Journeying Home Again

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I hadn’t journeyed home to Patagonia in awhile, but this trip was a celebration I would not miss – the three-year reunion of Paton supporters who had been instrumental in “saving” Paton’s Birder Haven. The weekend also marked Tucson Audubon’s Capital Campaign Kick-off to fund improvements to the house. While there, I had the great honor of sharing from my book, Journey Home: How a Simple Act of Kindness Led to the Creation of a Living Legacy” — the story about my parents, Wally & Marion Paton and the creation of their world-renowned birdwatching backyard.

Entering the yard, so familiar, yet different now, I was immediately struck by all the improvements completed by Tucson Audubon Society since my last visit two years ago. My first stop – the Paton Legacy Sign erected in the front yard. What a thrill to see my parents honored for creating this birding mecca that still attracts thousands of visitors each year from all parts of the globe. While reading the sign, a couple from British Columbia approached — their first visit to Paton’s. “Where do we pay?” was their first question to me. “There is no entrance fee,” I replied — a tradition my parents established decades ago and continues today. The “sugar fund,” originally an old coffee can hung on the fence,  now a spiffy donation box, remains strictly voluntary.

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Paton Legacy Sign, Tucson Audubon’s Paton Center for Hummingbirds, April 2017

After three glorious days during which Paton supporters were treated to some fabulous spring migration birding, tours of the property by various Tucson Audubon staff involved in improvement projects, talks by hummingbird expert, Sheri Williamson, of Southern Arizona Birding Observatory (SABO) and Jesus Garcia, Director of the Kino Heritage Fruit Tree Project at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, it was time to say goodbye once again.

As I wandered the property on that last day, I spent a few moments in the yard reflecting at some special spots. My Dad’s pecan tree still thrives in the back yard, bigger and more robust than ever, still producing a good amount of pecans each year. I sat a good while on my parents’ memorial bench and reflected on the beauty and peacefulness of this place — the land they had nurtured for decades, still loved and nurtured. The bench had been positioned near to the site of my Dad’s former orchard in the front yard. Plans to re-establish an orchard here are underway. Jonathan Horst, Restoration Ecologist, is heading up that project.

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Wally Paton’s pecan tree, still thriving

I stopped to remember my Mom’s rose garden in the front yard, ready to pop with bloom — her passion. I sat on a bench in the Richard Grand Memorial Meadow with Carol and Paul Lamberger, long-time Paton supporters. We sat for a good while at this peaceful spot overlooking the newly created pond — all possible because of the kindness and generosity of Marcia Grand and the hard work of Tucson Audubon staff and volunteers.

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Marion Paton’s Rose Garden in the background ready to bloom

Then a very special moment happened. As I was getting in the car to leave,  Carol Lamberger inquired if the rose bushes in the front yard were my mothers. “Yes,” I answered, “she loved roses. We would always gift one or several at Mother’s Day.” Carol smiled and then promised to take special care of them for me. And in that moment I was reminded of the special magic that surrounds Patons — it seems to bring out the very best in people — it always did and continues to do so. It is the underlying essence of the place and that spirit of kindness and generosity that my parents exemplified that will continue in perpetuity. In addition, of course, to remaining one of the top birding sites in the world.

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Sitting in the Richard Grand Memorial Meadow (former Paton horse paddock) with the Lambergers

Watch a short video of how Paton’s began: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5L_dheYoQBQ

 

 

I Got “Geeked” Today

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Geek Photo

Bonnie Paton Moon holding a copy of her new book, Journey Home

Journey Home – How a Simple Act of Kindness Led to the Creation of a Living Legacy, the story behind the creation of her parents’ birding mecca, Paton’s Birder Haven in Patagonia, AZ

Available now  at Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Journey-Home-Simple-Kindness-Creation/dp/0997831405

Available directly from the author: https://www.createspace.com/6425627

The word “geek” derived from English dialect, which means “fool” or “freak,” took on new meaning when it returned to popularity in the mid-1990’s during the dot.com bubble of 1995-2000. The definition has changed over time and today there is no definitive meaning. I kind of like the meaning that the Urban Dictionary uses to describe “geeking” — “overly excited about a single thing” or the Merriam-Webster definition of “Geek” – “a person who is very interested in a particular field or activity.” There are many different categories of geeks from science geeks, math geeks, computer geeks and now — after the latest campaign at the Westport Public Library, in Westport, CT — even “hummingbird geeks.”

When our local library first announced in their monthly newsletter that they were embarking on a campaign to promote the Library with a series of “geek” photos I filed it away in the back of my mind and forgot about it.  As the weeks passed, I noticed more and more pictures being posted on the Library website of people with items that they “geek”. All kinds of subjects appeared on the Library website “geek” page. Patrons were geeked with their favorite animal – many dogs of different breeds, and cats, Earthplace was geeked with their resident owl, grandparents  geeked their grandkids, siblings and lovers geeked each other, sports enthusiasts showed up with skis, tennis rackets, soccer balls. Even some notable patrons like David Pogue, former New York Times Technology Writer and Tech Correspondent for CBS Sunday Morning showed up to “geek” technology and music.  Pogue who has filmed four specials for Nova and currently writes his “TechnoFiles” column for Scientific American also geeks music.

