Elinor Gavin

Elinor Gavin

Born 1927

Elinor Gavin, April 2020. Portrait courtesy of Serena Parente Charlebois of Serena’s Studio.

It’s hard to believe that I’ll soon be 93 years old. Luckily, I can remember some of the old days, and those memories are of happier times. 

I was blessed with wonderful parents and three younger brothers. I grew to appreciate my brothers much more when they became teenagers. As I was the only girl, they considered me to be our parents’ favorite which was not true of course.  Though I may have been a little spoiled. 

We had a great childhood. My father, Raymond was soft spoken, in addition to being kind, and a remarkably good listener.  He gave us good advise, and helped us with our homework whenever asked.  

Dad was born in Little Compton and lived here all his life.  He graduated from RI State College (now URI) with a degree in Agriculture.  

He was not an athlete and had no interest in sports.  When he was about to graduate from College, he was told by “the powers that be” that he could not receive his diploma until he made up his physical education courses.  Dad didn’t want to *do that.  Evidently, he had not attended any classes for that course.  So his response was that he “didn’t care about that piece of paper because he had received his education”.  An agreement was finally reached and Dad was required to do laps around the track. It just so happened that at the appointed time for his run, there was a football game in progress.  Every time he finished a lap, the crowd stood up and cheered.   “All’s well that ends well.’   

Briefly after College, Dad had been a substitute teacher in Little Compton.  In fact, that was how he met my Mom, Clara. It was love at first sight.  Her family had come from New Jersey and lived at Duffield Farm.  Years later, when her folks moved to Providence, she remained here to finish school and boarded at the Fred and Julia Bodington’s. 

In 1926, Mom and Dad were married on her 20th birthday in the Methodist Church. 

Upon their engagement, my father had asked my mother if she wanted a house or a “rock.”  She made the practical choice. 

While their house was being built, they lived in my dad’s cousin, Rufus’s little house across the road from the Greenhouse.  

Farming took up most of his time, as it did with the rest of the Peckham clan.  My father followed that path until the early ‘70s, when my brother Al took over the greenhouse business.

He disapproved of alcohol and cigarettes, so neither were allowed. During prohibition, he patrolled the beaches for rum runners. 

During World War II, he was an air raid warden, whose responsibility it was to make sure that everyone’s shades were down.  He was a dedicated church goer and a life long deacon. Only he & Homer Davis had that honor. Dad was also a faithful “Granger” and chaired many harvest dinners, providing most of the vegetables. His corn was always a favorite.  

He was chairman of the School Committee for 25 years and also was on the Building Committee when Wilbur School was built.  

Back then, most women stayed at home, running the household and taking care of the children. It was a full time job. 

In the cellar of our house there were two set tubs and a washing machine, with a wringer.  A coal bin to supply the furnace was also in the cellar.  

Dad’s sleep was interrupted regularly in the cold weather. Between the house and the greenhouse, he was up and down, stoking the coal fires. 

In the kitchen was a combination gas & electric stove.  In the entry to the house or mudroom, there was an ice box.  My mom had several deliverymen.  Among whom were the grocery man, the laundry man, the bread man, the ice man, and a fruit and vegetable man.   

We were all brought up on raw milk from Rufus’s cow barn.  Nearly every day my brother Al and I took turns walking over to get the milk.  The milk was so good, except when the cows ate cabbage which soured it.  Normally, the cream floated to the top and was so thick you could whip it easily.  

When I was 11 or 12, I had three close friends with whom I spent lots of time, especially in the summer.  They were Sue Snow, Gwen Bodington, and Barbara Brightman.  Barbara came from Providence and in summers stayed with her grandmother, Louisa Almy who lived nearby Peckham Road.  We had paper dolls and designed clothes for them.  When Barbara’s parents would come to collect her, she would often beg them to convince them to let her stay longer.  She ended up spending most of the summers here. 

We went to Briggs Beach most days.  Mom loved the beach too.  Some days, Sue’s mom would take us to Warren’s in the morning and then we’d go to Brigg’s in the afternoon. 

I attended Wilbur School for 10 years and then went to Northfield School for Girls for my junior and senior years of high school.  My 3 brothers attended Mount Hermon.  We were the third of the four generations of Peckhams who went to either Northfield or Mount Hermon, so we kept the tradition going.  Gwen also went there with me.  We lived in the same dorm, having different roommates.  

Northfield was quite a change for me. There were so many rules, yet I met some really nice girls with whom I stayed in touch. All in all, it was a good experience. 

I lived at home and at Northfield during World War II.  Our lives in Little Compton changed somewhat, such as having to ration both food and gas.  Otherwise, we went along in much the same way, and had no idea what was going on in Europe and the Pacific.  The only time we heard about it was when we went to the movies and saw it on the screen. 

