End of a simple life

| 21 Feb 2012 | 10:56

    WANTAGE-Walter and Lois Blair were born in the tiny house with no plumbing on the road named for their ancestors. They lived there all their lives. And sometime before Tuesday morning, they died there. It was the way they had wanted to go, the same way they lived - together. How and when they died weren't clear when The Advertiser-News went to press. A neighbor, Carole Payne, said that a man in the neighborhood who looked in on the Blairs to make sure they had food and enough wood for the old stove that heated their home noticed that no smoke was coming from their chimney. The man checked and found both Blairs dead. He called the New Jersey State Police, who declined to comment Tuesday afternoon. Blair, known as the "Hub-Cap Man" because of the wheel covers he stacked neatly in his yard and sold, was 82 years old last August, when he sat for an interview with this paper. His sister, Lois, was 68. Back then, they expressed their satisfaction with their lives and the little home without running water or any heat other than their wood stove in which they spent their entire lives. "We're happy," Lois said then. "Tell you the truth," offered Walter, "I'm satisfied with the way it all went." The Blair family is one of the older families in Sussex County, going back nearly 150 years. Family lore has it that the original Blairs found their way to Wantage on the Underground Railway during the Civil War. In a county in which blacks, according to the 2000 Census, make up just 1.1 percent of the population, the Blairs said they never experienced discrimination. And the narrow rural road on which they live is named after them. Indeed, their neighbors, said Payne, had a high regard for two people who lived simply, bothered no one, and always had time to chat. "I brought them food and took them shopping," said Payne, who has lived nearby for more than 20 years. The Blairs were the last of a breed, a living bridge to a bygone era when people in these parts used outhouses, drew water from wells, and spent their spare time splitting logs for heat for the winter ahead. As a youth, Walter went to a one-room schoolhouse. As a young man, he boxed for a time, running to Sussex Borough and Fountain Square and back to his little house. He had an older brother, Herbert, who preceded him in death, and one niece, Hildagarde Joy Swinson, who lives with her husband, Roger, in Mantague. "They were very happy," Swinson said Tuesday shortly after she and her husband were contacted by police and told what had happened. Swinson said she is the last of the clan. She had no idea whether her uncle and aunt had a will. But she agreed that they would have wanted to leave life together. Although 16 years younger, Lois Blair was not able to fully care for herself, and so her brother took care of her all his life. Payne and Swinson agreed it was best that they died together. "It was a blessing," said Payne. Walter worked at odd jobs - no one seemed sure what profession he had, if any. And he qualified for Social Security and Medicare when he retired. He displayed a large and faded American flag on the front of his house. In a side window, he had various stickers attesting to his support of the local police. Payne said that Lois would sew things for neighbors if they asked. And Walter liked to carve wooden figures - Uncle Sam was a favorite - and paint them. "He had quite a few things like that that he did," she said. His workshop was a ramshackle garage set back from the house, a garage he didn't need for a car, as he never had one. Swinson, still stunned by the deaths, didn't talk a great deal. She said that funeral arrangments hadn't yet been made; the bodies of the deceased were taken to the Sussex County Medical Examiner's to determine cause of death. But she said that services would be at the Pinkel Funeral Home.