Growing Up inSaugatuck
Margaret Sessions Clarklived in Saugatuck from her birth in 1927 to 1945. We have previously publishedher recollections of the family store, p. 173-175; and Butler Street and the Big Pavilion,p.185-87. This month's installment concerns activities centered around the Saugatuck Methodist Churchand other happenings in the neighborhood.
The church always played a large part inour family life. I think my father would liked to have been a minister.
Rev. Bessie Rulison was the ministerfrom 1924 to 1929 and baptized me, April 8, 1928. In 1929 our church became anoutpoint of the Holland Church and Rev. J. C. Willits was our pastor, followedby Rev. Randall in 1931, and Rev. Brownlow in 1933. In 1937 Rev. Flowerdaybecame pastor at the Hollandchurch only and Howard Ammi Smith came to serve the Saugatuck church. He wasfollowed by Rev. Murl Wilson in 1937, Rev. Robert Sneden, 1938; Rev. HaroldMackey, 1939; Rev. Russell Bowers, 1941; Rev. Allen Gray, 1941; Rev. W. F.Kindrick,1942; and Rev. Paul Hinkamo, 1945. We attended church every Sunday andoften on Wednesday nights for prayer meeting.
For one period during the thirties wehad as our minister, Dr. F. S. Goodrich, a Bible teacher from Albion College.He was one of the few men I ever had the privilege of knowing who could quotemost of the Bible from memory. Years later when I attended Albion College,Dr. Goodrich was sometimes the speaker for chapel.
I remember going with him to the park on Saturdayafternoon and visiting with him. One such afternoon he said he could name thebooks of the Bible, backwards. I was sure he could do anything. He stood upwith his back to me and started naming the books of the Bible from thebeginning; I was a bit disappointed for a while. He told me many stories. Everyweek at church he told "Mary Ann stories" about a little chicken, asthe children's sermons. These were also printed in the local paper. They werestories about a chicken named Mary Ann that was often getting into trouble.These stories always had a moral.
I had chicken pox about this time and Iremember getting a letter from Dr. Goodrich with a small piece of flannel withbaby chicks on it, as a reminder of his stories of Mary Ann.
Sunday was the only day my folks hadoff. We would go to church in the morning. I began at birth attending churchevery Sunday. When I got a bit older I sat in a wooden high chair just behindthe back pew. And still older Donald and I sat in the back pew with our folks,and with little to interest us during the sermon, we bothered each other. Thisusually got a "look" from Mother, Those "looks" were tokeep us in line for years to come.
Sunday school was held in the churchbasement with Mrs. Martin Bennett Sunday School Superintendent. Lois BennettMonroe, their daughter, came from Kalamazooevery weekend to play the piano. Married to Basil Monroe, Lois taught school inKalamazoo allduring those years. When I was older we had choir practice Saturday night andthen sang in the choir Sunday morning. Saturday night choir practice was anenjoyable social event.
The Van Leeuwen boys, Dale, Andy andAlan, all came to Sunday school. About this time Alan was run over by a truck.He did recover without any seeming after effect, even though the truck had runover his stomach.
When I was 12 I joined the church. I canremember meeting Rev. Mackey at the door of the church to tell him I was 12 andwanted to join the church.
Early Social Life
We began having birthday parties. Asmine was in the summer we celebrated some years at the beach, and sometimes inour yard. Donald and I ran errands for various older residents. We now wereable to go pretty much anywhere in town. We delivered groceries and the paperto Mrs. Camstock. I think it was really Donald that was in charge and she gavehim a dime each time.
The only person in town to whom I felt agreat disliking was about 50 years old and with nothing else to do but cause trouble,she caused my folks plenty. Dad would deliver groceries to people on our wayhome, as a convenience - and then infrequently. One day she saw me carrygroceries into a house and went to the Justice of the Peace and served awarrant far Dad's arrest because he didn't have a commercial license on the carnor a chauffeur's license. She delivered antiques all over the country and shedidn't have a commercial license either, but Dad would not stoop to her level.I don't remember how it was resolved.
One summer we had a plague of insectsthat came through town. they had long bodies and big wings. What killed them? Idon't know, but their bodies covered the sidewalk. I remember walking on themand going squish-squish. They eventually dried up I suppose.
