Patti Ashley, November 23, 2021

Title

Patti Ashley, November 23, 2021

Subject

Community
Change
Development
San Francisco, CA
Music
Allen Ginsberg
Blacksmithing
Clark Sports Center
Real Estate
Dolls
Antiques
Cooperstown, NY
Tourism
Doubleday Field

Description

Patricia Bensen-Ashley was born in Cooperstown, NY in the 1940s. She grew up in the village of Cooperstown, moving around from house to house for a time before her family relocated to Nevada for a short period. Her parents moved back, and she continued to live in Cooperstown until moving out to California with her oldest son, then age five. After living there for five years, she moved back to Cooperstown once more where she has remained ever since.

Patti worked a couple of different jobs, from a secretary at Bassett Hospital to doing office work at the UCSF Medical Center. However, she has spent most of her time working real estate, opening her own business in 1989, Ashley-Connor Realty. The office is located right on Pioneer St. in the town of Cooperstown, and is where this oral history was conducted. Patti has also had a good level of community involvement, formerly serving in the Cooperstown Cemetery Association and on the board of her son's school while in San Francisco. Although she is too busy to attend meetings and does not currently serve on any boards, she still donates her money to good causes around town and supports them as best she can.

Patti is a fourth-generation Cooperstown citizen, with her great grandfather working as the town blacksmith in the late 1800s and living to the age of 98. He was still alive for most of her childhood, and gave his blacksmithing tools to The Farmers' Museum in its early years. Patti has a great appreciation for her family's history, their stories, and the history of Cooperstown.

Creator

Sarah Alden

Publisher

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

Date

2021-11-23

Rights

Cooperstown Graduate Association, Cooperstown, NY

Format

audio/mpeg
28.79mB
audio/mpeg
27.03mB
image/jpeg
3.83mB

Language

en-US

Type

Sound
Image

Identifier

21-001

Coverage

Cooperstown, NY
San Francisco, CA

Interviewer

Sarah Alden

Interviewee

Patti Ashley

Location

Cooperstown, NY

Transcription

SA = Sarah Alden
PA = Patti Ashley

[START OF TRACK 1, 0:00]

SA:
This is Sarah Alden on Tuesday, November 23rd, [2021] interviewing Ms. Patti Ashley.

SA:
So, where were you born?

PA:
I was born at the Mary Imogene Bassett Hospital, here in Cooperstown.

SA:
Roughly, when was that?

PA:
Roughly a long time ago [laughing]. I was born in the [19]40s, grew up here in the [19]50s and [19]60s, moved away, came back.

SA:
Where did you move away to?

PA:
Well, we moved to Nevada when I was in high school. My mother was from the West. And then as an adult, a single parent with a five-year-old child, I moved to San Francisco, California.

SA:
Why did you choose to move to California?

PA:
That's about as far as I could get.

SA:
Interesting, why was that?

PA:
Because I was going through an upheaval in my life.

SA:
Would you mind talking about that a little bit?

PA:
Ah, yes. I was going through a divorce.

SA:
Oh, I see.

PA:
Yeah, and had a little child, and my mother was from the West, so I was used to being in the West. We used to visit there a lot.

SA:
What brought you back to Cooperstown?

PA:
Raising a child in San Francisco. Seemed like [you'd be] better off here raising a child. We grew up very nicely here. It's different now, but Cooperstown was very different when I was a child.

SA:
How so?

PA:
Well, it was no baseball, except for the Baseball Hall of Fame, and that was a big deal once a year. Main Street had all kinds of shops, five grocery stores, I think I was counting last night when I was thinking about it. Clothing stores, shoe stores, several, I guess, two drugstores, lots of little restaurants. Actually, probably more like six grocery stores. And the Clark Sports Center, which we called "the gym" was on Main Street, and the school was on Chestnut Street. Now the school is at the other end of the village. We used to walk from the school on Chestnut Street to the gym on Main Street every day after school. And the village was lots of trees. Tree-covered Main Street. Most of the shops had awnings so it was very cute, and if you walked downtown in the morning almost every shopkeeper was out washing their windows, washing their sidewalk, and sweeping. Something you don't see a whole lot of right now, yeah.

SA:
When abouts did the changes happen to the Cooperstown that we see today?

PA:
Baseball. The first store that sold for a lot of money to a baseball shop kind of set the precedent for the rest of Main Street because people who had shops, like actual shops, could no longer afford to buy the buildings. Changed a lot. Yeah, then they took the trees down [chuckling]! It's very different than it was. We had a lot of freedom. The baseball diamond was something we played on all the time. My grandparents lived on Elm Street, which was behind the baseball [diamond] and we actually had part of the fence that you could go like this and go in through onto the baseball diamond. And summer evenings, you'd see all kinds of families out there, and some of the men, they'd be using those little, what were they, those gasoline toy airplanes. But they weren't toys. And they'd be flying them, and the kids would be running the bases. My children never played on Doubleday Field because it became a shrine somewhere along the way. While it was a huge part of our childhood, my brothers and myself, it was not part of my children's childhood. But we played in the grandstand and hung by our knees underneath the bleachers, and, you know, all that changed. It's been interesting to watch. It's still a nice place to live, and I'm not sorry I moved back here. I have great friends, and we have a good time, and, yeah, so. But it's very different.

