Sunday, July 31, 2016

Dreams and Dust: I Will Send Rain by Rae Meadows

I Will Send Rain by Rae Meadows is a beautifully written portrait of a family and a community struggling to survive during the early Dust Bowl days in Oklahoma. The characters are memorable and complicated, their story heart breaking and vivid.

Annie left her parent's parsonage home to follow Samuel's dream. Starting life out in a sod hut, they built a farm and a family, a life that brought them joy until the death of their child brought a distance between them. Now in 1934 everything they had built together is being torn apart by dust storms and crop failures.

Their eldest, Birdie, at nearly sixteen has fallen in love with a farmer's son but dreams they will leave Oklahoma for a better life. Their youngest, Fred, does not speak but has a great heart and deep understanding.

Samuel loves farming, and watching all he worked for drift away in the wind leads him to wonder what sin must be atoned for. Dreams haunt him day and night until he decided God has spoken and called him to show his faith by building a boat.

Annie lost her faith with the death of her child. She dreams about another version of herself, a woman who wasn't reduced to sharp angles by the endless hardships of the failing farm. The mayor's attentions offer an escape to seek that other woman.

Families flee silently in the night, men kill themselves in despair, and society breaks up. And this part of the story I find most intriguing.

The community comes together to hire a charlatan who promises that shooting fireworks into the sky will bring rain. The magic does not work.

The mayor's assistant comes up with a way to deal with the proliferation of rabbits that destroy the struggling gardens: the community will round them up and kill them. The killing of the scapegoat rabbits is like a primitive ritual, an appeasement to the God who has punished them with dust, locusts, and eventually even the death of the son.

At once particular point the authorial voice breaks through with an omniscient prophecy of what it will take to save the land, including tapping the Ogallala aquifer-- a limited resource. And at that moment the book is not just about the past but our future, a prophecy of life to come if we do not change our ways. When that ancient water source is gone---it is gone, and the cycle could start all over again.

I had just read The Water Knife about the Southwest water wars after climate change. This historical novel has as much to tell us about the future as any dystopian novel. Because if we don't learn from the past we will repeat it.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

I Will Send Rain
by Rae Meadows
Henry Holt
Publication date August 9, 2016
$26.00 hard cover
ISBN: 9781627794268

Saturday, July 30, 2016

The Heartland's Grass Roots Movement of Barn Quilts

Ogemaw County, Michigan is a few hours drive away. The primeval forest land was logged off in the 19th c and Amish and Mennonite farmers from Ohio and Indiana moved in. Farm land, open fields, and snug towns cuddle between rolling hills. Just off the expressway is West Branch with its smilely face water tower, voted the favorite tourist sight for those traveling 'up north'.

West Branch has a deep history in quilts. The historical musem has several 19th c quilts in its collection. Quilt pattern designer and teacher Kay Wood lived here while her PBS show demonstrated how to simplify quilting. I have attended the annual Quilt Walk Hospice fundraiser (read about it here and here).

Inspired by Donna Sue Groves, whose first Barn Quilt was erected on her Adams County, Ohio barn to honor her mother, Ogamaw County created their own Barn Quilt Trail. (Read my post about the Ogamaw County Quilt Trail here. )

Since 2001 Donna has inspired communities across the country to organize Barn Quilt Trails, with the movement now crossing international borders.

In 2008 Suzi Parron was on holiday when she noticed a painted quilt block on the side of a barn. She had to return and find it. It led her on a journey, discovering Donna Sue Groves and the first Barn Quilt installations.

There was little information available about Barn Quilts and Parron decided to document the art grass roots movement. It involved extensive travel across the nation, photographing the barns and their quilt blocks and interviewing hundreds to learn the stories behind each installation.

Parron's efforts have yielded two books, Barn Quilts and the American Quilt Trail Movement and Following the Barn Quilt Trail.

Barn Quilts and the American Quilt Trail Movement documents Suzi's journey to discover the origin of the movement and its growth. The book is an homage to America's heartland farmers and farm wives, their barns and quilts symbolizing root American values and a heritage of industry and family.

The quilt blocks are painted on wood and attached to the barns. A form of communal art,  Donna Sue Groves likens the trails to quilts on a clothesline strung across the land. The quilt blocks often represent a beloved heirloom family quilt and Suzie's interviews are full of heartwarming personal stories.

Suzie's first book includes travels to Adams County, Ohio, Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan.

