Thursday, May 27, 2010

John Jackson: Pop

Son of the American Legion: A young John Jackson.

Colorful characters abound in the Gang's memoirs. John Jackson has written extensively about his father, a World War I veteran who worked in a knife factory. Among John's earliest memories are the tattoos his father acquired as a young man. "Eighty years ago, long-sleeved shirts and coats were a standard part of male attire," John writes, "and I was quite old before I realized that my father’s tattoos were in any way unusual. I assumed all fathers had them. The most spectacular was a large parrot, which extended from elbow to wrist. A line drawing of a crawling baby represented—I think—Baby Snooks, a newspaper cartoon character." The following is excerpted from John's memoir "Pop":

John Arthur Jackson, known to his two sons as Pop and to most of the rest of his world as Art, was born in 1895. His life story is complicated and, in many ways, undocumented. I certainly can’t claim objectivity, so the following account must be accepted on faith. There is no one alive who can challenge the few facts I possess.

By the time my father was nine years old, both his parents were dead. I don’t think he went to school much after he was orphaned. He lived with a cousin and he worked, perhaps as an apprentice. He was allowed to keep ten cents each week from his pay; five cents of that was put into the church collection plate. The other five cents was for clothing and wild living.

At the age of twelve or thirteen, he left and lived on his own, camping for a time near the village fairgrounds. At about age fifteen he went off with one of the circuses that visited the fairgrounds each year. He became a roustabout, putting up tents, feeding animals, and so on. When he was sixteen or seventeen, he joined the army.

Most of Pop’s army experience was in the Coast Artillery in Panama; he became a “hard hat” diver on a mine-laying ship. He was discharged from the army in 1917, but a few months later, when World War I started, he was called up and sent back to Panama.

Near the end of the war, he was cutting loose a mine cable that had become entangled in the propeller of a ship, when a nearby mine exploded. Pop was seriously injured. For the rest of his life, he received a partial disability pension and was in and out of veterans’ hospitals. He had attacks of something akin to asthma, and I suspect in today’s world he would be diagnosed with PTSD.

It took Pop eleven minutes to walk home from work. Since his stride was measured and military, the time didn’t vary. I was expected to be at the table, ready for supper at 5:11. Pop would walk into the house, wash his hands in a chipped enamel pan from under the kitchen sink, and sit down for supper.

My mother worked as a sewing machine operator in an underwear factory, getting home about 4:30. This made putting a meal on the table by 5:11 a little tricky. I would often stop by the underwear factory when I got out of school to pick up a shopping list. The sewing room at the factory was large and open, with long rows of tables with sewing machines on both sides. My grandmother worked at the sewing machine opposite my mother. I would pick up my list, go shopping (I often bought salads and cold cuts at our local delicatessen), and have the food home ready for preparation by 4:30.

On Thursday, my mother and I would meet Pop on Main Street and we would shop for payday supper. It often included round steak, salads, Frisbee’s pie, and ice cream!

Pop was very active in the local American Legion and in the Masonic Order. One of our family activities every year was to place a flag and plant a geranium on every veteran’s grave in four local cemeteries. One of the graves was that of a veteran of the German army in World War I. Every year, my mother would make a World War I German flag down at the underwear factory and we would place it on the German soldier’s grave.

Shortly after Pearl Harbor, my brother Jimmy joined the Army Air Corps. Pop tried to join all of the armed and semi-armed forces, but he wasn’t accepted. In the first place, he was forty-six years old, pretty old for most of the services. In the second place, he had a 25 percent disability from World War I. He was rejected by every service, including the Coast Guard and the Maritime Service.

He consoled himself by going to work for the Spence Engineering Company in Walden, which had war contracts. By doing that, he felt he was making at least a small contribution to the war effort. The company had a long history of war work. During the Civil War it had been known as the Rider Erickson Engine Company. Erickson was the designer of the Monitor (of Monitor and Merrimack fame), and some of the parts of the famous ironclad were made in Walden. Another war-related activity involved donating blood. Pop had a type of type-O blood that was much in demand on the battlefield. He would go to New York City as often as they would take him, sometimes carpooling with other donors, and donate his blood, which would be flown, unprocessed, to Europe.

Early in 1942, a public meeting was called by the Army Air Corps in the high school auditorium. The purpose was to convince the people that a station of the Aircraft Warning Service was needed in the Walden area. Somehow, probably just by volunteering, Pop was chosen as the chief observer with the responsibility to set up and administer a station in Walden. It required the finding of a proper location for the observing site and organizing volunteer observers, two at a time, twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year. That’s a pretty big job for a town of 5,000 people. In short order, we had a temporary station in a trailer on a farm near town. It was a pretty inconvenient location, particularly with gasoline rationing and was impractical for winter operation. Within a few months, a permanent station was set up on top of the Telephone Company building right in the middle of town. It was the tallest building in the downtown area, overlooking the twice life-sized bronze statue of President McKinley holding a large American Flag. The station operated as required until the end of the war. Obviously, there were many occasions when people had to miss their assignments. The shifts were six hours starting at noon. When substitutes were needed, my father, my mother and I were the easiest ones to find. At the end of the war, Pop got a medal for serving over 2,000 hours, Mom got one for over 1,500 hours, and I got one for over 1,000 hours.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Ruth Demarest Godfrey: War Bride