As the Library “Geek” campaign continued, the proof of my book Journey Home arrived on my doorstep — the story about my parents, Wally and Marion Paton, who over the course of several decades created a world-renowned birding “mecca” in their back yard. I had spent the prior 2 1/2 years in efforts to preserve and protect their tiny 1-acre parcel of birding paradise in Patagonia, Arizona which became known as Paton’s Birder Haven and is now called Tucson Audubon’s Paton Center for Hummingbirds. Visited by thousands each year from all corners of the world, it all started because of a rare and unusual hummingbird species, the Violet-crowned Hummingbird. These flying jewels showed up at my parents’ feeders creating quite a stir in the birding world. Such a stir that well-known wildlife photographer, Arthur Morris from NYC came knocking at my parents’ door one day in 1992 with his camera equipment wanting to take some photos. He took lots of photos and when he returned to New York, Mr. Morris wrote an article entitled “Hummingbird Hosts” which appeared in Bird Watcher’s Digest. That encounter and the decision that it sparked in my parents’ minds would change the course of their lives and the lives of thousands of birders and wildlife enthusiasts forever.

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Arthur Morris’ article entitled “Hummingbird Hosts” appeared in the May/June 1992 Issue (cover above)

What better subject for me to “Geek” than hummingbirds along with my newly completed book, Journey Home – How a Simple Act of Kindness Led to the Creation of a Living Legacy. So I made a note in my weekly calendar to go to the next “Geek” photo session to have my picture taken with the single thing that I am overly excited about these days.  Five hundred and nine library patrons were “Geeked” — I was proud to be among them and to share my parents’ story.

Read more about what’s going on at Tucson Audubon’s Paton Center for Hummingbirds: http://tucsonaudubon.org/go-birding/tucson-audubons-paton-center-for-hummingbirds/

Bald Hill Granite Quarry Visit- Paton Legacy – Part II

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Edith with her children, Doris and Wally Paton at Bald Hill Quarry, 1929 – ©Paton Family

Many of the photos taken of my Dad as a kid have a back drop that includes Quarry equipment or  the family surrounded by giant pieces of granite. He spent the better part of his childhood on a granite quarry in Wells, Maine called the Bald Hill Quarry. In a small house on land owned by Swenson’s Granite, he and his sister Doris and his parents George and Edith Paton lived. They moved there in 1929, when my Grandpa George got a job there. It was the height of the Great Depression and people often took to the road in search of a job.

There is no doubt that the years living on the Quarry were formative ones . Food was scarce and there was little money for anything other than the bare necessities. But here on these 40 acres of land that surrounded their little quarry home there was great bounty.

They planted a huge garden, gathered wild nuts and fruit, raised chickens and goats, fished and hunted deer, grouse and rabbit. They heated their small house with two wood stoves from wood cut from the surrounding forest. In addition to his many chores, my Dad worked throughout his childhood here, getting up at 3:00 in the morning to walk over a mile to milk the neighbors’ cows before getting the school bus and in the summer he worked on a local lobster boat.

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Wally Paton heading out for a day of fishing, Wells, Maine – ©Paton family

Lately, I’d been thinking a lot about the place where my Dad grew up, so one night I googled “Bald Hill Granite Quarry” to see if there was any historical information. The last time I had visited the Quarry, which was many years ago,  it was dormant and looked like it had been that way for quite some time.

“The Bald Hill Quarry has been closed for decades but the farmhouse still stands, surrounded by fields overgrown with weeds and wildflowers. Giant pieces of abandoned granite litter the fields as a reminder of what once was. I imagine my dad growing up here on these acres of fertile soil, playing in the dirt with his toy hoe, exploring the miles of wilderness that surround the Quarry. It is here I am sure that his love and appreciation for the land evolved.” – Excerpt from Journey Home – How a Simple Act of Kindness Led to the Creation of a Living Legacy.

To my  surprise I discovered a website.  The Bald Hill Quarry had re-opened under new management,  and was now called Millennium Granite.  Pictures on the website showed some of its former glory – days when the train tracks led down to the quarry, days when hundreds of quarries thrived in New England.  I wrote to the new owner, Richard Bois,  to tell him my Dad’s story and share a few of the historical photos I thought he might enjoy seeing of his Quarry  during its heyday. I wasn’t really expecting to hear anything back.

But I did.

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Bald Hill Quarry – 1929 – © Paton family

Coincidentally, Mr. Bois had also grown up in these parts and felt a strong connection to this land. He too had roamed these fields of abandoned granite as a kid and that was what inspired him to buy it.  Mr. Bois hadn’t really intended to re-open the Quarry, at least not at first. The price of the Quarry was “right” he said and it included acres of land. He figured on selling off parcels as building lots someday – that is , until he got a phone call from a guy by the name of Mr. Aiello.

In the year 2000, Aby J. Rosen, the new owner of the Seagram Building at 375 Park Avenue in New York City,  embarked on an extensive maintenance and renovation project. Part of that project included $1 million to replace 110 of the pink granite slabs that make up the famous Plaza. Sal Aiello, the contractor hired for the project soon embarked on his own mission – to find the exact same granite used in the original building project. He drove to New Hampshire to  Swenson’s Granite Quarry only to find that the quarry had been closed for years. So he started calling around to various other quarries and by chance found himself in a conversation with the new owner of the Bald Hill Quarry, Richard Bois. A partnership evolved and the quest to find the granite that was used in the original building of the Seagram plaza began. Mr. Bois knew that the pink granite at the Seagram Building had come from his Quarry – they just had to find the exact spot.

