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).