Ruth and Harrison, 1943.
Harrison was from New Jersey. After a hot and heavy courtship, much of it long-distance, we decided to marry. Our marriage happened in a great rush, as Harrison knew he would be called up soon. After all, it was wartime, 1943. My mom was in Chicago, visiting my sister Marion. Harrison and I went out after informing my dad of our plans. When we got home, I found a note on the table that bore our telephone. It was the telegram that Dad had sent Mom. “Come home. Ruth getting married next Sunday.” It was the Saturday before. Although I understand that Mom had to stand for hours at the railway station to get a ticket home, she nevertheless arrived in a couple of days and arranged a small home wedding for us. How thoughtless the young can be! I put a terrible burden on her and didn’t even realize it at the time. Always equal to any situation that involved her children, Mom got the show on the road. On the day of our wedding, June 27, 1943, my mom entered my room early in the morning and put up the window shade on a beautiful, sunny day. “Time to get up, Ruthie,” she said. “Happy is the bride the sun shines on!” I can still hear her saying those words and I can see her smiling face as she said them.

Our wedding was held in the living room of our farm home. My sister, Idora, managed to get there from New Jersey, where she was living while her husband was stationed at Camp Kilmer. Her husband could not make it. My other sister, Marion, was in Chicago, and she did not manage to get there. It was very short notice and travel was difficult. On our wedding day, a B17 bomber, en route from Nevada to Maine for embarkation, crashed over Randolph. All but two of the crew were killed. The whole episode was observed by wedding guests who were sitting on our lawn waiting for the wedding to take place. In fact, the wedding supper was held at the Montague Country Club in Randolph, and we shared the dining room with the two surviving crew members.

Three weeks later my husband was called into the army. I moved to New Jersey, with many a backward glance, in order to be close enough to see him when he got weekend passes. Hello to young love, but farewell to my paradise in Vermont.

The Gang's Spring Fling

Completely forgot to post this little video, made on May 15 at the downtown Randolph "Spring Fling." With John Jackson, Ruth Godfrey, and me. We were handing out free advice on Main Street, but we didn't last long—you'll see why. Videography by Charles Cooley, edited by Yours Truly.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Margaret Egerton: The Great War

Knitting socks for soldiers during WWI.
Photo from Creative Commons 
I was born in 1910. My father was a groundskeeper and chauffeur for a rich Clevelander, who had a walled estate at the top of a hill that became known as Cleveland Heights, which was a fast-growing suburb east of downtown Cleveland. My mother hated her exile from England and finally convinced my father to return. We sold our home and purchased tickets for the crossing. Unfortunately, these plans were made without any forethought about the war until after the sinking of a passenger ship caught in the German blockade surrounding the British Isles. My father was still an English citizen, and as soon as he reached England he would have been drafted into the army and taken into the trenches in France. He therefore canceled his ticket, and in 1915 mother, my brother, and I sailed for “home.”
My memories of living in England are vivid but fragmentary. Adult discussions about the danger from the enemies were pervasive. The huge German airships known as zeppelins were invented during the war to carry bombs to English cities, and during the frequent air-raid warnings we would scamper into hallways and safe havens away from windows and shattering glass. I remember sitting in a movie looking at time-lapsed photography of beautiful flowers with their petals opening up when the words “Air Raid Take Cover” flashed on the screen.

During the blackout, shops used blinds to keep light from shining out. I remember seeing the small OPEN sign in a shop window as we walked by. That was one of the first words I learned to spell.

I remember the war bond rallies in Trafalgar Square, where Red Cross ambulances that had rescued the wounded from the trenches were on display, parked around the lions. The trucks were tattered, with bullet holes and bloodstains.

Dad wrote to us faithfully but his letters were censored and only a few were delivered. He often sent me the “funny page.” I remember Mother reading “Mutt and Jeff” and “Dolly Dimples” to me from a U.S. newspaper.

I remember standing with her in a building and talking to refugees from Belgium. Talk about atrocities committed by the invaders of that hapless country created great fear of the enemy and much prejudice of the “Huns.” I remember visiting my grandmother, who was living in Chelsea with her daughter, my aunt Nellie. My grandmother, Caroline Annie Purkis, lived to be almost one hundred. At the time we visited she resided in a big feather bed with a canopy and a footstool, which I climbed when I visited her. She wore a little white flannel cap on her head with her straight hair parted in the middle. The strings of the cap could be tied under her chin, but when I saw her they were loose and on top of her cap. I remember saying to her that she looked like a German wearing his helmet shaped with a metal point on top. My grandmother was a gentle old lady who gave me lots of hugs, but she was very angry with me when I called her a German Hun.

As soon as the German blockade was lifted, ships began taking shell-shocked American soldiers back to the United States. We sailed home with the soldiers, who entertained me and the only other little girl on the ship. It was a lark to be so spoiled with attention. I remember eating half an orange with great relish, as it was the first time I had enjoyed fresh fruit since leaving the States.

