Friday, August 1, 2003
Carlisle Oral History Project : Dot Clark ... farm wife, community leader, historian
On June 24, the Carlisle Oral History Project recorded the memories of Dorothy Woods Clark, one of Carlisle's most beloved residents. Dot came to Clark Farm from Vermont as a girl of 17. Now in her eighties, she has a keen appreciation for preserving history · every day she works on the history of the Clark family and farm, surrounded by clippings, scrapbooks, photographs and her own vivid memories. Carlisle's history is woven into her own. Her husband Guy died in 2000. His oral history appeared in the Mosquito on January 24 and 31, 1997.
Following are excerpts of our conversation.
I was born in 1915 in Cabot, Vermont, and I still say I'm a mountain girl and kiddingly I always say, "That's about as close to heaven as I'll ever get!" I lived on a beautiful farm. My mother and dad moved to Berlin, New Hampshire. He had a brother who was a boss in one of the pulp mills there and the wages were better there. In 1918, my father died in the flu epidemicthat took more lives, I understand, than the war did at that time. After my father's death, my mother went back home to Cabot to live. There were two of us and then I had a sister born three months after he died, so there were three of us, three girls.
My mother remarried when I was eight; my life was so far removed from anything today. I was the oldest of twelve. My mother was a very strong, very hard-working woman, very neat and very particularI guess that's where I get some of my likes and dislikes. She married a man a little younger than she, and he was very impatientbut he was a hard worker. My mother was very frugal. She was a very good planner, she had to be. She could make clothes without a pattern, and she was a good cook, but a frugal cook. She did a lot of preserving, which I do, too. [She shows a newspaper picture of her preserves.] I think that year I did something over 500 jars because that was before we had the freezer.
This would have been in the 1920s, and life didn't change that much all through my school years. We had wood stoves, the old-fashioned privies outside or at the end of a woodshed, hand pumps for water in the kitchen, kerosene lamps, and the farmer's wife worked very, very hard. Many of the housewives took care of the vegetable garden, they might have chickens, they did the cooking, looked after the family, washed the milk pails and the cream separator every day. You had kind neighbors if you were ill and if you were having a child the midwife came in. It was a different world. There was the horse and wagon and a sleigh in the winter.
School days at 30 below
I remember walking to school. In the wintertime, well, sometimes it would get to 30 below. My grandparents lived near the railroad track and usually the snowplow would go up on the railroad track before we had to leave for schoolwe had to be in school at 9and it was a good mile. We had a pot-bellied stove at school. Eight grades were in one room. Mother usually dressed us in men's heavy socks and boy's boots, because of course we didn't have ski pants and things of that sort. We had coats that she made over and whatnot, and scarves and hats and mittens and union suits, just anything to keep warm.
We had a neighbor who lived about half-way between our house and the school, and I can remember we had what we called a white-out, you know, you couldn't see your hand in front of you. And he came to school around 3:30 or so, and he told the teacher he came for us. He made a path for us, you could hardly see one another, and he'd say, "Okay, kids, this is as far as you're going to go tonight!" His wife would have a hot dinner for us and put us up for the nightmy grandparents had a phone, so he probably called them and they went across the way and told my mother. And in the morning his wife would give us a hot breakfast, make our lunch, and send us to school.
In the summertime, we loved to pick berries with our neighbors. We'd go way back in the woods and pick raspberries practically all summer. And we used to pick the little tiny strawberries. I never had a commercial strawberry until I came down here!
My stepfather raised quite a lot of potatoes, and I can remember us kids rushing home after school and picking up potatoes in the fall. They were those beautiful big Green Mountain potatoes (you never see them now), and then he would put them in bushel bags and take them by horse and wagon to town and sell them, go house to house, a dollar a bushel.
My mother and stepfather had an old Model T when I was about fourteen. And of course I worked in the field at haying time. Everything was done by hand then. You raked in a row with a hand rake and my sister and I would break up the rows into what we called tumbles so they could be lifted by a fork and put on the wagon.
