Random Thoughts

Two Great Ladies of Melrose - circa 1950

Remembering after fifty years...

by Ann Robbins Talbot

I was asked to complete a survey about my Sunday School experience. Imagine my surprise when I could write about two women from my past. I attended Sunday School at the First Baptist Church on Main Street. In those days everyone went to Sunday School no matter the age. You began as a toddler and just continued. Perhaps that is still the model. Until a certain age the sexes were mixed, but at junior high, we had our first girls-only experience.
In junior high my teacher was Miss Elinor Kimball. She kept each of her classes for two years which was easier for her since Miss Kimball was totally blind. She introduced us into a world of courage and independence that I remember to this day. Miss Kimball must have been in her thirties, was a secretary and commuted daily from Melrose to Boston by train. She was always accompanied by her guide dog, Butchie, a very large boxer. We always knew when Miss Kimball was approaching by the rattle of Butchie’s harness. During worship, if the service drew a minute or two past one hour in length, Butchie would stand up, stretch and rattle his harness as if to signal the minister that it was time to wrap up. This would send us into fits of giggles.

Not only did we spend time with Miss Kimball on Sunday mornings, but on Saturday afternoons as well. We found the world of the blind fascinating. She showed us her watch, the glass opening so she could touch the hands and numbers. We were instructed in Braille and the Braille typewriter with its six keys. We marveled at her New Testament which took up a whole book shelf and at her magazines. Miss Kimball could clean her own apartment and cook, but we helped her as much as we could. We did a little shopping, but her groceries were delivered from the market on a regular basis. She preferred to shelve the groceries herself, for obvious reasons.

Miss Kimball shared all the little tricks she had learned to be a successful person. She taught us much about making the best of what you have and having trust in a God that will take care of you.

The other teacher I remember was Mrs. Gladys Romeyn. She was the reward for senior girls who had come faithfully to Sunday School for all these years. Mrs. Romeyn was a professional lecturer, and not just on religious themes. In those days women were not in the work force as much as they are today, so women’s clubs thrived. At weekly or monthly meetings, professional lecturers would present book reviews, travelogues, or thematic speeches. Mrs. Romeyn was greatly sought after, and for one hour a week, we had her all to ourselves.

Mrs. Romeyn could make the most dull, dry, boring fact sound exciting, adventurous and important. I hope I incorporated some of her technique into my  teaching style. And she was always beautifully dressed with a hat to match each outfit. What set her apart from our mothers was that each of Mrs. Romeyn’s hats also matched her hairdo!

At the end of the year, as we were about to graduate from Melrose High, Mrs. Romeyn hired a private room at an upscale restaurant several towns away and treated us to dinner. It was the first time I had ever seen a finger bowl! She gave us each a selection of perfumes in tiny delicate glass vials so we could experiment with scents. Mrs. Romeyn was the ultimate role model for girls who were about to choose standards for their lives. How wise our Sunday School was to save her for last.

I am sure that Melrose schools, churches and neighborhoods were full of wonderful women who helped to shape the values of our generation. I hope somewhere in the future, a woman will remember us in this way.

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