Lena Putnam and Abbie's Story

Lena Putnam and Abbie
My mother, Lena Putnam, and I, when I first came to live at the Woodward house

Part 1: My Life at Mr. Woodwards House

My Uncle, Fabian Stone
My Uncle, Fabian Stone
I was just 6 years old when I first met Robert Strong Woodward. At the time my mother, Lena Putnam, and I went to live at the Southwick Place on Upper Street in Buckland. She worked for him as both cook and practical nurse, and probably got the job through her brother, Fabian Stone. Fabian was Mr. Woodward's long-time hired man, my Uncle Fay.

The Sweetheart Tea House where Lena worked
The Sweetheart Tea House where Lena worked
My mother had cooked for Mr. Woodward before on special occasions, and had also worked for a time as a cook and waitress at the Sweetheart Tea House. When Mark Purinton finished high school, he gave her his graduation photograph, signed "To Lena, the best cook in town!"

My two sisters were much older in 1936. Phyllis was already married, and Dolores lived nearby with our aunt, Veronica Martin, until she married and moved to Connecticut. As I grew older, I didnt live at the Southwick Place all the time. Sometimes I stayed at Aunt Vons, too. At the Southwick Place, my mother and I shared a bedroom upstairs, one that connected to an attic area she used as a sewing room. At first I had child-sized chores to do in the yard: I watered flowers, and carried around a jar with kerosene to pick bugs off the roses. My payment was one penny for every 10 bugs. I had a bad scare one time, down by a rock bench where the pool is now when I saw a big black snake!

Invitation. The garage of the Heath Pasture House
Invitation. The garage of the Heath Pasture House
Another job was dead-heading pinks on the terrace or picking up apples to keep the yard tidy. There was no doubt about it, Mr. Woodward liked everything to be neat at all times! Sometimes I cleaned Mr. Woodward's chalks, or helped clean his brushes when he was done painting for the day. (I remember I used Ivory soap, the kind that was grooved where it could be cut). I may very well have been cleaning chalks one day in Heath while Mr. Woodward was painting Invitation or Open Doors. I know I was just out of sight in the shadows in the foreground of that painting!

Beulah Bondi publicity photograph
Actress Beulah Bondi
Beulah Bondi autograph
Beulah Bondi personal autograph to me in 1941
Heath was one of Mr. Woodward's favorite places, and he often went up there to his studio (he called it the Pasture House), not just to paint, but to relax with friends. As a kid, I didnt pay too much attention to Mr. Woodward's guests, even the famous ones. One major exception for me was the actress Beulah Bondi. She visited a few times, and went up to Heath with us at least once.

But it was a lot of work hauling all the gear up there for picnics. There was no electricity and no running water.
My mother doing a cookout at the fireplace under the beech tree
My mother doing a cookout at the fireplace under the beech tree
The Station Wagon
A similar station wagon
My mother had trouble lifting anything above her shoulders, and eventually suffered very much from arthritis, so as I got older, I helped her with her work. But mostly I remember the fun times, not the chores. Mr. Woodward went to Greenfield at least once a week on errands. On these shopping trips or other excursions, he always invited me to go along, and I could bring a friend if I wanted. We took the station wagon for these jaunts, not the big Packard that was only for when he went out painting. (When I was older, Mark (Purinton) taught me to drive in that same station wagon).

The Mansion House, Main Street, Greenfield
The Mansion House, Main Street, Greenfield
Koch Grocery Store
Koch Grocery Store, Greenfield, Massachusetts
As his base of operations for a day in Greenfield, Mr. Woodward took the elevator up to 2nd-floor rooms at the Weldon Hotel or more often, the Mansion House.

Joseph Poirier, Waiter at the Dutch Room in the Masion House, Greenfield, MA
Waiter at the Dutch Room
My mother would shop at Koch's Grocery Store nearby. Then we would all meet up for lunch at the Dutch Room, which was part of the old Mansion House on Main Street, but on the Federal Street side. The Mansion House is of course long gone. It burned in 1959. Once in a while Mr. Woodward bought me dresses at Spaights, a clothing store on Main Street, near where Forbes Camera Shop is now, or at Madam Gosselins (I dont recall where that was). I especially remember the time he bought me a beige dress with tucks and a wallpaper print stripe. It was so beautiful, my teacher at Crittenden School had me stand up in front of the class to show it off.

The green barn with small door.
See the small door Trigger tried to go through.
Back at home, I loved to ask friends over to play in the green barn. We would ride around in the spare wheelchair or go up into the haymow. We rode the horse, too.

My sister, Delores, on Trigger
My sister, Delores, on Trigger
The big barn door had a smaller door cut into it, and you had to be careful, because when Trigger was eager to get out, he would try to rush through that smaller door.

As a special treat, Uncle Fay would make Trigger a salad of oats, carrots, and apples with some cigarette tobacco in the center. Trigger seemed to like it, and he never came to any harm from the tobacco. (The green barn also housed the open Nash car, and beyond it, Uncle Fay had a workshop).

Ceramic Chinese figurines
Some of the Chinese figurines we arranged on the studio floor
Mr. Woodward would often invite me and his cousin's daughter, Ann, to come out to the studio, giving us his old chalks to play with. He had these tiny Chinese figurines, and little bridges and buildings. He'd show us where to put them on the floor in front of the north window. We could draw pictures with the chalks on the floor, too, but we weren't very good!

Chinese Figurine
Chinese Figurine
One time, I was showing my friends some of Mr. Woodward's chalk drawings in a room he called the Little Gallery. Sounds rather fancy, but before Mr. Woodward renovated the Southwick Place, it had been a chicken house! (My mother wrapped presents in this room at Christmas time). Anyway, the pictures were all framed and stacked up against the wall. Well, my foot slipped, and I put my knee through the top one, breaking the glass, and smudging the drawing. I wasnt hurt, but I was terrified, and I went right to my mother to confess. Of course, she told me I had to go and tell Mr. Woodward. He didnt get angry, he didnt even raise his voice. All he said was, that was a lesson learned. I still remember that moment as if it had happened yesterday.

Later on, as a teenager, I was a member of the Grange, like almost everybody in Upper Buckland. So was one of my friends, Jeannette Wilder, who was called Squick, because her mother was always saying, "Come over here 's quick as you can." We never missed a dance at the Grange if we could help it though Squick was kind of clumsy. Mr. Woodward wheeled himself over in his wheelchair occasionally to watch the dances, and once witnessed a memorable sight: Squick was heading over to the side of the room, to sit down for a breather on the divided chairs. She missed them completely and tumbled to the floor! (Not sure Squick would like me to tell this story!) When I graduated from high school in 1949, Squick and I had photos taken out in the yard. I wish I could find one of those pictures. But it was the end of an era. My mother was suffering so much from arthritis by then that she retired shortly afterwards.

She lived with me and my husband, John, in her last years, and once in a while Mr. Woodward would be driven over for a visit. Of course the only way they could manage it was to drive the car up on the lawn, and talk through the open window! I know she admired him, and I'm sure he missed her. I dont think he found anyone who could truly replace her. I have never understood why some people thought Mr. Woodward was mean or didn't like kids. When my sister visited at the Southwick Place with her children, Mr. Woodward always stopped and talked with them. That was how he was: unfailingly kind and generous to us. Looking back now, I feel so lucky to have lived at Mr. Woodward's!

Click here to go to Part 2

APL as told to JGN 2007