Interviewee: Peter Martin Fitting
Narrator: Jean McMillen
File No.: 18/ Tape 163 B & A
Place of Interview: 41 Chatfield Drive
Date: June 15, 2023
Summary of talk: Family background, growing up in Salisbury, the White Hart, Rotary Club, writing group
This is Jean McMillen. Today’s date is June 15, 2023. I am interviewing Peter Fitting. He is going to talk about his family background, growing up in Salisbury, working at the White Hart Inn, Rotary Club and John Neufeld’s writing group. This is Tape 163 B & A/file 18.
JM: Peter, what is your full name?
PF: Peter Martin Fitting
JM: What is your birthdate?
PF: October 21, 1948
JM: Where were you born?
PF: Sharon Hospital
JM: Your parents’ names are?
PF: Polly Martin Fitting and George Edwin Fitting
JM: Do you have siblings?
PF: I have two brothers: Michael George (see his interview) and Jeffery Thomas.
JM: Where did you go to school?
PF: Salisbury Central School and then Housatonic Valley Regional High School
JM: When did you graduate from high school?
JM: Your father was killed in a car accident in 1957?
JM: You mother worked 35 years at the North Canaan Library.
JM: When did she retire?
JM: We are going to talk about some people first. Tell me about Hazel Flynn.
PF: Hazel Flynn was my aunt, my mother’s oldest sister. She was a first grade teacher at Salisbury Central School for I don’t know for how many years, many, many years. She died in 1964, I think it was. She was probably 59 years old? (When I was teaching at SCS, the school gave to one eight grader the “Hazel Flynn Award” for most improvement over the years. Teachers from grade 5-8 chose the pupil. Ed)
JM: How much older was she than your mother?
PF: A lot
JM: You had said 27 years,
PF: I don’t know that for sure.
JM: Was there a younger sister?
PF: Her younger sister was Lois: both sisters were many years older than my mother. Hazel was old enough to be my mother’s first grade teacher.
JM: Who was Louise Peacock?
PF: Louise Peacock was a fifth grade teacher at Salisbury Central. She was a friend of Hazel’s and colleague. She was one of the people who stopping in after dad got killed.
JM; Good she needed a support group.
PF: She got it.
JM: Yep this town does that.
PF: Yeah they do.
JM: Tell me about Abram Martin.
PF: Abram S. Martin was mom’s father. He was the First Selectman of Salisbury for I believe 24 years (1922-1946 Ed.) He died in 1947 (Peter later corrected this to 1946.) (Actual death date is Oct. 22, 1946. Ed.)
JM: If I have this genealogy right, Abram Martin and Evaline Snyder married and produced your grandfather Abram Snyder Martin. Whom did your grandfather marry?
PF: Lucy Judd.
JM: Abram S. Martin married Lucy Judd and they produced Hazel, Lois, and Polly Avis. Abram S. Martin was First5 Selectman from 1922 to 1946. (He supposedly ran the town from his office at his garage, where Churchill Builders is now. Then he moved down to the corner of Pettee Street where the Lakeville Automotive is now. The Martin house on the corner of Pettee Street & Main Street was moved back from Main Street to behind his new garage. Ed.)
JM: Who was Fred Beecher? 3.
PF: Fred Beecher was my first employer, official employer. He owned Shagroy’s Market.
JM: What did he look like?
PF: He was burly, grey hair. I was 16 and he was my boss so to me he looked mean. He probably wasn’t. He had a sharp sense of humor. (Peter was a stock clerk and worked there after school, weekends and in the summer Ed.)
JM: When he owned Shagroy’s it was where Neo is now. You did a lot of local jobs: you worked at the Connecticut Yankee (where Passports is now) as a shipping clerk. You worked at the Milk Bar (where the National Iron Bank is now) as a dishwasher. That was owned then by Julie and Gert Durand. You worked for Dale Palmer in masonry.
PF: For one summer, yeah.
JM: You worked at Bud Trotta’s package store (where Sotheby’s Real Estate is now) for two years. (See Bud Trotta’s interview as First Selectman)
PF: OK yeah
JM: Do you have any memories of the Salisbury Pharmacy?
PF: Oh I went there as a kid. I would ride my bicycle. In those days they had a long sort of pebbled stone patio in front. One step, two steps up to the level. We would leave our bikes there and go into the store. In the back was a long dark soda fountain and great root beer.
JM: I want you to tell me how to make a root beer float.
