Mary P. Williams

INTERVIEWER: Mollie Glazer

PLACE: The Williams home

DATE: December 14, 2000

GLAZER: This is an interview with Mary Williams. This interview is being conducted on December fourteenth at her home. The interviewer is Mollie Glazer, representing the Nantucket Historical Association, Nantucket, Massachusetts. Okay. Don't worry about that. I'm very interested in what you're talking about. You're talking about the old days in Nantucket. And what year would you be talking about when you first came here?

WILLIAMS: Nineteen thirty when I arrived on the island.

GLAZER: You came here-- And why did you come here?

WILLIAMS: I came to live with my father and mother.

GLAZER: Oh. They already lived here?

WILLIAMS: Yes-- No, my father did.

GLAZER: And under what circumstances did he come here?

WILLIAMS: He came here to work with Franklin Valley Farm on Crooked Lane.

GLAZER: Franklin Valley Farm?

WILLIAMS: Mmm hmmm.

GLAZER: And what did he do there?

WILLIAMS: He worked on the farm. They had cows and all that--dairy farm.

GLAZER: So he was a farmer?

WILLIAMS: That's it.

GLAZER: And he came here alone, and then you and your mother--

WILLIAMS: He came here in 1919 ____ 1928.

GLAZER: And then your mother--

WILLIAMS: Then my mother and I came here, because I lived with my grandmother.


WILLIAMS: And then afterwards I came with my mother to the island, and I've been here ever since. [Telephone interruption]

GLAZER: You were talking about your mother.

WILLIAMS: Is it-- Could I go on?

GLAZER: Yeah, it's on. You were talking about you mother--you and your mother coming here in 1930, you said, right? So, can you tell me something about your mother? [Laughter] Don't want to talk about your mother? ____ it's on. You don't want to talk about your mother?

WILLIAMS: Well, I don't want to talk about anybody, to begin with. [Chuckle]

GLAZER: Alright. So 1930 you were-- Let's say you were 14, right, when you came here?


GLAZER: So you went to Nantucket high school?

WILLIAMS: No, I did not go to school in Nantucket.

GLAZER: Oh, you didn't? Oh, you finished-- Oh, so when you--

WILLIAMS: I went to school in New Bedford.

GLAZER: Okay, so when you came here, you were done with school?

WILLIAMS: Yes, I was.

GLAZER: Okay. And so how did you spend your days?

WILLIAMS: I went to work. I had a job before I came to Nantucket.

GLAZER: And what do you remember about Nantucket when you first came here?

WILLIAMS: I came here in February. It was cold, and it was dull, and I didn't know a soul on this island. And I want to tell you, it was very hard. But after awhile I got to know people, and it was okay. And I wouldn't live anywhere else, now.

GLAZER: And your mother was from-- Were both your parents from--
WILLIAMS: They were-- They came over from the Azores.

GLAZER: The Azores. So you grew up speaking English and Portuguese?

WILLIAMS: When I went to school, I couldn't speak English. But I lived with my grandmother, and my grandmother didn't know how to speak English, so-- But I soon learned.

GLAZER: So, what about when you came to Nantucket? Was your English pretty good then--by then?

WILLIAMS: Even in the first grade.

GLAZER: Oh, by the first grade?

WILLIAMS: By the first grade you wouldn't-- I was-- I talked the way I talk today.

GLAZER: Do you remember any of Portuguese?

WILLIAMS: I do. And when I'm mad, I can speak it very fluently!

GLAZER: Can you say something, even though you're not mad?

WILLIAMS: No, I'd rather not.

GLAZER: I've never heard it.


GLAZER: The language.

WILLIAMS: You haven't?


WILLIAMS: So Mother wanted me to teach the kids, and I started to. But the thing of it is, I was busy at the time. I was working, and the kids went to school. So we didn't get to learn too much. All they know is, "Shut the door, open the door, and--"

GLAZER: Well, how do you say that--shut the door?

