I arrive in Sudbury
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It’s a lovely spring day in 1948 in Sudbury, with the temperature in the mid-seventies and the sun shining through a cloudless blue sky. The town woke up feeling good, as it had been a tough winter and it feels good to people that they can finally get outside. The air is full of the smell of new growth, as there is a gentle breeze blowing over the open fields to the west. Spring is certainly in the air.
It’s Sunday afternoon around 4:30 and Maude Clark is expecting their arrival anytime now. She has been shopping picking up plenty of extra food appropriate for a two year old as well as setting up the crib in the empty room upstairs. This is the one very close to the bedrooms of both Peg and Mum herself, right at the head of the stairwell. At the last minute of shopping, she had remembered that she needed to pick up new sheets and coverings for the crib, as well. The old ones were pretty well soiled and probably shouldn’t be used for a two year old toddler. She did want to make a good impression on Hazel, so she felt that everything should be just right, especially on this, Tommy’s first night. Mum is sitting in her easy chair in the music room waiting for Hazel’s arrival.
I mentioned Peg, so I’ll take moment here to introduce her. Peg is one of the many children that
Mum brought into her home. Peggy Ann Clark became her daughter through adoption on February 29, 1944. Peg was to become my quasi sister. Certainly not by blood, but we both spent the beginnings of our lives together. I think that other than Peg, I probably stayed the longest at Clarklands. Peg is 6 ½ years older than I am, therefore about 9 years old when I arrived. She had quite an effect on me growing up and being older she always knew more than I did. I guess that does begin to define siblings. Actually, I really don’t know if she was so much smarter or that I was just very impressionable and vulnerable at that time in my life. The picture shown here is from her graduation from college.
Mum finally heard and saw a car drive by the window out in the driveway. This must be Hazel, she thought. Sure enough, in a few minutes there was a gentle knock at the door. Upon opening it, she saw Hazel loaded down with all sorts of clothes and belongings and yes, the toddler as well.
“Heavens, let me take some of that.”
Accepting her offer and handing her some of the stuff, Hazel merely said “Thanks.”
Jokingly Mum commented, “This looks like you have enough for three babies. There is only one, right?”
“Yes, rest assured there is only one. I was thinking that it might be easier if I just left most of his clothes here. He’ll be staying here for most of the time and I can then pick them up when I’m here and clean them.”
“Now that makes sense to me, except for one thing. I can easily add his clothes to my normal laundry. I mean I need to do laundry anyway.”
“That would be great. I think I can increase your pay to make up for this. What do you think would be fair?”
“Nonsense, I need to do the laundry anyway so adding a little extra won’t make any difference at all.”
“Are you sure?”
“Of course I am. Now, let me show you where he’s going to be staying. I guess we’ll call it his room now.”
After a quick tour of the house, which ended in what would be my room. They put my clothes in the dresser and that was that.
Then, they headed downstairs and to the door for Hazel to leave. Now I was only two years old and did not understand everything. When my mother said, “Good bye and I’ll see you on Friday afternoon,” I simply followed along. I was unaware that I was to stay here with this strange person. My mother bent down explaining it to me and I then started to realize that she was leaving me. The tears started slowly running down my cheeks as my lower lip curled down and quivered. I tried to be a big boy, but could not do it. I just didn’t understand why this was happening. Mum, standing right there, could feel the hurt with this painful exchange between mother and son.
Not able to bear it longer, she finally blurted out, “Maybe it would be best if I just took Tommy into the other room and you head on home.” She picked me up, crying, and went into the large living room. When the outside door clicked shut, the wailing began. Try as she might, she just could not calm me down. Finally, at a loss as to what else to do, she put me down on the floor. Without a second thought, I shot into the music room. My mother had parked her car right outside of the windows there. Looking out, panic suddenly set in. The car was not there. I was beside myself with grief and simply could not control myself. In my mind I was screaming, “Mommy, Mommy! Please come back. I’ll be good!” However, while running around and screaming, all that came out was “Mommy, Mommy, Mommy, Mommy!” I ran right past Mum and was up the stairs in a flash. I went to her room, remembering that from her window I could see the driveway as well as the road. Kneeling down at the window I searched and searched, but could not see her car anywhere. I sat there, for what felt forever, crying my heart out. I begged and begged her to come back. I promised to be good. What had I done? Why, why, won’t you come back?
Finally, about an hour later Mum came into her room and saw me still sobbing at the window. It was heartbreaking to her. She had had many children with her in the past, but not one that missed his mother so much. She knew that, in her heart, this little boy was going to need as much love as she could muster up. She then picked me up and laid me down on her bed. She joined me there and just held me, humming and singing little tunes.
This is how it was for just about every Sunday evening for the next few months. My mother and I would arrive at the front door and then wait in the foyer for Mum. They, my Mother and Mum, had arranged it to work this way. Mum always tried to come as quickly as she could so that there would not be long goodbyes, which were very hard on me. After Mum took me, my mother would then quickly dart out of the door, where after I would throw myself down onto the small rug in the foyer, begin yelling at the top of my little lungs, and wildly kick my feet. After many years of raising children, Mum would simply let me lay there and try to work it out for myself. Peg, on the other hand, felt that some sort of support was in order. She’d bring stuffed animals, sometimes real dogs or cats and sit on the floor next to me, staying well clear of those kicking feet. I just could not accept that this was going to be my home for the near future.
