The kid on the Street-----that's me. I mean that's "I!" I forget sometimes that I am writing on this website for educated people. There probably will not be many of you who will care to spend the time to read about my early life and how I became associated with Robert Strong Woodward. But there may be a few who are curious as to why I spent so much time and effort to build this website as a tribute to RSW, so here goes.
Here I am on the right, with my mother, father, and brother Josh in the 1930's
My dad, Mark Purinton Sr. in the
Army in France, 1919
I was born in Brattleboro, Vermont, at the Brattleboro Hospital on April 28, 1926. Not many of us were born in hospitals in those days, most at home. But I was, and I really dont know why. My mother, Edith Hall, was born at home on the farm in the Beldingville, part of Ashfield, Mass., on September 8, 1903, one of 11 children. She grew up as a farm girl and graduated from Framingham Normal School, the first Hall girl to go past high school. She was a grade school teacher for several years, her last teaching position being in Brattleboro before her marriage. My dad, Mark Purinton, was born at home on the farm on April 15, 1894, one of 12 children, who all lived on the old Purinton farm homestead in Buckland. He reached the 4th grade in the nearby little red brick schoolhouse, and then quit to work on the farm to help support the rest of the kids who were coming along.
Wedding picture of Mark, Sr. and Edith Purinton
In 1913 at age 19, my father joined the Army, went to France to fight in World War I, suffered gas poisoning but came home to spend the rest of his life in the Buckland area. I do not know why he moved to Brattleboro but I suspect it was to follow my mother who was teaching school in that area at the time.
My baby picture
They married there and he went to work in a factory which made tennis rackets. In using a bench saw there he cut off most of the fingers of his left hand. I remember him coming home and saying that he didnt even feel it when it happened. I remember very little else about the Brattleboro days, but I do vividly remember a lady doctor making a house call to check me over, and I remember being held in my mother's arms in a rocking chair on the back porch. James Earl Jones wrote in one of his books of remembering his actual birth, the bright light bulb hanging overhead and the midwife pulling him from the birth canal. I cannot remember this far back, but I was less than a year old when that doctor's visit occurred and I was rocked on the back porch.
Decanter from my
Many years later at an auction of the estate of my baby doctor, my Aunt Dorothy (one of my mother's sisters), a nurse, purchased the decanter shown to the left and presented it to me as a memory of "my beginnings." It held Chartreuse for many years thereafter.
The Old Franklin Academy Building
Soon after his accident, dad quit his job at the tennis racket factory and moved back to Massachusetts where he spent most of his life as a teamster, driving a pair of horses pulling logs out of the woods to the portable saw mill. He was a good dad, a good provider. He was never out of work even during the Great Depression. He was an avid hunter and fisherman and we kids grew up on the wild meat and fish which he brought home. Mother became an expert in preparing dishes based on rabbit, pheasant, deer, and any kind of fish which happened to swim in the local streams. Mother never went back to teaching school after she married. She stayed home and took care of her brood as it increased over the ensuing years. I, of course, was number one. When we moved back to Massachusetts we lived in the old brick Franklin Academy building on Main Street in Shelburne Falls.
Here number two child, Gerald, (Josh) was born at home on June 22, 1929, inside the first window on the left downstairs. I was about 3 years old then. One of my aunts, my mother's younger sister, walked me up and down the sidewalk outside to keep me busy while my mother gave birth. We were the only two kids for quite a while. Dad went to work in the woods and then later was hired as a truck driver for C. W. Ward in Ashfield, driving a milk truck around to the country farms to collect milk to transport to the Shelburne Falls train station. There it was cooled and put into tank cars to go H.P. Hood in Boston. It was great fun to ride on the truck with him.
"The Lightning Splitter" next to the Wise house.
The Wise House with visiting uncles, aunts and cousins
We moved up to Buckland several years later to live at the Wise place near the lightning splitter. Here I remember Christmases and family reunions. Some pictures are still in my old photo albums of many of my aunts and uncles, now all gone.
