CGP Community Stories

Shirley Banta, November 4, 2008

Title

Shirley Banta, November 4, 2008

Subject

Upstate New York - Rural Living
Farming
Education - teaching
Education - district schools
Education - Middlebury College
Education - Wells College
Education - French Language - Learning in America and abroad
Education - NDEA grants
Children's passtime/games
Rollerskating
Exchange students/travel
Activities for the elderly
Cooperstown, NY
Unadilla, NY
Wellsbridge, NY
Bambridge, NY
Cherry Valley, NY
Milford, NY
Fort Plain, NY

Description

Shirley Banta lived her life in small-town New York. Yet she attended college in the 1940's, a rarity for women at the time, and later became a teacher. Consequently, much of Shirley's oral history revolves around her schooling. Living in Upstate New York, Shirley attended district schools before leaving for Middlebury College in Vermont. Shirley offers a series of anecdotes about her childhood and educational experiences that convey character and emotional depth rather than just bald facts.

While Shirley did not see anything extraordinary in attending college in the early 1940's, only 12.2% of women between eighteen and twenty-one years of age went on to higher degrees in this era. In the 1920's, with the advent of the progressive era, educational administrators attempted to obscure "the difference between urban and rural schools and schoolchildren." However, disparities in schooling still existed, and both society and government assumed that boys attended school to develop careers while girls were seen as future wives and mothers. After World War II men expected women to return to the home in order to allow returning soldiers to reclaim their jobs and establish their families. In this light, Shirley's academic accomplishments are not necessarily unique, but at least atypical - especially considering her rural background.

Shirley's college education is an accomplishment that she credits to her teachers, though her own teaching career is not something that she discussed at length. Most of Shirley's recollections deal with her schooling and everyday activities but she also touches upon more momentous changes, such as moving from town to town. While Shirley has only lived in New York, her travels have ranged from Europe to South America. Her children and grandchildren remain an important part of her life and Shirley ends the interview by discussing her current hobbies and activities.

Mrs. Banta spoke evenly when telling stories despite some rather frequent pauses. I have tried to use ellipses for shorter pauses and I have inserted [pause] where I felt there was a noticeably longer pause. Some of the false starts were left in the transcription because of the tone they add to the overall narrative or times when subsequent verbs and nouns agree with the first telling rather than the latter.

Creator

Mary Olson

Publisher

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

Date

2008-11-4

Rights

New York State Historical Association Library, Cooperstown, NY

Online Submission

No

Interviewer

Mary Olson

Interviewee

Shirley Banta

Location

Cooperstown, NY

Transcription

Cooperstown Graduate Program
Oral History Project Fall 2008

MO = Mary Olson
SB = Shirley Banta

[START OF TRACK 1, 0:00]

MO:
We are here on November 4th, I am interviewing Mrs. Shirley Banta. This is Mary Olson for the Cooperstown Graduate Program and we are here in her living room in Cooperstown, New York. So I guess the most logical place to start would be with your full name.
SB:
My full name is Shirley Louise Earl Banta.

MO:
Earl? Is that a family name?

SB:
Earl is my family name, that's right.

MO:
And were you born here in Cooperstown?

SB:
No, I was born in this county, however. I was born in Wellsbridge New York, which is a tiny little hamlet.
MO:
And you said your dad had a farm there, or your family had a farm?

SB:
Yes. I was born and grew up on a farm. My father's farm. It was a small farm, he had no extra help. And when we started out, not even a tractor or machinery. But horses...later we had a tractor, but when I first remember, it was a matter of horses and hard work.
MO:
So when did he finally get machinery then?

SB:
Oh, I think maybe when I was a teenager.

MO:
So before then you helped him out on the farm a lot?

SB:
I did do some chores. I did things like washing the milking machines, and...in the summer time, seasonal chores like doing the haying. I would have to go out on each load of hay and drive the horses. And then drive the horses for the hay fork to unload the hay. And I would drive the horses and the fork would be put into the hay and that would pull a load of hay up on the fork and it would go over on a track and dump into the mow.
MO:
What's the mow?

SB:
The mow is where the hay is stored.

MO:
How old were you when you first started driving the horses?

SB:
Oh, I would guess maybe ten years old, I'm not sure.

MO:
And what type of farm...?

SB:
It was a dairy farm, a small dairy farm.

MO:
And then did you just have Holstein cows?

SB:
Yes, mostly Holstein.

MO:
Did you have any siblings to help you out at all?

SB:
I had an older brother. But he had broken his arm by jumping from the...beam in the hay loft into the hay, but there wasn't enough hay there and so he broke his arm. And he had quite a lot of trouble with that, so he was not able to help as much. I had a younger brother, in fact I still have him, and he did help some later, but he was ten years younger than I.
MO:
When your brother broke his arm, was it a prolonged thing?

SB:
Well yes it was, but I'm not sure just why at that time. When it was set, for some reason, it was set so that his fingers were drawn up like this. And he could not extend his hand. And that was never corrected. So there were some things he couldn't do.
MO:
How much older was he then you?

SB:
Two years.

MO:
When exactly were you born?

SB:
When?

MO:
Yes.

SB:
I say it for...we go to the hospital so much, 7/11/22, I've got it memorized. 7/11/22. 7/11/22. July 11th, 1922.
MO:
Were you born on the farm?

SB:
Yes, all three of us were born at home.

MO:
What were your brothers' names?

SB:
My older brother was Robert, my younger brother wis Howard.

MO:
Did they do similar chores to you? Or did they do additional?

SB:
About the same thing.

MO:
Did you guys get along? Did you fight a lot?

SB:
... Well that's a good question. I don't remember fighting with my brothers very much. I really don't. I think we got along quite well. [START OF TRACK 2, 5:00]
MO:
How did your chores fit around school, I know you said before that you had to go pretty far for school.
SB:
While I was going to school I don't think I had to do many chores. Maybe the washing the milking pails and those things. And at that time we did not have electric lights, so we had kerosene lamps. And it was my chore to fill the kerosene lamps and to wash the chimneys and keep them going. We had three we had [laughs] big size, medium size, and a little size. And in addition we had one that was called an Aladdin lamp, and that made a brighter light. And that was the one that I could study by. The other three...and when the power was out last week and I had to use kerosene lamps for a little bit I said 'how did we ever get along with these all the time, I can't see anything.' But we did.
MO:
And your whole family just shared those four lamps?

