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- The Biography of a Rabbit - 1/26 -
The Biography of a Rabbit
by Roy Benson Jr.
This is the story of a young man, my uncle "Bunny", growing up in Canandaigua, New York, including his joining the Army, training to fly, and flying a P51 on missions over Germany. He was ultimately shot down, taken prisoner and liberated about a year later. The story concludes with clips from his return to a normal life back in Canandaigua. Bunny knew that he had Colon and liver cancer when he he decided to write this book and he died shortly after its completion. I hope the story will be of interest to other students of history. Roy (Bunny) Benson was my mother's youngest brother. Burr Cook
Chapter 1 Background
My father, Roy Benson, was born in 1879 in Centerfield, New York, and my mother, Frances Lorraine Gulvin, was born in 1880 in Sittingbourne, England which is about fifty miles southeast of London. Sittingbourne is approximately thirty miles from Rochester, England. She came to the United States with her parents when she was three years old and settled on a farm in Seneca Castle (which is thirty miles from Rochester, New York).
When my father was courting my mother he would walk to Canandaigua from Centerfield and rent a horse and buggy from a livery stable on the corner of Chapin and Main Streets. He would then drive to Seneca Castle, a distance of some ten miles, to see her. on the way home, late at night, he would sleep in the buggy and the horse would find its own way back to the livery. He would awaken when the buggy rolled to a stop, then walk back to Centerfield.
They were married in 1901 and went to one of the beaches in Rochester for a honeymoon (perhaps Charlotte). At that time such a trip was an all day affair. They traveled from Canandaigua on the trolley that ran all the way to the beach and carried their picnic lunch, I was told. After their marriage, my parents made their first home in a house on the corner of Bristol and Mason Streets. In 1903 their first child, Clarence was born. A few years later they moved to a farm on Route 5 and 20 about one and a half miles from Canandaigua. My father worked for a painting contractor in Canandaigua at the time and Clarence has told me that Dad used to ride a bicycle to work, wearing a derby hat and carrying his paint buckets on the handle bars. there was a big oak tree on the road, about half way from home to town and the children would walk as far as the tree and wait there each day for my father to come home from work. They would all then walk on home together.
My brothers and sisters were: Clarence, Gordon (born 1904), Leon (born 1905), Adelaide (1908), Mildred (1910), Dorothy (1914), and Helen (1916).
The family moved to the first big house on the West Lake Road and I was born there July 23, 1917. I remember only a few incidents during the time we lived there. One time I rolled a Croquet ball off a high front porch and across a lawn to where it went over a bank and hit my sister Dorothy on the head. I recall sleeping in a downstairs bedroom with the window open (there were no screens at this time). We kept a cow for milk and early in the morning it stuck its' head in the window and gave a loud moo next to my head while I was still sleeping. We also had large barns and did some farming. We grew potatoes for home use and my brothers raised cucumbers to sell. My older brothers used to catch rides to school on passing farmers wagons whenever they could. They went to the Palace Theater on the corner of Saltenstall and Main Streets for five cents. We had a horse that would refuse to pull the hay wagon up the hill to the barn and I remember standing on the wheel spokes to push the horse and wagon towards the barn.
In 1922, when I was five years old, we moved to the house on Chapin Street where my father lived until his death. I attended the Adelaide Avenue School for grades 1 to 3 then went to the Union School, which stood where the YMCA is now. My father bought the house, almost new at the time, for $1400. During these years there were nine of us children (my brother Robert having been born in 1919) and our house was always the center of activity for the neighborhood. All of our friends would come to our house to play and we had childhoods filled with love and good times. My father had horseshoe beds in the backyard with lights above them so the men could play at night. All my uncles and the neighbors would come often to play.
It was about this time that my father opened a wallpaper and paint store on South Main Street. He intended to run the store with Clarence, Gordon, and Leon and also do the painting and wallpapering for his customers. I don't know how many years he had the store, but it was not a success. He then built a large addition to the two car garage at home and moved the paint and wallpaper there for storage. There was plenty of wallpaper he was unable to sell and we kids used to have pieces to cut flowers and patterns with. We would glue the small pieces to bottles and shellac them to make vases. Raymond Smith was my buddy then and was at our house most of the time. They lived a couple of houses down the street and our mothers attended church on Sundays and Wednesday night prayer meetings together. I recall that our Sunday night suppers were always cornmeal with milk and brown sugar. We had a large dining room table, a cherry drop leaf, that would seat ten. I always sat next to my mother at the table. She would make large sugar cookies with a seeded raisin on top and put them on newspapers on the dining room table. We would eat them there while they were still warm. You can imagine what it must have been like cooking three meals a day for ten or more people on the old coal stove. I believe we had gas on one side and coal on the other. We kept the coal fire going to heat the back part of the house. My mother would wash my hair by having me lay on the ironing board with my head hanging over the sink. We took our Saturday night bath in a large washtub by the kitchen stove. We had no bathtub until I was about eight years old.
