CGP Community Stories

Ellen Weir, November 14, 2012

Title

Ellen Weir, November 14, 2012

Subject

Environment & management
Small Business
Cooperstown, NY
Family
Nelson Avenue
Divorce
Main Street

Description

Born in 1951, Ellen Weir grew up in Cooperstown, New York on Nelson Avenue. Ellen was a self-proclaimed “wild child.” She has two brothers. Both her mother and father are deceased. When her parents divorced Ellen moved to California for ten years where she attended graduate school at John F. Kennedy University. Ellen returned to Cooperstown after receiving her master’s degree in clinical psychology; however, she could not find steady work.
In the 1980s, Ellen went into business with a friend, opening a small boutique on Main Street in Cooperstown called Homescapes. This business sold home decorations including rugs, lamps, furniture, and crafts. As more of Cooperstown’s economy became oriented around baseball following the opening of the Cooperstown Dreams Park in 1996, Ellen left Homescapes. Ellen, however, had developed another small business while running Homescapes, called Goldpetals. This business focused on organic, healing health and beauty products Ellen made herself. Goldpetals was still in operation when this interview was conducted.
Ellen talked about a variety of topics in this interview including her personal life, how Cooperstown has transformed over the years, and current environmental issues in upstate New York. Some of the environmental issues Ellen talked about included hydrofracking, pollution, and alternative forms of energy.

Creator

Michelle Paulus

Publisher

Cooperstown Graduate Program, State University of New York-College at Oneonta

Date

2012-11-14

Rights

New York State Historical Association Library, Cooperstown, NY

Format

image/jpeg
2536x2073 pixels
audio/mpeg- Track 1
27.5 MB
audio/mpeg- Track 2
27.5 MB
audio/mpeg- Track 3
16.6 MB

Language

en-US

Type

Sound
Image

Identifier

12-010

Coverage

Cooperstown, NY
"1951-2012"

Online Submission

No

Interviewer

Michelle Paulus

Interviewee

Ellen Weir

Location

539 Christian Hill Road
Cooperstown, NY

Transcription

Cooperstown Graduate Program
Oral History Project Fall 2012

MP= Michelle Paulus
EW= Ellen Weir

[START OF TRACK 1, 0:00]

MP:
This is November the 14th 2012, interview of Ellen White Weir by Michelle Paulus for the Cooperstown Graduate Program oral history collection, CGP Community Stories. This interview is recorded at 539 Christian Hill Road, Cooperstown, New York.
Will you tell me a little bit about your childhood and what it was like growing up in Cooperstown?

EW:
Childhood was really ideal. It was climbing trees, it was hanging out in the woods and exploring, playing baseball. Lots of kids on Nelson Avenue where I grew up. Parents weren’t so media savvy as they are now, so we were out climbing hundred foot trees and nobody was too concerned. It was a good time; I think pretty innocent. And we were very fortunate to live in a small community where you could knock on somebody’s door and ask for cookies, and you would get them. (Laughs)

MP:
And what about school? What was school like for you?

EW:
School really did not mean that much to me other than, you know, friendships. I wasn’t really interested in what they were teaching me. I had a couple teachers that stand out in my mind. Mrs. Champlin, I think she was fifth grade, and Mrs. Hollis who made me realize that if I studied and really had help with math I could ace it instead of feeling like a dummy. I went to boarding school when I was a junior and that made more sense to me because you really had to focus and for some reason the classes were more interesting. I studied art history and things that were of more interest to me.

MP:
And you mentioned Mrs. Champlin. What was she like? What made her stand out?

EW:
We she was just so kind and supportive and I think it was a pretty small class back then. I just remember her being loving and supportive. And we did have some kind of family connection, I think. So she knew my family. But she was a strong, smart woman, and just had an imprint on me.

MP:
Were you involved with any extracurriculars in town or just hanging out?

EW:
Yeah, I mean I think I played some sports, I don’t really remember, but when I got to boarding school I was in a small choral group called the Mischords. There was, I think, nine of us, and we made a record. I had a pretty good voice. I was in choir and chorus all through school. Music interested me. I took piano lessons. Boarding school, I played a lot of sports that you had to play, but I was not too much of an athlete really. Not a lot of extracurricular activities, no.

MP:
And where was boarding school? Was it nearby, was it…

EW:
It was outside of Boston. It was called Walnut Hill, which is now a performing arts school. When I went there it was all girls and a lot of interesting women I met and some of them I still keep in touch with. You know we got into all sorts of trouble but I won’t get into that.

MP:
If you would like to elaborate I would love to hear some stories.

EW:
No, I was always sneaking off campus and taking cabs to some boy’s dorm. I snuck into Boston a few times. It was just something that you did, or maybe I did. I think I took a lot more risks than I realized at the time. I think I was a little bit more of a rebel than a lot of the kids that were with me. But it was all in good fun.


MP:
Were they any challenges that stick out? Moving so far from home perhaps or did you…

EW:
I was homesick at first. I wanted to come back. I think my parents felt better that I was there because I was sort of wild child. But after a while I settled in. I figured out that my matching outfits weren’t exactly what was in there, it was more like unshaved legs, blue jean skirt, and a turtleneck. It was much cooler than my little blazer and kilt that my mother had sent me there with [laughs]. I graduated from there in 1969 so it was pretty crazy times. I was curious about the world; I really wanted to explore everything. I was determined to do that.

