Marjory Gomez O’Toole
Born 1967 –
Jennie Barker Durfee was born on December 2, l908 in Tiverton, R.I. Her parents were Mary Eliza Macomber and Edgar James Durfee. She was the granddaughter of David Durfee and Harriet Grinnell and Isaac Macomber and Mary Jane Barker. She never liked the name “Jennie” and was known as Jane all her life. While tracing my grandmother’s family, we found that through the Macombers, we could trace her lineage back to Pardon Gray of Tiverton and to Mayflower participants.
She was the youngest of 4 children: Harry Elmer (1889-1955), Viola Mabel (1896-1897), Corinna Harriet (1905-1985), Jennie Barker (1908-2000). When Corinna started school she wanted to go and would follow her when she walked to a small school on Stafford Road. After sending her back home several times, they let her stay.
Her brother Harry served in World War I in the U.S. Army. His name is on the “Doughboy” monument in Tiverton at Grinnell’s Beach. He was the father of twin boys, Harry Elmer and Charles Pullman who were left with my grandmother for several years. Mother remembered that she and her sister would help take care of them until their mother made other arrangements. Their home did not have many conveniences; there was an outhouse for toilet facilities and a hand pump for water; no central heating. She recalled the bedrooms were upstairs and were cold in the winter months. I believe her mother made most of their clothing; there is a picture of my mother with a pretty dress made for some occasion which was made with crepe paper. She always remembered with fondness they had a collie-type dog called “Teddy”.
Her father had a small candy store in the front yard selling sundries and small items which gave them a little profit to supplement his wages. Grammy would tend it while he was working.
Her parents never owned an automobile. They lived near the bus line to Fall River and her father walked to work at the “bleachery”. She told us that he would put cardboard in his shoes to keep his feet warm in winter. Every year the entire Durfee family would get together to have a summer clambake.
As an alternate to high school, she attended Thibodeau’s Business College in Fall River and after graduating, she worked for the law firm of Lincoln & Hood in Fall River.
Mother always loved to dance; she had a cousin, Ethel Anderson, whom she would stay with; they would take her to Adamsville where dances were held in the Odd Fellows Hall. This is where she met her future husband, Manuel Peters Camara. He would borrow a car from a friend to take her home. This was the beginning of a romance that continued for nearly 62 years.
They were married in St. Anthony’s Church in Portsmouth on November 24, 1927 since there no catholic church building in L.C until the 1930s. Before that, Mass was celebrated in the Grange Hall, in private homes or at the Lyman Hotel at Sakonnet Point. Their honeymoon was a trip on the boat that went from Fall River to New York City.
My Dad worked on several farms in the area – Red Top Farm, Newton Farm and the Sweeney Farm in Tiverton. Mother always told the story that they moved 6 times in 2 years because usually the position included an apartment so when he changed jobs, they moved. He ended up working for the Sherer farm for over 35 years.
Their first baby girl miscarried; Carolyn Jane was born in April 1930, followed by Barbara Elaine in 1931, and Jane Lee in 1936. We lived on Red Top Farm until 1946 when we moved to the Camara homestead at 175 West Main Road. They purchased the Fred Sherman barn in 1948 and had it moved to 276 West Main Road and converted it to a four-bedroom home. They built a new home on the Sisson/Hunt farm at 286 West Main Road in the mid-1960s.
Mother had to learn to drive and did learn to drive their car which was always a second-hand one until the time when they bought a new car in the 1970s. She frequently drove to her parent’s home on Stafford Road. She told us the story that one day she was driving along Crandall Road, with us in the car, when the car lost a wheel and she skidded to a stop hitting a horse and the wheel kept rolling. She never explained how she was rescued nor how she got to her parents’ home. It was a standing joke in our family.
Mother worked hard to raise us three girls and took domestic work when she could to supplement dad’s salary of $90 a month. When we moved off the farm, he was paid $150 per month. While living on the farm we had free vegetables, fruit, milk, heavy cream and a warm apartment above the four-stall garage, heated by a coal furnace.
