Kristin Anderson Emerson

Interviewer: Carrie Kline
Date: May 7, 2014
Place of Interview: Concord Free Public Library, lower level
Transcriptionist: Adept Word Management

Click for audio: part 1, part 2.
Audio file is in .mp3 format.

Kristin Anderson EmersonCarrie Kline: 0:00:00.5 Okay, I believe today is May 6, 2014, and I'm Carrie Kline, here with my husband, Michael Kline, in the lower level of the Concord Public Library—and would you introduce yourself?

Kristin Anderson Emerson: Yes. Hi, I'm Kristin Anderson Emerson. I don't use all the names, but my maiden name is Kristin Anderson, and I'm now an Emerson.

CK: Okay, I'm just setting levels, so I'll ask you to do that again!

KE: Okay! (laughing)

CK: It was so beautiful!

KE: All right, I think I can do it again! My name is Kristin Emerson, and originally, I was Kristin Anderson.

Michael Kline: (whispering) Turn it up. (speaking audibly) This is a new machine, so we're getting it started playing.

KE: Sure!

MK: That's good.

CK: Can you see that all right?

KE: I'm happy to go again.

CK: No, that was fine—and your date of birth to put this in some perspective?

KE: August 20, 1950.

CK: Okay—and if you would, tell us about your people and where you were raised.

KE: Okay. I was born and raised in Concord, and I have a very broad and deep group of people in this town. I don't know if you want me to sort of dig right now into ancestors, but my father's line goes back to the Wheelers, and they've been here since 1600s, mostly as farmers out on the area around White Pond and Nine Acre Corner. Then, the Wheelers connected with the Andersons, and they are of Norwegian descent, so that's my lineage on my father's side. My mother, whom my father met in high school and they married—

MK: 0:02:08.2 And their names?

KE: They are the Richardsons, and that's a very different story. The Richardsons are from Scotland, Canada, and then down, but the other side of her family, the Mansbridges, actually are from Asia. My Irish great grandfather married a woman who was half Chinese. They raised their family in Japan where he worked for Mitsubishi. So, they raised their kids in Nagasaki. So, I only mention that because you asked about my people, but for me, I feel like a grand collision of the ephemeral farming, earthbound, Concord-bound family, and more—I think of it as ethereal, Asian, globe-traveling people. So, it is an interesting group, and I love the difference, and I love Concord where my immediate family grew up, and there were four children. I have three siblings—two brothers and a sister and —

CK: And their names?

KE: Kenneth Dwayne Anderson, William Wheeler Anderson, and my sister, Elizabeth Monahan, and two of them do live in Concord still, and my brother, Bill—sort of a citizen of the world and sometimes lives in the Northwest and the Northeast up in Maine. My grandmother, Esther Howe Wheeler Anderson, who tends to be the focus—she had three children—my father William, his older sister Pauline Wilson, and the younger brother, David Anderson—and between the three of them they produced sixteen grandchildren, so that's sixteen in my generation, and everyone lived in Concord growing up. So, it was a very strong family experience, having the grandmother live right here and being such an important and monumental person—primarily from our point of view, a monumental grandmother. Now, as an adult I have a much better appreciation for all that she did beyond our immediate experience, but I think what I bring to—let's say—an interview like this is my experience of her as a grandmother. So, I feel really blessed on that account.

CK: Talk about her.

KE: Keep going? Okay!

CK: This is great!

KE: I mentioned in a talk that I gave at the Library once where they wanted me to comment on Esther that every—I grew up right around the corner from the Library—and every Sunday and every Christmas, every holiday, we would load up into the car and drive over the Sudbury River out to the farmhouse which is on Nine Acre Corner. So, I guess that's probably about 3 miles from the center—but I had no concept that the song "Over the River and Through the Woods" to grandmother's house we go, applied to anybody else except for us. I think just that sense of magic that we had really describes my experience as a grandchild with Esther, and each and every one of the sixteen grandchildren had exactly the same experience. We went to the farmhouse, which I don't know exactly when it was built, but it was a grand, old, working farmhouse—a little bit retired by the time we were kids—but to go there was to visit yesteryear and yesteryear on a farm which always, I think, had its own particular magic. So, lots of rooms and barns and lots of the paraphernalia from farming. Horse ornaments that I remember very specifically were lined up on kind of a tapestry. So, there probably were about fifty different horse ornaments that would be on the bridle, and as a little kid about five or six years old, you would spend so much time just looking at them, sorting them, matching, trading, and so forth. I know that I and all of the grandchildren have visual, tactile—we have smells that we remember just pinpoint [memories] accurately from those days: just the handle on the old wooden refrigerator that was built into the wall, the smell of the cellar down below where things would be stored, and the lavender that she had all around the house. So, we were lucky enough to—

CK: 0:09:06.3 Hold on just a moment. We'll stop making noise here. Lucky enough—

KE: Okay, we were lucky enough just to have such a beautiful place to go, but it became—it was brought much more to life by the fact that my grandmother had herself worked the farm, and it was a big farm and known throughout the state. She had worked it, and she knew so much about all of the plants and the herbs, the flowers, so that to visit was not just to see, it was to experience. Every one of us remembers her walking through the garden and just taking a little clip of a particular herb and rubbing it in her fingers so that we really got the aroma, and—

CK: Can you describe the garden to the point where a landscaper could replicate, or whatever? I mean—what was in there?—and in what order?

