Born: September 25, 1907
Place of Birth: Worcester, MA
Mother’s Name: Carolyn Gifford Towle
Father’s Name: Frank Berton Towle
Spouse’s Name: Marjorie Towle
Date of Interview: March 24, 1980
BJ = Barbara Jenkins, Interviewer
GT = Gifford Towle
Original transcription by Jean Miller
BJ: You were starting to tell me how it was that you got out here.
GT: When I was studying agriculture and allied subjects, that is a split major at what was then Mass. Aggie—it became Mass State before I got through—something got me started up in these hill churches. I don’t remember what it was. I do remember that John C., Whiteman, a Conference person in this area of Massachusetts, wanted to get pastoral care of three points—that is, Dwight Station which is also north of Belchertown and Packardville which is a Congregational Church and Pelham Hill which was also a Congregational Church. He wanted the care of these churches. Somehow we got together, and he got me in on a grant from the Massachusetts Conference, which paid part of the expenses. The church paid part of the expenses and this became a part-time enterprise. Which was very valuable for me in experience and maybe might have done some local person some good. Who knows!
BJ: What background did you have for giving the sermons and things?
GT: Well, mostly church life and study in a place like Mt. Hermon—and conferences. I was born and brought up a Quaker, or a Friend, as they were known. And, in the Friends’ system, even then I was a recorded minister. In ’30, no ’28—I was recorded by them in ’32, and this started in ’30 when I was in that direction and having that kind of experiences in the Home Meeting in Worcester. So it kind of came natural to me. I had been interested in this kind of thing as I said before, about Sam Higgenbottom, he was a Mt. Hermonite, who went to India and founded an agricultural college and wrote this up in the Gospel and the Plow, an inspiration to me, ‘cause he pointed out how much this could do to change the situation in poverty stricken areas. So I started to get prepared for that kind of service. And also when this opportunity came in the surrounding churches, I was very happy to see what I could do. So for two years in what is now UMass and for four years in Seminary in Hartford, I carried on these three points as a yoked parish. We would Saturday to—that is, the last four years when Marjorie joined me—we go Saturday nights to meet with the youth of North Belchertown (Dwight Station), and then Sunday morning we would have an early morning service in which Evelyn Kimball was a very real support and help. She worked with us on that. We would go early in the morning for service there, and then we would go over to Packardville for service there. And then in the evening, there would be a service at the Church on the Hill, which is now the museum. These three worked together as yoked parishes. In summers, during seminary, we came and lived in the area—either Pelham Hill or Packardville, and did it as a full-time job through summer. That was a lot of fun. And thereby hand some tales!
Don’t you have “automatic” on that when you’re recording?
GT: I mean solid New Englanders who knew their place in the world and have a faith and a practice. That means they can manage things. You aren’t necessarily making them, you are inspiring or encouraging them, maybe, but they’ve got it made, in one sense. These old New Englanders knew what the world was all about and how you got on. They had a sense of humor that I always loved. Will Chaffee had a marvelous sense of humor. He’d tell stories and you wouldn’t guess that there was going to be a joke until you watched his eyes. He’d keep a straight face, but his eyes would betray what he was up to. And Will would tell fascinating yarns, some of which we remember and some we don’t. But there are always lots of things that go with that type of parish life. For example, in the fall, I’ve never seen anything like it since that Packardville Church. The wasps—the paper wasps—would enter the church just as soon as it got chilly. And you’d come Sunday morning, all the windows would be full of those wasps. Les Kimball was an expert. He could pick those off by their wings, throw them on the floor, and step on them, and not get stung. I’ve never known him to get stung once. But he was an expert at this art of picking them off by their wings and disposing of them. And it was a good idea, because when you warmed the church up, you had the stove, 2 stoves on either side, at least one side, and I think there may have been one on the other, and these long flues that went all the way along through—as Bishop O’Connell once said, “Those flues in the old country churches wandered around inside, trying to find a place to get out.” (Laughs) And that’s what happened in Packardville. Ah, that’s O’Connell.
BJ: I can use a microphone.
GT: No, I meant the level of recording is automatic.
BJ: I guess not. You started to say, about some tales…
GT: First, let’s get a little background first. In those days, Packardville wads quite a community. This was long before Quabbin. There were a lot of people living over there, like Will Chaffee and Collis-Kimball family. Let’s see, Webbs, Pratt—Theron and Celia Pratt who moved into that family now. Well, you’ve got several relatives over there still. The Devon Lane tractor people on 202 are related.
BT: I’ve got to write some of these names down because I know when I type them, it’s always hard to understand. What was that name, Theron?
GT: T H E R O N, I think. Theron Pratt and Celia.
BT: So these people have gone more towards the Belchertown area.
GT: Yes. Also that lumber company, Conkey people on 202 are very definitely related to the Pratts. Oh, I wish I could name more. And Paul C. Mitchell who now has a place down here on Harkness. They made more ministers than ministers made the congregation (laughs). They were a very amazing group, really amazing group.
