About Me

Growing up in a small New England town with a mother who was an antiquarian it was inevitable that I would be exposed to old things. After graduating from UMass/Amherst I lived in Connecticut, taught school, married, and raised three children in suburbia. A move to Newburyport MA renewed my interest in all things old. This background has now evolved into research, writing, consulting and all the things I love to do.

Prudence Fish

Wednesday, March 25, 2015










Still in very high spirits we planned a big open house party by invitation.  We were so ambitious we decided to bring appointments from our own homes and collections to adorn the house.  We had a really big toy and we wanted to play house with it.  Today we would simply say we staged the house.

By the day of the party we had essentially furnished the house, if only for a short time.

I brought my dining room chairs and rug for the dining room.  My blue velvet wing chair would go in the parlor with its blue woodwork along with my blue Chinese rug and my mother’s tilt-top table that our handy man had just beautifully repaired and refinished for me; also the Queen Ann tea table that I had purchased from my friend, Jane Nelson, in Newburyport.  In the old kitchen would be my old pine box chair by the fireplace.

The working kitchen had room for my Windsor and banister back chairs, my old scale and some of my antique dolls and carriage would look great in the loft. My wash stand with great sentimental value was between the twin beds and a cute diminutive bench/settee was at the foot of the stairs along with my small oriental rug.

Nancy’s reproduction canopy bed was upstairs in the guest bedroom.  My friend, Noel, came from Connecticut to help me sew a new set of bed hangings in unbleached muslin for the bed. My mother’s antique one drawer stand was next to the bed.

David brought oriental rugs.

Donn Pollard brought Sheraton fancy chairs for the guest bed chamber and an antique portrait for the parlor. He also brought a wash stand for the guest room, a wing chair for the upstairs sitting room and a candelabra for the parlor.

Our handyman supplied the dining room table, a wonderful mirror with a reverse painting and some small items.

Bob Molinski contributed antique rope twin beds and quilts to cover them.

Yolanda Martin brought her pewter collection and portraits to go above the twin beds and a small table for the parlor.

More than that, Yolanda offered to make window treatments.  Nellie and I found remnants of material at the Handkerchief Factory in Exeter, NH and Yolanda sewed.  All the windows were draped with toile, stripes, small prints and unbleached muslin. There were swags and tab curtains.  It was an admirable selection of attractive window coverings.

The ever practical Yolanda also thought to bring soap, towels, waste baskets and other necessities for the party.

Only the dining room was left without window treatments.  At the last minute, the night before the party, I whipped up simple swags using rich ivory antique satin from old drapes for which I had no use.

Sometime earlier I had noticed a Chinese Chippendale camel back loveseat at Bob’s shop.  It was pretty awful.  It was covered in a disgusting faded and soiled pink material.  In lieu of welting it had black fringe.  The wood and fretwork was painted black. I decided that it had more potential than anyone realized and went to buy it.  I waited until all the other customers had left the shop.  I didn’t want to be seen buying this horror!

Nancy stripped the wood trim and stained it a rich mahogany.  I found Nellie’s favorite “tree of life, bird of paradise” fabric and took the loveseat to Bonnie Kishbaugh in Hampton, NH for reupholstering.

On the day of the party I borrowed David’s Jeep and went to Hampton to get the loveseat.  It would go into the Moses Jewett house for the party and remain for a few extra days before being taken to my house in Lanesville. I was thrilled with the outcome.  It was so pleasing to me that I actually pulled over a couple of times and turned around to admire it in the back of the vehicle as I drove from Hampton to Ipswich.

Back in Ipswich things were coming together.  Cousins Ernie and Coralie had arrived from Dalton, the first guests. Ernie helped carry the loveseat into the parlor.  Perfect!

Meanwhile, Nancy, home in Gloucester, had a problem with her car.  How could she get to Ipswich from Lanesville?  In desperation she decided to thumb a ride.  (That would never happen today!) Lady Luck was with her.  She was picked up by Bob Hamlin from Walker Creek Furniture who was on this way to deliver a handmade reproduction pewter cupboard to a customer.  He agreed to unload it at the house and pick it up after the party. So Nancy arrived with this wonderful cupboard.  Into the old kitchen it went and was quickly filled with Yolanda’s pewter just as the guests began to arrive.  Bob Hamlin’s business cards were on the shelf.

