First Hand. Second Hand. The Account of a Picker

A Note to My Readers: Recently I brought my car in to be serviced.  I have had my lease car for five years…two years beyond the contract.  It runs beautifully and due to the ability to work with my clients via the internet, I don’t have the “windshield time” that was usual for me in the past.  Thus I have racked up a measly 25, 000 miles in 5 years.  Oh, yes, going to the dealership for servicing leaves me feet away from the latest beauties…the ones with WiFi and that new car smell, but I have become curiously immune to the siren call that had me traditionally turning in a low mileage lease car just to drive the newest model.  Like clockwork.  Every three years for 20 years.  The new cars are always so amazing and there is that smell.  So what happened?  I decided to poll my friends and associates and I was amazed to find out that without communicating, we had all come to the same conclusion.  “What’s wrong with keeping THIS one?”  And then I learned that the attitude extended beyond the habit and, indeed, anticipation of a new vehicle every three years…for no good reason.

My television works…not 3D?  Who cares?  What sparkles in the showroom…”LOOK! you can see the sweat beads on the quarterback!” doesn’t make anyone pull out the card and add more debt just so that the Monday Night Football experience includes evidence that the players perspire.

McMansions that sit on less than an acre are gathering dust on the real estate market as buyers realize that they only live in one room at a time and they can watch movies in the family room without the angst and regret that they don’t have a home theater.   And think of the energy that you save!  Not to mention the fact that you will actually have to spend more quality time with your family since hiding in a 2000 square foot home is pretty hard to do.

Ah yes,  technology.  Here is where it gets tricky.  At least for me.  I am an old geek.  I love technology and how it makes my work better and keeps me so connected and current.  The faster it evolves the more I am concerned about an intervention where I walk into a hotel room to find my family and friends there.  In no time I am forced to go to some posh rehab in California where there is no cell phone reception and the utterance of WiFi will have me in therapy with Dr. Drew.  But even there, my greedy addiction has been tempered.  Products and services are being released every few months and the advance marketing and PR has my inner addict thrumming.  Still, I own an iPhone 3. The iPhone 5 is due out.  Who cares? My phone works great…does what I need.  I play with the iPAD at the Apple store and have had quality time with one or two that belong to family members.  But it would be redundant…better…but redundant technology.  I have my laptop and function on a high level and I haven’t even used some of its higher functions.  Case closed.

All of these changes in my attitude about buying new things…just to buy the latest with the whiz bang-something-or-other-life changing-until-the-next-thing-comes-out-consumer-junkie rush…came on without a conscious reality-check effort.  And I am not alone.  That is what is interesting and, I think, tells me that maybe we have hit the reset button. Back to earlier times in history when fathers handed down their tools to their sons and mothers presented their daughters with an heirloom hair comb.  And those things were used and treasured as things of practical value.  And worth.  When second hand stores were patronized by everyone because good things were still, well, good.

This brings me to my great great grandfathers.  Albert S. Martin and David Penird.

I posted a story in September of 2010 entitled Of Woodchucks and Wookies that was more about my step great grandfather’s hoarding than the practice of scrap, second hand goods of Albert and David.  Though I guess it could be a fine line.  The difference here is Albert and David were business men who were living the consumer values of the time.  Resources were precious things in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.  And there was no middle class stigma to purchasing a “pre-owned” hat or coat,  bicycle, pram or child’s toy.  The newspaper classifieds were jammed with ads selling farm tools and even personal items.  Silver hair brushes were listed in one ad along with homemade preserves and a cow!

What is Old is New Again

Second Hand shops such as the one my grandfather, Albert, owned in Auburn, New York flourished.  They were a place to meet your neighbors as you perused the latest offerings and share the latest gossip.

There were no…GASP!…malls…no eBAY…no Craig’s list.  Grandfather’s store on 99 State Street was all of that and more.  As an agent to sell HOME sewing machines, he was trained to service this all important household tool.  In fact, there is a postcard listing his products that belonged to my grandfather that is archived in the Smithsonian Museum.   If your shoes or boots were in need of a cobbler, grandfather had begun his young adult life in Cazenovia as boot maker.  A quick donning of a leather apron and Albert would render your footwear as good as new. Next door his second eldest son, William, would remedy what ailed your bicycle.

Auburn New York Genesee Street

I like to think about my great great grandfather’s store.  I grew up in Auburn in the 1950’s and 1960’s and I remember the old “shotgun” stores and their shopkeepers as they were then.  I imagine the oak floor boards and the big brass cash register and maybe the family dog that was a companion to the old man that spent his last days among the reclaimed treasures.  In the 1960’s some of those old premises were invaded by a new generation with slick interiors and on occasion a brash, modern facade to cover the lovely old brick exteriors. I was a kid in the midst of ugly “urban renewal”.  The stately manse on South Street, The Women’s Union, was torn down for a parking garage. The Joni Mitchell lyrics come to mind…“they paved paradise and put a parking lot”.  And don’t even talk about the terrifying and squat building that once held the old W. T. Grant’s.  It sits among the handsome old buildings as a guilty reminder to a human frailty and hubris to replace the past with our own clumsy monuments.

On my last visit home in spring of this year, I parked the car and walked the very familiar Genesee Street.  The brick exteriors have mostly been restored and many owners are installing new awnings that are in the spirit of those sported by all the buildings at the turn of the last century.  I like walking the streets of my youth knowing my great great grandfather and his children did the same.  In their day,  a narrower Genesee Street went from packed mud, wooden sidewalks to a cobblestone thoroughfare punctuated with iron cast hitching posts, gas lighting and a rumbling trolley traveling its length and finally to its current genesis- a wide ribbon of concrete paving and modern halogen lights.