BJ: What do you mean “more,” specifically when you said that?
GT: Sid Parkinson and others were out to get me, and some of the boys and men that I knew down there. So, these church people were very, very helpful in this regard. You wouldn’t know this geography, but the roadway that went up to the church also continued as a wood road beyond the church, unknown to these friends of mine. “Friends,” in quotation! We hid a car down that wood road. So they thought they had everything sewed up. They tied tin cans and everything else on my particular car. They thought they had everything fixed. But when it came to after the wedding, which was a Quaker wedding in a Congregational church, and the reception which was downstairs in the parish hall, we jumped out of one of those windows out of the parish hall after we changed, and rand down this country road and grabbed the car which was hidden and drove further down until we came to a brook. And then we abandoned that car, crossed the brook, and we had our car that we were going to use, hidden on the Enfield Road on the other side of the brook. Well, these fellows, of course, caught on that there was something, so they rushed off to get down. But we had a friend farmer with a truck. He was on the bridge just below the church. He had “unfortunately” lost his key and he asked these fellows who came rushing, to help him find his key He couldn’t find it. He held them up long enough so that Les Kimball, who was our driver, and a very excellent fast driver, he was. Only one person got wise and followed up, and that was a brother-in-law who smelled a rat. He got down there before the truck.. He chased us, but Les was too much for him on the back roads.
BJ: O’Connell. Okay. You knew.
GT: Boston University, right.
BJ: See, I thought you’d said McConnell, so I would have been in trouble.
GT: Yes, that’s O’Connell, Boston University. So you had to make your fire, heat your church up. Many people came in from the outside. You had to gather folks together. It was like what the Quakers speak of as “Gathering the Meeting.” In the winter there were problems, of course, with the snow. But the spring was in some ways, as I’d said earlier, a rougher time. Because you might go in, say Easter, on frozen ground, but by the time you left church and the sun was up and got that frost out, you were in mud holes and quagmires, and you often had to rebuild roads with rocks and stone walls on the side, in order to get out and move. We were married in that Packardville church, and that was a fascinating business, because some of my buddies from the College wanted very much to do this thing up properly. And that meant obstructing the couple’s get-away.
BJ: (Laughs) Yes??
GT: Oh a group of 30 to 40 to 45. They were very active. You could count on them, without question. They would be there. Now this church up on the hill, they were not such a large group, and they weren’t such a—may I say—warm congregation, supportive congregation. They were a very different kind of group. A much smaller group—say 20, 25. Not a large group, as I remember it. But Dwight Station was a number of young people. Quite a lot of young people. George Brooks, who helped me do this work right here. Right after he got back. He was up in Vermont, and a very good carpenter like his father. You can see the stone work, I mean the brick work. He’s done that too. He has very clever use of his hands in many ways. He’s now down in the Gulf Coast in Alabama. George and Winn Fay and a number of these local people, young people, were very interesting group. There were a lot of faithful people there, very regular people. Pratt. Oh, I wish I could name all those people. It was a small congregation of 20, 25. But you could count on them.
BJ: It’s too bad you didn’t rob a bank or something while you were doing it!
GT: Yes, yes. We got back to Amherst finally, and just walked around as though nothing had happened. I mean. Nobody knew where we were. Then we went up on the Mohawk Trail for our honeymoon, which was a wonderful place. But that was typical of this congregation. They pulled that off in good style. They managed the wedding and they managed the reception and they helped manage the get-away. Which was real cooperation and a lot of fun.
BJ: How many people would you say were involved in that parish?
GT: Well, attendance would be 30-40 usually. Now, how many members, Evelyn Kimball might know.
BJ: I wanted a sense of how many were active. That’s really more like…
BJ: Why do you suppose there was such a difference between the Pelham Hill Church? Was it the individual type families or…
GT: That’s right, I think that’s it!.
BJ: Was there more dissension or something? History?
GT: Private interest I would call it.
BJ: Oh, okay, that’s interesting.
GT: Yes, it is. I mean, I don’t think they loved their Lord as much a thy loved their own wish. They wanted things like—they wanted it!
BJ: And, from what you can gather, had that been historically the case too?
GT: (Laughs.) I would thing so, pretty much. Some of these people have moved away since. There are very few of these people, or their families, who are left, that I remember. I remember one family, particularly, who were on that road going up to Shutesbury. Kind of cantankerous, if you can use that. (Laughs) I remember one summer up on the hill, because we lived in a little cabin just on the east side of 202. What is now 202, and that cabin was really something. We remember lightning storms up there when the lightning actually, visibly jumped; that is, the electricity from the lightning jumped between our sink and the stove. And it was an exceedingly brilliant business.
BJ: Dangerous, too.
