Stuart Strothman on Jul 27th 2008
By Laurel Ellis, August 23, 2006
In our busy here and now it’s hard to imagine how different everything will be at some unknown time in the future. Today’s minor hardships could even be remembered with a touch of nostalgia for the related memories of simpler and otherwise happy times. Sometimes it’s someone else’s memory that enriches our sense of everyday life at a time and place we could never experience first hand. Like a good novel but much more real. Such was the feeling enjoyed when talking with Olive Frost in August, 2006.
Olive was born in 1923 to Delphine and Bert Phelps in East Putney. The house where she grew up is now the home of the Kenzer/Canaris family which has been thoroughly modernized so that it bears little resemblance to the place Olive called home.
Like the many other children in the east part of town, Olive attended first through sixth grades at the #7 School which she still proudly states was a “Superior School.” Her trek from home took her down the slope to the Gassett Road, across a bridge (now gone) over the East Putney Brook (below the falls) and up the former “Holler Road” to the school. [The old school building is now part of the Waterman home at the end of Cemetery Road where it is cut off by I91.] At lunch time she walked back home and frequently enjoyed a cream and brown sugar sandwich before returning to school.
Her childhood days were spent doing things that few children can enjoy today such as sliding the length of East Putney Falls Road without fear of meeting a car. George Aplin was the only one who had a car in those days so sliding was suspended when he was due to go speeding by. Another favorite pastime was watching the men cut ice from Loomis’ pond. The ice would be packed in sawdust and stored in the barn all year for use in everyone’s ice boxes.
Olive’s father worked for the railroad and her mother took care of the house and family. For extra money Mrs. Phelps sometimes dug potatoes at the Palen farm and took in laundry. Groceries were delivered once a week by Sy Davis and clothing was either made at home or perhaps obtained at the clothing exchange (a precursor of today’s consignment shops) run by Mrs. Pratt at her farm. [Mrs. Pratt was an extremely community-minded lady who lived at the large farm on the eastern section of the Cemetery Road which is now aptly called Pratt Road.] The family did not have a car and depended on family or friends who did for the occasional excursion to Bellows Falls.
The social center of this section of town was most definitely Pierce’s Hall and Olive couldn’t imagine life without it. From the school programs and plays, the weddings, dinners, and showers to the dances where she met her future husband, it was always part of home.
There was once a stove pipe that went the entire width of the building which helped keep the space warm in the winter. Children had to help with chores like bringing up wood from the cellar or climbing up a ladder to clean and fill the lamps of the chandelier.
At Christmas, a huge tree that reached the ceiling was decorated and there were pageants and gifts for all the children. Ornaments and supplies were stored under the stage.
Many suppers were held on Saturday nights and the women didn’t seem to mind having to haul in the water to wash all the dishes. Mrs. Pratt was in charge of many of the suppers and Olive was one of the young people she taught to set a proper table and serve correctly. In the summer there were often clam bakes or corn roasts in the open field behind the Hall.
Special dances included those held on Valentine’s Day and the “Calico Balls” where the women made their own cotton dresses and a necktie from the same material for their beaus. Harold Frost came from Brattleboro to attend the dances and Olive can still envision the certain way he stood against a post near the door when he first caught her eye. After their marriage, Harold decided to make his home in Putney and their daughter, Sharon, soon began attending the dances with her parents in her little basket.
As the years rolled on, the family moved to Putney Village and returned to Pierce’s Hall for family reunions and increasingly fewer occasions until other, more modern places gradually replaced the old familiar building’s usefulness and traditions.
While trying to think of who else would share her memories of those early years, Olive thinks it would be a great idea to have a reunion of sorts to share stories and pictures of long ago events at Pierce’s Hall.
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