Leaving Haddam, Connecticut, Laetitia and her group drove to Gay City State Park. The park consists of a once-thriving mill town that is now a ruin. Its name comes from the extended Gay family, who made up much the town’s population in the early years. The town was settled in 1796 and went through prosperous periods when the mills were busy and disastrous times brought on by wars and mill fires. When the mill burned at the time of the Civil War, the town was abandoned.
The town of Willimantic, Connecticut, gets its name from an Algonquin word meaning “land of swift running water.” It was built around Willimantic Falls, and, as might be expected, harnessed the water power to drive mills during the industrial revolution. Willimantic was especially known for its silk and cotton thread. When they arrived there, Laetitia’s group did a walkabout in the historic district. They crossed the Thread Street Bridge with its eight-foot-high bronze frogs perched atop concrete thread spools.
At dinner that evening, Laetitia’s table was within earshot of a table of four elderly women. Laetitia judged that they were from a generation older than her grandmother. Several things emerged from the overheard conversation. All had grown up in Willimantic but now lived elsewhere. All were widowed. They were here for the funeral of a childhood friend named Mavis, who never left town. They mostly reminisced about the good times of the long-past era of their youth, but there was a bittersweet tinge.
In those days, the last unmarried daughter in a family was usually destined for spinsterhood and the task of taking care of the “old folks.” When a woman reached the age of 30, her marriage prospects dwindled, and there were few career opportunities for single women. Mavis had high and perhaps unrealistic aspirations when it came to men and wanted to live in New York, but had panicked and married a local man. Laetitia had no reason to believe that Mavis had led an unfulfilled life, but she shed a tear as she wrote the limerick of the day.
When Mavis the hopeless romantic
Turned thirty, her quest became frantic
And though “pearls before swine”
Would no longer decline
The hometown men of Willimantic.