Friday, November 27, 2015


It’s a school, I think.
          It’s a school; the teacher (middle-aged) is organizing some kind of circle game with her charges; they’re all holding hands, and there’s one poor kid scrunched down in the center of the circle—clearly “it,” clearly the unwanted center of attention!
          She doesn’t look happy.

But buried in Alan’s description of this week’s Sepia Saturday prompt, is this:
“Just dig a little deeper and look for other themes within this image…”

So, there’s this kid with the baggy socks…
I think I spent my entire childhood in baggy socks…
You know, the ones that your mother made you wear—the silly white ones that rode down the back of your ankle until they were inside your shoes!
Of course you do—all little girls wore them; we wore them with sneakers and sturdy school shoes and those dreaded Mary Janes…we wore them even with slippers (sometimes)!
Remember those?

And remember when you were outside, running around in a game of tag, or softball, or dodge ball, or hopscotch or jumping rope, those foolish little socks slid down into your shoes so far that it felt like running on a huge lump of clay in there?
You had to stop whatever you were doing, sit right down on the ground and take your shoes off; you had to fudge around with those little socks until you could unbunch them, pull them back up over your heel and up your ankle again, put your shoes back on and (if you were lucky enough to have mastered the skill) tie ‘em up again!

I searched through my various family photo albums and boxes and found eleven pictures of me in baggy socks: at family gatherings, birthday parties, at the summer house and even on the steps of St. Paul’s Church in Brunswick, Maine when I was about ten (Mary Janes included).

But this shot?
This is the absolute Best of the Baggy Socks Shots.

It should knock your socks right off!

Saturday, November 14, 2015


Deborah Howell Gould


I hold them for Paris...

Friday, November 6, 2015


Spirit pictures, faerie photos.
There were various names for these eerie snapshots – regular photographs of regular people doing absolutely regular things. These, though, had shadow images in the background – departed loved ones lurking behind chairs and curtains, tiny winged creatures hovering over heads and shoulders, clusters of wispy fairies prancing on lawns or dancing on palm fronds.
          I don’t have any of them in my collection of old family photographs. I do have a photo of my great-grandparents’ home on Boylston Street that has a faint figure standing in an upper floor window, but I’m pretty certain it was my great-grandmother.
And she was no prancing fairy, I can assure you…

What I do have, though, are lots of photos of men in chairs; it seems to have been a popular pose for formal photographers in the late 1800s and early 1900s: Man in chair, either alone or with wife standing beside him (her hand on his shoulder—oftentimes her left, showing her wedding ring), his children clustered at his feet like decorations.

And casual shots, too.
Here are two of a man in a chair from my collection of old family snapshots; both are of my paternal grandfather, Gardner S. Gould.
This first photo is undated. I have no idea why a rocking chair is plunked in the middle of a tennis court, but I love his knickers, his street shoes, his coat and tie and pipe (I remember the smell of his pipe to this day). This is in the 1920s, I think.

In the second shot, he’s sitting in the afternoon sun in the back yard in Newton; his dog Beans at his feet. It’s September, 1943 (my grandmother penned the date on the back). Casual trousers, shoes and socks, sweater and tie…

We called my grandmother Da, we called him Man.

Here he is: Man in a Chair.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Two Black Cats...

Happy Halloween!

Evelyn (whoever she was) sent this postcard to Mr. Oliver King of Stonington, Connecticut – she mailed it from Providence, Rhode Island, on October 27, 1915.

“Many thanks,” she wrote, “for the pretty card. You are certainly a very swift traveler. It must seem nice to be able to be in two places at once. I wish I could, I would be in Attleboro now. Hope this finds you well…”

I love this card. I found it at a flea market a few years ago and bought it without question. Am curious about how Oliver could be in two places at once (it’s a good trick, isn’t it?).

Full moon rising up over the silhouette of the city; the backyard board fence; that hunched black cat…
          …and look at the spelling: Hallowe’en!
          I know it’s All Hallow’s Evening (or Eve), which is the start of a three-day observance called Allhallowtide, a time of remembering the dead, including saints (hallows).

No matter: I’ll leave the dead alone – there will be too much life on the streets here! Sidewalks will be thick with children, all costumed up to beat the band! Ghosts and pirates and the current rages – princesses and zombies—staggering up and down the street, going from house to house to collect candy.
          And I’ll stand at my doorway with my bowl of little Almond Joys, admire the costumes and smile understandingly at the Patient Parents who wait at the end of my driveway for their little goblins…(I’ve always wanted to hand stiff drinks to the parents, but…)

 I don’t need the hunched black cat on the postcard, for I’ve got my own. He is 13 years old now, and he’ll be hiding in the rose bushes, wide-eyed and hair-raised, for most of the evening! He’s never perched on a board fence in his entire life, and he’d rather spend the night inside at the foot of my bed than outside with all those screeching children!

So Happy Halloween to all of you from Howard…

          …and me.   

