Life Story Interview with Alice M. Chapin June 5, 12, 19, 1999
I was born at the time of the depression era in the mid‑30’s, and lived in Dorchester, Massachusetts, which was at that time a lower middle‑class neighborhood. I lived in a house that was owned by my maternal grandmother. But she had died previous to my birth, so we had tenants upstairs, and we lived downstairs. My family consisted of my father, mother and me, and I turned out to be the only child, a status I very much enjoyed. I do remember little things about the early years ‑ I lived there until I was around 3 years old. One of my biggest memories was I had a rubber doll ‑ a little tiny rubber doll ‑ and you would squeeze his tummy, and water would come out of a little hole in his bottom. And I remember being on the front porch, and there would be a little old man who would walk down the street. And for some reason I would pretend to be afraid of him, and I would ring the doorbell and have my mother take me back into the house. Even at that time I knew I wasn’t afraid, but I was pretending that I was. I do remember the house, vaguely. I remember riding on the shoulders of my father. So we lived there for about three years, and then we moved on.
My father was quiet, conservative, strong. My mother was lively, outgoing gregarious. My father was the Republican, my mother was the Democrat. She was only a Democrat because he was a Republican. There was no political atmosphere in the family. But my mother was vibrant as a young woman. She participated in many social events, she liked to dance and socialize. She went to many dances at Hampton Beach. She was a very lovely young lady who really was reluctant to get married because she was enjoying herself. She worked for the telephone company back then, and she was on the committees of various dances and company functions, which she enjoyed very much. The first time she went to get married she walked by the priest’s house because she didn’t have the courage to go in. So they were quite different in personalties.
My grandmother, my maternal grandmother, came to live with my mother and father in the house for which she put down the down‑payment. She lived there for about seven years. And though she was a good woman, and she and my father maintained a social relationship, there was a constant friction in which my father did not feel comfortable in his own home, many times. Being a quiet person, he was not always comfortable when my grandmother did not withdraw to her room in the evening. She would stay around when it would have been better for my mother and father and me to be alone.
My father’s mother and father were both born in Italy. My father’s first father died, my grandmother married again, and they came to the Dorchester section of Boston and settled there. And on my mother’s side, my grandfather died when I was about five years old and I remember him very vaguely. My grandfather was a French Canadian, a conductor for the Boston Railroad. And my grandmother immigrated from Ireland at the age of ten, and loved to tell stories about the Ireland she remembered as a girl, and sing “Danny Boy.”
As far as family history goes, the generation that was there was the only real one to us. My father went to Dorchester High School, and upon graduation went to work for a company and remained there for 42 years until his death. My mother didn’t last very long in high school. She left one day carrying all her books and never went back. She applied for a job at the telephone company, claiming she could do typing, bookkeeping and shorthand ‑ none of which she could do! She typed a letter in a practice session with two fingers, and got the job. She was before her time as far as being a woman ‑ a real independent person.
(My parents tried to impress me with the ideals of) morality, goodness, cleanliness, respect for yourself. The only way you get respect for yourself is to act with the knowledge of having standards, standards that you don’t want to have when you are a teenager. They had strict ideas on what time I should be home, that I shouldn’t spend my time hanging around on street corners . My father had no reluctance to summon me off those street corners. I was properly horrified, but I obeyed. Obedience was something that was natural, it was what I was taught to do,
and what my mother and father said, went.
I went to a parochial school. My father did not go to church regularly. I used to be embarrassed because the nuns would ask if we all went to church on Sundays. I would say that my father did not always go because he had to stay home and make dinner. I was always aware that they were not pleased that we did not (all) attend services, as religion was the focal point in their teaching in the grammar school years. But the church, the school and the choir were the very core of everything I did as a child. The whole group of children with whom I associated were part of this circle, and we were very friendly with the nuns. The nuns had their pets, and they liked the students who were fairly bright and gave them the least problems. The nuns were part of our family, and at Christmas they must have gotten more talcum powder and writing paper than they could ever use in a lifetime.
We walked 25 minutes to school, back home for lunch, back for the afternoon and then back home again. We had the same trio of nuns for eight years. One of my schoolmates, who was a part of the group I still associate with, felt “fat” and “dumb” and “worthless” and didn’t want to go on to high school. And one of the sisters that talked to her when she was feeling that way encouraged her and gave her support. And to this day, a long time later, she still attributes the fact that she was able to go on at a time when she was really down on herself to the encouragement of that nun.