SB:
That's right.

MO:
And did you use the same ones in the barn as well?

SB:
There was a lantern in the barn. A differently lantern. But we had to carry those lamps from room to room. It's a wonder that there weren't more fires.
MO:
How big was your house then?

SB:
Oh, well that's a hard question. There were two floors. I suppose by today's standards, it is [pause] quite large. There were...three bedrooms upstairs, I think. I think by today's standards it would be considered large. I would love to go back there and go in that house right now, but I haven't done that.
MO:
Do you still own it?

SB:
Oh, no.

MO:
It was sold?

SB:
Oh yes, long ago.

MO:
Do you know who owns it now?
SB:
No. I could find out, but I don't really know. It was called Premium Spring Farm because our source of water was a spring and it was a very good spring.
MO:
Going back a little, when did you guys get electricity?

SB:
I think, maybe, when I was a junior in high school, my father had a generator. And he would run that generator and then we would have lights. And limited power for awhile. And then the lights would go dim and the power would go down and he would have to run the generator some more. But that was probably when I was a junior in high school
MO:
I know you mentioned the milking machine before, did you use that before you had electricity, how did that work?
SB:
That has a motor. That had a motor of its own in the barn.

MO:
And was it a hand crank?

SB:
No. I'm trying to think how my dad did start that. Just push a button I guess. I don't remember. But I remember its name was Surge. S-U-R-G-E. That was its name.
MO:
Did all three of you go to school?

SB:
Yes

MO:
Would you mind talking about what it was like, grade school and younger levels?

SB:
When I started school I went to what was called a district school. And I walked to the school – it was probably...two miles. And at six years old that is quite a long walk, especially in the winter time. When there is snow. But I was always...In the good weather I had to walk beside a pasture. And the cows would follow along, and I would keep my eye on the bull in the pasture, and I was scared to death of that walk by the pasture. And I did it, I did it alone most of the time because...I still don't remember why my brother's broken arm kept him from going to school. I don't remember him walking with me, but I do remember that broken arm. So that was [START OF TRACK 3, 10:00] one year I went to that district school. My second year I went to another district school just in another direction. And we all had whopping cough that winter. But we went to school anyway. And I remember walking that distance to school and coughing so hard. And we carried our lunch in the dinner pail. And I remember...I do remember that year my brother Robert coming to and I remember on the way home we caught a frog and put it in the dinner pail, so that when my, it happened to be my grandmother, opened the diner pail and the frog jumped out at her. And we thought that was fun.
MO:
How many people lived with you? Was it just your grandma and then your family?

SB:
My grandmother was there some of the time.

MO:
Did she live nearby then?

SB:
My grandmother was a widow and she got passed to her four children. So she would spend some time with us and then she would spend time with the other three. And it worked out that she spent time where she was needed. [Laughs] She was...she was one of the persons who had a big influence on my life because she was so hard working and had to put up with this situation. She had no home of her own, no other way of living. But she...was not complaining about it.
See...and so I went two years – my second and third year – to that second district school. And then my fourth year...they did what they called 'consolidating the districts.' And then when that happened we went by bus to Unadilla School. And that was...quite a change for us. In the district schools there would be one or two of us in each grade level. When we recited, as they would say, one or two in a grade would be called up to the recitation bench, and then we would say our lessons there and then we would go back to our desks and work. It was different from now, for sure. When it was wintertime and cold the teacher would heat soup on a stove. We would bring the wood in – to a wood stove. And she would heat soup on the stove, for us, tryto keep us warm.
MO:
Would she be the one bringing the soup?

SB:
Well, we might take turns bringing it. Another thing I never forgot that one of them...we would bring packages of Jell-O and she would heat water, boiling water and pour on Jell-O and we would drink it as a liquid, to warm us up.
MO:
Was there a stove in the classroom?

SB:
Oh yes. See it is a one room school house. One big room and one stove there. And the teacher had to keep the wood going in the stove and try to keep us warm.
MO:
Was that like the other two schools you went to as well


SB:
The two district schools were like that, yes?

MO:
How long did the season go? Was it September to May?

SB:
June, yes.

MO:
Did you go for about the same time period for each school? When you had to walk versus when you took the bus?
SB:
The time of day that the school started? In the district school I don't remember. I don't remember if they were that strict about it or not. But more or less the same I would say. We did have fun at the district school. We would go out in the wintertime and slide down hill. In the summertime we would go out and play games: ante-ante-over. You probably never heard of that. [MO – No...] That was a matter of dividing into teams and one team [START OF TRACK 4, 15:00] would be on one side of the school building and the other team would be on the other side and we would throw a ball over. There was some more to it too. There was something about running around and hiding and then the other team would look for you. I can't remember just how that went. But I remember it was called ante-ante-over. We did have fun.
MO:
About how many people were in each of your schools?

SB:
Let me see...it would go from first grade through eighth grade, I think. And there would be... probably maybe two or three in each grade. Maybe four in one grade would be the highest number. So it was small.
MO:
Were these kids that you kinda knew from the neighborhood?

SB:
Oh yes, these were neighborhood kids.

MO:
Did you have any best friends in certain grades?

SB:
Oh yes. I did. I can remember one from the first grade and another one from the second school. But I was a very shy little girl. So I was...especially in the first school, I was afraid of the big boys, in seventh and eighth grade. Oh I was very afraid of them. ... I am trying to remember other things about the district schools.
MO:
Why did you switch in first and second grade to a different district school?

SB:
I think...the second one was maybe a little shorter distance to walk.

MO:
What was after your fourth year? You stayed in the consolidated one?

SB:
Yes. Stayed in...from fourth grade through...when I graduated in 1940. ... Stayed right there. And I really loved it. I loved school. Because being so isolated on the farm and on a farm that was really out in the sticks, this was my social life, to go to school. So I loved it. ... My father, since he was a farmer, and a small farmer at that and had no extra help, could never leave the farm at chore time. And that meant morning and night he could not leave. And he could not drive us to the different events when we were in high school. So I had teachers who were very good, very good to us and took pity on us and saw that we got to some events. ... But since this was ... mostly our social life, that and the church, that was our social life.
MO:
What kind of events would you go to at the school?

