Prepare to laugh: Everett Littlefield shares island stories

New Book: “Block Island Turkey and Toby Roe?”
Fri, 11/14/2014 - 2:29pm

It was late fall and the very early 1980s when I first came out here to live and the place seemed pretty wild to me then. But whenever I made a comment to that effect, it was invariably met with loud laughter and a set of stories that began with “That was nothing, you shoulda been here when...” and ended with something along the lines of “It was the wild wild west out here.”

I thought I had a pretty good picture of what it was like in those “wild, wild west days.” That is, until I read the just-released “Block Island Turkey and Toby Roe?” by Everett R. Littlefield.

Everett’s tales of growing up on Block Island in the 1940s and 1950s are so full of mischief and mayhem that I found myself asking him, “At what point do you think you really were closest to death?”

“Oh, the hatchet,” he answered without hesitation. “I thought my head was falling apart.” This last is accompanied by a gesture straight out of a horror movie. What exactly happened with the hatchet?

Oh, come on, you know the answer to that: You’ll have to read the book!

Even if you think you know all the stories, I guarantee you’ll find some new ones. And you’ll appreciate the style with which Everett tells the ones you have heard.

His wife Verna said that their son Russell recently picked up the book and read it cover to cover. “As much as Russell has heard the stories, he couldn’t put it down, and he laughed the whole way through,” said Verna.

We were sitting in the kitchen of their Old Town Road home and I asked them to tell me more about my favorite stories in the book, the ones about the school. In those chapters, Everett talks about not winning a single baseball game from seventh through twelfth grade and seems entirely nonplussed by it.

“It didn’t bother us a bit,” he confirms. “We were just happy to go somewhere. In those days you didn’t get off this island. Ever. Didn’t matter if we won or lost.”

He describes half the school. “There were 15 or 18 of us, the players and then the girls were the cheerleaders” — piling onto a fishing boat to go play a baseball game and then getting stuck off island during a nor’easter for 10 days. The two coaches taught the entire curriculum for those 10 days in between meals in a hotel dining room. And you won’t believe the description of the first basketball “gymnasium.”

I ask Everett: Is anything at all the same?

“Nothing,” he insists, talking again and again about how kids had to contrive their own fun, their own adventure, almost always steeped in nature. He recalls how they always went hunting after school.

“We’d walk in the school and leave our guns leaning up against the wall in the entry. There’d be five or six of them there, you just put the shells in your pocket and it was fine. Of course that all changed when Larry Rose decided a pheasant out front needed to be killed. He just lifted the window and stuck his shotgun under it. After that, we had to put [the guns] in the 12th-year room closet and lock it up.”

When I ask him what he misses most about those days, he says it was the “easygoing-ness, the lack of pressure. Nobody was bugging you. Nowadays everything has to be done yesterday. People were more laid back then.”

He thinks for a moment and adds, “I miss the Christmas feeling that would come over you toward the end of November. We didn’t even do much. We had candles we would put in the windows and the tree. Now everything’s so commercial, there’s no Currier and Ives feel about it anymore.”

Even without the snow, though, I have to say it feels pretty Currier and Ives sitting in Everett and Verna’s kitchen, with pigs and chickens rooting around in the field outside the window, an open pantry full of all manner of home-canned goods, and Verna working on a jigsaw puzzle depicting angels while Everett tells his stories.

He says he first started jotting down his old island stories thinking it would just be something for his grandkids to have. “I got to looking at the way things were changing around here and thought the little grandkids will have no idea what it was like. It will just seem like any old seaside resort to them,” he said.

It was Verna who suggested a broader audience.

“He would tell people the stories that happened when he was a kid — getting nailed to the door and stuck in the barrel — and they would laugh like hell. I told him ‘you’ve got to write it all down.’”

Lucky for us, he did!

Everett will be signing copies on Nov. 28 and 29 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Island Bound Bookstore.