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Marathons, trombones and fire bell codes
MINOT – 71-year-old Peter Kelliher grew up in Massachusetts and has lived in Minot since the early ‘80s. He has been in the Air Force, the Coast Guard and National Guard as well as teaching school for over 30 years.
He recently took time to tell us about his life.
Q: When were you born and where were you brought up?
A: I was born in Taunton, Massachusetts on March 22, 1940. It is in the south-eastern part of the state. I was born at Morton Hospital.
I was brought up there as well.
My parents did move to California, but it was after I was an adult.
Q: Did you have many siblings?
A: I have two sisters; one older and one younger. Patricia lives in Rhode Island and Maureen lives in Middleboro, Massachusetts.
Q: What did your parents do?
A: My father was a taxi driver in Taunton and as long as I can remember that is what he did. My mother, for most of her life, stayed at home. When I was in high school, my mom got her LPN license and she worked mostly in veteran’s hospitals.
Q: What was it like growing up?
A: It was quite different from today and as I reflect on growing up I realize I had a lot of freedom of movement as a young boy. Parents didn't hover ... friends would come to the house and we would take off on the bikes for hours. As long as we came home for lunch we were fine.
We lived in the city, but there were woods; extensive woods behind the house with streams and ponds to play around. It was very nice because we did have that freedom to explore.
You had to make your own fun. If we were bored, it was our responsibility to find something to do so we had to have a lot of imagination back then.
There weren’t organized sports, so we would play pick-up football, hockey and baseball. Of course arguments always happened, but back then parents didn’t get involved. One would storm off the field and the next day, be right back there.
We did such fun things on our bikes. They used to have a fire bell and we would count the bells and run into the house. We had a chart on the wall and, depending on the bell count, we knew what part of town the fire was in. Some were three to five miles away and we would grab our bikes and go. More times than not we would have counted wrong and then argue all the way when we couldn’t find the fire.
Another time, when I was around 11 or 12 my friends and I wanted to take a bike ride to Cape Cod. We waited till my friend’s dad went to work and we biked the 30 miles one way. Lo and behold we just are leaving to come home and the chain came off my bike. The goal was to get home back to Taunton before my parents got home and be sitting at the table waiting. It worked and none of the parents ever found out what we had done.
We were always just looking for new adventures.
We didn’t have a lot of money; in fact I played sports in high school, but during my junior year my dad was ill and I had to stop to go to work. He had hepatitis and was in the hospital for four to six weeks. My mom went to work in a factory and when dad came home, he was bedridden for quite some time. I remember it really bothered me to give up my sports. I had played baseball and I felt I was letting the team down, but you do what you have to do. I worked after school and on Saturdays at a sprinkler factory, mostly being a gopher, but I did get to work a few of the machines.
Music was big in my life. I played trombone for 10 years and all through high school in the band and in a quartet. We played barbershop music, performing in concerts and various events. I was very fond of the experiences.
Q: Was there anything you wanted to be when you grew up?
A: I was sort of like a boat in the water without a paddle. I didn't have good direction in life. I so enjoyed playing sports and people would tell me I could be professional, but I never did. I really never had any idea of what I wanted to do.
I was just enjoying being a kid.
Q: Where did you go to school?
A: All through Taunton city schools. Grammar school was in the neighborhood and we walked the half mile. We walked home for lunch and back everyday no matter the weather.
Grammar school was very structured. Six rooms, six classes and all the teachers were single women. No teacher ever left while I was there. There was a playground for the girls and another for the boys. Desks were bolted to the floor and we had inkwells. The teacher would have what looked like a wine bottle and fill the ink.
It was not uncommon to have to hold out your hand for the ruler and if you moved, you got it twice. Teachers had complete control of the class room. Parents would accept their discipline and you did everything in your power to hide it or you would be punished again when you got home.
Q: Did you get into mischief or play pranks?
A: Yes. I cut school one day with my friends and went fishing at lunch and didn’t go back that afternoon. Of course the school found out and I was disciplined. We were called in one at a time ... and you feared that. Miss Smith was a tough principal and we feared her. I couldn’t play baseball for two weeks.
Back then hitting a student was alive and well, but she didn’t hit me that time.
Q: What have you had for jobs?
A: Besides the sprinkler factory, I worked also in the meat department of a supermarket.