And so they did.  Bald Hill Quarry was in business once again.

Eighteen years later, Millennium Granite is a thriving business  as I discovered during a recent visit to reconnect with my dad’s childhood home.

This past July, my brother, George Paton, my cousin, Bruce Garfield, Bruce’s daughter, Kim Henry, my husband Richard, my Grandson Matthew  and I met at the Bald Hill Quarry. We came equipped with cameras and old pictures to share. Unlike my visit years ago when we only found  abandoned fields littered with boulders, on this visit we had to make an appointment to tour this now busy site. Mr. Bois and his office assistant, Sue Penney graciously spent several hours with us showing us around and sharing interesting stories.

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Richard Bois (far right) leads the group around the Quarry, Bruce Garfield, Bonnie Paton Moon, Kim Henry and George Paton – July 2018

We too were on a mission of sorts. From the historic family photos we hoped to find some of the landmarks of my dad’s early years here. The old farmhouse where he grew up is gone now, but we determined after much detective work that Mr. Bois’ office was the sight of the former house. We wanted to find the dirt road in the picture of my dad and the family arriving at the Quarry in 1929, and we concluded it was the dirt path that remained in front of Mr. Bois’ office.

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George & Edith with children, Doris and Wally Paton arriving at the Bald Hill Quarry – 1929 – ©Paton family

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We determined this to be the dirt path passing by the former homestead – 2018

Then, we happened upon an old piece of equipment that had obviously laid dormant in a field for decades. We decided that  it could have been used by my Grandfather George to pump the water out of the Quarry. That was his job – to keep the water out of the hole so drilling could continue.

“He had a job where he made, I think, about $12 a week running the pumps, because the water would come into his excavation. His hole, where they were actively working, was over 100 feet deep, so the water would get in there, and in order to keep working they’d have to pump it out. So he had a – you wouldn’t say a good job – but it was a reasonably good job for those days.” – Wally Paton quote from Journey Home – How a Simple Act of Kindness Led to the Creation of a Living Legacy.

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Abandoned equipment from a by-gone era at the former Bald Hill Quarry,  2018 (photo by George Paton)

 

We were as excited about our discoveries that July day as Mr. Aiello must have been when he heard Richard Bois  on the other end of the phone back in 2000 saying “you dialed the person who owns that Quarry now.”

In a New York Times article, dated July 18, 2016 about the Seagram Building,  Mr. Aiello talks about his quest to find the original granite for the plaza.

“’I was on a mission,’ he said. ‘I love the Seagram Building. It will always be in my heart.’  He explained that his father, a mason who had immigrated from Sicily, helped set the kitchen tiles at the Four Seasons.”  – the restaurant that once occupied the Seagram Building.   Likewise, our mission was accomplished with a great sense of pride and satisfaction and the new Millennium Quarry will always be in our hearts as well,  thanks to Richard Bois.

 

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Sharing old photos at Millennium Granite with Sue Penney (far right) are Bonnie Paton Moon, Kim Henry, Bruce Garfield and George Paton

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Kim (Garfield) Henry, Bruce Garfield, George Paton, Bonnie Paton Moon, Richard and Matthew Moon at Millennium Granite – 2018

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Wally Paton at the Bald Hill Quarry – 1934- © Paton Family

Edith Paton’s Perfume Bottle Collection (1926-1976)

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Edith Paton Perfume Bottle Collection(1a)

 

“These bottles have come to me from many places. Some I have purchased in stores or antiques shops, many have been the gifts of my family and friends.

To me they are both interesting and pretty to look at and I am sure that the fragrance of their contents has pleased many people.

There must be countless interesting stories connected with my little perfume bottles. I look at them and wonder who made this one and whose careful and artistic touch painted the dainty flowers and designs on others. How many of them were thoughtfully and carefully selected as gifts for someone much beloved? I suppose some of them were hurriedly purchased for the sole reason that their sweet contents could add attraction to the wearer, then the lovely bottle thrown away. Ones thoughts could ramble on at great length when looking at my collection of perfume bottles.” – Edith Paton

I remember my Nana’s perfume bottle collection well. Shelving on her bedroom wall neatly and carefully housed them. When I would visit  I couldn’t help but marvel at the variety and uniqueness of the collection. A few months ago my Cousin mentioned a Notebook – yet another Notebook – this one about Nana’s perfume bottles. On one page are her drawings, depicting each in great detail, while the opposing page provides a brief description in addition to the gifter.

The bottle that started Nana’s collection was actually a gift to her daughter, Doris. A gift from Mary Atkinson of Amherst, New Hampshire, it was a Kewpie Doll bottle © 1926. There are some 243 bottles listed in the Notebook,  dating from 1926-1976.

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Perfume Bottle No 1 was a Kewpie Doll – circa 1926

Kewpie dolls evolved from a cartoon character created by Rose O’Neil, a New York illustrator. First published in Ladies Home Journal in 1907, the cartoon character became internationally  known and loved and led to Ms. O’Neil developing paper cutouts of Kewpie dolls. In 1912 the first line of real dolls and figurines were manufactured by a toy company in Germany. Eventually the Kewpie doll would be used in manufacturing  many household items like dishware, salt and pepper shakers and even perfume bottles like the one in my Nana’s collection.

