Sunday, October 31, 2010

October Signing at Bud & Bella's

Reading at Bud & Bella's Bookshop in Randolph, October 30, 2010. Nice turnout, with old friends and new (a bit crowded...some folks had to stand and others sat on the time we'll make better use of the space). Cookie got a balloon, several bouquets, and a bodacious birthday cake made by Cynthia Jackson. Jack took the picture.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The 10-Minute Memoir: A thank-you note

Thanks to all who attended the writing workshop at the Illsley Library in Middlebury on Friday, October 30. It was the first time I'd led a workshop of that kind, and I was buoyed by the nice turnout, the enthusiasm, and above all, the stories I heard. I want to read them all. To Penny, Maureen, Lydia, Sarah, Kirsten, Melissa, Debi, Allison, and Maya: Keep writing, please, please, please. Remember: You can start a group with 3 people, and you can write in short intervals (even just 10 to 20 minutes) and if you make it a daily habit, you'll be amazed at how much you can accomplish.

If you would like to hear about upcoming workshops, send me your email address (I forgot to bring the guest book yesterday). And if you have feedback about yesterday's workshop, I'd like to hear from you. You can email me at

Check the blog in a few days, because I'm going to begin a series of posts about the tools of memoir-writing. I'd like to make the blog more interactive, so if you have questions, use the "comments" section below.

Happy Birthday, Cookie!

Dear Cookie:
You are the salt in our soup, the sprinkles on our sundae, the "J" to our "oy," the whump that fluffs the pillow, the "X" that keeps us guessing (what will it be?). 
With love and admiration,
The Hale Street Gang

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Saturday Oct. 30: Reading @ Bud & Bella's, 3 PM

The Hale Street Gang: In Cahoots 
(215 pages, paperback, $16)
Reading and Book Signing
Saturday, October 30 @ 3 p.m.
Main St., Randolph, VT 

Yesterday I bought eight silver-metallic Sharpies at Belmain's for the reading and book signing this Saturday—one each for Mary Jacobs, Cookie Campbell, Idora Tucker, Ruth Demarest-Godfrey, Charles Cooley, Cynthia Jackson, and John Jackson. Oh yeah—and me. Now I'm delighted to say I gotta buy 2 more: D'Ann Fago and Loraine Chase will be joining us. Most of the writers will read a short excerpt from the new book. Idora has chosen the following:
"Mrs. Gifford is the widow of a well-known local physician, doctor to my family when I was growing up. In fact, he saved my life when I had a ruptured appendix, long before the days of antibiotics. However this is my very first contact with Eliza, as she is known locally, and she has come to offer me advice on how to be a good wife and helpmate to my doctor husband. . . . The room is very sparsely furnished, and we are seated on two Montgomery Ward chairs brought in from the kitchen. Under Mrs. Gifford's considerable bulk the legs of her chair are gradually spreading further and further apart . . ." 
More about the Hale Street Gang:

Estelle Therrien: Upstairs at the Brookfield Farm

With Halloween a few days away, here's something to put you in the mood: I believe this is the first piece that Estelle brought to the group when she joined us last summer. I've been saving it for the spooky season ever since.

The winter of 1943, when we moved into our farm in Brookfield, was a pretty cold one. My sister-in-law and her husband had an apartment on the second floor. One day when the men were outside cutting wood, she and I decided to check out what was upstairs in the shed and garage on the property. To our surprise we found an embalming area, sheaves of wheat, black suits with no backs to them, white shirts with no back, embalming fluid and a folding table for getting the deceased ready for burial. By the time we found four coffins, we were both pretty excited. When the menfolk returned, they were just as excited as we were. They looked at each other and started laughing; the two of us looked at them. They explained, "We have the heavy handles on the barn doors, the ones for carrying the coffins." We all laughed then. As time went by, we decided to wallpaper the bedrooms because somebody had done their homework on all the bedroom walls. We used the embalming table for preparing the paper.

By the time we found
 four coffins, 
we were both
 pretty excited.

The next summer we had some company from Massachusetts. After dinner that Sunday, my two brothers and two in-laws went to check the treasures upstairs in the shed. My mother and aunts and I were doing dishes in the sink by the window that opened onto the porch. We heard some singing and we stopped to listen. We looked out the window and there came a procession along the porch: my brother was lying in one of the coffins, covered with one of the black suit-fronts and holding an American flag. He waved the flag, keeping time with the funeral march that the four "bearers" hummed as they filed past the window. They decided to take the coffins to Brookfield Pond, to soak them overnight so they would swell and seal. The next morning they drove up to the pond. Lo and behold, the coffins had disappeared! The Old Guard had picked them up and we never saw the coffins again.

In the 1980s, someone compiled a history of Brookfield. The sudden and unwelcome appearance of four coffins in the pond was remembered—put there, no doubt, by "flatlanders." The coffin incidents kept us laughing throughout the years. The Old Guard must have remembered, too, since they included the story in their history. We never found out where the coffins went, but someone of the Old Guard must know, even yet.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Dorcas Wright: Brookfield in the Forties

Brookfield student body. Dorcas is middle row, center.

