Saturday, December 24, 2011

Party at AVA Gallery January 13

Some of the Gang (clockwise from top left): Cookie Campbell,
Margaret Egerton, John Jackson, and Ruth Demarest Godfrey
Next stop for Portraits in Writing: AVA Arts Center in Lebanon, New Hamp, on Friday the Thirteenth. (Watch for dangerous ice.) Jack Rowell's photographs of the Hale Street Gang will share gallery space with D'Ann Fago's Retrospective. Come join Jack, D'Ann, me, and the gang for this very special opening. Now that we're in New Hampshire, I think we can call this a "national tour," don't you? AVA is at 11 Bank Street, just off the green. The party is from 5 to 7 p.m.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Charles Cooley: A Letter to Santa

Dear Santa;
It’s that time of year. I have been as good as I know how. I contributed to both parties and helped to disseminate scandal about the enemies of both of them. I have lined the roadsides and covered my lawn with candidates’ signs whether they were Republicans or Democrats. I even did what I could for an Independent or two.
Here’s what I want this year. Please balance the budget, find me a job, and give my regards to every member of Congress. Don’t let them touch Social Security or Medicare unless they want to give me something extra. Tell them that if taxes aren’t reduced they will get a lump of coal in their stockings. If you see anybody getting something I don’t get take it away from them. The $300 I got from the gov’t (or was it $600) was very nice but it’s gone now and I need some more. I know there’s a lot of rot about how everybody must sacrifice if the budget gets balanced, but, seriously, does that mean me too? Haven’t I sacrificed enough already? I went to all the trouble to fill out forms for a mortgage to buy a house while I was on welfare and then some bank I never heard of said they were foreclosing. What more can I give up? I need my snowmobile and flat screen TV. (Thank Congress for them, by the way.)
About that job. I’m not planning to live in poverty, you know. I can’t really afford to work for less than 75 grand a year tax free. I hope it comes with benefits, too. A place to live and a meal allowance and two pairs of work shoes a year will really make it worthwhile. That and my Social Security benefit will get me by, I think. I’m 67 years old so it shouldn’t be full time and, oh yes, I’ll need a car. Isn’t gas awful, though? Makes me envy you with the reindeer.

Charles Cooley: My Grandmother and Her Politics

I never heard Grandma Small (above, right)  utter the words “President Roosevelt.” If she wished to make it clear that she was talking about the president from 1933 to 1944 she would say “that man in the White House.”  Grandma had two sisters who would come to visit her occasionally. One of them was as loyal to the Democrats’ philosophy as Grandma was to the Republicans’. The other sister might have been a Socialist for all I can remember but when the three of them got going about current events and politics the atmosphere of the neighborhood would be assaulted by sounds approaching warfare. I can’t recall anything Grandma ever said about President Hoover. However, during his administration, she would have become homeless when Grampa lost his job due to the Great Depression if my parents hadn't provided a place for them to live. My opinion of Herbert Hoover and his administration is that he was a good person who was president during an unfortunate time. When he was inaugurated in March of 1929 the economy was ready to go into a recession no matter who was president. He did, however, sign the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act, which made matters worse and tried to restrict government spending to add to the misery. I imagine FDR learned a lot by watching and waiting. He was certainly different. In 1935 the Federal Insurance Compensation Act was signed into law and the first checks for benefits went to people who had never “contributed” to the so-called “trust fund.” Since welfare as it existed in the first years of the Depression was powerless to make much impact to relieve suffering I see Social Security as a welfare measure at that time. I think calling it an “entitlement” encourages people to look upon it more as an insurance annuity where the more you pay the more you get. A few concessions to the needs of the beneficiary have been made but they are very few and show no sign of doing anything to shore up the viability of the program. Whatever Grandma may have thought about Social Security, I am sure the benefits her household received were a godsend at the time. I never heard her say anything about that, though.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Free Writing Workshop This Saturday

This morning I met one of my literary heroes and gave her half of a pumpkin muffin and she told me how much she LOVED my new book. Also this morning, my friend Linda had a very serious conversation with Nelson, as in Mandela, at the end of which she burst out laughing and couldn't stop (Nelson didn't laugh). We were doing a writing exercise in which you get to meet a famous person of your choosing. Sometimes this writing stuff gets so SERIOUS that you need a giant dose of the ridiculous to balance things out. Come join me this Saturday for a free workshop at the Korongo Gallery in downtown Randolph, and we'll do a series of fun, fast-writing exercises that mix fact and fiction and, well, we'll just see what comes out. I never know how these workshops are going to go—who's going to show up, what will work and what won't. We'll find out on Saturday. The workshop begins at 9 am and goes till 11 am. Latecomers welcome. Bring a notebook, a pen, and a personal memento. I have no idea what we'll do with the personal mementos, but we'll figure it out. Korongo is at 18 Merchants Row, next to Fenix Fine Foods. Info: 802-728-6788.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

From Our California Fans

Margot, a resident of Chaparral House in Berkeley, California, enjoys a visit from her daughter. Margot and other CH residents read and discussed our anthology The Hale Street Gang: In Cahoots over the summer, and their response to the book was enormously gratifying. The following article ran in the Chaparral House newsletter:

When the Berkeley Adult School  goes on summer  vacation, Chaparral House loses three of its programs. Activities director Sandi Peters gets a little creative with her staffing and finds some very qualified volunteers to become “substitute teachers” for these programs. She looks to other staff members, like admissions director Paul Cooley. When Sandi approached him about replacing the Wednesday morning “Then and Now” segment, Paul thought of reading a book titled The Hale Street Gang: In Cahoots to Chaparral residents. His office is located right next to the activities room and he hears a variety of volunteers who read aloud for residents. The book is a collective memoir put together by a group of Randolph, Vermont, senior citizens. It was edited by his cousin, Sara Tucker, and Paul's father and two aunts were among the twelve writers in the collection.

