George W. Fitting Interview:
This is Jean McMillen. I am interviewing George W. Fitting who is going to talk about growing up in Salisbury, his friends, his experiences in the high school and anything else he wants to talk about. Today’s date is Sept. 4, 2021. This is cycle 4 file #33.
JM:What is your full name?
GWF:George Whitfield Fitting
GWF:December 28, 1988
GWF:Hamilton, New York
JM:Your parents’ names
GWF:Mother is Jane Burgess Fitting. My Father is Peter Martin Fitting.
JM:We are going to talk about your educational background. Did you go to Salisbury Central?
GWF:Yeah, I started out there from kindergarten through second grade. That was around the time that computers were starting to be a “thing”. There was a game everyone liked to play back then called “The Oregon Trail” where you kind of set out your little wagon. It simulates bringing things to the other side of the country. My mother didn’t really like that: they were pressing up to spend a lot of time on the computer and not really doing some of the basics skills that she would have liked me to learn. So after second grade she sent me to Rudolph Steiner School.
JM:That is in Gt. Barrington, Mass.
GWF:Yes, exactly. That school is a very artistically focused and traditional learning. We learned how to paint: we made things out of wax. We did a lot of plays.
GWF:Very creative focused lots of literature. We would sing a lot of songs. We never did that at Salisbury Central. We did woodworking, knitting-I made a pair of socks while there.
JM:Oh I remember!
GWF:Right as well as crocheting, we learned to play the recorder. I had a great experience there, but at the time I was kind of resentful because I wanted to be with normal people and do what they were doing. I still retain friends from that time. I still remember a lot of the lessons that I learned there. I was there from grade 3 through 6th grade. But I still maintained my friends back at Salisbury Central at the same time. We saw each other every summer. Then I convinced my mother to return me to SCS for 7th
& 8th grades. I planned to go to the public high school: I did not want to have zero time with everyone else going in there. So I returned and graduated from Salisbury Central. I had two years there and then went to Housatonic.
JM:When did you graduate from Salisbury Central?
GWF:It was in 2002, sorry. There we go!
JM:Now I do remember you had some weaknesses in math so you were coming here and my husband was tutoring you math.
GWF:Exactly As I mentioned Rudolph Steiner School was not really heavy on the math. I remember we would illustrate the numbers. We did that, but there wasn’t really a lot of time spent learning how to actually do math.
JM:And you need math: you do need math!
GWF:Right. I am not necessarily inclined that way in the first place. Going back to Salisbury Central we had algebra and you could even take geometry in 8th grade, if you were advanced enough. There were placement tests and I had not had any of that. So fortunately your husband Foster was very good to tutor me over that summer. I was not a complete disaster when I got there. I still struggled with it,
JM:But at least you had the basics.
JM:You went to high school in 2003-2007?
GWF:I graduated from high school in 2006.
JM:Particularly with the highs school, I am interested in the Jazz Band. How did you get into that?
GWF:There was a fantastic jazz band. First of all Salisbury Central has a great music teacher, Mrs. Donna Finn., very hands-on. She wrote the school song that goes like “Salisbury is fantastic: Salisbury is fine.” She expressed her feeling s about that. She would send us to Northwestern Regional competitions, and if you were good enough, she would spend the time training you personally.
JM:She was a superb music teacher.
GWF:She did those competitions, me on trumpet. She suggested to me the jazz band. At that time it was led by a woman named Keri Morris.
JM:Were you playing the trumpet before you connected with Mrs. Finn?
GWF:I believe over the summer I picked it up. My mother got me lessons with a person named Mat Alexander. His father is still lives in town. Matt was about ten years older than me. He taught me how to make an e-mail account when I was a child. He also taught me the trumpet and then I kind of came in ready to play that in the Salisbury Central School Band.
JM:Do you play any other instrument?
GWF:I played the piano at that time. I took lessons with Judith Dansker. She is a pretty fantastic musician and is really well known. She loves Baroque music and is part of a Baroque concert group that puts on shows at local churches. She is a real professional, and she would also teach kids piano at the same time. I played piano for several years and multiple kinds of recorder. There is the regular one you imagine and then there is also they get bigger and bigger like the saxophone and plays deeper notes. I played a bunch of those for a while.
JM:Do you keep up with any of the musical instruments>
GWF:I picked up the ukulele few years ago so I kind of play that now. I play the trumpet sometimes. My wife and I recently bought a house last year. Before that when you are living in an apartment, the trumpet is not the best one to keep up with.
JM:It is better than the violin!