If I didn’t drop onto that rug I’d run up into Mum’s room and watch out the window watching my mother drive down the road and the crying would begin. I begged and pleaded for her to come back, with tears streaming down my face. I literally was beside myself, consumed with loss and grief. Nothing else existed at the time and I could not be comforted in any way. Within myself, I felt certain that with enough crying and begging, she would come back for me. However, she never did; not once!
During this time, an unfillable hole formed in my gut. It grew and became an empty feeling that was constantly there. We now call this abandonment. Eventually, I stopped crying when my mother left, I would just walk into the house and go to my room with my empty spot. A friend recently shared a very appropriate phrase with me, “He is full of empty.”
Before we get too far into the story, I feel that I need to share some feelings about Mum. She, as I said before, for all practical purposes was the person that raised me for the first 17 years of my life, until I graduated from high school and physically left Sudbury. However, Sudbury to this day remains my home.
Mum, was the most wonderful person I have ever known. She truly did not have a mean streak in her body; meanness just was not part of her nature or vocabulary. She was always soft spoken and had such a gentle way about her. Unfortunately, and I hate to admit this, I have forgotten more about her than I remember. However, I do know one thing. Every time I think about her, I get a warm and soft feeling inside. Now, that must say something about the person that she was.
Mum was a natural caregiver and became involved in the Welfare system in Sudbury. Even before that, she was always involved with children, for she loved them all. Everyone in town knew her as a true caregiver who always had a positive attitude. She even took children into her own home, if they needed help or a place to stay. To the best of my knowledge, she took in at least 30 children. I remember some coming and going, some just overnight and some for days, weeks or even months.
After some of the great aunts died, whom I never knew, she had a huge house to fill. Therefore, she decided to take in older people from the town as well. I remember there was a Mr. Taylor, the mother of Forest Bradshaw, owner of Bradshaw’s General Store, as well as a crazy great-aunt who may have suffered from dementia or some similar ailment. She loved children more than anything else and had a wonderful mind that let her understand and accept them regardless of what they had been through.
Of course, being the stupid kid that I was, I got mad at her for things that she wouldn’t let me do or the things that she made me do. However, as I look back I cannot think of a time that she was unfair or ever spanked me. I know that certainly at times I deserved it. One time, I remember it today as clearly as if it just happened yesterday, I was being extremely bad about something and I just kept at it and at it and at it!! That was the day that I made Mum cry…I don’t think I’ll ever forgive myself for that. A friend of mine Jack, whom you’ll be hearing about later, recently told me that we were really stupid kids; we missed the opportunity to sit and listen to her stories. We could have learned so much from her. He is absolutely correct! In reality though, can one generation really do that for a younger one? I think not. You see, the young know it all. Just ask them!
If you can hear me Mum, I am really sorry, and while I don’t deserve it, I ask for your forgiveness. In this same light, know that I have come to understand that any softness or compassion for others that I have certainly came directly from your influence.
I visit mother’s apartment
When I was about three in 1949, I went with my mother to her apartment in West Concord. It was Christmas. After entering from the back of the building, we walked up the stairs to the second floor, I could see over the short wall to the top of the stairs and see the beautiful Christmas tree set up in the far corner of the large open living room. It was covered with colored lights, wrapped all around it, along with all sorts of decorations adorning it, made it look so fanciful. Mostly the decorations were handmade, because money was so tight, at the time. However, as always tinsel lay on just about every branch twinkling in the light.
Underneath the tree were several presents, each carefully wrapped up in brightly colored paper. Time to open them had to wait until everyone had finished eating, which was very tough for me. I gulped everything down in a flash, almost as if my life depended on it. Instructions to sit in a chair indicated it was finally time for presents and my mother would play Santa. This became a family tradition in an attempt to keep present giving an ordered activity. Each person was to open a package and collect wrapping paper immediately thus, not allowing a mess to build up. Picking up one present for each person my mother, passed one to my grandmother, another to me and then she’d find one for herself. Of course, opening was a controlled situation as well. Two people would sit and watch as the third opened their gift and all would share in the happiness. Much to my frustration, this is how it went; you just couldn’t show real excitement. This was very different from the way this happened at the farm. There, it was more like a free-for-all. There was paper flying everywhere and the songs of joy sung as the presents were opened.
Everyone had opened his or her presents but I noticed that there was still a large box hiding behind the tree. Asking who that was for, my Mother told me that Santa had left that special gift just for me. Crawling under the tree and dragging it out with a big smile on my face, I began to remove the wrapping paper. The first picture that I noticed on the box was one of a train. Jumping with joy, I ripped that box open to discover my very own Lionel train set. I was beside myself as everyone helped me take each piece out of the box and begin the task of setting it up. Within an hour, I was on the floor with that train traveling anywhere my imagination would take it. I was totally absorbed and happy. Nothing else mattered in the world, until late Sunday afternoon when my mother wrapped me up in a blanket and carried me down the stairs and to the car. I was heading back to Sudbury.
Shopping at McKinnon’s Super Market
Life settled down a bit for me and a routine emerged. Sudbury during the week and with my mother on most weekends, when her work schedule allowed. Peg started to like having a little kid around. It made her feel older and important. She actually began thinking of me as a brother. In the future, Bro would be her nickname of choice for me.
