by Librarian Tony Pikramenos
Thanks to Marjorie Swain, who spent several hours watching the desk while I attended a library workshop. She has been a lover of the library for many years, beginning in the 1930s when she would sometimes cut the grass. One of those years netted her $2.20 for her efforts.
There are some birds nesting behind the awning on the library portico. They look a bit like robins, but smaller. Swallows, perhaps. They are chatty and territorial but have not yet assaulted me. The same sort of bird was nesting there last year. Incidentally, my wife and I have a metal ashcan that we keep in the yard during the months we burn wood. For a couple of weeks, before the cold gave out, a red-faced woodpecker frantically drummed on it twice a day.
Thanks to David Morse for hosting the library’s Sugarhouse Hopping program in late March. The turnout was small, but Mr. Morse’s enthusiasm never waned as he took us through the syrup-making process. There were samples, as promised, but a hinted-at discount for the librarian on a maple syrup purchase failed to materialize.
Up to now the library has primarily been a repository, a place to store books. We have done our level best to turn it into a community gathering space. Time and again, however, in the middle of a discussion, workshop, or recital, one or more patrons have had to make full-bodied retreats with full-to-overflowing bladders. Preschool story hours have been especially dicey, not least for the librarian, who has on occasion been called upon to empty the potty.
So I am thrilled to report that after years of mind-numbing effort by all concerned, after the uncovering and re-covering of the well, once in the rain, once in the snow, and twice by the lights of a ‘93 Ford Festiva, after consultations with Junior, Uncle Charlie, Dot, Burkie, Bud, and the secretary of state, there is a plan underway that will result in not only a lift for accessibility, but also a bathroom with running water.
I was sorry to read that Eva Gasper had died. She was 102 years old. Eva was still writing the town news column for Reading in the Vermont Standard when I started working here in 2001. Every Saturday morning she would telephone me at the library and ask, “What’s the news?” After writing down each item, she’d ask, “What else?” Even after three and four and five items, she’d keep asking, “What else?”
She wanted news, not repeats. Once, when I wanted to remind patrons that we had a series of story hours in progress, Eva replied, “I reported that two weeks ago. Anything else?”
She always called at 10 A.M. on the nose. If I was running late to work, she’d leave a message. “Well,” she’d say into the answering machine, “my notes have it that the library opens at 10 o’clock—where are you?”
One afternoon, I delivered a couple of Western novels to Eva at her home. She was eating a mayonnaise sandwich. We chatted for a bit, during which time I asked her about Minnie Fay, the town’s first librarian. Minnie served forty years, from 1899 through 1939. I asked Eva what she remembered about her. Eva thought for a moment and said, “She didn’t care for drink, and was only just tolerable of drinkers.”
Although it saddens me to know I’ll be disappointing Minnie, tonight I’ll raise a glass and drink to Eva Gasper.
A decades-old quest, rivaling that of King Arthur’s knights, may be coming to a close. A late-model revision of a newfledged plan (Plan L) for a bathroom with running water and septic has been approved by state and local officials. The board and I would like to publicly thank the historical society for providing us with an easement to tap into their well. Without their generosity, the project could not have gone forward. We hope to begin construction in the spring. Stay tuned.
On Halloween night, 77 children stopped by the library for treats. The portico was decked out with jack-o’-lanterns courtesy of Reading Elementary’s K-1 kids. Later in the week the librarian, after glutting himself with leftover chocolates for 3 days, finally got around to acknowledging the kindness of the K-1 class by turning over to them what was left of his candy cache.
The board and I would like to thank Karen Appleton and Colleen O’Connell for their efforts on the library’s behalf the past several years. Sarwar Kashmeri and Kevin Forrest have stepped in to replace them. (It is especially gratifying to have landed Mr. Forrest, who a few weeks back tried to strong-arm the librarian into writing the Reading column for the Standard. The library board decided that the best course of action would be to put Kevin to work for us instead. And he has graciously played right into our hands.)
