Hilda Marguerite Perry Wildes
1917 – 2007
My mother Hilda was the youngest of 3 children born to Chester C. Perry (1876-1924) and Stella Brownell Perry (1886-1966), and grew up in the Russells’ Mills area of Dartmouth, MA. She attended Russells’ Mills Grammar School, and graduated from Dartmouth High School. After graduation, she continued her studies at Kenyon Business School in New Bedford, MA; and then worked in the secretarial field for several years.
In 1943, at age 25, she married my father Merrick K. Wildes, who she had first known in her Dartmouth school years. By this time, Merrick had moved with his mother and siblings to his mother’s Shaw family property in Little Compton, RI; and had started dairy farming there, to support his mother and 5 younger siblings. Hilda and Merrick first lived in a cottage/camp (a converted chicken coop!) on the Shaw property, then shared the main house with his mother and siblings; before moving to the Sisson Farm at the corner of John Sisson road and Bixby Road in 1946. (At that time, the southern end of Long Highway was known as Bixby Road). This was also the entrance to Goosewing Beach. The farm and beach were all owned by the Truesdale family; and Merrick and Hilda rented and farmed that property until it was sold in 1994.
Hilda’s life was busy with farm and family. She and Merrick had 4 children: Meredith 1943, Emerson 1945, Everett 1947, and Susan 1950. The dairy farming business grew in size, using both the Shaw Road property, and the Goosewing property for crops and pasture. Mom’s days were filled with the usual farm wife chores: cooking, doing laundry, raising children, and occasionally herding stray cows (although she claimed to be afraid of them, and preferred to be on the other side of the wall or fence) or driving a farm tractor or truck when hay or corn was being harvested.
Hilda will probably be best remembered, mostly by out-of-towners, for her job collecting the fees for customers to Goosewing Beach. Since she only needed to step out the kitchen door to meet the cars and reach out for the cash, many customers assumed that the family owned the beach. This meant that Hilda would listen to their various complaints about the beach – the cost, the condition of the bathhouses, the rocks, the seaweed, the fog, etc. She patiently listened and sent them on their way, not bothering to tell them that she was not the owner!
Summertime was particularly busy – besides tending to the beach customers; the household would increase in size, as Hilda’s mother Stella and step-sister Irene would come to spend every summer with the family. The kids, being out of school, would often traipse in and out of the house, bringing their friends and cousins, with wet bathingsuits and soggy sandy towels, or covered in hay, into the house looking for a meal or cold drink of homemade rootbeer.
Local food was abundant – there was a big vegetable garden every summer, lots of wild blueberries and blackberries for pies, slumps, and cobblers; clams from Quicksand pond in the summer, herring from Tunipus creek in the spring; and the occasional slaughter of a cow or some chickens. Sometimes a local hunter or fisherman would drop off part of their catch – a goose, pheasant, striped bass, tautog. All these required the extra work by Hilda to prepare, or put up for the winter.
Mom was a kind, quiet, modest woman. She never gossiped or spoke badly about anyone; and rarely offered a negative opinion. She never swore – would not even say the actual name of her ladies’ S&B club (stitch and bitch)! She handled child-rearing responsibilities with patience and quiet encouragement. Raising 4 children must have been challenging; but never did Hilda raise her voice or lose her temper when things got out of hand.
Hilda enjoyed sewing, making clothes for herself and her daughters; then teaching them how to sew, first on an old treadle machine. She was also an avid reader, and always had library books at the house. When a discussion or question would occur during supper, Hilda would get the dictionary or encyclopedia to look things up and settle it right then.
For many years, Hilda (and Merrick when he had time) were active in the local Grange. She served as Worthy Secretary at their regular meetings. There were suppers to put on, plays and skits to perform in, and a Harvest Fair every August. The Grange provided them with a useful connection to other town and farm folks, and several long-lasting friendships.
During the children’s school years, Hilda became actively involved in the Wilbur School PTA, serving in various offices, one of which was the Nominating Committee. She was also an active member of the United Congregational Church; doing her share of teaching Sunday School and “Tuesday school” .(Tuesday school was a program that ran for years, allowing elementary students to leave Wilbur school early every Tuesday afternoon, walk up Pike’s Peak, and attend classes at St.Catherine’s Church and the Congregational Church; then return to Wilbur, to get the bus to go home.) She and Merrick were members of the Richard Billings club, and she was active with the Ladies’ Aid, putting on suppers and helping with the church fair. Later, her sewing skills were put to use, helping to make all those potholders that are probably still in many homes.
Hilda lived to be 90 years old.
She saw her kids grow up, attend college, pursue their careers, and get married. She and Merrick watched and worried as Emerson and Everett both were sent to serve in the Vietnam war, and both came safely home. She enjoyed seeing her five grandchildren grow – watching their sports games, attending dance recitals and band concerts, and sharing in their 4-H achievements. And for many years, she enjoyed the company of her lady friends of the S&B club, meeting every Wednesday for tea, goodies, needlework and chitchat.
Susan Wildes Collins, Daughter