Mum loved to cook and there always seemed to be some of this or that cooking away on the stove in the kitchen. The smells that this produced were heaven-sent. They invoked a sense of comfort and a good smile. There was always a stocked pantry full of ingredients. Filling those shelves was getting to be a chore lately, as she had started to give up her driving. Up until then there had always been a big, beautiful, black Packard parked in the drive ready for a run to the market on a moment’s notice. No one could figure out which she loved the more, getting ingredients for her cooking or driving that big old Packard. Nowadays, the milkman would walk right into the house, say hello, and put milk or cream as needed, right into the refrigerator. With a quick ‘have a good day’, he was out the door and off to his next delivery. Cushman Bakeries, likewise delivered the white bread and rolls the same way. Additionally big square boxes of small chocolate chip cookies came in with the bread. Those, Mum would put directly into the back hall pantry. For our afternoon snack time, she allowed us to go and get a hand full of them. Of course, sometimes we’d go on unauthorized visits to the pantry and sneak some into our pockets for our own snack time.
Her frequent runs to the market were now planned weekly outings, due to her giving up driving. On Friday mornings, Mum’s daughter Romaine, who lived just down the street, would arrive. Off Mum would go with her, shopping list in hand to return several hours later. One thing she still loved to do was to take her time and riffle through all the fruits and vegetables, picking up each and smelling them to ensure she had the freshest. With her shopping completed, she would approach the cashier to find Romaine standing there tapping her fingers on the counter. You see, Romaine took time off from her work in order to supply Mum’s transportation and was usually in a rush to get back.
Occasionally, Mum would run out of one or two ingredients needed for her cooking and would proceed to make up a list and call Peg. Peg was usually up for a trip of shopping down to McKinnon’s Supermarket in South Sudbury. Please do not confuse the term supermarket with those of today, as back then one consisted of one, maybe two, aisles of groceries. After agreeing to go, Mum would give her the list of the needed items and money to pay for it. Peg would run out to the barn, get the little red wagon, pack me into it, and head off on the new adventure. It was about a one-mile walk down to the South Sudbury Center where Concord Road ended at Route 20. Across Route 20 was Bradshaw’s General Store, but of course we needed to go to the supermarket. Therefore, we turned to the right and walked, well I rode, about another half mile to McKinnon’s, which was in a little plaza consisting of Alexanders Gas/Automotive, VanTassel’s Drug Store and then McKinnin’s. Alexanders stood on the corner of Route 20 and Union Avenue. It was a long trip, but we both loved going and Peg never got tired. Once inside the market and being the big girl, she’d proudly walk up and down the aisles with that wagon in tow collecting this and that along the way. Then after paying the cashier, she would count the change as if it were her own, and get a wonderful feeling of accomplishment. To her, it was as if she was adding another notch to her belt. It took a long time to figure it out, but there always seemed to be just enough money left so that we could go next door to VanTassel’s and climb up on a stool at the soda fountain and get an ice cream cone.
Grandfather commits suicide
On February 24, 1948, my grandfather, James Joseph Knight, committed suicide by gunshot. I really had not known him, as he was divorced from my grandmother and was living alone in a cabin in the woods. My mother has written somewhat about him in her essays of several family members. Let me summarize here. In the 1930’s and 40’s he was tree warden and moth superintendent. It was the beginning of the gypsy moth and tent work caterpillars. Recognizing the future destruction this would cause, he tried to get funding for spraying to ward off this attack. Unable to do so, he devised a scheme with schoolchildren. He ran a contest for the student who could collect the most nests. Everyone had such fun and using his truck brought all the nests to town hall and had a big bon-fire. Acton’s forest and trees survived due to his efforts. Then she goes on to praise his abilities at ice boating on the local lake. Then there was the tree that George Washington, had supposedly tied his horse to while passing through town. The tree finally had to be removed due to it’s age, size and general physical health. As tree warden, he decided to cut it down and then cut it up into plaques and other souvenirs, which were sold at local fairs and stores.
I find all of this interesting because everything my mother has ever written or said of my grandfather has been very positive. I wonder then, if his life was so positive, why he would commit suicide. I can only imagine that deep within him, there existed so much rage and anger, which allowed such a thing to occur. If in the future, additional volumes of this story are published, you may learn of possible genetics at play with rage and anger across generations.
I hid her keys
Once I tried a little trick to get my mother to stay and not leave me at the farm. Of course, at my age, I think around four, I certainly could not understand the ramifications of such an act. While my mother was not looking, I had gone into her pocketbook, taken her keys out, and hung them on the doorknob on the back of the kitchen door. Of course, my thinking was that if she didn’t have her keys then she couldn’t leave. My plan was working smoothly until the fateful moment came as her hand slowly descended down into the depths of her pocketbook in search of, you guessed it, her keys. Standing there innocently looking at the floor I said nothing as she looked in every crevice and found nothing. Next came the pockets of her jacket and again nothing. Then she searched around on the floor and table where she had been sitting and again nothing. Standing straight up and looking directly at me, she uttered nice and gentle like, “Tommy have you seen my keys?” I stood there fidgeting with my fingers in front of me, and sort of shook my head a bit. She continued to stare at me and didn’t seem to like my response. “Tommy” a little louder this time, “where are my keys?” Continuing the finger fidgeting, I now shrugged my shoulders. “Tommy” the volume raising to almost but not quite a scream, “I know you put them somewhere, where are my keys?” Continuing to fidget with my fingers, I now started to look here and there, but certainly not at my mother, for I knew my plan was falling apart and she was mad. Then it struck, just like there was a venomous snake with its fangs out and dripping wet hanging over my face ready to strike. At least that’s what it felt like to little me. My mother went into a rage and would not stop or release me until she got her keys. Of course, she had to hold back slightly because Mum was witnessing this all. Anyway, I caved and crying simply pointed to the doorknob that held the keys. She tore the keys off and was out the door with no goodbye; see you later or I’m sorry. On Friday she was back all happy with no mention of what had taken place.
