Bittersweet Beginnings:> A Sketchbook of a Great Depression Boyhood by James V. Wyman. Plaidsweed Publishing, Concord, N.H. Illustrated by Linda L. Tillson , 137 pages $19.95
In the 1920s and 1930s, Marshall’s Corner, Massachusetts, 20 miles south of Boston on the outskirts of Brockton, was a quiet, rural community. Today, in the way of so many New England country villages and towns, its Colonial houses are gone and soulless, efficient condominiums stand in their place. The towering trees that boys of 70 years ago climbed with agility and daring and in whose leaves they hid from their elders have been felled to make way for developments. Noisy, efficient highways now cut through once tranquil farmland. Asphalt parking lots have replaced grass and there are shopping malls where once there were house-lined streets.
Although, because we are on an Island, Vineyard communities have suffered less than Marshall’s Corner from modernization, there have been times when our trees’ leafy branches have scratched tour bus tops and the trees have been threatened by efficient highway departments. On the outskirts of Vineyard Haven and Edgartown, where once there were fields and woodlands, mini-malls now lure the pizza and doughnut-hungry. But compared to the mainland about which Wyman writes, we have been fortunate. It will, however, be those who remember blithely playing in the Vineyard’s pristine woods and plains and ponds in the 1920s and 1930s, who will particularly enjoy this recollection of a quieter, more rustic time in another part of rural Massachusetts.
James V. Wyman, the author of this charming little reminiscence of growing up in Marshall’s Corner, has been an Edgartown seasonal visitor for nearly three decades and has spent most of his adult life as a reporter and editor for the Providence Journal in Providence, R.I. He retired as executive editor and vice president in 1995.
Even though the specter of the Depression looms over this story of his childhood, it only tangentially affects his cheery adventures skipping stones on the ice of the neighborhood Mill Pond and exploring the cave of Wampanoag Indian chief King Philip. One Christmas, there is — briefly — a shortage of presents until two Good Samaritans step in. But above all, this is a happy, colorful reminiscence of simple games played out of doors, a small boy’s enjoyment of helping to hay, organizing a youthful fire brigade (that almost had disastrous consequences), playing Mumblety-peg with a jackknife in a time when boys safely and routinely carried jackknives with no evil intent.
There are recollections of sailing kites with an uncle, setting off Fourth of July fireworks with his father, climbing the fence (with the aid of an accommodating policeman) to get into the Brockton Fair free of charge. Only once or twice are somber, adult notes appended to his boyhood stories. Wyman is a World War II veteran. During the Battle of Leyte in the Philippines, on guard duty in the palm tree jungle, expecting Japanese sharpshooters at any minute, he remembers that earlier, safer time when he was hiding in Marshall’s Corner, surreptitiously watching a neighborhood farmer feeding his chickens in the henhouse at night.
Bittersweet Beginnings will send the reader nostalgically back to the simple days of the now endangered New England countryside and village.
— Phyllis Meras