AN ADIRONDACK LOVE STORY
What is the chance that in the early 1930's a young woman from Perth Amboy, New Jersey, would meet and marry a man from Norwalk, Connecticut? Yet that is exactly what happened to my parents: Louis Mackay (July 30, 1906 - July 12, 1973) and Helen Jensen Mackay (July 20, 1907 - July 27, 1955). What is even more incredible is the chain of events that led to living my retirement years in the Adirondack Mountains and writing this beautiful love story.
In the early 1930's when tuberculosis (TB) was quite prevalent, many people went to the Village of Saranac Lake, New York, to cure in the cold climate, believed to accelerate the healing process of this disease. Some stayed at the Trudeau Sanatorium; others, more ambulatory, resided at cure cottages, boarding houses that had been converted to rest homes. My father, Louis Mackay, was one of those individuals who contracted TB and left his home in Norwalk, Connecticut, at the age of 23 to cure in Saranac Lake.
What a frightening experience it must have been for him to leave his family and take a train to the remote wilderness of the Adirondacks, not knowing if he would ever recover and return home.
Dad's condition was such that a cure cottage met his needs, and in 1930 he took up residence at Mrs. Witherbee's on 51 (now 110) Lake Street (later known as the Eagle's Nest). Over the course of the next six years, he would also reside at the Lawrence's on 74 (now 135) Bloomingdale Avenue, at Carey's on 14 (now 154) Margaret Street, and at Parker's on 4 (now 34) Elm Street.
FRIENDS AND LOVERS
During the course of his rehabilitation at Saranac Lake, Dad met other patients and medical personnel and developed long-lasting friendships with several of them. Among the patients was another Connecticut man namedRalph (Duke) Huntington. Villagers will remember the dapper Duke who remained in Saranac Lake after his recovery and became a well-known figure around town through his business of selling entertainment equipment, which in those years consisted of juke boxes, pinball and shuffleboard machines. Duke and his second wife Charlotte Huntington, who was active with the ASPCA, lived at No. 2 (now 1) Broadway for many years and had a camp on Lake Kiwassa. Duke was noted for his jovial nature, always referring to his friends as "Little Pal," and never seen without a cigar.
Another patient and friend was a gentleman from Montreal, Canada, named William (Bill) Brown who had a lovely wife named Rose. Bill was an extraordinarily intellectual man whose talents were never fully recognized nor financially rewarded. He struggled to make ends meet in a low-paying postal service position.
The person without whom this story would be possible was Priscilla Christensen Bergren, who came from Perth Amboy, New Jersey, to take the cure at Saranac Lake. Priscilla recovered from TB, married Walter Bergren (who died at a young age), and then resided in the Village at the DeChantal Apartments and attended the United Methodist Church.
Lou, Duke, Bill, and Priscilla would often be seen together in town on the days they took exercise, often accompanied by their friend and nurse from Ray Brook Sanatorium, Mary Welday. My father had other close female companions, including Sue Ondecker and a nurse named Mabel Watson, that is, until a chance meeting that changed his life.
Enter Helen Jensen. Some time in 1931, Helen made the long trip from New Jersey with her sister Ethel to visit their neighbor and friend Priscilla Christensen at Parker's cure cottage on 4 Elm Street. When Helen was introduced to Lou, it was love at first sight. Their love sustained the course of Lou's recovery through a long distance courtship by mail and Helen's occasional visits, which were infrequent, as it took two days of driving in her Model A Ford Roadster to reach Saranac Lake. The lyrics to the songs "Stormy Weather" and "Stardust" are truly reflective of the lonely moments in their relationship. On the brighter side, Helen transcribed the words to "Let Me Call You Sweetheart" for Lou to remind him of her whenever he heard it played.
BRIGHTER DAYSMalcolm F. Lent who had perfected a new technique for treating TB. The principle behind the procedure, known as pneumothorax, was to collapse the diseased lung by removing air from it and letting the body breathe off of the healthy lung. Dad always believed that it was this technique that was instrumental in saving his life as well as the lives of his friends.
By 1936 Lou had recovered, and the wedding date was set: November 26, 1936. Helen and Lou ordered blueprints for a cute Cape Cod house from Better Homes & Gardens magazine, and Helen's father Jens, a carpenter, immediately began building their house in what is now Edison, New Jersey. Having been a commercial painter by profession prior to his illness, Lou labored along with others to complete the house in a timely manner. Unfortunately, the physical labor reactivated the TB, and Lou had a relapse shortly after the wedding. I believe he did not return to Saranac Lake to cure, only to visit his doctors there, and remained disabled and bedridden for the first two-three years of their marriage.
During this time Helen worked as Secretary to Mr. John Shoe, Principal of the Middlesex County Vocational School in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, who subsequently became my Godfather. Upon returning home each evening, Helen would make whatever Lou requested for dinner; however, by the time it was prepared, he no longer felt hungry. What a terrible frustration it must have been for a new bride, who so wanted to please her husband, only to have her meals rejected. I am certain that she had doubts as to whether it was her cooking or the disease that was causing him to lose his appetite.
Fortunately, the Mackays' relationship weathered this storm also, and when it appeared that my father had fully recovered, they decided to start a family. I was born seven years after their marriage on March 2, 1943.
What to name their new child? Had I been a boy, I would have been called Malcolm after Dr. Lent, whom my father attributed to saving his life. But since I was a girl, it inevitably had to be "Priscilla" without whom Helen and Lou would never have met.
A NEW PROFESSION
How to make a living now that he was well? Concerned that commercial painting might cause another relapse, Lou thought about new ways to provide for his family. During his second recovery period at home, Lou discovered that he had an aptitude for the new radio/television technology of the day. He learned Morse code and eventually set up a short wave system and became a "ham" operator (call letters W2MDV), which kept him occupied during his long illness and which continued to give him great enjoyment throughout his life. He also built a radio and then a television set.
