Oscar Lyons

About a hundred yards east of Cliff Inn, near what is now the Minnewaska State Park Preserve entrance, a black shale unpaved road branched off to the right from the highway and looped back around to the highway about a half-mile later. Midway on the loop Lyons Road went off to the right and dead ended maybe a mile or so later. Oscar Lyons lived in a very old farmhouse about 20 feet from the road. His house was almost half a mile from the Minnewaska to Mohonk carriage trail.

On the loop, but before getting on Lyons Road, was a shale pit where they mined shale to be spread on all the carriage trails and footpaths at Minnewaska. Between that pit and Lyons Road was a two story house and one other house between the loop and the highway.

After my dad got home from work at Minnewaska and we had finished supper, Mom, Dad and we kids would walk over to visit Oscar or “Mr. Lyons,” as we children were instructed to address him. He must have been in his seventies (he looked 100 to me), had a big full white beard and always sported a well-worn, floppy hat. I recall his voice was gravelly. Mom and Dad would sit and talk with Oscar for a couple of hours, sometimes more. I understood he enjoyed the visits and talks and I know all of us also loved those evening walks and visits.

They would sit out on the front porch that ran the long, full width of the house. I do not recall any of us ever going inside his place and most likely he had only oil or kerosene lamps or maybe just candles. Of course, this was in summer, so there would not have been any reasons to go inside. There may have been mosquitoes, but don’t recall that being a problem.

I was twelve, soon to be thirteen, the summer of 1953, and the last summer we lived up on the mountain. That summer we lived in a house that was a hundred yards or so from an old hotel, the Laurel Inn. The last memory I have of Minnewaska and New Paltz is a mind’s eye memory of us kids sitting in the family car in New Paltz later that Fall. Mom and Dad were inside saying goodbye to Mr. Lyons, who I now believe was in failing health. I never saw him again.

About a quarter mile further east of Oscar’s place, an older lady lived in a little white bungalow, also on the west side of Lyons road. Mrs. Delchmann (sp?) lived in that cute little place set back fifty or sixty yards, maybe a little more. We never visited her in her place, but I do have a picture of her sitting on Oscar Lyons’ steps along with Oscar, my dad and brother. She was a lovely lady with a nice soft voice and a mole on her cheek.

Looking back on those Minnewaska years, the overriding emotion and feeling is one of a perfect time of my childhood. My parents were in their early 40s and we children had experienced nothing but love and peace and contentment, not only at Minnewaska, but also in our simple Florida life out in the country. As far as I know only a family by the name of Otis lived up near us when we were at Cliff Inn and that family lived on what I would call North Lyons road on the other side of the highway from Oscar Lyons.

Was the road called Lyons because of Oscar or did the road get the name from an earlier time? Anyway, we would occasionally visit the Otises and I remember they had a TV and a couple of antenna and could pick up many stations.

Oh, how I wish I had written down the general gist of all those conversations! That’s the kind of thing we wish we had done many, many years later when we begin looking back over our lives.

That one subject I remember Oscar discussing was the driving of a team of horses (mules?) hauling lumber from, I assume, the Hudson River up to the lake for the construction of the mountain houses. It must have been an all day trip to take a horse-drawn wagon to the river and back and maybe the trips were taken daily for months on end. I’ve always been grateful that our parents made it possible for Mr. Lyons to add to the enrichment of my life. I wonder how they learned of him and came to know him.

There is one incident that is firmly lodged in my memory of those visits with Oscar. My younger sister, Betty, and I were exploring around his place and we peeked into a little room under the back porch and saw a dead fox hanging from a hook. We never told mom and dad because they would have scolded us for sneaking around like that.

Four years after our last summer at Minnewaska I was working in the kitchen of a summer resort on Grand Isle, Vermont for the summers of 1957 and 58. Another two short years later I had graduated from high school and was a crew member on USAF In-flight refueling KB-50 tankers. What an amazing transformation to go from the simple idyllic summer of Minnewaska in 1953 talking to Mr. Lyons, to just seven years later, refueling jet fighters.


George Black’s previous story “The Fox” appeared in Spring 2010.