New London, Connecticut, 1938
Through these past years I have blogged about various events which happened during our time in New London, Connecticut. Whether more things happened to me during that time, or whether I was simply old enough to have a better memory I can’t say, but Connecticut made a deep impression on me.
Still living in the details of my memory; the hurricane of 1938, my near-kidnapping, rustic country life and the summer-long case of poison ivy which greeted our arrival in New London, Connecticut.
In 1938 we received orders to go to New London, for two and a half years where my father began training in the submarine service. We loaded our belongings into our used black Chevy car and set out across country, like today’s migrants.
Assigned to the submarine base, both enlisted men and some officers could choose to find their own living quarters, which were few and far between off the base.
Our first was a one-room apartment bathroon-down-the-hall over a small grocery store, and the second was slightly better though it had no indoor plumbing, just a privy some distance away. Water had to be pumped each morning, and baths were taken in a tub after water had been heated on a huge wood stove. It sounds awful, and it was, but for two and a half years it was our home.
The whole monstrosity overlooked a large field and a small lake which in New England is called a pond. The field was promptly planted with vegetables, and the pond supplied recreation both in summer and in winter when it froze solid and we skated. During the winter freeze I skated part of the way to school.
Connecticut abounds with rivers and streams, and we lived between the pond and across the road from the Thames River, a deep-water river with the Submarine Base situated on its shore. Local kids swam in sight of the diving tower, where my Dad trained. It was there I first learned to swim when my father threw me into the river.
The Base had a commissary, or ship’s stores, where we did most of our shopping. There was a movie theater, a bowling alley, and other places of recreation. A large parade ground was in the middle of the compound, and there was always a dress parade on Saturday mornings, where I loved to watch my father, in his dress blues, march in formation behind the Navy band. We Navy kids used to play ‘parade’ with a majorette, and the rest of us following behind blowing on combs covered with waxed paper.
The first winter we lived there, New England felt the tremendous power of a hurricane, still referred to as one of the worst of the century. It was a school day and we were all hustled into the hallway to protect us from flying glass should the windows cave in. The incredible roar of the wind and the rain pounding on the roof was very frightening. One of the big double doors at the end of the hall blew open, and three teachers pushing on it could not close it. When the noise quieted, and the wind calmed somewhat, we were sent to our various homes.
It still amazes me that we were sent on our way alone in the wake of such a terrible storm. But the road was impassable for cars because of fallen trees etc. I lived some three miles from the school and walked each way except for cutting off about a mile in winter. The rest of the children were local farm children whose parents in most cases had attended the same small school.
The school consisted of two rooms and the principal’s office and I went there during part of the fifth and all of the sixth and seventh grades. We were expected to memorize poems regularly, and a Charles Kingsley poem reproached: “Be good, sweet maid, and let who will be clever.” I still feel a twinge of guilt knowing I grew up more clever than good, and as a “sweet maid” I was a disappointment. Having practiced being “good” up to this time without gaining the benefit of friends, I chose to be funny.
I still remember the smell of oiled wooden floors in the closkroom, wet wool snowsuits, and egg or tuna sandwiches emanating from the tin lunchboxes or paper bags containing our lunches. I had close contact with these odors on the occasions when I was sent out of the room to consider my acts of disobedience.
My teacher, Miss Lillian Ingraham, was possibly the best teacher I ever had, and thought I was smarter than I was, because I had read the most books, for which I received a prize. She was quite tall and skinny and had dyed red hair and eyes in the back of her head. She placed me in the front row, not because I had trouble seeing the board, (which I did) but so that she could keep one of her eyes on me.
A boy named Cecil Kirk was in my fifth grade class and passed me a note one day suggesting that we meet after school behind a certain stone wall, where he would show me ‘his’ and I would reciprocate. I ran most of the way home never looking at the aforementioned stone wall. We never spoke again.
I was not a star at team sports, but I was a fast runner, and could shinny up the flag pole faster than most of the boys. I was also an apt pupil of my father in games of marbles, cards, and mumbly-peg, which was a game of skill in throwing a jack-knife point down into a preordained spot within a large circle drawn in the dirt. I ‘m afraid that most of the games my father taught me were not looked upon with great favor by my teachers.