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Holiday Gift and Event Guide Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, November 22, 2007

A salute to our elders
A chance to give to those who have contributed to the community for decades

The holidays are a time of giving and sometimes that means more than shopping at the mall.

T rpri The Enterprise got a call last month from Kathleen Speck, director of the Hilltowns Community Resource Center, asking for our help. In past years, the Times Union helped raise funds for the elderly. Each senior identified by the resource center received $50. This year, instead, the recipients of the daily newspaper’s holiday fund drive will be needy children. "We will have 60 to 70 very disappointed seniors," said Speck. "A lot of them are on their own, living on Social Security. Fifty bucks is a big deal to them."

So the resource center has launched its own fund drive. With the help of the Helderberg Kiwanis and St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Delmar, it plans to give a food basket to about 70 Hilltown and Altamont senior citizens and would like to continue to give a cash gift as well.

Speck asked Speck asked if The Enterprise could write about some of the Hilltown elders. We were happy to oblige and have devoted our special holiday section to the cause. Hilltown reporter Tyler Schuling visited three households, interviewing Leah and Leo Bartell, Jean Pearson, and Gene Smith. What he discovered and wrote about are people who have given much to their community over the years and who continue to give. We hope, as we state in our editorial this week, that our readers will join in the giving.

Speck would like to raise $3,500. Anyone who wants to contribute to the Hilltown Fund for the Elderly may write a check payable to HCRC with a notation in the memo line, "Senior Fund." Dollars will be redistributed to eligible seniors through Catholic Charities. Checks may be mailed to the Hilltowns Community Resource Center, Post Office Box 147, 15 Route 1, Westerlo, NY 12193.

— Melissa Hale-Spencer, editor

By Tyler Schuling

MEDUSA — On a cold day in mid-November, Gene Smith, who lives in a large green house in Medusa, sat in her living room, recalling when she was very young. The season’s first snow fell just days earlier and covered the hamlet, but all that remains is a slouching snowman just up the road.

Smith, who has essential tremors, a condition that makes her shake, read an account of Christmas she had painstakingly written just days earlier.

"Christmas, 1926. I just remember I am 4 years old. My dad would get the old wood sleigh out that he carried wood on for fires...Dad would put bells on the horse’s harness so we would have jingle jangle all the way," Smith said. "We would pick out a hemlock tree. We didn’t have spruce, and we would pick out the hemlock tree. Or, you could have a pine, but the ornaments would slide off the tree," Smith said.

"We always had a hemlock. No one knew about spruce back then," she said.

"Dad took the tree in the house and put it in a stand, and my sister and I would decorate it. I did the lower branches. My sister did the rest. My dad put the star on the top," Smith said. "No electric lights then. Just...ornaments."

A small purple Christmas tree — a gift from Smith’s daughter — sits in the front window of her living room. The Christmas tree is one of many purple objects in her house. Binoculars, surgical gloves, quilts, candles, chairs, and the clothes she wears — are purple.

Because others associate her with the color, Smith is called "Lilac," "Purple," or "Violet."

Writing projects

Each week, she uses an electric typewriter to write her weekly column — Notes from Lilac — for local newspapers.

For the column, she peruses her mother’s diaries, which date back to 1914, for interesting entries. She then writes the entry, and follows it with events in her life and the lives of others, concluding her column with a verse from the Bible or a short prayer.

Her mother, whom Smith called "Amazing Grace," died in 1989. Smith said she was named after her grandfather, Eugene Cook, who lived next door.

"My mother, bless her heart, why did she do it"" Smith asked of her unusual first name. "It must have been I was supposed to be a boy."

Smith’s husband, who died in 1989, she said, also had a crazy name — Delos.

While growing up, Smith and her three siblings regularly attended Sunday School. Her brother and two sisters are no longer living.

"I’m the smartest one," Smith said. "Because I lived."

Besides her weekly column, Smith is working on another writing project. When she was a young girl, and before she transferred to another school, she attended a one-room schoolhouse at the intersection of the Sayre and Fox Creek roads. The schoolhouse, Smith said, "is falling in and falling apart." Currently, she has about seven people who will contribute to a book about the school, and she’s looking for more to participate in the project.


When she was around the age of 10, Smith received a white Bible bearing her name for Christmas. The Bible contains her favorite Christmas story. It also brings her closer to God.

"I just believe in talking to Him," she said. Recently, her yard was covered with "leaves, leaves, leaves." She then prayed for the man who rakes her yard to come and remove the large maple leaves, she said, and he came.

"When you push something, [God] doesn’t hear you," Smith said.

During Christmas week, Smith will stay with her daughter, Sherri, in Schenectady. The family will go to the park to see Christmas lights as well as brightly-lit neighborhoods.

