Tracy Family Remembrances

[Laura Frances (Tracy) Luders made telephone contact with Katherine Cipolla, Tuesday Club member and chairman of the Loring Greenough House committee.  They agreed that knowledge of the tenants who lived there during the years that the Tuesday Club has owned the house would be a valuable addition to its history.  Laura, therefore, contacted her brother and sisters and asked them each to commit some of their remembrances of the house to paper.  Their efforts follow.]

Our immediate predecessors, as tenants, were Clifford Samuelson, his wife, Rosamond, and for a very short time, their adopted daughter Tamar.  The Samuelsons lived in the house for two or three years according to our remembrance.  During that time, Ruth lived with them as a household helper to Rosamond.  When Clifford, assistant rector at St. John’s Episcopal Church, was transferred to a church in Longview, Washington, he asked that our newly-motherless family be allowed to tenant the house. We moved from 30 Kenton Road, in time for the start of the 1934 school year.

At the time these were the members of our family:

Walter Stanley Tracy, aged 44 years, our father.

Gladys Demmon Tracy, aged eighteen years.  She traveled to the West Coast with the Samuelsons to help with the care of the infant Tamar, and was away for about nine months.

Ruth Nolden Tracy, aged seventeen years, who became mother to us all.

Dorothy Allen Tracy (Dorry), aged fifteen, and the third of the three “big kids.”

To Ruth and Dorry fell the immediate care of the family.  The three “little kids” were:

Priscilla Tracy (Prissy) aged twelve.

Walter Stanley Tracy Jr. (Buddy) was nine.

Laura Frances Tracy was five.

Our sister Dorry died after we left the house, when she was twenty.  Our father died of old age.  As of this writing, the remaining five of us are all residents of the West Coast.  In California, Gladys Olson and Laura Luders live in Santa Cruz; Ruth Christian lives in Gilroy; Walter lives in the San Diego area.  Priscilla Moyer lives in Everett, Washington.  Our ages now range between 67 and 80 years.

Remembrances of Laura Frances (Tracy) Luders
At age five, I could not understand why my brothers and sisters cried when our mother died.  Assured she had gone to heaven and would have no more pain, this seemed reason enough for happy rejoicing to me.  She had been ill so much of my life, I have little recollection beyond making jig-saw puzzles with her in the afternoons after kindergarten, and visiting her in the hospital.

My childhood seems most defined by the years from the ages of five to ten, when I lived in the Loring-Greenough house.  Many of my values and most of my aesthetic appreciation come from those years.  Of values that spring from that time, most important is loyalty to family.  I marvel, now, at what I took for granted then:  the care and responsibility that my older sisters took for us little ones, when they themselves were hardly more than children.

At that time the Loring-Greenough house was in good repair.  The paint, both inside and out, was clean.  The rooms were carefully and tastefully arranged, and remain so in my memory.  The house was, of course, at least twice the size that it appears to be now.  My brother and I lived in the gardens and they are what I remember best.  Buddy was my soul mate and mentor.  A dreamer, a failure in school because he did not conform to the regimen and was bored by the slow pace, he brought home to me the wonders that he learned there.

As the littlest, I was sent up the dark back stairs to my attic bedroom.  I ran past the George Washington bedroom, frightened of ghosts that loomed there.  I hid under the covers from the old elm tree that peered into my bedroom window.  Men with guns lurked in those waving branches.  When I finally fell asleep, Buddy arrived for bed and shook me awake.  We gazed beyond leafless winter branches at stars that twinkled between branches, and he told me wonders of unimaginable distances that he had learned in school.  Our whispering might be ended by a spanking with a hairbrush after Gladys had come back from Washington, and Ruth had moved to Fitchburg to be Christ Church secretary.  On summer mornings, Buddy shook me awake at dawn to run barefoot on the dewy lawn under the elm.  In daylight the tree was transformed from threat to lovely protector and friend.

Seasons were defined by changes under the copper beach tree that still stands.  Though it was forbidden, that was our climbing tree.  In spring we watched a succession of blooms.  First came snowdrops poking their way through the last of the dirty snow, edging the far side of the driveway under the beech tree and continuing toward the old barn that stood where, today, is a young children’s playground.  Snowdrops were followed by crocus, and in summer, mounds of lily-of-the-valley.  In autumn we raked piles of leaves to jump in.  No boardwalks were laid there, so in winter this area became out-of-bounds.  White-painted rocks edged the house side of the drive.  A summer occupation for Buddy was to roll one of these aside so that he and I could watch the ants underneath scurry to carry their eggs to a safer lower level.

