By Gus Widmayer
Part 2 in a 3-part story
Nancy Walton (Flindell) Peters is a woman who enchanted the minds of men using the soft stricken chords of the harp and pianoforte. She lives in an antique house down the Groton Road and into Shirley.
SHIRLEY — Nancy’s mother was Katharine Reid Darby. The Darbys had one other child, Nancy’s maternal uncle, a son and brother to Katharine Reid Darby, named Walton Carpenter Darby (1897-1919). He was unfortunate to die of Bright’s disease on Labor Day, Sept. 5, 1919. Walton was a Navy man out of Annapolis who had been posted with his unit on a ship based inside the Arctic Circle. His assignment had been to stoke the boiler onboard ship. After continuous transfers from frigid cold to scorching heat during each of his shifts, the damage to his system was pronounced. He was only 21 at the time of his death.
My walk down memory lane with Nancy Peters on this temperate June afternoon was interrupted by my daughter Sophie, who had accompanied me on this assignment. She disrupted our thoughts on her way from the backyard to the upstairs music room where she intended to play an Internet game on my Nokia tablet. In truth, I noticed her sitting on the stair listening intently to Nancy recall the story of her long life. Even so, this interlude gave Nancy an opportunity to break from our discussion to show me her house, which had recently been put on the market.
The invitation notwithstanding, I felt comforted in the knowledge that dozens of others would shortly be invading Nancy’s privacy and thus we were not intruding beyond our welcome. The house stands on the north side of Groton Road heading west out of West Groton about a mile down. It is in the Early American-style circa 1820 with an imposing red brick façade. The colonial character is accentuated by its period antiques, a lifelong love of Nancy and her husband. These include a classic Sheraton sideboard in the dining room, two imposing portraits of a Tucker ancestor and his wife, along with the valued grandfather clock, its pendulum eviscerated from the clock’s belly, Nancy being unable to surgically restore it to its proper position.
The idyllic country scene was framed by small gardens at intervals all around the house. The heart of the house lies in its music room at the head of a landing, which also leads to the master bedroom suite. Two magnificent, tall Lyon & Healy harps, one a pedal harp, stood prominently alongside an exquisite Falcone piano. Early in her musical studies, Nancy studied with Leonard Shure, who recommended the Falcone brand to her. One eventually surfaced in Lexington at a private sale that Nancy was very pleased to acquire. The Falcone, as does a Steinway, “carries a depth and character of tone enabling a pianist to do subtle things,” claimed Nancy. “Another piano might sound too brilliant, too shiny.”
Nancy has a brother named Edwin Frederick Flindell IV, living now in Berlin, Germany, where he teaches musicology and music history. Brother Fred achieved his Ph.D. in musicology from the University of Pennsylvania after transferring in from stints at Yale and Dartmouth. Nancy’s sister was Katharine Reid (Flindell) Caffrey, who had the unenviable distinction of bearing seven happy children in nine years.
As for Nancy herself, she is the namesake of none other than her grandmother’s horse. There is no taking the country out of this gal. She spent her schoolgirl years at Summit in New Jersey until the age of 18. Her alma mater was Kent Place School, an all-girls enclave replete with uniforms and a strict code of conduct. A student there could gain points marked against her for showing so much as a trace of lipstick. Even at that modern date, girls were expected to order their stockings made of lisle by mail order from Manhattan.
Nancy studied music with an interest in playing piano, this in contrast to her brother’s more intellectual view of music history. She attended Radcliffe under a five-year program with double-duty at the Longy School of Music, both in Cambridge. After realizing that Radcliffe was focused on music history and musicology, Nancy steered her education toward the Longy School, where an emphasis was placed on performance.
Her Radcliffe professor once asked her to sight-read a hymn that Nancy had never played before. She was sufficiently nervous that when finished, the man asked her to play it again, “and this time would you please put in the accidentals?” She had forgotten to play the sharps and flats!