LONG EDDY, NY — Linda English is telling me about her life here, but let’s begin this story with her second tale: the one about the house.
Linda Doyle English was born and raised in Long Eddy, NY, a tiny town on the remnants of Sullivan County’s only city. Her father, Henry, ran a grocery store and her mother, Alma, had been a teacher. And they lived in a former boardinghouse.
To be human means to be the keeper of stories, even if you don’t think you have any or if you think they aren’t important. The stories ground people, the land, the buildings we walk past—they root it all in our collective memories and they tell us who we are.
So, Linda English tells me her stories.
“I grew up in the Kellam boardinghouse,” she says. It wasn’t a boardinghouse at that point; that was when her grandmother, Minnie Doyle, owned it. (It was the Kellam boardinghouse because the Kellams lived there first. If you buy an older home here, you too will realize that your house may bear the name of someone long gone, someone who is not you and not connected with you.)
“It was two houses attached in an L shape, and the other half was ‘the other side,’” she said. That used to be the side with the boarders, and when Linda was young, it was rented out. “You could go upstairs and there was a door to the other side.” The other side had lots of things to interest a kid, but what catches the imagination is the locked room. A boarder had died and her room was closed off. There was no key.
One day in the late 1950s, Linda’s mother and Marian English found a skeleton key and tried it. It worked, and they held a dramatic opening of the locked room, revealing the space just as the occupant had left it, belongings intact. “Time stood still,” Linda says. It was a snapshot of life early in the century.
The Goulden family lived nearby “four homes on the lot plus a bowling alley. It looked like a Great Gatsby estate.” There was a swimming pool and the Doyle kids and the Goulden kids could swim together. “They were well-to-do and lived in Westchester,” Linda said.
Or she played with her friend, Dink, who stayed on the other side of the boardinghouse.
If it got hot, there was always Delaware Lake. Her godmother, Anna Kenney Voigt, had a cabin there.
Linda started kindergarten in 1951 “in the basement of St. James, then spent the rest of the year at Delaware Valley Central School, in the nice new building.” Later, she and the other Catholic kids took the bus to Holy Cross in Callicoon for school.
“The bus,” she says. It must have been a cranky bus. “We’d all hold our breaths getting up a hill.”
Now realize this: Back then, kids didn’t have playdates in other towns, she says. Parents didn’t have time to drive their children around. You saw your school friends at school, your home friends at home.
But one day, Linda got to have friends over for a birthday party. “I invited seven girls to take the bus home with me. You wrote a note for the driver.” Harold Kellam was the bus driver, she remembers. And it was Harold Kellam who got the cranky bus up the hills with seven extra girls on board.
“We were a tight-knit group,” she says. They still are.
Along the way, Craig English and his family came home. “Craig’s dad was a Navy commander and they spent three years in Japan,” Linda said. “Our families were always friendly,” and when they moved back to Long Eddy in the early ‘60s, the friendship picked up where it left off.
Marian English, from the locked room story, was his grandmother. And so, stories and lives separate and then weave back together.
Because if we’re lucky, we do.
So Linda Doyle grew up, worked in her father’s store, went to Woodstock with a ticket provided by Max Yasgur himself (but that’s another story) and married Craig English. Craig became a maritime lawyer and practiced in New York City. They lived and had kids in New Jersey.
The years passed. The kids grew up. Linda’s mother died and the boardinghouse was sold in 2002.
Another boardinghouse story
There was a mark, a line, on the wall by the stairs in the Kellam boardinghouse. Old houses are full of strangeness like that, marks like shadows of the people who lived there. Usually, we don’t know what they mean; often we just wipe them away or paint them over.
In this case, the new owner noticed it, but it took his tiny mother to give it meaning.
“The line on the wall was about where her shoulder would be,” Linda said. The owner remarked, “‘I think I was told your mother had trouble getting up the stairs… Was your mother short?’ he asked. ‘Yes,’ I said. ‘Just under five feet.’”
“My mother must have steadied herself there,” going up and down the stairs, Linda says.
In 2001, of course, 9/11 happened. Craig was on Staten Island that day, but he worked near the towers and was back in a week. “After 9/11—that hit us dramatically—we didn’t have a way to get out of the metropolis” if they needed to, she said.
What do you do when your world is upended? You go home.
“Craig was always a fisherman... In 2004, we were able to buy a cabin at Delaware Lake.” It had belonged to Linda’s godmother.
Then her husband found he could work remotely and they moved home for good. Not to the boardinghouse; the new house is different, but “I still have my grandma’s boardinghouse, just in a different location.”
Linda paused. “Those five years were the happiest of our lives,” she said.
Craig became ill. He passed away last year.
When a loved one dies, there really are no words. You get through the time after, slowly. There is a story. Sometimes it feels cavernous, empty.
But this is what it means to live here, whether you’re local, newly arrived, or a summer person. Those classmates from years ago? Recently, they started holding reunions for anyone who could make it. The kids visit. Friends from long ago visit.
“I truly have this tremendous joy of living in this river valley,” Linda English says. “I feel so held by this whole area... I look up at the sky and I just feel so blessed.”