Marjorie Williams Horton
For the first two years of my life, I lived in Rhode Island. My father had come from Adams, New York. My
grandfather, my mother’s father, had a farm in Slatersville, Rhode Island, with a meat market and an office
at the end of the barn, and a big, lovely house. I was born in Slatersville. We lived with our grandparents in a
section of the house. My grandfather was a gentleman farmer. He had lots of property, almost up to
Pascoag. He had cows and horses.
My sister, Athleen, had been born five years before me. One summer she went to camp and she was
nicknamed Billie, from our family name, Williams. After that she was known as Billie for the rest of her life.
My father’s family name was Williams, and my mother’s maiden name was Turner. (Her father's name was
Solon Thompson Turner.) We didn’t have middle names because our names were so long. My mother
always told me that since we were girls, we couldn’t carry on our father’s name, but in order to honor him,
we could use Williams as our middle name when we married. That’s a bit of etiquette that girls should
know, but many don’t.
We didn’t visit my Grandmother Williams often, although we’d talk on the phone and write letters. That was
too much of a trip. We didn’t do much traveling in those days. I was 18 before I visited Boston for the first
time. When we did travel, we’d take lunch along and find a piece of land where we’d sit down on a blanket
and eat our sandwiches. Of course, we’d bring a Thermos, too. We’d have at least one flat tire on a trip like
that. Sometimes we’d visit relatives in the Putnam, Connecticut area.
When I was two, my grandparent’s house burned. It burned to the ground. We sat on the back of a wagon
with a blanket over us and watched it. It was in the night. All the books and records that we had afterwards
were given to us by friends. My mother was quite a horse lady and had beautiful harnesses and other items
that were kept in the house. They were all lost in the fire, including her diamond ring. It was a very tragic
thing. My father had been a Chevrolet salesman in Woonsocket. After the fire, he was hired to work at
Draper Corporation and we moved to Hopedale, where I’ve been since age two.
There was electricity in Bancroft Park when we moved there. The light fixtures had originally been made for
gas lights. We didn’t have an electric refrigerator. We had an icebox. We heated the house with coal and
wood, and the heat came up through a big register in the floor. The coal was carried in sacks and poured
down a chute to the coal bin in the cellar. Wood would be dropped by the bulkhead and we’d take it in. Coal,
wood, and ice were all brought to us by horse-drawn wagons. When the ice wagon was on the street, we’d
go out and ask the man for chips of ice to chew on. We’d put a card in the front window if we wanted a
delivery of ice, and we'd put a card with a big C when we wanted the Cushman’s Bakery man to stop. We’d
also get deliveries of groceries. Mead’s Market was the most beautiful place. It was in the town hall, down
below, on the Depot Street side. The quality of the goods that they sold was exceptionally fine. We could call
them on the phone and put in an order. They delivered to the homes. Mr. Sneiderman would come by
collecting rags. They had a store near the top of Freedom Street. Later they operated a dry cleaning
I went to kindergarten in the Chapel Street School. My teacher was Mrs. Draper (not related to the “company
Drapers”), and I loved her dearly. I went from first to fourth grade in the Park Street School and fifth through
eighth at the Dutcher Street School.
I had a thing about wheels and motion. Whatever I could find to ride or get on, I did. I’d ask to borrow boys’
bikes. I didn’t like girls’ bikes. Because of the sprocket, there wasn’t enough power. I learned to ride on the
outside because I couldn’t reach the pedals. I’d push it along like a scooter. I’d had a wonderful scooter,
but it was stolen from our backyard. In those days if you didn’t put things away, that would happen. I mostly
just liked to just play outside. I’d walk on my hands, stand on my head; do all kinds of crazy things instead
of sitting and painting my nails. That came later. Much later.
My parents wanted to give me a girls’ bike, but I didn’t want that. On the farm, I found four pieces of wood
and I had one of the hands cut them and make a frame out of them. In the Sears Roebuck catalog I had
found a picture of a red bicycle which I wanted. I cut it out and put it in the frame. (I had painted the frame
red.) I gave it to my grandfather. It took a lot of doing, but at Christmas there it was -- my red bike . . My
friends loved to kid me about that. I’d take the bike in every night and put it in a space we had under the
staircase. I’d clean it every night – all the spokes, the frame, the rims, everything, before I put it away. I took
good care of that bike. Boy, did that bike cruise. Some of my girlfriends wanted to use it on hills, and I’d let
them because they could get up the hills better.
