Friday, October 15, 1999
'We had plenty of food, warm clothes, and love; that's all.' Evelyn's Story
Evelyn Duren turned 84 last Friday and , as a tribute to their mother, the Duren boys ( Eddy, Billy, Everett and David) planned a big bash in honor of her birthday. There were flowers, a white stretch limousine and the sons, along with their wives, accompanied Evelyn into Boston for a night out on the town at Anthony's Pier Four.
Iris Jones, a former neighbor from across the street, talked with Evelyn about her early life in Westford and her many years living in Carlisle.
Not until she was fifteen years old and had met Sam Duren of Carlisle did Evelyn Millis ever hear of his town, even though she lived next door in Westford. Three years after they met, on April 14, 1934, he brought her to Carlisle as his bride. Since then, both her life and Carlisle have undergone great change.
Evelyn was born on October 8, 1915 at home in Westford, the second of the six children of Ruth and Willard Millis. Her father was a foreman at several local farms, including that of Oscar Spalding, who later was to donate land for a ballpark in Carlisle.
The family regularly attended the Westford Unitarian Church. This was quite an undertaking. Early on Sunday morning, her parents started up the black iron stove in the kitchen, then opened the oven door to warm the room. One after another, Ruth bathed her children in a tub placed before the oven door.
Meanwhile, father Willard polished the shoes. Once the children were clean and properly attired, he gave each child five pennies to put in the collection plate, of which only three cents found their way to the church, due to the proximity of a candy store. Whenever possible, the children arrived in church before the minister and slid down the long polished church banister.
Evelyn's family were pioneers at the dawn of the automobile era. In the early days, one simply stopped by the registry, advised them as to how many miles one had driven and was issued a driver's license. Evelyn's grandmother had more ingenuity than driving experience. She truthfully accounted for her driving miles-but neglected to mention that these miles had been accrued with a horse and buggy.
When Evelyn was fifteen, her mother and new baby brother spent five weeks in the hospital, leaving her in charge of the household. Now it was she who ordered supplies when the grocery man came round to the house in his horse and wagon on Monday mornings. Later in the week, the butcher and other vendors delivered their goods in their carts.
Sam comes along for the ride
One day, a young fellow from Carlisle delivered pies and bread to the Millis household, and brought his friend Sam Duren along for the ride. Sam and Evelyn hit it off at first sight. They dated for three years, socialized with a group of friends, rode the trolley to the beach, danced in marathons in Somerville or Revere. If Sam and Evelyn lingered too long in the parlor, they soon heard Willard winding his clock in the next room. Even after their engagement, Evelyn faced a 10:30 p.m. curfew.
Sam's father gave them land off Bedford Road as a wedding present. They built their house for $3000 and in 1936 they moved in. Sam worked as a mechanic, but at times would also paint for Herbert Lee, Helen Wilkie's father. For some time he worked at Middlesex Motors by day and in the shop behind the house at night. During the 1930's he converted old cars to tractors. Evelyn and Sam also made the rounds in town with a saw in their truck, and would cut firewood. Sometimes Evelyn took her turn at truck-driving, as when she delivered the wood used to build the house at 715 Bedford Road, once the site of a schoolhouse, and more recently that of the florist shop at the corner of Bedford Road and Maple Street.
Evelyn often walked her children to the town center, to the Daisy's store and Lange Chamberlain's Red and White store across the street, which also housed the post office. There she met other young mothers, like Betty Daisy and Helen Wilkie, as well as other people of Carlisle who walked around town, greeting everyone they met. "I used to know everybody back then," says Evelyn.
Only four of Durens' six children, Eddy, Billy, Everett, and David, survived to adulthood. One child was stillborn, and another died in 1941, at nine months, from mosquito-borne encephalitis.
David Duren, Evelyn's youngest son, recalls playing in the fields, fishing for sunfish, pickerel and eels. "Now you're warned not to eat anything you catch in the river; there may be mercury in it." The boys hunted deer, ducks or pheasant, particularly in the swampy area that had been a cranberry bog. They skated on the small family pond, then carved out chunks of ice and made ice cream. The boys even caught racoons which they kept as pets.
When Carlisle was a farm village, "going to town" to shop and dine meant traveling to Lowell, not to distant Boston. Carlisle people depended mostly upon each other, sharing talents, lending a hand in emergencies. Kids worked the harvest or cleaned up after the animals at local farms. David Duren recalls working for one farmer who had fits when he caught any boy with a tongue that even looked red after picking his strawberries. Yet another neighbor regularly stopped by with fruit and fed the boys' racoons. Carlislians gathered once a month at the Grange Hall on Concord Street to enjoy socials and parties, but one didn't have to be a farmer to belong. "We were all in the same boat," Evelyn recalls.
A top-notch cook
Evelyn excelled at cooking and baking. She set up a stand on her front lawn that became very popular with weekend visitors to the Carlisle area. In the early 1950s, when her husband was injured, she cooked at Valleyhead Hospital (now Assurance Technology) on South Street. Eventually she cooked at the Belknap House, one of Concord's congregate housing facilities for the elderly, as well as for local families. For many years Evelyn also created and sold fabulous wedding cakes and, after working all day, went out to teach others how to do the same.
Twenty-eight years ago Sam suffered an aneurysm and passed away. Today Evelyn works as a cook at the rectory of St. Michael's Church in Bedford. "It gives me a reason to get up every day," she explains. "I'm lucky." Of course, others might say St. Michael's is lucky, as is Carlisle, to enjoy a lively and bright lady who is part of Carlisle's past.
© 1999 The Carlisle Mosquito