In the midst of the contemporary materials and technology, the new generations have embraced the idea that old is good.  And comforting.  I am a small town girl.

Recycle, Reuse and Repurpose.  Rags to Riches

My paternal great great grandfather, David Penird, came to America from London, England in the late 1840’s as a teenager.  He began his American life with his New York state born wife, Elizabeth White, who was not yet fifteen.  They had settled in Springport, Cayuga County, New York where he worked as a  laborer.  It wasn’t long before David headed to Cherry Valley, Winnebago County, Illinois with Elizabeth with their infant child, Lucy Jennie Penird.  Presumably Elizabeth died, probably from the cholera epidemic that ravaged the population in the valley in 1854.  By 1860 David is married to Martha Colwell of Summer Hill with their three children-Ida, John and George .  It appears they were married by 1855 as they had a daughter, Ida born in that year.  Lucy who is 9 is still with them at the time of the 1860 Federal Census, but on December  3rd of 1860 Winnebago County filed suit against David Penird.

Resolved.  That Geo. W. Miller to be allowed the sum of Forty Dollars, for care of Lucy Penird, and for sending said Lucy Penird to her friends in Auburn, New York, and the Clerk of this Board is hereby directed to draw an order on the Treasurer for the amount.

Lucy Jennie Penird never lived with her father again.  If she returned to “friends” in Auburn is not known.  What is known is about Lucy’s early years is found in her Steven’s Point Gazette obituary.  She was born in Auburn and was living in Wisconsin sometime after 1860 with her aunt, Mrs. Arnold.  Lucy became a child bride at 16 to Horatio Theodore Harroun of  Plover, Wisconsin.  The Harrouns had six children.  Their granddaughter, Etta Lawson McCoy, is found married and living in Syracuse, NY and visiting the Penirds.  She is named in the 1927 will of her grandmother’s half brother, George Penird.

While Lucy seemed to have been acknowledged as a Penird, there is no great sense that she was ever in the bosom of the family.

The Civil War

With the prewar economy becoming desperate and a young family to feed, David sold his Illinois farm and found his way back to the lush farmland along the eastern shore of Cayuga Lake in Summer Hill sometime between 1860 and early 1861.   In November of  1861 David was paid a bounty and enlisted in the NYS Volunteers 75th Infantry that had been organized at Auburn, NY.  Leaving New York State on December 6, 1861, the 75th  headed directly to Fort Pickens in Florida.  His youngest child, my great grandfather, William, was six months old when David marched off to fight Johnny Reb.  David and his regiment saw three years of action in the Deep South fighting major skirmishes in the Red River Campaign and at the infamous Sabine Pass.  The 75th was mustered out on August 3rd,  1864 in Savannah, Georgia. During his service, David had attained the rank of Sergeant.

Before he left, David had transferred the ownership of the Summer Hill farm in District 9 on Howell Road to Martha.  The records are conflicting, but she is named in several records as the farm’s owner.  And she is buying and selling land in Summer Hill during those years.  Martha worked the farm in Summer Hill and raised her children.  When David returned, he was almost 35 years old and had spent three years slogging through malarial swamps.  He had learned to be resourceful to survive and distinguished himself in the field of battle.

Deadwood City Dakota Territory 1879

Ten years of being a farmer in Summer Hill evidently didn’t suit 50 year old David because by the late 1870’s he was in Deadwood, Dakota Territory with my 19 year old great grandfather rebuilding Deadwood after the fire and mining along with other veterans of the 75th.

When David and William returned to Cayuga County in the early 1880’s, farming was Martha’s bailiwick while the Penird men went into the scrap and rag business.  In 1884 William married my great grandmother, Emma Case, of Summer Hill and the Penird men established their scrap business on Clark Street Road. David’s experience in the Civil War – surviving in the Deep South where supply lines were always at risk and scrounging that kept death at bay was a necessity – were dearly won skills. The rough environs of the pioneer mining community of Deadwood taught David and William the value of natural resources and the tenuousness of pioneer supply lines.

At first the humble nature of the nouns…scrap and rags…gave me a Sanford and Son image until I read about David traveling to New York to work at “the Exchange” and historic articles about the lucrative “junk business” during that time.  The business also included building materials and a retail store for new and used furniture. Auburn newspaper articles were filled with George’s distinguished career as owner of Coy and Penird and his political career as Third Ward Supervisor in Auburn. And there was the fact that George had a chauffeur.

My grandfather, William,  remained a farmer at heart…with a farm in Aurelius though he was an agent in the family’s business driving his wagon from Ithaca to Groton and Aurelius to Auburn.  In 1901 William was killed in a wagon accident on the Auburn Clark Street Road….just months before his father, David died at his home with George on Perrine Street.

George continued the successful scrap business until his death in 1927.  During that time, the storage barn was robbed many times…the scrap was as good as cash.  One newspaper account that made the point told of  a thief that was caught red-handed stealing rags.  The enterprising fellow in fact admitted to stealing the rags often and George suspected that he had bought his own purloined inventory over and over again.

My Father

Albert and David were my father’s  great grandfathers.  My dad haunted scrapyards all of my life…dragging his little girl who wore pinafores, satin ribbons and lace trimmed socks…to hunt among the rusting automobile relics for treasure.  I knew the value of an ivory window crank knob and how to remove it by the time I was six.  My father would  boost me into the tight spaces (EUREKA!  I know why I am claustrophobic!) where I would open his hankie that was tied to my wrist and remove the little tools and begin my automotive postmortem parts removal.  I was good at it and it explains so much about me and my penchant for tools and interesting bits of things. And besides, Dad always had fruit flavored LifeSavers candies to savor on the ride home.

A geneticist would probably know there was a gene for such behavior, but I don’t need proof.  I know my love of second hand things-first hand.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2011.  All Rights Reserved


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