What delight I had in celebrating the Armistice on November 18, 1918, waving my American flag and ringing the bell attached to the handlebars of my tricycle as I pedaled up and down Amesbury Avenue. It was an exciting and happy time.

But living in a war torn society had left lasting impressions. My mother had suffered too long the anxiety of separation from my father and had severe headaches from which she never fully recovered. I must have absorbed a lot of her anxiety. I had trouble going to bed alone in the dark. A lighted candle was beside my bed, but frequently it was extinguished, and when I awoke in the dark I remember pleading with my parents to let me join them at the foot of their bed. It was many years before I overcame my fear of sleeping in the dark, and now I use a nightlight.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Mary Jacobs: Spring Day at Travis

Randolph Center looking north.
The Vietnam war officially ended January 27, 1973. Vietnam released 590 prisoners by April 1 and the last U.S. troops left March 29. The war was not over for the families of MIAs. Where were their husbands, fathers, brothers, and other family members that were listed only as missing in action? Were they still prisoners, or dead?
           In the spring of 1973, Cookie and I were visiting my son John at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, California.
           North Vietnam had released the remains of seven MIAs and they had been flown to Hawaii for identification and were now being returned to the U.S. to their families for burial.
           John came home one evening and said he had obtained permission for us to attend the ceremony at the Air Force base.
           It was mid afternoon and we stood on the edge of the tarmac with military officers in full uniform, a few veterans wearing their old uniforms, and several families with small children and babies.
           Off the end of the runway were seven waiting hearses.
           We were waiting patiently when there was the loud roar of motorcycle engines. Into the waiting area roared about twenty big Harly motorcycles ridden by what appeared to be Hell’s Angels. They had tattoos, silver chains, long hair, and strange-looking helmets. A closer look showed each wore one or more articles of a ragged military uniform.
           Earlier John had explained to us that each casket would be escorted by a military colog guard and the highest ranking officer from their branch of the service.
           Soon, a big C5 (cargo plane) could be seen coming out of the clouds. It was very low and very very slow—in fact, you wondered why it didn’t fall to the earth.
           It landed and slowly, slowly taxied up the runway. At this point, everyone was absolutely silent, the babies stopped fussing, and children stood still. The motorcyclists came to full military, a position that they held throughout the ceremony. It was an awesome moment.
           At this time, the families, each with a chaplain, came onto the runway. I wondered how many of the young people had never seen their father.
           The cargo doors at the rear of the plane opened and a Marine Honor Guard and a Marine General exited. They were followed by marines carrying a flag draped casket. The chaplain said a short prayer and all escorted the casket to the hearse.
           This was repeated six times. All branches of the service were represented. During this time, the hikers had stood at attention, saluting each casket.
           I cannot describe my feelings at this time: sadness, a great pride in America and its people, and great respect for the Hell’s Angels who came to honor their comrades.
           The only other time with similar feelings was at the Punch Bowl Cemetery in Hawaii. There are 33,230 grave sites here and it is filled to capacity with World War II and Korean War veterans. On a small hill overlooking the many white crosses is a thirty-foot female known as Columbia standing on a symbol of the prow of a U.S. Navy ship. Engraved at the base of the statue are the words spoken by Abraham Lincoln to Mrs. Bixby who had five sons that died in battle.
           The words are “The solemn pride that must be yours to have laid such a costly sacrifice upon the alter of freedom.”

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Cookie Campbell: My Annie

The last piece in our Mother's Day series was originally published here several weeks ago. I first met Cookie Campbell, Annie's mother, when she came to the Randolph Senior Center one Monday morning and explained that although she didn't really consider herself a writer, she had "a story that needs to be told." Over the next 18 months she set down an extraordinary memoir—excerpted below—about raising her daughter in an era that called for parents of children with Downs syndrome to be pioneers. Ann was born fourteen years before Congress passed the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975; children like her were routinely denied a public-school education. Many were institutionalized. In making the decision to raise their daughter at home, Cookie and her husband could count on little support apart from family and friends. But the story Cookie had to share is one of triumph: Today, Ann Campbell is a loving and beloved member of the community, and if opportunities for children with Downs are far greater today than they were when her life began, it is in no small part due to families like the Campbells.

In 1961 "politically correct" had not been invented, so my poor friend and doctor had to come to us and say, "I'm sorry. She's Mongoloid."

Our long road began.

Stunned? Well, yes. Speechless? Oh, yes. So speechless I fell asleep and spilled my ice water. Prepared? Is anyone ever? These things happened to other people.

We were given choices which really were no choices at all. We could take her to Brandon and leave her or take her home. There was no way in God's world that I could put her in Brandon, so when she was five days old we bundled her up and headed for home.

Ann. Easy to say, and easy to spell, if the time ever came.

Hank and Clayt, at nine and eight years, were in school, but Herbert was four and a half and came to help fetch us home on a sunny Friday. He hardly made a sound, but watched and listened and every once in a while he gave a little pat. By the time the school bus rolled in at 3:15 he was feeling fairly comfortable and a bit proprietary.

The two big boys came in, gave me a hug and took a quick peek at the little sister before snacking, changing and going outdoors.