WILLIAMS: ____, and calaboka[sp?] is shut up! They know that.

GLAZER: Okay, calaboka--

WILLIAMS: They know that, but otherwise not. That's about all they know.

GLAZER: I'm going to pause this a second, because your fax machine is beeping. So what else do you remember about-- What about the people when you came here? Who do you remember knowing--like some of your first friends?

WILLIAMS: Oh, I met this one and that one. And years ago when you went to dances, you didn't go as a couple. All the fellows would go to the dance. And all the girls would go in a-- And then we'd meet there, and then we'd dance, and come home. There was no dating, you know. Some of them naturally had dates, but you didn't have to have in those days. It was all free for all. Everybody went and had a good time.

GLAZER: And where were those dances held?

WILLIAMS: Redmen's Hall, which is above the movies. ____ Theater.

GLAZER: Oh-- Redmen's Hall?

WILLIAMS: Mmm hmmm. It used to be a dance hall.

GLAZER: And who sponsored those dances?

WILLIAMS: The Redmen.

GLAZER: Is that a--like the ____?

WILLIAMS: The Redmen organization. It's still in existence today.

GLAZER: What is-- What do they do in the community?

WILLIAMS: Oh, just an organization like anybody else. Don't ask me what they did. It was just supposed to be Indians, or something.

GLAZER: Oh. And what kind of dancing was it? Square dancing or-
WILLIAMS: They used to have an orchestra. It was real live orchestra in those days. Sometimes they did have square dancing.

GLAZER: What kind of music did the orchestra play?

WILLIAMS: It used to be Ricky Lewis's father and a young man by the name of Snow and Bill Alman[sp?], who is still living and his brother Cliff. And Gus Bentley used to play the piano. And sometimes when Gus Bentley didn't play the piano, it would be Chester Fonce[sp?].

GLAZER: And what kind of music did they play?

WILLIAMS: And the drums was-- The drums was Ricky Lewis's father. They played everything.

GLAZER: Swing music, or--

WILLIAMS: They played waltzes, and they played foxtrot and the one-step and all that. Everybody went, and everybody had a good time. And they also used to have them at the--up at the Hub. Used to have them every Saturday night.

GLAZER: And where were you living then?

WILLIAMS: I was living on Ash Lane.

GLAZER: Ash Lane?

WILLIAMS: Right in back of the Casey House. That's where I lived.

GLAZER: Oh, with your parents, that's where-- When did they move over here?


GLAZER: To this--to Williams Lane?

WILLIAMS: I can't recall, now. Well, it was before-- It was between 1930 and 1934, because I was single then.

GLAZER: Well, does Williams Lane-- Is that named after your family?

WILLIAMS: No. This is Williams Street here, and over there ____ across Pleasant-- That's Williams Lane.

GLAZER: Okay--Williams Street.

WILLIAMS: Was already here when I moved here. It just happened.

GLAZER: Just a coincidence?

WILLIAMS: Just one of those things.

GLAZER: Okay. But how did you meet your husband?

WILLIAMS: I met him through his brother, because his brother worked with my father.

GLAZER: And what do you remember about your meeting?

WILLIAMS: Don't ask me. It was so many years ago. Just met-- We used to-- I used to walk to work, and when I used to walk to work, I used to go by their house. And sometimes they'd be coming out the house, and we'd all walk down to Main Street. And I'd keep on going to work. And they'd go their different ways to work.

GLAZER: And where were you working then at the time?

WILLIAMS: Well, I used to work for Jones. In the morning I worked at the house, and in the afternoon I worked at the shoe store.

GLAZER: Jones was a shoe store?

WILLIAMS: Well, now it's a-- I don't know what the heck it's now--some store down on Main Street, because there used to be Archie ____, First National, and then the shop--Jones'. Another thing is, when I came to Nantucket there used to be different stores on Main Street, and the only ones that are there now that was there when I came here in 1930 was the Hub, Condit's[sp?] Pharmacy, and Maurie's[sp?] ____ shop. Otherwise from that, everything has changed.