I’d like to thank Stephen Ells for the photograph of Inez Burnham, which has been framed and now sits on the mantel in the library. Beginning about 1916, Mrs. Burnham was assistant librarian to Minnie Fay. After Minnie’s death in 1940, Inez became library director and held that post until 1954. A couple of years ago, while rummaging in the library attic, I found a small journal that belonged to her. Most of the entries are notes on library-related themes. “Librarians should be entirely neutral on religious matters, cordial and helpful to all” is one example. The last several pages of the journal, however, are notes she kept on her radio-listening. Dates, times, channels, stations, programs, and signal locations are reported. Those were the days when, if the night was clear, a Vermonter could catch a stray radio wave from Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Philadelphia, New Jersey, Montreal, or Nova Scotia.
On September 25, 1927, Inez writes that at midnight she listened to Melody Hour, broadcast out of Buffalo, channel 15 on her radio dial. On October 4 of that same year, she heard “Twilight” sung by Miss Eva, contralto, at 10:30 P.M. on W.P.G. out of Atlantic City, channel 54. Later that month on the same station, she heard an address by Admiral Byrd, the polar explorer. She writes that it was “most interesting.” November’s highlights included speeches by Clarence Darrow and Calvin Coolidge (“very faint”), and an Armistice Day service from Chelmsford, England, relayed by W.G.Y. in Schenectady, with musical selections “God Save the King” and “Tipperary.” In December, on W.L.W. out of Cincinnati, she listened in as the American Society of Arts and Letters awarded a medal to Otis Skinner (“not present”) for excellence of diction on the stage.
Then this journal entry for January 2, 1928:
The surprise for today came over the radio. I put on the headset after dark, just to see if there might be some news, and I heard the announcer saying, “The sky is so blue and the air so balmy in Southern California this afternoon,” and lo! I was listening to the Rose Carnival at Pasadena. Think of it, transported in a moment from a below zero world to a land of roses and sunshine, each place lovely in its way. Milton Sills was introduced, and told of his beautiful rose garden. The game was a good one, Pittsburgh vs. Stanford at the Rose Bowl: “. . . Murphy, shaped like a garden gate, coming down the line . . .”
Inez was 51 years old that year.
The library bathroom, which paralleled the Florence Cathedral in building and design complications, is finally up and running. We want to thank everyone who lent a hand during the gargantuan enterprise, which lasted some two decades. A special thanks is owed to Charlie Howgate for guiding us through the snarl of twenty-first century zoning regulations.
The Ladies’ Night Out Book Club has proved to be a whopping success. I am the only male participant and have been serving as the group’s mascot, not a bad gig.
The library has a photocopy of a reminiscence by Adin Estabrook. He was born in Reading in 1828. Much of the thirty-page document recalls settlers on or around Stone Chimney Road. A while back, my daughter and I walked the length of the road with Cornelia Sanderson and Laura Griggs. We inspected the Old Stone Chimney, we visited some cellar holes that used to provide the foundations for houses where some of the people mentioned by Estabrook lived, and we found four or five graves, tucked in the woods, where a few of the people are buried.
The following is from Estabrook’s reminiscence:
“The Reading Library was formed about 1820, and burned in Levi Fay’s shoe store about 1845. It contained about 300 volumes and was supported by contributions. Among the books was Stephen Burrows and How He Was Caught on the Hay Mow by an Accomplice, who when asked where Burrows was, pointed to the hay mow, saying, ‘He is there if not in the barn.’
The librarian was Henry Conant, uncle of T. C. Conant of Felchville. He did little more than read and take snuff, with which his white apron was completely covered by the yellow. He was also used to snuffing till he had become deformed.”
Not an auspicious start for our library, I’ll admit, but I like it.
It seems I am a charter member of the Reading Social Club (Men’s Division). This super-secret society has met twice at the 1815 House for cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, and intrigue. I’ve not quite got the handshake and the hat fits funny, but these are mere quibbles.
