Helen West

Helen West

1921 – 2016

Helen West. Portrait by Serena Parente Charlebois of Serena’s studio.

Growing up in Pottersville

I grew up over in Pottersville in a family that was five children, one brother and four girls. I went to Number Seven School, first and second grade over there. When the new school was brought down to Little Compton, I went there for grade three and I graduated from the Wilbur School. 

We lived on a farm, and we had our own animals. My father killed pigs and cows. We raised everything we ate, potatoes and everything out of the garden. And, you know, we were a poor family. My father built walls and built wells down in the ground. When they had to stone them all up, he would go down, and they would send down what he needed to stone up the walls. That was a very dangerous job, and he died when he was only sixty years old. My mother was his second wife and she was twenty-some years younger than he.

We walked to school and it was like a mile and a half to walk to school in the snow and everything. Sometimes the damn snow would be up to here. Going up the hill it would get all packed up in there between the two places and the road would be impassible practically, so somebody’d have to shovel it out so we could walk to school.

Mr. Potter’s Wet Wash

When you got over to just before the school, Mr. Potter lived in the house—the white house there—and we’d walk up through his lots and then cross over and go to school. He picked up wet wash. My mother would put stuff in the bag, and then he’d take the wet wash [and wash it.] Then he’d bring it back [wet] and she could hang it out. Because we didn’t have washing machines. In those years it was in the tub—scrub, scrub, scrub.

Sunday School

[My parents did not go to church,] but we did.  We all got to go to Sunday school, because they had a bus that went around to pick us up. I’m one of the oldest members of the Congregational Church. Me and Lois Almy. Lois Almy and I joined this church at the same time.

Business in Adamsville

My father knew more about Adamsville than what I knew, because he had a car and he would bring his corn over to the mill to be ground for jonnycake meal. Sanford’s Market used to be over there, too, and they’d deliver meat a couple of times a week. They had their meat in the truck, and they would come around to all the houses. Gray’s Store used to deliver groceries. When Mother needed something she’d call up, and when they’d come, they’d deliver it. Then, if they’d come to deliver it, they’d take an order for the next time when they were coming around. Somebody else used to come around with fish—a truck with fish—and my Dad used to buy fish from them, too.

Oliver Head House

Lloyd and Grace [Case] had an antiques shop in that white house down there that they owned. Lloyd was the one that sent me to get this house. He said, “Helen, you need to buy that house because it’ll be wonderful for you. Instead of giving your money to Uncle Sam put it in the house. I’ll come up and check it all out.” And he did, because he fixed antique furniture and everything. Mr. Avila had told [my husband] Earle that this house was going to rot and fall in the cellar!  And he said, “You’re gonna get stung good.” But this house is built on granite—great big slabs of granite. It wasn’t going to fall anywhere. So I bought this house in 1952 for $6,000. I came here every day before I went to work and worked in this house until I got it fixed up, so I could rent it. I never lived in this house until after Earle died. He never put his foot on this property. It was my house, and it always has been my house. 

This house is beautiful. It’s got beautiful woodwork in it, over the windows and everything. It’s all fancy. I can show you a picture of the man that built it, Oliver Head, and it shows this house just the way it was when he built it. I bought it from his niece, and I can remember him. He was a man that went around with a horse and buggy and sold fish and different things. The barn was right over here on the corner, and he kept the horse in the barn out here and the carriages and everything was across the way. He owned that land over there, too. 

I love this house.  That’s why I like to live in Adamsville.  And of course my cousins [the Cases] lived down there, and I spent a lot of time with them through the years. Lloyd said, “You’ll never be sorry you bought the house, Helen.” And I have never ever been sorry, but I worked—worked hard.  Everything you have, you have to work for it, right?

Mr. Avila

Mr. Avila lived up the lane. He was a rumrunner in the olden days.  Many women carted rum. I heard a lot about it. Mr. Avila would come with these great big trucks, and he’d bring the stuff in and meet the people on the beach. Of course he had a lot of the local people working for him. The Brayton boys and everything worked for him, rum-running. I don’t know all, but they were always looking for places to stash some so nobody’d know where it was.  Like he’d come and put it in the hay mound or something, and then when he had a chance to sell it he’d come and get it, and they’d take it away. But that bottle right up there is a bottle that came in the rum-running.  It’s full. It’s never been opened! I had this bottle and I had another bottle. I sold the other one at a yard sale, but I said I’m not selling this one because it’s never been opened and it’s the REAL McCoy!

Bottles

My sister and I used to go dig bottles, and I got all old bottles. Some I dug out right here next to the wall, right in a stone heap, because Dr. White lived down there, and he had all this poison stuff to put in his medicines.  So there was a load of bottles down there…loads and loads of bottles. 

Based on an oral history interview with Helen West.

First published in “Remembering Adamsville” by the Little Compton Historical Society, 2013.

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