A few Fridays ago, New York state went to “Phase 4,” so the Westmoreland Historical Society was able to welcome its first visitors since early March. Kristin Hubley and her son Alex (who graduated last week from New York Mills High School) came to donate a historical object that belonged to her late grandmother, Mae Weatherall, a longtime Westmoreland resident.
She said that her grandmother was very devoted to Westmoreland and instilled that love for the community and its history in her children and grandchildren. Now she is passing that along to her son Alex.
“As soon as my grandmother moved here in the 1970’s she really got involved,” Hubley recalled. “She played the organ at the Westmoreland United Methodist Church, she took us to the Westmoreland Town Pool, and she held her wedding reception in the Westmoreland Grange.”
Mae was very close friends with my grandmother, Lucille Spaven. They worked together at the “State Hospital” (The Utica Psychiatric Center). I have memories of going to her house with my grandmother in the late 1970s or early 1980s. Those memories have long since faded. So I asked Kristin to tell me about her.
“My ‘nan’ always put her family first,” she said. “She always thought of everyone, and she was always there if you needed her. She was very involved in Westmoreland.”
Some of Kristin’s most cherished memories are from the warm summer days when her grandmother took care of her while her parents worked.
“My father would drop us off on his way to work,” she recalled. “We’d have breakfast with Nan and Grandpa Tom, walk to the Westmoreland Town Pool for “free swim” and lessons, go back to Nan’s for lunch, then walk back to the pool at 1, and my father would pick us up at 5.”
Kristin’s sister Erica Wood remembers those days too.
“She was the best Nan any little girl could wish for,” Erica said. “Her clear blue eyes always glistened with tranquility. Her voice a melody. Her face always lit with happiness. Her soul filled with serenity. Her smile so much sweeter than any delicious treat she lovingly made for me. Her cuddles and kisses soothed away any hurt. Her kindness outshone the brightest of stars in a night sky.”
“Yes, she was just…Nan,” another of her granddaughters, Kristin and Erica’s cousin, Lori Hatcher, told me in a phone interview. “She would pinch my cheeks to give them a rosy color. She was silly and funny and a great cook.”
Lori remembers molasses cookies separated with wax paper and apple crisp so good that her grandfather told Mae, “I’m going to marry you for this.”
“She’d strap on her floral apron to bake just a few of her specialties,” Erica said in an email to me. “Homemade bread, pineapple upside cake, and strawberry rhubarb pie to donate to various events. Her apple pie was highly anticipated at the Westmoreland Town Hall during elections, where she also manned the voting booths.”
Another thing Erica remembers is how her grandmother would help troubled teens by giving them “a boost of confidence, direction, and reassurance.”
She describes Mae’s front porch and yard as a “welcoming mat for those wanting the best view of the parade strolling down Main Street.”
Fred Bailey was the pastor of the Westmoreland United Methodist Church. He and his wife, Anne-Louise Bailey, lived in the parsonage, which was a few doors down from Mae and Tom’s house.
“Visits to their home very always delightful,” Anne-Louise told me via Facebook Messenger. “She was a wonderful Christian woman. I can still picture her in my mind and hear her voice. She was a regular church attendee who lived her faith and shared her gifts with everyone at the Westmoreland United Methodist church and in the community.”
“We used to help her fill the little glasses for communion grape juice and break the bread for communion,” Kristin said. “We used to love to come and watch her play the organ.”
She was a self-taught professional piano player and organist, according to her granddaughter, Lori. Some of her favorite memories of her grandmother are of her playing piano at Shakey’s Pizza in Utica. It sounds like a lot of fun. NewYorkUpstate.com describes them as “America's first fast-food pizza chain and featured fun parlors with ragtime piano players and old-fashioned movies.”
“We would eat pizza and sing along,” she said.
Mae Weatherall was an energetic woman who always made time for others and her community. That is something that Kristin is eager to pass on to her son, Alex.
“All the stuff that my grandmother did for the community, volunteering her time really stood with me,” Kristin, who serves on the New York Mills Board of Education, says. “It has inspired me to get involved with my community. I wanted to make sure I was involved with the school when Alex came along.”
Alex has told his mother that he learned from her example.
“You pass it down,” Kristin says. “I wanted to give back as much as I could.”
“I would accompany Nan on her routine walks to the Post Office and to check in on her dear friends,” Erica says. She named a few of those friends, including my grandmother, Lucille Spaven, and Fern Welch, Betty Golden, Betty Nemecek, Anna Kunz, and Jenny Nichols.
Those names carry so much history to me and to my town. Kristin texted me a picture of her grandmother, and I remembered mine. The impact both women made on their families will last as long as we do and as long as we tell their stories.
“I still hear her whispered reassurance of her forever presence,” Erica says.
Kristin’s son Alex was born in June of 2003. His great grandmother died the following March. Alex was born deaf, he now has cochlear implants, but Mae didn’t live to see that happen or to hear him speak.
“I have a last picture of them taken together,” Kristin says. “She would always say to me. He is going to be fine, your great-grandfather was deaf (and unable to speak), and he was the smartest man I ever knew, and he did well. I know that Alex is going to do fine. Alex will do great things. Alex can do anything.”
Kristin is reassured that when her grandmother died seventeen years ago, it was “on her own terms after everyone was taken care of. My sister was married. I had my son. Everything was settled.”
Lori was with her when she died.
“I saw her take her last breath,” she said as we ended our interview. “I whispered ‘go into the light, go be with Grandpa…it was so…comforting. I knew she was at peace.”
Her three granddaughters are all at peace too.
Her last words of advice to me were “always be happy and lead a good and faithful life’,” Erica said. “Whenever I feel the sun's rays upon my shoulders, I know that it's my Nan holding me in her own special way.”
Ron Klopfanstein is the president of the Westmoreland Historical Society. Like him at Facebook.com/BeMoreWestmo and follow him at Twitter.com/RonKlopfanstein