SB:
Events at the school?

MO:
Or that the teachers would drive you to?

SB:
[Pause] I remember being taken to Syracuse by one teacher ... to a conference on journalism. But later the teachers ... saw to it that I got to college. I would not have had a clue as to where to go, how to apply, how to interview, anything about getting to college. They...I guess they seemed to think they saw potential in me and they saw to it that I applied to...actually Middlebury College in Vermont. And they saw to it that I interviewed there, that...and through them and their help I got there. So I have an awful lot to thank them for.
MO:
Was it two or three teachers or how many?

SB:
I can think of three who ... went all out to help us, and help me get there [START OF TRACK 5, 20:00]. One of them ... was my English teacher, my Latin teacher, and my French teacher. And she stayed in touch with us and with me until she died at the age of ninety-something, and that's only about two years ago. And she took the initiative too. She would write and she would stay in touch. And she married, let's see, one of my husband's teachers. And he was the Ag teacher. And so the Ag teacher and the English teacher [laughs] were married. And they're the ones who stayed in touch with us and we visited them in their home in Hendersonville North Carolina several times. He became ... a part of the...what are the initials now?...the USDA – United States Department of Agriculture. And he worked with four plants: Camilla, Rhododendrons, Azaleas, Magnolia. I think those are the four. And he worked at developing these plants, and some of his developments are in the current catalogs. When we visited them I went around with him and watched how he pollinated and cross-pollinated and developed different innovations in the plants. So our high school teachers really...we have an awful lot to be thankful for. A lot to thank them for.
MO:
You went to the consolidated district school till eighth grade, and then what was high school like? Were they separate or...?
SB:
Well, they were in the same building. Grade school up to high school. In the same building, so we just went right on to high school. There were a couple of years when they were building a new building and we got farmed out to different buildings around town, and that made it more exciting and fun for us.
MO:
For high school, were you separate by grade then or did you just have different teachers come in?
SB:
Well, it depended on what courses we took. And...at that point I guess at that point languages were not required, we could chose them. Or business courses. We just chose our courses except for the ones that were required like English and Social Studies and ... basic sciences.
MO:
You mentioned that your English teacher married your husband's Ag teacher, he went to the same high school?
SB:
Yes, they both taught together.

MO:
But your husband went to the same high school?

SB:
Well he did. He started out in Brooklyn New York, in Garden City. And he came up to this area. His family had come summers to visit, for vacation. And the children in the family liked it upstate where they vacationed. And they wanted to come and go to school. So they transplanted the grandparents to a small farm upstate so that the kids could go to school up here. And that's how he got up here. [laughs]
MO:
Did you meet in class then?

SB:
Yep. In school. On the school bus. But we did not start going together till ... I was in my second year in college, I guess.
MO:
Did he also go to college?

SB:
No. He did not. At that time, when World War II started, and he was on a farm then, they had to stay home and work on the farm. So he did ... he was not in the service.
MO:
This is going back a little way, but you were talking about [START OF TRACK 6, 25:00] how your teachers helped you interview and showed you how to apply, what did that process entail, if you remember at all – getting into college?
SB:
I remember they took me for an interview. That was one thing. I remember having to go for preliminary tests. I don't remember what they were called or anything. I do remember though that it was a hardship for my father to get me there because the tests were taking place in Binghamton New York, which doesn't seem so far now...but at that time, in a terrible snow storm in the winter [laughs] it was quite an ordeal. So I remember that, going for that test, but he gotthere me there. And it must be I passed it, cause [laughs]. I don't remember much about what the tests were
MO:
And then you said you majored in French?

SB:
Yes. Majored in French and minored in Spanish and Latin. I didn't care much for the math and the science, I only took what I was forced to of math and science, but I loved languages.
MO:
Was Middlebury an all-girls school?

SB:
No, it's coed.

MO:
What was it like going to college in the 1940s in a coed environment?

SB:
[Pause] Well...it was quite a change for me because I hadn't ... been away from my little farm background very much. So it was quite a change for me. And being the war years, we did not get home often. I didn't get home for Thanksgiving, just Christmas, just about twice a year. So it was quite an adjustment. So...the friends that we made were important, then at college, because we didn't get home a lot. But ... it was a new experience but I loved it...I loved Vermont. It was ... mighty cold and rough in the winter, I had to buy boots that came up to my knees to wade through the snow to get to the different buildings.
Since I was majoring in French, beginning, I think, my third and fourth year, French majors were required to live in the Château, which was a replica of a French Château. But we had to live there and we had to speak French and not be caught or heard not speaking French. So that was...when I first went there ... I was so terrified. Because I had to live this way. I remember being in a hall and trying to be inconspicuous and leaning up against the wall and leaning against the fire alarm and setting it off. [Laughs] And we couldn't escape at any point because ... there were two or three of the different French faculty rooming...had rooms, on our floors interspersed among us. So we couldn't, you know, fudge a little bit, without risking getting caught. But it is the way to learn. And there was...is a Spanish school there too. And now...well now of course, there's Russian, there's everything. But at that time it was mainly French and Spanish.
MO:
Did the Spanish, languages were they required to live in...?

SB:
Oh they had to live in their Spanish language house, yes. And speak only Spanish.

MO:
About how many people lived with you?

SB:
Oh, I don't know how many there were in the château. ... Maybe twenty-five? I can't remember the capacity of that...
MO:
Did you have roommates?

SB:
I did. Yes, I did...still in touch with [START OF TRACK 7, 30:00] one of them. Still in touch. Very much in touch, with one of them. One has died and the other one is still living, but I am only loosely in touch with her.
MO:
Was the Château also male/female?

