Polly's Porch/Concord: December wedding - 70 years ago

Honeymooners try Beacon Hill caroling followed by late-night pancake supper

Polly Morton

(This is the first of a series on Polly's winter porch.  Now 97, Polly still lives in Concord, and her summer house is, interestingly, on Concord Point in Rye.)

When I was married in December, 1936, I not only married my husband but it seemed, his entire family.  I had had a long relationship with them which started in 1929 when I was a sophomore at the University of New Hampshire.  

Author Polly Morton in 1938.

That fall I was asked to “rush” a freshman girl for my sorority and, although she did not pledge to it, we became friends and I visited her family in Concord, N.H., many times. They were a close knit group:  the parents, my friend, two married brothers, an older married sister and the oldest son, Johnny, who was to become my future husband.  For seven years from 1929 to 1936 we had an off and on relationship but in the fall of 1936 we knew we wanted to be together.  

Johnny worked for the New Hampshire Highway Department as an engineer and their busiest times were spring, summer and fall. I was teaching and could not leave until the Christmas vacation.  We decided we would be married in December of that year.  It was not a good time for our families. My father and brother worked at the same business and December was a busy season for them.  Johnny’s parents wintered in Florida.  His two married brothers and married sister had young children occupied with making simple gifts and the younger sister had a demanding job.  We decided we would be married Christmas Eve and go to Florida for eight days with his family for our honeymoon.

On Christmas Eve we stood facing my minister in his living room in Quincy, Mass.  He stood with his back to a fire in the fireplace.  The mantel was aglow with white candles in shining brass candle sticks.  The minister’s wife stood by dressed in a dark red velvet skirt and white silk blouse.  The only other witness was a large Persian cat that watched us while stretched out on the closed top of a baby grand piano.  We exchanged wide gold bands with our initials and the date inside.  

After the ceremony we drove to Boston, registered at the Statler Hotel, went to the room with our luggage, then left to walk across the  Boston Common past the city’s tall, brilliantly lighted Christmas tree and  past the skating rink where skaters in colorful caps, mittens and scarves were gliding in pairs, or alone, some practicing figure eights while Christmas carols blared from a loudspeaker.  We could look toward Beacon Hill and see the windows glowing with lights and see front doors illuminated to display beautiful Christmas wreaths.  We joined a group of carolers on Joy Street and stood in front of open doors while the owners offered hot chocolate.  We could see inside – the stairways decorated with garlands of greens with red velvet bows on newel posts.  From here we went on to Louisburg Square where there was a group of bell ringers.  Christmas was in the air!  At the end of the evening we found an open all-night Child’s restaurant where we ate a late supper of pancakes and sausages.

John with Samantha in Concord.

Christmas Day found us back with my family in Quincy to open our gifts and enjoy a wonderful Christmas dinner. They drove us to South Station in Boston where we boarded the sleeping car of the “Florida Special” train as my mother, father and brother showered us with confetti.

We watched as the porter made up our beds then pulled a green cloth curtain in front of them. We undressed in separate bathrooms and got ready for bed. We went to our bunks and I crawled into the narrow lower bunk and Johnny climbed into the upper one.  I left the window shade up – it was dark outside – and watched as we pulled out of the station and gathered speed.  We passed towns, big cities, dark fields and roads parallel with the tracks with autos seemingly going at a snail’s pace. With the rhythm of the train and the sound of the rushing wheels, I was soon lulled to sleep remembering that Johnny was sleeping just above me and I was going to be a wife and hopefully a mother.

The next day I experienced the dining car with its snowy white linen tablecloths and napkins, gleaming silverware, crystal glasses with the water gently swaying with the motion of the train, soft-lighted (electric battery) candlesticks and black waiters in their uniforms of black with gold braid and gold  buttons.  Of the entire train experience, the dining car impressed me most.  The menu was surprisingly varied and the food excellently prepared and served.  

We walked unsteadily through the cars, carefully watching our step where the cars joined, to the observation car at the end of the train where we watched the landscape change from bare trees to tall willows with gray moss trailing from the limbs.  At 2:00  a.m. on the second night we were awakened and told we had an hour before disembarking.  We were dressed and ready with our luggage as the train pulled into a little town called Edgewater.  There was not even a station here, just a railroad employee with a lantern to help us off the train to meet Johnny’s sleepy-eyed parents who greeted us with loving embraces.  We climbed into their old 7-passenger auto which had carried them back and forth to Florida for the last five years and drove to their house.

