The Way it Was

profileIt is hard for me to look at this picture and know that it really is me.  Where have the years gone?  Wasn’t it just yesterday that I sat on a rock by Twitchell Pond fishing with the alder fishing pole Tink cut for me? How he tied the fishing line and put on the hook and asked me how long I was going to sit and drown the worm….wasn’t that just yesterday? It is so hard to take it all in…all the years, the changes in the world and..in me.

The world and society, in general, behaves so differently now that sometimes I can’t wrap my head around it at all. There are still wars. My earliest memories are of World War 11 with conversations centering around my uncles and when would they come home. It instilled a fear of low flying airplanes in me until I was in my early teenage years.

My world was a very small world..a world that stretched , at the most two miles..a mile in either direction of our little house. The farthest in one direction was Dan Cole’s farm with its stately white house, and perhaps a hook to the right to the back of Twitchell Pond when I walked with my Grit newspaper bag. There was the Case family cottage below the Cole farm. The wonderful Case family from New Jersey who blended into our neighborhood each summer like butter on warm toast. They were not summer people in our eyes, but neighbors who went away for a few months and returned. My great Uncle Elmer lived in a brown house and it was my spot for buying Smith Brothers cough drops. Tina Morgan , the Lester Cole farm and finally the house next door where my cousins lived. Oh, there were other buildings here and there, but none played a part in my young life. If I were to walk in the opposite direction , my Gram and Grampa Martin’s house was right there. It was my place to seek warmth when I needed a little extra love and attention.  Below was the home of Grace and Charlie Day. With no children of their own, they reached out to me and gathered me in on stormy days. At least I thought they were stormy!  My Uncle Dwight had a huge home built and the Pralls had a summer home  nearby. I never did venture close to the Pralls, thinking they were rich people.  The Sullivans on the point each summer and the tarred road ended right there. The dirt road began and I trudged many times to the home of my Uncle Roy and to see my friend, Gladys Bailey.

That small hamlet was my entire world with perhaps a ride to the village of Locke Mills and to Greenwood City in the other direction. Although not realizing it at the time, the entire neighborhood was like one big family and we looked out for each other.  We spent hours running up and down the tarred road, rolling old automobile tires and racing against each other. I played in the dirt with my brother using his trucks to haul pigweed ( our logs) in the sand. I used the Teeny Weeny family from the cardboard in the Shredded Wheat to fuel my imagination as I played alone. I read constantly and on rainy days, cut pictures of little girls from the discarded Sears catalogs my Grandmother saved for me.

What would I have done without imagination. It took me everywhere and I confess I became a day-dreamer. Many a time, my mother would say, young lady, get your head out of the clouds. I always did, but in a short while, the head was back in the clouds again.  I became a voracious reader, something I got from my Dad, I believe. I found I could travel anywhere with a good book in my hands.

I have noticed over the years the change in behavior in our youth. I accept their music as my parents accepted mine. They didn’t understand mine anymore than I understand some of the music of today. But that’s ok. I am open to change. I remember the emphasis on respect when I was growing up. I was not afraid of my parents, but on the other hand, when they spoke to me I obeyed. Were they too strict? Perhaps by today’s standards, they would have been considered strict. My mother had , what she called, a “switch stick”. I remember the sting of that on the back of my legs. Did it hurt? Well, yes. Did it harm my psyche for life? No. Did I repeat the action that required the sting? No. There is a huge difference between spanking and being brutally beaten. Sadly there are some parents who have never learned the difference. I never dreamed of hitting my parents, kicking them, whining for something or sassing them. Oh, I did my share of sassing, but the punishment followed.

I respected my grandparents. I never forgot to be polite and one always behaved when in their presence. Now you are thinking, boy, she had to be one perfect angel. No, that would be the farthest from the truth. I was always in trouble for my sense of humor and not getting chores done. But we were taught respect and I, in turn, taught my four children respect. Somewhere, along the years, the respect has faded in our society.  For someone my age, this is sad , but such a delight to come across younger people who have still been taught that very important element.

We were a poor family in terms of material wealth. We had our share of hardships, but the core of our family was working together and music. Who can be sad where there is music??  I had a neighborhood of people who were there for each other and cared deeply for others. It was a simple life. It was a poor life. We didn’t realize we were poor because we knew nothing else. We rode on wings of imagination and took each storm in our stride. I would like to think that somewhere there is such a place still where a little girl can sit and read, sit and fish, sit and think without fear of violence.

It is a different kind of world today. Much of it is for the better. Sadly, there is the other side of the coin. Tomorrow I will have lived 77 years; look at the picture and particularly the eyes for those eyes have seen more changes than words can tell.

