Personal History: Sunday Stealing

Who Knows Where The Time Goes

daughter, wife, niece, sister, sister, niece (Feb 2011)

This week’s Sunday Stealing is called Personal History, an interesting topic.

1. What would you like people to know about your mother?

I was thinking about this a lot this week. My father was the more outgoing and visible member of the couple. But I doubt they would have been been able to pay the bills if it wasn’t for my mom.

She was a bookkeeper at McLean’s Department Store in Binghamton, NY, then worked at Columbia Gas, not even a block away. When she moved to Charlotte, NC, she was a teller at First Union Bank, which eventually was swallowed by Wells Fargo. I probably got my love of numbers from her. When I told her we were learning base 2, which we were told was the basis of computers, she was clearly excited.

2. What would you like people to know about your father?

I’ll be writing about him on August 10, the anniversary of his death. My eclectic taste in music started with him.

3.  What was your childhood bedroom like?

HA! After my second sister was born, my father put up two walls in the dining room, built a wooden shelf into the two walls, then put a mattress on top of that. My storage was under the “bed,” though my books were around the corner on a bookcase. My dad painted the solar system on the ceiling.

Ballgame

4. What was your favorite activity as a child?

Alone: playing with my baseball cards. With others: playing softball/baseball/kickball. And singing.

5. What was high school like for you?

When we first got there, there was a certain hostility from some because my friends were identified as against the Vietnam war. But by the time I graduated, most of the school was against the war. I was on the stage crew and president of the Red Cross club. I was also president of the student government, which is how I sort of got to introduce Rod Serling.

6. Write about your cousins.

I have no first cousins. My parents were only children. Well, essentially. My mom had a younger sister who died as an infant. So my cousins were my mother’s cousin’s kids who lived in NYC and were a decade or more younger than I. Still, aside from my sisters and their daughters, they’re the closest relatives outside my nuclear household.

7.  What was your favorite food as a child?

Spinach. Totally indoctrinated by Popeye.

8. What was your most memorable birthday?

My 16th was held at the American Civic Association, so it was a real party. Lois, who I’ve known since kindergarten, gave me Judy Collins’ album Who Knows Where The Time Goes. She was afraid it might be too country for me; it was not.

9. What world events were significant to you as a child?

The integration of the high school in Little Rock, AR. Sputnik. The Cuban Missile Crisis – I didn’t really understand it, but I grokked adults all being nervous. The assassinations of Medgar Evers and John F. Kennedy. The massive 1965 blackout was the only time I ever heard my father worry about a possible Soviet plot.

To Starr Avenue

10. What did a typical day look like as a child?

During the school year, walk to school about half a mile, usually trying to vary my route. At lunch, walk home to my grandma Williams’ house for lunch, watch JEOPARDY with her sister, my wonderful Aunt Deana, back to school, then walk home with, in geographic order, Bill, Lois, Karen, Carol, and Ray. I’d walk home.

11. Write about your grandparents. 

Gertrude Williams (1897-1982) operated out of making us afraid of the boogie man. I don’t remember her husband, Clarence Williams (d. 1958), though I may have gone to his funeral. 

Agatha Green (1902-1964) was my Sunday school teacher and taught me how to play canasta. She was the first person I knew well to die, and I was devastated. McKinley Green (1896? -1980) was a custodian at WNBF-TV-AM-FM and would bring home stuff the station no longer wanted, such s the soundtrack to The Night They Raided Minsky’s (1968).

12. Did you move as a child?

I moved from the second floor of 5 Gaines Street, Binghamton, NY, to the first floor when my mother was pregnant with her second child. Until college, that was it.

13. Who taught you to drive?

Several people tried, including the Okie, Uthaclena, my father, and a professional.

14. Which job has been your favorite?

FantaCo, the comic book store/mail order/publisher/convention, where I worked from May 1980 to November 1988.

15. What was the best part of your 30s?

Working at FantaCo, singing in the Trinity UMC choir

Generations of mothers

Oneonta is a lot closer than Charlotte

I’ve long been aware of how different my mother, my daughter, and I were raised. My mother grew up with her mother, Gertrude Williams, but also her grandmother Lillian (and her second husband, Maurice Holland), and her mother’s siblings Adina and Edward Yates at 13 Maple Street in Binghamton, NY. She had generations of mothers.

My sisters and I grew up with my parents, Les and Trudy Green, at 5 Gaines Street. But my parental grandparents, Agatha and McKinley resided just upstairs. My maternal grandmother, Gertrude, and her sister Adina lived just six short blocks away from us. In fact, my sisters and I went to 13 Maple Street at lunchtime during the school year and spent much of the summer there as well. It was a fair approximation of having generations of mothers.

