Poem to Helen Written by Bertha L. Watts

At the age of eighty-eight, my adoptive grandmother, Bertha L. Watts (Gra Gra) wrote a poem about her dear friend Helen L. (Sykes) Woolsey (1907-1998). I have mentioned in previous blog postings that Gra Gra was a poet. Her mind was sharp as a tack right up to the end. To be able to write such a poem at an advanced age shows how clear her mind was. However, she was legally blind well before that point; so, it meant that she would have had to dictate the poem to someone else and then someone typed it up for her.

Bertha was born on September 12th, 1891 so I thought it would be a fitting tribute to display her poem on this day. My featured postcard was one given to Bertha for her birthday in 1908. The card was blank on the message side but I think it may be from her cousin Martin James as he commonly sent postcards with the glitter writing. The postcard is embossed and was copyrighted in 1907 by R. Sander, in N.Y.

I remember Helen very well. She was a kind and gentle soul and always seemed to have a calm demeanor. I have spent some time researching a little bit of her genealogy and had originally intended to incorporate that into this writing. But, I was able to find out some interesting things particularly about her father and have decided to break that information into one or more additional postings.

One of the church groups that both Helen and Bertha belonged to was the Congregational Church Club at Riverpoint Congregational Church, in West Warwick, RI. I have included a photo of that group taken between 1970-80, shown at the end of this blog following the poem. I possess two separate written histories of Riverpoint Cong’l Church. One of them was written by Wilton Hudson who was the editor for many years at the Pawtuxet Valley Times–his wife is also in the photo. There is information in that history that includes Helen and her mother, as they were both involved with the church at various points. I want to include some of that information in my future stories.

Here is the poem, shown below in image form taken from a scanning of the original sheets. I worked on typing the poem into the body of the blog but I was having issues with the technical end of things and I could not get it to present correctly in the form of a poem and I was getting too tired to figure it out. That said, I hope the words in the images are large enough to read or can be zoomed in to make large enough to read.

To HELEN

Below is the photo of the CC Club. Helen Woolsey is the second from the right, in blue.

Shown left to right, Ruth Rose, Marian Allen, Edith Hudson, Bertha Watts, May James, Helen Woolsey, unsure of far right

The information I have on the reserve side of the above photo says that the lady on the far right is Elizabeth James. Aunt Elizabeth was sister-in-law to Bertha–wife of Uncle Lionel but she died in 1971 and I don’t think this photo is quite that old. And it is very difficult to tell in this picture if it is her for sure, I think it is possibly someone else but I am not sure. The reverse of the photo is stamped as developed in May 1980 but that was back in the day of film which was not always developed right after a picture was taken. Or, it could have been a copy made from a negative. That is why in the early part of the blog above I said the photo was some time between 1970-80.

I hope that you have found the poem interesting.

Until next time…

Thanks Mom for the Effort!

In my last blog post, I focused on my mom’s background in recognition of 100 years since her birth. Today, I continue her story presented mostly from my own memories.

While preparing these memories, I have found the one thing that really stands out to me is just how much EFFORT my mom put into everything she did. Hopefully, we did not take this effort too much for granted; however, I am sure there could have been greater appreciation shown along the way.

You may read the first piece that I wrote about my mom via the following link: Born 100 Years Ago: Mom.

In that piece, I mentioned that it now seems that she was adopted–something I learned about only two years ago. My research still has a long way to go and there have been no easy answers, to this point, even with studying my DNA matches. My featured postcard may provide just a little clue about that adoption. So, I am starting this writing with a focus on the postcard followed by a few details “before my time”. My own early memories will follow and will be separated into two segments: School Months (and General Memories) and then Summer Months.

Beacon Oyster Co. Postcard

My featured postcard was sent by Gra Gra (Bertha James Watts) to her brother Howard James, in Riverpoint (West Warwick), Rhode Island. The “clue” with this card is the postmark (shown below), it is dated Aug. 9, 1920 from Wickford, (North Kingstown), RI. Well, my mom was born Aug. 28, 1920 which would have been just a couple of weeks later. Gra Gra was not very adventurous, she was away from home very rarely. Even though Wickford is not far from where she lived, her written message indicates that she had been staying down that way. It does not appear to be just a day trip. I cannot imagine that she would have been staying there, over the course of multiple days, if she was that close to giving birth.

The message on the card reads: “I am having a wonderful time. I won’t want to settle down to housework when I get home. No more meals. Sister Bert”.

The image on the postcard is of the Beacon Oyster Co., Wickford, RI, which was located at the end of Pleasant Street. In the current day, there is still a boat yard and marina located there. In the past, there was Oyster farming in Wickford, between 1886 and 1939. At that point, Narragansett Bay was dredged for the installation of the Quonset Naval Base.

This postcard was published by Blanchard, Young & Co., Providence, RI; Made in Germany; there is a number on the front, C 1510.

Parents Wedding

As noted in my previous writing, my parents, Earl F. Lindall (1921-1997) and Marian L. Watts (1920-1999) were married on June 24, 1948.

They lived for a short time on Clyde Street, in West Warwick, then moved to an apartment in Warwick.

Brother Mark

My oldest brother, Mark is shown in the pictures above. He was born on Nov. 28, 1949–many years his birthday actually fell on the Thanksgiving holiday. He passed away in 2000, much too early in life–from cancer.

Brother Keith

My brother Keith on mom’s lap and Mark on the right.

Mark was the only child for five years until my brother Keith was born.

I Come Along

I would follow Keith, three years later–the baby of the family.

Charlestown Begins

In 1953, my parents bought their first parcel of land in Charlestown, RI–two 25’x100′ lots. This parcel was about a mile from the beach, as they were hoping to keep it safe from any hurricane damage. Soon after purchasing the land, they began to hand-build the front section of the cottage, with help from my paternal grandparents. They purchased two more lots in 1959, making the site a total of 100’x100′.

One side of that original one-room cottage was used for sleeping and the other side was used as the kitchen and dining area. The interior walls were unfinished and had no insulation at that time. The cottage was supported by handmade cement piers, built the old-fashioned way with sifting of sand and gravel, etc.

As you will see, this cottage was the centerpiece of our lives. We spent every single summer there and my memories are really separated between the summer memories, in Charlestown, and the school year memories, in Warwick.