KE: Well, by the time that we were visiting it, what she had was a vegetable/herb garden, so there are particular things I remember in that, and I'll talk about that in a sec, but previously, when it was a working produce farm, there were multiple greenhouses and acres and acres and acres, all of which she ran. So, I'm not sure I really sense that, except the appreciation that there was a land around there, but our focus at this time was a garden off of the barn, and I think she had incredible green thumbs. They were just—we remember rhubarb, all the different herbs, and apparently, very famous for her tomatoes. Then, throughout the backyard, which was ample, there would be smaller gardens with very special sorts of flowers and—I don't know that I've answered your question.

CK: Do you remember the flower varieties at all?

KE: I think what I most remember—I think it was called Bleeding Heart, where you pull the little parts and there's a little ballet slipper, and I remember that in particular. Right at the moment, I'm not—I know one of my cousins made note that she had a couple of dozen varieties of scented geraniums. So—

CK: You're doing great—it's fine. We don't need every plant!

KE: (laughs) Well, I think I know that also having the farm, allowing us to experience the farm was also coupled with photographing. She was obsessed—not obsessed—she was passionate about photographing, so she did take photographs of all her herbs, and these have been donated to—and I won't get the name right, but it's something like the American Herb Society, or something. So, it's a significant collection that she had which she documented. So, I can go on about her, if you—

CK: 0:13:35.0 Yeah, about her. That would be great.

KE: Yeah.

CK: So, she was the farmer?

KE: Thanks. That reminds me—it was called the Frank Wheeler Farm. Her father was Frank Wheeler. He was one of probably five or six brothers, and Frank Wheeler owned this farm, and he had six daughters. So, Esther was the second oldest, and her parents died relatively early so that she took over the running of this farm, probably somewhere in her 20s or 30s, and that was a really big deal.

CK: In the—when would she have been born, I wonder?

KE: She was born—I think it was 1891.

CK: So, this is 20 years, hence?

KE: Yes, and actually, I forget the question that got us off—

CK: Whether she was the farmer—

KE: Yes. She absolutely ran the farm, and I understand that she had somebody—a farmhand from Ireland—who helped her—who helped her with the hands-on business—and of course, they had a big labor force, and I have also read that her uncle, one of the five or six Wheeler brothers, William Wheeler helped her with the business aspect.

Just a side note that William Wheeler, who lived in Concord, essentially—I believe he was a civil engineer but also had very big agricultural roots, and he was invited by the Japanese government to come over, and he worked at the university in Hokkaido. There are books written about him, and he actually received a very high award, and I won't get this right, but it's something that the Emperor bestows—the Sixth Order of the Rising Sun—or whatever—but he was awarded this, as was ironically my great grandfather on the whole other side of the family who had worked the Mitsubishi—he had been the manager of the Mitsubishi shipyard. So, of course, long before there was any connection between the families, they both had this connection. William Wheeler, who had such an influence on my grandmother as she ran the farm—he lent his name to my father, William Wheeler Anderson, and my brother, William Wheeler Anderson. You probably have interviewed, or certainly, there are interviews about other branches of the family, and people in town will know the Harvey Wheeler School, and there are just as many stories that go along with that branch of the family. So, I think what—and please, stop me any time you have a question—

CK: 0:17:22.0 Okay. This is great.

KE: or want to—but Esther lost her husband, Leslie. Actually, I should make note here that another [source of] fun coming together in the family is that Esther ran the farm out on the outskirts of town. Meanwhile, downtown in Concord Center, the Andersons first worked at and then purchased the grocery store, and apparently, in the course of making deliveries or picking up produce out in the far corner of the town, Leslie Anderson met Esther, and they proceeded to have a relationship and get married. So, it was just a beautiful connection of all sorts of things, but it really tied the center of the town with the rural geographical extreme of the town. I think they were very different personalities and both very strong and focused, and what impresses me so much—particularly now I'm working on all of their photographs, so I'm watching their lives pass before my eyes—they knew what they were doing and they did it, and they both accomplished so much. I mean—she had to, working the farm, and of course, he did too with a business, but he died relatively early, to my mind. I think he must have been in his mid 60s, 1957, and I was seven years old at that time. So, most of my experience really was of her alone.

CK: But he had moved to the farm and joined her there, as opposed to the other way around?

KE: Yes, absolutely, and I don't think she went downtown much, and this is sort of a cute part of her personality. I know she did go down there once because I've got a fabulous picture of her station wagon outside the door, but I think she left the in-town doings to him, and he was very social in the sense that he belonged to a lot of the organizations—the Concord Rotary, probably the Elks, and I think they both belonged to some state organization—you know, produce. I did have something else I was going to mention about him, but it will come back.

CK: Did they entertain together, then, on the farm? Did the town come to them?

