Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas

Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Today I have been listening to a radio broadcast of Handel's Messiah and thinking about the records my mother used to play. I think The Messiah was on a 3-record set which could be stacked on the spindle of the record player so they dropped into place, one after another. After we had heard those 3 sides, my mother had to turn the stack over to play sides 4, 5, and 6. That was, at the time, a clever improvement over the earlier process of having to change the record after each side.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A barn became a home

For my December column, I wrote about Bela and Stella, the couple who lived for several years on the top of "Nichols Hill" (Locust Lawn property) in a remodeled barn. I recall the very special lighting on their Christmas tree. See New inhabitants in an old barn

See also my previous blog entry (9/28/09) about Bela and Stella.

Neither the barn, nor the hilltop it sat on, remain today. Route 95 cut through there in the 1970's. Bela and Stella had moved safely to Long Island by the late 1950's. The barn continued in use for a while as a "warming hut" for skiers at the Locust Lawn Ski Club. It was a comfortable place to relax after skiing up the old rope-tow.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Other Transformations

Much has changed in Danvers since my youth. During my recent visit, I observed and photographed many scenes that brought back memories. I noted transformations -- some for the good, some not. The old Maple Street School, where I attended 2nd grade, looks in fine shape, though it now provides housing rather than classrooms.

This curve of Nichols Street --once so familiar, right in front of my old home-- is now called Conifer Hill Drive. The stonewalls have been nicely rebuilt and the street re-paved. Years ago a modern office park replaced my childhood home and garden, my grandparents' house next door, and the garage in which my father's business started.

Today I can park in Visitor's spaces exactly where my childhood house once stood and look at what remains of the pond. I'm glad they saved a portion of that old pond, which was called "Willow Pond" in the children's book Going on Nine (see sketches on the endpapers). For a 1941 photo of the pond and our house, see my April 2008 column High Water in Spring.

I walked across the street and examined the woods, now overgrown with tangled vines and many trees new since my day. Slightly up the hill I could see the garage my father built in the 1960's; our big colonial-style house, built in 1957, has already been torn down. Why?, I wonder. What will be the next transformation for this property? The old barns and Locust Lawn ski trails were destroyed as Route 95 cut into the east side of the hill. During the summer of 1971, my 2-year-old son loved watching the earth-moving equipment, while my mother mourned the loss of the trees and trails. My young family moved to California in August 1971. My mother died in 1976. My father later remarried and moved to Marblehead, selling this homesite to a construction company, so we knew that changes were likely. The house did remain intact, though, for years and was again a residence for a while, I believe.

A surprise greeted me at the entrance to what used to be my father's business (UNEX Laboratories/Nichols & Clark, Inc. on Rte 1). A small sign led me to Henry's Conifer Café in the Berry building. I enjoyed a tasty lunch and talked with people there. It's a very pleasant place, though completely transformed from what I remember. No trace at all of my father's hearing aid factory!

Further north, I explored Ferncroft Road and the entirely new (to me) campus of North Shore Community College. Just beyond it is the old Ice Pond, where I used to skate. (See Skating Backwards, my first Danvers Herald column, March 2007.) What a joy to discover the Ferncroft Pond Conservation Area!

I sat at the table overlooking the pond, then studied the map and spent the next hour or so hiking the trails and enjoying the beautiful woodlands and wetlands. The concrete foundation where I used to sit to put on my skates is still intact! Today, while preparing to write this blog entry, I searched for information about the Ferncroft Pond Conservation Area, and found an informative article in the Danvers Herald: Hiking and bird watching at Ferncroft, by Bella Travaglini (Aug 31, 2005).

Another delightful discovery during my Danvers visit was the College Pond Conservation Area. This was an accidental find. I had driven up Spring Street to St. John's Prep and then turned south on Summer Street, when I decided to turn around. Looking for a safe place to turn, I entered Greenleaf Drive. I didn't remember this street, so I decided to explore it. Not only did I find a handy turnaround space, but signage announcing a Conservation Area.