[TRACK 1, 5:27 Discussion of family, affair, and divorce]

MP:
Will you tell me a little bit about your parents? What were they like?
EW:
My parents were sort of typical parents of that time in that my mother stayed home and cleaned the house and did all that stuff and my father went to work everyday. He was a businessman. My grandfather had been Bruce Hall, who is actually my mother’s father. But when my parents got married my grandfather died and my father went into the business. And it turned out he was an incredible businessman; he built it up into a corporation and several businesses. So he walked to work. They were very kind people. There was not a lot of art and culture in my house. My father had grown up on a farm. And my mother had been sort of protected growing up in Cooperstown, and she went away to college but got too homesick and came home. She always pointed that out as a weakness of hers, I don’t think it necessarily was, but she tended to put herself down later in life.
There were a lot of parties. I can remember coming downstairs in my little nightgown and braids and asking them to “please be quiet” at the top of my lungs. Mr. Lippett was jumping up and down on the couch. They had been drinking manhattans and martinis and it was that time. I think they had a great time. They had a great bunch of friends. We went down south to Myrtle Beach in the winter with a bunch of people. I think they were quite content until they weren’t.
My mother ended up changing a lot and becoming a real amazing, strong, vibrant, creative woman who ended up helping a lot of women through divorce, which is what she went through with my father. I think I was around twenty-one when that happened, when they split up. My parents were fine. I was close to my parents. I moved back here because of my parents, about twenty-five years ago. I got to be with them when they were old, and I got to be with them when they died, pretty much. I feel fortunate that I knew them for so long and got to see a lot of changes they went through.
I think they were very proud of me. I think my father was a little ashamed of the way he had led his life towards the last twenty years but that’s the way things go. He ended up getting remarried and it was a big deal because it was a small town. That was unfortunate for everyone. And it never really did heal itself. But the good thing that came out of it was that my mother got very strong, and got to be an independent person. She got to see a different side of life than she would have seen if she had stayed married in that particular traditional way that my father looked at things. I think that it was good that it happened in the long run.

MP:
You said that you thought your father was perhaps ashamed. What do you mean by that, by the way he lived his life?

EW:
I think he knows he screwed things up when he had an affair. I think he came from very, sort of solid, traditional, a mother that was very strict. They would not have approved at all of what he did, and I think that stayed with him. I think he was happy with his second wife. She took good care of him, but I think that the whole time it was a problem. It was a problem for our family, my mother. Holidays were a nightmare.
I had somebody interview my father because my father was a World War II vet. He was in the Marines and he was a major and he went through a lot. I wanted to hear about his life and he never talked about it, like most of those men didn’t. At one point I put a camera with a microphone in his den, where he sat and had his drinks in the evening. He never said anything. I gave him a journal [laughs]. It came back blank. So finally I sent this really beautiful girl over there named Rita. She was writing stories about people. I don’t know if she was connected to the graduate program, she worked for the local newspaper. She was amazing. So she and my father drank a few, somethings. She was very pretty, and he talked to her. And one of the things he said was that he regretted [the divorce]. That was the biggest regret of his life. Things happen and I understand. But it made me see my father in a different way. Maybe it made me see him as human because he had always been sort of; I had been daddy’s girl. I had two brothers, but I was the oldest and the only girl. I think it was hard for me to sort of get that he had that side to him that was very much into the social life here. Very different than my mother.

MP:
You said your mother changed and she helped people through divorces.

EW:
Yeah, my mother changed the laws of New York State for divorce and community property. I’m not sure the details of it. I just got out her letters. My mother wrote letters like this. [Shows a manila envelope full of letters from her mother.] Pages and pages and pages of typed letters. She had a lot of energy. This is when I was in California. I lived out there for ten years. After she got depressed, after the divorce, she got seriously depressed and ended up in the hospital. She met a nurse who taught her about Transcendental Meditation and she got in touch with her anger. She got mad. And it was a big divorce case. It was here and I got flown in from California to testify against my dad. Because, of course, I had been Sherlock Holmes and found all his notes and things from his woman. Because that is what I do, I’m good at it. A lot of women from NOW organization [the National Organization for Women] were here. It was sort of a big case, because it was my mother’s father’s business. And my father was not really planning on being that fair. He was planning on being ok. He settled when he saw me.
So then after that my mother began counseling women going through divorce. And she started something, I cannot remember the name of it now, Women in Transition, I think, with some other women. She counseled women right out of her house. She went back to school at the age of sixty something and got her degree in counseling. My mother was well loved by this community. She was a pistol. You know, just full of energy. She played tennis through her seventies, was a good swimmer, loved to ski, and she was good for me when I was in business and having a hard time. It was nice to have her giving me advice. My father was also, because he was a businessman. So I was fortunate. Throughout the whole time I was in business, which was close to twenty-eight years, I had my parents. Very unusual.

MP:
You also said you had two brothers. What were they like?

EW:
I have a brother that’s maybe a year younger than me. Actually I’m sixty-one, he is going to be sixty November 21st I have to remember that. He’s had a lot of problems throughout his life. He was diagnosed schizophrenic when he was early twenties. In and out of hospitals and jail. My father helped him and really was there for him. Very smart kid but we have some bad genetics. I think he took a drug. He was so straight it was ridiculous. He was a jock. He experimented with something, which with our chemistry didn’t work well. So he’s had a tough life. He’s ok. He has been living on his own now for a long time. He lives in Massachusetts. He loves the stock market and he has some friends. I got him two cats from the SPCA and he loves them. He’s a really good person. He reminds me a lot of my father, very smart. Luckily for new medications he has been good.
My other brother is, I think, thirteen years younger than me. He lives in Ithaca. He’s an artist and he’s renovated and built houses and sold them. He’s never been married, neither of my brothers have. And I am hoping that David gets married because I’d like it if Eli had a cousin. We are close. We are going to get together for Thanksgiving in Ithaca next week. They weren’t here during all this but David came back and forth and really helped me a lot with my mother because the last four years of her life she was depressed. Lost her vision and her hearing. It was just disgusting for someone that vibrant. David helped me a lot.

