Part II: Grandmothers—And Great Aunts—of the Thousand Islands: Caroline Post Wright

By: Tom Robbins, illustrated by Sarah Coate

Volume 16, Issue 4, April 2021

A Grandma is love that you never outgrow.” Anonymous

Our grandmother, Caroline Wright, was known for many things, but on the St. Lawrence River she could always be identified by her signature white sailor’s cap, which she wore daily with a jaunty confidence.

Granny Wright with grandson (and co-author) Tom. [Photo The Robbins Family Collection, July 1970]

With four daughters and ultimately 12 grandchildren, a winter home in Princeton, NJ, and a summer home known as Long Point, in Aunt Jane’s Bay on Grindstone Island just opposite Clayton, “Granny” presided over decades of summers full of fun and family.

A dozen grandchildren! [Photo the Robbins Family Collection, circa 1950s, Tom and Sarah, second and third from the left. ]

“Being a mother is the most important job in the world.
Being a grandmother is the most fun.” Anonymous

From her early years on Grindstone Island's Long Point, which our grandfather Wilson Darling Craig Wright purchased at the start of the 20th century and remodeled from a rustic, shingled, structure into the signature yellow-clapboarded house it remains today, Granny was the matriarch who marshalled various household help to assist in running the summer-long show.

A cook aided in the preparation of three full meals a day, for what was always a houseful of hungry islanders. Known fondly—but only behind her ample back—to Granny’s daughters as “Two-Ton”, this cook, who obviously thoroughly enjoyed her own food, was a fixture with the family.

Likewise, there was Reginald, an Englishman, who aided with errands and many of the typical tasks involved in managing a large summer home with multiple generations of family and guests. Always impeccably dressed, Reginald was known for his early morning habit of standing on the dock, dipping a fishnet into the water, and beckoning in a mannered English accent, “come minnows, mother’s calling”.

Reginald. [Illustration by Sarah Coate]

Always wearing her other 'fashion signature’, her pince-nez eyeglasses, Granny presided over a daily late afternoon teatime in the large living room, with its wall of windows overlooking the River. No matter what activities were underway on any given day, relatives and visitors alike of every age always paused to enjoy this familiar family ritual.

“A grandmother is someone with silver in her hair and gold in her heart.” Anonymous

Granny regularly gathered family members and houseguests for picnics at Waterson’s Point, on Wellesley Island, seeming effortlessly to make all the numerous preparations and to oversee a small flotilla to the waterside park. There, she continued family tradition by roasting potatoes in an iron skillet over a campfire, as grandkids frolicked in the shallow water.

“Just about the time a woman thinks her work is done, she becomes a grandmother.” Anonymous

She often rose early, and accompanied by Captain Henry Thibault of Clayton, aboard the Sallie, the motorized St. Lawrence Skiff that he built and which was named for her eldest daughter (and our mother), went fishing for perch for breakfast for her large brood, just off “Red Horse”, a nearby shoal.

Captain Thibault and Granny Wright fishing aboard the Sallie, a 1926 24’ St. Lawrence Skiff [Illustration by Sarah Coate]

Granny was infamous for driving the Workboat, a classic 1920’s style craft also built by Captain Thibault, who had initially taught her how to pilot it—before she adopted her own unique style.

The Workboat

Fearless in any kind of weather, Granny believed in heading into a dock at a very good clip, only shifting the boat into reverse at the last possible second, before gliding to a perfect stop. Grandchildren learned early to hang on for dear life, after they looped bumpers (known as fenders to some, but not to our family!) onto cleats, preparing to land.

Upon her death in the summer of 1992, Granny was eulogized by Grindstone’s Aminta Marks, who duly noted this unique approach to boating:

“Grindstone News - August 26, 1992
Grindstone Island - Caroline Wright died late in the morning on Aug. 19.
All weekend when people talked about Caroline Wright, they told about her bringing “the Workboat” into the town dock in Clayton, at top speed, frightening the uninitiated who thought she would surely plow right into the dock as tender little grandchildren threw out the bumpers. She never did. And the Workboat still does much of the fetching and carrying to and from Long Point.  The Captain - Mr. Thibault built the boat, drove it, maintained it, and, when Craig Wright died, taught his wife, Caroline, to run it.”

“Grandmas are Moms with lots of frosting.” Anonymous

She always shopped at the Cerow grocery store on Riverside Drive in Clayton, and would regale us with her experiences there. Husband and wife, the Cerows, were a central part of her island-life ecosystem, and she was very fond of both.

Cerow’s grocery store on Riverside Drive in Clayton [Illustration by Sarah Coate, from memory]

Checking out Granny’s purchases at the cash register at the front of the store, Mrs. Cerow, upon seeing a package of meat from the butcher counter at the rear of the store, would call out to Mr. Cerow at the back:

Mrs. Cerow: “How much for a roast beef?”

Mr. Cerow: “Who’s it for?”

Mrs. Cerow: “Mrs. Wright.”

Always a pause, while her husband processed this evidently essential information. Then:

Mr. Cerow: “Ten dollars.”

Was there a discount – or a premium – for summer residents? Granny never really knew, nor cared; she happily paid either way.

During most of her lifetime, Long Point was a hub of family summer fun. She loved the River in full measure and as such, was always treated with real affection and genuine respect by many of Grindstone’s year-round island families. This included the Garnseys and the Rushos, who were nearby neighbors, and she returned those sentiments in equal measure.

Caroline Post Wright truly was a prime example of those grandmothers who were—and are—at the epicenter of their families’ Thousand Islands lives.

Caroline “Granny” Wright [Illustration by Sarah Coate]

“When the grandmothers speak, the Earth will be healed.” Hopi Indian proverb

By: Tom Robbins with Illustrations by Sarah Coate

A third-generation summer resident of the Thousand Islands, Tom Robbin's career has taken him from the White House to Madison Avenue, Hollywood, and now Silicon Valley. His lifelong love of the St. Lawrence parallels his personal and professional interests in film production, photography, and writing. See Tom's TI Life articles here.
Sarah Coate is a lifelong River Rat; she attended the Rhode Island School of Design and owns a marketing company for TV commercial production companies. Sarah is also Tom's big sister! (Lucky guy, eh!)

Note recent articles about the Wright family

•Emily Wright Holt - Emily Holt Remembers. TI Life, Volume 16, February 2021.

•Tom Robbins with illustration by Sarah Coate - The Little Red Punt, TI Life, Volume 16, February 2021

•Tom Robbins with illustrations by Sarah Coate - The Blond Bombshell and the Ice Boat. TI Life, Volume 16, Volume 16, March 2021

Posted in: Volume 16, Issue 4, April 2021, Essay, History, People, Places, Current


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