CGP Community Stories

Claire Beetlestone, November 11, 2012

Title

Claire Beetlestone, November 11, 2012

Subject

Philidelphia, PA
Nigeria
Education
Civil rights movement
Scotland
Doctor
Sri Lanka
Bicycling
Single Mother
Politics

Description

A radiologist and specialist physician, Claire Beetlestone was born just outside Philadelphia in 1936. She has lived many places including Nigeria, Scotland, Connecticut, Arizona, and New York. Beetlestone credits her experiences living abroad to strengthening the worldview that she has shared with so many people as a storyteller

As a child, she loved to collect insects and ride her bicycle all around Philadelphia. As an adult, she raised four children while living in Nigeria for twenty years. While there, she worked as a docent at the zoo and later as a doctor who took care of soldiers and children.

Creator

Liz Congdon

Publisher

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

Date

2012-11-11

Rights

New York State Historical Association Library, Cooperstown, NY

Format

image/jpeg
audio/mpeg

Language

en-US

Type

Sound
Image

Identifier

12-005

Coverage

Philadelphia
New York, NY
Ibadan, Nigeria
Glasgow, Scotland
Arizona
Cooperstown, NY
1936-2012

Online Submission

No

Interviewer

Liz Congdon

Interviewee

Claire Beetlestone

Location

Cooperstown Graduate Program
Cooperstown, NY

Transcription

Cooperstown Graduate Program
Oral History Project Fall 2012

CB = Claire Beetlestone
LC = Liz Congdon

[START OF TRACK 1, 0:00]
LC:
This is Liz Congdon, I'm at the Cooperstown Graduate Program, interviewing Claire Beetlestone. It is November 11, 2012.

LC:
So do you want to just get started; tell me where you were born and when you were born?

CB:
I was born in Chestnut Hill, PA, 1937. That's where my grandparents lived, with my mother.
LC:
So why don't you start by telling me a little bit about your childhood. What are your memories from that time?

CB:
Being extremely shy, running away from everything. They tried to make me social and introduce me to the right people but I was not interested. That was very early childhood. Then, as I get older I remember a vignette: I got a bike! My freedom, from that very careful, almost Victorian household was assured. Education and experience was everything, discipline was everything, and I was wild. I remember my grandfather saying, "Ah, she's like a wild filly, we've got to tame her. I'll break her!" He never did. Anyway, my freedom came when they gave me a bike. I learned to ride the bike. My neighbor, two blocks away, got a bike at the same time and I took him on adventures. So I got to Wissahickon Park (Wissahickon is a big park in Philadelphia) and I said, "I know a place that's fun," because we have balloon tires. I said, we'll ride the railway tracks. So we rode them, bummpita, bummpita, bump- it's lovely. Then I said, "Dicky, we've got to get off these tracks." He said, “huh?” I said, "Off!" So we got off, and the train came through. Dicky and I never said anything to each other about that. He went into the church, he became a minister, and I became me as you see me. Subsequently I learned that was where people went to commit suicide. Just that stretch of track, which is very accessible. So I could've not been here. Anyway I took my bike and wandered all over, all over Philadelphia. I knew every nook and every cranny of it. In those days, the traffic wasn't really dangerous. Then I started to ride out in the country, where I met people who rode the hills and I've been a hill rider ever since.

LC:
So you talked a lot about this kitchen table where you grew up in Philadelphia; we were just looking at a picture of it. Tell me more about this table.

CB:
The dining room table. It's a great big table and my grandfather always liked to have formal dinner parties and he was an extraordinary cook. Looking back, I realize the man had wonderful recipes. He was a gourmet cook, and I paid no attention whatsoever. He was a principal in one of the schools in Philadelphia. He of course was friendly with everybody, very much connected to the Y[MCA], to political figures, and other figures in education. We can go back and say that in that house Langston Hughes, the poet, and [assorted] people from the Harlem Renaissance came through. So you had this whole admixture of people from the Philadelphia school system, the public intellectuals, the arty community, the religious leaders , coming together and discussing things around the table. A lot of policy was discussed, a lot of soul searching, a lot of poetry, all sorts of things went on. I was allowed to stay at the table for a little while and then [he would say], “Well, it's time Claire went to bed.” In that house, you could go up the stairs and we had air heat and you could look down one of the vents and see what was going on in the living room, so I watched as much as I could.

LC:
So what did you learn from watching all of this? How do you think that affected [you]?

CB:
What did I learn, worldview? Worldview, education, helping people. That one have a moral obligation in this life to make it not only not less, but larger, better, and more beautiful than you came to it. I think that's the pledge of one of the ancient Greek cities. “Not only not less, but greater, better, and more beautiful.”

LC:
Is that something your grandfather said?

CB:
It was there, probably. I don't know where I got it, but there it is.

LC:
What about the rest of your family?

CB:
It always curses you. What about the rest of my family? My grandmother, she was a teacher and a journalist until she got married. In those days, when you got married you could not work. She was very bitter about that. The bitterness lasted through her life. She was not made to be a wife and mother. Even though she was married to Clarence Relaford Whyte, the bitterness was there. It was she who taught me love of literature. But I was so undisciplined she disapproved strongly of almost everything I did.

LC:
So you lived with your grandparents...?

CB:
I lived with my grandparents because my mother was divorced. She married a man whom she shouldn't have. He was an actor, and impecunious, what can I say? [laughs]

LC:
What was his name?

CB:
That was Robert Huston Watson. I didn't know him very well and he was sort of distant and egotistical. But anyway he lived in New York and he took her to New York to live and he could not accommodate her in the style to which she was accustomed. I mean, he was an actor. She was a very upper-middle-class; pampered, and it just didn't work. So she came back to live with her parents who were very angry with her because she married this man, but she lived with them. She wasn't really a very energetic person. She was a psychologist and a teacher and she taught music. But she'd rather play music than do housework. So I was brought up in that household, which was good. [She was] a very sweet person, elegant, languid, very weak and depressed.

LC:
Mmm.

CB:
Very nice, but weak.

LC:
You said you lived in New York City for a time too...?

CB:
Oh, that was only in my very young life. My mother went there, she was in Columbia Graduate School when she met my father and they married and they lived up there for a while. Then they got divorced or split up. For that reason she went up to Albany. I have no idea why she came to Albany. She's gone now. I just remember her taking me to a bridge and we looked out over the river and saw the lights. I just still remember that. Then we moved back to Philadelphia with her parents. Where she could be a lady and play the piano. [laughs cynically]

LC:
[laughs] So if you were born in the thirties you must have experienced World War Two. What are your memories of going through that time?

CB:
I remember the atom bomb and Bikini Atoll. We talked about that a lot. My uncle went away to the war, my beloved uncle, went away to the war and never came back. I remember his coming to me in the middle of the night and putting a teddy bear in my bed and [he] said, "Here Claire, this is for you, and this is Timmy." That was the last time I saw my uncle. Of course there are secrets in all families, yes it's all right, and he was in love with a woman of whom my grandparents disapproved and there was no way, no how he was going to have anything to do with her. But I went away for years; I was in Africa and Europe. I came back and saw my other uncle, his older brother, and he said, "Look Claire: Donald has a family. He has a wife and child; many children as a matter of fact. Do you know that?" I said no, and that was the last time I saw him because he died. So somewhere, my uncle has a family, I don't know where. I don't know where. The kids that got lost to me. Then you look in people's faces and wonder is that a relative, but actually everyone can do that, because we're all related to everyone else.

LC:
What are some of your other memories of historical events? Anything stick out in your mind?

CB:
The Trylon and the Perisphere. The World’s Fair Exhibition, down in Flushing, you know what I'm talking about. The Perisphere and the Trylon.

LC:
What year was that?

[TRACK 1, 10:17]

CB:
Oh my goodness I don't know, early forties maybe, late thirties. I don't know I was too young to know much about that. What other historical things? Something sank; they sank a ship, the Normandy sank. Yes, and of course Pearl Harbor did take place. They're the things that only coming in… and then I remember when Roosevelt died because my grandfather was very upset about that of course. He had done the New Deal, he had healed us from the Depression and then one day he died and my grandfather was talking about that and was really struck by that. Oh, and the blimp, the Hindenburg, exploded or blew up or something: The Hindenburg disaster.

LC:
What do you remember about the news coverage from that?

CB:
Just what I'm telling you. It's not like the Twin Towers, I was much younger and we didn't have television so it was entirely different. You looked at pictures in the newspaper.

LC:
When did you first have a television?

