Marion Barrows Wilbur Gifford

Marion Barrows Wilbur Gifford

1910 – 1986

Marion Gifford. Courtesy of Doreen Medeiros.

Marion Gifford was born on September 5, 1910 to John H. Wilbur and Leila Barrows Wilbur in the town of Westport, MA. Although she and her family lived in Westport they spent many days in Little Compton for either work or visiting family. Her ancestors were among the founding fathers of Little Compton and she was a descendant of the well know Wilburs. Her name and her descendants are in the historical Wilbore books of Little Compton.

Marion met Joshua W. Gifford and the two were soon married on May 25, 1929. Not long after their marriage Marion’s wish of moving to and settling in Little Compton came true. Once here they rented a few house’s and worked at various jobs. They eventually bought their own home on Long Highway which included quite a large parcel of land. This is where they raised their three children: Arnold, Harold and Martha. The house would remain in the family until Marion died. The large acreage of land though was sold during the Great Depression to the Chase family. It was a difficult decision for them to make but times were tough in those days and they had little choice but to sell the land. Today that land is owned by the state of Rhode Island and under the Divisions of Environment and Wildlife and Fisheries it became now known as the Simmons Mill Management Area. Their home was not only was a place for their family but also a source of income. They raised many animals for food and to sell. They even bred and sold boxer dogs. Avid gardeners, they planted a huge garden where they grew many different types of vegetables. However the majority of this garden was planted with flowers to cut and create bouquets for sale at their roadside stand. They had a particularly large area of the growing iris. Each morning Marion would open a gate to let her geese out so they could wander around the yard. One gander in particular claimed the iris garden as his domain, defending it from all who dared come near, Marion however was the boss and the gander respected her lest it receive a stern scolding. Marion and Jot, as her husband was known, were well known throughout the town for their beautiful iris. Marion was often seen cutting some of them for people who would stop buy to admire and ask if they could buy some. Many of them would inquire if Marion would be willing to sell some of the tubers, commonly known as “toes”. The couple even cultivated a stunning pure black iris and as word got out were soon selling the tubers across the country. Summers at their house was always busy time with many people stopping at their small farm stand to purchase cut flowers, berries or homemade jam.

Marion was a classic example of what some would refer to as a Swamp Yankee. A bit of a gruff character at times she believed in hard work, family and especially religion. Never one to mince words she told you just what she thought, and how you should do something. Her “early to bed early to rise” day began at 4am and ended in bed by 7pm. Marion was very strict in her beliefs and values and would not hesitate to enforce them within her family. Although I am not really sure where these ideas came from it was always interesting to hear them but dared not to disobey or question. Back in that time she had old familiar sayings that stuck with me as a child, such as “red at night sailors’ delight” and “red in the morning sailors take warning”. Another amusing one was “mackerel sky neither wet nor dry”. Some of her other beliefs were ones such as you do not drink ice cold water, or eat certain foods like olives or pickles. According to her these things were harmful to the body. And you absolutely did not drink alcoholic beverages! And if you dared put your shoes on the table you had put a curse on her house. There is a funny story about our grandfather Joshua that circulated throughout the family after his passing. While cleaning out the cellar and the barn, two places that was his domain, we found several caches of various banned foods hidden in hidden in nooks and crannies and behind wood doors. Obviously hidden away from Marion and enjoyed in secret.

Marion worked as a cook for the Hawes family who lived in the Westport Point area. She held this job for many years and known as a fantastic cook and baker. Everyone craved her delicious pies and if you were fortunate enough to receive one of them not only were you quite happy but much honored. My grandmother would not make you a cake for your birthday but instead ask what flavor pie you wanted. I always chose pineapple chiffon. Her cakes and rolls were also delicious but the pies were heaven in a crust shell.

Probably the number one thing that people in this area would associate with Marion Gifford would have to be the church suppers at the Acoaxet Chapel in Westport, a place of worship that she took great pride in being a member of the congregation and in taking great care of the chapel itself. Service was held at 6pm on Sunday nights, with many Little Compton residents in attendance. The suppers under Marion’s management and watchful eye became a tradition that was looked forward to by everyone who ever attended one. As word spread throughout the area and the need for tickets steadily increased two seating times were put in place. All who came to eat raved about Marion’s food. She was the main cook and I can still picture her in the church kitchen getting the hams ready to roast and putting brown bread in the coffee cans to bake. She made pie after pie, filling a long table end to end with these delicious desserts. All of the food for these monthly church suppers was made from scratch from her own personal recipes. Although Marion is no longer with us the tradition of these suppers lives on to this day.

Marion was very active in the community, becoming a member of or starting many groups. One group that she began was the quilting club. These ladies would meet weekly usually at Marion’s house, to cut, stitch and chat. Their quilts were always created the same way using handmade squares stitched together with the only thing that changed from quilt to quilt were the patterns. Many of these patterns were of individual members own design. So popular and in such high demand for something considered by many as works of art that people would go on a waiting list to purchase for one of these treasured quilts. Whatever the price they would gladly pay it. The monies, less expenses, went to the church. Everyone in the family would receive a quilt for their wedding and new baby. I was devastated when my last quilt, made by her and my mother, fell apart after 30 years.

Marion took great pleasure in going to flea markets, traveling to Island Park or Tiverton Four Corners in search of cloth, buttons or any little thing that caught her fancy. Her favorite outing was going to Fall River to the discount cloth store where she could get fabric scraps and cloth in bulk. Believe it or not another favorite stop while in the city was for lunch at the Mark You Chinese restaurant. As an avid collector of shells Marion belonging to a group of collectors from around the world. She would write to the others in the group to discuss various opinions, share some research she had done and trade shells with other members. Her personal collection was huge, and always on display under glass in her home. Of course her displays included a prominent sign with the warning DO NOT TOUCH!  When warmer weather set in she enjoyed going clamming; a must for her at least once a week. This was the only time you would ever see Marion wearing pants but always with her dress over them. It always amazed me that as she walked along the waters edge at  Fog Land beach in Tiverton she would suddenly stop and plopping down on the shore she would say dig here” and sure enough a large amount of clams were hidden there just below the surface and unaware they would be soon dug out and heading to the pot.

In the later years of her life she still got up at 4am, heading out to the Commons Lunch for a 5am breakfast, enjoyed in the company of the local fisherman and farmers. They all loved chatting with Marion as she told you how things should be done and often a promise to make them a pie if it was their birthday. An hour or so later she would leave the restaurant, take a ride around town which always including going to the Point, then home to do her chores. Every day friends and relatives stopped by her house for a visit that always included a cup of coffee and a sweet treat of some sort. Age did not stop Marion’s activities and taking care of herself in her home until her sudden passing on September 14, 1986.

Doreen Medeiros, Granddaughter

March 2020

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