“It wasn’t my intention to simply sit in a chair and read the book to residents," Cooley says. "I thought of classes that I took in college called oral interpretation. Students who were theater majors took literature and developed them for performance. I was thinking I could use a book club format where I read the author’s memoir, one at a time, and then asked the residents questions about what I had just read. It could also be used as a form of reminiscence therapy. It’s a great way for elder groups to find common ground to relate to one another. In hearing about the families and loves and war times of The Hale Street Gang, our residents were able to discuss their lives in a way that I had never heard before.

"One resident recalled author John’s memoir about fishing and his playful speculation that the worms may have talked to one another.  She used to teach and it reminded her of an assignment she gave to a student where the student rose very early each morning to document their movements in and out of the earth. The student came to the same conclusion.

"One of my favorite sessions was reading to them about marriage and courtships. After I had read to them about Ruth and Harrison and about John being dumped by Dolly McBride only to send him to his eventual wife Cynthia sometime later, the residents told me their wonderful stories about meeting their husbands and wives. This one lady who dozed through many of our sessions was awake for this one and said to me that she knew she was going to marry her husband on the second dance at the USO. She wanted to be clear that it was the second dance—and not the first, because on the second dance, it was cheek to cheek.

"My best decision was to invite actors—Marilyn Kamelgarn and John Hutchinson—to read segments aloud to the residents. Both Marilyn and John reached the residents in a way I couldn’t because they looked the part. When Marilyn read a very amusing piece that my aunt wrote about being angry with a boy she was dating, it garnered not only giggles, but my aunt got a fan! Marilyn’s interpretation of Ruth and her relationship with her sisters resonated so much with resident Margot that she asked me for my aunt’s address so she could write her a letter. I heard my aunt was thrilled to get it. I look forward to George going on Christmas break so I can take his time slot, and I hope my cousin Sara can get the Hale Street Gang to write some holiday memories for my actors to perform."

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Another Postcard from California

The residents of Chaparral House in Berkeley are reading In Cahoots and have been sending us messages via Facebook. Here's the latest, from book-group facilitator Paul Andrew:
"Fun Book Club today. We were able to access the Web—clumsily, but ended up hearing D'Ann's reading of being a dancer and Ruth's story about the nosy neighbor who got an earful about the whorehouse for 80-year-olds. This got giggles from my residents who could hear. 
-the education process in rural Vermont that Idora went through and discussing each of their experiences in grade school and Junior High.
-and how old was old enough for college? Riding a sleigh to school was a source of fascination too for them all to hear. Many of our residents come from warmer climates and moneyed backgrounds."

Thanks, PA, and greetings to our friends at Chaparral House. We are delighted that you're staying in touch.

Join Us on Saturday, July 30, @ 1 pm

The village of Woodstock, Vermont, will hold its third annual book fair, known as Bookstock, this weekend, with more than 30 free workshops and presentations. I'll be talking about memoir-writing in the Town Hall Conference Room at 1 pm on Saturday. With me will be Mary Jacobs and Shirly Hook. Mary will read from In Cahoots, Shirly will read about the time Moochie ate her T-shirt, and I'll tell the story behind the Hale Street Gang and give people some advice on how to start (or finish) a memoir of their own. Tip: Park at the Elementary School.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Saturday Mornings @ Korongo

Today we held the first of our informal readings at Korongo, the art gallery on Merchants Row in Randolph. Dorcas's piece, about growing up in Brookfield, gave rise to a discussion of how to structure your memoir. By coincidence, this afternoon a friend sent me a link to a really good piece about that very topic, and here it is: "Structure. Period.

The Saturday-morning reading series will continue through the summer and perhaps beyond. We're here from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Feel free to drop in. Readers and listeners welcome.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Update from Chaparral House

From Paul Cooley, our California correspondent, comes this update on the reading of The Hale Street Gang: In Cahoots by the residents of Chaparral House in Berkeley:
"Today's topic: Educating our elders about haying, thanks to Idora's memories. Discussing woman's work vs men's work and what that means. Margaret inspired memories of Toronto under the British flag for one resident. D'Ann inspired the unique delicate and often complicated relationships between mothers, daughters, and sisters."
I'd love to meet these folks. Skype, anybody?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Postcard From California

Chaparral House in Berkeley, California, has posted a Facebook "review" of The Hale Street Gang: In Cahoots. On June 29, CH staff member Paul Cooley wrote on my wall: "The first meeting of the Chaparral House Book Club was a success! After reading [the anthology] of the Hale Street Gang, David recalled his family cook, Deidre and Bettey remembered the Ice Man in vivid detail and Lou recalled his time as an Infantryman in WWII!" Today I got this update from Paul: "Book Club continues to inspire great conversation. Today's topic was D'Ann's grandfather's employee Charlie teaching her morals from a simple [explanation]: 'Because you don't, that's all.' It led to a huge discussion on where we learn our morals growing up—other than our parents." ("D'Ann" is of course author D'Ann Fago.) Chaparral House is an eldercare residence, and we are so pleased that its residents are enjoying our stories. Thanks, Paul, for organizing the reading of In Cahoots and for sharing the response with us.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Excerpt: "How to Write a Memoir" by William Zinsser

I was in New York recently for a writers' conference and ran into somebody from my past—she was the books editor at Cosmo back when I ran the magazine's copy department. In the conversation that ensued, Betty mentioned her friend William Zinsser, whose book Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir I've been carrying around with me for months. I'm a big fan of his, so I asked Betty how she knew him, and she told me they're in a singing group together. I am so jealous. It turns out that Zinsser is a lover of old-timey songs, a subject he often addresses in his blog for The American Scholar (to read his post "Stardust Memories" click here). He's even written a book called Easy to Remember: The Great American Songwriters and Their Songs.