When we’d go somewhere in the car, I hated to get to where we were going. Most kids would say, “When
are we going to get there?” I’d say, “Oh, we’re here?” I just liked the ride; not the destination. My mother was
a great driver of horses, but she didn’t like driving a car. She didn’t get her license until after my father died.
I couldn’t wait to get my license. I received it the day I turned sixteen, and I drove to Rhode Island all alone to
visit my grandparents that same day. I felt so proud to think I could do that. My mother was happy to have
me drive her anywhere she wanted to go. I’d take care of keeping water in the radiator, and I’d make sure
the tires were inflated. I could change a tire, and in those days when flats were very common, I’d do that
often. I kept the car cleaned and polished. I used to put snow chains on, also.
Whatever the season was, I was out doing something. I loved skating. Roller skating or ice skating. I'd
skate on any little pond I could find. First I had the skates that you’d clamp on to your shoes. Then I had
shoe skates, and later I had figure skates. I’d skate until the town bell rang and I had to be home. After I
was married, when the pond wasn’t safe I’d get into the car and drive around looking for little ponds to
I loved skiing. My father put a nail into the end of a pole, painted it black, and that was my ski pole. I wanted
to be outside when there was snow on the ground, much to my mother’s dismay. In later years we had a
club to support activities at the ski hill. It was called the" Comet Ski Club." We collected dues to pay for the
little things needed now and then. We had many enjoyable hours on that hill.
I spent most of my early summers on my grandfather’s farm, haying. There was a girl in a nearby town I’d
visit now and then. Her father had a very lucrative lumber business. The family had a big house where I’d
visit once in a while, but I mostly wanted to stay on the farm.
The three Hanley boys lived next door to me. Their mother was very doting, and would sit in the window to
watch them when they were out. Most mothers at that time didn't drive, so they didn't have the means of
going far beyond the house.
Christmas was always lovely. Everything was decorated. There was a lot of cooking, of course, just like
you'd hear about in old-time Christmases. We’d have our grandparents with us. We celebrated it well.
When my dad was alive, our biggest present would be on the end of a string. One end was attached to the
end of our bed, and we’d follow it until we arrived at the end, and our present. It would go down the stairs
and it might go to the cellar and back up. At the end was our best present. For me, it might be skates –
roller skates or ice skates. I’d roller skate all around Bancroft Park. I had some fancy ones with rubber tires
that I had begged for. When I heard a car coming, I’d hurry to the sidewalk in case it was the police. I
always kept them in mind when I was out performing in the street. There weren’t many cars on the road
I didn’t do much with dolls, but I did have one favorite. I’d play with paper dolls a bit, but I was too busy with
athletics to spend much time with dolls. I’d get a good book for Christmas sometimes. I should have done
more reading than I did. When I had chicken pox, whooping cough, and other childhood diseases, my
mother had this crazy idea that I couldn’t go to the library. I thought that was terrible.
Once when I was in Miss Cressey’s class, my friend Priscilla and I had volunteered to stay after school to
clean the blackboards and erasers. When we finished, I rushed down the stairs and out the door, ahead of
Priscilla. I assumed she was right behind me, and wanting to play a little trick on her, I grabbed the
doorknob and pulled on it so that the door wouldn’t open. After a while, I opened the door and I was
shocked to see that it wasn’t Priscilla, but Miss Cressey who was on the other side. Whooo! I think I’m still
in shock. I don’t recall what she said or did, but it wasn’t anything startling. She liked me.
The biggest event for the whole town in the summer was the Draper field day. The night before, movies
would be shown on the back wall of the Main Office. We decorated doll carriages. My sister even competed
in the high jump. There’d be a baseball game. Baseball was very well thought of way back in the early
years of the park. It was considered quite an accomplishment if you were selected to be on a baseball
team. There were all kinds of track events and potato sack races and all of the usual field day activities.
They made good use of the town park in the summertime. The tennis courts and the baseball diamond
were very well cared for. No cars were allowed in the park. None. Playing tennis on Sundays was forbidden.
I never had the opportunity to take lessons in tennis and other sports, so I had to copy from people who
were good at them. I played field hockey, tennis and basketball. I was kind of short for basketball, but I
could jump. I’d grown some pretty strong muscles for a girl, down on the farm. I wasn’t all that crazy about
swimming, and the reason was that I hated to get my hair wet, because it wasn’t curly. I did take lessons,
up through junior life saving, but stopped there. My mother had insisted that I take lessons at least that far.
