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.

Monday, June 22, 2020

School teachers

Recently I found an old list of my school teachers and the Danvers schools I attended. It is not complete, but it did add a few details I had not remembered. Using those clues and my memory, I can quickly construct this list:

1st grade:  Mrs. Billings at the Hathorne School.  1949/50

2nd grade: Tapley Street School

3rd grade:  Mrs. Billings again (but at a different school, between Charter Street and Maple Street)

4th grade:  Mrs. Oliver at the newly-built Great Oak Elementary School

5th grade:  [a classroom in Richmond Junior High School]

6th grade: Mrs. Sears in a classroom in Richmond Junior High School

7th grade: Richmond Junior High School

8th grade: Mr. Corbeil, Richmond Junior High School

For 9th and 10th grade I attended Holten High School (next door to Richmond Jr. High).

I definitely remember that I attended five (5) different schools in my first five years of school! The Danvers school population was growing rapidly (because of the post-WWII baby boom), and the school district no doubt had many challenges in finding sufficient classroom space.

I've written previously about walking to the one-room Hathorne School, and about taxi and bus rides to the other schools. The expansion of Route 1 forced the removal of the Hathorne School at the close of the 1949/50 school year.

By the 1953/54 school year (my fifth grade), note the overflow of some elementary classes into the Junior High building. For six years I was bused to classes at the same location: that Richmond/Holton campus. It would have been eight years, had I stayed in public school.

I left Danvers schools after 10th grade (1958/59).  I'll explain why in my next post.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Heifers

Photos in this morning's local paper* showed 7-month old heifers running in a pasture for the first time. The accompanying article said, "...they jumped from the trailer into the pasture where they will be spending the next few months."

Oh, how I remember watching Mr. Hooper's heifers leap from the back of his truck when he brought them from his Danvers dairy farm to the Locust Lawn property near my home. At Locust Lawn they would have acres of fields and woods in which to roam. Probably they had been cooped up in a barn all winter.

They arrived packed side by side in the truck, with no room to maneuver. Mr. Hooper parked the truck on the old dirt road just south of the big barn at Locust Lawn. He opened the wide gate to the pasture, which sloped down towards the east, beside the ski slope.  Then he lifted the back panels out of his truck and prepared to position ramps for those young cows to walk down from the truck bed.

Well! The heifers didn't wait for a ramp. Some leapt sideways into the air, and hit the ground running!  They seemed to jump for joy. They cavoted around in the free space, and ran off in various directions.

What fun to watch this ritual of Spring! 

---------
* See the Daily Hampshire Gazette, May 13, 2020,  "Who Let the Cows Out?" online (with video of the heifers) at
 https://www.gazettenet.com/Barstow-Farm-in-Hadley-releases-several-cows-on-Pasture-Day-34283329

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Mother's Day


Dogwood trees always make me think of my mother. She LOVED dogwood trees and their blossoms.

On a walk this morning in Holyoke, I photographed these lovely examples.




Dogwoods bloom in early May -- around the date of my mother's birthday (May 5). Mommy would take us to her home town of Westport, Connecticut, and show us streets lined with flowering dogwoods. On some streets the dogwoods were so huge that they towered over the roadway, connecting into a continuous canopy of pink and white dogwood blossoms.

Younger dogwood trees grew beside our little house in Danvers. I believe that she had transplanted them from Westport sometime in the early 1940's.

Happy Mother's Day! 

Remembering Janet Cutler Nichols (1912-1976).



Monday, May 4, 2020

Joys 1977

In October 1977 when I wrote about, and cried over, losses (see previous post), I continued writing and expressed joy. The next page of that old journal begins,

What a rich, special childhood I had!
May 5, 2020, is the anniversary of my mother's birthday. How fitting that I can share this remembrance now.  Janet N. Cutler was born on May 5, 1912, and lived to almost 64. She came to Danvers in 1940 to marry my father. They started married life in a small rental house on Nichols Street, just across from the large Locust Lawn property. They'd been house-hunting elsewhere, but hadn't yet found what they sought. So, on a temporary basis, they moved into that little cape. Lucky for me, they stayed. I, born three years later, was able to grow up with grandparents next door, and acres of woods, fields and streams nearby.

