Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Pearl Harbor

Today is the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941.

I was not yet born, so have no first-hand memories of the event. My parents, however, sometimes talked about that day, telling how their friends who were in the Reserves dropped what they were doing and left immediately to answer the call of duty.

What were my parents and their friends doing together on that day?  They were in Danvers, in the woods on a hill in north Danvers, clearing and cutting ski trails for the coming winter.

Growing up near that hill, I heard that story many times. I didn't hear details of the horrors of that day, nor did I hear much about the context in which that attack happened. I just knew from my parents that something big and significant had happened, unexpectedly, one day in December some years ago while they and their active, outdoor-loving friends were busy clearing trails. And suddenly friends needed to leave, for much more urgent tasks.  One detail I don't know is HOW the news reached them. Did someone have a radio? or a pager of some sort?

Whenever someone mentions Pearl Harbor, my mind jumps back to that long-ago story.  I try to imagine what my father, mother, and their friends must have been thinking and feeling the day.  (They never discussed such with me.)  I do know that my father shifted to war-related work in a lab at MIT, instead of working in his shop that produced hearing aids. And I believe that his friends who went to war all returned alive.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Putnam Pantry

On November 9, 2016, I had the opportunity to introduce my grandson to Putnam Pantry.  He was visiting New England from his home in CA, and had just turned 11.  I treated him to a Sundae.

I also told him a bit of the history of the place.
We drove by General Israel Putnam's house as we left, and I repeated the oft-told story about his command at the Battle of Bunker Hill, "Don't shoot 'til you see the whites of their eyes." A few days later Mateo and his mother took a tour of Bunker Hill, and he was excited to tell me that he recognized that quote. 

In September, after my high school reunion and a quick tour around my old neighborhood, now so changed as to be unrecognizable, I had written, "At least Putnam Pantry is still there, still in business."  It was a joy to bring my grandson there. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2016


I am thankful this week for Danvers connections.  I have harvested the very last of my garden crop: Danvers Half-Long Carrots.  See photos below.  They are small, but oh, so very tasty!  I am savoring each one. 

Tomorrow I will be traveling north to visit with some very special people who were significant in my growing-up years in Danvers:

  • Pat and Chuck Poirier, who lived at the corner of Nichols St and Durkee Circle, and welcomed neighborhood children into their home for fun craft projects, especially puppet-making.
  • Janet Nichols Derouin, who lived with her young family at 123 Nichols St (near to my home), and then lived on Durkee Circle from 1959 to 1964.  She and Pat became very close friends.
My husband and I will join Pat and Chuck for a Thanksgiving meal in Concord, NH, where they now live.  Pat doesn't know it yet, but I plan to bring along the puppets I made at her house long ago.  I want to see the surprise on her face. Pat is almost 90, and I haven't seen her in years.

On Friday we'll be in Bridgton, Maine, celebrating Janet's 87th birthday. She lives there with her younger son Mont. Her husband Jed Derouin died in 2006.  Janet is my first cousin, and we have been in communication via email and phone calls over the years, but in-person visits are rare.  I last saw her in the spring of 2013.  She has kept in touch with Pat and Chuck.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Visiting Danvers

The Danvers Herald has published a piece I wrote about my recent visit to Danvers.  En route to a reunion, I detoured to the old neighborhood where I had grown up. I looked for traces of what remained of the once-so-familiar landscape along the northern end of Nichols Street (now called Conifer Hill Drive).

Here is a link to the published version (online at - with many pop-up ads):

 "Remembering Danvers: Visiting the old neighborhood"

Comments welcome.

Here is the plain text that I submitted:

Revisiting Danvers
By Sandy Nichols Ward

On Friday September 16, driving up Route 1 toward the Breakaway for a reunion party with my Holten High School classmates, I looked for old landmarks and reflected on changes that have occurred over the years.  I paused in the Breakaway parking lot, surveying from that high point the once familiar landscape ahead to the north, where I and generations of my family before me had lived and worked and played.  I thought of my first-grade school; the family home called “Pine Knoll” where I used to visit the cousins and great-aunts; the hayfields (replaced long ago by the shopping center) by Granddaddy’s house (replaced by an office park); the old state hospital now transformed into condos; and of course Putnam Pantry Candies. At least Putnam Pantry is still there, still in business.  