CB:
That must have been somewhere in the fifties. It was small, and you had to be really near it; it was in black and white and fuzzy. Then I looked at it for a while. My family is very active and they go out. So often I'd be there at night alone and I'd look at horror films and I said to myself one day, “This is unsuitable for children to view.” I was always like that. This is unsuitable for children to view. So I flipped it off and didn't [watch] any more horror films. Now I am a storyteller, and I can't tell horror stories. I don't know how. I don't have the technique. [laughs]. A television wasn't good or interesting back then. I didn't look at it. There were other wonderful things to do: you can paint, you can read, you can go for a hike. You don't look at the TV. That's been my attitude. Of course as I grew up I realized that once you're looking at a television like that and getting information like that, it dictates what is in your head. Dangerous behavior as we've noticed; very limiting.

LC:
So what kinds of things did you do instead in your early life?

CB:
Oh, well I always painted. I always did watercolors with my grandfather. He taught art during the summer to the schoolteachers. They did in-service courses and he taught art. He sort of took me to model; little girl sitting there [strikes a pose], and naturally I began to paint too. I learned how to take toothpicks and get glue, the very sticky sort of glue, Duco Cement, and put them together and build things. You can think of a stockade first, but you can make a house, you can make anything you want out of toothpicks. Then I found that I could draw flowers and see flowers very well. I got little notepaper and painted little flowers on it and people always liked that. I painted outdoors as well. I played the violin as well. I was supposed to practice two hours a day [I didn’t]. I started with the piano, my mother taught piano as well and she taught me. She said, "I'm not going to teach you anymore because I know you don't practice." I said, "But they don't practice either!" She said, "But I don't know that, I know that you don't." So I played the violin and viola, and then they had a summer music course for the schools and you could play any instrument you wanted. My mother was a cellist, and I said, "Hey, can I take the cello and learn?" and I did but I don't have the hands for cello; I don't have the strength. But I have two granddaughters that play the cello. But what else did I do... Oh, insect collections. I had this fantastic insect collection, you know, you put them according [to type]: the butterflies, the wasps, all of the beetles, all of the grasshoppers, into families. I caught them and I poisoned them and I relaxed them so that you can arrange them, and put them on their insect pins and I got corrugated paper to put that on the bottom of cigar boxes. My uncle smoked cigars. You put your insect pin through it and you have your little balsam block with a slit down it, you put the insect there and put the pin through and have the wings out. It was a wonderful, wonderful fantastic insect collection. I mean, just a whole wall full of these boxes. Now, I had a cousin that was my older uncle's son. My mother adored this boy for some reason, is this jealousy? He was the youngest of a lot of children so she sort of took him under her wing. Anyway, we went here, there, and everywhere. One day he found my insect collection, opened it and screamed AHHH! and threw it across the room. I was so furious I- how do you say- [used] sesquipedalian words? He got it all! You know, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera, besides which he's gay and that came in too. I mean, I destroyed him! Well that was a long time ago. Of late, I've seen him again. He's a blonde fat guy, sort of hairy guy, and he trembled when he saw me. It was beautiful. I had made an impression on him. [It was] horrible. How can you be afraid of insects?! How can you be afraid of anything, you know. What sort of creature are you that screams when he sees an insect? I mean think about it a little bit.

LC:
Did he think they were alive?

CB:
I don't know what he thought; I don't care what he thought. I just wanted to hurt his soul, which I do believe I did.

LC:
[Laughs]

CB:
I mean you cannot imagine [the hours and love I put into that collection]; you have to find where the insects are. You have to know their habitat. This is like hunting; you have to understand the insect and catch it. Catch a good specimen. Treat him so well, you put him in the cyanide jar and you let him die and you arrange him. The hours, and the painstakingness, looking up what they were. We didn't have the computer in those days. You had to look at the large textbooks. That's something I did. Okay, I loved libraries, I always have. We were a block away from the Friends Free Library, at the Germantown Friend's School. I always went there and became an assistant after a while and worked in the library and then I found the great big library in Philadelphia [makes clicking noise]. You know, my world was made. Not only could I get books and look up wonderful, arcane things, but they had music. As I say I played the violin and I knew other people who played instruments. So I'd go and get something that wasn't too difficult and bring it back and on Sunday mornings, we had a grand piano, and they'd all come to my house and we'd play this music. We had to adapt, you know, but it was rather wonderful. Everyone thought it was very nice until Mike Brody, who is an old crusty professor at Temple now, and I played the Bartok duets. We were happy, it was wonderful, we were in ecstasy and my grandmother called down the stairs, "Please stop that horrible noise!" Some people don't understand Bartok. Anyway, that was fun. So we had the music, and I danced of course. I was a dancer. I tried to learn sport: tennis, dancing, nah- I was a cyclist.

LC:
[Laughs]

CB:
…and still am. So what else did I do? I did everything… and I hiked.

LC:
How was it growing up... Did you live in the city of Philadelphia?

CB:
No, I lived in the suburbs. How was it growing up? Great! I mean if I had to go anywhere, I just cycled there, or I had to take the trolley and the bus and the underground, they call it [the] subway. It was fine because I read all the time. So you have this long commute? No problem, got a book. Philadelphia was mine. It was really mine. I knew every inch of it. I went down to South Philadelphia, which was a scary place then. Now it's very chique; everybody who's anybody lives down there. But in those days it was a terrible slum. A music school called the Settlement Music School was down there and that was next to the Italian market with street barrows [carts] to this day. It's the most wonderful place in Philadelphia. That's where Pat's Steakhouse is, you know where the Philly Cheese Steak was invented. Anyway, the music school was near there so I went to the music school and my teacher was Edgar Ortenburg and he was part of the Budapest Quartet at one time. He's a white Russian émigré, a wonderful man. I adored him. Well, I didn't adore him. Well, yes I did. Well, [laughs] see the thing is you have to hold your violin in a certain way and if you didn't he'd take a pencil and sharpen it and put the point here [points to armpit] so if you let your arm fall it would pierce you. He slapped me; he slapped me around. I didn't mind and we knew why. It was different with children [in those days], and I understood perfectly. Anyway as I grew older I grew more and more appreciative of Edgar Ortenburg and I was overseas for many years and then I came back and I said, "I've got to find Mr. Ortenburg," and they said, "No you won't, he's in an old folks home and he's completely Alzheimery. He's lost his memory, he won't know you." So he died and they had a memorial concert for him, all his students played things. I went there and there was this guy sitting next to the door: it's his son and he's the spitting image of his father. I mean it was "what?!" [makes surprised facial expression]. It was just like that. When did that happen? That happened about fifteen years ago. So that was that phase of my life. Also, we had Carl Orff, creativity and music and all that. We danced sometimes, and we made art sometimes; it was a wonderful place. So that was my misspent youth. No, I'm not a social person as you might have noticed; I didn't like people, particularly girls. Okay, I couldn’t stand women. But I've learned to understand them subsequently. So I always hung around with the boys. That was fine because when I was young I was an athlete and you could beat any of them at anything. But then something happened, at a certain age, they got testosterone. [laughs] They could run faster, and cycle faster, and I hated them. [laughing] Anyway, I came to terms with that, and I went to the Philadelphia High School for Girls, the academic high school, and then we have an academic high school for boys, Central. So of course I made sure that I met boys from Central High and not that I'm interested in mating, no, these are my buddies. We decided to start a literary society because we knew, you know, that we were superior to anyone else [laughs]. We started our literary society and what we did was take new poems and new plays and read through them. There's a flat rock that I went to about two years ago in the middle of Wissahickon creek where we would go Sunday mornings again and sit on the flat rock in summer and read new plays to one another. I remember we read "Waiting for Godot" when it was new. We didn't understand a thing about that play. We read it and sort of looked at each other. We read it; it was read. Then it came to one of the nearby playhouses, and so what I said I would do (my grandmother likes the theater), I'll take her to see "Waiting for Godot," maybe I'll gain some understanding of it, and my mother scolded me. She said, "Do not take her to plays like that."

LC:
[laughs]

CB:
[laughs] Then I learned that some people are different from other people. Some people like this, some people don’t. But anyway, that's our literary society. Just recently I found two of those guys. One was president of Earlham College; he's retired since. The other was a history teacher and administrator at Brooklyn College. They're both old, very old. Now the Earlham College guy is a wonderful English professor, and oh I'm not gonna tell you about these guys, because I'm supposed to talk about me. But their stories are very interesting too.

LC:
So I'm kind of curious, how growing up in Philadelphia—I know Brown vs. Board of Education happened in 1954, what was it like in that time before that happened in school for you?