Fires burned in the fireplaces.  The candle chandelier hung over the table.  Everything was picture-perfect.  We had a full house of admirers from near and far, including all the neighbors, Sue and Steve Stevens, from the Aaron Jewett house, Barbara and Wayne King, Hillman and Priscilla Barney, Dorothy Brigham, Edna Jewett and of course, Nellie and her eccentric husband, Hal.  By the end of the day music was playing and friends and neighbors alike were dancing in front of the fireplace in the old kitchen. A good time was had by all.  The house was launched into its new chapter.  Now we just had to find a buyer.

Summer was still mostly with us as we began this challenging project.  Fall came on quickly, however, followed by a long winter.  The lovely warm days turned to bone chilling episodes in the old house not yet heated.

There was often a fire in the big fireplace and I huddled there sitting on an overturned five gallon joint compound bucket, almost inside the huge fireplace as though it was an inglenook, just trying to warm up.

David and Tony checked in with the workers regularly.  I mostly remember my role as researching for solutions and then convincing my partners after I had worked out a problem in my head.  They were reasonable and not hard to convince. I thought that we worked well together.

Tony unexpectedly announced that he and Diana would like to buy the house for himself and his family.  I think it must have been a deteriorating real estate market and escalating interest rate that ultimately discouraged Tony and Diana and they backed off.

One day someone knocked at the front door.  I was as surprised to see a Lanesville neighbor standing there as she was to see me on the other side of the threshold.  She had been watching the progress not knowing that I had anything to do with it and wondered where we had found the bull’s eye glass.

Another time David and I observed two men walking up the driveway toward the house.  I freaked!  I recognized them as two purist house restorers and I was scared to death to let them in.  What would they think?  Of course, we did let them in.  They were antiques dealer, Roger Pheulpin, and Attorney Steve Green.  They looked around with interest and if they didn’t approve, they kept it to themselves.  We became good friends and I have enjoyed their acquaintance and knowledge ever since.

One day as I drove to Ipswich early in the morning I saw our always available handyman going into an Essex antiques shop.  He was carrying a small dog weather vane that had been in our barn.  I stopped to see what was going on.  He said that the tail on the dog was broken and he was getting it fixed for us. “Thanks”, I said and left feeling more than a little disturbed. He had recently been laid up with a badly injured leg because of a fall but was just getting back into circulation and again helping out.

The real estate office had a call one day from a motorist saying that there was lots of smoke coming from the big  chimney.  Someone went to the house and saw smoke inside.  The new oil burner had backfired and left a film on everything.  Professionals were called in to clean.  It was covered by insurance and turned out OK but just the thought of having all our work sullied before the house even hit the market was disconcerting.

On one of my regular visit to the house I headed for the cellar.  I opened the door.  The cellar stairs looked weird or were my eyes playing tricks on me?  I was having trouble seeing the stairs.  After a few seconds of bewilderment I came to my senses and realized the half of the staircase was under water!  Taking a long handled peel (a flat shovel used for removing food from the bake oven)from the big fireplace I tried to lower it to see how deep the water was.  When my hand hit the water, I dropped the shovel.  I had not hit bottom.  That water was deep!  The sump pump had failed.  Now I appreciated the wisdom of the old arrangement of trenches around the cellar and the hole in the foundation.

All these disasters and the house was not yet even on the market.

Eventually we did start having open houses.  The house attracted so much interest that many of the Realtors placing the open house sign at the end of the driveway were invariably followed back up the driveway to the house by passersby just wanting to see it.

The project was highly visible.  Several newspapers came for interviews and tours and there was publicity galore.

Nellie, our most loyal mentor and decorator, kept “coming over the road” to follow the progress.   

One Sunday after an open house we all gathered around the fireplace.  It was decided that Bob Fish and David would go to the shore and get mussels and Shelley Martin would cook them.

Next to the fireplace was a wonderful large copper pot that had been contributed by Bob Molinski’s friend, Michael.

Bob and David returned with the mussels and Shelley put them in the big copper pot with some wine and garlic to steam on the new Jennair stove.  We all sat in the old kitchen by the big fireplace awaiting this treat. Suddenly there was a terrible explosion in the kitchen!  Thoroughly startled and scared we rushed to the kitchen.  The copper pot was so big it had hung over the edge of the stove, overlapping but not touching the Formica counter.  As the mussels steamed the copper transferred the heat to the counter, the Formica inflated like a big balloon and then blew!  A big hole in the counter remained.  The damage was ultimately rectified by cutting out that section of the counter and inserting a large cutting board. What next?

Unbeknownst to us the most dramatic of events were about to begin. We were marketing the house in earnest.  The market was not so good.  The excitement of discovery and restoration was behind us.  So was the party.  Open houses and showings were the order of the day.

