Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Chapter 10 - My Mother

Marian Coapman Patterson
When my mother died in 1973 my oldest son was only four. His younger brother was just two. That was thirty-four years ago and I doubt that either one of them has any memory of their grandmother. For some reason the grandmothers in our family have died young. My grandmother Baker died in 1937 at the age of only 50. Grandmother Patterson died in 1938 at the still young age of 47. I never met either one of them. I was not born until 1942 and I would have been for both of them, their first grandchild. There has to be something really sad about having missed the maternal guidance of a grandmother. Unquestionably our two sons missed something important in this regard. My mother was so full of love and strength. She never forgot the important dates or to say the right thing at the right time. She understood the importance of the family whether it was a simple thing like insisting that we eat dinner together each night or as exciting as elaborately decorating the house for Christmas each year and showering us all with gifts. Grandmothers should never die young.

My mother was born in Lockport, New York on August 21, 1916, the first child of Douglas Ross Patterson (1888-1979) and Florence Ferree Patterson (1891-1938). The Patterson’s eventually had four other children, Eugene, Florence, Anne, and Joan. Life in the Patterson family in the 20s and 30s must have been something like a Hollywood movie of America’s happiest family. Summers were spent at their grandfather’s “Camp” on Crane Lake near Parry Sound, Ontario. Their grandfather, Eugene H. Ferree (1866-1952) was a prosperous businessman in Lockport, New York. He owned and managed a successful leather goods factory that manufactured wallets. We were told as children that the E.H. Ferree Co. was financially successful even during the great depression in the 1930s, because inexpensive leather wallets were “always in demand.” It seems that great-grandfather Ferree made enough money to be able to purchase in the early 1920s a large two-story log home on 100 acres in Canada, located a two days drive north of Lockport, and be able to take off from his business for the summer with his son-in-law, daughter, and his grandchildren. The Camp was large enough that the children, including my mother, were allowed, starting in the late 1920s to bring a friend with them for the summer.
Douglas Ross Patterson, my mother’s father, was born in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia on September 1, 1888. In 1913, at the age of 25 he moved to Lockport, New York to accept the position of the first Physical Director of the Lockport YMCA. As a young man in Nova Scotia he was an avid sportsman. He claimed numerous metals and cups attesting to his championships in single skull rowing, swimming, running, and ice skating, and he was a champion high diver. He was captain of the Nova Scotia Junior Hockey league team and the champion baseball and basketball teams. In October 1915, Douglas married my mother’s mother, Florence Ferree, and two years later in 1917 he joined his father-in-law’s leather factory. [According to his draft registration that he signed on June 5, 1917, he indicated that he was employed by the E.H. Ferree Co.] He soon became its Vice President and Treasurer. His abilities as a salesman and manager spurned the rapid growth of the company during the 1920s and the following three decades. The success of the company allowed the family to live in relative comfort. From 1915 to 1929, the Pattersons lived in a large home on Park Place, arguably Lockport’s most fashionable street at the time. In late 1929, the family moved to Burt, New York into a large brick country home on the Lockport-Olcott Road. Two weeks after the family moved into their new home, the family held a house warming party inviting 400 guests. The local newspaper reporting on the affair referred to the “beautiful estate” of Mr. & Mrs. Douglas R. Patterson.
The family, including my mother, lived a charmed life in the 1930s. Her high school years (1929-1933) were filled with social events, parties, dances, sporting events, and school plays. The scrapbook that she kept during that period of her life was filled with invitations, brochures, score cards, and lists of the boys and girls that attended the many social functions. Even the local newspaper reported on the functions. On April 11, 1931 the Lockport newspaper reported that “Miss Marian Patterson, lovely in flowered taffeta, having a white background and floral design of the pastel shades” was well-dressed for her debutant party. In September of 1932, the Buffalo Courier reported that “The beautiful estate of Mr. and Mrs. Douglas R. Patterson of Burt, was the charming setting chosen last night for a dancing party given for their daughter, Miss Marian Patterson. . . .The young hostess received with her parents in the reception hall, and was charming in a gown of blue suede lace.” The Patterson family held many other functions at their Burt home during this period including a very popular annual strawberry festival to raise funds to send boy scouts to summer camp. Douglas Patterson was very involved in community affairs and was without question a highly respected member of his community. In all, the early1930s must have been a wonderful period for this young teenage girl.