GT: Well, it’s amazing. It never struck the cabin. It just seemed to pick—that hill was very prone to lightning. I don’t know as you know, but that church was struck twice, you know. I think now you’d find a different situation, because you’ve got those towers with the microwave, which would take a lot of electricity off. And I don’t think you’d have that trouble today, because those microwave disks or towers would tend to short the electrical supply in the area. But it was quite an experience in those days.
GT: Fourth of July, the Collis-Kimballs used to have a picnic. And it used to be held over there in Packardville in the old days, and then down here on Harkness Road in more recent days. That was when we were in college. And those picnics invited in all thee people—Dwight, Packardville, some from the Hill. It was kind of a reunion like, of churches. And it was a lot of fun. It was a day of baseball, wonderful food, and good fellowship. This helped to bind the communities together. There was a very real interest in Dwight Station on the part of these other churches, particularly Packardville. Collis-Kimballs helped with that church, and well I remember, for example, one of the girls in that church was Vera Burke. Well, Vera Burke moved out later and married a young man in Shrewsbury, and she’s still there. Vera is a very fine citizen down there in that town. She and her children have gone places and done things and we’re still in touch. That’s one of the families that we’re still in touch with. Evelyn is too. She comes up to see Evelyn and ourselves once in awhile. This is some of the hangovers from those old days. She was a kid in Sunday School then. As I said, George Brooks here helped us in the revamping of this house, building a chimney, things like that. He was one of those Sunday School boys.
BJ: I just was thinking. I remember when I interviewed Evelyn Kimball, and she talked about her—of I don’t know—grandfather, father, or great-grandfather, or which it was—and talked about these great theological discussions they would get in about preordination, or something, you know. I didn’t understand that word. I thought she meant pre-ordained and she said no it was something else.
GT: No, preordination means that God has decided things, and you fit in.
BJ: Right. Well, I though that’s what she meant, but….
GT: We thought we had a choice.
BJ: So it sounded like if there were people up there battling about things, it wads about theology perhaps.
GT: Presbyterians are very strong about preordination, as you may know. In these old days some of those questions were very real. People had, I think, a little more time to think and discuss such things. No TV takes up all their time. There were some great discussions. There were also some very good social things. I hope Evelyn told you about the picnics and the celebrations that used to be.
BJ: No, I guess she didn’t. You know, it’s hard in an hour or so to talk about all the various things, and you get off on certain topics. She talked about a lot of interesting things within her family, more, I guess.
GT: They weren’t going into welfare problems as a church. The members of the church might. But as a church, I don’t think they were dealing too much with welfare problems of the community.
BJ: You said it was 2 years in college and…
GT: 4 years in Seminary. Then after Seminary, we took a full-time pastorate in Southampton.
BJ: I see. So it was 3 churches in 6 years.
GT: 3 churches in those 6 years, right. A link to our yoked parish. And then we went to Southampton 3 ½ years prior to India. Now, J. Paul Williams was head of the Department of Religion at Mass. State. Then he moved down to South Hadley to become head of the Department of Religion at Mt. Holyoke. He was preaching at that time at what was then the little Methodist Church in West Pelham and is now the United Church of Pelham. Because the old church on the Hill combined with this one and became a yoked or united church. J. Paul—I worked with him as….I was at that time the President of the Y.M.C.A. in the college, and he was my mentor and guide in all these things. We had many theological debates all through the years, even after I got to India. Unfortunately, he is no longer living or we would really continue them, because I have always differed with the man, theologically though I had a great admiration for him. He was instrumental in helping this parish here for some time. And moved his family out here because he wanted Alice Coliss as his children’s school teacher. She was an excellent school teacher, and he wanted his children under her. So he moved to West Pelham in order to make that possible.
BJ: You mentioned the social things from the church. I think that was true a lot more in the past, I guess, for getting things together.
GT: Oh much more in the past than today.
BJ: Would the church be dealing with any social problems at that time, or was it pretty much the regular services and…?
BJ: Were you in India when you found out that Quabbin was going to be flooded?
BJ: Were there problems?
GT: Oh yes, I think so. You didn’t see them the same way you do now. I don’t think they were talked about. At least, you didn’t get social workers attacking them You had in those days “State children,” you know, who were farmed out to families up here. There were a number. One has just recently died who we knew very well. He lived up there on the Hill for years and years, all alone. Even though he was a grown man. I’m trying to think of his name.
BJ: John Kerensky?
GT: John Kerensky is the man. He was just opposite the Pelham Hill Church as a boy in the Sunday School there. He and some of his cohorts were State children earlier. And then he stayed on afterwards in this town. We laid him to rest recently, down in South Valley.
BJ: If anyone was in good condition, he would have been—bicycling up that hill all the time.
GT: Yes, but he had a lot of arthritis.
BJ: I guess.