I was early, so had time to drive north to the little street now called Conifer Hill Drive. A CVS store occupies the corner where the Danvers Liquor Store once stood, marking the entrance to “my” street, called Nichols Street back then. I wanted to explore what, if anything, remained of the land where I had played as a child. Not much is recognizable. No surprise there. The Locust Lawn ski hill and barns had been destroyed in the early 1970’s to make way for construction of I-95. In 2013 another drastic excavation occurred, re-shaping the south side of the remaining hill into terraces for large buildings of a new housing development. Now, in 2016, I was curious to see the finished Conifer Hill Commons. I parked and walked around. I gazed at the boulders on the massive retaining walls, and the tall trees high above on the narrow ridge, a fragment of the old hill.  Do children ever climb up there to play among the trees?  I wondered as I watched young children in a city-style playground at one corner of the parking lot. That new playground, with plastic climbing equipment, seemed so small and artificial compared to the trees, hills, meadows, and streams available to us as children in the 1950’s.

I did recognize, with a smile, many plants reminiscent of my era: golden rod, thistles, sumac, long vines of bittersweet, a shagbark hickory tree.  Oh, I hadn’t thought about a hickory tree in a long time. A huge one used to stand by the stone wall near our home at 120 Nichols St.  Squirrels feasted on the hickory nuts, and we, too, would crack them open and pick out the nutmeat. As I looked down, I was delighted to see a half-shell lying on the stone wall, just exactly as I remembered.  The ground around my feet was littered with evidence of hickory nut feasting.  A young vine crawling up the wall nearby had shiny green leaves, in groups of three, so characteristic of poison ivy, another well-known plant in my childhood.  I saw some poisonous pokeweed, too, with its bright red stems and beautiful black-purple berries gleaming in the sun. I remember mashing pokeberries into a juice to serve at a “pretend” party with dolls, while my mother cautioned anxiously that we NOT drink that juice. Somehow I survived childhood in spite of the dangers of poisonous plants and long periods of unsupervised play in the woods and fields of Danvers, where I learned to love wild weeds as well as cultivated gardens. Those gardens are long gone, but I was happy to see such colorful bouquets of wild weeds thriving along the margins of the new development.

I returned to the Breakaway and enjoyed the evening with old Danvers friends, sharing stories from our school days and catching up with more recent news. I’m glad I made this trip back to Danvers.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Another Reunion

Today I'm driving to Danvers to join my high school classmates (Class of 1961) for a reunion dinner at the Breakaway (former Village Green).  That's very close to the street where I grew up, so I'll aim to arrive early for a brief drive around the area, to see what has changed since my last Danvers visit. 

Also today, I plan to stop in Salem to see exhibits at the Peabody Essex Museum, especially the Childe Hassam paintings of the Isles of Shoals.  I enjoyed the Isles of Shoals in the late 1950's and early 1960's – first at a week-long church conference for teenagers,  and later as a summer employee (chambermaid) at the Oceanic Hotel on Star Island.

A trip back in time...    'way back!   These connections go back more than 50 years.

Some photos from the Reunion

Tuesday, August 30, 2016


An old newspaper clipping brings back strong memories of immigrants who arrived in Danvers when I was young. 

Stella Ullman, right, was German, and she did not know much, if any, English.  My sister and I – little girls who lived nearby – enjoyed eating her delicious cookies as we visited her new home (a small apartment in a converted barn up the hill from our house).  Her Hungarian husband, Bela Ullman, probably knew more English, but he was busy at work most days, leaving Stella home alone. She readily welcomed us, and encouraged us to read aloud to her from some American children's books that happened to be in her living room. (Years later, I learned that my cousin Marion Nichols, a retired school teacher, had supplied those books and was giving Stella English lessons.)