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Antique Kewpie Doll Perfume bottle – porcelain – considered rare and highly collectible today.

The history of perfume goes back centuries beginning in Egypt and later  Persia and Rome. It is believed that a woman chemist named Tapputi made the 1st perfume in the second millennium BC. Perfume making spread throughout Europe with the Grasse region of France becoming the center of the European perfume industry. The vessels that housed the precious scents have been considered an art form since ancient times.  Under Roman rule glassblowing was developed thus leading to perfume being stored in glass. Before glass, materials used to store perfume were  porcelain, gold, silver, shells, and semi-precious stones. In the late 1800’s the Art Nouveau style became popular and perfume bottles were traditionally styled, some having floral labels. Later the use of  decorative gift boxes became popular.

Before the 20th century, perfume was used only by the wealthy. But throughout the 20th century perfume became increasingly affordable. Companies such as Avon appealed to an ever growing consumer base. David H. McConnell, the founder of Avon, developed a unique business plan giving women a chance to earn their own incomes by selling his products themselves door to door.

Around 1910 perfume bottles began to take on familiar shapes like flowers, lighthouses, lanterns, watches – Nana’s collection has many of those.

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Some of the many shapes of Nana’s Perfume Bottles

 In the 1920’s, the perfume industry expanded in the United States with many new companies hiring chemists to create their own fragrances. The bottle itself became as important as the fragrance inside with companies collaborating with artists to design the bottles as well as the packaging.    Depression era bottles were less fancy, but following World War II the bottles returned to elaborate works of art led by such companies as Christian Dior and Nina Ricci.

Few of the bottles in my Nana’s Notebook reveal the manufacturer, but one of my favorite bottles does. Gifted by my parents, Wally and Marion Paton in 1946, it is # 83 and labeled, Gemey.

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White glass Gemey Perfume bottle #83 given by Wally & Marion Paton – 1946

Gemey, developed by perfumer Richard Hudnut in 1922 (1855-1928) was one of his most popular scents. Richard Hudnet created over 70 different scents not only available as perfume, but cologne, soaps, lotions and bath oils. This particular bottle that my parents gifted to Nana in 1946 would have most likely come in a decorative designed floral box. Today Hudnut’s bottles and presentation boxes are prized by collectors.

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Richard Hudnet’s Gemey perfume box set

It is true, as  Nana states in her introduction, one’s thoughts could ramble on at great length when looking at her collection of perfume bottles. Though some may not have been as valuable as others, still they are all unique and interesting.

The bottles are  gone now –  sold upon Nana’s passing, but I feel certain that they still exist on someone’s shelf – still treasured and admired. The real treasure for me, however,  is the Notebook which offers an insight into a woman who growing up I only knew as Nana, but have since come to know as a highly skilled and talented woman of great depth of knowledge and interest.

“A perfume bottle is a work of art and the object that contains it must be a masterpiece.” – Robert Ricci, The House of Nina Ricci

Edith Paton’s Dolls

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Edith Paton with her rag dolls, Florence, Jane, David, Baby Dumpling, Betty Boop – 1933

“Each doll is a conscious individual creation…The individual nature that comes from conscious creation of folk art dolls make them a rich source in information about their maker’s past, economic and cultural traditions. By examining the creations we can extract a very wide sweeping narrative about the maker and her world.”The History of Toys – Creation in the Hand

The notebook arrived first, followed a few weeks later by the box of dolls – a gift from my Cousin, Alan Garfield, from my Nana Paton’s collection. Emmie, Bessie and Cookie are among the dolls described in my Nana’s notebook, titled “My Dolls.”  The notebook chronicles just some of the many dolls my grandmother made and collected over the decades. As early as the 1920’s she crafted dolls ─   rag dolls, some of which she sold during the Depression for about $2.00 each. Considered the oldest toy in existence, rag dolls have been around for centuries. During  the years of the  Great Depression, they were hugely popular in the United States. Raggedy Ann, perhaps the most famous rag doll, created by Johnny Gruelle in 1915, became the subject of his book, Raggedy Ann Stories, published in 1918. Her brother Raggedy Andy was introduced two years later.  Also referred to as folk-art dolls, rag dolls are individually crafted from any materials on hand, mostly from scraps collected in the family rag bag. My Nana’s rag bag was filled with not only discarded pieces of fabric, but a variety of materials – leather, yarn, feathers, even rubber.

The doll named “Joe – I made this doll from an inner tube when we lived in Wells. ME in 1939. Wool chinchilla cloth for hair.” – Edith Paton Continue reading

Bald Hill Granite Quarry, Wells, Maine

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Wally Paton at the Bald Hill Granite Quarry – 1934

My Dad grew up on a granite quarry in Wells, Maine during the Great Depression.

