Elsie Boyd of Hatfield Point, New Brunswick, often referred to Bob Nolan as "Clarence", so "Bob" and "Clarence" are used interchangeably in the following recollections. Elsie's memories are family memories, recalled and discussed many times at home as she grew up. She was told that, as a very small child, she adored the quiet Clarence Nobles. His brother, Earle, closer to her in age, she remembers with a chuckle. Elsie steered me through the family memories until a picture of the New Brunswick homestead early life of the two Nobles boys began to take shape. Elsie's father eventually bought that farm from Charlie Nobles, Bob's youngest uncle. The original house was built on one of the most beautiful spots on Belleisle Bay and Elsie's family lived in it for two years before it was torn down. The property remains in the Boyd family. Elsie was younger than Bob by nine years but grew up next door to his grandparents' homestead in Hatfield Point. We have found her information to be true and supported by original documents.
Elsie remembers Clarence as a quiet, gentle boy. She recalls stories of Earle unhooking the Nobles' rowboat and letting it drift out into the Bay. Earle was always up to some sort of mischief but not Clarence. "Between him and Earle, he was the quiet one. He was quiet and to himself. We were only children - four in the family. Maybe Bob was sort of babysitting us, I don’t know, but we was outside of the home and Bob reached - I have a picture of it - he reached over and put a flower in my shoe."
"Earle was a very, very nice boy. Well, he was mischievous. He didn’t give the grandparents, I don’t think, too much trouble but I know the grandmother thought there was no one like Earle. His grandmother always looked for Earle and him to come back and they never did come back to visit her."
"See, those boys went to school here for a short time but then the father was in Arizona and he wanted for them to have a better education and he sent an aunt down here, Florence, and she took them back to Boston and then she had to put him on the train to go to Arizona. We have a river flowing through here and the steamboat came up and that’s how they went to St. John. Then they caught the boat to Boston. But when the aunt took them and they crossed the border, that’s when they changed the name from Nobles to Nolan. Why? Well, they was afraid the mother may trace them. I think Harry was quite bitter about her bringing the boys to their grandmother. I remember Earle when he left. We thought he’d be so happy to leave and he cried all evening. He’d come over to say good-bye and he couldn’t really say goodbye. Bob would be in his teens, I think, ‘cuz they appeared like big boys. Tall." [Bob was 11 years old.]
View of Belleisle Bay from the hill behind the house. The new house sits where the old Nobles’ farmhouse stood.
Bob wrote a song called "Shadows of the Wildwood" that Elsie is certain was drawn from his memories of the forest behind the old homestead.
Elsie went to school a few years later than Bob and Earle but she attended the same school and took the same trail. They walked about 2 ½ miles to school. Because of the distance through thick woodland, children were often kept home from school until they were 7 or 8. When the weather was inclement they were also kept home. Bob’s early education was sporadic at best. Bob recalls a lynx keeping pace with him on the way to school, many feet off the trail but walking parallel to him. This was not necessarily an aggressive act on the part of the lynx. All cats are curious animals and interested in anything that moves. Although Bob and Earl walked to school, Elsie, 6, and her 7-year old brother made the one-and-a-half hour round trip in a cart (and a covered sleigh in winter) pulled by a donkey they called Peter. Their teacher was Rowena Urquhart and this was her first school.
Earle remembered his childhood in New Brunswick as ‘good years’ but, because they were needed to help plant, till, and harvest the crops, he and Bob would average only about three months in school a year. In spite of hardships, Earle Nolan recalled his life with his grandparents with great fondness.
Transportation was by water, especially in the winter when the bay was iced over. Life in the region was very difficult during the years Bob and Earl lived there. Elsie said they’d have starved in the 1920s had it not been for shipping and exporting fish. The closer one lived to the water, the easier one had it. In the winter of 1918, many people in the small community died of the flu including a young mother and child next door to Bob’s grandparents.
Elsie recalls small details such as how Mrs. Nobles used to hook some of the nicest rugs around. She said the Nobles had a gramophone and that they would play it for her and her sisters when they would go over there. The Nobles family also liked to gather around the piano and sing together.
Elsie kept in touch with many of Bob's family until the end of her life. When all of Charlie Nobles’ children had moved to the States and after Charlie himself passed away, his widow came and asked Elsie to look after her. About 1990, Elsie's son drove her to Vermont to see Grace [Bob’s aunt], then a very old lady.
She tells about how two of Bob's cousins went to one of his shows in the 30’s and tried to talk to him after a show. "He just sort of brushed them off. Didn’t want to talk to them. Or, he did talk to them but he didn’t really want to have a good old homecoming with them." His aunt, Grace, went down to Florida to see him when he was with the Sons of the Pioneers.
"A lot of the different things Clarence talks about in his songs are from something from the old homestead", she said. Elsie recalls one song mentioning an ivy-covered shack [Shadows of the Wildwood ] with a wishing well in back. "My father said that there was this ivy-covered shack and out back there was this well and that was, very plainly in my father’s mind, a landmark from the old homestead."
"It’s amazing to me that Clarence went on to Hollywood with Roy Rogers and the whole deal with the movies and everything, when here we remember him as a boy we went to school with. Here in Hatfield Point and the Belleisle Bay we aren’t even a small town. We’re a winding piece of road."
Many thanks to Marsha Boyd Mitchell for arranging this interview with her grandmother. Marsha has written several small books about the Hatfield Point area and its pioneers - Boyd, Marsha L., "Backward Turn the Pages – Historical Stories from Around the Belleisle Bay", 1997, "Many Turn"s, 1995, and "The Old Belleisle, Beautiful Still", undated.