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Corn cobs, pirate ships and mine sweeps
WEST PARIS – West Paris resident Ellsworth (Willy) Hathaway, now 86 years old, was brought up in Woodstock.
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 on July 4, 1925 and it was in Rumford. There was a building there with a midwife. We lived on the Old County Road in Woodstock and I was raised there.
Q: Did you have many siblings?
A: I had four sisters and three brothers. I was number three. There was Ann, Lois, Alice and Beatrice, who has passed away. For brothers, there was Terrence, John and Elton. John is the only one living.
Q: What did your parents do?
A: My mother was a housekeeper. My dad first worked at the grain store in Bryant Pond and then he went to West Paris and worked for Percy Mayhew at the grist mill. He mixed the grain and unloaded the grain cars off the train. He also delivered the grain.
Q: What was it like growing up?
A: At first we didn’t have electricity. I was probably four or so before we had that.
We didn’t have modern plumbing until I was close to being an adult.
There was a hand pump in the kitchen and the outhouse was attached to the house. It was a double-seater and when I was very young, we used the Sears Roebuck catalog. We were a bit more advanced than those using corn cobs.
I remember my brother had to pick up toilet paper on his way home from school. He stopped at the store and the guy asked him if he was out of corn cobs. My brother didn’t think that was very funny.
We had a small farm house and my dad did do some farming. We had cows, pigs and chickens. And he did build a chicken house for hatching eggs.
There were not many neighborhood kids handy, so mostly I played with my two, younger sisters, but I wouldn’t play dolls! We would make our own entertainment.
We did have quite a pile of sand in front of the house and we would make roads and play in that.
As kids, we all had chores to do. And mine was filling the wood box as soon as I was old enough to do that. You did whatever chores you were old enough to do. As I got older, I milked the cows, then to hoeing and weeding in the garden. Then I went to haying and working in the woods with my dad as soon as I could swing an ax.
Around the time I was starting school, my dad had me helping with loading wood in the woodshed. I told him I didn’t want to do it and that I was going to run and he couldn’t catch me. I soon found out that he could.
When I was around eight, I used to hunt with a 22 and my older brother would take me fishing sometimes.
Q: Was there anything you wanted to be when you grew up?
A: I suppose I just wanted to be a farmer, until I figured there wasn’t much of a future in it.
Q: Where did you go to school?
A: All through Woodstock and I graduated from Woodstock High.
Q: How did you get to school?
A: In the fall and spring it would be with a horse and buggy. In the winter, my uncle built a big box with skis on it for the horses to drag behind.
The first year I started school, we didn’t have to go for the afternoon, so we could go home, but if we wanted to we had to walk and it was uphill all the way home for two miles.
Q: Did you get into mischief or play pranks?
A: In the basement of the classrooms was the bathrooms; one for the girls, one for the boys. There was also a large room in between to play in. One day a few of us boys had some sticks and when the girls would come out of their bathroom, we would slap the sticks on the floor and they would run back in. Of course they told the teacher and when we saw her coming, we ran into the boy’s bathroom. She hollered for us to come out and I was the only one dumb enough to do so. She batted me on the back end with her hand. I never got in trouble for it when I got home, but that night, I went to my uncle’s for supper. He was on the school board and asked me if I had gotten into any trouble lately. I knew I’d better not lie, but my aunt yelled at him for asking so I didn’t have to answer.
Q: What have you had for jobs?
A: I had a paper route for about a year, and then I worked for my dad in the woods.
Q: Did you go in the service?
A: Yes. I was drafted at the end of my junior year. I had to go and not finish school 'til I got back. At the time I got drafted I was working with my uncle who owned a nursery in Massachusetts. He had been hired to camouflage the forts at Peaks Island.
I picked the Navy and went to Newport, Rhode Island and went to the Great Lakes for carpenter school. After that I ended up in Oakland, California and went on a ship sweeping mines so that landing ships could get in. We were in Pacific waters; and went to Hawaii, Marshall Island, the Philippines and then to Okinawa.
Q: What was that like?
A: It was pretty scary. We had this long cable with a kite-type thing attached to it. The kite kept the cable out at an angle from the ship. It was all under water and the cable had all these knives attached and would cut all the mine cables and they would pop up and float on top of the water. We’d then take guns and shoot at them.