GLAZER: Did you go to sit at the soda fountain a lot, at Condit's?

WILLIAMS: No. Another thing is also, they had a drug store on Center Street. And that was Wally ____ and Mr. Atona[sp?]. Then they moved on Main Street, which is now the Nantucket Pharmacy.

GLAZER: So tell me more things from that paper there.

WILLIAMS: Oh, we used to have two blacksmith shops on the island--one in back of the Knobby Shop-- That was Tom ____, and down on Main Street was ____. And that's a gallery now, the one that sits in the back, just before you get to--

GLAZER: And did you ever go there? What did blacksmith shop do?

WILLIAMS: They'd shoe horses.

GLAZER: There were horses here when you were ____ here?

WILLIAMS: Yes, there were more horses than cow--than cars.

GLAZER: Did you have a horse--your family have a horse?

WILLIAMS: No. I don't like horses.

GLAZER: So, who would have a horse?

WILLIAMS: Well, all the farmers, because in those days there was about ten farms around here.

GLAZER: So you father didn't have a horse?

WILLIAMS: No. No, because he was an employee, not an owner.


WILLIAMS: And as I say, we had two cobbler shops Ellis's and ____, and the A&Ps. We had three of them--Main Street, Orange Street, and ____ Street. And the First National was Main Street and Orange Street. And also the barber shops-- There was four barber shops. Was for men only. And the hairdressers--was only two in town and one in Siasconset.

GLAZER: You mean for ladies?


GLAZER: Did you go to have your hair cut there?

WILLIAMS: I used to have my hair at Julietta Curry's, in her house. She had her beauty parlor right in her own house, and her husband had a barber shop, because at that time they used to own that whole block on Federal Street, across the street from the Information bureau.

GLAZER: What was she like? Was she a nice person?

WILLIAMS: She was. If she has something to say, she'll say it right to your face. She wouldn't beat around the bush.

GLAZER: [Chuckle] And did she have things to say to you?

WILLIAMS: No, because in those days I was very young. She didn't bother to-- She just cut my hair and shampooed it and set it. I was too young for her to be talking all this ____.

GLAZER: But you overheard her talking to other people that way?

WILLIAMS: Yes, I did. One time there was a comical-- She was complaining--this girl. She gave this girl a permanent, and the girl went back and complained the permanent didn't take. And she says, "You did a lousy job," she says, "and I want you to do my hair all over again." She says, "Young lady," she says, "I'm not doing your hair over again." And she says, "Do you know the reason why your permanent didn't take?" And the girl says, "I don't know." "Well," she says, "you do, too." And she says-- So the girl goes back and forth with her. Finally she says, "Well, you're pregnant. That's why the permanent didn't take." And the girl was highly insulted, but she was.

GLAZER: Was that a big scandal at the time.

WILLIAMS: No. The heck, everything is no scandal anymore. And we had an indoor golf coarse.

GLAZER: Where was that?

WILLIAMS: Well, it was an indoor golf course when I came to Nantucket. Then after that it was Hardy's Paint Shop, and then it was the A&P. And now it's all those different stores.

GLAZER: Did you go to-- Did you go there?

WILLIAMS: No, I was just looking.

GLAZER: The golf course?

WILLIAMS: No, I didn't play no golf--just looking.

GLAZER: So, you told me there were just two real estate offices when you first came here?

WILLIAMS: Two in town and one in Siasconset.

GLAZER: So, what do you think-- What do you think of all these changes in Nantucket since you've been here?

WILLIAMS: Well, some of them are alright and some are not.

GLAZER: Well, what about real estate, for example? Like how many real estate agents are there now? There's probably-- I don't know.

WILLIAMS: Oh, my God! More than a dozen now.

GLAZER: At least.


GLAZER: So, what do you think of that, for example?