I parked my car, strolled into the woods, and followed the pathway downhill, down a wooden stairway through the trees. This hillside was not at all familiar to me, nor could I recall a pond in this area, so I was quite curious to see where the path might lead. Gradually I caught glimpses of the huge wetlands area below and guessed that this might be the large pond where my parents used to skate. We used to approach it from the opposite side, near the old railroad bed. I had never realized it could be reached from St. John's. The boardwalk out toward the open water is creatively constructed; the curves invite you to slow down and look at the world around. Up ahead, I heard a splash. A turtle, perhaps, or a frog, had jumped into the water as I approached. I only saw ripples spreading out on the water surface.
I sat at the end of the boardwalk watching the water and the sky, listening to the active bird life all around me ...ducks flying overhead, sparrows in the bushes beside me, red-winged blackbirds calling in the marsh across the way. I waited patiently until I saw something swim just under the surface and recognized the head of a turtle coming up for air. He saw me, and quickly disappeared under the water. A second turtle swam nearby.

I feel SO THANKFUL that Danvers has set aside these natural areas in which birds and turtles can thrive and I can regain a sense of balance and connection to the natural world. The hours spent in these conservation areas rekindled my childhood sense of wonder, and relaxed my body. Everything slowed down, and I felt refreshed and renewed, a wonderful transformation. Much has changed in Danvers, but some very important things have been preserved.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Middle School Transformation

My column for this month reflects on the transformations seen and experienced at Danvers Middle School: "Transformations great at old Danvers schools".

Photographs of the Richmond, Holton, and new Middle School architecture can be seen in my online album:
Preserving Old With New.

I thank Principal Michael Cali for taking me on an informative tour and answering my many questions about the project. My specific reason for requesting the tour was to learn about this example of combining new and old architecture. I hope that this example will help inspire preservation during renovation/expansion of an historic library building in my current community.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Carrots!


Back at home, I harvested some carrots I had planted this summer. Until now, most have been disappointingly small and stubby. This time I pulled up one very well-shaped carrot.

Of course these are Danvers Half Long carrots!

Very tasty, too.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Visiting Danvers

I'm visiting Danvers today and tomorrow. Intrigued by a notice in the Danvers Herald about a program at the Danvers Historical Society, I marked my calendar weeks ago, and made plans to drive across the state. I'm so glad I came! I enjoyed a visit this afternoon to the remarkable Richmond-Holton Middle School, and then drove along some once-familiar streets to see what might have changed and what I might recognize. I've taken photographs and notes, generating ideas for future columns. Stay tuned! I especially enjoyed a walk through the woods at the College Pond Conservation Area -- a beautiful place to be on a sunny autumn afternoon.
Tonight's program, "Gone But Not Forgotten, The Indians who lived in what is now Danvers" by Glenn Mairo, was well-attended and well-received. I decided to join the Danvers Historical Society (now in its 120th year!). My grandfather would be proud.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Bela and Stella

I have fond memories of visiting Bela and Stella's home at Locust Lawn. Inside a small run-down barn, they had created a cozy and beautiful home, and they welcomed us --little girls from down the hill-- cheerfully. Bela was Hungarian; his wife was German.

I wish now that I knew more about how they came to Danvers and what their lives were like as they became American citizens and moved on to raise a family elsewhere. My role in their story was short-term, yet significant, said Stella, who credited me with helping her learn English. I do know that they were D.P.s (Displaced Persons) sponsored by my grandfather after World War II. Today I found this webpage that provides some context: Displaced Person Transports: Cargo of Hope (American Merchant Marine at War, www.usmm.org).

[Note added 12/09: see my December column, New inhabitants in an old barn, about my experience visiting Stella and Bela.]

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Granddaddy's yard

I now attend a weekly writing class called "Fun with Writing" at the local Senior Center. Recently we chose to write about childhood games we remember. I wrote about Kick-the-Can, an active game played in summer evenings with my family. We always played it in the yard next door, where my grandparents lived. Granddaddy Nichols was a good sport and often joined the game. How lucky I was to have Granddaddy next door! Visualizing those games of Kick-the-Can helped me visualize his house, driveway, and garage, and the little playhouse he built for us. For this month's column, I wrote about playing at Granddaddy's:

Playing at Granddaddy's was great.

