The High Falls Conservancy interviewed Sue Paterson just after her ninetieth birthday and her sale of the building which houses her antique store, The Barking Dog, and just before she departed for the west coast for her seventy-second high school reunion.
HFC: So are you looking forward to seeing old friends at your High School reunion?
SP: Yes! There are some very frisky people in that class (San Mateo HS class of 1944). I credit them with some of the vim, vigor and vitality that’s kept me going.
The Early Years and Africa
HFC: What did you do after your graduation from San Mateo?
SP: I studied at the University of California, Berkeley and majored in journalism for 2 years. But after working part time for the San Francisco Chronicle and feeling “deadline” pressures first hand I opted out. I realized journalism was not the field for me. Instead I graduated with a degree in art and art history and went on to earn a masters at Columbia in the relatively new field of occupational therapy which had developed during WWII and emphasized the use of specific occupations in the treatment of disabilities both mental and physical.
As interesting as all the formal education was, I was much more influenced and involved in my living experiences at the International Houses at both schools. These were college residences established by the Rockefeller Foundation to house 500 students, half foreign and half American with the aim of a college experience in international relations. Life at “I” House was an eye-opener for me and a life defining experience. It definitely encouraged my yen for working my way around the world and a couple of years after college I began that odyssey in earnest!
HFC: Tell me a little bit about what prompted you to go to Africa?
SP: Well, Africa........I just decided I wanted to go there. I’d always wanted to work my way around the world. I also felt strongly about apartheid and that it would be good to fight that if I worked there. Many friends and especially my brother have criticized that “fight apartheid” motive by saying I should have stayed in the US to fight for civil rights (which I did, but a decade later in the 1960’s!) While at Columbia, and living at the International House, I met and grew to be friends with a girl there who was from Capetown. She gave me a lot of information on how to apply for a job in my profession in South Africa and a few years later I followed through on her advice. My first job in South Africa was for the Union of South Africa in one of their rural district hospitals in an area called Meerhof....which was not a town or anything, just in the middle of nowhere at the end of a railroad line --- about 50 miles north of Pretoria in the Transvaal and near the Hartebeeseport dam. It was a hospital for pediatric illnesses, much of it terminal and pretty depressing. Only three of the professional staff, including myself, were Europeans (white) as were all the patients. We consisted of a very stern British RN Matron, a Dutch physiotherapist and me. Doctors were only on call. All other staff were non-European (African), but no African patients!
I transferred to Johannesburg after a year or so and worked in a government Cerebral Palsy Clinic in Rosettenville for the remainder of my four years in South Africa. Dr. Bloom, who worked at the clinic, would often take me with him when he did Saturday morning pro bono exams on visits to African Townships. And in Jo’burg I finally had a chance to volunteer with an amazing anti-apartheid group called “Township Jazz.” It was a group of African musicians and entertainers and their supporters who were pressing the government for permission to travel abroad to entertain, but because they were non-European they were not allowed to leave the country nor were they allowed re-entry visas. After a year or so of protest concerts and other activities (all peaceful) the travel ban was successfully lifted and people like Miriam Makeba, “the nut brown babe”, and others were free to come and go abroad.
One of the best things about living in South Africa was planning and saving up for trip down the Nile to my next job which was to be in Copenhagen (never made it!) This was the year the Suez Canal crisis erupted and I got stuck in Khartoum, in the Sudan for a month. But that Nile journey remains a high point in my life! I had seen an incredible photograph in Life magazine (Eliot Eliofson’s) of a Dinka tribesman standing on one leg in a canoe somewhere on the Nile in the Sudan and it just made me want to go there. It was quite a trip I must say.
Before travel had become sophisticated on the Nile everything was still very “post-colonial”. Crews on the paddle steamers from Namasagali to Juba and Khartoum were trying hard to look organized and official, wearing clothing half tattered and torn and the other half an official hat or jacket. The boat on the upper Nile made the trip to Khartoum in about three weeks. The boat would pull up to the river bank with nothing around but grass, trees, bushes and animals and out of that background would appear people, tribesmen and their animals waiting to get on the huge barge towed by the steamer. Most Africans traveled free on the barge with family and animals,cooking and sleeping there. Anyone who could afford to pay the fare, Europeans or non, could travel on the steamer. I remember one tribal chieftain in full regalia getting on the steamer with his assistant who carried a full length mirror so the chieftain could see his image in the mirror at all times. Much of the time on that leg of the journey I was the only woman on board the steamer.
HFC: Did you feel threatened being the only woman?
SP: Very much so. I was thankful that I had a stateroom with a lock on the door because the doorknob did rattle a lot every night. There were a lot of very suggestive comments from the crew which I just ignored, kept my distance, and wits about me.
The funniest thing that happened along the way after two other European women had boarded at Juba, the boat pulled up to the river bank and there on the edge of the river were a whole tribe of about twenty five men, stark naked except for being completely covered in ashes. According to the crew they were very excited by seeing us ladies and were wildly waving their private parts at us. The crew said that meant that they wanted to get to know us better!
The Years with John
HFC: Tell me how you met your husband.
SP: I met John, a rather shy Englishman, in the middle of the Atlantic on a French liner, the Liberte, going to Europe. Everyone traveled by boat in those days. I was traveling to Rome where I was living and working at the time and he was heading to the Spanish island of Ibiza where he was living. Ibiza was a great little island before it was discovered by too many tourists in the 60’s. Anyway, it was five days of crossing the ocean with all these people you’d probably never see again, but were touching your Life for a memorable brief encounter. All the fellow passengers at my table, including John, decided to spend some days together in Paris before going our separate ways. And that too, was a memorable experience.........April in Paris!