Picture approximately 1880 -
Far left - former Buckland Center Church
(later moved behind Mary Lyon Church to become the Buckland Grange,
Center, our apartment house, Right, the Buckland Center store and Post Office.
Buckland Public Library is not visible behind tree at left.
Biddie, Herbie, Josh (the toe head) and I
sitting on the steps of
the old abandoned
store next to our apartment house on Upper
Street. Herbie and I are the only ones left.
We then moved to Buckland Center to a building next to the Buckland Center Public Library. We lived in the upstairs apartment. The building has since burned. It was here where I remember my first childhood friends, Herbie, Biddy and Squick Wilder who lived in the house on the other side of the library. Squick got her nickname because whenever her mother yelled out the kitchen door for her she would answer "I'll come 'squick as I can."
My knickerbocker years
We had cold running water from a mountain spring into a tank in the kitchen. The privy was down the back stairway, out the back door and into an old two-holer shared with the family who lived in the downstairs apartment .
Last year's Sears Roebuck catalogue served as toilet paper. The winter trips to and fro were rapid, let me tell you! My dress for most of the year was long underwear and corduroy knicker pants buckled above the knee, all of which came by mail from Sears and Roebuck.
These were the days of the Great Depression, but we never knew we were poor. Baths occurred once a week on the floor in the kitchen in a big wash tub. Bath water always started out warm and began with the youngest member of the family. After each one had bathed, extra hot water from the teakettle on the kitchen stove was added to the tub and the next member got in or stood in, including mom and dad until we were all bathed. The water was pretty blue by the time of the last bathing. Then we got our fresh pair of long johns which were to go for the next week, night and day. Our upbringings were strict with the threat of my dads seldom used belt to the butt. But it was mentioned often and mother would often say, "now you just wait til your father gets home." That in itself was enough to straighten out situations, at least temporarily. Josh and I went to the one room school down the street, the Buckland Center School. We had recess on the town common in front of the church and walked home for lunch. I was the only one in my class until the 8th grade. Actually, I started out first grade with a girl named Katherine. However, she had been taught a lot at home by her mother and soon advanced into second grade, leaving me all alone in my grade for the next 7 years. It was Katherine who first taught me to tie my shoes. She also is now long gone. Miss Clay was our teacher (all 8 grades) until she fell in love with the farmer's son next door and they moved out west to live. Both now lie beside each other in the Buckland Center Cemetery.
The Buckland Center Schoolhouse. This building was built
in about 1850 to replace the old red brick schoolhouse.
The lower floor was for grades 1 through 8, the upper floor for
band practice. This is now the home of the Buckland Historical
Back home on Upper Street, Josh and I and the Wilder kids played all the usual kid games in the back yard. Cowboys and Indians was the favorite and I was usually the bugler for the army. I learned taps and could play it pretty well, which I did frequently so mother could tell where we kids were at all times. We even, for a while played doctor in the Wilder's chicken house. Many years later, after I had graduated from Tufts Medical School, Biddy Wilder remarked to me that I was the only person in her life with whom she had played doctor who actually became one!
The Greenfield Recorder-Gazette
At about the second or third grade I began delivering the newspaper, the Greenfield RecorderGazette, each evening after the 4:30 mail car arrived at the post office. I believe I had some 30 or 40 customers, so I soon had money (I think it was 2 or 3 cents per paper per delivery) so that I could purchase my Blue Rider bike, extend my route and increase my income. My newspaper business was taken over from a girl whose last name was Aste and she had always delivered the Recorder on horseback. So I was the first bike deliverer in Buckland history. Business really picked up when I added the Saturday Evening Post to my repertoire. How well I remember my shoulder strap bag full of fresh shiny cover pages, mostly with Norman Rockwell illustrated paintings. I took great pride in seeing to it that these never got rain or snow spotted and were delivered perfectly clean to each household. I think I earned about 5 cents per copy delivered. Big money in those days. One year, in 1938, there was a contest at the Greenfield Recorder Gazette to see how many new customers we home deliverers could sign up for a year's subscription. I won for the small town division, a trip to the World's Fair in New York City. This was my first time away from home except for the one week I had gone to scout camp on Catamount Hill. I even got my picture in the paper. The first time I ever witnessed television was at this Worlds Fair. And I remember well Esther Williams diving off that high staging down into the lighted swimming pool below ... all done to fireworks. But, for the following year I was peddling new additional subscriptions far out into the Buckland boondocks.
