98-year-old Mason woman receives ‘Boston Post’ cane 

  • Historical Society member Marcel Bernier pictured with Laila Washburn, 98, after she received the Boston Post cane for being the oldest resident in Mason.  Courtesy photo

  • Laila Washburn of Mason holds up a certificate acknowledging her award of the “Boston Post” Cane last week. She is 98 years old.  Courtesy

  • Laila Washburn of Mason received the “Boston Post” Cane award last week. The award recognized Washburn for being the oldest resident in Mason. COURTESY PHOTO

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Thursday, September 21, 2017 10:42AM

At 98, Laila Washburn is the oldest resident in Mason.

Washburn, who is now living at Summerhill Assisted Living in Peterborough, was recognized for the milestone last week when she was presented with the Boston Post Cane.

“She was excited when she got it,” said Timothy Washburn, one of Washburn’s six kids, about receiving the recognition. “All of us kids thought it was pretty cool. We had been hoping that she might.”

Marcel Bernier, a member of the Greenville Historical Society, said he thinks the cane hasn’t been given out since the 1990s. He said the town’s cane went missing after it was given to the oldest resident and never returned.

“Mason must have handed it to someone and the records were lost when they moved the town hall from one building to another,” Bernier said. “The tradition didn’t continue.”

Bernier said he wanted to restart the tradition. So he went through the process of having the cane replicated. It was recently finished and now sits in a display case in the Mann House in Mason. Washburn received a certificate instead of the cane in a move to keep track of the cane this time.

The tradition of handing out the Boston Post Cane dates back to 1909 when Edwin A. Grozier, who was the publisher at the Post, sent 700 canes to various towns across New England, requesting they be given out to the oldest man in town. It was later extended to incorporate the oldest woman in town.

The canes were made from ebony that was shipped from Africa, and had 14-carat gold head engraved with the inscription “Presented by the Boston Post to the oldest citizen (name of town) – To Be Transmitted.” Selectmen in each town were tasked with being the trustees of the cane and were responsible for always keeping it in the hands of the oldest citizen.

Bernier said of the 700 canes that were given to towns, he thinks only about 400 are still in circulation. The rest have been lost.

“I think that the people who are old should be appreciated,” Bernier said, as a reason why he went through the trouble of replicating the cane.

Heidi Kinsinger, Washburn’s daughter, said her mother lived in the Bronx until she was 11 years old at which point the family moved to a farm in New Ipswich. Heidi said her mother and father, Guy Porter Washburn, met at what she thinks was a Valentine’s Day dance. The two married within a few months of meeting each other, Washburn just 18 years old at the time.

Washburn is hard of hearing and the Ledger-Transcript was unable to speak to her for this article.

Washburn moved to her husband’s family farm in Mason more than 80 years ago. That farm has been in the family since 1912. Timothy said his father, Guy, and his sister were born in the back bedroom of the house in 1913 and 1914.

Washburn and Guy raised six kids – Jim, Ann, Tim, Mike, Heidi, and Dana – in that house. Laila stayed home and raised the kids, and worked the piece of property. Guy was a road agent for the town of Mason.

Timothy and Heidi both spoke fondly of their childhoods.

“We couldn’t have had a better upbringing,” Timothy said.

He said they ran that piece of property like a small working farm. They had cows, chickens, and pigs. They milked the cows, hayed the fields, and sugared in the spring. He said they had large gardens across the property, and his mother used to can 500 quarts of vegetables every year.

Heidi said her mother would wake the kids up early in the morning to complete chores around the farm. She said each kid had a row in the garden they were responsible for weeding out. The vegetables fed the family. Heidi said as kids she and her younger brother would sit out at a table on their property and sell some of the vegetables they had helped grow. She said her father would let them keep the little bit of money they had collected.

Timothy said his mother loved to cook.

“She cooked all the time for the six of us kids,” Timothy said. “You didn’t run to the store all the time back then.”

Timothy said she used to bake loaves of Finnish coffee bread and would sell them to people throughout town for a little bit of extra income. He said his mother must have cooked between 40 and 50 loaves a week of that bread. Heidi said her mother baked cookies, pies, and bread nearly every day until she was 95 years old when she ran into some health complications.

Timothy said now his wife and siblings bake the coffee bread and deliver it to Washburn almost every week.

“She used to bake it for us and now we are baking it for her,” Timothy said.

Heidi said in the winter the kids would spend their days sliding on hills and skating on a pond. She said her brothers used to house raccoons and feed them.

Timothy said their childhood was filled with critters, ice skating, and constructing forts on the piece of property. Back then, Mason was smaller and the times quite a bit slower.

Heidi said her mother and father continued dancing throughout the years, as they had the first night they met. She said her mother loved polka music, and some Saturdays she would turn the tunes on and dance through the house with her husband and kids.

“We didn’t have anything, but we didn’t know that because they were the best parents,” Heidi said. “They gave us lots of hugs and kisses.”

Heidi said she was happy to see her mother receive the Boston Post Cane last week. Several generations were there for the occasions.

“It was well deserved,” Heidi said.

Abby Kessler can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 234 or akessler@ledgertranscript.com.