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Posts Tagged ‘Worthington Ridge’

Arthur Woodruff was, by all accounts, an austere man. He and Nana lived in the family homestead right next door to the house where the four of us boys grew up, and because Dad married at age 37, the paternal grandparents were already at an advanced age by the time we showed up.

In fact, one of my brothers has an old painting of Grandpa hanging in his Connecticut home, looking down from his frame with a joy-suppressing expression on his weathered face, and we’d always joke about the somber stare of Arthur, ever-present and vigilant just in case someone, somewhere, was having fun.

My middle name, in fact, is Arthur, which makes one tidbit of family lore all the more memorable – Grandpa once called me “Stuart” instead of “Steven,” a transgression for which there has been absolution but no burial in the abyss of forgetfulness, many decades hence. I will take the high road and blame it on advancing age, especially now when the affliction of diminishing bandwidth has settled into my memory circuits.

But I recently ran into an older couple with a much more poignant memory, and lest my (middle) namesake’s life record be forever painted in dark shades of faded grey, I want to share a story about two bucks. And a kiss.

This story came my way at the recent funeral of my Uncle Franklin, the last surviving of Arthur’s three boys (who was predeceased by oldest brother Harvey, and by my Dad, Willis). While seated in a restaurant after the burial, a long-married couple in their 70’s, town fixtures (I went to high school with one of their sons), joined us, and added this bright brushstroke of color to the fading portrait.

Arthur Woodruff, oft-remembered for riding his bicycle up and down Worthington Ridge to work, was best known as the town clerk of Berlin, CT in his day. As such, those couples who were to be married in town came to him for the official marriage license. The charge, in those long-ago days, was two dollars, a pittance now of course, but a more significant sum for a young pair of lovebirds in the 1950’s.

And Grandpa had a tradition – after the license was signed and paid for, he’d give the two bucks back to the groom, and plant a congratulatory kiss on the bride.

Reminiscing at the table about Franklin, and about the patriarch preceding him who had paved the way for this couple to get married, the wife, by now a grandmother to her own tribe, proudly stated that she still had that two dollars squirreled away. She had kept it all these years, in remembrance of that joyous occasion. And with a fond memory of Arthur.

I kinda wish I could archive those 2 bucks somewhere as an enduring legacy, but far more important, I can archive the story, which is far more valuable to me than two hundred dollars.

In my little-boy memories, Grandpa is a distant figure, a visage and a figurehead, with little warmth attached. But for couples getting ready to marry in Berlin, Arthur’s heart made its way to the surface – and he was remembered for two bucks and a kiss.

Pretty cool, Grandpa. Now I can recall my middle name as I interact with others and be reminded to try to leave a warm memory behind.

Oh, and Grandpa? Speaking of reminders – it’s Steven (not Stuart). Steven Arthur. For the record…

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There are advantages to growing up in an old New England town. You gain a sense of history as you see houses that are 100, 200, even 300 years old mixed in with the vinyl siding and thermal windows of modernity. You can almost feel the ghostly presence of colonial ancestors, as you sit in a steepled white church once peopled by hardy townsfolk of a bygone era, whose names live on in some of the families in the neighborhood. You may even get to see one of the thousands of places where George Washington slept – yes, in fact, we made a high school film about just one of those homes on good old Worthington Ridge in Berlin, CT.

colonial-candlesBut if you grew up on Worthington Ridge, from, say, 30 years or so ago on back to multiple generations, you remember one thing for sure about Christmastime. The candles in the windows.

It was an unwritten and almost entirely-obeyed rule – on this historic street, the only Christmas lights allowed were electric candles in the window. You’d drive up and down the Ridge at the end of December, and your eyes would be filled with the glorious sight of home after colonial home, all lit up by candles and little (or nothing) else. The church, the library, and later, when it was finally re-furbished, even the old Worthington School, behind which was tucked our humble abode. Almost every house, and every window, had a candle.

Now the center of the Ridge remained very true to this tradition all during my growing up years. The less historic north and south ends of the road, being of more recent vintage, tended to have some “strays” who did not keep to the traditions of the fathers. And, alas, as time has gone on, the Ridge has become peopled with a mix of those who keep, and those who ignore, the old paths. Much of the glory is passed, never, I fear, to return.

Yet in memory, it remains. And even in these days, some neighborhoods maintain their own traditions, such as one riotously lit-up neighborhood in Boonton (NJ) where I live, where everyone puts out luminaries on the street each Christmas Eve, and cars cruise through (including ours) each year to enjoy the sight. And families build their own traditions as well. Some we borrow – yes, our wonderful old colonial home sports candles in the windows. And some we’ve created – every Christmas Eve, we sit down to enjoy George C. Scott as Ebenezer Scrooge, while munching on my wife’s delicious pepperoni bread. This, after having decorated the tree a couple weeks before, always with a chilled bottle of Gewurtztraminer for accompaniment (something we started 25 years ago or so).

Tomorrow morning, I’ll light the fire in the fireplace, as our tradition dictates. We’ll read the Christmas story together, and give thanks for our countless blessings. We’ll start with the stockings, and enjoy a hearty breakfast, as we have done for many years. We’ll open gifts in a very orderly fashion, as practiced by my family growing up. And we’ll feast with friends.

And I trust that as my rapidly growing-up flock eventually starts leaving the nest and starting their own families, they’ll adopt some cherished traditions, and begin new ones. Just so long as there are candles in the windows. I don’t think that’s too much for this New England boy to ask…

(Image credit)

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