Sunday, September 19, 2010

Searching Harold Ryan

I can't always resist the pun.

I have spent the better part of the weekend on two errands. I have been researching a man named James Arthur Cobbett as he was one of my predecessors here in the late 1930's and early 1940's. With the anniversary of the Light coming preparations are underway to note all the contributions made by all the families who once lived here. I was approached last summer by George Cobbett, who very much (and rightly) would like to see James Arthur included in the long role going back to Simeon Bates. George, along with Dave Ball, fired emails fast and furious all day Friday. When I got around to helping out, I found that by using a commercial web site, I could have access to census data and military registrations that will help us tell the story. Thanks to George and to Dave, it is a growing file and the next step for me is to prepare a check list of documents and photographs that can be blown up and shared with the audience next September at the anniversary dinner. I will give you a sampler below.

The web site also expedites the creation of a family tree and that was the next errand. Haley had come home from school with an interest in such a project, (thank you Matt Poirer), and it took me over. If I did it right I made it back to the late 1770's with a great, great, great, great, grandmother who in the census of 1860 was listed as 83 years of age and described in a column as "idiotic". Apparently this was the term in place for those infirm who had lost themselves in illness. Mary Sullivan was spared the slight in the 1870 census by failing to appear there.

On Julie's side the story headed to England where generations of Wilsons must have covered the land like clover. One ancient grandfather had two separate families of great number. They might have suited up against one another for some football there were so many. I have found passport registrations for my Great Grandparents. I found the Abington Branch and that led me to the twice married and perhaps twice widowed, Theresa Hickey Dunn, who on the census report of 1900 recorded that she had had eleven children with 7 living. One of the living was my great grandmother. Mr. Dunn has yet to be found as the 1890 census was largely destroyed by fire. I never knew that and it may be the most important lesson of the weekend.

One of the facts that amazed me was that men born between 1877 and 1897 had to register for the draft in both the First and the Second World War. My maternal grandfather was 51 years old, my paternal great grandfather two years older and both have registration cards for World War two. Those follow:

It is a lesson about another era, another ethos, that these two and so many others like them registered in their fifties. Extraordinary.

And for those of you who are not members of my family, Harold Ryan was an uncle who saw service in Europe and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. I haven't found his stuff yet, but I will.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Two stories of the Lightkeeper and the Barker Tavern

An envelope with a surprise inside.

I have written regularly of the many brides that share the Point with us on all the days of the week. Julie has photographed some of them and been chased off by the hired photographer other times. This week we received a card from the Barker Tavern thanking us for letting their brides "invade, ... to take those beautiful lighthouse photos." The card included a gift certificate as well. It was an envelope with a surprise inside and an in the hand example of civility in an age when the same is in doubt.

Just yesterday I was forwarded several documents concerning a Supreme Judicial Court case involving Simeon Bates and the original Mr. Barker. In 1829 Bates and others took timber off the beach at low tide and Barker sued claiming the right to all such lumber. Witnesses spoke to the the taking and to Barker's belief that he had been done wrong. It was from Barker that the United States government had taken the land that became Lighthouse Park and another parcel of land on what is currently Rebecca Road as an alternative site. He clearly felt that he had given all he intended to give to the USA and to Simeon Bates. The Supreme Judicial Court fined Simeon Bates $15.00, an amount the ship builder Luther Briggs testified he believed it to be worth. These hard feelings went on and on as there were continued disputes between the Light keepers and the Barker (later Allen) families about access to the Point by Jericho Road.

Two stories: 180 years apart. I feel certain I got a better deal than Simeon Bates did and that there are a much friendly bunch up on the hill now. We are grateful for it.

Postscript: We had a great dinner at the Barker Pub last night - Chicken Saltimbocca for me and Rib Eye for Julie - she also fit in some Shrimp Cocktail and we mopped up with Cheesecake and Strawberries - Awesome service, atmosphere, dinner - Simeon Bates never had it so good but he also did not have the brides.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Brilliant Day

I am linking to a brief video I took this afternoon - it is as perfect a day here as it could possibly be and you should get to see it.

It is spectacular to be here just now. On the anniversary of one of the most difficult days in the country's history there is yet, all around us, signs that we continue to live well and continue to celebrate all that the enemies of the U.S. would deny we notice and nurture.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Parade Pic

I thought I would mention that the Globe is using a photo Julie took last Sunday without attribution. It is a picture of several girls leading the annual Labor Day parade and it appears on their Your Town page. I would have thought that they might have asked or at least given her a credit, but I am not surprised as I often think of things that might be done that others do not do. I know I do my best to give credit when I assemble a Power Point presentation for school or even when I use the thesis of a history book as a starting point for a debate. History can't be studied in a void. There are big shoulders to stand on and, in this opinion anyway, they ought to be acknowledged.

I do like it that the paper is routinely linking to the blog and my data collection tells me that many readers are gaining access to the blog that way. I just like it when the girl gets credit for her good eye I guess.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Who are you?

I have been looking over the data.

I installed a new counter the other night and signed up for a service that offers some raw data on who is looking in on The Word from Old Scituate Light. The results are fascinating for the geography of the readers alone.

