Wickford Tales

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Mother was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, into a large family of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Her mother died at her birth and her father was left a widower at twenty-two years of age with three little daughters—Cora, Anita, and Lucy. These little girls spent a good deal of their childhood visiting relatives, and every summer they went to stay in Marblehead with their father’s mother, Grandma Candler.

Grandma Candler lived in a lovely old Marblehead house (the staircase is now in a museum) near but not on the water. As a girl, she had said that there were three things she would never do—marry a sea captain, marry a man named John, or marry a widower. Grandfather Candler was all three. His first wife died when he was only twenty, while he was on a trip to China. He married Grandma when he was twenty-four. She was eighteen.

 

They had seven children. One of these was Aunt Sadie, who married “Kissy” Kellogg. Kissy was our horror. He had a long, greasy black beard and always wanted to kiss us when we were children.

Another son was Uncle Fred, who went to China and married a Chinese girl. (We have been told that the first part of Hergesheimer’s Java Head was based on Fred’s experience in the Orient.) After being absent many years, he made a visit home, bringing us rich and exquisite gifts, and was about to return to China when he caught a severe cold and died. About two years after his death we received word that two of his sons were coming to America on a visit. Such consternation! What would we do with Chinese boys who were also first cousins?

They eventually arrived and were met at the steamer by some of the men of the family. Instead of boys they were tall, dignified, solemn Chinese gentlemen who had come as a filial duty to visit their father’s grave. They wanted nothing of us and would not even pay us a social call. They visited their father’s grave in the lovely old Moravian cemetery on Staten Island and then went back to China.

MOTHER MEETS FATHER

In the summer of 1880, when my mother was in her early twenties, my grandfather rented a house in Wickford, Rhode Island. It was called Duck Cove Farm, a sweet, friendly place with beautiful elms lining the drive to the house, which stood right on the water. Grandfather wanted a good harbor for his sloop, the Grey Goose .

Dr. David Greer, afterwards bishop of New York, was then rector at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Wickford. He and his family were delightful gentlefolk who welcomed Grandfather’s family to their rather limited circle. One of Dr. Greer’s friends was David Sherman Baker, Jr., a native of Wickford, an unmarried young lawyer. Dr. Greer suggested one day that he introduce young Baker to Miss Candler, who had only recently come to town.

“Do excuse me,” said the young man, “but I am working very hard just now, and already know so many girls.”

Dr. Greer laughed.

The serious young man asked, “What are you laughing at?”

“That is just what Miss Candler said when I asked her to meet you,” said Dr. Greer.

They were married the following June and went to live at Cedar Spring Farm. It was their home as long as they lived—Father and Mother for twenty-six years together and Mother forty-two years longer alone.

THE LIGHTHOUSE KEEPER’S DAUGHTER

Years ago, Jessie and Sarah Sherman lived in the lighthouse two miles offshore, with their father and mother. The father, Peter, kept the lighthouse and was an essence addict. He drank vanilla and lemon extract and used to be drunk for weeks at a time. The family and everyone else in town was afraid the federal authorities would find out and Peter would lose his job. Jessie and Sarah were expert lighthouse keepers from the time they were eight and ten years old, and took splendid care of the lighthouse lamps. Mrs. Sherman was so fat she just sat.

When Sarah was about eighteen she had a beau, Nat Perry, a high-spirited fisherman with his own boat. Nat wanted to marry Sarah and take her ashore to live. She wanted to marry Nat, but insisted that he live in the lighthouse, for she would not leave Jessie to run the light alone. Her father was a doddering fool who only knew enough to sign the semi-monthly government checks which were their only support.

Nat would bring Sarah ashore for shopping and supplies, and they would fight and argue all over town and ask everyone’s advice as to what to do. The town was as divided as they were—Nat certainly didn’t want to support all the Shermans, as he would have to do if they gave up the lighthouse, and Jessie couldn’t take care of it alone—or said she couldn’t.

Finally, another girl, May Taylor, began to make up to Nat, and told him he was a fool to wait any longer for Sarah because she would never marry him. One lovely June night Nat went in his boat to the lighthouse and told Sarah that if she did not come with him, that very night, and be married, she would never see him again. Sarah of course did not believe him, but he meant it, and married May that night.