Durell, Mabel – May 2002

Interview by Peter Webb. Interview date: 05-01-2002

Part 1 of 8

TimeTopic – Part 1 of 8
00:00 Mabel speaks of “our house” as having been bought from Jim Day. Her parents were William Durrell and Margery Smith Durrell. Her mother had siblings: Carl, Barbara and Miriam (Jepson). Her mother met her father when she was hired to provide care to a family in town with a new child. They informed her that dinner would also have to be made for the hired hand, Bill Durrell
02:00 Bill Durrell was from Maine and had come south working as a mechanic in saw mills. Her parents were married in Brookline at her grandmother’s Old Milford Road house (the brick ender cape on the west side of the road near intersection with Rocky Pond Road). Her grandmother was Mabel Eaton Smith and her grandfather was Harry Smith
04:00 Her grandmother got the house when they divorced. Carl and Barbara, who remained single, lived in the house together. Miriam met her husband Fred while she was a nurse at some facility. He had some variety of arm problem. Fred had been adopted
06:00 Fred and Miriam had five children: Fred, Charles, Phillip, Priscilla and Norma. Miriam had come back to Brookline expecting
07:00 The house she came back to is the brickender cape on Old Milford Road
08:30 Mabel thinks she was born in the Historical Society’s Barnaby House when it stood in South Brookline. Her family moved around to several homes in Brookline
09:31 One of the houses they lived at was the existing home west of the semi-circular driveway i on the left after the second house (Arthur and Sandra Bent) going up Meetinghouse Hill Road from the east end. Inside that semi-circle had stood a home she knew to her as the “Greasy Sink”
10:00 She was forbidden by her parents to go there. There was a disabled man she knew as Dummy Campbell (or Campo?) who sold candy. The house is gone
11:00 The house behind the semi-circle was the O’Hearn house. Alvin Taylor also lived there. The Ingraham’s house and the Perkins house were on Canal Street. She was friends with a Perkins daughter. That was in about 1933 or 1934
12:30 When she was four, they moved to North Brookline. Her father cleared the lot and built the house. It was three stories high, 15 feet by 30 feet, and was supposed to be temporary but the Depression intervened. Her mother had bought some land across the street. Public Service took much of the land, so their house has to be removed
15:00 A new house was built several hundred feet away. Her father died in 1958. Her daughter, Jenny, lives there now
17:00 In 1936, she went to the Brookline Elementary School on Milford Street. She speaks of the nearby home of Joseph and Ethel Homoleski. The Homoleskis had some older daughters, including Mary, as well as Hector and Steve
19:00 She speaks of a Barnaby House, not the BHS House, which burned down on Milford Street. She speaks of the Milford Street School, and the various teachers: Doris Canto (Campbell?), Madeline Nash, Gleason, Bennett
20:00 She lists off her ten grade school peers
22:00 The school was heated by wood. The custodian was Fred Manning. There was no running water, they had a stone crock with a spigot in it for water. There was what she referred to as a “chemical toilet” inside, a seat on top of a large pipe
24:00 She remembers the kids taking boards and sliding down the hills besides the school. She wore out the seat of her snowsuit but they had no money to replace it
25:00 There was a swing set and a teeter totter on the left side. In grades 3 to 5, they were in a separate room. She, Virginia Perkins and Jean Gay were invited to play on the boys baseball team. Mabel quit when the first hardball was thrown by her head
27:00 She speaks of Jimmy Austin. He had a brilliant mind, was great at math, was never one to respect discipline. In grammar school, he had a trap line and one day came to school smelling like a skunk, and he had to spend the day in the hallway. Miriam recalled that the students “ran all over” their teacher. She thinks that Jimmy had to leave high school because of the use of foul language. He joined the Navy. His life fluctuated with who he talked back to and what he had to drink
30:00 He was a non-conformist to the” nth degree.” He married Barbie Bent and had children. He worked in the woods