[TRACK 1, 17:07 College, California, and business]

MP:
So after your boarding school you went on to college will you tell me a little bit about that?

EW:
So after I went to boarding school I went to Denver University because I heard it was a good party school. And it wasn’t a girl’s school. It was really big. I was sort of overwhelmed. It was a crazy time. You know there were protests on campus and the police were going through with their billy clubs. People were setting up tents. I was starting to get wild. I studied art but I didn’t last the year, I think I got kicked out because I got a puppy. I got a puppy, brought my puppy to my dorm. Oggie, Oglethorpe. One of the best dogs I ever had.
So then I came back here, I think, and went to live in a tree house in Hawaii with a lovely man who is a doctor’s son. It was Elizabeth Taylor’s brother’s land on Kauai. They were like three story tree houses; they were outrageous. It was beautiful there, so I stayed there for a while.
Then I traveled around a bit. I ended up at Goddard College in Vermont. That was also a wild time. I studied photography. I studied different arts. It was very prevalent in the arts, sort of a macho art scene. I learned how to print black and white photographs pretty decently. So I graduated from there in ‘72 or ’73. Then I was a probation officer in Otsego County here for two and a half years. That was interesting. I had a caseload of about twenty some kids who had gotten in trouble out of being stupid or just bad luck. I liked that, I really liked it. The beginning of my interest in psychology began when I was born into that family. So then my parents split up, and I got in my car with my cat and drove to California. And, came back about ten years later.
So I got my master’s degree out in California in clinical psychology. I studied family systems. So you took the whole family into the room. Obviously there was one person causing the problem who was probably being scapegoated because the way family systems therapists look at the situation is that everybody plays a role. And I loved it. It was great because it was very pragmatic. You know I was good at it, looked at the whole scene. You had to be fairly intuitive.
I graduated out there. Got married and divorced out there. And then came back here. Nobody had heard of family systems therapy, it was just like this weird thing you know, in ‘85. So I sort of gave up. I tried to do it but it just wasn’t happening. I had started a program out in California at a recreation center for kids. It was a multigenerational art program. So I had parents and siblings and everybody come in and do art projects. It was awesome. And I tried to do that here too. The East is always a little bit behind the West. Always. So nothing worked.
A friend of mine had started a store called Homescapes on Main Street in Cooperstown. She had been my best friend since I was three; grew up on Nelson Ave together. So I started hanging out there and going out with my high school honey, Michael. I had never lost touch with him; we had always been in touch. I went into business with her. It was fun. It was the 80s; people had money to spend. We had lots of ideas. I think I moved in with Michael sometime then. We got married. I think we got married in ‘86 and moved into his house, which he was building. The business changed a lot, my friend left and I stayed on. I added the rugs. I added the wood furniture, all this kind of furniture [knocks on wooden table]. Textiles, some interesting lighting, local crafts. It was a very wonderful store, and it was a meeting place for people. People really loved it. I had people breastfeeding their kids on my rugs. I had old people coming in just to chat with their friends. I loved it. I loved creating a beautiful space for people to enjoy and for people to sort of maybe imagine that that could be their home. Little pieces of it they would take back to their place and it would make them feel good. I used my master’s in clinical psych quite a bit from behind the desk and that was ok too. I met a lot of cool people and people who I am still friends with. I loved doing the window. The window was always different and exciting.
I had employees; they would come and go. I had some really nice employees that I became friends with. The rugs became the biggest part of my business. I don’t know why, but I just knew about rugs. It was like archetypal. It was like something from another lifetime. I knew what was beautiful. I knew what people wanted. My travels, I had been to Europe a few times and I had been living in California and I think all that influenced my vision. So I ended up designing, doing people’s houses because they liked what I did. That was fun. I would rather just sell them the rugs but sometimes it was fun to go into their environment and add some things. I couldn’t do really traditional because I was a little more eclectic than that. But I did, I pulled it off on a couple of occasions. I had traditional rugs that were really beautiful from Romania and Turkey and Iran and Pakistan. A lot of Mid-eastern rugs and then I did contemporary rugs also. I added a design center to the store when people seemed to need that, so I sold wallpaper and all that. It was constantly evolving. And when things didn’t work out I just changed it. That’s what business should be. I was lucky to be able to do it for as long as I did.

MP:
So you were in California for ten years, you said, just doing school and everything like that?

EW:
Yeah, there are a lot of things in California I would rather not talk about because I was pretty wild. I was experimenting. In a way I think I was trying to find God, which is okay. I sort of wish that I had stopped partying about five years earlier and started having kids or settling down into something, but I didn’t. I think part of it was a reaction to my parents’ divorce too. I think I just was acting out. I was trying to figure out what the heck things were about for me. I had always been independent and I had always been strong. I just went on this journey. I was a flower child. I was out there. I was hiking, doing all the things people do in California but I was also experimenting with drugs, men and all that.
I got married to an artist who had been a teacher at my school actually back here. He was older and from England. I just felt like I had to get married for some reason, it was ridiculous. It didn’t last long and it was not a very positive experience. I have great friends out there and great memories. I came back here. I needed some shelter and I knew I could come back here and get that.

