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Personal Memories of Growing up in Hobart

Mary Peters Betz

The last time I spoke about the village and its’ many business and buildings.

This time I would like to tell you about my many . This also will be in no particular chronological order.

As you know, I was the youngest child in my family. It was both nice and at times lonely, although I must admit it was very nice having two older sisters and an older brother. I never lacked for gifts and presents. One advantage of being the youngest.

My parents rented our house from Edward Hanford. In our neighborhood, there were four other girls, Margaret and Ruth Beach, Ethelyn Canfield and Josie Dunham. We did many things together, even getting into arguments, at which time, my mother would send everyone to their homes to cool off In the summer evening we would play hide and seek using the large tomb stones at the :front of the cemetery and sometimes catch lightening bugs in a jar under the street light. In the winter we would go riding downhill at the back of the cemetery where it was nicely terraced. We would be safe there. The bigger kids in town would ride down Pine St, starting at Wetmores’ house and riding clear down to Main St. There were not many cars in those days.

When I was really young there was a Jewish family who lived next to me for a time. One day, my mother heard me crying outside, as she looked out the window to see the problem, the father next door discovered that his daughter had taken all of my doll blankets to cover her own doll. Mom heard the father say to his daughter, – “the trouble with you is that you’re all Jew, you want ninety percent of everything”.

All of the neighborhood kids had roller skates – the kind that fit on the bottom of our shoes and were tightened in place with a special key which we would hang on a piece of string around our neck. These skates had four rollers, one at each comer, not in line like they have today. We became quite adept at avoiding the cracks between the stones – these were flag stones not concrete walks, although sometimes we would go to the school and skate on the concrete walk there.

One day as we were skating in front of my house, I fell, putting my right arm down to catch myself, when I got up, my arm was in a “U” shape. (My folks had always told me that if I hurt myself, I was to go to Dr. Browns’ next door for help), so that was where I went. Dr Brown was dressed in a white dinner jacket as he was ready to go to the Footes’ home for dinner. I said to him “Dr. Brown, I bent my arm, can you fix it?” He discovered that I had broken one bone and had splintered another like a green stick. He immediately placed two metal splints on each side of the break and bandaged it up. His father, who was visiting, sat there with the smelling salts to keep me from passing out. All the time this was going on, my mother was cleaning upstairs for the doctor, as he and his first wife Helen had divorced. Mom didn’t find out about this problem until everything was over. The best part was that I didn’t have to do much school work as I wasn’t supposed to use my arm, but of C011rse I did, so the doctor had my dad make two thick slabs of wood to use as splints, as these were stronger than the metal ones.

Living next to the doctor was at time very interesting, his father, Chester Brown lived in Newburgh, NY and owned and operated a drug store. He would make perfume and bring it up to me in little bottles. It smelled awful, but I thought it great. Dr. Browns’ brother, Dave was a dentist and his sister Mac was a nurse. A very nice family. Soon after the doctor moved in with his wife “Helen” who was a college instructor from the Midwest, they started to have problems and the doctor had moved to the Delaware Inn. One night late in the evening my parents heard a large moving van stop next door. Helen was moving all the furniture out, Mom called the doctor, who came to put a stop to this action. The problem eventually ended in the Delaware County court system and my Mother had to testify. Sometime later, the doctor married Frances Foote. In those days, it was usual for the local young people to serenade all newly married couples with a “homing” This consisted of many people congregating at the couples home, blowing car horns, banging pots and pans and generally making a lot of noise, sometimes even shooting a gun off The Browns had been expecting this and so for a couple of nights, they had left cider and donuts on the front porch – this was in October. Finally one night the noise started, Frances and the Doctor went out the back door and came over to our house to watch for a few minutes. Later, they went over to greet their guests. Sometimes, an especially unruly homing group would go in the homes and make all kinds of mischief – mixing up salt and sugar, dumping rice in the bed clothes and even short sheeting it. Later, the Doctor had Maple Bank hospital and house built and had gone to live there, During the war, when the doctor was in service stationed” : Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland, I would stay for a week at a time with Beverly and Bonnie and we would all go to school during the day. Many nights I would have to get up and walk from one end of the house to the other to answer the telephone. Some people would not know he was in service.