We had Sisters Alice Elizabeth, Joseph Ann and James Ann. (The nuns) all had names like that, and we had a choir, and we had some wonderful young parish priests who took us on outings, and of whom we were very fond. We were a very close, young, grammar school group. (There were) about 40, 45 (people in the whole class.
My grandmother died when she was almost 75, she had had a heart attack seven weeks earlier, and was never taken to the hospital. It was before any of the procedures available today existed, so she stayed home and never got out of bed again. My mother, for seven weeks, was constantly running up and down the stairs to take care of my grandmother, and suffered physically because of the effects of the medical problems and, well, mental problems. She was going through the menopause too, and she had menopausal arthritis. I just came home from school one day and my father told me my grandmother had died. We didn’t have hospitalization insurance or anything. The doctor just gave her some pills, but she probably would have recovered today. So, my mother and father being very protective, sent me to a friend’s house for three days away, because they didn’t want me to face my grandmother’s death. So I had a good time for myself with my
friends. (I was) twelve (at that time). I wasn’t a baby. And I was close with my grandmother. She was great with me. And I loved her.
As a girl, a significant event to me at one point was getting a bicycle. My best friend at the time had gotten hers earlier, and not being a very sharing person, I used to run along beside the bicycle when she rode. My father and mother, not having extra cash for bicycles, saved up and I came home from school one day and there it was ‑ a blue Columbia bicycle. I was very pleased. My parents, even though I didn’t notice it at the time, made sacrifices so that I could have some of the things that I wanted. They were like that.
As a young child three, four, five years old I used to have a rocking chair, and I used to like to sit in my rocking chair, and rock. Just myself. And when we went to my aunt’s house, my father’s sister, she used to have a little rocking chair and I’d sit in that rocking chair, and just quietly rock. (But as a teenager) I had a lot of friends, we had a group. I sometimes felt that I wasn’t the most popular ‑ there were a couple of real popular “gabby gabby” girls. I was quiet, I always felt that I didn’t fit in with some of them. I preferred being with the girls that were my favorites. There were a couple ‑ I guess the more gossipy types ‑ I didn’t feel as comfortable with. We had the same group of girls right up from grades two through eight. And we still meet to this day for reunions.
Although my father had a Boston job and wore a suit and tie to work, he didn’t make a lot of money. And, to augment income, he was approached by the next door neighbor, who had taken in foster children, and wanted to know if my father and mother were interested in taking in a foster child. And my father came into the kitchen ‑ I was sitting in my rocking chair ‑ I think it was my rocking chair ‑ that’s my memory anyway. I probably wasn’t much more than about ten. And he asked me how I would feel if there were another little girl in the house. And the panic was overwhelming. I immediately put my arms around his neck and said “ Nooooo.” I still remember that and the feeling of panic that I had. I didn’t want to have to share my parents with anyone. (And 1) never heard about it again.
At fifteen, another girl and I were with our boyfriends, and they were not the most reliable guys. And we would often times hang around the drugstore until they would come by and pick us up ‑ we didn’t know if they were going to come by and pick us up, but we hoped they would. When they did appear we’d walk up and down the street a little bit. My father didn’t like that too much. My boyfriends always came to the house, and the two that we were going with were invariably late. The first big date I ever had was to a play in Boston. We saw Oklahoma, and I was fifteen years old. We went to the beaches all seasons of the year. I remember times, one time, we got home later than I was supposed to, and we sat out in the car in front of the house, and my father came out the door, down the steps. “In the house,” he said to me, and he gave those boys a little talking to, but they both showed up the next day, or whenever, never took offense, never got angry, accepted it. One of the boys, the boyfriend of the other girl that I was with, used to come to visit my mother, just to talk to her. She’d make him toast and tea, and they’d sit at the kitchen table. Then when he died later of cancer, she wrote him a letter in the hospital. And he was so pleased. She reminded him of the time when we used to go picking blueberries, and we’d bring home blueberries, and she’d make a blueberry pie for us.
