Pamela Crawford Holahan

Pamela Crawford Holahan

Pamela Crawford Holahan, my mother, who just died, was born when a Yale man, William Howard Taft, was in the White House. She lived in New Haven, at 14 Lincoln St., when it was a dirt road, and you could "fish" in the mud puddles after a rain. There was a large field between her home and the Lawn Club. It's all houses now, of course.

When she talked of her early life in New Haven, and after college during the Depression, she might have been describing another planet — another era, certainly.

Her father, Jack Crawford, was a Yale professor for nearly half a century, but he didn't have a doctorate or a master's degree. He was simply a good teacher; The New York Times published articles detailing his Shakespearean lectures. He never drove a car or mastered the telephone. He was a good walker.

My mother's parents were not religious, so Rose Herrick Jackson, wife of the onetime publisher of this newspaper [The New Haven Register], made sure she got to Sunday school. It didn't take, probably because later, when we five sons and our father were at Mass, she had the house all to herself.

The closest thing to religion for the Crawfords was Yale. Often, the house was full of students, partaking of home-brewed beer and pontificating on literature. Jack's charges included Stephen Vincent Benét and Thornton Wilder. When Yale Bowl opened in 1914, my mother, who was 3, played the role of "Baby Yale" during the ceremonies.

When she got a bit older, she was a member of the first girl's ice hockey team in New Haven, maybe in the world. They flooded the tennis courts at the Lawn Club and scrimmaged with the boys of Hillhouse High School.

My mother was an athlete before athletics for women were cool. She also played field hockey, softball, basketball and threw the javelin in track. Later in life, in her 50s, she ventured out to skate during a pickup game with me and my ice hockey cohort. I was mortified, until my friends allowed that having a bona fide hockey-playing mom was way cool.

At one end of Lincoln Street stood the Lincoln Theater, which was an actual theater before it succumbed to being a mere movie house. Jack and his wife, Dorothy, established the Little Theater there, producing plays for adults and children. The casts and crew were Yale students who wanted to learn how to act, make scenery and arrange the lighting.

The emergence of the Yale Dramat in the mid-1920s spelled the doom for this Crawford family enterprise.

By then, my mother had caught the bug. In the summers, starting at age 11, she signed on with the Jitney Players, a touring ensemble started by Bushnell Cheney, of the silk manufacturing family, and his wife, Alice. Based in Madison, the thespians would travel about New England with their stage set, performing on town greens, providing entertainment in places where movies were only a distant rumor. One of my mother's duties was spraying the audience with insect repellent.

She was on her own, hobnobbing with college students and young adults. The troupe would go out to dinner after the performance, or sit around and sing songs. Pam was in her glory.

Not surprisingly, she grew up enterprising and independent, and after graduating from Vassar College, on scholarship, in 1933, she worked for East Lyme as the town's federal emergency relief administrator, overseeing a New Deal program that put unemployed fathers to work on public projects. She experienced the charms of rural life close up and learned that, according to one rustic, the best thing to "wash a new baby in was woodchuck oil."

My mother returned to the city in 1935, hired by the New Haven Department of Charities as a caseworker. Congress Avenue was her territory, and when there was doubt about a family's need, she erred on the side of granting aid. Despite having voted for President Herbert Hoover in 1932, she was evolving into a rock-solid Democrat.

My mother and her husband, Richard Holahan, who attended Yale on a railroad scholarship, would migrate to New York, but the ties to New Haven remained taut. Her mother, who worked at Sterling Library until she was 80, lived at 14 Lincoln St. into the 1970s, and all of Pam's five boys matriculated at Yale. Three of them followed her into teaching, her second career, which she launched after her sons were fledged.

Nearly 80 years after she helped christen Yale Bowl, my mother sat through the coldest Yale-Harvard game in memory. Scores of fans were hospitalized with hypothermia. She saw the last play. Leaving early was unthinkable.