Martin J. Whalen Interview:
This is file 3 4 cycle 2. Today’s date is October 19, 2015. This is Jean McMillen and I am interviewing Martin Whalen who is going to talk about growing up in town, his misadventures as a child, and anything else he wants to talk about.
JM:What is your name?
MW:Martin James Whalen
JM:When were you born?
MW:July 18, 1943
JM:Where were you born?
MW:I was born in St. Mary’s Hospital in Waterbury, Ct.
JM:Your parents’ names?
MW:Joseph A. and Victoria Hines Whalen
JM:Do you have brothers?
MW:I have 4 brothers: in age they are Andrew, Peter, Timothy, (me) and John.
JM:What is your educational background?
MW:High school at Housatonic Valley Regional and one year at aeronautical school
JM:We are going to start with being a young man and baseball. Andy Whalen did he have a baseball school?
MW:He did. He worked for Wilbur Hemmerly during the summers; he had a baseball school at the Community field. He did it while he was in college. He did that in the morning and he was the life guard in the afternoon at the beach.
JM:Would this have been under the recreation program?
MW:Yeah it would have been.
JM:Did you ever play baseball with Frank McArthur Sr.?
MW:Yes briefly for about one year. He was still playing.
JM:I understand he was pretty good.
MW:He was very good. When he had in his prime (when I was really a young man10 or12, he had this huge bat and it was purple. I will always remember that. A purple bat and it looked to me like about
4 feet long. He was just amazing. He was just the best bad ball hitter I ever saw. He always hit the bat with the ball, he very rarely struck out.
JM:Do you know what fungos are?
MW:I do know what a fungo bat is?
JM:OK because I got that from his son David about how to do fungos. What position did you play?
MW:I was catcher.
JM:Do you remember some of the men or young boys that you played with?
MW:Do you mean when we got older than teenagers? I played with Rusty Chandler a year. Yes, I guess so I did play with Geoff Marchant for a year or so. Andy was on the team; he was our shortstop. Bill Fox, someone who lives up on Mt. Riga Steve Griggs. That is all I can remember. If I think of anybody else I shall just shout it out.
JM:Now you had a connection with Taconic; you had some friends out there.
MW:I did. Hobie Terhune and I were great friends when we were growing up. I used to ride my bike to Hobie’s house and then we would go to the channel. We had a rope in a tree and we would spend all day there. It was such fun.
JM:If you are riding your bicycle to Taconic, did you go 41 or 44?
MW:41 as it was flatter. I did not want to climb that hill the” S es” there by Salisbury School. That was pretty dangerous. I went up 41; it was not a bad ride, kind of flat.
JM:Did you go over Beaver Dam?
MW:I would go down Beaver dam Road and the back way to Hobie’s. It was just a short way.
JM:Hobie’s real name was?
JM:Did you go swimming at the Grove?
MW:I can remember going as a really young boy. Mr. Timmins.
JM:Do you remember what he looked like?
MW:Not exactly, we used to pay a quarter to go swimming. I remember going over there and it was completely different than it is now. There was a little shack. You gave him a quarter; I think he had a place where you could put your clothes while you swam. That was what the quarter was for I think. You
put your clothes in a wire basket, or a soda box. Then when you got done, you had a little place back there where you could change. You would put your clothes on and off you would go.
JM:I know he rented out boats. Do you remember a boat named Jacko?
MW:Yes, that was a boat that Jack Larney used to have. That was the name of his boat, Jacko. I guess that was what people called him, but he would be out there fishing. I knew him when he was retired. I never knew what he did. He would sit out there pretty much all day in the same spot. If you went into the Grove today and go down the road and you kept right on going, he would be right out there in that same spot. He would sit there for hours. He would be the color of an old baseball catcher’s mitt by the end of the summer, he was so brown. He was a nice old man.
JM:Now you worked out of the Gillette estate.
MW:I did. I worked for Mr. Borrows and I don’t remember his first name at all.
