Williamstown Branch


I don’t suppose I ever even spoke a word to a gypsy. One reason was the usual one of shyness, together with the belief that they probably didn’t speak English at all but some outlandish language of their own. Another reason was that gypsies were suspected of kidnaping children, carrying them off, and bringing them up in their turn to be gypsies and kidnap other children.

One lot of them camped one spring or summer night between the General E. Bass house and the Pool Bridge. They had horses and gaily painted wagons and carts; their women were in bright colors, with much jewelry and handkerchiefs over their heads; even their menfolk were picturesque with earrings and sashes. No doubt their business was horse-trading and no doubt they traded some. But for me they had again the immense allurement of people who had no abiding homes but traveled wherever they wanted to, all over the face of the earth.

Even if I didn’t talk to them, I could walk by them slowly, and look at them, and come back after a while and take another look. Their camping arrangements were simple. They didn’t have to have hot and cold running water, the way they would now; nobody had hot and cold running water then, except President McKinley, Queen Victoria, and J. P. Morgan, and I wasn’t sure even about them. And their other sanitary needs were easily taken care of, in that free generation and place, when sanitation wasn’t even a word we knew. So they unhitched their horses and let them graze beside the road, which was the property of anybody that wanted it and it didn’t require permission if a horse wished to graze beside it.

I didn’t want to be kidnaped by a gypsy, and I was not. But I did keep thinking, as I saw this encampment, and especially as I smelled what the gypsies were cooking in iron pots over open fires, What would it be like to be kidnaped by gypsies and grow up and be, to all intents and purposes, a gypsy?

The next best thing to the gypsies that came to WiIliamstown, and that kept alive in me the spirit of travel and adventure, were the Uncle Tom shows and an occasional vaudeville show that played for a night in the Town Hall.

The Uncle Tom shows had a good deal besides Uncle Tom, Little Eva, and Simon Legree and one or more Lawyers Marks. They had a horse or two, sometimes an elephant, sometimes a man who walked a tightrope and did tricks on it, once in a while a trapeze performer, and a girl who did something or other and had spangles all over her. Everything that didn’t have anything to do with Uncle Tom was called a Sacred Concert, and cost ten cents extra.

I think a small, one-ring circus came to Williamstown at about that time, too, and some boys carried water for the elephant and got a free ticket as a result.

We did get to see the Uncle Tom shows, and maybe a one-ring circus or two in Williamstown—but I am puzzled about this, because my recollections are scrambled. I suppose one might say this was one manner of traveling; one didn’t go all over the world, to Barre Quarries, and Burlington, and Quebec, and China and such places, but the flavor and smell of the far-off rolled in upon us under the big tents, and it was as if WiIliamstown had removed itself, for a night, to Burlington or Chicago or China, or one of those places.

A few traveling vaudeville shows came through, too, and did somewhat the same thing, only they were not quite so glamorous. Before I left Williamstown these shows usually carried a few reels of film and a motion picture projector, and we thought this was wonderful and in many ways better than the magic lanterns we had at home.

But what I recall of the vaudeville shows was chiefly the girls or women who kicked up their heels and danced and sang. There was one who had red ruffles under her dress, practically all the way down to her knees but no further, and I wondered if I ought to look at them.

My father repeated that some day he would hire a rig from the livery stable and take the whole family to the Barre Quarries. He might as well have said that he would hire a rig and take us to San Francisco or Bombay. My father never took us to the Barre Quarries. His health broke first, we children went away for our schooling after we had passed through the Williamstown Graded School, and that was the end of that.

Before I saw the Barre Quarries for the first time I had crossed and recrossed the United States as far as San Francisco and the Pacific; my father had gone to California, where he died; my mother, too, was dead; the rest of the family was scattered geographically, though united by common affections, memories, and experiences.

Twenty-one years after the year to which these memories and experiences at the moment tether me, I took my wife to Vermont. That was 1919. The granite sheds were no longer operating in Williamstown. Of the recollections of my childhood there survived the Williamstown Branch of the Central Vermont, soon to be abandoned; the Monument House or its successor; the J. K. Linton store, which had become a farmers’ cooperative; and the General E. Bass house.

The automobile had not captured all the roads, especially not the side roads. I said to my wife, “Let’s hire a rig at the livery stable and go up and look at the quarries.” So we hired a rig at the livery stable and went up and looked at the quarries.

I was glad enough I had waited for my father to take the family there, even though he had never been able to do so.

But I was sorry for him, to whom it made no difference any more, that he had never been able to lay his hands on quite enough money.