Mary C. Sullivan Cover Sheet:
Interviewee:Mary Collin Sullivan
Narrator:Jean P. McMillen
Place of Interview:cottage J2, Noble Horizons
Date:August 17, 2015
Summary of talk: family background, Mt. Riga connection, childhood recollections, changes from then to now, and additions.
Mary Sullivan Interview:
This is file 103. This is Jean McMillen. I am interviewing Mary Collin Sullivan. She is going to talk about her childhood on Mt. Riga. Today’s date is August 17, 2015. We’ll start with the genealogical information.
JM: What is your name?
MS: My name is Mary Collin Sullivan.
JM: Your birth date?
MS: October 20, 1937
JM: Your birth place?
MS: White Plains, New York
JM: Your parents’ names?
MS: My father’s name was Frank Coit Collin. My mother’s name was Margaret Calkins Collin.
MS: I had one sibling; my brother Frank Coit Collin Jr.(Bim) who was born in 1935. He died in 2005.
JM: Your education background about high school?
MS: I went to Denison University and graduated in 1960 with a degree in history.
JM: When we talked before, you said that your family, the Collin family goes back to 1769 when David Collin married Lucy Bingham of Salisbury. (See genealogical file Collin)
JM: Tell me a little bit about your connection with Mt. Riga. How did it start?
MS: My father was a childhood friend of Frank McCabe, his sister Louise McCabe, and the two younger brothers, Ambrose McCabe and Spalding McCabe in White Plains, NY. As a result of their friendship, you can expect that their parents were friends. Their own parents were also friends. (Pauline Wells & Ambrose Farrell McCabe were the grandparents. Parents were Lyman Austin Spalding McCabe and Elsie Linde Meyer. Their children were the 4 mentioned above. Ed.) Their parents are among the four or five original people who built the camps on the mountain.
JM: Who were the 4 original families?
MS: There was a Warner, there was a Wells, there was a McCabe and there was a Schwab.
JM: The farmhouse that you pointed out that belongs to you, do you own the land under it?
MS: No I lease the land.
JM: Was it at one time a Rossiter-Thurston homestead?
MS: I don’t know.
JM: there are pictures in Louise Brewer’s book that indicate that it was at one time a Rossiter-Thurston homestead so it may very well have been.
MS: It very well may have been.
JM: You are going to tell me about your childhood that was spent on the mountain which I think is absolutely fascinating. Tell me a little bit about David Brazee and his truck.
MS: David Brazee who was the father of, I don’t even know what his actual name was, probably David also, but he was known as ”Peanut” and Anna Brazee. (“Bud” or David Corbett Brazee married first Delia Lovett and second Kathleen Helen Bell. He had 2 children: “Peanut” was David George Brazee and a daughter Anna. Ed.) David Brazee brought supplies, firewood, ice; he took away things like garbage, delivered messages. He was our connection to the outside world. I don’t remember how many times a week he came up, but I bet it was at least 3 times a week. We all had ice boxes and he would bring these great big ice cubes that were 50 pounds on his truck under a canvas tarpaulin. The truck was a flatbed that had minimal sides on it. Part of our childhood was spent riding on that truck with David Brazee and his enormous chunks of ice, and the ice picks and the ice tongs, and the garbage when it was picked up. If we did not do our chores, and will tell you what our chores were, the incentive to do our chores to do them promptly and to do them well was that if we didn’t, we would be denied the pleasure of going on the truck with David Brazee, who was known as “Bud”. It was a very strong incentive. Not until I became a parent myself did I realize that part of that incentive was on the parent’s part to have the children all disappear in the middle of the morning, cared for and productively occupied while the parent could have a second cup of coffee perhaps.
JM: They were smarter than you thought!
MS; Oh they were smart; I knew they were smart, but I just didn’t realize the dynamics.
JM: What were some of the chores that you had to do?
