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More Stories - The Way We Were
In the days before air conditioning was common, everything in Florida except the "natives" just shut down. Many business closed completely, others went on skeleton staff, laying off most of their employees and putting many long-timers on half time. Scarcity, misery and hunger were common (see Is Overeating Natural?)
I'd already been laid off at one place when the owners went to the Catskills for the summer, and was working at a miserable job sorting delivery tickets at a dry cleaners, the only good thing being that the tiny, glassed-in office was air-conditioned (sort of!). Just before the 4th of July holiday, I got my pink slip.
A girl from our Youth for Christ group worked nearby and we often lunched together. That day when we went on break, she was crying. She also had gotten her summer layoff notice, but additionally, her stepmother's grown son had been in a horrific auto accident just north of Albany, New York. He wasn't expected to live, and the next day they were leaving for Glen Falls, driving straight through to try and make it before he died.
My rent was due, I had my last paycheck, and no prospects. I asked if I could go along. Her father agreed, so I did a quick packing job, cashed my paycheck and went with them. From Glen Falls, I took the bus to Ithaca, where I surprised my grandfather Wilbur Hine (see A Powerful Time of Year) by asking him to come get me. He asked if I could continue on to Newfield, so I did. I spent the next couple of months with them. I wish I'd been a better guest and helped them more, but I didn't realize at the time that I should have. (That's a teenager for you!) I spent a little time with Uncle Bob and Aunt Jeanette (see Jeanette Hine: Last Laugh) in Newfield. I also spent a lot of time with Aunt Amelia (see Left on the Shelf), feeding, bathing, changing her bed, etc. which I'm sure gave Grandma Hine a needed break. As word got around, I "babysat" several very elderly ladies while their family went away for the day or weekend, learning a whole lot as I listened to their stories of bygone times.
As we inched into a chilly fall, Grandpa suggested I might like to stay awhile with my late grandmother's family, especially since there was work there as it was apple harvest time. Great-grandmother Tupper's barn had been converted into a small packing house for the once-famous Tupper orchards, now in their final decline. The pickers stripped the trees and brought us the apples in crates. These were sorted and rolled into bushel baskets. We were provided with a shallow, concave "pan" into which we put some of the most attractive ones, stem down. This apparatus was then compressed to hold the apples in, inverted onto the bushel basket and released, leaving an attractive face on each bushel.
I stayed up the hill with my mother's cousin, Catherine Tupper Brashear, her mother Eileen Tupper, known at "Toddy" to her grandkids (Uncle Theo's wife - they lived apart on and off for years) and Catherine's three children, Billy, Buster and baby Bonnie. Catherine worked there too, and at "nap time", Billy would bring baby Bonnie down the hill to be nursed (see Double Satisfaction).
Let me say that, while multitudes in my family are or have been teachers of one thing or another, I have no patience. How anyone can keep their sanity while trying to explain things to pupils who lack, in many cases, the capacity, motivation or desire to learn, is beyond my comprehension. Every teacher alive that's even halfway doing their job, at least in the USA, deserves medals and certainly more than they are being paid!
But give me a really intelligent pupil with a mania to learn, and I'm there for the duration. Billy was such a person. I remembered him as being about twelve, but he was big for his age and wise far beyond his years; he had to have been only nine or ten. I spent most of my time with him when I wasn't working. It was like talking to a small adult.
Billy wanted to play the piano. In the six weeks or so that I was there, Billy learned to read music, finished the "kindergarten" stage and was well through the first grade level. Although piano was my forte, for years in school I had played the French horn in both orchestra and band. Other deep interests of mine were biology, history, archaeology, fossils and sociology, and Billy and I spent hours discussing everything we could think of. His mind was like a sponge; his powers of observation as well as his memory were extraordinary, and he had an indefatigable curiosity about everything, even at that tender age.
Abruptly our lives diverged, unfortunately never to meet again. My friend called from Glen Falls. Miraculously her step-brother had survived and was mending, and they had to get back to Sarasota before someone else took their jobs, and I went with them.The next year Billy signed up for French horn in school, because "cousin Bess plays French horn", and I'd told him how glorious an instrument it was when played well. I understand from my mother that Billy was hurt when I married Floyd, as he "expected me to wait for him to grow up so he could marry me".
I never saw Billy again, although from time to time Mother sent me updates. I followed his career more or less. When I began to post family history and links on this website, Billy was on the list to eventually contact, trade stories with and possibly get him to post some things of his own. I left it until too late.
From my mother, the bad news - Billy had to be rushed home ill from something he apparently picked up in China (archaeology isn't the healthiest field to be in!). He never shook the illness off, and died on February 2nd, 2000. He was buried where he started his incredible life journey, near Ithaca, New York. But he will live on forever in my heart as that incredible little kid with the big brain and enormous curiosity, and in the hearts of his numerous family members, associates and friends, as well as for his great body of work and contribution towards better understanding our common human roots.