SA:
What have your thoughts been on those changes? Anything in particular that has really been a good thing or a negative impact on your life?

PA:
[Coughing] Well, it's different. It's a tourist town. It wasn't when I was growing up—excuse me [coughing]. [Walking away to get a drink] It doubled in size in the summertime, but that was the summer people, it wasn't tourists so much, you know? People came to the Hall of Fame and then the game was a big deal. But the game was where we could run up to the baseball players and get their autographs. Now they've got sharp shooters on the roofs when they come. That's a whole different thing. Is it good? Well, it's pretty much what's happened throughout the country, this [isn't] particular to Cooperstown.

SA:
Now, do you like baseball?

PA:
Not particularly [laughing]. It's alright, you know? My father was a big baseball fan. He played, he was signed with some major league when he was very young and then met my mother and got married instead. So baseball was a part of our lives, and he was an umpire for my whole life, growing up.

SA:
Was your father a very important figure to you?

PA:
[Coughing] Well, both of my parents were. My father wasn't around a lot because he played sports and umpired and, you know. So, was he important? Yeah, he drove us to the lake to go swimming [chuckling] and stuff like that. Growing up in that period of time our parents weren't that important. You know, because we had so much freedom, and parents weren't helicopter parents then. They didn't drive to our games, or hardly ever, or any of those things. It was a whole different thing.

SA:
Did you get to know your parents when you grew up? Became an adult?

PA:
Yes.

SA:
What did you know about them?

PA:
My mother was from the West Coast and they moved here. Her family then, most of them moved back out so we used to vacation by going out there. My father was third-generation Cooperstown, so he knew everybody. That meant everybody knew us. You could not get away with anything, because somebody would call your father, you know? However, one time one of my brothers had a fake ID and he was drinking at a bar in Oneonta when he was way too young to be drinking, and he left his wallet there, or I guess he left his ID there, and the owner of the bar knew my father and mailed it to him. So my brother really got busted [laughing]! It was different, we had a lot of freedom, we wandered around. That was back when music was important, there was a youth center up over what used to be the old firehouse, and they had dances there and DJs and, you know, it was just a place to go hang out. And it was fun, we had a lot of fun. The school was more active. There were a lot of dances at the school; there were pep rallies before every home game. They ran busses to the away games for the students, so the games were always well attended, but it wasn't with parents driving, it was with the kids. It was different. Parents became more integral in the children's activities. My parents had four kids, but nobody's parents were [there], unless they were officiating a game like my dad or other people's dads. They'd go to football games, my brothers and stuff, but they didn't do what the parents do now. Yeah, I was a total soccer mom when my kids were growing up. And basketball. And one of my brothers says [imitating male voice] "my parents, mom and dad never saw me ski!" Well, they were going to drive to Vermont, you know? For a Saturday? When they had to, you know? It was just different. Cooperstown was a good place, it was a fun place to grow up and I have great friends that I grew up with, who I've stayed, some of them I've stayed very close to. And the museum made it all that more interesting. My best friend and I every spring one of our rituals was to climb over the fence at The Farmers' Museum and sneak in. Which, of course they all, everybody who worked there, knew us and they knew darn well what we were doing and who we were, so we certainly didn't get away with anything, but we thought we were. So it was fun. Yeah, we had a whole list of things. We had to get in the lake first before any of our other friends, and I mean, just, you know, children's things. But it was fun.

[TRACK 1, 9:44]

SA:
Now you mentioned music was important. What sort of music were you into back then?

PA:
Rock and roll! And then when I was first married, my husband was in a band, kind of a country type and folk music band. They used to play in all the bars around. Music was a big deal, because they had dances all the time at the school. You know? If there was a reason, if there was an excuse of any kind, it was a dance! You know, and it might be for two hours, it might be for—I'm not talking about formal dances, I'm just talking about music. There was a lot of it around.

SA:
Now when you say "rock and roll," was that radical in this area? Did that show up and change anything?

PA:
I doubt it, I don't think so. I can remember a whole bunch of kids lying on our living room floor to see, I think it was Elvis Presley on the Ed Sullivan Show because some of the kids didn't have TVs,. There were parents who just said "my children aren't going to watch television."

SA:
So you saw Elvis on the Ed Sullivan Show live?

PA:
Well, I assume it was live, I don't know the answer, but I think so, yeah.

SA:
That's very interesting.

PA:
You could go to Saratoga and see everybody. Everybody! I mean, I think I saw almost every singer, every band, every group. The only ones I never saw were The Beatles, because they played far away every time they played. We just couldn't get there. But you could go to Saratoga, you lay on the grass and watch Peter, Paul and Mary or, I mean, just everybody was around, even Delhi college. I saw some great bands at Delhi College, you know. I think the tickets were five bucks a ticket or something? And we had a friend who went there so he'd get all that. It was just different. I mean, there's still good music here, there's a lot of music. But we all danced. My friends and I all still dance, given the opportunity. It was more laid back. We were on Main Street more than the kids are now, I think because we didn't have the tourists that are here. You know, it's not necessarily always safe to let little kids just wander around. And it's not just here, it's everywhere; whereas that wasn't really a consideration when I was growing up.