By pure coincidence, two members of the Hale Street Gang have been writing about music in their current memoirs, and it is not unusual for someone in the Monday group or the Tuesday group to begin humming a little tune and then somebody joins in and pretty soon we're all sitting around the table singing. I clearly remember one winter afternoon when Margaret Egerton was still with us and both she and John Jackson happened to mention the same song in the pieces they read aloud that day. It was "Love's Old Sweet Song" ("Just a song at twilight . . .").

So now, of course, I want to start a singing group where friends gather round the piano on Friday nights and sing old Beatles and Pete Seeger songs.

I am eternally indebted to Zinsser for helping me learn the memoir-writing process. Here's an excerpt from his book On Writing Well:
Most people embarking on a memoir are paralyzed by the size of the task. What to put in? What to leave out? Where to start? Where to stop? How to shape the story? The past looms over them in a thousand fragments, defying them to impose on it some kind of order. Because of that anxiety, many memoirs linger for years half written, or never get written at all.
What can be done?
You must make a series of reducing decisions. For example: in a family history, one big decision would be to write about only one branch of the family. Families are complex organisms, especially if you trace them back several generations. Decide to write about your mother's side of the family or your father's side, but not both. Return to the other one later and make it a separate project.
Remember that you are the protagonist in your own memoir, the tour guide. You must find a narrative trajectory for the story you want to tell and never relinquish control. This means leaving out of your memoir many people who don't need to be there. Like siblings. (To continue reading, click here)

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Everyone Has a Moment. What's Yours?

This morning, as I was searching for something new to inspire the memoirists in our groups, I found my way to "Smith," the online magazine launched by Larry Smith, who pioneered the six-word memoir. For anyone interested in memoir-writing, Smith is a gold mine.

Question: "Can a single decision, happenstance, accident, call, conversation, or even email change the rest of your life?"

The magazine posed that question for a story project called The Moment and invited readers' submissions. The resulting book will come out in January 2012. A sample: 

Moments Are Like This…

  • Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, overhead her parents talking one evening, and her four-year-old world was profoundly rocked. She writes: “Hearing my mother’s voice calling to my father like that filled me with the most eerie and unsettling realization—namely, that these two people, my parents, existed separately from me.” Read her Moment.
  • Jeremy Toback was at an anti-war rally in DC when he realized that he could not stop the war in Iraq, but he might be able to stop his marriage from falling apart: Read his Moment.
  • Cheryl Della Pietra picked up the phone at 3am to find it was Hunter S. Thompson calling. She had one moment to accept the offer to become his assistant, provided she could leave the next morning. Read her Moment.
  • AJ Jacobs watched as his third-grade science teacher chucked a piece of chalk at his friend Max. As a stunned classroom looked on, the teacher said, “I shouldn’t have done that.” That was the moment AJ realized that adults are just as big fuck-ups as kids.
Continue reading at Smith.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Cookie Campbell: Q Is for Quirks

Cookie has been using the letters of the alphabet as writing prompts, creating a chronicle of her life from A to Z. She read her latest entry to the Morning morning group this week:

Q is for "quirks." The world is full of them. Or should I say the world is full of people who are full of them? Whatever.

Think of all the people who won’t walk under a ladder, or do a quick turnabout to avoid a black cat.

The elder Clayton Campbell would have been my father-in-law if he had lived long enough. He would not sit at a table with thirteen diners. Nor would he leave the table. His wife was supposed to do that, and long after his death she still left the table if the count was thirteen. I knew “Old Clate” for as far back as I can remember, and I was never aware of any noteworthy quirks except for the number thirteen. However, there must have been many, and as I look back I realize quite a few of them rubbed off onto his sons. . . .

A new job started on Friday always brought trouble. Things broke down, the weather turned foul, livestock came down with something, or maybe even the farmer would be hurt or catch a bug. The answer to this was simple. Thursday night, 9 pm, dark as a pocket and guess what: the job was well started. This particular son would plow two or three furrows or mow two or three swaths; then he would go to bed and sleep the sleep of the just, knowing all would be well.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Next Event: "Farm Girls" Reading @ Korongo May 7

For some time now I've been wanting to host an event that would celebrate farmers who write and writers who farm. Since women outnumber men in the Hale Street Gang, we decided to call our next reading "Farm Girls." Among the readers will be members of the community, including Bette Lambert, author of Farm Wife's Journal. Bette and I went to school together (she was Bette Silloway then), and I'm thrilled that she'll be joining us for what I hope will become an annual event. Korongo is the new art gallery on Merchants Row in downtown Randolph. The May 7 reading will begin at 2 p.m.

Here's an excerpt from a piece Idora Tucker is working on—perhaps we'll include it in the reading, though Idora has said that someone else will have to read it, as her voice is giving out. Working title: "Manager Mom." It is a profile of Idora's mother, Gertrude Small (my maternal grandmother). Gertrude was a town girl who became acquainted with farm life as a young woman when she married a farmer by the name of Harry Cooley:

Gertrude Small, an early portrait.
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. Her early life had not prepared her for the sort of life she was undertaking. 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 born over eight years in the 1920s. (continued after the jump)

Friday, April 15, 2011

Come Join Us at VTC on April 20

The next reading by the Hale Street Gang is an event we've been looking forward to all year. VTC prof Sarah Silbert has again invited us to join her class in a joint presentation of memoirs by seniors and college students. This exchange between young and old took place for the first time last spring, and it was just great. We hope you'll join us for this special evening. The event is free and open to the public. We'll gather on Wednesday, April 20, at 6 p.m. at the Shape building at VTC in Randolph Center.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Spring Writing Classes Begin Monday, April 18

Our touring exhibit has stirred up a lot of interest in memoir writing. The March 19 workshop at the Chandler Gallery brought together 35 aspiring memoirists, an impressive turnout. Now to continue what we’ve begun. I’ve been busily moving forward with plans for more events—8-week classes, introductory workshops, and readings. You don’t have to think of yourself as a writer to sign up. If you can write a letter, you can write about your life.