Q: Did you enter the service?
A: Yes. I graduated in 1958 and soon after joined the Air Force until ‘62.
I went to Basic in San Antonio at Lackland. I went to school for inventory in Amarillo and my first assignment was in North Carolina. I was in inventory management working in base supply. No matter what came, be it aircraft parts, weapons or housekeeping, it came through us.
The later part of my four years, I was sent to Cape Cod at the Otis base.
While in North Carolina, I played basketball on the squadron team. I was the captain and we won the base championship. I also played on the base team and we played other bases in the area. We even went to the championship tournaments in New Mexico.
It was a good experience.
Q: When and how did you meet your spouse?
A: I met Dianne when I was stationed in Otis. I had about a year left to go and I met her at a place called the Victory Club in Norton. She was there with friends and I met her and we started dating. She was going to Bridgewater State College.
Q: Where did you work after the service?
A: I still didn't have much direction in my life, and I had a variety of jobs in sales and at a bank and I was discontent. About a year and a half later I went back into the military, but went to the coast guard and was there from ‘64 to ‘68 and did storekeeping which was inventory like in the Air Force.
I ended up in Portland on a weather ship. There were weather stations all the way from Greenland to Puerto Rico. I believe they were 10-mile grids and we would monitor aircraft from the stations for 20 to 30 days then head back when another ship came. We would also carry oceanographers and they would take readings and we a helped with rescues if needed. After that I was sent to Bermuda for my last year.
I also did National Guard for 13 years.
Q: When did you get married?
A: While I was in the Coast Guard, Dianne was still in school. She came to Bermuda in January, we got married and when she graduated she came back for the rest of my stay there.
Q: Then did you work?
A: I was 28 at the time and I decided I wanted to go to college and I was accepted at Adams State in Colorado. I finished in three years and Diane got her masters there.
I studied Phys-Ed and had a minor in history.
Q: What brought you to Maine?
A: We almost stayed in Colorado, but missed New England, the trees and the ocean.
Dianne got a job in Augusta and we moved to Maine.
Q: What did you do?
A: We lived in Gardiner for 10 years and I took a job in Auburn as a phys-ed teacher. In 1981 we moved to Minot, when Dianne got a job in Auburn as a guidance counselor.
I taught PE for 17 years, then moved to social studies and taught that for 13 years.
We have one daughter Christy and she lives in Phoenix working as a prosecutor’s aide in criminal justice.
Q: What do you do now?
A: I retired in 2001 and did do a bit of substituting. Dianne retired a few years later. Now I am involved in making wooden flutes. It’s called Birch Island Flutes and I did a lot of craft shows. I have made between 200 and 300 flutes in the North American design. I also have done performances in schools and open mics.
Q: Any hobbies?
A: I’m always passionate about something. I used to be a long distance runner and did marathons. I was an avid golfer and now my passion is flutes.
Q: Did you do much traveling?
A: A fair amount. We’ve been to Florida, Texas, Hawaii, Utah, California and New Mexico.
Q: Which place was the most fascinating and why?
A: Bermuda and Hawaii; both slow living and fantastic weather. But the most memorable was seeing the USS Arizona. It was tough to try to digest it all. I remember turning to the east at about the same time the planes would have come in and it was very moving.
Q: Did anyone influence you to the point of changing your direction in life?
A: When I was in Bermuda, I had almost eight years in the military and considered signing up for 20 years. John Martz, a navy weather man, told me he was giving it up to go to college. I figured, if he can I guess I can and he motivated me to apply to colleges. It was one of the best things I ever did.
Q: What is the last book you read?
A: The Mayflower, which is a historical overview of the trip, its people and incidents.
Q: What is the one thing you could not give up?
A: New adventures. I love having a passion, be it running, horses or motorcycles.
Q: What was the best memory that this interview brought back?
A: As you age, you tend to dwell more on your youthful times. We tend to think and revisit our youth. Fond memories like the fire bells come to mind.
Q: Any regrets?
A: I had done an audition to play the trombone in the Air Force. I got accepted and when I went to Texas they asked if anyone was interested. I stood fast and didn’t take the opportunity. I had the letter in my pocket saying I was competent, but was lacking confidence. I could have traveled all over the world and had more experiences than I can ever think of.