Part 2 of 8

TimeTopic – Part 2 of 8
00:00 Jim Austin was a good mechanic, as was his father. Eldo and Jenny Fessenden, were always very good to Mabel’s family
01:00 Eldo loaned her father a car to take her mother to the hospital. When in grammar school, hot lunches were provided to the students at Daniels Academy. They would walk down from the Milford Street School. Mabel and Nelson Barnaby’s lunches were paid for by Eldo and Jenny Fessenden
02:00 Harry Williams lived across the street from the former Halls Manufacturing. He was a barber. She cut her own long hair and her father was angry. Harry Williams had a daughter who was retarded, her vocabulary would “make a sailor’s parent blush.” The opinion in town was that the Williamses had dosed their daughter with paregoric so they could attend the dances. The Fessendens, Eldo and Jenny, agreed to have the daughter evaluated, but the parents would not cooperate
04:00 A man she knew as “Red,” who lived on Milford Road had worked at the old Fessenden garage, had instructions to take care of anything that Mabel needed, whether she could pay for it or not
05:00 Eldo had great affection and respect for Mabel’s mother. At her mother’s funeral, he waited outside to personally express his condolences to Mabel
06:00 Mabel named her daughter Genevieve, but called her Jenny. Jenny Fessenden and her sister, Mary, worked in Waltham at a children’s clothing manufacturer called Fanta. When Mabel’s daughter Jenny was born, the Fessendens gave her generous gifts of clothes. Mabel’s Jenny’s middle name is Eldora. After Mabel’s Jenny was born, Miriam (Mabel’s mother’s sister) asked where she got the name, it had to be from Jenny and Eldo. Mabel denied it. Miriam implied that it was an outlandish name
10:00 Grover Farwell, Jr. was much younger than she. Bentley was in grammar school when she was in grade school. She did not know much of him but was aware of the fire issue. His paternal grandfather said that when he was born, lightening struck, and that was the source of Bentley’s problem. Frank Farwell died young. He was in the 5th grade when she was in the third
11:00 He was of sturdy build. Ellsworth Austin was similarly built but could not be gentler. Frank was hit in the head and threw up blood. She is not sure if that is what led to his death
12:00 Grover’s daughter was Ellen. Mabel remembers her when she was still in grade school. Ellen had come to visit and was in her WAVES uniform. The prettiest girl she had ever seen.
13:00 She ran into her again later but did not realize who she was at this affair in which Ellen was recognized as a woman of the year. Ellen passed her CPA the first try after the war
13:30 People would look at the Brookliners as country hicks, but we were a good of bunch of smart people. There were many intelligent people in Brookline who left their mark
14:00 In the 1930 census, there were 500 people. Clarence Farwell is now doing the Christmas tree lighting. She was speaking to Leo Austin (son of Leo) who was her brother’s age or so and they reminisced about the old Christmas program when they were young. The children put on the program and everyone came. Every child in town got a gift
16:00 She remembers her last gift, a wooden pin of a puppy dog. The also got boxes of candy
17:00 The school children (first five grades) put on a program. Two times a week, her aunt took eggs to the railway station and would usually stop by and say hello
18:00 During World War II, the male population was decimated. There were no men to plan Santa, so Miriam volunteered to do so. Her daughter, Norma Lee, was about 2 to 3 years old, was terrified of Santa and would not go to see Santa even though it was her mother
19:00 Mabel did not hear of Miriam’s death until it was announced by the minister at the church. She asked about arrangements and was told that there were none yet. She indicated that she was family and he nearly “dropped his teeth”
20:00 She accepts that she was not of the same social circles as certain others. She may have lived for 50 years in Amherst but on the “wrong side of the tracks”
21:00 She is a country hick and is fine with it. The Brookline community Christmas program was held at the Daniels Academy up in the auditorium. The teachers worked hard. The children wore costumes
22:00 She remembers singing songs, joining in a line of children who were holding hands, and swinging as hard as she could. Every year they also had a Memorial Day event. She recited the Gettysburg Address
23:00 She remembers a musical at the Daniels Academy building
23:30 Brookline had one of the first drive in movies. It was across the street from Whitcomb Store on Main Street
24:00 Harlan Whitcomb was quite an entrepreneur. He set up a screen. People would sit on the knoll and watch the screen. If they had money, they would buy some ice cream at the store. There was also a talent show and people at the talent show would get free ice cream
25:00 Peggy Porter and several others sang God Bless America for their ice cream. She remembers watching a movie titled “13th Guest.” Her father had to go to work early, so she did not get to see the end of it, but she finally saw the end many decades later on television
26:25 She never skied. Her home was 5 miles away from the ski tow. She had skis for small local hills. A good friend was Dean Dicky, who had a camp on Old Milford Road. He lived in Somerville but would come on weekends. He was related to Howard Dicky. Howard Dicky lived in the home which is now the Country Culture Antique Store on Route 13. He was a skier and she remembers Dean explaining how you had to know how to use the rope tow or it would flip you. Dean and her father were fishing buddies. She remembers them going out at night and each catching their limit of 40 hornpouts. She got $.50 for cleaning each batch of 40
29:00 They had them the nextday for dinner. Dean brought materials and made a rowboat
30:00 Her father, and old time Yankee without any money, would buy an old coup, take out the rumble seat and put in a truck bed