GT: And internally he had trouble. He was in and out of the hospital He helped me as soon as we got home. He helped me work on this place. He was a very generous person. But many people were afraid of him because he would threaten people who came near him. He was very protective of his little abode.
BJ: I never knew where it was. I knew it was there some place.
GT: It was on that little road that goes beyond the towers. I went down there. I used to sing out who I was, so he wouldn’t come out with a shotgun. I was down to his cabin a number of times because we shared some vegetables and things like that. John was very generous—he didn’t want to take money for work. He wanted to help you. I had a hard time paying him, but we managed one way or another. He helped me here on a number of jobs after I got back.
GT: Yes. We left in ’39. That happened in the ‘40s.
BJ: It did? I always seem to get my time wrong.
GT: I hadn’t heard much about it at that time
Tape unclear for a bit.
GT: Then, when Will Chaffee moved down here…. When we were home from India in 1953, Will told us he was going to have to sell. He wanted to sell to the church, but the church didn’t want to buy it. So we made an agreement that he could stay here as long as he wanted. His wife had died and he had no children. If he did die before the agreed payment period of 13 years was up, the place would be ours, lock, stock and barrel. It was good for both of us because it gave him added income during his lifetime and gave us a place for our retirement.
He must have had some kind of premonition. I think it was 1970 when he died. Then a younger brother offered to take care of the place until we got home. He rented it to graduate students until we got back.
But this was typical to me. Will was a friendly kind of person to work with. He improved this place even while we were paying him. Instead of using the money, he put on roofing, he put in a new drive, and he did all kinds of things. He had his days, possible this way, and we now have ours, possible that way. Kind of nice that this relationship worked out that way. He was very active in the church. He was a Deacon of the church.
BJ: The West Pelham?
GT: Yes, the West Pelham United Church. Only, it’s really not the West Pelham today. It’s the United Church of Pelham. The center of town has really shifted.
BJ: Yes, it has. Do you remember what your feelings were when you heard that that area was going to disappear?
GT: Well, I hated to see the direct connection from Amherst east go. We used to driv down the hill from Pelham to Prescott, then Hardwick, then Holden, because that was my home town. So here was a direct road. Now you’ve got to go either by Belchertown on Route 9 or you’ve got to go to Orange that is near to it and Route 202 and 2. Well, 122 to Holden. But you’ve got to pass one end of Quabbin. The others are under the lake. So when I heard about that, I was sorry that Pelham was going to get chopped up and the roads were going to gt broken into. Yes, we certainly were sorry. Except that a big lake in this area is a stabilizing factor in the environment. I mean, you’ve got a lot of woods now that nobody’s going to cut down because it’s watershed. And that means animals, birds, fish, all kinds of things. So, in a way, in the long run for the town, I don’t think we’re going to suffer except the loss of territory, loss of area and residents. But otherwise, we gain by this ecological balance, in a way.
GT: Oh, you just had to know. Nobody else around would do it (laughs) and it took him an hour to get that thing and get it unconnected. This was typical of Paul. He was a very terrific practical joker. Always pulling stunts. He sent me a birthday card once. I think it was the most clever card I’ve ever had. It was a piece of sandpaper folded twice so that it was a square, and then ;put in an envelope. But he’d taken a felt-tipped pen and he’d written across the sandpaper, “Scratch another one.” (laughs) This is just like him. He’s very original. Oh, he’d slip a spoon in your pocket when you were a guest for dinner. Then as you’d go out, he’d say, “Oh, by the way, you want to let me have that silver you took?” And we’d, of course, look with blank faces and he’d reach in the pocket and pull out the spoon he’d put there (laughs).
BJ: Did it seem like when that happened that the connections between Amherst and Pelham were stronger because it was so much easier to go this way?
GT: Yes, Packardville people sometimes went to Enfield.
Changes Subject – Tape is unclear
GT: In the summer we lived in a cabin up in the woods opposite the Collis-Kimball place. It was up on log supports. One night Paul C. Mitchell, who lived in Packardville at that time, brought a storage battery and auto horn and connected them underneath the cabin the middle of the night. All of a sudden we heard this loud horn blowing. When I came to and could localize this thing as to where it was… It was underneath us. It took me awhile to kind of orient me. So I thought, one good turn deserved another. I got up and dressed and made a sling—a rope sling for this heavy battery, and I climbed further up the hill, and I found a tall pine tree. And I climbed that pine tree with the battery and the horn. Then I tied the battery in the crotch way up in that pine tree and reconnected the horn. Well,, here this thing was aimed towards where Paul had gone back to bed.
BJ: How did you know it was him?
