Perhaps the most noted story-teller in these here parts was
Johnny Ceasar Cicero Darling. The yarns and tales he told were from the
recollection of his life which began in the Tusten forests, to the wilds of the
Town of Rockland and finally, with his son, to a farm on Shandelee. He
participated in all the trades common during his era, tree-debarker, hoop-maker,
river-rafter, as well as later being a teacher and preacher. He was most
remembered, though, when he "preached" his yarns to gatherings on front porches
and around wood stoves throughout the local communities. Amongst these tales are
the story of the creation of the road off of Shandelee to Youngsville created by
his prize pumpkin as well as the celebrated Shandelee snow-drifts in July.
There has never been an official word of his demise. When placed in the county alms-house at Monticello, he set off to return home and was never heard of again. That is except for once a year, when he can be seen passing through Livingston Manor, bigger than life as he has become, heading toward his old Shandelee home.
The modern version of Johnny Ceasar Cicero Darling is the creation of Earl "Bud" Wertheim. Bud, as many of us remember, was a teacher of art, first at Livingston Manor Central School and later at Sullivan County Community College, now being retired. Besides his chosen field of teaching, this talented man has immersed himself into his many hobbies, which include, but by no means limited to, ham-radio, astronomy, sculpture and puppeteer.
The oversized Darling puppet, which is now part of the Manor's annual Trout Parade, has movable arms and a head that rotates back and forth. Bud can be seen, with his creation, at the base of the puppet at the control that operates Darling's head.
Whenever Johnny Ceaser Cicero Darling got his mind set on doing something, he would become so good at it that nobody would ever be better. Whether it was growing the largest pumpkin, being Shandelee's best rifleman or being the fastest human, none would ever best Johnny. This would also be true when he sat down with his friends and neighbors and delighted them with tales of his adventures. Often when he came to town, be it Roscoe, Callicoon Center or Youngsville, to pick up whatever supplies he needed, local folks would gather round and ask Johnny what had he been up to. After stopping at Herman Hoorvich's store in Youngsville, right after the Christmas holidays, he decided he needed some refreshment to warm his innards before the journey back up to Shandelee. Since Henry Homer's hotel was just down the street, Johnny stopped at the tavern and was quickly pounced upon by the local patrons, eager to hear of his latest affairs.
"Well boys," Johnny began as everybody got within earshot. "As much as I enjoy coming to town to pick up my supplies, there are some things you just can't find down here. I may be able to find the ingredients to make a piecrust at Herman's, but the filling for the pie I can only find back up on the hill. Why, right at this moment, my Martha is waiting for me to return with this sack of flour so she can finish the huckleberry pies that she has started."
Now huckleberry pies are not exactly the pies you would bake in the dead of winter, since the berries ripen in the summer, and some members of Johnny's audience were already suspicious of his truthfulness from earlier yarns. They kept quiet, though, as Johnny continued on with the story, in hopes of catching him in an outright lie.
"Huckleberries are just about my favorite meal," Johnny continued as a crowd began to gather to get within earshot at Homer's tavern. "In the morning, I like huckleberries in my pancakes. Come lunch, I like huckleberries in my muffins. And at supper, nothing beats one of Martha's big, fat, overflowing huckleberry pies. So as you can see, I need a lot of huckleberries to satisfy my appetite. When the berry-picking season comes, I set out for my secret berry patch with two large milk pails. Though it is some distance from my home, this patch is probably the best in the area. When the berries are ripe these bushes become so overloaded that as the branches, straining with the weight of the ripe fruit, droop to the ground, new bushes immediately sucker up right from the berries!
"On my last visit there, the bushes were their loaded self, and since I knew that I would not return again before the season was over, I set out to get a year's picking in one day. Going from bush to bush, I picked every ripe berry, leaving the runts, bird-pecks and greenies, and as you folks all know the size of these berries, it takes a lot of picking to fill an ordinary huckleberry-can, let alone two large milk-cans. After a full day there, I had picked the patch pretty clean and had my pails just about overflowing when I started for home.