SA:
Now, were there any particular concerts that really stuck out to you?

PA:
Well, they would have been in Saratoga, they wouldn't have been here. I don't know, I'd have to think about that.

SA:
That's alright.

PA:
[Thinking] Huh. And the lake of course, was important. When we were little our parents took us to Fairy Springs and Three Mile Point, we usually went to Three Mile Point. But my mother, during the day she'd take us to Fairy Springs.

SA:
Now, where are those?

PA:
Fairy Springs is just up the, east side of the lake? It's just up about a half a mile? Quarter mile? Three Mile Point is three miles up on the west side of the lake. That was, I think, land that was sold by the Clarks and donated to the village at some point. There used to be a bandstand there and there was music on weekends, sometimes bands would come and play dances. But yeah, you played in the sand when you were little and then you progressed to wearing bikinis and [laughing] going water skiing, but it was fun. And we had a camp on the lake for a long time and we had a boat, so there was lots of fun. And we met a whole different [group of people]. I used to hang out with the summer kids a lot. Of course, then nobody spoke to me when I went back to school in the fall. It was fun, different.

SA:
So those summer kids, those, I'm assuming, were people who had a camp or a house out here. Was there a sort of culture surrounding them that was different from the locals?

PA:
Oh yeah, yeah. They usually had more money, or people thought they had more money. Don't quote me on that, please, that's not good. Still, a lot of those people are here. And it was, it was just different.

SA:
So why did you choose to spend time with the summer kids?

PA:
Um, well, I don't know, I think first of all I had a crush on one of the boys and it kind of went from there. You know, made friends and kept them.

SA:
Now I believe you mentioned you moved away in, what was it, high school?

PA:
Yeah, my mother was from the West, and she had grown up just north of San Francisco and they had moved back here. In her family there were three older kids and three younger kids, and her parents ended up moving back out west with the three younger kids. My grandfather was a civil engineer, so very often we would go on vacation and go out there and visit. But her sister had been killed in a car accident, one of her sisters, and her father had died, and she just wanted to be near her family. It didn't go well. She and her sisters weren't speaking within, three, maybe two months of us being there. My father hated it [chuckling]. Anyway, so they turned around and they came back here. It was just a huge financial disaster [laughing].

SA:
And what was that like for you at the time?

PA:
It was a nightmare. I had been born here, I had my friends from, I mean, I have one of my friends there are pictures of us in a sandbox together, you know, we weren't walking yet. So I'd never really had to do anything to be friends. That was a shock, that you actually had to do something to have people like you [laughing]. I was pretty unhappy, and then it was ok, and it ended up being good for me because it made me reach out more, I think, than I had.

SA:
How so? How did you reach out?

PA:
Just because I had to make friends. I didn't have to make friends here, they were my friends, you know. I mean, when I was growing up it was, I mean, sometimes in the summertime I always felt a little confused by some of it because my father had grown up here and so there were people who he had gone to school with who didn't live here but they'd come in the summer and they'd send their kids to spend time with their parents, their grandparents, and I'd just get dropped off at these places, you know. "So-and-so's in town and they want you to come play." Well, I didn't know the people. I felt the same way in school. My godmother was a teacher, but she was also the head of the drama club or something? And all of a sudden I'd get picked up out of class and I'd be an angel in a play, [chuckling] and I was always like, "I don't know what just happened!" Nobody ever talked to me about it, they just kind of dumped me here and there. But we had friends who used to come up here in the summertime from Long Island that my dad had grown up with the mother, and this girl was maybe a couple of years older than me, but her grandmother was an antique dealer. So they had two houses here actually, two summer houses. One up in the hills and one in Toddsville, very nice houses. And the grandmother did antique shows all summer and I'd go to antique shows with their granddaughter and it was really fun, so I really looked forward to them coming. I spent a lot of time with them.

SA:
Where were these antique shows? Just all around?

PA:
All around, yeah. I don't remember specifically. We used to kind of sit under the table and play with our Ginny dolls, and be lucky if her grandmother said "ok, you each have five dollars to spend," or whatever. But it was fun, it was just different.

SA:
Did you enjoy antiques back then?

PA:
Yeah, my mother was taking me to auctions when I was about four, and I was bidding in auctions when I was four, and I still collect antiques, yeah.

SA:
What is it about antiques that appeals to you?

PA:
The fact that they have a story. Maybe, maybe not. That they're better made than anything that's made now. I have a lot of family things, I like that.

SA:
What sort of stories do you like?

PA:
I like stories about people's journeys, I guess. Everybody's doing all the DNA stuff and I really could care less. I'm more interested in their journey than I am in whose related to whom.

SA:
Do you have any objects that have a particularly interesting journey?