PF: Sure in a root beer float the key word is, of course, float. You put the root beer in the glass. It was pumped up from a barrel downstairs, a scoop of vanilla or whatever flavor of ice cream you prefer, to float on top. If the ice cream does not float, it is not a root beer float.
JM: Who ran the pharmacy at that time?
PF: Sam Whitbeck he was the pharmacist. Whom you really say was his daughter Anna and his son Walter. Back in the pharmacy was his son Bam. Sam was older but still ran it.
JM: Who was your best friend?
PF: I guess my best friend/constant companion was Alan McNeil.
JM: He lived up the road from you didn’t he?
PF: He lived ½ mile from my house on route 41.
JM: Do you have any memories of the lake? That was a long bike ride.
PF: Yeah, I didn’t go to the lake that much because that was Lakeville, and I didn’t know Lakeville that much.
JM: You were a Salisbury boy.
PF: I was a Salisbury boy. It was different and I realized that the older I get about how much I don’t know about Lakeville. We didn’t go there: it was a long bike ride. I was at the lake more as a teenager when I could drive, but as a boy no.
JM: You went to work at the White Hart, but what I want to get back to is whom did you ask for advice to go to bartender’s school?
PF: I didn’t ask about it, I was told.
JM: Oh you were told. Alright who told you?
PF: I decided I was going to be a bar tender. I don’t know where that came from, but I wanted to be a bar tender. Buddy Trotta, who owned the liquor store, told me, “If you are going to be a bar tender, you got to do it right. Go to school and learn how to make drinks.”
JM: Was he right?
PF: I think so. Others may not, most people don’t do it that way, but I think so. It worked for me, you know.
JM: How long a course was it?
PF: Oh 6 or 8 weeks.
JM: That was in Harford?
PF: Possibly in Hartford or West Hartford. I don’t know where it was.
JM: In order to practice you worked at the Yankee Pedlar Inn in Torrington, You worked at Charlotte’s under another name in Millbrook where you learned your trade. How did you get to the White Hart in 1973? How did you get into that position?
PF: I think at that point I was working at the Yankee Pedlar Inn in Torrington. Josh Smith who was the bar tender at the White Hart told me he was leaving so why did I go to work there? I asked John Harney for that job. John said, “Come on over here and enjoy the ride.” I talked to John Harney about that and got it.
JM: Great! You were there for 5 years from 1973 to 1978. Who were the other bar tenders?
PF: Tom O’loughlin was tending bar when I got there. (See both of Tom’s interviews) He was the master of the bar. One day a week Ted Davis worked there, a teacher at Hotchkiss.
JM: Do you have any special memories of the White Hart?
PF: Ha ha
JM: I mean that you can put on tape.
PF: OH! What can I tell about then? Playing darts, shooting off at 4o’clock, and drinking myself.
JM: But you enjoyed it?
PF: I loved it. I loved it until I didn’t.
JM: You left in 1978. Was it your choice?
PF: It was my choice.
JM: Then you worked on the Jersey shore as a chauffeur, and you cooked. You worked for Mike Boscardin as a painter. In 1980 you went to the Stagecoach and tended bar. You worked there until 1983.
JM: When did you meet your wife Jane Burgess?
PF: My first memory was that she graduated from Wellesley in 1980 and then was going to law school. She took a gap year and went to work at the White Hart. I think I met her there. When I would go in to have dinner she was the hostess. There was a little alcove in front of the dining room and we would talk and chat. I would take her to the Stagecoach for dinner for our first date where I worked.
JM: When did you marry?
PF: We got married in June of 1983.
JM: And in August you took off for someplace.
PF: By the time we got married she had finished her year as hostess and decided she wanted to be an innkeeper instead of lawyer because she loved the Harneys and all that. She went on to school at Cornell to get a Master’s Degree at the Hotel School so between her first and second year we got married. The second year we moved to Ithaca
JM: She graduated from Cornell and then you came back here?
PF: She graduated in 1984. We moved from there to Greenwich, Ct. where we renovated an old mansion. From there we went up to the Egremont Inn in South Egremont, Mass. I worked there and then in 1986 we came to the White Hart.
JM: Was Jane the dining room manager?
PF: Yep, we sort of did the duties in no specific way: we shared the responsibilities. She ran the dining room, the waitresses, and kitchen: I ran the bar, the kitchen and maintenance. She also did the housekeeping.
JM: It was whoever got there first.
PF: Right, we did whatever was necessary as a team.