A visit to School Street
I remember the day that we, my mother, grandmother and I went over to Acton where my mother’s sister in law, Alberta, lived with her four children, Harold (Butch), Rick, June and John. I think we had gone for dinner. Their apartment was at 27 School Street and they were living over Moore’s market. They lived on the first floor apartment, but the building itself sat on a hill, so the rear entrance was an enclosed stairway. In front and below as I mentioned, was Moore’s Market, a garage (repair shop), a small shop that sold ice cream, penny candy, newspapers, magazines, etc. It catered to locals and people taking the train. The full service train depot was across the street. Alberta’s husband, my mother’s brother, Harold, was not there for some reason, unknown to me. He never seemed to be and no one ever talked about him either.
After dinner, we kids all went outside to play. It was great to roll down the hill, hoping you’d stop before rolling to the wall and falling over the edge and down onto the cement sidewalk. The major problem with this type of play was that you got grass and stuff under you clothes. Once it hardens, it starts to scratch and itch a lot. The more we rolled, the redder our faces would get and the more we’d scratch until one of us just couldn’t take it anymore. John yelled, this time, in all the excitement, “I quit! Let’s go in and get something cold to drink.” Therefore, in we went to try to cool down a bit. Getting a nice cold glass of water, we settled down on the floor in the living room. Aunt Alberta was laying back on the stuffed couch, but we really didn’t take notice of her and just started a game of “Go-Fish” sitting on the floor. About ten minutes or so went by and my mother came in, leaned down, and said something to Aunt Alberta. She didn’t respond, but again we didn’t really pay much attention. This time, my mother shook her shoulder and said “Alberta!” louder trying to wake her up. Again, no response. Turning our heads, my mother screamed, “OK, where’d she get it? She has it hidden somewhere here in the house!” By now, our full attention was on this commotion. My mother was running through the apartment like a wild animal, opening all the cabinets, slamming them shut, screaming, “Where is it? Cough Syrup, did she have some cough syrup?”
About this time, my cousins seemed to take on this knowing look and one by one began slinking away to their rooms. I had no ideas what was happening so I just sat there and watched my mother turn into this raging lunatic. Normally she was nothing like this. It was so frightening to me. I just wanted to run, but where. So I just sat there. After some time, my grandmother and mother got Aunt Alberta to bed and told me that she would be fine. A short time later, we packed up, got into the car and headed home. The incident, would never be spoken of again.
It wasn’t until years later when I was out of the Navy and married that I began to understand that my Aunt Alberta was a severe alcoholic and the slightest hint of alcohol would push her over the edge. Now I understood why there was never alcohol in our house and why I have such a reaction whenever someone, who has been drinking, gets out of control.
Easter in Sudbury
A holiday that was especially exciting for all the kids in Sudbury was Easter. It was always a time of wonderment. Normally I was with my mother over the weekends, but occasionally she needed to work so I would be in Sudbury. Saturday would start as a normal play day. The kids would be out and around town playing here and there. Returning for supper, as usual, followed by an evening of talking, radio listening and games. Then it was off to bed waiting for the Easter Bunny to come. For some reason on this particular Sunday morning, I had slept late. I guess I must have run around town, playing too much the day before. Coming down the stairs in the morning, I was barely awake and everyone else was waiting for me. Looking around the living room, my eyes bugged out as I took in what I could only call a fantasyland. The Easter Bunny had covered every shelf, candlestick holder and every nook and cranny in Jelly Beans. We all got so excited running here and there grabbing as many as we could. Of course, this was most likely not the best for our teeth, but we loved every one on them. This became an annual tradition, one that all the kids always excitedly looked forward to. Unfortunately, one year I got a little too excited and reached somewhere that I certainly should not have. I spotted a floor lamp with no light bulb in it and it looked like fair game to me. I discovered about a half a second after sticking my finger into that light socket, and yanking it out at lightning speed, that I had made a big mistake.The lamp had remained plugged into the power. OUCH!! I was so frightened and embarrassed that I have never told anyone of this, to this day.
Tommy and the Banana
Then, came the fateful day! I believe I was around five years old at the time, and had just arrived back from a weekend with my mother. It was cold weather so it must have been during the early months of 1950. She had innocently given me a banana for a later snack. You need to realize that anything given me by my mother was a real treasure. No, treasure is not the right word; it was more like something sacred to me. It was always that special. While I was taking my jacket off on this cold day, I had put the banana down on the kitchen table.