CB:
I didn't notice, remember I said my [grand]father was a school principal. I was always in integrated schools. He just saw to it. I mean I traveled a long while to get to my elementary school. I had to take a trolley and a bus to get there, and I had to start out early in the morning. Junior High was a disaster area; junior high is junior high. Then I went to Philadelphia High School for Girls, which starts at ninth grade. So Brown vs. the Board of Education, I was blissfully unaware of. I'm sorry, I should know about it, but I was blissfully unaware because I was in integrated schools all the time, and living in an integrated area. So it wasn't an issue. It should have been, but it wasn't. I didn't become conscious of the civil rights movement until the late fifties, early sixties. It took a man named Bill Hinton, who is a name brand and that's another story, to make me conscious of this. He was involved in the starting of SNCC [Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee] and all these organizations, and he said, "We really ought to do something about it. We ought to have meetings." So we had a little meeting, and he said, "What we're gonna do this week, we're going to picket." I'm used to picketing, when they had the chemical warfare plant in Maryland I went down and picketed that, and I'm a peace activist, and I go on the street corner and talk. I was that sort of peacenik. Anyway, he said, "We gotta have a meeting, we gotta picket Woolworth’s, because they do not hire black[s]." I said, okay and we were picketing Woolworth’s. These black guys, bad black guys from the hood came by and they're going in. I said, "Wait a minute, wait a minute!" I said, "Look, you shouldn't go in places like this because they shouldn't get your money; they don't hire you, they shouldn't have your money.” They say "That's all right ma'am, we was just goin' to shoplift, we wasn't gonna [pay]." [laughs] So I said, "Go on in, guys, go for it." [laughs].

LC:
This is Woolworth’s, a department store?

CB:
No, Woolworth’s is a Five and Ten store. It's sort of like the Cooperstown General Store. Oh, Woolworth’s, you've heard of Barbara Woolworth? One of the richest women who ever was, who always wore dark glasses. Oh, anyway [there were] little stores like dollar stores all over. You can even see them in Germany today. Everything is cheap like the dollar store. They had soda fountains too. No, this was Philadelphia; Philadelphia was sort of integrated for all, sort of. But anyway, that was interesting. So Brown vs. the Board of Education I was unaware of, but that table with those people around it probably talked about it at great lengths. I was unaware.

LC:
How did that protest end, that one that you were involved with?

CB:
I went to Africa, I don't know. [laughs]. Oh which protest?

LC:
The one at the five-and-dime store.

CB:
Oh, it was just a few of us with pickets trying to stop people and kids of color not to go in there. It just sort of fizzled. Some people went away, some didn't. You know these were the very early days

[START OF TRACK 2, 0:00]
of the civil rights movement [in Philadelphia]. We didn't know what we were doing, or what was going on. There was no real structure, just a few people with a few ideas. I left in 1960; I left this country. Do you understand? So all of this, I only found out about when I came back, because I was involved with a whole other ballpark there. Sorry, I missed it.

LC:
Oh, I'm sure what you saw in your travels was equally as important.

CB:
Well, sort of very important, maybe more. I don't know.

LC:
What made you decide to move to Africa?

CB:
I didn't decide. I was married to John Beetlestone, and he's an inorganic chemist, and he was working at U of Penn and he came home one night and he said, "Hey, would you like to go to Nigeria?" and I said, "Sure, where's that?" and he said, "I don't know." So he got out the atlas- "oh there." [I asked,] "And where will we be going in Nigeria?" and [he said], "Ibadan." I said, "Okay, let’s go." The story is this: one of the professors from the University of Ibadan, which was the University of London in Africa, was just starting when we went, and one of John's colleagues who had come up from there was working at Penn in his lab. He said, "We need an inorganic chemist, would you come?" That afternoon, John says let’s go, and so we went. We were supposed to stay a year; we stayed twenty.

LC:
Mhmm

CB:
We came with independence in 1960, and just before that my father had gone over. My horrible father had gone over, because he had gone from being an actor to a CPA to someone with lots and lots of money. He had potential, but my mother didn't give him the chance. Anyway, he had gone to Nigeria there because he wanted to start a business over there. He said when he came back "there's too much ’dash’ or lagniappe do you know that word? That's the Cajun word for bribe, you have to pay someone to make the wheels roll. We call it graft and corruption, but it's not regarded that way. It's just a little extra money to make things go on. This is why all of this money that you collect for these pitiful causes in the Third World a lot disappears, because that's how it is. In the hospital, if you need a bedpan, you might not get a bedpan, but if you pay five pence you'll get the bedpan straight away. As for toilet paper, you better pay for it. I mean that's just taking it down to it's more basic level, but if you want something done, you can start a business but you have to pay for protection. If you start a business, someone could steal it, spoil your building, or burn it, but if you pay for protection you'll be all right. So there's that, and there's getting the building code nicely and actually getting permission to have your business in that building; you have to pay the government something. Like the checkpoints in Asia: they're manned by, or were manned by, Russian soldiers. They don't pay Russian soldiers very much and Russian soldiers are always drunk, so they need a little money. "You wanna get through the border—USD [United States Dollar], USD!" [rubs hands together].

LC:
Who was in charge in Nigeria at the time?

CB:
In charge?

LC:
Who...

CB:
It was a democracy! [laughter]

LC:
I mean what was going on with the government?

CB:
Well, okay it was a government that was initially dictated by the British system, so they have British things in situ. The British way of government. I was in Yorùbáland, so I have to tell you about Yorùbáland. That's isn't what goes in Yorùbáland. There are people [elders] who rule that country; one does not know who they are. They are the elders of the community, they are hidden, they rule. They might rule to this day. So there they are, ruling, everything's good, everything's copacetic. Then Britain comes and goes boom and imposes a government system that they put on this. Some of the people who were picked by the Brits to do these jobs weren't exactly the people who should have power in the traditional context. So you see a little bit of conflict there. Then we sort of slipped from democracy and there was graft and corruption, and murder and mayhem, and a few civil wars. I'm sorry, I lost count of the civil wars and why they were, but they were there. They happened here, there, and everywhere, all sorts of bad things went on. Then the Biafran War [Nigerian Civil War] came and that really changed things a lot for a while. Very tragic in many ways, and it was oil, the greed of oil that caused it. There are still things going on at the moment that aren't good. It doesn't matter. Okay, they found very sweet oil in Nigeria in the delta: sulfur free oil. It's good. You look at the people living in the delta; they were the Kalabari people. These people are essentially fishermen, and the way the society is ordered the men go out to the fishing camps most of the year, they're there catching the fish and one woman goes with them, that's the chief fisherman's wife, and she sees to the smoking and the drying of the fish and prepares meals for the guys. They're out there in the mangrove swamp, mosquito infested, crocodile infested, it's terrible, terrible; [it smells of] smoked fish. They have these big [lean tos] where the men [sleep] and the fish are smoked at this one end, you can imagine it's pretty awful. But once a year, around Christmas, they come back and then there's great festivity, there's dancing and singing and that's where they meet women, marry, and make babies. Then they go back to the fishing camps. This is how the cycle goes in Calabar. It's a very interesting culture. They're the Calabari, that's how they live. You don't see any higher education there much; they're fisher folk and all that means. Now right next to it is Iboland, and the Ibos have very little land. They are land poor. The Ibos have a way of educating someone in the village; the whole village will come together and decide to educate that boy, and they'll take him up to university take him up to his PhD in Europe. He comes back with his skills and helps educate other people; that's how they did it. Now the Ibos got into the civil service. The civil service in those days, everybody from every place [in Nigeria] went around to the various provinces, so you had an admixture of different tribal groups here there and everywhere, then that was a time of intermarriage, I mean you're there, you're 25 years old, it's time to get married [out of their tribal group]. So they marry. So you had lots of people who were of mixed tribes. That stopped. The Ibos decided, "Wait a minute, we're the most educated people here, and those people in Kalabari, they're not, and they've got the oil?" So the Ibos took over the Calabar region.

LC:
So what did you see in this. Were you a witness to this kind of event, this conflict?