School Months and General Memories

During the school months, we resided in a two-family home, in the Greenwood section of Warwick, on Route 5. My paternal grandparents lived in the apartment above us. My parents resided there almost 25 years, until the owner sold the property in 1974. My grandparents had lived there a bit longer than that but they had moved into elderly housing a couple of years prior to the owner selling.

Picture taken in my grandparents apartment upstairs. Easter.

My parents never owned a brand-new car. For many years, we were a one-car family. Unlike some families, however, my mom was able to drive. The farthest back I can remember, we had a 1950s Oldsmobile 88 (not sure of the exact year)–it was gray. My oldest “life” memory really is when I used to ride in my car seat in that car. My little seat was the vintage variety that had metal pieces that looped over the seat and I had a little steering wheel with the little round beep horn in the middle. This car was replaced in 1968 with a blue station wagon; it was a 1964 Olds Dynamic 88, with the extra seat that opened up in the back section.

The picture below is of the first Oldsmobile that I remember, with my mom and I standing beside it.

When I was real young I can remember we had an old wringer washer. We had a very small and narrow kitchen in the apartment and I can still envision my mom having to pull the washer over to the sink to hook it up to the water. I can remember seeing the clothes running through the wringer as it pressed the water out of the clothes. We did not have a dryer–my mom never had one. She used to hang the clothes outside on the line, even in the real cold weather–it was funny when they froze, but I am not sure my mom was laughing. Sometimes she used wooden racks for some things to dry.

Until I was about five years old, my dad worked as a mechanic at the garage next door. He did not make much money in those days. Once he began working at Leesona he was earning better and he was able to help make my mom’s life a bit easier by buying her a newer style washing machine and dishwasher. I believe he bought them on installment payments.

My mom was a dog fan. From looking at old pictures, she seemed to have a dog during most of her younger years. She used to mention different ones from time to time.

During our family years, I remember three different dogs. During my youngest years we had Domino, I think she was a border collie mix of some kind. She is in the picture below with my parents and brothers. I guess Domino had one set of puppies, as shown below, and my grandparents upstairs took one of the puppies, they named her Lindy. I can still remember Lindy, she is shown in the puppy photo, as well as, one by herself. She was mostly all white with a couple of black patches. I was about 5 or 6 when Domino died, which I can still remember. We had a little funeral for her.

Some time later, we got another dog, named Shadow–shown in the picture below. My mom brought her home from the Providence Animal Rescue. I still remember that day. Shadow was all black with long fur, thought to be an English Setter mix. She was a good watch dog, was very protective and did not like seeing people in any kind of uniform.

My parents last dog was Dixie, I think that I was in high school by the time we got her. My middle brother and I brought her home after calling my mom for permission. There was a man outside of the Grant’s Dept. store in Westerly that was giving away free puppies. That was back in the day when it was a common thing to do. Dixie was the greatest dog, she was a border collie/springer spaniel mix–so she was medium sized.

My mom and Dixie are in the picture above in at Perry’s cabins, in New Hampshire, taken about 1979 or so. After Dixie passed away at a very old age, my dad said no more dogs. I think it was too hard for him to see them go.

In my family, food was a big deal. My mom was a very good homestyle cook making sure to prepare well-balanced meals. How I miss so many of things she made, they just don’t seem to taste the same when I make them. We were expected to eat what was prepared and put in front of us, all of it. I was usually the last one left at the table–a real slow poke. There was usually some kind of dessert for a bit later, but not if you did not finish your meal.

We mainly ate seafood during the summer but the rest of the year my mom prepared a wide range of meat items. My parents were very particular about the quality of meat we ate and they purchased from small local markets.

When I was very young, there was a small market in Riverpoint (West Warwick) where we purchased meat. It was on the corner of the side street in back of the now Horgan Elementary School. Further down that side street was a grain feed place where we used to buy cracked corn for our ducks and the green pellets for the rabbits–we had several. In the current time, that grain store building serves as the public works garage for the town. The small building where the market was is still there and last I knew it was a real estate office.

I can remember going to that corner market on Friday mornings when I was about five; my dad was working second shift by about that time at Leesona. The nice man that worked at the market used to give me treats sometimes from the penny candy section and one time he gave me some Starburst candy. I started choking on one of those candies. I never forgot that experience and to this day I prefer to go out of my way not to have any Starbursts.

After the Riverpoint market closed, I remember there was a place in the Crompton section of town (West Warwick) where my parents would buy meat from, it was on the eastern side of the road. Eventually, that market also closed, the building remains standing and has been occupied off and on over the years. Just recently, it re-opened as a seafood market.

My mom was fairly well known, at church (Riverpoint Cong’l), for cooking the johnnycakes at the May Breakfast and for serving as “head chef” and planner for the annual roast pork dinners. Both of my parents served at these events for many years and did most of the food ordering, which was primarily done via the local original Jerry’s Market operation.

When I was a little older, my mom was also the church secretary for many years, earning just a small monthly stipend. I can remember helping with the monthly newsletter getting them ready for the mail, sorting them by zip code and putting elastic bands around the bundles.

Another talent my mom had was sewing. Up until about junior high, she made all my school clothes–many dresses and one pair of slacks that I can remember. One dress my mom made had a large square bib-type piece, she had taken the time to embroider on that piece. Although not totally certain, my memory thinks it was bluebirds that she embroidered.

Back in my early school years, we had a dress code and girls were required to wear dresses or skirts to school. In the winter we were allowed to wear knit leggings underneath to help keep warm. I was in 7th grade by the time they relaxed the dress code and I was able to wear pants to school for the first time–my mom had made those, too.

My mom’s good cooking extended into making great dessert items. When I was a little older but I think before junior high, my mom would give me baking lessons after school. She picked a certain day per week and for quite a while on that day every week we would work on a baking project. She taught me how to follow recipes and how to measure, etc.

As I mentioned in my previous piece, my mom was not one to sit idle. She often had some type of creative project going. Sometimes it would be something she would work on alone, like a paint-by-number set and other times it was she and I making something together. One of the projects we worked on several times was making firestarters to give as gifts. We would save scallop shells and use them as molds, melt down broken up crayons and put the wax in the shell until it set. After the wax piece set, they were removed from the shell and wrapped inside wax paper with ends twisted. When used as a firestarter it burns slowly and in colors.

Another project we would make was pincushions. We would use scallop shells secured with plaster of paris and have some some kind of cloth (maybe felt?) holding something inside that would allow for the pins–I think maybe sand. I cannot remember the exact details but I can still picture them.