The daughter of my wife and me saw her maternal grandparents maybe every six weeks or so. But they were over an hour away. Her maternal aunts and uncles weren’t close by either, though she at least has had a decent chance to know them and their kids, my daughter’s first cousins.

But my birth family was more geographically scattered. My parents moved to Charlotte, NC in 1974. Since my father died in 2000, my father and my father never got to meet each other. My mother and my sisters and niece Alex (daughter of Marcia) came up from Charlotte and San Diego a few times, and I went down to Charlotte with my daughter in 2009, when she was five. She doesn’t really remember my mom, who died in 2011.

So no local familial babysitters on either side except when we dropped her off in Oneonta for a few days.

Jade

The first time my daughter saw her cousin Rebecca (daughter of Leslie) was on television. Rebecca and Rico were on some show called Wipeout. My niece actually came in second. The first time my daughter saw her oldest cousin in person was at my mother’s funeral.

The next time was in 2013 when my cousin  Anne invited Rebecca, Rico, and my family to Thanksgiving dinner. (That was also the last time I saw my mother’s first cousins Robert and Donald Yates before they died.) My family did see Rebecca perform in NYC in 2017, but we spent five minutes with RJ afterward. At least we all had dinner together in Syracuse in 2019; thanks to Shela E. for both of these opportunities.

This explained why my daughter was so annoyed with me, after the fact, that I didn’t take her to the Dave Koz Christmas show on Long Island featuring Rebecca. And it’s why she and I are going to see Leslie singing in New York City in June. Leslie’s coming to my daughter’s high school graduation, and maybe Alex can too.

My daughter recognizes that I want her – maybe she also wants for herself – to better know my (tiny) side of the family.

The follow-up post: ice, COVID, more

Half a block away

ice tireThis is a follow-up post about what I’ve written about, most recently.

Remember that our car was stuck in the ice in February? Of course, you do. After we got out, and the snow and ice subsequently melted away, we discovered that our neighbor’s sidewalk was still very wet. There was water bubbling up from the intersection of their sidewalk and the walkway to their house.

Apparently, someone from the city or from National Grid, the power company, nicked the waterline. Their water bill must have been terrible for that quarter. The owner had to contact a company to use their backhoe to dig up a couple of sidewalk panels so that the leak could be fixed.

This explains why there was SO much water around our car thawing and refreezing since our car was essentially in front of their house.

Grandma Agatha

I’ve been trying to access the records of the court case involving my grandmother, Agatha Walker (later Green), and my biological grandfather Raymond Cone from October 1926.

Alas, I got word that they can’t find the records. They may have been misfiled or destroyed. And I know, from the conversation I had with the person at Family Court, that they are very interested in this case.

The unmasking

I’ve noted that our church had been masking during worship. However, the Session, the ruling body of the congregation, had commissioned a group of folks, expert in these things, including current and former members of the state Department of Health. The infection rate in Albany County, NY is presently at Green, or low, as is all of New York State. (Green is good, as we know.)

The bottom line is that, as of March 20, masks are optional during worship. The choir, for instance, had a discussion at the beginning of the St. Patrick’s Day rehearsal. Most chose to unmask while singing. BUT no one had to. I tended to keep my mask on while NOT singing but to take it off when I was.

Moreover, congregational singing was allowed, which made them, and me, very happy. And they passed the peace by moving around, rather than just waving at each other.

I will say that my comfort level with unmasking was based on the fact that the choir members are fully vaccinated. Moreover – and I don’t know how to say this without sounding pretentious – our congregation is of a demographic, educational, and political composition that most, if not all of them have gotten the vaccines and likely wearing masks frequently.

Now I know this could change with the BA.2 variant of Omicron in Europe, Asia, and Africa. The recent BAFTA awards in England may have been a super spreader event. And there are more stringent rules in place at church if the CDC guidance for our county goes to Yellow or Orange.

Former governor

Speaking of my church, you probably WON’T remember that I wrote about New York Governor Martin Glynn nearly a decade ago. The Glynn Mansion is half a block from my church! I have walked by it a few dozen times since writing that post. But only recently did I notice the commemorative plaque.

Getting to 5 Gaines Street, Binghamton

spray-painted

Les.Roger.backporch
Les and Roger Green, back porch of 5 Gaines St, 2nd floor, 1953

One of the facts I’d previously established is that Agatha Walker married McKinley Green in April 1931. But by 1936, they were living apart in Binghamton.

In the 1940 Census, they were still separated, with Mac at 98 Lewis and Agatha and her son Les at her parents’ house at 339 Court Street. My father’s last name had changed from Walker to Green, misspelled Greene in the Census.

