Sam Ogden…City Slicker

Ron Patch

Recently Duncan Ogden loaned me some of his father’s, “Sam,” papers and photographs. Sam Ogden wrote his early history of living in Elizabeth, New Jersey that his family founded in 1664. This is a very long document so all I can give are select excerpts. My intent is to give you an idea who Sam was. It is copied as Sam typed it and was written in 1929-1930.

I’m old enough to remember people from down country buying an abandoned place in Vermont and spending a lifetime restoring it. My father called them “City slickers.

“….So it was I threw up my plans, took a job at forty dollars a week as salesman in Philadelphia, and we were married. We started flat, on nothing. I hated my job, but we could manage on my wages so we stuck it out. Then my father became very sick, and I was called home to take care of his business.

This business, a real estate and insurance firm was an old established one, having been in the family for several generations. It was, however, a small concern, and once on his feet again my Father was afraid it could not support our two families.”

Later, Sam and his wife Mary, along with two other couples had rented a luxurious cabin in the Catskills.

Sam at fireplace he built, smoking his pipe. Photo provided.

“….We climbed the mountain trails, plunged in the icy water of the pond, played like children in the brooks, and on rainy days read before the open fire. As was inevitable often the evenings were spent in discussions. Tom was in the wholesale plumbing business, George in the lumber business, and I was in the real estate and insurance business….

….Tom and I had spent the whole day rigging up in the brook a turbine the wheel of which was made of the top of a cake box, and which we thought was very ingeniously contrived. We had more fun building our dam, constructing our flume, and getting our plant into operation than we could possibly have gotten out of a game of golf or a dance at the Country Club. That evening, thinking of how much fun we had had, I stated that we all lived stupid lives, and that started a discussion. Alice, Tom’s wife, disagreed with me, and defended their mode of life.

‘Surely’, I said to Alice ‘Your literary club meetings are just as inane as all the rest. Can’t you see hundreds and thousands of ladies literary meetings all across the land? All doing the same damned fool papers, all indulging in the same type of gossip? The rest of it is all the same too; the same tiresome teas, the same problems with help, the same stiff dinner parties.’

…Gradually we had been caught up in a social life which we both deplored but from which we saw no escape. There are communities no doubt, such as the one Tom and Alice lived, where the young married couples are absorbed in a life of tiresome but decent triviality. A life ordered and correct, with club meetings for girls, and soccer and touch football for the boys, until they get too fat. A life wherein families played a large part and family jealousies an even larger part. Where the same books are read by all, the same plays seen by all, and the same scandals savourily pawed over by all.

Gin was a necessary factor at every party. Our life demanded excitement, and the search for it evolved strange pleasures. We often just stupidly met at each other’s houses and more stupidly imbibed highballs, there being no gaiety or conversation until the gin began to work….

There seemed to be no point or direction to our lives. Imperceptibly our financial requirements grew; we spent more money than we could afford and had nothing to show for it. Our children were now of school age, and had to go to certain schools, otherwise they could not make the proper friends. So it went. While I do think we did not go in for keeping up with the Jones to the limit, still we were in the good old game and we could not deny it. We hated it and despised our lives, but we still kept at it. We did not know how or when the change came, but come it had, and there we were.

We finally came to the conclusion that we could not go on as we were and discovered that the only way to make a change was to sell the business which I hated, sell the house we loved, leave our friends and go away. We had no idea of where to go or what to do, and for a long time lacked the courage to do anything. I knew from my experiences in the war (WW1) that happiness did not depend upon material surroundings. I knew my wife was with me every step I might take no matter what happened. As to our children, they would certainly have a finer heritage if it were one of courage and companionship, than if it were one of servants’ care and private schools. It seemed to me the real things of life had nothing to do with good clothes, select schools, fine motor cars, or slaveship to a disagreeable and inflexible “job”. And our duty to our friends? Surely our duty to ourselves was greater. We knew we must cross the bridge and burn it behind us, but what lay on the other side, or what to do when we got there we had no idea….”

In the next installment the Ogdens move to Vermont in 1929 and buy a deserted village. In a recent editorial by Bob Miller about Vermont, he ended his editorial with: “Vermont will let you belong….if you let it.” Vermont welcomed the Ogdens.

This week’s old saying. “If you think you’re important you’re probably not.”

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