Clayton Leland Page

Here, I tell about my father and my early life in Oneida

Charles E. Page written November 2010

I don’t know if I should even start this. Maybe I won’t be able to do it very well at my age. I have turned 90, and my memories and “thinker” have deteriorated considerably since I first wrote of my memories in the original “Family Stories from Madison County”.

However, I will give it a shot.

I want to tell more about my father. I told some about him and I think I gave a fairly good picture of my mother in "Family Stories".

I also want to present a picture of my living in our family home at 217 East Walnut Street during the early part of my life.

My father, Clayton Leland Page, who died at age 48 of a heart attack, didn’t have too easy a time of growing up. He was only two years old when his father, my Grandfather, Charles E. Page, died. Clayton and his mother, Alice, stayed in the Walnut St. house where he was born, for a short time. Alice tried to get by on her seamstress income, but soon moved to live with her brother, Chester Stowell on his Bouckville farm. She rented out her Walnut Street house for some necessary income.

Jumping ahead to the year 2009, an interesting development:

My daughter, Jill, found the name, Charles E. Page, via the internet, listed by the N.Y. State Comptrollers Office as having unclaimed funds coming to him. After some investigation I found that it was for my Grandpa Page. Funds were from Met Life, an insurance company, then, named Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, and had been unclaimed since 1895.

After much research and correspondence I finally convinced the comptroller’s office I was the rightful heir to the money. (Both of my sisters were deceased)

It turned out to be $98. It was from a policy that my Grandfather had bought that my Grandmother apparently knew nothing about. She had moved to Bouckville when the “pay off time” came, and the insurance company was unable to locate her.

It is too bad, for $98 would have really helped her. That was a lot of money in those days.

Back to the 1890’s-----

While there on the farm in Bouckville, Clayton, of course, helped with the farm work at an early age, and he learned to work hard. But, he also played baseball, and attended Madison Union School during his high school years. It was there he met his future wife, my mother, Erma Jones. After high school he attended Central City Business School in Syracuse, and worked as a bookkeeper for at least one summer on one of the Thousand Islands in the St. Lawrence River.

He took a beginner’s job at the Hamilton Bank where he worked up through to the position of teller. In 1914 he and Erma were married. They rented a house in Hamilton for a year or two, and then he was hired as teller in an Oneida bank, The Madison County Trust and Deposit Company. The bank was located on corner of Main and Farrier, where the Chase Bank is (Nov. 2010).

In Oneida Clayton, Erma, and baby, Dora, rented a small house on Stone St. for a year or so, and then moved to his old home on East Walnut, renting it from his mother.

Clayton with Charles, Dora and Alyce in 1921

Clayton with Charles, Dora and Alyce in 1921

He worked at that bank all his life until his death on September 7, 1940. He had worked up through the ranks to the title of Executive Vice-President, roughly equivalent to present day Bank Manager. He ran the day to day business of the bank reporting to the Board of Directors. The Bank President’s position (William F. Santry at that time) was part time, but he worked closely with Clayton, discussing the management of the bank and future plans for improvement, most often after the bank’s closing time. It was usually 6 o’clock when Clayton walked home to East Walnut St. for supper.

His normal work day was from 8 to 6. Most people thought “banker’s hours” were from 9 to 3, but those hours were just when the bank was open to customers.

In the later years in winter and bad weather he sometimes drove the car. In the early years the car was “put up on blocks” for the winter, as streets were not plowed. He always came home for noon dinner at 11:30 and returned to work at 12:30. We kids had our noon hour 12:00 to 1:00 and walked home from school every day for dinner. So, although Mom served him immediately when he got home, we were all together for part of the meal. I don’t ever remember any deviation from this schedule of meal time.

Noon was our main meal of the day and we had leftovers for supper. It worked out fine, since we had no refrigeration or ice box, to keep the noon leftovers for a longer time. In spite of the short noon hours we had a little time together.

At the evening meal at 6:00 PM we all sat down together and talked about our days as we ate. Clayton shared many of his daily bank experiences with us, confident we would abide by his rule that whatever we heard was never to be mentioned outside that room.