My mom taught me things like crocheting, knitting, embroidery, etc. It seems we always had projects of some kind going on. I have not kept up those talents but I know if I put my mind to it that I could regain that ability with some tutorials.

In later years, she enjoyed painting on fabric and making sequin ornaments that pinned to Styrofoam shapes.

A memory came back to me recently about when my mom used to take orders for Christmas cards for several years. I guess since we are in that season it made me think about it. This was during my early years, I can remember she had these big sample books each year from whatever the company was she was representing. People would give her orders for their personalized cards as they would come with their names pre-printed. I would assume this was my mom’s way of making some money to use toward Christmas gifts.

Christmas 1965 in our Warwick apartment.

Speaking of Christmas, my mom had a special “clock” ornament that she held very dear. I really don’t know the story behind it or at least I do not remember it. I have kept that ornament all these years and still make sure it gets on the tree each year even though it is rather fragile.

Most years, my mom just could not wait for the summer close of school. If we had an extra school day that fell on a Monday, we never went that last day. The only year it really made me feel bad was the year I missed my 6th grade last-day-of-school party. My mom would pack us up and pack the ducks and rabbits in a trailer and drive us down to the cottage, reversing the process the day after Labor Day; which was the day before school would start again.

Summer Months

During the summer months, my mom and us three kids would spend the entire summer at the cottage, in Charlestown. She just loved it there, it was her place of solace. My dad would stay up at our apartment in Warwick during the week so he could be closer to work and then he would come down to the cottage on weekends. In addition, he always had the last week of July and the first week in August off for vacation time. I think his plant was shut-down during that time every year. So, we only had access to the vehicle on weekends.

Once we made that summer change-over, during the weekdays we had to walk everywhere not having a car. Someone would typically walk the mile, or so, to the post office in the morning. The mail was usually sorted by 10am. We had our mail sent via General Delivery in the old days which meant we had to ask at the window if we had any mail and we had to make it before 12noon or the window would close for lunch. At some point, we finally got a post office box instead of using General Delivery. The old post office building was originally located in the building where Kingston Pizza is now. I cannot remember the year that the new post office was built, further down the road, but I want to say it was the early 1980s.

As kids, most summer afternoons we walked to the beach with mom pulling along a wagon with our gear. At times, someone would give us a ride along the way. Until we were a bit older, my mom would commonly take us swimming in the pond area located just before the bridge going over toward the ocean. There is a newer bridge there now. This pond section was known as the “Shack” to many locals, because of the red shack that served snacks. That building is still there serving food in the summer but it is no longer painted red. I also remember some of us calling that swimming area “Danger Deep” because it had a very sharp drop-off–one step too far and it went over your head. As far as I know, no one actually swims in that pond area anymore. There used to be a small beach section there. However, in the current day the water level is much much higher and has pretty well swallowed up that sandy beach==perhaps from Global Warming. There is still a marina section with many boats and docks.

When I was a kid, I can remember walking home from those afternoons at the beach and falling asleep as I walked. And, I kept walking–not sure how I could do that but I still remember it–happened every time. I assume, my mom must have guided me along the way so I did not drift out into the road.

At bedtime, after all the walking and taking in all that salt air, I used to fall asleep within seconds of my head hitting the pillow. I can remember when mom would turn out the gas light, its mantle would glow for a bit. I can remember she had a set of plastic drinking cups that used to glow in the dark, I could always see them up on the kitchen shelf from my pillow.

At that pond area by the Shack is where my dad kept his boat in the early days. At first we only had a “skiff”–a row boat. Then we had an old wooden boat with a motor for many years, named the “Mar-Dot”. On the weekends, our family spent alot of time out on the pond. We caught lots of fish–mostly flat fish. We went out to the sandbar areas and my parents raked quahogs. Us kids would mostly play about the sandbar area. I always had an old pair of sneakers to wear for these trips, so if there was a razor clam or horseshoe crab I would have some protection on my feet. In the fall, when the water was cooler my parents would go after scallops and oysters. We used to be able to catch blue crabs down at the old bridge, near the Shack. Throughout those summer months, we ate almost exclusively from the sea.

Mom and I with boat “Mar-Dot”. Dad is in the boat.

The one thing I really struggled to eat was my mom’s homemade oyster stew. I am sure it was wonderful to those that actually like oysters. For many years, I was expected to stay at the table until it was gone–I dreaded every spoonful. It seemed to be very well-liked by everyone but me. Finally, at some point in my early teens, my mom gave in and let me have something like peanut butter and jelly, or similar, whenever she made the oyster stew. It was such a relief–not a moment too soon.

Often, my mom would make a huge kettle of “clam” chowder, especially if family visitors were coming down to the cottage. She usually used either large sea clams (from Rathbone’s Fish Market) or the larger quahogs my parents dug for themselves (the smaller, more tender quahogs were steamed and dipped in melted butter). We used to have an old enamel-topped table out in the side yard at the cottage, under the old choke-cherry tree. She would clamp the grinder to the edge of the table and grind up the clams (after having shucked them all by hand, prying them all open with the special knife needed). This grinding process would also create plenty of clam juice to use in the broth of the chowder. You can imagine things got a bit messy which is why mom developed this outdoor system. In addition to the clams, there were plenty of potatoes that needed to be pared and cut for adding to the chowder. If my dad was around at the time the chowder (or dinner) was being made, he would help with prepping the veggies.

My mom would sometimes paint the sea clam shells for gifts or to sell. They were handy to hold rings or a watch while washing dishes, etc. One of the shells she painted is pictured below.

At times, my mom would get creative with a new variety of seafood. My dad and Uncle Richard used to go night fishing on the beach and often caught sandsharks, also known as dogfish. For a while they used to release them back into the water, but at some point they discovered they were okay eating fish. Unlike many other species, the sandsharks don’t have a ton of tiny bones to worry about, they just have that spine down the back so they were easy to clean and my mom figured out ways to best cook them.