Monday, August 17, 2009

African guest

In August 1962 a young man from Africa arrived in Danvers as a guest of our family. He was on his way to Bowdoin College, but first he spent a month "homestay" with an American family (us) to get used to American customs. I've written about this special guest for this month's column: A guest from Africa becomes family

Onye and Jean, 1976
My sister Jean was the one who oriented Onye to Danvers. She had her drivers license and drove him around during the days while our parents worked. [At right see Onye and Jean years later, in 1976, standing in the sunken garden in Danvers.]

I was away the summer of 1962 working as a chambermaid at the Oceanic Hotel on Star Island, off the coast of Portsmouth, N.H. Onye made one boat trip out to Star to meet me. He was favorably impressed with the place and applied to work there the next summer. We worked there together in 1963.

This summer I returned to the Oceanic Hotel to attend a week-long conference, and I took a "behind-the-scenes" tour. One wall in the employee area is today covered with old photos of past summers --including a group shot from 1963, in which Onye and I appear!
Below is a more recent photo of us, taken in 2004:

Onye and Sandy, 2004
-----------
Remembering Danvers
7/29/09  (published in Danvers Herald in August 2009)

by Sandy Nichols Ward

"Sun without heat!" exclaimed Onyeonoro Kamanu as he stood on our front lawn in Danvers, looking up at the August sky with a puzzled expression. Onye had just arrived from Lagos, Nigeria.   He was a young scholar about to attend an American college under the African Scholarship Program of American Universities (ASPAU). My parents had signed up with ASPAU to host a student for a "one-month home stay" designed to acquaint African students with American family life and customs.   

My mother was eager to share the bounty from her garden and to show Onye the plants from which our food came. This was a mistake in one instance.  Had she simply served the home-made rhubarb dessert, he might have enjoyed it, or at least tasted it.  But she made a point of showing him the large plant from which the rhubarb stalks came.  Onye then would not touch the dessert; his mother had taught him to avoid that poisonous plant!  Of course, both mothers were right: rhubarb leaves are poisonous, only the stalks are edible.

Onye thought our food was bland.  He often added hot pepper flakes from a jar he kept handy.  We were astonished that he added these to almost every dish.  My father tried to join him one day, adding a few of Onye's flakes to ice cream, figuring that ice cream was good under any circumstances.  But the hot pepper was too much for my father.

I'm sure Onye learned much from us, but we also learned much from him. My sister and I learned to dance to the Highlife records he had brought with him. Onye came from a large city and was in many ways more sophisticated and world-wise than we were. We lived a country lifestyle in north Danvers surrounded by woods and fields. He valued cities, while we valued nature. He dreamed of going to beautiful places in America, like Los Angeles! We tended to avoid cities, rarely going even to Boston. He wanted to go to a university he had heard of, but his ASPAU scholarship was for Bowdoin College, in Maine, of all places. He feared the winter cold and the isolation of such a place. I responded by knitting him a big green sweater that was thick and warm. He wore the sweater often, and graduated from Bowdoin in three years. He stayed in New England a few more years, earning a doctoral degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. Obviously he adapted to the world of sun without heat.   

We accepted Onye as part of our extended family. Our guest room became "Onye's room" as he came home to join us each holiday and vacation period for many years. One summer he and I worked together at Oceanic Hotel on the Isles of Shoals. When Onye married in 1966, my parents stood in the church with him as parents of the groom. (His original parents were no longer living.) My mother, the letter-writer in the family, maintained contact with Onye and Lillie for years. When my mother died in 1976, Onye returned to Danvers for her memorial service. Unfortunately, for the next 25 years, we lost track of each other as we each changed addresses and were busy raising children. In early 2001 a chance encounter with a Nigerian visitor at the college where I was working prompted me to speak of Onye and ask if this man had heard of him. Yes, he and his wife had recently had dinner with Onye and Lillie! Within hours Lillie responded to my email, saying that Onye would be sad to have missed me; he had just flown from Boston to Nigeria! A few months later Onye, Lillie and I arranged a joyful reunion and resolved not to lose contact again. In 2006 my sister and I traveled overseas for the wedding of their eldest daughter. Onye's family and friends welcomed us warmly. We, the "American sisters," were happy to be with our "African brother" again.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Apollo 11

Do you remember where you were when men first walked on the moon? I was in Danvers sitting on my parents' couch in the living room, watching the TV intently.

