Orrin Taylor and his wife, Mary Armstrong Taylor
Our great Aunt Mary Taylor was a much appreciated influence on my life, an appreciation I only realized in adulthood.
I didn’t have many Taylor cousins. Cousins are very important in a child’s life. I had scads of Baker ones, some even “shirttail” ones, but I was cousin poor on the Taylor side! First cousins Rexford and Bryant Taylor were the ages of my three older siblings, Ruth, Arnon and Esther. We always enjoyed them tremendously, but as pre-teens, we really didn’t “cut the mustard!” However, we did have some second cousins whom we saw whenever they came to Geneva, and once we even all trekked to Schenectady to visit them! They were Dorothy and Doris Taylor.
Their grandmother was our beloved great aunt Mary who lived in a great old Victorian house on Castle Street in Geneva. She was married to Daddy’s Uncle Orrin, who was a Horticulturist at the Experimental Station in charge of fruit.
Uncle Orrin had gotten Daddy a job as a seed analyst with the station when we lost our farm in the Depression. Uncle Orrin had died shortly after we moved to Geneva, but Aunt Mary was very close to us and Momma often walked over to visit her on a summer’s evening. Sometimes we’d go with her and again, sit on the porch steps, listening to the soft murmur of their voices as we chased fireflies!
Every so often her son, Laurens Taylor, a Cornell graduate and an engineer with G.E. in Schenectady would come for a few days visit with his wife, Irene, and daughters. Dorothy was my age and Doris was Harold’s age. Those were magic times! We’d all go over and visit, we children would play “Hide and Seek” or card games, but we never achieved the closeness we had automatically with the Baker cousins.
Never achieved that closeness that is, until the visit where we decided to become detectives! Aunt Mary’s house was old and large and beautifully ornate! It had a fireplace in every room downstairs, except the kitchen and one in three of the five upstairs bedrooms. Downstairs, off the living room it had a something called a “porte cochere” which offered a covered area on the driveway to allow you to enter the house dry when it rained. Above that, off one of the bedrooms, was a screened-in sleeping porch, an unheard of luxury in our lives.
Thus, when I tell you that the woodwork throughout the house was a beautiful gleaming oak, you can then imagine, with me-- the front entry way, which was a room size itself, shining in all its glory, for here, completing one side of the room, was a winding stairway to the second floor. It followed three square contours of the room, but its arresting feature was the intricate molding on its side as it climbed to the second floor. Some panels curved, some just arranged in boxlike steps. Lovely to look at!
Aunt Mary's House, Castle Street, Geneva, NY
It had gotten dark early, so we came inside and sat on a carved wooden bench in this hallway room, deciding what game we wanted to play. Dorothy and I could play dominos but Harold and Doris could never seem to get the numbers counted correctly so that was out. Thus we sat and stared at the lovely carving opposite us. Dorothy went over and was following the carving with her finger. It looked like fun, so I joined her. Around and over the carving and molding we went, until we met at the end under the high part of the stairway, where we both realized the pattern seemed to be somewhat ajar in one area. The hall light did not reach to there so Dorothy sent Doris to beg a flashlight and Harold came over, and found, down lower, a further small jut. What could this be?
Aunt Mary came with Doris and the flashlight to investigate our find. Beautiful person that she was, she played along with us, exclaiming, “I wonder if you’ve found a secret panel?”
No more was needed! For the next thirty minutes the adults were unmolested as we pushed, pulled, poked, dusted, (with our sweaters!) prodded, to no avail. Certainly we could see there was some type of affair and it had to do with the molding.
Finally Harold, scurrying lower down, pushed something for we all heard a distinct “click.” Then we began a frenzy of poking and slowly, very slowly, a drawer began to emerge. It stopped halfway out, but we could see something, a roll of paper back in the rear corner! We knew we had discovered a map, maybe to a gold mine! By this time we were four sweaty and dirty kids but that hardly mattered. We were within reach of treasure! All four of us, each grasping an edge, we pulled with a “one, two, three, GO!”
No movement—so we tried again, and again. Then suddenly, with a tremendous screech, which brought the adults flying, it came, and the suddenness and force sent us all rapidly to the floor, but it came! Out came the drawer, quite a long one and a large roll of yellowed papers.
Yes, detectives we’d been! Treasure hunters! However, it was no lost gold mine—the rolled up papers were the plans for building the house.
We may have been disappointed, but Aunt Mary was pleased! Her statement? “I wondered where they had gone!”
And to end this story on a sweet note, this was where we Taylor kids learned what a “soda” was! Ginger ale poured over a scoop of vanilla ice cream, a straw to drink with, a spoon to eat with and a heavenly end to an evening.