Myrtle Goss Eddy
1915 – 1985
Myrtle G. Eddy held the unofficial title of Minister’s Wife at the United Congregational Church of Little Compton from January, 1953 through February, 1960. Known by many as Myrtle or as Mrs. Eddy, I simply knew her as Mother. Her insight and gentle, steady guidance were felt both at home in the parsonage where I was the only child and throughout the congregation and the town where she served in various capacities.
You might have had to look to see Mother’s imprint on activities, but you did not usually have to look far. A few years ago while going through some papers I came across a menu slip from Memorial Hospital in Worcester, Massachusetts, where she was an inpatient for my birth in December, 1944. On the front she had circled the choices of what she wanted on her dinner tray. On the back in her unmistakable Palmer method handwriting was a list of agenda items which my father would need to be handling back at the church while she was in the hospital. Although she was temporarily out of the picture, her direction definitely was not and life proceeded more smoothly because of her efforts.
She was born at home in Boston in August, 1915, the daughter of Joseph Soule Goss of Maine and Vivian (Ritchie) Goss of Nova Scotia, Canada. Their apartment was an exciting place, within walking distance of both the Museum of Fine Arts and Fenway Park. She graduated from Girls’ Latin School (now Boston Latin School) in 1932. Girls’ Latin was founded in 1878 as the first college preparatory school for girls in the country and was modeled after Boys’ Latin, the founding of which goes back to 1630. Mother thoroughly enjoyed ancient history and taking four years of Latin, although she told me that on the flyleaf of one her texts she had written “Latin is dead language, as dead as it can be; it killed the ancient Romans, and now it’s killing me.” But she did appreciate the “hour with the ancients” which is how she described the Latin homework she had to do each night.
It was at the bleakest of the Depression when she graduated from high school and moving on to a regular college program was not an option. She joined her father in an insurance business and worked in some other offices. In one of them she handled the health insurance for the Boston Bruins hockey team. She told me that some of the guys looked pretty well beaten up when they came in to file their paperwork. In the evenings she took courses in the humanities at Boston University for a number of years. During these years she also met my father with whom she had a long courtship. He was in the early part of his junior year at Harvard when they met but they did not marry until 1939 after he had completed Harvard Divinity School and had obtained a pulpit.
Mother began her role as minister’s wife in Brockton, Massachusetts but soon the couple moved on to Wilmington, Vermont for the war years of 1940-1944. September 1944 marked the move to Paxton, Massachusetts just outside of Worcester where I joined them and where we lived together until December, 1952. Dad’s pastorate in Little Compton began on New Year’s Day in 1953 which coincidentally was also his 40th birthday.
My recollections of New Year’s Day afternoon in 1953 are of by Dad laboriously installing our brand new Rhode Island license plates on the old 1937 Ford which they had bought back when they had been living in Vermont. It was a cold, snowy day and nearly dark after Dad had completed the project of wrestling with frozen and rusted screws, scraping knuckles, removing the old plates and finally getting both the new plates on. He insisted we give the plates an inaugural run – we drove out slowly from the Commons, down Meeting House Lane to West Road; then counter-clockwise around the triangle at the intersection and finally back home to a warm supper. Mother’s patience and support for this project and jaunt have become a warm memory.
The United Congregational Church celebrated the 250th anniversary of its 1704 founding in 1954. For that occasion my father had been asked the year before to prepare a church history to be published for the event. He went to see Phil Wilbur, the Town Clerk, who was able to access a large metal box in the Town Hall which held the early church manuscript records. Mother spent a good deal of time pouring over the records with Dad to find material to make the events of long ago church life come alive. I was shown some of the records on a look but don’t touch basis and from them I learned the excitement and benefit of using original historical sources when doing research. I was especially interested to see what a long time after the end of the Revolution it took before the dollar was widely accepted in the new USA. Well into the decade of 1800-1810 the church treasurer was continuing to keep the books in pounds, shillings and pence – an idea I’ve never encountered anywhere else.
During the years I was at Josephine F. Wilbur School going from third through tenth grade Mother became increasingly involved with the PTA, a place where family and community intersected for her. I well remember her having worked in the PTA with many of my schoolmates’ mothers – Corinna Ramos, Dorothy Kaye, Emma Waite and Carolyn Montgomery among others. She was also a chaperone in 1958 when our teacher, Janet Wilber, took the class on a one-day bus trip to the United Nations in New York following our having completed a unit on that world body. While at the gift shop at the UN Mother had Mrs. Wilber smuggle home a UNICEF phonograph recording of children’s songs which I received as a gift for Christmas and which encouraged my early interest in other countries’ folk songs, a genre now known as world music.
Our years in Little Compton drew to a close at the end of February, 1960, when Dad accepted a call to the North Congregational Church in Woburn, Massachusetts, about 12 miles northwest of Boston. But we considered our years in Little Compton to have been the richest part of our life together and I continue to appreciate being able to call the place my home town. Later on when I was an undergraduate at Harvard I was able to strengthen my Little Compton identity by taking two years of intensive courses in Portuguese. Also during my college years while working on family genealogy I discovered that Mother was a descendant of one of the siblings of Elizabeth Alden Pabodie, whose monument is a focal point of the Old Commons Burial Ground. Through this discovery I have found a tie to many people living in town, including the family of Francis Bullock who lived next door to us.
In 1968 my parents moved to my father’s last pastorate which was in Stafford Springs, Connecticut, and I was off to begin a four year enlistment in the US Navy. A highlight of Mother’s later years was a trip which she, Dad and I made in Europe following my 1972 release from active duty in Naples, Italy where I had been stationed. I had purchased a new car and we spent a month touring Italy and then going by car ferry over to Greece. While in Greece one warm morning we drove out to the ruins of ancient Mycenae. At that time there were no gates fencing it off, admission charges, gift shop or restaurant — just a parking lot and a chance to see a piece of antiquity with hardly anyone else there. The Lion Gate at the entrance to the Bronze Age citadel there was built around 1250 BC and is the oldest existing piece of ancient sculpture of its type. As we approached it and its contours became distinct, Mother dropped her jaw and said reverently, “oh my goodness, the frontispiece of my ancient history book at Girls’ Latin.” After all those years she was discovering for herself the real thing at one of those thin places where it’s said that the eternal world and our physical world meet and mingle.
Mother enjoyed retirement with Dad in a garden apartment in Ellington, Connecticut, busy with many activities including a trip to London and a river cruise on the Rhine. After she died suddenly in April, 1985 Dad and I were going through her desk and papers and found that in her journal on her last day she wrote that she was pleased with the good scores she had in bowling that morning. Going on through her filing cabinet we found that everything was in order, and that the file at the front labeled “pending” was completely empty. Thorough and organized as she was, neither of us was surprised.
Her basic optimism, love of poetry and interest in other cultures stay with me and encourage me to keep on reaching out to make more sense of the world, a job she started with me years ago.
Robert Leigh Eddy, Jr.