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MRS BENSON

AN EXCERPT FROM BOB BROUGHTON’S BOOK

A chapter from Bob Broughton’s book, Dumbest Kid In Third Grade, reminds “long-timers” about a lady who lived on Main Street more than fifty years ago and gives us another look at life in this village in a quieter day:

“A little ways up from our house sat a large white house with a picket fence around it. A lady by the name of Mrs. Benson lived there. We kids figured Mrs. Benson had a lot of money, at least a zillion dollars, we speculated. Mrs. Benson hired kids to do chores for her and mow her large lawn. It took three of us to mow the lawn. Back then, no one owned a lawn mower with an engine on it. You did the job with a reel type push mower. It was hard work..

“Mrs. Benson had two large overly friendly St. Bernard dogs that mauled the h…. out of us while we tried to mow the grass. The big brown mounds in the yard were proof that the dogs were well fed. When we came upon the large mounds, we mowed around them coming as close as we could without hitting them. The smaller mounds, we got a running start, shut our eyes and plowed through. All things considered we did a good job except for the tall clumps of grass surrounding the big brown mounds.

“Sometimes on a Saturday afternoon after we finished mowing Mrs. Benson’s lawn, she got out her huge old touring car from the barn, took us kids to Hornell and dropped us off at the show. Mrs. Benson drove and had a lady friend of hers ride up front with her in the big old open car. Both ladies dressed fit to kill wearing large black hats with wide brims, long strings of beads and bracelets. I remember thinking they looked like two old gals out of Hollywood. The car’s interior was all rich brown leather. It had a spare tire mounted on each side. My friends and I sat in the back seat. The dogs sat on the floor. What a thrill it was riding in that big old open car, even if there were two big old St. Bernards drooling all over you.

“When we arrived at Hornell, we had a big decision to make as to which movie to see. Hornell had four movie theaters, the Strand, Majestic, Hornell and Steuben, all enticing the kids to spend their dime at their movie house. Most times the Majestic won out because we were hooked on the weekly serial shown there.

“With the twenty-five cents Mrs. Benson gave each of us, we were able to see a show, buy a nickel's worth of candy, and have a dime left over to buy a model airplane. We spent a long time selecting which model to buy. I bought a lot of model airplanes, most of which I never finished and the few I did finish didn’t fly too well. There was, however, one particular model that flew fairly well. It would climb quite high until the rubber band motor ran down, then go into a slow lazy spiral, and glide gracefully to the ground. I decided this model was worthy of a glorious ending. Scenes from the movie, ‘Wings’ and ‘Hell’s Angels’, showing World War One biplanes being shot down and falling from the sky in smoke and flames fascinated me. I had visions of my airplane ending in such a grand manner. I emptied the contents of an oil lamp over the model, wound up the rubber band motor, lit a match to the craft and, at the same time, launched the airplane. Whoomp! The airplane burst into a ball of flame and black smoke. The kerosene, balsa wood, paper and glue were totally consumed before the craft had flown much more than four or five feet. I was fortunate, I escaped with only singed hair. The flight didn’t pan out at all like I had envisioned.

“At Christmas time my friends and I used to scour the woods, anybody’s woods, for Christmas trees to sell. One Christmas Mrs. Benson asked us to get her a tree, so we did. It was a fine tree, shaped and filled out just right. Mrs. Benson was so pleased with the tree she gave us a dollar, instead of the fifty cents we asked for. There was one thing we neglected to tell her. We had cut the tree from a secluded place in the back of her large lot,” his story ends.

Mrs. Benson’s home was known to many as the “NanRod Nursing Home”, where she used her nursing skills to care for the elderly. Prior to her living there, it was the Roger Sisson home in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. A daughter, Nellie Haskell apparently owned it, as the house was a restaurant known as the Haskell House, a fact confirmed by an item found in the archives. A menu from 1926, given to the AHS by the family of Genevieve Lewis Wells who worked in the coffee house, reveals a standard of living definitely unknown to us today: Sandwiches ranged in price from fifteen to thirty-five cents, the most expensive being chicken mayonnaise. Chicken salad was the highest priced item at sixty-five cents, creamed chicken on toast was fifty cents, and eggs any style, twenty cents. Beverages, including tea, milk, hot chocolate, Clicquot club and Canada Dry ginger ale, and grape juice splits, cost between ten and twenty cents. Desserts included sundaes and ice cream with cake for twenty cents, and nut hermits for fifteen cents. Items that appear to be more expensive, in comparison to those mentioned, were pickles and olives for ten cents and marmalade at fifteen cents.

Mrs. Benson’s 1927 Hudson touring car, with a little over 100,000 miles, has been restored and “purrs like a kitten” when started up, Lee Ryan reported after returning from photographing the automobile. Believed to be only one of seventeen of that model manufactured, it remains an elegant reminder of the characters and scenes from another day in this quiet community of Almond.

Persons interested in the book may contact the author, Robert Broughton, 321 Farnum Street, Wellsville, New York 14895, telephone (716)593-1309)