SB:
No. Oh at that time [laughs], the rules were so much stricter than now. A man did not set his foot on a stairway to go up to the [laughs], the rooms. Oh no. [Laughs] We had strict rules. Curfew was ten o'clock and you had to be in.... At ten o'clock. I think maybe on Saturday night it might have been eleven. But you had to be in. And when you went out – you signed out, and you signed in when you came in. To earn money I did a little job, I earned a little money, by being what was called house duty. And I had to sit downstairs and check ... people out, see that they signed the check-out book and signed in and all of that.
And then we would have...being the war years, we would have ... air raid drills. [Laughs] And we had different rules; I never could remember whether it was close the door and open the windows or close the windows and open the door or something. And make sure you had a towel to put over your face and then you had to get out and you had to be quiet. And there was a certain rigmarole to these air raid drills. So ... we had a house mother and ... we weren't supposed to know when these air raid drills were going to happen, but the house duty girl did know and I knew and I passed the word and I said, “let's all dress up in costume and [go] tonight.” So when the whistle blew we were all ready and we all dressed in costume and went down and ... I think this upset the housemother so I think she retired soon after that. [Laughs] But we had ways of having fun. We weren't supposed to have any animals, any pets, heaven forbid. But one of our friends had a little dog and managed to keep it and hide it [laughs] for quite a little while.
MO:
What type of costumes did you dress up in?

SB:
I don't remember what we did. Whatever we could think up. [Laughs] Things are so much different now. When we went back, I went back for my fiftieth reunion, and different students volunteered to be our guide or helper while we were there. And so that was a lot of fun because we got to talk with them and compare – how it is now, to how it was when we were there. What a difference. Now they, of course, they can go out at any time of the night and drive anyplace and go as they like. And of course we couldn't, we had the curfew. So they are much freer now, as you know. Than it was then. But...
MO:
Do they still have the same Château set up?

SB:
Oh ... It is used differently. We went back and visited it. And it is used differently now. I don't ... know if they are housing any students there now or not, but I know they have to have the same rules – so speaking only French and all that. ... The director of the French school ... was a wonderful man. His name was Dr. Paul Freeman, and he set up Middlebury French schools in Europe, several of them, but he was a ... beloved professor. And even when we went back, when I went back for my fiftieth, he was in his nineties, I think [START OF TRACK 8, 35:00] and he came and visited all of us, and remembered our names. And he was incredible. ... And he was not French, the director, the head of the school. The others were, the other profs., were all French, but he was not.
MO:
Did the men have their own château or château-like, or were there no men?

SB:
No, they lived in a men's dorm. And they came, all of the classes, they had to come to the Château for classes, and different social events. But they did not have a building of their own.
MO:
Did you live in the dorms before you moved into the Château?

SB:
The first two years I lived in ... the first year I lived in just a house dorm that was called Hillcrest. And we read now, I read in my Middlebury News now, that they're converting that house to be green, to be totally green. And then the second year I lived in ... a bigger dorm. It was new then, and it was called Forest Hall. And this housemother that I mentioned, we called her the Forest Primeval [laughs] but ... so I lived two years in the Château, the other two years, one in what was called Hillcrest and the second one in Forest Hall.
MO:
So the housemother, the Forest Primeval, did you have her in the Château also?

SB:
No, she was just in Forest Hall.

MO:
So you didn't come home that often, [SB: Oh no.] how did you meet up again with your husband, how did you start seeing each other?
SB:
Of course we went to high school together, I guess the last couple of years. And then ... when I was between my second and third year of college I was working in the summer-time ... and I worked in what was then called the Scintilla in Sydney New York. And I would get a ride part of the way, but then the last bit I had to walk home and I would be tired after a day of working ... at the Scintilla. And one day as I was walking home tired my husband came along with a tractor. And he offered me a ride and I said “I'd ride on anything” so I hopped on the back of the tractor and held on and he took me home on the tractor. And that night he came over and asked me to go to the movies with him. So that was the beginning. And that went on for...let's see...had to be in ... 1943, I think, and we were married in 1946. So, we knew each other but we met on the tractor. [Laughs] On our anniversary not long ago he gave me a little replica of a tractor with a little doll sitting on it.
MO:
That's cute. Did you keep dating in the summer then while you were in school for that last year?
SB:
What was your question?

MO:
I'm sorry. Did you just see each other during the summer then because you had one year left of school.
SB:
He did get up a couple of times. He and my brother, they hitchhiked. Because, again, gas was short, and tires were in short supply during the war, so they hitchhiked. They had quite a story about hitchhiking, but they hitchhiked to Middlebury to see me.
MO:
What was their story about hitchhiking?

SB:
Oh, the troubles they got into with the rides that they got hitchhiking. [Laughs] Some good things and some not so good things.
MO:
When you graduated did you start working right away?

SB:
I graduated in '44. And because, again because of the war, they moved the scheduling up into the summertime so that last bit I went during the summer, and so I graduated in February instead of June, and I got a job right away, and that was in [START OF TRACK 9, 40:00] Bainbridge, New York. And I taught there in Bainbridge until, up through ... '48. And then in January '48, our first child was born so I taught right up through till then. In Bainbridge. And then I went back to teaching when our fourth child started kindergarten.
MO:
So you have four?

SB:
We have four. And...let's see...Two boys and two girls. And four grandchildren, two boys and two girls.
MO:
Works out nicely.

SB:
Keeps things even.

MO:
So when you were working in Bainbridge, you got married in '46, did he come up and live with you, said he was working on a farm before?
SB:
Well he was in Unadilla, and Unadilla was not too far from Bainbridge. So he would ... after we were married ... back then the rule was that you had to live in the same village where you taught. I couldn't live in Unadilla and teach in Bainbridge, I had to live in Bainbridge. [Laughs] So all of those rules are out of the window now, but that's the way it was then. So I had to rent a room in Bainbridge and then come home weekends. Meanwhile he was building the house, he built the house on his farm that we lived in at first. And we moved into it ... before it was finished. We moved into it, we had to walk up to the first floor on a plank, then we had a ladder up to the second floor. And the cats could come in, of course there was no door on the first floor, so we could hear them [laughs] [down]... So that made it interesting
MO:
How long did it take to build?

SB:
... I don't remember. He finally got it completed. So that we had doors and stairs, and things like that. We just thought it was fun then.
MO:
Did you stay there...?

SB:
We stayed there until. Okay...until 1948 and our first child, Allen, was born there. I think he was fourteen months old when we left. Because there were ... too many families trying to live from the farm. And it just ... financially it just didn't work out so my husband was the one who was elected to find some job some other place. So he did, and that was in Fort Plain, New York. And he got a job with ... GLF – Grange League Federation. But he got a job driving a truck for gas – delivering gas and oil to farms. It was a farm related job. That was in Fort Plain, New York. And we stayed there ... a couple of years and then got another job in Milford New York, as manager of a feed store there. And then from Milford New York he got a job in Cooperstown with AGWAY and then that lasted a while and then he got a job with NYSEG. And so he worked with NYSEG from '66, I think, to '86. So then he retired in '86. And I had retired in '81.
MO:
And you said you started work again in...?