[TRACK 1, 18:59]

PA:
House full of them. My great grandfather was the village blacksmith, all around and including the Smithy, the sign that's in there has his name on it. I have a lot of things that he made and I have doll beds and things that he made for me when I was little. And my grandfather then carried that on and made me more. There isn't enough to time to tell, I'd have to really think. You know, it's not spontaneous for me to think. I'm so used to these things being in my life.

SA:
So you knew your great grandfather.

PA:
My great grandfather, I did know. He died when I was a senior in high school, I think? Or junior in high school? He was 98.

SA:
Oh, wow.

PA:
But I never knew his wife.

SA:
So was he the first generation from Cooperstown?

PA:
I believe so.

SA:
Do you know his story? When he moved here?

PA:
They came here from Indiana, I believe. I think somebody worked on the railroad but I've never been clear on who. I don't know. I know one time one of his cousins came up from Tennessee because the revenuers were chasing him and he was hiding out at my grandparents here in town. My grandmother was born in Germany and her family came over here twice. Came over with a whole bunch of kids and then her husband was killed, died, again on the railroad in Troy I think. And she took those kids and went back to Germany and didn't like the way things had changed and so she came back over again. So two times! Can you imagine? With kids. Travelling, the way they used to travel? It's amazing any of them survived. They lived here in town, and their house was a safe house. We moved a lot, here. We didn't move far most of the time except for Nevada, but I never quite figured it out. I don't think my father ever made a lot of money doing it [chuckling] but we just moved a lot. If you wanted to keep something, you put it at my grandparent's house. That was my safe house. Otherwise, the thing might be gone. You know, your favorite doll? Where'd it go?

SA:
Was moving houses difficult, even though it was in the same area?

PA:
I didn't like it. My brothers seemed to have liked it. I thought it was embarrassing [laughing]. No, I didn't like it. In one house there, I had this beautiful big room. Of course I had no closets because old houses didn't have closets, but my dad sold that house and we were moving into town, into the village. I did like living in the village, I didn't know I was going to but I did. I was in 8th grade, maybe 7th grade? And so my bedroom went from being this lovely big bedroom to being this horrible little teeny tiny bedroom that had a big closet, and I said I wasn't moving [laughing]. I don't care what you do, you can't make me move. Well, of course they could [still laughing]. And it ended up being ok. Yeah, we lived in a lot of houses.

SA:
What about it was embarrassing to you?

PA:
Moving all the time, [I] felt like a nomad.

SA:
Was there anything that the other kids at school would say that made you feel like that?

PA:
No, but the realtors all tease me! They say [mimicking other realtor] "oh, I suppose you lived in that house!"

SA:
Have you ever sold a house that you have lived in?

PA:
Oh yeah. Lot of them.

SA:
Does that give you a sort of one up? You can talk about what it's like to live there?

PA:
No, because the houses have changed, and you know, I have definite memories of them. And there have been houses where I've said we lived here and it was a really great place to live.

SA:
So what brought you to being a realtor?

PA:
Well, many, many years ago I worked at Bassett Hospital, as a secretary, and I really liked medicine. And I got my real estate license with somebody, an old hippie from Cherry Valley, actually, and I didn't do much with it. I sold a couple of things and then I moved to California and I kind of worked a little bit for an office out there and I worked for UC Medical Center. And then I came back here, and I got married again and had a child, and my ex-sister-in-law had a real estate business here and she wanted me to come work for her, which I did. And then I left and I started my own business. I like it, I like it. Because I like houses and I like people.

SA:
When did you start your business?

PA:
1986, 87?

SA:
How was that experience?

PA:
Busy. Yeah, it's up and down, and it's stressful sometimes, and sometimes it isn't. You have to be very patient and it's a hard time for a lot of people because it's the most expensive things that are in their lifetime, the most money they'll ever spend. So people get very nervous sometimes, and sometimes not. I've really enjoyed selling real estate.

SA:
Do you think there might be a connection between you moving around as a child to--?

PA:
Oh, I think probably.

SA:
You think so?

PA:
I would guess. I used to sit with, I would have notebooks when I was little. Just notebooks. And I would describe rooms in them. I'd put the bedroom and then I'd describe everything that was in the bedroom, and then I'd do the living room. I had piles of them! I was probably about eight or nine years old. I never did quite figure that out, however, what I had in mind. It's funny. Obviously, I didn't become a decorator, but yeah, no, I've enjoyed real estate.

SA:
So when did you move back to Cooperstown from San Francisco?

PA:
Long time ago, in the [19]80s.

SA:
So you started real estate here shortly after then.

PA:
Yeah, but again I had had my license before that.

[TRACK 1, 25:47]

SA:
You mentioned an old hippie in Cherry Valley. Was there a big community of them here?

PA:
Allen Ginsberg lived in Cherry Valley.

SA:
Really?

PA:
Yeah, he lived in, it was called Committee on Poetry, and he had a house up in the hills. Well, he wasn't a hippie, he was a beat, part of the beat generation. Good share of that beat generation lived in Cherry Valley or stayed in Cherry Valley. There's a book called "Up on East Hill" that talks about the farm. A lot of people in Cherry Valley came to Cherry Valley because of Ginsberg, and what was going on [scolds dog]. And of course, so many of them are dead, you know, they've died. But it was a whole other culture going on out there, it was very interesting.

