Love on Ludlow Avenue
Flags, political signs, and the progress of a big tomato patch make the Lavoie front yard the talk of Ludlow Avenue.
That Fred! What next?
Of late, a huge banner topped with balloons announcing “Cheers for 65 Years” had even Fred and Nancy looking twice. A daughter sneaked it in overnight to ensure a suitably big recognition for this anniversary of a marriage everyone said would not last.
How could it succeed?
This pair of kids fresh out of high school were from opposite ends of Ludlow Avenue. She grew up at the top of the hill where her father, Edgar W. Cain III, had capped his purchase of building lots with a neat, modern Cape Cod for his family. Fred lived down the hill, where Ludlow Avenue was unpaved all the way to Pleasant View Road.
Real estate mogul Robert L. McElroy had acquired an old farmhouse along with Acreage. Pending demolition, it was rentable “as is,” no modern improvements. For Fred. W. Lavoie, glad to find work in Belle Mead in the depths of the Great Depression, it was shelter for his growing family, and the ground around it a meal ticket besides. Fred, the oldest boy, and over time third of a family of ten, did his share of garden chores.
Fred and Nancy were in the same grade going through Harlingen School, rode the same bus to Princeton High, and went together to Friday night dances and parties presided over by Mrs. Lubas in the basement of Harlingen School.
“Nothing but kid stuff,” says Fred.
Boys brought girls who lived nearby, and it was a lot of fun. Riding up Ludlow Avenue on a John Deere tractor to pay calls on Nancy was kid stuff too, he claims.
But Widow Cain was wary. She had nothing against this skinny, good looking lad, but he was no part of the bright future she planned for her pretty younger daughter, whose head of blond curls was full of super smarts. Nancy had skipped a grade and would go on to college, earn a nursing diploma, and be the best catch for miles around with her pick of young men from good, old families. She made sure Nancy kept this vision well in mind.
“Yes, I knew,” Nancy agrees, “but all I ever wanted was a home and a family.”
Objections from her mother and both grandmothers did no good. Fred had landed a steady job. Nancy was doing secretarial work for lawyer Dix Skillman. They rented a small apartment and got by with several moves to larger quarters orbiting around Belle Mead as their family arrived – first Karen, then Laurie, Mickey, and Beth.
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At last, they were able to buy out Mrs. Cain, add a wing to the house to be her home next door, and have a big garden patch, some chickens, a few sheep, and a pig. This was living, except Fred’s long hours at the brickyard were leaving him no time to live it. A little business of his own would have flexible hours. Nancy agreed. Mrs. Cain was aghast. Four children, and a mortgage! Impossible!
Manville Bank lent them money for a dump truck. Any other jobs to be had were added to those earnings: welding, helping John Dixon butcher pigs, whatever; and Nancy began driving a school bus, taking her youngest along for the ride. “I don’t know how we did it all,” says Fred. The way out was to borrow big, buy a full line of good equipment and be a general contractor. Nancy kept on driving a school bus (for 45 years).
Fred built up a good business, and they both enjoyed the social life the community made for itself. Everybody went to baseball games on the field next to the firehouse. Fred was on the team. Both loved the fire company’s dinner dances (Fred for a time was chief).
Church suppers at Harlingen Reformed were famous. She baked. He washed dishes. Working together raised everyone’s spirits as well as money for the church. The lively social life back then is what Fred and Nancy miss most of all. Driving a school bus, though, is something Nancy is happy to do without. Ten grandchildren and three greats are their longevity bonus.