WILLIAMS: Well, after all, Nantucket has doubled its population, or tripled. So naturally there's got to be more real estates, there's got to be more lawyers, there's got--more of everything! Because--here. When I came to the island, it was only three thousand people. In the summertime was more. Another thing is, when I first came to the island, every Saturday night we'd go down see the boat come in. And, in those days, people had chauffeurs. And the only person that could drive it-- The only person that could get off the boat with a car was the chauffeur. And the people could not be in the car. They had to walk off the gang plank. And when they'd walk off, it was just like a fashion show. They'd be all dressed up with white gloves and their hats and pocketbooks. It was really a--very fashionable.

GLAZER: And who were those people?

WILLIAMS: Oh, like the people that lived up, you know, on the cliff, and all that.

GLAZER: And in Siasconset? Were there wealthy people in Siasconset, also?

WILLIAMS: There's always been wealthy people in Siasconset.

GLAZER: So they were just coming here-- You went to the--

WILLIAMS: No, they came here for the summer.

GLAZER: You went down to the boat every Saturday night?

WILLIAMS: Every Saturday night, that-- We used to go down because there was a real fashion show. It was really lovely.

GLAZER: Was that just in the summer, or--

WILLIAMS: Yeah, they had come here for the summer.

GLAZER: But when you went, was it just in the summer that you went?

WILLIAMS: I was just in the summertime, because in the wintertime it's too cold.

GLAZER: Too cold. So that was just for entertainment you went down to the boat every Saturday night?

WILLIAMS: Yeah, that was entertainment. Well, you see, there was-- And you walked. Everywhere you went, you walked, because you didn't have a car.

GLAZER: That was from Ash Lane you went down to the-- ?

WILLIAMS: I'd go from Ash Lane right down the street. Didn't live very far.

GLAZER: What about the men?

WILLIAMS: Oh, they'd have-- They'd have on-- Some of them would have their derbies and some with soft hats, and, oh, they were also very stylish. Now you go down to the boat and, gee whiz, it's entirely a different story.

GLAZER: Dress wise, you mean?

WILLIAMS: Dress wise, yes.

GLAZER: So, you've always had an interest in dressmaking? When did you start to do that?

WILLIAMS: After I got married, I got a sewing machine. After I got married, I had a sewing machine, and then from then on that's all I did. I would sew, and I cooked. I love to cook. But now I don't do anything. I do cook, now, but I don't do no more sewing.

GLAZER: Well, when you were sewing, what kinds of things did you make, and who did you make them for? Did you do it-- Did you sell things, or did you do it for family?

WILLIAMS: No, no, no, no. I made it just for the family. I made coats and dresses for different ones in the family, and I even made aprons and dresses for my mother-in-law. And that's when she thought out of the world of me. After that, I was just a daughter-in-law. [Chuckle]

GLAZER: What does that mean?

WILLIAMS: Well, no matter how good anyone was, they were never good enough for their children.

GLAZER: Did she have more children than just Harold?

WILLIAMS: Totally she had three.

GLAZER: Three? I didn't know that. What were their names? Harold had two brothers, or a brother and sister?

WILLIAMS: One brother, one sister.

GLAZER: One brother-- What were their names? [pause] Do you remember?

WILLIAMS: I do. His brother's name was Chester, and his sister was Florence.

GLAZER: And were they married also?

WILLIAMS: Yeah. They all got married before he did.

GLAZER: And so, did you mother-in-law treat their--

WILLIAMS: She treated the ____--the other daughter-in-law and son-in-law the way she treated me.

GLAZER: Well, that must have made you feel better that--

WILLIAMS: Well, no one was good enough for her children! I don't know what the heck's the matter with her, because after all, we're all human beings. But-- But it's alright.

GLAZER: Well, did you ever make any peace with her, or was that-
WILLIAMS: No. She was-- I don't know. I just didn't pay attention after a while to what the heck she'd say. Didn't bother me. At first it did, but after a while I forgot it--to heck with it.