SA:
Were you ever a part of that?

PA:
Yeah, I hung out there.

SA:
What was that like?

PA:
Well, to me at the time, it just seemed normal. I was very young, I was twenty-three I think, which is young. I got married young. We just thought it was cool. I didn't have any idea really of the impact that that group had had on the culture, I guess, in the United States. Took me a while to figure that out. But yeah, no, very interesting part of the area here.

SA:
Was there a conflict between the beats and the hippies and that subculture, and the locals?

PA:
Not that I know of. But I might not know. I never saw any of it, but I'm sure there were people, are still people, the Grateful Dead played here, well, Furthur, a few years ago, and there were people who wanted to call the National Guard for god sakes, you know. [Imitating outraged person] "ooh they're gonna do this! And they're gonna do that!" [laughing] It's like, oh my god. Yeah, so, there are always those people.

SA:
Now, you've told me before, you worked on the graveyard committee here, you were on the school board.

PA:
Not here.

SA:
Not here?

PA:
No, not here. I was on a school board in California. You've seen how hard it is for me to keep an appointment with you. I gave up because I used to be very involved in a whole lot of stuff, but I can't. I'm not reliable, basically, and I don't like being that way but I can't. Real estate, you have to be on when people want to show up or see property. You can't say "oh sorry, I've got a meeting, I'll see you tomorrow," so I just gave up. But that's ok, I do other things, you know, donate money, just stuff like that.

SA:
Do you ever miss that involvement?

PA:
No, I'm too busy.

SA:
What brought you to the school board in the first place?

PA:
In California? My son was five. And I moved to San Francisco with him, didn't know anybody, and was looking for a school, and I found one that I liked and I moved right in the same neighborhood and I just got involved. It was a little school, it was a little Waldorf school.

SA:
Did that help you engage in the community at all?

PA:
Oh yeah, sure. Yeah, we had a great sense of community where I lived. I lived right at the edge of the Haight [Haight-Ashbury]. And it was right after, well, the Grateful Dead still lived there. Bands were still playing, but some of them had already stopped playing and had moved out so it was still a sense of community in the Haight. It was a good place to live. It was safe.

SA:
Was it a good place to raise a child?

PA:
I thought it was.

[START OF TRACK 2, 0:00]

PA:
Yeah, and then, I don't know. One day I looked out the window and I saw two of his friends looking way older than I think they were, and I thought "ok, I think we're outta here!" [Chuckling] It just didn't seem like it was going in a good direction, and quite frankly, it didn't for some of those children.

SA:
So you stayed in contact with families?

PA:
I've stayed friends with a bunch of people there. Yeah, I made good friends there.

SA:
Now, how long did you live there?

PA:
Five years.

SA:
And you came back to Cooperstown. Was it just because you felt connected to this place?

PA:
My family was here. My parents, my grandparents, my grandparents were still alive, and I had three brothers who were here, and one little boy who needed his family.

SA:
How would you compare the two schools? San Francisco and Cooperstown?

PA:
That was a Waldorf school, that's totally different than public education. [Talking to dog]. I am not a big fan of public education. I kind of think it's like the medical community, I think it all needs to be shut down and started over. I think the schools used to be way better than they are now, which is too bad.

SA:
What do you think has changed?

PA:
Well, rules and regulations. I went to school here obviously, and when I was a freshman in high school, we had a required reading list over the summer of I can't remember how many books, it was probably 20 books, and you could select so many of them, I don't remember. And we had to do book reports and book reports were extensive. When my oldest son was in school, I was like "well, don't you have book reports?" and he showed me a poster board. I said, it's like an art project for way young kids, that was what the book reports were. And the same with my youngest child. It's a joke. And you're going to quote me and I'm going to be in trouble, that's why I don't join things, because I'm in trouble all the time. I just, I kind of was like "that's a book report? You don't have to read to do that." And part of it, I think is—I sound like an old fogey—I think with all of the video things that the kids are doing, I think they don't read, they don't look at you, they don't know how to say thank you [laughing], and I think it's sad, because they do not have good vocabularies mostly. [Talking to dog]. My grandchildren were homeschooled, which I had a little trouble with the concept, but honestly their vocabularies have been very extensive from the time they were little, I mean way more than a lot of the teenagers I'm around. It's interesting. But yeah, Cooperstown has decent schools, but I think all the schools used to be better, in my own personal opinion. As I said, it's a change, some of it's changed for the good, I mean because the world is crazy right now, so it's hard to tell. I think there was just more of a feeling of freedom when you were a kid here then than there is now, with the tourists and the [Cooperstown] Dreams Park. I mean, those are all people coming in and you don't know who they are. When I was a little girl, I was everywhere. I was knocking on people's doors, "can I come in?" you know. I would no more let a little girl do that now than the man in the moon, and my parents didn't worry about me. And now, I worry about my granddaughters, you know the first thing I did when they moved back to Vermont was go online to see where the sex offenders were compared to where they were, and I thought "this is sick! This is really sick." But it was fun to grow up here with everything that was going on. Louis Jones's son David was a good friend of mine and I used to be in and out of the Jones house, and one of my closest friends, Lynn Jones, just died a few months ago. She was married to David Jones, Louis's son, so the Jones' were a big part of Cooperstown when I was growing up. And the Kecks [Caroline and Sheldon Keck] were also here, and they were art restorationists for J.P. [Paul] Getty, one person I know of, and they were interesting. The Coopers were here and they had the property, and the Clark kids came in the summertime, Jane [Clark] and her sister. Now you don't see those people so much because the town is more involved with Dreams Park and the baseball people.