MS: My cousin Betsy and I from a very young age were required to walk, we started living in the farmhouse, Dwight and I can’t remember whether it was 1944 or 1945, but I know it was 1945. I know we were there then. Betsy and I were 6 and 7 then and we would walk down to Gramma Thurston’s Well and bring up each of us two galvanized pail of water. We had 2 because then you were balanced a little bit. The amount of water that slopped out probably actually we probably brought back the equivalent of 2 pails between the two of us. That was one of our chores. That water was sweet and cold and that was what we used for drinking water. We would bring those back up to the shed that was attached to the camp. You put a screen over it to keep things from falling in. Other chores were making the bed, sweeping every day, sweeping the bedroom, sometimes there were accidents, nighttime accidents and those mattresses had to be put out in the sun. It was very convenient to put them out on the roof of the front of the house. There was plenty of very startling physical evidence of whether or not you wet your bed. We had to tidy up our space,
JM: Did you have to do things like set the table or wash dishes?
MS: I am sure we set the table. Washing dishes was kind of, we would probably dry because there was no hot water. Water had to be heated up either on the wood stove or on kerosene stove and those big kettles I have a feeling were well beyond us. We dried rather than washed.
JM: What did Gramma Thurston’s well look like?
MS: It was in the middle of a large lilac bush. It looked like a well. It stuck up and had stones around it. It didn’t have a little wishing well top on it or anything, but it had something or other because you lowered the bucket down and then hauled it up. So it must have had some sort of a pulley system. I genuinely don’t remember. I do remember the lilac bush.
JP: When you were taking trips up to Bald Mountain, you were to come home. There was a particular signal.
MS: Oh yes, the farmhouse had a bedroom on the north end; I think it was in the oldest part of the house. It had a window that could look straight up to Bald Peak. When my grandmother wanted us to come back home, she would hang a blanket or sheet out that window and pull the window down so that it stayed in place. We could see it very clearly from Bald Peak because the vegetation had not grown up. I am not sure whether you can see it now, but you certainly could see it then. That signal was that it was time to come home, and home we came!
JM: Oh you were well trained!
MS: Well, it was important that we do that. That was the deal.
JM: You told me how your parents would entertain their friends and there were various things that they did.
MS: My mother played the piano; she was good at it. She was a good pianist and she had studied the piano, but she could also play be ear. My father could do practically do anything by ear. He could horse around the piano, good barroom piano and he also played the ukulele. Mother was more restrained as a pianist. Everybody knew all those songs from my parents’ college days, songs of the Civil War, American song; they were all in the air. You just knew them; there wasn’t anybody who didn’t know songs. There were also sort of party pieces that were almost repetitive like ”Dangerous Dan McGrew” and “The Lady from the Bosporus” and comic songs. Then there were songs that we were encouraged to learn all the way through like “Jimmy Crack Corn” that had loads and loads of verses. There was one song of which I never knew until I was married. I finally heard my brother sing it “Love, Oh love, Oh careless love” about wearing your apron high. My father sang an unexpectedly an extremely clean version of that. I had no idea about wearing your apron high was an indication of pregnancy. That came as a great surprise to me when I heard me brother sing that song years later.
JM: Some things just pass over our heads.
MS: They do. Well, you know you are a kid; you don’t pay much attention. Those songs, those group sing-a-longs were part and were multi=generational. The other thing that was in the air was show tunes from their younger days, things from the 1920’s. It was a very common experience for everybody to know these songs. We as children in school studied the American Songbook so we knew folk songs and things like that.
JM: Any dancing?
MS: I don’t remember anybody dancing. There were kerosene lamps and these things were usually at night and dancing was probably discouraged.
JM: Any kind of outside automatic entertainment like a radio or phonograph?
MS: Not a phonograph. The radio came in much later. I still listen to baseball on the radio. The portable radios of my youth, batteries were rare and expensive. We did not have that until much later.
JM: You lived by a lake. What were some of the water activities that you enjoyed as a child?