In those days, the house the house was heated by burning coal, and therefore, the air tended to be very dry in the winter. Pans filled with water placed on the kitchen stove helped to add humidity. Additionally, a potbelly stove in the living room with a pot of boiling water on it provided humidity in there as well.
I returned to get my banana, which I was going to take up to my room to eat later. Nothing but an empty spot existed where I had left it. Thinking that maybe I had actually put it somewhere else or someone had simply moved it, I began looking around. I didn’t see it anywhere, until I looked slightly up. Standing there with a big smile on his face was Dick!
Dick is the only boy that I remember living at the farm. I understand that in later years he got into a lot of trouble, had a spell in jail and finally married a woman with a few kids in California. As far as I know, except for a few letters that Mum got, no one has ever heard from him after he left, which was while I was still living in Sudbury. As I learned later in life, it seems that Dick was always jealous of me. My mother gave me toys, which I think was as a way of trying to make up for what she had done to me. Anyway, Mum had explained all of this to Dick and Peg, but Dick just wasn’t able to deal with it. He had a grandmother who lived up on Hudson Road and ran a gas station. I guess if things weren’t going so well for him at the farm, he’d go stay with his grandmother and vice-versa. If I remember right, I think he was about four years older than I.
In his right hand, held up high, was my banana. My prized possession was in Dick’s hand and I had to get it back at any cost. I placed this importance on things from his mother. I didn’t start by asking kindly, instead I demanded that Dick give it back to me. Now Dick was not someone that took kindly to demands, so he broadened his smile and said, “Make me!”
I took off straight for him and the chase began, running from this room to that, screaming all the way. Dick was certainly in the lead, but I was not that far behind and was slowly catching up, until… Dick had just rounded that potbelly stove, but I cut the corner just a little tight. My shoulder hit it and the boiling water off the stove. It landed directly on my left shoulder. For a moment, there was silence and then everyone heard my soulful scream. Everyone ran this way and that, but no one really knew what to do. Fortunately, someone called Dr. Hooper, who advised that the shirt be removed, leaving the burn exposed to the open air. He would get there as soon as possible, after he finished with his other patients, as he was in his office was over in Maynard. I was beside myself in pain and just shaking. When I was told that they needed to take my shirt off, I could only beg and plead with them; “No, No, Please, Please, Don’t.” Of course, they really needed to do this, so they did their best to hold me down and slowly started peeling the shirt off. The burn was so bad that as they removed sections of the shirt, the underlying skin came off in sheets as well. They took me up to Mum’s room and lay me down on the spare bed there. I lay there screaming, crying and shaking until the doctor arrived. What he applied to the burn, we do not know, but the doctor later told my mother that is was a new experimental ointment for burn victims.
The physical burns finally healed and I could again wear clothes although the scars remain. I now understood what real pain is, as well as the stress of struggling with it. I became very self-conscious of my scars and did whatever I could to keep them covered up. My Sudbury family had of course seen them many times so I didn’t feel as bad when in their company. Of course, when I was in the water I did not need to wear a shirt. I didn’t know how to swim yet but that didn’t stop me from playing in the water. Across Concord Road, we’d go and play in Jones’s Pond. Eventually this became kind of a battle scar of sorts, which I’d explain, if asked.
We build a raft
It was an extremely hot day and as kids always want to play, a few of us decided that we should build a raft and go for a sail over on Jones’ pond. Of course, the term sail doesn’t really apply to a handmade junkie little raft, held together with bailing wire, but what the heck we were excited and having fun. After dragging it and it’s pieces down and across Concord Road, across the Jones’ property and into the pond it was time to put the finishing touches on it and see if it would actually float with someone standing on it. I, the brave one, volunteered to give it a go first. Pushing off from the shore, I discovered that, yes it would hold me as long as I stayed in the center. I was elated and filled with joy, sailing around. Actually, it moved around by pushing a trimmed tree branch into the bottom of the pond and pushing. Everything was going fine when I heard a big splash and felt a deluge of water overtake me. As the water ran off me, I started laughing along with everyone else. I saw the attacker up on the hill on Union Avenue, overlooking the pond, bending over to pick up another rock. A second and then a third quickly followed the splash. By now, everyone was laughing and having fun. However, with the fourth and those that followed, I became angry. I asked him to stop, but the rocks just kept coming. By this time, I was totally soaked and I could feel my anger building. Suddenly, something snapped within me and I felt something I had never felt before, total out of control rage. With absolutely no regard for any consequences, I ran off the end of the raft into the water, not caring how deep it might be. I walked out of the water and ran up the stream, across the road and home to the safety of my room. It took quite a bit of time to calm down, for I was physically shaking with this rage. Finally, Mum came up to my room and sat down next to me on my bed. She silently sat and listened to the story through my crying voice, all the while softly stroking my arm. With her special kind voice, she told me, “It will be ok Tommy. When you feel up to it, there are cookies downstairs in the kitchen.” I did just this a few minutes later.
This rage is something that I did not understand. I had no way of knowing at this age, this would become a lifelong pattern.
