Friday, May 19, 2006
Carlisle Oral History Project:
Kay Woodward is recovering well from her second knee operation, moving gingerly but steadily through the rooms of her warm, comfortable South Street home as she shows a visitor her memorabilia of a life centered on family, music and community. She is tall, elegant and a gracious hostess. Our conversation begins and ends with her grandchildren — she has just received an e-mail from a granddaughter in Mongolia working with Mercy Corps (similar to the Peace Corps), and she is very familiar with her granddaughter's mission there.
The Woodwards moved to South Street in 1988, when Walter (Woody) Woodward retired. They opted for a smaller, one-floor house, leaving their large historic home on Bedford Road that now belongs to their son Dave.
How did the Woodwards decide to live in Carlisle? "We were living in Wellesley in the 1950s with our three children — Bill, Dave and Carol — and all three wanted to live in the country," Mrs. Woodward recalls. The family had visited relatives in Vermont and Canada who lived on farms, and the children were fascinated by farm life. In addition "my husband's company moved to Burlington, so we looked for three or four years for a place in the country," she says. "Heald House [on Concord Street] was the first place we looked at, but it had no closets. We didn't bid on it and later someone with five children bought the house."
The Woodwards fell in love with the 1731 Blood House (one of the original homes owned by early Carlisle settlers named Blood) at 767 Bedford Road. "It had all the charm of an antique house," Mrs. Woodward notes. Coming from the midwest, she and her husband had lacked an appreciation of old homes — "you tear it down when it's old in the midwest and build new — like in this town now," she observes pointedly.
The historic house was owned by Edward Kemp, who owned a candy and nuts factory in Boston, and used it as a summer home. After his death, the Woodwards bought the house and surrounding land from Kemp's widow in 1959. The house had a separate apartment once used by a live-in couple who helped the Kemps. The apartment had no kitchen until a tenant of the Woodwards agreed to build one from an old storeroom in lieu of a year's rent. When Mrs. Woodward's elderly parents came to live in Carlisle in the 1970s, they moved into the apartment.
A Purdue romance
Kay Cooley and Walter Woodward met at Purdue, where she was the daughter of a professor. "All five of us [children] had no choice in a college — we would go to Purdue," Mrs. Woodward says with a smile. "It turned out to be the best thing for me because that's where I found my husband." Woodward had been awarded a music scholarship to Oberlin from his high school in Detroit. He realized that music was not a reliable profession and "he also had mechanical and engineering ability, so he transferred to Purdue. He was able to make a career in engineering and have music as an avocation."
Mrs. Woodward majored in home economics at Purdue and met Woody through mutual friends. Asked if she shared her husband's musical ability, she shakes her head: "I played the cello, but I didn't really have an ear for it," in marked contrast to her husband's "good ear for music." The Woodwards were married in 1943 and moved east when Mr. Woodward was hired by Wind Tunnel Instrument in Wellesley.
When the Woodwards came to Carlisle and settled into the old farmhouse, their two boys went to the high school and daughter Carol attended the Highland School. Mrs. Woodward plunged into caring for her large house and became involved in town affairs. Banking on her home ec training, Mrs. Woodward made curtains for ten rooms, sewed all her own clothes and her children's as well. "It was natural for me to be sewing all the time," she says. "I had a real interest in home decorating, too. I did the wallpapering, painted woodwork, and stenciled one room."
"I loved keeping up the old house," she says, "but I liked being with people, so I was involved in church and community things." She was asked to run for Library Trustee, she won and after her three-year term, she saw a need for help beyond what Library Trustees; had time for. So she started the Friends of Gleason Library, even though she had been warned that a previous attempt had fizzled. In January 1966 she posted an ad and was amazed when eight or ten people arrived at her house for a meeting. The Friends of Gleason Library was off to a flying start, with Mrs. Woodward as its first president. "It is gratifying that it has continued and grown, and it's doing so much," says Mrs. Woodward of the Friends' current successes in supporting the library. "That's exactly what I had in mind."
Walter Woodward continued to enjoy his music and to share it with his new community. He and another Carlisle musician, George Grees, founded the Carlisle Cats, a jazz band that has played on Old Home Day, on Christmas Eve and at various town events for over 30 years. (The present-day Cats will present a free concert on Sunday, June 11, 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. at Heald House.)
An artistic and musical legacy
Every room of her South Street home reveals Mrs. Woodward's handiwork and artistic expression — the enormous multi-colored braided rug in the living room (that contains bits of "Grandma Woodward's Harris Tweed blue coat"), a variety of lampshades she has decorated, the unique and artistic stencils that border her rooms and her colorful, exquisite quilts.
Walter Woodward died in 2004, a year after he and his wife celebrated their 60
Without a doubt, Mrs. Woodward's greatest pride and joy are her ten grandchildren, who are all musical. Some are students in various colleges, others are making their mark in their careers, and except for Walter Jr. and Ema who live in Carlisle, they are scattered around the globe. Mrs. Woodward, a very contemporary grandmother, stays in touch with all of them by e-mail.
Carlisle has been enriched by that talented young couple from the midwest who arrived here 47 years ago, came to appreciate New England homes, firmly set down their musical roots, and have made lasting contributions to their adopted town.
© 2006 The Carlisle Mosquito