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March 23, 2013

 

A window of goodwill

Madison St. woman leaves behind legacy of messages

GoodwillJoe McIntyre/staff photographer
Kathleen Efimenko stands Friday with her husband, Marc, outside the house where Kathleen’s mother, Beverley Davis Vickery, would post messages to passers-by on Madison Street in Cortland. Vickery died March 12 at the age of 84.

By SCOTT CONROE
Staff Reporter
sconroe@cortlandstandardnews.net

Beverley Davis Vickery began writing messages on her front window in block letters as a way to wish the world well on major holidays.
That was in 1957, when she and her family lived on Harrison Street in Cortland. Two years later, the third-grade teacher moved with her husband, Obert, and their three children to 90 Madison St., where her messages on the front window became more frequent and sometimes more political.
“Due to circumstances beyond my control this is my last window,” reads the current message in green fluorescent letters. It was put there by Vickery’s daughter, Kathleen Efimenko, following instructions she left with her estate.
Vickery died on March 12 at age 84, in Newark, N.J., where she had been hospitalized since suffering a heart attack aboard a cruise ship on Feb. 27. She had toured the Bahamas for seven days with family and the ship was about to dock in New Jersey when she became stricken.
“We were looking in her important papers and this manila envelope said “Last Window,” with that final message written on it and the letters inside,” said Marc Efimenko, Kathleen’s husband. “We think she put it together about five years ago. There was no date on it. She always wanted the last word.”
People in the neighborhood had become accustomed to Vickery’s messages over the decades, even if they did not know who wrote them. Parker Elementary School is across the street, and teachers and staff there said they always looked for the window messages.
Vickery photographed each message and placed it in a photo album. She was fond of including “Peanuts” characters Snoopy and Charlie Brown in her messages, which often marked holidays, birthdays, and the beginning or end of the school year.
Vickery taught in Whitney Point for 12 years and Homer for 18 before retiring in 1985. Her other daughter, Johnna Stewart, lives in Cortland and her son, Andrew, lives in Buffalo. She had four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
Her husband died in 1989.
“We don’t know how the window messages started,” Kathleen Efimenko said. “It was just major holidays. My father didn’t seem to mind, he let her do her thing.”
As a teacher, Vickery used the block letters in classrooms and began to use them on her window, cutting them out of stencil sheets. Some were fluorescent, some were red or green.
She wished the public happy holidays and wished herself a happy birthday, writing “Happy birthday to me” one year with an image of Snoopy dressed as George Washington. Then she began to inject philosophy into her window messages.
“SEPTEMBER — Where vacation ends for the kids — and starts for their mothers.”
“There’s nothing you can do about yesterday — so forget it.”
When two city firefighters faced punishment in June 1985 for helping a man while off-duty, Vickery wrote, “Which is more important, life or procedure?”
When the bridge over Otter Creek on Madison Street reopened in September 1985 after being closed for more than a year, she wrote, “Madison Street Law — Anything is easier to take apart than to put together.”
“She was very opinionated,” her daughter said. “Sometimes the words filled the whole window.”
Vickery stopped the messages for a while because she was baby-sitting her granddaughter Ame Efimenko and the little girl, learning to read at age 4, began to spell and read the words backward, looking out of the window. Vickery waited until Ame was in school and spelling correctly before she began putting up messages again.
The messages did not appear at regular times, maybe every couple of weeks, less often as Vickery grew older. But occasionally she would change the message twice within a week.
“My grandmother came from Iowa, and Mom wrote, ‘Mom’s expecting,’ then she wrote ‘Never mind, she’s here,’” her daughter said. “That probably confused people.”
There was no memorial service for Vickery. She asked the family to have a wake for her during their annual backyard corn roast in late August.
Vickery’s family plans to leave up the last message for a while, so out-of-town family members can see it. They said Ame might move into the house. If she does, the messages might continue.
“She’s thinking about keeping the tradition going,” Kathleen Efimenko said.

 

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