|Ann Peterson, on floods, friends and fifty years in Cornwall
By Brenda Underwood
On approaching Ann Peterson’s house you can hear water in the distance crashing down through the rocks. A short walk across the lawn reveals a perfectly tiered 10 foot high waterfall tumbling in a swirl of mist and foam into the quiet pond below. This is where Ann’s children played with their friends while growing up in Cornwall and for Ann a place associated with many happy memories.
Ann Peterson was born in Philadelphia in 1921 and lived in Colorado for the first 13 years of her life. Her father, on his graduation from Yale in 1905, received a gift of some acreage in Colorado from his father, a realtor, and he started an apple ranch.
Ann, an only child, recalls her childhood on the ranch, “It was very, very rustic but the fields were all irrigated for the orchards. I can still remember eating the Delicious apples which my father sold in Paris and London. When the Great Depression came they were still buying apples there. As I understand it, apples were not grown much in Europe at that time so they really welcomed these big polished and packaged Red Delicious apples.”
Before college Ann attended The Friends Select School in Philadelphia which was and is "a very excellent school." From there she went on to college and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree. "As soon as I graduated and came home from college my father said, ‘Your lease will be up here in September.’" Ann, in her inimitable style, said, "My lease will be up here tomorrow, and I move to Washington, D.C."
As The Second World War had started "there wasn’t much difficulty getting a job." Ann worked seven years for the Pennsylvania Railroad as a traveling passenger representative, a job she enjoyed.
Marriage and children followed as did a move to Cornwall in 1955 to a house "that is over 100 years old and started out as a sheep barn before becoming a tenant house for the Calhoun estate. It was just before the big flood, when my children were babies." Recalling that year, "it rained for four days and then overnight the stream came way up and washed out our driveway. And, when I opened the door to the cellar, the steps were floating right out in front of me. My dear, late friend, Joe Lush, the plumber, came immediately and took care of things. He knew the house because he had done the plumbing here for us. Joe's daughter, Lois Lush, is the same age as my son, Andrew. When Joe walked into the house, he said, 'I just handed my daughter over my porch railing to someone I’d never seen before; I hope she will be alright.'" Despite his own problems, "Joe came and rescued my hot water tank, and he hadn’t even been called!"
Remembering Joe Lush, who died in April 2006 at the age of 89 from complications resulting from a motorcycle accident, Ann said "I think he lived his life the way he wanted to” and added, “If he was your friend, he was your good friend. People were very good back then. I've remained close friends with many people who have worked on this house – the late Howard Scott, the electrician, Charlie Hepprich at Cornwall Electric installed a new kitchen; Kenneth Whitney “The House Doctor”; Ernie Hopf at the Cornwall Poultry Farm with superb capons and geese; and Goshen Oil once came here on Christmas eve in a blizzard to re-start the oil burner."
Burning oil is only one form of energy expended in the Peterson home. Ann, who is the picture of good health with clear skin and tanned rosy cheeks, once walked on the Appalachian Trail "which went right by the house" for exercise, and now rides her bicycle or walks down through the valley and back every day which is two miles. I usually stop and chat with people along the way.” Ann attributes her good health, however, to the genes she inherited from her ancestors, pointing to two portraits of them hanging on the walls.
Above the sofa hangs a portrait of her third great grandmother – Elizabeth Stauffer – and on the wall opposite hangs a portrait of her third great grandfather, John Stauffer, Elizabeth's husband, who was a lawyer in Pennsylvania. The portraits, which are registered in the National Portrait Gallery, were painted by Peter Frederick Rothermel (1817-1895) who painted very few portraits but had painted the Stauffers for their kindness to him. Going back further along Ann's family tree, her earliest ancestors were from Germany and came on “the good ship Lydia in 1632", a little after the pilgrims. “They missed The Mayflower!”
The present generation of Ann's family includes her two children, Susan and Andrew and two grandchildren, Elizabeth and Katherine. "Susan is a consultant to non-profit organizations and lives in Missoula, Montana, and Andrew is a petroleum engineer with his own business drilling for domestic oil and gas and lives in Loveland, Colorado. Andrew has two daughters, one who recently graduated from the University of Denver summa cum laude with a degree in international affairs. Her younger sister is at Williams studying biochemistry, "the fourth generation of the family at Williams College.”
Ann was recently in Montana visiting her daughter. Asked if they visit her often, Ann replied, "Yes, they come for Homecoming – that’s the rummage sale! One year my daughter came from Los Angeles and thought she had come the farthest, but Jennifer Bury of Cornwall Bridge had come from San Francisco and they decided that that was a little farther than Los Angeles. They grew up in the rummage sale and then when they were old enough they started working there and got to know everybody. Memorial Day is another time that they seem to flock back home. My children have a real fondness for this valley and for this whole town where they grew up with woods and streams and summers at Cream Hill Lake."
"When they started building the playscape in town, my son said, 'When I lived there the whole town was a playscape'. It was a wonderful time to grow up.”
"When they were young, I used to take my children to New York hoping that they would grow up and live in a nice apartment in Manhattan with room enough for me to visit – so one is in Montana and the other is in Colorado!" Ann, who once lived in New York, often wishes she still did.