My infant son was on my lap. I wondered then what he and his generation would think about men walking on the moon -- so exciting and historic for us, but perhaps to become routine for him. He slept or nursed through most of the adventure. He was only 6 weeks old!

Today on my computer I have just watched a 40th anniversary repeat of the countdown to the launch of Apollo 11. Walking on the moon hasn't become routine, but having powerful computers in our homes and being able to watch videos at any time has become routine. Apollo 11 videos:
Will we return to the moon? See Paul Mailloux's recent column New rockets for space exploration.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Fourth of July and tennis

My cousin Stuart Brewster, who lived at the "Pine Knoll" family homestead from 1928 to 1959, sent this email:

"Well, here it is the Fourth of July once again. You were not around when we had fireworks all day long at Pine Knoll interspersed with family tennis matches. Your Dad and my brother Dudley were by far the top players. The double matches were especially exciting. Just about everyone played. All that ended in 1950 when the state took half of the court for widening the Turnpike. And they had the gaul to only offer payment for the half that they took by eminent domain. What good is half a court?" ...

"The problem with the tennis court was its up keep.
It was made of clay and had to be rolled frequently to keep it flat. It was also prone to weeds that had to be removed. And finally the lines were made out of white lime that had to be applied. It took days to get ready and then repair after the day of activity. But it was fun."

Stuart lives in Palo Alto, California, where he and Renate raised two daughters. He often visits Danvers and Salem, where his brother David and family still live.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Putnam Pantry Candies

This old box brings back many memories...


I'm glad Putnam Pantry Candies continues as an operating store (see www.putnampantry.com). I enjoyed some treats there in May 2008 and look forward to future visits.

I recall a time when Putnam Pantry had stores on BOTH sides of Route 1. And long before that, I remember an amusing story (newspaper article?) about the effect of the new cloverleaf system on Mr. Putnam's "commute" to and from work. If instead of walking to the next-door building he chose to move his car, he had a very short drive TO work, but in the evening would have to drive north on Rte 1, then take each cloverleaf in turn until he had made 4 loops back to his house! My father liked to retell that story. I witnessed the cloverleaf construction from my 1st grade classroom in Hathorne School which, like Putnam Pantry Candies, became encircled by one of the loops. I wrote about that experience in one of my first columns for the Danvers Herald (see April 2007 column).

This month I wrote about Sweet Choices; my column was published with the title, "Sweet choices carefully considered in Danvers."  Here's what I wrote:

Sweet Choices
by Sandy Nichols Ward

"Hurry up!" my sister exclaimed impatiently, while I stood at the ice cream counter, studying the long list of flavors.  This was serious business --to pick the best one-- and I didn't like to be rushed. Vanilla was my usual favorite; chocolate chip was also very, very good.  But I liked to consider all the options before deciding. My family teased me about being predictable; they KNEW I would only order vanilla or chocolate chip. Perhaps that's why I tried so hard to find an alternative, to surprise them.  In the end, though, I rarely dared to risk a whole ice cream cone on an untried flavor.  "Chocolate chip, please!" I'd say at last, as my sister and parents gave each other knowing looks.

I wonder if my caution in selecting ice cream flavors came from early experiences with flavors I disliked. Coffee, for instance. My mother loved coffee ice cream; I thought the taste was awful. An even earlier memory involves maple walnut ice cream, one of my father's favorites. They didn't tell me anything about what was in the ice cream. I was very young, and reacted in horror as I encountered the nuts. "It has bones in it!", I said loudly as I rejected the offending stuff.

I became more adventuresome in my adult life, even ordering a wasabi-flavored ice cream cone once (only once!). I'll try almost anything now, no longer afraid to "waste" the money, which was a concern in my Danvers days. My parents, who had experienced the Depression, were conscientious "penny-pinchers" who rarely ate out. Thus, going out for ice cream was a special treat, and I learned to be careful.  I wanted to make a good selection, "worth" the money.

