Recollections from the Summer of My Youth
Excerpts from letters of Russell P. Barber to Robert Spencer in November and December 1996
This letter makes reference to the Killingly Historical and Genealogical Society, Inc., which you had mentioned in your letter to me. It seems that during a recent short visit that my wife and I made to New England, a cousin, who now lives down near Taftville, gave me a copy of your Killingly Historical Journal, Volume 2, Number 1 for 1996. It had been given to her, since our grandparents had been the objects of an interview on pages 12 & 13 of that issue. Apparently, that was a continuation of a write-up in Volume 1, Number 1 of 1995. Immediately I became deeply engrossed in this booklet, since so many names and places were familiar to me. In fact, the person interviewing our Grandfather and Grandmother Perry, Bertha A. Carragher, was, as I think back, their first cousin, once removed. At any rate, although I haven't finished reading this booklet, I find it very interesting, bringing back to mind things of which I had forgotten.
...Dr. Sidney Marland was a neighbor of the Perry’s. In fact, in his youth he was their paperboy. He lived in Riverview on Palmer Street, just a few houses up from the footbridge. I recall that the Perry’s took the Norwich Bulletin, which may have been what Sidney Marland delivered to them. They also took the Windham County Transcript until it ceased publication. We also had it sent here to Pittsburgh to keep up with the goings-on there.
The New York Fruit Store was also of special interest to me, since that was where Grampa Perry took me and a cousin to get our first banana splits. This cousin and I grew up almost as brothers during the summers. He now lives at Storrs, CT. He and I would often visit Grant's and Woolworth's, where we could look at and buy some cast-iron toy automobile with dimes Gramma gave us when we went up street. Then we would go over to the shop (the Hard Pan Shoe Store on Railroad Square) to show our purchases to Grampa. We still have some of those purchases tucked away. I have been offered good money for some of them, but they aren't for sale. My connection with them is too deep.
Mentioning the Windham County Transcript above, brought to mind an article in bold-face type that my father told me about, written back in the 1905-1910 era that told about a risky stunt that someone pulled as a 4th-of-July prank, in which the major portion of Danielson was blacked-out. This was done during the evening festivities to maximize the effect. They never found out who did it, but my Dad was able to tell me just how and where it was done. I was amazed.
My Dad had worked with electricity practically his whole working life. While living in Danielson, he developed a 5-party telephone system. Besides his own station, he connected with a friend down and across the Five Mile River and with the Perry’s, just down the street. He did have a little trouble with the Connecticut Light and Power people when he hooked up with their poles. He had to erect poles of his own. In the handling of Dad's estate, I came across his wiring schematic and plans for this system, as well as the schematics for electrifying their home and that of the Perry’s, which he did according to existing codes. His was the wiring still in those homes when they were finally sold in settling the estates. How many more homes he may have wired, I don't know. He had come to Pittsburgh to study electrical engineering at Carnegie Tech, now Carnegie-Mellon University. He got a good job here, finally retiring from that same power company. All the while, his heart was still in Danielson.
You mentioned teaching music in the schools there. My Mother and Dad both graduated from K.H.S. I have their class pictures. Mother followed the music career training at two piano colleges, but gave up a piano career to raise her family. However, she did keep up her study on her own, working up various piano works as though she were going to perform them. Mother died in 1967 and I still very much miss hearing her play. There is hardly a major piano work that I'm not familiar with. She did cut a few records for me, which I treasure. Gramma Perry was also musical. She taught piano, violin, viola and cello. She played pipe organ for over 40 years in the Methodist Church and played harp with the Providence Symphony on certain occasions. My sister has Gramma's cello and made a career with it, having played with the Pittsburgh Symphony and taught cello and music theory at two of the colleges here. I played viola in our high school concert orchestra, but never followed it up.
...Our annual trip to New England was the high point of my year, as a youth. After school was out for the summer, mother would take my sister and me in hand, and with two suitcases, we would board an overnight bus from Pittsburgh to New York. No interstate highways then; we would "run the humps." The next morning, from Grand Central, we'd take a train to New London, a bus to Norwich and another bus to Danielson, arriving there just after noon. As mother would say, our eyes looked like burnt holes. Dad would join us for the last two weeks of August for his vacation, and we'd all come home here in similar fashion in time for school. I recall the details vividly.
... As you have no doubt sensed, the area around Danielson, Brooklyn, Woodstock, et.al. had been a big part of my early life. I believe that I mentioned that my Grampa Perry let me ring the church bell one Sunday morning when I was about twelve. Lots of neat experiences there; my first Laurel & Hardy movie at the Orpheum Theater, getting parts at Hoyle's Bicycle Shop, riding the Connecticut Company bus from Norwich, through Wauregan to Danielson, watching the express trains roar through to Main and hearing their mournful whistles in the night as they came closer and then farther, between Central Village and Dayville.
My relationships there should be familiar to some of your staff... I wrote to some extent of my great-grandparents (W. A. Burrows), Grandparents (S. H. Perry) and some cousins. My mother, Edith M. Perry Barber, Marion Perry Field and Irma Perry Keech, mother's two sisters and my cousins, Joslyn P. Field, Norma Field Wolfe and Joyce Keech Bauer were the main people in my life there. My Uncle Stanley Keech was a First Selectman in the Moosup area some years ago. My Uncle Don Field worked the 3 to 11 shift at the P & A mill at Main & Maple Streets, so he was always taking us kids places like Moosup Pond, Killingly Pond, Alexander's Lake, Mashamoquet, etc., always making sure that we got our ice cream cones or Good Humor bars on the way home in time for him to get to work. That mill whistle was a very prominent sound when it went off, especially when it went in conjunction with the old cow fire alarm. I can still hear it in my mind.
My father's parents, the John Perry Barbers, lived up on the level part of Prospect Street, then #33, the same street as the Perry’s, who lived at #7. I note that numbering has changed on that street. The Barber's children, in order of age were Bessie Williams of Woodstock, Florence Washburn of Worcester, Mass., my Dad, Byron R. Barber and Elsie L. Barber of Passaic, NJ They are all now deceased, as are all of my other aunts and uncles, except my Aunt Irma, now of the Norwich area. She is now 90 years of age and very much "with it." She lives with her daughter Joyce, who is widowed. I was able to visit them briefly in October. (A few hours every few years are not enough.) Joyce is the one who gave me your Journal, Vol. 2, No. 1, and started all this.
"Strange, isn't it, how a man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around, he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?"
--Clarence, the angel, in the film
It's a Wonderful Life