Ambler recalls a time when addresses weren’t necessary

Lee G. Ambler was Bellingham’s town counsel for forty-five years. He was instrumental in obtaining for the town the land on Blackstone Street where  the town high school, library, fire department, and senior center are located. He was born and grew up in Bellingham and returned after college and law school to open a law practice and raise a family with his wife, neuropathologist Dr. Mary Ambler. He continues to practice law with his son Scott Ambler. His son Thomas A. Ambler  is a practicing architect in New York City. Lee and his wife greatly enjoy their grandchildren, who live in Bellingham.

When I was growing up in Bellingham we walked everywhere. Every Saturday when I was in third, fourth, fifth grade, my friends and I walked from Bellingham to Woonsocket to see a movie, which cost eleven cents. There were about six or seven movie houses in Woonsocket at the time. We got the eleven cents to pay for the movie by going to the dump to find bread. People threw away loaves of bread—why, I don’t know—but we took the bread to a guy who lived off Winter Street, and he fed the bread to his pigeons. He gave us eleven cents regardless of how much bread we brought him, and then we walked to the movies.

In the summer when I was growing up we left the house in the morning and stayed outside until the bell rang and I knew I had to come home. We played in the deepest woods, went to Silver Lake to swim all the time, and walked to Blackstone and jumped off the railroad trestle into the Blackstone River. We picked blueberries and walked up and down the street selling the berries from door to door. The best blueberries were exactly where the Keough School is now. Out behind the railroad tracks [the path of the proposed SNETT trail] there were tons of blueberries.

On Sundays when I was growing up we drove from Crooks Corner where we lived in South Bellingham all the way to my grandparent’s house in the center of Bellingham and often never saw another car going either direction, there was so little traffic. My grandfather Herbert Ambler was my ultimate hero—I adored the man. He was a selectman here in town and at Sunday dinners he and my uncles got into amazing political arguments because they came from all different points of view. I was intrigued by this and never left the table. At one of these dinners when I was ten, I offered a whole series of opinions about town government, and my grandfather asked if I wanted to go to a town meeting. I agreed so he brought me. The meeting took place in the upper town hall. At the meeting an Italian man from north Bellingham stood up and spoke with a heavy accent. He very patriotic, and then a Frenchman from Silver Lake stood up to speak, and he was equally patriotic—very fervent—it was marvelous. My grandfather and I sat in the car for about an hour after the meeting talking about it. My father was upset because we got back rather late and I had chores in the morning. Everyone had chores back then. But that got me going to town meetings and I’ve been going to them regularly ever since.

I graduated from the Keough School in the class of 1950, with nine girls and eight boys. You could take either commercial or college-bound classes. Since there were only four of us who were taking college classes, we got a lot of individual attention. We had our own teacher, but in fact we were tutored. There wasn’t a person in that building that I didn’t know well, and who didn’t know me well.

When I went to college in Boston my friends wanted to keep in touch over the summer and they asked for my address. I told them, “Lee Ambler, Bellingham, Mass.” There were no zip codes, and no street addresses were necessary. It seems like it must have been a hundred years ago, but in fact it wasn’t that long ago. Things change very rapidly. Bellingham was so rural, and yet it was a wonderful place to live. Everyone knew everyone. Of course, there are pluses and minuses to that. You can’t get away with a lot because everybody knows you. [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, and is the producer of numerous veterans interviews for the Bellingham/Mendon Veteran’s History Project.




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