A Celebration of Life: Patricia Hubbell Hornstein

We lost Patricia this summer. At 94, she was a life-long Easton resident who loved her hometown. Many remembrances of her talents and kindnesses have been shared in the past weeks and a celebration of her life will be hosted by her family at the Easton Public Library on Sunday, September 18th at 2pm.  

Young Patricia Hubbell with flowers, circa 1930’s.

Here at the Historical Society, generations of volunteers have benefited from Patricia’s personal recollections of our town.  She was a champion of both environmental and historic preservation with a particular concern for the loss of our state’s agricultural traditions.  Her shared memories were essential in the reconstruction of the Bradley-Hubbell Homestead and her stories and poems continue to give voice to the experiences of women and children in Easton during the past century.

Young Patricia playing on the banks of the Aspetuck Reservoir with her father Franklin smiling beside her, circa 1930’s.

From her very earliest memories as a child during the 1930’s, Patricia recorded what it was like to live in her family’s old farmhouse just off Black Rock Turnpike.  There were few children to play with near her parent’s home which was surrounded by farm fields, an old road, and of course, the Aspetuck Reservoir.  Though she had many fond memories of playing with her older sister Jean and younger brother Donald, she spent a great deal of time on her own. She wandered through the forests, explored the waterways on her very own little rowboat and collected objects from nature. 

Patricia Hubbell with her younger brother Donald and her mother Helen sitting in the Aspetuck Apple Orchards, circa late 1930’s.

At around the age of ten, she started assembling these artifacts in the playhouse, a small structure her father, Franklin Hubbell had built on the property.  For Patricia, this little building was not the typical sort of play space one might imagine for a young girl at the time.  Rather than pretending to keep house, she created her very own cabinet of wonders where she could study.  Snake skins, birds’ nests, rocks, seed pods and wildflowers-all were displayed on special shelving along with magazines, books and crafts.

Patricia seated on the front porch of the Hubbell Playhouse where she curated a museum of natural wonders, books and crafts, circa 1930’s.

This playhouse was incredibly meaningful to Patricia, and she thought of it often in her later years.  She realized that collecting and displaying those objects was like writing a poem and her “museum” was one of her first compositions: a place where objects were curated with love. Not long after she designed this space, Patricia began to put together words to create her very first poems.

Her parents, Helen and Franklin, cultivated a deep appreciation for literature in their home, and books were prized possessions and gifts.  Both her mother and her grandmother, Nellie Osborn, would often read poetry to the children and this was “an important spark” for Patricia.  She enjoyed the sound of words with their rhythmic patterns that created images within her mind.  She was especially fond of Christina Rosetti, William Blake, e. e. cummings, Emily Dickenson, and Robert Frost to name a few of the hundreds of authors she read and admired.

Left: Excerpt from her book of poems, “Catch Me a Wind ,” 1968. Right: Undated photo of young Patricia outside in the snow.

Patricia remembered composing her first poems by writing out her words on bits of cardboard and encircling the text with images.  She would sit in a tree and look out over the meadow and reservoir and think about what she saw.  From these contemplative moments came her work. She was inspired by animals and plants, by her father’s orchard and even the dappled sunshine on an empty chair. All was food for her imagination.

Samuel Staple Elementary School graduating class of 1942; Patricia Hubbell is seated first row, second from the left. Her best friend, Elsie Ohradon is seated second from the right.

Though she was private about her writings, a remarkable letter survives from 1941 that suggests her talents were appreciated in Easton from an early age. While still enrolled at Samuel Staples Elementary, Patricia asked the school nurse to show her work to a famous writer who lived in town.  That nurse was Mrs. Garnet Storms, who not only oversaw the health clinics for the school children, but she also tended to the town’s elderly as part of her duties with the Public Health Nursing Association.  The author Patricia hoped would read her work was the renowned Ida Tarbell. At the time, she was over 80, and had been struggling with health issues for several years.  Suffering from Parkinson’s Disease, her frail hands shook, and she could barely write. Yet despite these physical challenges, Tarbell so enjoyed the young girl’s verse that she was moved to compose a letter in response.  

Portrait of Ida Tarbell from 1939 and the letter she wrote to Miss Patty, May 22, 1941.

In it, she explained how much she liked Patricia’s poems and she immediately sensed that the works were original and heartfelt.  She included advise on future word choice, and even suggested they could meet when her health improved.  Importantly, she enclosed specific instructions on how to submit a manuscript to a publisher.

Years later, when reflecting on that letter, Patricia’s sense of gratitude and awe were still apparent.  “If a famous author like that took my poetry seriously, it meant something” she said.   Unfortunately, Patricia and Ida never did get to meet. Ida’s health continued to decline, and she passed away a few years later in January 1944.  But her encouragement helped Patricia believe that she could become a writer too and the influence of this early mentorship was critically important in her formative years at the University of Connecticut. Beginning her studies as an animal husbandry major, she had intended to pursue a career in agriculture like her father.  But as she considered her prospects as a woman in such an overwhelmingly male-dominated field, she changed her major to English and returned to her love of writing as a viable means of making a living. 

