Friday, January 31, 2014


This small trunk – the precursor of a suitcase, if you will – belonged to Miss Rebecca Gay, born in 1789, daughter of Calvin and Joanna Kingsbury Gay of Walpole, Massachusetts.
          It’s a gorgeous old thing (it’s slightly more than two hundred years old now) and it lives in my downstairs guest room. It has a rounded top, hobnailed decoration on the lid, including the initials RG; the whole thing is just over two feet long, a foot wide and ten inches deep, and it’s full of old letters, diaries, photographs and other odds and ends.
Rebecca lined the interior of her trunk with newspaper – there are cuttings from the Dedham, MA Norfolk Repository, a weekly publication in the early 1800s.
          Inside the lid, there’s a “programme” of “Exercises of Exhibition” from Day’s Academy, Wrentham, MA from September 15, 1809; Rebecca’s younger brother Ebenezer appears in two of these exercises: The Weathercock, a Dialogue with seven of his male classmates, and, at the very end of the exhibition, another – Mrs. Wiggins, a Dialogue with the same cast and crew.
          Riveting, I’m sure.
          Ebenezer ended up at Harvard; he became a minister, a real Bible-thumper, my grandfather said. Somewhere I’ve got a cabinet photo of him, taken in the 1880s when he was in his 90s; he’s the stuff of nightmares – long, stringy white beard, dangly mustaches, and straggly hair that droops over his shoulders.

The other piece of artwork pasted on the inside of the lid is a Love Knot. It’s a complicated, interwoven pattern (for a quilt, maybe) and has romantic notions written throughout: true love is a precious treasure reads one; entwining arms sharing kisses true love blisses proclaims another.

At the bottom, she signed her name – Rebecca Gay – in the lower right she wrote Drawn July 12, 1809.
          She drew the knot, papered and prepared her traveling trunk when she was just twenty years old; the following year, this scrawling notation appears in the Walpole town records:

This may certify that these subscribers have marriede...Major John A. Gould to Rebeccah Gay both of Walpole May 29, 1810

John and Rebecca were my fourth great-grandparents; in the bottom of this trunk is a photograph of their Massachusetts homestead and his original diary.

Saturday, January 25, 2014


I’ve got an old trunk in my guestroom. It's small -- a trunk for a lady -- and it belonged to an ancestor of mine; it’s come to me through six generations.
It’s a small traveling trunk, hobnailed on the top (initials RG) and lined with flowered paper; it’s full of old letters, handbills, diaries, letters and photographs, etc. from both sides of my family.
Buried in this ladies’ trunk is a tiny envelope, stuffed with calling cards, all saved by Roxanna Adams, my great-great grandmother, who lived in Ashburnham, MA before the Civil War.
She was born on July 25, 1832, the daughter of Milton and Esther Gibson Adams. She had a rough start: her mother died when she was a year old; her father, being a “man of spirits” (now there’s a euphemism for you), unceremoniously dumped her off at the poor farm. She was, happily, retrieved by neighbors, Prescott Wilder and his wife, who took her in and raised her as their own.
By the time she was fifteen, she had added Wilder as her middle name; we’ve had Prescotts and Wilders in our family in every generation since!

These friendship calling cards were very popular among the younger set in the early- to mid-1800s. They were etched, printed in great quantity (one company was Dickson in Boston); young men and women purchased them in lots or individually.
One of Roxanna’s diaries mentions “card parties,” where young people spent an afternoon or evening around somebody’s dining table, hand-coloring their cards (watercolors, mostly); they gave them to each other as remembrance cards. Some were of a more congratulatory nature, others were exchanged as tokens of friendship; still others were intended to show romantic interest.

I’ve got cards from Melinda Willard and James M. Harris, both of Fitchburg; Nelson Whitney, Frances Maria Partridge, and a particular Lucius Henry Sabin, of Ashburnham.

One of my favorites is this last one: “May I See You Home!” This card was usually presented to a young lady by a gentleman with romantic  intentions; at some point during an evening, he would hand this card to her.
I don’t know who this gentleman was, but on the back of the card he presented to Roxanna, he wrote: “William the Conqueror.”
Such cheek!

Whoever he was, he didn’t conquer Roxanna – she was escorted home by Lucius Henry Sabin instead; they married in 1851.

Friday, January 17, 2014


My great-grandparents, John Allen and Frances Sabin Gould, had five sons. Four of them were active in World War I (the fifth, Gardner, was exempt from overseas duty; his engineering position at US Naval yards near Boston was considered vital to security):
          Allen (see last week’s post), member of the Cleveland, Ohio Cavalry;
          Richard, Naval aviator;
          Howard, sailor on a submarine chaser; and
          Prescott, Sergt. in the Massachusetts Cavalry.

The Goulds had a “Sons in Service” flag hanging in their window at 1206 Boylston Street; red border, white field and four blue stars – one for each son in active service.

Almost all of them came home.

 Prescott Wilder Gould was born in 1894 in Newton Upper Falls. He attended grammar and high school in Newton, then Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He played ice hockey in school, succeeding his brothers, who had made a name for themselves as the well-known “Gould trio” (Gardner, Richard and Allen) on the varsity hockey teams of both Newton High and MIT.

He enlisted with Co. C of the First Cavalry (Massachusetts), going with them to the Mexican border to chase down the infamous Pancho Villa; his brother Allen, in Ohio’s Cavalry, was also there – the brothers managed to meet up in El Paso!

Company C later merged with the Machine Gun Battalion; Prescott was shipped overseas to France in September, 1917.

The Goulds were all prolific letter-writers. Family members at 1206 wrote daily to their sons/brothers in uniform, and the boys wrote back as frequently as they could.