CB:
Ya, I've stepped over dead bodies in the street. You keep walking, you don't stop. The country took sides at this time. The Ibos, the Biafrans, against everyone else. I [worked] in a third line hospital, I wasn't ever at the front, and what happened in the third line hospitals was these were the people who had been triaged on the battle front and had been brought to a second line hospital to stabilize them and ultimately they got to our hospital. What happened at night was the soldiers would come in, and we'd lay them in their stretchers all up and down the corridors and do another triage. During the day, I ran the children's emergency room. Now this is [to treat] dehydration, dirt, disaster, that sort of thing. What you did was take the child out of the gutter, clean it up, make it better, and then put it right back in the gutter. And at a certain time, I came to the realization that that sort of work wasn't useful, because the main problem is a public health problem. It was not a medical problem. You [clean] out the street drains, you get disease away from the kids, you give them clean drinking water, you give them food that's clean, you have a place with a latrine where you don't go at random and get hookworm. It's a public health problem, not a medical problem. That got to be a little frustrating for me, and then I went into radiology because that's completely intellectual, right? So at that point I was in the children's emergency room during the day, and the soldiers would be brought in at night and in between I'd catch some babies, because the doctors by and large had gone off to the second line hospitals and some were at the front. All that was left in the hospital were the women and the European doctors. Ahh, funny story, I have to tell you this. The Scots professor of pathology came to me one day and he said to me, "Claire, I want you to look at this baby," and I said, "What's wrong?" and he says, "It's a terrible disease; I don't know what it is," and I looked at it and said, "It's measles! It's measles that this baby has. We should have asked your wife, she would have known.

LC:
[laughter]

CB:
[laughter] You have no idea what measles looks like." Anyway, it was pretty busy, I didn't sleep. I didn't mind in those days. I was young, I had work to do; it was exciting. So I spent the civil war at the hospital. They told the Americans to leave, how could I leave? I couldn't leave.
LC:
Why did they tell you to leave?
CB:
A lot of them left, Americans. One night after we had gone to bed and then these crashes, bang, bang, and these shouts BANG, BANG! Our imagination said, “Oh my god, they're gunshots,” and they seemed to be coming nearer, as if people were coming and shooting people house by house. I said, "Okay, shall we wake the children?" I asked John, and he said, “No, don't.” So, I did not. Then, I got dressed. I said, “Well if I'm going to be shot I'm going to be shot with clothes on, it's only common decency.” So, we went into the living room and we listened, the shouts, and the gunshots, maybe. Then, towards dawn they calmed down and we looked at each other and we went back to bed. Now, the next day, [all was explained], it was very, very funny. Our neighbor is a gourmet. He was the head of radiology actually, Peter Cockshott , and he had hired a French-African cook and the French-African cook went crazy one night. All our furniture was mahogany- you have to understand this- so if you break a table leg that's mahogany off it's a very heavy instrument. So he was crashing Peter's house, shouting all sorts of things in French; of course we didn't understand. He was trashing Peter's house. Now he lived in a house that [had] this main living, dining room area with the servant's quarters here, and there's a courtyard and then it goes back. There's one bedroom, two bedrooms, three bedrooms, and then the master bedroom with a dressing room next to that. He had locked doors between him and the crazy cook, and Peter was shivering in his boots. But he never got to him, because he was going to hit Peter with the mahogany table leg.

CB:
The civil war was all around us. We didn't get attacked because a bridge had gone down. The army was going to come in and attack, but mercifully a bridge went down and they couldn't get in. But we had guards; the army was all around the university. [As] I told you, I like to hike. So I'm hiking one day in the teak forest and someone yells, "Halt!" so I halt. You'll love this, we'll record it anyway. So this guy is on guard duty, he has this fixed bayonet and he's looking very fierce and mean and evil. This time he had gone to the bush. He was pooping. Now teak leaves are about dinner plate size and he had taken a teak leaf and was squatting down on it. I said, 'This man asked me to halt?' But knowing Nigeria and knowing how it is, I averted my eyes and waited till he had finished. He finished, ablutioned, and got up [with] his gun belt and everything, picked up the bayonet and challenged me. Oh, and he took the leaf and went, whoosh, into the bushes [laughs].

LC:
[laughter]

CB:
Then he challenged me, he said, "Who are you, where are you going, etcetera etcetera." And you know, of course I complied. You have to understand life must go on, even if you're involved in a war. One other war story, I've got to tell you this. Remember when all of your people were sending milk toward the Biafran children because they were starving? Milk is the worst possible thing to send to them, but never mind why. So anyway it wasn't getting to the children, it was going to the troops. People who live in Nigeria are lactose deficient because we don't have cows where we live because the trypanosomiasis kills them off. If you do have a cow, it's not going to live very long it's going to be butchered before it gets Trips. So Milk and butter and cheese and yogurt are not there. If you don't eat that, because human beings really shouldn't eat dairy after they're children, and if you don't do it all the time as you're growing up you develop a deficiency. Of course, these guys were all lactose deficient so they drank the milk, they made it up and drank it, and there was one battle when they again were all squatting in the bush because they got diarrhea because they're lactose deficient. It's beautiful. That battle was not fought [laughter]. Anyway, I tell you those parts of the war, but there were bad injuries and people were killed. People they didn't like, you take them and you tie them behind a jeep with their hands and you drive the jeep through the streets and eventually that stops any hyperactivity they were involved with.

LC:
Now you had children while you were living there?

CB:
Yeah, I had one child here, [while living] in Philadelphia.

[TRACK 2, 18:33]

And three others there.

LC:
What was it like, raising them in that environment?

CB:
Perfect, perfect. I mean they were absolutely free. And everyone knew them. They were a little distinctive looking, they were Beetlestones. People didn't know which Beetlestones, but we were living in the university compound and everyone who lived or worked or were students in the university lived there. My kids, because they were the sort of kids they were, were into everything like I was as a child in Philadelphia. So they knew the whole spectrum, they knew the servants quarters, they knew where the students were, they knew some students. They knew the professors, they knew everything and they wandered freely. [I’ll tell you] a story of my daughter, not me. She had her hair cut short and she always wore shorts and bare feet. Linda, [was] going to school with her school satchel over her [shoulder]. There's a Muslim prayer ground. She doesn't know Muslim from Catholic from Jewish. So [there was this] Muslim praying ground with all these guys [prostrating themselves], and she walks through. One of them looks at her and says, "Boy!" and she said, "Hmm?" because she's [not a boy] and he says, "Get down and pray." [laughter] And she was late for school. That's the last time she’ll walk through the prayer ground and be culturally uninvolved. She had no idea. They were absolutely free. I also was docent to the zoo at one point in my life and that made them be at the zoo most of the time. In our house we had all of the little orphan animals that we hand reared. I had a chimpanzee, duikers, deer that are no taller than that. All sorts of things: the aye-aye, the couscous, and the little bushbaby, and anything else. The red river hogs are my favorite because they're little pigs and they have red stripes on their backs and out of the stripes come bristles, nowhere else. They look like little toothbrushes running around, so cute!

LC:
[laughs]

CB:
We had a hyrax once, but he got away. A hyrax is a mammal whose closest relation is the elephant. He got loose and started to live in our ceiling. That was all well and good, but after a while there was the hyrax-designated place for excreta. See what happened is that it got sort of wet there and the plaster boards sort of fell down and we discovered it. But, yeah, we had good times. So the children were brought up in amongst the zoo [and] the zoo animals. There are pictures of the children holding snakes and riding elephants and feeding a baby elephant with a bottle and feeding the chimpanzee. You know, we had a good time.

LC:
When you were a docent at the zoo were you still working at the hospital?

CB:
No, this is before all that. We don't have the time sequence. No, I wasn't working at the hospital then. I was just being a docent at the zoo.

LC:
So from there you decided to pursue the medical field?

CB:
Oh yes, well I had always [wanted to be a doctor]. But we were coming to Nigeria for one year. Then we stayed and stayed and stayed and you know. I said, “Hey, why don't I go to medical school here?” and that was interesting. They said okay, apply, and so I applied. [They said,] "What previous education do you have," and I said, "I've got a few credits from University of Penn and Bryn Mawr," and they said, "We don't know anything about these colleges. We don't know how good [they are]," and I said, "They're not bad."

LC:
[laughs]

CB:
But they said no, this is [in] the British system. I had to do my A-levels, which is the equivalent of high school, first year in college. Then I did my A-levels and was admitted and there I was.

LC:
What school was that?

CB:
This was University of London in Ibadan. Then I did my postgraduate work in Glasgow, Scotland. I went to Scotland to do that and had a great time. I was tropical medicine, and right now I'm segueing into temperate medicine and maybe geriatrics. Being geriatric myself I think it's a good discipline for me.

LC:
[Laughs] So you hadn't totally finished your education when you left?

CB:
No way, I just left [the United States]. If your husband comes home and says, "Do you want to go to Nigeria?" I said, "Sure yeah, let’s go."

LC:
But you lived in Africa for twenty years and then went to Scotland and finished your [studies]?