GWF:Yeah, very similar. So I did let that go a little bit although I did play it through college, the college jazz band too. I also play in the Salisbury Band over the summer (See Lee Collins on the Salisbury Band). I do still have my trumpet and I am thinking of getting back into it.
JM:Good, do It is a wonderful avenue for meeting other people, and keeping you focused on other things besides just business.
GWD:Definitely, everyone needs that.
JM: Oh yes Now was it the jazz band that went to the UK for a trip?
GWF: Yes it was. Mrs. Morris was really an exceptional instructor. She not only ran the jazz band, but at that time there was a girls’ singing group called “The Sweet Hearts”. The men’s singing group was called “The Heart Breakers”. There was a regular jazz choir which is both combined plus additional people who did not made either one of the special groups, the jazz band and the regular band. She would train us for individual competitions, too. I thought that she was so good: she was really tough on you. If you were the one messing up, they you would be playing by yourself in front of everyone so there was a lot of pressure not to be that person.
GWF:There was no coddling. She would call you out, but she would also actually help you improve. There was a little bit of terror in that instruction style, but the music we produced was …
JM: A little fear is good.
GWF:Right, but our concerts were exceptional. I thought, though I was not the best player in the band by far, because there were plenty of excellent players, a lot of them are still musicians.
JM:But she made it so that you enjoyed it.
GWF:We enjoyed it and we were proud of what we accomplished.
JM:That is so important. What year did you go on this trip? Was it your senior year?
GWF:I believe it was my junior year, and before that we went to Disney World? And before that we went to Disney Land. We were playing competitions in each of those places.
JM:So this was a competition that you were doing in England?
GWF:I think we did one completion but then we also, she arranged us to play in different events. We played a street festival in one place. We played in a high school and we got to meet the English kids there who were in their own band. She would arrange these impressive trips with tons of people that she would bring not only the jazz band, but also all three of those singing groups. There would be a lot of people coming. We were proud of what we did. The last year Mrs. Finn replaced her because I think Mrs. Morris got an offer at a different school. I can’t remember which one. Mrs. Finn took over so that year I don’t think we had a trip.
JM:So your trip would have been about 2005?
JM:How long were you away?
GWF:It was a week.
GWF:I believe so, I mean…
JM:Boy that was packed!
GWF:Yeah I know
JM:Your dad went along as a chaperon?
GWF:He was a chaperon-him and another Peter, Peter Hill. Unfortunately he died from cancer. They roomed together. My dad left all the passports on the plane when we got off: fortunately someone noticed before it flew away again.
GWF:We started out in London. We played in Salisbury Cathedral.
JM:Oh aren’t you fortunate!
GWF:She had the jazz choir singing “Short People” in that church, a little irreverent, but also it sounded very nice. We went to Canterbury, as well, I believe. We spent a few days in London at different locations. The high school was somewhere in the country: it wasn’t a name I can remember. It was a local public school.
JM:Now when you say public school, do you mean a comprehensive school which is a public school here, or do you mean a public school such as Hotchkiss which would be a private school?
GWF:Good point, it seemed more like a comprehensive.
JM:OK that’s what I thought. It had to be.
GWF:I understand that uniforms are pretty common in general there, at least at that time?
JM:At the time I was there (1987-1988 Ed.) yes. I am not sure what it is like now.
JM:I am going to switch to Boy Scouts.
JM:Now you had a group of friends. I listened to Baxter’s tape (See Baxter Keller’s interview) before you came this afternoon.
GWF:I want to hear that one.
JM:Yes you do. He said that there was a gang of four and it was you, and Baxter, Adrien Delessert, and Mat Winter.
JM:Is it Winter or Winters?
GWF:Winter with just an R.
JM:Good that is what I thought. Were you in Cub Scouts?
GWF:Yeah we are all in Cub Scouts from the onset and my mother was the den mother when we started out. My father helped out when we were in first or second grade. We would do camp outs in the Wack Forest.
JM: Oh yes
GWF:There used to be a little kind of ramshackle wooden lodge that and we put up our tents around that. We’d make a fire. We lashed together a table, do doughboys and cook stuff in our tin foil canteens. It would invariably be a deluge for us, of course.
JM:Oh yeah. Was this in Salisbury or was it in Canaan?
GWF:The Cub Scouts themselves were in Salisbury. We started out meeting at Salisbury Central, in a spare classroom after school. Then probably because I switched schools, we met in the spare community room behind the Episcopal Church in Salisbury. You know there is like a…
JM:The parish hall
GWF:Yes we would meet there. We had the Pinewood Derby there where you make a little wooden car and race it down a track. My parents saw us all through graduating from Cub Scouts going up through the ranks. Instead of merit badges the cub scouts earned little pins that go on your baseball cap, or Cub Scout cap. They saw us all through there. Then four of us continued on to the Boy Scout troop which was at that time was in Canaan. It was run by a man named John Lannen.
