A blog about living in Aberdeen, New Jersey.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Embers: Childhood Stories of Matawan

I just finished reading an interesting book from the Matawan-Aberdeen Public Library and thought I'd share some details. Embers: Stories and Sketches (974.9461 Ve), a book written by Matawan native Roy Veary, tells the author's childhood memories of the Matawan area from the 1920's into the early 1930's. The book is written in large part from a kid's perspective and focuses on things important to a kid, like camping, hiking, swimming in the lake and sledding in winter. Along the way we learn something of making the best of things during difficult economic times. Roy's illustrations are quite nice. I just wish he'd included some hand drawn maps.

Roy tells us how old he was when things happened but never provides a year to give temporal context. And he doesn't give us his parents' names. In a way Roy tells us as much about time as Charles Schulz reveals in his Charlie Brown cartoon. Luckily, I found the Veary's in the Federal Census. Roy was born in the second half of the year 1920, so the stories from his early teenage years are from the worst of The Great Depression.

Roy was the  youngest of the Veary children in the 1930 census. His siblings were his sister Elsie (born abt 1915) and brothers Joseph "Bumpy" (born abt 1917) and Frank Jr (born abt 1919). Their parents were Frank (born abt 1899) and Addie (born abt 1900) Veary. Frank was working as a driller in a foundry in 1920 and as a laborer in a tile company in 1930. Addie was raising 3 kids and had one on the way in 1920 but was working as a laborer at a phosphate factory in the 1930 census. They lived on Spring Street in Matawan in 1920 and on Atlantic Avenue in 1930.

Addie's parents, Thomas (born abt 1874) and Minerva (born abt 1877) Bailey, lived with the Vearys in Matawan for over a decade. Thomas was a pressman at a tile factory in 1920 and a laborer in 1930. Addie and her older sister Lida (Aunt Lida in the book) lived on their parents' farm in Holmdel in 1910.

Frank's parents, Frank (born abt 1862 in Germany) and Annie (born abt 1880) Veary, lived on Atlantic Avenue in 1910. His siblings were Frederick (born abt 1899), Margaret (born abt 1903), and Annie (born abt 1909). The elder Frank emigrated from Germany in 1891 and remained an alien in 1910, when he was employed as a clay pressman working in terra cotta.

In the chapter Going to Town, Roy tells us about visiting Butler's grocery, Hyle's bakery, Mahoney's grain and feed, Pruden's butcher shop, Bill Smith's blacksmith's, Harden's store, the movie theater, the police station, Riedel's barber shop, Allen's store, Wagner's store, and the grammar school.  As for the films Roy says he saw, there was William S Hart's last film, Tumbleweeds, in 1925; the 1926 film The Great K & A Train Robbery and the 1929 version of Seven Keys to Baldpate. (pp 19-28)

Roy has two chapters dedicated to the subject of railroads: The Railroad Tracks (pp 34-45) and The Junction (pp 97 - 109). He talks a lot about his exploits related to a trestle that crossed Lake Matawan between his home off Atlantic Avenue and points in town, including school. He also talks about how he and his friends went for a swim in the railroad water tower near the Matawan station. Parents be advised: Your kids do crazy things when you're not looking.

Roy has multiple chapters on hikes he and his friends went on. The Yellow Brick Ruins tells of a hike to the Cliffwood Brickyard (pp 110-115); Mocassin Horse covers a hike up the creek from Lake Matawan to Holmdel (pp 116-129); Going to Church recounts his two-day hike to Old Tennent Church (pp 154-163); and The Ocean Going Canoe tells us about Roy and his friends and their adventure by canoe from Lake Matawan to Matawan Creek and thence across Raritan Bay to Union Beach for an overnight camping trip and back again. This one his parents knew about but should never have permitted, seems to me. (pp 63-76) He tells us of his summer exploits in Bummer Summer (pp 86 - 96) and winter fun in John Ray's Hill (pp 77 - 85). Roy even tells us of travel by steamboat, a common means of transit in those days, in The Bowery - We Never Go There Anymore. (pp 145-153)

I recommend the book for those who want to immerse themselves in what Matawan was like over 75 years ago. I wouldn't suggest that parents send their children on two-day hikes in New Jersey anymore, but it can be fun to read about a time when that was possible. The book is generally well-written but doesn't seem to have been professionally edited. It has a few nagging grammar problems, like the author's mistaken use of it's for its and some number agreement issues, but nothing one can't overlook. Once I return the book you should find it in MAPL's New Books section near the door.


  1. I just ordered this book for my mother, who grew up in Matawan on Atlantic avenue, a little bit after the author. Thanks for the info, and your great blog! I discovered it while doing ancestry research, and have been enjoying it!

  2. Hi, my name is Linda Lee (Hawley) Roy was my first cousin, his neice Patti Veary& I went to see him not long ago actually we have gone several times to see him over the years. He and his wife Jean Veary lived in Ojai, Ca. We live in Hemet, Ca. about a 5 hour drive. Roy passed away a few months ago. I had never read his book nor was I aware that he wrote a book, he never discussed it. He was a great man, infact, he told me a story that when he worked at I believe the tile factory he worked with my Dad and since my Dad died when I was two I never knew him, so Roy told me all he could about my Dad. It was great! Jean, is getting up there in age also but seems to be hanging in there. I tried to print your article out but couldn't? Is there a chance you could email me your article at linda.lalee@yahoo.com??? I would love to have a copy of it and share it with my cousin Patti. I will also try to purchase the book if that is possible? Could you lead me to where I can purchase it. Thank you very much I hope you see my comment.

    Linda Lee