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Betty Stone: A personal milestone in a historical setting

 

Betty Stone

 

I know. I know. No one, but no one, wants to hear about your trip. The thing is, sometimes that''s all you know to talk -- or write -- about, and one of those times is now. 

 

I have just returned from Clinton, N.Y. My granddaughter graduated from Hamilton College. In 1794 Samuel Kirkland, with the support of his good friend, Oneida Chief Skenandoa, established the Hamilton-Oneida Academy. In 1812 it was rechartered as Hamilton College in honor of U.S. Treasury Secretary, founding father and New York resident Alexander Hamilton.  

 

Clinton is a typical small-college town, with a town square surrounded by quaint shops and eateries. The college sits atop a hill that rises from the outskirts of the town to proclaim its eminence over the community. It once had two campuses, until Kirkland College for Women merged with Hamilton, so that now the campus is split by two distinct types of architecture. The former Kirkland campus has very modern buildings; the original Hamilton campus is a picture of tradition. The college will celebrate its bicentennial next year. 

 

 

 

Intriguing retreat  

 

From the time we started visiting Hamilton we have been fortunate to stay at historic Harding Farm, a complex of several guest houses sitting comfortably on the side of the campus hill. It was originally the home of Samuel Kirkland. After his death, it was sold to a professor, who later sold it to a dairy farmer, L.S. Harding.  

 

Descendants of that family maintain it as an inn and party venue today. On this trip, because there were more of us present, we had the use of the main house. Citations hanging by the front door honor earlier members of the family who figured prominently in the history of the college. Each autumn they hosted parties for incoming students. The parties must have been pretty occasions, set, as they were, on the gently rolling hills of a beautiful countryside. 

 

The old house is intriguing. Although no one lives there permanently, it has been kept much as it had been by previous generations. It is filled with personal memorabilia. One has the feeling that the extended family gathers often at the "old house," a place where cousins and friends bunk together in its many rooms, swim, play in the countryside. 

 

Furnishings are antique, but not the original furniture of the grandparents to whom it belonged, and, frankly, a little bit shabby. It holds an eclectic mixture of treasures and trivia. A striking piece of Chinese porcelain may sit next to something "made by loving hands at home." Evidently some child has been allowed to paint most of the switchplates with designs, and a record of children''s heights as they grew is protected on a door facing. 

 

A gilt pier mirror now looks like bronze across the living room from a magnificent Victorian armoire with inlay. Family pictures with many brides abound. 

 

In my room two lovely pieces of malachite sit on the bedside table, but the window shade is tattered. I was almost afraid to pull it down for fear I would be the person to deal its death blow. 

 

I identify with the old house. All its children are gone. It obviously holds many memories. It has seen a lot of fun, but clearly anticipates more. Whether or not I succeed, I strive for that, too. 

 

 

 

Roots 

 

The graduate and her parents wanted to have a party. Our family loves to celebrate. We hosted a casual supper, "Southern style," using the farm "party barn," but having to have a tent, too, because rain was predicted (and delivered!) every day.  

 

My daughter Nora Frances had brought two garbage bags full of magnolia leaves on the plane to use on tables. We had fried chicken, greens, cornbread, black-eyed peas with corn -- soul food. 

 

Shortly before we left Mississippi, their caterer called, very excited. 

 

"Listen," he said. "I have just found the most extraordinary and unusual recipe, and I think it''s Southern, too. I think we should serve it, also." 

 

"What is it?" Nora Frances asked. 

 

"Umm, let''s see." He was obviously reading from his instructions. "It''s called pi-mi-en-to cheese." What a novelty! 

 

Three years earlier we had had a similar "Southern" party for grandson Douglas when he graduated from Middlebury College in Vermont. I was assigned the pleasant responsibility of greeting the guests. One couple surprised me by saying, "It is really kind and hospitable of you to invite us. We felt sure you would not really want us to come." 

 

"Oh? Why is that?" 

 

"Well, you see, our name is Sherman." 

 

"You mean, as in ... " 

 

"Yes. William Tecumseh." 

 

I confess I was taken aback. Desperately I struggled to find something to say. Finally I stuttered, "Well, I guess there is something we can all agree on, his definition of war." 

 

"Yes," Mr. Sherman said. "It''s a pity we can''t seem to remember it." 

 

 

Betty Boyls Stone is a freelance writer, who grew up in Columbus.

 

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