The Barn Quilt Movement spread like wildfire. Suzi quit her job and moved into a bus to travel full time to research her second book, Following the Barn Quilt Trail. This books is more relevetory about Suzi and Glen and the ups and downs of traveling. Beginning in Michigan, she includes Canada, New York, Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania and Vermont, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, Louisiana, Kansas, Nebraska, Louisiana, Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois, Wisconsin, and finally west to Washington and California, and south to Texas, Kentucky, South Carolina, and the Deep South.

The books are beautifully presented with an attractive layout, quilt block chapter heads, and every page or two includes glossy color photographs of  barns and quilt blocks. They are not comprehensive picture books; it would be impossible to show every Barn Quilt. What Suzi does is capture the human side of the movement, the women and men, and sharing their stories. Most come from generations of farmers. Often a Barn Quilt saved an old family barn from loss, inspiring its preservation. But the movement also inspired towns to create quilt blocks for family businesses and shops.

The Barn Quilt movement's speaks to America's nostalgia for simplier times, the pride, independence,  hard work and satisfaction of the family farms of our grear-grandparents.

Tourists now pick up Quilt Trail brochures and seek out Barn Quilts down dusty lanes and two lane roads, driving past fancy modern farms and the farms of  Plain people, searching for an America few of us today know.

The movement has peaked and Suzi does not plan a third book on the subject.

This spring my quilt guild hosted Suzi for a lecture and a workshop. A former teacher, Suzi has a wonderful presence, articulate and personable, with a great sense of humor. Her worskshop was well organized and we had a marvelous time making our own mini-Barn Quilt.

Following the example of so many I chose an heirloom quilt to reproduce: Gary's great-grandmother's Single Wedding Ring quilt in Turkey red and white, made about 100 years ago.

My Barn Quilt, Single Wedding Ring block
We suburbanites mount our blocks in yards and on houses. Just a few blocks away is a Mid-century ranch house with two 'barn quilts' already!

I received free books from Ohio University Press in exchage for a fair and unbiased review.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Memoirs of Eugene Gochenour Part I

My father Eugene Gochenour wrote a memoir about his life growing up in Tonawanda, NY. I will be sharing excerpts. Over the next months I will share what Dad wrote, starting with his memories of his father.

Alger Jordan Gochenour was born on March 25, 1904 on a farm at the community of Fairview, Virginia, located in the Shenandoah Valley.

The first Gochenour came to America in 1735, years before we were a nation. Jacob Gochenour and his family were Mennonites who came to America to avoid religious persecution. He acquired 400 acres in 1735 in the valley.

Henry David Gochenour, Dad’s father, was a fifth generation descendant and he was born on December 5, 1861 and died May 28th, 1924. He married Mary Stultz, born on June 4, 1864 and died on April 23, 1927. Her nickname was Mollie.

Dad’s father had operated a tanyard which had been operated by his father. Most of my father’s decedents of his lineage are buried at the Mount Zion Lutheran Church cemetery, located near the farm. I never met my grandparents, as they had died before I was born.

Father never told me why he ran away from his home as a youth but I was told that he only had an eighth grade education. He and a friend ran away together and their travels took them to New York City. They earned money by cleaning and polishing office furniture far business people. Dad was a good salesman and he and his friend had unique skills.

Dad, dressed in a suit and carrying a briefcase, would go into an office building and ask the receptionist if he could talk to the person responsible for cleaning the office furniture. Since no one had ever done this service for them before he would often be taken to talk to the owner or manager of the office. Dad knew that their office was the showplace where business people met with their clients, and that their office furniture and desks were very expensive. Many of their chairs were upholstered with leather, and the desks were made from cherry wood.

After he introduced himself, he gave them a demonstration on one of the office chairs. To show that the cleaner would not harm the finish, he drank some of it. This impressed the customer, but it was harmless, since it was only water with baking soda. I don’t know where Dad learned about the cleaner but it did a great job. After he cleaned the chair, he took a clean white cloth and wiped it dry, and showed all the dirt he had removed. Then he applied the polish, and when he buffed it, it looked like new. He explained that he was aware how important the clothes business people wore were, and that the polish he used would not soil them. Dad told them he would work in the evening after they had left for the day, and would not expect to be paid until the job was finished.

