The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, June 1, 2007


The Japps look back on 51 years in Carlisle

Norma and John Japp pose in front of their grape arbor on Bedford Road. (Photo by Ellen Huber)
When Dr. John Japp and his wife Norma came to Carlisle in 1956, he had just completed medical school at Tufts University. Why Carlisle? Dr. Japp explains, "Dr. Lord, who practiced medicine in Bedford for many years, recommended that we live here because there was no doctor in Carlisle."

For the next 41 years, Dr. Japp's office was in Bedford, but his patients came from Carlisle, Concord, Lexington, Burlington, Westford and Chelmsford. He was part of that now-obsolete breed, the family practitioner (who also practiced obstetrics) that was once the core of the medical profession but is today replaced by a myriad of specialists. Dr. Japp recalls that "office visits cost $3, house calls were $4." Family practice was completely different back then, he offers. "I was probably one of the last two family practitioners who came to the Concord area. In the 1960s there were four of us in Bedford, and we shared coverage on the weekends. For many years, I worked every other weekend."

The Cape behind the big rock

John Japp and Norma Puffer met at Tufts in 1950. Norma, whose mother, Ethel Carr Puffer, was born in Carlisle, grew up in Bedford. At Tufts, she majored in English and "took a lot of science courses." John came from Stratford, Connecticut, spent two years in the Navy and then attended Tufts. They married in 1950, the same year that John entered Tufts Medical School. Norma taught nature classes to fifth and sixth graders for the Audubon Society and worked at General Electric in Lynn while her husband was in medical school.

In 1956 the new doctor and his wife bought a small Cape house on Concord Street, "behind the big rock two houses away from the Clark Farm," explains Norma. It wasn't long before the young couple was treated to Carlisle's special brand of neighborliness. Dr. Japp tells of cutting his grass about a week after moving in, using a push lawnmower borrowed from his mother-in-law. A man came walking across the street pushing a gasoline-powered lawnmower. "He said, 'Why don't you use this?' He was Frank Wahlen, whom I had never met, and we became good friends. This was typical of that neighborhood; everybody knew everybody else."

With self-deprecating humor, Dr. Japp describes a home-repair project: "I decided one weekend to tear down an overhang on the front of the house, and started tearing down the roof on Saturday afternoon. I got two or three calls and had to go out. I did some more tearing down on Sunday. Frank [Wahlen] came across the street and said, 'I think you better meet Uncle Charlie.'" Uncle Charlie was Charles Cann, a carpenter who lived on Westford Street. "He came over on Monday and soon put the roof back together again! He was a genius, we worked on many projects together." Uncle Charlie had an interesting billing system — he bought all the lumber and supplies from Concord Lumber and only sent a bill at the beginning of the following year. The bill, hand-delivered, included his labor charge — of $4 an hour.

The move to Bedford Road

By 1961, the Japps had three children: Betsy, now a veterinarian in Connecticut; Robert, a mechanical engineer in New York state; and Paul, an industrial engineer living in Connecticut. The family had outgrown the little Cape when Norma noticed the large, antique farmhouse for sale at 517 Bedford Road. The family moved there in 1961.

While Dr. Japp's practice kept him busy, his wife looked after the children and participated in 4H, Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts with them. Compared with the hectic schedule of Carlisle kids today and the constraints of contemporary life, the Japps' family life in the 1960s and '70s sounds idyllic. Their ten acres provided a never-ending playground, and there were always animals around — chickens, dogs, guinea pigs, gerbils and sheep (remember that daughter Betsy became a veterinarian!). The Japps even dug a swimming hole on their property. "All the neighborhood kids came," says Norma; theirs was the "go-to" house. Furthermore, "we didn't worry about the kids walking or biking anywhere. There wasn't much traffic, and they seemed to have plenty to do." Dr. Japp adds, "And when they were hungry, they came home!"

Dr. Japp found time to serve on a town board — the Insurance Committee, which was to determine if the town needed insurance for its public employees. His wife was an early member of the Carlisle Garden Club (founded in 1959) and served on the Carlisle Conservation Commission, on the Great Brook Farm State Park Advisory Board, and on the Carlisle Solid Waste Disposal Committee.

Perennials for sale

A familiar spring sight on Bedford Road is Norma Japp's plant cart. (Photo by Ellen Huber)
You have undoubtedly seen the welcoming flower cart outside of 517 Bedford Road. Sometime in the 1960s (neither Japp is sure exactly when), Dr. Japp built a small greenhouse (later expanded) on the back of the garage. There Norma, who always loved gardening, planted her seeds in February and later transplanted the seedlings in vast gardens "out back." She sold the plants from the perennial cart and is proud that it "is all self-service. We never had a problem with anybody taking money out of the change box. We would often get a note saying, 'IOU 25 cents,' or 'IOU $1.' Sure enough, it would soon be there." For many years the spring Garden Club plant sale was held in the Japps' spacious garden area bordering the house.

Now, Norma says that this is the last year for her perennial cart because keeping up her large garden is a lot of work. (Long-time Carlisleans will remember that she "retired" once before, in 2000, but her retirement was short-lived.) In addition, her gardens are subject to the same critters that frustrate so many Carlisle gardeners. She remembers looking out her window last year to see a doe and her fawn. The doe was busy munching on hostas off the porch, while her baby happily consumed the grapes on the fence bordering the house.


"Our neighborhood is still essentially the same as it was when we bought the house," says Norma Japp, with a few exceptions. She was fond of her colorful neighbor, John Davis, who lived next door, and has remained close friends with Joan Duffy who lives across the road in the "spite house" (see "This old house: how ours came to be," Mosquito, April 27. 2007). But both Japps regret that nowadays, "you don't get to know your neighbors as well as you used to. People don't have time to go visiting; they're working."

Small-town Carlisle

What do the Japps miss about the old days in Carlisle? For one thing, the gas station in the center (next to Ferns). "George 'Mutt' Foss was the proprietor," says Dr. Japp, "and he was also the town's first Selectman, the Fire Chief and Police Chief. He wore five hats!"

They also miss a town small enough that "you knew the names of almost everyone who lived here, even if you weren't friends." And traffic-free roads — "There was virtually no traffic compared with today. It used to be mostly residents going to get food or gas," compared with today's traffic streaming through Carlisle from surrounding towns.

Dr. Japp likes to remember when Mrs. Bates opened the ice cream stand (now Kimball's) sometime in the 1960s. "Our daughter worked there for five summers. Cones were 20 or 25 cents. Mrs. Bates's rule was that the girls were supposed to put only two ounces of ice cream on the cone, which is miniscule compared with today!" "But so was the price," his wife points out.

After Dr. Japp retired ten years ago, he and his wife "used to do a fair amount of traveling," but in the last two or three years they have been content to stay home, do things around the house and "Watch the Red Sox!" A visit with the Japps earlier this week confirms that they are keeping busy. Dr. Japp was putting the finishing touches on a large cage, future home for several baby flying squirrels at his daughter Betsy's house in Connecticut. Norma fretted over a large patch of tall grass in a perennial bed that she hoped would be smothered by encroaching myrtle and anemone. In between chores and projects, they find time to visit their children and seven grandchildren, ages 25 to 10.

2007 The Carlisle Mosquito