The story of Daryl Perch’s love for Hampton begins in 1972 when she was a reporter for The Willimantic Chronicle and her husband left the Navy to take a job at a community college. The couple had an apartment in Willimantic but were looking for a house. A friend who lived in Hampton encouraged them to look here, telling them it was a “great town”, “cute” and “fun”. The Perches took the advice and purchased a house in town.
Even before they moved into their new home, Daryl learned that news travels fast in Hampton. She was visiting Windham Hospital and gave her name to the person behind the desk who asked, much to her surprise, “Are you the Perches who are moving to Hampton?” Daryl soon learned that this was not unusual and that people in town were often on top of local goings-on. At times, she felt it was “a little weird to have people know your business”, but there was a flip side to the coin. She also knew that people cared and would “help you in a second, no matter what”.
Like so many newcomers, Daryl received a warm welcome from the community, although her life here got off to a rocky start. On her first day in town, she headed out to the laundromat. She placed her laundry basket on the roof of her car as she strapped her toddler into the car seat. Preoccupied, she drove off with the basket still on the roof, scattering clothes everywhere. Her new neighbor, Dorothy Holt, saw what happened and pitched in to gather the run-away clothing. While Daryl was happy for the help, she was also humiliated at having literally shared her “dirty laundry” with Mrs. Holt so soon after coming to town. However, Hamptonites like Mrs. Holt and Alison Davis reached out to welcome and include the Perches in community and social events such as suppers, charade parties, holiday celebrations and baby showers with hand-made gifts and original poetry. They quickly felt at home.
The Perches had taken on an older home in need of renovations and described their new house as a “wreck”. When her family came from New Jersey for Thanksgiving they were in disbelief that the Perches “lived in such a project” and even more so at the lack of conveniences. Upon their return home, Daryl’s grandmother sent them a dishwasher and a slide bolt “for your bathroom door”. But the Perches enjoyed living in the country. The birds at the feeder made up for the unfinished state of their home.
Daryl and her family were among a wave of young people with children new to town. Daryl remembers the town as a good place for youngsters with good schools and teachers. There were lots of friends, too, and her children have fond memories of birthday parties and sleep-overs. One sleep-over, which took place in a tree house, was not a hit with the Perches’ daughter Robin, though. She told her mom it was noisy and she didn’t like the constant “buzz, buzz, chirp, chirp, buzz, buzz” that kept her awake.
Daryl felt safe in town because she knew she could rely on people to “help out if you’re not there”. Bad weather, especially, brought the community out to support each other. When she was pregnant during a snow storm, a neighbor offered to drive her in his four-wheel vehicle if she needed to get to the hospital. During an ice storm, the family had multiple invitations to spend the night at homes that still had power. Daryl had to pick her brother up during the massive Blizzard of 1978. The roads were “all white” and their truck kept sliding. They went to a neighbor’s, who welcomed them into safety. Even though they were close to home, they couldn’t find their own house until Daryl saw the dim light of her porch through the blowing snow. In June 1972, there was “unbelievable rain, eight or nine inches” and women were “going crazy trying to entertain toddlers”. Daryl received multiple calls from women who said that although they didn’t know her well, she was welcome to bring her children over to play and work off some of their energy.
Dr. John Woodworth was there to help as well. One night, little Molly Perch developed a high fever. The good doctor made a house call dressed in black tie, diagnosed a bladder infection and provided a treatment from his bag. Molly was fine in two days.
The Perches became active members of the community, leaving a lasting imprint on the town. Daryl worked with Janet Robertson to start the Hampton Gazette as a way of furthering the sense of community and “letting people know what’s going on”. Because Daryl worked for the Willimantic Chronicle, it would be a conflict for her to write the news, so she created a masthead with an eagle and steeple. In this pre-computer era, they used press type for the Gazette. Daryl joined a knitting group and her husband was on the Conservation Commission. Perhaps more importantly, she gained fame as the “Cake-Walk Lady” at the school’s Halloween party.
The Perches participated in the Memorial Day ceremonies, throwing wreaths in the river, viewing the parade and listening to the speeches. They had a 4-H pony who was “not very nice” but who was good in the parade, lifting its glitter-painted feet up proudly as soon as it heard the music.
Daryl commented on the number of “incredibly talented people in Hampton, including writers, artists and musicians. As a journalist for The Willimantic Chronicle, Daryl wrote a story on naturalist and author Edwin Teale, whom she describes as “a wonderful man” and talented photographer. She remembers his writing cabin, his wife making some “delicious thing”, Teale’s autographing books for her and going on hikes together. A lover of birds, Teale fed them “something like 500 pounds a season”.
Daryl worked for the Chronicle throughout the Hampton years. She was paid $3 per inch and consequently trained to keep her articles short. In addition to the one on Teale, Daryl also wrote a feature story about one of Hampton’s most beloved characters, Stanley Gula. Stanley was always flirting with the ladies as they picked the strawberries he sold. He built his dream house, but mysteriously never lived in it. As part of her story, Daryl accompanied him to Ashford one day to cut witch hazel, which he sold to a factory in Essex. She said the shrubby plants “looked nothing like a healer”.
Daryl was also a photographer, once shooting a wedding at Goodwin Forest. When the couple subsequently divorced, she was upset since she had taken such nice pictures of their wedding.
One of Daryl’s photo scoops was that of a boy from Hampton who got lost. When he was located by a government helicopter, Daryl “pushed a big-time photographer out of the way” to get a photo, which was bought by a wire service.
Daryl reminisced about “good old-fashioned” handyman Barney Pawlikowski. His uniquely casual business accounting system relied on trust. He once sent the Perches a bill for a toilet repair – five years later. “He knew we’d pay and we knew he’d send a bill one day,” Daryl said. After leaving Hampton, the Perches found a “whole new world” with no one like Barney who did everything, did a good job and whose interactions with his customers were based on mutual trust.
Even a small town has its focal points. Quenton Woodward’s General Store was a convenient stop for necessities like milk, soap, and even VHS movie rental. (The Perches’ first VCR cost $600!) It had a FAX machine that Daryl’s mom used to let her know that her childhood hero, Mickey Mantle, had died. The store was a good place for news like who was in the hospital and hosted run-away dogs until their owner could retrieve them after work.
The library, under the supervision of Eunice Fuller, was another important place. Eunice, who lived in an apartment upstairs with her dog, kept the new books by her desk and dispensed useful advice such as, “Don’t read this, it’s trash.” Once a patron checked out a book, the return date was open-ended. Eunice would call if she needed it. Otherwise, “you kept it for life”.
Daryl recalls that they were “always outside”, gardening, running, walking and canoeing. They enjoyed being close to nature — to the heron nests at Hampton Reservoir, the flocks of yellow gross beaks, the bob white, grouse and pheasants and even the raccoon and her babies that once invaded Edna Russel’s house. They were amazed that the nights were so dark that they could see meteor showers.
Daryl realized she used the word “magic” repeatedly as she spoke, but said, “It’s true”. When she tries to tell people about Hampton now she describes it as “like a postcard”, but feels that doesn’t fully explain it. The memories she shared do, though. The magic lies looking at the garden while having a morning coffee and thinking, “We made this.” In seeing carrot seeds for the first time and thinking, “You’ve got to be kidding!” and then having carrots. In the happiness in living here “even though we did house maintenance for twenty years”. It lies in the town characters, her friendships, the freedom of her children to run and play, the parties and holidays, the natural beauty and, above all, the old-fashioned sense of community that she experienced – and contributed to.
Hampton, Daryl says, “was always my favorite place”.