Friday, April 20, 2012

Down Came the Rain... 1972

Read the Printed Word!


“Mommy, why are those envelopes so wrinkled and brown?”

I already knew the answer, but I liked to hear her tell the stories behind the things in the baby memory book she’d made for me.

“Right after you were born, there was a huge storm called Hurricane Agnes. Pennsylvania and New York got a terrible amount of rain in a really short time, causing huge floods. I had just brought you home from the hospital, and all of our friends and family were sending us cards to congratulate us, but a lot of the post offices were flooded, and the letters and cards got wet. These particular envelopes came from Elmira, New York, where I grew up.”

“I’m glad you didn’t name me Agnes, Mommy!”

She laughed. “Well, you are a force to be reckoned with, but they decided to retire the name ‘Agnes’ after all the damage this hurricane did. There will never be another Atlantic hurricane named Agnes.”

Looking through Kirk House’s new book, The 1972 Flood in New York’s Southern Tier, reminds me of these early history lessons from my mother – my history, our community history, and a pivotal time in the history of the Twin Tiers. House’s book is another fine example of local history, captured by Arcadia Publishing’s ‘Images of America’ series. Although House’s book focuses on the flood damage and recovery efforts in the Southern Tier of New York, those of us in the Northern Tier of Pennsylvania will also get a lot out of perusing these photos and reading over the facts he’s collected.

Obviously, I grew up hearing about ‘The Flood of ‘72’, since Agnes and I were born that month, and I still learned some information which astounded me. I also feel some resolution, learning the reasons and hearing the explanations for the damage descending on this area the way it did. As House explains in one of the first captions in the book, “The Conhocton, Canisteo, and Tioga Rivers … have their confluence and form the Chemung where Corning meets Painted Post. In the early morning hours of June 23, 1972, all three tributaries crested at that point pretty much simultaneously.” It was Steuben County’s own Perfect Storm. At the height of the flooding, the Allegheny River in Pennsylvania rose nearly 7 inches every hour. Forty miles north of Corning, the waters of Keuka Lake rose an unprecedented three feet in less than 48 hours.

The dangerous and most damaging part of the flooding, however, was not merely from the levels of water, but from the speed and force of the rushing waters, which moved hundreds of houses and stores right off their foundations. Photo after photo in The 1972 Flood… shows cars flattened by houses that have come to rest on top of them, cars and houses wedged under some bridges, while other bridges have collapsed into piles of broken beams and twisted metal.

Agnes was America’s costliest mainland hurricane as of its date, forty years ago, causing over $700 million damage in New York State alone. Thousands of businesses were destroyed – some small ones never to recover. Bob Rockwell, of Rockwell’s Department Store on Market Street in Corning, spent the night in his store on June 22, only to watch over $250,000 of his stock float out by the morning. At the Corning Hospital, Dr. Jack O’Neill finished an emergency surgery, knee-deep in water, by flashlight, before the last evacuations were complete. In Elmira, flood waters covered nearly all of St. Joseph’s Hospital. Of the 40,000 residents in Elmira, 20,000 became homeless when Agnes and her flood waters took over the city.

As appalling as these stories are, it is heartening to look at photos of all the people who pitched in to help. Certainly, the National Guard and the Red Cross and other relief organizations were there. Perhaps more important to the natives of the Southern Tier was the presence and commitment of Corning Glass. The largest employer in the area, the Corning Glass facilities were also hard hit by the floods. As House points out, they could have decided to cut their losses and leave the area altogether. Instead, the Corning officials “quickly determined … that they would not only stay in Corning, but also take a leading role in rebuilding the region.”

Many from the Northern Tier of Pennsylvania have their own stories of tragedy and triumph from this time, and the help that came from leading industries and agencies in our area, paralleling those told in House’s book, but those are for another book….

Monday, April 9, 2012

Bacon, A Love Story

Kevin Coolidge

The Mega Millions lottery game on Friday night was a record-breaking 640 million dollars. The bad news is that I didn’t win…the good news is that I won’t be hearing from relatives and friends I didn’t know I had. Still it’s unfortunate. I so wanted to use my wealth to abolish hunger, and to breed better bacon. Using genetic engineering, I planned on improving “the other white meat” and not only fulfilling Earth’s growing protein requirements, but ushering in a new era of peace and prosperity for all.

Someone beat me to it. The most common American swine breeds were the Yorkshire, Berkshire, Hampshire, Chester White, and Spotted, but companies specializing in swine genetics have merged the best of the top breeds to create hybrid pigs. These “super pigs” are less prone to disease, produce more piglets per litter, are leaner, and result in a more consistent product. All to produce the world’s most perfect meat…bacon!