The next morning they were ready to ask questions and more importantly, to hear the answers.

She's Mongoloid. It means she is retarded. She'll be slow. She won't be able to learn as much as you. I don't know if she'll learn to walk. I don't know if she'll talk. I just don't know. We have to take good care of her. Love her. Teach her everything she can learn. We've got to wait and see.

My sister came that day—Saturday—and immediately fell in love with Ann. Since I wouldn't give her Ann to take home she took Hank, saying it would lessen my work load. I think he was anxious to go (he who had never been away overnight) because he was unsure about his feelings for Ann and maybe thought he could sort things out if he had time alone. He was supposed to stay for two weeks, but by the first Friday he was homesick and miserable and happily came home to all of us.

Clayt was much more accepting and hopeful. "Well, if she can learn a word, fine, and the next day she can learn another word. She should be okay." And so went about his business.

Herbert, meanwhile, is still watching and listening and doing kind little things.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Mary Hutchinson: Grandmother Carpenter and Gram Dustin

From my own family album: A Balch family picnic (that's Grandma Small on the left).
It's interesting to note how many of the Hale Street Gang grew up in households that included grandmothers and grandfathers. "Assisted living" meant moving in with the kids. The older folks helped with the many chores that were typical of rural households before World War II. My mother remembers her grandfather churning butter, tending the vegetable garden, and keeping hens, as well as peddling the eggs door-to-door, on foot, in town. This was when he was well into his eighties. Grandmothers helped with the sewing (most clothes were made by hand), the ironing (a long day's work), and dozens of other tasks that don't exist today (does anyone darn socks anymore?). Families looked after their own, a situation that naturally caused a certain amount of tension. I love this piece of Mary Hutchinson's because it looks at the situation from both angles, plusses and minuses, and with a good deal of humor. She says it is "written from the viewpoint of my younger sister, Carol." The theme of contrasting grandmas was arrived at independently by both Mary and Ruth, whose piece "My Two Grandmas" was posted earlier this week. 

“Stand tall, point your toes straight ahead, and walk on the balls of your feet.” —Grandmother [Alice] Carpenter

“Just walk and get there the best you can, child.” —Gram [Jennie] Dustin

My grandmothers, both widows, lived with us for ten years. These were trying years for an overweight adolescent of twelve. I was the youngest of five children; the other four had left to go to college or war, leaving me to fend for myself.

Grandmother Carpenter was from an aristocratic family of Harvard graduates. Her father and brother had been prosperous dentists, and her deceased husband had been chief justice of the Supreme Court for the state of Connecticut. One of the highlights of her social life was leading the grand march with the governor at the Governor’s Ball. I remember how she would don her sparkling diamonds and rubies and strut around the living room as though she were back in the ballroom. How straight and tall she walked: She kept herself in condition by faithfully performing a ritual of exercise each morning. Her teeth were her own, she continually reminded everyone. Every afternoon she took a brisk walk. In the winter, if the conditions were such that she could not walk in the road, she would briskly walk back and forth across the porch which stretched the entire length of our house.

According to Grandmother Carpenter I never could speak properly. As we washed the dinner dishes in the evening, she would have me practice saying, “How now, brown cow.” I would exaggerate my Vermont accent to irritate her. She was constantly correcting my grammar and pronunciation. My eating habits irritated her as well. I loved to eat: She would actually grab candy right out of my hand. “Can’t love anything that can’t love you” was her immediate retort in the event that I dared to mention that I loved apple pie. She was determined that I was to lose weight. There were no fat people in Connecticut according to her, “Just in Vermont.” When she returned to Connecticut for a short visit, her first errand would be to go into the bank and exchange her “dirty Vermont money” for new money.

Grandma Dustin, my father’s mother, was a native Vermonter raised on a farm and accustomed to hard work. Married and teaching school at sixteen years of age, I’m sure she had little time to worry about her physical appearance. She was short with a definite hump to her back, slightly pigeon-toed, and walked with a slow gait. But how she could cook: I loved her homemade bread, cookies, and pies. I was especially fond of the creamed salt pork gravy she made to heap on mounds of fluffy mashed potato. I could devour half a loaf of her bread spread with her creamy homemade butter.

Gram Dustin never wasted a thing. She would rip out old sweaters to knit mittens for her five grandchildren. Our clothes were patched and repatched. She would fashion dresses and coats out of old clothing discarded by others. She would save bits of ribbon, lace, buttons; anything that would add a touch of elegance to the recycled clothing.

Each morning after breakfast Gram Dustin would come out to the kitchen sink, take out her false teeth, and brush them. Another of her distracting morning rituals was to march through the kitchen to the downstairs bathroom to empty her slop pail.

I remember the presidential election of 1944 (when Franklin Roosevelt was running for what would be his fourth term) extremely well. Grandmother Carpenter was a staunch Republican and was positive that Thomas Dewey would win. Gram Dustin, a Democrat, was rooting for FDR. Each night at the dinner table they would debate the qualifications of their respective candidates. At times these debates got very heated and the two elderly women would be practically screaming at each other. Roosevelt carried thirty-six of the forty-eight states, settling the entire affair. Needless to say, conversation regarding the election came to an immediate halt.