Mother graduated from Lockport High School in June of 1933. She had applied and was accepted to Cornell University’s School of Home Economics. She moved to Ithaca, New York in the fall of 1933 and in early 1934 she joined the “Tri-Delta” sorority house, considered at the time to be a leading sorority for young ladies who enjoy an active social life. It was probably sometime in 1936 that she met a young Cornell architectural student, our father, Charles A. Baker (1916-2000).
On the surface, Dad did not seem like the type of man that would attract Mother. His high school scrap book was filled with items displaying his academic achievements. There were no invitations to parties. There was nothing to indicate he enjoyed an active social life or participated in sports. He wore glasses and looked studious. A “nerd” in today's vernacular. On the other hand, he must have been popular in high school as he was elected President of his Senior Class at Northside High School in Corning, New York, he was the Editor-in-Chief of the yearbook, he was the baseball manager, he had one of the leads in the senior play, and he graduated at the top of his senior class. Furthermore, I know from many years of personal observation, that Dad had a great sense of humor and an adventurous spirit. I suspect that mother was attracted to Dad’s qualities almost immediately.

By 1937, Mother and Dad were together almost constantly. In the summer of 1937 they spent time at the Patterson/Ferree cottage on Crane Lake and at Dad’s father’s cottage on Keuka Lake near Penn Yan, New York. There are photographs taken by Dad of “Pat” in the summer of 1937 at the Patterson home in Burt, New York. There are photographs of Dad and Mother together taken at Cornell parties in early 1938. They were together enjoying life. Mother graduated from Cornell in 1937. Dad graduated one year later from the five-year architectural program, in June of 1938. They finally married in the Christ Episcopal Church in Lockport, New York on April 29, 1939.

Their honeymoon was adventurous, even by today’s standards. They departed Lockport following the wedding in their 1937 Oldsmobile sedan headed for New York City and the 1939 Worlds Fair. After visiting the fair, they traveled to Washington, DC, then Virginia Beach, Colonial Williamsburg, and finally they slowed down in a small cabin in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

From 1939 until March of 1943, Mom and Dad lived in an apartment at 647 Kenmore Avenue in Buffalo, New York. Dad worked a series of short term architectural/drafting jobs during this period, the longest job lasting only seven months. Nevertheless, the young couple found some time to relax and in July of 1940 they vacationed in the Adirondacks and Quebec, Canada. On May 30, 1942, I was born in Millard Fillmore Hospital in Buffalo, and their lives changed. In March of 1943, Dad started work at Bell Aircraft in Niagara Falls, New York and the small family moved to their first home, albeit a rented home, on Bollier Avenue in the LaSalle section of Niagara Falls, near the Bell Aircraft plant. On November 28, 1943, their daughter Anne was born and their lives again changed. Dad worked at Bell Aircraft until September of 1945. By then the war had ended as did his job with the aircraft company.

I have almost no memories of that early period. I have a faint memory of driving with my mother to pickup Dad at the aircraft plant. We would park in their huge parking lot with hundreds of other cars and wait for Dad to walk out to the car. It is funny that I remember that. I was only two. Mother must have been proud of her two young children. We have a small collection of professional photographs of Anne and I taken between 1944 and 1946. In these photos we were always well dressed, groomed, and carefully posed. Only a caring mother would have gone to the effort of have these photographs taken, especially considering my father’s small salary.

In 1946, our family moved to a new home at 4332 Lewiston Road in Niagara Falls, New York. Dad was self employed as an architect at the time. My understanding is that Dad paid for the house in cash using part of an inheritance that he received from his Uncle “Rap” who died having no children. Dad also use to say that he paid for the house using some profits from a wise stock market investment based on a tip from my great grandfather Ferree. Either way, with a small income from a small architectural practice my parents were able to pay for their first home without having the worries of a mortgage.

We lived on Lewiston Road from 1946 until 1956. My sister, Joan, was born in 1950 and I remember her being brought home from the hospital. I was a big guy of eight at the time. I have fond memories of my mother and father during these years. Christmas mornings were particularly memorable. As children we were blind folded and lead done the stairs to the Christmas tree that had been decorated and surrounded with gifts after we had gone to bed the night before. The blind folds were removed and memories were created. Mother did most of the work preparing for Christmas including all of the Christmas shopping. I have memories of our Thanksgiving dinners shared with the Cochrane family every year. Anne Patterson Cochrane was mother’s sister. Mother would spend hours in the kitchen when it was her time to prepare dinner. I have memories of our summers spent at the cottages at Crane Lake, at Keuka Lake, and at Sugar Loaf Farm on Lake Erie (near Port Colburn, Ontario.) I have proud memories of Halloween and dressing up in my Indian costume handmade by my mother. I have memories of my Christmas stocking filled with toys. My mother must have spent weeks knitting each of us a Christmas stocking. I have a memory of my mother coming into my room when I was very sick and holding on to me. I have memories of watching my mother work for hours sewing name tags in my clothes before sending me off to summer camp. I have fond memories of my mother’s meatloaf, her goulosh, and her Christmas breakfasts.