Part 3 of 8

Part 4 of 8

Part 5 of 8

TimeTopic – Part 5 of 8
00:00 Begins with reference to Maurice Marshall home. References Tom, a good Catholic boy, who worked with Jim Austin and learned an off-color vocabulary. Jim had a great sense of humor. His chainsaw caught fire in the truck and he walked away and let it burn, saying that the truck was old anyways
02:00 Her aunt Miriam’s son, Paul, died young with a wife and child. Jimmy Austin and Paul were friends. For years, he put flowers on Pauls’ grave. Jim was rough and tough. If you went down Austin Road, you had better be ready to defend yourself. She went to Jimmy’s funeral service and was the only one there from their class. He was to be admired for not knuckling under, doing things his own way, coming home from the service and staying in Brookline supporting himself
04:30 After bell ringing incident, someone said that the old people in town think that they own place. Mabel took the person on and argued that the old timers have earned their place
05:20 Mabel’s father worked on Milford Street School. Fred Hall objected to the school having a flush toilet
06:30 Her father was involved in the WPA. There was nepotism. Her father could not get the job he wanted
07:30 She remembers school life. There was a jump rope contest. Mabel won. Jean Gay came in second. After fifth grade, she went to Daniels Academy for 6, 7 and 8. They had one teacher. In 7th and 8th, the teacher was Margarette O’Neil. Alice Ouellette was a very strict teacher. She took Bentley Farwell down one day. Walter Lemire was a teacher. He was her first male teacher and was fabulous. He read Paul Bunyan but had to skip the part about the blue ox’s dung heap. Margarette O’Neil meant well but had to discipline. The students were allowed to sit in the balcony and watch daytime town meetings.
12:50 Howard Bales was the superintendent of schools. Her teacher wanted to double promote Mabel but Bales refused.
13:30 Howard Barley was the superintendent of schools when she graduated from Milford High School. Her brother, two years younger, graduated from Nashua High School. Her mother wanted her to take the academic courses known as home economics, but Mr. Barley would not allow her to do both. She received As and Bs. She could have done it
15:00 She recalls her series of math courses. One of her teachers was Ray Pomeroy. He was the best teacher ever. Algebra teaches you how to think logically
18:00 She used to like to say she graduated from Daniel Academy on job applications because it sounded impressive. For the first eight years of school, one class was reciting while the other was studying and it helped her learn to pay attention. Harry Corey was the mailman, his son was Clarence Corey. Clarence was shy.
20:00 She recalls her classmate Clarence and Irwin Corey
21:30 There was a family named the Bourques from Canada. They had a rough time. They had two boys. Reference is made to Doris Corey. Clarence Corey married Virginia Lathe. Her parents lived on Pepperell Road. She was the overseer of the poor. She mentions their children
26:00 At Halls Store, they took orders and filled them. Fred had two daughters
27:00 AA Halls was a good old-fashioned country story. It was a friendly place and you could get anything you needed
29:00 Across the stream from the store lived Hammond Creighton, in a tiny house next to the fire department (ambulance bay/annex). He a mixed-race man. His wife was pregnant at age 14

