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Hilltown Archives The Altamont Enterprise, August 5, 2010
Irma Garlock at age 93
By Melissa Hale-Spencer
KNOX Irma Garlock built her house with her own hands.
She has lived in the tiny clapboard house on Township Road in Knox for decades. She wants to stay there for the rest of her life.
She is 93.
Her long-time friend, Katherine Varin, has become worried about Mrs. Garlock. “One day, I asked her, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if this were all fixed up?’ and she said, ‘Yes,’” recalled Ms. Varin. “She’s stubborn as a mule. She’s too proud and independent to ask for help…I called welfare. They were more concerned with the old dog than the old lady,” said Ms. Varin.
She can remember playing at Mrs. Garlock’s house as a child. The two friends used to picnic and fish together. As Mrs. Garlock aged, Ms. Varin would take her grocery shopping. Now, she brings the groceries to her door. She picks up Mrs. Garlock’s Social Security and disability checks, her small pension, and her Navy widow’s check, and brings them for her to sign, then deposits them for her.
She buys clothes for her and shoes, including bright orange Crocs that match her own.
When asked about their half-century of friendship, Ms. Varin’s eyes fill with tears. “I’m lucky to have her,” she says. “She’s such a sweet woman.”
Ms. Varin calls her “Ma.”
“She has so much talent and is such a smart woman. Now she has trouble hearing and seeing. She’s lost control of her bowels and her bladder, and the diapers pile up,” said Ms. Varin. “I’m hoping something will happen to jar the community to help her.”
Mrs. Garlock still has her sense of humor. A thin woman with expressive eyes and gnarled hands, she is a self-taught carver, and recently showed off some of her work.
She holds a piece that has an expertly whittled cow, painted in black and white, giving a farmer a hard time with milking; the farmer is falling backwards. “I call this ‘Kicking the Bucket,’” says Mrs. Garlock.
She laughs and shows off some of her other pieces. One is a carefully carved and painted collie. Mrs. Garlock used to raise collies, as well as rabbits and goats. One of her windows is lined with faded ribbons, won years ago, for the animals she would show.
“She is one of the oldest members of the American Rabbit Breeders’ Association,” says Ms. Varin.
“I’ve been in it since the beginning,” says Mrs. Garlock.
She carves what she sees in a piece of wood or stone, says Mrs. Garlock. One day, her neighbor, Fred Struck, who lives a stone’s throw from her house, was chopping firewood; a chip flew off, and Mrs. Garlock asked if she could have it.
She saw in the stray piece of wood a pheasant’s tail. She holds up the finished work; she has made a magnificent pheasant, looking into its nest.
Mrs. Garlock is modest about her work.
“I dabble at it,” she said. “I go outside and look all around and see all the beauty there is. Nobody can really copy that.”
Layers of memories
When her hands became too arthritic to work with a knife, Mrs. Garlock began painstakingly piecing together matches to create a village of thatched-roof buildings.
They reflect her local heritage. Her Palatine ancestor, William Fox, came to America in 1710, settling where the lower fort is now preserved just outside the village of Schoharie. Fox gave his name to the Foxenkill, which flows through Berne and Gallupville into the Schoharie Creek.
Mrs. Garlock’s father, Daniel Ezra Fox, was a welder. Her childhood was difficult. Her mother died when she was not quite 3; she and her sisters were placed in St. John’s boarding school in Rensselaer when she was about 10, she said. She lived there until she turned 18.
She pulls up the legs of her slacks to show her swollen knees and says they got that way from hours of prayer and scrubbing the floor at St. John’s. “For punishment, they made us kneel for a day in the chapel,” she says.
Mrs. Garlock worked at many jobs over the years rising early to stack bread at the A&P bakery when it was on Broadway in Albany. She later worked at the Pleasant Valley Packing Company.
As she talks, her memories come in layers, some of them vivid. “A lot of things, I don’t remember,” she says. She rummages through the layers of her things, unearthing mementos to illustrate her tales.
Mrs. Garlock can remember how much a pack of cigarettes cost in 1920 ten cents.
She talks fondly of her late husband, Frank Lawyer Garlock, whom she says she had known since she “was a tadpole.”
He was in the Navy on a minesweeper. The Garlocks moved to a farm in Knox in 1955, living at first in a trailer. “It was a hundred acres when we got it,” said Mrs. Garlock of their Knox property.
Mrs. Garlock shares her small home now with a Maine coon cat and a very old shaggy dog named Pooch, whom she adores. Asked what kind of a dog he is, Mrs. Garolock says with a chuckle, “He’s a terrier, a holy terrier!”
Her living room is stacked high with the artifacts of a long life.
A gas heater sits against one wall, its pipe running through the bathroom behind to the outdoors.
“She used to have an old oil stove,” said Ms. Varin. “In the middle of winter, she’d trudge outside with the pail to fill the stove.” Mrs. Varin worried about her slipping, and talked to her closest neighbors, the Strucks, who installed the gas heater. “She used to carry water in, too, until Freddie hooked it up a few years ago so it would run inside,” said Ms. Varin.
School pictures of the Strucks’ sons are displayed on Mrs. Garlock’s refrigerator. Mrs. Struck has brought over extra food to share with Mrs. Garlock, said Ms. Varin.
Her bedroom off the main room is also piled high, around a slanted old mattress. A kitchen nook is off the living room with a small bathroom next to that. Pathways wend through the piles of stuff.
At one point, Mrs. Garlock unearths a conch shell and blows long, sonorous notes. She also demonstrates some convincing turkey calls, and imitates the sounds of a chicken and a rooster.
She has a rock collection, too, with some of the pieces found locally. She has fashioned jewelry from polished rock, and displays one of the pendants, a lustrous round piece of variegated brown stone.
She recalls her friendship with the late Roger Keenholts, Altamont’s historian. Mrs. Garlock tells of how the two of them worked together to reupholster an antique couch for the Altamont Fair’s farm museum. “We had a ball,” she says. She also made doll furniture for Midge Peterson’s display there.
Mrs. Garlock saves things along with her memories. She has a wooden rake from decades ago and a pair of wooden skis, too, that she used to ski on. She has several trays of eggshells that she has crumpled into tiny pieces to nourish her plants. “It gives them vitamins,” she said.
As she searches for various pieces of her past, to tell her life’s story, Mrs. Garlock repeats to herself, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”