In June 1941, my oldest sister was married in Kingston and all of my family attended. My brother and his wife had come for the weekend. They were both working at a state hospital in Orangburgh, New York. On Monday morning it had been planned for my brother who was twenty five, to have his tonsils out at Dr. Brown’s hospital. His wife was sitting beside the operating table holding his hand and he died during the operation. Apparently the ether had affected his heart. He was buried here in Hobart on Wednesday and the next day my other sister, Janette had planned to marry George Stevens. My parents would not let them change their plans as it was to be a very small wedding. Needless to say, that week was devastating to our family. I was allowed to skip the rest of the school year – two weeks and even passed my grade. Later years when I had to have my own tonsils out, Dr. Brown also did the operation, This was at the Stamford hospital. His hands were really shaking. I had told my sisters before hand, but I didn’t tell Mom. I didn’t want her to worry all night.

While I was growing up, there was a blind lady who lived across from the cemetery. We kids were always cautioned not to leave our toys on the sidewalk so than Anna could fall over them. She had not always been blind and knew my dad when she could still see. She would often ask Mom

if any of us children looked like Dad. Since she had always lived in the neighborhood., she knew how to walk around and not get lost. I often watched her walk up Maple Avenue on her way home from downstreet. There was a very large butternut tree growing near the comer of the sidewalk turning to go down to the Methodist church. She always seem to know exactly when to “whack” that tree with her cane, this told her when to angle down to the church and then turn on Pearl St. to her house. Sometimes though, she would decide to go home by way of the railroad tracks, my Dad would have a fit about this, but how she knew exactly when to start up the bank at the back of her house was always a mystery to me. We kids used to like to try to read her Braille book.

There was another elderly deaf lady from New Jersey, who would come to Hobart each summer in the house next door to Annas’. I was always told that the two of them would fight like cats and dogs. This lady was named Kate. She hired my dad to raise the roof of this house to make it a true two story, instead of a story and a half He also made a beautiful set of stairs going upstairs with low risers as she couldn’t lift her legs very high. Later, when Kate had to enter a nursing home in New Jersey, my parents were able to purchase this house for $1500. Eugene Storie, a local business man, loaned them the money and said “pay me whenever you can” at no interest. I know it took Mom about fourteen years to pay it off My Dad died before this happened.

Living next to the church, I was always very involved with all their activities. I even completed five years perfect attendance for Sunday School. If I was at my Grandparents in Kingston, I would ask the Sunday School teacher there to sign a paper stating that I was in attendance. I have a pin showing this achievement. Childrens Day in June was the first time in the summer that I would get a brand new dress to wear and white shoes if I had them. Also, I had to go in the field behind Cowans barn and gather field daisies to decorate the alter that Sunday. Christmas time at the church was also a little different than what might occur today. The first half of the evening was the Nativity play. We each had a costume for each part we had. I, somehow, was always chosen to play “Mary” with a blue and white costume. Freddie Knise was always “Joseph”. We had a wooden cradle stuffed with hay and c. flashlight buried in it. I always had to remember to turn the flashlight on. Each child in Sunday school had a part – shepards, wise men or angels. After the Nativity was finished, we would hear sleigh bells ringing and suddenly there was Santa Claus coming in the back of the church, complete with all the ho-hos’. There was always a large live fir tree placed at the front of the church. Under this tree there was a present for each of the children who were in the Sunday school program. There was also a box (shaped like the animal cracker box) with a Christmas decoration and a string handle, filled with all kinds of hard candy for each child. Santa passed out all of these presents. I wonder how this program would be received by certain groups today.