The summer of 1938 my brother and I hada garden up on the hill behind Doc and Mae Heath's house at 336 Hoffman Street. Doc Heath ran a realestate office and owned the building the grocery store was in. They had a spacebehind their house that they let us plant a few things. I don't remember howsuccessful it was, but it did keep us out of mischief for a time.
Mrs. Heath was one of the most beautiful people I haveever met. She had white hair and always a smile. She was a friend to everyoneshe met. One day she walked round and round a large oak tree with her baby inthe buggy for hours to keep the town from cutting down the tree. It is stillstanding on Griffith and Francis. Several years after Doc died in 1947 MaeHeath moved to a new home at 525 Butlerwhich she called "Heathcote." It was next door to the CongregationalPastor Horace and Mrs. Maycroft who lived at 521 Butler. In her later years Mrs. Heath becamean acclaimed artist. She was instrumental in building the Woman's Club buildingon Hoffman Streetand in the founding of the Saugatuck Art Club in 1953. She died September 1961of a heart attack.
In the summertime it was hard to keep usbusy. About this time we started going out to the swimming pool north of town.It cost 5 cents to ride the bus out and back. And I think ten cents to swim. Idid not have any fear of the water and they were constantly finding me out inthe deep water and sending me back to shallower water. I would spend severalhours at the pool. I believe it closed because of the cost of upkeep.
I joined the Browniesand although I can't remember much that we did, I was proud of my uniform andpin and we were in the parades with the Girl Scouts. Genevieve Wright was ourleader. Sometimes we met in her home. I seem to remember that mostly we met inthe village hall, upstairs over the fire trucks. This building had a jail cell,either in the basement or on the first floor. One day Uncle Harry locked me inbriefly, just so I would know what it was like. Above the fire trucks was a largeroom where art shows also were held in the summer time.
Lessons Expand Our Horizons
Donald and I took piano lessons for a period from Mrs.Reuben Scott. A newspaper clipping notes that we were in a recital at the homeof Mrs. Abbott Davis. I can remember this recital on a Saturday afternoon andour mother in attendance. Participants as listed in the newspaper clippingwere: Bessie Beery, terrine Crow, Marc Reid, Patricia and Abbott Davis, MatildaHespel, Patsy Taylor, Margaret and Donald Sessions, Phyllis Kreager, Hazel andEdward Olson, Norma McCarty, Avis Hankes, Dorothy and Mary Ann De Breuil, SusanBoyce, Olive Reeks, Audrey and Catherine Padbury and Alice Belden.
Later Donald played the accordion, but Igave up piano lessons when I cut the end of my finger off one day on the meatsliver at the store. I was cutting a slice of cold meat for a sandwich for anafter school snack. Dad ran me down to Dr. Walker's office with the tip of myfinger in his hand and a towel wrapped around my hand. It was decided not to myand reattach the tip of my finger. When the shock was over, one of the firstthings I said was, "Good, I won't have to take any more pianolessons." I never did get the idea of the metronome. It would click awaygoing back and forth and I would play the notes when I found them.
I was not interested in playing aninstrument, so would take paper and pencil and go find me a place to draw. In1931 the Taylors moved to a house on Holland Street atthe corner of Lucy Street,where Mrs. Taylor founded the Taylor Art School.When I was 12 I was the first one to answer a contest in the paper, sponsoredby Mrs. Cora Bliss Taylor.There were questions about great artists and, if answered correctly, Mrs.Taylor would give a series of free lessons. This encouraged my interest andenjoyment in painting. That summer I spent most of my time with Mrs. Taylor andbought my palette box and paints which are still "at the ready." Mrs.Taylor gave me one of her paintings (which I treasure very much) for a highschool graduation present. Cora Bliss Taylorwas an active member of the Saugatuck community for over So years, before shedied at the age of 97 in April 1984.
I think vocal lessons came later at thehome of Mrs. Tillinghast. I can remember recitals at her home and some of thesongs we sang such as "LondonderryAir" and "Du Bish My Kindest Pupshen If you love me, like I love you,no one can break our love in two."
One of our favorite radio programs was Jack Armstrongand in the summertime we learned where the building's shadow hit the curb,opposite the grocery store, so we would know when to come in, in time to hearhim.
One winter day, coming home from Holland, Mother put herfoot on the brake at the bottom of the hill on Holland Street and the car slid on theice hitting the cement culvert over the creek. I was sure we were going to tipover. The car righted itself, but I did not want to get back in it. We walkeddown to the store and told Dad what had happened. he got the car and then madeus get back in the car and go for a ride. He did not want me to have a fear ofriding in cars.
