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September 24, 2012

Senator's farm was all I imagined

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The Daily Star

---- — Many years ago, when I first arrived in Oneonta, Daniel Patrick Moynihan was the senior senator from New York state. His top aide, Ross Frommer, used to come into the radio station for interviews and to tell my audience about the various legislative efforts involving “their senator.”

One day, Ross took me for a drive past the senator’s farm in Pindars Corners. Being a political nut, I always dreamed about what it was like inside.

I imagined the tall, lanky white haired senator ambling about the farmhouse, perhaps with a drink in one hand and a book in the other. I pictured him in the one-room schoolhouse on his property where he wrote his books. I could see him in my mind crouched over the old manual typewriter, pounding out an important document. I always tried to imagine was it was like inside his home out in Prosser Hollow, just up from the firehouse.

Well, I can now say that I have seen the inside of the senator’s farmhouse. About 50 times, in fact!

About a decade ago, my childhood friend from Sidney, Steve Wade, bought the Moynihan property after Pat and Liz moved on to retirement.

Steve has been one of my best friends for a half century. We lived together in our college years in Albany in the ‘60s and were members of each other’s weddings.

Steve has done very well for himself. He lives in the San Francisco Bay area. He is a professor of finance at San Jose University in California and sits on the boards of many non-profit organizations. His wife is a prominent financial adviser. Yes, he has done very well for himself.

Me? I play Patsy Cline records.

But we have a lifetime in common with each other, and I always enjoy his thrice-yearly visits to the farm out in the hollow.

“I bought the farm so I’d have a base when I come back to my hometown to visit. It is so peaceful there,” he told me.

I have spent countless late afternoons with Steve on the back porch of the old Moynihan place, discussing the world of politics with him. Of course, the ghost of the Irish white-maned senator is readily present to both of us.

“Yes, his presence is certainly palpable in all the rooms of this house he called home for so many decades,” Steve said.

The farm, then known as Derrymore and now re-christened Sterling Farms after Steve’s late father, consists of a four-bedroom 1840s farmhouse on 400 acres. The property also contains an original one-room school.

“This is the old Prosser Hollow School,” Steve told me recently as we walked through the rebuilding. “This is where the senator would write his books well into the evening. In fact, his old typewriter was here when we bought the farm. The neighbors up here in the hollow had family members who attended this school. One was Jessie Conrow (singer Jerry Jeff Walker’s grandmother). I found an old photo of the children in front of the schoolhouse from almost a century ago. I took the photo to show it to Jessie when she was living in an Oneonta nursing home. She remembered every single name of each of the kids in the photo. Ms. Conrow was 104 years old at the time.”

I asked Steve what the importance of the old schoolhouse was to him.

“It’s a great bridge to the past,” he said. “I became a member of the Davenport Historical Society after buying the farm, and I’ve become friends with many of the members. Ben and Sally Beames, for example. Wonderful people. In fact, they actually had a meeting in the old schoolhouse. That makes me feel great.”

And so after many years and so many miles I always hotfoot it out to the farm when Steve is here, and we reflect on our lives, our shared memories and what lies ahead in our twilight years. It’s always nice to connect with an old friend of some 50 years.

The fact that that connection is made on the back porch of a house once owned by a man we both admired in our youth makes it even more special.

And, yes, we have been known to have a sip on that old back porch, and as the fire goes out, we’ll raise our glasses and say an Irish toast to a man who always insisted that he be referred to on the voting ballot and in the press as Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-Pindars Corners.

“Big Chuck” D’IMPERIO can be heard on weekdays beginning at 6 a.m. on WDOS-AM 730 in Oneonta, and also on Thursday nights from 7-9 p.m. on WSRK-FM 103.9 for his “Oldies Jukebox Show.” You can find “Big Chuck” on Facebook under Upstate New York Books. He invites you to contact him at wdosbigchuck@aol.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/bigchuck.