SB:
I started work again when Nick, our younger son went to kindergarten. So that was '66. I started work in '66.
MO:
And in '66 where were you again?

SB:
Cherry Valley. Cherry Valley and East Springfield [START OF TRACK 10, 45:00]. I worked for BOCES. And since it was a language, three years of a language. Well I taught in the morning in Cherry Valley and then I would go to East Springfield in the afternoon and teach. Three...one, two, three French there. So I did that. ... And then ... '66 to '81, I retired in '81.
MO:
Just going back a little. You said your husband was elected to leave? Was that a community decision?
SB:
Oh no no. Just a family decision. A family decision. No. The family decided that we would be the ones who would...
MO:
Was it a family farm then?
SB:
It was a family farm. And his older brother ... let's see...his grandparents, his parents, his older brother and then two, let me see, three younger children who were still in school. And they were all...and it was too many financially for the farm to support that many people. So he got another job and we left. Which was a good decision. So...
MO:
Was that also a dairy farm?

SB:
Oh yes.

MO:
Was that big in that area of New York?

SB:
... It was the same size as my father's...somewhat bigger. It is still there and still being operated. By his older brother, who is is my age, 86, and he is still working on that farm. And he has children and a younger brother who are also working. Still in operation in Unadilla. Unadilla Center.
MO:
You said when you started working again in '66 in Cherry Valley and East Springfield, did you keep working in that same job till '81?
SB:
Mmhm.

MO:
And that's when you moved to Milford?

SB:
No, Milford was before that.

MO:
So you were in Cooperstown?

SB:
Yes, all of that time. We came to Cooperstown in '56, I think. Built this house in '56.

MO:
You built this house?

SB:
Yup. Built this house in '56, that's when we came here.

MO:
I know you said earlier that some of the land was your neighbors, did you get the rest of the plot all at the same time?
SB:
I think we started with four acres. And then ... the man, whose name was Casey Brewster, and he lived in the house down below us. He was a very interesting ... gentleman, research man at the hospital. And when he died we were called in for the reading of his will and he had willed us the land around here and down here. He was afraid that something ... obnoxious would come in on our land and he wanted to prevent that so ... he willed us the land. Which was very nice.
MO:
And this is even more off track, I know you have said earlier you had pen pals in France still, have you ever been to France?
SB:
Yes, I spent the summer of '68 studying in France.

MO:
Was it just you or did your family come?

SB:
It was an institute. It was called the NEDA institute. National Educational ... can't remember without thinking a minute. NDEA. But the government paid for it. So I spent the entire summer studying in France.
MO:
Where did you stay in France?

SB:
Tours. And ... I just read something about a winery in Tours in TIME magazine or something and I said “Oh, I know where that is.” [laughs] That was ... I had to leave four children behind. Well in ... let me see... in '66 I spent the summer at an institute in Wells College [START OF TRACK 11, 50:00] I had to spend the summer there. And in each of these cases, in order for the government to pay for it, I had to sign an affidavit that I would not speak English and I would not meet with English-speaking ... I would not. But I could come home, from Wells College, once during the summer, and they could visit me once. And in those times we could speak English. But the rest of the time, in order for the government to pay for it that is what we had to swear we would do. But that is the way to learn. And then in '68 I went to another institute and that was in Tours, France. With the same stipulations. And I had to leave behind four children, watching out for one another. And Nick the youngest was ... he was born in '60, so he was eight years old. And each of the kids had their assignments to do. [laughs] They had a lot to do. They had to run the house and feed their father and the family and take care of everything and they did. But I remember the first letter that I got from Nick, the youngest one, and he drew a stick-figure picture and he drew a picture, he had a bucket on either side of him and he had tears coming into. And of course that broke me up. But they managed and we managed and it helped me a lot.
MO:
Was it professional development?


SB:
It was an entire school set-up for teachers. ... It was an institute set-up by teachers for teachers. And I think there were either seventy...I think there were seventy of us. And from all over the country. And it was set-up to help teachers in smaller schools, who needed extra help, professionally. So, I had to apply for that, got in. And that was quite an experience.
MO:
Did you apply on your own? How did you find out about these different?

SB:
[Pause] I can't remember how I found out about it. I must have gotten some notice somehow through some professional magazine or something. I don't remember how I did find out about it. But I did apply right away and got accepted. [pause] Had a quite a summer there.
MO:
Did you fly then?

SB:
Yes, oh yes. I remember having to go to New York and meeting with others who were going from this area. And I remember that some French dignitary was there and he passed out the dictionary, petit la rousse to all of us. [pause] And while I was there, when I was on a train once, I met this French woman with her little boy who was then two years old. And anyway, I have stayed in touch with them and with him and in there I have a picture that he sent me, only about, maybe a month ago of his first child. [laughs] And in fact I am in touch with him by email.
MO:
Oh that's right, the computer.

SB:
Yep, yep. So...I always told my students when I was teaching, it's not just this year and one course and one language that you are learning. But it's something that will affect you the rest of your life. It will open doors and windows for you. You will always have experiences coming from it. It's ... I tell them, not just this month or this year that you are...that [START OF TRACK 12, 55:00] this study will affect you, [it's] the rest of your life.
MO:
What were your students like overall?

SB:
Very good. When I was teaching, languages were not required. So they would be the students who really wanted to learn. So they would always be good. I love my students and I love my subjects. So that made teaching fun. And I still bump into one now and then and that's always a pleasure.
MO:
Did you teach at any of the schools in Cooperstown?

SB:
I've substituted. I've substituted in Cooperstown and I've substituted in Cherry Valley. I used to substitute quite a bit but not anymore.
MO:
So you went to Tours, have you been anywhere else? Do you guys travel at all?

SB:
Mmhm. Because I always like to make contact with exchange students, and especially the ones that would be in Cherry Valley. It's a small little farming community. And they might be...well, they needed some more exposure. Not that we did all that much or anything, but when we did go to Rochester when our children were older or something like that, I would invite them to come with me, whoever was the exchange student, so that they would ...they would usually be on a farm in Cherry Valley and I knew what that was like because I grew up on a farm. So anyway...
So our trips have been, tend to be to where we have visited exchange students. So we've been to Caracas, we were invited there for her wedding. And they put off their honeymoon to entertain us for a week after their wedding. We are still very much in touch with her and her children, Mercedes. And then, we have been to Bolivia twice to visit Juan and his family. We're very much still in touch with them. We've been to Germany to visit a German exchange student. And she, Dorothea, has become a doctor, and has married a Lithuanian doctor, and since they can't practice in Germany – it's very tight to get into places as a doctor – so they are practicing in England. So in 2004 [said 2-0-4], Dorothea has and her family have come back to us quite a few times, so in 2004, that was our last big trip – we went to England and visited them in Liverpool.
MO:
You've been all over the place then. So when you went to Caracas and Bolivia, when was that?
SB:
Caracas I guess was 1980, I think.

MO:
So it was just you and your husband?

SB:
Yes. And Bolivia we went to twice. We went...let's see...the first time was ... 1990. And the last time was 2002. And then other places. We've been to Columbia...South America, Aruba, Hawaii, Mexico four times. [pause] I can't think of any other places.
MO:
That's kind of a lot, so...Which was your favorite, do you think?

SB:
They gave us a wonderful time in Bolivia. And the people are wonderful. They took us [START OF TRACK 13, 60:00]...we had so many fun times. They took us through the jungle. One of the roads we went on, when we got back, in one of the newspapers there was a story about how it was the worst, most dangerous road in the world. But we didn't know that when we went on it so... No they just game us a beautiful time in Bolivia, but they did in England too. So, it's hard to pick.
MO:
Do you have any trips coming up?

SB:
Probably not, not any big trips. We've gone just to visit our daughter in North Carolina. Smaller things.
MO:
What are your daughters' names?

SB:
Our daughters are Kathryn and Marilyn and the boys are Allen and Nicholas

MO:
Sorry, just checking the times. So your one daughter is in North Carolina, and the rest of them are?
SB:
That's Kathryn, she's the older of the two girls. Marilyn is in Westerly Rhode Island, they're both married. And Marilyn and her husband Greg are quite excited now about thinking of building on a piece of our land which is way over in that corner. And we're excited about that too. So we hope that happens, when they get to retire. This is my mother by the way [picks up photograph on coffee table]
MO:
Where was this taken?

SB:
This ... was taken at her home, and I don't know where. And I have a lovely, younger friend who is an artist. And I met her where I meet most of my friends lately – at the skating rink. Where I still go but I don't skate quite anymore. And my artist friend, Judith, saw this picture and she asked to borrow it. And she borrowed it and I didn't know what she was going to do with it. And she came back with it like this. She did it in this and she's done maybe several versions. This is my parents, my dad played the violin [looking a new pictures Shirley gotten from another part of the room]. And he was also a Grandpa Moses. He did that and that, and ... [gesturing at paintings on the walls]
MO:
Did he do the one behind us?

SB:
No. That is a ... Monet I think. It is a replica, of course. Let's see. My artist friend Judith, I guess she...rose arbor...and so she did that...
MO:
And did your mother also grow up on farms in New York?

SB:
In New York state. In New York state. But ...she wasn't on a farm. Her father was a mailman [pause] but in a rural area.
MO:
When was this picture taken?

SB:
I'm guessing it was taken about 1917, 1918. And I still have a dress, it's not this one, but it's very much like it. And I can still put it on. So that dress must be from 1917 or1918. And Judith, the artist friend, bought this frame in Paris and brought it back to me.
MO:
It kinda looks vaguely wedding-dress like, that's why I was asking.

SB:
It does, it does.

MO:
Do you still have your wedding dress?

SB:
Mine, no. I didn't even like mine [laughs] No...[START OF TRACK 14, 1 hr 5:00] we had a very, very small wedding. Just the family here. And we did more, which I thought was appropriate, at our 50th wedding anniversary. Because by that time we had children, friends – lots of friends. It was more of a celebration than our wedding was.
MO:
Did you guys hold it here...well not here...?

SB:
Beaver valley camp ground. Do you know where that is? [MO: No.] No? Well, it's a very pretty place. They now have ... campsites up there, baseball. I'm trying to think to tell you how to get there. There are places around here for you to explore, and that's one of them.
MO:
So how did you end up with your wedding dress if you didn't even like it?

SB:
I was ... are we still being taped? [MO: Yes]. I was...so practical at that time, growing up as we did, that I thought I had to have a dress that I would somehow use again. And so I had it made with that in mind, and so I never liked it [laughs].
MO:
So you never wore it again?

SB:
No, no, no. But that didn't affect our marriage at all. [laughs] Not at all

MO:
What was it like after you got married? Did you have a honeymoon?

SB:
We took a trip to Canada up Montreal and Quebec. Had a very good time. And when we came back it was our first flight ever, airplane flight. Because I had to get back ... to teach. So to speed things up we took a flight home.
MO:
What was that like, your first flight?

SB:
Well, I guess it was kind of exciting for us because we had never flown before. We have a lot since.
MO:
Do you remember if they were different, the flights?

SB:
This was a small plane, nothing like now. Just a small plane. I don't remember much about it...
MO:
So you lived in different places for the beginning of your marriage and when your first son was born you moved in together?
SB:
Well it was just during the week I had to room in...But in the weekend I would come home to the house we were building – without the doors yet. And we lived there till – 56. No wait a minute. We lived in the house that we built in Unadilla Center. ... We only stayed there for 49, only a year, I guess. We were only there in that house for a year. Because Allen was born there in 48. And in 49 we came to Fort Plain, rented there in Fort Plain. And then kept coming down the way from Fort Plain to Cherry Valley to Milford, to Cooperstown.
MO:
So by the time Allen was born did you have doors?

SB:
Yes, yes we did.

MO:
And what was your house in Fort Plain like?

SB:
It was an apartment. And it was an upstairs apartment. And I think I counted seventy-five steps. Well, it was up on a bank, and there was a whole series of stairs down the bank, and then there was a series of stairs up the porch, and then there was a series of stairs up to our second floor [START OF TRACK 15, 1 hr 10:00] apartment. Which wasn't very special.
MO:
What was it like moving into an apartment after living in your own house?