JM: You left the White Hart in 1988? Was it your choice to do something different?
PF: It was our choice but it is hard to say.
JM: Where did you go after the White Hart?
PF: After the White Hart, I went to work for Jay Metz. We moved up to Hamilton, NY to open a restaurant for Jay. Then after he fired me (ha ha), we went to the Adirondacks.
JM: Was that a ski resort?
PF: It was a resort up on Gore Mountain. It was a cross country ski resort in the winter time and a hiking resort in the summertime. There was above a lake. It had 70 kilometers of groomed trails for skiing. It was just a wonderful place.
JM: When did you come back to Salisbury?
JM: In 1992 you went to college at the University of Hartford.
JM: You graduated when?
PF: I graduated in 2000: my graduation ceremony was in the summer of 1999, but I was officially in the class of 2000.
JM: You went back to cooking at Camp Sloane, The Pond in Ancramdale, NY, and you filled in at Noble Horizons.
PF: Well I was hired as temporary assistant director of dietary by Bruce Scavotto. I also filled in cooking.
JM: While you were doing that, Jane was working at the Scoville Memorial Library. She went to Albany and got a Master’s Degree in Library Science. The she went to work at the Edsel Ford Library at Hotchkiss School.
PF: And I stayed 26 years at Noble.
JM: You worked at Noble from 1993, temporarily, became full time.
PF: I became full time assistant dietary.
JM: You retired in 2019.
JM: Were you still working at Camp Sloane during part of that time?
PF: I worked at Camp Sloane for 18 years.
JM: Not bartending, but cooking!
PF: I loved that job.
JM: Did you work for John Hedbavny? (See his interview)
PF: I worked for John Hedbavny.
JM: And Paul Bryant? (See his interview)
PF: Yes and I worked for whoever was there before John. (Debbie & Robert Rathbun Ed.) They were a couple. I worked for them for a year or two.
JM: When did you join Rotary?
PF: I joined Rotary in Earlville, NY in 1988. Then once I moved back here, one evening Bob Estabrook (See his interview) said I should join Rotary here. I joined here probably about 1993.
JM: And you are still involved?
PF: Still involved.
JM: What are the offices that you have held?
PF: I was secretary, vice president, president, secretary again and then president again.
JM: You were President twice.
PF: Yes in 2004 and 2021.
JM: Are you an officer now?
JM: You are finally relieved.
PF: Someone asked me to be president again and I said NO!
JM: You were President of the Rotary Club and you were also President of the Rotary Foundation.
PF: I was President of our club foundation, Salisbury Rotary Club Foundation. That is how you become a non-profit organization. Your donations become tax-deductible.
JM: You worked the fireworks.
PF: We all worked the fireworks.
JM: Membership Committee, the Kentucky Derby…
JM: Anything else particular?
PF: Whatever I was needed to fill in like the raffle.
JM: How has Rotary changed over the many years that you have been there?
PF: It has shrunk a lot. It was 65-66 people when I got there. We decided to increase membership each year but we also lost a number of members through death and attrition so we slowly lowered our numbers. Some time ago it was down to 35 people. Now I think it is about 31. That is the biggest change. What has changed to me, It seems to me that we had a more active club 30 years ago that we have now. But saying that I think of the stuff we do now, like the Kentucky Derby, the raffle, the murder mystery night, the community clean-up, with all kinds of things like that we are very active . We have a good President right now.
JM: Who is your President?
PF: Bill Spaulding I would say it was a more active club back then, but I am not sure that is true.
JM: Different activities.
PF: Different sort of activities Karl Saliter and a whole bunch were active. We had a bowling tournament back then.
JM: Yeah I know Foster used to work that. I know that part of it because what was when Foster was in Rotary.
PF: We were more active in that way then. Now it is different, but I can’t say exactly how it is different.
JM: Well you have fewer members.
PF: Fewer members, but they have become more community involved than they were then. Back then they were more involved in fund raising and general service projects. My memory is not that great. A couple of years ago I did not know what the hell was going on.
JM: That’s alright, neither do I. Who was John Neufeld?
PF: John Neufeld was a renowned author of children’s books. I got to know him originally through Rotary.
JM: That is why I asked.
PF: As an officer I followed him: he was President and I was Vice President of the club. He was instrumental in starting the Salisbury Rotary Club Foundation. I worked at it with him. He was the first President of that and I was his Vice President, and then I became President of that. So I knew John for a couple of years. Then he started a writing group He started with 6 to 8 people. We would meet weekly for about 6 weeks. We would write whatever we wanted to write. We could be critiqued by the class and we would get feedback from him. He was a very successful published author.