I had previously (2009) written about my memories of Stella and Bela, but did not know much about the details or timing of their arrival in the U.S.  This summer while cleaning up for a party and consolidating some old boxes, I found a very yellowed copy of this old newspaper photo. Fortunately my cousin Dave Brewster had also found, and digitized, a copy in better condition than mine.  His copy displays a handwritten date: Sept. 26, 1949.  Mine is undated, though the headers at the top give good clues:
 Read The Danvers Herald
Danvers OWN and ONLY Newspaper
79TH YEAR, NO 40

I've tried to find my earlier piece, but the 2009 link to my Danvers Herald column is no longer working.  Here is a copy that I had revised slightly and read aloud at Gateway City Arts, Holyoke, MA, in 2015.

Remembering Danvers 
[11/30/09, slight edits 3/30/15]

New inhabitants in an old barn
By Sandy Nichols Ward

"I'm hungry," I said aloud, as the nice German lady opened the door. I was a little girl with braids, a shy first-grader. I didn't know much about this lady, but remembered yummy cookies she had served to me and to my younger sister. I was hoping for more cookies, so I had walked up the hill to the barns at the top of Locust Lawn, entered the workshop door of the smaller barn, and knocked on the inner door.

This barn used to be in sad shape, with rotting boards and holes in the interior floor. I think my father and grandfather fixed it, or hired someone to do the work. The outside of the barn hadn't changed, nor had the entryway, a narrow dusty room with a huge wooden workbench under windows dim with dirt.  My sister and I have vivid memories of pulling open one of the workbench drawers and discovering a nest of baby mice, all naked and pink, squirming inside the nest.  But that was before the remodeling of the inner part of the barn to create a home for Bela and Stella, a D.P. couple sponsored by my grandfather. [I didn't know then what D.P. meant; I've since learned about the Displaced Persons program resettling refugees after World War II.]

Stella smiled and beckoned me into the warm living room. Lace curtains on the windows, pictures on the walls, rugs on the floor, and an array of used furniture made this barn space into a cozy, if humble, home. She pointed to a pile of colorful children's books.  I began looking at the books, while Stella stepped into the kitchen. She emerged with a plate of gingerbread cookies and sat beside me. We looked at the books together. She wanted me to read the words aloud. She tried to repeat them exactly, practicing English, her new language.  Stella was new to Danvers, new to America. 

Stella's Hungarian husband Bela was skillful in leather-tooling and made a lovely leather cover for my parents' guest book. He also had engineering experience and worked for my father at Nichols & Clark, Inc., for about seven years (1950-56?). I wish I knew more about their story and how they came to Danvers, but I was young when they arrived. My focus then was on cookies, not world history or the plight of refugees. My mother also taught me not to ask too many questions. She was trying to teach manners, for instance telling me that it is not polite to say "I'm hungry!" when you first enter someone's door.  I hope Stella did not know enough English at that time to catch my impolite utterances.

I have fond memories of visiting Bela and Stella's home in that barn. They always welcomed us – my sister and I, the little girls from down the hill – cheerfully. We marveled at their beautiful Christmas tree, larger than ours, and decorated with many tiny white candles. REAL candles!  Each candle stood in a little metal holder clipped onto a green branch. The holder was like a saucer that caught the hot wax as the candle burned and melted.  My mother fretted about the fire hazard, but we loved the special beauty of their tree with its candles and other old-world decorations.  

Stella and Bela loved children and wished for a family of their own. Stella's sister and brother-in-law followed them to Danvers and lived in the small apartment at my grandfather's house. Both couples eventually moved to Long Island. I was happy to learn that Stella had several children there. She later thanked me for helping her learn English during her first years in Danvers.  I was surprised that my role had been so helpful; I thought I was just mooching cookies!  I have recently learned that my cousin Marion Nichols provided real instruction in English. Stella went regularly to 98 Preston Street for her lessons. Marion also provided the children's books that Stella shared with me. Perhaps I was part of a careful family plan in support of these immigrants my grandfather was sponsoring, or perhaps my role was incidental. I really don't know. I just know that I loved the cookies and Stella's kind attention whenever I knocked on that barn door.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Five years ago

Another birthday passed this weekend.  I considered writing something about my experience with summer birthdays, and illustrating it with a well-remembered photo of one party.  This morning I arose early with that composition in my mind.  Wondering if I had already posted that photo on this blog, I typed "summer birthday" in the search box.  Fortunately, that search function works well.