GT: I think that’s a fair thing. There a people—of course, in a town like Pelham, inter-marrying as it used to be, and I guess somewhat does still, you had a kind of close-knit relationship with your relatives, your friends, your families. And the “outsider” in quotes, would not automatically fit into this category. So that even in church, you’d occasionally find people—I’ve found it true even today. Young people say, “They don’t really want us.” Meaning that they don’t feel a part of that particular fellowship. That is a danger which is not easy to overcome. This church, even today, is not large enough to draw young people. There aren’t enough people, for one thing, and there aren’t enough resources to have capable leadership that might draw them regularly. And so it’s a borderline between the tried and true and those who are on the fringes or edges of this community. So it has been a problem for particularly young people, but other people who don’t feel as much of the community.
BJ: I guess some people are that way.
GT: Some people are that way! He always was coming up with something. Margery may remember other stories that I don’t. But I certainly enjoyed his practical joking. Most of it was good, clean fun.
BJ: It wasn’t sadistic or mean.
BJ: Except in case you don’t like horns under your house at night.
GT: Well, you know, we had porcupines come and chew the bark underneath, so noises under that cabin were impossible any time.
BJ: You started to talk about maybe there were some social problems in the community, but the church—that was not a direct kind of application of anything. Were there issues that you were aware of that needed to be addressed by somebody or something? I guess I was asking this because I’ve asked several people. There seemed to be some people in the community who were kind of like outcasts or something. Were you aware of people like that, or was that just not something that was brought to your attention.
GT: There were needs here like that. But our time here was such that we were absorbed with the routine services chiefly. I mean the preaching, teaching, and stated socials like church suppers and young peoples’ groups and things like that. And so that on the week-end service, that’s all you could do. Oh, you might have a funeral, you might have a wedding, you might have an occasion of some kind or another. But you didn’t sit down and do regular counseling for lack of time.
BJ: Was it an almost completely Protestant community at the time you were out here?
GT: Oh yes, oh, very much so. I can’t remember a Catholic family in the community. I’m sure they were there. But it’s almost entirely Protestant—but that didn’t mean they were church-going Protestants.
BJ: I can remember as I interview different people, they would refer to, say, one man who was Polish. I don’t know if that was before your time, who lived up somewhere, and people seemed to be sometimes living in these little pockets around, who really didn’t have much to do with the rest of the community. You could be isolated.
GT: You could be. As I have found in Vermont, there is also not only social isolation, but there is also—I’d call it almost spiritual isolation. I mean, I know especially along the river up in Vermont, communities where I have preached ever since we’ve been back—the ministers tell me in those communities, and I think it’s somewhat true, but not as much here because the University being nearby, there’s a lot more going on next to us—but isolation in some communities is such that people get ingrown. Then if something happens and they get a guilt complex, this begins to bear down. And pretty soon there’s a suicide in the family because they don’t know what to do with it. And they haven’t revealed their sorrows to the minister, maybe. And maybe the minister hasn’t discovered what is eating out their hearts. And so sometimes this loneliness, this separateness of spirit, is as important as the isolation socially.
BJ: Did you feel that in Pelham? Were you ever aware of needs like that?
GT: Yes, I had a little puddle jumper. It was a 77 model. I remember it very well because it looked like a converted bathtub. It was one of the first—it was a Willis77. One of these first streamlined deals to come on the market. Drove it 30,000 miles and sold it for $400 (laughs). Well, that was the way the price went up. The price went u enough in he period when we had it in seminary so that I was able to get what I paid for it. There was only one other time in cars that I was ever able to do that.
BJ: Did you make home visits at all?
GT: Oh yes, by all means. And also we did stay-arounds. I mean, weekends you—oh, I can remember—I won’t mention any names because I can’t remember them, for one thing—but I remember one family on Enfield Road where we stayed. Good family, but just different in habits. I mean, we had baked potatoes for breakfast. You didn’t get this in every house for breakfast! I mean, this was different, so you remember it. The Collis-Kimball family were just absolutely wonderful in the way they took in preachers. Not only ourselves, but others too. They were always making their homes available to us on weekends. We also stayed in a number of other homes throughout the community on weekends. And liked to. Because that’s the way you got to know people. You share and get to know people really that way, more than on a formal visit. So, as far as possible, we used to sleep around.
BJ: (laughs) I see.
GT: With the old soap stones.
BJ: Oh, really?
GT: How else to get a cold bed warm?
BJ: I don’t know.
GT: (laughs) Oh man, if it hadn’t been for soap stones, you really would have had a hard time.
BJ: That would be like in the early ‘30s you’re talking about.
GT: Yep, in the early ‘30s. Right.
BJ: You came out her, you said, in….
GT: I started Mass. Aggie in ’28, graduated in ’32 from Mass. State. Then in ’36 from Hartford. So this was ’30 to ’36 in terms of years.
BJ: And you’re talking about using cars then, right?
