Barbara Eldredge Eltzroth has lived in Bellingham her entire life. She and her brothers grew up directly across from the First Baptist church in the center of town at the corner of 126 and 140. In those days almost anything they might need was within walking distance of their house.
I don’t think I did much exciting growing up, sitting on our front porch and watching the army trucks go by on Saturday mornings. The trucks were on their way to the Cape and my brothers, Richard and Donald, and I used to count them. There was no Rt. 495 yet, and Rt. 140 was the main road. The summer I was ten or twelve I sat out on our porch and watched the traffic go by in a wheelchair. I’d broken my arm at 4-H camp and something got into my system since there was a delay in setting my arm, and I wasn’t able to walk. My father Emerson “Cappy” Eldredge [a former POW and decorated WWII veteran] had to carry me downstairs each morning and put me in my wheelchair. That was a terrible summer.
The fork at the intersection of Rts. 140 and 126 was confusing for people. They stopped to ask, “Where’s Ma Glockner’s restaurant?” I wish I had a dollar for everyone who asked us where the restaurant was—it was crazy. There should have been a big sign in the center of town that pointed the way. Back then people waited in line just to get in the restaurant. When I was in high school I went to Rainbow Girls in Medway with Betsy Glockner and we stopped and got dinner at her parent’s restaurant. But she and I didn’t have to wait in line!
My father was a volunteer fireman, and the fire house was across the street from our house, in the same building as the police station. When he went to big fires my mother Virginia got us out of bed and we went over to Thayer’s store next door to make sandwiches for the men. Vinny Thayer was the fire chief, and his wife Isabelle opened up the store and we all helped make sandwiches, then we went to the fire to feed the men. We went in the middle of the night, summer, winter, whenever. We kids were small at the time and waited in the car, but it was a big thing. If there was a bad fire during the day, Draper’s Mill, where my dad worked, gave him leave to go to the fire, and still paid him.
I could walk to almost everything from where we lived. The old Center School was right across the street from us, just behind the Police Station, so I walked across the street to school for eight years. Vater’s gas station was where Wal-Green’s is now. And there was a little grocery store that Mrs. Berry used to run. We saw the First Baptist church when we walked out the front door, and I played the organ there for twenty-eight years. My father was a painter and he painted the Baptist church many times. He set up a ladder, then scaffolding, then another ladder, all the way up to the top of the steeple. I could see him from our yard but I didn’t want to watch because it was scary to see him up on all those ladders.
My first job was at Thayer’s store, which had a grain business and horses. In 1971 I started working at Shawmut Bank, which is now Sovereign Bank, right in the center of town. My customers were always my friends, not just my customers—I loved them all. I saw them get married, have children and grandchildren. I knew everybody and only retired in 2009.
When I was growing up I thought I wanted to leave Bellingham. While I was traveling in San Francisco I met my future husband on a blind date. He comes from Indiana and I thought I wouldn’t mind moving there until I saw it. It was lonely, isolated, no trees, all flat, hot, and dry—I wasn’t impressed. Now, I’m glad we stayed. My family is here and that means a lot. Once I stopped working I was able to help more with my dad. I took him to the senior center and he really loved it. And I realized that I know all these people at the senior center. They’re my friends! [As told to Marjorie Turner Hollman]
Marjorie Turner Hollman is a personal historian who loves the outdoors, and has completed two guides to Easy Walking trails in Massachusetts, “Easy Walks in Massachusetts 2nd edition,” and “More Easy Walks in Massachusetts.” A native Floridian, she came north for college and snow! New England Regional Chair for the Association of Personal Historians, she is a Certified Legacy Planner with LegacyStories.org, and is the producer of numerous veterans interviews for the Bellingham/Mendon Veteran’s History Project. http://www.marjorieturner.com