Benjamin Baker was interviewed by Mary Giles on December 6, 1976. He was thirteen at the time, and discussed school, sports, and travel.
Ben, how do you like living out in the country in this beautiful old house, far away from neighbors? Your family has created a very beautiful place here, using parts of several old buildings.
It’s nice—there are lots of things to do in the woods.
What kinds of things do you do in the woods?
Cutting around grape vines and __________.
You help clear the land then.
Well, we just keep the growth down because if it gets too much, all the trees will __________.
What other things do you do around the property?
Well, next summer I hope to be helping to shingle the new barn.
That’s great! How are you going to learn how to shingle?
Well, I already know how to shingle; I helped to shingle a barn near Padanarum and, oh! little odds and ends.
Was it hard?
No. It’s not hard—the best way is to take a piece of wood about 1” high and ¼” wide and nail it up on the wall about at the bottom of the shingles. You have to make sure that none of the lines come together; if that happens, water gets in.
Where do you go to school?
The Westport Middle School.
How do you get there?
I walk up my driveway and when the bus comes along, I take it. In bad weather I have myself chains and even in snow I can get there in about four minutes. When the snow is about a foot deep, it takes me about seven minutes. The school but brings me home and I walk down the driveway.
Do you like school?
Yes, it’s fun. A couple of years ago, if you’d asked me the same question, I’d probably have said I liked art or gym, then a couple of years ago I said to myself, “I’ve got to learn this so I’d better try to get good grades. I’m taking all the basics—math, language, social studies, reading and science.
Do you enjoy any of these more than the others?
Uh—maybe science, social studies and math.
I suppose you’ve already decided what you want to be when you grow up.
I’ll probably end up as a woodworker, part-time mechanic—something like that. I’ll definitely get into boats and then I’ll be working with engines and stuff like that. I’ll definitely get into motors, car engines and stuff like that.
Do you want to go to college?
I’m not sure which college yet, but I’d like to. I’m almost sure I want to go on to college. My father already has a college fund started.
What do you do for fun? Do you like any sports?
Yes, Tennis and ice-skating.
Do you like swimming?
Yeah, I like to swim, but not especially—I prefer ice-skating.
And games—do you like things like cards or team games?
I think I’d say cards and monopoly. I’m not so much for team games—they’re rough sports. I wasn’t built for rough sports.
Do you have any special hobbies like collecting anything?
Yes, I like to build model airplanes – old fashioned ones. I try to collect stamps and coins.
That can become quite expensive can’t it?
Not really. My grandmother, Mary Howe Baker gave me a great big box of stamps. She died before I could ever really start to remember her.
The first time I came here, I came with her brother Hartley Howe—that’s the first time I can remember anyway.
Do you have any special friends—people you like better than anyone else?
Yes, Chris—Chris Howe, he’s my favorite friend—he’s real fun to play with.
Anyone here in Westport?
No, not here. They’re so tough and all that, and if you get ahead in class, they sic the…..on you.
It’s a funny thing isn’t it, that a person who succeeds can often not be popular. You have to be very independent.
Yes, when Einstein first came into this country, he had all sorts of trouble with the immigration officers and everything. Last year, in school, we did a thing and they told us some of the background of different people. They told how people, at first, thought Einstein was dumb—had rotten thoughts, etc. And then they showed us what he was really like.
Today in math, I was thinking that if we had Einstein teaching math, he’d use up many chalkboards—that would be seven chalk boards a day. The only pictures I saw of Einstein was in our workbook, a couple of years ago, and the other was a picture of him standing next to a chalkboard unscrewing it and then spraying some shellac on it. No one thought I would ever think of that picture. I began thinking about what would have happened if the shellac would have run and we’d be out some great mathematical discovery.
What do you think of your teachers?
They’re good—they make me interested in my work.
Do you like to read?
What kinds of things do you like to read?
Well, I like the Hardy Boys mysteries and the Happy Hollisters mystery books, adventure books.
Do you like reading about animals? Do you have pets?
Well, we have two dogs and we have a cat. Last year we had to take him to the doctor and he had to have his tail amputated.
Have you ever seen Penny Straker’s Cat? It’s called Max; it’s a Manx. She lives over in Padanarum and her mother has the yarn shop. There’s also P.S. II out on Nantucket that her mother’s running. I love to go out to Nantucket—it’s really beautiful.
Do you have a boat?
Yes—one that my father designed—it’s a Puddleduck. We also have a Sprite that’s the family boat. The good thing about those boats is that they are hard to capsize.