Dad and his friend had many jobs at New York City but eventually he went to Tonawanda, leaving them behind. I don’t know why father left New York City, or how he came to live at Tonawanda, but once there he became an insurance salesman. In those days insurance salesman went from door to door to collect the money for the policies and that is how I suspect he met Mother. Mother at that time was living at home with my grandparents and worked at the Remington Rand Company that was located at Wheeler Street and Military Road. [Note: I heard that Al and Emma meet because Al went to the factory and he noticed her. He asked her out several times before she agreed.] Father lived at the Lincoln Hotel in North Tonawanda.
Emma Becker and Al Gochenour seated; wedding photo

Al Gochenour, 1927

They were married on December 24, 1927. Mildred Behner was the witness for mother at the ceremony, and she also became mother’s lifelong friend. It was just a small wedding. Times were good and since Dad made good money as an insurance salesman, they bought a new car and a new house. The house they bought was built by my grandfather and it was located across the street from his own on Morgan Street.
Tonawanda, NY 

Mother quit working and sister Mary was born in 1929. The Depression started in 1929 when the stock market fell and in 1930 I was born. The insurance business deteriorated and Dad lost his income and in 1935 my parents lost their new car and the house and they had to move.

Before we moved Dad wanted to take us all to his childhood home in Virginia. The trip was made in an Erskine automobile. To me the trip was an attempt to temporarily escape the problems they had left behind. Mother, Father, Mary, and I visited relatives that lived on the farm that had been Dad’s boyhood home. Both his mother and father had died years before, and a brother and his family lived in the old homestead.
1865 Military Road in 1935

After the trip to Virginia we moved to an old farmhouse on Military Road in the Town of Tonawanda. The house was [made into] a duplex and there was a family living in the large side; their name was Morrow. Roy and Winnie Morrow had five children: Buster, Audrey, June, Sunny, and Tommy. Tommy was my age, the rest were older. I was five years old when we moved there but I still remember how impressed I was with the huge grassy front yard.

Our side of the house had not been lived in for years, but the rent was only ten dollars a month. In the kitchen was a wood burning cooking stove that also heated the house. An outhouse served as our toilet. During the winter blankets were hung over the doors to keep the heat in the living room and kitchen. The upstairs bedrooms where we slept were unheated. Thick comforters made it hard to roll over when sleeping since they were so heavy. Chamber pots were kept under the beds during the winter. As a boy I do remember opening my bedroom window and urinating outside. There are some advantages boys have! Mother never questioned why she never had to empty the pot.

Dad worked jobs like cutting fire wood and at a cemetery until he was hired at the Buffalo Bolt Works located in North Tonawanda.
Mother would  take Mary and I to visit our Becker grandparents and mother’s brother Levant who lived at 520 Morgan Street in the City of Tonawanda. It was a fairly large house with a porch that went across the whole front. When you walked in the front door there was a large banister that went to the upstairs bedrooms. It had a large living room, a dining room, and in the kitchen sat a large wood burning cooking stove. During the winter shoes were all around the stove drying.
John and Martha Kelm Becker, German refugees from Russia

One of the favorite foods my grandmother cooked she called perugans [pierogies]. They were about the size of a ping pong ball and consisted of a cheese coated with ground up potatoes then deep fried.

Grandfather raised pigeons and would occasionally kill some young ones for dinner. One day when I was back by the garage where the pigeon coupes were I stumbled on to a hornet nest. I had never seen hornets before and when one stung me I just jumped up and down, and hollered. This caused more hornets to sting but I finally ran away from them. Grandfather heard all the noise, and came
back to see what had happened. When he saw that I was all bit up he put on some mud on to take the sting away.

Sometimes when we would visit I would play with the neighborhood kids. We played kick the can, hide and seek, and sometimes we would stomp on cans till they stuck to our shoes then klomp around the street.

I am not sure how old I was when my grandmother died but I do remember she was laid out in the dining room of their home. After a few years grandfather married a lady called Mrs. Pete. Grandfather also outlived her and spent the rest of his life a widower. My uncle Lee was still living with grandfather when he married Mrs. Pete but soon after joined the army, and served in Korea. He was the youngest, and the last of the children to live on Morgan Street.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Amish Quilts: How 'Ugly' Quilts Became High Art and Changed Quilting

Amish Quilts: Crafting and American Icon by Janneken Smucker was a revelation.

My quilt life began in 1991. My mother-in-law quilted in the 1980s. I saw quilts being sold at Philadelphia's Head House Square in the 1970s. I taught myself to sew, and dabbled in macramé and needlepoint. But it was that first quilt that changed my life. I quickly became interested in quilt history and antique quilts, which meant reading books because I was too poor to collect, and making quilts inspired by antique quilts.