JM: Who was in the group when you first started?
PF: What group?
JM: Well you had told me Macey Levin, you and…
PF: No different group. You are talking about apples and pears. John did this for a couple of years two times a year with different people. The last time we were with John before he died, the group was Macey Levin (See his interview), Susan McQuillan, me, Mike Rand, and Joan Turnure. After John died, a couple of us decided that we liked the writing group and decided to keep at it.
JM: Do you know when John died?
PF: I do not. (He died May 16, 2021 Ed.) We really missed it so we’ll keep at it. Basically Macey, Susan McQuillan and I did that. We brought in another person Lenore Mallett, then after her we got another person Arliss Paddock, and Sally Haver. We liked the sociability of the whole thing. Instead of meeting once a week for 6 weeks, we meet every two weeks all year round. So that is how the group evolved.
JM: What day do you meet?
PF: Thursdays, right now yeah.
JM: Do you rotate from house to house?
PF: We do.
JM: Is there a particular genre or do you write what you want to write?
PF: Macey does memoires, Susan McQuillan does memoirs, and I do whatever comes into my mind. Sometimes I do stories. I prefer to do stories. I have been doing a couple of memoir-ish things lately. At the last couple of meetings I have been doing sort of dark stories.
JM: You had a good story about getting an A from one of your professors. Tell me about that.
PF: Yes indeed. I was in a class at the University of Hartford: it was a writing class. I don’t remember if we were doing a newspaper or what, but the professor announced early on that if we were to get something published, we would get an automatic A. So I said,”Ah ha.” I had known something about Gershom Hewitt who was an ancestor and was a spy for Ethan Allen when he was at Fort Ticonderoga. So I decided to research that and had all kinds of fun doing it. I did the genealogy right from Gershom Hewitt to me. Then I did that. Then I wrote the story There was a free paper coming out of Winsted at the time, I have forgotten what it was called. I got published in that. They would publish anything that was sent to them. It was kind of cheating. I got published. I brought it to class and I got my A.
JM: Do you still have that paper?
PF: I dooo, but I have not a clue where. I know I have it or some copies copy of it. I would be glad to bring you one if I ever find one.
JM: Please do.
PF: I have no idea where to begin to look, but I know have it. Why would I throw it away? Why wouldn’t I have a dozen copies of it? I am egocentric enough to do that.
JM: Do you have anything that you would like to add before we close?
PF: I can’t wait to hear my voice on this tape. I don’t care if I do or not. I’ll talk about Salisbury. Salisbury is a great place to grow up in and a great place to come back to. My point being, you have got to get out of town for a while. If you never leave here, if you look at it, Salisbury up here in the corner what a god-awful place! I couldn’t wait to leave. I left with Jane. We stayed up in the Adirondacks. I could have stayed there forever and ever. We came home. I started moonlighting to some degree. Picking up where I left off. Well I continued my life. It was a good place to come back to. I love Salisbury and I love living here. But I was very glad I was away for those 6 years.
JM: Then you had something to compare it to.
PF: Yeah, and I loved where I was. I had a house in Earlville. The first house I owned. I loved that house: there were all sorts of cool things about it. I had a nice job. I loved living up on the mountain in the Adirondacks, how quiet it was. There was no reason why I particularly wanted to leave. We came back to Salisbury. I never thought I would do that. I did not plan to do that. You know when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. So we came back to Salisbury. I got this job at Noble Bruce called me;” Would you give me a hand for 3 months”? I was in school, I was cooking at The Pond, and tending bar at the Woodland. Well, I said, I can do that. It turned into 26 years. I had no intention of doing that. By the time I graduated, George, my son, (See his interview) was in 3rd grade, Jane had a nice job at Scoville Memorial Library. I never intended to be one of those people who would take their child and skip, skip, and skip from one school here to one school there. I think that is a horrible thing to do to a child. You have to do that sometimes I understand. I didn’t want to do that. I had a good job so I went back to college because I discovered the one thing that I didn’t have even with 20 years’ experience working in hotels, was a degree. That was required. By the time I got it, I was ensconced in this other life, and could no longer bounce around from upstate New York and Maine. I was here, stuck here with George and Jane so I just stayed. My life came back to Salisbury of my own making but I am very satisfied.
JM: Good, thank you so much.