Diaries Through the Decades: Charlotte Parmley from one-room schoolhouse to Geneseo

Charlotte Parmley, 87, remembers being taught in a one-room schoolhouse.

Her mother was her first teacher. "I sat in the back seat, right by the window, and if anything went by, I got up and I looked out the window," she recalled with a smile. "It was [grades] one through eight - no kindergarten. And it was an experience; as I look back on it, it was pretty different than what they have today."

In French Woods, a country village about 50 miles from Binghamton, N.Y., Parmley's next-door neighbor was half a mile away. She lived on a small farm with her family that provided enough for them to survive the darkest days of the Great Depression.

Parmley said she remembers the layout of the farm down to each fascinating detail. "We had an ice house," she said. "Did you ever hear of an icehouse? In the winter time, they would go over to the lake and cut big bricks of ice like this," she said, outlining a large shape with her hands. She said that her family kept the bricks in the icehouse all year long to supply the icebox in the kitchen.

"We burned wood to cook and heat and everything else," Parmley said. "And the chimney goes up through and heats up the rooms upstairs."

Parmley's expression conveys a certain air of pleasant nostalgia as she looks back on her days in French Woods. "Those are happy days as you look back on them, but at the time they were hard days too because nobody had any money to speak of," she said.

Money became tighter when Parmley was 12 and her father died unexpectedly on the family's doorstep. Though she can't be sure, Parmley said she suspected the stress of her father's experiences in World War I was the chief cause of his passing. Both he and Charlotte's uncle had seen the muddy trenches of France, had heard the tok-a-tok of machine gun fire.

"He did see his brother over there. But then the next thing we knew, we got word that [my uncle] was killed," Parmley said. "I think that took an awful lot out of my father."

After graduating from high school, Parmley traveled to Binghamton, and at a time when the word SUNY wasn't even used, she attended the Lowell School of Business and later found employment at Metropolitan Life Insurance, filling a number of positions.

"I had a license to sell because they had to have one person in the office to sell nickel or dime policies," Parmley said. These literal five and 10 cent policies were designed to help people in rough financial shape to pay on a week-to-week basis.

"I thought I had the most wonderful job in the world, just to get a job," Parmley said.

While going to school and working, Parmley met and married her husband James, and they had three children together. As she spoke about him, it was evident they had a close, loving bond that was only broken by his passing after 61 years of marriage.

After many faithful years at Metropolitan, Parmley and her family moved to Geneseo, where she worked as assistant to the bursar, figuring out what students owed and how they were paying for it.

"I felt I was doing something I was capable of doing - helping them with money," Parmley said. She loved the students, and to this day said she helps them however she can. Before she moved into Morgan Estates Assisted Living Facility in August, she employed two Geneseo seniors, giving them gardening work to help them pay for studies.

In 1983, Parmley retired to care for James, who had recently had heart surgery. Computers were just beginning to be widely used in the bursar's office. Parmley said it was probably good she left when she did, being a member of "the old school."

Today, Parmley concentrates on transferring the memories of a full house to her room at Morgan Estates. On her wall is a portrait representing her work at Metropolitan. She is very aware of the rapid changes going on all around her.

"That's the way the world is," Parmley said. "You've got to go along with it.