In June of 1976 I moved on to a job as a gas station manager trainee. After I was hired, I went out and bought work boots, blue work pants and the required white shirts; I also bought seven sets of pastel lace lingerie. I was the first woman the gas station chain had hired to manage a station and I was very clear that I was a woman doing a traditional man’s job. I got placed in my own station out in the country next to the state trooper’s station—my supervisors weren’t taking any chances—and I was happy. The air was fresh, the sun shone brightly and, as I climbed to the top of the tank truck delivering product and booted open the cover, I would remember the attorneys in the D.A.’s office who looked down on me because I was a woman, a secretary, an inferior. I was smarter and more moral than they were and I didn’t need their crap.
Also in 1976, New York State Governor Hugh Carey appointed Peter Andreoli as Special Prosecutor to investigate allegations of political corruption in Onondaga County.
I was driving south on Route 81, headed back to Grandma’s house on the farm, when the news came on the radio. It was an interview with Special Prosecutor Andreoli in which he invited the citizens to come talk to him if they had any concerns about the integrity of the local government. I spent the next three hours on the road thinking about it. It had been about a year since my boss hustled me for a contribution to the Republican Party, ending with the words, “Now you can say you’ve had your first shakedown.” It rankled. What had happened that day in the courthouse just wouldn’t go away. It was wrong. I had been raised with a very clear sense of the difference between right and wrong. Morality was absolute, not situational. There were some things you just didn’t do, and making young women buy their government jobs from the Republican Party was one of them.
When I was a little kid all I knew was that Daddy taught at the college and Mommy was always at home when I was. One of my grandmas lived half an hour east and the other grandma lived on the farm half an hour west (both my grandfathers were dead). The first time I began to realize that there was something unusual about my family was when I was in my twenty’s, living in Syracuse, and some friendly acquaintances were making a to-do about an antique cradle. I didn’t understand what the big deal was; it was just like the cradle—which was a resting place for outdated magazines—that was on the third floor of the farmhouse. I began to ask questions, mostly of my grandma, and was amazed at the family story I learned.
My earliest identified ancestor was John Hope of Yorkshire, England. In 1634 his son Robert and daughter-in-law Isabell had a child, also named John, who married Ann Willetts. The Hopes were Quakers. Quakers, also known as the Society of Friends, rejected rituals and oaths, opposed war, and dressed and spoke with simplicity. This evoked hostility among the British who persecuted the Quakers so, when John was in his thirties, he left Ann and their six children and sailed to the New World before 1672.
John settled in a green valley with a creek running through it, built a two-room house, and sent for his family. In 1685, his sons Thomas and John, aged 16 and 19, arrived on the Unicorn of Bristol. Twenty years later they were co-founders of the Kennett Meeting on land adjacent to their farms. John and Thomas had ten children between them, each including sons named John and Thomas. There have been Johns and Thomas’s in every generation since then; one of my nephews is named John Thomas.
The Hopes were co-habitants of the region with the Leni Lenape Indians (called Delaware’s by white men) who were part of the Iroquois Confederacy that included the Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas, and Senecas. In 1681, King Charles II of England signed the Charter of Pennsylvania which deeded the land between New York and Delaware to William Penn, also a Quaker (and ten years younger than John Hope), in settlement of an outstanding debt. Then a dozen houses were built on the Delaware River and Penn came over and called it Philadelphia. Forty-five miles away, the Hopes had been farming for a decade. William Penn signed the land grant deeding the farm to the Hopes; the deed hangs on the dining room wall of the farm.
And, driving down Rt. 81, I was headed back to the same farm—well, almost. Around 1900 a portion of the farm had been sold out of the family. When it was bought back into the Hope family, it had a house and a barn built on it so now there were two farms, the upper farm, where my grandmother lived and the lower farm, where her brother lived. When my great-grandfather died, his will stipulated that two portions of the farmland were to go to his daughters, so the four children—Thomas, Mary, Naomi and Jane—had lived virtually all their lives, as my grandmother put it, “within sight of the smoke from one another’s kitchen fires.” I knew this, but never had consciously reflected on how unusual it was.
Now, on Rt. 81, I reflected on a lot of stuff that had nothing to do with my family heritage—or so I thought. I imagined going to the Special Prosecutor’s Office and telling my story—and I imagined them laughing. They weren’t looking for a typist’s complaint about being asked to buy a couple tickets to a cocktail party. They were looking for big stuff, important stuff having to do with important people. Who would support me? Certainly not my best friend. What would happen afterwards if I did tell my story? You weren’t supposed to make a big deal out of these things; you just were supposed to accept it.