New York City, Brooklyn, Maine, Florida, Connecticut, Australia, The Netherlands, Sweden, Providence, Quincy, Lowell, I am playing a guessing game trying to figure who is who and where is where. I had been told this summer of a teacher who took a position teaching to the children of our troops in Cuba and who had logged in to read the blog from Guantanamo Bay. I have written of Pat O'Connor at sea on the Big "E" (keep those emails coming) and from Mrs. Tilden in Hawaii. However when I see a link to Lebanon and it might be the country and not New Hampshire, then I have to wonder and to call for comments. Chime in under the comment section and let me know where your interest lies.

Are you in the legions of Lighthouse buffs who get a kick out of my tales of wows and woes?
Are you part of the great Class of 78 who Googles old classmates to find out the dirt from today?
Are you in momentary exile from our coast and long for the smell of low tide and fried clams?
Lets wrap the map with readers of The word from Old Scituate Light.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Just LIke Buddy Holly

Its me and the crickets tonight.

The evening of Labor Day brings with it a quiet to Cedar Point. While the crowds were thick all weekend, enjoying a couple of brilliant days of soft breezes (not so soft at first but easing up) and warm, clear water in the Harbor, tonight the only gathering is the roll of the ocean, the blinking of the stars, and the chirp of the crickets.

Yesterday, music covered the Point with a band playing a house party and traffic zipping around. There was the annual parade that I usually skirt, but a song got me out and about when I heard the Blues Brothers Theme dancing up the stairs and knew that my own Marshfield High School Marching Band was rolling down the road. I had heard them practicing on the field outside my class room window on Friday and sure enough Kirsten and Kathryn led them down the street. From that jaunt I got into a few conversations with retired veterans and with the parents of students and with passers by.

Last night I had occasion to dial up the police for the first time all summer. I was reading when I heard a loud group mosey up the sidewalk. One sure fire Ivy Leaguer offered the idea to his friends that they climb the flag pole rope on the Tower and slide down. I took a walk outside and heard that, "Hey theres a dude over in the yard" from a potential valedictorian. When they began to brag of how much they had been drinking and I began to count heads I decided to call the station. Three cruisers moved them right along ten minutes later.

On Saturday the wind was a great deal steadier in the aftermath of Earl. I could not fly the flag on the Tower and it was hard to sit in the yard. I weeded and weed wacked and headed in to finish off a book. The highlight of the day was running off three young people in their late teens or early twenties who had decided, despite the wind, to take up roost in the Adirondack chairs that look out over the Harbor. Haley reported that there were people in the yard and I stepped out to find them sitting comfortably. I barked; they jumped. They jumped so fast one young lady left her purse in the yard and had to retreat from half way down the driveway to retrieve it. HL Mencken once said, "No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American People." I don't normally hold with it; it goes against my grain as a teacher. As an observer of the human condition though, there are times it is an appealing description.

On a similar note, this morning at 6:00 am I was awakened by a blunt, nasty, shrill voice cursing as it made its way up the walkway to the Tower. It was a teenage girl who was limited in her vocabulary. I know this because she used seven words as she declaimed; one of which is capable of taking on a wide variety of parts of speech. She used it in nearly every way. The last statement was a declaration that her life was of a poor quality. It took a great deal of restraint from me to not go to the window and offer from above that in my short experience of her I could not help but agree.

We will see if the quiet lasts very long this year or if it is washed away by the pull of gnawing ocean as it was last fall. Waves have their own gravity and if storms start knocking the rocks around again, you can be sure crowds will gather to feast. In the meantime leave me the crickets and the stars and the back and forth of an easy sea. Even if only for a little while, they are an antidote to vulgarity and ignorance. Truth told, the beauty of this place, night or day, makes it hard to stay mad all that long.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Duke, Duke, Duke, Duke of Earl...

We wind up summer with some rain and wind.

After one of the driest summers on record, with nearly every day an image of San Diego skies, we get a visit from Hurricane Earl tomorrow and Saturday.  The image above is from a thermometer we have in the kitchen. The highest temperature we saw there was 136 degrees but we did not take a picture. I think we got the Klondike bars out to cool off instead.

I have been asked all week about preparations for the storm and if we will evacuate. To the first I say that I have tucked a good number of things away that might blow and to the second, that I will go if I am told to go. We agreed to that moving in here. 

This summer had its share of fun and every day allowed us to take full advantage of living on the beach. Haley and her friends were prunes from their hours in the water. Tubes, boats, kayaks, floats, goggles, snorkles and many, many, many beach towels (why do girls need three towels each for each time they go into the water?) were the order of each day. We got very comfortable new lawn furniture that had me out in the sun late in afternoons to read. Julie saw her freckles multiply. We learned to despise the music coming from the Ice Cream truck, while continuing to love what you could buy from it. Woe is me though, as there was never any change left over from a trip down the driveway. The nights meant baseball and struggling through the Sox injury lists. (They never had a big league outfield, never) Society projects, preparing for the new school year, cooking on the grill, getting out after 8:00 to water filled in the rest.

Its a new season now and as usual the expectations are high. Meeting and working with new students, working through the policy debates in my government class and the timeless American debates in my US history class are the best things I do that I do without the girls. If the tide don't rise and the Good Lord's willing, I will get back to that on Tuesday. If we don't lose power I will report in later if something cool happens in the storm.


For the last two weeks the runway and the cottage have undergone a facelift courtesy of contractor Warren Cowing. Time and tide had battered...