Memory is a funny thing: An interview with Jane Barnard
by Renee Thornton –
They say we all have regrets in life and I suppose that is true.Having lost both my parents when I was still a young woman, one of my regrets is that I had not been able to spend more time with them.Not just for their company, but also to have had the opportunity to listen to more of their ‘stories’.I recall how they would tell us about their growing up years in Sodus Center, NY and their shenanigans living as next-door neighbors.When my dad used to tell me they walked 4 miles to get to school in Sodus, I believed him (well minus the barefoot in the snow part).I feel I have been cheated in losing them both so young because I find myself now with so many questions I wish I had been given the opportunity to ask them.My hope would have been that with their telling, it would have allowed me to meld their memories into my own.
So when we moved to the Honeoye area 24 years ago we were happy to meet Jane and Howard Barnard through our church.We enjoyed visiting them from time to time, as Howard, in his wonderful soft-spoken way, was a wonderful storyteller. Howard has been gone 6 years now and his memories and stories – their memories and stories – are held closely to the heart by his wife Jane.As my friend Jane turned 100 years old on January 14th, I asked her if she would share a few of her memories of the last century.
Jane started our conversation by saying “Memory is a funny thing”. All I could think was how that single sentence would make a fantastic opening line of the next great epic novel!
Renee: What did you mean by “memory is a funny thing?”
Jane:I find that the things we remember might not necessarily be in the chronological order of our lives that we should remember them in. Somehow that has a tendency to distort one’s memory.
Renee:What is your earliest memory?
Jane: I was 2 years old and standing out in the yard with my mother who was hanging clothes on the line.My mother was a widow and she was talking to our neighbor.My father had died that September after being terribly hurt in a horse wagon accident and I remember my mom talking to our neighbor about it.
Another early memory I have is I used to have a little tea table and a tea set and I played tea with my doll.My brother and next door neighbor used to come and get under that table and upset it.I used to get so mad!
Renee: What was your first car?
Jane:In 1939 when I was 21 I bought a1935 Ford which I named Sally.I did not know how to drive yet. I do recall that car took as much oil as it did gas!Interestingly, the day I got that car is the same day of the first date I ever had with Howard.
Renee: On a personal note how did you meet Howard?
Jane:The first time we met it was Howard’s birthday.We met at a square dance, which was a big social event back in those days.It was in Wayland at a place called ‘Happy Land’.We started dating soon after that, for 3 years before we married.
Renee: How did the great depression impact your family?
Jane: It really did not.We lived on a farm and were poor even before the depression.All of our neighbors were equally as poor.Since we grew our own food, had our own milking cow and lived off the land we were not nearly as impacted in the rural areas as they were in other sectors of the country.
Renee: You were a teacher so I assume you attended college.Was it normal for a woman to attend college back then?
Jane: I attended College at Geneseo.In those days if you had a vocation, a woman was either a teacher or a secretary, there we no opportunities in other fields.I worked for my room and board by caring for the son of the local undertaker.Teaching was a 3-year course and the tuition was free, but there were fees to pay that amounted to about $250 for the 3 years.My cousin lent me the money and I was very grateful for that.
Renee: How has technology changed your life?
Jane:Considering we did not even have electricity until I was married, it has changed my life in every way.Electrification in the rural areas was a huge thing.The electricity used to run as far as the schoolhouse, but to get it run to one’s home was very expensive.We did not even have running water until much later.
I remember the radio was a big thing.We did not have a radio since we did not have electricity, but once we did we thought that radio was a big deal.
Bottom line, technology has changed all aspects of my life.I know I will never own a cell phone and these smart phones today boggle my mind.I do however have a life alert that I wear around my neck and which I have mistakenly set off 2 times, getting all the ambulance and fire trucks to come to my house!
Renee:Who do you feel was the most influential president?
Jane:I have mixed emotions.I am a Republican, but I have always thought Harry Truman was under appreciated.I also have always had a soft spot for Herbert Hoover and of course who could ever forget Ronald Reagan and “Honey I should have ducked.”
Renee:Are these the best of times or the worst of times?
Jane:The best of times would be when people treat each other with dignity, be kind to others and see the glass as half full and not half empty.Isn’t it sad that we cannot seem to make progress and stop wars with those basic human qualities intact.I doubt I will live long enough to see the best of times.
Renee: What advice do you have for people today who think this world is a mess?
Jane: Try a lot harder to do your part to make your own corner of the world better.Say please and thank you.Be nice and always assume the best in others.If everyone just did those small things the world would be a better place.
I could have spent many more hours talking to Jane that day.As long as I have known her, Jane’s wisdom, humor and wit are unmatched.I laugh as she would tell me many ‘side-stories’ and then say, “Oh but don’t include that in the article!”
The overwhelming opinion that came through in our conversation is that today she feels we take so many things for granted. This from a woman who remembers not having an icebox let alone a refrigerator.Who remembers a time before pop up toasters, television, ballpoint pens, microwave ovens, computers, cell phones, and so much more.Do you know what?I believe she is absolutely correct.
In all of this I come out hoping someday my grandchildren will ask me to share my memories.Memory may be a funny thing, but I’ll happily share, and in the telling hope to become part of their memories.