My parents were both from Pittsfield, New Hampshire, a town small enough so that most people knew each other. They were married in 1907, lived for a few years in Lynn, Massachusetts, where father served as Secretary of the Shoe Manufacturer’s Association, and then moved to Haverhill, living at first in the Riverside section, before moving to Bradford. My father owned a small shoe factory, which he ran with his brother, Frank, but that was before I was on the scene. Much later in life, Lucile pointed out to me the two floors in a manufacturing building, which had been their “factory”. By the time I was old enough to know, father owned the City Insurance Agency, located on the main business street of Haverhill, where he employed a couple of other people, Miss Elden, Cliff, and my sister Lucile.
I have often wished that I had asked more about why the switch from shoe manufacturing to insurance, but I am left only with surmise, and a few snippets of information shared by my sisters. My father was not well during most of the time when I was growing toward manhood. My guess today is that his condition had something to do with loss of the shoe factory. The shoe industry had moved south from large parts of the Merrimack Valley, and of course the stock market crash came about the same time. Today I am confident that whatever happened to the business was largely contributory to the limitations placed on him by poor health.
My father was not able to be to me what fathers often are to boys; I was not taught some of the things which young boys usually learn from fathers. His condition was called by a variety of names, including the term “nervous breakdown”. He was treated with numerous and sometimes peculiar “cures”. I can remember a period of time when a doctor had father get up early in the mornings on cold days, go out into the yard to open the garage, clad only in his BVD’s! That was a spectacle I watched with wonder, and mother with a hope that the neighbors did not see! She told me that she told Mrs. Bowdoin about so that she would understand if she saw him; a good way to make sure she looked!
Neighbors included the Bowdoins, across the street from us. Others on the street were the Smiths, the Stearns, the Mulloys, Batchelders, Ross’s, Mrs. Carleton, others whom it is hard to remember. At some point my father’s brother, Frank, lived “around the corner”, on Williams Street, sometimes too close, always easily distanced. Mr. Bowdoin worked as a tanner, and came home wet and dirty, and seemed mostly to retreat into the house. The Smiths worked in a grain store, had two sons, both older than I, and they were quiet, “good neighbors”. Mr. Stearns went each day to a bank where he worked, always pleasant when he paid me for shoveling the snow. Closest to us were the Ross family, whose older son was in the Navy, and whose daughter, Dot, became one of my best early friends. Mrs. Ross and mother were active together in various clubs.
Mrs. Carleton, a retired piano teacher, was regarded as a community enigma, some would say “witch”. I befriended her enough to discover her “peculiar” propensities. One day she explained to me that she had lots of old magazines stored in her attic, and that she periodically rotated them bringing one batch, then another downstairs, fearful that “they might be lonely” in the attic. Most people on the street were happy to avoid Mrs. Carleton. I think she appreciated what attention I accorded.
Among our neighbors, the Mulloys, next door to us, on the corner, presented for me a mystery I have never fully understood. At an early age I learned that my parents and members of the considerable Mulloy family were never to speak! A low hedge separated our house lots; driveways were juxtaposed, and it was necessary to walk past their house to go almost anywhere. For years I moved in that direction in frozen silence, sometimes frightened, always uncomfortable. At some point I made initial contacts, and by the time I was in high school was actually invited into the house, had conversation with Mrs. Mulloy, and began what was a modest attempt at reconciliation. She was gracious, and seemed almost proud when I was recognized in the local news upon graduation with honors from high school. Gradually I was pleased to see the days when mother and she at least exchanged casual, though still cool pleasantries. I must have asked my parents about the reason for the estrangement, but do not remember any satisfactory answer; I was content to forget it, and move on. The reasons for that severe rift in the neighborhood were never explained to me, but my suspicion always rooted it to some degree in the fact that the Mulloys were Catholic, on a street occupied by at least nominal Protestants.
From my school years, there is one dominant and sad memory of my father. The “picture” is of evenings at home. A small den, dining room, living room, hall, and kitchen were circled around a central chimney. Evening after evening, hour upon hour, father paced around between the living room, dining room, kitchen, occasionally stopping at the door of the little den where mother sat sewing, or perhaps, if my homework was done, I would have joined her in a game of cards. He would stop briefly, and in the few moments of exchange often share a worry; then continue with his pacing, by the hour. It is a difficult memory to share, because it reminds me that I did not know him until much later in life, long after he had retired and I was married, and saw him playing with my children.
Due to my father’s illness, there is a sense in which, as I grew into teen years, I turned to mother for friendship. My father was never mean or never treated me poorly. I am conscious today of times when he tried to break through that inevitable “teen-age wall”, to be a friend. Add to the common difficulties of understanding between father and son, his illness placed limits on the relationship beyond those most young boys experience. Mother became the confidant, and she also turned to me for companionship. She taught me to play two-handed bridge and other card games, and we spent many an evening talking as we played. When she wrote papers for presentation to her reading club, she asked me to read, discuss, and critique them. Mother was for me the adult friend my father could not be.
My parents were eminently good people. Members of the little white church on Bradford common; mother more regular in attendance than father, neither very active in the church beyond Sunday. Mother read her Bible daily, but said little about what she had read. The only time I remember any expression of religious feeling from father was on the day I returned home, discharged from the Army after World War II. When I entered the house that afternoon, he fell to his knees by the couch in the living room. I was so astounded that I did not even hear the words by which he gave thanks!