KE: Well, that's a fabulous question. I wouldn't really know the details. I do know that—I'm positive it was the center for the family gatherings because just as we, as kids, went there every Sunday. That's a tradition that had been going on for generations, and the place was filled with all the—not trappings—is not the word—but all the paraphernalia of feeding huge family gatherings. I think as a kid you love that. You just take it for granted you're going out to grandma's house, and I don't even remember what she served. I don't think the food was anything to write home about, but it was just so much fun to be gathered at a table, and the kids got to go sit in little corners at the kid's tables, and there were napkin rings that were special. There were little salt and pepper holders that were special that had probably been there for generations. So, to answer your question—I think it was a lot of family socializing and always a big Fourth of July gathering, but I don't think so much it would be the way you think of—oh, we're having a dinner party this weekend and invite other couples. I think it was more family, and I think it was also the farm was a collecting spot for all the friends of the kids, judging from these albums. Everybody would come over and launch off on a fishing mission or canoeing or whatever—at the farmhouse. Now, let's see. I crossed my finger because there was something I remember that I wanted to talk about. Oh—I know.

As I mentioned, Esther was one of six sisters, and one of the sisters, Irene, who I think—she retired to Florida—there's a marvelous, marvelous memoir that she wrote when she was 90 or so, and she said, "I think people forget what yesterday was like," so I want to talk about some of the things that we did on the farm as little girls, and it's probably about 80 or so pages of the things that they would do every day, and also, on holidays. And it just filled—it has so much texture to a type of life, type of lifestyle that we worked so hard to recreate, but it just was the life that they led. Very connected to the land, very connected to the meaning of holidays, and I know there was one section where she writes that they spent days preparing the flower adornments that they were going to bring down to the cemetery on Memorial Day, and to me, it just is so striking that they knew what Memorial Day was. They should act and create in accordance with that and just dedicate themselves, rather than maybe taking ten seconds to wait for a parade to go by that's on your way to some place—just unconnected to Memorial Day. It's hard to explain this, but in the visits to my grandmother's and in the life she led with her sisters and presented to all the grandchildren, it just was filled with all the projects, making terrariums, and so forth, that people write books about now—projects to do with your grandchildren—that just came at us—it was just a way of life, and it's not that she just said, "We're going to do this project." She knew every—she knew all the plants, and it was just so second nature to her.

CK: 0:26:49.9 What other projects besides the terrarium?

KE: Oh, just simple ones. There's a piece of thistle that you cut down and you peeled off the thorny outside, and then you put a thread through the middle of the soft inner part, and all the inner feathers just made a ball, so you'd have a little thistle ball that you would hang from the windows—and baking all the time, cookies—and making Fourth of July hats from newspaper—making icecream—probably, sewing, knitting.

CK: She taught you to sew and knit?

KE: Well, I was lucky to have two grandmothers that really knew what they were doing, and so, she probably did—one of the other grandmothers taught me, and one of Esther's sisters lived in the apartment at the farm. She had never married. She ended up working at Concord Academy right across the street from the Library. In fact, the Wheeler House is named for this sister.

CK: And her name?

KE: Her name was Elizabeth Wheeler—we knew her as Aunt Lib—and I'm lucky enough to have a sister who is Elizabeth, as well—we call her Libby. Aunt Lib lived in the attached apartment, and we all have very strong memories of going up to her apartment by a back door in grandma's house, and she was always working on quilts. So, we would see her make just those tiny little round pieces, and there would be hundreds of them, which each one required some sewing, and then, you sewed each one together—and I think there were also lots of other fascinating items—

CK: So, circles, rather than squares for her quilts?

KE: Yes. Yeah.

CK: What kind of cookies—going back to that—if you were baking?

KE: It's very cute of you to ask because everything was so romantic in our memories, but I am told that the one that I just loved so much was a sugar cookie with sprinkles on the top, and I'm trying so hard to recreate just that flavor. Do you know those cookies? Just a big white one with the little colored sprinkles. She also had a cookie box that her cookies would go in. She also had bran bud cookies—that was the other one.

CK: 0:30:07.4 What is it called?

KE: Bran bud—and again—apparently, there is no real mystery—the recipe is on the side of the cereal box. I think maybe the overarching thing I'm just trying to say about my grandmother is that it just had that comfortable, magical feel where everything was special, everything was sacred somehow, and that, for better of for worse, I think that's what she passed down—that these things have been in the Wheeler family for whatever, and they, therefore, just had a sanctity that you wanted to treasure forever. So, of course, the family doesn't throw anything away. So, it's kind of a mixed blessing, but I just feel lucky to have had that. When I spoke to the Library—I think it was about a year or so ago—and actually, this is a good place for me to put in a disclaimer. There are sixteen of us. I certainly do not have the best memory. I do not know as much as others about my grandmother, but I just happened to tend to be in the spot we're on on location to speak.

MK: Oh, I was going to get you to describe your grandmother's kitchen if you want.

KE: Oh, okay.

CK: I don't know if you're the best or not, but you are really doing a beautiful job!

MK: You are good. You are as good as it gets!

KE: Well, you're very sweet, but when I did speak—and help me remember to come back to the kitchen—but when I did speak to the Library—because it was in association with an exhibit about farming in Concord, and they really just wanted me to talk about remembrances of my grandmother—I sent out an e-mail to all my cousins and said, "I don't have a great memory," and "What are some of the things that you remember?" As I think I said at the beginning of this talk, what's amazing is that no matter the age of the cousins, they each had a special experience. So, I'm a grandmother now of three, and I am absolutely in awe. How did she make us all feel so special? How was she so calm when we were running around the house? On top of that, she would pack us into the car and take us to Mount Wachusett. She'd take us to the ocean or Fruitlands or Drumlin Farm and made sure that we had those experiences. You asked—

CK: Before we get to the kitchen, tell me about her car!