Beginning in 1948 and continuing into the 1960s, Sherm Howe, Sr., who lived in the stone house just below Keeper’s, edited a twice-monthly local newspaper called the Reading Review. The following is a list of town organizations that are mentioned during those years.
Friendly Circle, Pinnacle Homemakers of Reading, Mother’s Club, Home Demonstration Club, Ascutney View Garden Club, Reading Christian Union, Young People’s Fellowship Group, Felchville Odd Fellows Lodge #62, Happy Thought Rebekah Lodge #45, Valley Grange #317, Past Noble Grands Association, Reading Community Club, South Reading Community Club, Reading Players (a theatrical group), Men’s Choral Club, Reading Square Dance Group, Reading Marching Band, Rolling Hills 4-H Club (Felchville), Green Mountain 4-H Club (South Reading), Future Homemakers 4-H Club (Village and Town-Line groups), P.T.A. (Felchville), Stone School Parent’s Club (South Reading), Reading Cub Scout Pack #100, Reading Boy Scout Troop #36, Explorer Scout Troop #36 (boys 14 years old and up), Reading Health Council, Harmony Association (Hammondsville), Old Time Ball Committee, Memorial Day Committee, Reading Odd Fellows Bowling Team, Reading Legion Bowling Team, Reading Bowling Club (1 men’s team and 2 women’s teams, along with a couples’ team), Reading Wildcats Junior Baseball Club, Softball Club (adults and juniors), Youth Group Volleyball Team, Felchville Cemetery Association, Women’s Auxiliary of the Reading Fire Department, Reading Historical Society, Reading Junior Historical Society.
Not too shabby for a town whose population in 1957 was 470 people.
Last fall, a guy from a town that borders Reading came in to ask about legal help. He couldn’t type and had never used a computer. I found a Website and printed out several pages of legal material for him to look over. He began coming in regularly after that.
A friend of his died several years ago. The guy has got it into his head that his dead friend left him a fortune. The only thing is, the wife of the dead friend won’t talk to him, and has yet to probate the will.
For eight months now, the guy has been coming in like clockwork to check a Website that lists probated wills in the state where his friend died. Every ten days or so we check the Website for his friend’s dead name, and we talk about what the guy will do once his ship comes in. The dead friend’s name is never on the list. The guy always manages to keep his face intact when I say, “It’s not there,” always acts unconcerned, but each time seems a bit more embarrassed about the whole business. He keeps coming in, though. And we keep checking the Website.
The wife’s got four years to probate the will. The four years are up in September.
Thanks to all who contributed to November’s Pig Roast, including Norm Dupuis, Bud & Ann Gibson, John Philpin, Tim Bishop, Steve Moore, Karen Sayer, and Matt Cole. Peter Bennett and the Reading Social Club (Men’s Division) raised $225 for the Reading Food Shelf. By all accounts a delicious and hearty meal of pig, potatoes, carrots, beans, salad, and rolls was served up. The event, however, was not without a hitch or two. In a rare difference of opinion, the social club couldn’t decide between apple pie or apple crisp for dessert, tried to split the difference in the mixing and the baking, and ended up with neither. Those of us responsible for the concoction agreed that in a pinch the crust would make a decent substitute for drywall paste. Over on the plus side of the ledger, It was decided that Diane Moore’s baked beans are the best in town, Germaine Allen’s rolls are small mouthfuls of Heaven, and that Peter Bennett is a natural-born King of the Pig Roasters.
Across from the library, at 726 Route 106, is what used to be called the Little Hall. Originally, the building was located in South Reading, though no one’s sure where exactly. An old photograph seems to place it on the knoll near the intersection of Park Circle and Matthews Drive, but that’s just guesswork. From 1893 to 1902 it housed the South Reading Cheese Factory. Sometime after the cheese factory closed, the building was moved to the spot it now occupies in Felchville.
