FOSTER PAGE, A FRIEND AND RELATIVE

Foster Page driving one of his famous doodlebugs with his pals, Billy Budd and Jack. Photo taken by Yankee Magazine

Foster Page, driving one of his famous doodlebugs with his pals, Billy Budd and Jack. Photo taken by Yankee Magazine in 1984.

By Winona (Peck) Gadapee

Foster Page was a family close friend, a relative (my father Reggie Peck’s cousin), helper and enemy of none.

Foster was in my mother’s class at Danville’s Philips Academy, probably the class of 1931. He and my Dad shared equipment, much of it Foster’s, and they hayed and spread manure for each other.

My early memories of Foster were when I was perhaps eight or nine, my brother five years younger. Foster would come to our house, sit in the kitchen chair near the door to sort of visit… Foster wasn’t much of a talker. What he really wanted was to play with us kids until we were so wound my Mother would always end up sitting us in chairs for “Time Out”. Thinking back, I can imagine she was feeling stressed before we got loud, because she always had so much to do and she was “caught” in the kitchen.

Foster loved musical movies. So did my mother and I, so when I was probably a 6th or 7th grader, Foster would invite my Mom and me to join him. Dad was too exhausted, so he stayed home with whoever needed watching over. After Foster had seen the musical, he’d go out and buy the 78 record, complete with the pictured “jacket” of many of the scenes, and all the words of the songs. Foster would listen once or twice, then bring it to me to keep. I would play them over and over until I had them memorized. I realize I still have many of them.

Foster had gone to Randolph Agricultural School after graduating. This encouraged his constant desire to experiment and try to better his father’s farm. He also like to “tinker.” Thus came his series of “doodle bugs”.

I was expected to help in haying by driving truck and doodlebug at first for picking up tumbles of hay, and later with the hay loader. I much preferred Foster’s doodle bug because it was very low geared and the top speed was probably 15 miles an hour. It couldn’t get out of control, but it was very powerful. Of course, this was after you started it by attaching two wires together (and often getting “stung”).

Dad’s truck on the other hand, was another story, usually with not the best brakes. Once, when the truck was still moving downhill, even with the brake on, I panicked and made the nervous mistake of pushing the clutch. My Dad yelled–did he ever! I think he was trying to give me instructions. Foster quietly somehow got into the truck and took my place, and helped me finish the load and drive it back to the barn.

After Foster retired from farming, his sister and her husband moved to the farm place to raise pheasants. Foster moved with his mother, Edna, to the old schoolhouse at the junction of what is now Kittredge Road and Walden

Hill Road. That may have been when my father was road commissioner of Danville, and hired him on the work crew, mainly because of his mechanical skills, though he also became very proficient as a grader driver.

While they were living in the schoolhouse, the gas man was filling his large heating fuel tank and it blew up, burning the house and everything with it, including all his father, Lon’s, precious diaries and Danville histories. The delivery man was only able to get Edna out in her wheelchair.

Edna went to live with her sister in St Johnsbury.  Foster came to live with my parents before he was able to build his house on Hill Street, on the south side of the Knights of Pythias building. Once built, Foster brought his mother home to once again live with him. After his mother died, he later brought his aunt home to take care of.

This story few may know or have forgotten, but it so signifies the kind of man Foster Page was. There was a boy named Paul Page (I’m not sure if he was related) who lived with his mother, I think on Crystal Ave. He had learning problems, and his mother had many old wives theories like a red yarn around your neck stopped nose bleeds, and garlic bulbs around your neck prevented colds. All in all, Paul was dreadfully bullied. He spent much time sitting in the back of the room doing nothing, yet if he skipped school, a truant officer brought him back. (In his adult year, he told me our 4th grade teacher, Dorothy Stanton, was the only teacher that taught him anything. She saved my learning also, but that’s another story.)

One year as Paul sat with nothing to do, he took out his knife and carved his name in the desktop. His punishment was to go to the shop and sand it smooth and refinish it. That was the best days of his school career! He left as soon as he turned 16 years old.

That was a long introduction to get to his connection with Foster. Paul did spend time with him. Foster was kind and not judgmental; he always looked after the underdog or ridiculed , and I think he made sure the Page family did not want.

One night a young high school girl was walking up Hill Street alone in the dark, and a young man jumped out and grabbed her. She got away. She didn’t see who it was, but immediately everyone assumed it was Paul. He was picked up and sent to Vergennes for troubled youth. Foster visited him there. He listened to his story. “I didn’t do it.” Foster believed it and believed in him. He was able to eventually get Paul out of Vergennes, becoming his caregiver and supervisor. Foster’s kind compassion saved this young man who later became a most sought-after mechanic and large equipment operator!

Much later, Foster is comfortably retired in his Hill Street home. Arnie and I and daughter, Kim, have bought from my parents’ estate the Annie Currier house north of the Congregational Church. Foster would once again, stop in each morning when he walked down Hill Street to buy his paper. One morning, he seemed particularly uncomfortable, yet excited for Foster. Finally, as he is about to leave, he announced, “Betty (Paulsen) and I have decided to get married.”

I was thunderstruck! Betty had recently retired from teaching at Bennington College, where she had taught for many years. She had never married. Foster had never married. Betty had told me about showing Foster how to fly a kite, his first, and what fun they had. The two had started touring the area. But Marriage! I was stunned. The next morning on his daily walk, he stopped in again, stuck his head in the door, and said, “Just wanted you to know; we don’t HAVE to get married,” and quickly left. I laughed all day!

Betty and Foster married in his living room on June 21st, on our anniversary, and the first day of Spring. Betty’s relatives were there, Arnie and I, and I think my brother Joe Peck, was his best man. He invited the neighbors, too.

Betty and Foster decided if they wanted to “catch-up” with others, they needed to celebrate four times a year on the seasonal dates. On the first day of winter, the happy couple was driving to Montpelier for a restaurant celebration meal with Betty’s family. Betty, who had been driving her car, pulled into the pull-off just before the Groton State Park road on Route 2.

Foster and Betty changed positions, and, as Foster was somewhat unfamiliar with Betty’s car and with not the best of eyesight, he pulled out in front of a car. Betty died soon after. Foster was in the Montpelier Hospital for a very long time, badly broken, physically and mentally. He never forgave himself, and he was amazed that Betty’s family could. They always included him in events. Foster made it back home eventually, but he was never quite the same, a broken man. And the love of his friends couldn’t quite put him back together again.

 

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