Here's the final page of my journal entry written on October 5, 1977:

What a rich, special childhood I had! The land and plants and wild birds and animals were so much a part of it, thanks to my mother. She taught me so much about nature and conservation and appreciation of life! That is a wonderful gift. She got such joy from the simple things – a bright red leaf, a fern fiddlehead, growing vegetables, a new wren in the birdhouse, etc. And my life is enriched by experiencing these wonders as she taught me to.
As a child I used to get tired of her exclamations to come see the cloud, or this leaf or that view. "oh Mommy!" I'd reply "it is just another leaf..." etc. I resisted her enthusiasm. But it came through whenever I was alone (at Putney, and now). 
Now my kids have to endure my endless cries of "Oh, look at that." I want to pass on that love of the beauty of nature. (Even though it carries with it the pain of watching "progress" spoil the beautiful land.)
What a joy tonight  to get in touch with this special gift  from my mother, after concentrating for hours on the hidden messages* I got from her, most of which were negative. I got lots of problems from her. I'm like her in so many ways. But fortunately the good came with the bad. I feel love for her now. And I like myself.

*See my Comment below for context about "hidden messages" and some examples. I did appreciate my mother during my youth. My comment in fall 1977 about problems referred more to changes I, as an adult, was attempting to make in some of my habits, and my realization that she had been, of course, the model for those habits. She had died in April 1976.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Losses 1977

In fall 1977, in California where I had lived since 1971, I enrolled in a seminar that caused me to look back at my childhood and think about early influences on my life. Thick notebooks from that "Inner Growth Seminar (I.G.S.)" – filled with my notes, assignments and journal entries – have lain dormant in storage for decades.

Now, with time on my hands because of the coronavirus shutdowns and stay-at-home orders, I've opened old boxes and reviewed the contents to sort out what might be tossed or kept.

Here's a relevant excerpt from my journal, written on October 5, 1977:

I have just written my IGS homework, and then 1 1/2 hours of uninterrupted 'brainstorming' of childhood memories. I started writing down clues, fragments, scenes – anything that came to my head – just to get it down for future reference. No judgment, no thoughts about my parents, just my memories. What can I see? What did I do? Where & how did I play?  The memories are coming faster than I can write. My hand is cramped. One pen has run out of ink & I'm using up a 2nd!
Tears came as I wrote about the Delhi farm. I wish I could go back there. It is so special to have memories like that. Why do these places have to leave the family?  I am sad that my kids can't play there as I did. 
Locust Lawn is spoiled, cut by Rte 95.
My old yard is overgrown, changed.
The big old barn was demolished.
The woods were cut down.
Granddaddy's house and the playhouse are gone or sold.
Delhi is sold.
Pine Knoll burned. The land is for sale.
Kermit's house was moved.
The 1-room schoolhouse was torn down after my 1st grade.
I'm really crying by now. I have remembered these places so clearly tonight and feel the loss. 
What will my kids remember? I feel sad that they do not know the woods + fields + meadows + big old barns + old family houses I played in. 
Tonight –just for tonight– I wish the world had not changed. I want to go back & play in those streams along Nichols Street.

All but one of those losses were in Danvers.

"Delhi farm" refers to an old dairy farm in the Catskills of New York. My mother took us there at least once a year to revisit the places she had loved as a child, spending summers on her grandfather's farm, which his father (James MacDonald) had started in 1850. That property was sold in 1972 after the last of the MacDonald sisters died. End of an era. Memories and photos remain.

