Ruth Drinker
Marie Gooding Eaton
Memories of Concord Academy

Interviewed at Marie Eaton's home, 280 Estabrook Road April 10, 2003

Concord Oral History Program
Renee Garrelick, Interviewer.

Click here for audio in .mp3 format

Ruth DrinkerRuth — I was born in 1914 in the upstairs master bedroom of a little house on Sudbury Road. We lived there for ten years, and then we moved to a house on what is now Simon Willard Road overlooking the meadows down to the river. It had been the home of General Darling, Elizabeth Babcock's father. It had a tennis court. When my parents decided to have a garden out back, they ran into the foundation of Simon Willard's barn from his farm. They incorporated that in with the garden. I spent the rest of my life in Concord at that house.

My maiden name was Brooks. My father was Arthur Brooks. He was in real estate in both Boston and Concord. The Boston part grew so big and the Concord part also was growing and he couldn't do both, so he turned the Concord part over to Mrs. David Baldwin, whose husband was headmaster at Middlesex School. She did very well. My mother was Ruth Faxon from Brookline. My father had a brother, Edwin Brooks, who was also in real estate in Boston. He had a son, Edwin Brooks who lived on Garfield Road. Betty, his sister, lived quite a long time in Concord. She married James Ford and they bought a house on Spencer Brook Road, and they lived there for a long time.

My parents were married in 1911, saved their pennies and settled in Concord in a very modest little house with no cellar under the kitchen, so my mother cooked in heavy boots all winter. She told me that on the worst nights and days, the teakettle would boil over and freeze on the floor. There was heat but it didn't reach the kitchen floor. There were no underpinnings.

My aunt, Uncle Ned's wife, was a trained teacher. She met the need for three or four small children who needed special training as there wasn't anything available in the public system at all. So she started her own little school in the basement (which often flooded) of the house just east of the bridge on Monument Street. It was occupied by Mr. & Mrs. Swain and their family. Underneath the house there was quite a big finished basement.

The school then moved to a bungalow on Lang Street. Aunt Gladys bought that and really had the beginnings of her school there. They outgrew that property as the school became very popular, and then they bought on Wood and Elm Streets.

Concord Academy was a Montessori effort and it was on Belknap Street. Mrs. Dutton was the teacher and that was where I went to school. That was the beginnings of Concord Academy.

Marie — I was born in 1922 in Boston. My family lived in Cambridge and we moved to Concord in about 1925 to the Lee House on Main Street. It was in about 1928 that my family bought what is now the Aloian House where they stayed until my mother died. We sold the house to Concord Academy. It was obviously the only house on the street that didn't belong to Concord Academy. Both the Lee House and Aloian House became part of Concord Academy. My parents were Julia and Frederick Gooding. My father came from Portsmouth and my mother came from St. Louis. The St. Louis people used to spend their summers in New Hampshire and that's where my father and mother met up. When they first married, they bought a little house in Cambridge. My father worked in advertising at the old Boston Herald.

My life during my growing up centered around Concord Academy which over the years grew up around our house. I went there from kindergarten to 12th grade. When I first went there, there were boys there in the very early years, but then they departed. It was only girls when I was there later. I made good friends and many of them are still my best friends. Miss Hobson was the first headmistress and remained so until 1940. She terrified us all.

I remember going downtown after school with my friends to the soda fountain at Richardson's Drug Store. Other things I remember were the dancing classes at the Scout House run by Freddy Childs, and the ice man who brought ice to our back door and put it directly into the ice chest, several big markets downtown besides Andersons and A&P and The First National. There was a wonderful fruit store run by Jimmy and Adam and it was marvelous. I remember skating across the river in back of my house over to the flooded meadows where we all skated. There were automobile agencies right in the middle of town -- Muddy & Terrell about where Anderson's Photo is now and Middlesex Motors where Tuttle's Livery is. The Comeau property on Main Street in West Concord is now Concord Greene. I remember my parents led a very gay social life with lots of dinner parties.

In World War II, I worked in Boston for the head of the British Naval Mission that came to Boston to supply troops for the ships we were building for them. It was a very exciting job and made rationing seem like no hardship. I remember two small stores in downtown Concord — Miss Buck who sold all manner of notions and Miss Potten(?) where my first long evening dress came from. Concord was much more the small town then. If you didn't actually know everyone, you knew who they were. In the early days I remember an elderly lady, ramrod straight driving her electric car down Main Street. In those days, the Concord Independent Battery shot their dawn salute from Nashawtuc Hill, and I remember being awakened at dawn indeed to hear the horses pulling the cannon down Main Street. I remember my mother calling Anderson's market in the morning and having the groceries delivered. The Chinese laundry, the Arkin brothers, the tailors, and Sunday evenings going to movies in Maynard. We always sat in the balcony where all our friends sat too.

Ruth — I was terrified of Miss Hobson as Marie said. I remember the uniforms we had to use. My mother loved to sew and I had a long one-mile walk to school. My mother always made me wear these big voluminous tweed bloomers over my regular school clothes. But as I got to Nashawtuc Hill bridge, I took the bloomers off and hid them under the bridge and put them on again when I went home. This was for warmth. I was very unsociable.

