Friday, November 7, 2014

The 'Perks' of small town living

    “It takes a village” hits dead-on in this case, although I am taking extreme liberties with an adage from African folklore.
     My first source of all things Perkinsville (Wayland) is Sandy Booth, an avid historian and genealogy buff. I assumed that she had the answer, but surprisingly, she was a little stumped by my request.
     A mystery was unfolding under a heaping plate of pancakes smothered in syrup.
     I was researching an article for a Rochester publication.
The magazine was planning a holiday brunch theme, and I wanted my contribution telling a story further away from the city center.
     I submitted my “pitch” – terminology in the magazine/newspaper world to grab an editor’s attention in a cleverly worded sentence or two – and it intrigued the “powers to be” enough that I got the green light to commence writing.
     Breakfast at the firehall would be my contribution, and Perkinsville was an obvious choice since it has been holding a pancake breakfast for nearly 40 years the second Sunday of the month from October to May.
     I might add that the Groveland Fire Department hosts a terrific monthly breakfast, too. Folks in Livingston County tell me that they drive the distance for bacon and waffles in a neighborly atmosphere, too.
      Perkinsville Chief Walter Drum, Jr. was extremely helpful when I interviewed him – where else but in the fire hall – and his ten-year old daughter Tiffany came along to help daddy remember everything from a kid’s perspective.
     Don’t think for moment that I wasn’t noticed at the fire hall that afternoon. Residents pick up their mail at the adjoining post office, once the former truck room.
     Drum placed a phone call to Norb Huber, Sr., whose family claims the secret sausage recipe, and verified the dates when the fire department started breakfasts in the 70s.
      Breakfast is a generational thing, too, and Drum told me that he has been cracking eggs since he was ten, and his dad, Walt Drum, Sr. continues to this day scrambling eggs in the kitchen. Junior Fire Fighter Grace Sellers serves juice and milk along with her dad, Ray doing his share of duties.
     As a matter of routine after I complete an interview, I search specific data that might, or might not, add background to the story.
      Here’s where it got a little sticky, and not from the syrup on my fingers either.
     Perkinsville is often referred to as a hamlet, but in official Steuben County records it doesn’t exist.
    Kindly, Booth passed on my request to Carol Mykel, Wayland Town Historian.
    Mykel explained to me that Perkinsville is an “undocumented hamlet” in the Town of Wayland. I could live with that explanation, and hoped that residents could sleep better at night knowing their communal identity.
     As for the population of Perkinsville, both Booth and Mykel didn’t know.
      “I honestly would not have been able to estimate. When the Auxiliary puts on the codfish dinner, we serve about 75. I figure most of them are Perk folks. I'd also be curious to know how many post-office box holders there are here in Perk and use the 14529 zip code,” Booth replied.
     Historians are inquisitive by nature, and Mykel and Booth came up with a plan. They decided to spend a sunny Sunday afternoon driving up and down every street and road making a house tally.
     I admire people that are not afraid to admit that they don’t have an answer, and then use their own ingenuity to figure out a solution.
     “I drive these streets all the time but I guess I don’t always see what is in front of me,” said Mykel. “I came up with 183 residences. Of those, at least 20 are vacant at this time.”
      “Right off the bat I have to say I cannot in good conscience use 2.66 people per house as the last census indicated was average. At least one quarter of these houses have a single resident, and the same number if not more, are two person households,” said Mykel.
      “I remember growing up in the fifties and sixties we always said Perkinsville had a population of 300 people on a good day if you counted the cats and dogs. That was in the era when there were large families of eight, ten or twelve children like mine was. Four or six children in a family were considered a small family! I am struggling to count even a dozen children total under the age of eighteen here on Michigan Road. It appears that we are a town of seniors citizen couples and widows. It’s kind of scary,” said Mykel.
      “I truly think that taking all this into account the best we can say is that the population is somewhere between 200 and 250 people. It’s not scientific but I think it’s pretty accurate,” concluded Mykel.
     Mykel and Booth had a grand afternoon helping me, and I surely appreciated their efforts.
     With 200-250 people coming to Perkinsville Fire Department breakfasts – the seams of the hall burst on Mother’s Day with 400 eaters – and only a small department of 28 active members, it is quite remarkable.
     As for documenting the number of cats and dogs inhabiting Perkinsville, I am positive citizens will reach out to assist if I simply ask, or have Mykel and Booth already taken another drive?    

    The authenticity of the proverb is debatable. Not so for the delicious breakfasts held at the fire hall. Case solved.