Q: Any close calls?
A: Yes, two actually. Before we went overseas, we had to put the ship in dry dock, so all the ammunition had to come off. When we went to reload it, I was on the third level down in the magazine and they were being passed to us. The guy on the second level missed and got hit in the head with a three-foot shell and it came down to us. The guy with me told me to get rid of it. There was no place to do that, the guy above us wasn’t capable of catching it, but it didn’t blow up.
One time near Okinawa the ship in front of us got hit with a mine. When we went by, the guys were all going overboard and the ship behind us was able to pick up many of them.
I went in in 1943 and served for two-and-a-half years. I got out in March of ‘45 and finished high school.
Q: When and how did you meet your spouse?
A: There was a Legion dance up to Locke Mills and my dad used to help out. Joyce’s mom use to help too. I asked her mom if she needed any help and she told me that I was probably only asking so that I could meet her daughter. I hadn’t seen Joyce, but I think she must have noticed me. As soon as Joyce walked in I figured maybe I better meet her. She was a five years younger, but being in the service we were graduating the same year. She was at Gould Academy though.
Q: Where did you work?
A: Joyce and I started a business. It was a service station and country store in Locke Mills where she lived. I got $100 a month from the war to get started and her dad, my dad and her brother helped us build the store.
We lived in this tiny place, I don’t even think it had sheetrock, but it was for $15 a month.
In ‘47 we sold the store to her brother and mother and went to Massachusetts and worked at my uncle’s nursery. We built a house there and I became a carpenter.
We bought the store back in 1955 and built a house right next to it. It ended up being one of the largest independent grocery stores in the county and we had 25 people working for us. We sold it in 1979 and a few years later it burned.
Q: What did you do then?
A: We bought a farm in South Woodstock and I continued to work at the store as a meat cutter for a while and I also had a wood lot. I also bought some mobile homes and rented them out.
We moved here to South Paris around seven years ago.
Q: Any children?
A: Yes; four. Brian was the first and he was killed on a bicycle accident when he was seven. Karen lives in Keene, New Hampshire, Jane lives in Las Cruces, New Mexico and David lives in Fayetteville, North Carolina.
Q: Anyone said you look like someone famous?
A: Gosh no!
Q: Did you do much traveling?
A: We went to many grocer's conventions and right after we sold the store we traveled a lot. We have taken our motor home to all states but three. Our son was stationed in Germany for a while and we went to see him and we've flown to the Caribbean a few times.
Q: Which place was the most fascinating and why?
A: I guess I would have to say Branson because we have been there seven times. There is wonderful music and so many different shows to see.
Q: Did anyone influence you to the point of changing your direction in life?
A: Probably Joyce. Originally I thought about going to school to be in construction, but she convinced me we could build the store and run it. I have no idea where we would be today had we not had the store.
Q: Do you collect anything or have a hobby?
A: I do bird carving and I started that after I sold the store; I’ve probably carved hundreds of birds and Joyce even does it too. Right now I am carving a bucking horse with a cowboy on it. I also carve spoons.
I've done a bit of blacksmithing and have built a pirate ship for my neighbor's son.
I am active with the Legion in Locke Mills and my church.
Q: What is the last book you read?
A: It is by Richard Pinette and it is called Northwoods Heritage. It’s back in the day when they did logging in New Hampshire and sent the wood down the river.
Q: What is the one thing you could not give up?
A: Being able to use my hands.
Q: What is the one thing you would happily do over again?
A: I'd like to live my whole life all over again. I've had a pretty good life. I guess I'd say it was better than average.
Q: What was the best memory that this interview brought back?
A: Those days traveling in the motor home. It was just great. We’d see a spot we liked and would stay there; I’d have to say those were the best times of our lives.
Q: Last day on earth; what would you do and who with?
A: Get together with the family and have a big lobster feed.
Q: If anyone could walk in right now, who would you most want to see?
A: I'd pretty much welcome anyone that came in. I don’t think I could just pick one; my father, my older brother and especially Bryan. I don't think I would have to tell them anything. They would already know.