Over the years I learned about the quilt revival, how quilts became 'art' and not just 'craft'. I saw the names of people whose books I have read (Roderick Kiracofe, Julie Silber), and who now I follow on Facebook. I thought I was pretty savvy about the history of quilting in the 20th c. But Smucker's book on Amish Quilts took all I knew and put it in a narrative that enlightened me and broadened my knowledge.

The book begins with an introduction to the Amish and their life and values. She tells how antique Amish quilts, relegated to closets as old fashioned and ugly, suddenly were valued for their simple 'modern' minimalist design and deemed worthy for walls and art galleries. Pickers and dealers went door to door buying the quilts, which they resold for increasingly higher prices.

The demand for affordable quilts for home decorating brought in cottage industries, and the cottage industries hired out to non-Amish, including the Hmong people who settled in the Lancaster, PA area. (Read about the Hmong here.)
1990s cheater cloth quilts which I hand quilted
Oddly, while the black and solid color minimalist quilts were becoming identified with the Amish, contemporary Amish quilters were using new easy-care fabrics and designs for their homes.

Quilts were created to meet the demand for affordable quilts for home decorators. The Country Bride Quilt, developed by Rachel Pellman of Lancaster's The Old Country Store, was in the popular country rose and blue colors and had an appliqué design of hearts and birds.
'Amish' made 1990s quilt owned by Diane Little
My Disselfink, a pattern from a 1990s Old Country Store publication
With 100 color photographs of Amish quilts, this book on quilts, art, and economics is a must-have for anyone interested in the history of quilting in the 20th c.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through Edelweiss in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Amish Quilts
Janneken Smucker
John Hopkins University Press
Hard cover $36,95
ISBN: 9781142141053

Monday, July 25, 2016

Happy Birthday, We Miss You

I have been thinking about last things and family.

My mother Joyce Adair Ramer Gochenour passed away in 1990 at age 57 of cancer. Tomorrow would have been her birthday.
Mom as a teenager
My mother was an oil painter, a life time reader, a generous soul who made lifelong friends. She was stubborn and didn't give in.  As a girl she was a real jitterbug queen. My friends all liked her. Mom also suffered with psoriatic arthritis and psoriasis, her joints crippled and deformed, her skin condition involving long soaking baths and applications of various creams and ointments. She worried about living into an old age of dependency.
Painting by my Mom
When I was a little girl Mom had long blond hair that she often wore in a pony tail. I realized Mom was younger and prettier than my friend's mothers. I was an adult when Mom asked if I had ever been embarrassed by her condition. I was amazed. No, I said, you were the prettiest Mom around.
Mom about 1960
My dad Eugene V. Gochenour's birthday is August 13; he died of cancer 8 Decembers ago. I have been and will be continuing to share stories of his early years.
Dad at work at Chrysler
And my 'baby' brother's birthday is also coming up next month!

My brother circa 1961
Our son moved into his own home last Saturday, a huge step and we are happy for him, but I have been grieving for days.
My dad and our son
Today we took our Kamikaze to the vet and learned her heart is very enlarged and is the cause of her breathing problems, coughing, and lethargy. She spent five to seven years in an Amish Ohio puppy mill before Safe Harbor Animal Rescue rescued her and we adopted her. She suffers frequent inter-digital cysts and has cataracts. She was like a puppy when she came home with us, playful and joyful and adventurous.

Kamikaze five years ago. 
Kamikaze lived with our son for months at at time. Our Suki and Kamikaze have become great friends. We all dearly love her.

Kamikaze and our son five years ago
Kamikaze and Suki looking for trouble
This week also marks my birthday.
Baby Nancy with Mom and Dad
I am immensely happy. Reviewing books and getting books FREE is a dream come true. Making quilts and sharing with quilt friends in my weekly group is a joy. My husband and I are retired and finally have our own house after years of parsonage living.

But suddenly I realize that life passes with the speed of a bullet and I need to be more conscious of living in the moment and not the future. The future is here.
Gary and I at Adrian College 1971
Living in my parent's house, which I inherited when Dad passed with my brother's agreement, I see our folks everywhere, memories of Mom blotting her red lipstick in front of the bathroom mirror, long talks into the night sitting in the living room, family games of Michigan Rummy at the kitchen table, Dad racking up autumn leaves with our son.
Dad and our son racking leaves
I have memories of our son playing in the swimming pool Mom set up in the yard, the swing she hung from the birch tree, long gone; I see him banging on her pots and pans and playing with the old decks of cards Mom gave him. I recall walking him to the local playgrounds. And visits when he was older, after Mom passed, and Dad trucking us to Belle Isle.