A photo of me playing "Taps"
on Memorial Day.
My dad in the
American Legion Drum Corps
Back on Upper Street in Buckland, life went on. I started taking piano lessons from Mrs. Groves (herself self-taught) and got so that I could play sheet music pretty well. My bugling had become good enough so that I was the official taps player for all Memorial Day exercises and military funerals in the area. I was the youngest member of the Shelburne Falls American Legion Drum and Bugle Corps. Dad played the snare drum.
Listen to Buckland resident Melissa Willis play "Taps" at a Memorial Dedication in 2011. Melissa majored in trumpet in college, and plays "Taps" the old style way, exactly as I did when I was a lad.
Thank you letter from the American Legion, 1936.
"The American Legion want to thank you and congratulate
you on the fine bugling that you did for them on Memorial Day.
Taps never sound so well before and it was especially fine
that a member of the 'Sons of Legion Squadron' blew them.
Keep up the good work. Thanking you - We are American Legion
Post 135, Shelburne Falls, per H.B. Ware, Adjutant"
My sister Fern (number three) was born into the Purinton clan in 1934, That same year, Herbie and I sat on the bank near the road up to the Mary Lyon Boarding House, called the Old Upper Street, to watch the work going on in the reconstruction of the old Southwick property into the Robert Strong Woodward home and studio. This was a lot of activity for those days. It was during the Great Depression and yet usually 3 or 4 cars arrived each day, bringing the carpenters who were doing the work. My mother had warned us: "Now stay up on the bank. Do not go across the road and bother the workmen."
Reconstruction of the old Southwick property. Note original location of barn at far right.
The barn in the middle of the street being moved.
One day we watched as the big barn which had been located on the south side of the house was slowly dragged around the front of the house by four oxen, and down to the north side of the old blacksmith shop. I had never imagined that a whole building could be moved like that.
Eventually the whole place came together beautifully. A driveway appeared, lawns appeared and it became the showplace of Upper Street, all directed by a man wheeling around in a wheelchair with a cigar in his mouth. Once I remember him positioning himself with an outstretched arm and an upright cigar in his right hand, guiding the two men on the barn roof as to when the weather vane was straight up level.
An old footstone with its felt cover to keep our
feet warm in bed in the winter. It was heated in
a fireplace, then placed at the foot of a bed to
keep it warm during winter.
My dad's American Dream
In about 1936 Dad bought his first house, his only house for that matter. My family then moved to Lower Street to a whole house of our own. It still had water only in the kitchen pumped up from a well in the cellar, a privy out in the rear of the barn. But my dad had fulfilled the American dream: his own house with a barn, a family cow, a yearly pig, a dog and a least two cats. And we all had our own rooms at last, as cold as they were in the winter. Heated soapstone footstones wrapped in towels made it livable.
Current photo of original lawn mower and grass clipper
I used to take care of the Woodward property.
Back on Upper Street I soon saw an opportunity. This man Woodward had a lot of lawn to mow. It was about when I was in 6th grade that I dared to approach, not him, but his hired man, Fabian, to ask if they needed any help with the lawn work. They did. Supervised by Fabian at a rate of the enormous sum of 25 cents an hour, I began pushing the old rotary lawn mower around the yard. All the grass had to be caught in those days and most of it thrown over the fence to feed Old Gould's (Herbie's grandfather) cows in the Gould pasture which nearly surrounded the Woodward property. Then there was the clipping. It usually took about one full day to completely mow the lawn and then a couple of days to hand trim around all of the stones. Fabian had gone wild inlaying stone walks around the entire place. Eventually I got to meet "The Great Oz," Robert Strong Woodward. He told me he was pleased with my work. He told me once that he was watching me from the side windows of the front door while I was sweeping the grass off of the slate stones after clipping the grass around them. That after finishing I had turned to see that there were still some clippings left on the stones, and that I had come back and re-swept until they were perfectly clean. He liked that. That was the way he wanted his new property to look. And under Fabian's guidance, that's the way he got it.
