A Canterbury Story
By Sheila Mason Gale
In 1950 Walter and Mary Papuga sold a store they owned in Massachusetts, bought a house at the north end of Water Street and moved to Canterbury. They had two sons Danny and David.
The front of their house was a small convenience store known as the Westminster Hill store. They sold canned goods, groceries, cold cuts, hamburger meat, ice cream, etc. It is much like the local store that is in the center of the Town of Scotland today. Mary and Walter ran the store during the day and Walter worked at Brand Rex in Willimantic at night.
The store had its regular local customers. As a boy, Raymond Coombs, Sr. remembers Mary as always looking out for the kids in the neighborhood. She would tell them to button their coats and put the flaps down on their hats in the winter. Actually, she would look out for everybody.
The LaBranche family, on Brooklyn Road, came in every weekend to get Sunday night supper. Noreen LaBranche Kjos remembers her Dad buying salami and bologna, chips and ice cream. Noreen says going to the store on Sunday was a family outing. Unlike today there were no local pizza shops in the area that families could go to.
Noreen also remembers when she worked for Lou Gray at Verkades Nursery, Mildred “Ma” Coombs would let the workers walk to the Papuga store for a treat. Mary Papuga would put popsicle sticks in candy bars and freeze them for cool treats. One summer Mary’s two sisters Olive and Foo Foo had an ice cream stand next to the store.
I remember riding horses all around town with Judy Simpson and we would often stop at the store, tie our horses up out front and go in for ice cream.
Mary became a widow at an early age when Walter died at age 42. She continued the store until her sons were out of high school. When the store closed Cliff Green, Sr. helped her get a job at UConn.
Mary and Eleanor Orlomoski liked to go to the Bingo hall located where Foxwoods Casino is today. Eleanor said Mary’s mind was so sharp she didn’t have to use markers on her Bingo cards she simply remembered all the numbers called.
Frances Vaclavik delivered the Papuga’s mail and said Mary was a cheerful, happy lady. Good fortune came Mary’s way when she won the Connecticut state lottery.
Growing up in Canterbury Danny remembers his teachers Mrs. Elva Lovell and Mrs. Happie K. Tracy. They were tough, but good teachers. As he looks back on it now he gives them both a lot of credit because they did not have any helpers. It was only one teacher and all the students.
Danny Papuga started working for Tom Bingham in construction at $3.00 per hour. He eventually worked his way up to a foreman. His brother David went on to get a degree in civil engineering. Danny thought he would stop making money for someone else and he and his brother started the Papuga Construction Company. They did a lot of State work such as bridges, work at the Plainfield dog track, etc. They also volunteered to help maintain the Canterbury athletic fields.
Today David lives in Putnam and Danny still lives in Canterbury. He retired 5 years ago and now he likes to go golfing and play with his grandchildren, Isabel, Ayden and Harrison.
Danny says his mother Mary had a heart of gold. He was glad Mary and Walter raised him in Canterbury and says it is still a beautiful place to raise children. That’s what draws families here. Canterbury is simply a nice place to live.