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A Life: Katherine ‘Kappy’ Bayley White, 1919 — 2013; ‘It Always Drove Her Nuts That She Wasn’t Born in Vermont’

Katherine "Kappy" White, of Bradford, Vt., in an undated photograph. (Family photograph)

Katherine "Kappy" White, of Bradford, Vt., in an undated photograph. (Family photograph)

Bradford, Vt. — Katherine “Kappy” Bayley White came from a generation of rural people for whom the Depression wasn’t that much different from what they already knew. They made do, they saved up, they got by, and they didn’t ask for more than they needed.

So when it came time to make a snowsuit and jacket for a granddaughter in the 1970s, White, who died June 8 at the age of 93 at the Oasis Home in Bradford, didn’t buy new materials. She rummaged.

White found some wool skirts at a sale, and she took a black gabardine rain coat belonging to her younger daughter Jane. White removed the rain coat’s pile lining and used it to line the inside of the jacket. She used the gabardine raincoat to make the jacket’s sleeves and then the snow pants, which were lined with wool from the skirts. She attached a hood to the jacket, and sewed on to the jacket’s breast a patch showing a deer. And when her granddaughter outgrew it, the snow suit went on to the next grandchild, and the grandchild after that. In all, five grandchildren wore the suit until it finally wore out.

“Are we poor?” White’s older daughter Francena Goodine remembered asking her mother once. “No, we just don’t have any money,” was her mother’s brisk reply.

They didn’t have much, Goodine said, but they didn’t feel neglected. For her two daughters, White made winter jackets out of a man’s bulky wool coat. She knit them mittens and scarves and sweaters, sewed pajamas, skirts, blouses, bath robes and play clothes, all on an old-fashioned treadle machine, said White’s younger daughter Jane Demer. The girls received one new dress a year, to wear to church. They could be sure to receive one item on their Christmas list but never the entire list, because the items on them were suggested, not presumed.

“I think they had the right idea about economy, and resources,” said Mary Anne Whelan, who befriended the Whites when she was a medical student at Dartmouth Medical School in the 1970s, and liv ed across the road from them in Fairlee. “Nothing went to waste. Nothing was acquired in a frivolous sense for status. What they had they took care of.”

Anna Katherine Bayley White was brought up in Peacham, Vt., the fourth of five children. She lived all of her life in Vermont, in Peacham, Fairlee, Bradford and also Proctorsville. Her family stretched back generations in Vermont, all the way to Jacob Bayley who gave his name to the Bayley-Hazen military road that ran from Newbury to the Canadian border during the Revolutionary War.

Though White was as bred-in-the-bone a Vermonter as it was possible to be, to her eternal regret she’d had the bad luck to be born in western Massachusetts, the result of her pregnant mother returning to the family farm near Holyoke for a long stay when there was an illness in the family. Being unable to claim a Vermont birthright nagged at her.

“It always drove her nuts that she wasn’t born in Vermont,” said Demer, who lives in Addison, Vt.

White’s older sisters called her Kathy, but she couldn’t pronounce it and when it came out “Kappy,” the name stuck.

As an adult, she was around 5’7”, with a trim, athletic build. Photos of her taken when she was younger show a young woman with an erect posture any Roman statue would envy.

“She was taught to stand as if a string was attached to her breastbone and you pull it up straight.” said Goodine.

Her eyes were a piercing bright blue and her hair was dark blonde. The only idiosyncrasy is that in nearly every photograph her hair has been carefully cut or arranged to cover her ears.

“She was very self-conscious about her ears. The Bayleys had large ears,” Demer said.

For many years White, who graduated from Peacham Academy, held the state record for most points scored during a girl’s basketball game, a record that stood for decades.

“She was very proud of that,” Goodine said. But she never bragged or boasted, and the children were taught the same lesson. “Don’t blow your own horn, someone else can do it for you,” her husband of 62 years, Leon White, told his daughters.

Both parents were firm but fair. They rarely used corporal punishment, rarely yelled. Goodine can remember her mother talking to her calmly after some misdemeanor. “Why did you do that, and what did you think you were going to get out of it, and do you think you’ll bother to ever do it again?”

As an adult White bicycled whenever she could, to and from work and around town. She wasn’t a loud person: she couldn’t yell, said Goodine. When it came time to summon her daughters from outside, she’d say “Yoo Hoo” in a “little voice, almost like yodeling.”

She loved music and sang in the North Country Chorus, which took her out of the country to Europe on a few occasions. She never learned to whistle through her fingers. She couldn’t be beaten at Scrabble until she was 88, when her daughter Jane finally edged her out. She was active in the Methodist Church and belonged to a Christmas Club in Fairlee. She collected miniature vases and had a huge collection of holiday postcards, the kind that advertise the joys of summer on the boardwalk in Atlantic City.