I almost drown
Not long after this a few kids were going over to the pond on Cavicchio’s farm. Of course, this was one of those spots that had been placed off-limits for us kids, so we had to sneak over which was always fun. Did we ever listen to the off-limit speeches? This farm is over on Union Ave and it was really just a mud hole, but everyone went over there to go swimming. Well, I would go over there too, but couldn’t swim so I had to wear some sort of life vest. Not too long a walk, but far enough for small kids. One of the kids was Dick, who as we know, was not my favorite person. Upon arrival, everyone jumped into the water and was having lots of fun. I, still not knowing how to swim, was relegated to watching while standing on a rock with my life vest. The rock was over to the left from the diving area and about a foot under the water. I wanted to join in but I also knew I couldn’t swim. That’s when someone suggested that I should just slowly step off of the rock and see if I could. Of course, I knew I couldn’t. Then, Dick just couldn’t pass up on this opportunity for teasing. He started the teasing and heckling, “Come on Tommy. Don’t be a chicken, etc. You’re a baby, wearing that thing.” He just kept repeating these heckles repeatedly. He would just, not let it go. The laughing bothered me and I started getting mad. Then the uncontrollable rage started happening again. Again, not caring about any consequences I ripped that life vest off and jumped as far as I could into the water. Not over towards the submerged rock though, I dove directly into the deepest part of the pond, over to the right. I immediately started sinking. Swinging my arms as I’d seen others do I rose to the surface. However, it was short-lived as I sank down again gasping for air. Pure fright began to grab me by the heart. Unable to think or feel, I started flapping my arms as if they were wings. “Maybe I can just fly out of the water.” It was then that I felt a hand grab around my arm and pull me up. I did not know who or why but I knew I was moving towards the shore. When I reached shore, I was able to see who had saved me from certain death. It was none other than Dick, the scourge of evil.
The scare of death had calmed me down, but again I still did not understand how or why I could become so outraged that I just didn’t care what happened. This unknown is something that would travel through my life. I hope that before the end, I will be able to understand. One thing I do know for sure is that I never want to experience this again!
Eating fruit at the farm
It was a typical hot, humid Saturday afternoon on the farm when Anne mentioned, “Let’s go blueberry picking”. Now going to get some fruit was another of my favorite things to do. Looking back, it’s tough to decide which my real favorite was, when it came to this. I really liked to climb up into the pear trees plucking them and filling my belly. Of course, on several occasions, I did manage to get real bad stomachaches. However, fortunately for me, that did not happen very often.
Anne went and collected tins for each one of us Clark, Maidie, Peg, Anne and I, to carry our berries. Off we went walking up Old Lancaster Road. In those days, the road was just dirt with stone walls on either side. The only vehicles that ever went up there were wagons and old cars. Certainly nothing, that might be of some value, which might get damaged. The road didn’t go that far and eventually turned into a path that ended up a bit past Whispering Hope. Maidie and I would sometimes just go there as well; it was just a nice, calm place to be.
Walking past Whispering Hope we all turned right, into the open fields containing the blueberry bushes. Spreading out we all attacked those bushes with vigor, knowing that those deliciously big berries, prepared in several ways back at the farm or eaten right off the bush, were destined for a very special place in our tummies, the sweet zone. In our normal fashion, each of us found our own bush and proceeded to pick. The field that we were in was up on the hill well beyond where the Hooper’s had built their camp, the first of many in the years to follow. Today it’s a development full of houses. I have learned that after her husband’s death in 1947, Mum had to start thinking about selling off house lots in order to survive. I understand that this had to happen and people want to move to the country, but it sure was nicer when those blueberry bushes were there and we’d go up there and pick them every year, actually several times a year.
Of course, less went into my tin, because my sweet zone just couldn’t wait for the blueberry pie or whatever Mum would be making that day. Anyway, while I was picking I began to realize that there was something amiss. I guess I was probably about five or six at the time and we were just walking along and my penis started to itch and I mean ITCH! Of course, I didn’t want anyone to notice what was going on so I tried to “grin” and bear it, but that ended up being impossible. Honestly, how can a kid walk around picking blueberries, scratching wildly at his crotch, and not be, noticed. Well, finally Anne came to my rescue as she silently moved over towards me and quietly asked, “Tommy, are you ok? You seem to be itching a lot.” I told her about the itching, to which she replied; “Would you like me to take a look?” She gently pushed my pants down and pulled my little penis out of my under shorts. Of course, by then everyone else had noticed that something was happening, so over they all came to check out what was going on. What. me embarrassed? Never! Now that everyone was there, she very gently pulled my foreskin back and there it was. Somehow an ant had crawled up my leg and then under the foreskin of my penis! I do not know how on earth it had managed to get there, but even the embarrassment didn’t bother me that much, because I was just so relieved to have her remove it, thus stopping the itch. At that moment, I thought Anne I’ll love you forever.
There were also apple trees on the property and we certainly made the best of them as well. What was left after we kids had had our fill went into pies, cobbler and all sorts of other delights. I think it was Peg who told me one day something like, “Hey Tommy, there are some special apple trees on the other side of the house. You should try them out.” Of course, gullible me ran right over there and sure enough found the new tree. Gullible me was about to find out that Crabapple trees don’t produce very tasty fruit. As I’ve always done, I jumped right in and took a big bite. Why wouldn’t I trust Peg, after all?
