A century of living has flashed before his eyes, but Howard Burdick still maintains that "life is full of mystery."
Mentally thumbing his earliest memories after celebrating his centennial birthday earlier this month, Burdick didn't think he had accomplished anything special.
"A lot of people live to be a hundred," he remarked.
"But," his daughter Carolynne Cordner observed, "they don't live here."
Burdick lives in the same Avondale house overlooking the Pawcatuck River in which he was born. He recalled the house, built in 1898 by R.A. Sherman, cost $5,500. "It's all hand work," he said, "...they did it with hand saws and planes."
Although he calls himself just "a plain run-of-the-mill guy," Burdick has enjoyed celebrity throughout the region as a writer. His work appeared regularly in The Sun under the heading "Along the Shore." A number of selected letters, which appeared from 1930 through 1988 were compiled and published by the Westerly Historical Society.
Burdick reminisces about the hard New England winters once familiar here and chuckles as he recites the tale of his birth. "We used to have hard winters-- I was born in the middle of a Nor'easter snow storm."
A doctor was supposed to be on hand for the birth but, when the time came, the doctor refused to attend his mother because his horse was lame. A nurse scheduled to be there couldn't get to the house because of the storm. It was up to Howard's father Frederick to do the job-and with the help of Howard's older brother, the pair delivered the baby.
There was a 10-year gap between Howard and his brother Harry Wheeler Burdick which Howard vows he "never understood."
On the property behind the main house is a building once used for the gear that goes along with the use and maintenance of boats. Many years ago the workshop was converted into a cottage and it has since been turned into a charming home by Carolynne who came back to Avondale to live near her father. She noted her family has always been involved with boats and the sea.
Burdick was just 15 years old when he joined his father and uncle in the trap fishing business they conducted off the Stonington breakwater and Little Narragansett Bay. Later, they would operate their own fishing boat, trawling in Block Island Sound.
"By '35 it was all over," Burdick said, adding, "it was pretty lucrative in the early days.
"We sold fish from Stonington to the Fulton Fish Market in New York," he said. "We sent it by freight train."
He later spent two years in the U.S. Coast Guard, a thing he said, "a lot of men did at that time."
After the death of his first wife, 27-year-old Mary Clark, Burdick married Edna Gregory, who became the mother of their three children.
Howard, Jr., a graduate of Annapolis, retired after 30 years in the Navy. He lives in Middletown. Gregg Burdick, who skippered yachts for a living, is the owner of Stuart Yacht Company in Florida.
William, one of Burdick's seven grandchildren, lives upstairs in the family homestead.
Burdick said he was brought up in a religious atmosphere; being a Baptist with a "Love Thy Neighbor" credo, he believes, is one reason for his longevity.
It wasn't until last April that Burdick spent time in a hospital as a patient. A short stay in a nearby nursing home followed, before he returned to the comforts of his own home. He shuns the spotlight and prefers the simple life.
Sitting in his large bay window, surrounded by photos and mementos and sailing awards, Howard Burdick condenses his view of life.
"You wouldn't want to go through it again," he said, "but it's nice to remember."