Other than the attic, our indoor, and more lived-in home, was the kitchen, and because it was close to the kitchen, under the elm tree was our principal play yard.  That was where Buddy and I had contests, tying each other with clothesline ropes to see who could escape more quickly. He always won.  Only in one of his plans did I prevail.  I don’t know which tree he chose, but he tied a rope from a branch, slipped a noose around his neck, stood on a box, and begged me to take the box away so he could see what it was like to be hung.  For once I refused to follow his direction.

Around the corner, beyond the end of the carriage house and clothes lines, were pear trees.  Others of my family remember the better fruit of apple trees.  I remember the biting acid flavor of one- or two-inch pears, hard and unchewable, which because they might give us belly aches, were forbidden fruit.  They always turned to rotting mush, because no one knew to pick them while still green to ripen off the tree.  In late summer Buddy and I spent happy hours watching bees, drunk on fermented pear juice, reel through the air, finally dropping to the ground where they struggled to get airborne again. Continuing to circle the house, we came to the rose arbor, now gone, which straddled the garden path that still leads from the drawing room door to the side street corner.  Here we watched Rita Souther spend many hours tending her beloved flowers.  She trimmed spent roses, keeping the arbors in bloom all summer long.  In spring the iris bloomed, followed by mounds of phlox and hollyhock.  I made hollyhock dolls of the wilting blossoms.  One summer Miss Souther set Buddy and me the task of gathering hollyhock seed.  I loved pulling apart the tiny multi-toned seeds, stacked like miniature doll plates.  At the end of the day our skin was full of invisible hollyhock prickles and we itched for hours.

The house was edged with lilacs and great bouquets were gathered for the Tuesday Club’s summer garden party.  Between those and the street were a fire tree or burning bush and a smoke bush.  The smoke bush is much bigger now and I’m not sure if our “fire” remains.  There were Japanese lanterns, too, blooming in wonderful orange globes that decorated the house through all seasons in dried flower arrangements.  At the fence Buddy and I had the job of “picking up papers” from candy and gum wrappers thrown over the fence by streetcar waiters.

These were the grounds that have stayed in memory for over half a century and that colored my perception of beauty for a lifetime.  The Loring-Greenough house was my most important home for it gave underpinning to the rest of my life.

Gladys Olson, oldest of the six Tracy children, remembers the Loring-Greenough House
The Rev. Clifford L. Samuelson had come to Jamaica Plain, together with his wife, to assist the Rev. Thomas C. Campbell, rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church.  They had lived at the Loring-Greenough House as caretakers and were now leaving for the west coast.  Through their kindly influence, the Jamaica Plain Tuesday Club permitted the Tracy children and their father to move in.  What a wonderful experience that was for the children, ages five to eighteen!

I am Gladys, the eldest, and here are a few little asides I remember. There were so many kindnesses shown by so many lovely members of the club.  Marguerite Souther, chairman of the board of trustees, was a “maiden lady” and unique.  She conducted a prestigious dancing school and sort of “finishing” school for selected young gentlemen and debutantes.  At one time she was seen up on the roof to examine the cause of a leak! One day she announced to me that she would be coming for dinner!!  What could I serve to such an illustrious guest when we were constantly suffering from a scarcity of food?  We managed.  She said if we ate that well every night, she wouldn’t worry!  Miss Souther was instrumental in sending me to Katherine Shepard School of Nursing, then called Household Nursing Association.  It proved to be a great blessing in
my life.

Dr. and Mrs. Howell were so loving — wonderful.  Their daughters were Hope and Haffie (Martha).  I broke out with hives one day and Dr. Howell came running over from Eliot Street over and over again with a “magic” shot.  The hives would go away and then come back.  After I phoned the third time, I decided I couldn’t bother him anymore so I sat in the window of our third-story living room all night to keep the hives “cool” and ended up with laryngitis instead.  Dr. and Mrs. Ohler were a beautiful family too.  I was honored to be asked to take their youngest, David, to Boston to see “Captains Courageous.”  We had a free time.

I enjoyed taking a turn at the lending library and then being invited to the scrumptious luncheon for the librarians.  Hope Howell, a Smith College music major,played piano for us:  “Jesus, Joy of Man’s Desiring.”

Winifred and Ned Anderson bought their little adopted son, Tad, a dog.  He was a bit apprehensive and said, “might bite.”  So that became the dog’s name.