“Like thousands of others, my grandfather, George Paton, was forced to take to the road in search of any employment he could find. When my Dad was six years old the family moved to Wells, Maine, when Grandpa George got a job at the Bald Hill Granite Quarry there.” Excerpt from Journey Home: How a Simple Act of Kindness Led to the Creation of a Living Legacy by Bonnie Paton Moon

Bald Hill Quarry was originally owned by a conglomerate known as Swenson Pink Granite of Concord, New Hampshire. A family-owned business founded in 1883 by Swedish immigrant John Swenson, it has recently reopened under the name Millennium Granite, owned now by a gentleman named Richard Bois. Mr. Bois, a civil engineer, has a special affinity for the quarry having grown up nearby  and having spent endless hours playing in the fields nearby – not unlike my Dad who spent most of his childhood running around these same fields and woods.

A couple weeks ago an email arrived on Mr. Bois’ desk from a Harvard professor and architect who is doing research on the granite used in the Seagram Building in New York City – “as you know granite from your quarry was used in the famous plaza there.”  The Harvard professor asked to tour the quarry and was interested in any historical documents or pictures Mr. Bois might have.

 Coincidentally,  a few weeks ago I, too, became curious as to what had become of the Bald Hill Quarry so I conducted some of my own research. When I read on the Millennium website that Mr. Bois had reopened the quarry after years of dormancy,  I decided to reach out to him and send along a few photos of the Paton years living on his quarry. I included the story of my Dad’s later success in creating a world famous birding sanctuary in Patagonia, Arizona called Paton’s Birder Haven. With my permission, Mr. Bois shared this with the Harvard professor. The architect wrote back the following.

“Thank you for sharing these emails and stories. I find the stories very touching, a very genuine glimpse of life around the quarry at that time. It is really striking how amazing that depression era WWII generation was, how they lived and what all they accomplished. These stories are a fine glimpse into that. I am finding such rich information that I think I will turn the project from an article into a book.”

Who knows, perhaps a few of our quarry photos or a bit of my Dad’s story will show up in the architects article or book – or perhaps I will even write a story myself. I am planning a field trip to the old Bald Hill Quarry this summer and will combine it with seeing the Paton Homestead where my grandmother’s relatives  lived for decades. More to come…….

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George and Edith Paton and children, Doris and Wally, arrive at the Bald Hill Quarry – 1929

Remembrance of Christmas Past – 1949-66

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Red & Bonnie – Christmas – 1949

 

This is one of my earliest photos of Christmas in the Paton house. My brother, Red, is 4 and I am 2.  Sonny would be newborn and  it would be another fourteen years before my sister Jackie comes along.

What I like most about this picture is the vintage toys. My brother’s train set, the “Happy Time” garage, and the Poky the Clown tin dart board are indicative of toys of this era.  The dart board came with magnetic darts. Points were earned depending on where the dart landed, 1000 points for hitting Poky’s nose was the top prize.  Although I have a memory of playing darts, I don’t really remember Poky the Clown. The 1st clown I remember is Bozo, a television show which first aired in 1949. I didn’t watch Bozo that much. The Howdy Doody Show was more to my liking perhaps because Howdy Doody – the red-headed, freckle-faced marionette resembled my two red-headed brothers. I recently learned that Howdy Doody had 48 freckles, one for each of the 48 states at that time.

Santa brought me a lot of doll stuff that year. I am not sure if this is a store bought doll I am playing with or one made by my Nana Paton. She was a skilled seamstress and made many handmade dolls over the years.  As I got older I didn’t play with dolls much. I turned into a tom boy pretty quickly being the middle child between two active boys. Cowboys and Indians, cops and robbers, neighborhood baseball, sledding, ice skating and kick the can were our primary pleasures in those days.

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Bonnie & Red – Christmas – Southborough, MA – 1952

Our Christmas tree of 1949 was not one of the more spectacular ones. Over the years my Dad took great pride in cutting the biggest and fullest tree and dragging it home for us to behold. We would then spend hours decorating it.  My Dad favored tinsel which meant we each had to take turns putting on the endless strands, at Dad’s insistence ─ one piece at a time. Years later, when it came time to decorate my own tree, tinsel never graced it.  I guess I had spent too many hours on tinsel placement over the years to continue his tradition.

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Sonny, Bonnie & Red – Christmas – Southborough – 1954

 

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Wally & Marion Paton – Christmas – 1954

 

I was sixteen when my sister Jackie was born. Her arrival added a renewed excitement at Christmas for our family. I couldn’t wait to celebrate Christmas with her when I came home from my first semester at college. I was so proud to bring home a shirt from my school and saddle shoes just like mine.

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Jackie and Bonnie – Christmas – 1965

We celebrated 17 Christmases at the Paton Farm in Southborough. The Christmas of 1966 would be our last one there. By this time both Red and I were away at college. Sonny would be graduating from Algonquin High the following year and off to college soon after. My parents were joyfully planning their move to a new house they were building in Londonderry, New Hampshire.

I remember Christmas as a happy time in our house. Even when my parents were struggling dairy farmers we didn’t lack for anything at Christmas ─ my parents made sure of that. In 1953, when I was just 6 years old,  my Grandma Jessie died suddenly on Christmas morning. But even with that memory of losing her Mom, my mother never expressed sadness over the holidays. As my brother Sonny once said, “She didn’t have that negative side; she always kept a positive attitude and kept going.”

Over the years I have preserved a few of our family traditions, mostly cooking ones. In memory of my Mom I continue to make her Lemon Snow Pudding each Christmas,  and her heavenly Chocolate-walnut Fudge. If turkey is on the menu I have to make her bread stuffing. This recipe was the first one I knew by heart because I was always put in charge of toasting the bread. Her secret ingredient that made the stuffing super moist was adding a can of Campbell’s condensed Cream of Mushroom soup.

