WILLIAMSTOWN — The building that housed the elementary school I attended in the early 1960s is long gone; it burned to the ground in 1970. No one was hurt, and what I’ve since come to regard as the silver lining in that particular cloud was the incineration of my academic and disciplinary records.
I pass the site, which now is occupied by the town’s public library, nearly every day going to and from my house, which is a short walk along the potholed thoroughfare that for the past 65 years has been my personal Memory Lane.
It’s thickly settled with recollections of my youth: the blow to the head sustained during a careless dismount from a diabolical piece of playground equipment known as a whirligig, and the agonizing detachment of my tongue from the frozen metal frame of a baseball backstop.
To my knowledge, no one witnessed any of these self-inflicted indignities, but I know that if a certain teachers’ aide had been on the scene, she would have thought better of making a fuss over me: Seven-year-old boys’ pride is easily bruised.
That sort of consideration for other people’s feelings was an outstanding attribute of Kathryn G. (Katey) Winant.
“Mrs. Winant,” as she was known at the school, died in her home in Williamstown on July 21 at age 94. A native of South Bend, Ind., daughter of Retha Pratt and Claude L. Geyer, she graduated from Skidmore College with a bachelor’s degree in English in 1948. That year, she married John H. Winant, whose career in business aviation brought the family to places including New York City; Alexandria, Va.; and London. John died in 2009.
In her grief, Katey turned to writing, an avocation she had pursued at least since college. She later told a friend that she spent about two weeks “shut away” writing what she had first envisioned as a letter to her family about her 61-year marriage.
In 2011, at the urging of a friend in the book publishing business, she had her work published under the title “One Washcloth One Towel.”
The book, like its author, is candid and funny. Katey’s worldview was wide and forgiving. She was an authority on etiquette but her faith in its power to influence people never was blind or narrow. She lived by the rules, but never forgot that they are bendable – even breakable – if the cause is just. Her sense of fairness was powerful and she sought always to understand people, not to judge them. She knew that understanding often is a never-ending quest.
“Better or worse are what we live with,” she wrote in “One Washcloth One Towel.” “It is the rhythm of life and we swear to cling to each other for all that is in store when we repeat the vows in the Rite of Holy Matrimony. The part about ‘til death do us part’ at the end gets lost in the swirl of joy that the marriage ceremony brings. Your whole lives are ahead of you and you can’t wait to get started.
“Now I look at the bench in the cemetery with both of our names on it. Death has parted us, but we are both still bound to each other. It is a lovely bench, marble and rough hewn and sturdy and stands next to lofty trees that border the lot. The view is magnificent, looking into the hills, and cows graze nearby across the river. We liked the spot the minute we saw it and wanted a bench. People need a place to rest when walking about. I look at my name on that bench next to his. It is strangely akin to our marriage certificate, our mortgage papers, the babies’ birth certificates, our wills, our stationery, our Christmas cards. Kathryn and John Winant. My name has only my date of birth so far. I feel so close and comfortable knowing we will once again share a place together. I do not fear death. Not a bit. He has shown me the way.”
Au revoir, Mrs. Winant.