One of the most plentiful supplies of fruit came from the mulberry bushes. We had both the red as well as the white variety at Clarklands and at Romaine’s house, just down the road. We’d climb the trees and eat them directly, but unfortunately the branches were kind of thin out towards the end so we needed to find another way. There’s an old saying, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” You take a sheet, lay it on the ground under the tree and shake the branches vigorously and soon you have buckets of mulberries. Of course, mulberry picking has to be done quickly because if you’re slow the birds will take care of it for you.
Fourth of July – Dress up time
The 4th of July celebration in Sudbury was always a time of fun for us all. American flags ran in two lines from the front door to the driveway. There would be other flags and decorations just placed here and there. Of course, the infamous, Aunt Sue would be right up there carrying on her normal nothingness conversations. Aunt Sue was a grand old soul who would always dress up in her finest for the 4th. She would stand very still and proud by the front door as the parade went by, not saying a thing. I guess the most likely reason for this behavior was the fact that Aunt Sue was a dress form. Mum used to run a thrift shop for the Episcopal Church in the front room of the house and Aunt Sue would display the dresses. Too bad I don’t have a picture of the old gal in costume, watching the parade.
The picture below shows a typical 4th of July back then. We’d all dress up and pose on the front lawn. The gal on the far right in the top hat is Anne, now Anne Lavery. Anyway, that hat was one of those that folded down flat. Then when you’d hit it in the center it would pop open to what you see here. Everyone would want to wear that one. Also, you need to check out that little boy in the bottom row, the third from the left. Yup, you guessed it; that’s me!
When the parade came by, the farm would always provide water for the marchers. On several occasions, I also marched, but it was a long walk from South Sudbury, where the parade began, up to the center of town. It was about 2 miles and for a little kid, that was a long way. By the end of the parade, I was pooped and just wanted to sit down. As I remember, there were always fireworks shot off in the school field. I remember there were booths and I think a circus as well. It was great fun for everyone; well almost everyone. Whenever I’d go up to the fireworks, I always ended up hiding behind someone. They were very loud and scary.
McKinnon’s store, by now had moved east on Route 20 to the new location on the corner of Route 20 and Concord Road. It, as well as a lot of other businesses, built and drove or towed floats in the parade. I remember one year that this ended up being a very scary time for me. The store was building their float in the barn. There must have been store employees there. I think Peg and Bob were there as well. Being a young kid, I wasn’t allowed to take part in such things and was sent to bed. As the evening went on the noise grew louder and louder and I lay there afraid and not able to sleep, because they were making so much noise. They were probably having a lot of fun, but for me it felt like they were all totally out of control and I was scared. At one point I remember hearing car engines roaring and tires spinning and also the laughter. I didn’t know what had happened until the next morning. They had been drinking beer and were obviously drunk. There were holes in the driveway where the car tires would have been. I honestly believe that they had tied two cars together, rear bumper to rear bumper, with chains to see which was the strongest and could pull the other.
Looking back, I find it a point of interest, what is fun for one person or persons can be so frightening for another, especially a child.
A lesson in Prejudice
I am yet to understand how prejudice began in my life. So I’ll tell you a little tale of my first recollection of it.
At the house, the library was in the room closest to Concord Road. Mum for a time changed it’s use to that of a thrift shop called “Petty Coat Lane” run mostly by the Episcopal Church. She enjoyed it and it gave her a small source of income. After that closed up it went back to being a sort of library and a place to store things and another place for kids to play.
Let me introduce Maidie, a childhood friend and part of this story. She’s Mum’s granddaughter and Dr. and Bernice Hooper’s daughter. Of course, if her mother was upset at her for some reason, her name became Maida. Anyway, she lived with her parents and her brother Clark over in Maynard, as well as at their camp up on the hill. Maidie and I did all sorts of stuff together. When it came to playing around home, I think that Maidie and I were always together doing stuff. We had good times and we had bad times. We really grew up together and just grew into a brother and sister kind of relationship, which at some point changed. The picture here is of her holding her dog, Lassie. This picture certainly is one of her in later years. I don’t have any of her younger than this.
Maidie, and a new friend of hers and I were sitting in this old thrift shop room playing with a toy oven heated with a light bulb. They could cook all sorts of dishes as long as it was very small and didn’t need a lot of heat. We were sitting on the floor waiting for a cupcake to cook. Typical conversation ensued while waiting like, where do you live, what school do you go to, who are your friends, just general type stuff to kill the time. Unexpectedly, this new friend announced that she went to a Catholic church. I sat up straight and said, “Oh, we can’t play with her.” Not understanding at all, the two girls looked at me with blank stares. After a few moments of silence, Maidie spoke up, “Why not?” My replay was, “Because she’s a Catholic.” The girls were dumbfounded and I did not understand what I had just said. It just came out of my mouth with no forethought or malice intended.
As a side note here; Prejudice is an interesting thing; it can conjure up hate and hurt within people. I try to think that I am not a prejudiced person, but if we are honest with ourselves, I think that we all have some within us. The question is where does it originally come from for me? I do not remember Mum or any member of the family ever saying anything along this vein. Someone must have something though, and I picked it up in my sub-conscious mind and out it came when triggered. This is one thing; I don’t think I will ever understand.