Cornwall, however, has had its compensations. Ann and her children have always skied at Mohawk, "in fact, the children started when they were around three years old when Josie Whitney taught them to ski. Mohawk is very good to our children," Ann pointed out; "if you are in the Cornwall Consolidated School you ski for free."
Ann's daughter, Susan, has just received the Distinguished Alumna Award at Dana Hall School in Wellesley, Massachusetts. In her address she said: "I also want to mention my mom, Ann Peterson, who is here from my hometown of Cornwall. My parents had the wisdom to send me to Dana Hall because they thought it was a good match for me, a good place to learn things in and out of the classroom, a good place to learn who I was and how I fit into the world." Susan was Board chairman of Dana Hall for many years.
Ann who reads The New York Times every day doesn't have a computer. "Someone said to my daughter, 'You should get a computer for your mother,’” to which Susan replied, ‘My mother doesn't even have a clothes dryer.'" "I was brought up with a family who read newspapers," said Ann, who picks up the Times at the Berkshire Country Store every day. "My father, however, would not read the Denver Post because the pages were pink so we had to wait three days for The New York Times to come from New York. My children also read it."
Speaking of her current reading, Ann said, "There was a very interesting section about retirement the other day (April 11, 2006) talking about how to stay healthy, and they spoke of this fabulous bicycle that they have made for elderly people. The advantage is that it is very light weight. Art Gingert took a lot of extra stuff off my bike to make it lighter but the bike got taller through the years and you can't lower the seat anymore. I stay the same size, of course, but the bike doesn't. I will just have to wait for someone to croak so their bike will come on the market."
Ann also reads The New Yorker and Vanity Fair. "Vanity Fair has about the best writing," said Ann, "It is my son's favorite magazine."
"Arthur Getz, one of the cover artists for The New Yorker, used to live here in West Cornwall. He and I were really good friends. He did more covers than any other New Yorker artist," said Ann, showing me a book of New Yorker covers dating from 1925 to 1989. Digging out a drawing that Arthur Getz had done for her 70th birthday in 1990, one that he sketched in a few minutes, Ann said, “Just like Marc Simont.”
Ann recalls one day after having an amicable disagreement with Arthur in his studio over the Wandering Moose Café storming out threatening to jump out of the covered bridge and then, "maybe you'll be sorry". Arthur said, "How will you jump out of the windows – they are very high?” Ann's retort was to say that Linn (Lyndor Locke), who lived close to the covered bridge would give her a push. To commemorate the occasion, Arthur Getz recorded this event as follows:
"I once gave Arthur an idea for a cover,” said Ann. “It was after Polly Calhoun put solar panels on her roof. I said to him, 'Why don't you take an old house, put solar panels on the roof and a dish on the lawn.' When he had finished the sketch, he took it into The New Yorker and he said they almost threw him out on to West 23rd Street. Mr. Shaw, the editor, didn't want people watching television, he wanted them to read The New Yorker and he didn't want to look at solar panels because it would undermine his ConEd stock. So, they didn't use it and Arthur gave it to me.”
Besides reading, Ann likes to write letters to the Cornwall Chronicle like many of us and finds it "quite fascinating going to the dump" aka the Transfer Station, where you have to have your wits about you in order to comply with the various ways of recycling. "And be sure you do it just right," she said, mischievously, and added, “Fred Bate III is an old friend of mine.”
Speaking about earlier times in Cornwall, Ann remembers F.J. Bate Meat and Fred Bate Jr. "who is a real gentleman and father of Fred Bate III, the genial Manager of the Transfer Station, and has been a friend all these years. He had the best meat you could imagine and it would always be perfectly cut. He would always ask when my son was coming home from boarding school so he would be sure to have a leg of lamb waiting for him. Children loved him. My daughter used to go across the road to Yutzler's and get an ice cream cone to give him."
“When Fred Bate Jr. retired,” said Ann, “Phillip and Jane Bishop (Phillip was Ann's godson from Philadelphia who had purchased Yutzler's when they retired) bought Fred's meat market and combined the two stores together.”
Ann, who is not lacking in spirit, also remembers an incident involving her friend Elizabeth Locke who was awarded the VFW Civic Award on Memorial Day. "Being English, Elizabeth is terrified of snakes," said Ann. "I once had some postages stamps with snakes on them so I wrote Elizabeth a note and put on one of these stamps. When young Fred Bate III next drove up Valley Road he stopped his truck out front and said, 'That was a terrible thing you did; one of your best friends and you sent her that letter with the snake on the postage stamp.' Apparently he was at the post office when Elizabeth got the letter. In a conciliatory tone, "I recently sent her pictures of the Queen's birthday from The New York Times.”
During our conversation I noticed a spider lowering itself on a web down from the ceiling and into Ann’s lap. When I told her that a spider had just dropped into her lap, "Oh, my goodness! It has never happened before" she said, feigning fright, as we brushed it off.
What do you think of the world now? "During the Second World War, I was helping by working on the railroad in the passenger department of the PRR taking a man's place. Now I feel there is not much I can do about it which makes me sad."
And Cornwall? Cornwall is a place where "I have never had a bad moment that I can think of; I've always seemed to have had friends; I still see some who don’t live here anymore, and think of those who are no longer with us.”