Meeting Guy Clark
As soon as I finished high school, I had to make my own way. Life became difficult and I had a lot of different experiences. You asked me how I met Guy. I was working on this beautiful farm in Cabot, Vermont, in about '32 · Mr. Walbridge was blind and his wife had been a schoolteacher. They were lovely people. I really liked him a lot. He had a nice sense of humor. After Guy and I were married, I always went back to visit them.
You have to realize what the economy was those were the Depression years and no one had anything. That's very difficult for people to realize today. The Walbridges had a dairy, they raised corn for the silo, so she had to have help in the summer. I had a girlfriend who worked there and then decided to go to Brattleboro, Vermont, to work, and she asked if I would like her job. I said yes. I had been waiting on table at a very nice place, but I preferred not to stay. So I took this job. The salary was $5 a week. Along about September, after the thrashing of the corn, Mrs. Walbridge said, "Dorothy, I'd love to keep you, but I can't afford to pay you."
I should tell you that all the young people knew each other in this area. Of course, entertainment was nil, you had to find your own. Dancing was the one thing we could all get together on and enjoy. I had started dating a little. Well, in this group was a very nice young man, Phil; he had a car, which was unusual. One day at the Walbridge farm, I opened the door and there stood Phil, and he said, "Dot, I have my boss with me. I'm working in Massachusetts. We thought we'd like to go to the dance Saturday night. Would you go with me?" I said I would go, so Saturday night, Phil and his boss, Guy, came. Guy was in the car, in the front seat, and his date was in the back. Phil didn't dance, so I could dance with anyone I wanted to, and I danced with Guy a few times. Of course, Guy was never a real good dancer but he did pretty well.
Going back to the Walbridge farm, I said to Guy, "Is there any work down your way?" He said, "Well, my mother's looking for some help. Why don't you go back with us?" "Well," I thought, "I don't know you!" So I said, "If your mother is interested, have her write to me and I might consider it." In the meantime I took a job way over in Ashland, New Hampshire, way back in the mountains, in a little farm owned by a man and his wife. It was the Depression, remember, and you took anything you could find. They had a new baby, and I was there a month and I didn't see anyone else, they didn't have any company. Oh, my word!
Well, Guy's mother had written and sent the letter to my home in Vermont, and my mother sent it to me in New Hampshire, saying she was interested in me. I thought, "Well, I'm not going to stay here but I want to be fair, so I said to the lady I was working for, 'I have found another job but I'd like to give you a week's notice,' thinking I was being considerate." And the next morning, early, still dark, I went down to help with breakfast and she said, "Dorothy, I have found someone to help me. Which way do you want to gonorth or south?" So I had to phone Guy's mother to ask if it was all right for me to come. It was, so I had to get a taxi to take me to the train in Ashland. I went to Lowell, and Guy was there to meet me. I guess I must have been 17 or 18 when I came to this farm.
A new life at Clark Farm
When I came to the farm, Guy's sister Maria was here; and of course, Guy's mother; Puff [Irvin Puffer of Bellows Hill Road], Guy's nephew, was here (his mother had died), and then Guy. His room had a good, big padlock on it! I like to point that out because I'm sure people talked a lot, but they didn't have reason to we were pretty well chaperoned and times were different.
Guy's mother [Rena Clark, who taught school in Carlisle], well, she was a disciplinarian. That was why she was so popular as a teacher. You see, boys especially, went to school until they were 16 because times were hard and they were needed on the farm in the spring and in the fall, so they really didn't have an opportunity to go to school a lot. And of course when they got to be that age there was a discipline problem.
At that time she was about sixty, and Guy said she had had a stroke but she didn't have any after-effects from it. But the laundry had to be done, and there were two men who boarded here. There were no appliances to make life easier. The housework wasn't really that bad, but if she couldn't find anything else for me to do, it was "clean the attic" or "scrub the paint in the back hall" or somethingyou didn't get too much time off.