KE: Yeah? Well, that's a great question because—here's the funny thing—Grandma Anderson was a pleasant practical person, which is to say fashion really wasn't an issue in her life. I mean, she was wonderfully pleasant, but she gave no thought to color or whatever, but there she was driving an aqua blue with deeper aqua/green trim station wagon. I don't know, I mean—and at the time—yeah, sure—that's what you have, but in thinking back—what? I cannot imagine what possessed her to buy that car which stuck out, but that was the car that she took us on these field trips. My cousin, Jennifer, wrote a fabulous piece stitching together a lot of these impressions and memories that I've mentioned, and I'm only mentioning the tip of the iceberg, but she recalls taking the field trips with Grandma Anderson who was famous for her St. Bernard dog that would, of course, travel in the car too. So, Jennifer is remembering that driving in the car with Abbey the dog's drool all over the windows and—

CK: 0:35:26.3 And how many of you packed in there?

KE: Oh—I don't know—probably four or five at a time—of course, probably no seat belts in those days! Jennifer also remembers there would be books of Life Savers, and I don't know that they make them anymore, but you would open an actual book and there would be rolls of different flavor Life Savers, and you just can't imagine how wonderful that was and these touchstones of memory that were a part of the field trips, and so—

CK: And what was she wearing then? (laughter) Whet my appetite!

KE: Well, on the way there, I was thinking, "What did she wear for shoes?" but I think she wore loafers and oftentimes probably a denim skirt, and then, a housecoat—I don't know that they use that word anymore, but it's just like an over jacket with big pockets, so she'd have whatever she needed—some scissors to clip something out of the garden or—

CK: That was around the house, or that was even on these trips?

KE: Yeah, I think that's about all that I can imagine, and she later in life developed a passion for Ireland, and I do remember either for the trip or on the trip she purchased a new tweed coat and that's about it for fashions that I remember. Otherwise, it was just very practical, practical garb. I do want, at some point, to get back—most people will know her for her connection to Thoreau—but the kitchen—just very quickly.

I think it was a functional farmhouse kitchen with one of those cast iron ovens where you can lift up the burner to add to the fire below, or at least, that's my remembrance of it, but it was definitely old-fashioned, and a huge commercial Mixmaster—that's what you call them—for making dough of any sort—and I think the coolest thing was the built-in refrigerator just as the center for everything really in there.

CK: An eat-in space?

KE: There was a kitchen table in there, but mostly we would eat in the dining room, and I say formal dining room—not formal, fussy but just space enough for all the relatives to fit in. Then, on the holidays we would probably move to the two living rooms that had a parlor door between them, so the parlor door would be opened, and you'd have a long table that would stretch the two rooms.

You, the Library, or anybody listening to this —you're so cute to—no, cute is not the right word—but these are so much a part of what's in my heart and my memory, and I'm grateful for anybody else who maybe has the most remote interest in it, but I do feel blessed in just thinking of family gathering, hovered around a table where you just see for miles down where other cousins would be. These are great memories for me, and it is a privilege to share them.

CK: 0:39:49.2 It's a privilege for us.

MK: Indeed.

CK: Who was stationed at that table, and who were the aunts and uncles and what were some of the characters?

KE: In our generation, as I've mentioned, there were sixteen—that's a lot of kids running around—and the six of the next upper generation, and then, my grandmother, and I'm sure there were some cousins. So, during my time, that's what it was, and as a kid, you really have no—you're really not paying attention to anything other than your immediate experience—who's pinching you from the side or—I don't know, it's sort of pure experience. So, I have memories of characters and more explicit memories from dinner at my own house—our particular family—but I think at the big gatherings at grandma's, just as it is with my grandchildren, it's all forward. It's just what can I grab now? What can I get into? What am I feeling? So, I certainly, was not reflective at that time about my aunts and uncles.

CK: Do you remember sort of gender divides? Was that when you talked about the two parlors, I wondered sort of what happened after or before, or who was doing what, or were the men together?

KE: That's a good question. I don't really remember, though I would be shocked if it weren't the women who kind of left the table and went and did the dishes—although there's a fabulous picture of my mother's father with an apron on doing dishes after what must have been a holiday gathering, but—

CK: And his name again?

KE: My mother's father was Harry—Harry Richardson. Again, as a kid you're just walking through this, and you just take it as it comes, but I am now—as I said, I have somebody who's scanning all the photographs that were taken going back a couple generations, and it's a whole subject in and of itself, the fascination of this family with taking pictures. As I work with these images—we're talking hundreds, if not thousands—that chronicled the day in, day out, and the holidays, and the workings of the farm, with my now mature mind—now that I'm grown up, I guess—in my sixties—I'm much more reflective about what I see, and I'm much more curious what were the relations. What's—yeah—what was it like beyond just—oh, that's the activity that's happening. Just much more curious about it, and I guess that's just in response to a question that you had.

CK: Yeah. Like what happened after the dishes were done?