Article highlighting Patricia’s first published book, Westport Town Crier, August 31, 1963.

During her early years as a journalist, Patricia wrote for the Newtown Bee, the Fairfield News and the Westport Town Crier, where she met her husband, Harold Hornstein.  Noted for her ability to capture the joy in everyday life, she wrote a variety of features including “Parties and People,” “Let’s Dine Out” and “Poems by Pat.”  She advanced to an editorial position and even had a weekly feature in the Bridgeport Sunday Post called “Kennel and Stable.”    She was adept at writing for a broad audience combining her agricultural background with her descriptive talent: she could discuss scientific advancements in livestock care for the Homestead journal while also writing powerful commentary for the New York Times regarding loss of farmland and overdevelopment in Connecticut. 

Patricia’s op-ed for the New York Times on September 9, 1979 presents a poignant dystopian future for Connecticut with the loss of its rural farmlands and excess development. 

Her love of nature and animals shone through in all her work and her life in Easton was a constant inspiration. Her first book of poems, The Apple Vendor’s Fair, was published in 1963. Each subsequent volume, particularly her 8am Shadows (1965) and Catch Me a Wind(1968) drew upon her early memories and her contemporary life as a young mother raising children.

Left: : Excerpt from “The Apple Vendor’s Fair,” Patricia Hubbell, 1963 Right: Excerpt “Mary Darling,” Patricia Hubbell, Catch Me a Wind, 1968.

In these books, Easton is everywhere. She describes the moon shine reflected on our reservoirs, we see the old historic houses and farm fields dotted with scarecrows.  An abandoned tractor along a stone wall gives her pause to contemplate with her readers the tension between past and present, the natural and the man-made.  We hear the roar of the little league games at Aspetuck Park and the call of the whippoorwill and tree frogs that mark our Spring season.  Her neighbors and local writers quickly realized that Patricia’s poems were immortalizing the very best of Easton.  

“Glimpses,” Patricia Hubbell, Catch Me Wind, 1968.

Insightful reviews noted that while her books were geared towards children, their technical skill and nuances made them enjoyable for grown-ups as well. And while she touches upon serious subjects, she was by her own admission an “optimistic” writer.  Her words express a gratitude for life and her poems capture moments of sound, feeling, color and mood that may often go unnoticed around us.  By bringing these elements of everyday life to the foreground, she believed her poetry could bring pleasure and delight to her readers. 

In her later years, when interviewed, she was asked if she had a special message for her readers.  In her lyrical and wise response, she asked of us: “To love life and each other and all the diversity in the world.  Respect everybody and try for joy in this life.”  Truly a testament to her skill as a poet, better words of advice are hard to imagine.

As part of her legacy, Patricia shared her wish that her Playhouse Museum at the Bradley-Hubbell Homestead be restored and maintained.  To that end, we share with you a passage from her Recollections preserved in the Historical Society archives.  Donations in honor of Patricia’s wish can be forwarded to P.O. Box 121 Easton, CT 06612 or submitted through our website at https://historicalsocietyofeastonct.org/

The Playhouse by Patricia Hubbell

The playhouse in the backyard was always a big part of my life as a child. Dad had it

built as a playhouse for my sister, Jean, but when she became too old to play in it I

pretty much took it over. And the first thing I did was to turn it into a museum.

I had rag rugs on the floor, a round blue table, several chairs, and all sorts of things

that I collected, as well as books, magazines, and all the projects I was always

working on. My grandmother had lovely walnut shelves put in so that I would have

room for all my displays. I was so sorry to see that these shelves were torn out some

time after Dad died- I presume they were vandalized.

I spent much time in my museum, working with my collections一 snake skins, birds’

nests, rocks, pressed flowers, mounted butterflies (only a few -I couldn’t really bear

to kill them!) cicada shells, bits of lichen, pinecones, beach shells, anything and

everything that caught my interest.

In Paul Janeczko’s book, THE PLACE MY WORDS ARE LOOKING FOR, I tell how I

started my museum, and also how I feel that a museum is like a poem – a place to

keep the things you love. And in Jeffrey Copeland’s book SPEAKING OF POETS, I

also talk a bit about my museum. So my playhouse/museum was an important place

for me, one that I still often think of.

Later, Dad used the space as a tool shed. It kept him from having to walk to the barn

each time he needed something for his vegetable garden, which, at this time, was

located in the lower lawn.

Before he died, Dad urged me to move the playhouse to my home on Norton Road, as

it did not belong to the Hydraulic Company. But I never did it, and am now happy to

think that it will endure as part of the “Bradley-Hubbell House.”

Patricia standing next to her Shetland pony, Tiny with Elsie Ohradon in the saddle. They are standing in front of the Bradley-Hubbell Playhouse, circa 1930’s.

Obituary: Patricia Hubbell Hornstein, 94

July 31, 2022

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