But when Leon White, a philatelist known for his collection of post marks from discontinued Vermont post offices, wanted money to buy some rarities, she sold her post cards so he could have what he’d dreamed about, said state Rep. Richard Marek, D-Newfane, who, as a fellow philatelist, came to know the couple through Leon White’s stamp collection. Though Leon had dropped out of school in fourth grade to help his father at work, Marek said the Whites were not simple or insular people.

“They were good Vermonters, but they weren’t rigid at all, they were very accepting,” Marek said.

“You knew what they said was what they thought, and what they meant, and it would be thoughtful and considered,” Whelan said.

White was known for her cooking: People dreamed about her shepherd’s pies and coconut pies and especially her raised doughnuts.

“Oh my, they were to die for,” Demer said.

White and her husband were also renowned for their huge vegetable garden, and the cantaloupes they grew. Leon White babied the melons, raising each one off the ground with a tuna fish can so that it wouldn’t develop rot from sitting on wet soil.

White was also physically tough. Once, when she was quite old and was entertaining visitors, she was walking across the kitchen floor when a leg gave way and down she went, fracturing a hip. She’d never sworn in her life, at least not that her children knew, but she let out a short, sharp expletive then.

“And I had company!” she told her daughter Francena in mortification.

The second time she broke a hip, it was winter and she slipped on ice in her driveway. The snowbanks were so high that she knew she wouldn’t be seen lying on the ground, said her close friend Rosezella Souther, who lives in the Oasis Home and whose son married Francena. So White pulled herself across the driveway, pulled herself up three steps to the front door and got inside. She managed to wriggle across the floor to a stool, climbed up that somehow to a nearby telephone, and called for help.

“She was a tough old bird,” Souther said.

The central relationship in Katherine White’s life was her marriage to Leon White, whom she met when they were both students in Peacham. He was four years older than she was, and also worked at the general store, which was owned by his father. They waited until she’d finished high school in 1937, and were wed in 1939. Kappy White had no interest in going to college, even though an aunt had graduated magna cum laude from Middlebury College and her siblings had all gone to the University of Vermont.

“I want to get married and have a family,” she told her parents, said her daughter Jane Demer. Which is exactly what she did. Their daughter Francena was born in 1940, and Jane in 1944.

In 1943, the Whites moved to the Mallary Farm off Route 5, where Leon worked in the dairy, milking cows, helping with crops and running a pasteurizing plant when it was installed.

“He was a very mechanical man who was very good with machinery,” said Dewitt Mallary, who was a teenager when the Whites came to the farm.

The Whites lived in a boarding house at first with two other boarders who worked on the farm, and Katherine White cooked for them, too. When she became pregnant with her second child, she and Leon moved to a slightly larger house on the property. When Jane was about 3, her mother began working for Mrs. Mallary a few times a week.

“She did Mrs. Mallary’s unmentionables and very snazzy linen tablecloths that couldn’t be sent away to a laundry,” said Goodine. She also began working for Lucy Bugbee, who was Mr. Mallary’s sister and had a home nearby.

She was on the move all the time, “always scurrying around,” said Goodine. “She did everything as quickly as she could and as well as she could.”

Between her and Leon there was an unshakeable bond. “There was never much affection observed. But we knew our folks loved each other greatly,” Goodine said.

That mutual regard was observed by both Whelan and Marek.

“I think they understood each other very deeply as people do and respected each other’s differences as would be natural to them both,” Whelan, their former neighbor who now lives in Cooperstown, N.Y., said.

“They loved and respected each other very calmly. (The relationship) was not demonstrative but it was very deep,” Marek said. It lasted until Leon’s death in 2001. White lived on her own until health problems began to accumulate and she moved into the Oasis Home. Not long before her death she told Francena, “You know I’m not sick, I’m just tired.”

In an odd coincidence, said Demer, the five Bayley children died in order from oldest to youngest. The two oldest siblings died some time ago but this spring, Katherine’s older sister Eloise died in April, Kappy White died on June 8 and her younger brother Bill died on June 12.

There was no church service or memorial, per White’s request. When her husband had died, there was also no church service or memorial. They didn’t like the idea of fuss, both daughters said. A short graveside service, attended by family and friends, was enough. Like Leon, Katherine White was cremated, and her ashes were placed in an old milk can painted with a farm scene, bought for that purpose.

Nicola Smith can be reached at nsmith@vnews.com.