One of my mom’s unique specialties was “seaweed pudding”. How I wish that I had written down the recipe and kept it in a safe place. It may be among some of her old recipes that I still have but having the time to comb through them is something else again. Sometimes the day after a storm, my mom would have us go beachcombing for her special seaweed. We would go down early, before people would arrive for the beach. This seaweed needs to be gathered while still nice and fluffy before it dries out in the sun. This particular seaweed is the one that is shaped into little fluffy white clumps. When we brought it home for her, it would be placed in a paper bag, lunch sized, and put in the frig to keep it moist. I remember when she made the pudding, she would boil up the seaweed then strain it out, so the flavor is developed but you don’t actually eat the pieces of seaweed. I think she used the unflavored gelatin packets so it would form into the pudding consistency. It really was delicious, tasted just like vanilla pudding but it was a little more special. I have no idea how she even discovered about making this pudding nor have I ever heard of anyone else making it. Again, I do not know the actual recipe which is a real shame.

I mentioned earlier about the choke-cherry tree, those small cherries had pits inside but my mom managed to make jam from those cherries. There were other choke-cherry trees nearby that she picked from, as well. She would cook the cherries down and run them thru a sieve to get the pulp out and discard the pits.

She would also make jams from beach plums and currents that would be picked locally, as well. She also made great tasting watermelon rind pickles.

Speaking of berries, my mom picked tons of blueberries in the summer. We used to sell them up at the top of the street to the people driving home from the beach. We had signs that were painted on old boards saying blueberries (or blackberries at times) and we would stand holding the signs so the people could see us. We always sold out. We would save the money raised toward family activities such as the fair or toward activities on my dad’s vacation time.

Another way we raised a little bit of money, in the summer, was to bring the wagon down to the beach and collect soda bottles that people left behind. Back in those days, the bottles were returnable for money. There was a downside, the only store that would cash in the bottles was Main’s General Store in Cross Mills which was a longer hike than usual for us.

Back in those early days, there were potato fields along the top end of Charlestown Beach Road, right near where the cottage was located. Each year, about the end of August, the big potato picker machines would run across the fields picking the potatoes. Once the pickers had gone through we were allowed to access the fields and collect the “leftovers”. My mom had us collecting loads of them. I think we had enough to last for a long time with her keeping them in cool storage.

During those summer months, when I was young, there was a local store in the Charlestown area called Brownings, run by Perry Browning. I remember walking there often, they had the largest selection of penny candy. After the store closed, that old building remained for many years but has since been demolished. It was located next to the present-day Mini-Super market.

After Brownings closed, there was a former marine boat place just down the road from it that was converted into a store called The Superette. It was run by Joe Tougas.

The Superette became my parents choice of meat market for many years, on a year-round basis, as we would spend most weekends at the cottage into my teen years. Joe would even save us produce scrap items for the ducks and rabbits, like the outer lettuce leaves. The ducks provided us with eggs that were generally twice the size of chicken eggs and sometimes we would get double yoker’s which were really big. My mom had kept a couple of the really big shells as keepsakes.

The Superette has been gone for many years now, we were very sorry to see it close. A local bank built on that particular site location and is still in operation.

In the backyard of the cottage, in the early days, we always had a very large garden. My mom would set up barrels at the outdoor corners of the house to catch rain water. We would fill-up old milk bottles with the water and place them upside down in the dirt next to the plants. The water slowly seeped through to the roots of the plants, helping to irrigate the garden.

Our summer cottage was very simple and for many years it was just the one large room, divided by a row of lumber studs–like an unfinished wall. In the early days, there was a very small bathroom with a chemical-type toilet. Around 1968, or so, there was an addition begun along the back side. The door that went to the old bathroom became the entry point to the hall of the addition. Around this timeframe, electricity was added. Prior to that time, there had been no electric service at the cottage. Instead there was a propane light affixed to the ceiling truss over the dining area and the cooking stove was also propane.

When I was very young the frig at the cottage was an actual “ice box”. My mom would have a milkman deliver the huge block of ice, along with our dairy products. I can still remember that, seeing those large tongs they used to haul the block of ice. A bit later, prior to the electricity installation, the ice box was replaced with a propane frig.

So, for many years, during the summer we had no television. My friends would ask how we could get through the summer without it, but we really did not miss it. My mom had a transistor radio and we used to listen to the stations from New York City and Long Island. We would also play board games or cards, especially if there was a rainy day.

The addition to the cottage that was started about 1968 was not the typical building addition. There was a place in Warwick Neck near Rocky Point, in Warwick, that had several old cottages that used to be rented out. They were selling off the cottages “to be moved”. My parents bought one, probably got it for a real good price. I can remember that “moving” process quite clearly even though I was only about 10 years old at the time. We had rented a big U-haul truck. The Warwick cottage was dismantled, literally piece by piece and each board was labeled. Then the pieces were shipped down to Charlestown with the U-Haul truck and offloaded.

The addition was “reconstructed” piece by piece. The flooring was new construction as was the roof joists, etc. The addition was three small bedrooms, the bathroom, closet and porch. The additional support piers were hand-constructed, just like the ones under the front room, and the cesspool was hand constructed.

As I mentioned above, it was at this time that we had electric installed for the first time. It started slowly though, with only lights in the kitchen at first and the rest was added over time (very slowly I might add) and then insulation was added to the house.

Picture taken at the cottage in 1970. I have saved the red shutters.

Beginning in 1974, after the apartment house in Warwick was sold, my parents made the cottage their year-round home from that point onward.

For many years, we had no typical running water at the cottage. In the kitchen was a hand pump to retrieve our well water. The hand pump remained actively used until about 1986, or so. Often, it was necessary to “prime” the pump to bring the flow of water. It was the best tasting water around. For any hot water needed for bathing and dishwashing, it was boiled in the kettle on the stove.

Prior to the “running” water, we had to use buckets of water to flush the toilet. Referring back to the rain barrels used for watering the gardens…after the bathroom was added, the water collection barrels came in handy for filling the flushing buckets, helping to conserve on the well water. Otherwise, we had to fill them using the hand pump.

It was kind of a sad day when that hand pump in the kitchen was replaced with “running water” and the modern-style fixtures and plumbing. A hot water tank was added, as well.

Over time, the walls were finished and part of the wall was opened up, removing a bedroom but expanding the living room area.

After my dad retired, my parents enjoyed a little bit of traveling. They attended many annual reunions of my dad’s military service unit, some of which I have written in my previous blog story about his service. You may read that piece via this link: My Dad: A Soldier of World War II.

In 1986 or 1987, my parents were able to take a trip to England for the first time. My mom was so happy to finally see the area where her “father” was from and get together with family members there. They had a wonderful time. The picture below was taken of my parents on their England trip.