CB:
Oh during those twenty years I went to Scotland each year. I just went to Scotland back and forth. We went back and forth [to Scotland] every year because at the university three months of the year nothing is going on. At that point [Nigeria] was known as “white man’s grave”; [Europeans and the like] must not stay for twelve months in Nigeria because they'll die. Because mainly it was malaria, but there were other diseases instead. [They said] just go out of here, go to another climate, and find out what parasites your body is containing and get rid of them and then come back. Things have changed since that time, but we had three months of the year when we had to leave. We were told to leave. So I was bouncing between Nigeria and England and Scotland and France and Germany; we had a good time. Sometimes I'd come to the states, but usually Europe. It was good.


LC:
So by the time you finished your education by going to Scotland and started practicing in Nigeria?

CB:
In Scotland first and then Nigeria.

LC:
Okay.

CB:
Ya, ya. There I was, and it was good. Every once in a while I'd get a glimpse of what was happening in America because at one point the guys avoiding the war, I don't know which war it was, it wasn't the Korean, it was the next one.

LC:
In what time? Vietnam?

CB:
Yes, [probably] Vietnam. The Vietnam guys were wandering around Europe sort of looking hippie-ish with their long hair and their rucksacks and their skinniness and their granola bowls [laughter]. But you'd take them in, give them a meal, get them to do something just to keep them on. For a place to sleep and some food they'd do almost anything and you'd have to admire them.

LC:
So eventually you left Nigeria permanently. Tell me about that part of your life?

CB:
Oh, you don't want to know about that. My husband decided he wanted to “realize himself.” I said, “Realize yourself?” He said yes, because he was experiencing a mid-life crisis so he said we should separate. It was very dramatic. This is the grade-B stuff, which you don't want. Someday I'll write a novel but it [will be] a grade-A novel. So he decides that he has to realize himself, he needs his freedom. [I said,] “You have your damn freedom,” sort of thing. “I'll nurse you through this, it's all right." I had never been particularly crazy about him anyway, but I was willing to stay with him and nurse him through everything, and he said, "No, I want to be free." So, at this point I had a fellowship here; I was at Downstate Medical Center.

LC:
In?

CB:
It's in Brooklyn. So I came here and stopped at AFIP [Armed Forces Institute of Pathology] first to get debriefed, because I was no longer a tropical doctor, you've got to be a cold-country doctor, as we call it, in order to work here. So I did my sabbatical and John in the meantime gets my best friend pregnant [laughs]. But I forgive him in a way because she didn't think she could conceive. She had been married for years and never [got pregnant] [laughs]. But anyway it wasn't his baby. But it gets worse than that; it gets really squalid. This is supposed to be about me. But he said, "No, we've gotta divorce, etcetera, etcetera." In the meantime I'm in the States and he's there and it's bad. This is a dark time. So I finish my stint and then I go to Rochester for a year stint, because I'm always hoping to go back. Then I go to Yale and I'm set in Yale. Yale is fine, I'm teaching at Yale, everything is good, I've got an office, blah, blah, blah. Bought a house, etcetera, etcetera. Then my office partner and I realized at the same moment, [that] yes, when you're in an Ivy League college- when you're on staff, you will get your tuition paid for your children, but only if you're tenured. And he and I looked at each other. You don't get tenured until you're senile. Not in your twenties, do you understand? [chuckles]. So we decided we had better go into private practice so that's what I did.

LC:
You and the other professor?

CB:
And the other guy too, yeah.

LC:
Mhmm

CB:
Naive as hell, we both were. But anyway there we were, and I've been in private practice ever since going here, there, and everywhere, enjoying myself hugely.

LC:
By that time all of your children were in college right?

CB:
One was in college. [Only] one was. Jan, the one that has died, she was in the London School of Economics. But the others weren't, and then I was in New Haven doing this and Wendy went to the University of Liverpool and then the other children were in private school in New Haven; they went to Hopkins. And the other one wasn't born yet, so no, they weren't. As time went on, the other two went to college, here, on the American side.

LC:
How did you balance being a single mother, having a job [and]

[START OF TRACK 3, 0:00]

kids?

CB:
You think there is a balancing act?

LC:
[Laughs]

CB:
[Laughs]. Okay, there's a radiologist named Wendy Logan, you know Wendy? [A woman’s magazine] was going to interview her, they said, “You're a single mom, you started this breast center and oh [you're a] wonderful woman.” She said, “You don't want to know.” There's some very dark sides about it. She was honest; it is not easy, and I don't understand these women who come out looking very cool, calm, and collected and well groomed and they're balancing everything. BS! Now my daughter does it. The one in Philadelphia [balances everything] because they're rolling in money and that's the only way. You have au-pairs, you have a gardener, you have a house [cleaner], you have everything. That's the way it's done in America today, but anything else is a fairy tale. It's awful; you don't sleep to begin with. You worry like mad. Okay, one story. We were in Glasgow, it was Halloween. We are neither Catholic nor Protestant, nor a follower of any superstition. As you know, Glasgow and Scotland are like Ireland: there's Protestant [and] there's Catholic. The football teams in Glasgow are like Ireland: Protestant and Catholic, and there are certain sections in the city that are Protestant and Catholic. But there's one area, amongst others, the area in which we were living was a mixed neighborhood. So, during the time we were there, people would come around from the various churches to talk to us to try to get us in, and some children went Catholic, and some children went Protestant, depends on how much fun the Sunday school was [laughs]. So there we are Catholic and Protestant. Then [the children] decided that there were more Catholics than Protestants, but the Protestants were older than the Catholics so they decided they were Protestant, so they went to every Protestant church: Presbyterian, Methodist, whatever, C of E [Church of England]. So there we all are and I have to get these kids ready to go to these awful superstitious places on Sunday. So that went on and then one day I had to go to a conference in Bristol and of course I had a [live in nanny] there, what do you call them, the nanny. The nanny was there and Francois, who was having an affair with my husband was there, my husband was in Nigeria [or Germany], and there were other people around. Knowing how Glasgow was, my dying words were: "Do not have a party, whatever you do, do not have a party." So I go to my conference in Bristol and then I come back and the lights in the house are blazing. The children are around; they are cleaning up. The place has been hit like it was a hurricane. They were crying; all of my vintage wines were gone. Anything electronic was gone, I mean just [gone]. They had had a party. The police had come, and they stopped the party and there were bullets in the ashcans in the back of the party. The money came from Francois, because they said, "Oh Francois, Mommy has left us with no money and if you could give us some money so we can survive and she'll pay you back later," and Francois was as dumb as a doorknob said, "Oooh, mes petits choux." So, they were going to have a party! They invited the Protestants but the Catholics found out about it as well. So everyone came, so fights ensued and someone had a gun and they were just target practicing in the back, I mean no one was shooting anyone. Apparently, it was so noisy that the local constabulary, the fuzz, as we call them there, was informed and they came and cleared it out. Then I said, “Okay, I am very tired. I don't really know what happened. I don't want to know. I need to go to bed, we'll talk in the morning." So I went to sleep, and I wake up in the morning and there's a man sitting next to my bed. He must have been there just sitting until I woke up. We call them the untouchables, they're the plainclothesmen. You've got them in America, plainclothesmen.

LC:
An undercover policeman?

CB:
Yeah, they're everywhere and in everything. He talks to me about this because there were drugs involved. The nanny got something for everybody, and so she had to go [swipes hands together]. She had to go just like that and that is the story. Scots-Irish women can be very strong, bold and fish wifey. So one night in the middle of the night a fish-wife came, she must have weighed three hundred pounds. She was big and she had solid fists and she was Irish and she was mad. She pounds on the door and she said, "Where's Irene?" and I said, "I'm sorry she doesn't work here anymore." [The fish-wife said,] "She introduced my son to drugs." I mean she was mad, and she was going to break down the door. I talked her down and I thought “boy oh boy.” Bad story. Now a lighter story. Friends of mine from South Africa came up because their mother was having a back operation. These are Cape colored, Cape Malay, a very small minority [of coloreds]. The mother was having a back operation so the kids came up; they have five kids and one of the cousins came up. For some reason, the younger ones decided they should steal apples, so they went and stole the apples. All my kids got away but Rinky, she's a little pigeon-toed and she doesn’t run so fast, so Rinky got caught. So the rest went back to get Rinky, and they all had to confess that yes, they had stolen the apples. So we had to get their little money together and they gave chocolates to the man whose apples they had stolen.

