It Takes a Village …or a Hamlet

006It has been said that it takes a village to raise a child and I found this to be so true in our little hamlet of Greenwood Center.  In an area where most parents worked in local mills, kids were often left alone to fend for themselves as early as seven years of age. In my own case, as I’ve stated before, I came home from school and often started the fire in the wood stove at that age. I knew the dangers of kerosene and how much to use before blowing up the house and parents coming home to a pile of cinders. It was not so much by their telling us all these things but by my watching and listening to conversations that swirled around.

On those rare days when I felt alone, I found my favorite rock on the shore of Twitchell Pond and used the alder my older brother cut for me. There were times when I came home with a stringer of perch; most times I could carry my loot in one hand or two pockets. There on that rock, I dreamed of what I wanted to be when I grew up; I wrote poetry in my mind. These things remain, but what is remarkable is that I can still smell the waters. It is a smell of water-logged weeds at the shore and a tinge of something soothing. There IS no way to accurately describe what I remember.

With my parents at the mill during the summer, some days were long and my brother, Curt and I  walked up and down the tarred road inspecting this and that; in other words, killing time!  Grandpa Martin sat on his porch and sometimes would holler as we passed, “Sandra, Sandra” so up the hilly driveway we went to sit on the porch with him awhile. He always wanted to know the news so we told him as much as we had heard. The neighborhood was a sleepy place and not an awful lot happened but we tried to make him happy. Grampa walked with two canes which were covered with Black Jack gum he had chewed. They weren’t the prettiest things on earth, but they let him walk and that was all that mattered, Ma said.

Sometimes Grampa was in the barn and Gram would call to us and she had just taken some filled cookies out the oven. Oh, they were so good. She cooked the raisin filling on the stove and put a little bit in the cookies and then pricked the top so they were as pretty as they were good. We made sure to thank her every time. Sometimes we sat on the wood box cover and visited while she cleaned up her baking dishes and put them in the iron sink. Water came down from the pasture through a pipe into a holding tank in the corner by the sink. There was a huge hole there where lightning hit once and must have traveled right down the pipe! Uncle Louis was standing there and he told us, at the time, that it scared him out of his wits. Lucky that no one was hurt but Curt and I thought of that hole every time there was a thunder storm.

Grace Day was out in her flower garden one day as I was walking and called to me. We got acquainted over her lilies and she asked if I would like to have lunch with them when Charlie came home at noon. She was going to have Welsh Rarebit. To my ears, that meant we were having rabbit, but I thought it sounded really good to have a nice, hot lunch. Oh, they were so good to this eight year old little girl. The “rabbit” turned out to be something nice and cheesy and Charlie kept smiling at me. I felt as though I belonged there.

Every week end I waited for my friend, Gladys Bailey, to come home to my Uncle Roy, so I could go and visit to hear about her week at work in South Paris. She always gave me a hug and made me feel as though I was the most important person in her life at that moment.

At that age, there was a dividing line in my mind of the “haves” and “have-nots”. I thought the Cole family a half mile up the road were rich because they had a telephone. The only reason I went in that direction was to see my great Uncle Elmer Cole and to buy the Smith Bros. cough drops he sold as a side line. I always said in a loud voice, “This is Sandra, Ethel’s daughter” and he smiled and welcomed me in. How could he have been so cheerful in his world of no light. Blinded in an accident, years before, he seemed to be organized and moved around so well. I always bought the Smith Bros. black cough drops because Ma hated the smell and she would swoosh me away if I had one in my mouth. It was almost like a game and she hated the smell all her life!

I found refuge at my Aunt Norma and Uncle Glenn’s house by traveling through the well worn path in the woods. I can still see the white trilliums in the spring and the wine colored “Stinking Benjamins” growing along side the path…then down a little hill, with a ledge to the right, hop across a very wet area , around the corner and there were my cousins. How many plays did I write for my cousins, Louise and Carmen!! The picnic table was our stage and we played by the hour. In front of the house, my Uncle painted and hung a huge sign displaying a bear and the fact that he was a taxidermist. Not only that, but he cut his own  special reeds and wove packbaskets and baskets that were so pretty. My cousins moved away and there was an empty spot in my heart for a long time.

All these decades have passed and I still remember the warmth that all the neighbors showed especially for me and my brother, Curt. They spread their arms and welcomed us in, dirty from playing, as if we were their own. 

No one was rich in those days, but neighbors shared what they had including love and patience for two kids with too much time on their hands.  I hope there is a hamlet somewhere full of people like that today.

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2 thoughts on “It Takes a Village …or a Hamlet

  1. I love this glimpse into an ordinary life, made extraordinary by the details you remember and put into words so well. Reading it made me feel melancholy and even a bit homesick–and I live here in the town where you grew up! But isn’t it often more of a time than a place that we’re homesick for? I remember reading Elisabeth Ogilvie’s novels about Bennett’s Island about 20 years ago. I longed to live on an island off the coast of Maine, but I knew that what I was really longing for was life on an island in the 1930s, not the 1990s, and that there was no way to recapture the past. Thank goodness for memories…

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  2. I think you’re right, Amy. I would not “fit in” if I lived in Greenwood Center now. I only know my sister-in-law and perhaps some of the Cole family still live there. The flat where we played baseball has been filled with trees and , quite honestly, makes me feel really bad to ride down through there and see the changes. Of course, changes are inevitable after all these years, but I want it to remain the same and that will never be. I wish I could have gathered all those years in a jar and could release them for just one day to “kill time” walking up and down the tarred road with the same people living there.

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