Florence Jean Letourneau

Florence Jean Letourneau

Born 1929

Florence Jean Letourneau. Portrait by Serena Parente Charlebois of Serena’s studio.

My Dad, Jack Jean

I was born in ’29, but I was born on Block Island. My mother was an Islander. I was raised here, from the age of five on. To this day, Adamsville is my home.

There was a huge barn located on the east side of Gray’s Store, which is no longer there. My father had his first barbershop there, right there, in the corner of the barn. In 1939, my dad, Jack Jean, built his house and barbershop on Colebrook Road with no power tools. There was no electric, but when he opened Jean’s Barbershop, the electric company brought the poles up the hill, giving everyone there electricity for their homes. Hand pumps for water and kerosene lamps were used by everyone before then. It was very primitive living. He worked at the torpedo station during the war. He’d leave four o’clock in the morning, come home, open the barbershop, six at night, until twelve. He had a 1932 Model B Ford. That’s what he drove to Newport. He became a barber for the Navy in Newport and in between that time, he built his house in 1939 on Sundays—himself.

Kerosene and Christmas Trees at Gray’s Store

There were two gasoline pumps outside of the store in the front, and attached to the big barn on the west side, you could buy kerosene, which was stored in two, fifty-gallon drums. You brought your little container, and you filled it up. Ed Cook also sold great Christmas trees outside of the store. He would stand outside there, rain or shine or snow, shaking the snow off so you could see if you wanted a tree for five dollars or less, depending on how good they were. Five dollars was the best. He had them up against the side where the sign is on the building.

Box Number 55

Gray’s Store had the first post office in Adamsville, and my mom had Box Number 55, which she had the same box on Block Island. She bought the same number here. The post office then moved to Manchester’s, and they had brass combination boxes there. That was a big thing. My mom had Box 55 there too. Evelyn Brayton was postmistress. George Carr was the postmaster in the new post office, and lived in the house next to it. My mom had Box Number 55, and only gave it up when she passed away in the year 2000. So she had it for a long time.

Blackstrap Molasses at Simmons’ Store

Simmons’ Store was another store in Adamsville. Fred Simmons ran the store, and was a very large man who had so much patience with little kids trying to pick out penny candy in the large case on the counter. He sold blackstrap molasses out of the big barrel that you turn the handle, and it’d come out, and you’d fill up your container with it.

Meat Tokens at Sanford’s Market

During World War II, people brought rendered fat there, bacon fat, whatever, in exchange for meat tokens. I believe the fat was used for ammunition during the war. That’s what I was told. Meat was rationed along with butter. You had to have these tokens to get your ration quantity. If you didn’t have them, you didn’t get it.

Raw Milk on the Honor System

Later on, Dr. Rupert Von Trapp moved to the village in Charles White’s house, which is directly across from the Odd Fellows Hall. Mr. White also had a very large barn on the property. You went to Mr. White’s house on the honor system to buy raw milk either in a tin milk container or your own glass bottle. You just dumped it in. Raw milk – ­I was brought up on raw milk. I’m still here. He had two magnificent white draft horses and plowed many gardens for people to grow their own vegetables during the war.

Frank, Get the Gun

[Lizzie Manchester] always had her hair cut in a boyish bob. My father went to her house to cut her hair. Very gruff, but a nice, nice person. She scared me to death one time. We went out trick-or-treating, and we went to her house, tapped on the window, and I remember her saying verbatim—because her nurse and the [nurse’s] husband lived there with her, Frank and Mabel Lehane—“Frank, get the gun. There’s somebody out there.” We were so afraid. I think I was about thirteen at the time. She stayed in the house. I never saw her very much. But she scared the devil out of me.

After the ’38 Hurricane

I remember my mother taking my sister and I in the car, down to Westport Harbor the next morning. Unbelievable. Just rubble. That’s before the National Guard came down to stop people from going down there, because there were very, very affluent people down there, and they had big, big homes. I don’t remember any [damage in the village]—yes, I do. Lydia Brayton’s house, the one that they just fixed, across the street from Gray’s, there was a huge spruce tree that came down, right on top of the roof.

My Sister Walked Because of Him

Dr. King came from Hyde Park to retire in Adamsville, but he never really retired. He was a wonderful doctor. His fee was only two dollars per visit, and if you were a favorite, sometimes it was nothing. I have given him oysters many times for payment. No appointments. You just went there and waited in the front vestibule for your turn. A housekeeper lived in that house with him, and his sister, and she would greet you at the door. You never had to go to a drug store, because Dr. King also had all the medicines right there. And you went out with it at the same fee of $2 per visit.

Dr. King wasn’t young either, but he was quite a man. He made house calls for the same fee, everything. The fact is, my sister walked because of him. He took her to Boston Children’s Hospital, and he used to take my mother to visit her. She had a paralytic club foot. She had a partial spinal bifida, born with that. I brought home whooping cough, from school. I was a carrier. I didn’t have it, but I brought it home to her, and she had it very bad, and it weakened her legs so that she couldn’t walk. So Dr. King made arrangements for her to go to Boston. They operated on her foot and she was in a brace—oh, God, for years, with high shoes. But she walked.

Oysters

Later years now, when I lived down where I am on the river, we would get oysters. We sold quahogs and clams and oysters and things, and we shucked oysters, seventy-five cents a pint. Can you imagine? And scallops. We sold a lot to Mark You Restaurant in Fall River, a nine-pound gallon for fifteen dollars. They’re $24.99 a pound now. Awful! And the work…

Based on an oral history interview with Florence Jean Letourneau.

First published in “Remembering Adamsville” by the Little Compton Historical Society, 2013.

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