There are a million reasons to write. People come to my writing groups because they want to preserve family stories, to learn more about themselves, to further a work in progress, to enjoy themselves, make new friends, and have fun. Writing is good for the soul and good for our health (yes, scientists say so). Joining a writers’ group can be a life-changing event. The rewards are truly endless.

I will be continuing to lead the writing groups at the Randolph Senior Center, but for the moment they are full. So in addition, I'll be holding some classes at Korongo, the new art gallery on Merchants Row in downtown Randolph (click here to read about the gallery in 7 Days). The classes will meet during hours when the gallery is closed. It's a cheerful little space and the perfect size for small groups. It will also do nicely for occasional readings—there's room for about 35 folding chairs, the exact size of a good turnout in little Randolph. Our first reading will take place on Saturday, May 7, at 2 p.m. "Farm Women" will feature several members of the Hale Street Gang, as well as younger women who both write and farm (how do they do it?).

The Writers Studio @ Korongo
Spring Classes
April 18–June 21

Memoir Writing (all levels)

Every life is important, and everybody has a story to tell—but where to begin? And how to continue? And who’s going to care? Whether you are writing for family members or strangers, your story must first get past that unpleasant little voice (we all have one) that says, “But you’re not really a writer,” or “What a waste of time,” and so on. This 8-week course is designed to help draw out your story, bring it to life, and give you confidence in both your ability and your right to tell it. We will explore memoir-writing techniques through weekly assignments and small-group discussions. Suitable for beginning memoirists as well as writers wrestling with a work-in-progress. (Cost: $80)

Monday morning: 10:30–12 noon
(April 18 to June 13; no class May 30)

Monday afternoon: 2–3:30 p.m.
(April 18 to June 13; no class May 30)

Tuesday morning: 9–10:30 a.m.
(May 3 to June 21)

To sign up for one of the classes listed above, email me at (Don't procrastinate, though—there are very few spots left.)

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Bonnie Willis: Raspberry Shoes

The exercise that led to the following piece was to recall an object that had a lasting impact on your life.

In 1966, when I was living and working in Manhattan, I bought a pair of deep rosy pink shoes; the color of raspberry sorbet. They were not expensive, but pretty shoes with sling backs and not too high heels. One might think that these would be for special occasions—however, this was the era before women wore sneakers and changed into their fancier shoes when they got to work, so I wore these or another pair of a similar style for the walk each day. We lived on East 81st and I worked in a design studio on West 39th Street off Fifth Avenue, so the walk was long, especially with the long city blocks. I soon discovered that my raspberry shoes went with everything I wore to work; a little black dress—stunning. Colorful sixties-print dress—great, especially if it was in one of my fabric designs.

I wore the shoes practically every day. They always made me feel happy and gave a bounce to my step. I believe the shoes expressed my most positive creative nature. What I learned was to follow your bliss. Adopt the unique and unusual as your usual, if this is what your true self requires to glow with life. Eventually, the shoes became too worn to wear, so I put them back into their green and white polka-dot shoebox. I kept the box in the back of my closet as a reminder of that happy time. Every time I opened the box, I was back in those moments of confidence and joy.

Last year, I was in the Twin Cities visiting my family. My sisters and I spent a number of hours in one of our favorite places—a thrift shop, of course. The best one in St. Paul is the Unique Thrift Store. (We refer to it as the Unique Boutique.) The store is large, clean, organized with great stuff. We were having lots of fun finding clothes for ourselves and each other, and then I saw them—a brand-new looking pair of shoes in the same beautiful pink! They were just my size. I bought them immediately.

Photo by Jonathan Kim for Creative Commons

Our Chandler Moment

Portraits in Writing spent the month of March at the Chandler Gallery in Randolph, and it was pretty special—kind of like one of those episodes of American Idol where the winner goes home in a limo. Besides the big party, we did three readings and a workshop. About 400 people saw the exhibit during gallery hours, and hundreds more during intermissions for various events. Thank you, Becky, Betsy, Sandy, Andrea, Mickey, Rebi, and everyone else at Chandler who helped to make our homecoming memorable.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Now Showing at the Chandler Gallery in Randolph

We had a sunny day and a terrific turnout for the opening reception of The Hale Street Gang: Portraits in Writing at the Chandler Gallery in Randolph last Saturday (February 26). Around 130 folks came to see the exhibit of Jack Rowell's photographs, hear the recordings, cluster around a lavish spread prepared by Chef's Market (gorgeous little tea sandwiches) and Chandler volunteers, and collect autographs. Next event: A one-hour reading of short new pieces on March 12 (Saturday) at 2 p.m. at the gallery. The exhibit is open until March 27. Hours are Thursday 4 to 6, and Friday through Sunday from noon to 5. The writers and I are doing much of the gallery sitting ourselves, so come on down, see/hear the exhibit, and keep us company.

Big Day at the Chandler Gallery

Shari Voghell gets a signature from Cookie Campbell.

Jack's sister, Janet Miller, a Hale Street heroine.
D'Ann Fago's A Life in Art hangs adjacent to Portraits in Writing.

The buffet crowd.
Charles Cooley signs for Gail Evans-Africa.
Jack's friend Robin listens to D'Ann Fago's "Feudin' Country."
Checking out the buffet.
Chef's Market's veggies (everything else devoured by this time).

Jack with artist Phil Godenschwager.
Brent Björkman of the Vermont Folklife Center and Sara Tucker.
Ruth Godfrey, Pam Stafford, Idora Tucker, Mary Hutchinson.

Ruth Demarest Godfrey: Socks and Blocks

Ruth and Harrison at Randolph Center in the 1940s.