She worked with Lillian Rosa opening summer houses in the spring, did work in the “big house” serving and cleaning. She and Lillian became good friends and during WWII they would spend all day canning vegetables and fruit to supplement food rations. We always had good meals and even though sugar was rationed, she came up with some kind of dessert. Butter was rationed; we had a substitute called oleo margarine. It was white and came with a capsule of yellow dye which you had to cream together to look like butter.
Trips for fun were curtailed because of gas rationing. Wilbur’s general store would send a man called “Walker” who would take your order and bring it back the next day in a wooden basket. An insurance salesman would come by every so often to collect the fees.
Mother was the one who reprimanded us when necessary. Sometimes it was to sit silently in a chair or corner. Saturdays we had chores to do before we could listen to radio programs like “Let’s Pretend” or to go out to play. Often, we walked to church for our Catechism lessons.
She worked at the J. F, Wilbur School cafeteria for many years and when Tiverton opened their high school she worked at their cafeteria until her retirement.
She taught us to sew. During the war, farm grain was delivered in patterned fabric and we made clothes and many other things from this fabric. When the box of “Tedie” Sherer’s clothes came it was a happy day to see what things we could choose. My mother would always alter the coat or garment to make if fit whomever could wear it. I remember she took a winter coat apart and reversed the fabric to make a “new” coat. She also made our first prom dresses. Our machine was the treadle type but many years later my dad gave her an electric one for Christmas.
She became an active member of the Ladies’ Auxiliary of the L.C. Fire Department and served as Recording Secretary; the ladies raised money from whist parties to fund supplies for the fire station and served coffee and sandwiches to the firemen when fighting fires.
She taught us to knit. She enjoyed knitting more than any other handwork and knit many sweaters for us and grandchildren. When she knit an Irish pattern dress for herself, she requested to be buried in it.
Shopping for clothes and other household items she would drive to downtown Fall River to shop. There were three 5-10 cent stores plus departments stores – McWhirr’s, Cherry and Webb, Enterprise, Grants, and Sears Roebuck. She would always bring home a bag of cinnamon donuts or chow mein for a treat.
In 1939 she and dad went to the World’s Fair in New York with friends. They loved to travel. They spent their 25th wedding anniversary in Bermuda and visited there many times. They also travelled to Japan, Hawaii, Europe and the Azorean Islands and Puerto Rico.
For their 50th wedding anniversary they celebrated with family and friends and renewed their marriage vows at St Anthony’s Church in Portsmouth. A family reception followed in St. Catherine’s Hall. For their 60th wedding anniversary friends and family celebrated in a big tent in the front yard with a dance band and heaters to keep the November weather comfortable.
At Christmas Mom always baked a lot of goodies on the kerosene cook stove in our apartment. She made the most delicious “Hot Milk Cake” which she would fill with vanilla pudding and add a chocolate frosting on top. When she labored over “Clever Judy Frosting” which, if the weather was damp, she worried it would never thicken.
For our Christmas tree, Dad would go up in the woods and cut down a cedar tree, make a wood stand for it, and bring it upstairs to our living room at the farm. It was prickly and difficult to trim, but we always thought it was beautiful. There was also a doll for each of us on Christmas morning.
One time when we had a blue Plymouth car, she heard that you could paint a car with a powder puff. She proceeded to buy green paint and we painted that car green. It was a perfect solution because it never showed brush marks.
Mother enjoyed Sunday mornings when her children and grandchildren stopped by to enjoy a piece of Portuguese sweet bread or a donut and a cup of coffee and catch up on family news. She was a daring soul. One wintry day she even enjoyed a ride up the lane on a snowmobile with a grandson. On a trip to the Mexican Riviera she parasailed over the water while Dad watched from the beach.
At 80 plus years old, she learned to play contract bridge. Later grandchildren would make time to play a board game or a game of rummy with her. Somewhere along the way she learned to play the ukulele.
She was survived by 11 grandchildren, 23 great-grandchildren and 3 great-great grandchildren.
Mother was the type of person that wanted the best for her family and if their budget couldn’t afford it, she found a way to have it. This brings to mind my class motto “Either Find a Way or Make One.” I think of these words frequently when I reflect on my forefathers who made it through life with very little, but survived and became good people and good citizens of Little Compton.
Carolyn J. Montgomery