Friday, April 12, 2024

Insight: Unforgettable friends and memories

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

Growing up in the 1960s, I learned the invaluable lessons of friendship and the benefits of positive role models from an older couple that we would go to visit every Friday evening.

Marge and Bob Bartlett were close to our family and after supper at the start of each weekend, my father would drive us to their home, and we’d spend several hours with them. My mother first met Marge when she became a babysitter for their oldest son Jimmy and through the years their friendship grew. My sister was the same age as Marge and Bob’s youngest son, Kenny, and visits to their home became sort of a ritual for us on Friday nights.

Bob Bartlett worked as a glassblower for Eastman Kodak Company and had a garage he converted into a workshop behind their home. Sometimes during the summer months, he would take my brother and me out there as he made glass paperweights or Christmas tree ornaments. Once, he helped me make a glass bird with a long neck that would dip its head as the temperature changed.

Bob had a silly sense of humor and was able to pull off the best impression of Yogi Bear I have ever heard. To this day I can still hear him imitating Sergeant Schultz from television’s “Hogan’s Heroes” or comedian Bill Dana’s classic line “My name is Jose Jimenez.”

Marge was a devoted mother to her two boys and inspired them both to attend college and to follow their dreams. Both sons were successful as Jimmy became a broadcaster working in radio in Boston for a station owned by sportscaster Curt Gowdy and then a television anchor for WMUR-TV in Manchester, New Hampshire. Kenny obtained a real estate license and eventually owned his own company in Texas before retiring.

A visit to the Bartlett home was always the highlight of my week. Each of them would ask me questions about what I was learning about in school, how my favorite sports teams were doing, what I was reading, or what I wanted to be when I grew up. Bob would always seem to have a roll of Lifesavers candy in his pocket, or he’d pass me a piece of Bit O’ Honey as we watched television in their living room.

Upon arriving each time at their home, Marge would bring our family into her kitchen and offer us a piece of cake she had just baked which was sitting on the counter. My favorite was her frosted orange cake and what I wouldn’t give today for a slice of it again.

After we finished eating the cake, Marge would point to the refrigerator freezer and ask if we wanted a Borden’s ice cream cup. They were small servings of vanilla ice cream with either chocolate sauce or strawberry jam on the bottom. They even came with their own wooden disposable serving spoons.

Year after year, my brother and me would sit in front of the Bartletts’ RCA console television set watching episodes of Rawhide at 7:30 p.m. followed by Route 66. When both of those programs were canceled, we would watch “The Wild Wild West” at 7:30 and “Hogan’s Heroes” at 8:30 p.m.

As my brother and I sat and watched television, we were always joined by Marge and Bob’s overweight beagle named Thumper. He waddled from side to side when he walked and had a distinctive yelp when somebody knocked on the door.

My mother and father would sit in the kitchen with the Bartletts during our visits and drink coffee and talk or have some of the cake that Marge would have on hand every week. They were usually joined by Marge’s widowed mother, Sue Coleman, who lived in an addition that Bob had built off the back of their home.

It was always fun, always positive, and always an enjoyable experience to visit with such uplifting people who genuinely cared about us.

While I was serving in the Air Force in Arizona in 1982, my mother called to let me know that Bob Bartlett had suffered a massive heart attack and had died at the age of 55. Not long thereafter, Jimmy Bartlett also died of heart disease at an early age.

In 2001, I was going to fly from Florida to Rochester, New York to attend my 30th high school reunion. Kenny Bartlett called and asked if I would stop and visit his mother Marge and encourage her to move into assisted living. She was in her 90s and was hard of hearing. He was worried because during a fire at a home behind her, she slept through it and didn’t hear the fire trucks.

I did visit her, and she declined to enter assisted living. She said she had lived in her home for 65 years and wasn’t going anywhere. She also offered me an ice cream cup from her freezer. Three years later, Marge flew to Texas for the wedding of her granddaughter and passed away in her sleep there.

We become the people we are because of significant influences in our lives, and I was blessed to have such wonderful friends while growing up.

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