During the summer bands of gypsies wouldcamp just outside of town, come into town in horse and wagons. They would comein the store and try to steal all they could. They wore big flowing clothes inwhich they could easily hide groceries. Several came in at one time and onewould try and district Dad and get him away from the cash register and theother one would try and get money from the drawer. The good thing was that theynever stayed around long.
Moving to a Real House
About this time we moved from the apartment over thestore to a house at 207 Hoffman Street, owned by Mrs. Davis. We rented it. In thehouse just across from us lived the Bradys at 515 Mason. He was owner ormanager of the Fruit Growers' State Bank. It was past their house that we wentdown the cement steps to the lower part of town. It was beside their house thatwe went up the driveway to school. We lived on the corner with the sidewalkraised two feet above the street. There was a lead pipe railing around thewalk. This house was two stories with the living room on the front of thehouse, with the folk's bedroom behind it. The stairs went up off the frontroom. There were two bedrooms with sloped ceilings. Donald's room was at thehead of the stairs and I went through his room to get to mine in the front. Thedining room was one story, off the living room. Behind the dining room was thekitchen and another bedroom. Grandma Hill slept here when she lived with us.Off the kitchen was an enclosed back porch. After we moved to Hoffman Street, Iplayed more with Aldean Jarvis since she lived at 450 Culver Street, which was just belowthe school, a block away from our house by a path at the bottom of the stonesteps. We made candy and cookies at her house and she had lots of toys.
Work Projects Administration
About this time WPA (Work ProjectsAdministration) came into existence under President Roosevelt. My earliestcontact that I remember was in a sewing class. Miss Fern Lawrence, a singlelady and her mother lived in a duplex at the bottom of the cement steps leadingdown town from the school. As they had no income they were eligible for WPAwhich was a government work program for food. The government paid her to teachus how to sew. The first thing I ever made was a blue serge pair of slacks,which I and not sure I ever wore.
One winter day Donald and I went down tothe Kalamazoo River. We were not supposed to go nearthe river. Way out in the middle of the river in front of the Pavilion was thetown fire truck. They were flooding the ice to make it smooth for skating. Wethought that if the fire truck could be way out in the middle, it certainly washard enough for us to walk out on at the edge. WRONG. We went just a few feetfrom shore when one foot went through the ice and I was immediately cold, wetand scared. We got my foot out and headed for the store. We were more afraidabout the punishment than anything else.
Winter nights there was community sledding. Becausehalf the town was built on the hill and the other half was down on the riverlevel, we had several streets that were good for sliding. St. Joseph Street wasour hill, this section of road has now been abandoned. We had a sled, but theolder boys and men had big toboggans. There were two or three of them. Eight or10 foot planks fixed with wooden runners. The front runners turned and the backones were fixed. The bigger people, the Woodall brothers, Henry Gleason and otherswould get on the front and put us kids in between them. What fun and how fastwe went. Then to walk back up the hill and wait for the next ride down. Thetemperature was cold but we didn't complain because we didn't want to quituntil the folks made us.
In the spring Donald and I would takethe ferry boat for five cents and cross the Kalamazoo river with Captain (Cappy) LeonardS. Brittain usually rowing the boat. Sometimes a car would want to cross on thechain ferry and so we could still pay our nickel and get to ride with the car.On the opposite side of the river was the Ferry Store where we would often getan ice cream cone before continuing on to Lake Michigan.We walked through the woods on paths we quickly learned. We would sometimesswing from a great big rope that had been tied to a tree, out over a sand dune,then jump. When we got tired of this we would continue on, enjoying the earlywild flowers like Jack-in-the-pulpits and the lush undergrowth and big densewoods to Lake Michigan.
Camp Gray, a Presbyterian church camp,was one of our stops. Aunt Lu Lu (a large black lady with a huge smile and abandanna around her head) who came early spring to clean up the buildings wouldbe there and we would eat our lunch with her. We would be gone most of the daybefore walking back to the ferry again and coming home.
Summer days we would play along theriverfront. When the fishing boats started coming in, in the late afternoon wewould watch them as they unloaded their catch. Sometimes mother would send usdown to the fish market to get fresh fish for supper.
Yet to come, growing up in the Saugatuck school system.