Stonington borough residents reminisce about life “In the Village”
Stonington ― The republication of the out-of-print “In the Village” by Anthony Bailey has inspired nostalgia and sparked memories in long-time residents, while introducing new readers to life in the borough and the initial controversy it created.
Historic Stonington, formerly the Stonington Historic Society, hosted a book discussion Tuesday, led by author and board member Stuart Vyse, as part of a years-long effort to release a 50th anniversary edition of the book that angered some residents at the time of its publication but delighted others who thought it a perfect illustration of borough life.
“There’s a lot of vignettes that really capture the borough,” said borough resident Arthur Delmhorst, a summer resident when the book was first published in 1971.
“I loved reading it because I love the town so much, but I didn’t like it because he didn’t change names, and he said a lot of disparaging or uncomplimentary things about people,” he said.
Indeed, while many readers were thrilled by the stories Bailey relayed, many others were offended and angry by the way they were portrayed and the secrets he shared.
Bailey noted in a 1992 reprint of the memoir, for example, that one older woman whose driving he critiqued was concerned his words would cause her to lose her car insurance, and some felt his recounting of a fishing boat arson which killed a man was gratuitous and just reignited old conflicts and wounds.
Others took his few references to heavy drinking as an accusation of widespread drunkenness in the village, and one woman confronted him angrily at the Town Fair because he made the Borough sound so wonderful that it would soon be flooded by tourists and new residents.
But he further noted that the controversy and initial ostracism he faced as a result of the memoir eventually faded, and two decades after the initial printing, there was only one resident who still refused to speak to him.
Today, the book is incredibly popular among locals, and Vyse explained that used copies are coveted and have long been passed around from neighbor to neighbor or as a welcome gift for new residents. He said copies are quickly snatched up from used bookstores and online retailers on the rare occasion they are discovered.
Vyse said the Historic Stonington effort to republish the book was initially supported by Bailey, and after his May 2020 death, his widow and four daughters stepped in to assist in seeing the project to fruition.
The new edition includes a brief history of the project, Bailey’s 1992 introduction, and a series of related photographs by famed portrait photographer and former resident Rollie McKenna.
Attendees at the Tuesday event included individuals who were intimately familiar with the people and events in the memoir, as well as those who were wholly unfamiliar, like Kyle Berg, 32 of Stonington, who had gone most of his life unaware that his mother, Cindy Rita, and grandmother, Lucy Rita, were in the book.
“It made me feel happy — a way to connect with my roots,” he said. “My grandmother was born in the borough in 1922 on Ash Street,” he said of the woman Bailey described as “a plump Portuguese housekeeper.”
Of Berg’s mother who passed away two years ago, Bailey wrote, “Cindy — who is a year or so older than the other small girls and has a great deal of personality — is the Capo of the Trumbull Street juvenile Cosa Nostra.”
“It was just hilarious,” Berg said, adding “I wish I could talk to her about it.”
For many of the attendees, the book also inspired a sense of nostalgia for a way of life that no longer exists.
Vyse noted that when Bailey wrote the book, everything people needed was within walking distance.
The village had grocery stores, factories, a school, two liquor stores, a department store, and medical services ― like the local doctor who delivered Berg’s grandmother ― none of which exist anymore.
As the borough became more decentralized and people began to work and shop farther afield, much of the communal spirit began to fade.
“This is a way of life that doesn’t exist anymore, and he was aware, in writing the book, that it was leaving,” Vyse said of Bailey.
Vyse said that the theme of the book is that all people should live in villages, where close quarters and the cooperative, symbiotic nature of village life provide security and comfort, and to an extent, that way of life has not changed in the Borough.
“I can’t walk down the street without bumping into somebody that I know,” he said. “There’s a comfort in knowing that, here’s this person that you know from working with Historic Stonington or whatever, and there’s an interdependence that is very positive,” he said.
Proceeds from sales of the book, available worldwide through online retailers and locally at Historic Stonington properties, go to support Historic Stonington, and the new edition ensures the book will never go out of print again.
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