Permanent appointment as a Junior Engineering Aid Grade I (rodman) in a Massachusetts Department of Public Works survey party had given me $145 a month income, enough for my widowed mother and I to purchase an abandoned schoolhouse for $800 and make it into a three-room country home without electricity or running water. I acquired a 1948 blue Crosley car for $1,080 and named it Little Peter. The chief of the four-man party for whom I worked was Louis Johnson. My journal gives daily details.
July 2, 1949 Saturday. Yesterday we went to Niantic. Connecticut has impressive highway construction under way on Routes 2 and 85.
We spent a couple hours at the beach. Hester (my nickname for my 62-year-old mother) paddled. I (23) dog paddled and soaked up sun.
Passing through South Lyme we noticed a post office and general store marked “Emersons.” It had once been a depot beside a single-track railroad. Uncle Ralph Emerson had told my mother that their father’s brother lived down that way in a former railroad station. Hester inquired, but the new-generation wife knew little except that her people did come from Vermont. (St. Johnsbury was a source of Emersons.)
This morning I painted the white boards in the lower half of out living room wall. This afternoon I dug some more over on the hill. At five feet down the earth keeps getting moister. In the excavation noone can see me in thin cloth briefs. After digging I walked up the mountain on the old log road and startled a bunny and a chipmunk.
July 5, 1949 Tuesday. Sunday was hot and muggy with a short, afternoon shower, thunder and lightning. We went to Russell for the Sunday paper. Digging in our well, I was blessed to strike water. I had prayed that if I was to find water in that hole it would be seven feet down. It was. Since there has been no rain, I trust it means that this well will never go dry. Thanksgiving! Visited the Finneys in the evening.
Back home I changed into briefs and walked up Herrick Road to the top of the hill. Most of the climb was in the dark, so there was joy in bursting into moonlight between the pasture on the south and meadow on the north. Deep in the valley a truck droned along the highway and a steam engine chucked itself faster and faster along the downgrade. An owl trilled. Insects rustled and chirped in the hedgerow and I thought I heard someone snoring in the farmhouse over the knoll. I turned back. Pausing at the brow of the first descent I stretched arms up and threw out a blessing. I don’t know what that does, but sometimes I’ve seen beneficial results for both others and myself.
Yesterday we went up to Aunt Florence Boyce’s on Whitman Hill. Fresh gravel on steep Russell Road was too much for Peter. We turned round and assailed the mountain from Wyben. Even here on good pavement we had to stop half way up and replace hot radiator water from a little brook. Guess what! In addition to the regular group, librarian, Mr. Dougherty had just arrived with guests to see the view of seven mountain ranges. The rest of the day was spent eating, doing dishes, playing setback or quoits. In the evening I recited five poems, among them “The Embarrassing Episode of Little Miss Muffet.”
July 6, 1949 Wednesday. I picked up young Hugh Corr at 12:30 yesterday and met Louis at the Hotel Essex in Holyoke. We finished final detail on South Hadley’s Morgan Street.
We had opened one of the manholes to see the size and direction of pipes when Louis dropped his pet pencil. I knew he was sorry to lose it, so offered to get it for him. Ruefully he said, “No, let it go.” “If you want it, I’ll get it,” I said sitting on the rim of the six foot hole. “How will you get out?” he asked. “You’ll see.” I stepped down on the edge of two pipes protruding from the brick walls, reached the bottom, retrieved the pencil and was on my way up. “Watch out you don’t skin your elbows,” said Louis. I was head and shoulders out of the hole, preparing to boost myself the rest of the way, when he suddenly gripped me under the arms from behind. I shot out of that hole like a sky rocket and landed safe on the road. Louis is always doing something that makes me want to bless him more and more.
July 23, 1949 Saturday. We’ve had a spell of hot, humid weather. Last Wednesday a thunderstorm broke. Wind and rain damaged tobacco and corn crops, and lightning set several fires. Last night a gusty wind brought a clear, comfortable day.
