Oxford Vignettes: The Days of May

By Cathy Schmidt

Bill and Sara Benson were dear cousins who lived up the street from my family. Throughout their lives they enriched those who surrounded them with their community involvement, faith, grace, and generous neighborly manners. Sara kept a journal every year of her life in Oxford and Captain Bill kept a daily weather book throughout his time as ferry Captain of the Oxford-Bellevue Ferry. They were anchors in the town of Oxford, steadfast and kind, they were a pleasure to know.

In this undated photograph, Sara and Bill Benson sit on their front porch in Oxford.

The Benson family has graciously decided to share some of these journal entries with the readers of Attraction. Smartly titled “Oxford Vignettes” by Susan Benson, I invite you to enjoy reading these daily snippets of life in Oxford in their day.

William Lindale Benson was born in Bellevue on October 20, 1908. Sara Valliant Newnam was born on August 10, 1913, and grew up in the Grapevine House in Oxford. They married on Christmas Day in 1936 at the home of Joseph Newnam, her brother. After living in an apartment above the “Towne Shoppe” in Oxford they moved to 315 North Morris Street in 1943, the year their son Dale, Jr. was born. At their new home, Sara could watch Captain Bill and the ferry from her sink window and front porch. Captain Benson took over operations of the Oxford-Bellevue Ferry in 1938. His summer schedule ran 80 to 105 hours per week. Only winter ice kept the ferry from running, and the only day he took off was Christmas Day, which was also his anniversary. He retired in 1974.

The Days of May

May 2, 1961 – News about town.

All three Amoco pumps on the Wharf were painted. Aulby Bates took his office tonight at the official board meeting at church, there were 20 present. Harrison Ross had Virginia Fishers and Miss Erma’s gardens plowed on Saturday. The news is out. Virginia Darrow and Heber Ritter are to be Married in June or July. Her Oxford Home is now for sale. They will live at Judith’s Garden, Heber’s Farm.

May 4, 1961 – Fire in the Grain Elevator!

…The bulletin came on, there was a fire at McKenny Willis’ grain elevator in Easton. In about 5 minutes our siren blew – Easton was calling Oxford for help. In fact, they called all companies around and had 9 or 10 come. Even Cambridge came. Dale went out to see the fire. We got our dinner from Waters Church for $1.25. Turkey, crab cake, dressing, slaw, cranberry sauce, rolls, and sweet potato pie.

May 12, 1961 – Prom!

Aunt Susie was taken to the hospital this evening. Showers this morning and sun came out this afternoon, then partly cloudy – some drizzle and fog tonight. Mother and I picked Dale up after school. Dale and I picked up his tuxedo at Country Squire – $7.50, then he got a pink rose wrist corsage at Roe’s for $3.50. I fixed and took Bill’s dinner to him before Mother, Dale and I picked up Barbara Edwards and Beth Sullivan and went to Bill Newnam’s house. Carol “Cookie” Smith, Lennie Abbott and Phil Smith were already there. Hazel had a delicious dinner – chicken, ham, succotash, brown and serve rolls, pickles and molded salads. I took baked pineapple and cranberry sauce. As soon as they finished eating, all the young folks went home to dress in their formals, and then came back to Hazel & Bills. How beautiful the girls looked and how handsome the boys. Suzanne’s long pale pink gown with its hoop was out of this world! Other girls wore short gowns, Beth wore yellow, Lennie was her date. Phil Smith was Sue Newnam’s date. Carol wore blue and blue slippers, her date was Jim Crickenberger. Barbara Edwards wore blue with blue slippers, and blue eyes – she’s such a pretty girl, she was Dale’s date. Gertrude and Anna Tull came out to see them before they left for prom. They left for Prom at 9. Later, Hazel, Ceil Sullivan and I went to Easton to see “Grand March” at 11:30 for just the seniors and their dates. Such lovely gowns! A night of beauty indeed. Lee Warner was crowned Queen and Jim Lyons King of the Prom. Dale’s left rear tire was flat when they came out to go home. Jim and Carol had to bring them home. Dale changed his clothes and Jim took him back and helped him put the spare on. I stopped at Price’s Tire earlier this afternoon to get another tire put on, but it wasn’t in yet. Sorry Dale had the flat but glad it worked out so well.

May 15, 1961 – A Trip to Easton Hospital

Slightly foggy early, then turned beautiful, sunny and warm. Did a big wash. Mother and I went to Easton, picked up Dale and stopped at the hospital. Left 2 yellow rose buds with the nurse for Anna Hardcastle (they were the first on my rosebush). Went to see Stevie Mitchel – his burns are healing, put $1 in his bank. Went to see cousin Lola Harris – she was in a wheelchair out in the hallway when who should come down the hall but Catherine Crouch of Queenstown! She brought a friend in who had been in an auto accident. It was so good to see her! Going down the hall Miss Louise Willis called to us. She had just brought Mr. Willis into the hospital and I think he looks awful. Stopped at Gertrude’s for a minute on the way home and little Joe and Debbie were there. Paul and Joyce Young stopped here and got the key to the Grapevine House. They, and their dog “Mr. Chips” will be there for a week. Virginia Darrow brought a Liberty Bell Platter and a picture of the Methodist Protestant Church taken years ago – when it had a fence around it, and the old school next to it. She found it in her attic. She also told us she is getting married!

In case you were wondering…

Aunt Susie is “Susan Parsons Valliant,” the last of 12 children of Thomas and Susan Benson Parsons. She was born in 1866 soon after her father died and her mother and all her siblings moved across the river to Oxford from “Peck’s Point” to live with Susan’s brother, “Uncle Billy Benson,” who’s house was on the Oxford Boatyard proper. At that time, it was a shipyard trading under the name of N. Leonard and Company. “Uncle Billy Benson” ran the shipyard and Col. Henry E. Bateman supplied the capital. Aunt Susie died a few days after this journal entry at the age of 95.

This photograph of the Shipyard House, circa 1894, is where the current Oxford boatyard is situated. Photograph courtesy of The Nancy Newnam Newton Collection.

The Country Squire was a fine men’s clothing store on the corner of Washington Street and Federal Street in Easton.

Price’s Tire was in Easton on the corner of Harrison and Goldsborough Street, across the street from Benson and Mangold. The brick building is now a clothing store.

Prom dates Carol Smith and Jim Crickenberger got married.

Sara Benson’s Baked Pineapple

1/4 pound butter or margarine

1/2 cup sugar

Pinch salt

4 eggs

15 ounce can of crushed pineapple, drained

5 slices of bread, broken into small pieces

Cream butter, add sugar and salt. Add eggs one at a time, then pineapple, then bread broken into small pieces. Place in greased casserole dish. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes or until done.

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