My dad passed away in 1997, my mom had quite the time to care for him during has last couple of years. He had taken a fall about a year and a half earlier and never really walked after that. We do not know if he had suffered a slight stroke or what. He was very stubborn when it came to medical care, refusing to go to the doctor which made it tough on all of us.

In Oct. of 1998, my mom was diagnosed with cancer and had emergency surgery followed by another surgery two months later. During her final year, I was her primary caregiver. The above picture was taken of the both of us during that final year.

My mom had visiting nurses and CNA’s that would come to assist in her care and they all enjoyed their time spent with her. They would indicate how kind my mom was and how much it was appreciated since many of their patients treated them otherwise. Even during her time of illness, she put forth that extra effort. She passed away in Sept. of 1999.

Closing

When I think about the current day times, I usually find that people want things done quick and easy–wanting to put in little to no effort. When I think about all the effort my mom put into things it really puts a new perspective in my thoughts. Sometimes that effort is a choice and sometimes it is a necessity. Don’t be afraid to put in that extra effort, it may be time well spent.

Until next time…

Born 100 Years Ago: Mom

Much to my surprise (and shock), just about two years ago, it became clear that it appears my mom was actually adopted. To be honest, I had no clue prior to that point and I really do not think she knew either. There is still much research to do in order to “prove it” but hopefully soon I will get a break in the case.

According to an inquiry I made a while back at the RI State Archives office they will receive the 100-year-old birth records for 1920 in the month of January 2021. Whether there will be a delay due to the current health crisis is unknown–hopefully not.

In my blog today, I begin to tell my mom’s story, highlighting some of her background before my time–up until the time she married my dad. My next blog will include some of my personal memories of her. In the future, I hope to share some concrete research findings leading to a true biological maternal genealogy.

“Maid Marian” was born the 28th of August, one hundred years ago, in Cranston (at least that’s what shows on the birth certificate I have). She resided in Rhode Island for all of her days, living in West Warwick prior to marriage (1948), then in Warwick with summers spent in Charlestown Beach. In 1974, she and my dad became full-time Charlestown residents.

My mom, as a baby, is shown in the pictures below with her only known “parents”: Bertha (James) and Thomas William Watts. My page contains previous blogs about Gra Gra and Pop Pop, including: Intro to Gra Gra & Volunteering at Kent Hospital.

Many stories were shared to me, over the years, of my mom’s younger days. She was very intelligent and according to what I was told was allowed to skip ahead during her elementary school years–not once but twice. She was a child (and adult) who could not sit still, always on the move or finding ways to keep busy.

My mom grew up in West Warwick, Rhode Island, living mostly in the Fairview Avenue Historic District, known as Phenix, in the northwest corner of the town. There were multiple mill villages in West Warwick and we still refer to the various sections of town by these village names. Phenix was the third smallest of these mill villages.

Specifically, my mom lived in the Carr-LeValley homestead (c. 1722) on Fairview Avenue, from the time she was five years old. She absolutely loved that house, a 1-1/2 story Colonial farmhouse with a gambrel roof. It had a one-story ell at the left side that has since been removed. The house appears in two pictures shown above, one just above this paragraph of my mom on a sled and one further up the page of her riding a tricycle. She spoke of this house often. It is still standing to this day, although the rear attached sections have been removed and the interior is currently gutted. Please see my previous blog for more on this home: LeValley Homestead & Moore’s Motor Service.

There was a portrait painting done of my mom when she was five or six years old, it is shown below. It was painted by a professional artist. From what I was told, it was agony for her to sit still while it was completed. Gra Gra always had the portrait hanging on her dining room wall above an artificial fireplace (there was a real fireplace in the living room).

Since Gra Gra was a 4-H Leader for so many years it would come to pass that my Mom would become involved in 4-H Club activities, as well. She also became a leader at some point and I think she told me the name of her club was the “Sew-and-Sew” Club or should it be “So-and-So”–I am not sure. To the best of my knowledge, it was through 4-H that she met my dad, I think during one of the annual camps they held down at the URI campus. My mom told me often about how she was staying up at the Springfield Fair with the 4-H Club when the 1938 Hurricane hit.

My mom was also a member of the Rainbow Girls during her younger years and she spoke of that experience from time to time.

Both of my parents were members of the 4-H All-Stars and continued to attend some of their events even later in their years. After my dad was retired, they volunteered at the Washington County Fair in the 4-H food booth for many years.

Recently, I came across two of my Mom’s 4-H pins, (shown below). There is also a picture (shown below) of a parade she attended as a youth 4-H member, she is leading the group holding a sign.

She attended the “old” West Warwick High School, in the Westcott “village” section of town, graduating in 1938. Below is shown the cover of her yearbook, which I found to contain many newspaper clippings. She clipped and saved pieces from the paper, over the years, whenever a schoolmate was listed. Tucked inside the yearbook I also found her original Commencement Exercises and Senior Banquet booklets.

According to the yearbook, my mom had a nickname at school, looks like they called her “Wattsie”. Her ambition was listed as Commercial Advertising which was surprising to me but maybe that ties into her artistic abilities then it makes more sense.

For each student, the yearbook listed a “gift”. The class gift to my mom is listed as follows: “We give you these curlers, Marian, to help you preserve your curly hair”.

She participated in the following school activities in the year(s):

Volleyball: 36, 37, 38.

Intramural Basketball: 36, 38.

Baseball: 36.

Glee Club: 36, 37, 38.

Minstrel: 36, 38.

Student Council: 38.

Tennis: 36, 37, 38.

Junior Varsity Basketball: 37, 38.

The original “old” high school was built in 1904-05, located in the Westcott section of town. There was a fire on the third floor several years ago. Below is a newspaper photo from the fire that I found within my mom’s clippings, I am not sure of the exact date (I remember when it happened but not the year). After that time there was an expansion and it was transformed into elderly apartment housing.

My mom was very artistic and during the 1940s she drew the picture, shown below, that I use as my gravatar image, it was drawn on a handmade card she gave to Pop Pop at the time.

My mom used her wonderful artistic talent working in a jewelry factory for a while, hand-painting jewelry pieces, like pins. She was able to keep some of them, I still have a few.

After high school, she worked as a bookkeeper for Universal Winding for six years, prior to marrying my dad.

In the group of four pictures, shown above, the one on the top left was the picture they used for my mom’s yearbook picture. The picture on the top right is her working at Universal Winding. The bottom left was taken during the early 1940s, I think while my dad was in the service. The picture on the bottom right is my mom wearing her high school sweater standing with my dad’s brother Richard.