JM:This was in Canaan and the four of you that were in this. Did you have one Eagle project among the 4 of you or did you have separate ones?
GWF:You each did your own project. It wasn’t just us in there: there was another boy from Fall Village named Geoffrey Carlson. He made it all the way through to Eagle with us as well. He was tied with us. There were a few others who were older than us that went through to Eagle with us. Most people who were in that troop made Eagle which is pretty rare. It was a pretty small troop. It was in the building…If you drive through Canaan and keep going down the road on the left there was like a white little house. There was a stage upstairs. It seems like it used to be from perhaps where the Elks Club met. By the time we got there it was basically on the verge of being condemned, but we would just meet there anyway. Everyone wanted to install a bathroom one time, but we were told that if you have us come in, we would have to tell you to take it down. I don’t think they meet there anymore.
My Eagle project was… There is a walking trail through the woods in Canaan that was overgrown and lots of swampy areas. We built wooden foot bridges and we covered it with wood chips and cut all those branches back. Adrien’s was to make bat houses.
JM:I just need yours. I went to your ceremony where you received you Eagle certificate. What did you receive to prove that you had been an Eagle Scout?
GWF:In Boy Scouts your rank is on a round patch. You get that to put on your uniform. You get a pin as well and you get this little medal you can give to an adult who helped you get there. I think all of us gave ours to Mat Winter’s father. He had gone on a lot of the campouts with us. He had been in the Navy so he had a lot of out or doors skills that he would teach us how to do carving, woodworking, things like that.
JM:Do you remember what year the Eagle ceremony was?
GWF:I think it would have been 2006 right before we all went off to college.
JM:Yes, because Foster had passed away the year before and I went to it alone. Yes, that would be right. This probably is not in the right order. Holley-Williams Camp
JM:Which came first the Boy Scouts or the Holley-Williams Camp? Or were they sort of simultaneous?
GWF:Both of those were when I was pretty young. I imagine they were probably simultaneous. My grandmother Lou Burgess was very involved with the Holley-Williams House. I think she was on the board which was maintaining it at that time.
JM:She was the Chair of it because she was chair of docents and that is how I wound up being a docent. (Lou managed the Holley Williams House from mid 1970s to 1990. Ed.)
GWF:Wow, I didn’t know that. We still have crafts from those projects in our attic.
JM:I can believe that!
GWF:She would run a summer camp there. My mom would help her, my mom Jane.
JM:And I helped too.
GWF:Oh yes you were.
JM:I was because my husband came in to teach the boys
GWF:Sailor knots I remember that.
JM:You do remember that, oh good! How many years did you go to the camp?
GWF:I think many. I can’t remember when it was sold to a private owner. (The house closed in 2010 Ed.) I went there pretty much until that happened.
JM:It was mixed boys and girls?
GWF:It was mixed boys and girls.
JM:What was the age range?
GWF:Probably 3rd grade through…
JM:9 to 12 ish?
GWF:Yeah or even 14, 15 sometimes there would be an older person or a teenager to teach us something she was good at like painting or some skill she had. We would do a lot of crafts, arts and crafts that the children from the Holley-Williams time (mid -19th century ED.) would have done. We baked soft pretzels, we read “The Peterkin Papers”. We made historical toys like a hoop and stick and stuff like that. It was a really good time.
JM:In Baxter’s interview, he talks about chasing butterflies and insects.
GWF:Yeah we still did that. There was a big garden and an outdoor maze as well. If you get through the maze you could ring the bell in the middle. There were wild thimble berries we could pick. I recall they also had Tory uniforms and patriotic uniforms which we could put onto simulate the battles of the American Revolution: we would do that as well.
JM:How long was the camp session? Was it a week or two weeks or what?
GWF:I think it was multiple weeks, but maybe not for me because I went for the whole thing, but maybe normally a kid would come for a week.
JM:I think it ran for a week and there were maybe 2 4week sessions, no it would be that long.
GWF:I think it was multiple one week sessions. For me I would just go to all of them because of my mom and grandmother.
JM:Did you go to the Grove at all?
GWF:Yeah we went to the Grove every summer
GWF:I wasn’t on the swim team.
JM:Sports: swimming, kayaking, any of that stuff?