I lost my father at age twelve, so I didn’t have him to pal around with. My sister was a lady. She was
attached to Carleton Goff from about the age of fourteen, on through. I was kind of in her way until we got
older, and then we were very close.
On radio there were westerns and mysteries. Tom Mix is one that I remember. We’d go to the movies at the
State Theater in Milford. I think it cost about ten cents for a show. The Ideal Theater was further down Main
Street, but we didn’t venture that far for a movie. We liked the looks of the State Theater better. I might have
found a ride over there now and then, but most of the time we’d walk. I remember going to Milford by trolley
a couple of times when I was with my mother to buy clothes. Later there was a bus service we could take to
Milford. The bus went around Bancroft Park to pick up passengers. When television came along, we’d often
gather at the house of a neighbor who had one. There was a lot of boxing featured on television in those
There were parties, dances and musical events at the Community House. The dances were wonderful. All
the kids, even up through marriage age, would be there. In my dating years, about 17 through 19, we’d go
to wonderful dances in Worcester. The school prize speaking contests were at the town hall. Graduations
were held there, too.
One thing that I remember is the time I jumped off of the Hope Street Bridge. I don’t remember why I did it. I
had always loved to jump. There were lots of railroad sidings that went under the bridge, and often boxcars
would be parked on them. It kept annoying me that the top of the train was often so close to the bottom of
the bridge. I thought I’d like to try jumping down onto one. Just some little quirk in my head said, “Why don’t
you try it?” So I looked things over, and I held on by my hands so that my feet wouldn’t be too far from the top
of the train when I let go. It didn’t take much of a jump, but then I thought, “Oh, dear, if somebody sees me!”
I liked to go up and down ladders. Heights didn’t bother me. I climbed down the ladder on the side of the
boxcar. Priscilla Woodhead was usually my cohort, but I don’t think she was with me that day. So I was the
only one down there with those trains and I had to get up to where people were. I can remember being a
little frightened over that. I was thinking, “I guess I won’t do that again.”
During my high school years, I decided I’d rather be a girl than a boy. In the beginning I thought I’d rather do
boyish things to help my father. They’d had a boy who’d died as a baby. Then they had my sister, and then
me. I figured they sure as heck wanted a boy, and I did my darndest to be one for a little while. Then all of a
sudden, when I reached my teens I thought, oh, this doesn’t feel right. I decided I’d rather be a girl. Thank
I remember a number of super guys who were killed in World War II, including Robinson Billings, Donald
Midgley, Francis Wallace and Leverett Clark. They were considered to be the fair-haired boys of Hopedale.
There were another eleven from town who were killed, and who were just as wonderful, but those four are
the onesI knew.
On Sundays in the winter, we’d go to church and then we’d stop at somebody’s house for a toddy.
Sometimes it would be at our house, sometimes Willard Taft’s house, and sometimes Jean and Woody
Biggs’s house. We’d go into the attic and look for old clothes to put on. We’d dress as foolish as we could.
We had great fun. Then we’d go to the ski hill
Willard on the left. I'm in the top hat and tails. My niece, Jannie, is next to me. Next to her is one of the
Nelson girls from Bancroft Park. Then there’s Woody Biggs in some kind of robe, or maybe pajamas.
That's Jean Biggs on the right, wearing a red bonnet. The photographer said, “Line up,” so we did. We’d go
up and down the hill with these outfits on. Of course we had a little “fuel.” Not much; just a little.
I worked at the Home National Bank for thirty years. One time when there was a bad snowstorm, the roads
hadn't been plowed, so I decided to ski to work. I carried my work clothes in a little bag. I didn’t have cross-
country skis; just regular skis, so going up Northrop Street was difficult. When I got to Main Street, Nick
Tosches, the Milford News photographer, was there. He said, “I don’t believe what I’m seeing,” and he
took the picture. I didn’t ski home. The roads had been plowed by then and I called my son, Jimmy, who
came to the bank and drove me home. When the picture appeared in the paper, it brought in so many
people that George Ellis, who was the bank president, gave me a day off from work, and a hundred dollar
After all these experiences, I'm still here on Dennett Street, and I'm going strong.
Marge Horton, October 2015
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