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STATE OF CONFUSION

Graduation 20030036It is a fine summer day with a little breeze coming through the birches behind Miss Hobbs’ big house. I am perched on a five rung step-ladder and washing windows.  I don’t like the job, but it has provided me the opportunity to get out and breathe in the beautiful fresh air.  After a morning of dragging blankets from the moth balled chest and hanging them on the clothes line, it is like a drink of cool water!  I haven’t counted how many windows I’ve washed, but Miss Hobbs said to just go at it and get as many done as I can before it is time for the walk home.  She has a friend visiting from New York City, so the problems of her fading roses and other woes have taken a back seat this week. Her gentleman friend is hearing impaired and sometimes his speech is difficult to understand, but once you see him smile, that takes second seat. He is an older man and very nice to me.  Not long ago, he came wandering by and stopped to chat a minute . When he was to leave, he handed me a five dollar bill all folded up and said in a hushed voice, “Take this, you earn it.” I was so stunned, I said thank you and put it in my pocket. He smiled and patted my shoulder and away he went. I think maybe Miss Hobbs is a bit intimidating to him as well!

One thing good is that I can participate in my favorite pastime and that is thinking and letting my mind wander as I wash and dry the tiny panes of glass. I am confused whether I am happy to be going to a new school or if I should be a little scared. All I have known is the Locke Mills school and its three rooms. I am not used to being around a lot of kids and some a lot older than me. I am only thirteen and I know some of the kids are at least five years older than me in the new school.

I have a lot of memories with the old school. Some are good and some not so good. My own cousin, Colby Martin, chased me around that school with a snake in his hands. I was about eight years old, I think, and I screamed and screamed because I was and still am terrified of snakes. I ran to the teacher and she assured me he would not be allowed to put the snake on me.

Again, when I was quite small, I came around the school house one noon and Leslie Roberts had thrown a football and it hit me square in the nose. Oh, how the blood gushed. I didn’t know he was around the corner and I am sure he was surprised to see where the football landed. The teacher held my face over the wash basin in the hall and cleaned me up pretty good.

Oh, Lord, I hope there are teachers with a sense of humor in the new school. I am going to try my best to not let my humor get me in trouble.  One of the worst moments was when I was in fifth grade and a teacher did not like teaching hygiene to begin with ( I suspect) and when I topped it off with a smart remark, I found myself suspended in mid air by my hair. She actually pulled me out of my seat by my hair!! It hurts me to even think of it now. You can bet after that, I had my mouth closed when I was sitting near her!!!

When I was sick with the old fashioned measles, Rex came home from school with the prettiest box. It was decorated with beautiful crepe paper and all the kids had brought something from home to put in it to make me feel better. It was called a “Sunshine Box”. I was beginning to recover and in the box were some horehound drops. They tasted pretty good, so I kept eating them since my parents were still at work. By the time they got home, I was sick in good shape. Ma sputtered to me and took the drops away and told me how wrong that was to eat all those. I know now she was scared because she thought I was almost well and there I was, retching away. Rex and I always took something from home to contribute to the “Sunshine Box” when one of the kids was sick for a long time.

Now I am going to a school that is so grown up, there won’t be Sunshine Boxes or Valentine Boxes or anything else fun, probably.  I don’t know if I am going to like it or not. 

I remember when the State Police came! I was in the fourth grade and they took our finger prints and one great tall man was taking notes. He noted I had a mole on the side of my face. I wanted to tell him that Grammy Martin says that is a beauty spot , but I was afraid of him, with that uniform and all. I could see Ma’s face if they put those handcuffs on me and dragged me out the front door for being smart mouthed!

And the school doctor! Will the new school have its own doctor?  I doubt it. Dr. Boynton comes every once in awhile to check up on our health. I was not too keen on standing in line in the hallway for our smallpox vaccination.  I think I was about nine years old and since everyone else in front of me got it and didn’t say anything, I figured I could do it. Well, let me tell you, I went home with that little round thing on my upper arm and I still have the imprint of it to this day. That took quite awhile to heal and we took little booklets of information home so our parents could read on how to treat it and how long it would take to heal.

Miss Hobbs has her head out the upstairs window to tell me it is four o’clock and time for me to walk home. How a woman can speak that clearly with a cigarette in the corner of her mouth is beyond me! I wonder how she teaches school all day without it.

Enough thinking for one day. I have washed all the windows downstairs on the backside of the house. I’ll grab the step ladder, put it in her “rec” room and head up the road for the walk home. Bet when I get to the top of the mountain and see that house, I will start thinking about the days of Vacation Bible School a few years ago and how much fun I had staying at Winnie Hanscom’s for a week and walking up every day and making new friends. Before I know it, I will be down the other side of the mountain.

It’s a good afternoon for walking and especially with a five dollar tip in my pocket!!