We lost a beautiful sister, Dorothy (number three of us Tracys), of chronic nephritis, a souvenir of scarlet fever.  Several members of the Tuesday Club, including Mrs. Howell and Mrs. Ohler, came to Fitchburg for Dorothy’s funeral.

Memories of the Loring-Greenough House by Ruth Tracy Christian, second-oldest of the six Tracy children (Oct. 3, 1996)
Living in the beautiful Georgian mansion is still, six decades later, one of the most poignantly memorable experiences of my life.  Having lived for the sixteen previous years of my life in such modest quarters as “three deckers”, on small, weed-covered lots, I was thrilled with the elegance of the place, the formal dignity of the architecture and the antique furnishings, the lovely garden, trees, and shrubs.  It was like a dream fulfilled then and has remained into the present the setting of nostalgic sleeping dreams.

The scent of iris and peonies has always evoked the memory of the garden walk in spring and summer sunshine and in soft moonlight.  The garden was magical after a snowstorm, too.

Impoverished children of the Depression that we were, we were tickled when the two youngest, after playing in the garden one day, reported that children passing by had pressed their faces against the iron fence and said, “Look at the rich kids!”

The kitchen was a favorite place.  Our family, that is we six children, ranging from five years old to eighteen, spent many of our at-home hours there.  The kitchen’s progression of cook-stoves was intriguing.  The original fireplace and chimney had been succeeded by a back-breakingly low iron range.  As I recall it, a more up-to-date coal range stood in front of these.  Strangely, I don’t remember the appearance of the gas range that must have replaced the coal ranges.  Since I spent many hours preparing meals for the family, often with disastrous results, it seems odd not to remember the gas stove vividly.  But maybe those memories have been suppressed because of the humiliation I frequently suffered.  The youngest children used to request in all sincerity, “Ruthie, please make the oatmeal lumpy” or “I hope you burn the chocolate cake; we like it best that way.”  All too often, I complied, willy-nilly.

It was sad to hear of the death of the grand old elm tree that had provided a cool refuge on hot summer days.  I hope the copper beach still stands.  Another happily remembered tree was a little peach tree that produced delicious, juicy white peaches.  One day a young man came by to see this tree.  He had lived at the house for a while when he was a child.  One day, after eating a peach from the grocery, he had planted the pit on a bank by the driveway.  It had produced a little tree while he lived there, and he came by to see if it was still there.  Although it no longer exists, at that time it was thriving and fruitful, much to his delight.

The memories keep tumbling out of long hiding places.  I can relate only a few that I think may not be mentioned by my sisters.  The formidable (to me) “spinster,” Rita Souther, was a colorful, not-to-be forgotten, personage.  Her energetic gardening was a throw-back to her self-proclaimed former incarnation as a farmer.  I was fascinated by the elderly, rather formal but graciously kindly “blue bloods” among the Tuesday Club members.  Next door lived Mrs. White, who was quite scandalized that I planned to work “in the trades” – I think that’s how she expressed it.  She said I must find work in the household of a cultured family.  And when she learned Gladys was going into nursing, she was truly shocked.  I felt as though I had stepped into one of the Victorian novels I was so fond of reading.  The younger, mostly professional members of the Tuesday Club were mostly fun, friendly, and helpful.

One of my worst memories of life at the Loring-Greenough House is of the day three men came banging with the big, brass knocker to announce that they had come to pick up the fire extinguishers and re-charge them, to return them the following day.  With  no qualms, I watched them gather the several extinguishers and load them into their truck.  The next day they were not returned.  I had been the victim of a scam that was popular at that time.  It was an expensive mistake and could have been disastrous, but not one member of the club rebuked me.

Thinking of fire reminds me of the custom in those days of placing lighted candles in all the windows of the first and second floors on Christmas Eve.  The effect was truly lovely, both from the inside of the otherwise dark rooms, and from the outside.  I remember patrolling the rooms, from dusk until midnight, I think, with a very deep feeling of responsibility.  It was a moving experience.

Our own rooms were, of course, under the eaves.  I loved it up there.  To me it was as romantic in its own way as the rest of the house.  The windows of the room where I slept looked out on lilac bushes.  The fragrance on summer nights was heavenly.  But the summer nights under the roof could be cruelly hot and humid.  At such times, I moved the younger children’s beds downstairs into the airy meeting-room on the second floor.  This room was not used by the Club in the summer, when the monthly meetings were not held, and the folding chairs were put away.  As for my younger sister, Dorothy, and me – in the hot summer we slept in the four-poster in George Washington’s bedroom!  Although we made up the bed very carefully and left none of our personal possessions around, I think we must have been discovered, but nobody said a word.  Bless them all.