GT: Right. There were little farm houses all down there. You must remember there were no paved roads in that area. It was all dirt roads. And there were spots, areas, that were very springy, very muddy in the spring. They would freeze over so you could go to church in the spring on frozen ground. Well, when the sun hit them, they would thaw out enough so that when you got through church and maybe dinner in the community—by the time you were ready to move, this road was again a quagmire in certain areas. The only cure was to take rock off a stone wall and put them one next to the other in the ruts. And bump over these rocks until you got through these spaces. One of the most famous was on what is now 202 from northeast of Knights Corner on that rise. That was one of the worst places anywhere in the area. One Easter, particularly, when we had a service in Enfield, we were supposed to go down the hill from Packardville. It was impossible to go down, so we started to go to West Pelham and go around by Belchertown. But lo and behold the road was so deep in mud that we had to rebuild a section there with stones from the wall and hop from stone to stone. Les Kimball and I just laid it down, one rock after another until we got through. But it took hours. By the time we got through there and got back out of the road down towards Amherst and Belchertown, we’d used all the afternoon. So we just made the service in time in the evening in Enfield.
BJ: You said that the road would be so muddy sometimes. How would you go to get to Packardville?
GT: You’d have to go to Enfield Road that begins her by the church and then go over to Knights Corner, then Enfield Road continued down towards Enfield until you came to Packardville church at what is now the power line. You went off the road a little on the rise, and there was this lovely church.
BJ: That’s off the road that goes to the fishing docks now.
GT: Right. They don’t have those, but they have stones. Most experience in a foreign country, I think becomes useful. I used to blast town roads with my dad in Holden. I never dreamed as a kid doing this kind of work, that I would be training young men of India to handle dynamite and caps. But that’s the way it worked. Over 50,000 blasts we did and more than 15,000 wells while I was in India, and we never lost a finger, by the Grace of God. But part of it was this experience I gained with my dad.
BJ: I was trying to get that clear. You said you tried to go from Packardville down to Enfield. You couldn’t, so you came back up and then had to go down to Belchertown to go around…
GT: We were going to go via Pelham Hill because most of that road was better than this road. You see, this road had a lot of “spots” in it. This road has never been a very wonderful road by way of mud. It’s paved now, but it was worse. The other road was more used—the 202 road. So we thought we’d get through that better. We headed up the hill and got in these ruts. Right up to the axle. This was in the old days when Chevrolets had high wheels.
BJ: People kept going. You kept going, though. You wouldn’t say, “I can’t make it?”
GT: Oh no. We didn’t miss a Sunday that I can remember. No, we always—Les Kimball was a tremendous help in all of these. He was a young college fellow and local young man, of course. Les and I learned how to make ‘em. I mean, if you had too big a mud hole, you just went to work, that’s all. Shovels and rocks and chains and all kinds of things. You knew what you had to do and you did it, that’s all. Yesterday I was in Andover and one of the members got hung up on a cut stump, a tree had been cut. And she drove up onto this and the body rode up on it, and the wheels just spun. She couldn’t get off. Well, we knew what to do. All I did was invade a town wall there, stone wall, started building up under the wheel again until we got her high enough so she could drive over the stump.
BJ: Well, you see, it carries on.
GT: Oh, it carries all the way to India. I’ve done the same thing in India—mud holes, getting through mud holes. India’s got plenty of mud in the rainy season. So this was good experience.
BJ: Good New England stone walls used for all kinds of things.
BJ: You’re not doing a service, you’ll be part of the congregation.
BJ: So in India you were combining this…
GT: I did very little of what you would call preaching. My work was in the practical field of water resources. I worked in churches on Sunday, getting other people involved. I used to take teachers out to help, just as I had done in these churches. I took them out and got them involved with these local small groups or churches. That way you could get these people trained. I mean, we didn’t need to do all the talking. They knew the language better than we. It was natural for them to take part. And they liked to do it, they enjoyed it. Every Sunday we were out I surrounding communities, but we used the teachers to teach Sunday School and preach and so on.
BJ: Are you doing preaching here, then—now?
GT: Every Sunday. Next Sunday, Palm Sunday, and Easter are the only two Sundays I’ve got free for months.
BJ: At this church? Right over here?
GT: I’ll be here for the next two Sundays. I can give you—to back up. Yesterday was Andover. The Sunday before that was Bethlehem, PA. The Sunday before was Hollister, MS. The Sunday before was Nashua, NH, and on it goes.
BJ: I see. And in those, you’re talking about…
GT: Talking about India. What the dollar dos when it goes abroad under the church. That’s what we’re really reporting on. What out-each money does in terms of work abroad. I enjoy it thoroughly. I have a good time doing it.
BJ: But you said you will be up here…
GT: Because most people, you see, on Palm Sunday and Easter don’t want missionary talks, this out-reach business. They want to bear down on Easter.
BJ: (laughs) Bear down on Easter.
GT: So these two Sundays we’ll be at the home church. And Christmas the same way. You’ve got two or three Sundays there.
GT: That would have been true, o course, back in the old days too, because many of the people who have taken this church have been out of the colleges, and that’s fortunate. Not many people here now know about Packardville. “Old Timers” in quotes, like Evelyn.