SA:
So you talk about prevalent families like the Joneses. Do you think that there's any families like that now? You don't have to name names, but do you think that that still exists in the town?

PA:
Yes, I think there are still remnants of the old families who had a lot to do with this community growing. There's still some around, and there's some who are relatives of those people who have come here, you know, and moved here with their children, families, or come in the summer or whatever. Yeah, some. But it's definitely different. We used to walk home from school and walk down Main Street and Derek's Shoe Store, which was where I think Danny's Market is now, had an x-ray machine. Every kid in town practically, stopped there on their way to the gym every day and x-rayed their feet! And I think about it, I think "dear god! I'm surprised we don't all have cancer of our feet bones!" And the gym wasn't big like it is now, and it wasn't opulent, but it was really fun. And Colonel [Simon] Acoutin was the director when I was growing up, but I think he had fled Russia during the revolution, and if he saw you not busy, he had you in his office playing cards or teaching you how to use an abacus. There were lots of water ballet shows that went on, I was on a tumbling team there, we had tennis lessons there. I think the family membership was $25 a year or something like that. Fencing, he was a fencer and his daughter was, so we had fencing competition, and then there was bowling, you know, there was a lot going on for a little place. Very much centered on the children. I went there just about every day. And where the [Cooperstown] Art Association is in the library building used to have what they called the children's museum, and they had art lessons every Saturday morning for kids, pottery and weaving and a bunch of stuff. I think it was easier to find things for the children to do. A few years ago, somebody came out with, I think it was the League of Women Voters, came out with a brochure that told all of the things children could do and how to how to get a hold of them. They don't do it anymore, but I think it's hard for people to figure out what's available for children to do, when I think that used to be more out in the open. Now you kind of have to know somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody to figure it out, or at least that's my impression.

SA:
Now are you aware of the Facebook group, Celebrate Cooperstown? How do you feel about that?

PA:
Yes, I don't do Facebook for personal reasons, I do go on Celebrate Cooperstown, because you can do it even if you aren't on Facebook. I think it's fine. I think sometimes the comments are silly, but I think they are with everything.

SA:
Do you think it's a good way to know about what goes on in the community?

PA:
Yes, I do.

SA:
Is it comparable to knowing what went on when you were a child?

PA:
I don't know the answer to that. You just kind of knew what was going on then. I think there were more people living here then. I mean, I always thought it was like 3,000 people which doubled in the summertime, but now they're saying it's like 2,000 people. But they saw each other more. That's one of the things that tourism here has done. It's not isolated, but more separated. People can't park anymore. You used to be able to park, and then once Dreams Park started, you couldn't really just park and go in a place. People from town aren't going to, I know they can do $25 and get a ticket, but they probably aren't going to do that, because they feel like why should they have to pay to park in their town? But I feel like it has separated people. There are too many people downtown, so if somebody is older they don't want to go downtown because they feel like they're being crushed or whatever, and sometimes it is that way, I think. Because the teams all go downtown and stuff. And of course, then they're swarming because there's so many of them. And I'm not saying they're a bad thing, it just changed things a lot. I don't know. I talked to, because there aren't many of them left, I've tried to keep in touch with my parents' generation friends for a long time. I think they're mostly gone now. But they just felt like they were kind of not wanted downtown, because of the traffic and they didn't feel comfortable, and there wasn't anyplace for them to go. That was the other thing, you know, because so many of the stores are gone and the little places, restaurants, to go in where they felt comfortable, they aren't there, so there wasn't anything for them to do downtown, that's the other thing. I sound very negative, don't I? [laughing] I don't mean to be.

SA:
If you'd like to redeem yourself, is there anything positive that you can think of that tourism has done to the town?

PA:
Yeah, well I guess it fixed our streets. It brings money in. That's about the only good thing I think that it does. I don't know, I guess it's helped the museums, although their numbers aren't incredible either. I don't know. People will be walking by my office screaming at their kids and swearing at their kids. I'm like "gee, your children are having a nice vacation!" or they're saying [mimicking excites tourist] "oh, you have such a beautiful town!" as they drop their garbage on the ground. I am kind of amused by it. I don't know if it's a good thing or—moneywise, I suppose it's a good thing. But quality of living-wise, I don't believe it.

SA:
Now you talk about the museums and you told me that story about The Farmers' Museum. Was the Fenimore and The Farmers' Museum and possibly the Baseball Hall of Fame a really important part about living around here?