The first 100 pages of my mom’s old recipe book are missing. Having come loose from years of turning, the binding eventually gave way. But many of the recipes she used most remain though stained from loving use, like the Saturday night special Boston Baked Beans or Lemon Snow Pudding. Mom later went on to a career in the food industry, first working at Fay School in the cafeteria, then the local regional high school cafeteria; then as manager of the school lunch program in Patagonia, Arizona, until her retirement in 1990. Someone once remarked ‘Marion is always feeding someone – family, friends, strangers, animals – domestic and wild.’” – Journey Home – How a Simple Act of Kindness Led to the Creation of a Living Legacy

This year, I thought about starting a new tradition for me ─ I would add tinsel to my tree. It hasn’t happened, at least not yet, and time is running short for this year. But next year I am determined to buy a package or two of tinsel. I will take each strand, one by one, and place them on my tree in remembrance of my Dad, who made each tree extra special throughout the years.

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Wally & Marion Paton – Christmas – Southborough – 1966

Veterans Remember Pearl Harbor Day

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Not unlike, September 11, 2001, most people remember where they were and what they were doing on Pearl Harbor Day. Some remember returning from Sunday visits with relatives, others remember relaxing at home listening to the radio or, some, like my Dad, remember leaving the movies, having seen Citizen Kane or The Maltese Falcon ─ popular movies of the day. It is said that the average American went to the movies two times a week in those days, perhaps they were seeking escape. The country was on edge from the war raging in Europe. Diplomatic relations between the United States and Japan were rapidly deteriorating. No one expected an attack on American soil however, not even President Roosevelt who on the following day would proclaim: “Yesterday, December 7, 1941 ─ a date which will live in infamy ─ the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.”

 

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USS Arizona under attack – Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941

That day changed everything.

 “Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, lives were forever changed; plans were postponed, dreams were put on hold. Hundreds of thousands of young Americans enlisted to serve their country in the war effort.”Journey Home – How a Simple Act of Kindness Led to the Creation of a Living Legacy by Bonnie Paton Moon

A few weeks ago the Westport Public Library in partnership with the Westport Historical Society held a screening of a documentary by local filmmaker and former New York Times correspondent, Jarret Liotta. Called Community and Country: A Spirit of Service, twenty local veterans are interviewed for the film. They share their war experiences and the impact that serving their country had on their lives. Among those interviewed is 94 year old Leonard Everett Fisher, a WWII veteran, who has lived in town for some 60 years. I suspect few would know of Mr. Fisher as a veteran. More likely they would know him for the 250 plus children’s books he has illustrated, or the 80 plus books he wrote. Or they would know him for the ten postage stamps he designed or  as a gifted artist or for his service over the years to our Westport community.

I got to know Leonard Fisher from working with him at the Westport Library when he served as Board President in the late 1980’s. I knew about the books and the artwork years before I learned about his service to his country in WWII. I found out about this part of his life by accident, having overheard a conversation he was having with another Library staff member. That day, Mr. Fisher was talking about his experience during the War making topographical maps for the many battles that were fought ─ a fascinating story, especially to someone who hadn’t heard much talk about WWII experiences. Even though my Dad was a WWII pilot, he hadn’t shared his story with us or the world ─ yet. That wouldn’t happen for over a decade.

Following the screening, three Veterans appeared on stage to talk about the movie and their insights. Mr. Fisher talked about landing in Casablanca in December 1943. His unit was suppose to move on to Bari, Italy but a German air raid on Bari sank the ship that contained all their equipment. Seventeen Allied ships were sunk there and one of those hit contained mustard gas which contaminated the entire town of Bari. He was then sent to Algiers, Africa where he created maps for the American 5th Army, the invasion of south France, for the D-Day invasion in Normandy and maps for General George Patton’s 3rd Army.

“The military topographic ground maps ─ maps that described land elevations and depression above and below sea level (and various other information) made during WWII ─ both 2 and 3 dimensional ─ originated with aerial photographs and a variety of intelligence matters. It was a complicated process called “photogrammetry.”  The accuracy of these maps in a science that was still in its infancy was beyond belief. All of the maps that I worked on flattened the curvature of the earth with a projection called “polyconic” based on the mathematics of a series of cones. All of these maps were 1:25,000 projections (i.e. 1″ on the printed map = 25,000″ on the ground). Also, each of these ground maps had 3 Norths: True North, Magnetic North, and Grid North. The difference of degrees between True and Magnetic North was called the “magnetic  declination.” The Grid North belonged to an arbitrary imposed system of squared lines that informed the soldiers in the field their exact position and also assisted the mathematics of artillery trajectory. Obviously naval approach and bombardment charts that  I worked on were of different projections, different scales and were not necessarily made from aerial photos.” – Leonard Everett Fisher

One of the younger veterans on the stage remembered not having a bath for over a month to which Mr. Fisher responded that when he first arrived in Casablanca “there was no water.” For several months they were issued just a small cup of water each day to take care of their daily hygiene. From Africa, Mr. Fisher’s unit was transferred to Hawaii where they worked underground in a secret installation creating maps for the invasion of Iwo Jima and of Okinawa. Conditions in that underground location were so humid, Mr. Fisher said, that the moisture would collect on the ceiling and it would start raining.

