With my wedding only a few weeks away, I’ve been thinking about my grandmother a lot. If only she had lived past my sixth birthday, and was still alive, she’d turn 100 on October 19, the day I’ll be married wearing my mother’s dress, and her flower crown. I wish I had known her better.
I didn’t go into the office in the morning, instead I went to the Old Saybrook Historical Society, just off the Main Street in town. It’s a building that took years of fundraising for and when finally purchased in 1998, gave the historical society a place outside of town hall’s basement to store their archives and artifacts.
A lot of those efforts were led by the woman I was there to meet, Margaret Buckridge “Bucky” Bock.
Like my grandmother, Bock was born in 1919. But she still lives on her own in the house her own grandfather once owned in Westbrook. Her calendar is still filled with hours of volunteer work each week.
Sitting across from her, as she told her life story — from Essex to Montauk to nursing school to a career in Rocky Hill and back to the Connecticut shoreline — I couldn’t help but feel connected. Nursing had been grandmother’s profession as well.
Bucky was born in Essex, the daughter and granddaughter of a lighthouse keeper, and the next in a line of Buckridges that had lived in Connecticut since the 1600s.
“Essex was very rural, I lived on Collins Lane. I was under the age of 10 and I was all over the town,” she said. “Probably today parents wouldn’t let you run that way because there would be too many cars and people who were not good.”
At age 11, her father’s job moved the family to Montauk, and to live at the Montauk lighthouse.
“It was good, it gave us a little prestige to live in the lighthouse. People loved to visit us, to stay overnight, we had lots of company,” Bucky said. Today, that same lighthouse is a museum and the light operates automatically, without keepers like her father.
Growing up she’d never seen a television, never been on an airplane and never considered how much the world around her would change during her lifetime.
“I never looked this far ahead, I’m surprised that things have changed so much, I really am,” Bucky said. “I was 50 before I took a ride in a commercial airplane, but my great grandchildren from babies have been in flights.”
Since she began her career in nursing, medical care has changed the most of all.
“When I was a student nurse, if a patient had a heart condition they put them on bedrest and elevated the back of the bed and gave them oxygen and digitalis, that was it,” Bucky said. “Now they do all kinds of surgery and the medications are completely different.”
In addition, Bucky remembers a key part of her job as a nurse was to give patients massages.
“Patients stayed in the hospital for 10 to 14 days, so they had a lot of bed care which they don’t have now,” she said. “We did a lot, a lot of back rubs.”
Unlike many of her classmates, Bucky did not join the army nurse corps, but she did marry a man in the army. She spent the two years of his deployment hunting down rationed Jell-O to send to him as a reminder of home while away.
“We were highly rationed – gas was short, tires were short – after we got married my husband used to send me a letter requesting different things and they were all things that were hard to find,” Bucky said. “He was always asking for Jell-O. He was in Italy and he would make it in the evening and in the morning, it would be jelled because their nights were cool, but he didn’t want to eat it for breakfast. But, later in the day it would all be melted, so he eventually did eat it for breakfast.”
Shopping too as completely changed. There used to be a few big stores, all downtown and you traveled to them weekly, Bucky explained. There were no chains, no online shopping and you knew the store owners personally.
“The shopping areas were all down town in Hartford: G. Fox, Sage-Allen, Brown-Thomson. They’re all gone. They’re all gone now,” Bucky said.
In Westbrook the one-stop-shop was Neidlinger’s Pharmacy, even up until Bucky and her husband Bob Bock retired to the area in 1982. Today, artifacts and postcards sold at the shop are prized possessions of the historical society and Bucky has spent years making sure each item is marked and the location is digitized so that the records will live on for generations to come.
It isn’t only Neidlinger’s that has disappeared since Bucky arrived on the shoreline.
“They’re ripping down all the old houses and replacing them with modern things which doesn’t make us too happy,” she said. “This isn’t only a problem in the beach area, it’s all over Westbrook.”
Westbrook has grown from a town of just 2,500 to 7,000 since Bucky and her husband bought their home. She has watched the population age, the block parties end, and the appreciation for history wane.
“One of the big houses in Westbrook that was lost had originally had a little card store and dated way back to the 1600s – it was on Old Clinton Rd. We the Westbrook Historical Society don’t have any money so we couldn’t buy it or anything and the owner was very uncooperative and ripped it down,” Bucky said. “We’ve lost several houses like that, they want to put up newer places and those of us who are in the historical society feel very bad about that, but clearly not everyone does because if they did they would do something about it.”
Bucky has dedicated her entire retirement – the past 35 years – to protecting, maintaining and preserving the history and historic nature of Westbrook and Old Saybrook.
This Sunday, two days before she turns 100, she will be honored for his service by the two historical societies, by State Sen. Norm Needleman, by State Rep. Devin Carney and by First Selectman Carl Fortuna.
“Many area institutions survive because they have dedicated and unassuming volunteers to keep them going and they rarely get much recognition for their efforts,” said Marie McFarlin, president of the Old Saybrook Historical Society. “She is treasured for the person she is, admired for her amazing contributions and an inspiration to all who know her.”
Bucky herself credits her volunteer work and consistent involvement with her longevity. I think I might take a leaf out of her book someday.
The final quote was incorrectly attributed to Tedd Levy. The quote was by Marie McFarlin, and has been corrected.