I had started to date a little bit. You had to find your own diversionwe'd go to someone's house and play cards, or go to a dance. Guy and I had gone out a few times and I liked him very, very much. He was 32 when he married and he was pretty well tied. You see, his father died in 1925 suddenly with a ruptured appendix so Guy had to take the farm over. He graduated from high school at 15 and none of us had a chance to go on to school, so we had a lot in common. I remember coming home around 11 o'clock one night and Guy was lying on the sofa bed in the dining room. I said, "Well, how come you're still up?" because he usually went to bed quite early because he was up at five o'clock every morning, seven days a week. He said, "I was waiting for you to come home." And he sat up and said, "Dot, I wish you wouldn't date any more!" I looked at him and I said, "Well, that's no problem!" But I never thought of marriage because I was young and that was the furthest thing from my mind. Then we saw more of each other. Usually on Sunday afternoon he would take me for a ride, we'd go sightseeing or something. We went over to the Clinton Dam that was just being built one Sunday, we'd take a little picnic lunch.
Guy and his sister Maria owned a car together, a 1932 Chevy. She used to take the car every day to Bedford and take the train to Boston where she worked for Judge Loomis. I wanted to go home and have Guy meet my family, and Guy said he would drive me in the spring. So one day in April, Guy told Maria, "I'm going to take Dot to Vermont" on whatever day it was going to be. I was helping at breakfast and she came down and said to her mother, "I'm taking the car. I'm not furnishing a car for the maid to ride in." I'd never been called the maid before, so that hurt me very deeply. Guy came in from chores and saw that Maria took the car; he said, "Well, I'll just go and get it." So we went to Vermont for a few days. I don't think he proposed to me until later. All he said was, "Maria's getting married in June, Dot. I would like you to marry me but I don't want to ask you until after she leaves home."
Dot and Guy get married
Bill wasn't born until July 17, 1936. Before then, I said to Guy one day, "Gosh, what are we going to do? The house is so cold, we can't have a youngster with doors opening and closing when it's so cold." In the winter we had fireplaces going during the day, but at night it was so cold. I remember Guy saying that when he was ill as a child, his mother would bring him up a glass of water and leave it on the windowsill, and it would be frozen in the morning. I suggested to Guy that we make one of the bedrooms upstairs into a little kitchen so we could have more heat and perhaps it would be more convenient. He asked his mother and she said all right. So we lived up there a few months before Bill was born. I had a hard time with my pregnancies, I had to have Caesarean sections which were unusual in those days and pretty scary. And then Betty came along eleven months later. So those years were busy and difficult in some ways.
Gram [Guy's mother] continued to board the men and then gradually I took over the work. Then we restored the main house in 1945. I never asked for many privileges, I thought I was an intruder, I don't know if others felt that way or not. It was her property and I respected that. One day we were talking and Gram said, "Now, Dorothy, you may as well use the living room downstairs because I can't keep it."
I want to tell you more about the house, because we changed it but we didn't ruin it! The house was in deplorable condition. We were told that building a six-room house would be less expensive than restoring this house, but it wouldn't have been big enough. There were eight of usGuy and I and our two, Puff, two boarders and Gram. We decided to restore it. Well, it took a year to replace the flooring, the windows, we took everything out downstairs except the old molding around the fireplaces. We preserved the doors that could be salvaged and saved whatever flooring could be saved.
Restoring the house
The house was built in 1742 by a Leonard Spaulding. Guy's mother bought it in 1898, before she and Guy's father were married. It was originally a saltbox. It's been told that it was built by the Greens but Don Lapham researched the history. Leonard Spaulding was a cordwainer, who at that time was a shoemaker. Ruth Wilkins told me that the Wilkins property on the corner of Bedford Road and East Street and this farm were the only buildingsthere was nothing in between We didn't know until we restored the house that the north side, which is now my living room, originally was the kitchen. There were two small rooms downstairs with a partition and when we took out the partition we found a fireplaceit was all intact except that we had to put in a new hearth because that had been removed. I was thrilled, of course. And the old Dutch oven is therewe had to have new doors made. The borning room [off the old kitchen] was always Gram's roomI use it now for an officebut all the children were born there. Upstairs we didn't make any changes at allwe didn't need to. That still has the old horsehair plaster, because that's what they used in those days.