Veterans in the audience then got up to speak. Ted Diamond, also in his nineties and a WWII veteran visits our middle school each Veteran’s Day to share his story so students can learn about the War and these experiences firsthand. He worries that this year students seemed disinterested in his speech ─ he worries that the students are not learning about this important piece of our history. According to Mr. Liotta that was his purpose in making the movie ─ to keep the stories alive for future generations. Mr. Fisher says that is why he wanted to participate in the film.

I want my grandkids to know what their grandfather did. I thought there was a job to be done, I did what was asked of me, and I did it willingly because I enlisted.”

I recently viewed a short film of the actual attack on Pearl Harbor. The initial fire balls followed by billowing black smoke and smoldering remains for days following were eerily reminiscent of the attack on the World Trade Center. The days following 9-11 were filled with stories of heroes and it seemed we banded together in unity much like the country did following December 7, 1941. The younger veterans on the stage cited 9-11 as their reason for enlisting, much like Pearl Harbor had inspired thousands of young men and woman to sign up, like Leonard Fisher and my Dad. I hope that Mr. Diamond’s observations are not an indication of the general attitude of our country. I hope veterans will continue to share their stories. My Dad finally did. When he was in his mid-seventies he was interviewed by Dr. Robert Whitcomb, a retired research entomologist who enjoyed interviewing WWII veterans for articles that later appeared in various publications. My Dad was just 18 years old when he enlisted. He joined the Air Force immediately after graduating high school in 1942.

 “I will never forget Pearl Harbor Day. I was at the movies in Sanford (Maine). It was a Sunday. We got out of the movies about 4 or 5 o’clock in the afternoon, and there were newspaper vendors in the street in front of the theater yelling about Pearl Harbor. That was December 7 and I was going to graduate in June from high school. Sometime before graduation, this recruiter came to the high school and gave a lecture, saying if any of the seniors could pass the entrance test, they could go in the Air Force. I knew I was going to be drafted as soon as I got out of high school, and I didn’t like the idea of going in the Infantry or anything like that. One reason that I picked the Air Force—because I hate sleeping on the ground. And I couldn’t imagine myself sleeping in some trench someplace. And I said ‘That’s not for me.’ If I go in the Air Force, and I make it back at least I got a bed to sleep in. So I took the entrance exam. And the guy told us ‘This exam is actually given to second year college students, you’re going to find it rough.’ So I think it was about 4 in the afternoon before we got done with that exam. And, lucky as hell, I passed it.”  – Wally Paton, excerpt from Journey Home

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Wally Paton, Bennettsville, South Carolina – 1943

He would spend another year in pilot training school before reporting to Molesworth, England where he flew his 1st mission, as co-pilot in April of 1944.

We went to B-17 school and then we went out to Salt Lake City, where we joined up with a bunch of other guys who were to make up our crew, pilot and co-pilot. The pilot school I went to was in Tennessee. That was all book work and tests. They’d give you a pin and a piece of metal with a hole in it and you had to put the pin through the hole, and you couldn’t touch the side. That would mean you were shaky or something. We finally got through that and I got sent to Bennettsville, South Carolina, for my primary training, where I learned to fly an old PT-17, which was a bi-wing, double cockpit, open deal. I learned to fly on that. I survived and then got sent to Albany, Georgia, for advanced training where I was flying AT9’s and AT10’s. Now those were twin-engine planes. I made it through that all right, too. Then we went back to Salt Lake City, where we got assigned to a crew of ten men—the crew of the B-17. Without any B-17 training I got assigned as a copilot, where I started out.  In 1944, we were assigned to go to England. I was assigned to the 359th Bomb Squadron in Molesworth, which was in the midlands. We were stationed there during the war—flew all of our missions out of there. I did 31.” – Wally Paton, excerpt from Journey Home

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Wally Paton (second from left) at Pilot Training School – 1943

“I’m glad I participated in the war, Paton said. I don’t feel I did anything extraordinary. I did my job like every other American.”

This seems to be a common sentiment among veterans. None of those interviewed for Mr. Liotta’s documentary consider themselves heroes. Each was proud to have participated ─ they had learned invaluable lessons from serving their country and despite the sacrifice and hardship, they would not hesitate to do it again.

Pilot Wally Paton & the B-17

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Pilot Wally Paton (second row, second from left) with his crew in front of the B-17

“Pilot Wally Paton never gave the order to bail out, despite the condition of his B-17 on May 11, 1944. The day began with orders to bomb a ball bearing plant in Saarbrucken, Germany. The day ended with a kiss on the airfield at Molesworth, England, and a shot of scotch. In between the ten airmen who did their job on a plane called ‘Knock-out Dropper’ straddled the thin line between life and death for some ten hours. ‘That was the toughest mission we ever flew,’ said Paton, a first lieutenant in the 359th Bomber Squadron, 303rd Bomber Group….’There was a whole squadron of crippled airplanes flying back to the base that day. The subject of bailing never came up. No one was injured and no one wanted to be caught in enemy territory. All we wanted was to get home after a successful mission…’” excerpt from Journey Home – Nogales International Times interview with Wally Paton

Last May, some 73 years after my dad flew that harrowing mission over Germany, the B-17 flew into Sikorsky Airport, about 20 minutes from my home. The plane was traveling around the country providing tours and rides. When I heard on my local news that May 31st would be her last day here, I dropped everything and headed for Sikorsky. Pulling into the parking lot, I was awestruck.  I hadn’t imagined her that big.