GT: I’m a Deacon in this church.
BJ: What, as far as if you were doing regular ministry as you were before, what kind of differences do you see in a small church in Pelham now, compared to a small church in Pelham the 40 years ago you were talking about?
GT: The differences are only the differences that we see around us today. I mean, there are no other differences. Of course, people are more into other things than they were in those days. Life styles have changed, and those are reflected in the church. But otherwise, it’s very much the same. I don’t think that apart from the change in life styles, you could say there is very much change in church life. Of course, the church is in better shape. It’s a nice little church now. Have you seen it?
BJ: Not upstairs. I’ve gone to Historical Society meetings in the basement.
GT: Oh, you’ve got to see the upstairs. It’s lovely. For a small church, it’s about a nice as you could find. Simple but very beautiful, I think. And a very faithful group that come there most of the time. 30, 35 pretty much. Some people have tried out Amherst and have come back.
BJ: (laughs) Try on different churches.
GT: We’ve got Rev. J. W Fiegenbaum as pastor here. He’s head of the Department of Religion just the way J. Paul was, in South Hadley at Mt. Holyoke College.
BJ: Oh, he comes from there?
GT: Yep, he comes from there. He takes a real interest in the community, in the work of the church here, and the families, and provides a thoroughly able ministry I think. We’re very fortunate to have a man like that. If you had to hire a man according to his worth in terms of scholarship and background, this church could never afford a person like that.
BJ: This would have been true back….
GT: No. Take some of these old farmers. My goodness, they were wonderful guys. I can think of Herb Adriance, for instance. He was a very picturesque, almost amazing farmer. But he could swear an artful blue streak. I mean, I don’t think he could speak a sentence without profanity. But it was a habit with him and he developed it artfully. (Laughs) Herb was an excellent guy. I used to visit with him. I liked him immensely. But you couldn’t get him inside a church—any kind of way. He just didn’t feel at home. And I think I know why. (Laughs) I mean, he’d made his bed and didn’t want to change it. There are a lot of people like that today.
BJ: Again, it’s true. And you know even as much—I probably know 100 times more than I did a year ago because of doing all this, but still it’s a sort of vagueness. I’m not quite sure where Packardville was. I know better today.
GT: I’ll take you over some time, show you.
BJ: That would be great.
GT: I’ll take you to the spot. You’ll never find it without a guide.
BJ: I’ve started hiking down those—I like to take my daughter. But sometimes I get a little uneasy out there by ourselves. That makes me mad. I wish we could just go and not worry about someone’s going to pop out of the woods.
GT: I wouldn’t worry too much.
BJ: But just once in awhile with hunters or people who—that reminds me. A lot of people talk about a high alcoholism rate in Pelham back in those days. Was that something you were aware of?
GT: I’m sure it was there, but I didn’t see a lot of it. You see, I didn’t move in that circle. I’m sure it was in the town, The stories they tell about the old days involve bottles.
BJ: And lots of hard cider. But that was not an issue that got into your sphere?
GT: It didn’t get into the particular group I moved with, much.
BJ: Do you feel there was an attempt to keep things like that out of the focus? Or that it was somebody else’s problem?
BJ: She told me that her grandfather was involved—or her great grandfather—in building it and there was something about his paying off somebody because they got in debt. It’s in the tape. You might like to read her interview.
BJ: So that attempts of out-reach sometimes locally…
GT: Very frustrating. You’d meet a wall. I doubt that the mot clever person would pull out some of these fellows.
Tape not clear
BJ: What was in Packardville besides the church?
GT: Sawmill and very little else that I can remember. It was a residential and farming community.
BJ: Where did those people go, say to shop? Belchertown?
GT: Belchertown or Enfield. One of these two. Of course, the Kimballs own a place over here on the other side, but in those days they lived over there.
BJ: Yes, she told me about going to Belchertown a lot.
GT: They had a nice house there, very nice. Long thing. They tell about their itinerant preachers over there. I don’t know if Evelyn told you or not, but, in those days one of their preachers wore leather britches in the winter, and he hung them up in the shed during the summer. And they told the story about this fellow preaching one Sunday, a cold Sunday after he’d put on his leather britches. And they noticed he was very nervous that Sunday. He began slapping his thighs like this,, and they wondered what in the world was wrong. Finally he said to the congregation, because he’d hung them up, the wasps had made a nest in this hung-up pair of britches. Finally he said to the congregation, “You know I have the love of God in my heart, but I think I’ve got the devil in my pants.” (Laughs) this is one of the stories that they used to tell.
BJ: How old was this church?
GT: Oh, Evelyn would be better at that than I.