Friday, October 16, 2015

ONE and FOUR...

I looked at the Sepia Saturday prompt photo for three days; I stopped by computer several times every day to take another look, but couldn’t find a theme that intrigued me.
Radios? I thought; three pictures on the wall? Clocks, or sailor collars? Boys and girls? Ornate chair backs? Children’s furniture? Stuffed animals, dolls? Blonde children?
A certain slant of light and shadow?

And then it came to me: one adult, four children…

This is the summer of 1949; I am almost three years old.
That’s my aunt Hope sitting down; she’s got me on her knees in the center of the photograph. My brother John (6) is on the right, and my cousins Martha (7) and Sheila (5), investigating something on my right shoulder, to the left.

We’re at my grandparents’ summer house in Jaffrey, New Hampshire; it’s probably the first week in August, when Hope and her children overlapped with my mother and us every summer—they lived in Pennsylvania and we lived in Maine, so it was the only time we saw each other as children.

I can almost feel the sunlight on the side of my face.

Just out of range, behind my brother, is the pile of clean, white sand we used to play in for hours—my grandmother supplied us with measuring cups, spoons, tinware; she collected coffee cans and little pails and scoops for us. When we were older, we built enormous cities (with roads and bridges, houses, etc.) in that sandpile. We pulled small pine seedlings from the woods and stuck them along our roads (landscaping); built twig fences and such!
But at this stage of the game, I liked eating that sand more than playing with it, so was guarded at all times by a Responsible Adult.

Today is my 69th birthday, so this photo was taken sixty-six years ago; it’s hard for me to see myself in that little blonde girl, but if I look very carefully, I can find myself in her eyes, her mouth…

Happy birthday to her…

Friday, September 18, 2015


Washing machines.
One day last August I loaded my clothes, added the soap, then closed the lid; I turned the dial to the “Regular Wash” cycle, aimed the little arrow at “start” and pushed.
          The washer started the spin cycle.
          I stopped the machine, turned the dial, lined everything up again and pushed again – this time, it started the spin cycle, but added water to the whole thing.
          The third time around, I got agitation, but no water.
There was no fourth time; I went to the laundromat in town.

Over a hundred years ago, the Charles Williams Stores in New York offered a washing machine called the Sunny Monday Double Rubber Washer!
“The clothes to be washed are put into the tub between the lower and upper rubbers…practically the same movement as the one used in washing clothes on the washboard…”
          They’re not talking about rubber as we know it—they’re talking about two wooden rollers inside the machine that “rub” the clothes back and forth whenever you move that bizarre handle on top.
It’s only $2.45, for goodness’ sake!

Sears, Roebuck offered The Dolly Wonder – a “big family” size tub of one-inch cedar. Operated by electric motor, it “will do the family washing week after week and month after month easily and economically.” It was equipped with a power wringer with semi-soft rolls; a wide, reversible drain board. Only $51 if you pay in cash; the credit terms were $5 down and $5 per month…but the interest pushed the cost of the machine up to $56.25.

But, omygoodness, look at the 1931 Wardway Electric Gyrator Washer from Montgomery Ward!
          “The new, improved Gyrator Agitator swirls and forces the hot soapy water through the clothes…women everywhere tell us that no rubbing is necessary!”
          It has an all-copper tub that holds 6-8 cotton sheets; it has a strong ¼ horsepower splash-proof electric motor; its gears push the clothes back and forth AND up and down!
          Mrs. L.E. Davis of Tippecanoe City, O, writes “Under your easy payment plan, one pays so easily that it is not noticed.
          Best of all, the Wardway comes with a 10-year guarantee (with ordinary family use).

Wish I’d had a 10-year guarantee on my 2011 machine…

Friday, September 11, 2015


…it’s about the wine coaster.
          I remember this one from my grandmother’s dining room table.
Dinner could be formal there: I had to wear a dress, white ankle socks (that always sagged) and black strapped shoes--remember Mary Janes? I knew which fork to use, which spoon; had a napkin as big as a pillowcase and my very own wine glass (never used, of course, but at my place, nevertheless!)
Eating dinner with the adults was pretty boring – I couldn’t understand much of the conversation – I much preferred to eat in the kitchen with Mrs. Sagan.

But, I digress; back to the wine coasters…
She had three or four of them for her two, fine stoppered cut glass decanters with an H (for Howell) etched on the side of the bowls; the decanters themselves were lovely, but I was more fascinated with the stoppers than with any other part of this arrangement.