I grew up not far from Putnam Pantry Candies. You can imagine the sweet choices there! I'd follow my mother around the store, gazing in amazement and hardly daring to hope that we'd buy the candies that caught my eye. If given money to spend, I'd be overwhelmed by the choices:  chocolates of all shapes and sizes, fudge light and dark, sticks of hard candy in a wide assortment of stripes and flavors, maple sugar candy, lollipops, and mints of assorted pastel colors. Mommy especially liked those smooth round mint pieces and sometimes bought a box to take home and savor one at a time, as her special treat.

One day we watched the creation of those mints in the basement of Putnam Pantry. We climbed down the narrow stairway and peered through big glass windows as candy was prepared. Someone dressed in a big apron squeezed a conical bag, dropping gobs of a gooey substance onto a huge flat surface that was gleamingly clean. Each little gob flattened out and solidified. My mother said the surface was refrigerated, so the candy hardened quickly. Fun to watch! Last year I returned to Putnam Pantry Candies, delighted that they were still in business, still with an observation area in the basement, but I was disappointed that they no longer carry the mints or the fruit-like semi-circles my mother and I had so enjoyed. I did buy some horehound candy, another nostalgic treat. I noticed the ice cream smorgasbord; I don't think it existed in the 1950's.  (I probably would have been too overwhelmed by the choices to enjoy it!)

My father avoided the mints. His mother had given peppermint to cover the taste of caster oil medicine, so mint reminded him of the dreaded caster oil – spoiling that choice. I enjoyed Daddy's story and enjoyed Mommy's mints, when she would share them with me. Too often she quoted our dentist about not feeding candies to children. Sweets in our home were carefully rationed.

Marshmallows, for instance, were counted. We could have two, or at most, three. A consequence of this rationing was that a bag of marshmallows lasted a long time. Most of the marshmallows hardened somewhat before we ate them – excellent for toasting. A firm marshmallow stays on the stick and toasts up nicely, especially if you have the patience of my mother. She could always toast one to perfection, all golden brown and puffy. Yum!

It is fun to remember the sweet treats of my childhood, made all the more special by the rationing and careful selection.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Way Up John

This month's column is about a cousin who used to fly over Danvers in the early days of aviation. See the online version, Viewpoint: Way Up John.

Cousin Stuart recalls, "Seeing or hearing an airplane was a big deal in those days. Many planes followed above the Newburyport Turnpike since it was a straight line reference point. Everytime a plane would fly over, we would rush out to see it. And sometimes it was "Way Up," who would circle the house a number of times. What a thrill."

John's daughter provided a copy of this photo taken by cousin David Brewster, captioned "John B. Nichols with his Kittyhawk Biplane (Way-up-John) / Portsmouth, NH 1935"

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Puppets

Greetings from my cowboy puppet, created in the 1950's under the guidance of Pat Poirier on Nichols Street (see entry below).

THANK YOU, Pat!

Speaking of finding old Danvers treasures, please see the recent article in the Danvers Herald about a Cheerie Cherry puppet created by Jeana Cleveland. Her daughter wrote to me recently.

Nichols Street memories

Yesterday I stood on Nichols Street and took this photo, remembering who used to live here. Classmate Ray Dirks lived in the house on the left. I recall hearing sounds of trumpet practice coming through those walls.

Two houses up the street, at the corner of Durkee Circle, is a small Cape in which Pat and Chuck Poirier lived. They did not yet have children, but they were very friendly to the neighborhood kids, inviting us in on Saturday mornings to play and do crafts. Pat, an occupational therapist, taught us to make hand-puppets from paper-maché. She skillfully and patiently guided us through the many stages of construction, beginning with molding in clay. It was fun to mold the clay heads! On each head, about the size of a baseball, we shaped ears and nose and other facial features. Pat encouraged us to exaggerate these features so they would be distinctive in the finished puppet. Each Saturday we came back to work on these puppet heads, covering them in strips of newspaper dripping with flour&water paste, pressing the damp gooey paper to fit tightly to the shaped clay. Week after week we added layers of paper-maché. Eventually, when the paper-maché had dried hard, each head was cut in half -- a process that shocked me at first, but had good consequences. I could easily remove the clay (which we had coated in Vaseline) and then glue together the two halves to create a hollow head, which I sanded and painted and worked on for many more weeks. My cowboy puppet acquired hair (glued-on yarn), and a hat (sewn out of felt), and a cloth body into which I could slip my hand and make his hands and head move. I was so pleased with that puppet! And I loved the hours spent with Pat and Chuck in that small house on Nichols Street.

