John Clarkson
99 Main Street

Interviewed May 5, 1986

Age 62

Concord Oral History Program
Renee Garrelick, Interviewer

Click here for audio in .mp3 format

My mother's family goes back quite far in Concord history, in fact supposedly it goes all the way back to Peter Bulkeley. My grandmother was Bessie Brooks, Caroline Elizabeth Brooks known as Bessie, and her adoptive sister was Mary Brooks known as Madie and we always called her Aunt Madie. That was the family of Judge Brooks sometimes called Squire Brooks and they lived on Hubbard Street and later on in the home now occupied by Harry Lang on Sudbury Road, I believe it's One Sudbury Road.

She was quite wealthy and had a home up on Liberty Street - it's a big yellow farm house formerly the Derby farm. You can see the well cover and a path to her front door with a "D" on it for Derby farm. And we used to go up there at Christmas time, the whole family, and those Christmases are very precious to my memory believe me.

My mother was Elizabeth Brooks Cutter and she had two sisters, Rosemary Cutter and Gretchen Cutter. Gretchen died in childbirth in 1929 and my Aunt Rosemary was a constant part of our family all my life. My mother was a very socially conscious person. I don't think my aunt cared a hoot about it and I know my dad didn't. My dad's family all came from Newburyport. My father's name was John Wheeler Clarkson. As a matter of fact, where I'm living now in Rockport is where my parents met. They met at the Rockport Country Club my mother used to say on the tennis court. That's where they got to know each other.

My family went to the Unitarian Church. That and the Congregational Church and the Episcopal Church were the three most important churches in town when I was growing up. I was told early on particularly when I began to go to public school in second grade that it would be nice if I would ask the boys before I brought them home what church they went to and tell her. If they went to the Catholic Church she wasn't too much in favor of my associating with them although she later on modified that a bit when she got to know one of my dear friends, Paul Dee. She liked Paul very much and that kind of changed her mind, I think.

Concord was divided in many ways. Certainly there were perhaps four or five different levels. You had at the bottom of the heap the Italians who arrived last and lived down on Bedford Court, mostly the Rizzitanos. There were twenty children in that family and they were kind of rough and ready and others were up behind the depot, "the other side of the tracks". Then next in line were the Irish who at this point in the '30s were beginning to be assimilated into the middle levels of Concord living.

If you lived in West Concord as far as my mother was concerned you were beyond the pale. There were so many fine families up there, people like the Damons, who I got to know later on. My mother knew my friend Dick Damon's father and his uncles but there was no social life between them.

The high powered families at that time and the one at the top of my list was the Brooks Stevens family. They represented pretty much the top of the heap and they lived on Lowell Road. Brooks Stevens has since died. I hardly knew him. But there were others as time went on, the prominent ones were people like the Shaws, the Edgartons, and I knew Henry Edgarton very well. A finer young man you'd never want to meet. I call him a good friend of mine. And the Lunts, certainly Dr. Lunt, and the Emerson family, although there again, Billy Emerson, we knew each other and we could greet and talk. Those I think were the high powered ones and later came along families like the Moores and the Kidders were all part of that group. They either lived on Nashawtuc Hill or in the "park" as we called the area of Crescent Road.

My closest friends as time went on became such people as Walter Borden Jr., Donald Ferber, my own cousin John Wood and various others, Henry Thurlow, Teddy Daniels. Teddy and Henry were ministers' children. We had a group that kind of stuck together in high school and we had members of the other areas too, for instance John Antinone came from Elsinore Street was a part of group sometimes. He eventually married into the Andy Boy broccoli family and died, he had some bad troubles.

Initially there were struggles with my mother who would rather have me socialize with, well, the Foss children or the Kidders. I knew these people, we would meet and talk but we were just not good friends. I felt I didn't want to compete socially. I wanted very much to choose my own friends which I finally did. She finally gave up on it after a while.

My parents did belong to the Concord Country Club for many years. After a certain point they dropped their membership as they got older but my dad loved to play golf and he and Walter Borden constantly played golf through the '30s. My dad would come home from work and without even having supper would grab his golf clubs and go up to the country club. He worked for the Hood- Goodrich Rubber Company in Watertown for well over forty years.

On committees you had the hard workers like Burleigh Pratt or D. Ripley Gage. The Concord Players was a fine organization in town at the time. It's only within the last twenty or twenty-five years that they've become really democratic. I used to go to the Concord Players presentations every year when it was deemed a suitable play and it always was. I think the most risque' one they ever put on was The Petrified Forest and there was a lot of cussing in the first scene and they had to modify it in the later performances after the first night.

But there were always the leaders, the Wheeler family, Lesley Anderson, the same names appeared again and again. The Keyes were a socially prominent family and of course the Robbs. Nobody in this town will ever know how many young people Mrs. Russell Robb Sr., that is the current Rusty Robb's grandmother, sent to college and paid for herself.

Even today the fund for the less fortunate members of the Unitarian Church is called the Fund for the Silent Poor and nothing is ever said about this kind of thing. It's all done very quietly and it was so in those days too.