The presidential election soon was forgotten as the two women gathered anxiously in front of the radio each evening to listen to Lowell Thomas report on the progress of the war. Two of their grandsons were involved in the draft and this seemed to be a bonding factor in their relationship. As they sat knitting, Grandmother Carpenter working on war bandages, Gram Dustin creating mittens, they became closer because of their common concern: two grandsons off to war. At other times they would work on crossword puzzles or play solitaire. Gram Dustin never missed a day of “When a Girl Marries.” As soon as this “awful program” came on the air, Grandmother Carpenter would pick up her knitting and leave the room.

How my parents ever managed to control their frustrations through those years remains a mystery to me. To have lived ten years so peacefully with these two contrasting personalities, both strong-willed and proud of their heritage, was a challenge, an amazing feat and highly commendable.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Mary Jacobs: Mother's Day Memoir

Mary's mother with her parents, Horace and Carrie Kingsbury, circa 1905.
Three-generation households that included grandmothers and other aging relatives were way more common before World War II. My own included Aunt Hilda, who liked to stir things up in much the same way as Mary's Grammy Bullard. We tolerated her because she was part of the family and what else could you do? Besides, she made wonderful pies and cookies. Mary says this piece about her mother (in which Grandma Bullard makes a brief appearance) is unfinished, but she allowed me to share it with you as is.

Stand up straight so I can fit this pattern to you . . . Hold still so I can get a straight part in your hair . . . Change your clothes before you go out to play . . . Stop dancing around while I pin up this hem . . . Be sure to wash your neck and clean your fingernails. These are all remembered remarks from my mother.

The household ran on a schedule. Wash on Monday, iron on Tuesday, clean upstairs on Thursday, downstairs on Friday, and do the weekly baking on Saturday. Pies, cakes and donuts were made almost daily. The only time this schedule changed was in the winter, when my Grandmother Bullard lived with us. According to my grandmother, who smoke, drank beer, and was a Ouija board fan, my mother was much too rigid about her schedule. My mother thought Grammy was too bossy. This led to many conflicts between the two, resulting in Mother's going to bed with a "sick headache." This left Grammy to do as she pleased for a few days. This meant many fewer rules these days.

During World War II, Mother became very involved in making bandages for the Red Cross. She went to the Parish House almost every afternoon to cut and fold all types of bandages. Also about this time, she became involved with the Bethany Women's Fellowship, so more often, the daily schedule was not followed.

She still baked, canned vegetables from the garden, chicken and beef that my father raised. She always made all of my clothes. She was an expert seamstress. In later years, she made granddaughters prom dresses, bridesmaid and wedding dresses.

She began to travel alone on the train when I was in Boston. She soon learned North Station and the subway. These were war years and North Station was a very busy terminal for servicemen and could be very confusing.

Another big change in my mother were grandchildren. She spoiled them and was very proud of all of them. they could do no wrong, and if they did, she was very vocal in her protest to the accuser.

After my father died, she lived in the same house that has been home for 45 years. She had a "roomer," Peter, a young man that worked at Vermont Castings. It turned into a mother-and-son arrangement. He helped her and she fed him and did his washing, etc. Their only problem was the Boston Celtics. She was a fan and he was not, and she often told him that he had never played basketball and knew nothing about the game. As if she had played.

Shortly after Dad's death, his brother died, leaving her a nice inheritance. I remember her asking if I thought she had enough money for combination windows. I said, "Mother, you can buy a new house if you want." She snapped back, "I don't need a new house. All I want is not to bother with storm windows." She was very careful with this money, but loved to do something extra for the grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

She took her first plane ride when she was 86. We went to San Francisco to see John and his family. While there, we went to Lake Tahoe to a casino. She was fascinated by the slot machines, playing her quarters and not wanting to leave.

On a trip to Florida, we missed connections in Boston and flew first class with all its amenities. On the return trip, we were back with the common people. she said to the flight attendant, "Young lady, I can tell you that this plane cannot even begin to compare with the one we traveled down on."

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Ruth Demarest Godfrey: My Two Grandmas

The most recent in our Mother's Day series: Ruth is the sister of Idora, whose essay "Mom" kicked off the series last week. A 10-minute video of their dual portrait of Grandma Small is on our YouTube channel (scroll down the right-hand column to connect). It fascinates me now to think that Grandma and Grandpa Cooley kept a cow on Maple Street after they retired from farming and moved into an apartment in town. The cow was pastured on a hill that overlooks Main Street, across from Gifford Hospital, and Idora and Ruth used to enjoy walking the cow along Maple Street between barn and pasture—although their own cows held no such interest for them.

Grandma Small with Idora.
I was fortunate enough to have my two grandmothers into my adulthood, until after I was married, so I remember a great deal about them. They were as different as two grandmas could be . . .

Grandma Small lived in Claremont, New Hampshire, until I was nine years old, with my grandpa and my aunt Hilda. My sister Idora and I used to visit them each summer and and we always had a wonderful time. Grandma was lively and full of fun, and Grandpa always went along with the things she planned and enjoyed, because he adored her. Grandma and Grandpa bought us roller skates and taught us to skate on their kitchen floor. Since they lived on the second floor, I have often wondered where the people who lived downstairs got patience enough to listen without complaint to the racket upstairs.

