Neighbors My Mother Knew Well and I Just a Little
My mother moved to Old Saybrook from Maine when she was eleven. That was 1954, and she was in the sixth grade. Her parents first lived on Old Boston Post Road and then on Main Street. They rented the house at 369 and later bought the house at 351 Main.
Each of these addresses put her in town and in the center of the culture of Old Saybrook. And it gave her daily contact with four pillars of the community. The first was Miss Goodwin, the elementary school principal and Junior High teacher.
Goodie, as my grandmother called her, lived in the center of town and worked in the schools that were just a few steps from her apartment next to the town hall. Her bicycle was always with her, either under her as she traveled or outside of whichever establishment or home she was inside of.
Because my mother and grandmother loved and respected Miss Goodwin I did too, unquestioningly. She had long retired by the time I was in school, so I had no first-hand experience with her in that capacity, but I got a good idea of what she was like.
She asked me questions, which was not uncommon for adults to do of a five-year-old. But then she waited for me to answer, and that was rare as hens’ teeth from my perspective. And then she remembered what I had said and would ask about it another time, which might be six months later. That was unique in my tiny experience.
Another pillar of the town was Mr. Patrick, who lived and ran his store in the same block where Miss Goodwin lived in an upstairs apartment. I interacted with Mr. Patrick much more frequently. His store was many things. To me it was a candy store with a glass display case right by the front door.
To my grandmother, Patrick’s was a newsstand where she picked up her evening paper. He reserved a paper for her, even if she did not get to the store before it closed. He wrote her last name on it in grease pencil, and if she came after five it was waiting for her in a rack outside the door with many other papers with other names.
To many men in the town Mr. Patrick was their tobacconist, carrying cigars, loose tobacco, and cigarettes. To others he was the proprietor of a quaint general store. I remember him as kind, patient, short, and ancient.
My mother knew him well, and they always chatted while I looked at the candy. He had a sense of humor and would make my mother laugh sometimes. Children would play tricks on him, such as calling the store and asking if he had Prince Albert in a can. He always said yes, knowing the punchline, but playing along.
A person who my mother knew well and I hardly at all was Miss James. She retired when I was four and I recall my mother taking me for a visit. Her niece took us into the back room where Miss James was sitting and what I recall was a kind face, bright eyes, and a lot of talking. And a piece of candy from a glass jar.
I often remembered the jars of candy in later years when I walked by the old pharmacy on the corner of Main Street and Pennywise Lane. But the place seemed deserted and a little sad somehow. But I always loved the building and the location. It seemed very inviting and I’m sure it was in its day.
That may have been the only time I met Miss James. Or I may have met her again later that year when her store (which was also her home) became the local headquarters for the Hubert Humphrey presidential campaign. I went with my friend Jonathan to get in on the hoopla and to get a pin from old HHH. I don’t recall if I saw Miss James then. And I don’t know where the pin wound up. I know that my mother voted for Nixon.
The last person I’ll mention really was a close friend to me, even though he was about seventy years my senior. Mr. Kirtland lived next door to my grandparents and had been a friend of my grandfather’s. I didn’t know that Mr. Kirtland had been a real estate broker, a firefighter, a benefactor to the children in town, or that he was widowed, or that he had daughters, or even that his name was George. And I didn’t understand that he was standing in for my grandfather after he died when I was four.
But I do know that he was kind, liked children, was trustworthy around them, and that he was lonely. We never talked about him when I went to visit, only about me. I went over in the afternoons if I got lonely. Spending time together helped us both, I guess. I know that it helped me when I was missing my grandfather. He didn’t outlive my grandfather by much. I was about six when he passed away.
Why did I want to mention this bit of useless information? I don’t know enough about any of them to be of help to a biographer or genealogist. I mention them because they had influence and used it for good. They influenced my mother and the generations older and younger. They helped to shape her into the person she was, and I benefited indirectly.
So I will always be in their debt. Many others in my generation and beyond are still standing on the shoulders of those giants. My children hear the stories and benefit for my having known these people, and I hope that at least one more generation will benefit. What more can a person ask than to be remembered well for 50 years beyond their life?