My mom and dad are shown in the picture above, I think prior to their marriage but not sure of the year. My dad served in Europe during World War II and they had made the decision to wait until he returned before getting married. Previously, I wrote a blog about my dad’s service, please see: My Dad: A Soldier of World War II.

After my dad had returned from his service in the second world war, my parents were married on June 24, 1948. One of their many wedding pictures is shown below.

My mom gave birth to two sons, my older brothers, prior to my arrival.

Next time, I will share some of my own memories of my mom and her unique qualities. The rest of this blog will highlight my featured postcard.

This postcard was published by Arthur Kinsley, Riverpoint, R.I. Made in Germany, about 1915. There is a number on the front of card: A53955

Riverpoint is another mill village area of West Warwick. In this postcard picture, up the hill in back of where it shows the trolley is where a Junior High School was built in 1928. The school is still there but is now John F. Horgan Elementary School.

The mill shown on the right side of the postcard, with the tower, was Royal Mills and was extensively renovated several years ago into apartment units.

The building shown straight back has also been renovated and is used as a medical facility.

As mentioned earlier in this piece, my mom went to the “old” high school in Westcott. The newer high school was built up on Arctic Hill in 1965 from which I graduated in 1975. The middle school is connected next to the high school and was built in 1970.

Below is the back view of the postcard. It was sent or given to Miss Bertha James (Gra Gra), in Riverpoint, RI, from Bertha Berard. Since Gra Gra was married in June of 1915 this card would be dated prior to that, since there is no postmark the exact date is unknown.

Until next time…

SOURCE:

Website: westwarwickpublicschools.com; WWPS History; Accessed: 12 Aug 2020.

Turkey Day Memories

I am thankful for the memories!

I am grateful that at this stage of my life I still have the ability to actually recall the memories–something that I do not take for granted.

My intention for this Thanksgiving blog was simply to find a greeting postcard that would have some interesting background that I could highlight in a brief posting. My focus changed after finding my featured postcard. It had a picture I really liked but the background surrounding the card is lacking in substance.

I do not know the publisher of this embossed postcard, I only know that it was printed in Saxony.

This postcard was sent to Grandma Julia in 1909, in Plainville, Mass. The sender was “The Three Graces”, postmarked from Providence, RI. I have not yet been able to determine the exact identity of the three Graces. However, a while back I started trying to put the pieces together and if memory serves me correctly there is a connection somehow with her sisters. For more background on Grandma Julia, please see a previous posting such as: Intro to Grandma Julia and the Bitgood’s Pine Knoll Laboratory.

Since I had so little background to share about this postcard, my thoughts began to focus on some of my own Thanksgiving memories–those from younger years. And so it goes that the remainder of this writing will highlight a few of those memories and spotlight my grandfather’s sister, we called Auntie, and her son David. In addition, I will close with an honorable mention of my brother Mark, whose birthday would have hit on Thanksgiving this year, November 28th.

Auntie and David in the mid-1960’s

During my youngest childhood years, my mom was always the hostess for the family Thanksgiving Dinner, as well as, for Christmas. It was a tight squeeze in our apartment for the average of 14, or so, family members attending. Out would come the folding metal table, that I still possess to this day, being set up alongside our normal table. There was an archway between the living room and dining area and this extended seating area would encompass both spaces.

My mom would cook a huge turkey, always 20-something pounds. I can still remember going with her to the local turkey farm to get a fresh turkey. I seem to remember the entrance to that farm being on the south side of Route 117 past Quaker Lane heading into the West Warwick area–I could be wrong, of course, but it was in that general area.

As I grew a little older, my dad decided that all the work my mom had to put into the Thanksgiving Dinner was getting to be too much. He suggested we start a new tradition of going out to eat for the Thanksgiving dinner, still with a gathering of the same family members–and so a new tradition began and continued for several years. Of course, over those next few years we gained a member or two and we also suffered a few losses.

For a few years, we held our “new tradition” Turkey Day gathering at the Showboat, in Coventry, on Lake Tiogue. This local favorite landmark was shaped like a large boat. It began in the 1940’s, prior to World War II and was tragically destroyed by fire on January 16, 1976. Of the select few places we went for these Thanksgiving Day feasts, this one location remains my favorite memory.

According to my memory, the Showboat dinner began with great soup that was set out on the table in a large tureen–I can still picture that in my mind. Each family received their own whole turkey at the table and all the trimmings were served family style. Any leftovers were brought home and we had no clean up to worry about.

Holiday dinner at Meadowbrook Inn

Other than the Showboat, we went a few times to the Meadowbrook Inn, in Charlestown, where both my brothers had worked at one time. We went to the Carriage Inn, in North Kingstown, at least once, maybe twice. The last of this dining-out tradition that I can remember was probably the very early 1980’s, at a place in South Kingstown that is long-since gone–it has changed hands several times since then.

The holidays always bring fond memories of Auntie and her son “Uncle David”. I tend to think of them both during this time more so than any other time of the year. She had one of the kindest souls that I have ever known.

My mom and David, probably about 1932.

I always looked forward to Auntie coming over to attend those early dinners, held at our apartment. We lived in the Greenwood section of Warwick, right on busy Route 5, Greenwich Avenue. She lived across the street from us in a little rental cottage during my younger years. Later on, her landlord, Mr. Palumbo, tore that place down to build a large apartment building. He was able to move her down the road a piece, to another place he owned. Her new apartment had been a barn that was renovated into living space for two single-level apartments. So, she did have one neighbor, it may have been a couple or just one younger man–can’t quite remember for sure. However, I can remember the man volunteered for the Big Brother organization and sometimes he had his young sidekick with him.

As the holidays approached, I always felt great anticipation for the arrival of my mom’s Cousin David from New York City–where he resided for many years. Us kids used to call him “Uncle” David because there was a large gap in age and it was not seen as proper for us to call an adult by their first name–even a cousin, I guess.

Auntie was born Annie Irene Watts on June 15, 1897, in England. She died in 1971, on a day that I will never forget–even though the actual date is not fresh at hand. She was in the hospital at that time. I can remember we were at the cottage in Charlestown and our close family friend, Mrs. Michaels, came over to deliver the message to my mom from the hospital–we had no phone there. It was like the world stopped for me that day.