Before we went to Claremont for our annual visit, we were given the job of hand-pulling kale from a large field of corn. We did a couple of rows apiece each morning until it was done, at which time we were paid two dollars each. What a lot of money that seems like to us! We took our earnings with us to Claremont, where it seemed to last all the time we were there. We spent it to go to the movies, to buy candy, hair ribbons, and so on. We were in clover!

In addition to the unaccustomed luxury of being able to go to stores and the movies, there were other kids living in the neighborhood, with whom we could play. There were three children living on the first floor of the house where Grandma and Grandpa lived. I recall doing some feuding with them, as well as some playing. Maybe it was the roller-skating upstairs! We got on well enough with the two girls, but they had this poisonous little brother, who had a mop of very curly hair and like to wound us by flinging hard green apples, skewered on a flexible stick and trying to hit us in the head.
Idora and Ruth with two friends.
When I was nine years old, Grandpa lost his job and they moved to Vermont and lived with us for some time. There was a tenant house on the farm, and when it became available they moved in there. Grandma always bemoaned the fact that she had had to move away from her home in Claremont, but I guess she eventually grew accustomed to the change. I am sure she was glad to be near her grandchildren and my mom. During the time when they lived in the same house with us, Grandma had Idora and me go to her room at a certain time each morning and she instructed us in the art of knitting and some embroidery. She referred to these hours of instruction as our "stints." Idora was an apt pupil. I don't think I was, but it was fun anyway, as Grandma was always entertaining. She herself could do all sorts of handwork and do it very well, but she didn't lose patience with my sometimes ludicrous attempts.

Grandma was an excellent seamstress, and she made many lovely dresses for us. When Idora and I were small, whenever Grandma made us each a dress, they were alike except for the color. We were approximately the same height and had the same sort of haircut, so sometimes people thought we might be twins.

In addition to Grandma's skills at sewing, she was a very good and innovative cook and baker. She enjoyed cooking and baking and was never happier than when her relatives and friends arrived on weekends and there was a lot of eating, story-telling, and laughter. I had the impression, as a youngster, that some of my grandma's relatives were on the ribald side, and it was such fun for me, as my family was not expressive in the same way.

Children loved Grandma and she loved them. She had two brothers who seemed to be drunks. As a result, it sometimes fell to Grandma's lot to bring up some of her nieces and nephews. Aunt Hilda's son, my cousin Buddy, lived with Grandma and Grandpa almost all of his life and they loved him dearly. Buddy died suddenly at the age of twenty-five and it was a terrible blow to them. He left a lovely young wife and two small children. His death was a very sad thing for the whole family. One of my sisters, Marion, was Grandma's favorite, I think. She shared some of Grandma's spicier characteristics.
Grandma Small.
I don't know a great deal about Grandma's younger years. I think her mother died when she was fairly young. I don't think she was brought up in affluence, and she did not receive much formal education. She was, however, a highly intelligent person and was able to overcome some of the lack of educational advantages. She read a great deal, which helped. She did remain very bigoted and politically mired. Or so it seems to me, although Grandma herself would not agree with that and would loudly defend her ideas. She remained in touch with her three sisters and her surviving brother as long as she lived. She had a wonderful husband, my beloved grandpa. He loved her devotedly all her life.

Grandma Cooley with Idora and Ruth.
Now we come to Grandma Cooley. Grandma, too, read constantly. She read to gain information about religion, history, science, and many serious subjects. She rejected frivolity of all kinds and did not read fiction and comedy. She believed in being very serious about life and "keeping your eye on the ball." Whereas she tolerated no foolishness or "frippery" in her five sons, she was devoted to them, and they to her. When, on a Sunday, Grandma Small might well be entertaining a large crowd of visiting family and friends, Grandma Cooley would be found in church or reading. Only work of a very necessary nature was done, or allowed, on Sunday, and reading was the only diversion allowed. Grandma Cooley never missed church until she became too deaf to follow the sermon, in her later years. She led a discussion group of adults in matters of religion. On the contrary, Grandma Small, who also professed to having a strong belief, apparently had a stronger belief in entertainment than in religion. Although she had been raised a Methodist, she was forced to become an Episcopalian because that church allowed card playing and dancing, which the Methodist church did not. Therefore, Grandma changed affiliations. I guess she counted on God to understand! (continued after the jump)

Mary, Me, and Mr. D.