Another change was when the Army installed three searchlight batteries, and built a fort near Sakonnet Point. There were soldiers and trucks all over town.  We were allowed to go to movies near the fort.  My brothers and friends rode our bikes there.  We also rode them to the Windmill Hill searchlight battery one day, and played baseball with the soldiers.

The soldiers were allowed to go to Briggs Beach. On occasion, Mom would give them rides from the beach back to their base on the running boards of her car; a big Packard.  Another time, Gwen and I made a cake for the boys.  She carried it on her bike and wouldn’t you know, it fell to the ground.  We picked it up and delivered it to them anyway.  They were happy to have it nonetheless.  Mom even cooked dinner for a few of them one night.  I’d bet this was a fun place to be based.

My brothers and I loved to listen to music on a Victrola.  It was a wind-up which played 75 RPM records.  We also had a combination RCA radio and record player in the sun parlor.  “Moonlight Serenade” by Glenn Miller was always my favorite. Dad was forever telling us to “Turn it Down!”  He got even with us one morning when he blasted a John Phillip Souza march in order to get us out of bed. I also remember the days we climbed on top of a haystack to play “Name That Tune”. Al was the champion.  

Our summers were the best seasons of my teenage years. Dad and my Uncle Bink bought some farmland that reached down to the Sakonnet River. The town had auctioned it off because it had been vacated. The occupants were curiously never to be seen again.

Dad relocated an abandoned chicken coop from our back field to the area near the cliff, closest to the river. There was a steep walk to the beach below. For many summers after, we had countless family picnics, sleepovers, and Dad’s summertime birthdays were always celebrated there.  We always referred to the shed, the picnic area, and the beach below, as “the Coop”. 

The swath of land also included a house up the hill from the Coop, which had quite an interesting history.  It was rumored to have been built by rumrunners. Years later, that rumor was confirmed when the house collapsed into a sub cellar. Large vats were exposed in the sub cellar. 

Further investigation revealed underground pipes which ran down to the riverside.  Evidently, the smugglers intended to have liquor transported in ship hulls, pumped up through the underground pipes into the large tanks. Their plan didn’t appear to be fully operational when Prohibition ended. It was a little too early to finish their project.

I met my future husband, Don Gavin in the 9th grade. Tiverton did not have a High School so those kids had a choice of attending school in Little Compton, Newport, or Fall River.  “Duck” (his nickname) lived in Tiverton and chose Little Compton. He was popular, good looking, and athletic, so he was chosen as Class President.   

The next year, he went to Durfee High School in Fall River, where he could play football. I was away at Northfield then, and Mom would send me articles clipped from the Fall River Herald about his many football achievements.

After graduating from Northfield, I went to Rochester Institute of Technology for three years, majoring in Retailing.  Our schedule alternated on a monthly basis. We went to school for a month and worked in a department store for a month.  It worked well because it was never boring.  I had two great roommates in a dorm room that was equipped with a kitchen & beds that folded down, out of the closets. 

Rochester was a wonderful city with its theaters, good restaurants, beautiful parks, and even a beach. Lake Ontario was close and it reminded me of the ocean.

Both of the schools I attended were fine, but I was always so glad to get back to Little Compton.  

After graduating, I spent one more summer at home to be at the beach before looking for a job. I ended up in Providence working at Gladdings department store. Rather than commute each day, I stayed in Providence with my Aunt Abbie and her son, Don. She was employed as a gym teacher at East Providence High School. 

A year or two later, I was lucky enough to get a job at Bobbie O’Donnell’s Dress Shop in the Lapham Building.  Mom and Abbie often shopped there. One day I went with them, and Bobbie offered me a job doing bookkeeping and selling. Bobbie was a super boss and a fine example of what good merchandizing should be all about. I worked there for about four years. 

Duck was in the Marines for 18 months before the war ended. Then he went to URI and received a degree in education. He also attended courses at Brown. 

His graduation was mid year.  At that time he had a job delivering milk in Narragansett. The day of his graduation, he drove the Hood truck to Kingston, changed into his cap and gown, received his diploma, and went back to work. I was there, but didn’t see too much of him. 

To my surprise, on New Year’s Eve in1952, before we went out, Duck asked Dad for permission to marry me. Dad willingly granted it. Duck proposed to me on the way home!

We planned to be married in April during spring vacation. Of course, we needed a marriage license so I went to the Town Hall to get it.  I walked into Phil Wilbur’s office and asked him what I needed to get the license. He replied,  “Well first. . . you gotta find a man.” 

I had found a good man and we were married at home with friends and family attending.  Following the wedding we went on a road trip to Virginia’s Skyline Drive and Washington, D.C.  