The coasters were  sterling silver with wooden bottoms. At any dinner, there might be one or two on the table—one for a decanter of red wine, one for white—and they prevented drips/stains on the tablecloth. They also kept the decanters apart to prevent chipping the crystal.
          The term “coaster” didn’t make any sense to me until I learned that coasters with wooden bottoms were slid across the tablecloth to diners who needed refills; after-dinner coasters had felt backings so that those who lingered after the dinner had been cleared and the table cloth removed, could slide decanters back and forth across the bare tabletop without scratching the surface.
          Old coasters—made in the 17th and 18th centuries, were less than five inches in diameter; when broader-bottomed cut glass decanters came into fashion, decanters became larger, too. In huge dining rooms, coasters sometimes had actual wheels to make it easier to slide the length of enormous tables – they were called wine carriages!

I have this single felt-backed coaster and one of the decanters. I have no idea where the others might be; I’m hoping they’re with second or third cousins, somewhere, gracing their tables.

Friday, September 4, 2015


Isn’t she beautiful?
This photograph—one of the first color ones in my family collection—has lived in every house I’ve ever owned.
This is the drawbridge at Osterville, Massachusetts. I think it connected the points of land between the North and West Bays in Osterville Harbor, but I’m not so sure of that.
My father, the engineer in charge, was working on this bridge in October of 1946 when he received word I had been born: He drove to Boston to meet me, then came back a couple of days later to finish up the bridge.
It’s been known as “Deb’s Bridge” in my family ever since!

The last time I saw that bridge was in the very early 1960s when I was sailing with my family on the Trident; I was about fifteen years old. I stood on the bow with the horn and called the approach for the bridge keeper – I remember his singular response—a conversation, of sorts; an agreement between us—and then the slow, lovely ascent of the draw.
          We passed through; I made my way to the stern and watched the descent from there.
          My father’s bridge, I thought.

I’d like to think it’s still there…

Saturday, August 29, 2015


I’m not sure how many of you, my blog followers, know about Sepia Saturday.
If you don’t, you should, so here’s a little primer:
          Sepia Saturday is an “open” blog – a blog that “provides bloggers an opportunity to share their history through the medium of photographs.”
          Every week, bloggers from all over the world (honestly – you’ll be amazed at the international flavor of Sepia Saturday!) review a prompt photo posted by our Exalted Leaders, then post their individual responses to the prompt on or about the following Saturday…
…and the result is a fascinating collection of photographs, essays, poems, questions, revelations and various musings and mutterings from all over the globe!
All who contribute make a point of viewing everybody’s postings, and the comments submitted are sent in good faith; they’re encouraging, funny, interesting and, sometimes, amazingly tender.

This week’s Sepia Saturday prompt is an old photograph from the National Library of Ireland: a wagonload of people in what looks to be a late 19th-century version of a bus…four horses, drivers, passengers in hats, posed on a dirt road in a town someplace.
The themes? Travel…Overcrowding…Blankets

Blankets? I thought; what can I possibly do with blankets?
Didn’t take long to figure it out.
My cousin Robert (almost everybody calls him Bob, but I think he’s more of a Robert), who lives about 25 miles away from me, shares with me a deep love of genealogy social history—he and I share old family letters, photographs, momentos; we give each other pieces of our shared history (his mother and my father were siblings).

Robert and I are constantly handing each other gifts and treasures, and he surprised me with this blanket--one that's been hidden away in the family summer home in East Boothbay, Maine for close to seventy-five years.
This threadbare wool blanket belonged to my father (see the sewn-in name tag!); it was the one (I’m guessing) he took to college in the fall of 1936, his freshman year at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.

The connection here is simple: my father would have loved Sepia Saturday.

          And so, his blanket, and my hope that you will find your way to; I hope to see you all there soon!  

Friday, August 21, 2015


Funny how words shift and evolve, isn’t it?
What starts out as one thing soon becomes another…

In the 1700s, a canteen was simply a supply store; it’s from the French (cantine, a sutler’s establishment) and Italian (cantina, a wine cellar or shop). But the meaning shifted in translation, and “canteen” soon became to mean the item we know so well…a small tin container for water or liquor.
Transporting water was always an issue—ancient nomads used animal bladders, closed tight with sinew and tied to camels for long crossings in the desert; shepherds hollowed out gourds, stuck a plug in the necks and hiked up to high pastures where they summered their flocks; cowboys made bags of leather and strapped them to saddles on cattle drives across the American west.
Some canteens were even made of thick colored glass—they were designed to transport liquors from distiller to market. I’ve found some in old house dumps behind old New England farmhouses, seen others in antique stores, and they are quite lovely on display.

My maternal grandfather spent some time in Italy before WWI; he was a pediatrician, and made many trips to Europe studying diseases of children. On one of his jaunts, he ended up in Florence (Firenze), where he purchased this lovely Pilgrim’s Flask for my grandmother. It originally had a leather cord attached to each of the lion heads on the shoulders of the bottle, but that’s been gone a very long time. My grandmother never drank anything but sherry (the sweeter the better—sweet enough to choke a bat, I hear!); I doubt she ever stashed any of the hard stuff in it, but I do remember the occasional floral arrangement on the kitchen table – bright flowers above the neck, stems pushed down inside.

Eventually, a canteen took the shape we know today – a roundish tin water bottle carried by people on the move – soldiers, travelers, those on the road; Girl and Boy Scouts used them (you bet we weren’t carrying booze, though!). They all had straps or clips or belts, they were sometimes covered with leather, flannel, or even wool.

Here’s one I found in one of my trusty old mail order catalogues (1930), not a lousy old tin canteen, but an aluminum one – “pure aluminum substantially constructed throughout. Screw top with safety chain. Well made outside cover khaki color lined with felt, long length adjustable shoulder straps.”
All that for $1.98.

Today, we pay that much for the fortified (electrolytes added!) water we carry inside…

Saturday, August 15, 2015


Well, I’m not so sure about the gypsies and the thieves, but definitely tramps – a whole collection of ‘em.

This photo was taken in the back yard of my parents’ house up in the West End of Portland, Maine. I think it’s the fall of 1956; if so, I am ten years old (I’m the fourth from the left, white shirt, string tie and mustache).
          The Gang – a motley collection of best friends. We all went to elementary school together at the McClellan School – we walked along brick sidewalks to school every day, came home for lunch, walked back in the afternoon. We played together after school: rode our bikes together in a loose pack down to Dudley-Weed Drugstore for popsicles on hot days, went trick-or-treating on Halloween, climbed the monkey bars and gave the swings a workout, roller skated, hop-scotched and jump-roped in the schoolyard, shimmied up street poles and twisted the street signs around (our worst offense, I’m sure).
          Some of our fathers were doctors; some were civil engineers, bankers, teachers, lawyers…our mothers were, mostly, “stay-at-home moms,” although we didn’t call it that back then – it was simply a given, a natural state of affairs in the decade after WWII.
          Our parents were all friends. They partied together: I remember a progressive party they had: one house for cocktails followed by a walk through the neighborhood in their formal dinner clothes to another for appetizers and more cocktails, a third stroll to a third house for dinner, down the street to the fourth for dessert, a final trek to the last house for coffee! They took us caroling through Portland’s West End at Christmas time (with an upright piano in the back of a pickup truck and the rest of us walking in the street, singing; a light snowfall made the whole event even more magical) and they went sledding with us on the Western Prom.
We were all friends – both parents and children.
All the parents are gone now (save one, who is 100 this year); all of these tramps are still alive as far as I know, although we seldom see each other.
Yesterday, I had lunch at a low-key restaurant in a nearby town with two of the other Tramps in this photo who are up here for the summer months – the second from the left (M., in tuxedo and high-top sneakers) and the fourth from the right (P., underneath a broad-brimmed hat). We ate and talked, caught up on each other’s lives, congratulated ourselves for being in pretty good shape as we push into our 70s (I was the only one with an Artificial Body Part!).
We laughed and wondered, waded in and out of various childhood memories – most of them happy (one of them this gathering of hobos); we’ve sorted out the troubling ones, packed them into handkerchiefs, tied them onto gnarled poles and moved on…

…still tramping together after sixty years!

Thursday, August 6, 2015


Behold the Enterprise Stereopticon with a Seroco Acetylene Light, advertised in the 1902 Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalogue—the “highest grade” of lantern made.
The full set came with a Seroco generator and a Simplex burner for firing the acetylene, a high power single stereopticon with carrying case, a 120 square-foot white screen, 52 transparent views in a polished wood case, and an accompanying lecture, bound in book form for easy reading by the operator to the audience.

There were several topics available: some of the most popular lectures were patriotic and military: The Maine and the Cuban War, the Boer-English War; religious and travel: the Passion Play Series, Life of Christ on Earth and—one of my favorites—Around the World in Eighty Minutes, a precursor, perhaps, to the more familiar (to us) eighty-day hot air balloon excursion.
There were eighty views in this series, so the audience saw one scene per minute.

For a more grim entertainment, you could see The Assassination of President McKinley, “a valuable memento of the sad event whereby the nation was deprived of its president.” It includes a view “of the assassin himself, taken within ten minutes of his capture by the police.”
Only fifteen slides in this set, but all with color added!

Sinclair Lewis might have enjoyed The Chicago Stock Yards (subtitled “From Hoof to Market”). Witness “the shipping of the animals, their reception at the stock yards, the slaughtering, curing, saving and inspecting, the manner in which the by-products are utilized…”
Fifty-five slides in this set, twelve of which had added color.
Sounds gruesome.

Sears pitched these stereopticon sets to young men (and women!) who might be interested in becoming self-employed—people who wished to “make money with little effort,” and find “pleasant and honorable employment.”
          The entire set cost $53 (a bit over a thousand dollars today—a substantial investment), but a traveling lecturer with an established circuit could earn that in a week by renting a hall in each small town, charging admission for two or three presentations, then moving on.

Hurry; place your order! 

Thursday, July 16, 2015


The WORDS are deduced from their ORIGINALS,
Explained in their DIFFERENT MEANINGS,
Authorized by the NAMES of the WRITERS
IN WHOLE Works they are found.

By the Author
Samuel Johnson, A.M.

W. Strahan et al, London

VACA’TION. [vacatio, Latin.]
  1. Intermission of juridical proceedings, or any other stated employments; recess of courts or senates.
  2. Leisure; freedom from trouble or perplexity.

See you all in two weeks!

Saturday, July 11, 2015


There are twenty-six of them, neatly dressed.
Hair shining, parted, combed.
Two are still sporting high collars, but the rest have the modern, turned look; a few have vests; one’s in a bow tie, but the others are knotted and pinned; almost all have French cuffs with links, laced shoes, sharply creased trousers.
Confident. Assured. Not smiling.
It’s serious business…

This is the Class Day Committee – the seniors responsible for the activities for the full-day celebration for the Class of 1907 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
My grandfather, Gardner S. Gould, is on the far left, front row.
          He majored in Civil Engineering, was a member of the track team, captain of the hockey team (two of his brothers followed him to MIT; the Gould Forward Line was formidable, indeed!). His thesis? A Plan for the Abolition of Grade Crossings at Quincy Mass.
He disliked working for others, preferred to be his “own man;” he had a private practice with offices in Boston (which shut down every day from noon to one; he and a colleague from down the hall religiously played cutthroat cribbage during lunch).
One of his projects was the construction of the portico over Plymouth Rock—I have a postcard view of it and a framed citation from his construction crew!

But who are all the others? I’ve often wondered where they worked, wondered about the bridges and roads and structures they designed and built; who they married, the names of their children, where they lived and died.

And I’ve often wondered how they remembered my grandfather—fondly, I hope, as do I.

Friday, July 3, 2015


This is my maternal grandmother, Verna (Vernette)…born in January of 1885 at Bear Island, Queensbury Parish, Province of New Brunswick, Canada.
Her father had both a farm and a general store there—he sold flour, meal, dry goods, groceries and hardware. Her chore on the farm was caring for the chickens – feeding, cleaning the coop, collecting eggs, which she sold in her father’s store for her first earnings.

She relocated to the USA when she was just twenty-one years old; eventually worked as a nurse at Faulkner Hospital in Boston, where she met my grandfather. She was his operating nurse for a few years, then married him in 1911.
          She lived the rest of her life in Boston.

The photo was taken by my grandfather in 1911, at Bear Island, where they traveled to be married in her parents’ living room – their honeymoon was a week-long fishing and canoe trip along the St. John River (note the rod by her side, resting on the seats). She looks pretty fashionable: dark hose, skirt, middy blouse with tie; her hair’s swept up a la Gibson.

I have her eyes.

She fished for her supper in the St. John River as a child, fished later on in the lake near their summer house in Jaffrey, New Hampshire. She taught me to fish in that same lake; I caught my first perch in the shadow of Mount Monadnock—I remember the quiet grinding of the oarlocks as my grandmother rowed me about in that soft, purple light.

She loved dogs (several cocker spaniels, oftentimes in pairs), fast cars (my mother remembered her bombing around Boston in a bright yellow roadster). She ate apples and ripe pears (Bosc preferred), liked the smell of horses and farmyards; she insisted the alphabet ended in “zed.” She talked to crows, made fantastic blueberry pies, sewed matching pajamas for me and my teddy bear, took me for long walks in the woods and taught me to build houses for the Little People (who, she said, migrated to and from Canada with the geese every spring and fall). She bought me jeans and soft flannel shirts, Red Ball Jets and sweatshirts.
And she loved me; she was the first person in my life who accepted me unconditionally.
I adored her.

She died in Boston on May 27, 1957. 

Friday, June 19, 2015



Couldn’t be more appropriate, I thought, for I’ve spent my week going over galley proofs of my latest novel – pages and pages of type, of writing, of words: Copyright page, title page, dedication; table of contents, running heads, pagination; acknowledgements, notes on sources; chapter heads, introductory quotes…
          …two hundred fifty-eight pages…
…seventy thousand, nine hundred fifty-seven words.
Four years.

I used to think that writing a novel is an act of faith.
I mean, you start at what you think is the beginning, and you go until you reach the end.

You start with a town, say, a particular stretch of roadway, the river that runs near it. You start with a house that you own and love; you start with a deed that helps you go back to the people who first lived there nearly two hundred years ago – the people who built your house.
You learn their first names, their middle initials.
You find the years of their births and marriages, the names of their children, the years of their deaths; you go to probate court and read their wills, their legal papers; you hold documents they have held, you see their handwriting.
          You read the public remnants of their lives.

You walk in their barns with the memories of their horses and cows, their sheep, their oxen and swine; you find the old foundations of their sheds and cribs, their chicken coops.
You smell their lilacs in spring, you watch their apple blossoms fall.
You stand on their front porch in moonlight.
At night you cook dinner in their kitchen and read the newspaper in their front room; you climb their stairs to their bedrooms and dream of broad fields and woodlots, orchards and old stone walls.

After a while, you realize you have a sense of them, and that they are still here. You are living in their house; you begin to understand that you owe them something for this gift they have given you.

And that’s when you realize that you were wrong – that writing a novel is not an act of faith; it is, rather, an act of integrity.

You start over, and you write a novel for them – it’s the best you can do.

Friday, June 12, 2015


My father was a civil engineer.
So was my grandfather and three more up the line – it runs in the blood, it seems.

John Allen Gould III, my great-grandfather, was born in Newton Upper Falls (MA) in 1852. When he was just married, he “took employment” (as they used to say) with the Boston Water District; he became an expert in the engineering of distribution systems – eventually consulted all through the New England states.
One of his first jobs was the Sudbury River Conduit, an aqueduct system that delivered water from the outlying Sudbury River to the water mains of Boston.
It was a big deal, and the Boston Water Works hired a photographer to record the development of the conduit system – a series of one hundred stereopticon cards, numbered and dated; each head engineer received a set of them.

The top photo, workmen are finishing centering the large arch over the Charles River. They built the framework first – all by hand, of course, without power tools or machinery. There are a few men on the top; the design of the support work is beautiful to me, and the wavering reflection of the trusses in the Charles River below is amazing. Photo taken September 13, 1876.

After the wooden structure was complete, the masons moved in, and applied the stonework. Here they’re nearly half-way through their part of the job – they’ve filled in some spaces between arches, and the first layer has been applied over the top. This was taken a month later – November 13, 1876.

In this last shot of the Charles River Bridge, workmen are laying the foundation for the conduit itself – the pipeline that would carry the water into Boston.
          The final part of the job, of course, was to burn out the woodwork from beneath the stonework, leaving clear passage for traffic through the arches. This shot was taken from the Newton side, looking west.

The whole project took a number of years, of course, and John Allen Gould went on to design distribution systems for the Brookline Gas Light Company; he also worked for the Boston Gas Light Company, where he became a director.

          He died in Newton Upper Falls on May 18, 1919.

Friday, June 5, 2015


I looked at that Sepia Saturday shot for a long time; I stored it on my desktop and sat down at my desk every now and then just to have a look at it.
          I noticed things: Pin striped suits, chessboards, chess pieces, tablecloths, chairs with scrolled backs, library tables, horrible flowery wallpaper, music stands – even men with receding hairlines – but nothing came to me.
…until today, when I looked at the photo one more time.

And there they were, right before my eyes: double doors!

Double doors – or French doors – are two adjacent doors that share the same larger frame. Here in New England, old public buildings such as churches, meeting houses and businesses often had double doors; the doors had matching hardware, and both knobs were on the inside edges.
          Sometimes, there was a knob only on one side – the other door released from the inside; I’ve seen one set of doors with a knob on one side and a lock on the other.

These white double doors are from the old Union Church in Harpswell Center, built in 1841 by local ship carpenters. It fell into disrepair in the mid-20th century; the Harpswell Garden Club restored the building in 1952 and continues to maintain it by charging reasonable fees for weddings and other events – it’s best to be married in the warmer months, for the old place has absolutely no heating (I can tell you this from experience). It does have the old maghogany pulpit and pine pews and floors; it has a working organ, too.
          But it’s “wicked cold,” as we say in Maine.
It was listed on the National Register of Historical Places in 1989.

The green, single-paned set is from the Merriconeag Grange Hall, just down the road from the Union Church in Harpswell.
The National Grange of the Patrons of Husbandry is a fraternal organization formed in the mid-1800s, right after the American Civil War.
It’s got secret rituals, like most fraternal groups; in the early years it was devoted to educational events (latest practices in farming, cooperative seed purchase, etc.) and, perhaps more importantly, social events for farming families – suppers and programs and dances that eased the isolation and tedium of farm life in the 19th century.
          Merriconeag Grange still meets, twice monthly – one of the few Granges still thriving in the area.

Some say that the doors of a building frame the measure of its hospitality; if that’s true – and I tend to believe it is – then these old double doors, with their balance and symmetry, welcome you inside with warmth and a sense of grace.

Thursday, May 28, 2015


This battered Boston Cooking School Cook Book, published in 1942, was the only cookbook I remember seeing in my grandmother’s kitchen; it was the only cookbook that Annie Sagan ever used.
          My mother used to talk about other cooks my grandparents hired in their Eliot Street house:
There was Mary, who cooked and cleaned during the 1920s with such fervor that she exhausted everybody in the house! Mary won my grandparents’ devotion when she rescued my mother, who had gone down the street to attend a wake (she was about seven years old) because she heard there was a “boddy” there and she’d never seen one…
“At least she left a note,” Mary said to my grandmother!

And there was Kathleen, who was there through the 1930s and whistled all the time; drove my grandfather nuts, my mother said, but he let it slide because she made the best pudding he ever had, and a good pudding was worth a few tunes.

And then there was Annie Sagan, who arrived when my mother was away at college and stayed until the late 1950s, when my grandmother died and the house was closed up and, eventually, sold, marking the end of an era, the end of a way of life.

I remember Annie Sagan.
I remember visiting my grandparents – the long drive down from Maine, the crunch of gravel under the tires in their driveway, the hugs from my grandparents on the front porch. And I remember tearing down the hallway, past the sitting room, then the dining room and around the corner into the kitchen to hug Mrs. Sagan, who smelled like flour and hot bread!

And, best of all, she had a wen, a big one, right on her face near her nose! I was absolutely fascinated by it—it had a hair growing out of it, for goodness sake!—and she tolerated my examination of it with great patience. She wore flowered dresses, an apron (always an apron!), and sturdy, sensible shoes. She cooked and cleaned for my grandparents, did the laundry, helped my grandmother in the gardens.

She used to run the carpet sweeper (remember those?) every day; would let me sit on the top of it, wrap my legs around the pile and hang on for dear life as she worked over the rugs -- boy, what I ride that was!

I sat on the steps down to the laundry room and listened to her tell stories of her childhood -- she used big bars of yellow soap and a scrub board for stubborn dirt and stains, then ran it all through the electric washing machine.

I was allowed to turn the crank for the wringer…

Those days are long gone, but I still have Mrs. Sagan’s cookbook, her rolling pin and her pie crust recipe, written in her own hand and glued to a larger piece of paper my mother kept for years.
“Mrs. Sagan made the best pie crust on the planet,” everybody said; it’s still the truth today, but my brother finishes a very close Second Place!

Friday, May 8, 2015


It’s a Ward Flexible Album; a 7x5 black leather book with “steel gray leaves,” made from Ward’s “puro” paper, and is “guaranteed not to discolor the photographs.”
It belonged to my grandfather, Gardner Sabin Gould (1886), and it’s full of wonderful old family photos, some taken at the family summer home in East Boothbay, Maine: Gould kids on sailboats, on the public dock in East Boothbay, lined up on the back steps of the summer house, paddling around in the icy waters of Linekin Bay.
          There are shots of picnics on the rocks, pine woods in the evening, two of the older boys in a small rowboat, the two youngest—Margaret and Howard—sitting on a boulder near the house, proudly displaying their new shoes!

And then there’s this damaged shot – sunstruck, ripped at the edges – of my grandfather, walking barefoot along the pathway beside the seawall...

...wearing a dress!

I wasn’t quite sure I was seeing it correctly, so I rummaged around in a desk drawer for my magnifying glass and took a good solid peek.
          It’s a dress, all right.
          Plain as day.
          It’s below knee level, but not as long as I thought it might be for the turn of the century; it’s belted – it’s actually quite classy, but not so classy on best guess is that it belonged to his cousin Jessie; she had quite a sense of humor and might very well have dared him to wear it.

Jessie’s or not, here he is, striding right along, skirts swinging—my grandfather, in 1900s drag!

Friday, April 24, 2015


Cartoons; funny papers, Sunday funnies!
          It doesn’t matter what you call those panels of humor, but we all remember reading them. For me, it was flat out on the floor on Sunday mornings with the four-page color comic section: Dick Tracy, Blondie, Mark Trail (who must be 105 years old by now) and...

...Walt Kelly’s Pogo!
Syndicated in 1949, when I was only three years old, the Pogo strip was a social,, political—even international sensation. He was a possum who lived in Okefenoke swamp with a crowd of totally ridiculous animals.
          When I was small, my father, armed with a six-pack and a box of charcoals and pastels, drew the Pogo characters on my bedroom wall. The biggest was Albert the Alligator, and the others trailed along the wall beside my bed!
          By the time I was ten, I knew most of the characters, including an owl, a turtle and a trio of scruffy-looking bats named Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered. I remember making the connection to Frank Sinatra’s version of that wonderful song!

At some point, my parents bought an LP, “Songs of the Pogo,” which contained twenty-odd completely zany songs written by Kelly and his crew. Inside the jacket was a sheet of lyrics (good thing, for we never would have figured out some of them by listening):


Like this:

The Keen and the Quing were quirling at quoits,
          In the meadow behind the mere.
          Tho’ mainly the meadow was middled with mow
          And heretical hitherto here.

          The Prince and the Princess were plaiting the plates
          And prating quite primly the peer,
          And that’s why the Duchess stuck ducks on the Duke
          For no one was over to seer.

Or this one, delivered by a sexy babe with a smoky voice:

          Oh, I may be your cup of tea,
          But baby, don’t you “Sugar” me!
          Don’t stir me boy, nor try to spoon,
          Don’t “sugar” me, ‘cause us is throon!

Last winter, while poking around on the internet, I stumbled upon a CD of Walt Kelly’s re-issued “Songs of the Pogo.” I bought it, gave it to my brother for Christmas.
          He opened it, grinned, slipped it into his CD player...
          ...fifty year later, he and I knew nearly ALL the words!

Note: These Pogo shots are of an original Walt Kelly panel that belonged to my aunt; it was signed and framed, and it shows the pencil work beneath the inking. There’s Albert and the three bats...

Friday, April 10, 2015


Writing historical fiction presents its problems, for sure. Details of everyday life can be sticklers – clothes, dishes, cookware, toys, books, lamps, furniture, tools, farm equipment – and it’s hard to put yourself back there, hard to change your perspective from 2015 to 1915 or earlier.
          I’ve got some tricks, though: I have a large collection of photographs, old magazines and newspapers, scrap books and letters.
          And I’ve got several  old mail order catalogues (Sears, Charles Williams Stores, Montgomery Ward and others) that I’ve picked up at flea markets and used book stores.
          All of that stuff makes it easier; not easy, mind you – but easier.

 Consider horse harness.
          It’s far more complicated than you might think: one- or two-horse buggy and driving harness (general “about town” use – the family car, so to speak); truck and farm (working) harness.
          And that’s just for starters: there’s gentleman’s driving harness, folded buggy harness, runabout harness; surrey or single-strap, double breast collar, and express harness.

And team harness – oh, goodness, the team harness! The Victor, the Springfield, the Empire and Richmond, Oakdale and Baltimore Team Harnesses; there are cup-shaped blinds with round winker stays, double nose bands, plain and stage pattern heel chains and double-stitched spreader straps; clipped cockeyes, folded back bands, single-strap martingales, center bar buckles and snaps; three-ring hip straps, lock-stitched lines, red hames with brass ball tops...
’s poetry to me.

I get lost in it all, get caught up in the rhythm and rhyme of it. I am pulled back to a way of life that soothes me, calms me – a world that measures time in sunrises and sets, in family breakfasts, dinners and suppers, in changes of seasons...a slower, quieter pace, a simpler state of mind.

To see what others have found, harness up and trot on over to

Thursday, April 2, 2015


I’m drawn to postcard shows like a moth to a flame; I’m unable to resist them.
          I’ll spend hours sitting in a nasty folding chair; hours flipping through stacks of cards, looking for the early ones – early 1900s, that is. They’re easy to spot by the handwriting and the one-cent postage.
          I’m looking for the messages, mostly; but sometimes I flip them over, and sometimes I’m pleasantly surprised.
          Or amused.
          Or baffled.
This one got me on all three counts.

This card was mailed in South Portland, Maine in April of 1911; addressed to a Miss Ruth Chaplin, who lived in the nearby town of Bridgton. Ruth was born on Christmas Day, 1905, to Eugene and Mary Frances Chaplin.
          So she was six years old when somebody sent her this card.
          “Easter Greetings,” it proclaims.

At first glance, first quick glance, I thought it was cute: the old standards – Easter chicks, a pretty butterfly, etc.
          A perfect card for a six-year old.
But when I looked closer, I was horrified!
          One little chicken, flat on its back in the pathway, stumpy wing flapping on the ground and little feet sticking upright, looks positively deceased.
          The other seems to be running for its life, legs extended like a sprinter at a track meet; beak open, eyes intent...
          ...while above them both, a menacing butterfly swoops down for the final kill!

Happy Easter to all!

Friday, March 20, 2015


His name was Up Above.
          My mother named him when she was about six – and she spent every day of every summer on him.
          She grew up in Boston, which was not an environment particularly suited for horses; my grandparents, though, had a summer house in the town of Jaffrey, New Hampshire, right in the shadow of Mt. Monadnock, and Up Above was there each June to greet her.
          “Why on earth did you name him that?” I asked her once.
          She grinned at me. “Because when I was in the saddle, I was up above the rest of the world – made me feel important.”
          I get that, I really do.

That’s my mother, Martha, on the left, and her sister Hope (who named her horse Radio, for some reason!) on the right. Up Above and Radio boarded at a nearby farm during the off seasons, but spent their summer days in a stable on the property my grandparents owned.

The house was on Thorndike Pond. There was a dirt road that went around the whole thing, and the two sisters spent their summer days riding.
          My mother told me they’d make picnic lunches, then be off for the day. They’d stop somewhere along the route, let the horses drink from Thorndike, tie them to a nearby tree, then eat their lunches on the shore.

         They rode in horse shows in the nearby town of Dublin – I’ve got programs from the Dublin Horse Show that show my mother winning ribbons in various classes.
          I love this portrait: my mother, with Up Above, taken (she told me) at the Dublin Horse Show in the early 1930s when she was about twelve. She’d just won her very first blue ribbon. This photograph hangs in my kitchen, where I see it every morning.

          It always makes me smile.