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January 15, 2013

Clayburg memoir captures indomitable spirit

PLATTSBURGH — Elizabeth Buckley wouldn’t commit on the spot to marrying James Frederick Waldron.

“So he said he would wait,” said Rita Waldron Devan, one of the couple’s five children.

The Willsboro woman, 86, titled her memoir, “Waiting for Jo,” with that precious memory in mind.

Jo, Rita said, “was my father’s loving name for my mother. It was his sweetheart name for her.”

HARD DAYS

After years of being told by her children that she should write down some of the stories of her childhood growing up in Clayburg, Rita finally got down to work two years ago.

“After my children read it, they thought others may enjoy reading it, as well.”

But “Waiting for Jo” isn’t just about old-fashioned stories — it tells of a hard way of life and a woman who turned to faith and determination to raise her children in the 1930s and ‘40s.

“It centers on my mom, whose husband died at 38 (in 1934), leaving her with five children, ages 1 to 10, to raise on her own,” Rita said.

“It’s amazing what my mom was able to do with very little. There were hard days after my father died.”

Her dad, James Frederick Waldron, lost his life to cancer.

“He had a pain in his side all summer,” Rita said, noting he had thought his appendix was the cause.

So in the fall, thinking he’d otherwise miss out on the hunting season he loved so much, he saw a doctor.

Surgery revealed extensive cancer, said Rita, who was just 8 years old at the time.

“He only lived two weeks after that,” she said.

STEADY CLIENTELE

James and Elizabeth ran Betty’s Hotel and Tea Room in the little Saranac hamlet of Clayburg, drawing a steady clientele of tourists, mostly in the summertime, from Westchester County and New York City.

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