What is a memoir? First, what it is not. It is not a biography, not the story of a life. It is a memory of a time or a place or an experience. In my case, the important thing was not so much sharing a memory as remembering more. It wasn’t until I began writing about little snippets of memory that more memories solidified into stories.
What I came up with was fifty stories. Fifty remembered experiences, all of them centered on the Connecticut Shoreline, between East Haven and Niantic. They will appear in a book by the end of 2021. Between now and then, I would like to share some of the stories that didn’t fit into the book.
This memory doesn’t fit into my memoir, because it is not my story. Sally Buffington started life in South Killingly, Connecticut before spending three years in Camden, Maine. She moved to Old Saybrook in about 1955 at the age of twelve.
Main Street as a Theme
In about 1955, Sally’s father left Maine. He had gone there from Killingly in 1952 to set up an insurance office in Camden. They bought an old sea captain’s house outside of town, and he rented a small space in the village. I once visited that old ten-room colonial with her. She was in her forties then and had finally moved back to Maine.
She was sad to leave Maine when she was twelve, but she had a new adventure to embark on. Her father moved his little family to Old Saybrook to restart in the insurance business again. And so began her long relationship with Main Street.
She started in the comprehensive school by the town hall, what we always called the Main Street school. It served all grades, but a new high school was going up behind it. She went to both schools, and even had some of her classes in the old town hall, which was being used for overflow. In some grades she had Miss Goodwin as her principle, in the others Goodie was her teacher.
Her parents first stayed with a family named Lord on Old Boston Post Road. The house backed up to the property where they later built Goodwin Elementary. So Sally lived less than a mile from school and walked between. She made friends along the way, and the walk home was most often delayed for a stop at Patrick’s store on Main Street, for candy and for socializing.
Soon her father found a house for them to rent with room for his insurance office, a big old shingle style house at 369 Main Street. Living there, she met Miss James, whose pharmacy was a few doors down, at the corner of Pennywise Lane. Her walk to school was just a little different, as it then took her past the churches on lower Main Street. She walked past the doctor’s office, and past the site where the “new” firehouse would be.
After a year there, her father tried to negotiate a workable price on the property. The owner held firm, but my grandparents found a better spot, five doors closer to town, at 351 Main Street. They bought that house about 1957 and grew the business over the next ten years.
Sally had a sunny room upstairs on the back of the house. There were two large windows looking out on the big yard full of fruit trees and into the cornfield beyond. On a clear day, you could see out to the back river and Dunks Island.
Sally’s parents attended the Congregational Church on Main Street. They could practically see it from the house. Congregational was a compromise between the Baptist heritage of her mother and the Quaker background of her father.
While in high school, Sally’s first job was also on Main Street. She briefly worked at the candy counter in the theater. Her second job, as a clerk at Greenburg’s, was also on Main Street.
Sally’s passion while in school was art. That led her to spend her senior year of high school at Norwich Free Academy. Her father would drive her down to school on Monday morning and she would take the train home on Friday. During the week, she stayed with her aunt in Norwich and rode the city buses to school.
While there, Sally visited Europe for a tour of the great art museums. I have her slides from that trip, pictures of the sights more than the sites. The museums did not allow photographs inside.
For college, Sally went to the Paer School of Art in Hamden. She stayed near campus during the week and came home to Main Street most weekends. Her first year she fell in love with a senior and married him in the Spring. His first job was in New Jersey, so Sally moved away in 1962. When the couple moved back to Connecticut in 1964, they had a little boy. They took him to visit his grandparents at 351 Main Street often.
By 1967, Sally moved home with her parents. She was living on Main Street again and working there, too, in her father’s growing insurance office. She was living and working there when he became ill one afternoon. He passed away by morning and she had to help her mother carry on with the business and prepare it for sale.
Sally continued living at 351 Main Street through 1970 and remarried in December of that year in the vestry of the Congregational church. She moved with her new husband, an Old Saybrook police officer, to Chalker Beach and later to Clinton.
Her husband worked in the basement of the town hall and then at the new police department across Main Street from it. Through the years she shopped at Malloy’s and Patricks and Fiorelli’s, ate at Joe’s and the Village Inn, stopped at Walt’s and Rexall, and came to watch the parades and the fife and drum corps marching.
Main Street was the center of life in Old Saybrook and in our family. In 1971 her mother sold the house at 351. But in 1979 Sally and her husband rented the house at 355. And of course, she took to it like home. Neighbors on both sides of the street were old friends.
In 1980, things came full circle. Sally became the manager of the Cumberland Farms store at 239 Main Street, where she welcomed friends and acquaintances from three decades living on the Shoreline and haunting Main Street.
Fire trucks and police cars went by her store daily, sirens blaring and people staring. Children from the Main Street school, who used to stop at Patrick’s, were in her place with their friends before heading home. Business owners and shopkeepers stopped in for bread and milk or cigarettes. And the parades and fife and drum corps marched by the door.
Sally was a great fit at that store. The sales rose as the pride showed in the way it looked and the inviting atmosphere. Her old classmates came in. The town characters did, too. Even Dick Hepburn came in for his Sunday paper when he was at Fenwick.
Later, Sally lived in Danielson, then in Virginia Beach, then in Maine again for over ten years. Her last trip to Old Saybrook was to spread her mother’s ashes on her father’s grave at Riverside Cemetery. That was on Memorial Day in 1999. And as we left, the parade was marching down Main Street.