Life will continue to bring change. The ghosts will again become happy thoughts. I am grateful for a wakeup call.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

War and Turpentine by Stefan Hertmans

The "battle between the transcendent" and the "memory of death and destruction" is eloquently shared through the life of Urbain Martien, the author's grandfather, in War and Turpentine, a book called a "future classic" by the Guardian.

Thirty years after inheriting his grandfather's papers Stefan Hertmans finally read the memoirs. Urbain's early life in poverty drove him into the Ghent steel mills as a teenager. Then came the sudden epiphany that he, like his father who restored church murals, must be an artist. Urbain joins the Flemish Military Academy and is called up to service and into the horror of The Great War.

"How far I have strayed from what I once hoped to become."

Germany wanted a quick route to Paris, and neutral Belgium was in the way. When Belgium resisted, the German army invaded, murdering whole villages. The Rape of Belgium left 6,000 civilians dead, 1.5 million refugees, and 120,000 civilians used as forced labor. The military lost 100,000 or more dead.

Hertmans' retelling of his grandfather's story is in three sections: the author's personal memories and his grandfather's early life; the brutal war years; the post-war years as Urbain cobbles together a life. The war section, for me, was most powerful with its vivid descriptions of death and suffering, the piles of human waste in the trenches, Urbain's honorable bravery and multiple injuries, the absurd carnage of human lives.
                       "We're all cannon fodder together."
And yet there are moments when Urbain sees nature's beauty, the artist's eye still seeking out the inspiration of color and form and association.

After the war Urbain cobbles together a life: love, loss, and loneliness; the frailty of the body; and the accomplishment of one great original painting.
"What mattered most to him was something he could not share with others. So he painted trees, clouds, peacocks, the Ostend beach, a poultry yard, still lifes on half-cleared tables--an immense, silent, devoted labour of grief, to put the world's weeping to rest in the most everyday things. He never painted a single war scene."
The novel is an international best seller.

I received a free ebook through Penguin First to Read in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

War and Turpentine
Stefan Hertmans

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Mini Reviews: Sagas of the Handicapped, the Chinese, and the Apache

Annie's Ghosts: A Journey into a Family Secret by Steve Luxenberg was my Book Club selection for June. It was the Great Michigan Read selection in 2013-14. After his mother's funeral Luxenberg discovered a secret aunt and set on a quest to discover Annie and why she was kept secret.

The immigrant experience, the Holocaust, the Depression, and Detroit's Eloise Asylum are revealed in his search. Luxenberg discovers more than one family secret.

My book club enjoyed the book and identified with the concept of family secrets, but several found the book at time repetitive and lacking in focus.

Shanghi Girls by Lisa See

I borrowed this book from the library after seeing it was the 2016 Everyone's Reading pick for the Detroit Public Libraries.

Pearl was born in 1916, the fourth year of the Republic of China, in Shanghai. Women's lives had changed for the better; foot-binding was forbidden, arranged marriages were replaced by free love and marriages for love. Pearl attended the Methodist Mission, posed with her younger sister May as a Beautiful Girl immortalized on calendars and advertising, and stayed out late clubbing. When her father gambled away everything the price was selling his daughters in marriage to two brothers, one a fourteen-year-old with brain damage, the other a 'paper son' adopted to inherit the business. The girls are to travel to the US with their husband's family but 'miss the boat'.

With the Japanese invasion the girls and their mother flee their home town. They meet with tragedy that alters Pearl's life forever. Finally managing to arrive in the US to go to their husbands they are delayed for months living in prison-like isolation until proving they are legit. Life in America turns out to be hard, jobs scarce and the Chinese forced to live in ghettos.

Shanghi Girls tells the saga of Chinese immigrants in America from the 1920s into the Communist regime and McCarthy era. Told in the first person by Pearl the novel lacks emotional depth and deep characterization, although the experiences she undergoes are harrowing. The book's appeal is learning about the broader history of the Chinese in the 20th c. and for those who are not familiar with how America treated these refugees the story will be a real eye-opener. See's research included taking oral histories, some of which appear nearly verbatim in the novel.

The follow-up novel Dreams of Joy takes Peal and her daughter to Communist China. Readers will learn about life under Mao, with the characters secondary to the greater picture.

The Apache Wars by Paul Andrew Hutton was my Blogging for Books choice. It was a subject I knew almost nothing about.

At nearly 500 pages this book offers a complete and detailed history of the relationship between the Native Americans of Apacheria and Americans whose expansion encroached into their traditional homelands. This is not a book for the fainthearted, and I rued not making a list to keep track of the ever-changing major players. The publisher description calls it a "sprawling, monumental work" about the "two decades of the last war for the West through the eyes of the men and women who lived it." Because the book is encyclopedic it can be overwhelming.

I moved by the stories and quite disgusted (once again) by the horrible choices American government has made concerning those we fear--or those just plain in the way of 'progress,' which mostly means making money. It was very interesting to learn details of the Apache culture.

When I was a kid in the 50s watching the TV and movie westerns there were several cliches, one being 'white man speak with forked tongue.' Well, that is about it in a nutshell. Treaties and promises were broken with impunity, and the Apache who sought peace were treated badly and barely trusted. And there were leaders who tired of war and just wanted peace with the White Eyes. Not giving them a fair deal lost their trust Even when President Grant endeavored to change how the Apache were treated by sending Dutch Reformed agents did not improve how the Apache fared.

Hutton's knowledge is incredible and his treatment of this war fair and unbiased.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Bee-autiful Blocks and Books

I have been working on quilting my Austen Family Album and embroidering the MODA Quilt-A-Long Bee-autiful blocks. These are such cute patterns and great fun.

A lovely lady in my weekly quilt group is downsizing and brought in ALL of her fabric and books to share. There were close to 30 out on Tuesday, but we all brought home armfuls.

When I saw that black repro print fabric I pounced on it as I have used every last inch of what I bought when it came out!

 I wrote several writing family history posts, and plan to do more, based on the huge interest in Tonawanda, NY history on the Growing Up In the Town of Tonawanda Facebook page. The post about the Sheridan Park Volunteer Firemen brought me photos of my grandfather's memorials
at the fire station.
But his name was ALGER, not Alfred! They called him Al.

I had a real shock when these flowers were delivered to my door. I was sure they came to the wrong house. The company who installed our new furnace and A.C. sent me flowers in thanks! That is class.

I have been drowning in books-- and helping our son pack and move into his first house. I have ebooks books from NetGalley, Edelweiss, and First to Read.

I won a book from First to Read! And I won the Siracusa audiobook by Delia Ephron through First Look Book Club!

Ohio U Press sent me Suzi Parron's Barn Quilts and Following the Barn Quilt Trail to review.
And from Blogging for Books I chose The Gap of Time, a retelling of Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Dad's Memories of the Sheridan Park Volunteer Firemen of Tonawanda NY

Alger Gochenour
Emma Becker Gochenour
My dad Gene Gochenour wrote a memoir of his life from 1935 until 1963 when he lived in Tonawanda, NY.

My grandfather Alger Gochenour, father Gene Gochenour, Uncle Dave Ramer, (and perhaps other family) were part of the Sheridan Park Volunteer Fire Company during the 1950s.

My Aunt Alice wrote me saying, she remembered the firemen would practice first aid on her, wrapping her arm or legs in bandages. And even I remember going to the field days and parades the firemen held.

Al Gochenour, Fire Chief at his Military Rd house

Sheridan Park Volunteer Fire Co. Dist. 4
Town of Tonawanda NY
Here is an excerpt from Dad's memoirs called Volunteer Fireman Stories: 

"I belonged to the Sheridan Park Volunteer Fire Company during the fifties.

"One day as I was working at the station a huge explosion happened less than a half mile away. A plant called The Lucidol Corporation blew up. They made epoxy resin there and the dust in the plant exploded.

"I was at the scene in a few minutes and saw a fireman I knew. He worked at the plant and he was spraying the fire with a small hose. I went up to help him but just then the first fire truck arrived and I went with them to hook up the truck to a fire hydrant. The fire hydrant was on the far side of another building, and when we got there there was another explosion. It blew out all the windows in the building we were standing by. The fireman I almost joined was hurt during the second explosion and went to the hospital. Had I been with him, I would have gone to the hospital too! The first explosion killed thirteen people. It blew off the end of a nearby house, and the wall of a steel warehouse a quarter of a mile away was cracked in several places.
"One day the fire siren went off and I drove to the fire station to find where it was. Both fire trucks had left by the time I got there, but there was bulletin board at the fire hall with a message telling late arriving firemen where the fire was. A 50,000 gallon gas tank was on fire at the Richfield Refining terminal on River Road.