KE: 0:44:00.6 Yeah. I think that the kids probably just jumped into games.

CK: Out of doors?

KE: Certainly, out of doors whenever you could be, and it was set up for us—lots of places to explore—run throughout the barn—swings—sandbox, complete with earwigs—and what's that ball?—tetherball. Horseshoes, just set up. It was just part of the landscape. I think we probably went there every Sunday and every holiday.

CK: But every Sunday with all those people at the table?

KE: Most—for many years. Not—I mean that you could fill that group in just the dining room—not necessarily the big parlor layout—but yes! Then, I don't quite know when it started to dissolve—and it wasn't an emotional dissolve, it was just each family then developed its own separate family sphere—but I think even if we didn't get together as often, at least for myself, everyone in the family is still very much with me in my heart, and we're always talking about gatherings.

I did want to mention that the youngest of my grandmother's children—that would be my Uncle David—he ended up purchasing the farm, and he had seven kids, and I'm sure they have—some of them were very young when they moved in there, so they didn't necessarily have an experience with that as grandmother's, but they lived in—they had a primary experience of growing up on the farm.

CK: And that would be David Anderson?

KE: Yes. My Uncle David, and that whole generation is gone now, but my Uncle David and Aunt Charlotte—they raised their seven kids there, and—

CK: With your grandmother there 0:46:56.3 ??? (inaudible)

KE: No. She then built a house around the corner on Garfield Road which she didn't build by hand, but she had it built, and what everybody will always tell you is that she made her bedroom so that she could see Mount Wachusett every single day. That was one of these touchstones for her, and that would be the excitement when you'd go up and visit her, you'd go up to her bedroom and look out in the distance and see that. So, I—

MK: What year did David purchase it, roughly?

KE: Oh boy, that's a good question.

MK: Or what decade?

KE: 0:47:48.3 I would guess '60s—somewhere in—I would guess somewhere in the '60s. My grandfather died in '57, and I think she was there for a while, and so, I bet you it was maybe later in the mid to late '60s.

CK: So, you talk about her taking you through the garden, rubbing herbs in your hands so that you could smell it, taking you through flower gardens, vegetables, and then, building her own place so that she always had this touchstone of the mountain. Can you talk more about her ethic with—it seemed like she had this relationship with nature—can you talk about?

KE: Yes. Just by birth—the Wheelers—many of them worked the land, and that's part of a connection by need, by profession, and that was her connection as well, but Esther brought it to a different level. I think she had an appreciation for the natural cycles and the natural environment that overarched the annual growing cycle, and she had a—fascination isn't the right word—but she had read Thoreau, and she was very connected to that and kind of lived out that notice of natural phenomena. So, I think it was a way of life, whether it was articulated specifically into a philosophy or an ethic, it just was the way that she lived—a respect for the natural environment and an understanding of—I use the word sanctity of the natural environment.

Now, I've mentioned that she was interested in photography, and she chronicled the things that she saw, the things that fascinated her botanically, the things that fascinated her for aesthetic reasons, or the things that corresponded to entries in Thoreau's work. So, between those three avenues, she created a very large body of photographic work, and I will say that my brother, Bill Anderson, has done a lot of work. He understands Esther better than I by a long shot and knows a lot more details. He has worked on some publications of her work that are worth pursuing at some time, so I'm not doing it full justice, but I appreciate the photographs that she took. The pictures that she took that correspond to Thoreau—apparently, she just took them, showed them to friends, and then, that developed into a broader audience, and in the end she—not in the end—but ultimately, she presented these slide shows around New England. They would be images that she had taken with the corresponding passage from Thoreau's journals, and it's a wonderful thing to view and just let yourself go into. I think almost more than anything—not more than anything, but that's one of the points—stop and just notice. Her slides are now in the possession of the Special Collections here, which is terrific, so those are available for anybody to see. She took a lot of aesthetic photos which were great. They would be Christmas cards coming with a picture of a certain sort of wisp of clouds or a bird in the snow, so—and then, I think I talked about the Thoreau and then her own aesthetic, and then, I'd mentioned one other root, but she took an enormous amount of pictures documenting life on the farm and their friends. So—

MK: Did she have a black room? A dark room? Did she develop pictures?

KE: You know what? That is a great question because she was so prolific I—well, I think a couple things. One is I can't believe she actually produced all these pictures herself, and I don't think that she did, and I can talk about this a little bit later, but my father became a professional photographer, and I wonder if—and I know he was a darkroom craftsman and did study it. Whether he had a dark room organized at the farm when he was a kid, I don't know that.

CK: Do you remember her camera?

KE: 0:55:05.0 I do have a vision of—it wasn't a Brownie, but it was a box that probably used a larger format camera than—I mean a larger format film.

MK: Reflex kind of camera.

KE: Yeah. Now, my brother would definitely know the exact kind of camera that she used, but I think for some of the earlier pictures, she probably used something more along a box camera, but in many of her natural photos of nature that she took—she must have—I won't even say what type—but she did take 35 mm Kodachrome slides, so she advanced with her equipment. Kodachrome, as opposed to Ektachrome and some of the other film types, retains its color, so color was really a big part of these images.

CK: So, she showed you these images?

