During the years that I was a schoolgirl in Lake Placid and living at my uptown grandparents boarding house, The Goodsell Cottage, I spent a lot of time with my grandfather, Burnell Goodsell. Neither one of us spent any more time than we had to with my grandmother, as she was unbearably bossy and incriminating. (She was, however, very sweet to her dog “Queenie”.) So, grandpa and I sought out each other’s company as often as possible.
When Grandpa cranked homemade ice cream, I sat on the lid of the old hand freezer to keep it stable. When he went out to the woodshed to cut wood, I sat on a log and watched, and when he was out pruning the apple trees, I climbed up in one and advised him.
When he ventured down into the dark, dirt-floored cellar to tend to the iron coal-burning furnace, I was intimidated, but followed him anyway to watch him shovel coal into its firery mouth. We both liked to watch Hurley Bros. deliver a load of coal, which shot through a basement window into a bin.
I learned all about family history while wiping dishes as Grandpa washed. Standing at the old iron sink, I listened as he told me about the famous Goodsell family that was prominent in the history of Vermont. It seems that his grandfather, Captain Silas White, had started the ferry service on Lake Champlain and the family were still active in the business in the 1940’s. They were also involved in bridge building and in the founding of the University of Vermont. I heard stories about his growing up in Isle la Motte and later owning his own farm there, before he moved the family to Rouses Point and then to Lake Placid. Today, Goodsell family descendants have their own compound on Lake Champlain on Goodsell Point near Colchester, Vt.
One of my fondest memories of Christmas when I was growing up in Lake Placid is when Grandpa and I went on foot into the woods to select and cut down our Christmas tree for The Goodsell Cottage. I pulled my Flexible Flyer sled, (almost as long as a toboggan) which had seen a lot of use on the Homestead hill next to the Palace Theater, while Grandpa carried his saw and some rope.
We were properly and warmly dressed for the occasion. On our feet, we both wore what were called “overshoes” that were made of rubber-like material, had several buckles up the front, and were pulled on with difficulty over our shoes. My grandfather called them “galoshes.” I had on a heavy one-piece snowsuit that made me waddle like a duck, and which was impossible to manage when I needed to go to the bathroom. Grandpa had on his long wool underwear, over which he pulled on knickers that fastened at the knee to hold up his wool socks, a wool shirt covered by a cardigan sweater and topped by a heavy, lumberjack-style plaid jacket and a wool cap with earlappers. It is a wonder that either of us could walk.
On our way down what used to be Forest Street, he recited to me my favorite poem of his childhood in Vermont.
“Oh, the wind she blows on Lake Champlain,
And then she blows some more
They say that you will never drown
If you always stay on shore.”
We entered a pathway off West Valley Road which led us almost instantly into a deeply wooded area where we stopped from time to time to look at animal tracks in the light snow. This area was where I would ski in just a few years, at the village ski slope known as Fawn Ridge, which boasted a rope tow. Once in the woods, we took our time examining every candidate tree for imperfections. Finally, finding the perfect balsam tree, I watched it fall to the ground under grandpa’s saw. We trimmed it a bit, and then I helped to load it onto the sled and tie it down.
Happily, we trudged back up Forest Street and through the village park leading back to the boarding house. As we dragged the tree into the house, the smell of the fresh Balsam tree became that special feeling of Christmas which has stayed with me all my life.