This video includes three minutes of an interview with WDEV's Jack Donovan, who spoke with Mary Jacobs and me at the radio station in Waterbury on May 6. The entire 15-minute interview is too long to put on either YouTube or this blog, but you can hear it (along with other interviews and stories by all 12 writers) on our CD "The Best of the Hale Street Gang," which is FREE with a donation to our Kickstarter project.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

D'Ann Fago: Nauna

A Kentucky Woman, by D'Ann Fago.
My grandmother was the rebellious type. She practically never set foot in church in her life. She was a great reader, and also deeply interested in the world and what was going on, so she listened to the radio a great deal. She was up on everything, it seemed—ideas, people. She had a sense of the world outside. She voted for Norman Thomas when he ran for office back in the twenties. She was far bolder in her social ideas than my grandfather, who was a good Republican. She was remarkable. She even dipped into the stock market. She was a real rebel, but she didn’t put that into action. She retreated, and seldom left the house except for a funeral.
She made odd friends because she was odd. The Calumet baking powder people came to Lexington and bought a huge place, Calumet Farm it was, and they raised racehorses, and it was a large establishment. My grandmother became very good friends with Mrs. Wright, the matriarch, who remembered the first can of baking powder that people used to sell on the street. She was an interesting woman, and she and my grandmother hit it off very well. I had to go to their farm to these little birthday parties she would hold for her granddaughter, which I didn’t enjoy at all. I remember Mrs. Wright had a shaggy fur coat that she said was monkey fur.
My grandmother had her own way of dressing. She made a kind of housedress thing, only she’d take a long square of material she liked and just cut a hole in the top and put it over her head and then sew elastic onto the sides and tie it in the center, and there it was. It went to the floor, back and front. It was not made to call attention; it was utilitarian. It was comfortable. It lopped over on the sides so her arms were kind of covered. It was very easy to wash, easy to iron, and she slipped it on and she was dressed. But she didn’t really go out very much. She was very selective about where she went. She was not a great one on social clubs.
She had her easy chair with the radio beside it, and God help you if you interrupted a broadcast she was interested in. I loved her and I knew she was a character and that she had very definite ideas about things.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Talking With Mr. Donovan: The Hale Street Gang Goes to Waterbury

Mary Jacobs at WDEV, in the booth for "Music to Go to the Dump By." Photo: Jack Rowell

Yesterday was a first for Mary Jacobs and me: The first time either one of us has visited the WDEV radio station in Waterbury. "The Friendly Pioneer Voice of Northern New England" is just a few miles north of Randolph on I-89. Our pal Jack Rowell, who knows everybody, introduced us to our host, Jack Donovan. We were real pleased to get an invitation from Mr. D, because WDEV (locally owned and operated since 1931) is so totally cool it affects your pulse rate. Its motto is "Vermonters serving Vermonters," which is what we're trying to do. (I like to think of the Hale Street Gang as the literary equivalent of the locavore movement.)

Mary read an excerpt from "A Day in the Life of a Country Nurse," and I yacked about how the HSG got its start and where we want to go from here. I mentioned our Kickstarter project SEVERAL times (check it out, if you haven't already done so: the clock is ticking).

While Mary and I chatted with Mr. D, Mr. R made some pictures for the documentary portion of his Hale Street Gang portfolio. The two Jacks are old friends—they both love musicians and other performers, and have a long history of introducing talented people to each other. Mary was a little surprised to discover that her mental image of Donovan, formed over years of radio listening, was way out of proportion—she had pictured him as rotund on the basis of his voice. You can see from the picture of the three of us, below, that he is as lean as a church pew, though I can't imagine how he stays that way when he has had the same desk job for more than 30 years. Anyway, we all had a good time and behaved ourselves fairly well, though Mary did slide in a slightly off-color joke from her visiting-nurse days. And there was that one little moment when I hissed "Shut up, Jack" because his camera noise was getting picked up on the mikes. (So was my voice.)

Have I mentioned before that I love Jack Rowell? I've always said that a man who can make you laugh is worth his weight in gold. We took two cars yesterday, because Jack's car was filled with camera equipment and for some reason he didn't want to ride in my back seat—maybe he doesn't like the way I drive. We took my Subaru over Rochester Mountain on Wednesday to have lunch at the Old Hancock Hotel with Greg and Brent from the Vermont Folklife Center in Middlebury (site of our fall debut). It may have been on one of those curves that Jack decided he would drive to Waterbury in his own car, which also functions as a mobile storage unit. Note to Jack: Thanks, buddy, for a really fun day.

Our WDEV host Jack Donovan, Mary Jacobs, and me.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Idora Tucker: "Mom"

Gertrude Small
Today begins a series of excerpts from the writers' memoirs about their mothers and grandmothers. The first is from an essay by my mother—it was she who motivated me to organize the Hale Street Gang in the first place. I wanted to help her finish writing down her life story, which she had begun and put aside. She has now published one memoir and written three more, one of which, "Wartime," will be published this spring. And she's still writing. Here's an excerpt from her short memoir about my maternal grandmother, Gertrude Small Cooley, who died when I was an infant. It is entitled, simply, "Mom."