Dorcas has been writing about the Brookfield of her childhood. She moved there from Lyndonville as a youngster, and today she is writing a memoir of the little village as seen through the eyes of a deeply impressionable child. Dorcas is a member of the Hale Street Gang's Tuesday group, and yesterday she read a beautiful passage about haying with her dad—just the two of them and a horse to pull the wagon. (D'Ann said it reminded her of a Breugel painting.) I'll post that excerpt a little later. Meanwhile, here is Part III:

Vermont had some very cold, snowy winters around the early forties. Children had a wonderful time. There was hardly any traffic and the roads were usually badly plowed so they made excellent sliding. On some nights it was possible to slide from the top of Bridge Hill to East Brookfield. We had to have a truck lined up to carry kids and sleds back to the village. Sometimes we would tie a rope to the back bumper of a car and get dragged back up the hill. It certainly would never be safe to do that now.

Horses were still being used in the winter to deliver the mail. We used to rent horses to the rural carrier because there were days when it was easier to drive a horse than it was to dig out a car.

The local church provided some social events, but it was hard because there were so few young people. In the summer we looked forward to "vacation Bible school." There were summer people who added to our church population.

Mostly our recreation centered around the pond and the floating bridge. We spent a lot of time by the pond, collecting frog's eggs, fishing, and swimming whenever weather permitted. Sometimes we got a surprise dunking when it wasn't planned. Wild apple trees, probably started by cores dropped from some student's lunch, grew by the shore. As kids, we knew where every type of apples grew and remembered our favorites. Aunt Jesse had attached a raft about midway on the south side of the bridge. There was no sunscreen then and no one was aware of the effect of sun on skin cancer. We soaked up those rays by the hour.

When we got bored with just lying around, we would head for the store, where there was a soda machine where the caps would fall into a container. A kid could have great fun with a handful of soda caps. One of our games was to stand on the top rail of the bridge and toss a certain number of caps into the water, then jump in and retrieve them. The person who brought up the most caps won the game. You had to judge the timing so that you didn't jump too soon and create so many bubbles that you were unable to see the caps, or wait so long that the caps had sunk lower than you could catch many of them. The older boys liked to dive off the rail and swim under the bridge, coming up on the other side. There were always a few moments when we all held our breath waiting for them to surface. They always told stories about how many scary things they encountered under the bridge, such as long tangled weeds, hanging chains and a skeleton or two. No adult seemed to worry about the danger we might get into. The younger children learned to swim at the cove where the water was shallow. My sister Debbie could swim like a fish at four.

Brookfield Pond today.

The 4-H clubs were very active. They provided recreation and a lot of education. I was involved in cooking, sewing and gardening. The drill of the time was to finish with a perfect project. It was easier in the cooking classes to finish with edible and reasonably perfect-looking muffins. But in the sewing projects it was another thing entirely. The hand-stitching had to be neat and eight stitches to the inch, it should look as neat on the backside as it did on the front. By the time the project was finished you hated the item you were making. A lot of girls were really turned off because of this stress for perfection and never did sew again.

The boys raised dairy animals learning how to groom them and show the animals at fairs and other competitions. Many young farmers got their start with herds they had raised themselves.

The adults played cards. Eighty-eight was the favorite, along with Oh Hell (also called diminishing whist), where one less card was dealt each round until there was only one card to bid on. If you didn't make your bid it was "Oh, hell" and there was one more card dealt each round until the number of cards dealt was the same as when the game started. The game could get quite lively. That was when the kids would crowd around the register upstairs and listen.

Other times there were dances at the schoolhouse or more often at the Masonic temple. Everyone went from babes in arms to grandpas and grandmas. The waltzes, fox trots and polkas were danced to, but more popular were the old dances—the contra dance, line dances . . . Best of all were the square dances. Perley Keyes called the squares. John Harford played the drums. His eyes would be closed and he looked for all the world like he was sleeping, except his hands never missed a beat. Four couples made up a square, three called dances were a set—tunes like "Honolulu Baby," "Marching Through Georgia," "Duck for the oyster, duck for the clam, duck for the hole in the old tin pan, and all swing your partner." What good wholesome fun it was. As kids we danced in the schoolyard at recess, without music but singing the calls. It sure burned a lot of energy.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Gala Writers' Reception

Ruth Demarest-Godfrey, Idora Tucker, Nancy Rice.

The reception at the Vermont Folklife Center on Saturday was a blast. With over 100 guests attending, the place was packed. Many of the visitors were from the Randolph area, and many had donated to our project through Kickstarter and other venues. The day was sunny and bright, and the drive over the hills to Middlebury spectacular. I had a surprise for each of the writers: an advance copy of our new book, The Hale Street Gang: In Cahoots. The book is now available via To order it, click on the title (above); it will zip you to Amazon's "E-store." Bud and Bella's Bookshop in Randolph will also have copies later this month; I ordered them this morning, but shipping is slow (they are due to arrive on October 28.) The list price is $16. I am really proud of this book, which is a true collaboration, the result of two years' work at the Randolph Senior Center with our memoir-writing groups.

Sara Tucker and some of the gang, at the Vermont Folklife Center in Middlebury.

The writers had no idea the book had arrived, so it really was a complete surprise. The back cover reads: "Meet the Hale Street Gang, twelve senior citizens who gather every week in the village of Randolph, Vermont, to share their life stories. Most are in their eighties; the eldest is ninety-nine. Their clubhouse is the senior center, an elderly mansion in a fringy neighborhood south of the railroad tracks. Together, they weave a rich, lively, and intensely personal tale of twentieth-century America, its nexus a small town nestled in the Green Mountains."

My favorite part of the program was sitting and listening to the music of Beth Telford and Jim Green, who came over from Braintree and Randolph to play for us. I hope we can talk them into doing the same when the exhibit opens at the Chandler Gallery in Randolph in February. At least they won't have to drive so far.