MP:
Had Cooperstown changed at all from the time you had left until the time you came back? Or was it pretty much…

EW:
It was still pretty conservative. My store was definitely some kind of weird explosion on Main Street for people. A lot of people still liked doilies. Very Republican town. Republican in the way Republican used to be not right-wing lunatics like we’ve got today. The Rotary was big in the town. When I came back I didn’t really fit in in some ways again, but when I started my business I had a lot of wealthy people who were my patrons and I socialized to a certain extent because I had to. I liked them. There is a social scene in Cooperstown that’s pretty intense. I slowly backed out of all of that because it is not really who I am. I liked most of those people one on one but I hate cocktail parties. It didn’t suit my husband at all who grew up on a farm here and never left. He’s an outdoors guy and wants to just be on his tractor. He doesn’t want to be sitting, standing in somebody’s beautiful living room drinking cocktails. It wasn’t our thing. I have a lot of friends here who are artists and farmers.
Coming back here was different but it’s changing now. It’s really nice. It’s getting a lot of younger people, a lot more openness in ideas, a lot more democratic in ideas, [START OF TRACK 2, 0:00] and with the gas drilling stuff that has been going on, with the threat of hydrofracking here, I’ve gotten to know a lot of people out in the hills who I did not know were here, and it made me feel much more part of a community.

[TRACK 2, 0:17 Business, Cooperstown, Nature]

MP:
What were some of the challenges of operating Homescapes?

EW:
Well, challenges paying bills. During the 80s it was pretty free flowing. People had money, they were buying things. Furniture was going out of there left and right. Big pieces, big rugs. It was challenging to keep it interesting for myself, because I never wanted to work in an office or place again that I wasn’t stimulated by. Keeping it interesting for my clients. Keeping it interesting for myself. Keeping it fresh.
It wasn’t hard for me having a child. I had Eli when I was thirty-eight. Because my mother was right up the street and my mother-in-law lives right down the road here. So I was very fortunate, I never had babysitters. There were times when that was hard but for the most part my life has been blessed in so many ways. I just keep a vision of how I want it to go, and I try and stay open to other ideas. I have a lot of very good friends.
Maybe the financial end of business isn’t really my cup of tea so to speak. My father was always amazed that I could even run a business. He would ask me about my ledger from last year to this year and the change in sales and percentage of increase. I had no idea because I didn’t keep track of anything. I mean I kept track of sales but I wasn’t a financial brain like he was. I was more into the creative aspect of it. But somehow I winged it. I winged it through the eighties and through part of the nineties and then it started to catch up with me because the sales weren’t as good and Cooperstown turned into a baseball town instead of a boutique town. So I was being shoved out. My father said, “Well, you’ve got thirty thousand people walking by your door, why don’t you sell them what they want?” And I said, “ No, I’m not gonna.” So I wouldn’t compromise and I had a lot of customers who didn’t want me to. That was the toughest time. It was so hard watching Main Street go down the tubes. My grandfather, my father, everybody had been in business on Main Street. All these people came in from the baseball world, which I think is a little dark. I won’t go exactly into what I think, but you can guess. They bought up a lot of the real estate and it was just an element that I didn’t like. I do not have any problem with the Baseball Hall of Fame; they actually had great customers through there. It was a wonderful museum. It was the element of the baseball camps and all this other junk that came with it. Cooperstown is a fragile economy so it took it out of balance.
So that was probably the biggest challenge. I think I hung in there five years too long because I was so determined to get it to work. I don’t know what I thought I could do to change the town. But I gave up. That wasn’t easy. That was, for me, very difficult. I didn’t know what I was going to do, and I wasn’t ready not to do anything. So I slowly moved to the back of the store, up into the back of the store and out. And, I built this building for a studio, not even having any idea what I was going to do with it. But I knew I had to have a place.

MP:
So you were talking about how you had a variety of objects at Homescapes like the rugs, the furniture, the local crafts. Did you have local vendors or where did those materials come from?

EW:
Some of them were local. I started to sell local furniture, local art. The store changed so much over the years I can’t even remember. People have told me they bought things from me and I’m like, “What?” But it was sort of just, I would go to the New York gift show and I would buy all sorts of things. You know I had tapestry pillows and interesting rugs with dogs on them and cutesy things like that. But also I would buy old furniture and upholster it in fabrics that I liked. It was really just a combination of things that I thought went together. The gift show was a big part of it but also local artisans.

MP:
And, after that you opened Goldpetals. Will you tell me a little bit about what that was like?

