2010-07-01 / Editorial

Twain, travels and remembering times past

My Turn
By Sunny Hocutt

Let me tell you something you probably don’t know – our family lived in Redding, Ct. in the 1960s.

My husband, Lee, was minister of the Congregational church in Redding Center. Redding Ridge was a couple of miles east of the center, and West Redding was over a few hills and many open spaces towards Ridgefield.

Redding is home to many celebrities and to those who like having easy access to New York City, yet want to enjoy the beauty of the countryside. According to my survey, only a few have ever heard of Redding, but everyone knows about Mark Twain, humorist and writer.

Samuel Langhorn Clemons – Mark Twain’s given name – grew up in Hannibal, Mo. But he came to Redding from New York City on June 18, 1908.

When asked if he liked it there, he replied that it was the most out of the world and peaceful tranquil place that he had experienced. Stormfield was the name of the house that was built and furnished for him.

In a letter to Dorothy Quick, he wrote, “It is charmingly quiet here. The house stands alone with views of woodsy hills and rolling country.”

In the 1960s, it was privately owned, but visible to all who drove past.

Twain later married Olivia Louise Langdon in Elmira, N.Y. For many years, they lived in Hartford, Ct.

The Mark Twain House and Museum is open to the public. Some of the exhibits include rare manuscripts, photographs and a film by Ken Burns of Twain’s biography. Guided one-hour tours are also available.

Our family has wonderful memories of Redding. We lived on Cross Highway, an easy walk up hill to the church. There were no sidewalks at that time and our children walked to elementary school, a short distance away.

I drove to the Mark Twain Library soon after our arrival – books are a must for me. Redding was a tennis town, with both town courts and private courts available, and many players eager to get together. I was busy, but played as often as possible.

My children and I have happy memories of our years there and we shared them recently. A daughter noted that it was a “Currier and Ives” place to live.

They all remember ice skating on a friend’s pond and sledding on the hill across from the parsonage. My son recalled the filming of “The Valley of the Dolls,” which showed the beautiful white house next to the church. It was exciting to watch.

Lee had a large vegetable garden that included gourds, and the children sold them for a dime each in front of our house. They all jumped in the large pile of leaves that we raked in the yard.

A small cemetery was next door, where some notable people were buried. Lilies of the Valley covered our yard by the cemetery. Their fragrance added to the peacefulness.

Veteran actor Hal Holbrook, who toured the country for decades with his Mark Twain performance, stopped by the Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Providence not too long ago. A few years ago, I attended a performance at the Jamestown Library of another actor’s performance as Twain. Clearly, the author and humorist lives on!

Twain had strong opinions on religion. I’m being selective about his quotes because they would fill the pages of the Press if I were not.

Here are a few of my favorites:

• “No sinner is ever saved after the first twenty minutes of a sermon.”

• “Under certain circumstances, profanity provides a relief denied even in prayer.”

• “It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.”

Justin Kaplan describes Twain as a wonder of courage and cussedness – his hallmarks. If you’re a Twain fan, there is much information out there. You just have to look for it.

One of my favorite Twain quotes is: “Age is a matter of mind over matter – if you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”

I can relate to that.

Return to top