Duck’s first teaching job was in Fairhaven, teaching physical education and coaching basketball & track.  We rented a small 3rd floor apartment on Cole Avenue in Providence.  Duck commuted to Fairhaven and I was still working for Bobbie. We always managed to go home to Little Compton on weekends. 

When I learned that I was pregnant, we moved back to town. Sue Davis’s parents, (the Snows) had an apartment which was available. It worked out perfectly.  Our daughter, Donna and our son, Bruce were both born while we were living there. Mom and Dad were nearby and helpful for babysitting and use of their washing machine. The Snows were wonderful landlords. 

On Easter in 1956, which was also Bruce’s 1st birthday, we moved into the house where I still live.  My brother Al, his wife Mary Jane and their two eldest children, had been living in the house until they had then recently moved into their new home across the road.  

Duck gutted the whole house and restored it completely in his spare time.  Several friends often helped him in doing so.  When we finally moved in, nothing was really finished.  There were stacks & stacks of wood, planks for stairs, saw dust everywhere, and no doors.  Yet, we were in seventh heaven having a house of our own. Our daughter, Tracy was born 3 years after we moved in.

After working in Fairhaven, Duck became Vice Principal at the then, newly established Rochester Regional High School in Massachusetts. He became Principal there after a few years.  Then there was an opening for a position as principle of Tiverton High School which he filled,  In 1973, he became Superintendent of Schools in Little Compton.  He retired from school administration in 1987. 

 Duck & I were asked by the local churches to run a Youth Group in the summers of the late ‘60s. The group was composed of kids from 8th grade through high school.  We planned three events per week, including movies, dances, rollerskating, trips to both Lincoln Park & Seekonk Speedway, and a couple concerts. The kids were well behaved and for us, it was a very rewarding experience.

The Church Fairs were also fun.   Reverend Bob Lawrence and Duck were chairmen of the first BIG fair, when they hired Rex Trailer for the celebrity guest star.  There were questions from the deacons such as “Who is he ?”, “Is he too expensive ?” etc.  None of them had ever heard of him.  The kids knew him though.  He was a cowboy, with a horse who was on TV every Saturday morning. 

The show went on and was a huge success.  Rumor had it that one of the deacons was watching the show out of and upstairs window in the parsonage.   This fair was the beginning of many, many, more like it.  We managed the banana split table after that, with the help of Mal & Doris Beattie, & Dot Dennis, for many years to follow.

In the mid ‘80s we established a Christmas tree and Blueberry farm in the hay field across the road from our home.  My mother said to me, “Your father would be proud of Duck, but he would have been happier if he had raised potatoes.”  Oh well.

Once the farm was running, our success was due largely to our wonderfully loyal customers and the great help from the boys we have hired.  In the early years, the boys were from town.  Years later, our grandson, Raymo was in High School and recruited boys from Portsmouth.  Raymo had been helping his Grandfather from an early age, so he was well prepared for the task.  He has since relocated to California.  To this day, the same boys are college graduates and have “real jobs”, but continue to help us during the season.  Raymo has surprised us to return to help on a few busy weekends.

Duck and I were married for 66 years and were rarely apart.  Over the years, we went to numerous high school sporting events and chaperoned many dances and proms.  

In later years we would go with Al & Mary Jane up to Northern New England in the Fall.  I would generally say before our journeys, that the foliage will be beautiful.  Invariably, Duck would exhibit his notorious sarcasm and say, “if you’ve seen one leaf, you’ve seen them all.”

We were fortunate to have Little Compton as our home and. to raise our children here. 

I thankfully have most of my family nearby.  Bruce and Tracy live in town, and Donna lives in Jamestown.  Donna has two daughters, Chelsea & Hannah.  Chelsea & her husband Charlie, have a one year old daughter named Elinor !!  Bruce & his wife Jane have 3 children, Tom, Matt, & Elizabeth, and 6 grandchildren.  Several of my nieces and nephews live close by, along various members of the extended Peckham clan. 

Duck suffered a stroke in early 2015.  Fortunately, he remained ambulatory though unable to work on the farm.  He convalesced at home and stayed in generally good spirits until he passed in May of 2018.   

Out of curiosity, I figured that I had prepared 66,562 meals for him.  It wasn’t difficult because he always cleaned his plate.  Now that he has gone, cooking for one isn’t much fun.  

Writing this has been a good distraction and I hope someday my children will also write their stories.  Maybe I”ll still be around to read them. 

Elinor Gavin

April 28, 2020

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1 thought on “Elinor Gavin

  1. Oh, Mrs. Gavin: I remember you and Mr.Gavin so well. I was quite close to Donna and was a guest at several of Donna’s sleepovers at your house. Even now when I drive on Peckham Road I remember Donna and Kathy and the fun I had with those girls. I thought you were so lovely. Thank you for these wonderful memories.
    Megan (Davis) Weymouth