MS: My father pretty much taught us how to swim in a little wooden boat that had a flat bottom and straight ends, maybe 6’ about the same size as these rugs, not much bigger than that. There are some wonderful pictures of us all in it as children. He would be standing there with us; he would slowly sink. The boat was known as “Jumbar”. He would slowly sink Jumbar and we would float out and kick I don’t ever remember about being frightened about it. We would I am sure make a big to do about it. Then we would pull Jumbar in, or he would because it would be full of water back into the shallows, upend it and we would repeat the process. We went fishing, a lot of swimming. Other people had boats. We did not have anything except Jumbar. The other thing we had was rafts which were war surplus from the air force or the Navy or something. They were hollow square u’s of some material that floated and net bottoms, net sides that went down in some sort of a porous planky kind of bottom. You could sit on the edge of these things and your feet would be down in. They probably had been bought by somebody at the Army & Navy Store. They were wonderful; they were small. We all learned how to dive off of them which meant we all learned how to dive by pushing down on them as it gave in the water and flipping our legs up high and making wonderful pencil-like dives. We got really good at that.
JM: Did you have a rowboat or kayak?
MS: We did not. The Frank McCabe family across the meadow from us had a lovely, beautiful rowboat with eyes, almost like Egyptian kind of eyes painted on the front bow on it on either side. You would see things very similar to that in plenty of books. So they may have copied it. The boat’s name was “Star Eyes”. My Aunt Dorothy used to take us out in that boat before we were allowed to be on the lake alone. We would go fishing. On occasion it would be extremely foggy and we rowed, rowed and rowed and found that we had rowed ourselves in an enormous circle and we were right back where we had started from because we bumped into the dock. It was a great surprise. The mist on Mt. Riga when it comes down on the lake is thick. It is very mystical and magical.
JM: Oh absolutely and having courtesy of you seeing both the Upper and the Lower Lakes It would be.
MS: It is; it is really quite something.
JM: Did you read a lot?
MS: Endlessly, partly because we came from a family of readers, partly because my mother owned a book store so there was never any paucity of books. We came for the whole summer during those war years and we would go down to the Scoville Library and load up. I am happy to say that most children on the mountain continued that. The Scoville Library had something that has apparently disappeared from it. It had an enormous multi-bladed knife (display). They had knives I suppose from the Holley Manufacturing Company, but they had a Swiss knife and to me it looked enormous. To me as a kid I thought it had 100 blades on it. It was behind a case, a glass case.
JM: We still have the glass case with the display of knives.
MS: Where is it?
JM: It is at the Academy Building.
MS: Because when we were here it was in the library. We would go in there as children; I can remember just thinking WOW! That is just amazing.
JM: Do you remember who the librarian was at that time?
MS: No idea, I am sure we tried her patience.
JM: Children still do. When we talked before, you mentioned some of the games that you played like dominoes or jigsaw puzzles, but you mentioned a game called “Michigan”. Tell me what “Michigan” is.
MS: It is a card game. Michigan is a game that is sort of related to Hearts, it involves poker chips. You can go from fortune to poverty in one hand. Its virtue is that it can be quite, I think you have to have 3 people. You can’t play it with 2 because you know where all the cards are. You can go from three to thirty; it was spectacularly good for large groups of children. I was with somebody that I had not seen in a number of years just this past week. She said that her memory was playing Michigan at the farmhouse in the tiny dining room. But we all just crammed in there. We would play Michigan. It had a pot, it had poker chips, and it had the capacity to expand itself tremendously. It had very little capacity to cheat, but a large capacity to argue. It was a perfect children’s game.
JM: What are some of the plants that are specific to Mt. Riga besides blueberries?
MS: There used to be tons and tons of Milkweed down by the dam, but when they rebuilt the dam in the 1980’s (1985) it was deemed that the roots were a danger to the structure so those things have kind of been discouraged. There are plenty of daisies and Queen Ann’s Lacy, Black eyed Susan’s, a lot of them have disappeared because people are mowing all the time.
JM: Yes, a lot of the wild flowers have gone.
MS: The other wild flower is Deadly Nightshade which grows where it chooses. This is always entertaining to me because parents are worried about their children for just about everything and there they are coexisting with attractive berry bearing plant. It is very toxic.