For Danvers memories, I created this blog in 2007, thinking that I  – as a"new" writer in a Senior Center's writing group –  was writing for the first time about my Danvers childhood.  Ha!  I hadn't remembered the pages and pages I'd scribbled in notebooks in 1977.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Epidemics

For the past month I've had much time to read and reflect about epidemics. The "novel" coronavirus spreading and affecting so many people today is new and shocking, but if you step back and look at history, there is some comfort in the fact that we humans have survived MANY previous epidemics.

An article published April 3 in the Daily Hampshire Gazette (Northampton, MA), in a series titled "Readers' voices in the time of coronavirus," helped me gain this perspective. The author, Marcia Burick, describes her own experience getting polio during the polio epidemic that swept the country in the summers of 1951-1953.  Her article, Polio and the COVID-19 virus: Taking in personally, opens this way:

"There's never been anything like this before." Well, yes there has. The fear of serious illness, the randomness of it all, the mystery of why it happened, when will it ever end, will there be after effects? All this talk of ventilators and respirators, and the need to find more. For me, this triggered a memory from long ago, 66 years ago, in fact to September of 1953.
Oh, yes! In Danvers, in my childhood, polio was a scary subject. My parents were worried. Some of their friends were stricken. I especially remember one man who used to ski regularly with my parents, and then he was ill, and had to be in a wheelchair because of polio. I also remember lining up at school to get a "shot" - to be vaccinated against polio.

In my lifetime there have been several cycles of epidemics. The HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980's, when I worked at Stanford University, was devastating, killing some of my colleagues so quickly. It seemed we were going to memorial services every week. A big staff meeting was called to discuss how to stay safe, but so little (at that time) was known about the strange new illness that we were left with more questions than answers. Eventually HIV/AIDS became more understood and manageable. One of my favorite Stanford colleagues was able to survive many years after his diagnosis, and enjoy some time in retirement.

Here I sit, in retirement, sequestered at home and not knowing when or if I might become sick because of this new virus. On one level, it is scary. On another level, it is a peaceful time for reading, writing, walking with the dog, watching movies, and working on projects. I've become quite familiar with virtual meetings (via ZOOM, GoToMeeting, or other online tools), and I'm trying to be helpful to the community at large. This week, in my role as a board member of FCAWM,  I wrote a one-page document that we intend to distribute to front-line institutions (hospitals, hospices, nursing homes, etc.) to help them guide families who are dealing with deaths of loved ones. I've called it "Tips for consumers about funeral options during the Covid-19 pandemic." For more information about that, I refer you to another blog that I maintain:

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Maple Ice Cream

This week a review in my local newspaper compared various brands of maple-flavored ice cream. The reviewer, Elizabeth Román, sampled Friendly's, Hood, and Bart's ice creams. When she mentioned maple walnut, my mind filled with childhood memories.

Maple walnut was my father's favorite. He loved ice cream, especially maple walnut.

Maple walnut was NOT my favorite. My first encounter with it, as a very young girl, was upsetting.  After one bite, I rejected it, complaining to my parents that the ice cream "had BONES in it!"

That became a favorite family story, retold many times. I definitely preferred plain vanilla or other ice creams without surprises inside.

I agree with Elizabeth Román. As she praised Bart's ice cream, she wrote, "Can I just say it's refreshing to eat maple ice cream without walnuts in it. I have never been a big walnut fan and this ice cream does fine without them."  Yes!  Gradually I did accept other nuts in ice cream, but not walnuts. I didn't much like the slightly-bitter taste of walnuts.

She concludes her review with a suggestion that makes me smile, and think of Daddy again.

It occurred to me that you could also buy some really good quality vanilla ice cream and pour local maple syrup on it. That would probably be amazing, too.
Yes! Yes!  Daddy loved to do that!  And we had local maple syrup, made by Mommy as she boiled down the sap we collected from nearby maple trees.  See my earlier article (March 2008) about how we made maple syrup in Danvers.