Yes, I had posted the photo AND written a column in summer 2011.  

Unfortunately, the link to the Danvers Herald column no longer worked. Nor could I find it easily via the newspaper's online site (   I did find my original on my own computer, dated 5/30/2011, and here it is:

Summer birthdays and a reunion
By Sandy Nichols Ward

I was born in July, an inconvenient month for celebrating a birthday with school friends. I felt a bit jealous of my friends who had birthdays during the school year. Recognition of their special days came more easily, or so it seemed to me. I don't recall whether our teachers made announcements of birthdays or whether word just spread informally among the students, but I know that I felt left out of the school-based loop for communicating about birthdays. By July there was no one around to pay attention to a birthday, except my immediate family and a few neighborhood friends. 

My mother was not in the habit of planning big parties for birthdays.  Birthdays in our family were usually simple affairs: a homemade cake, a few sensible gifts, and the singing of "Happy Birthday to You."  It was rare to invite guests. 

I can only remember one large party organized for my birthday.  My friends and I sat outside around a large table set up under the trees near the big barn.  I've found a few photos of this party; I count fourteen children around the table, including myself and my sister Jean.  The photos are not dated, but from various clues I've decided that this was probably my 7th birthday, July 1950, the summer after first grade, or at most one year later.  Raymond Dirks is on my right, and I recognize the faces of Janet Hoberg and Gordon Lindroth.

Coincidently, I hope to see some of these SAME friends in Danvers this summer, not because anyone is organizing a birthday party, but because my classmates are all invited to the BIG FLING, the 50th Class Reunion of the Holten High Class of 1961!  I look forward to attending this reunion, which actually falls on the weekend of my birthday, July 8-10, 2011.  At last! A school event on my birthday! 

I'll bring along the old photos of the 1950 party, hoping that others may recognize faces and have fun identifying the guests at that long-ago party.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Old wiring at Pine Knoll

Recently my cousin C. Stuart Brewster and I reminisced about Pine Knoll (the old family homestead at 98 Preston Street, Danvers) and the condition of its electrical wiring, which has been quite visible in the rooms, running across or along the edges of ceilings. We both recall older family members there bragging about the early adoption of electricity. The family was proud that Pine Knoll was one of the first homes in Danvers to be electrified. Stuart had heard that it was the very FIRST such home.

Is that true? Was Pine Knoll one of the first homes to have electric lights? When and how did electricity come to private homes in Danvers?

Neither of us knew that history. I sent an inquiry to Mr. Richard Trask at the Danvers Archival Center, and he looked into the records of the Danvers Electric Light Department and reported these facts: 
·       The light plant on Burroughs Street opened and 72 arc* street lights began functioning in Danvers on January 2, 1889.

·       Danvers was the first municipality in Massachusetts to generate and distribute its own electricity.

·       In 1891 the state legislature approved Danvers’ request to make and sell electricity to businesses and residences (Chapter 378 of the Acts of 1891).

·       According to a brochure by the Department, the house at 24 Berry Street “was the first private residence to receive electric service.”  That house was built in 1896.

·       August 1897 “A. Nichols” was charged $1.33 for “Domestic Incand.” electricity.

Pine Knoll may well have been the first private house in that section of Danvers (then called Asylum Station, later called Hathorne) to be wired for electric lights. In any case, it was an early installation, soon after December 1896 when such service began in Danvers.

*Arc light systems were high voltage direct-current (D.C.) systems, and could not supply household electricity.

If you are curious about the politics and arguments involved in obtaining state approval for Danvers electric light service, here's a document I found on the internet: 33 pages of testimony by Daniel Crowley, a lawyer representing Danvers:
       Argument ... in favor of municipal lighting, before the Committee on manufactures of the Massachusetts legislature, March 24 and 25, 1891.
It is long-winded and full of exaggerations, but does give you a flavor of those times. 

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Rev. William S. Nichols

Today, as a historic church in Marblehead, Massachusetts, celebrates its TriCentennial (1716-2016), I am thinking of my grandfather, Rev. William S. Nichols, who served as minister there 1943-46.  His portrait hangs in a room now called the Nichols room.