** I recently asked my cousin, Colby, if he remembered chasing me with the snake. He replied ( with glee, I am sure) that indeed he did. He also mentioned a secret way that he and others got into the school basement…I didn’t dare ask about that.

Greenwood Center Changing and other Stuff

miss hobbsAnother day working at Miss Hobbs’ and I am on my home. One thing about walking home every night, it sure gives me time to think. Sometimes I get thinking so hard, I find I have walked to the top of the mountain and going down the other side. When I realize that, it makes me pretty darn happy as my feet and legs are tired.

Today Miss Hobbs thought we should have a cleaning day in the two bedrooms upstairs. I dusted her bedroom first and I really enjoy that as I can look out the window facing Indian Pond and it is so pretty. I wish I were down at the foot of the pond with my brother, Curt, looking at our flatfish and fishing off a rock. Anyway, Miss Hobbs has an old, old bureau and I make sure everything is shining when I am through. She has a lovely set…I think it is plastic..but it is baby blue and has designs on the round one and the square one. I think she keeps her pins in there and maybe some jewelry. I don’t look in them!  I make sure they are clean and dusted well. I always enjoy cleaning them as they are very delicate and my favorite color.

Miss Hobbs stayed with me today during the cleaning and dusted the other bedroom. Then we had to do her “trunk”.  It sits at the head of the stairs in the hallway…and so big I swear it used to hold pirate’s booty.  She uses the key and opens the trunk and that is when the mothball smell hits my nostrils. I cannot stand the smell of mothballs and am allergic to them, but I also want to work and get my ten dollars on Friday!  The trunk is full of blankets and we take each one out, give it a good shake, fold it again and back into the trunk. I haven’t figured out just what that does for the blankets unless they need fresh air. Miss Hobbs says some day we will hang them on the clothesline. I hope we have some one mighty strong to help us!!

With all this thinking, I am at Dan Cole’s farm and a mile to home. Greenwood Center has changed. There are more camps on the pond now…really pretty cottages and many of them are owned by people from Berlin and Gorham, New Hampshire. I remember when I rode in the boat with Dad fishing, he pointed out Johnny Howe’s camp, Cushman’s, Eichel’s and a few others. Now it seems there are so many on the back side of the pond.  I walk by Stan and Flossie Seames’s house and how I wish I lived where they do, up on the little knoll. They are nice people. Someone has bought the house where Uncle Elmer lived and Tina Morgan has moved now and others in there. It makes my head spin to see the changes.

My cousins moved away a few years ago and I miss them. The path in the woods isn’t used much, only when I want to walk up it to find flowers or to sit on the ledge and think. Sometimes I take a tablet and pencil and write while I am sitting on the ledge. This summer I haven’t had time!! Maynard and Mary Hazelton have moved into their house. They have five children and Curt has someone his own age to play with and he and Butch are good friends. Sometimes I babysit for them in the evening if there is an emergency.  Even my Grampa and Grammy Martin’s house is not the same..not to me, anyway. My Aunt Vi and her husband, Harold, have moved back from Connecticut and they are living with Grampa, Gram and my Uncle Louis. They have a little girl, Christine. I take her for walks once in awhile.  It is all just changing and sometimes I am not sure but what I would like it back where it used to be. Gram and I used to have fun gathering eggs and visiting while she quilted on the big porch.

Henry and Janet Bowers have built a beautiful log home almost to the foot of Twitchell Pond where once there was only woods.  I always hate to see trees cut down, but their home is beautiful.

I am on the “flat” now and when I go by Howe Brook, I am going to look in and see if there are any brown trout coming up from the pond. Usually there are none, but I like to look and then I can tell Dad.

Home at last! Dad is sitting on the front steps, hat cocked on the side of his head as always. I swear if he didn’t wear a hat, his head would fall off! His dickies still have sawdust from the mill and he has a jar of what looks like sand in his hands. He holds it up and says, have you ever seen anything like this, Muff? Well, to me, it looks like sand, but I say no and he says, well, this is some dirt I gathered off a grave up near Upton. He is labeling them as he collects. I don’t think he collects anything else in this world except important ( to him) grave dirt. Maybe it makes his head rest after working in the mill.

He moves to one side and I go in to find Ma having a cup of tea at the kitchen table. I bet she would like to hear about the pretty blue containers I dusted today. I grab a piece of bread, plop a hotdog in it, grab a glass of water and sit down to tell her all about it.

Feels good to be home.

**The photo is, indeed, the blue containers I dusted for so many years. One year, while getting her things together to return to Forest Hills, Miss Hobbs wrapped them in tissue paper and gave them to me “for working so hard”.  Apparently there was very little that Miss Hobbs missed and she noticed her young helper admiring them.

Working Girl

cloudWell, it has been an interesting summer job for sure. Each morning when I arrive at Miss Hobbs’ home, I have no idea what is going to be in store for me.  Lucky, the dog, more or less stays out of my way and follows her around.

Last week was a milestone in my career. Early in the morning, Miss Hobbs announced she had three lady friends coming for lunch and I would help prepare and serve. Now that was a wakening. The most I had ever served in my life was a lunch for Curt and me and that usually consisted of peanut butter and crackers or a jam sandwich. Well, I would just have to go along with whatever she said to do and say  several silent prayers.

We were to have a salad. Not just any salad, mind you, but one with fancy cut baby carrots and cherry tomatoes shaped like tiny roses…mercy. Well, if I succeeded with this, I would have something to tell Ma. I washed the lettuce carefully and laid it like little cup shaped fancies first. Miss Hobbs stood over my shoulder, her cigarette smoke wafting down and settling in a cloud under my nose. I prayed again. This prayer was for not sneezing on the salad. There! Four glass salad plates with little cups of lettuce, two tiny carrots slices to one side, two tomato rose buds. Guess that was to be the first course of this casual luncheon, which was how Miss Hobbs described it. Next came the sandwiches. Cucumber sandwiches. Now I like those, but I want gobs of mayonnaise on mine. With her instructions and cigarette smoke, I made sandwiches, cut off the crusts, cut them in four tiny decorative pieces and on and on. I could feel her breath on my neck as I cut the crusts. I know she thought I would do a butcher job on them, but luck was with me. After all, if I can clean a fish and skin it properly, what’s so hard about cutting the crust off a piece of bread?

Surprise! Miss Hobbs announced she was doing the dessert, which would consist of some sort of gelatin, coffee and marshmallows all whipped together. I was so glad I brought my lunch that day and could eat by myself on the other side of the house.

But today is another day! No fancy luncheons to prepare which is my least favorite thing to do. Miss Hobbs mind is fixated on her roses. She has only Jackson Perkins roses and wants them fertilized and watered on a regular basis. They are beautiful,but today her brow is furrowed and she is absolutely upset over something. She keeps going to the window and peering out at her roses and mumbles that it has been dry, but the roses have been watered, so why don’t they look as striking as usual?  Not being a gardener or knowing much about roses, I shake my head and admit I don’t know. Suddenly her hand sweeps into the air and it is as though a light is shining. It’s the fertilizer, she says. My Miracle-Gro should have been here last week. No wonder they look drab. Why hasn’t it arrived? It should have been at the railroad station in Bryant Pond a week ago.

Wait right here, Sandra, she says. Up the stairs she sweeps, Lucky at her heels. She turns for a moment and hollers down, as soon as I am dressed properly, we are going to the Bryant Pond railroad station.  No, no, no. That means one thing. She said “we” and that means she will be backing the 1931 Packard out of the garage and I will be in the passenger seat. I have heard horror stories from Winnie on Miss Hobbs’ and her driving.

I stand outside the garage and direct her in backing up. This car is so long, it looks like a bus. I stop her just short of the stone wall, aid her in turning and get the car headed in the right direction. I climb into the passenger seat and I have to admit that I have never seen such a luxurious car inside. The seat is so comfortable that I feel like I am floating on air. Miss Hobbs assumes an aristocratic pose behind the wheel with her gloves clutching the wheel. Her little tan hat perches on the side of her head, gray and black hair streaming to one side under it and the ever present cigarette in the corner of her mouth. With a lurch, we are off and heading up the hill to reach , hopefully, the Rowe Hill road to take us to the village.  

We pass by Winnie Hanscom’s house and I hope she can see that I am doing my duty and risking my life. I want to wave but it seems Miss Hobbs likes to drive fast and in the middle of the road. Down into Velvet Hollow and up Town Line Hill we go and at last , to the paved road to the village. I am not sure if I am happy or not that we are in civilization. I am sure, though, that most people will recognize the big, long vehicle and the driver and take appropriate actions.  We pull up to the railroad station and I stay in the car, per Miss Hobbs’ orders. I do not envy the recipient of her wrath as surely she will blame the station master for not receiving her Miracle Gro and informing her it is missing.

Here she comes marching like a soldier on a mission. This is one of the few times I have seen her without a cigarette. There, I have solved that one, she says as she settles her frame in the drivers seat.  I cannot abide incompetent people. That man says he hasn’t seen any Miracle Gro and I informed him that if and when it comes in, I want to be informed that very moment. I nod my head. Seems like I nod my head a lot when I am with her.

She roars up the engine, grates the shifting gear, looks at me and says when we get back home, Sandra, I will dictate and you will write a letter to the company and I shall tell them I am not pleased with their shipping policies. Oh, boy.

With a lurch, we head on back to Rowe Hill and Indian Pond. I guess writing a letter of protest is a heck of a lot better than making cherry tomato roses. At least in my eyes.