During my long, interesting marriage to Harrison, there were many episodes that now seem very funny to me and did at the time. Most of the time, they didn’t seem funny to Harrison, or he was able to conceal any feeling of humor  about the event. Perhaps the way that I viewed the situations was the fact that he was responsible for correcting the problem, while my only job was to watch and cheer. I suppose I felt that it was my job to supply the levity, and sometimes  it seemed a lot funnier to me than to Harrison.
   These little stories are about a couple of things that happened during our long life together, which was often characterized by one of the following feelings on my part: frustration, hilarity, madness (of the insane type) and helpless affection. There was always some sort of reaction on my part. I would be glad to have an opportunity to feel those things again. We always emerged on the other side still loving one another, and we did manage during those lean years to keep the bills paid and to produce three worthy sons. These happened during the years when I was a stay-at-home mom. Financial affairs eased up considerably when I decided to return to work.
   One morning, when Harrison was dressing to go to work, he found a hole in one of his socks. This infuriated him, and he reacted by flinging the sock out of the bedroom into the hall, with loud expressions of his disapproval of my homemaking attributes. In those days the wife was supposed to darn holes in her husband’s socks so he could continue to wear them. Now we know that darns may cause blisters on the feet and the socks should be thrown out. This act aroused my stubborn streak, and I made a silent vow that I would never pick up those socks if they stayed there forever. Day after day, the socks lay there on the hall floor, growing furrier by the day. I vacuumed around them. I stepped on them.  The kids ignored them. Harrison ignored them. Since I was at home all day, friends and neighbors frequently stopped in, and it would have been difficult to miss that pair of socks lying on the hall floor, so I would precede them into the living room and casually kick the socks into the bathroom. When they left, I would kick them back out into the hall. I would not give in! Never a word was exchanged between Harrison and me about the presence of a pair of dirty, dusty socks in the middle of the hallway. It began to seem so funny to me that I told my friends about it and they started checking on the socks as soon as they got to the house. “Are they still there?” they would ask. This went on for months. One day, as I passed through the hall, there seemed to be something different. What was wrong?  Suddenly it hit me.  The socks were gone! I never asked, and Harrison never told me, but apparently he decided to give in and tossed them into the laundry hamper. The saga of the socks had ended.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Portraits in Writing: The Chandler Opening

Sandy Waldo and Andrea Easton at the Chandler Gallery in Randolph.

The show went up today, thanks to the skills of two very capable women and one very devoted husband. Andrea and Sandy did most of the work, arranging and hanging with lightning efficiency (lunch was a jar of Planters peanuts). Betsy Cantlin helped schlepp, made coffee, and handled small emergencies. Patrick Texier, my darling husband, handled me, putting up with my crabbiness and coming to the rescue when D'Ann Fago's work was delivered without labels. Jack Rowell took pictures and cracked jokes. The two exhibits—Jack's "Portraits in Writing" and D'Ann's "A Life in the Arts—will open on Saturday at 2 p.m.
   At 3:00 this afternoon, with 50-plus pieces in place, Patrick and I left Andrea and Sandy to finish up (at least 20 pieces to go) and went to the Depot for soup and sandwiches. Then to Belmain's for foamboard, which Patrick turned into labels for D'Ann's work. The two exhibits work beautifully together, and the Hale Street Gang looks as if it was made for the Chandler space.
   We have a few finishing touches to do on Friday. Tomorrow I'll be talking about the opening on WDEV with Jack Donovan at 3 p.m. and on WCAX with Kristin Carlson at 5:30.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Idora Tucker: Downtown Randolph in the 1940s and '50s

Memories of a time when nobody talked about buying local. You just did it.

I was married less than a week after graduating from college and a few months later Ransom was called into the service.  We spent the next few years away from Randolph, but in late 1945, just after the end of WW II, we returned and moved into our new home on Highland Avenue.  Our acquisition of our home is in itself an illustration of the way in which business was conducted at the time. Several months before the end of the war I was living in San Francisco and Ransom was the ship’s doctor on a troop transport, carrying servicemen to and from the Pacific war. Our parents, both Ransom’s and mine, contacted us and advised us that we should buy a house soon.  They told us that right after the war was over real estate would increase in value dramatically.  We asked them to get together, to select a house for us, and we would send any money needed to seal the purchase. They selected the house, drew a floor plan for us, we sent a very modest down payment to the local Savings and Loan.  That bank (note the word local) would hold the house for us without further payment until we were back in Randolph.  The house, selected for us when I was 23 years old, is still my residence now that I am nearly 90.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Tune In on Thursday, February 24

Tune in to WDEV (AM 550, FM 96.1) on Thursday at 3 p.m. to hear Jack Donovan talk with Charles and me about The Hale Street Gang: Portraits in Writing, opening at Chandler Gallery in Randolph on Saturday (photography by Jack Rowell, cupcakes by Aunt Ruth and Dorcas Wright, doors open at 2 pm). Last spring Mr. Donovan had Mary Jacobs and me on the air to talk about the Hale Street Gang back when we were still raising the funds to mount the exhibit. Now that it's a fait accompli, we can tell him how we did it—with the support of lots of friends. Charles plans to read his little piece on humility ("I don't like to brag, but I'm a really humble dude").
   Next stop on Thursday: WCAX in Burlington to speak with Kristin Carlson. We'll be on the air between 5:30 and 6 p.m. (Channel 3). Charles is going to wear his new blue sweater and get a haircut at Ken's Barbershop. Jack will document the event for posterity. It's not every day one gets a haircut at Ken's.

Ruth Demarest Godfrey: Cluck, Cluck and Doodle Doo

Photo by Melisdramatic @ Creative Commons
During a trip to New Jersey to visit friends and family, following the death of Harrison, I met a man whom I had previously known slightly.  My status, however, had changed since I knew him before and he was quick to make his move.  Things progressed from casual to eager and soon Ted was planning a visit to my home in Vermont. 
   Here you need a little background on Ted to explain some of his ideas.  He was a city-bred man, who arrived in Vermont with many city-bred ideas about how to live in the country.  He was gentlemanly, handsome, well read and well traveled, always courteous and thoughtful.  I can still envisage him on that first visit, sitting bolt upright in the back seat of my friend’s car, looking all around. “ See all that land around the house!”  he may have been thinking.  I think he started thinking about how to put that extra land to use as soon as he saw it. The idea that I just wanted it to be there, empty, escaped his city-bred consciousness. 
   The arrival was not without its interesting aspects.  My little white Lhasa Apso, seeing the arrival of the car, made haste to return to the house.  However, Dalai had been on a little foray around the edges of the lawn and had apparently come upon something of a very malodorous nature, and she arrived at the steps simultaneously with my guests, completely covered in something very smelly.  After a very quick hello, I grabbed her up and immediately took her into the bathroom, where I gave her a bath.  I did not want to have my fastidious friends making her acquaintance when she was in such a condition.  Coming out of  my bathroom with my very clean little dog, I was greeted with the news that Ted’s clothing was completely saturated with the odor of 711 cologne, it having spilled in his suitcase.  My second post-arrival task was to take all of Ted’s clothing and throw it in the washer.  Only then was I able to issue a polite greeting.
   After that first visit Ted came to see me frequently. When he saw that I had a deck in the back, he decided that would be a wonderful place to put a hot tub.  He had never seen Vermont in mid winter.  I pointed out the impracticalities of a hot tub outside.  He still thought it would be a lot of fun to leap through the snow and into the tub, where a social time could be had by all.  He asked me if I thought my relatives and friends would object to going naked into the tub,  I told him I thought some of them  might not object to the nudity, although I didn’t know any such, but I thought they would all object to plowing through snow naked to get to the tub.  After a discussion of the pros and cons of the idea, Ted abandoned it.
   Another idea that occurred to Ted, by now my husband, was that we should have a cow because they were so cute and friendly and would look so nice grazing.  In succession, he suggested getting a horse, some goats, and some sheep.  Each time I repeated the information that there wouild need to be a barn.  “I could easily build one,” said Ted, with a cavalier disregared for the fact that, sweet as he was, he could not have built anything at all.  I was able to fend off the livestock until poultry came up.

John Jackson: Grama and Grampa

The Wallkill River near Walden, New York
Photo by Deep Shot @ Creative Commons

I had a personal relationship with only one pair of grandparents.  My father's parents have been dead for over 100 years. My father was very young when they died and did not volunteer much information about them if, indeed, he had much to share.  I know that my grandfather Jackson was named Amos Ezekiel Jackson and that he was born in Sheffield, England.  When he first arrived in the USA, he worked as millwright in a knife company in Middletown, NY.  After several years in that position, he moved to the New York Knife Company in Walden, NY. I have the impression that he had a drinking problem.  There was a family story that on occasions when he was fired for drunkenness, he could and did shut down the factory(it was powered by waterwheels) in such a way that he had to be re-hired so that he could start it up again.  True or not, it makes a good story.  Since my father had a brother thirty-five years older, I assume Amos had more than one wife.  That's all I know, or think I know.
     The grandparents I knew were Harvey and Rachel Halwick, my mother's parents.  Since my mother was married at fifteen and I was born when she was twenty, I knew my mother's parents when they were still quite young.  My mother was the only surviving child of their marriage, so that I didn't have any competition from uncles, aunts or cousins.  My brother was five and a half years older than me so that I had the position of an (almost) only grandchild.  I've often speculated about how they got together.  Rachel was born a Terwilliger, an important family in the mid-Hudson Valley.  Pictures of great grandmother Terwilliger, who was also alive when I was young, seem to show a rather grand dame.  I know that, when he was young, Harvey worked as a gardener on a large estate in the neighborhood.  Could it have been a case of the daughter running off with the hired help?  In any event, it was not an altogether happy marriage.  They seemed to get along pretty well but Harvey was a drinker.  He was fired from the gardener job and they moved to Walden.  They both took jobs in one or another of the three knife factories in town but Harvey couldn't keep a job very long.  Paydays were his downfall.  By the time I knew them, Harvey had settled into the role of a house-husband and Rachel worked at a sewing machine in the local underwear factory.  Her machine was right across the table from my mother's.
   Harvey tended a large garden, mostly flowers, and worked around the house.  Since their house was only a short walk from my elementary school and they school didn't have a cafeteria, I would walk every day over to Main St. where Grama and Grampa  lived and have lunch with Grampa.  He made me lunch.  I particularly remember canned spaghetti, a great favorite of mine.  On weekends, Grama would often make sugar cookies, another favorite, so that lunch with Grampa was great for me.  I would sometimes help out in the garden, occasionally doing more harm than good.  Another Grama specialty was her version of vanilla ice cream.  It was only available in the winter since it consisted of snow, condensed milk and vanilla.  In those benighted days, it was a huge treat.
   In those days, I was a demon moviegoer, seeing usually at least three shows per week, two of them double features.  The double features were Saturday and Sunday matinees.  The third was a single feature on Tuesday evening that also featured bingo or a prize drawing.  On Tuesdays, I always went to the movies with Grama.  I don't know how I managed it but I have the definite feeling that I also often got to the Thursday double feature as well.
    Grama's brother, Uncle Arthur, a tugboat captain in New York Harbor, would occasionally visit.  Those were fabulous occasions both for his colorful persona and the fact that he always gave me a nickel, a big deal in those days.
   Grampa's brother, Uncle Roscoe was also a drinker and lived for a while in a derelict car on the edge of town.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Dorothy Herrin: Summers at Lakewood