PA:
No. The Baseball Hall of Fame we could have cared less about except for induction weekend, and then everybody from the time they were little would volunteer at the games. I mean, I had everybody's autographs and I didn't even know who's they were. They just said [imitating baseball player] "hey kid, let me, I'll sign it," you know? But it was exciting and you'd walk around, and it was safe, it was still safe then, you know, and the ball players would all wander around and they didn't charge for autographs. I have an older son and he started collecting autographs when he was five, and it was great. We had a lot of fun doing it, and now by the time my younger son—there is 14 years difference between them—people were charging. So it became not so much fun [calming dog down]. Where were we?

SA:
Charging for autographs.

PA:
I don't mind it with the old guys, because they didn't get paid anything, you know, the old players. But so the Fenimore House [now the Fenimore Art Museum] was important to me as a young married adult. They had dances and fundraisers that were dances; you know, it was back in the cocktail party era. But The Farmers' Museum was kind of our playground when we were kids. Baseball Hall of Fame, eh.

SA:
Now what did The Farmers' Museum look like back then? Was it roughly the same as it is now?

PA:
No, there were a lot of differen[ces]. Let's see, what was missing? The church wasn't there. One of my best friend's mothers, well in fact, two of them worked there. I think one in the farmhouse. And in fact, the Lippitt house is named after one of my best friend's family's place. It was their family, you know. I had a lot of friends whose things were [there]. When the blacksmith's shop first opened, all of the tools came from my great grandfather. Now, they all seem to be gone because he had his initials on everything and we can't find any of them, but that's how it started, was with his stuff. It was like a playground, I mean, everybody knew you. I can remember going with my class and the blacksmith used to take the nail, the horseshoe nails, and twist them into rings, which they actually sold, I think, in the gift shop. But when you went with your classes from school, they all went, lots of times, so when you were there he would make one ring and give it to somebody. Well yeah, he gave it to me like two years in a row because he knew my great grandfather and everybody was like [imitating agitated people and laughing] and I didn't save any of them, I wish I had, but I didn't. Yeah, it was as I said, it was kind of like a playground. And I have grandchildren. I've ridden on that carousel more times than I [can count]. I didn't think that carousel was appropriate when they put it in there. It's like, come on, give me a break. But, ridden on it a lot of times. And the Keith Haring exhibit at the [Fenimore Art] museum was just so fantastic. Just fantastic.

SA:
Now your great grandfather's tools, were they donated by your family?

PA:
By him, he was still alive.

SA:
He had retired from blacksmithing at that point?

PA:
He retired from blacksmithing way before then and he became a furniture maker. I have a lot of furniture that he made.

SA:
Did he have a shop in here [Cooperstown]?

PA:
He had several shops. I haven't quite figured out exactly where they were. One I think was in this alley over here [gesturing outside front of office].

SA:
That is, Pioneer Street?

PA:
Yeah, but I don't know what that alley is called. I think it extends over to this one [the alley next to the office]. He was around. He owned a hotel in Hartwick and he had a shop in Hartwick and he was up in the valley someplace. He was really old by the time I was little, you know, by the time I was born. He told great stories, but I never knew whether any of them were true or not [chuckling].

SA:
Now was he a prominent figure in your life, was he important to you?

PA:
Well, you know, they were the consistency in our lives. My mother's family was out west. My mother's family was much more interesting. They were artists and kind of lived a crazy life, but my grandparents, they lived in the same house my entire life. So you knew where they were going to be [laughing]. You might not know where we were going to live, but you knew where they were going to be. And my grandmother loved cooking and she always had extra food for us, and my great grandfather loved telling stories and playing. I thought he cheated. The only way I knew how to play solitaire was to cheat until I was probably 20 and somebody said "that's not the way!" [Laughing] "oh!" And I had great aunts, one was a single lady who lived in New York City and would come and stay at the house and kind of raise hell with everybody because she thought she owned the place, but she was interesting. It was just, they were there. And you knew they were there. I don't know what kind of an influence that would be. They loved you without reservation, that I know. They didn't expect anything. I was very close to my grandfather. And the museum, they did interview him. I haven't even listened to it. They did interview him. Yeah, I mean, as I said, it was different because everybody knew you, and you weren't really maybe aware of that. And we had all kinds of people in our lives who we called aunt and uncle who were no relation, and kids, they don't do that anymore either, you know. Which is ok, I mean my kids call everybody by their first names, they always have, and I was thinking, "not sure that's proper" [laughing].

SA:
You were talking a while ago, I believe, about your great grandfather who used to make things for you, and I believe you mentioned that your grandfather continued after he died. Was your grandfather in the same business that your great grandfather was?

PA:
No, my grandfather, he actually was a chauffeur, before I was born. I guess maybe when I was little he worked for the Knox School which used to be where the Otesaga is. He used to be there in the wintertime, and before that he worked for the Bowers family. Yeah, they were working, they were working class. My mother's parents weren't. They were sweet, kind, dependable. He loved making things for me, they all did. He bought me a doll every Christmas when I was growing up. My mother would buy, and I'd get an Alexander doll, you know, that was from FAO Schwarz. My grandfather was happy to get me a doll that you had to send in 42 Pepsi-cola tops, they were cheaper, you know. And I always thought they were so beautiful. It was cute, he was cute.