One last, much-appreciated memory.  Once a month, the Tuesday Club held a tea.  Everything was cleaned and polished, and the house bloomed with spectacular flower arrangements, lovingly created by talented members from their own gardens.  Mrs. ——-spent hours preparing the most delicious treats.  There were many little decorated petit-fours, but I remember best the great platters of a variety of open-faced sandwiches of several shapes, garnished with thin slices of pickles, olives, and pimientos.  Mrs. ——- covered the platters with dish-towels wrung out in cold water, and the sandwiches stayed wonderfully moist and fresh.  There were always many goodies remaining when the ladies departed, and they were all left for our enjoyment.  What a treat!  To this day, little fancy sandwiches, kept moist in the same way, have been my favorite party offerings.

Thank you, Loring-Greenough House and Tuesday Club members for sheltering a struggling family of motherless kids.  We’ll never forget you!

October 5, 1996

Dear Laura,

I’ll dictate this letter to Jean, and she will type it.  Writing is difficult for fingers that tire easily.

Do you remember the teas that the Tuesday Club had with the wonderful leftovers? – all kinds of delicious sandwiches and fancy little tea cakes and sometimes whole 5-gallon cans of ice cream.  I remember Mrs. Ganter, the cateress.  She used to slip me little treats when I walked through the kitchen up to our living quarters while the teas were being held.  I used to find all kinds of excuses to go through that kitchen.

I remember the carnivals, where they had all kinds of games – exhibition wrestling, and pet-show contests.  I remember the stray cat who had five kittens.  We entered the cat family and got a blue ribbon.  Those were the only cats in the show!

When we were back there – Jean, David, and I – I was a little sad to see the Civil War Memorial, a statue of a Union soldier, looking about ready to fall apart.  I would think that the history-minded people in the area would do something to restore it.  Maybe they have by now.

I remember parades on the Fourth of July with GAR members – the Civil War vets of the Union army.

Do you remember the job of picking up papers along the fence?  Sometimes I talked you into helping me.  I remember one time some kids looked through the fence and said, “Look at those rich kids.”  We were quite amused!

I was surprised how small the Loring-Greenough House looked compared to other old mansions.  The grounds were huge to me as a young boy when I had to help with the mowing and weeding.

I remember when the chimes in the tower of the old Unitarian Church, across the street, used to ring up to as many as a hundred times or more on the hour, especially after a storm with high winds.  I thought this was great!  I lay abed at night counting.  It was great fun.  Some old spoilsports in the neighborhood complained, and the chimes were disconnected.  I also remember the beautiful Christmas music programs at that church.

You spoke of the barn being gone.  Do you remember the stories of an escape tunnel that supposedly ran from the house to the barn, where people could hide from Indian raids?  I knew at the time it was nonsense, but I wanted to believe it.  You and I even went into the barn and tried to find evidence of an old entry way.

Do you remember Rita Souther?  On the surface, she was an old battle-ax, but underneath she was very kind and loving, and she treated the Tracys very kindly.  Several times, we were invited to her home to pick currants to take home and make into delicious jelly.  I remember how beautiful the currants were on the bushes – like bright red jewels.  Miss Souther had a delightful little Irish maid with a thick brogue and a lovely, jolly personality.  All these things made our visits a real treat.

When we were back last, we went to the Greenough House and were disappointed to find no one there.  We were peering in windows, when a voice said, “May I help you folks?”  I turned and looked, and there was a pleasant-looking friendly man.  We explained who we were, and he said, “Oh yes, I remember the Tracys.  I’m Hollis Blue.” He told us he was presently the president of the Tennis Club.

Do you remember the small room off of the kitchen that we used as a sitting room and, sometimes, a dining room on special occasions?  Outside was a small porch with a sign-up sheet for tennis court use.  Sometimes, tennis players would look at the sheet and be disappointed.  Not knowing we were just inside, they would use some very colorful language to express their frustration.

I’m sure you and the other sisters will remember more interesting experiences at the Greenough House.  This is all I can think of at this time.  I hope you and Mark have a marvelous trip and visit.  I’m sure you will.

P.S.  Do you remember the candles in the windows at Christmas Eve?  I loved my job going through the house for a safety check every few minutes.

Tracy Family Remembrances
October 1996