From the late 1940s to the early 1960s, the Little Hall played host to the following events: penny bingo, card parties (Pirate Whist & Progressive Whist), a Valentine party, masquerade & square dances, bazaars, movies; also chicken pie, oyster, ham, covered dish, and baked bean suppers; a Boy Scout program & a Cub Scout banquet; bridal showers, wedding receptions, stork (baby) showers, wedding anniversary receptions, receptions for outgoing & incoming local ministers as well as for a new town doctor; also meetings of the Grange, Odd Fellows, Rebekahs, P.T.A., Reading Christian Union, Pinnacle Homemakers, Reading Health Council, Square Dance Club, 4-H Club, Civilian Defense, Windsor County Farm Bureau, Ascutney View Garden Club, and Sons of Union Veterans along with the Auxiliary (female relations) to the Sons of Union Veterans; also miscellaneous lectures.
Cornelia Sanderson, who used to frequent the Little Hall, told me what she remembers about the interior. “It was plain,” she said, “with a dining room downstairs and a kitchen in the back end, toward the brook. Upstairs was quite plain too, but there was a stage where they had plays, I think, at one time. I’m pretty sure there was a curtain on the stage.”
Cornelia said that the building had indoor plumbing as far back as she can recall, and that the dancing took place upstairs, in an auditorium of sorts. The building’s interior was set up similar to the Town Hall’s, “Only not as big,” according to Cornelia, hence the name Little Hall. I told her I thought it strange that in these buildings the dining is downstairs and the dancing up. One would think they’d want all those pounding feet on the ground floor. “But then again,” she replied, “they probably didn’t want to have to lug the food upstairs if they were having a supper.”
As a young girl, Heidi Fielder lived in the Conant house, just south of the hall. She had an upstairs bedroom and fondly remembers peeking through her window on Saturday nights and watching folks dance on the second floor of the Little Hall.
In the mid 1950s there was a recession of sorts in the Upper Valley. Hours of work at the shops in Springfield and Windsor were cut; some local men were laid off; the Goodyear plant was shut down by strike. In the Reading Review, a twice-monthly local newspaper, the following item appeared on 7-31-54. During our present-day economic troubles, it might be instructive to revisit the item.
HOW TO LIVE ON $15 A WEEK
Whiskey & beer – $8.80
Wife’s beer – $1.65
Meat, fish & groceries – On credit.
Rent – Pay next week.
Mid-week whiskey – $1.50
Coal – Borrow neighbor’s.
Life insurance (wife’s) – 50 cents.
Cigars – 20 cents.
Movies – 60 cents.
Pinochle club – 50 cents.
Hot tip on horses – 50 cents.
Dog food – 60 cents.
Snuff – 40 cents.
Poker game – $1.40
TOTAL – $16.65
This means going into debt so cut out the wife’s beer.
Sometime during each meeting of the Reading Social Club (Men’s Division)—usually following several rounds of beer—a spittoon appears on the bar. Those who wish to may toss in some money. Donations support the local concerns of the Club.
Health care has been one of the major issues in this year’s presidential campaign. Neither candidate’s plan would be mistaken for easy-to-understand. More straightforward was the following offer from the Reading Insurance Agency in 1955.
“Dread Disease Insurance: For Ten Dollars you can cover your entire family with benefits up to Ten Thousand Dollars for each afflicted person. Covered on the 6th day after the policy date: Infantile Paralysis, Spinal Meningitis, Diphtheria, Scarlet Fever, Smallpox, Rabies, Typhus, Tetanus, and Trichinosis. $5.00 for individuals, $7.50 for husband and wife. Call Reading 2801. Today.”
About two years ago, a family of pigeons was chased out of the Universalist church by Reading’s own Bob Allen. These pigeons apparently liked the neighborhood because they immediately settled in the library eaves. I battled the marauders with every conceivable weapon including pebbles, broom sticks, foul language, and water balloons—but to no avail. Finally I got some hardware cloth from Biben’s and jiggered it into the corners of the eaves. After a parting poop-shot aimed at my person, as well as an ill-advised attempt to attack me by flying through a closed library window, the pigeons have finally moved on.
Come by the library on Halloween night. A guy in a librarian outfit will be passing out goodies to trick-or-treaters.