(On my first day of kindergarten) I didn’t want to leave my mother, so I threw up. Over and over! Every day. And she’d take me and deposit me at kindergarten and leave. But once you get going it was O.K. I had a little boyfriend there. He used to live down the street. That was when I was in the first grade in Mattapan. Then we moved to Readville where I started the second grade. And that’s where I met my first little friend, Ellen, who came to ring my doorbell with
her mother at 6:00 o’clock one night. My mother answered the door ‑ I was already in bed ‑ I wasn’t sleeping ‑ I went to bed very early. And Ellen and I were friends and we played in sandboxes and we ran around the neighborhood and we had lovely childhood summers.
Actually, Phyllis was really my first friend. She came running across the lawns into our yard, and asked my parents if she could play with their little girl. She and I used to run through the sprinklers that we had in our back yard. Ellen was jealous of Phyllis and didn’t want me to play with her. But when I wasn’t around, Ellen would invite Phyllis to her house, where she would have Phyllis all to herself. And then I got jealous too, because I didn’t want Phyllis to like Ellen better than me. And we went to school and developed all the other friendships, people
that I still see today, even though it’s only once a year. I stay in touch with many of them ‑ a group of nine or ten ‑ strictly from the bonds of childhood.
I don’t think I had any (bad memories) in grammar school. Only once in high school, when I thought it was very unfair when they gave me a “C” in religion because I didn’t stand up when they asked me if I went to mass in the morning during lent. But I don’t have very bad memories of school. The nuns were very good teachers and disciplinarians.
(In high school) I could have either taken what is known as a college course ‑ which was liberal arts ‑ or I could have taken a commercial course, which was shorthand and typing. We didn’t have the money to go for college. As it was, my father took his little tiny savings out of the bank and bought me a fur coat for graduation. I wanted to go to college, but it didn’t mean enough to me to sacrifice.
What was my most important lesson in life? I think that you can’t always have things your own way. There were so many things as a teenager and as a young person embarking on life that I wanted for myself. I thought that it would come just because these were the things I wished to have, whether it was boyfriends or status or recognition. I didn’t realize that when you went out into the world, it’s a great leveler. And I also found that you can’t compromise with goodness. Things that you want aren’t always of the highest level, and you can say to yourself “I like this, I feel good, I want it for me,” and you get it and you realize you’re compromising a lot. So, I guess you learn from life that you can’t always have what you want and what you think you should have because you deserve it!
I was married at twenty‑one to the fellow I described earlier that I had met when I was fifteen. I was in love with the idea of getting married, the parties, the showers, the excitement. My father and mother did not particularly care for the young man I was marrying. He was a nice fellow, but they did not feel he was suitable and the right one for me, and of course I had to prove otherwise. We were married, and we had our own home. I continued to work but my husband was somewhat ill‑equipped to hold down a steady job and he preferred going off and playing golf. I went to work and found, even at the early age of twenty‑one or twenty‑two, how attractive men in the working place were, how bright they were, how much more they had on the ball. And I started realizing I made a mistake. I talked to my husband once or twice about it, but he didn’t want to hear it and got quite emotional. So my idea of not facing problems honestly ‑ I just took a little paper bag in the morning and put some toiletries in it, walked out of the house, told him to call me later, which he did. And I told him I wasn’t coming home, I was going to my mother’s, and I never went back. His family launched, as you would expect, quite a campaign because they thought that I was just in a “snit” and that I would get over it in a couple of days and come back home. When I did not they naturally didn’t want this to happen to their son, and they sent brothers‑in‑laws and the priest who was a family relative to my home and he lectured me on the
rules of marriage and fidelity and that sort of thing, and my father who was in the kitchen listening at the time came in and said to the priest that if he continued to talk to his daughter like that then he would be asked to leave. My first husband is a decent man, he’s had a good life since then, but he was a poor choice for me.