LC:
[laughs]

CB:
This sort of thing happened. Mid-summer in those countries is all light, you don't have any darkness at all. So midsummer is a time for celebration, so all of us had gone to Loch Lomond and we were going to celebrate; we were going to roast potatoes and celebrate. We were roasting our potatoes and speaking in Pidgin, you have to understand the there were many many brown kids around speaking in Pidgin. So the forest ranger comes up and looks at this, all women except for the small kids and he doesn't know what to do because we're not supposed to have a fire by Loch Lomond. So he says, “Do you speak English?” Yes, we spoke English of course. Then we said, “Oh, can we continue with our party?” He says, “Yes, but you have to douse the fire." That was that incident; we had a good time. Subsequently, we bought a house in Scotland and my husband had gone to see the ranger. Because it is a house in Argyll National Forest. He had gone to see the ranger and the ranger for some reason started to tell him about this bizarre thing of all of these brown women who were speaking this strange language at midnight [beside] Loch Lomond. John said, "I think you'd better come home and meet my wife." [laughs]

LC:
[laughter]

CB:
These are some of the light touches. That [ranger] had a wolf in his house that he was bringing up. So yes, that is life in Glasgow.

LC:
So you're saying…

CB:
We were doing this during the sixties, I don't know what your parents are doing during the sixties but that's what we were doing.

LC:
[laughs] Not like the American sixties that we remember here.

CB:
Actually I teach at CCAL [The Center for Continuing Adult Learning] and I have a friend who lived through the sixties and survived and did all of the sixties things. It's amazing he's still compos mentis, and he is able to talk about it. I said, "Do you mind telling this to a group of people?" He hasn't answered my phone calls. He doesn't want to. So that's where we are, where did you take me?

LC:
Oh, we were talking about motherhood, and then experiences in Europe and-

CB:
Yay, motherhood. You relax. Feed them a lot of good food. Laugh a lot. Show them as much as you can. Do what you need to do. I mean, principles of upbringing: wing it! That's the best advice I can give to anyone. Wing it. [Love them.]

LC:
[laughs] That's good advice.

CB:
When they get too obstreperous… I mean they were playing in the road once and I said, “You know, [that is] not a good place to play. Look, there are a lot more where you come from. If you get squished in the road it's all right with me because we can make more of you." [laughs] You go with it.

LC:
Mhmm

CB:
I don't know if they're going to bring [their children] up that way.

LC:
Well from what you've said they turned out to be successful; a corporate lawyer, [a genetic counselor, a hydrologist, etcetera.]

CB:
They're fine. They've got the humor. Which is important. Their children are doing well too. So we're all right.

LC:
So I want to ask you since we're in Cooperstown, about your journey to Cooperstown. Tell me about that.

CB:
[Laughs] All right. My daughter had died. Donald is her child. So I have the baby but I am heartbroken, I'm falling apart; I'm in an awful state. My best friend said to me, "Look Claire, just go somewhere new and get lost, just get lost and start a new life." My three older children were in college at this time so I could. So I went over to Arizona and started my new life. I went to Sierra Vista, but I wasn't working with a good person and he got me too Bullhead City. Bullhead City is the worst place in the world; it's a cesspool of the world. It is the fastest growing gaming center in America. Do you understand [what sort of place I mean]?

LC:
Mhmm, like casinos.

CB:
Like casinos, [and] everything associated with casinos. The town is a derelict desert town. So you have the derelict desert town and you have the casino and I'm the radiologist. It was Wild West and everything you want in the Wild West. All right, remember the Oklahoma City bombing?

LC:
Mhmm

CB:
That guy was hiding in that place because it was easy to. You can camp by the Colorado River and no one pays any attention to [any]one. You know in circumstances like this, like in the middle of the Sahara Desert, you help people if they need it and you don't acknowledge anything. You don't acknowledge what you see. It is somebody else's problem, definitely. Some things went on. Oh dear. For example, par example- and you have to get the humor and the horror of this- these guys knock a woman down with their pickup; they didn't mean to but they did. [They said,] "Clem, I think we hit something." "I don't know, back up and find out what it is." "Oh, Clem it's a woman." "Then you better make sure that she's not alive because she damaged." So they keep on going back and forth over her and you know this disrupts the body's functions somehow. Now whether they knew that woman or whether this story is true I don't know, but they ran over her a few times. Then we got a woman in [to the hospital] who had been beaten to death. She had gotten married [on] the Saturday, and by the Tuesday she was brought into the ER. I mean that man didn't even give her a week. She would have turned out all right, but he just wasn't patient enough. I don't know what she did. Then, oh dear, you got it. Then again, the school teachers- because pay wasn't good- some of them, not all of them, during the summer would act as ladies of the night. Then there was one woman who was very proud of her breasts and she would lay them on the bar and they would bet on how much they weighed and they would weigh them and collect the bets. It was a gambling thing! Another story: she decided they were too big, which in fact they were, and she decided to have a breast reduction. Then she sued the surgeon for depriving her of her income [snaps fingers].

LC:
This is a woman you met in the hospital or you just heard this story?

CB:
I know the woman and her breasts.

LC:
[Laughs]

CB:
[Laughs] So life was good in Bullhead City. Then one day the sheriff came to me, he was married to the head ER nurse, and said, "Look Claire, you cannot stay here as a woman alone with a baby, it is ridiculous, unless you learn how to use a gun accurately, and you must pack it." I said, "Me, packing a gun? Sensitive little me?" He said, "Yes, you're going to learn this," and I said, "No, I'll go." Then, to make a long story short, a headhunter found me and he said something about Otsego County and what a lovely place it was, and I said, "At one point I lived in the Berkshires. I had the baby on my back, the dog was running around the car; it was a jeep, and the snow was up to the gunnels. It was five in the morning and I was digging myself out. I don't want anything to do with snow country." He said, "Oh, Oneonta isn't like the Berkshires." Actually it is, it was. I don't know about this year. He sweet-talked me into coming over and that's why I'm over here: pure happenchance. Pure happenchance. I think I had been to Cooperstown as a child; I remember some things about The Farmers' Museum, and I just remember that visual but it must have been when I was very young. So here I am.

LC:
So when you first came here you worked in Oneonta at Fox hospital?

CB:
At Fox, yes.

LC:
Right. Eventually Fox was bought out by Bassett?

CB:
Oh, yes, but I had left before that I got fed up with a number of things. I left before that and I have to be very careful, this is a history project and there are some things you just don't say during a history project.

LC:
Mhmm.

CB:
[Laughs]

LC:
So even though you had stopped working at the hospital in Oneonta you stayed in Cooperstown...

CB:
Oh, I use this as a pied–à–terre, I do locums here, there, and everywhere. This weekend I am here, but I'm just on my way up to the Adirondacks again [to work], and I'll be back next weekend.

LC:
So what is it about Cooperstown that keeps you coming back?

CB:
I have a house here! [laughs] It's not a bad place to live. I've got the house and the land and I rather like to live on my own. Look, you've got a tremendous cultural advantage here. There are museums, lectures. There are people with a tremendous amount of knowledge and intellect all around you. Not so much [just in] Cooperstown, but taking in the Oneonta area as well. It's a fairly lively place to live; it's good and it's beautiful outdoors. I cycle and hike. I need to see more.

LC:
Mhmm.

CB:
It's good. It's a good place. Once when I missed the school bus with Donald I had to take him to the next school stop and there was a farmer waiting there with his kid and he said, "Look, we are living in the eye of the hurricane. Everything about us is death and disaster but we are in the middle." That's how we felt at a certain time, we felt very protected here, no longer. It was a good place to be and a good place to bring up children. I think you'll find many people who could live elsewhere have opted for this area. Fracking is going to kill all of us. What can I say?

LC:
Do you have any involvement with the fracking movement?

CB:
Do I have any involvement with the fracking movement? Yes. Anti-fracking. I belong to a storytelling group and we perform at Proctor's up in Schenectady. One of the assignments we had was to do a whole thing on the F-word and I said, "F-word, yes!" [laughs] So everyone had to do an F-word. So I made up this call and response against hydrofracking. I wrote it out and gave everyone a copy. I said, "Look, you've got the call, you've got the response. Just add more verses to this!" I only cover the health issues. What are the health issues with hydrofracking, which are tremendous, but they're being suppressed. There is a whole political brouhaha around this and then we can start to talk about the groundwater in another verse of this. Yes, I'm anti-fracking, because I'm sitting on a tremendous amount of shale. One of my neighbors has sold the mineral rights and you know they horizontal frack, so I don't know [what will happen], we're scared. If Cuomo wakes up, but he wants jobs. These jobs are not going to be long lived, and they're not going to give work to people here; only for a short while they are drilling. Then afterwards you're left with an industrial site in the middle of the countryside. We love the headwaters of the Susquehanna and that's part of the reason we're here: the beauty. If you spoil the beauty what have we got?

LC:
It's a big issue; I know a lot of people in this town are working to fight against it.