GWF:Adrien and I took ”Sailing America” at Boy Scout Camp, called Camp Mattituck so we learned how to sail. We would go sailing on Lakeville Lake. I don’t think you had to pay, just sign out a sailboat for free. At that time Art Wilkinson was still there. He gave us more advanced sailing lessons as well. He taught us how to go around the weeds. He might have been involved with the sail team at….There were
Sun fish and Sail fish which were pretty small boats. One or two people can sail them. I also worked there when I was 16 in a program.
JM:The Summer Youth Program?
GWF:The Summer Youth program
JM:I had an intern this year for the Summer Youth Program. It is still going on. So you worked at the Grove.
GWF:Yes when I found out about it I thought it would be like selling ice cream, but it was actually work like emptying the trash can barrels, driving the tractor around in the dirt, slicing back the plants and fixing the fence which actually built a lot of character. I think of that job a lot because before that my summers were to do whatever I wanted. It was pretty hard work, but at the same time I appreciated what it takes to get that place running. It gave me a work ethic which I needed at that time.
JM:We all do. It is so good, you get paid for that and you get some money for it, but you learn to show up on time, to wear the proper clothes, to follow instructions. If you can’t get into work for some reason then you send in an excuse. It gives you a real good background when you get out into the real world later on as an adult. That is something that is priceless. It truly is.
GWF:I completely agree with that. You know for a lot of those jobs in well know local places , probably going through as a kid your whole life then you can see the other side of what it is like to make something like that work which is also valuable.
JM:Oh yeah did you play sports at all?
GWF:Yeah I played soccer badly, from second grade on. I technically got onto the Varsity Team at high school but again I was not that coordinated so I was not the best player. We made it into the play-off that year. I also did indoor and outdoor track in high school. Since they did not have an outdoor track we would run around the streets in the snow in our sweat pants. The elderly coach at that time usually coached long jumping and Olympic athletes. He would drive next to us smoking cigarettes, saying “pick up your heels” as you were running about 10 miles in the snow. I got into pretty good shape from that.
JM:Yes you would.
GWF:I was actually not that bad at track itself. I did the 300 meter hurdles and 110 meter hurdles which are even higher and a shorter distance. I did the long jump, triple jump. AT that time it was a cinder track. You had big metal spikes in your shoes. They have much nicer ones since I graduated.
JM:That’s good. Actually the Summer Youth Program ties into the work experience. Didn’t you work at Johnnycake Books for a while? (See Dan Dwyer’s interview)
GWF:Yeah that ties into another thing I want to mention that you weren’t going to ask about. I mentioned Judy Dansker as my piano instructor. Her husband Paul DePaulo worked in the IT department at Hotchkiss School, but when I was a kid as personal computer were becoming more common place and the world was changing in that way. He would run computer workshops with us in that same parish hall. Me and my friends and other local kids probably 3rd to 4th grade he would teach us how to take computers apart and put them back together again. We learned the software, Micro Soft Word and things like that, how to do basic trouble shooting. It was really incredible how he helped us make that transition. He would also farm us out to older families who had just gotten a computer and did not know how to use it. He would send one of us there for $10 to teach them how to do the basics or if something was not working, he would send us in as kids age 12 or 13. We earned pocket money and learned about helping others.
JM:Good it I have trouble getting this into the laptop, I’ll know whom to call.
GWF:It’s funny the older I am the technology has kept advancing. You would be better off asking another 13 year old to help.
JM:I’ve got a few of those, too!
GWF:I fixed Johnnycake Books computer once. We hit it off, me and Dan Dwyer (See Dan Dwyer’s interview) the owner so he had me come back once a week to do any technical issues that came up. Then he offered me a job to work there for a whole summer when I was 14 I think. Before me was a girl named Erin Bartram. She was his assistant, who worked there, but she went to college and I replaced her. I kind of sit the shop over the summer. He also taught me how to appraise the books. The books he was selling were rare and out of print books. There is specific terminology that you use to describe them in commercial catalogues and on line sales as well. Things like the size of the book, octavo means you start out with a single piece of paper when they print a book and then fold it into eight leaves. A quarto means 4 leaves but twice as big. Things like that how to describe the binding, how to research whoever had signed their name in it, to see if you could find out who they were to make a story for who used to own it and how to describe the condition. It was a great experience: it is almost like art or antiques.
JM:How many summers or years did you work with him?
GWF:I worked throughout high school, starting in eighth grade, so 5 summers. Then I came back and worked through college too, so probably like 8 or 9.
JM:Something about Hugh McMillan? Did you do something with his library?