JM: Oh yes.
MS: Oh and of course the orange, the common daylily were all over the place and still are except where they have been mowed. What else did we have? We used to pick wild spirea or what my brother used to call “Hard Tack”. I never could quite understand why he called it “Hard Tack”, that common spirea that blooms a lot up there. Oh yes Mountain Laurel is all over, primarily in the woods. Where I grew up was in the meadow. Good Heavens! Who knew what would happen to us if we broke a piece of laurel, or just a blossom. I can’t remember; I was so terrified.
JM: How about animals?
MS: Where I grew up we had domestic animals around that farmhouse. They were black and white Holsteins. Occasionally they would get loose. That was always kind of exciting. I knew a lot more about cow plops than probably anybody else in my class. We got very good at this. We knew which were the flat ones, or the dry ones, and which were the ones that you could make a real explosion with. There were dogs. I don’t remember anybody having a cat, but lots of dogs. We had dachshunds. There were whippoorwills which alas no longer around. I haven’t heard a whippoorwill up there for years and years. As night fell they would be down in the meadows and their song was just unmistakable. We just loved it. We would fall asleep to that whippoorwill song. I don’t remember any bears at all, but I am sure there were some, but I certainly didn’t know about it. The deer-we had the cattle, we had dogs, if there were deer and I am sure there were, they didn’t come around where the cattle were.
JM: They would not necessarily come where there were domestic animals, either.
MS: I don’t ever remember seeing any. A domestic adventure however at the farm house was one day when the cows were loose; a very large black and white cow put her head in the main room of the farmhouse. It used to be smaller bedroom behind on that main floor with two windows, one that looked north and one which looked east. They had those kinds of screens that are still used today half screens that expand and contract. The cow for some reason just stuck her head right in one of those bedroom windows, the one that faced east. She got caught in the screen and there she was. We all thought that was highly entertaining. My aunt Dorothy found it a bloody nuisance, but the rest of us all of about 6 at the time thought it was really interesting to see this cow with its head stuck in the bedroom window.
JM: Do you know how the cow’s head got out of the bedroom window?
MS: I assume Dorothy took the screen off and the beast was able to withdraw. It wasn’t a raging bull or anything.
JM: Did you get your milk from this herd of cows?
MS: No, we had our milk bottles in wire carriers and it had a distinctive sound. It was distinctive when the bottles were full and it was distinct when the bottles were empty, each had a different sound. They were brought up, usually by us. I don’t remember that Bud Brazee brought those, that could be but I don’t remember it. I remember we took them down to the Shagroy Dairy on Route 44 where the National Iron Bank is now. That was the dairy. We brought the bottle back and they put new ones in the case. We must have brought them up because that was how we did it. If we were very lucky we got a treat. Yeats later the milk part of that operation moved back to the actual dairy over on the other side of the hill. (Shagroy Farm on Belgo Road Ed.) The Milk Bar opened up. When we were there you could still get ice cream; boy, it was good. I think they probably sold other things.
JM: But you remembered the ice cream.
JM: How about eggs?
MS: Eggs I think we got at the Ericksons up on Bunker Hill. Shopping was not something you took your children to in those days. So I don’t really remember that very well. I do remember one time with my cousin Betsy we were riding, unusually in my mother’s car which had a rumble seat. Of course we were in the rumble seat. Between the two of us, we ate 2 of those little, then they were made out of flatted wooden little slats, little baskets that you put fruit and vegetables in. They were those yellow cherry tomatoes that are sort of funny shaped, bigger on the bottom and smaller on the top. I think we ate them all to the annoyance of my mother. Oh they were so tart, but so good. Oh we loved those.
JM: You told me a specific memory in August of 1945.