In 1956, my parents purchased a new home on Mountain View Drive in Lewiston Heights, New York. The purchase was a big gamble on their part as the house built around 1920 was in terrible shape. The old galvanized water pipes had frozen and broke during the previous winter. The electrical system was old and the heating system was non functional. The location of the property however, was magnificent with its breathtaking views of Canada, the Niagara River, and Lake Ontario, 20 miles away on the horizon. The backyard was overgrown at the time with cherry and apple trees and other unattended plantings. A railroad track ran in front of the property just below the hill. It was fun in those early years watching or hearing the train pass by each day. For almost the next twenty years my parents worked tirelessly upgrading and expanding our home and landscaping. Mother was responsible for the decorating and father was responsible for the remodeling. They hired a landscape architect to prepare a completely new landscape design for their 1-1/4 acre property. Together, over the years they landscaped the entire yard. Dad used to tell us that it was “Mother’s Garden” as she did the lion’s share of the work. It was her hobby and her passion.

In 1947, Dad joined the construction firm of Wright & Kremers, Inc. In the 1950s he was Vice President and co-owner of the firm. In the mid-1960s he was elected President. The income from his position allowed the family to enjoy a good life that included joining the local country club, entertaining, traveling, and expanding their home. In 1956, my mother, concerned that my education at the local junior high school was not adequate, insisted that I be sent to a private boys boarding school in St Catherines, Ontario. Mother paid for my schooling. She made sure however, that every Sunday I was picked up at school and brought home for a family visit and a good meal. I was away from home except for the summers from 1956 through 1960 at high school, and then from 1960 through 1964 at college. After graduation, I moved away from our Lewiston home. My mother during the entire period that I was away from home never stopped being a mother. In my freshman year at college, she insisted that I mail my dirty clothes home each week. She would wash, iron, and fold the clothes and mail them back. If I had not been so lazy and stopped mailing my dirty clothes home, she probably would have washed my clothes through my entire college years. After graduation, Mother insisted that I come home every Sundays for cocktails and dinner. This invitation continued after my marriage and the birth of our two sons. My new family was welcomed at the Lewiston home every weekend, and every Christmas. Mother never gave up being a perfect hostess and a loving mother.

In 1970, Mother was diagnosed with lung cancer and immediately underwent an operation to remove one of her diseased lungs. Mother often admitted that she started smoking with her friends when she was only 16 years old. It was the accepted norm at the time. Everyone smoked. I was always aware that my mother smoked although I never judged the smoking as a negative especially when I was younger. Even in grade school, when my parents sat in the audience in the gymnasium and I was on stage for some reason or another, I recognized my mother’s (smoking) cough in the audience. She always coughed. It was a part of her that we accepted without judgment. The lung cancer changed all of that. Over the next two years mother’s health gradually worsened. She had several more operations to remove other organs that had become ravaged by cancer. At your last Christmas, she appeared emotionally strong but she was too weak to do much other than sit and watch. Finally, in February of 1973 she was again hospitalized. The cancer had spread to her esophagus and she was having trouble breathing. At my last visit to her bedside she was too weak to acknowledge my presence. Oxygen tubes were trying to help her breath, but they did not seem to help much. In the late evening my father called to tell me that he was going to the hospital. They had called and mother was dying. He called again one hour later. Mother had passed away. She was only 56 years old. Her suffering had ended.

Mother’s remains were cremated. A funeral service was held at St Peter’s Episcopal Church in Niagara Falls and the church was full. Following the service, relatives and close friends were invited back to the house for cocktails. Mother would have liked to have been there. She was missed.

As I write these final words, it still saddens me that my two sons have no recollection of their grandmother. They missed her love and attention. They missed a wonderful person. Maybe my brief recollections of her life will help in a small way to bring my mother, their grandmother, back into their lives. I hope so.

1 comment:

Cory said...

Chip, my daughter found your blog quite by accident while doing some research on Crane Lake. She emailed me with the link and I must say I have really enjoyed the parts related to the Patterson/Ferree side of the family. I especially enjoyed this chapter on your mother. I have to comment on the knitting of the Christmas stockings. My mother, Florence, made sure that I knew that my Aunt Marian had knit my Christmas stocking. When I had my first child I wrote to your mother and asked for the pattern. She sent it along with handwritten notes in the margins. I have continued the tradition by knitting my children and grandchildren all their own stockings from the original pattern I received from Aunt Marian. Fondly, your cousin, Kitty