I had lunch with a good friend, Mel, the other day and we were discussing this section of my writing, on Prejudice. During that discussion, I asked him if he could remember, as I had done, the moment in time that he recognized the beginning of prejudice. His answer surprised me as it was outside my personal experiences; he said “my lifetime.” He told of growing up as a Jewish boy in the suburbs of Detroit, at the beginning of the Second World War. No other kids could play with him because he was Jewish. I cannot fathom such a thing. That is real prejudice compared with my small example and yet I have never forgotten uttering those words; I remembered and regretted them all my life.
In the beginning when I was in Sudbury, I remember that there were still some animals there. Chickens and a cow named Hoodsie. This cow used to get loose on occasion and we’d get telephone calls from neighbors saying the cow was loose. We’d have to hike down to South Sudbury and drag her back. Actually, I guess other people must have done that because, I remember at one point sitting inside the house hiding and scared when the cow was out in the yard loose. My mother, to this day, believes that I was always the one to go and get her. But, I can assure you that I wasn’t. The picture here is of Hoodsie and the person tending to her is Bob Burns, Romaine’s son.
And I can’t leave out my Bobbin. He was simply a mutt, but he was mine. He was one of the puppies from a dog, Pippin, which was just a farm dog. He jumped around a lot, so I named him Bobbin. Bobbin and I used to go everywhere together
One time we were walking down to the house from the Hooper’s and there was a baby bird on the ground that must have fallen out of its nest. Bobbin was curious and went over but something distracted him and he moved his foot and stepped right on it. Through no fault of his own, just his weight vs. the bird, he had killed it. I was so sad after that, because the bird hadn’t done anything and didn’t deserve to die. I have always remembered this, to try and not take undue advantage of anyone or anything because of my position, age, weight etc. It really bothers me when I see other people do it. If possible, I’ll try and keep people apart. As an example, I get concerned when I see babies around large dogs. They could easily hurt the baby without meaning to, but just because of their size and level of activity.
Mrs. Hooper told me that after I left Sudbury, leaving Bobbin behind, that he was never the same. How can something be so important to you and then you just discard and leave it behind to die. Am I that careless? At the time I thought not, but looking back on it, I wonder.
Snow White or Father Christmas
Let me tell you another little tale that I’ve never revealed to anyone. There was a pure white cat on the farm. Well maybe not so pure white as it went outside and down into the dirty dusty basement. I guess I can say it was most likely born pure white, but that’s where it most likely stopped. I don’t have any idea how this cat arrived on the farm, but by the time I arrived it was an adult. It’s name was Snow White, for obvious reasons. However, at some point, the cat needed to go to the veterinarian for shots and they discovered that in fact it was a male. Therefore, Snow White quickly became Father Christmas.
But, that’s not my unrevealed tale. For some reason this cat was a favorite target for my taunting and abuse. Fear not, nothing serious just poking and prodding, that sort of stuff. No pulling of nails or cutting off tails. So I was down in the basement. Yes that dirty one, chasing the cat to and fro and up and down. It kept trying to hide from me, but I was relentless in my pursuit of it. Some steam pipes ran through the corner of a wall. The cat thought that was a good place it to hide. But, I could get at it from either end and I did. Finally, it stopped and stood it’s ground. I reached in to grab it, but it seemed to have other plans. It snarled, lurched and sank its teeth bone deep into my forefinger. It didn’t really hurt that much, but I did have a problem because he would not let go. I tried shaking it a bit. Nothing! His head just went up and down and side to side with my shaking. To myself I thought, “Oh no, now what do I do. He’ll rip my finger off.” While I was thinking of what to do, he loosened his teeth, released me and ran away. He and I, sort of steered clear of each other after that.
I looked at my finger, it didn’t look very bad, and it wasn’t really bleeding. Therefore, I went to the bathroom and wrapped some toilet paper around it for a bit until all bleeding stopped. I went into the TV room, sat down, watched whatever was on and never spoke a word to anyone.
The Sewing Machine fights back
Across Concord Road, two girls Patty and Donna Jones lived with their parents, Sally being her mother. Her father’s name I don’t know. Donna was the younger of the two. I was never that close to them but we did play together at times, either over on their property or in the barn. One memorable time we were just sort of playing house and investigating the large open room on the second floor in the barn. We pretended to do the normal kind of stuff, cook dinner, and do laundry, clean house. It’s really hard work to tend to a house for three kids. With the laundry done, we hung it up to dry. While waiting for it to dry, we sat down for conversation and a drink of water. Boredom soon took over and the laundry was dry. Donna, while folding the clothes noticed that some needed mending. Fortunately, there was an old sewing machine over in the corner. Mum had gotten a new machine and had moved the older model, that used foot pedals to move the needle, out into the barn. Donna placed some material under the needle and started pumping the pedals. Neither Patty nor I took notice, until we heard the blood-curdling scream. Running over, I observed that the needle, which I thought was not there, was now imbedded into Donna’s finger. Boy was she crying and screaming! Patty and I tried to figure out what to do, but could think of nothing except to pump the pedals. But which way? Had Donna last pushed forward? Then we needed to pull back to move the needle up. Donna was in such a hysterical state that she could not tell us. Therefore, we just had to try one. Very gently, I pushed and got an instant response! Wrong way! I pulled and the needle slowly moved upward and finally, out. Of course, the two of them ran for home, leaving me alone. I retreated to the house and as usual said nothing of this event. As you’ll learn, this is how you do things, being brought up in old New England.