Keepsakes of Larry Wright’s 90th birthday party on Jan. 3 decorate the timeworn kitchen, photos and cards, right down to two large gold-colored balloons shaped in a 9 and a 0 hanging on the door.
Close your eyes and you can almost hear the melancholy echoes of a house well-lived in. It hosted countless parties through the decades, highlighted by the weddings of Wright’s three daughters at 10-year intervals. Memories of bygone seasons whiz by — water splashing over the sides of the pool filled with squealing kids, a house stuffed with people and turkey at Thanksgiving, Christmas music washing over four generations of Wrights on a blustery December day.
One year the Keene State College basketball team came for Thanksgiving, rows of tables stretching from one room to the next. The house at 127 Armory St. in Keene was the warm welcome center of the neighborhood, a year-round gathering place for family and friends.
Soon, it will be for sale.
Wright no longer lives in the house he bought nearly 60 years ago, dementia robbing him of some of his memory and independence — though not his wit. He lives in Marlborough with his daughter, Nicole Smalley, the youngest of his six children, but many in the family lend a caretaking hand, one way or another. He even spent some time in Ohio with another daughter, Michelle. After all those years of caring for his family, they’re now lovingly caring for him.
“We’ve been tossing him around, between all of us,” Smalley teases as Wright smiles in agreement.
Smalley says they’ve just begun the daunting task of hoarding boxes so they can be filled with mementos accumulated from nearly 60 years in the four-bedroom house. Wright has his own take. “Should have begun that a long time ago,” he says with a chuckle. “Can’t take it with you. Caskets are only 6-feet by something.”
Wright is hardly a high-profile figure about town, doesn’t care much for sports and even eschews the old Yankee tradition of gardening. But he characterizes a sense of deep-rooted Yankee humility and independence. He was raised in a family of farmers in East Sullivan and did so much weed-pulling that he vowed never to do it again. Thus, when his wife was out gardening, he was tinkering elsewhere around the house. “He’s a master tinkerer,” Smalley says.
Margaret, his wife of 65 years, died three years ago, on his birthday, Jan. 3. They raised six children and he has 15 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.
Stories passed through the generations originate with Wright’s own grandfather, Caleb Newton Wright, who was born in 1879. Wright and his four siblings — three are still alive — went to a one-room elementary school in East Sullivan while growing up on a farm. Wright was 9 years old when his father, Paul Wright, sold it in 1941 and moved to 119 Armory St. in Keene, right near his current house.
“He paid $1,500 for it, and he didn’t get any bargain,” Wright says. “It was a dump.”
One of his earliest memories was “throwing wood in the basement” when he first heard that Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor. He attended newly built Fuller School and had a bit of a mischievous streak about him — one day he and some neighborhood friends tried to climb into the school bell tower using a ladder just so they could ring it. As a student at Keene High School he worked part-time at the Keene Food Mart, pumped gas and served ice cream. Following graduation, he enlisted in the Navy in 1951 and married Margaret two years later.
His penchant for tinkering, maintaining and fixing things was nurtured in the Navy Seabees, the branch’s construction battalion, and that’s how he made a living for the rest of his life. He was a maintenance engineer first at American Optical, then Markem Corp., for several decades, calling it “one of the best places to work.”
By then he had settled in West Swanzey, but when the house on Armory Street was for sale, he jumped at the opportunity to return to his old neighborhood. “I had my heart set on buying this house. This is where I wanted to be,” he says.
And so the years passed, then the decades. Daughter Chris held her wedding reception at the house in 1977. Daughter Michelle got married there in 1987 and then Nicole in 1997. “Everybody came to this house for everything,” Nicole says.
In addition to being a tinkerer, Wright is a traveler. Though he may struggle with short-term memory, he can rattle off vehicles he owned 50 years ago, how he built bunk beds in station wagons for cross-country trips, that a 1978 Ford pickup was the only vehicle he ever bought new. The Griswolds have nothing on the Wrights — they drove way beyond Wally World, to Alaska. Wright eventually bought a recreational vehicle that he has since sold to a grandson.
Selling a house can be painstaking regardless of the circumstances, but selling one that’s been in their lives for nearly 60 years is like saying goodbye to a family member, Smalley says. “We kind of do it in little bites, but we haven’t done anything for a while. It’s really hard. I won’t stop seeing the memories.”
But Wright himself, the pragmatic Yankee, says he knows it’s time. “I think it will be a relief when it’s gone,” he says, “because you have to move on.”