(It took his parents five long days each way to go from Concord, N.H. to Edgewater, Florida, staying overnight in cabins or private homes recommended to them by friends taking the same route.  In this way they avoided going into cities to stay at hotels.  Howard Johnson’s was the first to offer overnight motels and restaurants but only as far as Washington, D.C.)

Gas station racoon hunkers down.

Edgewater was a small town with a variety store and one gasoline station.  At the end of a two-foot chain attached to a post was a dear little raccoon. When you fed him a peanut, he would carefully remove the shell, dip it in the pail of drinking water, lift his little masked face and eat it.

The Morton bungalow was on Merrimack Avenue which was a very short distance to the Indian River.  Nearby was a bridge which one crossed to get to the peninsula that faced the ocean. Their yard was a riot of color – flowers and vines I was not familiar with - orange and grapefruit trees with fruit and orange blossoms and a sulphur spring.  Every morning Johnny drank a glass of the smelly sulphur water which was said to be very healthy.  I couldn’t watch him.  There were harmless green snakes, darting brown lizards who changed their color to blend with the green yard, but best of all, were the mocking birds, that grey and white bird with a fairly long tail.  They sat on the ridge of the roof and trilled all day long – mocking the calls of other birds.

There was so much to do and see.  The house was comfortable but we spent all of our time out of doors.  We walked along the “Strand” – the road parallel to the Indian River made of crushed oyster shells.  At night, in the warm evenings, Johnny and I walked with the light from the full moon making the road a shinning white path.  Also at night as well as during the day, large and small yachts went by, piloted by one or two men on their way to Miami.  The river was part of the inland waterway.  We would see a large dark shape with red and green lights and sometimes hear soft music.  Soon it would come into view and glide by with its motor softly purring.  

Porpoises played in the river chasing each other or jumping high in the air. Pelicans, those ungainly birds, would fly in a straight line – gliding as they looked for fish in the river, then slowly flap their wings.  Their beaks were like a large pouch.  With a clumsy splash they would land on the river, duck their beak in the water and come up with a very active fish to be swallowed whole. Not to be outdone, the Kingfisher – brilliant in his blue and white plumage – kept a beady eye on the river and with a neat, quick dive came up with his meal.

At sunset the shrimpers motored in to dock after a day on the ocean fishing for shrimp with nets.

Driving over the bridge to the ocean, we were able to drive north or south on the solid sand with the ocean close on our east side breaking into long rolling surf.  At the end of the peninsula was a huge mound of oyster shells dating to years back when the Indians came in their canoes.  

One day the four of us took a drive to Miami where Johnny had taken a year off from college to go there with an uncle.  There was an enormous amount of new construction along the ocean and anyone who could handle a hammer could find a job.  They worked on several hotels which were about 15 feet apart.  The demand for vacation lodging was great.  In the city we saw many Cubans.  Men sat on upturned boxes with another one used as a table on which to play dominoes.

Back to Edgewater we were on our sixth day of our honeymooon when Johnny had a telephone call.  It was an office worker to tell him that Mr. Everett, the head of the State Highway Department, was seriously ill and he should return. In no time we packed, learned there was a north-bound train in a few hours and were on it.  The trip home remains a blank.  All I remember is arriving in Concord at that wonderful railroad station with its tall vaulted ceiling and a beautifully painted Concord coach displayed in the center.  (All removed when HUD took over.)  Johnny’s married sister and husband and friends were there to meet us with another shower of confetti.  We rushed to the car and were driven home.

Polly's porch in front was for relaxing, on side for watching husband mow.

One Seventeen North State Street is where I began my married life living in this 14-room house with his parents, his younger sister, a friend of hers who boarded with us while she worked nights at the Rumford press and a “live-in” cook.  We lived here for 47 years.  It’s where our daughter Ellen was brought home from the “Old” Margaret Pillsbury Hospital where she was born.  The house still stands, and I’m glad that no other family lived there.  It has been made into offices and I often go by and can see in my mind Johnny mowing the lawn while I’m sitting on the side porch watching a toddler playing in her sand box.  

June, 2006