My mother was an amazing woman,” said Diane Hildreth Brubaker of Claire Hildreth. “In 1988, when she was 70 years old, she joined an International Bicycle Tour and rode a bicycle from England to the Red Square in Moscow. It was the first time the tour was able to enter Russia. She sent me postcards every day from every place she went. I still have them,” Hildreth Brubaker confessed.
Proud of her family history, her home is filled with family photos dating back to the early 1900s. Brought up on a farm in Sagaponack, she, and her father before her, attended The Little Red School House, a one-room school house that dates back to 1887.
“My father, William Wallace Hildreth, was born in 1915. His father, my grandfather, Alfred Cook Hildreth, was born in 1874 and passed away when my father was only 11 years old,” she said. Diane was an only child, and her father would take her out on his ice boat and tow her on her sled with his tractor in the winter time. “One day,” said Hildreth Brubaker with a chuckle, “he towed me to school on my sled and then forgot that it was still attached to the back of the tractor and he ran it over!”
Although Claire Hildreth was a major helper on the family’s potato farm, she attended beauty school in 1934 and became a beautician. She worked in a shop on Hampton Road in Southampton. When the Hurricane of 1938 hit, Claire was stranded and unable to get back to Sagaponack. She returned to the salon and sought refuge from the storm until she could return home.
“She was a tough woman,” her daughter said. “And she always stood up for herself. One day when she was helping my father on the farm, she drove the truck filled with potatoes to the market. She was on line waiting her turn to unload the truck when two men in their trucks tried to cut the line in front of her. She dropped the truck into gear and gunned it, preventing them from getting ahead of her. It was a risky move with a full load like that. Later the men told my father, ‘Nobody’s going to mess with your wife. She can hold her own!’”
According to Hildreth Brubaker, “My father farmed until 1955 and then went to work for Agawam Aircraft, which was in the building that Bay Street occupies now. He used to come home covered in aluminum chips from the factory. They made plane parts and I guess the pieces would fly out of the machines and land on the workers. When my father left there, he went to work for Schaefer School Bus. He was assigned to drive the bus I took to school. I wasn’t happy because I knew I wouldn’t get away with anything!”
Looking over some old photos, she came across a piece of stationery she had saved from her grandfather’s oyster shop. “My mother’s father, Samuel Grimshaw, had a plumbing shop and an oyster shop in Promised Land. I remember that a car would come every day and pick up the oysters. I don’t know where they took them but it might have been to the Fulton Fish Market in the city.” The stationery showed the store telephone number as only two digits. “There weren’t a lot of people out here,” she said. “I guess they didn’t need more than two digits to make a call.”
When she graduated from high school, she went to work on Wall Street in the New York Stock Exchange. She was a key punch operator and worked with the traders creating the verification cards for the trades they did. She married and had her daughter, Jennifer, in 1963 returning to East Hampton where she still resides. Jennifer married Charles Lyons in 1992. Both she and her husband worked for the Sag Harbor School District.
Affectionately known as “Juddy” by friends, relatives, and the children in the Sag Harbor School District, he passed away in 2014. Hildreth Brukbaker also lost her husband, Joseph Brubaker, to heart problems in 2011. Both mother and daughter share a close bond and Jennifer lives in her grandparents’ home. Jennifer said she is grateful that she had the opportunity to know and spend time with her grandmother, Claire. “She was the greatest grandmother in the world!”