The Crittenden School, where I went to 8th grade as seen today
As mentioned above I was the only one in my grade in grammar school until the 8th grade. At this time someone, I don't recall who, thought I should be transported down to Shelburne Falls to attend Crittenden School where I could attend class with other 8th graders. There was an allowance of 50 cents a day for transportation, so I rode my bike every day, all except during the worst part of the winter, in order to get that money. This continued all through high school. Also at this time, I had become good enough on the piano so that I started giving lessons for 50 cents per half hour lesson. I had three regular students. Today two of them are organists at local churches. As far as I know I was their only teacher.
Me when I graduated into long pants.
I continued working for RSW, by now doing a lot of inside work for him, such as cooking studio suppers, showing paintings to prospective buyers, etc. For this position I needed to be dressed up. My good mother would always have a starched white shirt and fresh trousers (I had graduated from knickerpants to long pants by now) to get me ready for these events. Except in the winter, I always would take a bath in the Clesson Brook out back of the barn before getting dressed. We still did not have an inside bathroom in dad's American dream house.
At the Woodward estate, hired men came and went, but I stayed on. RSW had a "falling out" with Fabian after which Fabian's brother Ray came to work; then one man after another came, none of them staying very long. Most of them lived in, sleeping in what is now my computer room. I think after the Great Depression faded many of them could earn big pay at the local factories in Shelburne Falls, Greenfield and Colrain. But I was too young for any of that and continued my paper route, playing piano for dances, giving piano lessons and working for RSW.
Arms Academy where I went to High School as seen today
All through high school, I worked for him afternoons as soon as school was out, and through all vacations and holidays. As soon as I was 16 and could have a driver's license, I was taught to drive the big 12 cylinder Packard and then even to lift RSW from his wheelchair into the car. I became a very good driver, if I do say so myself!, and I learned the techniques of lifting an invalid with little difficulty. I was in those days a skinny kid, but I could easily lift this large man (I am certain he was 6 feet or over) from his wheelchair into the front or back seat of his Packard to go painting. By this time I was also quite rich. I had several thousand dollars in the Shelburne Falls Savings Bank earmarked for college as soon as I had done my upcoming stint in the army.
The Vagabonds. I am at the piano on the right
It was at this period in my life that I was playing in a dance band at least two nights a week. I would go off in my little blue Model A Ford (my very first car which I bought for $50 cash) to play for round and square dances from about 7 'til midnight. Our group was named The Vagabonds.
My first girl friend, Alice, and my first car, a model A Ford
This was also big money, usually $5 a night. It made me feel as if I was a pretty good pianist and decided I wanted to study music in college and hopefully become an arranger for someone like Tommy Dorsey. This went on all through high school. I met my first girl friend, Alice, during those days. She is now long gone. She used to sing "You'll Never Know" with me accompanying her on the piano.
My Arms Academy senior photo by Herb Ashworth
I was only an average student in high school, mostly because I never had time to do much homework, working for RSW and playing at dances, etc. In 1944 I did receive, however, a Silver A pin (A for Arms Academy) which was a big honor for a high school kid.
The Arms Academy "Silver A"
In 1941, while I was in high school brother Arnold was born. We now numbered four. We kids on the street were all growing up by now. Biddy, still young, even got married. This didn't last very long but in the meantime she added tremendously to our sex education. This was when spermicidal vaginal suppositories for birth control came out and Biddy explained in great detail how they worked. I remember her saying they are good for all night but her husband wasn't.
Studying in the army on the top bunk
Then in my senior year of high school, to avoid being drafted, I volunteered to enter the Army Air Force, enabling me to finish high school before being called up. In the summer of 1944 I was summoned and took the train from Shelburne Falls to Fort Devens in Ayer, Massachusetts, and became Private Purinton, dog tag # 11108471, SIR!. For the next two years I went back and forth across the country from one Air Force base to another. During this time I was also taking college correspondence courses to get a few credits under my belt before actually getting to college. Here I am studying on my upper bunk. I had completed all of my English, History and Social Study requirements before the first day of college.