KE: Oh, they were just a part of—we would see slide shows, and then, they just became part of family legacy. Then, because of the work my brother has done, he himself presented Thoreau Country a number of times, so I've seen them. There have been exhibits, and I think that their importance and unintended importance was much of what had been captured, and some of this is gone, either through development or just natural changes, so there is a record of certain natural phenomena.

CK: Natural phenomena are gone?

KE: Well, just a meadow that's now a development, and I did hear a—I heard a program on NPR of someone in this New England area trying to track what environmental changes might be happening through climate change, and it took them awhile, but apparently they realized—oh, yes. Henry David Thoreau took notes of what happened every single day, and so, they realized that that was a treasure trove of information, and Esther, my grandmother, would have done a similar accounting of things 100 years later, and that was mid 1900s. Now, we're a half a century away, so there are bases for comparison. Don't ask me what has changed, but—

CK: I just wondered whether her journals have been considered to compare to Thoreau or no? Do you know?

KE: Well, I think they were accepted as a reflection of Thoreau but in the way that you just asked and in the way that I realized when I was hearing this NPR program there really is information there that—and thanks to Leslie in the Special Collections here, it's being catalogued and held and preserved.

CK: Yeah, and you talk so vividly about these early childhood memories and then this extraordinary woman who lived such an intentional life. Were you old enough to get that sense of her? I mean—as you aged, was she still around and cognizant?

KE: That's such a good question, and unfortunately, it's a lot about what I think, which is not the point, but—

CK: 0:59:39.2 Sure it is!

KE: I frankly—at the moment—deep into all of these images of her life and thinking about what she did, I am overwhelmed, and I'm trying to understand how she did it. I read somewhere she made a comment—maybe an offhand comment of—hmm, I guess I did do some—she maybe appreciated in her old age—wow! Running that farm was a lot, but she hadn't thought about it, she just did. I have come to understand that she was very—and I will come around to your question—but I'm understanding that she was very practical, partly by nature. You grow up on a farm, you are, and then you take over when you're parents die, and not everybody would succeed at that, but she did. She succeeded at that very hard physical and business venture, and I'm realizing now as I can look back on the whole thing, she evolved into this very thoughtful, productive life as a smaller farmer and an appreciator of nature and Thoreau and a photographer and a chronicler--and as a grandmother.

Getting a little bit to your question—she went forward strongly through her life, and she lived until ninety-three, so she obviously wasn't as energetic, but the light was still bright—the appreciation, the principles, and the notice—the natural notice—and so forth. I do remember visiting her in the nursing home and sad, in a way, but her recollections—of course, you're a little confused at that time, but I do remember her talking about hitching up the horses and Stowe. So, these inner memories kind of came bubbling out—but to answer your question—maybe me—I always have kind of a—maybe it's a protective fog but just a dreaminess. I think I was proud of my grandmother, but she was grandmother. I wouldn't know that this was different than anybody else, so I don't think I really appreciated the scope of what she had done. You're selfish as a kid, and this is cool, this is a great place to be, and she's taking us, and she's wise, and it just was a nice river to float on.

CK: What was her own education like?

KE: She—again—born and raised in Concord, and in that book of memoirs—memories by her sister—there is talk about school in the center in the horse-drawn buggy, so school wasn't an easy thing, but she did. She went off to Bradford College, which I think was a junior college.

CK: In?

KE: It's in—yes—it's in Massachusetts. I can't remember the name of the town, but it's sort of—

CK: Huge college!

KE: Yep. So, she did go to college and came back, and I think she probably did a lot of educating herself in the course of time, but she was very focused. If you mentioned Thoreau, her eyes would twinkle, and you would have hit the jackpot, and she must have read a lot about local history, and I don't know much more than that, but I think it just—she took life as the teacher, and—

MK: 1:05:19.8 We're at an hour and 5 minutes now.

CK: Uh-hunh (affirmative).

MK: Okay.

CK: Do you want a little pause or are you comfortable?

KE: Just a little—yeah.

CK: Okay.

KE: So, I think one of the interesting parts of Esther's, and therefore, our Anderson-Wheeler lives—and I've mentioned this previously in the interview—is the connection between the farm on the outskirts of town and the market, which is literally smack dab in the center of the commercial area of Concord.

CK: Go ahead, have a drink. We'll pause.

KE: Anyway, I'm looking forward to talking a little bit about the market that was in the center of town, and I talked a little bit about the difference in the personalities of my grandfather. His name was Leslie Oscar Anderson, and his father, Lars, came from Norway. I don't know the details, but I believe that he worked for the market which was owned by somebody else at that time, and he and my grandfather purchased it, and it became—what we always called it was Anderson Market. I heard somebody mention once that my great-grandfather, Lars, had written a note back to somebody in Norway, just saying what an unbelievable experience it was to be able to buy a business here in America, and he felt so fortunate. The two of them developed Anderson Market, and it became very successful in a good community way. By that, I mean it must have made a profit. And they managed to not only survive through the depression, but they were able to help out a lot of people along the way. But there are articles about them in The Concord Journal and what good business men, but it was a focus.

Again, in the little connection between the families, my mother's family had moved to Lincoln from Flushing, New York, and I guess when my grandmother came over to Concord and saw Anderson Market, she was completely charmed by Leslie and completely impressed by the quality, and she said, "This is a place where we can live," so—

CK: And her name?