The Lakewood resort was built around the summer theater. The theater was built originally in 1898 by a trolley company which was seeking to establish an amusement park on the shores of Lake Wesserunnsett in Madison, Maine. It was in 1901 that Herbert L. Swett was hired as manager. Mr. Swett had the vision to build Lakewood into a resort with a theater that became the most important summer theater in America between 1925 and 1941. It was at Lakewood that many new plays were tried out before going to Broadway.
   Of course, I was born in 1942, after the heyday of the theater. Lakewood became for me the most significant place in my life. I was born five miles away in Skowhegan, and spent my first summer at Lakewood when I was 4 months old. At that time my dad worked in Skowhegan for his father in the machine shop he owned, and my mother was the postmaster at Lakewood. During subsequent summers when I was too young for my mother to look after me and work too, I was taken care of by various nearby relatives. When I was old enough, probably about 7, I started spending the entire summer at Lakewood with Mother. We lived in Connecticut by then, and I left school early in June so that I could go to Maine with Mother.
   Those summers until I was out of college are the sweetest memories of my life. Lakewood was owned and operated by Mr. Swett’s two daughters and their husbands. Mr. Swett himself died in 1945 so I don’t remember him but I remember my dad’s stories about him. Daddy was very fond of him and had a lot of respect for his business capability.  
   In the beginning I spent most of my time playing with various other children who summered in the area. It was quite an adventure for me as an only child. Mother and I enjoyed the privilege of eating in the dining room where the guests ate meals. Therefore I had to dress and act appropriately from a very young age. I ran errands for my mother all around the grove. Each week there was a new play to attend;  sometimes I would like the play so much that I would go several times. Once in a while there was a play that I wasn’t allowed to see because Mother thought it was too risqué. A Streetcar Named Desire fit that category! Best of all, I had bit parts in four of the plays starting when I was nine years old.  
Billie Burke and Clark Gable, 1934
Needless to say I was pretty star-struck. During the years when I was a child, we had our own company of actors who were there all summer. Later on the theater started using the “guest star” system.   Each week there would be a new company of actors moving in so I got to meet some of the important performers of the day, such as Edward Everett Horton, Martha Raye, ZaSu Pitts, Billie Burke, Faye Emerson. Once in a while I was asked to assist one of the stars with wardrobe changes.   I remember when I did that for Billie Burke.  Miss Burke was somewhat elderly at the time and wore white gloves to hide her wrinkled hands! I decided to wash all her white gloves with bleach.   However, no one told me about diluting the bleach. I scrubbed those gloves in that bleach until my hands were so burned and blistered that I was in misery. I know I didn’t tell her what I had done to burn my hands so badly.   I can only wonder how long those gloves lasted after my laundering.
Miss Billie Burke

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Idora Tucker: A Walk in the Cemetery

My granddaughter was just a little girl and I was well into my seventies when we had a conversation that got me to thinking seriously about death.  Of course, death was nothing new to me, but I had never given it much thought, except as a loss to surviving family and friends.  This is how it happened.
            We went for a walk in the cemetery near my home, a walk that we often took when Courtney was visiting.  She was perhaps seven at the time, young enough so that I was surprised that she could do the arithmetic as fast as she did, in order to calculate how old people had been when they died.  Our first visit was to the grave of someone whom I had known well and whom Courtney had known slightly.  A little further on, we stopped to peer into a very elaborate crypt.  It was so dark inside that we couldn’t see anything through the small openings, but we speculated as to what must be in there.  I had to confess that I really didn’t know the exact details. 
            In the older part of the cemetery she noticed that there would often be the markers for two or more women who were identified as the wives of the one man at the site.  She asked for an explanation of that, and I told her that in that time many women didn’t live very long lives, that they either died in childbirth or had so many children that it destroyed their health.  We also talked about the difference in medical practice from that day to our day, which meant that many people died of diseases which today we are able to treat successfully.  She followed that up with a question about the many babies and young children who lay in the cemetery, and I was able to explain that to her.  There is a small building at the edge of the cemetery, used to store tools for the care of the grounds and probably for digging the graves.  I asked Courtney if she knew what that building was used for.  Without hesitation she replied that it was used to refrigerate the bodies until burial.  Where did that come from?  Maybe it was once true, but not in my memory.
            Somehow we got into the subject of cremation, and Courtney wanted my opinion on that practice.  I shared my thoughts on the matter with her.  At the time I felt that what happens after a person dies is for the survivors and therefore I was planning to leave it up to my family to decide all the particulars.  Since then, I have changed my mind, but at the time Courtney seemed to take my explanation in stride.  Then the zinger that got me thinking.  She said, “I think I would like to be buried, because then there would be something of me left.”  That was the end of the conversation that day.  We continued on our walk, turning our attention more to the lovely, sunny day, to the flowers, and to the bird songs.  For me, though, that remark by my little granddaughter so many years ago led me to think about death in a different way, raising in my mind a whole series of questions which I have pondered off and on ever since.

Charles Cooley: Winter Roads

"The tunnels that we dug were not just igloos. We made some that were nearly 75 feet long." 
In 1930 Vermont towns had for the most part abandoned the snow rollers and were striving to make winter roads usable by automobiles. It must have been quite a shock to Selectboards to figure out how to get the snow off the roads. I doubt if they were accustomed to budgeting for snowplows even if they knew they had to have them. The technology of both automobiles and highway maintenance has come a long way since then. Today as far as snow removal is concerned I believe rural highways are maintained at least as well as urban streets and sidewalks are.
    Back then the trucks used by many towns for highway maintenance were often privately owned and hired as needed for road maintenance. Randolph did not use a truck to plow snow for several seasons after the Town started a policy of maintaining roads for use by automobiles in the winter. The first machine for that purpose that I can remember was a crawler tractor outfitted with a V-plow. The tractor was owned by Charlie Belisle and maybe the plow was too. I don’t know what the financial arrangement was. The tractor was quite slow so the snow was not thrown away from the road the way the faster trucks do it today. Consequently the snowbanks were higher than they usually are now.
   Plowing didn’t start until the storm was over. I suppose the reason was that by waiting for the storm to stop the road only had to be plowed once for each storm. Of course the result was that roads were often impassable until they were plowed. The plow was so slow that some roads were impassable for quite a while. I believe Randolph had about 100 miles of town highways at that time. Some of them were not used in the winter but at 4 or 5 mph it took several hours to get over the roads one time. Fortunately one time was enough to make the road passable, but if there was a lot of snow the result might be a path too narrow for cars to meet and pass. In such cases the operator of the snowplow would make a few wider places where cars could pass.
    The snowplow had “wings” that extended its reach on both sides. The wings could be raised and lowered with chainfalls. This required an assistant for the driver. Early in the season with not much snow the wings could be lowered to the same height as the plow and the result was a nice wide road.    If there was a lot of snow or if the banks were high the wings had to be raised to lighten the load for the tractor. Often the wings were only used to push the top part of the snowbank away, making a flat elevated path near the top. Under the right conditions the snow might become hard enough to walk on that path. Since we walked home from school quite often I liked to climb up on the path where I could look down on the cars.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Randolph’s Chandler Gallery Welcomes the Hale Street Gang

