By Sheila Mason Gale
When I was eleven I would often go horseback riding with Linda Bassett. We would ride along Water Street and always rode next door to the Coombs farm. I remember wishing I could ride a horse like Gloria Coombs Scharlack. She was so at ease and comfortable in the saddle.
I recently met with Gloria and her cousin Edward Chartier to talk about the Coombs family. In 1911 George Rose Coombs and his wife Laura Wigfield Coombs moved from New Jersey and bought a 135 acre (more or less) farm in Canterbury. They had six children: Harvey, Roger, Helen, Elsie, George and Charles.
Helen married Edward Chartier and had two children: Laura and Edward. Elsie married Harold Chartier and they had six children: Gertrude, Harold, Lillian, Arlene, Shirley and Harry. George joined the service and moved to California. Charles married Mildred Slater and they had eight children: Eugene, Phyllis, Theodore, Fred, Helen, Raymond, Elaine and Judy. Charles was one of the men who helped construct Butts Bridge and I'm sure many of you know his son, Ray Coombs, Sr. who is involved in many Canterbury activities.
The farm was very large and was on both sides of Water Street. It was eventually divided into two farms. Roger ran the original homestead on Water Street and Harvey ran one on Cemetery Road. Roger and Ethel had three children, Richard, Clifford and Gloria. Harvey and Sadie had four children, George, Irene, Julia and Estelle. Harvey later married Dorothy and had one son, Robert.
Many of you might remember Harvey's son George Coombs who was a school bus driver and was also the Road Crew Foreman for Town of Canterbury for many years. He built the original town garage on Kinne Road. I wish I could have interviewed George about his life in Canterbury because he was a great storyteller. He would sometimes tell me stories about the time he served in the military. Just a few years ago George won the award for being the most decorated living veteran.
As a child, Gloria remembers a quiet neighborhood. Some of her neighbors were the Bassetts, Bullards, Pattersons, Lachapells and Papugas. Many of you might remember the Papuga's country store at the end of Water Street. Gloria's brothers Richard and Cliff went to the Gayhead School. Gloria went to the Westminster school for three years until the Dr. Helen Baldwin School opened.
Farming is a hard life and the whole family has to pitch in to help, but there was time for fun too. The Coombs children and neighbors would get together and go bicycle riding and horseback riding. There were plenty of open fields and they always played baseball. It was easy to get a team together once the Bassetts moved into the neighborhood because they had eight children. In the summer they would go over to Ted Dean's house and go swimming. Mr. Dean even put an old bus by the pond for them to change their clothes. Gloria and her friend, Ruth Bassett, would go horseback riding around Canterbury and even rode over to Scotland. As they got older, they would go square dancing on Saturday nights or go to the movies. This was in the 1950's when it only cost .25 to see a movie and a pint of ice cream cost .10. Also, there were the young people's activities at Westminster Church and Calvary Chapel.
Gloria went to Griswold High School. Other students would often tease her and ask if she got there by stagecoach. I remember the same joke because the kids used to say the same thing to me a decade later.
When George Coombs decided to retire as a school bus driver in 1967, he asked Gloria if she wanted to take over. She talked it over with her husband, Bob, and said yes and has been doing it ever since. There is quite a Coombs family history of caring for Canterbury school age children because not only did George and Gloria drive a school bus, but her brother Richard drove a school bus for 53 years. I think that is a record. She tells of the time she was driving the bus and a boy had a several books of matches in his back pocket. When he sat down they scraped against the seat, ignited and set his coat on fire. He jumped out of the bus with Gloria on his heels telling him to roll in the snow. Over her many years of driving, Gloria said she has come to the conclusion that the kids in Canterbury are good decent children.
Four or five generations of the original Coombs family (George and Laura) still live in Canterbury. A few of the families the Coombs have married into are the Bassetts, Millers, Thurlows, Chartiers and Gallagers. The original farm is now owned by Richard and Phyllis Bassett Coombs. They run it with their sons Richard, Kenneth and Jesse and their daughter Debbie Leone handles the bookkeeping. Canterbury was built on farming and it is good to see the Coombs family keeping it alive and going strong. George and Laura Coombs would be very proud of the legacy they left their children and Canterbury.