For more about the TriCentennial, visit

I had hoped to attend today's ceremony.  Instead, I'm at home selecting some photos of my grandfather to scan and share here.  For instance:

Rev. William S. Nichols
Click on photo to enlarge

Rev. Nichols at Star Island
Photo reproduced in a booklet in his memory
published by the Unitarian Church, Marblehead, 1960.
I love this photo of him in front of the stone chapel at Star Island (Isles of Shoals). He attended Unitarian conferences there every summer for many, many years, I'm told. Unfortunately he had died before I, as a teenager, first discovered Star. I worked several summers on that island, and people sometimes exclaimed that it was good to have a Nichols on Star again. (At first, I didn't understand the reference, not realizing that my grandfather had preceded me.)

Here is a 1952 photo of my grandparents, Granddaddy and Nana, as I knew them in their retirement years.  I remember them so clearly! We lived right next door to them in Danvers. We ran freely from our yard to theirs, and spent many hours in their home. Grandaddy built us a playhouse, and took time to read books and play games with us. A delightful grandfather!

I want to share, from the 1960 "In Memoriam" booklet, some information relevant to family history and the history of the Marblehead church.  Here's an image of the booklet cover:

A Preface states that this "little brochure" was prepared and published by the Fund Raising Committee of the Unitarian Church of Marblehead "in loving memory of Doctor William Stanley Nichols, minister emeritus"  who "though already retired, gave in good measure his valued services during the years of World War II."  Four of his sermons were selected for reproduction in this booklet.

From the "Editor's Forward" (see below), we learn that my grandfather preached again in Marblehead May 18, 1958, just days before he died. 
Click on image to enlarge
The editor, Ruth Goodwin, wrote at the end, "Thus do we quote, remember and honor our valued friend and leader who was the great great great grandson of Edward Holyoke, who was ordained the first minister of our Marblehead Unitarian Church two hundred and forty-four years ago this month." She was writing in April 1960. 

Now it is 300 years since my ancestor Rev. Edward Holyoke started that church. I gather from the history posted on the website that he didn't intend to create a new church. A controversy erupted when he, as a candidate for minister of an older church, was not chosen; people who favored his candidacy broke away and established a new church for him. He served there for 21 years, until appointed to become President of Harvard College.

Growing up in Danvers, I heard relatives speak of a famous ancestor, Edward Holyoke, who was a president of Harvard long ago. I didn't then comprehend the connections to Marblehead or to ministry. (All presidents of Harvard in those early days had to be ministers...)  Nor did I see my grandfather as a minister.  He was 100% "Granddaddy" as far as I was concerned.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Tiddlywinks Golf

The Danvers Herald published my column on tiddlywinks golf in mid-January. See

I had written and submitted the piece while I was in the midst of planning an event featuring a different kind of indoor golf.  Memories of playing my father's version of golf kept coming to mind, so I took a brief pause and wrote that column, submitting it with a photo of the hooked rug crucial to the game.

Not until today did I check to learn whether the Herald had actually accepted my submission. I'm pleased to see that the rug photo (taken in 1942, when that hooked rug was new) was included in their online posting.  I don't know how it looked in the printed paper, as I don't see that edition.  I live far from Danvers, and gave up on the paper subscription years back, realizing that I rarely had time to look at the issues; my priority each morning is to read the newspaper(s) covering my current community.

Lack of time, sufficient time to follow-up on many interesting things, is a theme in my life. You might say that my problem stems from having too many interests.  'Way too many, I confess.  Band rehearsals, library meetings, band gigs, writing group at the Senior Center, community meetings – plenty of action/distraction each week.

And I'm STILL busy planning a miniature golf event that will happen April 9 - just one month from today. It is a new fundraiser for our public library, being organized by the Friends of the Library, of which I have been President since last August. Recruiting sponsors for the event, especially for each of the 18 "holes," has been my task. This is indoor golf on a large scale, much larger than the old hooked rug in Danvers. Five levels of our newly-expanded public library will be included in the golf course!  We hope hundreds of people, especially young children, will come and have fun.

So, I've been ignoring this Danvers blog, and failing to write more columns for the Herald, because I'm having too much fun focusing on Mini Golf in the Library!  If curious, you may learn more via this web address: