Tuesday, June 10, 2014

My home town

... for once, not my long- chosen Querencia of Magdalena, nor a vague gesture to "Boston", but Easton, the southern Massachusetts town my parents moved us to from a three- decker tenement in  Boston's blue- collar Dorchester when I was four, and where I lived until I left town at seventeen, After that I returned to hunt Ruffed grouse and Woodcock and occasional duck until perhaps 1987, when an indignant and ignorant suburbanite ran me off land I was legally hunting on. It didn't seem worth risking my 28 bore or my spaniel, and I was due to fly home to Magdalena anyway. The black and white photos of me below were taken there in about 1976.

Today, Arthur Wilderson was telling us about a delightful old children's book he had found, with a description of "falconry" with shrikes, in the court of Louis XIII, and that nobody wrote such books anymore. I was suddenly flooded with recollections of reading 19th century books in the dark stacks of the Ames Free library in Easton, and as I thought about  it, I realized that growing up in an almost feudal town where the short- lived Gilded Age architectural genius H H Richardson, grandson of Joseph Priestley and teacher of Louis Sullivan, designed all of the public buildings and many of the more opulent private ones,  where one (quite benign) family owned more than half the land of the second largest (in area, not people) town in the Commonwealth, was not... usual. (We won't tonight get deeply into the fact that Portuguese had been the second language there, south of the line where towns looked to New Bedford for influence, not Boston, since the 1700's at least. When I was young I knew old people, Portuguese and "Swamp Yankee", who had never been to Boston 20 miles north).

I wrote to Arthur and the others: "I loved books like that when I was young (and now of course). I had access to the incredibly endowed town library, built in 1877 and funded by the Ames family, who owned most of the land in Easton (George Plympton, the writer, was a first cousin), designed by Gilded Age architect H H Richardson, filled with 19th and early 20th c books, especially on nature and science, as one family member-- Oakes I think-- was a great Harvard botanist, who also gave much to the Harvard Museum complex. My parents showed me Kipling, but the Ames Free Library brought me Roy Chapman Andrews, Beebe, original Darwin (they let me into the stacks when my reading ability was established)."

Of course I thought that all kids had such libraries, just as I thought that my weird school, housed in a pseudo- Elizabethan half- timbered mansion on a square mile of woodland, with servants' quarters, a quarry, and a chapel that had been a ballroom, was normal...

So, some Easton.

The library-- the stacks occupied the whole left side and were dark and tall and seemed endless.
This one, probably taken earlier, looks more like  the way I  remember it.
The stacks used to be separated from the bustling take- out section by a carved screen, so you felt privileged if you were one of the scholars who had permission to go there. I suspect that it was easier to give the talkative child a key than to answer all his questions.
 The Hall, about a quarter mile south, where they held High School dances. Yardbird covers and "Mustang Sally" in a Medieval building-- never thought it an odd juxtaposition.
The gatehouse for one of the estates, where I fished legally in  a great pond and-- well, innocently more or less-- poached. The house was a rental and later Betsy and I actually made an inquiry... no surprise, way above our pay grade.
Sorry for the quality of this one-- I took a quick shot of it way overhead on the wall above the bedroom door. It is a print of my mother's architectural watercolor  of Easton's notable buildings.  Architectural watercolors used to be one of her specialties, before arthritis wrecked her hands. I have one of the island of St Croix somewhere. It is amusing to think thaty AFAIK  every building here (not in actual juxtaposition) is a Richardson.
For later: a glimpse of My Old School (cue Steely Dan). This version by her daughter is from Fran Hamerstrom's autobiography, because Aldo Leopold's only protegee (two e's),  the first female eagler, and, after some mutual bristling (Betsy quoting Oscar Wilde "It is better in friendship to start with a little aversion"),  my friend, was raised in this house eventually sold to to the RCE, a French teaching order. "Those Roman nuns", to use Fran's terminology, ran Jeanne d'Arc Academy with great zest and an equestrian statue of Joan of Arc in every room. Fran and I shot our first "scientific specimens" there thirty or so years apart, and  I became their first and  possibly only scholarship student. My own past is an almost- lost different country...


2 comments:

Gil said...

Beautiful architecture built to last centuries.

Nancy Evans said...

I spent my childhood in a small town west of Boston. Not as magical as Easton but still it too seems "an almost-lost different country." Thank you for a lovely memory into the past.