GT: It was a duty, a pleasant one, but I didn’t feel the warmth that was present in the Packardville Church. That church was a very unusual church, and I’ve been in hundreds and hundreds of churches throughout this country. One furlough we were in 194 churches, speaking. We started in Maine, worked down to Florida, then we were in Texas for nearly a month, then we went to the Los Angeles area for nearly a month and all around there, then San Francisco for a month all around there, and in between Fresno and other places. And this was constant. Margery was taking a schedule parallel to mine, and we were both speaking. We would miss very few Sundays since we’ve been home. Last year out of 52 Sundays, 39 I was in pulpits. Well, some of those Sundays are automatically out, like 2 at Easter, 2 or 3 at Christmas. There weren’t many Sundays missed. Being in the pulpit so many times, you get a sense, the feel of a congregation. They’re very different. Oh my. The group we were with this Sunday—we had a marvelous time. We had a luncheon yesterday with the Mission Council and the officers of the church. They were a batch of engineers. Now, I’m trained in engineering at Cornell. These fellows like to talk. I got together with electrical and electronic engineers, and we had a marvelous time. A group like this is pure fun for me. They asked intelligent questions. They wanted to know what’s the future of missions. Very few people ask this, in most churches.
GT: Oh, I’d be very interested in hearing that. She’d remember more. You see, we—our thirty years in India almost wiped out many of our early memories. We were rebuilding a whole new set of associations. And I find I have to dig to get back some of the early things. Of course, some are vivid enough to have remained, but other associations have slipped as we’re getting our roots back in here since ’73. I’ve found it a little difficult to pull some things up, because of this big chunk outside of the country.
BJ: What were your sermon themes?
GT: I think we’ve picked up the themes out of theology and the Bible, chiefly, and the illustrations from the day.
BJ: That’s what I was wondering. Oh, you know, the last few years everything has to be relevant to everything, you know. But I get a feeling that would not have been the case…
GT: No, I don’t think you preached so much in relation to the political scene as today. There was more Bible preaching and illustrations and kin to that. I think as I look back at the sermon outlines that I still have from that day, I think they look awfully dry. (Laughs)
BJ: You wouldn’t want to sit there, right?
GT: I’m not sure they were all that interesting (laughs).
BJ: Did the congregation indicate to you that they were pleased, displeased, whatever—or took what they got?
GT: I think they were long-suffering. The Packardville Church, at least, was not a critical congregation.
BJ: How about the one up here?
GT: The one up here was.
BJ: You hadn’t mentioned that one much. I have a feeling that you hadn’t felt at home that much ar the Pelham Hill Church.
GT: I wouldn’t call it a group looking for intellectual answers so much as they were looking for faith answers. You get both I different churches, depending. The Bethlehem church we were in two Sundays ago was another very interesting experience for me. Saturday night we met with the ministers of the town, and this was fascinating because one of them was born in India. His father was there with him; we met him Sunday afternoon. Jack Swart by name. Jack is very feeble now, but Jack worked with me in the same station. His son is a pastor there, nearby in Allentown, PA. He came over and joined the group because we know each other very well. A young man with a family. This was quite a fascinating experience. These men asked intelligent questions which were fun. We sat up quite awhile on Saturday night. I mean, they stayed up beyond the usual time, because we got going. This is a prize business, I call it, when people apply their heart and mind and spirit to the problems of the times and look for Christian answers.
GT: Not many, “Well, what’s the future of missions? And what’s the future of India? Is Mrs. Ghandi going to be able to do it? What about poverty? Can anybody lick it?” You see, you’re getting down to the tough questions. But it’s fun to meet with minds on such questions as that. I thoroughly enjoy this kind of exercise.
BJ: You said that the Packardville Church was unusual compared to all that you’d been in.
GT: It’s unusual in its warmth and support of a pastor. I said earlier that Packardville made ministers, more than the ministers made the church. I really think that was true. They were very supportive of their pastor. They made him feel welcome and wanted and a part of the congregation, and things like this. And they would do things with and for him in a wonderful way. Not all churches are like that.
BJ: Did the people, did you feel, want to be stimulated in terms of thinking, quite a bit too?
BJ: You feel that’s not so common, it’s more rare?
GT: It’s not rare among the pastors. Amherst clergy are a marvelous group. I meet with them regularly. I’m a member of the Amherst Clergy Fellowship and I meet with them regularly. I thoroughly enjoy this Amherst group of men. This is a choice bunch: Peter Synder, Arnold Kenseth, Phil Hall, and the Catholic fathers, O’Toole and others. They’re just a grand bunch. They have some great discussions.
BJ: I bet.
GT: They really are okay.
BJ: Okay, we’re about at the end, so I think we’re going to stop it there.
Lawrence “Bud” Willson
Born: July 3, 1904
Place of Birth: Pelham, MA
Mother’s Name: Jennie Hawley Willson
Father’s Name: Charles A. Willson
Spouse’s Name: Elizabeth M. Wilson Willson
Date of Interview: April 21, 1979