Friday, July 3, 2020

Hugh Downs & early TV

Today I learned of the death of Hugh Downs, who lived to age 99.  He will be missed. For decades his friendly face and calm voice on TV were so frequent that it seemed like we knew him.  In today's newspaper I learned something new about his career –– his early role as an announcer for the children's TV show "Kukla, Fran, and Ollie."

That was the very first TV show I watched.  I recall a very small screen on the TV, which was rectangular box perched on top of Daddy's dresser (safely out of reach of our young hands). Perhaps the voice of Hugh Downs was one of the first TV voices I ever heard?

I found this short YouTube video today of Mr. Downs talking about his experience with that Kukla, Fran, and Ollie show:
             https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3jZ1_gxoxyQ

Nine years ago I had written a brief blog entry about my early TV experiences. I included a link to a short video of Kukla, Fran, and Ollie in action. I'm pleased that the link still works; it's fun to see the puppets and Fran again. (No announcer in that short clip, though.)

Friday, June 26, 2020

How my parents met

How did my mother happen to come to Danvers?  Where did she meet my father? He had family in Danvers, but she did not.

She was born in New Jersey (1912) and moved with her family to Westport, Connecticut, when she was six, living the rest of her childhood in a house that her architect father built there. She attended a women's college in Poughkeepsie, New York, and became active in the Outing Club. College outing club trips (hiking, skiing, camping) filled many weekends. She helped found the Intercollegiate Outing Club Association (IOCA), which greatly facilitated co-ed weekend trips. Through IOCA she met many wonderful guys, some of whom remained life-long friends. She almost married one fellow, but changed her mind and was still single in the late 1930's. 

After college she taught school. In the summers of 1938 and 1939 she worked in Putney, Vermont, as a camp counselor at the Putney Summer Work Camp. Also working at Putney was Al Green, who did general maintenance for the Putney School. The school campus included a Youth Hostel where guests and travelers could stay for a modest fee. A friend of Al's stayed in that Youth Hostel whenever he came to visit...

That visiting friend was Nathan ("Nick") Nichols, a 1934 graduate of Massachusetts State College in Amherst. Nick had been active in MSC's outing club. When visiting Al, he met Janet ("Cut") Cutler, 1934 graduate of Vassar College.  I don't know the beginning details, but years later (decades later) I came across a packet of the letters they had written to each other in 1939 and early 1940. They were making arrangements for their wedding and trying to figure out where to live.

Nathan and Janet married in June 1940 in a garden ceremony at her parents' home in Westport. The wedding, officiated by Rev. William S. Nichols, was attended by many Nichols relatives from Danvers. The couple rented a small house that Nathan's father had recently built to provide income after his retirement from ministry. Thus my mother began her married life in that small Cape-Cod style house at 120 Nichols St, Danvers, right next door to her in-laws.

It was a "temporary" arrangement, they said. I know from their letters that they had been seeking other housing options, but nothing affordable and acceptable had been found in time. They saved money and hoped for a larger house "someday" but after a few years they purchased that cape and added a few modest rooms to accommodate their growing family. I was born in 1943 and my sister came in 1945. I remember going on some house-hunting excursions with my parents, but nothing came of those.  I spent the first 14 years of my life in that little house!

In 1958 we moved across the street into a new house that my parents (and Grandfather Cutler,  architect) had designed. It was a spacious colonial with large kitchen, a real dining room, a den, and four bedrooms. At last we had a real guest room, though, ironically, my parents had fewer guests by then. Their outing club friends from college years, who used to drop by our little house and sleep on the living-room couch, were now busy with families of their own.

It was also ironic that I only lived one full year in that new house. As I packed up in fall 1959 to go the Putney School, I realized that – from then on – I'd only be back in Danvers for vacation periods. I was beginning the transition away from my parents' home. 

I had NO idea that I was going to the site where my parents had originally met!  I didn't learn that bit of history until some years later.

(See my previous post about my first visit to Putney, and my mother's influence in the decision to consider that private school for me.)

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Leaving Danvers schools

Why did I leave the Danvers public schools after 10th grade (1958/59)?

I had not intended to leave Danvers schools, but a family trip in winter 1959 opened an unexpected door...