Every New Years Eve, the firemen would host a roast beef dinner with dancing afterwords. This was held in the Hobart school. The dining tables would be set up along the main hall upstairs with a couple of stoves set up in the science room. This was the social highlight of the year. The firemen would each have a part in making this run smooth. The two things my dad did was call the surrounding farmers to ask for potatoes, turnips, squash and cabbage to be donated, and making the coffee for the dinner, Lew White always made the gravy. Dad would say to each person he called, that he was soliciting for the firemen. No one ever turned him down. One Christmas, one of my presents was a black toy dial phone, just like the real one. I would pretend to call people and say that I was “listing” for the firemen. Everyone from miles around attended this event and afterwords, the ladies would come in their long skirts and there would be dancing to a live orchestra, directed by Bert Pease. Later, this event was moved to the Hobart Hotel, after the third floor had burned and it was made into a community hall for the village.

All the school children on the east side of the train tracks had to walk to the Hobart school to catch the bus, and the Main St. children had to walk to the Community Hall. Each bus would only make one stop in the village – not like today. Every afternoon when we would get off the

bus we would walk to Meagleys’ corner and everyone would place their books on the flat corner stone and then walk to the post office , supposedly, to get the mail, and then some of the gang would stop at the grocery store and buy ice cream. I always went along but could never get the ice cream as I had no money. For several years after school I would go to the Post Office and Postmistress, Nellie Squires would give me a note and money to go to Hoyts grocery store to get a kidney for her cat “Rosie” which I would take to her house. I think I was paid 25 cents a night. During my Hobart school days, there would be four trains coming through Hobart each day. One from Oneonta to Kingston at 7:30 am, bringing the mail and Oneonta Stars, and one from Kingston to Oneonta a little later in the morning. Four elderly ladies living on the corner of Maple and Pearl St. hired me to go to the post office each day to bring them their mail before school. In the nice weather, I would ride my bike which made the trip much faster. In the winter, I would try figure out how to put chains on my bike, but,! never did. About this time, my dad taught me to whistle. I was so proud that I could do this, until one day, someone said to me “Don’t you know that whistling girls and cackling hens always come to some bad end?”

I can still remember where I was when I heard over the radio that war had been declared by President Roosevelt. It was a very frightening time of my life. I certainly couldn’t anticipate at eleven years old, how my life would be effected. Ration books assigned to each person, for car gas, new shoes and clothing, sugar and meat. You could get these if you had “points enough” (As an aside – during the war a family living on a farm on Roses Brook was arrested for having a “still” at their farm to make liqueur. They had many illegal 50 pound bags of sugar to be used in the process.) We would save tin cans, tin foil md used cooking fat to turn in for the war effort.

During the war years, someone had built a small building on the rise behind the telephone building. Each village in the United States was supposed to have one of these lookout spots to watch for enemy airplanes. It was manned twenty four /seven for two hours each. The men would do nights and the women would be on duty during the day. Since I lived so near this building, many people not wanting to take their turn, would call me to take their turn for them. Each time a plane went over, we had to call a certain telephone number and tell them the type of plane and the direction it was going. Also during the war years, I would receive a call in the early evening to go over to the school ground and lay on the ground and wait for the womens emergency group headed by Dr. Corke to come and look me over and determine my “injuries” and proceed to bandage me up.

Our sixth grade teacher, Miss Gadsby decided that an of the class should learn to knit and make squares to be made into an afghan for the soldiers. Since I was the only one who knew how to knit, I was appointed teacher for the everyone including the boys. Needless to say, this didn’t get too far.

When I was attending school at the Hobart school, every Friday afternoon, a lady from Treadwell, named, Mrs. Storck would come to school and for a time, she would give each of the Protestant students religious education, and at the same time, Father McNamara, the Catholic priest in South Kortright would gather the Catholic students, taking them to another location from the class room for their religious education. Can you imagine schools allowing this today!

Some times on Sunday afternoons, we would drive to Harpersfield to visit my aunt and uncle. One afternoon, we Cai’lle home over Whiskey Hollow (again, as aside, Whiskey Hollow, Peters Road and Odell Lake road were where all of the Peters family – my family, lived in the 1800 and early 1900′ s) As we were coming down the hill where one can look across to Hobart village, we could see a large plume of black smoke coming from somewhere in the middle of the village. Of course I was excited and said” I wonder what’s on fire.” After a few minutes, my dad quietly said, “it could be our own ranch”. I wanted him to hurry and drive faster, but at the same safe speed, we made it home. It turned out to be next door, where one of the sons had started a fire in their garage. People had gone in our house to close all the windows to keep the smoke out.

As I was the only child still living at home, I did many things with my mother. Every summer we would go to Ossining to visit Luther and Mildred Hannum. He had been the Methodist minister here in Hobart and had lived next door to my parents for a few years before. Later he was named the Protestant Chaplain at Sing Sing Prison and they lived on the prison grounds. He had walked Martha Beck (the Lonely Hearts killer) and the Rosenburgs, the Russian spies convicted during W orId War II) to the electric chair. The Hannums would also come to our house each summer for a week. Luther liked to smoke a cigar each day and as my Dad also smoked, he felt comfortable in our home. Every day during those years, the New York Herald Tribune would print a little children’s story written by Thorton W. Burgess about all the forest creatures – Reddy Fox, Johnny Chuck and the Mother West Wind stories. Mr. Hannum would cut these out each day and send them to me. After our visit at their home, we would take the train into New York City and board the Hudson River Dayline and sail to Kingston to my grandparents home. I looked forward to this every summer.

Halloween night we would have a parade with the fire truck leading the way. As we had no large building, to hold a party in at that time, we would only walk around the block, outside, from the firehouse on to Railroad Avenue and then stop at the corner of Maple Ave and Main St, by the Grand Union where a couple of local people would judge our costumes. One year I won a pen and pencil set, one year a wool scarf and one year the best prize was a blue brownie camera. In 1939, there was a World’s Fair in New York and the couple who lived in Barbara Stevens house each summer were Dr. Joseph and Anna Peschkar, both chiropractors who had a winter home in Weehawken, New Jersey. They invited Margaret and Ruth Beach along with my mother and I to go to New Jersey and for two days Aunt Anna took us to the fair. I took many pictures there with my new camera.

A man who was crippled lived in a house on the corner of Pearl St. and Maple Park. His name was Charlie Grant and his legs were folded or bent under his body so he ‘could not walle. In the summer time he had a contraption with two bicycle wheels at the back and one bicycle wheel at the front to which he had attached bicycle pedals which he turned with his arms to propel himself all over town. This worked very well in the summer, but not good in the winter. Roy Tyler, a local mechanic and airplane pilot made Charlie a miniature race car shaped vehicle which had a washing machine motor to run it. Every once in a while Charlie would give us kids a ride on this machine. All in all, even though, Charlie couldn’t walk, he was very self sufficient as all the shop keepers and postal personnel would come out and help him with his needs. Charlie also ran a successful bicycle repair business. Dad would always tell me to go to Charlies’ to have him fix my bike.

My Dad was quite strict with me – I could never go down street wearing shorts, I always had to change in to slacks or a skirt. I remember one winter night when I was in high school, South Kortright was to play basketball at Downsville. That was the longest trip the school went on for basketball games, so of course, everyone looked forward to sitting with someone “special” for the trip. That particular night there was a bad snowstorm and my father refused to let me go to the game, of course I was furious, but as it turned out, the buses did get stuck on the top of Bear Spring mountain and had to wait to be rescued. Even so, my Dad and I were very close, I think I tried to make it up to him that I wasn’t a boy. We would go fishing together. I didn’t mind putting the worms on the hook, but I hated when we had a dry spell with not many worms and then I had to catch grasshoppers for bait. One year he and I scanned both the Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward catalogs for the right fish pole and reel for me to order. He and I also went to many Sunday afternoon Town baseball games, which were held on the grounds on Frog Alley in Stamford where the present NYSEG building is. I guess this is why to this day, I am an avid baseball fan.

When I was in Junior High school, South Kortright had a football team. “One day during a scrimmage game after school one of the players, John Golon who was in my class in school was tackled and died on the field. Of course, this ended South Kortrights’ encounter with football. Johns’ brother, Joe, Golin was the student who wrote the schools alma mater – “As the winds are gently blowing through the great Catskills” For the next few years, the school would take two bus loads of students to West Point to a football game – this was the era of Doc Blanchard and Davis. I would always go even though I knew nothing about football. I still don’t understand football – I can never find the ball.

Before our sixth grade was to go to the “new, big school”, Mr. Burke arranged for us to have a guided tour including the basement. When we attended the new school, all buses had to pull up to the west end of the building to load and unload. The frc. 1t of the building was only grass and a sidewalk. Every morning as the buses, were unloading, Mr. Burke would stand down at that end of the hall, pretending to read the daily Star. Somehow, he always knew when I was passing as he always said “Good Morning, Mary Pete”. I guess he knew it was me as I was probably talking as usual!

Mr. Burke ran the school with a tight rein. School started at 9 am and ended at 4:00 pm. Each day we had ten periods each forty minutes long. Seventh and tenth periods were designated study periods. This was because so many of the students lived on farms and had many chores to do after school and many times there wasn’t time for homework. During these study periods, students could use the library and or get extra help from the teachers. Seventh period was always used for band practice. Occasionally seventh and tenth would be combined at the end of the day for a special assembly. That day the periods would go from sixth to eighth then ninth. Students would return to their homerooms to march down to the auditorium and enter by classes as the band played. If you played in the band, as I did, you would be excused a little early to get in place. (By the way, I was the first timpani drum player in South Kortright under Linus Houck, our first band director. I also played the bass drum and glockenspiel under Larry Cross).

The band also played during half time of all home basketball games. At this time the lights in the gym would be turned off and the band would play a march which they could play in the dark and Helen Marie King would twirl her lighted (at each end) baton. Also,during my school years, the boys and girls were never allowed to eat lunch at the same time in the cafeteria. The girls ate first while the boys played in the gym or outside, and then they would change places. Each group only had 20 minutes to eat. During our senior year, my table (everyday the same girls) persuaded Mr. Burke to allow us to stay a little longer if we weren’t finished eating!!! A huge concession at that time!!

At the end of the day, students were also required to return to homerooms making sure all desks were lined up in the row properly, there were no pieces of paper on the floor and most importantly, all shades must be positioned down to the first “mullion” or first wood strip on the windows. This presented a neat and pleasant picture of the building to the cars passing on the highway in front. Shades every which length presents a sloppy look to the building. All this had to be done before the teacher would excuse us to go to the buses.

At this time the school burned coal for heat and each time a load of coal would be unloaded at the back of the school, by hand, the teachers on the back side of the building had a hard making herself heard over the sound of the coal falling down the chute.

One day, over the loudspeaker, Mr. Burke announced for the Hobart students that Helen Hayes, the actress would be at the community hall as she was electioneering for Thomas Dewey, then the Governor, who was running for the Presidency. I went up and got her autograph.

Also, during the war years, Mrs. Alice Mclean of South Kortright had started an organization called, “American W omens Voluntary Services.” One weekend in October she had invited women from all over the world to come to her home in South Kortright for a meeting. They used our school and school buses for their meetings. On Sunday of that weekend, Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt came to address the group. Mrs. McLean had invited the local residents to come and see Mrs. Roosevelt. Even though my Dad was a staunch Republican, my Mom and sister and I went. Someone in the crowd urged me to go up and get Mrs. Roosevelts’ autograph. Just as I came up to her, the band started to play the Star Spangled Banner, so of course, I had to stand there and wait. As I stood there, Vin Cantwell took my picture with Mrs. Roosevelt and Mrs. McLean. My Dad didn’t say much.

