Of Small Worlds and Small Towns

Of Small Worlds and Small Towns

“Where are you from?”

It’s a question most of us ask to connect to someone we’ve met for the first time, to link a sense of place to a new name and face.

It was a question UUCC member Elaine Pardoe asked new member Flo Wagner at coffee hour back in 2008.  And it was with delight that they found they both had roots in Middletown, DE, where Flo grew up, and where Elaine would visit her Aunt Lydia and Uncle Harlan.

These things happen from time to time, happy coincidences.

But then they realized the families had lived on the same street, South Cass St.  They knew people in common, but they had never crossed paths.

That would usually be the end of the story, but in this case, it was just the beginning.

Elaine had inherited her aunt’s collection of diaries, spanning from the 1930s to the 1980s—50 years of diaries!  As she read through them, Elaine got a glimpse of everyday life in Middletown through her aunt’s eyes, as the entries revealed details typically lost to time, about the weather, local events, and daily life in a time before television and the Internet.   It was a time when you found out what was going on in the world by gathering around the radio, and when you found out what was going on in your town from the milkman who delivered dairy products (and the latest gossip) to everyone’s doorstep.

And then Elaine came to this entry:

“Perfect day…going down to see Mrs. Wagner’s new baby.”

Elaine asked Flo if that would have been her sibling.

It turned out to be Flo!

More and more references to the Wagner family were found.  Elaine’s cousin Janet babysat “the Wagner children” when Flo’s parents went to the movies.   Janet took piano lessons from Flo’s father, who was the music teacher at Middletown High School.  Elaine remembered Janet playing Tchaikovsky.

After this discovery, Elaine and Flo talked more about Middletown, family, and friends.  Flo called her sister, and they talked for hours, sharing reminiscences, remembering names from the past, half-forgotten stories, now remembered, now sought in the diaries.

From that point on, Elaine and Flo pored over the diaries, as Aunt Lydia’s clear handwriting revealed details great and small, of home vegetable gardens, daily chores, and social events.

Elaine Pardoe, left, and Flo Wagner share some time together with the diaries. Photo by Chris Gallant, April 2017.

And then there were the world events:

“Truman and Churchill broadcast VE Day Proclamations at 9:00”

“August 14, 1945.  PEACE – 7:00 PM. What a day!!! … bells, horns, sirens…we went up to the square where they were dancing…And so to bed in a peaceful world.”

Diary, opened to August 14, 1945 (VJ Day). Photo by Chris Gallant, April 2017.

And suddenly, we are all a part of Aunt Lydia’s world.

UUCC is a place where we find that we are all connected, in one way or another, no matter where we come from.  So, next time you’re there, look for an unfamiliar face, introduce yourself, and ask

“So, where are you from?”

— as told to Chris Gallant, from Cheesequake, NJ


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