JM:What did you do out there?
MW:I weeded the pachysandra, and I edged the all the walk ways of pea stone. He didn’t let me do any mowing, but I was pretty young then. Anything I did was with hand tools so I wouldn’t hurt myself.
JM:You had a hatchet story.
MW:I did. I was making some stakes for something, but I was cutting a board, slice a board and I missed the board and hit my finger. I came into his kitchen bleeding. I was bleeding all over. His wife said, “Oh my god!” He wrapped it up and took me down to Dr. Brewer. Dr. Brewer took a look at it and he goes, “Well we’ll just put in a couple of stitches and you’ll be fine.” I still have the scar. Well I know where that came from.
JM:I have down here Mark Simenon from Shadow Rock over on Cleaveland Street?
MW:We used to pal around. We never realized who Mark Simenon’s father was; he was just a regular kid. When I got older we found out who his father was. Well, that was pretty neat. I palled around with somebody famous. (George Simenon was a French mystery writer of note. Ed.)
MW:I did not know it at the time; he was just another kid in town.
JM:That’s OK too. It is the way it should be.
MW:We would pal around at the Grove; I would see him occasionally. He was a friend.
JM:Nils Herrington, Upland Meadows Road?
MW:When I got out of high school, I worked for him for about 8 months. He was building the first house up on Upland Meadow Road which was his house. That was the first house built up there. I just worked for him as a gopher. Anything he wanted me to do. “Get the kid to do it.” My big job was to sweep up. “Now we sveep.” Every once in a while he would say, “Go measure that.” I would go measure it and I would tell him what it was. He would come right behind me and measure it again just to be sure. He never trusted me. His oldest son Ken worked with me; he is a couple of years older than I was. It was in the wintertime and we were putting that vermiculite insulation in the ceiling. Ken slipped off the rafter and put his foot right through the dining room ceiling. I said to ken, “I am not going down there; I am staying up here.” They had just finished the floor, all the floors were finished and here is this huge hole in the ceiling. Somebody was telling me that if you have it now, you have to have it vacuumed out because it is not safe. I didn’t know that.
JM:You worked for Ward Finkle.
MW:I got laid off in the winter time. All construction business is slow in the winter. I go laid off. I just could not stand the thought of not having a job. I just had to have a job. I don’t even know if there was unemployment back then. I don’t know; I never tried to get it. I went down to Ward Finkle. I asked him if he needed anybody. “Yeah.” So I worked for Ward for about 1 ½ years, pumping gas. I remember one time Angelo Marcon; he was Tina Marcon’s father brought a battery in. I said to him, “Mr. Marcon, do you want this battery charged? He goes, “No, I pay cash.” I said, “No, do you want me to charge the battery?”
JM:You had a Sam Whitbeck story about him, a nickname first and then the story with the golf shoes.
MW:My father called Sam Whitbeck “Pills” I don’t know why, but that was what my father would call Sam Whitbeck. One day about noon I saw Sam coming up the steps of the post office. I saw him come into the vestibule. Then he got into the terrazzo floor. I heard the clicking sound. He was starting to skate a bit because he has his golf spikes on. He had been playing golf and forgot to remove his shoes. Those golf spikes on that terrazzo floor were like being on a pair of roller skates. “Sam, stand right there; don’t move!” I ran out of the office door, grabbed a hold of his arm took him over to his mail box, and guided him back out to the steps and helped him down there. “Don’t forget to take your spikes of before you walk into the post office or it will kill you.”
JM:In the line of postmasters in Lakeville it was Fred Constantine; then his wife Marie took it over, then your dad Joseph Whalen and then you. Your dad retired about…?
MW:I think my dad retired in 1978 or 1979, I don’t remember exactly, but it was one of those two years. I want to say it was 1978.
JM:Was he in the fire department?