Have you learned much about navigation?
No, not much, but if I go to Tabor Academy next year, I’m going to take ocean—oceano—oceanography. It’s all about navigation and everything and it would be really good to learn that stuff.
Richard Earle, one of Westport’s major lobster fisherman, went there before he went into the air force and taught and decided he liked the life of a lobsterman best of all. He came back home to Westport. The lobster boats that the men take out to the edge of the Continental Shelf are very expensive.
I was in the Whaling Museum the other day, and on the wall they have a small plaque, and what it says is ‘A boat is a hole in the water with sonical shape and wooden sides, into which you pour your money.’ Another one they have is ‘If the good Lord had wanted us to have fiberglass boats, he would have given us fiberglass trees.’
The problem with my father’s big boat—83’ long—it was all varnished decks with a white hull. He brought it up after it had been sunken and he bought it; he had to completely restore it. Down in the hold he found all the mahogany that was supposed to go up in the forward lounge. I’ve forgotten what was up there—and they took that out and put in all the good mahogany. By the time he finished going around the deck once with the varnish, he had to start all over again.
My boat—I never got it in the water this year because I never finished taking all the varnish off. It’s a wooden boat.
How many people does it hold?
Well, in an emergency it could easily hold six my age—grownups, four or five. It’s only 8’ long and to be comfortable to sail it, it holds one. My father really likes it alone, sitting down in the bottom of the boat—not up on the seats. He really likes sailing it alone very well.
Does your mother like to sail?
Yes, she likes to go out in boats too, but she prefers old houses. Her profession is designing and fixing up old houses. We bought our house, a great big chunk of house, and at first my mother and father thought it was a big mistake, because there was plywood over all the floors and all—but when they took that up, do you know what was underneath it?
All the original flooring. It was all in perfect condition. All the ceilings were all that plastic stuff. The bricks in the fireplace in my sister’s room were all painted red and white. I can definitely remember that—it was horrible. My sister’s chimney is still blocked up. There’s no sense in letting all the heat out of the house. We made up a damper with having a piece of wood that cuts off the draft that floats up when there isn’t a fire in it. When there’s a fire in it, we take the damper out.
My mother makes a beautiful garden. This year she wanted to give my father a plum tree, but she couldn’t find one, so she gave him an apple tree. We’d had a plum tree, but it never bloomed until this year—on my father’s birthday we went out and saw a perfect plum on the tree. We thought someone had tied a plastic one on it—she went up to rip it off and it was real.
Have you done much traveling?
I could say that I’d done my share. I was born in Berkeley, California, right across the Bay from San Francisco, and from there went back to Rhode Island, where my mother and father bought the boat and fixed it up and sailed it down to the Bahamas, when I was one. My sister was born in the Bahamas and then we sailed back up to Rhode Island and bought the house where my father is living and we stayed there five years and around that time my father and mother bought the house we’re living in now and began fixing it up.
I think it’s a very beautiful home and that your mother and father are very fine artists and craftsmen.
I’ve been as far north as Victoria in Canada. About three years ago, my mother drove through Tennessee and down to Mexico and so we flew out to California and drove back here and about a week after we got back, the engine of the bus froze. It was lucky we were able to get back though.
The farthest north I’ve been in the United States is Mt. Desert (Maine). It’s beautiful up there.
I love to travel—I get itchy feet about the middle of winter. In the middle of winter everyone wishes they could go swimming and sailing and in the middle of summer, everyone wishes they could go sledding and skating.
Tell me what you like best about living in Westport, or is there anything you like best?
I don’t know—I guess it’s being so close to the water and in the woods. I’ve been living near water practically all of my life.
If you could change anything in Westport, what would you change?
Well, I’d bring the speed limit on (Route) 88 down to about 40; I’d open up Kirby Road so people on bicycles could get to Central Village easier.
What else would you change?
I’d limit the number of new houses—so instead of having a great many, I’d have only one or two where there are ten now.
Have you thought about how this could be done?
Well, I’d just say ‘Westport’s too crowded—sorry—we don’t want so many houses.
You know you can’t do that. If a lot is for sale, and somebody wants to buy it, you can’t prevent it.
Then you could limit the number of houses to each development—they can’t be too close together—and fit the way others look and strict disposal laws because our brood goes right through Holly Heights. Somebody up there has a washing machine that dumps junk in our brook—every now and then we get a big pile of foam that comes down the brook.
(Benjamin Baker – 13 years old, son of Anne and Robert Baker)