Current Essays

028 Tallchap

From 4th September 1985
[Yet another in our series of Genesee-side chats, this one a tribute to Henry Wordsworth Tallchap.]

Yet again I must ask you to accompany me, back through the mists of time, through a millennium of winters, to the early days of our metropolis, to our Swillburgian roots. I hope that you remember, from the last of these commemorative chats, that we left sober old Abbot Ginn of the Rocks, covered in snow, preaching to the wild animals who live around Vick Park B, having briefly met a mysterious stranger. For the moment we will leave the Irish monks to their books and their bottles and follow this---what we will typify as an---Indian, a certain Mr. Watha, on his journey.

The Indians (we can hardly call them Native Americans at this stage since it was they who were the immigrants: just off the canoe and about to displace earlier inhabitants as we will hear in a later broadcast) were slowly and relentlessly pushing their way eastward, a process they referred to as manifesting their destination. A few weeks before our Mr Watha met the abbot his people had arrived in the area and had settled at 2132 Edgemere Drive1. Because, apparently, of certain ecological factors, the details of which have been forgotten over the generations, they named the lake and its environs Itchyskeeter.

Itchyskeeter is, no doubt a term in their ancient tongue the details of which have been forgotten over the generations.

Having seen the snow-covered abbot, Watha left the wild Park Ave area to return to Chili (which in those days was pronounced Chilli) and as he walked he thought hard about the meaning of his strange encounter: who was that masked man, and why was he masked with snow? He, of course had to name2 this new creature: this strange new creature with its snow covering: this thing like an old man wearing an igloo. "Aha!" he thought: "That’s it!" He interjected: "That is what he shall be called", he concluded: “The Old Man Who Wears Igloo”!

Now let us pause for a moment to put this into an historical perspective. You have just witnessed the derivation of the name “Seneca”. The actual birth of a term for a major group of human beings. When, later, the Indians got to know the monks they learned from them not only woodsmanship, and the principle of associating in confederacies (for which the Irish have long been famous), but the Latin language. Translated, Mr Watha’s name for the abbot became Senex Candida (old white man). Out of respect (and astonishment) for (and at) the monks the Indians applied the name to the district, and as it became worn down to Seneca, to themselves.

So, at this crux, we leave our Indian friend Mr. Watha to the mists of time:
By the shores of Itchyskeeter...
By the smelly Deadfish Water,
He walked thinking of the abbot,
Musing, perplexed, on his habit,
Contemplating that strange abbot.
Snow had built up on the abbot!

Found he thus his homely wigwam,
Walked, not seeing, to his wigwam,
Till a friend cried, “Hi-ya! Watha”
Cheerio for now
from Richard Howland-Bolton.


1 2132 Edgemere Drive: Strangely our Grandma Pearl Howard lived in this very spot some centuries later.

2 Had to name: Those of you who know your Tallchap will remember that in his great poem the eponymous Mr Watha had the basic Adamic function of onomasticism.

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