MW:He was in it for a long time. No he never was chief; I think he got as high as Foreman. He was a Fire Marshall in town forever because I remember Matt Chamberlain who ran the Wake Robin Inn back in the day. Every time he opened up in the spring when he came back from Florida, he had a place like the Wake robin Inn in Florida, my father would have to go up there and inspect all the fire extinguishers. I remember Matt Chamberlain saying to my father, “You know, you have signed about 50 of these permits.” So he must have been fire Marshall for a very long time.
JM:You took over from your dad at the Post Office about 1979,
MW:Oh yes about a year later.
JM:You stayed in Lakeville until 1987?
MW:I was in Litchfield about 13 or 14 years, so 1987 would be right.
JM:Then you went to Litchfield from Lakeville. Odd question but was it through choice or was it reassignment?
MW:It was choice. The job became vacant in Litchfield and I applied for it.
MW:I just wanted something different. I wanted to get out of my own yard. It was a bigger office, more responsibility, more carriers and more headaches.
JM:It is nice to do something different.
MW:It was hard for a while until I got acclimated; I didn’t know anybody. After a while I really enjoyed it. I met a lot a nice people in Litchfield.
JM:There are a lot of nice people down in Litchfield as well as here in Lakeville. You retired in 2000.
MW:That is correct.
JM:You have a number of civic boards that you have been on.
MW:I was on the Recreation Commission.
JM:Do you know how long? Go get your diploma there.
MW:1972-1988 I was the Chairman’ I was on the board actually from 1967 to 1988.
JM:WOW! That is long time. How about the fire department?
MW:I was in the fire department probably 35 years.
JM:Were you an officer?
MW:I was the treasurer for 8 or 9 years.6.
JM:Oh that is a good job! Has the fire department gotten bigger or the time or stayed about the same?
MW:Do you mean the enrollment?
JM:Yes, the enrollment
MW:The enrollment has actually gotten smaller. It is so hard to get volunteers.
JM:It takes a lot of time to do the training.
MW:Years ago we didn’t have all the training. Now you have to; there is fire fighter #1 and the state demands all that training.
JM:I have talked to a couple of guys that are in the fire department (See Russell Hoage File # 87/99 and Darin Reid file #85/97). It blew me away with the number of hours of training that they had to and it is all on their own time and their own gas.
JM:They are dedicated. A lot of the guys that I have talked with have a family history as there is with you. Your dad was in the fire department so it sort of something that you did too. We are losing that.
MW:My older brother Andy, after college he was at Minnechaug High School in Wilbraham, Mass. but he lived in Enfield. He was the chief of the Hazzardville Fire Department for years. So it sort of runs in our family.
JM:It is a good thing.
MW:Even the Hazzardville people were volunteers.
MW:I joined the ambulance in 2001. Right after I retired. I saw something in the Journal that they were looking for drivers for the ambulance. I could do that. I went up and I talked to Jackie Rice (see file # 31 Jacqueline Rice). “I understand you are looking for drivers.” Yes, are you interested?” Yeah I would be very interested to do it?” I did that for a year. They said, “We really need more EMTs so do you want to take the EMT course?” “Hell, no” “Ah you can do that. It is only 30 hour or something like that. You have to go to the class every Thursday night.” I did that. I did it with Kaki Schafer Reid (See file 68/80 Kaki Schafer Reid). It was tough; I learned a lot of things. It was very important to do it and do it right.
JM:Oh yes, do it right! Planning & Zoning?
MW:I got on the Planning & Zoning Commission but I don’t remember exactly what year it was, but it was the year Gordie Johnson got off the commission.
JM:Oh gee that must have been back in the 1990’s.
MW:Yeah it was back in the ‘90’s, early 90’s. I was still in Litchfield. It has been a long time.
JM:What does Planning and Zoning actually do?
MW:Planning and Zoning is just a way of orderly growth in the town.
JM:I like that. That sums it up nicely.
MW:It is basically what we do. There are rules. There are things you can do and things that you can’t do. There is a reason for it.