[TRACK 2, 21:04]

SA:
Did you like dolls growing up?

PA:
Yes, very much so. Doll houses. I still have doll houses.

SA:
Would you say that you collected them?

PA:
I don't like to use the word "collect." I acquire them [chuckling].

SA:
What about doll houses appeals to you?

PA:
I guess everything's little, and it's so neat, and just seems like it might be a good place to live, I don't know [laughing]. Yeah. I've always had doll houses, and I've done them for each of my granddaughters as well.

SA:
You make them?

PA:
Not the house, but I do things like curtains and handmade quilts and dust ruffles and that kind of stuff. It's fun. Paint the walls.

SA:
Is that time-consuming or difficult?

PA:
Well, I haven't done one in a while because they're half grown up now, but I still have mine, actually I have theirs at my house too. But no, you just do it when you can do it.

SA:
Now when you made those little quilts, did you sew them with the pieces?

PA:
Mhm, by hand.

SA:
That must have been difficult.

PA:
They're just tiny! [Laughing] It's actually easier doing them by hand than using a sewing machine. It's fun. As I said, I grew up with David Jones, and Lynn, his wife, was one of my closest friends. She'd talk about how it used to be, then say how we sound like old women [laughing]. But it was just different. Again, I think it made you feel like you had more freedom than you do now, just because there weren't the number of tourists. And that sounds paranoid, but you don't know who's here. And we were just gone all the time, nobody ever knew where we were when we were little. And we were little girls. I mean, I'd go nuts if my grandchildren did that. I'd be paranoid. Everybody kind of took care of you, I think. And I think that's still true in Cooperstown. Everybody kind of knows whose kids they are, especially with the gym. It's a big, big thing with the kids and the parents.

SA:
Do you think the gym still has the meaning to the community that it did?

PA:
Well, I think they need to get open for the children. I think the pandemic's gone on long enough and you know the adults are there, but the kids aren't, and I think that's changed things for a lot of children. And a lot of children have gained weight over the past year and a half because they aren't even walking. Some of it was just walking to the gym. Just think, you get out of school and you walk, at least you're getting some kind of exercise. I don't know what the deal is, why they're so reluctant.

SA:
What do you think Covid has done to the community? Because it's done something everywhere, but what do you think it's done to Cooperstown?

PA:
Well, it has isolated people, certainly. I mean, I had people across the street from me who just tragically lost a son, and I didn't know anything was going on, and I live across the street. Because normally I would have been having a glass of wine now and then, but just crossing the street didn't happen during Covid, and I felt really badly. And I think there's a lot of that kind of disconnect. Most of the people I know feel like they're a little crazy. They've kind of lost their sense of, I don't know what to call it, not stability, but you just feel like you're out there a little bit. Everybody feels kind of the same way, so I know it's not just me. I think it's definitely hurt the economy in Cooperstown, the restaurants are hanging on by a thread, most of them. And people are being stupid, they aren't wearing masks, and they aren't getting vaccinated. That's been interesting, to all of a sudden to know somebody who you thought was smart, isn't [chuckling]. But I think it's everywhere, that I can tell.

SA:
Now, we're pretty close to our time, we've got about four minutes left, it looks like. Was there anything else that you wanted to touch on that I didn't really focus in on?

PA:
I told you, you had to ask me questions. If you can get me talking, I can tell stories, but I'm holding back because I don't want to be recorded telling stories [laughing]. As I've said, Cooperstown has been, obviously I've lived here for a long time. I've lived other places and I came back. Part of that was to raise children here because I had a great childhood. Between the lake, and the village, and everything else, I really felt like I had a great childhood, and I wanted to give that to my children. Both of my kids love coming home. In fact, my youngest is trying to figure out how to move back here. And that's a good thing, I watch these kids coming back with their families, they're having babies and they're moving back, and that's good. It means somebody did something right somewhere along the way, for them to feel that. So yeah, no, I know I sound negative about it sometimes, but it's observation. I don't necessarily think all changes are for the good. I think some changes are not necessary and are not for the good. But other than that, I've enjoyed living here. I love my friends. I like my house. I felt good raising my kids here, and I've been busy, really busy. And, you know, in-between all that, my grandparents died, my parents died, my oldest brother died, my friends have died, and their memories with all of that. Anyway, that's it.

SA:
Alright, any final remarks?

PA:
Nope!

SA:
Alright, thank you very much!

PA:
You're very welcome, thank you.

[END OF TRACK 2, 28:09]

Duration

30:00 - Track 1
28:09 - Track 2

Bit Rate/Frequency

128 kbps

Time Summary

Track 1, 9:44 - Music
Track 1, 18:59 - Village Blacksmith
Track 1, 25:47 - Allen Ginsberg/Cherry Valley
Track 2, 21:04 - Dolls and Doll Houses

Files

patti ashley.jpg

Citation

Sarah Alden, “Patti Ashley, November 23, 2021,” CGP Community Stories, accessed August 14, 2022, http://cgpcommunitystories.org/items/show/515.