MS: The anniversary of which was just 2 days ago (August 15, 1945). My father served as a civilian in the Pentagon in Washington during the war. Spalding McCabe who was again one of his childhood friends was out in the Pacific; I think he was in New Guinea as an artillery officer in the Army. We used to write him victory letters. My brother, my dear brother, knitted him because we all knitted during the war in school, we knitted squares. My brother knitted him a khaki colored welcome mat for his fox hole. He probably kept it for years and years; it was up there in their house on Lion’s Head. He always confessed to us to certain ambiguities about the concept of a welcome mat for your fox hole.
JM: It was a very ingenious idea.
MS: It was wonderful. We would write these things out or our parents would write them out and then they were photographed and reduced in size to little tiny “V” mail. Then they were sent out to the soldiers. We were regular correspondents with him. I knew that people served in the war. That August my mother and Bim and I were in the farmhouse. Elsie McCabe and young Mike were also in the farmhouse, because he had been born. We heard one morning we suddenly began to hear church bells pealing in the valley. The sound carries right up and there were no other sounds up there. My mother and Elsie said, “It must be the end of the war.” I don’t remember anything about Hiroshima, but I must have known something was changing. Certainly they did. So they were standing in the doorway at the farmhouse listening to these bells. It was a beautiful sound coming up. They had their arms around each other; they were hugging each other and they were both weeping. I asked, “Why are you weeping?” They said, “Because the war is over!” I said, “Well why are you crying then.” I had no concept of what was afoot. It is a very vivid memory. I was standing in the kitchen and that funny little kerosene stove we had that had 3 burners with kind of wick that is common in kerosene heaters that had a certain sliding cylinder. We used that a lot because it meant we didn’t have to fire up the wood stove. You could boil an egg on it and not take all day. I was standing near that and the ladies were standing in the doorway. It is very vivid in my mind. That night we and all the other people on the mountain that I can remember; I don’t remember any men at all just women and children, we went down to what is known as the Dresser camp on the hillside below the cemetery. My mother played the ukulele and we sang songs to celebrate the end of the war. We sang and sang and sang.
JM: What a wonderful memory!
MS: It is very striking. That is how I know that we were in the farmhouse in 1945. I don’t know Dwight and I can’t remember where we were in 1944. We all were together. We are quite sure we were in Wentworth in 1943, but whether we were there in 1942 I am not sure.
MS: The Borden camp way up the hill; downhill from Grandma Thurston’s.
JM; Then you didn’t have the same residence each time you were on the mountain?
MS: No, the first summers I remember on the mountain were spent at Wentworth. That is where I lost my teeth. My dear grandmother, I lost my baby teeth and everybody was going to have corn on the cob. I couldn’t manage. I remember being fascinated. Julie had a very sharp knife and she would pare down the kernels and it would come down in long rows of corn. It would fall on the plate, and because she was the kindest person I think I have ever known and the smartest; she would also do her own corn that way because it kept me company.
JM: That was extremely thoughtful.
MS: Yes, it was. In those days Wentworth front porch went all the way around the house. They had this exotic furniture on it including wicker chairs that had places with a wicker box that you could put your book or knitting in. It also had foot stool that slide out from underneath and then you pushed them back in. There were 2 of those and there were hanging wicker settees on that porch which hung from chains. As you went further around the corner, and this is where Frannie Miller’s house is now, you would go further around the corner and there was a big long dining porch that had all windows that looked out over the lake and a big long table. That’s where I had my corn. I remember eating there. I am quite sure we were there for 2 summers. It must have been 1934 and 1944.
JM: Do you remember the year that you left the mountain during the summer. You said that you left when you were 16.
MS: Oh I was even younger than that. I became an au pair, babysitter they were called in those days when I was 13 so that would have been in 1950. I am always mixed up about whether I was 13 or 12.
JM: There were some changes between that time and now and you mentioned three major ones. Now people seem to go for just weekends.
MS: Yes, people may come up for a week; people are scattered. Everybody wasn’t mobile then. Nobody drove. The big exception was the Griggs family who drove from California. That was just such an event. They would pull up with the car crammed with stuff. But most people lived very close by in today’s terms so the contingent that is up there now from Virginia; nobody drove those kinds of distances. Yeah people came for the summer and stayed. It was during war time and there was no reason not to stay. Then there was the summer of the polio epidemic and we stayed. I am sure that contributed to getting the children out and up to the mountain safely. We had friends that came along too. It wasn’t as if we just had our cousins; we had friends and our parents had friends who came also.
