bed, chair to car, etc. Surprising how helpful it is.
So now, in the summer of 2009, I have not been able to drive in over a year, or even able to stand. A “walker” is of no use anymore. The ALS Association has loaned me a wheelchair. Ellen’s Church (courtesy of Mrs. Allen) loaned me a battery operated scooter that I have used for months. It is a life saver. I have been measured for a four-wheel type battery operated power chair which will work outdoors as well as inside and will support me as my health deteriorates and my back muscles become weaker. I expect to have trouble breathing and swallowing.
I guess I thought that in my old age, my garden would get smaller each year; I would ride around on my lawnmower and just enjoy life. Didn’t quite work out that way, so now as I get weaker, Joan does most of my work, Scott does the heavy work, Ellen hauls us around, Lyle fixes things that break and much, much, more. The Lodge Brothers, our Church Family (and faith) keep us going, the neighbors bring in food. We enjoy seeing grandchildren, and now great-grandchildren.
Life is still good.
Bob Benson passed away the following year in June 2010 on Father’s Day.
You can read the eulogy I gave for Robert H. Benson at North Jackson Methodist Church on Thursday, June 24, 2010, here.