Part 6 of 8

Part 7 of 8

TimeTopic – Part 7 of 8
00:00 At the railroad tracks behind a house on North Mason Road, her mother used to take her to see the train. They would kick off some ice off the train and her mother would get it. Grandpa Keech lived across the street from the Keeches. He owned a wood lot behind the Durrells. The power line ran back there, and there were blueberries they used to pick
02:00 Jim Day made a living digging peat moss from the swamp. He did it by hand
03:00 When he died, his will cancelled a mortgage which he had on the Durrell’s property. He willed money in his estate to area libraries. He used to drink. She recalled him showing up in his Model A to speak to her father about mortgage payments. He was giving her father a hard time. Her father hustled him out. Day would give her and her brother David a quarter each out of the mortgage payments
05:00 She would ask Day and he would allow her to ice skate on a small spot in the flooded frozen swamp. He had a well by his barn which had wonderfully clear and cold water. When the Durrell’s well went dry, they would get water from that well in glass jugs.
06:30 Her mother was city bred but did not mind hauling water. At the dinner table, her father would not tolerate laughter or foolishness; although he was otherwise full of fun
09:00 Florence Hall, wife of Forace Hall, told Mabel that she never knew anyone who loved his kids more than her father. He was 50 when Mabel was born
10:00 She was four years old when they moved to the home in North Brookline. Her father cleared the land and built the home
10:30 She describes the windlass mechanism which her father made to pull up stumps by hand
13:00 He was a true Yankee
13:30 He collected thread spools. They could be used to make necklaces and pot handles. They used rivets made for mending pots
14:00 He had a cast iron last for mending shoes. He made a pickup truck out of coup
15:30 He was very handy. If he had a chance for education, he would have been a brilliant man
16:30 He was boilerman in a business in Milford. He was also a night watchman. Mabel knew how to do all of his duties
18:00 When she was about 11, and on Christmas vacation, her brother David stayed with their father at his camp in Wilton Logging. He had a “scoot”, a large sled, in which he pulled the logs on a two-horse team. It was Earl Stickney’s team. One of the horses was very difficult and a kicker. She stayed with her father one week and rode the scoot into the woods in the snow. Her father was behind the horses and fell between the difficult horse and the scoot. He talked to the animal and climbed back up without getting kicked by this horse who would have otherwise done so
22:00 Her family had no money to have their own animals, but he had a way with animals
22:30 Howard Day had a dog that was extremely fond of her father. When Howard Day went to Waltham for the winter, the dog got out and ran back to Brookline, over 15 miles
24:00 Her mother was in charge of the house. She did a lot of canning and pickling. She sold from a stand which her father made and from the house. The stand was named “Green Shade.” He made a sign for it. They sold eggs from their Uncle Carl Smith. Hazel raised gourds and sold them. They sold extra produce from the garden
26:00 She still has the green glass bowl into which her mother would put the cold well water and place the radishes they were selling. Her mother also sold greeting cards. She would ride into Brookline with someone else or walk into Brookline to sell them. Her mother went to Nassau Institute in Maine and was a great walker in college
28:00 Mabel crocheted and sold doilies and handkerchiefs. Agnes Homoleski had some. Mabel’s mother died in 1975 at 78. Her mother sold Peggy Newton cosmetic products for years. For years they could not afford their taxes. There was a note in the Town Report that showed payments from her mother to the Town as rent, but it was incremental payoffs of delinquent taxes.
32:00 Mabel left Brookline in 1950. As a child, she was impressed with the glory of war, but did not think about the casualties. She remembers the poem “Flanders Field” and that brought home the fact that war is not just glory but casualties as well. Brookline was full of troops on military maneuvers in the course of war. Wherever there were soldiers, that was a house with a red light
35:00 There is a place in Milford of that sort of business known as “Willow Run”
36:00 There was a lookout station off Springvale Avenue. People would volunteer and rotate shifts, calling in all planes observed. If you wanted to buy something that was in a tube, such as toothpaste, you had to turn in the tube before you could buy a replacement
38:00 Sugar was very scarce and people tended to hoard it. There were blue stamps for meat and red stamps for butter. There were tokens for change. A woman on Runella Road had a dog but could not get meat for it, so Hazel’s mother traded butter for stamps which allowed the woman to get the meat. Everybody had a vegetable garden
41:00 On Hood Road, there was a small house of Fred Hall (no relationship). He had five sons in the service. Howard Dickey’s nephew, Dean, had a camp on Old Milford Road. It is now a house. He was fishing buddies with Mabel’s father. Dean was assigned to the Seabees. He eventually shipped on the USS Bountiful. He frequently wrote and sent shells. She still has them. Dean was a fishing buddy of her father’s and they made a rowboat together, from which they fished Potanipo and Melendy
55:30 They would fry the hornpout. Her mother would make chowder from the hornpout. Dean wrote to the family the whole time he was in the service

Part 8 of 8

TimeTopic – Part 8 of 8
00:00 Speaks of Dean Dickey, a friend and of some of his experience in the service
03:00 Dean’s homecoming
04:00 Some people are willing to accept others as they are
04:30 Leslie Keech had a chicken farm, pumped gas and had cabins. He had a daughter. He married after his wife died
06:30 Rolf and Ivy Cox, the house to the restaurant which is now Chrysanthi’s owned this house with an unusual angle. It was struck by lightning twice
07:00 The Davises were on the other side of Hood Road. Lester was never educated. He was a great help to her father
08:00 After her father died, Lester asked if he could do anything. There was a stone in the driveway. Her mother asked Lester to help. He said not to worry about it because the sun had already hit it and it was not going to grow anymore. When he died, Mable wrote to the Cabinet listing all the good things he’d done for her family. There is reference to Harry Willoboughy having a barbershop
09:30 Lester had a problem with alcohol. Her mother would give him rides. When Lester died, Mabel wrote to the Cabinet listing all the goods things Lester had done for her family. There is reference to Harry Willoughby who had a barbershop, and to Harry Gilson
10:45 There is reference to Dorothy Ryan. Across from the elementary school was the home of Leo Austin (“Teenie”). Further down towards town was Marjorie Wheeler’s house. Her husband was Sy was a wheeler-dealer. He used to drink and beat his wife up. He would be put in jail
12:00 But Marjorie would not press charges. Marjorie lost a leg. Her youngest daughter was Flora. There was speculation about what color her last child was going to be. Helen Corey was known as Mother Helen. She mothered many of the children in town
14:00 There was a bulldog named “Happy” who was the best friend and companion of a blind little girl. Where her mother Helen was in a rest home in Pepperell, Mabel took Jenny to see her. She was sitting in a chair tied to it with gauze. Jenny ran right up to her. Helen’s daughter was Gladys. Mabel speaks of an occasion when she slept at her house. The Coxes’ had 2 daughters, Gladys Corey was friends with Ruth