Chester's Mill - Interview Archive
An Interview With Clayton Brassey
As I sat waiting for Clayton Brassey, the oldest resident of Chester’s Mill and Castle County to return from his Tuesday morning sing-a-long, I let my eyes wander over the things that were precious keepsakes to a man of one hundred and one.
There were numerous school photos of grand children and great-grandchildren, family reunions and smiling group shots with Clayton front and center; but, the ones that stood out were the faded sepia images, tastefully framed and displayed. Ornate furniture pieces were covered with the memories of a life well lived. Opposite his bed was a large photograph of a young man snuggling his delicate bride, his favorite picture I found out later.
Beautiful quilts and crocheted throws were lovingly folded and stacked on his bed where the most ancient Red Sox cap I’ve ever seen hung off the bedpost. His Bible lay open on his bedside table with an intricately carved pipe, the stem chewed down and the bowl blackened from years of thoughtful smoking resting on its pages.
Leaning in the corner of the room was the gold-tipped, Boston Post Cane, a publicity stunt thought up by Boston Post owner Edwin A. Grozier. One hundred canes were made to give to the Selectmen of the largest New England towns to present to their oldest living male residents. Women weren’t included in the honor until 1930.
At about this time, Mr. Brassey appeared at the doorway in his wheelchair, grinning a toothless smile.
“I know you paper lady,” he said in his thick, Maine accent. I reached for his hand and he rose to his feet to greet me. With help, his nurse guided him to his favorite chair where he settled in for our interview.
Julia Shumway: So, Mr. Brassey, I’m here to interview our oldest living resident of Chester’s Mill. You look well, how are you feeling?
Clayton Brassey: Well, I’m a little slower these days and my eyes don’t see so good no more. But, I’m still here and these folks take good care of me.
JS: I see your Boston Post Cane over there, it’s quite handsome.
CB: It’s nice, but I could have carved a better one. I’m glad I have it though, because that means I’m still breathing. (Mr. Brassey laughs a raspy laugh that dissolves into a coughing fit.) He takes a sip of water and we proceed.
JS: So, what are your hobbies these days Mr. Brassey?
CB: Well, I try to stay active. I go to the sing-a-longs—that’s where I was before I came to talk to you—I love singing. It lifts my spirits. I do a little bit of dancing too. Mostly it’s just me tapping my toes, but in my mind, I’m on my feet dancing. I can’t do my carvings anymore, I’m just not strong enough to cut into the wood, but I draw ideas every now and then. And of course, I read my Bible.
JS: I hope you don’t mind, but I was looking at the things in your room while I was waiting, may I ask you about some of them?
CB: Sure, you can ask me anything. I like to have visitors. At my age, it’s all come down to what’s in this room.
JS: You have some lovely photographs. A lifetime of moments and people.
CB: Yes, my favorite is that one of my wife and me when we were married. We were young but we knew what love was. She’s been gone for 36 years now.
JS: She was lovely. I’m sorry for your loss.
CB: Thank you. Yes, she was. I miss her but I know I will see her again.
JS: You have a lot of beautiful things here. Like the furniture. Every piece is just gorgeous. Can you tell me about them?
CB: I made all these pieces myself when I was a young man. I was a finish carpenter back in the day. I had a steady hand then and loved to carve things. I really liked to do wildlife. And all the wood I ever used came from the American Timber Company right here in town. In fact, you see this chair? Carved from one tree, it was. It’s the first thing I ever made. (As he tells me this, his knotted fingers run the length of the wooden armrest with a soft caress.)
I also did a lot of banister and moldings for the fancy folks. They’d say to me, “Clayton, God has given you a gift.” They didn’t have to tell me. I always knew that.
JS: What about that pipe, did you make that too?
CB: I did. Used to smoke a pipe after dinner every day. They won’t let me in here, but I hold it in my teeth and I can almost taste the smoke.
JS: What about that Red Sox cap?
CB: My daddy traded 2 butter churns for that cap and then he turned around and gave it to me because he knew what a fan I was. I wore that old thing to work everyday for fifty years. And then when they won the series? I cried like a baby. I didn’t think I would live to see that day. It was great!
JS: So, what is your secret to a long life Mr. Brassey?
CB: I drink a glass of milk every day. I think it’s the milk.
At this point in the interview, I could see that Mr. Brassey was tiring, so I thanked him for graciously chatting with me and I promised to visit him again next year. He once again rose to his feet, ever the gentleman and kissed my hand. A charming and interesting man, he invited me back for Lawrence Welk night—and I just might go!