CB:
Some say, "Oh, that'll only affect people in the hills." There is a lot of lack of information to people who really should be aware. If they think they are going to get a penny out of it they might get a penny, but it's not worth it. You have to learn to look at the wider view. Then someone says to me, "But these farmers have nothing. They have nothing." Their sons have gone away, and their farm doesn't net anything; they’ve sold their cows. What else do they have? Well, maybe you should take a worldview. Maybe there is such a thing as voluntary poverty. This is where I'm coming from; there's only one political issue in the world, only one. Only one and that's the ecology. Finished. Nothing else is of relevance. After ecology comes water: fracking and water. You've been [taught] to believe that water cycles; the water we drink right now, and the ice, has dinosaur pee in it. Well, it used to be the case, but once water is taken into fracking, the “flowback frankin’-fluid” as I call it, it's lost. [We] can't get it out again.

LC:
It's devastating.

CB:
But they're not saying that in Albany. "Oh, jobs," [they say]. They're not your jobs.

LC:
So you think your worldview helps shape...

CB:
I think everyone should get a worldview real quick. If you spend all of your life here, you won't have any worldview. I was just talking to someone who is a shrink and he was telling me how one of his patients had to go to Delhi and she was trembling in her boots. Delhi is about twenty minutes down the road. She had never been, she was afraid.

LC:
That's a good story. I know we have just a couple more minutes.

CB:
Oh we haven't finished. We haven't scratched the surface.

LC:
[Laughs] Well tell me a little bit about your storytelling then.

CB:
I tell stories, what more is there [to say]?

LC:
How did you get into that?

CB:
My family. We're all storytellers, [every human being is a storyteller]. My grandfather, who was the principal, had a storytelling agenda because storytellers have agendas. Don't believe that they don't. I hark back to Rebbe Nachman who was in the far past, and he said, "I tell stories not to put people to sleep, but to wake them up." That's what it is about. First of all, I can do it. You've got the gift of the gab. Second of all, it's fun to do it. Third of all, there is the moral obligation that we all live with if we look at it thoroughly. When I was working at Fox I was friends with the head of the teen psych unit. [He was a] Jungian psychologist, he's now gone down to New Mexico. He said, "Why don't you tell stories to my disturbed teens,” and I said, "Huh? What sort of stories should I tell them?" He said, "You tell them stories that will frighten them because they need to be frightened and need to become confident in themselves in a protected environment. Tell them anything. No, I want you to come eat with them. Come to Thanksgiving dinner with them and just talk and hear what you hear." So I did, and I found the most pitiful stories; kids who had no ethical or moral upbringing. They weren't bad kids; they were amoral kids. Is that the word I want? They didn't know right from wrong, good from bad. They just didn't know. He said, "There's your job! This is what they need, they need stories." That was very interesting, because I always started the storytelling session with, "Tell me, what is your name, and where did your name come from?" They often didn't know, usually didn't know, and had no idea why their parents had chose it. They had no idea what the name meant. So they thought, “Oh, this is an individual who will listen to me.” I suppose it was a sort of group therapy session really. We told stories, I told stories, and then I got them telling the one-sentence stories; "Once upon a time there was a princess. And a dragon came. And stole her away." This goes all around the room and you're supposed to make a story. Sometimes it goes terribly wrong, sometimes things come out that make you really raise your eyebrows and [it] hurts your heart because it has been in these kids. But they were talking about it. So I do that and my granddaughters, Wendy, the rich one in Philadelphia, likes to have fancy dinner parties too. So she has all these [important] people and the girls are sent upstairs to bed at a certain point, the same as with me. Then she'll say to the guests, "Please, the girls are all ready and tucked in bed. Why don't you go and tell them stories from your childhood." [Gasps] At first, the guests [hesitated] and now they're getting into it. We've spread storytelling all around. So it was something I thought needed to be done. You know something of how I [am]. I am not particularly a Quaker, but I am a fellow traveler with the Quakers. I tell stories at their retreats. The idea is to tell a story and maybe get things going in a certain direction, or maybe just tell a story to tell a story. Now I'm doing a lot of work with women, particularly older women. Older women, we older women. What I did recently- and I'm going to do it again- is use Joe Campbell's hero thing. The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joe Campbell? Jungian?

LC:
I'm not familiar...

CB:
Oh my goodness, write it down and find out! It is a whole wonderful world. Joseph Campbell.

[START OF TRACK 4, 0:00]

Ooh, the Hero with a Thousand Faces. Anyway, you as a hero, you see. I take them through their life and I say, "Look, tell me something about your background. Tell me what it is in your life that made you leave it, or why you wanted to leave it or why you didn't leave it. You are on a quest; what is your quest? What did you do, what did you find out, and what did you take back to your family, to your people? A changed person?” This is the Hero's quest; you go out for the Holy Grail or something, or go out for something easier than the Holy Grail. You go out for something, you have your helpers along the way, your mentors, your teachers. Who helped you? How did you find your quest? Now that you've achieved your quest- you almost died doing it but you're all right- and taking it back? How do you plow it back into society, your family. It is very interesting doing that with older women particularly. I'm going to do more of that, and I sort of teach as well. So I like telling stories, what can I say? Sometimes I get paid, but traditionally the storyteller gets paid by a meal. Sometimes it is good. But see we can't eat when we storytell. [laughs] You just can't do that, and particularly you can't do dairy because it thickens your saliva, and you can't talk. So we don't really take our pay a lot of the time.

LC:
So, what else have we not talked about that you want to talk about?

CB:
What else? Cycling around Ireland with my daughter, and that is a whole thing in myself. Wandering around the cape of South Africa doing a wine tour with my son and that takes it in a whole South African thing. Going into a gold mine in South Africa. Talking to the people post-apartheid and what it was. Finding out where my South African friends had lived before apartheid; how they were cast out because they had good houses. How they had to leave South Africa and finding that district where they were, but now that district is all gone. All their houses were given to white people. The places where they had the beautiful house and beautiful garden, these are beautiful places, they became the gardener. Just the whole South African thing is there. Then my time in Central Asia was wonderful; it was like moving into the Arabian nights, literally. That's what I saw. Now my son and his workers with the NGO's [non-governmental organizations] saw another one because the Soviets had just left. They just pulled out. Big brother wasn't there to do things any more. Okay, say you have irrigation ditches, and the irrigation ditch broke. [They thought], “Oh, big brother will see to it that it's done,” but people slowly realized “Oh, if we want that ditch fixed we have to repair it for ourselves.” I was there during that enlightenment. The Soviet era was over. Now we have to deal, now we have to cope. Lets see what happens: some Russians were still around, but they are usually drunk so they're not much of a problem. Just getting into that whole thing is how whole villages were displaced. Russia needed cotton for Soviet use and whole villages were displaced, save for the Red Sea area, where the father was a captain on the Red Sea and they just had to take what belongings they [could carry] and were moved over to Tajikistan to work in the cotton fields. They said everyone you meet has picked cotton. Understand that, everyone you meet has picked cotton at one time or another no matter who they are. Of course the whole place had fallen apart and my son, the groundwater expert, was supervising the putting in of wells and he has people in his well-digging crew that were veterinarians, school teachers, college professors; they needed a job. That whole structure is gone. It is a very interesting place. My days; my jet-setting days, yes. I was a jet-setter in the sixties. I don't know what you guys were doing here. Peace and love, yeah, yeah. But to travel from one country to the other, to eat in the best restaurants in the world, ah. [laughs]. That's a whole other ballpark.

LC:
Do you still consider yourself a jet-setter?

CB:
I'm no jet-setter! I'm a poverty stricken woman who lives in Otsego County.

LC:
But you work hard, you said you were going to Germany soon, you're...

CB:
Well, I have to go to Germany to take care of my granddaughter; this is me being a grandmother. It's going to be fun, if I go. So, yeah, what else? Everything! Anything you want. The tsunami in Sri Lanka. I went there after the tsunami; we saw what we saw, we were aware of the civil war or whatever you call it over there. We were all partying; you party during wars because that's what you can do. What's that song; [sings] "All she wants to do is dance:" you know, when that is going on. You never know who will be dead, and some people I know are dead. You tend to party. [That night] everyone's cell phone lit up, "oh, there's phosphorescence in Dutchman's Bay." So we all went to Dutchman's Bay [in] like a rickshaw, but manned by a bicycle. But the price was awful, they just price gouged that night. So everyone was on the beach around Dutchman's Bay and the phosphorescence was amazing. All of the colors of the rainbow, and the boats would go back and forth to show us. But after a while they stopped; it got late. So we started to throw sand it to make it phosphorescent, then we threw each other in, to make it phosphorescent. Then we said, "wait a minute, stop everything, we're scientists. What is making it phosphorescent?" So someone washed out a beer bottle and got some of the stuff in. It was sea urchins' eggs. There was just this mass of sea urchins' eggs. That was that. At the same time people were calling up and down saying, "What is this phosphorescence? Is it a portent? A portend of good or of evil?" Remember, there was shooting, it was a civil war. The tsunami has happened; [it was] not good. So the news the next day that oil has been found in the North West corner of Sri Lanka, and I [felt they would say,] "We are going to get you, we are going to say that you are all terrorists, and we're going to suck your oil up. You are in trouble." That was the portend. But the Americans haven't gone [in]. I don't know what has happened since that time. But the big oil companies think they are going to get it; you're not going to get it. Just like in Nigeria, still it is poverty stricken there where the oil is, and they cleared the villages because they wanted land to build places for the oil companies. They cleared the villages by killing the people. You know that. You know about this. They just brrat brrrat [Machine gun noises, inaudible].