KE: Her name was Rose Mansbridge Richardson, and I will just insert parenthetically—I did not see her as much as my grandmother, Esther—and as I mentioned, she has that Asian streak in her. There couldn't have been two women that were more different but so fabulous on both counts.

CK: And compatible?

KE: 1:09:10.5 I would say probably—definitely compatible as in-laws but very different, so I think as you do with in-laws, you know where your intersection is—and yeah—and it was all very positive. I think my grandmother on my mother's side—she recognized the real gem that my father, Bill Anderson, was, so she didn't make any secret of what a catch he was, but she recognized what a special place Anderson Market was, and it was a high-quality, smaller market. I think, ultimately, it probably ran into the era of the supermarket, but at least for the first half of the twentieth century it really was the place to go. They had a fleet of Model A or Model T—whatever—delivery trucks, and there are wonderful pictures of the fleet of delivery trucks out front. Just moving into the future quickly—the building is still owned by the family. From Lars and Leslie it went to my Uncle David, the one who had also had the farmhouse, and he owned it. For a while, it was rented out to other sorts of businesses, and then, my cousin, David—I think he might be David Lars Anderson—he now has revived it as an eating establishment, so it's a fabulous restaurant and coffee place, which as it always has been or was, is a central focus and meeting place right in Concord center. So, I think we're all so happy for the work that he has done there to have that.

CK: But describe it in your day in your memory.

KE: Sure. Outside, there would be shelves with fresh produce inviting you in, and then, when you went in—really just two main aisles with a lot of S.S. Pierce canned goods—that was the quality label—a big jumbo wedge of cheddar cheese, and then, at some point, rotisserie ovens with roasting chicken. So, these were all the flavors that you would hit when you came in. Then, you went to the back, and there was a terrific meat department, and often there was a little box—a little room where the cashier—Nellie Nelson, I think, was her name—and she was part of the Norwegian influx. The town really has had a big wave of Norwegians, so there was an image of a little office with a million receipts and chits and so forth. Then, my uncle, around and about, who was himself a physical and social force—

MK: Was that Uncle David? (talking at once)

KE: Uncle Dave, yeah. I know we—my branch of the family lived right around the corner from downtown Concord, and I have frequent memories of sitting down for dinner, realizing there was no milk, and so, somebody would jump up, run around the corner, get the milk, come on back, and dinner would carry on. So, it was just that wonderful convenience of knowing it was there. I don't have many—I don't really remember my grandfather there, and he died when I was seven, so probably my older brothers do, but I don't, but I've seen lots of pictures of him, but as I say, he was very involved in the community in business organizations and Rotary.

CK: That would have been Leslie?

KE: That's Leslie, yeah.

CK: So, then it went to your Uncle Dave—

KE: 1:14:39.2 It went to my Uncle Dave—yep—and as I say, it was a tough—I don't know the history, but at some point, they decided to just use it as real estate, rather than as a market. It was just a tough—it was a tough time to have a small specialty market. He focused on catering, and he had, at some point, a sandwich shop in the back, but he was famous for—what do you call them—clam bakes?—and just lots of good fun and good New England fun. I don't know how he did what he did, but he always carried it off, and people loved him.

CK: These were catered clam bakes or his own parties in his yard? Or—

KE: Okay, good question. No—these were catered, so I think he did catering of every variety, but I think probably best known for his clam bakes. He—my Uncle Dave—had seven kids. Six daughters, again—just like his mother's generation—and the son, David. So, Janice, Bonnie, Beverly, Jennifer, Donna, David, Laurie.

CK: Laurie, the youngest, was a girl?

KE: Yes—

CK: Again!

KE: Apart from the subject, but she just had twins at age 52, so adding two—I mean that's sort of an Anderson/Lehto strength—her mother was Charlotte Lehto who created all those fabulous kids, so there's some strong genes.

CK: Lehto is spelled?

KE: I believe it's spelled L-E-H-T-O.

CK: 1:16:58.9 ??? (inaudible) Were they girls too? (laughter)

KE: No. A boy and a girl, born on either side of midnight, so they have 2 different birth dates, but anyway—it's just the sense of the family expansion, and those—well, as long as I'm talking about cousins, I'll just—that particular family—

MK: Let's do a new track.

CK: Just a moment.

KE: Uh-hunh (affirmative).

1:17:29.4 (end of audio 1)

KE: 0:00:02.7 (begin audio 2) I'll just quickly sketch out—that was the David Anderson. David and Charlotte created those seven children I mentioned. They grew up in the farmhouse, and as I said, David took over the market. Then, it was real estate for other business, and then, his son, David, runs—it's called Main Street—and I think a number of his sisters help out there as well, so it's always a treat to go down and see them there.

Meanwhile, my father, Bill—my mother, Mary—they had four kids—Ken, Bill, and my sister, Libby. We lived right around the corner from this center of Concord on Hubbard Street, and it was a big, jumbo duplex—sort of a Victorian duplex—and on the other side of the house lived our cousins. My Aunt Pauline, who is the oldest of Esther's three children, and her husband, Stanley—they had five children—Barbara, Stanley, Scottie, Lucy, and Maureen. So, under this one roof, two different sides, the brother and sister lived with all these cousins and just—by the way, Maureen, the youngest of the other family, is also a fabulous font of information about Esther. I mean—everybody has strong remembrances of Esther, but I think Maureen and my brother, Bill, probably have the most specific and deep knowledge.