Annie Irene Watts

Auntie was the youngest daughter of Jonas (died 1923) and Mary Jane (Pepper) Watts (died 1921)–they were married in 1880. They lived in Nottingham, England. Auntie was half-sister to Emma (from a different father), and full sister to Alice, Thomas William (my grandfather), and George Watts. She moved to the USA sometime after 1910 but prior to 1923 and remained here the rest of her life.

Photo taken about 1923 so Auntie was living here in the US by that time. Siblings standing in the back, Auntie and Pop Pop (Annie Irene and Thomas William Watts) And Gra Gra holding my mom’s hand.

When I was very young I can remember when Auntie was blind, I don’t know when it first happened. I remember she had surgery that allowed her to see from one eye but she lost the other, which was replaced with a glass eye. She always lived close by to us and spoiled us very much–especially my middle brother Keith and myself. My oldest brother, Mark, seemed more favored by my grandmother since he was the first born so I think that had something to do with Auntie giving us younger two a little more attention. It was later on that I would have a closer relationship with my grandmother.

Picture taken in 1950, Auntie, Pop Pop and Gra Gra, sitting on the black rattan couch. I loved that piece of furniture!

Since Auntie did not drive, my mom usually took her shopping on Saturday mornings, then my brother Keith and I would visit her. We watched cartoons followed by the other Saturday shows on her little TV.

Auntie with my brothers, probably about 1956, at her cottage.

When we had time off from school, Auntie would often take us on a bus ride to downtown Providence, or East Greenwich–back in the days when it was a pleasant thing to do. At that time Westminster Mall was closed off to traffic. Our first stop, downtown, was always at the Woolworth’s store–I can still see their lunch counter in my mind. One day, I had forgotten my shoulder-strapped hand bag at one of the counter stools and felt my heart race when I realized it. Luckily, when I ran back it was still there.

Our trips downtown always included shopping but I can remember Auntie having eye specialist appointments, as well. Before heading to the return bus stop, we commonly ate lunch at a nearby Chinese restaurant. We also bought popcorn to feed the pigeons while waiting for the bus.

The below pictures include Auntie’s brother Uncle George, with two of them taken in 1964 when he came over for a visit.

The pictures are not the best, a little blurry, the one that shows him sitting outside on the lounger chair was taken at Auntie’s little rental cottage, when she lived across the street from us. The photo with the boats was taken at Galilee, Narragansett, RI, during his visit in 1964.

It was probably within the next couple of years that Auntie moved from the little cottage to the place further down the road. Sometime after she moved, I can remember that she had an operation on her leg that replaced a vein with a plastic version.

Auntie worked at Leviton Mfg., in Warwick, for many years as an inspector–of some kind. I can remember helping her by stamping green slips that went into the items she inspected.

This picture was taken in June 1969. Auntie is in the light-colored coat, my brother Mark is almost 20 years old here, standing on the left end. Gra Gra is in the blue dress and my mom is on the right end. Photo was taken in the gardens outside Gra Gra’s house, in West Warwick, RI.

About 1969, or so, Auntie went to live in a newly-built senior housing place, West Shore Terrace, in Warwick–the same place as my paternal grandparents. So, she was a little further away from us over those last couple of years, too far for us to walk–for the first time.

Auntie had never married. She became a single parent with a son born in 1930, David Bruce Watts. He died in 2010, after suffering with dementia issues.

David attended and graduated from St. Andrew’s School, in Barrington. He served in the Navy for a while. I do have his service records but they are not handy for me as I write this piece. David settled in New York City and worked for a large advertising company. I can remember him bringing us “Leg’s Eggs” when he came home for the holidays.

Every time he was visiting here in RI, he would go out running every day. I can remember running along a time or two when we were down at the beach cottage. He used to tell us stories about his routine of running in Central Park, near where he lived in NYC. He also spoke about dreams of moving back to RI and opening a Judo school. He was a Judo instructor in NYC for many years, I do have some of his papers and awards for that, as well.

When I was young, David had a Japanese girl friend, she had come home with him to RI for Christmas several times. I remember she was a dancer in the Martha Graham dancers. She was just beautiful and I was quite fascinated with her. One time, she even wore her traditional Japanese Kimono for us and explained it all.

David never married, though, and had no children.

After Auntie died, we gave David the Concertina that had belonged to her and he found someone in NYC to give him lessons and he would play for us when he came to visit. I think he even purchased a new one at some point and played in a little band. Just for fun, I think.

He disconnected with the rest of us left in RI after my grandmother died, so sometime around 1983. It became a very difficult issue for me and something I still don’t understand what his reason was for doing so. I also wondered if I did something or said something. At some point, he talked with my middle brother to discuss his health issue which was not discussed with me. Personally, I never heard directly from him again.

It was much later that I learned of David’s dementia issues. When I learned of the facility where he was living, I sent him a letter but I don’t have any idea if he was able to comprehend it or not. I tried to find him when we visited NYC a short few years before he died but we were not successful. He had been moved from that facility to a different one and the staff would not release any information to me about his new location. The only question they would answer was when I asked if he was still alive, they said yes. For all the good that did me, because I was never able to find him. I do know now that he had been moved to a place New Jersey, which was the location of his death–sadly, something I learned about much after the fact. At least I know I tried, but it would have been nice to see him one more time.

On a side note, my oldest brother, Mark, was born on November 28, 1949. He died of cancer in 2000. His birthday often fell on Thanksgiving Day.

One of my favorites pictures of Mark as a baby was taken at Thanksgiving, in 1950, when he was one year old. They gave him a turkey leg to chomp on.

My brother Mark, Thanksgiving in 1950.

Another picture taken on Thanksgiving in 1950 is multi-generational. Mark is sitting with Grandma (Henrich) James, she is Gra Gra’s step-mom. Looking at the picture, sitting on the left end is our maternal grandmother, Gra Gra–Bertha L. (James) Watts. On the right end is paternal grandmother, Grammy–Alice (Holden) Lindall. Our mom, Marian, is sitting in the back.

To learn more about the Henrich family connection, please see post: What’s in a Name, Lena Henrich?

To learn more about Gra Gra, please see post: Intro to Gra Gra & Volunteering at Kent Hospital

I am, indeed, thankful for the memories!!