In my era the sociable dances for the young people were in the upstairs of the Town House. Middlesex School had no girls them. It was a good deal of discomfort because we were separate unisex schools and we didn't have many social graces. Some of the Concord Academy girls were more adept at that than we. I can remember sitting along the wall. I was square. I was just as wide as I was tall, so knowing what a wall flower was, was part of my growing up.

The private school system has very strong roots in Concord. It goes way back with Thoreau to the Concord Academy that was started on Middle Street.

Marie EatonMarie — You asked somewhere along the line about saying something about how we came to write this. We got together to write this book, "The Story of the Concord Academy Houses". It was a situation where Ruth and I had both grown up in Concord and had gone to Concord Academy and we were quite aware of the fact that as Concordians we knew about all those houses, but the girls who came from other parts of the country or the world didn't know. We thought they should know this, and that's why we got together to get the history of the houses and the people who lived in them. The house I grew up in had some very distinguished people live there during their school years. They included the Thoreaus. I wanted to say something in that book, but was told I couldn't about the fact that the Thoreaus never had any money and they lived practically everywhere in town. They lived in that house maybe one year then they moved across the street which is now called the Monroe house.

Tom Wilcox, who was the headmaster at the time we wrote the book, announced that he was going to see that every boarder at the school had a copy of the book so they would know what it was all about.

Ruth — One of the reasons we started this book was that a change in administration had decided to take a name out. The board of trustees changed the name of Tucker House, which had been named for a long time headmistress, and gave the house the name of one of the big donors to the school. We were incensed. The Archives Committee that we were on really got undone. We went to the top and we had all sorts of meetings and all sorts of people but we didn't win. But in the long run, I think we probably did because of the book.

Marie — Also I think they were aware that this was not the sort of integrity that we wished to pass on to the next people that were coming there, that they could change the name if they gave some money.

Ruth - While I was growing up, we lived very simply but we always had a mother's helper, as they called it. The resources for help in our time were in Maynard. Maynard was a mill town, and there were women who wanted extra jobs. I can remember a series of them. I still have recipes from some of them. They were part of our family. They didn't hesitate to do anything else. It wasn't I'm just a cook or I wouldn't touch ???. They were mothers' helpers.

Marie — We always had somebody who was full time and did everything. Do you know my mother wrote a cookbook called "Formal Dinners" that was published in 1940? She was upset about that because the first chapter was titled Formal Dinners, and she really didn't think that was a good way to sell a cookbook.

Ruth — Every family had their Tony the gardener who would be one of the Italians behind the depot. They provided gardening help for anybody who could afford it and they weren't very expensive. They really took care of the places but not on a contract basis. Our mothers were gardeners and these men were assistants.

Marie — My mother was quite a gardener. That was her life. But I don't remember anyone mowing the lawn. My father went once a year out to the garden.

The "accommodators" were the ladies who came in if you were having a party. If my mother was having a large party, the accommodator would come in and accommodate and help put the party on. It was not much cooking, it was more the serving and setting the table and clearing up. There were also many times people who helped with the laundry, but I remember my mother taking the laundry to someone behind the depot.

Ruth — My mother always took the laundry to Mrs. DiCicco, Elaine DiCicco's grandmother.

As to the outdoor activities, my father and mother loved the out-of-doors and brought me up to love the outdoors. There was a little tiny hill next to where we lived on Musketaquid Road, and we took mother's best trays and the minute there was a crust we were sled down that little hill. Then we grew out of that and went over to Nashawtuc Hill where the Shaw family allowed the town to use skis and toboggans. They even built jumps. Then cross-country skiing came and we all used Estabrook Woods for cross-country skiing. It was difficult in those days with the wide boards and fences you had to cross and you could snag your pants on the barbed wire. It was fun. Walden Pond was only used at the very end to skate because it was so deep. But there were lots of ponds. The river was tricky. My father and Tim Keyes and Dick Eaton were a few of the people who really knew how to read ice by the sound. They always had a hockey stick and would go ahead and with the echo could tell about the depth. Dad always had ropes around his waist in case anyone went through the ice. He had skates that turned up at the ends like Hans Brinker. I still have them.

Three or four families bought the property around Goose Pond near Walden Pond and they bought into the wood. They put up a cabin. Almost every weekend in the winter we had cookouts there. I had 52 stitches in my leg from one of the coasting accidents over there. But we had a lot of fun over there. That was a real social occasion for all ages.

Marie — As a child, I can remember walking across the street at the library and watching the Memorial Day parade come down Stow Street and go down Main Street. I think that was all I saw. They must have gone to the cemeteries. I was a Girl Scout, but I don't remember marching to the cemetery.

Ruth — They finally decided I think that the Catholic cemetery was too far away. It was such a long way for the parade to go all the way down halfway to Bedford. The people that had staked out places to sit and watch had a long wait for the parade to come back.