The trip was planned for school vacation week. My parents, avid skiers, were taking us to Vermont for a few days of skiing on real mountains – in contrast to our usual skiing at home on the gentle slopes of Locust Lawn, where Daddy ran his ski tows. My mother wanted us also to visit the location of a special camp where she had worked before she was married. She hoped my sister and I would attend that summer camp; she figured we could pick up application forms while visiting the camp in southern Vermont, only a slight detour en route to our ski destination.

That detour brought me to the Putney School – a place near and dear to my mother's heart. In the late 1930's she was a counselor at the Putney Summer Work Camp, spending days with horses and campers and even helping to build part of the horse barn at this new school and camp (founded in 1935 by Carmelita Hinton). Growing up, I'd heard lots of Putney stories. But I'd never been there.

My mother had written ahead to ask if the Putney admissions office would be open. A reply letter confirmed that the office would be open, and announced that "Sandra's interview" was scheduled for 10 AM Saturday.  Interview?  Really? Obviously there had been a misunderstanding. We only meant to get a summer camp application, not an interview for the school. And, by Saturday, we'd be skiing, many miles north.

There wasn't time for my mother to write a letter back. (The idea of making a long-distance phone call would not have occurred to my penny-pinching mother.) We drove to Putney that Friday, cancelled the interview, apologized for the mixup, and asked about the summer camp. My mother was shocked to learn that the old work camp had ceased years before. Oops! She was keenly disappointed. She'd always wanted us to experience that camp.

While we toured around the school grounds, Mommy reminisced about her summers there, and showed us the horse barn, which to her surprise was now full of cows! (Putney is a farm, as well as a school.) We did see students riding horses across campus, so Putney still had horses. We inquired about a student named Nancy, daughter of friends of my parents. Nancy, whom I'd met once or twice before, showed us her dorm room, and invited us to stay for dinner in the school dining room, which we did. Nancy was friendly and enthusiastic, giving me a student's eye view of the Putney School. I enjoyed the visit. Friday evening we thanked Nancy and drove north, sleeping that night in a motel on our way to the ski slopes.

Saturday morning I discovered that my mother had had a very fitful night, fretting about Putney, the loss of the camp, the existing option of the school...  She had been weighing the pros and cons of sending me to the Putney School. By dawn she had reasoned that the 10 AM interview slot would probably still be unfilled, and that – if I applied and got accepted – she and my father could use some funds recently inherited from his father, already earmarked for my future education. This was all NEWS to me!  I was startled by my mother's decision to turn around and drive back to Putney, in hopes of catching that interview opportunity.

Our skiing was delayed while we returned to Putney, and I sat for that interview. I was calm and relaxed, answering questions freely, without concern about outcome. When asked why I wanted to attend Putney, I didn't know what to say, except mentioning that we were passing by on our way north to ski. Honest answer!

The idea of going to a private school seemed very far-fetched. We'd had NO discussion about it prior to that Putney visit. My mother may have asked me, that Friday afternoon, if I'd like to go there, and probably I had nodded yes, enjoying what I saw. But we hadn't had a serious conversation about the idea.

Back in Danvers I did fill out that Putney application, but didn't think much about it that spring. We'd been warned that Putney rarely took in 11th graders. (At the time of my interview, they only had space for three.) As it turned out, I did get accepted, and the Putney School became a very special place for me. I graduated there in June 1961. No regrets.

But I do recall pangs of separation at the end of 10th grade in Danvers. I'd be leaving my friend, and biology lab partner, Stan Giles and I don't think I even told him that I'd be leaving. I'd miss Ann O'Connor, a very close friend who for years had sat near me in the alphabetical seating arrangements in Danvers classrooms: O'Connor came right after Nichols. Another close friend, Stephanie Woodbury, had already left for a private school, and I felt that loss, too. I didn't know her reasons for leaving. Nor would most of my classmates know why I was disappearing.

In 2011, thanks to the invitation of Danvers classmate Gordon Lindroth, I attended the 50th Reunion of the Holten High School Class of 1961, and was greeted by some old friends I had not seen in 52 years!  They seem to have forgiven me for disappearing in 1959.