As far as the Keyes, I knew Danny Keyes and I knew the girl he married, Barbara Richardson, who was very much a part of our small group. And her dad Laurie had been an old beau of my mothers way back. In fact I have a beautiful picture of my mother and Laurie Richardson dancing at my daughter's wedding back a few years ago. They were quite a steady thing for while I guess.

At seventh or eighth grade, that was the time of the junior sociables. If you were on the right list, you got an invitation. I remember we had a fellow in my class whose mother had a great deal to do with making up that list so if you felt someone that wasn't on there should be, you might slip a word and get him put on the list.

That was sort of the beginning of, I suppose you would call it, true social consciousness. The junior sociables were held I believe four times a winter at the scout house and it was the first brush we had with formal social behavior. The boys wore tuxedos and the girls wore long dresses. There were dinners given before the dances and of course there was a certain amount of prestige as to whose dinner you got asked to. I kind of enjoyed the junior sociables. We had a gentleman who ran them by the name of Joseph Champagne and he would always start things off with "One, two, three, are you ready, let's go!" The music would start and off we would go. He would teach a little bit of dancing each time too.

Then later when you were about 16 or 17 years old you got invited to the senior sociables. They seemed to be mostly comprised of private school boys, that is people from Middlesex, Browne & Nichols, Milton Academy, some of whom I knew and some of whom I did not know. They were usually held at the Concord Country Club. I went to one and found it so distasteful in its stiff formality that I pulled out halfway through the evening and that was the end of that. I know I never went to another one.

The division between private and public schools became marked as you got older. You see we had the three private schools here in Concord. You had the Fenn School where I taught English for two years, for the younger boys, you had the Academy for girls, and you had Middlesex for the boys and some of the boys later on went further afield. Some of the boys I knew went all through the Fenn School, Billy Emerson and Larry Lunt and some others like Don Ferber went to a certain level and then came to the public school and then went away again. He and Walter Borden went to Exeter, and some went to Andover and other places. I myself left after my junior year from the high school and went to Stanton Military Academy down in Virginia.

Going to private school was prestigous. It was done not only for the welfare of the child but for the social welfare of the parents I always felt.

My paragons among the group of Irish was the Dee family. Of course, Charlie Dee's family was the funeral director. His greatgrandfather established that firm and there was a tremendous respect in this town for Charlie Dee and his family. The father of my friend Paul was a postman and his name was Bill Dee. As time went on and particularly with the influence of the war, several of Paul's brothers went into the service and they were officers. Now the prestige of being an officer did something for them you see as far as the town went and as far as their own feeling about themselves I'm sure. I was not an officer, but many of my friends were. If the kid from the other side of the track can come out of the war wearing oak leaves or an eagle, he's done something. That's a big accomplishment and that's exactly what it was. I think since World War II Concord has been a much more democratic sort of town than it was beforehand. This has been my experience.

There was one Jewish family in town that had children. There were two Jewish gentlemen, they were brothers and their name was Arkin. They were both tailors. Sam and Max had shops on the opposite sides of Main Street and the rumor was they didn't speak to each other for years and years. I don't know why and I don't know if that is even true or not. Natie Arkin was my contemporary and I was friendly with Natie, I knew him quite well. My mother had occasionally served on committees with Mrs. Arkin and everybody who ever met Sam loved him. He was a fine, fine fellow. He had a tremendous sense of humor. Lenny Arkin who was my brother's contemporary is one of my brother's oldest and closest friends even though they no longer live in Concord. Those were the only Jewish families I knew when I was growing up in Concord. I was influenced by antisemitism from some of my relatives and when I got down to Stanton I knew Jewish boys and I always got along with them fine. Later on in life, well I've been to so many parties where my wife and I were the only Christians in the whole room.

There was one black girl in the high school when I went there. She came from Lincoln. She was a lovely little girl and I know all the kids liked her and all that but she was the petunia in the onion patch, I'd say to turn around an old saying. It wasn't helped by certain teachers who would kid her a little bit about being black, referring to her as "miss sunset" or "miss nightshade" or something like that. I think it was a common thing at the time particularly where you had a minority of one. I'm sure if 90% of those kids were black, people would have kept their mouths shut. They certainly would keep their mouths shut today. The other kids responded to it to some degree but I think even then they felt this particular faculty member was going a little far.

I well remember prohibition days. I remember when prohibition was declared null and void and in fact that was one of the factors in town that helped divide the social groups. Many friends of my parents did not drink. My parents did and the crowd they went with did. There were drinks at all their parties and there was always liquor in our house but naturally if somebody was a teetotaler, you realize that he might be uncomfortable at your house or party so you didn't invite him and he understood why and you understood why you weren't invited to their parties. Several of my parents friends were just nondrinkers and each sort of respected the other person's feelings and that was all there was to it. But it did provide some kind of a division socially you see. It was there.

And people did have liquor around during prohibition. There were bootleggers around but I was far too young. After all I was born in 1923, I was far too young to be so sophisticated in my knowledge but I knew what a bootlegger was and I knew what a speakeasy was. As far as I was concerned all the bootleggers lived in Boston or Cambridge, there weren't any bootleggers in Concord but I'm very sure I'm wrong on that.

Text mounted 1st October 2011; audio mounted 30th June 2012. RCWH.