Therefore, it was a natural transition to start a radio and television business. Coupled with my mother's bookkeeping skills, the Mackays were a perfect team, and this business served them well throughout their lifetimes. I often think of how much fun both Mom and Dad would have had with today's computers.
Being a self-employed entrepreneur, Dad was able to arrange his own work schedule, and he always allowed a few weeks each summer to visit his friends.
From the time I was born, we began making car trips to visit Dr. Lent in Washington, D. C., to Saranac Lake to visit our friends the Huntingtons, Fred and Ann Canaveri, of course, Priscilla, and to Montreal to visit the Browns - with an occasional detour to Niagara Falls. We also had relatives who had a dairy farm in Boonville, New York. Usually our sojourn started in Boonville, from there to Saranac Lake, and then on to Montreal. These trips left me with many wonderful memories of Saranac Lake including Whiteface Mountain, Santa's Workshop, swimming in Lake Flower, my first fishing rod, a trip through the locks, 45 RPM records generously donated to me by Duke from his warehouse on Dorsey Street, and hand-wrought sterling silver jewelry from Temming's located on the corner of Dorsey Street and Broadway.
Around 1950 my father, Louis Mackay, bought me my first fishing rod and reel at Blue Line Sport Shop in the Village of Saranac Lake and took me on my first fishing adventure to Ray Brook pond near the railroad trestle. It was not long before I caught a small bullhead. I don't know who was more surprised, me or my father! Of course, I was hooked on fishing for the rest of my life. During subsequent trips to Saranac Lake, we always visited Duke Hungtington's camp on Lake Kiwassa where I remember catching many stringers of white fish.
A CHAPTER ENDS
All good things must come to an end. After 19 years of marriage and a four-year fight against cancer, my mother lost the battle with her disease in 1955. A part of my father was lost too. He became an armchair traveler, sticking close to home where he had his memories. I developed into a teenager with my own interests and circle of friends. The summer car trips to Saranac Lake became nothing but a distant memory.
Dad kept in touch with the Huntingtons and the Browns through annual Christmas cards. When Dad died suddenly in 1975 of a heart condition, I kept up the tradition and also started sending modest monetary gifts to the Browns, who I remembered as being quite impoverished. These annual exchanges continued for several years.
THE TIE THAT BINDS
In 1978 I began dating William A. Goss, a co-worker at Merck & Co., Inc., subsequently Beecham Smith Kline Research Laboratories. As our relationship became more serious, we realized that it would be inappropriate to continue working for the same organization. So we both began seeking other employment, and in 1981, still living in New Jersey, I was recruited for a position at an organization headquartered in New York City. That company was the American Management Association (AMA), which acquired the Trudeau Sanatorium in 1956, when tuberculosis virtually was eradicated through the development of the antibiotic streptomycin, to be used as a corporate training center. Coincidentally, Bill (who became my husband on November 22, 1981) had done his doctoral studies at Rutgers University under the direction of Dr. Selman A. Waksman, who was awarded the Nobel prize for the discovery of streptomycin.
As it had been many years since I had been to Saranac Lake, it was thrilling to return. That first summer with AMA, Bill and I vacationed there. On the day we were leaving, we stopped for lunch at Casa del Sol in Saranac Lake, and I was certain that one of the other diners was Charlotte Huntington. Bill thought that I was crazy, since I hadn't seen her in about 25 years, but when I approached her, she immediately recognized me also. And so we reconnected.
On my next visit to AMA from the New York City headquarters in 1982, I contacted the Huntingtons, who called Priscilla Bergren, and arranged for a dinner meeting. What an emotional reunion that was! The timing could not have been better because it was not long afterward that both Duke and Charlotte died. Priscilla and I kept in contact until she passed on in 1993. Although my parents never knew that my profession brought me back to Saranac Lake, at least I had one last opportunity to share memories with life-long friends.
Around the same time that Duke died so did our friend Bill Brown. I continued to correspond with his wife Rose, but assumed that she too had died when cards stopped arriving around 1986. You can imagine my surprise when I was contacted in December 1991, by the U.S. Genealogy Search Foundation and apprised that I was a beneficiary in the will of Rose Brown who had just died in March 1991. I was even more shocked when I received a substantial check for my share of her estate.
Bill and I discussed what to do with the money. Because of the research conducted at Trudeau Institute and other laboratories, tuberculosis once was brought under control, but is having a resurgence from new strains that are resistant to known treatments. Therefore, we decided that in memory of my father and his friends who were fortunate enough to survive this disease, it was only appropriate that the bequest I received be donated to Trudeau Institute, where this story began six decades ago. It was my pleasure to present a check to Dr. Francis Trudeau on October 20, 1992, to support of Trudeau Institute's continued research on tuberculosis and other infectious diseases.
Now, the strangest coincidence of all in this story.
My husband Bill Goss also had a connection with this part of the country through his membership in a fishing camp in Union Falls since 1956. Because we both enjoy the Adirondacks, we continued to spend a week or more each year vacationing in Saranac Lake. So I guess it was inevitable that when we started considering retirement locations, Saranac Lake was the obvious choice, and in 2000 we bought our retirement home in Ray Brook on Oseetah Lake, previously Miller Pond, and moved there full time in March 2002. Sadly, I lost my dear husband to prostate cancer in 2003, but feel completely at home where I live. Who would have imagined 75 years ago that I would be living in the heart of the Adirondacks where my parents met, where I spent time during childhood summers, and only about two miles from where I caught my very first fish!
Priscilla Christine Mackay Goss March 2009