Her son-in-law, Lance, will cook, as Smith’s husband, Delos, did before.

Smith no longer drives, but she has many hobbies that keep her occupied. She colors velvet pictures; crochets; watches sports on television; and collects canceled stamps, aluminum tabs, and Campbell’s Soup labels — things that otherwise would be thrown away — and gives them to charities.

In her kitchen, three fish bowls sit just inside her window. Inside the bowls are depression plants, chalky growths which look like corral, made with coal, ammonia, water, bluing, food coloring, and salt.

Pictures of her granddaughter, Sarah, cover a wall in her living room. In an action shot, Sarah and her horse, Willie, jump in a competition. There’s a class picture of Sarah with blonde hair, and another of an older-looking Sarah with black hair; a newspaper clipping hangs in Smith’s kitchen, announcing Sarah’s receiving the Student of the Month Award.

Smith leaves the room and emerges with a large sepia-toned family portrait. Her mother and father stand high above her, her father’s determined eyes shaded by the brim of his hat.

She points to each person in the portrait and names each.

"I like this one," Smith said as she pointed to a young girl, the youngest and smallest in stature, wearing high buckle shoes.

"I think she’s so cute," she saidequi >T Bartell said, the boy repeatedly asked: "Is it time yet" Is it time yet""

While most children run toward the tree on Christmas Day, Mrs. Bartell said, the boy simply stood, looking at the presents.

"Those are from Santa Claus," she said to the boy.

He said, "It can’t be for me. I know he didn’t leave them for me."

The couple also took him to the annual Hilltowns Christmas Program, where children receive donated gifts. Near the end of the party, with few gifts remaining, their number was called and someone pointed him toward a bike in a corner.

"He was just in awe," said Mrs. Bartell.

He also received presents from Santa Claus and from the Bartells

One room in the Bartells’ home is filled with toys that are shared among the foster children. By the time the young boy left, another room was filled with toys belonging only to him.

"He was such a nice little boy. Very sensitive," said Mrs. Bartell. "He came from a drug background."

Pearson is surrounded by the things she cherishes

By Tyler Schuling

BERNE — Janice Pearson, who lives in the rolling hills of Berne along Sickle Hill Road, insists visitors not take their shoes off once they enter her house. She and her husband, Everett, she said, lived in the house; they didn’t just exist in it.

Pearson’s late husband, Everett, farmed before becoming a house painter. The two had known each other since 1960, and, in 1983, they married.

"We had a lot of fun together," said Pearson. "We had a good time."

Inside the side porch of her two-story home, a plethora of plants wind around the room. A large white milk box sits inside the doorway, and fresh milk is delivered each Friday by Meadow Brook Farms Dairy in Clarksville.

Pearson does not decorate for Christmas until after Thanksgiving. But year round, the walls of her home are decorated. A large painting of a round barn that was once located across the street but burned in 1976 is mounted on a wall in her dining room. A multitude of dinner plates, many of them given to her, hang in her dining room, a testament to her experience and to history. There’s a plate of John and Jackie Kennedy, another from Greece, and many commemorating milestones and anniversaries of local civic groups.

Pearson said her neighbors, the Beckers, a father and son who live on both sides of her home, are "the best neighbors anybody could ever have." This year, as in the past, she will join them for breakfast on Christmas Day.

"Back when we were kids, money wasn’t as plentiful as it is now, and kids didn’t get the things they do today," said Pearson. She added that she’s glad children receive the gifts they do today.

While meeting with the Beckers on Christmas Day, Pearson enjoys seeing the three Becker children receiving gifts. "And each year, they get a year older, and a year bigger, too," she said.

Pearson spends the holidays with Everett’s brother and sister, and his nieces and nephews.

"The holidays were a big family affair for them. They always got together for the holidays," Pearson said. "It’s a very close-knit family."

Now retired, Pearson worked for 25 years for Bryant’s Supermarket in Greenville when she lived in South Westerlo. She moved to Berne to take care of her mother and to "fix up" the house.

"This is where I was born and brought up. I love it up here, and Everett did, too," she said.

Pearson remains very involved, she said, in a thrift shop at the United Methodist Church of Greenville and Norton Hill, which raises money for the church.

"We’ve always had a good year. We’ve had it for a number of years, but, boy, this year, we’ve had a fabulous year. People donate the stuff, and you just can’t believe the things we have and the money we get from it," Pearson said.

Last year, Pearson, accompanied by friends, went to the Christmas Eve service in Norton Hill and to the service held jointly by the Berne Lutheran and Berne Reformed churches.

Pearson doesn’t have one holiday story that she prefers to others. "I like them all," she said. "I cherish them all."

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