I went to gunnery school, mechanics assistant school, etc. until the bomb dropped and the war ended. I then spent several months just doing scut work, KP, picking up cigarette butts, etc. until I was mustered out in late summer of 1946. This was just in time to begin college at Oberlin College in Ohio where I intended to enter the field of music. I absolutely loved college after the selection of my major finally got decided.
College entrance was pretty much arranged by RSW who wrote letters of recommendation and asked some of his friends to do so also. In particular, as I mentioned above, I wanted to be an arranger for a dance band such as Tommy Dorsey That was not to be. The professors advised me to change my major, that I just did not have the ear. This was a very discouraging period of my life. But I did change my major from music to pre-med and my grades went from D-minus in music theory to A in chemistry, biology, physics, etc. Perhaps my favorite course in college was Ancient Greek. For a while I was able to read Homer's Iliad and Odyssey in the original Greek. It was the only course in all my years of college in which I received an A plus. But it has all slipped away over the years, being replaced by Gray's Anatomy, the Merck Manual and numerous other medical texts which took its place in my brain.
My second girl friend, Jean,
who dumped me.
By this time, in my college years, Alice had gone on to more available boy friends and I had found a new girl, Jean. She, however, took up religion and decided to marry a minister. I was never very religious, especially after taking a course in comparative religions at Oberlin.
Phi Beta Kappa key
All summer vacations I returned to Buckland to work for RSW, now not only at a higher salary but he started to put away a portion of the sale of each painting to help with future college expenses. Most of my college was paid for by the G-I Bill (actually this post-war benefit paid for almost all of my undergraduate education at Oberlin). The remainder was paid for by my savings, summer earnings and my commission on each painting RSW sold. Four years went fast and I graduated in Phi Beta Kappa from Oberlin in 1950.
Another baby, the last of our group, had arrived in the Purinton house by this time, Patsy, who was to become a problem for our aging parents. She was constantly in trouble, married young, got divorced, and finally died on August 11, 1969, after falling out of a fast moving car. She was buried in the Buckland Center Cemetery at age 23.
During the last year of college I took up with an overlooked old girl friend from our high school days, Barbara Shippee. With her father's permission I got down on my knees in her folk's living room on Christmas eve of 1949 and proposed to her. She said yes! During the period between college graduation and starting medical school, on August 27, 1950 we married in the same living room with RSW as my best man.
Barbara Shippee, the love of my life
Our wedding picture, 1950, Me, Barbara, Helen Williams (Maid
of Honor) and Robert Strong Woodward (Best Man)
She was in her twenties when this photo was taken. This is the photo I have carried in my wallet all these years. Now in her eighties she is even more beautiful.
♫ ♪ "You are so beautiful .... to me .... don't you see."♫ ♪
It was she who worked as a librarian at Simmons College and paid the board and rent for the four years I spent at Tufts Medical School. We lived in a small apartment on Peterboro Street in the Back Bay section of Boston. Initially we had no automobile. Eventually, her dad traded and we were given his old car. Then we could travel back to Buckland between school years. This we did and I always worked summers for RSW. Another four years flew by. I graduated from Tufts Medical School in the spring of 1954 without any student loans to pay off.
The Hippocratic Oath written over 2000 years ago.
On graduation from Tufts Medical School we were given a choice at the graduation services of taking the Oath of Hippocrates or not. To me there was no choice. It was a necessity. It was a must. For those who are not familiar with this oath, Hippocrates was a Greek physician who was born about 460 BC and died about 370 BC. Considered one of the most outstanding figures in the history of medicine he is still referred to as the "Father of Medicine." He established medicine as a "profession" and was, as well as a practicioner of medicine, also a teacher of medicine and wrote the Hippocratic Oath for young physicians who followed him to swear by.
