Recollections of Tom's Childhood
Beginning in late 1944 Tom's mother gave birth to four boys in a five year span (Tom was child number four). After taking a break for three years she gave birth to three additional kids. When Tom was young he and his older brothers were virtually an inseparable unit. Outside of school, if you saw one you usually saw them all.
Tom was a tough little kid who, despite the age difference, more than kept up with the rough and tumble world of his older brothers. As a pre-schooler he loved climbing high into trees. When he was about three the elderly lady next door looked out her window and saw that he had climbed to near the top of medium sized tree in the back yard. She went and told Tom's mother who then rushed to the back yard to see what was happening. Seeing that it only little Tommy climbing a tree. she shrugged her shoulders and calmly told the elderly neighbor "don't worry, he'll come down" and then proceeded back into the house to continue with her chores.
At age three he and his older brothers all learned to swim on the same day while on a family vacation to the Poconos.
Once, when Tom was about five, he and his brothers had been foolishly whacking a hive of yellow jackets with a rake and he got stung multiple times on the face and arms but he didn't cry (to the amazement of the adults who were present).
Tom attended Claverack Union Free School until he was 11. His family was active in the Claverack Dutch Reformed Church (they lived in a large Victorian house directly across the street). His father sang in the choir. Each Sunday morning his parents dressed him and his older brothers in identical little suits with clip-on bow ties and bundled them off to Sunday school.
Tom and his brothers were all active in the Cub Scouts. When they got older they participated in the Claverack Boy Scouts ("Troop 121") where they enjoyed weekly troop meetings and periodic weekend camping at nearby Buttermilk Falls.
Tom followed in the foot steps of his two older brothers by competing in the City of Hudson's "Soap Box Derby". His father was an excellent carpenter and got great joy out of helping three of his boys build their non-motorized, gravity propelled racers (Harry, like his father, was gifted in carpentry but with Tom and John, at least, it was more a case of two little kids helping their father). Tom and his older brothers participated in Claverack's little league baseball program.
The family moved to Kinderhook in December of 1960. Some of Tom's first friends there were Jimmy Davidson and the Wynn kids (David, Gary and Beverly) who all had horses. Soon Tom and John pooled their money and bought a spirited partially broken three year old filly named Snooks (Tom owned 25%). Within a year Tom was able to acquire his own horse, Cindy Bay, but after a few months sold her and acquired a former racing trotter that he called Shadow. Tom was a very active member of the Boots and Saddles 4-H Club. During the first couple of summers in Kinderhook Tom and his brother would get up nearly every morning, pack their lunches, and then wait for Jimmy Davidson to arrive on his horse Midnight at about 7 am. The three would then cross the Kinderhook Creek and ride up Mile Hill to the Wynn's house. They typically would hang out there during the morning. In the afternoon the entire group would go on extended expeditions through miles of trails and farm fields in the hills of rural Columbia County only rarely having to ride along a road. Often they would ride to West Ghent to meet up with other horse owning members of their 4-H club and from there the enlarged posse would venture even further. Typically they would get back home well after dark (letting the horses do the navigating) often having traveled 20 to 40 miles during the day.
During the Claverack and early Kinderhook years Tom and John served as their older brother Harry's loyal followers and henchmen helping him with his many and varied projects. This included some serious construction activity involving several well engineered tree houses, a lookout tower (built with 20' maple poles cut in a forest and then dragged by Harry's small army of workers from about a half a mile away down rail road tracks that ran near their house) and a treetop to treetop transportation system involving a rope with a suspended seat attached with a pulley (which almost resulted in serious injury to Harry one day when the rope snapped and he fell to the ground).
When Harry was in high school he recruited Tom to help in the construction of a functioning go-cart made out of an former soap box derby racer and an old lawn mower engine. He also recruited him to expand his huge butterfly collection (later Tom created his own).
When Harry was in eight grade and Tom was in fifth the two of them "invented" gun powder by looking it up in the Encyclopedia Britannica. Their chemistry set had only two of the required ingredients but they found the missing third in their older brother Jimmy's set. After experimentation, and with the recruitment of John, they perfected the technology and found many "useful" applications. Initially they made glass bottle bombs out of empty vitamin pill jars. They would stuff the jar with paper and then put a small amount of gunpowder at the top. Using a tiny drill bit they would make a hole in the lid and insert a short fuse that they procurred by cannibalizing model jet engine kits purchased at a local hobby store. The fuse was expensive given their limited budget so it had to be kept short. One boy would hold the device and another would lite the fuse. The bottle would quickly be thrown and everyone would duck for cover as it exploded in the air (what fun!). After moving to Kinderhook the inventory expanded to include rockets, copper tubing bombs, and finally, with Jimmy's inventive contribution, steel pipe bombs. Tom's mother was so busy taking caring of the three younger kids that she was not aware of the "scientific research" taking place in the third floor apartment of that huge house. Because these budding geniuses were so young they did not fully understand the danger. Luckily everyone survived this brief era with all their fingers and eyeballs intact.
Tom's father was a big believer in the health benefits of unpasteurized milk. As a result, in 1962 he bought a Guernsey cow (about a year later he purchased a second). At first his hired hand Herb did the milking. Herb, however, was anything but stupid and quickly figured a way to induce John and Tom to be responsible for the twice daily milking chores. You can never skip a milking. Lame excuses such as "its too cold outside" or "I don't feel like it" don't work. Tom and John would cover for each other as needed (Jimmy and Harry were smart enough to stay away from the barn). The two boys were also responsible for taking care of the pigs and the chickens. Jimmy and Harry, while avoiding animal husbandry, from time to time helped with their father's humongous gardening and fruit tree projects.
While in high school Tom preferred getting up at 5:30 am to do the morning milking so that he could participate on the track team after school (John covered in the afternoons). He took participation on the high school track and field team seriously. During his senior year he ran seven miles virtually every morning before going to school. For a number of years he held the school record for the mile.
As a teenager Tom and some of his brothers were active in the youth group of the Kinderhook Dutch Reformed Church where they were greatly influenced by the thoughtful mentoring of Rev. Van der Tyne.
Tom's father, Henry Little Sr., an opthalmologist, along with his brother Robert ("Uncle Bob"), an ear nose and throat doctor, had a huge medical practice in Hudson during the 1950's and 60's. He was the only eye doctor in Columbia and Greene County and his waiting room was always packed. He employed two full time optometrists in an optical shop with state of the art technology to fill the many prescriptions for eye glasses that he would write for his patients. While in high school Tom and his brother Harry worked for their father on Saturdays as apprentice optometrists. Both became extremely proficient and were skilled enough to do virtually any task that a fully licensed optometrist could do no matter how technically challenging.