Americans consume more than 1.7 billion pounds of bacon a year, and bacon sales are rising as a result of added flavors—such as maple and jalapeno. America’s addiction is growing more intense. Just check out the increased use of bacon to accompany other foods. You probably had bacon this week. Maybe you’re eating bacon right now. After all, fifty-three percent of households report having bacon on hand at all times.

But the increase in sales is attributed more to restaurants. Sixty-two percent of restaurants now have bacon on the menu, and not just for breakfast. Bacon is on sandwiches, pizzas, and salads. Bacon is available at your favorite greasy spoon and in the best four star establishments. Bacon: it’s more than a meat; it’s a flavor.

It’s also becoming a part of pop culture. Bacon gumballs, bacon bandages, bacon wallets, gummy bacon, even canned bacon. You can purchase specialty bacon, find countless recipes that feature bacon, enjoy bacon scented candles, and find countless people who are not afraid to express their undying passion for cured pork belly.

I love the seductive taste of bacon. The delightful smell tantalizes me as it is sizzling, but I admit to taking bacon for granted. After all, humans have been consuming pork for thousands of years. Pigs even accompanied Columbus to the New World, but the power of pork has a long history. From the early domestication by the Chinese to the genetically modified porkers rolling out the large-scale farms in Iowa.

It’s salty, smoky and sweet, and it makes everything better. There’s a bacon renaissance sweeping the country and you can join the movement or get out of the way. In her book, Bacon: A Love Story, popular bacon blogger Heather Lauer serves us a tasty dish of fun facts and explores how bacon finds its way to your skillet, and what to do with it when it gets there.

Everyone seems to be talking about bacon these days: from specialty bacon raised on acorns, and hickory smoked on site from the best little farms in Kentucky, to the high profile chefs who incorporate this meat candy into their menus in innovative ways—including bacon bloody Marys and bacon brownies. Yes, bacon has evolved way beyond the initial role of food preservation. Why? Theories abound, but it’s obvious. Bacon is the best meat ever…

Crispy? Or Chewy? Email me at and let me know. For my secret marriage of bacon, eggs, and Monterey Jack cheese on a sourdough biscuit be sure to visit Yeah, you can catch up on past columns too. Don’t forget bacon when it comes time for that special gift. Roses fade, but bacon is forever…

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Who You Gonna Call?

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Victoria Laurie’s “Ghost Hunter” series is for a new generation interested in the paranormal, for people more familiar with TV’s “Ghost Hunters” and “Most Haunted” rather than the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man and possessed card catalogs.

M.J. Holliday can trace her ancestors back to the famous “Doc” Holliday of America’s Old West… and she can talk to him, too. When M.J. (Mary Jane) was growing up in Valdosta, Georgia, she knew exactly when her mom finally succumbed to the cancer she’d been fighting for years. Her mom appeared to her while she and her best friend, Gilley Gillespie, were playing Barbies on Gilley’s back porch. Gilley knew even then that he was gay; M.J. knew, even before her mom came to her, looking healthy and at peace, that she could communicate with the spirit world. Both Gilley and M.J. had been branded as weird kids at their small school, so they stuck together and defended each other.

When Gilley the computer geek won a scholarship to M.I.T. in Boston, M.J. moved to New England with him, rather than stay in Valdosta where everyone – even her dad and her brother – looked at her with either pity or suspicion or both. M.J. worked odd jobs in Boston until one night, Gilley convinced her to do a “reading” for a classmate who had recently lost a family member. A new business was born: in the beginning, M.J. acted as a medium for people wishing to communicate with a deceased loved one, but eventually, Gilley came on board with all his techie knowledge and toys so that the two of them could do “ghost busts.” People would hire M.J. and Gilley if they had inherited a property that came with things that go bump in the night. They were hired to research and clear the grounds of a boarding school when new construction seemed to disturb old spirits. They cleared sites of murders and suicides, old hotels and hospitals. In one book, Ghouls Just Haunt to Have Fun, the two went on a TV show, talking with people about their possibly “possessed” objects, when a producer hoped to launch a show that combined ‘Antiques Roadshow’ and ‘America’s Most Haunted.’

Gilley researches the historical background of a job and monitors M.J.’s progress on a site, setting up electromagnetic sensors, night vision cameras, and all kinds of other new-fangled ghost-hunting technology. M.J. tries to connect with whatever lingering spirits are causing havoc, attempting to convince them to cross over to the next plane of existence. With particularly nasty spirits who have no intention of leaving, M.J. must find their ‘portal’ and nail it closed with strongly magnetized spikes. This containment system certainly requires a lot fewer special effects than 1984 in New York City, and there’s no need to worry about crossing the streams of your proton packs.