JM: I noticed that when we were visiting Robert O’Brien’s camp that the gentleman that was fixing something on the porch (Ed Rankin) was a friend that had driven up from Washington. #2 Population, are there more people there now or fewer people in general than when you were there?
MS: Oh no there are many more. People come back; it is an important part of lots of people’s lives. Like anything else with a family tree, it has more people on it that at first. It is a terrific shock to me to realize that I am now one of the elders of the establishment. I never felt that I was an elder of anything.
JM: You are not; you are just more mature and experienced!
MS: So that is kind of fun but it also makes me realize that the history thing is relying on people who are considerably younger that a lot of the history that was up there.
JM: This is why I am trying to get a continuum of the people that started it and are living there now and future generations. It is a very unusual place from my perspective because if I want to get ahold of somebody on the mountain, I can’t.
MS: You really have to know where real house is.
JM: There is no electricity, there is no running water, there is no …
MS: Well there are some places that do have running water. There are some generators which have a very limited amount of use. We used the generator to pump water. We had a generator for years and years and years. My brother was 6’ 2” and was left handed. He could run it; he and it had had a long relationship. It was a gasoline powered engine and it looked like something out of an ancient issue of “Popular Mechanics”. I knew how to do it; obviously I had to do it, but it was very awkward for me because it was all set up for a tall, strong man who was left handed. It was incredibly noisy. The well served several camps; it was constantly going. My son Brendon made it a quest of his that we would get a generator that was quieter.
JM: Oh bless his heart!
MS: Also that mom could start with a key! The other one involved pulling a rope which was set to be pulled by a tall man.
JM: Like starting a lawn mower.
MS: It was worse because by my doing it, it was the wrong side of my body. Brendon oversaw getting a wonderful little Honda generator that was just so quiet and you just started it with a key.
JM: Good man.
MS: Good man and it is still in use.
JM: It seems that you have to make a conscious decision to want to live for the summer or a weekend with a compost toilet, and no electricity, and no communication.
MS: Well some people have running water. I am remembering why they were called New York Toilets. I first head the phrase at Louise O’Brien’s camp; she had a New York toilet. That meant it was a water closet and it went somewhere. We had one in the farmhouse for a very short time; it never worked properly. It never had enough pressure; it was always smelly. I was not sorry to see it discontinued. Yes, I suppose you do have to make a conscious decision. Most people are there because they want to be on the mountain and the rest of it just happens. It is what you deal with.
JM: Before we close, is there anything that you would like to add to this interview?
MS: Gosh I don’t have any idea.
JM: Well if you do think of something.
MS: Seriously off the top of my head one thing you haven’t dealt with is the people on the mountain who are buried in the cemetery. It is not just an ancient cemetery; it has not been deconsecrated or whatever you do to a cemetery. In addition to all the ties and the memories and all the rest of it that is there, my mother and father and brother are buried there; my son is buried there. My cousin Betsy and her husband Al are buried there. I’ll be buried there, and I expect Patrick will be too. There is something enormously appropriate and comforting about knowing that I can walk over the top of the hill and find them there. It probably would be duplicated in many places where people have lived in the same place, the same town all over this country. Since so many of us don’t live that way anymore, it’s another important part of life. It is another important bond to the mountain. Danny Brazee is buried there, Bud Brazee is buried there. These are the people of this part of my life which is perhaps the most important part of my life.
JM: When Mrs. Vail took me up to do my cemetery inspection, she said,” Oh I don’t mind; this is visiting all my old friends and relatives.” For her it was also very comforting.
MS: That does not surprise me; I would be surprised if she and I didn’t agree on that.
JM: Thank you so much for you time.
MS: You are welcome.
Property of the Oral History Project: the Salisbury Association at the Scoville Memorial Library, Salisbury, Ct. 06068