Saturday, February 15, 2020

Segregation


The Danvers of my youth was an all-white town. That's my memory. And in my youth I did not question the situation; I took it for granted.  

This month I read Richard Rothstein’s 2017 book, The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America. My daughter had urged me to read it, and wanted my reaction to a section in the first chapter about a California neighborhood near where we lived when she was young. She and I have long been aware of the housing patterns there, with inequities obvious. This book documented what I already had heard informally from neighbors who had lived there through an earlier era. The segregation hadn't just happened naturally. There were policies and forces at play that led to separation by color, with the result that African Americans and other non-whites lived in poorer housing east of the freeway, while whites predominated west of the freeway, where I lived from 1971 to 1992.   

Danvers is not mentioned in Rothstein's book. But reading it brought forth memories of my mother’s strong reactions to a racial discrimination case in Danvers. She was appalled that a young Black couple couldn’t buy the new house that they wanted in Danvers. The couple sued, and when that lawsuit was settled, my mother was happy that they had won the right to purchase the home. When that couple chose, ultimately, not to purchase the house, and not to move to Danvers, my mother was sad, but expressed empathy, understanding how awkward and unpleasant it would be to move into a neighborhood that doesn't want you there.  

That case shattered my naive notion that Danvers "just happened" to be filled with white residents. 

I want to learn more about that case. This month I've tried searching newspaper back-files (via databases accessible through my public library and through the Boston Public Library's online services), but none of those resources go back before 1980.  

My search is hampered by lack of details. I only have long-ago memories of my mother's comments. I vaguely recall that the housing development in question was new, and located not far from our high school. But I lack names, address, and dates. 

I can make some estimates about the time period. I'm quite sure that I was away from Danvers at the time, and hearing reports from my mother (perhaps through phone calls or letters, or during vacations back home). I didn't hear of the case directly through news media; I wasn't paying attention to Danvers news at that time -- other than what my mother conveyed to me. So, was this case in the 1970's while I lived in CA? Or during the 1960's while I was away at college or grad school, and then my first job in NYC?  I first went away in fall 1959, attending 11th grade in a school in VT.

Thus, 1959-1979 is the likely time frame within which that lawsuit happened. I've called the Danvers library and consulted with Archivist Richard Trask.  No clues found yet. 

I hope someone reading this may be able to fill in the gaps. Please comment below, or send me an email via the contact form on this blog. THANK YOU. 

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Nathan P. Nichols

As I awoke today and considered the date, January 8th, memories of my father quickly surfaced. So many memories! January 8 was his birthday. I thought of adding a photo of him here, on this Danvers blog, to mark this day.

Nathan P. Nichols (1912-1996)

This photograph may trigger memories in the minds of other Danvers people who knew him in his role as a businessman, owner of a Danvers business. I've written previously on this blog about his company and shared some of his own stories about his working life, but this photo had not yet been posted. I chose it from a large 3-ring binder in which I've collected and retained many photos and articles about my father.

I'd welcome comments from people who remember his work in Danvers.

I know he was an active and loyal member of the Rotary Club of Danvers, attending Rotary luncheons regularly. He hated to miss a Rotary meeting. If traveling away from Danvers, he'd seek out another Rotary luncheon to attend. (He enjoyed having a perfect attendance record, and told us that by attending a Rotary meeting elsewhere he'd get some 'credit' to replace a missed Danvers meeting.)

To find my previous blog entries about my father, you can use the Search box, upper right. Today I typed in "Nathan" and up came many entries, including ones about the Nichols and Clark company, which made hearing aids and other products in Danvers. For example, this one includes his own words about that company and how he got into that business:
   In His Words: My Father's Business

You can also search on keywords "Nick" (as he preferred to be called) or "Daddy" to bring up more entries in which I've mentioned him.

For more PHOTOS, I invite you to see my albums on SmugMug, a photo-sharing site:
   Nichols & Clark, Inc.
   Nick