EW:
Yeah, Goldpetals actually started while I was still in business. I wanted to have a product that I could create from the ground up, so to speak. I didn’t know what it was going to be. I knew I wanted to make something really attractive and interesting. I went to a workshop in plant identification with some herbalists over near Utica. I had always been interested in nature. I feel very close to the earth. I have a strong connection to the woods and the land, mainly because of my upbringing I think, and my heritage. So, I went to this class and it turned out there were women from all different walks of life. We were identifying the weeds, which are really wildflowers. Doing all this stuff and the last project was making a salve, a healing salve out of a flower. When I was little I had a chemistry set. I had it in the basement. I was always mixing things up; stink bombs, changing things from blue to red. I loved it. I had a sink. I like that hands on kind of stuff. Creating things. This was perfect. You grow the flowers, dry the flowers, you infuse the flowers in olive oil in the sun. So visually it’s absolutely beautiful. And then you’re creating a product that’s healing for people and it makes them feel good.
Again, I didn’t want to completely isolate myself. I still had that instinct to help people, which I always have done. So, I started thinking about designs and created the label and the logo with a friend of mine and just developed it from there. I started to take a lot of herb classes. Learned about medicinal herbs and mainly I was always interested in herbs that healed the skin. That was sort of my focus. Then I self-taught myself aromatherapy and started making sprays and using essential oils in my products that I knew were also beneficial to the skin and to the whole person. I use a lot of lavender, which is antibacterial. It’s also a nervine, so its an antidepressant and makes people feel good. I don’t feel like I have changed that much. Over the years I have sort of always tried to make people feel good and been a counselor of sorts and now a healer of sorts. People come here to buy things. I have an Internet site Goldpetals.com and I sell some things over that. I don’t want the business to get big. It’s a nice small business; I don’t want employees again. I sell it at a few stores around here and I sell it at the farmers’ market. It’s gotten a name for itself. It’s probably been at least fifteen years I have been doing this.
Some people come here and they have a specific issue like their husband lost all their money on Wall Street and there is a particular scent that if she rubs into his wrists it makes him feel calmer. I can work with that kind of thing because I have been self-researching for almost twenty years, I think, all this information. So, I grow the flowers here. I have now started a nature camp for children where I am teaching them about the flowers and about making these products. It’s really fun. I think it’s important work. It’s, sort of I guess, when you get to a certain age you want to pass on the information that will be helpful and information that is meaningful. So that’s what I am doing now.

MP:
What made you decide to open the summer camp for kids?

EW:
I have no idea. It’s how everything has happened for me; I have absolutely no idea. I might have a guardian angel for all I know. I used to teach kids back in California. I have always worked with kids. Downs syndrome kids. Autistic kids. I worked with a recreation center out in California. Montessori kids. Then I stopped doing that and started doing other things, but I think children are an amazing audience. I am very lucky that it came to me. I just tried a camp for three days, two summers ago, with some friends’ kids. I have the perfect location here obviously because I have thirty-eight acres. I have lots of plants, and I have a huge pond that we put a beach on. Beach umbrellas, it’s just awesome. But I have an arts background and it comes naturally for me to teach kids art. And so art and nature go together and I also know a lot of people, at this point, because I had a business. I know all the artists. I know the musicians. So I bring them in for the kids. It’s just magic.
I set out tables out on the porch. The kids are like sponges they just want more and more information. You could put out this lavender [shows lavender stalk] and talk to them about it. The healing properties of this plant. They are like totally interested in it. Then you have them smell it and it smells like, wonderful. And then you say we can make some things with this. Then the next thing you know they are going, “What can we make?” I’m showing them the lavender oil that came from the plant after it had been distilled. And they smell it, and they love it. They want to put in on their skin. So then we talk about what we can make. So then we make bath salts, then we make creams, then we make lip balms, and then it’s like “what other scents do you have?” I let them smell rosemary. I let them smell lemon. I let them really get into it. That is ages six to twelve; it’s just where they’re at.
There’s no tech here. They aren’t hooked into their phones. Actually that was the first time last summer this kid brought their little pink phone in and I had to say, “Let’s put the phone away for the day.” It was cool, I hadn’t really thought about that. Everything we are doing is hands on and it has to do with what we can give back to nature, as opposed to just taking, which is what this society, this world, has got to learn. It’s more like what the North American Indians understood; you cannot just keep taking from the planet.

[TRACK 2, 14:15 Nature, environment, oil, hydrofracking]
MP:
You said you have been involved with the environment and nature your whole life. Do you know what really sparked that interest?

EW:
Yeah, that’s a good question. I don’t know. I know I had a closeness growing up in town, in the woods, in the water, in the lake fishing. I just had a natural love for everything that was out there. Swimming and water. I remember when I was eighteen or seventeen or maybe sixteen, I had a bikini on and I was down at the end of the lake. I had seen these huge boats on the lake. And I don’t now if I heard about it from someone, how they were polluting the water because they were too big. So I stood down at the end of the lake and I wrote “Don’t Pollute” on my stomach [Laughs] It’s just an image I have. I don’t know. I just knew what wasn’t good for the planet. My father was a staunch Republican and over the years we fought tooth and nails about coal and drilling and chemicals and this and that. I don’t think he ever… I think he was sort of surprised at where did I come from? “Where did this kid come from?” I’m not really sure. It must just be an accumulation of everything.
My grandmothers, on my mother’s side and my father’s side, I know were gardeners. They taught me about the different parts of the plants. I remember their gardens specifically. So I think the grandparents, even though I didn’t know them for very long, I think they had an influence on me.

MP:
And you’re really passionate about the environment still today. Can you talk a little bit about…

EW:
Yeah. I’m concerned that we are going to implode or explode or something. I don’t think it about it all the time but when I think of how we are so dependent on oil and how we are getting the oil. How men and greedy people are just drilling into this earth to get every little bit that’s in there out, it makes me really nervous because I know, because I am so connected to the earth, that everything is here for a purpose. All the plants help each other. The trees help each other. It’s amazing. They have an underground system. If you really feel that and know that then the idea that you would drill just to suck out all this oil that’s been there for thousands of years is insane. It’s totally insane to me. I understand people have to have work. And I understand that we are dependant on oil. But what I don’t understand is why we haven’t come up with something different. And use what is on top and up in the air and the sun and the wind; the things that are above the earth. Because the earth really is… It has an intelligence. When you start learning about plants you start feeling really connected to the plants. What they are doing with hydrofracking out west, down south, in Pennsylvania, and trying to do here is disgusting to me. They are polluting people’s water, the cows are dying, people are getting cancer. The wells are gone not to return. I refuse to let that happen here. I actually would lay down my life for it. So we will see what happens. I want my kid to be able to breathe the air.
We are already in a toxic situation because of the global warming. I have been sicker than normal this fall. Then I started reading. There is a lot more pollen because we had a drought and because plants are changing. Some plants are staying around longer. Everybody I talked to was sick in September, October and it’s not coincidence. We’re getting the wind from the Midwest, which is coal. We’re getting a lot of pollution here. It seems like a really pretty place and everything. But it’s all connected.
I have a chronic issue with my endocrine system. What they are talking about doing here, with this hydrofracking, is an endocrine disruptor. Which means it will make me sicker. It’s not a far-fetched idea. It’s documented. It’s going to screw up a lot of people. It’s going to screw up people’s possibility of getting pregnant, maturing in a proper way, their hormones are going to get messed up, their signals to their brain are going to get messed up. It’s disturbing. I’m glad in the sense that I am not going to live long enough to see the total destruction of this planet because if people keep going the way they are it’s going to be a sad story. I’m not preaching total doom and gloom. I’m saying it’s happening right now. I try and teach these kids about… I’m not heavy with them about this, but I try and teach them. We did composting and recycling and we made a garden without any chemicals. There are no chemicals used on this property, so this is a safe place for wildlife.
Probably coming out of the sixties too, I mean I was a hippie chick. I was a vegetarian for eight years. I got it then too. That was what was important. Stuff wasn’t really all that important. What we have in nature and what we have with each other is the most important thing. I was privileged, definitely. Grew up in a family that didn’t have to struggle for money. And I don’t have to struggle now. I have to work. I try and pass those ideas, the good ones, on to my little darlings that come here in the summer. It’s totally the best thing I ever did. I just finished a book, a Mac book, that’s going to be here any day. It’s forty-seven pages of the camp. That was a little one I did last year [Points out a small book on table]. It’s fun. I’m putting in some quotes in it about nature and some pictures of the barn and the property. Hopefully the kids will take it because I’m imprinting on them, I know I am. You’ve got to be careful with that and I understand that too. I think I am being. So that’s what I will do for a while now until I don’t do it anymore. I’m sure I will come up with something else [laughs].

MP:
How are you getting involved with the anti-fracking movement in town here, in the county?

EW:
Oh, let’s see. I have gone to quite a few meetings with the county, just sort of watching what people are doing. Written tons of letters to from the president on down. You know what do you do? You do what you can. I haven’t been as active as a lot of the people here. There’s a lot of people I really respect in the Cooperstown area who have gone door to door. They have gone to Washington. They have marched all over the place. Personally I can’t do it because of my health. The endocrine thing is an energy issue and I’m limited. So I have to use it the way I can. But I have tried to get people voted in here who are anti-fracking. Me and a lot of people have been quite successful. I’ve talked it up a lot on Facebook, gotten the word out. Talked to friends of mine who are politically connected. We can do all that; I encourage people to do all that.
I think really the most important thing we can do is pass it onto the next generation, the information. Because I don’t know what [President Barack] Obama is going to do, and I am a little irritated with him right now. I know he’s really smart, and I hope he’s not in a little bubble that thinks drilling is our way out of this, natural gas. Natural gas in actuality is just as dirty as coal. It’s still sucking stuff out of the earth and putting chemicals into the earth. I don’t get where these guys can come up with that’s okay. They are saying we are going to make sure it’s safe. So far, in anybody’s brilliant brain there is no safe drilling. So if they can prove that to us, fine. But in the meantime I hope he gets smart. Because he has a lot on his plate, I understand that, but I heard him talking about natural gas. He was also talking about sun, and he was also talking about wind. It’s not an easy solution. You see I’m not totally anti-nuclear. I have read quite a bit about nuclear power and I know that the waste from it is awful and there is no place to really dump it. But in France I read there is a company that is putting together nuclear plants and five percent of it isn’t recycled. I don’t know what that means, I’m not smart enough but I think that should be on the table as an option. And not of course putting it on a huge fault line, which they did in Japan and they did in California. Come on guys, let’s get real. There’s other places to put it. Maybe not necessarily near water. So I get frustrated.
My mother was really strong. She was such a political animal, that I probably couldn’t help it. My brothers really aren’t and my father really wasn’t. He really couldn’t be because he had to be who he was in the town. I’m going to hope for the best with this fracking thing. I’m not sure which way it is going to go.

MP:
And you said you have written letters all the way up to the president and back. Have you gotten any responses and if so….

EW:
Yeah, I have gotten responses. I don’t remember from who but I think [Governor Tom] Corbett from Pennsylvania wrote me back and basically what he said was a big lie because he ended up screwing up Pennsylvania, so badly. Richard Hanna, his wife was a friend of mine. He’s a congressman. I think he wrote me back but I don’t remember any of the details of it.
Mainly I have ended up being a part of the petitions, which have ended up being in the thousands, to ask them to reevaluate the health issues around hydrofracking. And now they’ve gotten eighty thousand, the DEC got eighty thousand responses. They have to do something. So they had to extend their deadline. I see how we can impact, which is interesting. That’s why I do like Facebook. I’m not into hearing about how somebody went and made spaghetti for their kids last night. But I am sort of interested in how fast information can travel, political information. And how you can impact people.

MP:
You were also talking about nuclear, wind, and sun power. Do you think these are just avenues that we haven’t really looked into? Or how do you think those are going to affect the future?

EW:
I have no idea. I think there is a lot of research being done on solar. I know there have already been cars around that could go without gasoline for twenty years but because of the big car corporations they’re not going to let those people in. And they are going to have to now. There are cars that can run on water. So let’s get real. Let’s get this country together and create some things that are going to help our planet. I don’t know. I don’t want a windmill in my backyard either. I think there are places to put wind energy and there are places not to. I think we have to be careful what we say no to now.

MP:
Are there any other causes you would consider yourself passionate about and if so what are those?

EW:
Well, let’s see. How about women’s rights [laughs]? Look at my bumper sticker. One of them says, “Keep your laws off my body.” That might say something about me. I think I’m obviously liberal in my thinking. I don’t really know what else I am passionate about other than the planet, children, my family. That is enough passion [START OF TRACK 3, 0:00] for somebody who is low on thyroid.

MP:
You mentioned Native Americans earlier. I was wondering if you could elaborate a little bit on that.

EW:
I just think that the Indians really had a closeness to the earth. A lot of the probably native people did because they had to. They weren’t distracted by everything. They had to live off the land. So if you live off the land and you eat the plants and you grow the rice you understand. Like I said before there is an intelligence to what you are growing and eating. We’ve gotten away from it, that’s all. I feel very sad about the Indians because I think they had a lot to give us. I see how it’s possible that your land can be taken away from you. It could happen to us. I think it would be the worst thing in the world if it happened to me.

[TRACK 3, 1:12 Family]
MP:
Well switching gears here for a little bit. Will you tell me about your family today, your husband and your son?

EW:
Sure. My husband is retired from driving a truck for the Town [of Otsego?]. He did that for twenty-seven years I think. He grew up on a farm so he’s been working on this property with me. This is where we come together is the land. We are very different. I couldn’t wait to get out of here. He never left. He grew up on a farm. I grew up in town. He never really wanted to explore the world; this was a big enough world for him. And it’s sort of the same with my son. My son is growing up not really curious about the bigger world. Which, you know, what do you do? You just have to accept who people are and that’s been a good lesson for me.
So I have known my husband since I was twelve I think. I think we started going out when I was sixteen. I kept in touch with him throughout a marriage, travels all over the world. We always had a connection, always been attracted to each other. He is very handsome. His family had a big dairy farm here. He grew up on the dairy farm. They were Yugoslavian. His father’s family is the Weir’s who are well known around here because there were twelve or thirteen brothers and sisters and they played music. There are some books written about them from the graduate students. They all were fiddlers, you know, and wild people. My husband doesn’t play an instrument, well he used to try and play banjo but he really doesn’t have time. He is very kind, very smart about the earth and how things work. Has an intelligence that’s really from the ground up. It’s an interesting change for me. He is a Republican so that was interesting. I threatened not to cook for the rest of his life. But anyways we don’t talk about it. He’s now doing property maintenance for somebody who has a lot of land up here. He loves it. He’s outdoors all the time. He is in incredible physical shape. They’re workers in that family. He will just be doing that until he drops dead. We have tractors, we have this, that, jeeps.
And Eli is the same way. They are constantly fixing things and it’s nice. What else are you going to do in the country? They have no interest in going to the city. I think Michael has been to New York once. You just realize you can get married to somebody and you are not going to get everything from that person that you might need. You get it elsewhere. You get it from your friends, your family, wherever. But for me what I needed was stability and somebody who loved me, big time. And vice versa. So I have been very fortunate again. I think my father would have liked me to marry somebody that had a lot of money and ambition. I didn’t quite do that. But thanks to my father, he was ambitious and had some money. So I don’t need to worry, too much, about that. So there Dad.
Eli is great. He’s a little different. He’s still with us at home. He just turned twenty-three. He is driving a truck and he has full benefits. He’s got some money invested, and he just bought a new pickup truck. He’s very practical, and I am very proud of him. He had a hard time in school. I don’t know if he is dyslexic or something but he didn’t get it. So he’s got friends he met in BOCES. He’s worked on a farm part time too, for years. He’s a big guy. He’s now doing mixed martial arts in Oneonta. And now I’ve just given him a gym membership for Christmas. He’s doing weightlifting and we have weights in our basement. So he’s the hulk. I mean seriously he’s like 230 pounds; he’s six foot two. He’s very handsome. I don’t know if he has a girlfriend. We all live pretty nicely together. I’m in no hurry for him to move out but I think that Michael and I will probably end up building a house down here on the pond in the next year or so. I hope he finds somebody that adores him because he’s a good kid. I’m lucky.

MP:
How was raising a child in Cooperstown from your perspective?

EW:
I think it was okay. We lived out here so it wasn’t like… I was a townie when I was growing up so I had all sorts of friends. Doing stuff after school, going to the gym, this and that. Eli is an only child. He was in town a lot when he was little because my mother used to push him around. He was at the store a lot sitting in the window being rocked by one of my employees.
It was fine. It’s so alien to the way I grew up because Michael grew up, probably, more like Eli in the country. He seems okay; he seems all right with it. He has a few friends. He wasn’t part of the group, though. He wasn’t part of the cliques in Cooperstown. He really could care less about that. When he was little I had a membership to the country club because I grew up there. He would just go and swim. He would be in the water nonstop playing with whoever. He didn’t know who they were but he liked everybody. I’d go back to work and leave him there; I wasn’t supposed to I don’t think. He was there until he was about ten or twelve. He had some friends from that world but for the most part his friends are farmers and kids that are working on cars and some of his cousins. There are a lot of Weir’s around here. They’re hunters. They fish. They are guy’s guys like my father in some way was when he growing up. So it’s nice.
He’s not a rammer, he doesn’t do what I did, which is drive everybody crazy and stay up all night. He’s a hard working kid, who is very sweet.

MP:
Well I’m moving back just a little bit here but you said something about the cliques in Cooperstown. I was wondering if that affected your businesses at all. Did you see one kind of particular person come into your stores or…?

EW:
No. I mean obviously there were a few very wealthy people that kept me going for a few years there. Most of them I became friends with, which happens in business. Some of them I actually really liked and kept in touch with. They’re very close friends now. People are all basically the same I think. But what they choose to do with their time is different. There’s sort of a group in Cooperstown that’s very, they’re wealthy. They have homes in different places, they have cocktail parties and they invite the same people over and over again. Not that the people aren’t nice, but it doesn’t interest me. There is some bigotry and some racism in people that are really wealthy I’ve noticed. That has never really interested me, even when I was little.
I remember this guy John Logan who was a total character in Cooperstown. I mean he looked like an actor. But he was a drinker and a womanizer and this and that. And he was telling “nigger” jokes in my living room on Nelson Avenue when I was about twelve. And, I just looked at him and I said, “That’s not funny.” I remember, that’s not funny [laughs]. I had quite a reputation for speaking my mind from a young age.
I know the Bush family and I know a lot of the stuff because I was good friends with his first wife. I am good friends with her. So I got a little bit, you know, in that world. I was invited to the parties. I went up there. I flew on a jet out to St. Louis. I’ve really tasted a whole bunch of different lives. And I’ve been lucky.
We don’t have a lot of money so we are going to be here all winter. We have one vacation a year. Every year I drag my husband to a different island. This is for the past five years maybe. Sometimes I will take off by myself somewhere or go visit some girlfriends. But Michael and I are going to the West Indies in December, in a few weeks. It’s nice. It’s just like something completely different. I like the beach and I like to swim. He likes to hang out. So we will do that. Then I probably will be able to make it through most of the winter without losing my mind. Maybe. The winter is sort of a time when I create things and get new ideas for my products. Hopefully. But it’s all in my head so it’s hard working on my own. I need stimulation from the outside sometimes.
Cooperstown is now much more mixed. Young people, Democrats, rebels. The young people for the most part don’t stay around here because there is not a lot of work. There is no industry whereas I think there should be. It would be nice if we had clean industry here. So there’s a lot of old fogies here, like me. It’s nice that young people like you are around and the graduate program and the hospital bring some young people. I think that helps the town. There’s some characters here. There’s a lot of very sophisticated people here who have travelled the world. And there’s a lot of amazing people out in the hills who are artists, who are writers, who are creative types who couldn’t have necessarily afforded the stuff in my store. Some of them could. Some of them maybe would have appreciated it and maybe bought a rug from me. But a fascinating area I think. I think this town… there’s a darkness to it too but I think the beauty attracts a certain kind of person. I remember somebody saying, “God what do you live here for?” You know population 2,800. And my father goes, “She’s here because she likes it here.” And that always stayed with me. And that’s true. It’s simple but it’s true. It’s the woods, it’s the land. I could be anywhere but now at this point I figure I’m turning this thirty-eight acres into a plant sanctuary for the pollinators. If I can do that and maybe put it with my son or put it in a land trust I’ll feel good.

MP:
You said there is darkness to it here. What did you mean by that?

EW:
I think that the winter, the seasons. It’s a tough place to live year round. You have to have a lot of inner resources. Yeah, you do. I find it sort of interesting because the challenge in the winter. Keeping yourself together here. Finding the right books and being creative. I’m taking a painting class just to keep my… I didn’t know what I was doing, this friend who is a painter said, “Just think of it Ellen as exercising a muscle.” So that’s what I have to do.
Yeah and dark… I don’t know why I said that. Well, right now I am feeling it because another child has died here. I think it’s a tough time for people. When some child dies here it’s like the whole town mourns it. You want your kids to go out and enjoy life but you also want to hold them close. This is one of those times.

MP:
Well, we are about out of time here but is there anything else you want people to know about you? Anything I missed you want to touch on?

EW:
I think you’ve pretty well covered it. You had some good questions. Like everybody I am a complicated person. I have a lot of lives; I’ve led a lot of lives. I couldn’t possibly tell you them all. But it’s me. It’s who you see sitting here. A compilation of a lot of events, a lot of people, genetics, luck, fate, who the heck knows. It’s all those things and here I am. Had a pretty good life really.

MP:
I just wanted to thank you for your time. It was a pleasure interviewing you.

EW:
Thank you so much. I hope I didn’t freak anybody out.

Duration

30:00- Track 1
30:00- Track 2
18:02- Track 3

Bit Rate/Frequency

128 kbps-Track 1
128 kbps- Track 2
128 kbps- Track 3

Files

Citation

Michelle Paulus, “Ellen Weir, November 14, 2012,” CGP Community Stories, accessed October 18, 2017, http://cgpcommunitystories.org/items/show/120.