I didn't go outside to work [on the farm] until about '45 when the house was torn up. We were very short of help. Once the war started it was very difficult to get help because people could earn more in the factories. So I felt if we're going to make a go of things, it's my job to help. Of course, I grew up on a farm so I learned to milk by hand. I remember driving the tractor in the cornfield and behind the tractor were three little cultivators run by Guy and the two men. I had a tendency to step on the gas at the end of a row because I was afraid of stalling the tractor, and whoever was on the end would go flying, like snapping the whip! We used to laugh so. There was so much humor here, and hard work, of course.
An active Carlislean
I worked in our Sunday School. We had what we called a Unity Club, a young women's group. Guy's family had always gone to the Unitarian church it was the original church, you know. I was very involved in Sunday School, I was first president of the Unity Club for a couple of years. We used to put on public dinners somewhat, but then Guy was active in a lot of farm organizations and in those days restaurants and meeting places were not that sizeable so they were always looking for a place to have their annual meeting and a dinner. So by guaranteeing a certain number of plates, our church could do those dinners and that money went for the support of the Sunday School.
I was active with my children, of course. Betty became interested in ballet and for a couple of summers she had a studio in one of the upstairs bedrooms and taught pupils there. And it was my suggestion, fifty years ago, to have the Strawberry Festival, and the Mosquito ran the original picture last month!
Gram died in August 1960. In 1966 Bill (Guy, Jr.we call him Bill) bought the Bedford Funeral Home. It takes about ten years to build a business and he put on two additions. I didn't think I could do it but I found that by feeling that you're doing something for others you become very compassionate, and I felt I could cover a lot for him. He took over a home that had been very run down, so he and I papered and painted and did everything else. I covered the office and the door and helped with visiting hours, and at the same time I was working at the library. I worked there for 27 years, part-time, and loved every bit of that. Helen Wilkie was our director, she and Eva Dutton were the only two librarians.
Guy was an on-call fireman and I used to serve on the refreshment committee for the firemen. To start with I was a member of the Eveready Class when I first came to Carlisle, and made lots of good friends. There was a fire on Bedford Road where Norma Japp livesNathaniel Hill lived thereand their barn burned. In those days there was no place for refreshments if it was a long fire. After that the firemen said they would like a committee to serve refreshments, and I was the chairman. There were two teachers here who boarded at Esther and Waldo Wilson's across the street so we formed a committee. We weren't called out too often, but there were occasions when we would work most of the night. Once we had a drowning on the Concord Rivera deerhunter had gone through. And I remember when a patient from Valleyhead Hospital [a psychiatric hospital on South Street] strayed, and they looked for her all night. You wonder how an elderly person could get so far away, but they didn't find her until the next morning in back of Anna Johnson's on Westford Street. She was way back in the woods in the wetland, holding onto a stump. We girls worked most of the night that night. We made sandwiches and hot coffee. Mike Mandreoli and his wife Matilda had the Superette and he gave us the privilege of going in and getting whatever we needed. We just kept track of what we took and would pay him.
It was recently announced that 64 acres of Clark Farm had been given to the town by Dot Clark and Grant Wilson to be preserved in perpetuity. Asked to comment, Dot said: "It is a wonderful feeling to know it will always be held that way. I'm a nature lover and there's so little land especially near the main road, and there's such a nice view across the fields. Toward the end of Guy's illness, before he went to the nursing home, I used to take him for a ride and before we went in, he'd say, "Dot, let's sit here for a minute and look at the view."
That view will be there for all of us, thanks to Dot's generosity and her warm feelings for her adopted home town.
© 2003 The Carlisle Mosquito