My father died at what would be considered today to be a very young age. He was 62 years old. He was on the train coming home to Beverly where he and my mother and I lived. And I would meet him‑ I would ride with my friend on the train, so I was not sitting with him ‑ I would meet him at the station and we would ride home together in the car that we parked there each morning. Well this night in July I got off the train but my father was not there. I waited, but there was no one descending from the train, so I took the car and drove home. And my mother said that she had received a call that my father had had a heart attack while at work and was taken to the Beverly hospital where he was in intensive care. Needless to say it was a tremendous shock. My father had never missed a day of work in his life except at one point when he had a nose infection, but he had worked 45 years virtually with no time off. We went to Beverly Hospital, and the sight of the tubes and the strings and everything else attached to him was a little off‑ putting. Anyway, he did come through the heart attack. My mother knew my father very well. He was initially assigned to a four bed ward. My father was a quiet man, he did not like a lot of needless chatter. My mother knew this, and had him assigned to a private room, which he thoroughly enjoyed! My father enjoyed being fed three times a day, he enjoyed my mother and me coming up to visit. He was progressing nicely, and he was, I would say, in a very happy state of mind. The big problem was, of course, could he return to work. It was a massive coronary, and his activities in the future would be severely limited. On a Sunday evening my mother and I had been up to see my father. We left, went back to the house, it possibly a half hour later the phone rang, and’ was my father’s doctor, a cardiologist, who asked us to come up to the hospital. Well, one knows that the
news will not be good. We got to the hospital, the doctor met us, and said that my father had died. Of course the first question is “How come, why, what happened, we were just here a half hour or an hour ago!” Well, the cause of his death was fibrillation, and on a Sunday night I don’t believe the staff was very wen equipped to handle that type of case, even though there were defibrillators available. So he died in a matter of minutes. I went in to see him the last time, and it was very different to see a father who was alive an hour before talking to you, just still and getting cold and clammy. We left, went back to our house, started taking an the cards down, all the well wishes, notifying all the friends. My father’s friend, really his closest friend from the time they were in their teens, was absolutely distraught. He and his wife showed up at our doorstep at 7 o’clock the next morning so that he could go with me to pick out a casket and take care of all the arrangements. He himself died four months later. The wake and the funeral was a sea of activities, people coming, bringing food. It’s almost a false time, because you have so many people for three days, then everybody disappears. I went to pick up my father’s clothes, his watch, at the hospital, and I think that that was probably the last time in my life when I have cried so hard, to the point where the crying took over my whole being. It was just complete dissolution.
At that time I was going to visit my friend Gretchen in California two weeks later. Now I had the option of canceling out or going. My mother insisted I go, and I did. And she told me years later that it was a very, very lonely time for her with nobody in the house anymore. So, I don’t like to say there are regrets, because my father was always special. But I knew very little about him as a person. He was my father, and I guess as a child that’s enough ‑ fathers don’t have to be anything else but fathers ‑ and he was a good one. So, in his passing, one always says “Wouldn’t it be nice if I had ……… But it was very nice that I did have. Today, I don’t think I would make any big changes, but I would want to be more of his daughter and a friend, because he would have liked it if I had shown more of an interest in him. Because he was a very dear man, an unselfish man, and I was the apple of his eye. And I would be more aware of him, and less of myself and the attention I needed, and I would be delighted to bestow some of that attention on him.
My career? It started as a job and became a career as the word became fashionable. I started out in the lowest level of the telephone company as a clerk and I moved up in the ranks. It was prior to the introduction of the computer. I liked it, it was challenging, because you know when you do things manually, you realize a sense of accomplishment from the fruits of your labor. I took a test for secretarial work, passed, and got appointed to be the helper to the secretary to the head of the department. And I liked that too ‑ it was very nice front office ‘ob. From there I was selected to go to be another man’s personal secretary. And I worked in an area that I thoroughly enjoyed ‑ it was coordinating, scheduling, and keeping things running smoothly. I did that for a couple of years, then I had a boss I didn’t particularly like. I took job for computer programmer, which I didn’t know anything about, but it paid more. I passed that test, went to programming school, and became one of the early pioneers in programming, which was an
entirely different world. It was a field I had never known, never knew existed, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I spent a few years there and was promoted to a higher level, which was manager, and that was good at first, I still maintained a hand in programming. But as the technology changed and I got farther away from it, it became less satisfying with the cultural changes of corporate America. The jobs I had were less meaningful. They were paper‑producing nothings. We had “quality circles” and “resource manager’s circles” and things that you knew were just fluff, and they died of their own weight. I didn’t have enough meaningful work at times ‑ I was bored. But I still liked it, although in a different way than my programming days. I liked the people, and I enjoyed some aspects of it. But then, later on the company underwent a transition, merging with other companies. An early retirement package was offered ‑ it was not a good one, but I took it. I say to Dan that I should have waited and I would have got ten times more money than I did when I left. But I didn’t. I left there with good feelings and a good career, and many happy memories.