Mr. Burke also arranged for me to go Philadelphia during my sophomore year for a Red Cross convention. I had absolutely no experience or history with the Red Cross, but since this was a free trip he signed me up. At this time, several hotels in Philadelphia had experienced fires, so the attendees were housed in the private homes of the many local people connected with the Red Cross. Three of us girls and two chaperons, from Roxbury, Fleischmanns and Hobart were housed in a lovely farm house in Paoli. They had a maid, a couple of sheep “mowing” the front grass, The last night we were there, the host couple took us to the country club for a lovely dinner. As this was to be during Regents week, Mr. Burke arranged for me to take my tests at a different time that the other students. All except Business Math which I was not doing well in~ Mr. Lottridge apparently couldn’t get through my thick head! So Mr. Burke said for me to come once a week to his house in the evening and he would tutor me. In August, I had to go to a school in Oneonta to take this regents. I think I was the only girl, most of the rest of the people were war veterans trying for their high school diplomas as they’” ad left school to enlist. I passed my test with a 85, which for me was great! I never took any math higher than business math! Speaking of regents, I never knew that regents was optional as Mr. Burke mandated that every student take it. During regents week, the double doors between the upstairs study hall and the library would be opened and Mr. Burke would stand at the front of the room and say very loudly, “READ THE DIRECTIONS BEFORE YOU START’! Several years later when I was working as a telephone operator in the Stamford telephone office, one evening, I picked up a coin box light and heard this voice say “1 have lost my money, 1 was just downstate and there, one had to put the money in first to get the operator” recognizing the voice, I replied “Mr. Burke, don’t you know, you must read the directions before you start” Years later when I told Mrs. Burke this, how she laughed.

During my high school years, I did many things to earn money. Every Friday and Saturday night I would babysit and sometimes I would even babysit for a whole weekend. The Palm family lived in an apartment at the Montgomery homestead (Al Weinman’s horne) and on a Friday night I would go to their house to stay with Charlie, Beverly, Danny and Emma for the whole weekend while their parents would go to Cornell University for some event. It was interesting to say the least, to this day, the boys still like to tease me. I would also clean houses on Saturday, for Mrs. E.L Foote, or Mrs.Vida Lamport or Mrs .Bob Hoyt. It was at Hoyts’ that I first experienced homogenized milk. I thought it best thing I had ever tasted. I would also go to Dr. Browns every evening after supper and wash their supper dishes for I think 50 cents a night.

Also, for two summers, I would work for Edna Foote, taking care of son Eddie the third. Father Eddie Foote had show horses which he and Edna would take all up and down the East coast to horse shows. This experience showed me the “side of the “wealthy” peoples’ lives that 1 would never had seen otherwise.

After the third story of the Hobart Hotel burned, and it was turned into a community hall, every Wednesday night we teens of the village would have “teen canteen” night from 7 to 9. Different adults would chaperon us. We could play ping pong, play the piano, dance to records and just “chill out” as they say today. Also, Mrs. A.L. O’Connor, the judges wife who was a very staunch teetotaler, started which was known as the LTL (little temperance league) Most of the village kids joined at Mrs. Canfield’s horne once a week to sing and have someone tell us the evils of drink and have some refreshments My mother said I could go, “but don’t you sign a thing!! !”

Two of our classmates in high school were twins, a brother and sister named Simmons who lived on a farm just outside of the village by the intersections of Whiskey Hollow road. On the second of February that the twins turned 16, they celebrated by hosting a sleigh ride for their classmates. We traveled to Stamford on a farm wagon piled with hay and pulled by a tractor. We went up the back road and home on the front road with a cake and refreshments when we reached the farm house again. And this was a school night!!

In other places, I had mentioned the Cillis family who owned the candy store on Main Street.

The one son, Tony, had a sever impediment in his speech, although he was extremely knowledgeable where money was the topic. At the time that Tony was in the lower grades at school, there was a building on Maple Avenue located next to the river. In this building was a grocery store (which I don’t remember), and one day the owner hung himself with a banana rope. This was apparently the main topic of conversation in the classroom that morning. Finally, Miss Smith calmed everyone down in enough to start the class. About 10 am, Tony put his head down on his desk and started sobbing loudly. When Miss Smith could get Tony calmed down, he said to her “b- b- but he owed me 50 cents. Much later when son Jim was in the army and stationed in England, dad Mike wrote to him and said “send money, the car needs new tires” Jim wrote back and said “buy your own tires!”

When I was quite young, Mike had an open back truck which he would fill with vegetables and fruits in the summer and he would drive around the village so the women could buy what they liked that day. He would call out “watermelons and mushrooms. There was also a man named John Cornell, from Bloomville who owned a meat market, who would drive through the village each week with his truck with various cuts of meat for the housewives to buy. Sometimes he would give each of us kids a hot dog – raw! We never got sick either!

As you can maybe see I had a very good childhood living in a small village.