Until next time…

 

 

Intro to Gra Gra & Volunteering at Kent Hospital

My blog today will be introducing you to my grandmother, otherwise known as Gra Gra, one of my three leading ladies as was mentioned in my first post. She was assigned the name by my eldest brother and later discovered that the word “gra” was a Greek derivative for the word “love”, this being learned within the context of completing a Crossword puzzle. Gra Gra was thrilled to think her grandson had been smart enough to create this name that would turn out to mean “love love”.

Back in 1891, on this date of September 12th, she was born as Bertha L. James. Her life went on to span the course of 92 years until her passing in the early morning hours of February 4th, 1983.

She grew up in the Foxpoint section of Providence, Rhode Island. Her parents were Martha Ella (Carr) James Cady and George Lang Parkhurst James, both are pictured below.

In 1896, at the age of five, her parents were divorced and at the time there were two younger brothers, Lionel and Howard. The court ruled for Gra Gra and Lionel to reside with the father and the baby Howard to reside with their mother. Three years later, in 1899, her father was remarried to Susan Henrich. From this second marriage, two sons were born–Vincent and Lester.

After completing the fifth grade, my grandmother found it necessary to leave her education in order to help support the family. Her working day, in the mill, consisted of ten to twelve hours with her earnings for the week being a mere $4.00.

Even though her classroom education had come to a halt, she never gave up on her inner thirst for knowledge. She was an avid reader and studied a variety of subjects. In a published article, while in her 80’s, she referred to the benefit of learning from others, those she felt to be smarter than herself.

In 1905, her family moved from Providence to the Clyde section of West Warwick. Soon afterward, Gra Gra joined the local Riverpoint Congregational Church where she was an active member for the following 78 years.

Over time, my grandmother was quite the poet, an animal lover and greatly enjoyed her gardens. Her family was very musical and so it was that she played the piano, the ukulele and Hawaiian guitar.

In 1915, she married my grandfather Thomas William Watts “Pop Pop” who she always affectionately called Bill. They are pictured here together, I am not sure of the exact year of this photo.

Gra Gra was the most selfless person I have ever known, devoting her life to serving others. She was a well-known 4-H Leader for many years and was part of the 4-H All Stars. Prior to WWII, she directed local Minstrel shows. Once the war hit, many of the young men in the area headed off to war so those show productions ended. In later years, she would fondly tell me stories about the various costumes as we examined them from a large trunk in the basement.

My featured postcard today is of the Kent County Memorial Hospital, located in Warwick, the postcard itself was printed by the printcraft shop from Cranston, Rhode Island. This hospital was chartered in 1946 and first opened its doors in 1951. My grandmother was a volunteer at the hospital from the time those doors first opened until the mid-70s, this was some time after she had become legally blind making it too difficult to read. She was a member of the hospital auxiliary and I can remember when they held an annual fundraiser where there would be a large tent set up on the front lawn and my grandmother would serve as a fortune-teller of sorts–using her set of tarot cards.

I have at least two plaques that were presented to her from the hospital for her volunteer work there. The following quoted item (shown below) is from a type-written speech that is attached to the back of a plaque from the Thirteenth Annual Meeting of the Corporation, held on Tuesday, November 19, 1963. The front of the plaque itself says it is an Award of Appreciation for 2,000 hours of unselfish devotion to Volunteer Service.

The second plaque is in recognition of 20 years of Volunteer Service to Kent Memorial Hospital, presented in 1971.

 

Bertha began her volunteer and auxiliary service at the opening of K.C.M.H. She is one of the first women to be assigned to the information desk in the old business office, and has moved with the desk to each of its new locations. Wednesday afternoon and Mrs. Watts at the Information Desk have become synonymous, and on the rare occasion when she has been unable to report on that day it’s just hard to believe.

Because of her many other community activities she has a wide circle of friends in Kent County, and the information desk on her day, sometimes has the appearance of a ‘homecoming reunion’. She has also had much experience working with teenagers, and has ‘adopted’ many of our Candystripers, with whom she continues to keep in touch as they pursue their careers.

She has served on the auxiliary board in various capacities, and worked on many of the auxiliary projects. And, like all the women being honored tonight, she is a dedicated, loyal supporter of K.C.M.H. and my friend and neighbor for more than fifty years!

Read and presented by Robert E. Quinn of the United States Court of Military Appeals. He is also a former Governor of the State of Rhode Island.

Gra Gra was known as the “lady with the braids” as she had worn them crossed over in a circle upon her head for over fifty years. Many young folks called her “Aunt Bertha”.

The picture on the left is of my grandmother and parents, taken some time after 1941.

When I was a very young person, Gra Gra was always very heavy-set in weight and I felt she was a bit stern in demeanor. The turning point came when I was about the age of nine, she had a slight heart attack, lost a lot of weight and we became much closer. It was from about this timeframe, I started spending a lot more time with her, staying over on weekends and school vacations. In the beginning, I think it started as me trying to help her but in the end what enrichment she provided to my life was so much more–she became my sanctuary and always listened without judgement.

The photo on the right was probably one of the last pictures taken of my grandmother and to me this picture, taken in her kitchen, is worth a thousand words.

So many conversations were had at this kitchen table, she passed along so many stories of her life–many were repeated over more than a few times. Even the objects in the picture hold so many memories, the “blue” sugar bowl that would have been sitting on the lazy Susan along with the orange and fiesta green salt and pepper shakers and the sterling butter dish with the little holder for a butter knife. On the counter, in the background, is the pedestal cake stand that may have been harboring a goodie or two. The large double-doored cupboards with a matching set on the other side of the window were filled with dishes, I think there were three, maybe four, sets of dishes–many were collected from the movie shows that gave them away, one piece at a time.

My grandmother followed the “spring cleaning” routine, meaning each spring we would work together taking down the dishes from each shelf row at a time from the cupboards and hand washing each item. The same was done with all the nicknacks located on the whatnot display. During spring school vacations, we also spent many hours raking leaves from the huge yard and garden areas.

She used to tell stories of when she was a child in school and the teacher each day would write a different saying on the board, things like “honesty is the best policy” and “things done by halves are never done right”. Most of these little sayings were taken to heart and “rules” my grandmother lived by over the course of her life.

What a life it was…and so in honor of her birthday, I have explored just a few pieces of her life. In future posts, I will explore other details and explore more genealogy for both her Carr and James ancestors.

Thank you for reading, watch for my next post which should be my introduction to Grandma Julia, another leading lady but whom I did not have the pleasure to meet in person but yet have learned a little about from reading some of the family postcard correspondence.

Until next time…