By the 1941 City Directory, though, the three of them were all together at 10 Tudor. Not incidentally, that address doesn’t exist anymore, demolished to facilitate a bypass off of Riverside Drive.

The single useful thing found from a visit to the Broome County Clerk’s office was a record of the Order of Adoption of Leslie H. Walker, inf, [presumably infant, though he was 13 days shy of his 18th birthday] by Mr. McKinley Green. I knew this had happened, but seeing it in Book 22 of Civil Actions and Special Proceedings, page 572, was kind of cool.

Les was in the military in 1945 and 1946. I know from anecdotal information that he had a variety of jobs, including delivering flowers, before and after his service.

McKinley was a porter at Wehle Electric, but usually, he was a laborer. In 1947, he started at WNBF radio and Tv, as a laborer, and by 1956, as a janitor. He stayed there until he died in 1980.

No perceived miscegenation

My parents were married on March 12, 1950. They looked for a place to live in town but were thwarted. Potential landlords thought my mother, who is very fair, was white and that they were an interracial couple.

They subsequently moved to 5 Gaines Street, on the top floor of the two-family dwelling. It was owned by my maternal grandmother, Gertrude Williams, and presumably, her siblings, though she outlived them all. She and her sister Deanna (d. 1966) lived about six short blocks away.

Back in the 1890s, the resident was someone whose last name was Archie, which was a variant of the family name Archer, so it had been in the family for a long time.

Gaines Street is a single short block, notable growing up because the Canny’s trucks would go from Spring Forest Avenue, take a right down Oak Street, a left across Gaines, and another left onto Front Street and head out of town to NYC, Syracuse, Albany, Scranton, or wherever.

The directory says Les worked as a chauffeur at Niagara Motor Express, or elsewhere through 1957.

Meanwhile, by 1954, Mac and Agatha had moved upstairs at 5 Gaines, with my parents moving downstairs. This was likely predicated by the fact that my mother had her second child, Leslie that year.

New job

In the 1958 volume, Dad is an employee of the Interracial Association at 45 Carroll, not all that far from where he grew up. He’s listed as the assistant director the following year. The organization morphed into the Broome County Urban League in 1968.

I know Les was doing lots of other things in this period: arranging flowers at Costas, painting, and singing. By 1964, he was at IBM, a job he hated. So when my homeroom teacher, Mr. Joseph, told me my father was crazy for leaving IBM in 1967 for an OEO program called Opportunities for Broome, I shrugged.

When I’ve visited 5 Gaines Street in the past, I’d noticed that the hunter-green asbestos siding was now brown. What I didn’t notice is that the brown was sprayed on. And not particularly well on the side of the house, because the green is still partially showing on the side.

This was one of the first stops on the Roger Green magical history tour that I went on recently.

The research trip: Les Green, Agatha Walker, Raymond Cone

Family Court privacy

Les Green.montage
Les Green (X3); the woman in the lower right is Agatha

Back in February 2020, I had planned a research trip to the Broome County Clerk’s office to look at a particular law case. But the March sojourn was postponed for some reason.

The story of the trial appeared in the Binghamton Press, starting on 27 Oct, p. 5. “Negro minister to go on trial.” “The Reverend Raymond Cone, negro minister, charged with being the father of a child born out of wedlock of Miss Agatha Walker, 25 years old*, of 14 East street, a teacher in this Sunday school**, will go on trial in Children’s Court tomorrow before County Judge Benjamin Baker.”

In late September, my friend Cee and I went to the clerk’s office, and I was assured that the information I sought would NOT be there. This is contrary to what I was told 19 months earlier on the phone. In any case, we could not find it. We were directed to the Family Court office.

The person I talked with said that the boss was away, but that I could provide a narrative. So I wrote a request for the trial transcript. I was told back at the county clerk that I might well be denied because Family Court records are sealed for reasons of privacy.

Thank God it was Thursday

But we were given a glimmer of hope by a lawyer who gives advice once a week in the county courthouse. He pointed to  22 NYCRR 205.5, Privacy of Family Court records.

Frankly, I’m not seeing it in the text, but he had researched a similar case in June 2021. He explained that my request could be denied because Family Court records are sealed. But I could appeal to a state appellate judge. I might note, for instance:

1. All of the parties – Raymond Cone, Agatha Walker Green, and the child, my father, Les Green, are all deceased.
2. I am directly related to the participants.
3. Many of the details, including the conclusion by Judge Baker in January 1927 that Rev. Cone was acquitted, was widely known because it was published in the Binghamton newspapers.

* She was actually 24, and 23 when the event occurred on January 6, 1926
** I understand she headed the Sunday school

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