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B-17 at Sikorsky Airport, May 31, 2017

 

With a shiny steel exterior, a massive wing span sporting four monster engines, and gun turrets back, front and under, she is well nicknamed – “the flying fortress.”  Clouds moved in while we were there, so pilots were delaying passenger rides until the sky cleared. I never got to ride in her, but I did get an extensive tour of the inside and outside of the plane and by chance got to talk to a Veteran who had flown the B-17’s.

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Gun inside the B-17

I had been there perhaps an hour when the WWII veteran made an unexpected appearance. People gathered around him like he was a celebrity, wanting to hear a story or just catch a word with one of the “greatest generation.” I waited my turn as I wanted to spend a little time with this hero having just written about my Dad’s experiences as a pilot in WWII for my book, Journey Home. Finally, it was my turn to have his full attention. He pointed out where the bombs were housed – he related a story about the time the bombs got stuck and they had to go in there and manually push them. He talked about enemy fire and bullet holes in the plane and friends he had lost in battle.

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I had an opportunity to talk to a WWII veteran who flew the B-17’s, just like Dad

When I got home, I wrote my brother, George, about the experience. It had been an exciting and deeply emotional day and I wanted to share it with him. He wrote back his own story about his fondest memory of the B-17.

“In the 1990’s the Owl’s Head (Maine) airport was putting on a air show and was going to have three WWII planes on hand, one being the B-17. I couldn’t pass that up. I went up there with my rather large video camera of the era. It was Friday afternoon and a small crowd was waiting for the three planes to fly in. The first was a small fighter (P-38, I think) – I filmed it landing. Then a CD-3 (small cargo plane) did the same. Then it came, hearing it first, then looking up – a B-17 – overhead. It flew down past the end of the runway, banked hard making a 180 turn and approached the runway. During the hard turn I could see the distinctive profile of the wings with all four engines. It landed and taxied right up to me with all four engines firing away and then shut down, the propellers slowly stopped. I filmed it all. I got to go on board and was surprised at how cramped the interior is. I squeezed past into the pilot’s seat and tried to imagine Dad sitting there with his co-pilot inches away. The gun turret was directly overhead and the navigation compartment right below. I squeezed through the bomb bay area and out to the tail – each area having defensive gun turrets along the way.

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Pilot and co-pilot seats – B-17

During my next visit to Patagonia, I told Dad I had a surprise for him. I sat him and Mom down and played the video on the TV. I said there were a few vintage planes on the film and I wanted to see if he could identify them. First the fighter appears and he remembered flying alongside many of them during the first part of his missions. The CD-3 was next and he remembered seeing a lot of those back then delivering parts and soldiers. He talked about it for a few minutes as I paused the film. I proceeded and then the B-17 came into view and he said ‘Oh my God, it’s a 17’ and he couldn’t take his eyes off the screen. ‘It’s been a long time since I have seen one of those in the air,’ he said.  You could tell he was really moved seeing one of those iron birds still flying. It landed and taxied right up to him, shut down the engines and then the plane sat there in silence, as did Dad. I told him how I had filmed it. He didn’t say much at first – just looked and remembered what those days during the war were like seeing scores of the 17’s coming and going. He was surprised and pleased to see what once was the aircraft he flew 31 bombing missions in and had somehow survived it all, which many didn’t.” – George Paton

A young man named Rishi Sharma, just 19 years old, is currently traveling around the country interviewing surviving WWII veterans. His mission – to interview all those vets who are still with us before their story is lost forever. My Dad will not be among those this young man interviews – he passed away in 2001.  Fortunately for our family, my dad was interviewed in 2000 by Dr. Robert Whitcomb, a research entomologist who had retired to the Patagonia, Arizona area and enjoyed interviewing and writing about WWII veterans. We have the taped interviews and manuscript. Both Dr. Whitcomb and my Dad passed away before the manuscript reached final form, but his wife Judith offered to share the tapes with the family. What an incredible gift to hear my dad’s voice talking about his war experiences.

As we honor today, Veteran’s Day, November 11, 2017,  the men and women who sacrificed so much for our freedom, I am reminded of these special memories of my dad as well as the “simple act of kindness” of Judith Whitcomb in sharing his story with us. Many of those who served were just 19 and 20 years old at the time – one day graduating from high school and just a few months later sitting in a bomber risking everything to  protect our country.

“I’m glad I participated in the War,” Paton said. “I don’t feel like I did anything extraordinary. I did my job like every other American.” – Wally Paton, Nogales International Times

Dad earned four Oak Leaf Clusters, a Distinguished Flying Cross and two combat ribbons.

Pretty extraordinary, I’d say.

She was a great plane, Paton said with a smile. Everyone depended on her to get us through every battle and she did.” Wally Paton,  Nogales International Times

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Ball Gunner Turret – gunner was protected only by glass in a very cramped space

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Back of B-17 with Gunner Turret

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Pilot’s check List – B-17