We all religiously abided by that rule, and as far as I know it was never broken. For my part those conversations were automatically washed from my brain when I left the house. In those conversations we received a basic understanding of the money problems of people and the role of banks.

These small town country banks were “a different kettle of fish” from the big banking corporations of today. In these small banks all decisions were made locally by people who knew the customers, both borrowers and savers, personally.

After supper, Ma and the girls washed the dishes, and then it was homework time. Following were radio programs, and playing cards or board games. My parents usually played the games with us.

I never had to be prodded to do my homework. I knew it had to be done, so I did it. I often did my homework before breakfast in the morning, but I brought home very little, as I used every spare minute I had in school, so that I wouldn’t clutter up my free time at home. Many times I brought home no homework at all.

When I did bring some home, I did the most time consuming things, such as essays, in the evening, leaving the more routine math for early in the morning.

In the good weather months my father and I would get up early and drive to such places as Oneida and Sconondoa Creeks, and walk along them to look for birds, plants, and other interesting things. We were usually gone from about 6 to 7 AM and then back home for breakfast, and get ready for school or work. He left for work at 8 AM. I looked forward to getting out of bed those mornings for these short outings. It was just us two. My sisters weren’t interested enough to roll out of bed that early. Alyce, in her high school years, got up about 5 AM each morning and practiced her piano. We were all used to it, and it didn’t wake us up much. I remember hearing her warming up exercises first, running up and down the keyboard with scales.

Thinking back at my up-bringing, I could generalize by saying our home was a haven where we were safe, and loved. We always felt free to tell of our problems, even if we had gotten into trouble in or out of school.

Our parents stood behind us in all troubles. We were never punished physically, even if we were at fault, but were given to know what was right and what was wrong. We were never yelled at and loudly scolded. You might say we were treated with respect as individual persons. It was the behavior that they criticized and didn’t belittle us as persons. Even at a young age I realized and appreciated this. It was punishment enough to have them think poorly of me. It would make me feel ashamed of myself. There might have been a slap on the butt when I was real small. Sometimes I imagine it was necessary –to get my attention! But I can’t say I remember any of those times, now.

In general, my interests were at home rather than socializing with kids at school. I played at home with the neighborhood kids but from school I always headed for home as soon as school was out.

In winter evenings the whole family, when I was small, played such simple games as “hide the thimble” and “I see something green” (or some other description), and we would take turns guessing what and where it was. This was “a sit down game”, one that Gramma Lewis could participate in from her rocking chair. The “hidden” item had to be in plain sight, just in some unusual place or camouflaged by its surroundings.

When school was out for the summer, we “moved” to the camp. On summer evenings at camp one game we played, if the weather was so bad we couldn’t stay outside, was “finding places”. We had a big map of Madison County on the wall, and the whole family, would take turns, asking where obscure hamlets were located. Each one, in turn, would pick a certain hamlet and some one else would take the yardstick and try to find and point it out. We got to know every one of the smallest hamlet and “four-corners”. Even now, if the name of an obscure place is mentioned, I usually can tell if it is, or was, in Madison County.

In long winter evenings in Oneida, after homework was done, we (always the whole family) would play cards, and various board-games. I enjoyed the friendly competition of cards. Usually we would play at least three games to see who would win “two out of three”. No one ever took the games seriously enough to become angry at losing. There was no “gambling” even with matches or other money substitutes. I never even thought of card-playing in connection with gambling.

From an early age we learned to play pitch, pedro, pinochle, 500 (seldom 500 rummy), auction bridge, and contract bridge, and others.

My mother used to read to us a lot, and when we went to visit my grandfather’s farm, at Christmas time, when we would usually get a book among our many presents, we would get Aunt Beryle to read to us, even though we were well able to read ourselves.