Margaret Egerton in her 100th year. Photographed by Jack Rowell, January 2010

Mark your calendars for Saturday, February 26, at 2 pm. That's the date of our homecoming party at the Chandler Gallery. Other important dates:

March 12: Reading/authors’ talk: Members of the Hale Street Gang read from and talk about their work. At 2 p.m.

March 19: The 10-Minute Memoir: A writing workshop with project leader Sara Tucker. From 10 a.m. to noon.

March 26: Reading and book-signing: Our House in Arusha, by Sara TuckerA behind-the-scenes look at the writing of a family memoir. At 2 p.m.

Jack is mulling the food options. Stay tuned. Here's the official press release:

The Hale Street Gang: Portraits in Writing comes home to Randolph on February 26, when the Chandler Gallery pairs the touring exhibit with a retrospective by Bethel artist D’Ann Calhoun Fago. Portraits in Writing features the work of Braintree photographer Jack Rowell and twelve members of the Greater Randolph Senior Center who have been writing down their life stories with the help of project leader Sara Tucker.

Rowell’s larger-than-life black-and-white portraits of the memoirists are the focal point of Portraits in Writing, which incorporates audio of the writers reading from their works-in-progress. The project began when Rowell attended a public reading in the fall of 2009. Impressed with the energy and experiences of the writers, who are all in their eighties and nineties, he later set up a four-day photo shoot. Gregory Sharrow of the Vermont Folklife Center recorded the writers’ voices. The multimedia exhibit debuted last fall at the Vermont Folklife Center in Middlebury and moved to the Statehouse in January.

 “The community has really rallied around this project,” says Tucker, noting that much of the funding came from individual supporters with connections to the Randolph area. An initial grant from the Lamson Howell Foundation was followed by an online fund-raising campaign that enabled friends and family members around the country to make contributions of $10 or more via The Corner Frame Shop in Randolph donated its services, and a grant from the Vermont Community Foundation enabled the publishing of an anthology, The Hale Street Gang: In Cahoots, as well as a series of workshops and readings.

The twelve five-minute memoirs reflect the experiences of an eclectic group. Margaret Egerton, who finished writing down her life story shortly before she died at the age of 99, remembered the fear she felt as a child in wartime England; Loraine Chase’s reading recalls how her hardworking parents weathered the Depression; Mary Hutchinson tells about growing up in a household that included two very different grandmothers. D’Ann Calhoun Fago was a twenty-year-old graduate of the University of Kentucky when she was hired to teach art in Jackson, a hardscrabble Kentucky mining town known for its outstanding homicide rate; her memoir “Feudin’ Country” recalls that formative experience in her development as an artist.

The retrospective of Fago’s work that shares the Chandler exhibit space was curated by Paul Gruhler for the Governor’s Office last fall. Fago has figured prominently in the cultural life of Vermont for over 40 years. Though she is best known as the longtime director of Vermont’s Arts and Crafts Service during the 1960s and ’70s, her life in the arts began in her native state of Kentucky and moved on to North Carolina, Georgia, New York City, and eventually Vermont. In traversing the arc of her artistic journey, Fago has employed a broad range of media in a wide range of styles. Watercolors, charcoal and pencil drawings, and works in other media explore the natural and human worlds. Fago’s interest in people is particularly striking. She grew up identifying with society’s marginalized people, and for over 75 years her prolific output has returned to that inspiration. Marilyn Neagley, a friend who worked with Fago in the 1970s to preserve Shelburne Farms, notes that she “quietly supported the work of the younger generation, not only through her own commitment to the arts, but also through her deep sense of social justice. With elegance and a marvelous sense of humor, she humbly helped to provide a container in which their work and ideas could grow.”

The dual exhibit opens February 26 and runs until March 27. An opening reception will be held on Saturday, February 26, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Events are free and open to the public. To register for the memoir-writing workshop, email or call 802-236-9609.

 Exhibit hours: Thursday 4–6 pm; Friday through Sunday, 12–5 pm; and by appointment (802-431-0204).

Friday, January 21, 2011

We Love the Montpelier Bridge

Big air kisses to AARP Vermont, the Community National Bank, and the editorial staff of The Bridge (Nat Frothingham, Marsha Barber, and Dylan Waller) for the smashing spread on the Hale Street Gang in the January 6 edition. For anyone who hasn't seen it, you can download a PDF version here.

The Bridge staff were all present at the State House opening reception last week. So what did I do? FORGOT TO MENTION THEM IN MY THANK-YOU SPEECH, HASTILY PREPARED THAT MORNING! What a dope. Same with the other sponsors of the Bridge's special-edition section: AARP Vermont and the Community National Bank, capital organizations worthy of being recognized at the State House whether they had sponsored the Bridge pages or not, which, of course they did. But I ramble. Aargh. Sorry, guys.

To do: Head back to Toastmasters for a refresher course.