JM:Did you have to do any specialized training for that?
MW:No, we learned it all that on the fly. It was interesting. When I first got on there, there were people that applied for different things and/or permits. The people that wanted exemptions; people would want this and that. It is a real balancing act not to inhibit your rights as a citizen, but on the other hand you have to give consideration to your neighbor. If you can do that everybody is happy. We try to say that if you give up something, you will get something, a compromise, exactly. Really that is all it is. People are dead set against somebody doing something but how about if they do this? As for example a row of trees is planted so you can’t even see the house; that may placate somebody. That is fine; I just don’t want to look at it.
JM:How many are on the planning & zoning board?
MW:There are 5 regular members and 3 alternates.
JM;How often do you meet?
MW:We meet twice a month the first and third Mondays of every month. At one meeting we try to do zoning issues asking for a permit to do something we try to get it done in the first session; the next meeting is the planning. In some communities they have two different boards a zoning board and a planning board. We have to do both.
JM:It would make more sense to have it as one board because the right hand would know what the left hand is doing. It is a small town. Lime Rock Cemetery Board. You got stuck on that one.
MW:Yeah I know. Bonnie was the tax collector for the Lime Rock Lighting District when we first moved down here (1968 Ed.) Lee Collins had been the tax collector so he was always looking around for somebody to palm his jobs off onto. Bonnie got the tax collector job. A few years later he asked me if I would like to be on the cemetery board. I said, “Sure.” We only meet once a year the last Monday in
June. I can do that. I went to the first meeting; everybody greeted me. The next meeting for some reason I missed. Lee called me up on Tuesday and said, “We missed you at the meeting; we elected you Chairman.” Let that be a lesson to you; don’t ever miss a meeting!
JM:How long have you been on that?
MW: Oh 15 years.
JM:You moved to Lime rock in 1968?
JM:What haven’t I asked you that you really want to talk about?
MW:You know I have such fond memories of growing up here in town. I come from a family of 5; you always have somebody to play with. We were 7 people in a 3 bedroom house.
JM:Were you always on Porter Street?
MW:We were always on Porter Street.
JM:You always have somebody to play with; you know all the neighborhood kids.
MW:There were kids on every side street in this town. The one thing I really can’t get over. There doesn’t seem to be as many kids on these side streets. It was all work force housing; that is what they call it now. Everybody worked. We all met at the ball field; we would be down there until dusk. We would be going to the Grove. It was a great place to grow up.
JM:The Stuart Theatre had gone?
MW:We used to go to the Stuart Theatre as kids. We always went. One of us would go in and pay and then open the side door on the right hand side of the theatre and let the rest of us in. I don’t think they could lock the door legally, but they had somebody who knew. They watched you like “Oh no!”
JM:How about the bowling alley?
MW:The bowling alley was under the theatre, but I don’t remember ever doing anything in that bowling alley. I remember going to Canaan when I was a teenager and playing duck pin bowling.
JM:Ours was located under the Episcopal Church.
MW:And everybody had to behave.
JM:It sounds like it was a fun time to grow up because you got on your bike and you just went.
MW:When my mother got really frustrated with us, she would say, “All right out! Go to the Grove, go somewhere and be back by dark, and stay out of trouble.”
JM:And if you got into trouble,
MW:They would know it before I got home.
JM:I did not grow up in that environment, but in talking to other of our age, they say that here there was a whole lot of freedom and they really enjoyed living here.
MW:It was care free. Those times back then we were all so innocent. I picked a great time to grow up in this country. I feel sorry for the kids today; it is so different. It was care free; you didn’t worry about anything. That was the adults’ problem; let them worry about it.
JM:Is there anything else you want to add?
MW:No I think that pretty well covers it. I have no regrets about living in this town my entire life.
JM:It is a nice town.
MW:It is a wonderful town.
JM:What a good way to end this. Thank you so much.
MW:You are welcome.