Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Uncle Ernie

On his business card he was Ernest N. Warren, Counselor at Law, and students addressed him as Professor Warren, but among themselves, they called him Uncle Ernie. I'm the only one who called him Daddy Ernie, and he wasn't actually my father, but without him I would have had no family. I emulated his high forehead, like the bluffs over Lake Bonaparte, tanned from rebuilding the boathouse, cutting firewood,, raking the leaves and shoveling snow, fishing, and canoeing, walking up the hill to the law school mornings, then back for lunch, and then back and forth again in the afternoon. Not that I could hope to develop a forehead like his, or wanted to do much of all that work.

He was a torts specialist who never tried a case, and an expert on law of the sea who never went to sea. In practice, he was a family counselor: too straight-forward, nonconfrontational , and dignified to be a trial lawyer.
He worked to help people avoid confrontations with the law and with each other. He comforted and protected those who were threatened by death and taxes. As Dean of Admissions and Dean of Students in the Cornell Law School, he not only helped hundreds of students into school, through school, and into careers afterwards, but also helped a lot of young applicants convince their fathers that they should not be forced into law school just because their fathers had wanted to be lawyers. By his example, he even persuaded some of those reluctant law school applicants that not all lawyers were liars, cheats, and bullies, and that there might be a place in the profession for themselves after all.
He was a pillar of kindness, civility, and prudence. Never cruel or tyranical. Only slightly impressed by his full professorship, only sometimes a ham.
Not only was he loved and trusted by most everyone, he had received the highest security clearance from the F.B. I and the Defense Department. He liked Ike and Ike liked him. He was a friend of the Attorney General William Rodgers, and he cried when Ed Muskie cried.

When Alaska was just becoming a state and had even fewer lawyers than it had cities, he sent a wave of new Cornell Law graduates to take positions in the government. During World War II he volunteered for the Navy and was turned down for being near-sighted, but during the Cold War, he belonged to a commission, the purpose of which, in case Washington was vaporized by the enemy, was to reconstitute the U.S. government in a secret. underground installation somewhere in Virginia. He could not even tell Mama Dot about his secret service, until Eisenhower's bunker had long since become a mushroom farm or a U.P.S. shipping center. He was asked to go to a new African nation and start a law school, but he declined in order to stay in place with family.

He loved the history of his North Country landscape, knew from his practice the real estate history of the logging and power company lands of the NW Adirondack foot hill country, and he wrote the incorporation document of the Eljah Lake hunting club, which from that beginning included his Mama Dot's father and her Gradfather Doctor Drury of Natural Bridge. Daddy Ernie was a hunter himslef because of family tradition, although he himself never fired a shot that I know of, except from on top of the boat house at cans in the water. He was a boy scout leader, though he had never been a boy scout. Or maybe he was. He had sponsors among the men of the church who helped him toward a schollarship at Hamilton college, where he placed second or third base, and half back possitions, and was called Stub by his teaj and classmates, and married his high school sweetheart, Dorothy Drury Failing, the only child, of the only child, of Dr. Dury from Natuaral Bridge . She had gone to Elmira college with a banjo from her Gramps, and after she graduated there, and he from Hamilton, she moved to Ithaca. She lived at the Clinton Hotel and studied Oral English at Ithaca College in order to be near him until he could graduate from Law School and they got married.
She taught English in Camillus for one semester, then retired to become a homemaker. As a master of Oral English, after many private performances of HuckleBerry Finn, Stewart Little, her one recorded performance is of Davey;s Rhinocers hills story Daddy Ernie enjoyed so much, but like I said it had the dubious fictional flaw....that I was totally left out of the story. So its an antique and slanted story but Mama Dot has got to be good on it, although I haven't heard it yet. Davey has it on a tape sister Delight made, and I will ask him to figure out how to post it HERE, and when he does, I will have him activate the HERE so you can click on it and Mama Dot takes over. .