When I finally got on the train for Rome I thought I’d never see John again, but a few days after arriving in Rome a postcard came from Ibiza with John saying “I just bought a Vespa scooter. Let’s go to the Greek Islands! Wow!! He arrived in Rome and we each took a beach towel and headed off to Greece. About half way through the trip, on the island of Paros, we decided this was for life. And I think the thing that solidified it for me was John’s idea of driving down the Pan American Highway from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego. I thought I’m never going to meet another guy who wants to do that! (We did it in 1964 in a Volkswagen bus with a big Airedale named Rafferty)
Coming To High Falls
HFC: What brought you to High Falls in the first place?
SP: Long story! My husband, John, and I lived in a loft on Canal St. in NYC after he came back from Vietnam. One day he saw an ad in the NY Times for a brownstone on Degraw St. in Cobble Hill in Brooklyn for $19,995. We loved it. It was a beautiful building, everything untouched and original and we put down a binder on it. While we were working on getting our mortgage about a week later the whole deal fell through. But I remember so clearly John saying “what are we doing putting down roots in the concrete jungle? Let’s go to the country!” And so we did! We found a wonderful piece of land with a brook up the Peekamoose Mt.from West Shokan and went around hugging all the trees.
"John’s brother, Derek, who was a master carpenter, started building us a house and while that was going on we found a creaky old place called the “Bell House” on High Point Mt. Rd. to stay in during the construction. However, when Derek completed the Peekamoose house we’d grown so used to the old Bell place that we elected to stay there for awhile (10 years!) and let friends spend weekends in the new place. There was one snafu: our neighbor, the civil rights attorney, Bill Kunstler, lived on the property up the hill and liked to take baths in our creek. “I’m off to take a bath, Sue!” he’d yell as he hiked by on his way to the creek. We had to warn friends who were staying there that this guy might suddenly appear in various stages of dress or undress to take a bath in the creek.
Anyway, we just started coming up on weekends, piling the dogs and cats in the car and off we’d go. At that time, I had an antique shop called “Hornblower” around the corner from Canal St. on West Broadway. I worked full time as an occupational therapist at Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital and opened Hornblower by appointment and on rare weekends when we didn’t make it to the country. West Broadway and Soho were just becoming very zingy at that time and I’d zoom around to barns and auctions and other shops collecting things for the shop or to bring up to the D&H Flea Market here in High Falls.
After doing this for about ten years my husband's engineering firm posted him to Amman, Jordan as the Project Engineer for the new Queen Alia International Airport. We were there for four great years, but sadly John suffered a heart attack and died in 1980. He'd been 50 years old for just three months. We were really fortunate to have crossed paths in mid Atlantic and to have travelled to so many fascinating places during 20 wonderful years together.
Antiques in High Falls
I closed Hornblower in NYC and moved up to the country full time after John died. I took a spot in the Banker's Daughters, an interesting antiques shop in Stone Ridge (now High Meadows School) and began selling my inventory there. A year or so later, a friend and I took over the vacated shop in High Falls that had been called Canal Antiques. And that's where I still am, 35 years later! My friend left for a larger space after a year, so I began to fill the shop with multi-dealers. Through the 80's and 90's we were a shop with about 20 dealers requiring tons of bookkeeping and paperwork and the shop floor space was much larger then.
I bought the building in the late 80's and began living upstairs. And loved High Falls so much I volunteered for everything back then and all of a sudden I realized that I was actually paying people to staff the shop while I volunteered everywhere! Pretty awful business sense! I'm down to only two volunteer groups now... Lion's Club Member and the High Falls Civic Association for which I've volunteered for what seems like 100 years! I've had a lot to do with the HFCA annual Pet Show which is held in mid-May and is a little hysterical and chaotic, but always a lot of fun! The Pet Show has lots of crazy categories for participants to compete in, and my favorite has always been the little girl and her pony who entered the "pet-owner look-alike" category. She had pigtails and she braided her pony's mane and tail into pigtails and walked away with the prize!
HFC: How do you choose the antiques you'd like to sell?
SP: I think my collecting was always a combination of gut reaction to what the object was, its appearance, resale prospects, usefulness, and price. I love the history of pieces. Just now there's an old wooden chest in the shop that the owner had lined with newspapers and one day by accident, we discovered the paper's date . . . . Tuesday, July 18, 1793. The newspaper was called "Impartial Herald" and I have yet to find out where it was published. But the newspaper lining adds two centuries of interest to that nondescript old chest! Part of the fun of moving up here was scrounging around for interesting things like that. Our Soho loft was always filled with artifacts from all over the world, and I have kept far too many of the items I collected that were originally destined for sale. One of the real difficulties facing antique dealers is 'letting go" of a favorite object that you don't want to part with!
Onward and Upward !
I've lived in High Falls for almost 35 years now and I sold the Barking Dog last year to a wonderful young man (the son of one of my very best friends!) and signed a contract to stay for two more years. The new owner didn't want anything to change! He wanted the shop to go on forever with me running it . . . . The dog, Daisy staying too and on and on, so here we are! There's a suggestion box here at the counter for "what to do next ???" Any ideas?
And what a fortunate and happy coincidence living here in High Falls has been; after enjoying a wonderful childhood growing up in the percolating little town of Millbrae, California (down the peninsula from San Francisco) in the 1930's, I 'm totally blessed to find myself in another hum-dinger of a small town during my sunset years! . . . Amazing . . . How lucky can you get?!!