So, I'll just mention briefly, and then you can help me get back to the main thread—my father went to UMass, which was an agricultural school back then. I believe he had a hope of studying medicine, but as with many people during that time, the war interrupted, and he went off, and he was trained as a pilot by the Marines. When he came back, he started up a business with one of his buddies, and they took aerial photographs of Concord and the surrounding towns. This is another one of those marriages of duality that somebody—my father—who is so earthbound—he, as well, is so connected to the land, and his personality is very steady and grounded—that he should find such joy in flying. So, he kind of combined those and took aerial photographs, and the wives would go knock on the doors and say, "Here's a picture of your house from the sky. Would you like to buy it?" So, they started the business that way, and it was very successful, and then, he—my father—opened a studio up above Anderson Market, and it evolved from the aerial photographs to portraiture, weddings, full service photographer.

Ultimately, he moved down to Walden Street and had a storefront as well, which was Anderson Photo, so we had a wonderful monopoly on the town between Anderson Photo and Anderson Market!

So, in essence, over the course of his career, between the things that he photographed and just the candids he took out of the window from either spot on Main Street or Walden Street, he—again, I use this word, but it's the appropriate one—chronicled a special place, a special time over the second half of the twentieth century. So, you go from a fabulous picture from his studio that shows 1940-ish model black cars going through the intersections to just wonderful pictures from the '70s with the colorful finned cars and all that the '70s had.

0:05:52.4 And just "dot, dot, dot", my brother, Bill—he worked with my father and ran the store for a while, and then, I did, and then, my other brother, Ken, and his wife, Linda, ran it as well until it was sold a few years ago, so—and—

CK: The store being?

KE: Anderson Photo, yeah—and my sister, as well—Libby—had worked there, so really we all had our hands in it. It's a family experience that is essentially connected with the heart of the town just by physically being down in the center. Then, this reflective body of photographs from our immediate family stretching back to my grandmother—and it's a wonderful and an overwhelming thing—but it embraces Concord—the center, the outskirts. Again, I have to just say—Leslie at the Special Collections—keeping an eye on this and welcoming some of the memorabilia, the documents, the photographs, helps keep it on which (laughs) is a great thing.

CK: Uh-hunh (affirmative). Is there—no, go on—were you about to say something?

KE: Oh, just one last thing. The Wilsons—my Aunt Pauline—you asked about characters before, and she was just a fabulous character. She was the oldest of the three kids, and then, she raised her family right next to us. She got connected—I'm not sure how it went—but maybe initially as a crossing guard for school, but then, she did more jobs for the police department, and in the end, she became Concord's meter maid. So, she, as well, spent her days down in the center of Concord handing out tickets, and she was just such a wonderful person. She was just doing her job, giving tickets, and people would rant and rave, and she'd—not in a mean way, but I'm just doing my job for the town—write out the tickets! 0:09:05.7 (talking at once) So, people probably either loved or hated her. She was voted municipal employee of the year for Massachusetts once, and the town decorated all the meters with yellow balloons, and there was a parade for Aunt Pauline—so, just part of the picture.

CK: 0:09:26.8 ??? (inaudible)

MK: What a great testimonial!

CK: I mean—as you think back—you're in such an amazing seat to kind of look at changes in the social scene. Is there any sort of conclusion you draw there to sort of wrap with?

KE: I tremble to step into that, and I know—I mean the whole culture everywhere—as we all know, a big percent of it has really changed, and the pace is just mind boggling. I think people might comment on Concord with the real estate sky rocketing, and I think it's too easy to make generalizations. Also, I think for me I choose to focus on what is good, and there is so much good. It tends to be quieter. It tends to be slower, less noticeable, but it is there. I know that Concord has been fervent about protecting open space. I guess that's how I would maybe answer the question—that I would just champion those who champion the best of the past but also embrace and are open to the best of what comes down the pike so fast now. So, it's all a balancing act of stitching the past and the present and the future.

0:11:55.4 I forget whether I said this, but as I go through these albums that my grandmother put together, I think of what she accomplished in just putting the albums together, the processing, and I know that's a weak thing for me. It's easy enough to snap pictures, but to say—all right, how do I put this together? I think what she did and what is so beautifully written in these memoirs by my great aunt: they didn't lose themselves in TV or lose themselves in maybe things that weren't directly related to life. They just—of an evening, you'd sit around and you'd do things together, you'd work putting the albums together, and you'd get ready for the next day. I feel, and all the more so, am feeling lucky to have this. I'm just trying to find the balance of not being overwhelmed and lost in all of that as I create my life—and not to leave it off about me, but this is the gift that has been given me as I interpret my life.

CK: Beautiful. Thank you!

MK: Thank you!

KE: Thank you. I appreciate the opportunity.

CK: Wonderful!

0:13:44.2 (end of audio 2)

Kristin Anderson Emerson

Back to the Oral History Program Collection page

Back to Finding Aids page

Back to Special Collections page


Text and image mounted 16 July 2014 -- rcwh.