As I was trudging along the trail with the fully-loaded cans toward home, I heard noises behind me, and when I looked back, I spied two large bears following behind me. Now it didn't take long to realize why they were following me. In my haste to fill my pails, I pretty much stripped the bushes of edible berries, and since bears are also fond of huckleberries, I figured I had a couple of pretty angry bruins in pursuit of their stolen supper, which was either going to be the berries in my berry-cans or me. I really wasn't concerned about the predicament I was in for I knew I could run as fast as those bears, for I have outrun many a bear in my time, so I picked up my gait with the two bears following close behind. Judging by the noise behind me, I realized the bears were gaining ground on me and that I was also getting winded. Carrying the two large cans of huckleberries had slowed me down enough for the bears to make up ground behind me, so knowing their craving for huckleberries, I threw them one of the cans, hoping to make my getaway with the remaining pail...."
"I didn't stop running, though, for I knew that once the bears were done devouring the first pail of berries, they would be coming for the second. And sure enough, after running for some time with the one can, I took a glance back and saw the bears back on my trail, and again they were gaining ground. Knowing that these bears were catching up to me, I realized that I was not able to run as fast with one pail as I had run with two pails earlier. Carrying only one can, and a heavy one at that since it was filled with what remained of my day's berry pickings, threw me off balance, so much that I was not able to run my normal pace. I was now convinced that in order to save myself from those beasts, I needed to discard the second can, and just as I had thought, the bears ceased their pursuit in order to dine on the pails contents.
"I kind of figured that since these brutes now had the contents of both huckleberry pails, which was all of the ripe berries that was in that patch, they would be content. Apparently, they thought different, for as soon as they finished the last of the berries, they continued the chase. They now had a score to settle with me. But since I didn't have the handicap of the burden of the cans full of huckleberries, I knew now that I would give those bears a run that they would long remember.
"But to my surprise, those bruins were again beginning to catch up to me. I had forgotten that I was wearing my pair of leather boots, and it was only running barefooted that I was able to develop the phenomenal speed that I'm noted for. Well, those bears eventually got so close that I was now able to feel their hot breath on the back of my neck and I knew that if I was not going to out-run them, I better out-think them. I quickly dashed off the road and ran across a little pond, which had the year's new ice on it, which was just thick enough to hold a little fellow like me up on it. Not so for those two large bears, for as soon as they ventured on the ice they broke through into the pond's chilly water, allowing me to finally escape from the bears' chase... ."
As Johnny finished the telling of his huckleberry party adventure, the doubting Thomases gathered at Homer's tavern all spoke at once, for now they surely knew that Johnny had been trapped into a lie. "Now John," they seemed to have collectively said, "huckleberries come in August and ponds don't freeze over until winter."
Proud of themselves for now they knew that Johnny had finally been had, especially when Johnny scratched his head and showed a puzzled look on his face; that is until he answered, "I guess I forgot to mention to you folks that them gal-darn bears chased me clear into Christmas."
The room turned quiet, when from the back of the crowd, one last question from a die-hard who had yet to realize who had really been had, "But if you abandoned the berry-cans full of huckleberries to the bears, how is it that your Martha is now making fresh huckleberry pies?"
"Well boys," the puzzled look over Johnny's face now was overshadowed by the twinkle in his eyes, "After I got home from that huckleberry picking adventure, I discovered that my jacket and britches pockets were right full of berries. Apparently as I was in a hurry picking over the bushes and filling my berry-cans, unknowing to me, berries had fallen into my pockets. Still smelling berries, this was the reason why those bears stayed in such close pursuit, even after they finished the pails that I abandoned. All told, I was able to empty out enough huckleberries from all my pockets that Martha has enough to make two large pies. Of course, that's providing I get this flour back home to her. Good night, boys."