We always had baseball equipment to play with due to my brother's interest. We would play ball in the street and in a lot at the corner of Chapin and Thad Chapin Streets. The trees, High banks and uneven ground helped me to become a good center-fielder when I played on a flat baseball field. That was easy after running up and down those hills and I could catch anything. The only toys that Ray and I had were very simple. We took the wheels off an old baby buggy and nailed them on the end of a stick. We would run around the house pushing it by the hour.
At Christmas time we were allowed to open one toy when we got up in the morning. My favorite, which I asked for every year, was a wind up tractor with rubber treads which we would try to make climb over stacks of books on the floor. We would also roll marbles down the groove in the bottom of skis to knock down houses made of cards. My older brothers and sisters who were married would arrive around noon for Christmas dinner and there were usually about twenty there. After dinner we would open the presents in the parlor. There were so many of us that we would draw names for the person to whom we gave gifts.
My brothers and I slept in an upstairs bedroom with the window open a couple of inches in the winter time. When we woke up in the morning there would be snow in a pile on the floor under the window. We had one floor register about four feet square in the living room and we would sit around it for warmth. I remember the babies would sometimes crawl on the register and wet their diapers. My mother would sprinkle sugar down the flue to the hot furnace dome to get rid of the smell. Above the register, on the wall, was a shelf which held my mother's chime clock.
There was a small room upstairs where we had a library. My brothers had about three hundred books there and there was an army cot there on which I slept for several years. The library contained the Zane Grey westerns. These were all lost later when my father moved out and rented the house for several years during the war. All my possessions, except for clothes, were lost at that time. After my father remarried, he and my stepmother moved back into the house.
My brothers built a wooden platform in the backyard and we had a tent on it for several summers. We would sleep out there when the house was too hot in the summer time. There were three army cots in it. Dr. Behan lived on Thad Chapin Street just around the corner. He had several large farm horses which would get loose and come running down the street in front of our house. If we were playing out in front and heard the horses coming we would run for the front porch. Sometimes the horses would run across the front yard and barely miss us. We were so small that the horses seemed twenty feet tall. That is probably the reason I never cared much for horses. During this time my father got his first car, a second hand 1917 Ford. I can just remember that the tail lights were small kerosene lamps that you fill up and light for night driving. On one car that Clarence had, the windshield would tip out from the bottom for ventilation and the windshield wipers were worked by hand. I can remember pushing it back and forth while Clarence drove.
In 1926 my grandfather, Peter Orson Benson, would come up to pitch horseshoes with me. He lived with my uncle Jim across the street and down the hill a little. I would see grandfather coming and would have plenty of time to get ready for him because he was 96 years old and it would take him about twenty minutes to walk up. He would toss the horseshoes and I would bring them back to him. He was an active man and had a good size garden until he was about 95 years old. I remember that he had a long white beard that came down to his belt.
My mother did not get to take very many vacations in her lifetime. One time we went up along the St. Lawrence River and another time we went to Buffalo and took the boat trip across Lake Erie to Long Point Park. Another time we went, in two cars, to Pennsylvania. She spent all of life cooking, washing, sewing and caning. Saturday night was the big night of the week for everyone. to make certain we got a parking place downtown, my father would take the car down in the late afternoon and after supper we would walk down to shop and watch the people in town. I can remember sitting on the front fenders of the car and watching the shoppers. There was a popcorn wagon by a building on South Main Street and I suppose, if we had the money, we would get some popcorn or candy. I can remember walking down Chapin Street with my mother to see a movie in the evening.
The Playhouse Theater on Chapin Street had what they called Bank Night on Wednesdays. They would announce a person's name in the theater and by loudspeaker, outside. You did not need a ticket to be eligible and I guess they picked names at random from the phone book or a list of city residents. There would be crowds outside and you had several minutes to answer, so if you were not there someone could come to find you if they hurried. The prize would build up if there was no one to claim it. I remember the time Ray Smith and I were inside and they
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