Remembering Miss Dickens
When I opened the June 16 issue of the Block Island Times I was pleased to see the article about Miss Elizabeth Dickens written by Bob Downie (one of his best articles). It brought back many memories of my school days and our monthly bird study classes. I was fortunate to have them with Miss Dickens from first grade in 1935 to graduation in 1947.
Miss Dickens had very piercing blue eyes, white hair drawn up on top of her head and was always very neatly dressed. I think she suffered from bad feet for she wore black high top sneakers in winter and white ones in summer.
From time to time Miss Dickens would invite one or two girls in the 8th or 9th grades to come to her house for dinner. I remember going with Barbara (Dodge) Hall and Ann Moran. We went on the school bus to the road we now know as Southwest Point Road. We cut off on Dickens Road, following the winding laneway through four or five gates, shut to keep cattle and livestock on their home meadows.
We arrived in the late afternoon very excited to be at Miss Dickens’ home. She met us at the door, binoculars in hand, and told us we were to go on a bird walk before dinner. What a treat it was to walk over the meadows, having a chance to look through the binoculars and to have her tell us how to recognize the birds, their plumage and their calls. There were no nearby houses and I felt as if I was walking over the moors. We could see and hear the ocean from Miss Dickens’ small house.
We arrived back at the house and our grand treat of dinner out awaited us. I can only remember having cold, home canned turkey and a very tart condiment. I am sure we had vegetables and potatoes (it would not have been a Block Island meal without potatoes) but I cannot remember. But I can still recall the condiment. It was a clear, golden brown color with bits of some fruit or melon in it. I wish I had asked what it was but I was shy and so overcome by dining out that all other things went out of my mind. The turkey had been canned in glass jars by Miss Dickens; she raised turkeys. For dessert we had a layer cake with whipped cream. I was so excited I could scarcely eat.
Because we had long walks to get back home, the dinner was served early. It was late spring with plenty of light, so we could get home before dark. Barbara and Ann lived on Connecticut Avenue and High street respectively, but I had to walk all the way down the Neck. Believe me, that was a long trek, but we thought nothing of it for we all walked wherever we needed to go. Not many folks had cars.
As an adult I realized how the classes and bird walks with Miss Dickens enriched my life. To be able to hear a bird call when in my house and recognize the bird is all due to her teaching. For instance, I remember what she said about the little goldfinch — that he wears his little black beret and is one of the few birds that sings in flight, saying “two and twenty.”
For years I had tried to find a dead bird that was in good enough condition to be stuffed, mounted and added to the bird collection. Finally, at age 14, I found a piping plover that Miss Dickens said was in fine condition to be stuffed. So my bird is in the collection, with the date I found it and my name then — Edith Littlefield — written on the small tag in Miss Dickens’ distinctive hand writing.
It seems like such a small thing now, but to me in those days, it was a big deal.
Corn Neck Road