Gertrude and Harry Cooley.
I don't know how Mom felt about becoming a farmer's wife. Had she envisioned that at the time of her marriage? She never told me. It is a hard, demanding life, with no time off if your farm is a dairy farm. Mom's responsibilities did not include milking cows, feeding chickens, or driving horses during haying. There was more than enough to keep her fully occupied about the house. A farm wife, even one who does not work caring for the animals or growing crops, has a house to keep clean, meals to prepare, laundry to do, and children to bear and care for. In Mom's case there were eventually five of us spread over eight years. Our house was more modern in some respects than most farm homes of that era. We had a limited amount of electricity furnished by a set of Delco batteries which sat on a high shelf in the dairy barn. We had electric lights, a washing machine and a radio, and the barn had milking machines run by electricity, but that was it. The cook stove was a wood-burning Glenwood model. The hot water was heated by a kerosene burner located in the bathroom, or in a kettle on the top of the wood stove. The washer was the old-fashioned wringer type and the clothes were hung on lines outside to dry. No clothes dryers, of course. Everything was ironed with irons heated on the wood stove. (Better choose a cool day to do the ironing.)
Gertrude with Ruth, 1922.
An ice-box located in the cellar contained a big chunk of ice, cut in the winter and stored in sawdust in an icehouse. In the days before we had an electric refrigerator that was the way we cooled our food. The house had no central heating, but was heated by wood stoves. Most of the work related to heating with wood was men's work: the cutting of the wood from our woodlot, the splitting of it for the stoves, even the carrying of it from wood box to stove and removal of the ashes, was for the most part up to the men and boys in the family. We had a phone (party line) and indoor plumbing. We had few labor-saving devices—no vacuum cleaner, for instance—but considered ourselves to be well off, and were so considered by our farmer neighbors.
Idora, on the farm at Randolph Center.
Today I can begin to feel like a nap just thinking about all the meals we prepared and dishes washed; all the clothes laundered, hung out to dry, ironed and put away; all the furniture dusted, floors washed, windows and curtains washed; and I haven't even mentioned the harvesting and preserving of food which we produced ourselves and ate during the long winter months. All hands were expected to contribute to whatever food harvesting and preservation project was scheduled for the day, but of course Mom was in charge, the one who did the scheduling and assigned the chores, according to the needs of the family and the abilities of those able to assist. She also incubated the babies and was in charge of their care, including breast-feeding each one in turn. To think that she was considered to be a frail child! What a lot she had to learn in a short time.
Gertrude with grandsons.
Most of the time Mom appeared quietly serene. I do not remember seeing her angry, but when I asked some of my generation what they remember in this connection, they were able to tell me of a couple of incidents when she was more than a little angry. It must have been the exception to her usual manner, as the memory has stuck with them over many years. My sister tells of an occasion when our brother Charles was in his middle teens. He was called from his bed in the early morning to chase the cows. Our dairy herd would sometimes find their way from their pasture into some place where we didn't want them to go. The vegetable garden was one of their favorite spots to trespass. It always made everyone very angry when the cows failed to observe their limits and all available children and adults were pressed into service to chase them back where they belonged. So when Charles was roused to do his duty, he thundered down the stairs from his bedroom, cursing vehemently. Out the door he rushed. When he came back, having accomplished his mission, Mom was waiting at the door brandishing the big iron skillet. "Charles Cooley," she shouted in a voice we seldom heard, "if I ever again hear you use such language, I'll let you have it with this skillet." My, oh my.
Gertrude and her daughters: Ruth, Marian, and Idora.
The other incident came from the memory of my sister-in-law, and happened several years later. By then Mom's cancer had advanced to the point that she was confined to a wheelchair. Some of the family were gathered in the living room of the house where my parents were living. Among those present were another sister-in-law and her toddler son, who was staggering about the room where a small rug presented a hazard to his ability to stay on his feet. Mother, wanting to avoid any possible accident, asked Dad to pick up the rug. Dad was oblivious to her request, and did not move. Soon Mom repeated her request, and was again ignored. Whereupon she stated in a voice both loud and angry, "Harry, if you don't move that rug, I'm going to get out of this wheelchair and move it myself." Dad moved the rug.

A Christmas present.
By 1954, when Sara was an infant, Mom was having severe pain in the hip, and diagnosis revealed metastatic cancer. The prognosis was not good, as the cancer had affected all her bones. From then on, she was in a wheelchair, requiring help to run her household and eventually requiring nursing care. She bore all this stoically. . . . One evening at the end of 1955 I gave her a sip of water at her request, and soon after that she slipped away from us, leaving a big hole in our lives. She was not quite 65. We were lucky to have had her as long as we did, because her first bout of cancer had taken place nineteen years before she died, in a time when a diagnosis of cancer was considered a death sentence. At the time she was diagnosed with breast cancer, her children ranged in age from seven years to fifteen years. She must have been very frightened. Over the next nineteen years all her children grew up, went to college, married, and had children of their own. Mission accomplished.

For the last ten years of her life I had been in daily contact with her. On the days when I didn't see her, we spoke on the phone. I frequently asked her for advice on running the household or on the care of my two oldest children. Years would pass before I stopped thinking to myself several times every day, "I must remember to tell Mom about this," or "I must ask Mom about how to handle this situation." Then I would realize that I would never again be able to share a laugh with her, or ask her for advice. In some ways, death is utterly final. No more phone calls. No more visits. But I have wonderful memories of my Mom that will be with me always.
Gertrude, grandson Brian, and Idora.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Margaret Egerton: A Little Light Goes On

One of many interesting moments with Margaret: Double click on the picture to see the full view.