Left in Andover: A job stopped on a dime

By Susan Leader
©2019 Telegraph Publishing LLC

In 1957 and 1958, I attended school up in Burlington for part of each school year. My dad had scored a job as an assistant librarian at the University of Vermont in late 1957, shortly after he recovered from his operation for a brain tumor.

This was the best job he had ever gotten in his whole life.

Dad embraced his new academic life.

Dad embraced his new academic life.

Henry Little, a fellow traveler politically and old family friend, stayed with my mom and us kids in Andover as our hired man, while Dad commuted home weekends from UVM.

During the coldest mid-winter months, my whole family went north to join him in the city, while Henry retreated to a hammock in Mexico.

We stayed with my dad in his unfurnished apartment on Colchester Avenue, with an exterior door laid out horizontally on saw horses serving as dinner table. Seated popping up through the middle of the table in the hole intended originally for a window, I felt like a queen.

Since Mom also worked a secretarial temp job, we kids enjoyed an unaccustomed liberty to do as we might, without constant adult supervision.

The registration card for Dad’s Latin seminar.

What we craved was sugar, a forbidden substance in our household. My mother used only honey for sweetener. She was what in that era would have been called a “health food nut.” In Andover, she could pretty much control what we ate, but in Burlington, not so much.

Next door to our apartment building was a neighborhood candy store. With dimes filched from our dad’s suit jacket pockets, we kids became frequent patrons, devouring Bit ‘o Honeys and Hershey bars. Mom would have been very mad, so we were sure to be back inside again before she got home from work.

One January day in 1958, when I was in first grade for two mid-winter months at Ira Allen School, our teachers instructed me and my older sister, who was in fifth grade, to bring in dimes for the March of Dimes fund drive. Although Dad was fine with us raiding his suit jackets for our own purposes, he took grave exception to this captive fundraising.

A brouhaha ensued, involving the school board, the superintendent, my dad’s unsuccessful attempt to get a court order to postpone the fund drive — even his boss and the president of UVM piled on. Neither the Workers Defense League nor future Vermont Gov. Phil Hoff, his lawyer, could save him. Dad was fired from his job over the matter. He expressed himself thus:

“While I am still very much interested in having the doors of the schools completely closed to these collectors, a greater issue has here arisen. I would like to express my profound disturbance with the mockery of democracy that marks this affair from the beginning.

Correspondence went on for over a year afterwards, relating to Dad’s case.

“My displeasure at the superintendent’s exerting pressure upon my employer is exceeded only by my displeasure with the president of the university in listening to his plea to intervene and dissuade me.

“I protest in the name of all that we cherish in our culture his attempting to interfere in my private activity as a taxpayer, parent and concerned citizen.”

Dad was not one to back down in a matter of his civil rights. It was outrageous for the school superintendent to apply pressure through my father’s employer, and it was absurd that the situation escalated to the point of his being terminated.

From the start, Dad could have expressed his objections to the mandatory fund drive in a less provocative manner. But that was not in his DNA. It is worth noting that in response to his perfectly reasonable objections, the grade school did shortly thereafter institute a less coercive policy regarding juvenile “donating.”

The Leader children, Mom and Henry Little at Popplewood Farm.

We kids were kept home from school the day of the drive. Likely I was happy to spend my dime on candy, I don’t exactly remember. In any case, it was time to go home.

We loaded up the truck in short order and headed back to Andover.

Olavi Saari, our neighbor, fired up the wood furnace in our basement the day before we were to arrive. Our hired man had disappeared to Mexico leaving Juno the barn cat to fend for herself.

The plaster walls of my bedroom were etched in bulging ice crystals. Arguably it was warmer outside, for Juno had survived very nicely on her own in the hayloft.

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Filed Under: Left in Andover

About the Author: Vermont native and noted potter Susan Leader grew up on Popplewood Farm in Andover. At age 17, she was inspired to take up the potter's wheel by "a charismatic potter" from the Society of Vermont Craftsman. She spent 18 months apprenticing at pottery villages throughout Japan. She returned to Popplewood Farm, where she and her husband, fiddle player John Specker, raised their two daughters.

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  1. Susan, your family stories are an absolute delight!