LC:
When was this?

CB:
Now. There's a novel called Little Bee that I can assign to you for this problem. It is little b, bee. It is a story of a girl whose family has been treated like that. She survives a stowaway and finally gets to Britain. But she is an undocumented alien and they put her in the undocumented center. So it goes on and on. This is fictional, but not [entirely] fictional. Then they repatriate her, of course. She was a foreigner with no marketable skills; she was a girl. They repatriate her, and they know who she is so they don't kill her. She has seen her sisters killed. She can talk. So that's Nigeria; we had a good time there. Ken Surawiwa; was an environmentalist... (yeah, another [story] for me). You could take your canoe and go to the mangrove swamps, and mangroves have adventitious roots and the oysters gather on the roots; it is tidal. What you do is a take a machete and cut the [entire] root off and you put them in the boat and then you have a fire. You put them over the fire and the oysters open up and you [pluck and eat them off the roots one by one].

LC:
[Laughs]

CB:
The [oysters] went. The first time the Texas oil men came, they went. Then these guys told me, drunk, they said, "we throw stuff in this river that we can't throw anywhere else in any river in the world." It's not regulated. So, yes, there are stories I could tell. Then the Sahara; I went to the Sahara to see the total eclipse of the sun, which was awesome. [I went with] a Mexican priest and it was just a crazy, crazy thing. Why are there so many Mexicans on the Sahara? Every time we came to an oasis it was full of Mexicans. They said, "Didn't you know we were sun worshippers?" Of course they are! "This is very important to us." I said, “Wait a minute what is going on here?” [inaudible] That whole thing [about] the desert, and who lives on the desert and why they are hiding, why they're living on the desert. [It is] amazing.

LC:
So if there was one story, one experience that made you who you are today- if you had to say one- what would you say it was?

CB:
Well, I don't know what to say! Isn't everyone living in a conglomerate of experience? It's like a kaleidoscope. You can't say there is one life-changing thing. If there is, it changes from time to time. I'm harking back to my You As A Hero sort of courses. Your heroic deed changes from time to time, depending on your life course. So once: one moment, the other: the other moment. Well looking back to it, I think my bicycle was my life changing experience. Getting me out of that very Victorian, very nice, very good family so I could have freedom and see the world. Then again, going to Nigeria and getting to travel the world. I've been very lucky; I've been able to travel all over. Not many people have this luck. I guess having children! Oh my gosh is that life changing- you be careful of that- in ways that you never imagined. Yes everything is life changing, everything you do. It is a continuum.

LC:
So where do you see yourself next?

[TRACK 4, 13:38]

CB:
I have no idea, probably dead on the road, [laughter] being quite honest about it. I [drive] about 200 miles a day during the week. Yeah, that's what I see for myself.

LC:
Mhmm

CB:
I can't see anything else, I don't know. I had thought I would go to Scotland and retire, and that would be a good life. In Scotland in the Highlands there is a strip of land; I’ve got the loch. I’ve got the shore and the fish and the place to fish from. Then I have the meadow and a place for potatoes there. Then I go up and you've got the pine forest and all that the pine forest offers and wood I can burn. Then you come to the deciduous hardwood forest and above that you come to the peat bogs and you can cut the peat and use it. There's food all the way along, some deer, rabbits, and you can grow things. But be careful of your greens because the rabbits and deer eat them.

LC:
[laughs]

CB:
If you get an occasional sheep, well you get an occasional sheep. It's not yours. So that is what I thought I'd do but I don't think that is going to happen. I don't know, because I don't know where my family is going to be. I've got offers; my daughter in Cape Cod has an apartment under her house that's "Wheelchair accessible [for you]." My other daughter has a house where there is a whole apartment [that is] wheelchair accessible. Besides which, it is next door to the outside hot tub. [I thought,] “Maybe this is the one.” [laughter] Now my son is all over the place I don't know where he will live and they are looking for a pied–à–terre and they asked for their wedding gift that we get a pied–à–terre in maybe Amsterdam. Do you know how much that costs? It's a fortune! [They said,] "We need a place to keep our books and papers while we're on assignment." As I said, they are asking me to come over and take care of the baby; I don't know what is going to happen. We will see. So right now, this house, which is much too big for me; I decided nothing is selling and besides it is sitting on the shale. I don't want anyone to sell mineral rights under it. I'm keeping a lot of land pure; giving it to the Land Trust actually. So I am renovating it so that maybe I can use it for [rentals] for the Opera people in the summer. You can get more money for the Hall of Fame people, but I don't think I want baseball kids in my house. [Laughs] The opera people, they're fine, they rehearse all the time and they are exhausted. Another [consideration] is the hospital people, they're wonderful. They are overworked and when they come home all they do is sleep. They don't tend to party. Anyway I'm doing it up. When [we] have the regatta, a friend called me from New Hampshire and said, "Hey, do you have room in your house" and I said sure. A whole lot of guys, a whole regatta team, came down and stayed with me. Actually they didn't sleep, they were so hyped up for the race. They were all excited all night getting their little nutritious drinks. They don't eat, they just drink these nutritious drinks. It was fun. So maybe I will do that.

LC:
Well I'm amazed at all the stories you've told me, it's been fabulous. Tell me one more?

CB:
One more! What do you want to hear?

LC:
The most visual experience you've ever had.

CB:
Oh my god. Okay. This is in Sri Lanka; there's a place that you go from the beach and you go higher and higher and higher and you come to an area called the cloud forest. No rain, but clouds and deer and all sorts of animals. Then you come to a place that says, "The End of The World" I said, "Phillip, I have to see the End of the World. Come on!" I was with my son. So we go to the End of the World; it is a long hike. You have to start out very early in the morning, before dawn, and drive up and hike, hike, hike, hike. Then we come to a place that says “End of the World.” So you are hiking, this is not America, and there is a drop-off. It is the End of the World. There are no rails; people in other countries are sensible, they don't need rails.. You just come to it and say, 'Oh!' Then I looked across this abyss and there were clouds boiling, boiling, boiling, boiling, up out of mountains that were so high. They are higher than the Cascades. [Clouds were] boiling out from between these mountains and there you are on the edge of something. So me being me, I am scared, I get on my tummy and I wiggle towards the edge and peer over. There is a poppy; they grow poppies here too. There is a poppy growing there and there is nothing else but abyss with clouds boiling, moving. I've never seen such cloud motion in my life as that. It is truly the world's end. It was just amazing; it was awesome. We just stood there in awe. The total eclipse of the sun is another thing. That is awesome too. You just literally stop and we threw ourselves down, supposedly to read the shadow bands, but not all together because we were just so overwhelmed by the experience in the middle of the Sahara. Ay yai yai yai. Wow, things! Yeah!

LC:
Sounds beautiful.

CB:
The End of the World and the Total Eclipse of the Sun.

LC:
Well, [these are] great experiences. It has been so nice hearing everything from your life and I've really enjoyed the whole experience.

CB:
It was fun!

LC:
It was wonderful. I just want to thank you so much for coming and meeting with me and for all of your time.

CB:
Oh, but thank you! It was so much fun. I've never talked [like this]. I talk all the time, but I've never focused on me. That is not the issue. This is very interesting. My kids have been trying to get me to write up my experiences. So you're going to give me a CD?

LC:
I can, if you'd like, sure.

CB:
Oh yes, that would be a Christmas gift to all of them.

LC:
Well thank you again. I'm just going to [turn this off].
[END OF TRACK 4, 20:50]

Duration

29:59 - Track 1
30:00 - Track 2
30:00 - Track 3
21:35 - Track 4

Bit Rate/Frequency

128 kbps

Files

Citation

Liz Congdon, “Claire Beetlestone, November 11, 2012,” CGP Community Stories, accessed April 23, 2018, http://cgpcommunitystories.org/items/show/131.