The “Ghost Hunter” books bring together the best of cozy mystery series and popular fascination with the paranormal. Just like any good cozy mystery series, author Victoria Laurie and her team of PR folks have come up with puns so bad they’re great as titles, beginning with What’s a Ghoul to Do? Mysteries usually fall into two main categories: either the main character(s) are professional police or detectives, or they aren’t. When the main characters aren’t police, this is more often the realm of the cozy mystery, but it can become implausible after a few books in the series, that this non-professional somehow ends up in the thick of all these murders. Many cozy mystery authors get around this by making their main character somehow related to a professional, perhaps the spouse or sister of a detective. Nevertheless, it gets to the point where you, as the reader, can’t believe how any more people could die in the town where this main character lives. Laurie has found several clever ways around this, making Gilley and M.J. professionals, but not police, giving them valid reasons to be in new places where murders may have taken place.

With Gilley and M.J.’s jobs, Laurie offers her readers contemporary characters and interesting settings, friendship with the occasional side dish of romance, some metaphysical ideas to chew on, and a few goosebumps along the way. Think of it as a grown-up ‘Scooby Doo’ where the ghosts are real, the technology is top-notch, and the good guys always get to the bottom of the mystery before the last page is turned. If you’re often glued to episodes of police procedurals or ghost hunting on your television, “tune in” to a series you can enjoy even if the lights go out.

When things go bump in the night, who you gonna call to bump right back? Call in Hobo and his team of bibliophiles to help you research right, and don’t get caught alone….

Monday, April 2, 2012

Write What You Like

Kevin Coolidge

Every beginning writer asks, “What should I write?” The answer most often given is write what you know. This advice often leads to terrible stories in which nothing interesting ever happens. What if Mark Twain only wrote what he knew? He would never have written A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, because I’m pretty sure that he never did find that portal to medieval England.

Better advice, according to Austin Kleon, author of Steal like an Artist, is to write what you enjoy. He recounts seeing the movie, Jurassic Park, when he was just ten years old. The dinosaurs, the excitement, the velociraptors shredding the big game hunter to tasty kibble—He loved it!

Austin couldn’t wait for a sequel. He ran home and typed one out. He didn’t know it at the time, but what he wrote is called fan fiction. Fan fiction is fictional stories based on characters that already exist and created by other writers. Writers influence writers. We are drawn to certain stories because they inspire us. Make us think. All fiction, in essence, is fan fiction.

Write the kind of story you enjoy the best. Write the story you want to read. When you are at a loss of what to write, just ask yourself, “What would make a better story?” Think about your favorite stories and favorite authors. What did they miss? What could have been better? If they were still alive, what would they be writing today?

Steal someone else’s idea? How about producing something original? A beginning writer may stare into the abyss, but a good writer can’t wait for the abyss to stare back. Nothing comes from nowhere, and nothing is completely original. So embrace influence.

You will not become a good writer without some foundation in technique. Without being exposed to the possibilities of language. Learn to add suspense to your story by following Stephen King. Pick up your pacing by keeping sentences lean like Ernest Hemingway. Produce and push yourself to your limits like Philip K. Dick by using copious amounts of amphetamines.*

The goal is not to become a clone. The goal is to enjoy writing by reading the authors you enjoy reading. Learn their secrets, explore your own style, and find your own unique voice.

How do you be creative? Always be reading. Where do you get ideas? Copy your favorite passages. How do you begin to write? By searching. The answers are simple. You write. Write what? Write anything. Don’t wait until you know who you are to get started…

*This column does not recommend you take amphetamines like Dick, though an occasional espresso might be justified. It should be remembered that your favorite writers are human too: Phillip K. Dick wrote science fiction at a time when it did not pay very well. Though an excellent writer, and brilliant man, he felt the need to produce more material. Dick often suffered from paranoia and schizophrenia and his writing reflected this. Almost a dozen of his short stories and novels have beeen produced into Hollywood movies. Unfortunately, he died impoverished as a relatively young man. Hemingway self medicated with alcohol and ultimately committed suicide, and King has more demons than those he puts to paper. We can learn from the masters of fiction by copying their style, but we don’t have to adopt all their behaviors.

Write what you know? Or know what you like? Drop me an email at Miss a past column? You know you want to catch up at Hobo the cat wrote a children’s book about what he knew. His journey to what he wanted…a better life.