Today I went to my attic and pulled out a box of old toys, hoping to find my cowboy puppet. I found the familiar basket and inside were TWO puppets I had made at Pat's! [See a notebook page in my handwriting illustrating how we made these puppets.]

I also found some other long-hidden treasures from childhood, and a wallet full of early photos of friends and relatives. What fun surprises! Today is my sister's birthday, and I have now emailed her some photos of what I found.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

More Locust Lawn Memories

This week I have written about playing at Locust Lawn as a child. So many wonderful memories are surfacing that I expect to continue writing, for future columns, about my experiences there.

Last month's column drew comments from a grandson of Amy Wentworth Stone. He confirmed that she did grow up at Locust Lawn, and she wrote other children's books. I have recently acquired a copy of P-Penny and His Little Red Cart (Boston, Lathrop,Lee & Shepard Co., 1934) by the same author and look forward to reading it.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Going on Nine at Locust Lawn



Once upon a time I was a little girl who played at Locust Lawn in Danvers.
I loved this storybook my mother read to me. The book was dedicated "TO ALL THE LITTLE GIRLS WHO PLAYED AT LOCUST LAWN".


The mansion pictured below (from page 37 of this book) existed until 1944. The foundation remained for years longer, providing a play area for Nichols Street kids. In 1957 my parents built a new house on the site, using part of the old foundation for a sunken garden.

These maps on the end-papers of the book show familiar features...
such as the Barn, the Back Avenue, and the little pond, called "Willow Pond" here, -- recognizable from my childhood.
The road shown at the bottom (passing the pond and curving to the left) was a portion of Nichols Street now renamed Conifer Hill Drive. Route 95 cut that road off from the lower section of Nichols Street and destroyed much of the hill of Locust Lawn. Only some the original 35 acres we played in remain today, in narrow slices on either side to Route 95.

This month and next my Danvers Herald columns will be about Locust Lawn. See April column: The Little Girls of Locust Lawn.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

8th grade photo


Here is an 8th grade Graduation photo. I am 2nd from left, the one wearing glasses, of course!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Seeing clearly

My March column is about wearing glasses, both the joy of seeing well and the awkwardness of worrying about how I looked at junior high dances:
Seeing the tops of the trees

See the school photos below. Obviously I wasn't the only student in my grade coping with glasses. Probably I wasn't the only one who felt awkward at Canteen, either. I bet the boys at that age (7th and 8th grades) had a difficult time with the socializing, too.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

School photos


Here's a Richmond Junior High class photo from 1955-56, my 7th grade year. I guess I missed the photo day, because I'm not in this one. Or perhaps this wasn't my home room? These faces are very familiar to me, however. Do you recognize anyone here? Note on the back: Miss Doherty's Home Room.

Do you remember the Friday night dances at Richmond Junior High? I'll be writing a few memories of "Canteen" in my next column.

I was trying to find a 7th grade photo of me, but instead I found this school photo from 10th grade, Holton High School Room 28, 1958-59.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Potholes in winter

This month I have written about the potholes near my childhood home. Icy conditions made them worse. See

Potholes and Patches on Nichols Street

Note: the section of Nichols Street that I describe has been rebuilt and renamed. It is now called Conifer Hill Drive. I hope its pavement is in better condition, without potholes.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Feeding Birds in Winter

This month's column for the Danvers Herald, published in print January 8, recalls our window birdfeeder, well-used for years: Feeding Birds in Winter.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Lost ski areas

Mark Arsenault of the Boston Globe interviewed me a few weeks ago for an article about "lost" ski areas. The article appeared on January 4, 2009:

Melted away: Memories of region's 'lost' ski areas are kept alive on the internet.
www.boston.com/news/local/articles/2009/01/04/melted_away/

It includes a photo of my father skiing with me at Locust Lawn, Danvers.