I remember my father once read a long and more adult story of Robin Hood to me, alone. The book was of red imitation leather. I wish I had that book now. (It, among a lot of others, was donated to Oneida Library when we moved from Oneida to the Butler’s Corners Farm). The girls were not especially interested in Robin Hood. My father would read a few chapters at a time to me after school when he happened to get home on time, or in the evening when the girls were doing the dishes. This was before I had become much of a reader. As he went along, he would explain the more adult words and phrases as he came to them.

I vaguely remember, when I was real small, sitting on his lap while he read stories to me.

In later years maybe in my early high school years he and I would discuss some things I had read about or just thought about. I remember once I had read a book titled “Credo” in which each chapter, written by well known people, gave their “credo”, their life beliefs, philosophy, and views on religion and politics. We gave our own opinions on which we agreed or disagreed with.

Einstein’s was the closest to my own beliefs. I think my father may have agreed with me but he was noncommittal, just content to have me think about such things.

Although we discussed Einstein’s theory of relativity, I could not seem to be able to twist my thinking around to quite getting straight the relationship of time and distance in space and the theory that a straight line is not necessarily the shortest distance between to points. I could understand, intellectually, the theoretical concept, that if you could travel in space far enough and fast enough, you would grow younger and when you returned you would grow older again.

But, I could not really feel right about it.

A similar circumstance would be the concept that in space a curved route could be the shortest distance between two points, rather than a straight line. Though maybe true, I still don’t see how!

Other times we would discuss some odd thoughts. In speaking of “points” I remember my question, what shape is a “point”? The question arose, I think, from a math statement, “a point extended determines a line”.

We argued that a point could be either square or round, and if extended, would still make a straight line with even edges, etc.

I don’t know if we came to any conclusion but it was fun to think about. Now, my answer would be that a point has no shape. It is imaginary, and used only to determine the location of a line, and in the same sense a line has no width. It is a little too late to tell my father about that!

In general, I guess my interests, as was true of my father, were more intellectual than physical (sports, etc.)

But for both of us, the number one interest was usually connected in some way to nature and the outdoors.

Through the years Clayton had several long-running hobbies. Before, and in his early married years in his free time, he was a photographer, taking mostly nature pictures to sell to the newspapers, developing and printing his own. This became too expensive a hobby when we kids came along. He then took up the study of botany. (I tell about his forays with Dr. Crockett on the original “Family Stories" site under "Two Naturalists of Oneida").

In winter evenings when homework and supper dishes were being done, I remember him spending every available minute at his roll top desk in the “den”, working with his microscope classifying mosses that he had collected in the summer, and making slides of the different species from which others could learn.

He and my mother had planned that some day in his retirement they would move to the country and start a botany school. They dreamed they might winterize the camp, or purchase, and move to, the “old stone school house” that stood in the gulf near Stockbridge Falls.

In spite of various hobbies through the years, my father’s prime interest was his family. He instilled in us what was right and what was wrong. His values were set in stone. Honesty, hard work, “save your money”, treat others with respect regardless of their station in life. If a man was honest, paid his debts, took care of his family, and worked as best he could, he was a good and successful man.

He disliked “stuffed shirts” who “looked down their noses” at others with less money, or in a lower social class.

The whole of my family on both my mother and father’s side were not really church goers, but they, especially my mother, figured that we kids should be given at least the rudiments of what church and religion was all about. She read Bible stories to us (some of which I remember to this day). We joined the Presbyterian Church in Oneida, but seldom attended. We kids attended “church school” while in school, each student going to the church of his choice for an hour or so during the school day. Our Saturday and Sundays were for the family to do things together not for attending church. We knew that formally joining a particular church did not necessarily make you a better person, more tolerant and respectful of others’ views and actions. It was our own individual actions that defined our quality as a person.

My father was outspoken when he believed something. A well meaning neighbor who lived down the street from us, Mrs. “X”, once suggested to him that he and Erma should be sending us kids to church, and offered to pick us up each Sunday.

He answered, “I’ll tell you what, you raise your kids and we will raise ours!” He never hesitated to hold his own in any situation.

If he needed or wanted anything for the family, he usually went after it and got it.

At first he was not very enthusiastic about Dora going to college. But Ma convinced him. She was quiet, but for things she believed in, she would stand her ground and after thinking it over, he would usually come around to her way of thinking.