"When I got there I saw an above ground storage tank burning. The flames reached high into the sky. The fire was so hot that even with our rubber coats and boots and steel helmets, we could not get close.

"The only way we could put out a gas fire was to spray a fire retardant foam on it. While we were hooking up the foam making device we saw a burning truck come driving out of the burning garage. It must have been parked in low gear, then the starter shorted, causing it to drive itself out of the garage. Once the foam device was set up, we could work our way close to the fire and put it out.
"On another occasion we were called to a steel mill where a huge cupola full of molten iron had spilled into a subterranean room. We took turns spraying water on it to cool it. As we sprayed the water, it turned to steam so we had to take turns handling the hose. Many hours later it was decided there was no more threat, and we left. It took many days for it to completely cool, and I don’t know what they did with all that iron on the floor!
"One of the calls we had was to go to the housing project [Sheridan Park war time housing, or The Projects] where a house had blown up. When we got there, we saw that one end of a duplex house was not burning, but the wall had been blown off. The story was that the lady who lived there had put gasoline in her washing machine thinking it would take the grease out of her husbands work clothes. We will never know if it worked, but luckily she was at the other end of the house when it blew and did not get hurt.
"A gasoline tanker caught fire right under the Grand Island bridge. The flame was coming out of the last compartment of the tanker. Had the fire spread, it could have been a disaster. But one smart and brave fireman climbed up the ladder on the tanker and closed the cover of the compartment, extinguishing the fire. The truck was only a few blocks from the terminal where it had just been loaded. How the cover got left off and the fire started we did not know.
"There were many field fires during the spring and fall. Most of them were caused by railroad steam engines or people burning leaves or trash. We had a small fire truck that was used at field fires. It had a large water tank and it carried many brooms. The truck would be driven to the field, then the driver would drive along the fire line, upwind of the flames, and another fireman would spray the flames using the water hose on the truck. The rest of the firemen followed, stamping out the remaining flames using the brooms. That was a hot, smoky job on a hot day!"

The September 23, 1953 Lucidol explosion is well known in Tonawanda history. Eleven people were killed and 17 injured. The plant was situated at 1740 Military Road at Sheridan Park Drive.

Read the 1953 Tonawanda Evening News headline article here.

The explosion knocked out telephone service and the Sheridan Park Fire Department siren!

I found an account of the incident written by a local pastor here. He wrote,
"...a distant explosion broke my peace. It was followed by a resounding impact against the outside wall. My window shook with the force of the impact. I jumped to my feet and ran to the window. Off in the distance, in the direction of our church property, a high mushroom-like cloud was forming in the air. I moved quickly out the door, pulling on my jacket as I raced down the stairs. I jumped into our car and headed in the direction of the cloud. The cloud hovered in the air against a clear blue Fall sky. As I drove down Sheridan Drive toward Elmwood Avenue, the cloud was spreading out over the Military Road area. I turned onto Elmwood and stopped at Homewood Avenue leaving the car at our property site. I hurried down Homewood.
""What happened?" I asked Mare Krauss. "There was a terrfic explosion at the Lucidol plant. It shook everythg in our house. We lost some windows." Marie Krauss told me. Elva Graf added: "There are bodies all over the place." I ran toward Military Road, which was at the end of Homewood. Military Road ran north and south. It was dotted with industrial plants built to access the cheap electric power of Niagara Falls.
A crowd had already gathered outside the chain fence of Lucidol, one of the many chemical plants which dotted the Military Road. The police began moving people back to the other side of Military Road away from the fence. Fire engines were on the grounds of the plant inside, some were still arriving. The sirens of ambulances from the Kenmore and Buffalo hospitals could be heard coming in all directions. The police continued cordoning off the area around the plant and moved the crowd to the other side of Military Road. 
 "One glance showed the extent of the destruction. Crumpled steel, and loose boards and brick were strewn across the ground. One building had been blown apart - the site of the explosion. The Lucidol plant had been a low level plant, probably no higher than two or three stories. Smoke and low level fie were still coming out of several buildings. One could see bodies lying in disarray across the plant property. It was difficult to tell how many people had died in the explosion." 
An article about the explosive material that caused the blast is found here.