When forbidden fruit surrounds your school
“Don’t pick the blueberries.” That was one of many edicts at the Union School (now the police station), but it proved hard to honor. That’s because McIntire Farm, a.k.a. Grand View Farm, had a funny shape that wrapped part-way around the school, putting blueberries in constant view of seven-year-old Marion Welch. One day, she and her brothers spent a few hours filling two large buckets of blueberries, until —
“Steve appeared out of nowhere. He was the handyman at McIntire Farm. He took them away. We were told not to come back.”
Not long after, temptation knocked again. This time it was the apples at Blodgett Farm, on the other side of the Union School. Addie Blodgett, the owner, had once invited Welch’s mother to pick apples anytime she wanted. Well, young Welch figured she had the same rights by proxy. She boasted to her classmates that he had free rein at Blodgett Farm, and she brazenly picked a bunch, until —
“Back at the school, the principal called me into the office and told me to hold out my hands. She whacked me with the ruler. I never took them again.”
Burlington 2, Welch 0.
But after that rough start, she reformed herself to the point where she held the most sensitive of all local government jobs at the time. She administered Burlington’s ration stamps during WWII. For those unfamiliar, a wartime ration stamp was your ticket to buying things. You could only buy what your stamps allowed, and we’re talking about elemental stuff like sugar, toothpaste, shoes, tires. The war forced myriad factories to serve military needs, not just civilian needs, hence the scarcity of almost everything. Moreover, US enemies sometimes cut off supply routes, pinching supply of basic materials.
You can probably imagine the pressure on Welch. Everyone tried to game the stamp system. One guy claimed his four kids simply HAD TO HAVE new shoes for Easter. When she declined on grounds that it wasn’t time for shoe stamps to be handed out, he took his case “up the ladder” and got his four shoe stamps. That kind of thing happened a lot. At the end of the day, any leftover stamps were such hot potatoes that Welch would take them home and burn them in her father’s furnace.
Her father organized and coached the Burlingtonians, a sports team that pitted itself against the Winnmere Tigers in an intra-town rivalry. It never came to blows, but pretty close. Welch was the scorekeeper. But she was a baseballer herself too. She grew up on Dearborn Rd. close to the common, which had a small baseball diamond at the time. She played ball with the boys until the day she hit a home run. Party over. They shunned her after that.
Years later, when a little league formed, Welch marveled at a little girl named Mary Bennett who showed up to little league games donning a hat and glove, even though she wasn’t allowed in the league. She couldn’t play, but she could pretend. A few years later, Mary joined the women’s softball league and became one of precious few women who made a living from the sport, touring the world professionally. She returned to Burlington and coached until her death in 2014 at age 75.
These stories may leave you wondering just how old Marion Welch is. She’ll turn 98 this fall, old enough to recall the Thomas Street area as a cranberry bog, yet she’s still sharp enough that if you ran a business, you’d hire her as chief financial officer without hesitation. Though you might want to keep tabs on the company garden out back.
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