GLAZER: Well, she must have been happy when you had Teg[sp?].

WILLIAMS: Yes, because, you see I was the first one in the family to have a son to carry on the name. Because one day my sister-in-law asked me if my father-in-law had given me $100. I says, "For what?" "Well, because you had a boy, and that's what they wanted." Because she says when she was pregnant, the father-in-law--my father-in-law told her, "If you have a boy, I'll give you $100."

GLAZER: [Chuckle] Did he give you $100?

WILLIAMS: He certainly did not!

GLAZER: [Laughter] You should have demanded it.

WILLIAMS: No, no. He never gave me no $100. [Chuckle]

GLAZER: Okay, so in addition to-- So, lets talk about cooking. That's another one of your hobbies.

WILLIAMS: Yes, that's one of my hobbies. Yes, I like to cook.

GLAZER: And so tell me about that. What kinds of things do you-
WILLIAMS: Oh, I just cook any old thing, and I experiment. I don't now. I don't experiment now, but I used to. So, I don't know.

GLAZER: So you've always-- That's been your creative outlet--cooking and--

WILLIAMS: Yes, cooking, sewing and art crafts.

GLAZER: And art crafts!

WILLIAMS: Well, I used to do needlepoint, which I don't any more. As I say, I used to knit and crochet. I don't anymore.

GLAZER: And you'd make your own designs and your own patterns?


GLAZER: Well, that's very nice.

WILLIAMS: I don't like to do just plain knit one side and purl the other. I like ____. I don't like plain ____.

GLAZER: Well, what else would you like to say, to be immortalized for history's sake?

WILLIAMS: Well, years ago when I came here, after a while you got to know everyone. Now you go down Main Street, and you don't know anyone! It's just the opposite now.

GLAZER: And you don't like that? Did you like that-- ?

WILLIAMS: Well, yes. It was nice. You went downtown, and you saw this one and that one. You chit-chatted. And now you can go by a hundred people, you don't know who they are. So, what the heck's the difference. This is not what--the year 2000, so it's going to be an entirely different way of living.

GLAZER: What do you think about all of the growth in terms of building on the island?

WILLIAMS: The building is alright in one way, and in another isn't, because my way of looking at it, the sewerage and the water--especially sewerage-- Where in the heck's all the sewage going--because all the people have wells. But, after all, people got the money, so they build.

GLAZER: And you told me that you started--that you worked in several different places as a sales person--a store clerk, and do you remember any stories about anybody coming into those stores and-- Anything come to mind about that--those days of your life?

WILLIAMS: No, because when you have so many people coming in, you--and you wait on them, and you don't have time to turn around and figure out--well, this or that about them. But the only thing is, we had one lady, she-- Every time that it rained-- Every time that it rained, she was our first customer. So evidently she only went out on rainy days. She's be our first customer of the day when it was raining.

GLAZER: Where-- What store was that?

WILLIAMS: Buttoners.

GLAZER: At Buttoners?

WILLIAMS: Yeah, Buttoners. She was our first customer. And we'd have bets to-- You know, sometimes we'd bet, "Oh, she'll be here today," and "She won't be here." And by golly, she was always there every rainy day!

GLAZER: Who was that? Do you remember her name?

WILLIAMS: Well, I'd rather not say, because her family's still around. They might not like it. [Chuckle]

GLAZER: Oh, well, it's not a bad thing you're saying.

WILLIAMS: No, but it was-- She was the only one that--you know, a thing comes to mind, was that lady. Everyday--every time that it rained--

GLAZER: But you don't want to say who it was?

WILLIAMS: No, I'd rather not.

GLAZER: Alright. Okay, well, is there anything else you'd like to say for the--for posterity?

WILLIAMS: No, I guess that's about it.

GLAZER: Okay. Well, I thank you very much, and the Historical Association thanks you very much! Say "goodbye."

WILLIAMS: Okay. [Chuckle] I hope you have a good day!

GLAZER: Goodbye.