Mama Dot and Grandpa Ernie were a great pair for canoeing and fishing together. Up the Oswegatche Inlet where the grandfathers had gone before, with the same pack baskets, coffee pot, and thirty-inch frying pan, and the kids. Loved, as they went, to repeat the names of the landings and campsites along the way, High Rock, Griffen Rapids, Wolf Creek Spring Hole, Carter's Landing, the places
Daddy Ernie fished with every one , but never by himself. He loved fishing, never cared if he didn't catch any, always said, we saw a lot of nice country anyway, and that was the important thing. So he said. The truth is, he was a deeply social person, almost as deeply religious, with deep faith in law, but most of all social and emotional. He swam just under the surface and never broke it. He seldom said I love you because it would make him cry, and he could cry. His children could make him cry. I know from having been in the closet with the guns a couple of times when I was young and Davey had quit high school foot ball, and trumpet lessons or whatever.
Fishing with Family was sacred. I was joined onto what was a very fishing family back then, with several kinds of devotion to fishing, especially to trout fishing, Daddy Ernie's was probably the most spiritual devotion, with actual fish not being necessary. But he liked catching fish too, because then you had something to feed the family and something to show: it was a better yarn, and he loved fishing yarns.

He managed to work North Country yarns and refereences into his populsr Law school lectures. I never went to one of his lectures, nor even did Davey, unlike brother Herb who actually enrolled in the law school and now calls himself a recovering lawyer, but he was a star lecturer and he would sometinmes work out his lectures at the dinner table.
Like about the time he and Mama Dot actually went to Cannada to fish in a famous trout Lake where it rained and they caught nothing, but on their way back they stopped at the little Bonaparte inlet, and caught a dozen speckled trout ....... and one day we....and I was with him and Herb that day....we were on our way back from Jerden Falls where we hadn't caught a thing and he recalled that story, and so we stopped at Bonaparte Inlet, and caught half a dozen or maybe it was three, nice little brookies. The best eating. That's precedent for you.

Admirality was his favorite legal subject. It was the only sort of international law back then. The law of the sea.
We were a small time boating family,with row boats runabouts, canoe, and a sunfish he sailed around Little Sand Bay with Mama Dot in leiu of the trip to Europe which neither of them much wanted, or the trip to Alaska which he always said was the one, almost foreign place he would like them to travel to after he retired, but he would never retire..
By canoe, by row boat, by Mercury, and Johnson, and Evenrude we had always gone down the Bonaparte outlet to little Mud Lake for evening bass fishing and on down to the small dam at Alpine which had only raised the Bonaparte level a few feet, but flooded miles of connected swamps, bogs, and meadows. All that flow beyond Bonaparte's shore was within the Pine Camp, later called Fort Drum Military Reseration. Some time after the change From Pine Camp to Fort Drum, the military tried to keep boats and people from going beyond the outlet bay of the lake. But Daddy Ernie, who was always on the New York State Law Revision Comission was able to help settle the question of just exactly what a navigable waterway was, made it clear that rivers, and flows or lakes accessible by them are certainly navigable if you can drive logs, or paddle canoes. .
After that original showdown he would periodically have to deal with a new Fort Drum commanding general who thought he had spotted a pennetration of the legitimate defense perimeter And each time, Daddy Ernie would review for all, the past, the precedent, the course of reason and justice established, and each time it gave him satisfaction.
He was a satisfied man. Except,he was sometimes dismayed by his children and by me his charge.

Daddy Ernie's own father, a mild-mannered, northern Baptist pastor, died of cancer when Daddy Ernie was twelve years old. He was brought up by his mother, who had been an orphan herself before she was a wife and a widow. She had an uncorrected undershot jaw that gave her a bull dog look which must have helped her make way through the world. She was fierce as a bull dog an broody like a hen.
When Reverend Warren died, she, Bertha Bonney Warren, took over the church pulpit for a few weeks until a new pastor could be found, and later accompanied young Ernest to Hamilton college where he had a scholarship and both of them worked in the dining halls. Among the upstanding church and business men who sponserd her and her young Ernest, was a newspaper man, Charles Brownell, they called him Chucky, which was the name of a little memoir of the North Country he wrote. Often on Sundays he would come and take Mother Warren for a ride in his automobile, and the family always hoped something might develop there, but she stayed single and lived into old age as a rich old Box Factory Widow's head made and companion, traveling winters with her, the butler, and the maid to a suite in Hawaii. Besides Ernie, as long as he need her, she assisted a woman named Emma, an iillegitimate child of some family member, the note on the back of the picture in Mama Dot's hand, does not say who.
She looks like a lot of those Warrens and Lockwoods.
Having no father and having a single mother who went to college with him,
Daddy Ernie became various kinds of father to many, but, like i said, it was a little rough back home parenting Davey and me.

Davey was always worrisome to his parents: so inward and secretive, but there was still hope for him, if for no other reason but that, according to special tests, he was operating way below his potential.
In my case, I showed no particular potential so I could hardly dissappoint, but I did my most to dismay.

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