Friday, February 21, 2014


Here he is, looking like the Man of the Year.
He’s just out of high school – the public high school in Newton, Massachusetts – and is about to start his engineering course at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
          This was my father’s favorite photograph of his father, Gardner Sabin Gould, who, as a little boy, apparently spent lots of time at the fire station just down the street. Tom was the lead horse that hauled one of the Newton Fire Department’s water tankers, and my grandfather was entranced. He had a hobby horse – a horse head on a broom stick – and he spent hours nickering and neighing and trotting all around the back yard of the house on Boylston Street, pretending to be Tom, the horse.
          The nickname stuck; my grandfather was known as “Tom” all his life to family and friends (except for my grandmother, who called him nothing but Gardner).
          At any rate, here he is.
          Three-piece suit (notice the rounded bottom of his vest – not the notched, pointed style); stiff collar, cuffs (and cufflinks, of course); necktie.  The vest has a watch pocket – but there’s no watch yet: that came at his MIT graduation in 1910.
I love the haircut: the central part, the tufts over his ears, slight curls at his temples. He’s clean-shaven (I can see the cleft in his chin). And is that a tin wall in the background, or is it some kind of wall covering or drape? Chickering Studios in Boston...
One of his most memorable jobs as a civil engineer was the building and installation of the portico that sits over Plymouth Rock – I have a framed certificate that his crew presented to him – sixty-odd signatures beneath a hand-written citation.
And he was a masterful cribbage player! He taught us all to play (I think it was the first card game I ever learned); I remember family gatherings involving cribbage games: single-elimination, multi-generational tournaments that went on for hours after dinner; much laughter and cheering, lots of encouragement. My mother played every time, even though she hadn’t the faintest idea how to play the game – my grandfather said he admired her for her willingness to participate in such a long-standing tradition!
But those suits!

The real deal, indeed.

Friday, February 14, 2014


We’ve just had another storm up here in New England – a Thursday night/Friday morning whopper that blasted up from the south and dropped nine or so inches on coastal Maine.  The plows were out in force; salt and sand trucks lumbered along my street all night long, clearing snow as fast as it came down.

Back in the 1800s and early 1900s, they didn’t plow at all. Instead, they rolled the streets in town – used gigantic wooden rollers pulled by double teams of horses – to pack the snow down on the streets so sleighs could glide more easily on the surface.
Some people had a wheeled vehicle for the spring, summer and fall months, and a sleigh for the winter. Others, especially farmers in rural New England, lifted the wagon bodies from the wheels and axles and deposited them on bobs and runners, eliminating the need for two complete vehicles.
          There’s ingenuity, eh?

But there was a problem: sleighs were silent, swift; horses hooves were muffled in the snow; pedestrians and other drivers were oftentimes unaware of oncoming traffic, especially from the side streets or, interestingly, at night, in an era when there were no streetlights.
          They needed some kind of warning system – and that’s why they had sleigh bells! Some cities and towns actually passed safety ordinances requiring bells; the noise at “rush hour” must have been something!

The bells at the top are all that’s left of a set that belonged to my great-grandfather – one of a pair of simple shaft bells that attached to the shafts of the sleigh. Others were loose bells, body strap bells, riveted to harness leather; there were different tones and weights. Catalogues listed nickel plated steel gong shaft chimes; harmonized Swiss pole chimes; six-bell graduated chimes, etc. Some strap bells wrapped around the horse, some were mounted around the neck or over the shoulders, others attached to the shafts or collars.
Swiss shafts, Swiss poles, Swedish straps, Mikado chimes, King Henry bells, Russian saddle chimes... to our ears.

Friday, February 7, 2014


“...a concentrating pianist, an enthusiastic observer...” Alan wrote beneath his weekly prompt.
          Goodness, I thought I’ve got that covered!
I immediately went on my Sepia Search: up the stairs, into the big storage space under the eaves, hauling cardboard boxes out into the light and pawing through them like a madwoman, looking for this specific photo – funny how we Sepians know exactly what we’re looking for sometimes!

This is a cyanotype of my grandfather, Gardner S. Gould (1886) and his youngest sibling, Margaret (1899) in the living room at the family home on Boylston Street, just outside Boston. They were the oldest and youngest of six children, a thirteen-year spread between them; this was taken in 1903 or 1904, I’m guessing.
I love the big bow in her hair, the look of fascination on her face.
And I like the detail here: his sweater and belt, the fact that he’s wearing a necktie, his white collar, the slight blur of his right hand over the keys. And how she’s tucked up against his chest, safe and secure; her lovely, lovely profile.
I have a vague recollection of the mirror over the mantel (it might have been in my grandparents’ home when I was young) and the tilt-top table to the left of the fireplace, but I have no idea whatever happened to the piano, the stool, the rest of the rather imposing artwork, the other stuff in the room.

They had a special relationship, these two.
Not too many years after this photo was taken, Margaret, in her nightgown, ventured too near this same living room fireplace; her gown caught fire, and she was quite badly burned on her legs. Skin grafting was quite new then, but my grandfather was willing: doctors took strips of skin from his thighs, grafted them onto hers.
All went well; the grafts took, and she was home in about two weeks.

Every time I look at this photograph, I smile; I can almost hear the music!

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