Press-Republican

January 15, 2013

Clayburg memoir captures indomitable spirit

By JENNIFER MESCHINELLI and SUZANNE MOORE, Press-Republican
Press-Republican

---- — 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.

The previous owner, under the name McCormick’s, had operated a saloon there, as well, but Elizabeth put her foot down about ending that aspect of the business.

Six years before his death, James also took a job as guard at Dannemora Prison, bringing in a second steady income.

Elizabeth, left on her own to provide for her family, kept the hotel going, a challenge in a time when everything was made from scratch.

The children pitched in, waiting tables, wringing out and hanging laundry.

“Always helping with the dishes,” Rita said. “We didn’t mind working.”

INDOMITABLE JO

It is Rita’s hope that readers appreciate the strong family values and support needed to make the world a better place. She believes that a strong family unit and embracing some of the “old ways” of doing things could provide a better foundation for families.

“It all starts with the family unit,” she said. “I’d like to see everyone return to some of the family values from earlier times.”

For her own children, the book gives a wonderful insight to the life of their relatives, including their indomitable grandmother.

After Elizabeth’s family was grown and gone, Rita said, with great pride, she went back to school and then was treasurer for the Saranac Central School District until she retired at age 75.

REMINDER OF FAMILY

“Waiting for Jo” concludes with Rita’s marriage to her husband, Gerald, so she did not write about raising her own family — that, she says, is a tale for another book.

“We are thankful that Mom was able to recall and retrieve these memories,” said Rita’s son Robert Devan.

“I wish we had asked more questions or asked more about our relatives at an earlier age. There were things in here (the book) that weren’t always shared with us.”

The book, he said, “helped us better appreciate Mom’s life growing up,” he said. “Grandma was innovative for what she was able to provide on a limited income for five children.

“They didn’t have assistance back then like we do today.”

Robert also has the same hopes for the book that his mother does.

“It brings back what’s important in life — family, he said. “People need reminders sometimes.

“Today there is too much focus on materialism.”

Email Suzanne Moore:

smoore@pressrepublican.com

TO BUY THE BOOK "Waiting for Jo" by Rita Waldron Devan, now in its second printing, is priced at $15. The soft-cover book, which includes photographs and other images such as the menu from Betty's Hotel and Tea Room, is available at the Koffee Kat on Margaret Street in Plattsburgh, Maggie's Pharmacy in Dannemora and the Village Meat Market in Willsboro or by emailing the author at rdevan@willex.com. Add $2.50 for mailed copies for a total price of $17.50.