Marie — Well, they've changed that now in the fact that they start out there. They start at Ash Street, which is beyond the Concord cemetery so they don't do two routes any more.

Ruth — We spent a lot of time before Memorial Day accepting and almost stealing lilacs from everybody's yard because they would make nice wreaths, and we would put them on long poles and some of us would have to carry the poles. [voice fades]

Marie — Do you remember stealing lilacs for May Day.

Ruth — I certainly do.

Marie — We danced the May pole. We had a May queen. It was a big deal.

Ruth — We had flags and we had the bunting just the way it is today.

Marie — My husband John was brought up in Concord. He was third generation and his grandfather, William Lorenzo Eaton, was superintendent of schools. And there were two William Lorenzo Eatons. There was another one that came earlier. My husband was involved in the Independent Battery and marched in the Memorial Day parade. Then after the war he did more marching with the veterans than he did with the Battery. He was president of the Battery and his son is now, which is nice.

We have a group of old pictures from during World War II. It showed my father and, I think, Ruth's father rolling bandages. My mother was sort of head of a Red Cross bandage rolling group.

Both our families planted victory gardens during the war. My mother's garden was all vegetables and some of them were given to her by John Eaton. I ended up marrying the next John. Our families were good friends, but John was that much older than I. He later became a representative in 1955 to 1967. Then in 1972 he became a judge of the Concord District Court. Concord was a very Republican town at that time. That's why he was a rep for so long because he never had any competition.

Ruth — Concord was sort of split. West Concord tended to be more Democratic than Republican.

Marie — But Concord is pretty much all Democratic today. Or, the larger category today may be Independent. The Concord and West Concord split was more evident in our day. Even though we now have the same zip code, there is still some division between Concord and West Concord.

Ruth —There was a great deal of feeling in those days. I think Concord was very snobbish. But you could get caught in the middle because the feelings between Concord and West Concord were around religion. West Concord tended to be mostly Catholic and Concord was not mostly Catholic. There was quite a feeling.

Marie — I don't agree with you. I was Catholic and I had said before that I went to Concord Academy and I was the only Catholic in the school besides my sister. I never, ever had a feeling that I was not as good as the next one.

Ruth — It wasn't that kind of thing. I don't how I can explain it but in those days the West Concord group was considered a class difference.

Marie — I agree with that rather than a religious difference. We had a bigger church in Concord than in West Concord so we must have had plenty of Catholics down here.

Ruth —The first West Concord selectman was a big thing. It really broke some of the log jams. I can't remember who it was. I think it was before Archie Farren.

Marie — The class differences was where there was separation between Concord and West Concord. You had an immigrant assimilation in Concord. The Italians were Catholic and the Irish. Do you remember Leif Nash? He was another person that I remember very well. In fact John and I got engaged over his bar. The bar was in his factory in West Concord, Dover Ski Binding. He lived there and he had a bar. John was a very good friend of Leif's and we used to go up there.

Getting back to downtown Concord and the vibrancy of it. I think the downtown has changed tremendously. It is not Concordians owning all these little stores any more except like the Vanderhoofs.

Ruth — As to the telephone exchange which was over Snow's Pharmacy. You had one telephone in the house and if you were expecting an important call, often you would call the exchange and tell the operator, if a call comes in we'll be wherever. That was before the answering machine.

Marie — The basics could be found downtown. As I mentioned earlier, you can't get a bottle of milk downtown now. When we were kids, there were several big grocery stores. Of course, the A&P and First National weren't owned by Concordians, but the other stores like Andersons and Maras. The idea of having things delivered gave it a very personalized touch. I have this feeling today I wouldn't consider calling up and ordering my groceries. I'd have to go and get the right melon or make sure the meat looked right.

Ruth — My husband was an engineer. He commuted from Concord to Foxboro for 27 years. At that time there was no Route 128. I had a job here, and we didn't want to get involved in Foxboro. It was very ingrown down there.

I was one of the founders of Nashoba School. The Brooks School went from three-year olds to the third grade. Then the boys could go on to Fenn, but there was no private education for girls. A group of parents and some of us teachers felt very strongly that there should be a link for the girls before Concord Academy or wherever they went. Concord Academy originally had all the grades from kindergarten through grade 12, but they began to drop grades a bit at a time. Then Brooks School took over some and Fenn took over some. It took five years to get Nashoba School off the ground. Mrs. Brooks and Roger Fenn were all behind it. We finally got enough enthusiasm to get the school started and we called it Nashoba Country Day School. The school started in the Wheeler House in which Concord Academy loaned the ground floor to us. We started with about 25 students. We hired John Gillepsie as an architect and found some land on Strawberry Hill Road, and he drew up a very modern plan. That plan could be expanded and thank goodness it could because it grew from 25 students to now over 400, boys and girls. Then Brooks and Nashoba under Jean Travis and Pat Ellis combined, and it is now Nashoba-Brooks School.

Ruth Drinker and Marie Eaton

Text mounted 14 Feb. 2008; images and audio mounted 6 July 2013