Pittsfield, MA


One thing I have learned to never under-estimate is the power of old family photos.  The emotional impact, and story-telling power, of a single photo is always incredible to me, even when the photos are of another person's family. So imagine how hard it was for me to breathe when one Saturday, in the middle of interviewing my 80-year-old grandfather, Dinon, he pulled out a photo album arranged by his mother.  

November 1931: Alma
and infant son Dinon

I felt my heart stop as I pulled back the cover to find black pages neatly arranged with photos and handwritten captions of my great-grandparents' courtship, wedding, honeymoon, and early marriage.  Even though I had the chance to meet both of my great-grandparents before they passed, Ralph and Alma (better known as "Babe") are little more to me than faint childhood recollections of a stoop-shouldered man and a tiny wrinkled woman.  But in the pages of that photo album I got to glimpse them at a time when they were my age, young and newly married.  In these photos, my great-grandfather's shoulders were straight and strong, and my great-grandmother was once an absolute knock-out.

According to notes in Babe's neat handwriting, she met my great-grandfather, Ralph Boyer, in their home state of Illinois on October 26th, 1927.  They were engaged the following August, and were then married in August of 1930 after Ralph graduated from the University of Wisconsin with his master's degree in Chemical Engineering.  Shortly after, he and Alma moved to Pittsfield, MA, a city 100 miles west of Boston, where he worked for General Electric in their plastics department.

Spring of 1932:
Ralph, Babe and Dinon
Their firstborn child was my grandfather, Dinon.  He was born on October 26, 1931 in Pittsfield.  He ended up as a belated birthday present, born the day after his mother's 23rd birthday.
The small Boyer family first lived in an apartment as they got on their feet, Ralph working as an engineer and Alma staying home with the baby.  "My mother remembers putting butter out on the window ledge in wintertime, because I’m not sure if they had a refrigerator at that time,” my grandfather said.
Dinon enjoyed a few years as the only child - his famously-pragmatic parents waited 5 years before their second child, and another 5 years after that before their third, so that they would only have to pay for one child's college tuition at a time.
In their defense, there were plenty of reasons why the pair was so frugal, even though Ralph was well-employed.  After all, both were born on farms in Illinois, and Babe's childhood farmhouse had a dirt floor.  And the economic climate of that era was far from comforting.
"You gotta remember, this was during the Depression, and although my dad always had a job there were a number of times that he took a pay cut," Dinon said.  "He graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1930, so he was very fortunate that General Electric hired him.  The start of the Depression was 1929, so in 1930 it was tough.  And then I was born in 1931."
Whatever financial stresses his parents might've endured, my grandfather's memories of his childhood, even his very earliest ones, are of being happy, loved and provided for.

Before Dinon's first birthday, Babe and Ralph bought a new dining room table, the same table that Dinon inherited and later raised his own children around.

"My parents told me that one time I crawled under the table, and got balanced on my tummy so that I couldn't go forward or backward, I was just there," Dinon recounted, chuckling.  "There’s a piece in the middle under there, so, as a baby, I just crawled up in there, and I was stuck, and all I could do was cry.  I mean, I was just, there, couldn’t go forward, couldn’t go backward, I could flail my arms and all, but there was nothing that touching!  So I was rescued, y’know.”

He also remembers playing under the huge rhubarb leaves of his neighbor's victory garden behind their garage, and even attempting to ice skate before his fifth birthday.

“Of course, as a kid, I ice skated," Dinon said.  "I seem to remember doing some ice skating when I lived in Pittsfield ... It was kind of on a little stream.  The ice was curved, it was low in the middle and came up on both sides, which made it a little hard to skate.  And, of course, my skates were not the professional kind, and therefore, my ankles were not strong enough to stay up, so they kept going out.  So it was hard to skate that way.  I can still picture that stream in my mind.”
Even his minor pre-school surgeries are remembered by my grandfather mostly for the pleasant memories of the healing. 
“I had my tonsils out when I was very young, I don’t know what age, but I still remember, after having the tonsils out, wanting chipped ice," Dinon said.  "And I had operations on both of my big toes [because I had ingrown toenails], and ... after the operation on my toes, I had them both wrapped, and my parents put me in a wagon.  I was very young, I think it was before I was in school, but it was in the summertime evidently because while I was healing, why they put me in a wagon and took me to where I could watch some houses being built.”

Around the time that Dinon turned 5 - and also close to the time that his brother, Daryll, was born - his father, Ralph, was transferred from the General Electric plant in Pittsfield to their plant in Lynn, MA, right on the Atlantic coast.  So, around 1936, the small Boyer family picked up and moved just east of Lynn, in a town on a tiny chicken-necked peninsula called Nahant.


(next story: Nahant, MA)


Nahant, MA
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Comments 2

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Dick Pellek (website) on Wednesday, 24 April 2013 12:59

This story is a good blueprint for blending photo history with family legacy, within a story with personal content and memories.

Thanks for showing us the way.

This story is a good blueprint for blending photo history with family legacy, within a story with personal content and memories. Thanks for showing us the way.
Heather McCray (website) on Wednesday, 24 April 2013 15:18

Thanks Dick

Thanks Dick :)