SB:
Well, we didn't seem to mind at the time. It was a new experience, and we didn't mind. But there were those steps, every time I came out with the baby in the stroller. Come down seventy-five steps. When we moved in to it, the owners hadn't yet finished papering it. So our trunk came in and the ladders and paper and boards and everything went on top of the trunk and I couldn't open it to get any clothes to change our clothes or anything for quite awhile. I don't remember that those things bothered us all that much.
MO:
Were your other children born when you were in Cherry Valley or Fort Plain?

SB:
Kathryn was born when we were in Cherry Valley. Marilyn was born when we were in Milford. And Nick was born here. Let's see, Allen was born in Sydney Hospital, but the other three were born in Cooperstown.
MO:
Bassett?

SB:
Um-hm.

MO:
Cherry Valley and Milford, did you rent or did you buy existing?

SB:
Cherry Valley, Rob's employer provided the house. And it was an old stone house and it was cold. And in Milford we rented. And then from Milford we built this house.
MO:
How did you find this location.

SB:
One of Rob's colleagues, working with him at AGWAY, it was then called GLF. But he knew about this piece of land and who owned it. And so we contacted that person and bought the land.
MO:
This is a little off-topic, but I remember you telling me you didn't know about the Great Depression?
SB:
Right. I didn't know about it because, at the level we were living, on the farm, on a poor farm, it wasn't any different from... So...I didn't have anything taken away from me. We were kind of at the bottom of the ladder anyway. So ... it didn't affect us. Meanwhile, it did effect my husband, and he remembers because he was living in the city. And he remembers, but I don't. I remember that I had three cotton dresses. Two of them that my mother sent to Sears Roebuck for. Two of them were the same style but two different colors. I can even remember, there was a red and a blue one. I loved them. They were alike except for the colors. And then there was a brown one. And my mother kept them washed, ironed and starched. And a bow in my hair, bow to match. And I thought they were great. I do remember having to wear winter underwear, when it was cold and the house not all that warm. And I remember it was a happy day in the spring when my mother said I could take off the winter underwear and put on that spring underwear. Oh what a relief.
MO:
I know you said you used to go sledding too.

SB:
Oh yes.

MO:
Did you have any special clothes for sledding, or extra jackets?

SB:
We used to get...what was it they were called...wool snowsuits or something. And they kept us warm. And I would ski. Our farm was on a hill, a hill farm. All downhill. [START OF TRACK 16, 1 hr 15:00] And we'd put on those old skis, without ski poles, and headed down the hill. And I headed down the hill on a sled ... once. And our hill was [Dagget] hill, it came down and hit the other hill at right angles, just like this, and right here was a fence. And I remember sledding down the hill and then, sort of coming to and seeing the fence post vibrating like that. My head had hit that fence post. ... But I'd get up, walk back up the hill, slide down and do it again.
MO:
So you weren't really affected by the Great Depression, but you were affected by WWII, by the material shortages?
SB:
There were different things, things were rationed. Sugar was rationed, so we did less canning and jelly making. Hosiery was rationed, gas was rationed, tires were rationed. I remember we took a little trip ... and we went to visit one of the roommates that I had in college. But the car had very poor tires, and we had about three blowouts on that trip, because we were on these old tires.
MO:
And you said you had to stop canning?

SB:
Because we didn't have sugar.

MO:
What would you can or make jelly out of?

SB:
We might use saccharin, but I guess not canning, we just canned less. Because it took sugar to make jam and jelly and we didn't have it.
MO:
Where would you get the fruits though, to make them – would you buy them at the store or did you have your own arbor?
SB:
From the orchard. We went out and picked our blueberries and our blackberries and our strawberries
MO:
Did you grow any more foodstuffs?

SB:
... I don't think we had a vegetable garden back then. Of course we had the milk from the farm. Nope. We didn't have a vegetable garden. The first time we had a garden, I think, was in Cherry Valley.
MO:
Did anything major change during the Korean War or the Vietnam war? I suppose the 60s, that whole era.
SB:
No, not that I think of. I just know that my son''s best friend, he went to the Vietnam. And his own brother didn't believe in the war, and he went to Canada. That's what I seem to remember from that.
MO:
And your sons weren't old enough to...to go or anything?

SB:
No. Allen was David's age, but he was...there wasn't the draft then. They volunteered. Allen was in college.
MO:
Did all your children go to college?

SB:
No. The boys went. The girls did not. Neither of them, neither of the girls liked school very much. [START OF TRACK 17, 1 hr 20:00] Allen went to Clarkson and Nick went to UConn, University of Connecticut.
MO:
And was it a choice then or were they more actively encouraged to go since you had been to college?
SB:
It's just what they wanted to do. No, we didn't push them, it was their choice?

MO:
Did they have a more modern, more typical for us, school experience. Because you still lived in fairly small towns.
SB:
They just thought it was important to go in order to have a good job. It was their decision.
MO:
How old are your grandchildren right now?

SB:
Beth is thirty. And Neil is, he just had a birthday, twenty-six. And Nicole is twenty-two. And Tyler is twenty.
MO:
And what are they doing? Did they go to college, or in college for some of them?

SB:
Nicole is studying Art. Beth graduated from Oswego, Neil graduated from [Geneseo.] Those two are teaching. Tyler, the youngest of the four, is in his third year in RIT – Rochester Institute of Technology.
MO:
Did any of your own children end up teaching as well?

SB:
Nope. Nope. They did not take after their mother. [laughs]

MO:
What did they end up doing?

SB:
Maybe after their father a little bit. Nick is...boy his job is hard to explain. But he is into cars, and racing and mechanical things. ... Kathryn ... is a very talented and creative housewife. She never has wanted or held a job, but she loves doing things in her home and her garden – landscaping, decorating. Marilyn ... she did not go to college right after high school. She did take courses, sort of very intensive business courses, after that and after she was married. But ...in order to have a good job she would have to drive from Westerly Rhode Island to Boston, one of the worst drives in the world. So she did not put that training to use. Instead, she is working for Swiss...a chocolatier. She makes chocolates.
MO:
And she was the one who was thinking of moving out here?

SB:
Yes.

MO:
And do they know what they'd be doing out here?

