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A Stone's Throw: Can an unreconstructed Yankee find happiness in the South?

 

Betty Stone

 

 

When Trudy Gildea had barely moved to Columbus from New York State, she went uptown to Alford's Drug Store, bought a copy of The New York Times, took it home and began combing the want ads for jobs in New York. She says she did not know exactly what she planned to do, since at that time she and husband Ray already had three children; but she felt she just had to escape.  

 

Ray had accepted a teaching position at Mississippi State College for Women while pursuing his doctoral degree from the University of Virginia in the summers. Trudy says she promised him she would stay until he received his doctorate, but she was poised to flee the South.  

 

Her job search did provide her respite for two summers when she was hired to be dietician at Camp Aloha Manor in Vermont. She says she was probably not ideally qualified in spite of a related degree in home economics, now human ecology, from Cornell, but she had two excellent helpers who had worked at the camp and whom she relied on heavily. Her children were able to stay with her there, so that cinched the deal. 

 

Aloha Manor turned out to be an interesting camp. It was started by people who had prospered on Hawaii in the days of its early white settlers. In fact, they had been influential in persuading the Hawaiians to adopt the muu muu as typical clothing instead of grass skirts. 

 

Trudy had grown up in Syracuse, New York, the youngest of five children. Her father was an engineer who, loving sports, specialized in stadium design. He wrote a book on the subject. Sadly, however, he died of Hodgkin's Disease (now curable) before Trudy was three. When he became ill, he still used his time well. He bought a sewing machine and taught himself to make curtains. He planned curricula for his children's education. He played the guitar and the mandolin and wrote poems for his children's birthdays. He devoted a room in their house as a library, complete with the Dewey Decimal System catalogue, even if it meant the three girls had to share a bedroom. 

 

With a family that valued education, Trudy went to an excellent, progressive school, Bronxville High, in Westchester County, a suburb of New York City, and later to Cornell. Her first degree was in home economics, now called human ecology. She says she probably leaned that way because, when she started college, World War II servicemen were beginning civilian life again and were given priority for college admission. Not many of them chose home economics, however. Later, after she moved to Columbus, she got a master's degree in English literature from MSCW. 

 

When the Gildea family was settling, if somewhat uneasily, in Columbus, Trudy found herself very pleasantly surprised at the good quality of elementary education the MSCW Demonstration School provided. "I would especially grade Mrs. Pauline Brandon with an A+," she says. 

 

 

 

A life in music 

 

Trudy was a trained violinist. Her high school had an orchestra for which she was concert mistress. She praises the people of the area where she grew up, saying, "They were willing to be taxed enough to provide excellent schools." 

 

With her training, when she landed in Columbus, she looked around for some way to be useful. "I wanted to do something important in my life," she says. 

 

She volunteered to play in the MSCW orchestra under Thure Widegren. Still active in that way, she now plays with the Starkville-MSU Symphony Orchestra. 

 

She is an avid proponent of the Suzuki method of teaching very young children to play the violin. She started the Suzuki program in Columbus and still assists Diane Ford, who has now taken over the program. She has won many accolades for her efforts. Now Joe Cook School is a magnet school and offers students a string program. 

 

Trudy met Ann Cade, who shared her enthusiasm for the arts; and together they worked on the Columbus Arts Council, taking over the direction of it. 

 

At one time Ray took a position in San Marco, Texas. The Gildeas were looking for a house there. The owner of the house asked where they were from, and Trudy answered quickly, "I'm from Mississippi!" 

 

"Good," replied the owner. "I don't really want to rent to those Yankees." 

 

It was not entirely true, however. Trudy admits she is still not southern. "Not totally," she says. "Not politically." She says she will always think of herself as a New Yorker. But when the youth orchestra she helped found recently played "Happy Birthday" to her, she had to admit to feeling good about her place. "Somehow we 'make do.'" She observed, "Here people take care of each other in a personal way. This is where I feel the most comfortable now."

 

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

 

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