GWF:I did not know this until he passed, but he was a really cool collector of fine press work. He collected a lot of these little independent presses that will publish 100 copies of a book or poems or short stories or a famous piece of literature. It will usually be extremely well done on really nice paper, original art work, a very nice binding. There are lots of these and people like to collect them. There will
be 100 copies of that book and that is all that exists forever. Unlike the popular press they are pretty hard to find and they get very expensive. His house was filled with full collections of all these fine presses, bookcases and stacks of books in front of them. That is what he spent his life on. When he died, we were sent to appraise it. I think Dan Dwyer purchased it at the end. He still has a lot of it for sale. It is stored as there was so much. It is in all perfect condition as well.
JM:Naturally. If you are going to do first editions or collectibles, you want the best condition you can get.
JM:Is that something you did with Dan or did he have you do it and then he oversaw it? How did that work?
GWF:It was some of each.
JM:You would do the preliminaries.
GWF:Right, I did the preliminaries, describe the books. He would also work next to me at the same time. If something seemed exceptional I would point it out to him or something like that. I think there is still a portion that maybe hasn’t been looked at yet.
JM:Probably. How long did it take you to do that?
GWF: Definitely the whole summer. There were just so many titles. Some of them he stored in kind of a warehouse building in Salisbury at the end of the bike path. Some of them were stored there. I think Dan has been transitioning into his store as he sells some, and list them on line so even if they can’t be fitted into the actual store, he can make a sale still.
JM:Good I am hoping someone will buy some of my books. They are on his website. Speaking of that, how long does he keep a listing on his website? Does it stay on forever? Or is there a time limit?
GWF:I think forever. A lot of the book dealers will give you half of what they think they can sell it for because they might not sell it for 10 years so they have to factor that in. He has a, or at least he used to at the Fall Festival, an outdoor sale. That will usually be books he has had for 20 years that are not getting bought. He will sell them as a tag sale type thing.
JM:Didn’t you work as a waiter someplace?
GWF:Yes Pastorale Restaurant in Lakeville. (No longer extant Ed.) I think Dan Dwyer actually recommended me. I was looking for another job. When I graduated from college, to earn additional money, I went back to the book store, an English degree, not an obvious career path, but I was trying to save as much money as I could. I was not a full waiter; I was a runner which is like one step down. Basically I cleaned up all the tables, bring the food out to people, bring them more bread or water and
things like that. So that was run by Karen Hamilton and her husband was the chef, Frederique. I can’t remember his last name.
JM:How long did you work there?
GWF:I was there just for that summer and worked through that winter, too. I ended up moving to Los Angeles in February. I worked there May through February of 2010-2011. AT that time that was the restaurant that people would come to from town. It was very nice French cuisine.
JM:It was superb! The only problem for me was I remember when it was Elizabeth Haas’s home. To go into that as a restaurant, sometimes was upsetting but that was a personal thing. The food was superb.
Do you have other memories growing up in Salisbury that you would like to share? I tried to cover the basics.
GWF:I would say my friends and I would bike to each other’s houses on the public bike path. We would play in the creeks, the Wachocostinook Brook that is the technical name of it. We would play in the woods. I won’t make you spell Lakeville Lake’s real name.
JM:Wononscopomuc that I can do.
GWF:It is really amazing just the outdoor opportunities and the really safe beautiful place to grown up. One thing I noticed was there were a lot of older people living in town and the chance to interact with them as children I realize that as I left here, a lot of people have not had that opportunity growing up. I feel that we have really a strong sense of history in connection to the past. We got a lot of insight and wisdom from people who were older. For instance my grandmother was born in 1932, the radio show she grew up with, I listened too. It was a window into how things used to be. As a kid it seemed a real long time ago but again I can see that it wasn’t that far away, but people just don’t have that kind of sense of how the world used to be. I think it is really important to have that. That is something that we did have here. Another thing was the Salisbury Town Band, we touched on that briefly, but I played trumpet in that. My aunts had played trumpet as well, while my aunts Carol Robinson and her sister Margaret Teichmann had been baton twirlers. That band was started in 1928. I played in it from 8th grade and summers through college on my trumpet, in my little red and white uniform and march in the Fireman’s Carnival Parade, playing John Phillips Soussa songs. We would play every year at the Town Grove for Fourth of July, and Memorial Day. On Memorial Day there is another tradition that Salisbury Band trumpet will play taps at the cemetery and someone else will be off in the woods and play it back like they do for the soldiers who were lost. Just that thought made a really strong impression on me. The fact that something like that can exist for so long is really impressive, especially in these days when people hardly join any groups like that. I looked at their website and it is still going on which I was surprised to see.
JM:George, thank you so much. This has been a pleasure.