Prescott wrote in January, 1918:
Dear Ma, Received your letter...also one from Pa... came yesterday along with the three boxes. Certainly was a fine collection of eats and smokes and wish you would thank all concerned...I haven’t wanted for sweet things for the past few days...

And later:
Dear Ma...don’t feel worried about Dick’s flying. I’ve seen so many planes floating around over here that they don’t attract my attention any more than a fliver would... guess he was born to be an aviator...

And in March:
Dear Ma...have just had a shower and a complete change and just about at present feel as if I could knock the stuffing out of the whole German Army...

And then in April:
Dear Ma...the men are so well protected that it is mighty seldom anyone is hit...provided they stay where they belong and I’m one of the best little fellows at doing that you can imagine, so you see there’s no need of doing any worrying on my account...

But on the 21st of May, 1918, Prescott’s grandmother, Roxanna Sabin, wrote in her diary:
Terrible news came to night that Prescott is dead in France...

Prescott was  buried in Grave 15 of Plot B, Row 8 at St-Mihiel American Cemetery in Thiaucourt, France; his mother, Frances Sabin Gould, visited his grave as a Gold Star mother in the 1930s.

The family established a memorial stone in the family plot in Newton, one that I've visited many times over...tucked in among the members of his family: 

In Memoriam
Prescott Wilder Gould
Sergt. Co. C. 102nd M.G.B.
Died in France
May 16, 1918

Aged 24 years

Saturday, January 11, 2014

JULY, 1918...

I’m last in a long line of family diarists—at least one in each of the last seven generations, although I’m sure my diaries are less fascinating than those of my forebears. Altogether, I have about twenty of them, dating from the late 1700s until now.

This one belonged to my great uncle, Allen Adams Gould, born in Newton Upper Falls, Massachusetts in 1887 – an Excelsior Diary for 1918, bound in soft leather; a pocket diary, sized to fit into a man’s jacket pocket.

Captain Allen Adams Gould, Expeditionary Forces, Motor Transport Corps; started his first tour of overseas duty in WWI on horseback, finished his last on a motorcycle...a family story has Allen in a Victory Parade (on Commonwealth Avenue) in Boston; his horse, in somewhat less of a celebratory mood, stopped suddenly and refused to budge – and the parade went on around him!

 There are mentions of 621 Hippodrome, or, simply 621 – revealing a family tradition of identifying places by address number only (the family home was referred to as 1206 by all the diarists who ever lived or visited there!).
621 Hippodrome Building, Cleveland, was the offices of a group of civil engineers – Allen’s job before and after WWI.
Once or twice, he talks about meeting engineers at Peerless, a motor company for which he later worked; while there, he was instrumental in developing the side-view mirror for cars!
          Trips to a Doctor Owens for his typhoid inoculations, trainings, safety lectures.
On the social level?
Lots of dances at the Yacht Club, dinners and parties at the University Club; movies (two starring Douglas Fairbanks); lots of tennis and baseball games and picnics...
          ...and most of the time, he did these things with “Gert.”

I have no idea who Gert might have been, but on Monday, the 29th of July, 1918 -- four months before the end of World War I, Allen wrote: "Overseas orders."

Tucked into this diary, on the same page: a three-cent postage stamp (good for a first-class letter in 1918); a dried, fragmented piece of purple clover, and a photograph of a lovely young woman on a blanket; there’s a horse behind her on the hill; she’s in riding habit.

          And she’s smiling at Allen Adams Gould.

To see what other Sepians have to offer, visit:

Saturday, January 4, 2014


My brother and I were Winnie-the-Pooh fans, probably because our parents delighted in those books.
There was great wisdom there...
          “I wish I could jump like that,” he thought. “Some can and some can’t. That’s how it is.”
My parents read those stories to us over and over; my father’s Eeyore voice was the best in town—low, slow and decidedly morose.
We even had a recorded version of a WTP story, narrated by Jimmy Stewart on old 78rpm records; there was a picture book with it for reading along, and every time you were supposed to turn the page, Pooh would say “rum-tum tiddle-iddle-um tum-tum.”
Whatever that meant.

My brother’s favorite stuffed animal was Kanga, who even had a Baby Roo tucked into her pouch. They accompanied him into his tonsillectomy when he was about eight years old—after which there was a little spot of blood on Kanga, who had, apparently, had her tonsils removed, too. (Many years later we discovered that Kanga’s were actually John’s adenoids... saved in a little jar along with his inflamed tonsils!)

Mine was this bear.
This glorious, rough, worn bear was originally supposed to be Winnie himself; I changed his name to Teddy and dragged him about with me absolutely everywhere. He went for car rides (sitting in the back seat with me); he got taken to my grandparents’ summer house in New Hampshire, where he sported his bathing suit and his (politically incorrect) Indian Pajamas, handmade by my grandmother.

She made me a pair exactly like his!
Somewhere along the line, he was given several different outfits: shorts, t-shirts, even a pair of jeans; he had a suitcase and, as I recall, a yellow rainhat; a sou’wester!
When his paws wore off, my grandfather made him leather pads. He lost an eye at some point; he was quite dashing in his black eyepatch!

He was, without question, my best friend.

He’s still with me; he holds a place of honor on the top shelf of my bookcase in my living room. He’s not in particularly good shape, but then, neither am I—we’re both a little shopworn, a little slower on the uptake.
But we’re older now, wiser.

Our relationship has hurtled along for more than sixty years, and I expect a few more. I see him every day, look up to the shelf as I pass through the living room each morning on my way to the kitchen for a cup of coffee...


...rum-tum tiddle-iddle-um tum-tum