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13 March 2017 Dudley’s Bookstore writers group random prompt is from …

Tune Smith by Jimmy Webb, page 20, line 9

The prompt: “I had come to New York to try something new.” – Alexis set timer 45 minutes

It was July 1957 and I was just waking up as the truck exited Holland Tunnel into Manhattan. I had been hitchhiking from Pullman, Washington, to a summer camp event in New York, called The Encampment for Citizenship, sponsored by the Ethical Culture Society. But what’s an 18-year-old college kid doing alone on the highway for a whole week soliciting free rides from passing motorists? It sounds totally crazy! For example, my second ride was with a carload of drunk Indians at 2 AM near Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Even a foolish kid like me must realize it is dangerous being out on a highway in the middle of the night; anything might happen.

Almost instantly, it seemed, there I was standing blurry-eyed thanking the truck driver and wondering … what’s next? That exact thought had no doubt entered millions of other people’s minds as they first set their foot on Manhattan island. It was obvious to every one of them, “I had come to this place to try something new.”

I knew from vague family lore that my first American ancestor Jacob Janse Schermerhorn had set his foot on that Manhattan island back in 1636 as a teenager. He had many adventures from there and from Fort Orange up the Hudson River and from Schenectady, of which he was an early resident. Over the years he developed a thriving fur trade and made several trips back to Amsterdam with beaver pelts. That was certainly adventuresome and every moment of his life was filled with potential disaster. Being out on the sea in a sailing boat is obviously a risk, and trading with Indians for beaver pelts for many years can obviously lead to complex interactions and some instant conflicts with the risk of sudden death. In 1690 his village of Schenectady was attacked by the French and Indians and many of the residents killed, but his son Simon survived and took the warning to Fort Orange some fifteen miles away. This is only two years after he wrote his last will and testament, but it isn’t known when Jacob Janse died.

One time Jan ended up in jail there in New Amsterdam, put there by the then governor Peter Stuyvesant. The charge was selling guns to Indians. The crime wasn’t selling deadly weapons, it was that it was an unwritten law that only Stuyvesant could sell guns to the Indians. That fracas turned out worse for Stuyvesant because the Dutch government said he didn’t have the exclusive personal right to sell guns, and thus his jailing of a Dutch citizen was a violation of his authority. He was recalled back to Amsterdam and lost his governorship.

I was vaguely aware of that history, but in an absolutely unexpected turn of events a month after arriving sleepy-eyed at New York I was talking to the former first lady of the United States, Eleanor Roosevelt, at her home in Hyde Park when she said, “Charles you know we are related.” I almost fainted, and literally ran away! I had come to New York to try something new, but this was far and away too much.

Six decades later I still get the willies thinking about my New York adventure.

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