SB:
Oh, they'd be retired. But they'd have to find something to do, because they would not be happy. He is a photographer, and ...it's hard to repeat it...he works for a subsidiary of Phizer. Which means he travels all over and has to photograph ... their meetings and different things like that, and then he has to edit them [START OF TRACK 18, 1 hr 25:00]. That's what he does...not that I understand it all, but that's what he does.
MO:
And then Allen?

SB:
Allen has had an unfortunate life. Following a very bad divorce he lost about everything and ended up in a mental institution, and he is very much better now and he is in a nursing home because following all of the psychotic drugs that he has had he cannot function or hold a job. But he is doing very well now, and functioning very well. But he has to be...he can't manage on his own. But his total ... sweet, considerate personality is still right there. And he calls, he calls every week and he's doing very well now. His mental condition is very much better, I'd say totally better. But the process has deteriorated his condition so much that he can't be on his own. So that's his situation.
But an interesting phenomenon is that ... before any of this happened and before he married he had a friend, a girlfriend. And they decided not to marry. And this must be, let me see, this must go back to the 70s. And just recently, I would say a matter of months ago, she telephoned here and gave me her name and I remembered her name and remembered her, although I had to think a little bit [laughs] after all these years. The 70s and now it's well over thirty years ago. And she asked me all questions about Allen and where he was and all of that. We had a very long conversation. She told me all about her life – she is a psychiatrist. And she got Allen's number and now she calls him every week and talks to him and it helps him so much. And she never married. She worked as a psychiatrist all her life and now she takes care of her mother. So that was quite an interesting thing. Life works in ... many ways.
MO:
And so you said you also had your younger brother Howard?

SB:
My younger brother Howard, he's ten years younger than I. He lives in Winchester Virginia. They came here the fourth of July and visited, they don't get here very often. And then when he went home he wrote me this long, long, long letter convincing me that I had to have a computer. And that I should learn to use a computer, that it would make my winter so much more bearable. And we had never considered that. So I decided, well we decided, 'yes, I'll try it.' So when I mentioned it to my neighbor and my minister they were both very supportive and positive and ready to help me. So to make a long story short, I got it, with their help. And I'm learning to use it, with their help. But starting to learn the computer at age eighty-six is a little challenging. So I have lots of frustrations but then I have a lot of pleasure from it too because already I [START OF TRACK 19, 1 hr 30:00] am more in touch with, even my family. And now I am in touch with my granddaughter Beth much more than I was. With all of them more than I was. Even with my friends, with emails, I am in contact with two people in France. And more than that. So I thank my brother for pushing me into this. [laughs] He tells me to call him anytime, he's in Virginia. I'm going to phone him and tell him he's got to come up and spend a week with me, really teach me. But I'm getting there.
MO:
Sounds like it. Sending email already.

SB:
I'm very much in touch with this friend [Judith] who did this for me. Because being an artist she has a blog and she puts a sketch a day on the computer. So I can bring up everyday and see her latest sketch. And now we were quite challenged this morning because she had given me... she had wrote me instructions to bring up her ... site where she sells her art and her cards. We had a little trouble getting it up this morning. But I won't give up. [laughs]
MO:
Did you ever use a typewriter or anything?


SB:
Never before. But my typing is coming along very well. Just out of necessity. That part, I thought it would bother me at first, but that's not bothering. It's just getting used to the technology. But... they're all so helpful. They've given me a printer and showed me how to use it. [laughs] I'll show you before you go. I'll show you my blog that Judith puts her pictures on.
And the rollerskating rink has been a big part of my retired life. Because as soon as I retired I started going to Lady's Day at the skating rink. Down here on Interstate 88. Lady's Day, ladies come from all the surrounding towns. And we've got what we consider a sorority there [laughs] where we watch out for each other, and keep in touch. And, let's see, I retired in ... 82, so from about 1982 till now, this has been a big part of my week. Every Thursday is Lady's Day. We've seen friends, we've lost friends, we've watched friends lose their husbands there. We've gone through quite a lot together, this group of ladies. And new ones come in all the time, as we lose old ones [laughs]. So...that's been...made a lot of friends there.
MO:
What else do you do now that you are retired?

SB:
I love my garden and my flowers. I love exercising, the gym, I go to the gym. Although I haven't skated since I was eighty-four, I still go down to see everybody. I love to swim. I love to walk. I go to the classes at the gym.
MO:
I know you mentioned you go hiking in the woods?

SB:
Yes. I've always liked to work with my husband in the woods. He still goes up there and I do too. The neighborhood is a big part of our lives, because it is a wonderful neighborhood. We have get-togethers and we work together. Right now our neighbor below us needs a lot of support because her husband is very sick. One of our neighbors across the way in the underground is Dennis [START OF TRACK 20, 1 hr 35:00] who was here this morning helping me with the computer. [pause] Let's see, what else do we do? [pause] We love to play ping-pong. We have a ping-pong table in the basement. And...It's been our practice in the wintertime every night after supper to go down and play ping-pong for a half an hour. My son Nick says, he used to say, that I love to lure his friends down to the ping-pong table and then beat them. [laughs] So we've had fun with ping-pong ... So we started the other day, we started our season of ping-pong. [laughs] To see if we could still do it. And we could.
MO:
How long have you been playing ping-pong?

SB:
[pause] I don't know when we put that ping-pong table down there, probably three or four years. Maybe.
MO:
And then what kind of flower or vegetables do you grow?

SB:
I concentrate more on the flowers than I do on the vegetables. But we have both. I like perennials, I like herbs. I'm a vegetarian and I have a big interest in nutrition and how it effects our health.
MO:
Do you eat tofu too?

SB:
Yes I do. I love making, improvising recipes and serving them and not telling people what they are. So they...I have a reputation. Some people will say 'is there tofu in it Shirley?' Do you like tofu?
MO:
Yeah. I'm also a vegetarian.

SB:
Oh. Well that's interesting. Yup, I think it's very important.

MO:
Alright, I think with that ,we're going to be done. Thank you.

SB:
Oh well, this has been fun. It's been lots of fun.

Files

Citation

Mary Olson, “Shirley Banta, November 4, 2008,” CGP Community Stories, accessed October 17, 2019, http://cgpcommunitystories.org/items/show/15.