Once they had decided on Dora’s attending Syracuse University, they had to figure how they could afford it. Bank employees didn’t make much money, but he thought, if they could pay tuition in installments and Dora worked part time, they could make it.

During the year my father had a sum of money taken out of his pay check each month and deposited in his “Christmas club account”. It would amount to about $500 a year. They would use most of this for Dora’s college tuition instead of for Christmas presents.

Well, Dora went to registration day, but she was turned down on her request for the installment plan. The University had no provision for such a plan, and her college plans were dashed. She was very disappointed.

My father’s reaction was typical when the interests of us kids were involved. When he went after something he usually got it.

Using his clout as a bank officer he didn’t bother with the college admissions office, he went to as near the top as he could. He made an appointment with the University Vice-Chancellor and one day went to see him.

When he returned, Dora had permission to enroll making payment by installments, and could earn her room and board by working part time, housekeeping in the coop-house on campus where she would live.

She graduated after four years with a BS degree in fine arts, her major being in “Illustration”.

I learned a lot from my father in practical ways, aside from life values and character. Of course, all kinds of things connected to nature!

After we bought the three acre “farm” near Stockbridge Falls in about 1926, I learned to string a good tight barbwire fence, and how to split logs into fence posts.

We started the first split with an iron wedge in one end of the log, and followed the split line down the length of the log with homemade wooden wedges and ax.

I also learned that to pull a rusty nail out of a beam, I could put a small block of wood under and close to the claw end of the hammer or wrecking bar thus giving more leverage. It taught me about the power of a wedge and the strength of leverage. Important principles of physics!

Also, there was learning how to fish in a small trout stream lined with bushes, how to trap skunks and sell the hides to Mr. Paul down on Sconondoa Street, how to hunt, and handle guns safely and responsibly.

Clayton, Erma and Charles in 1930's

Clayton and Charles making faces, Erma in center in 1930's

My father had an active and childlike sense of humor. I tell about some of his shenanigans in the original “Family Stories” writings,—the time he brought home the spark coil and told us how he used to use it “to surprise people”, shooting paper clips with a rubber band in a bank directors’ meeting, and our finding our clothes tied in knots when we got up on April fool’s morning.

In 1940 I was working at my first real job after graduating from Morrisville College at Gauss’s Poultry Farm in Holcomb when my sister, Alyce, phoned. She gave me the terrible news straight without preliminaries.

She said, “Daddy died this morning about 7 o’clock of a heart attack”. It hit me hard. I couldn’t believe it! My whole world was spinning! I told her I’d be home as soon as I could. I told my employer, Carlton Gauss, I was leaving and jumped into my 1937 Ford coupe.

My head was in whirl as I headed down Rte. 20. Suddenly I came to my senses. I realized I was going through the streets of Skaneateles at 75 miles an hour. I slowed some, then, and tried to think rationally, but I was not very successful. I was 19 years old. In a moment our family, as I had known it, was gone and would never be the same!

In later years I thought to myself, “How much more terrible it would have been if I had been a young child?” But maybe not! Maybe now that I was older, I realized the responsibilities I would share with my mother of supporting and keeping the family together. There was no longer the steady pay check deposited in the joint checking account from which she paid all the bills.

It was the end of the stable anchor and same safe haven that had always been there for us. We had to make new plans on how we would cope.

The funeral was held at home as was then the custom. The house was crowded with relatives, friends, and business associates.

The night after the funeral, I slept fitfully and dreamed that his death did not happen, that it was some sort of mistake.

In the morning when I awoke, the sweet smell of the flowers surrounding the casket in the parlor told me it was no mistake. It was terribly real.

Clayton Leland Page portrait from 1930

Clayton Leland Page (1891-1940)

Now, after all these years, whenever I drive down through the “gulf’ toward Stockbridge Falls, and pass the "old stone school house", I think of my parents’ dream that was never fulfilled.

C.E.P. 2010

Copyright©2010 Charles E. Page