 After the party a few appointments were left in the house for varying amounts of time to take the emptiness from the bare rooms.  The plan was to gradually remove them when it was convenient but with no rush to do so.  

A new broker, Jackie Cordima, went to the house to meet a buyer shortly after the party.  She made a quick phone call to the office, “Pru, did you take your wing chair home? It’s not here”.  I rushed to the house.  The wing chair was gone.  So was the box chair by the fireplace and the oriental rug that had been in front of the fireplace.

A few days later Jackie went to the house and called me again. “Pru, your loveseat  isn’t here. The tea table is gone”.  No! Not my wonderful loveseat of which I was so proud.  My tea table is gone?”  It was true.  David’s rugs were gone too.  .  

In the ensuing weeks the Chinese rug, the banister back chair, my mother’s tilt top table, the scale with the brass scoop and my treasured washstand were added to the list.  The police were called again and again until they said something like, “It’s that Fish woman again.”  They didn’t seem to be too hot on the trail of a thief.  Yolanda, Donn and the handy man had already removed their things so they suffered no loss.

Jackie had discovered so many thefts that she began to think they would be suspecting her and but it wasn’t over yet.  Once again Jackie made the discovery.

Arriving at the house one day she tried to enter the back door only to find the Jennair stove lying on its face with the oven door handle broken off.  This stove that had been built-in had been wrenched from it spot in the kitchen counter and dragged toward the door until the handle gave way, the stove fell over and was abandoned.

One day while driving home to Gloucester I spotted my mother’s tilt-top table in front of an antiques shop on the road to Essex.  Oh, no! Our handy man had just repaired and refinished it for me!  It was beautiful!  The police came and took the table back to the police station as evidence.  Then came the bad news. The antiques dealer had purchased it from our handyman!  Then I remembered the weather vane incident.

Our handyman was a thief!  He restored my table, then stole it and sold it!  How dare he?

Another day one of his buddies who had helped with the boiler removal commented, “Richie really hurt himself when he fell through the barn floor.  That was really something.”  So that’s how he hurt his leg!  That’s when he stole the weather vane! Served him right that he hurt himself, the thief!

This problem was compounded when I discovered that my own house had been robbed.  Then Bob Molinski discovered his Ipswich antiques shop had also been robbed. We were living in the middle of a nightmare.

To sum it up, the police were ineffective, the court failed to convict.  I recovered my mother’s table but nothing else.  My wing chair, tea table, new loveseat, washstand, bannister back chair, rugs and so much more were gone for good.  I visited antiques shops over a large area and found a few things here and there in numerous towns which the police then took for evidence most of which I never saw again.  

I remembered all those times the handyman had come to the real estate office, even bringing me coffee in the morning and asking what my day was like.  Based on that he would raid my home or the Moses Jewett house.

We tried to put this behind us and move on but panic was setting in.  Our interest rate and carrying costs were skyrocketing.  We needed a buyer and we needed one fast.

Continued in Part 10


  1. Wow, that is unbelievable about your handyman! I'm so sorry you lost all those things. What a horrible man!

  2. When I first started reading today's post I thought "Oh my, where are all the pictures? I want to see all this stuff she is talking about." But, as I kept reading I discovered that those thoughts were just my 21st. century brain talking to me. The more I read the more I could see the rooms all furnished with each piece mentioned in my minds eye if I just took a moment to think about it. As I read anxiously finishing one paragraph and moved on to the next it dawned on me how I read most blogs. I read, click on picture, go back find my place, read, click on picture, go back and find my place... etc., then have to go back and read the entire blog to actually comprehend what the writer was telling me. Then it dawned on me that I had seen the furnishings in previous posts and somehow it was very enjoyable to read the story as it would have been written in the 1700's when the house was built - no pictures just the writer telling the reader a story. A very enjoyable post today. (Tho my 21st century brain still wishes there was a high definition panoramic film of each crook and cranny of the house for me to explore before, during and after restoration.) HA!

  3. The first part of this installment was utterly charming--in a sense the real culmination of all your hard work and dedication to the restoration. No wonder you were all willing to lend such good pieces, and how lucky that among you were such complementary pieces that filled out the house.

    The story of the handyman is quite dismaying, partly because the way he betrayed your trust, and partly because of the loss of so many sentimentally and monetarily valuable pieces. Having to fence such unique pieces, it's a wonder that he wasn't caught sooner or prosecuted more briskly.

  4. Truly an amazing page. I like what you've got in here. thanks for the share. Totally interesting indeed. thanks!

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