Chief Resident in Surgery
at Waterbury Hospital, CT
I had decided that I wanted to be a country doctor by this time, but, I also wanted to be able to do surgery. There was an old saying in those medical school days that "you can't cure it if you can't cut it out." So my good wife, our car, a hook-behind trailer and all our possessions went in one trip from Boston to Waterbury Hospital in Connecticut where we spent the next five years. I was absent almost every night and day of the week, one year as an intern, then three years as a surgical resident, and then finally one year as a chief resident in surgery.
And thus began almost 40 years of the practice of medicine in our little town of Buckland. The nearest hospital, Franklin County Public Hospital, was about 15 miles away in Greenfield and over almost all of those 40 years I made two trips a day, early morning and late afternoon, to see my patients there and/or to perform an operation on them. Then I held office hours each afternoon and evening and often early mornings.
Dr. Josiah Trow
Dr. John Stafford, Jr. was the first physician in Buckland, making his home on High Street in 1790. The second physician here was Dr. Silas Holbrook who was a surgeon in the Revolutionary War. Following him, the third physician was Dr. Joseph Allen who was the most popular physician ever in Buckland. He died in 1823. Thereafter, Dr. Lawson Long, Dr. Sylvester Axtell, Dr. Nathaniel G. Trow (1837) Dr. Josiah Trow (brother of Nathanial) (1851), Dr. John Greaves (who died in 1919), Dr. Hutton, Dr. Mark Purinton, and Dr. Richard Warner.
During this time we had our first child, Laurel, in 1956, a precious blessing. However, during these five years there were no summers off to come to Buckland to work for RSW. I had to work at the hospital day in and day out, year-round for five years. We wrote Uncle Rob, but not frequently. His health failed during this time. He had always suffered from depression but this became much more severe as the years went along. He then developed cancer of the stomach and he died on June 26, 1957, two years before I finished my surgical residency.
Mother died in the Labelle Nursing Home on Nov. 17, 1971, age 68, of complications from rheumatic heart disease; dad lived on with great difficulty, but without complaining, from his emphysema, secondary to gas poisoning in the war until he died on Jan. 1, 1981, at the age of 87. He had a military funeral but I did not play taps for this one.
Our American Dream, our home.
Since we had been apart for pretty much 5 years I really did not expect any legacy from RSW, but when the will was read I was truly shocked to received the bulk of his estate, including his home on Upper Street in Buckland Center. (To view the complete will of Robert Strong Woodward, please click here.)
My wife and I decided then that this was where we wanted to live and practice medicine, and so began the reconstruction of what was a part of his studio into a medical office. Despite now owning a house, although slightly mortgaged, the local bank refused my request for funds to renovate for a medical office. There had been no physician in this small town for almost a century and the banker remarked "how do we know any patients are ever going to come to you up there in the hills?" They did. I eventually got a mortgage to finance my office reconstruction from a bank in Waterbury, CT after having it co-signed there by one of my surgery professors at the hospital who believed in me and my future. We had it paid off in less than one year of practice.
An oil painting of the north corner of the Woodward Studio
The same studio in 2007
RSW's main studio was left untouched, just as he left it. The paints on the pallet have all hardened and discolored but the ambience remains, and we have tried to keep this rustic room, once a blacksmith shop, just as it was during his many active years of painting.
For nearly 40 years my dear wife and I practiced medicine here, (it takes two to manage a country practice) bringing up two children. A second child, a son, Larch, was born in 1961 during our years in practice. Both are now adults and have moved away into their own lives.
We are now 60 years married. I retired at age 72 on December 31, 1998. Life has been good to us, mostly thanks to the man we call Uncle Rob. This website is one of my contributions to his legacy. Another has been the preservation of his studio and making it possible for the public to visit it.
When I die my written advance directives explicitly instruct those left behind that I am to be cremated with a copy of the Oath of Hippocrates and a copy of the Merck Manual in my right hand.
We will always be grateful that I was a kid on the street 73 years ago.
Revised November 2010
My wife and I at the site of "God's Quiet Acre" in May 2010
A family photo in 2006 with my son, my daughter, my wife and my granddaughter
Robert Strong Woodward on the balcony of his studio