We finished the Chicopee job taking final sections down the fill across the sewer canal. Whitey was out from drink so I became transitman. We spent Wednesday and Thursday on Route 57 in Twining Hollow, Granville. When Louis took Whitey to lunch in Southwick I had him leave Hugh Corr and me at the gorge. We spent noon swimming.
When I went out to dig in my well today a frog and two young ones had set up housekeeping eight feet down.
When I opened the door Thursday morning a brown woods rat scampered off the doorstep. I bought a trap and set it about 10 p.m. In fifteen minutes Mr. Rat was in the trap but so much alive that I had to drown him. This morning I saw a good sized black snake beside my path to the brook. I told him never to let me see him on my property again or it might go hard with him.
Hampton Ponds and various pools have been closed to swimming because polio cases seem to come from these sources.
Today I went adventuring down the brook. Upstream from the railroad the brook goes completely underground so its stony bed and the culvert under the tracks are dry. I climbed down the spillway to waters edge. The river invited so I waded across and back.
July 24, 1949 Sunday. Today I took Hester down to visit cousin Carl and Esther Emerson on Avon Mountain in Connecticut. They have bought 4 acres north of their house to protect privacy and driveway. I thought it hard to pay $250 for our 2 acres in Montgomery. They paid $4,500. Wow!
July 26, 1949 Tuesday. Dewey McClay talked with us at noon in Ludlow. With Hugh Corr and Louis Johnson it was the first time Hughey, Dewey and Louis were together all at once. We missed Unca Donald. Dewey had been to the funeral of his brilliant brother who had worked as consulting engineer for fabulous salaries.
I wore swim trunks to work in the Wilbraham gravel pit. The owner, Mr. Stevens, talked about the west. He had worked for a steel cable company and was at Oakland Bay Bridge when they were winding cables. About the height of the span he said that a China Clipper, unable to gain altitude to clear it, flew under it.
Mr Stevens got on the subject of LeTourneau (earthwork) carryalls, which Louis had seen used on coral of Pacific atolls. LeTourneau had bought the railroad from Carson City to Boulder Dam and started work with five carryalls. The project failed. In San Francisco he met fortune with his carryalls because they had proved their worth.
Mr. Stevens worked around the big dams ending on Shasta. In the Boulder Dam canyon temperatures would go to 160 degrees with loss of life. Workers maddened by heat would hop over into freshly poured batches of concrete. He told of redwoods felled. One, ten feet in diameter, was not wanted so was not bedded with branches. When it fell it “exploded” not leaving a piece big enough to make a two by four.
Putting on my pants at afternoon’s end I heard my house keys fall and found them on the back seat floor. Coming into Chicopee Falls I found my car keys missing. I told Hugh, hoping they were still in the truck. I lifted Whitey’s coat and felt down in the folds of the blanket seat cover. It could have been some scrap, but God made it my keys. How close Hugh and I came to being stranded in Aldenville! God wisely formed my habit of holding keys in my hand five minutes before leaving the truck.
July 31, 1949 Sunday. Friday morning in Wilbraham we found a baby bird fallen from a tree. I made a grass nest and put it in my lunch bag. It chirped for its mother. I was tempted to put it back under the tree but was afraid two dogs or a cat would find it. At home I fed it raw hamburg which it took hungrily. Upstairs I set nest and all by my bed with a ticking clock for company. Little “Hubie” didn’t chirp, but about twelve he tried to climb out of his nest. I made sure he couldn’t escape and covered my head to sleep. I wished I had taken him out of the nest and held him in my hands when he fluttered. In the morning “Hubie” was cold and still. He’d been a brave little bird but missed his mommy just too much.
Friday is the last day Hugh Corr is to work with us.
I had a letter from George Berry Thursday saying that since I had written I would not need to go to Boston, and yesterday I heard from Mr. Haskins acknowledging my Grade II acceptance letter.