‘Up on a Hill and Thereabouts — An Adirondack Childhood’
Gloria Stubbing Rist’s Adirondack childhood begins in the Bronx where she is living with her mother and paternal grandparents. It is there, in the early 1930s, that her mother, Mim, decides her two children will be better off in Chilson, where she has family.
First, she takes Rist’s 5 -year-old brother, Bubby, upstate. Six weeks later she returns to gather up her daughter, Yada, who is finishing first grade.
There’s not much in Chilson for a single, jobless woman with two children as the Depression deepens. But that first summer Mim buys two acres from a neighbor for $39. She sets up a tent, finds a kerosene stove, and starts to make a home. As autumn turns to winter, a friend gives her a dilapidated shed, which she takes down, transports by hand, and puts back together on her Route 74 property, which connects Ticondereoga to Schroon Lake. This is the rough, isolated and impoverished setting for “Up on a Hill and Thereabouts – An Adirondack Childhood.”
That difficult childhood is recounted in 93 brief chapters, which makes the book a bit like a shoebox full of old photographs, with the author pulling them out one by one and providing a story for each.
What connects the chapters is the author’s tone, which is never bitter, but gentle and matter of fact. Even when describing the hungry Chilson circumstances her mother has brought them to, her memories of that life are full of understated patience and love for her mother: “It was one of those days. Bubby and I hadn’t had any breakfast, and we didn’t have any lunch. We didn’t ask Mim for either meal because we knew there wasn’t any food in the house. The night before Mim had boiled three small potatoes. She gave Bubby 1 potatoes and me 1 . Mim didn’t have any. She said she wasn’t hungry.”
Some chapters are focused on one of Mim’s boyfriends, Cowboy, who helps them survive, in part by brewing moonshine and smuggling liquor from Canada after Prohibition becomes the law of the land. The story of Cowboy taking the two kids into Quebec, without their mother’s permission or knowledge, to bring liquor back for sale plays like a rural episode of the old television show “The Untouchables.” (Cowboy is a curious character who probably deserves a book of his own.)
Rist also offers insight into the religious perspectives in the area at this time. The distance between Protestants and Catholics is wide, full of ignorance and suspicion. About the only thing that drives these Adirondack Christians together is a dislike for the richer summer residents from Schroon Lake. The locals suddenly become ecumenical when a summer visitor picks on one of them.
Those locals attend a one-room schoolhouse on Chilson hill, and suffer through a series of beleaguered, ineffective, frustratedteachers. But it is also in that school Rist meets Mrs. Connors, who motivates her to pass the Regents exams in eighth grade and go on to high school in Ticonderoga. Rist remembers this teacher who made a difference – “It’s been 64 years, Mrs. Connors, and what you did for me has helped me all my life. You cared, and now I finally dare to tell you. I love you and thank you.”
An Adirondack Childhood, which begins in the Bronx, doesn’t really end in Chilson. Mim opens a hotel in Newcomb, and Gloria Stubbing Rist graduates from Newcomb High School. Good for Gloria Stubbings Rist, but most readers will want more – her life after Newcomb for this woman who became a registered nurse.
This book gives us wonderful snapshots of life in the Adirondacks in the 1930s, where a smart kid grew up and treasured the best parts of her life.
This review reflects the individual view of the reviewer, not the views of the Adirondack Center for Writing or the Enterprise.