I never regretted retiring. I didn’t miss it outwardly. But I know that at some level I must have ‑ it was my life, and I dream about it. I dreamed about it then ‑ I’m retired ten years ‑ and I dream that I’m back at work all the time. It’s a very, very strong recurring dream. In my dreams I’m at work, but I also know I’ve retired, but I’m there! So I guess, psychologically, somewhere, unconsciously, my life was so tied up with it that I have a hard time letting it go. But I don’t miss it, and I have no desire to go back. I like the idea that I can just appreciate life ‑ just life, living, without encumbrances, schedules, even though you impose your own schedules on yourself even in retirement. I enjoyed it, the time had come to go. I left, I don’t regret it.
My current marriage is great, but it hasn’t always been great. Dan was married before, underwent an acrimonious divorce, had a child who had learned to accept the fact that her father had deserted her, an ex‑wife who thought that our time was her time as far as phone calls, demands, just generally as much grief as she could give. Dan and I were unprepared for marriage even though we’d been around ‑ we weren’t young. We looked at life a lot different ly. In the early years we didn’t take the time to get to know each other and grow in any direction. We misunderstood each other at times. We had an underlying commitment, but as we’ve grown together and spent time and peeled away some of the layers in each of us, and as each of us has opened up and seen what in himself he can share with the other, we have come to enjoy each other today in a way that I did not think possible with any other human being. I have never shared this level of communication ‑ and that’s an overworked word ‑ but there’s just a gentle understanding of each other that we both treasure, and we’re going to keep on growing because we’ve still got a long way to go.
My interest in traveling started the first year I got a paycheck. I had a friend who was game and my mother and father let me go to New York with my friend. I was 17 years old. We went over Easter week‑end. We went down to New York City. It was the first time that we had been away from home any distance. And we stayed at the St. Moritz hotel and ate at the automate and our big Saturday night was sitting in the lobby of the hotel and watching people come and go. The following year I and the same friend went to Bermuda, and that was undoubtedly the biggest thrill of my life. It was the first time I had ever been on a plane. We arrived in Bermuda, we were 18, 20 years old. We knew nothing about the ways of the world, even a little island like Bermuda. We went to the beach a lot, we met nice young men, native Bermudians, who took us out the Saturday night before we were to leave, and wanted us to stay an extra day. We didn’t have much money, we just had enough for the trip, so we said we’d stay, and we went sailboating the next day, and then they took us back home and wished us well. We exchanged names and addresses, and my friend and I found that we did not have enough money to check out of the hotel and get home. So we went down to one of the young men’s house, knocked at the door and asked if we could borrow some money, a very inauspicious beginning for two Americans to be borrowing money from the Bermudians! We got the money and we got to New York. Our plane was late, we missed connections. At least in those days the airlines were good enough to put us up in a hotel. We stayed in the hotel overnight. I called my father and mother and said that we would be coming in a certain time the next day and we’d be taking a cab home, and be ready to pay the cab fare because we didn’t have any money. The next morning we went to a coffee shop, we split a danish and a glass of juice, took the subway to the airport, got home, took a taxi, and my father had to come out and pay the taxi. And that was our very first trip.
After that, the same gal and I took a windjammer cruise off the coast of Maine. We hit a hurricane. It was probably something I wouldn’t do again! The windjammers were primitive. You brushed your teeth on deck, any washing of your body was done on deck. Your cabin had no room to stand up except maybe six inches as you came in the door ‑ otherwise you had to he on your bunks. It was very damp ‑ the sheets were always wet. The food was good, but you just ate at long plank tables. You had to put the sails up and the sails down, and we had to sit in port for two and a half days because of the hurricane. So I kept going on vacation ‑ you might wonder why at this point!
After that we took a Carribean trip. We went to St. Thomas, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Cuba. Cuba was very interesting ‑ it was the days of Papa Doe Duvalier. And we went to what is known as a very beautiful nightclub, the Copacabana. And there were lions on the stage. It was a beautiful terraced garden where you had your meal and watched the show. We enjoyed all that very much.
After that I got married for the first time, which put a temporary hiatus on traveling. I did get back to it when I met another girl ‑ my first one had also gotten married and was no longer available for traveling. I met a girl in programming school and we found out we liked to travel together. So we went on a ski trip to Canada, we also went to Bermuda. The next big trip was to Europe, and we were going to Greece, Turkey and Spain. The beginning was not too auspicious. First, I was on strike assignment duty for the telephone company, from which there is virtually no escape ‑ twelve hour days, six days a week, no vacations. Somehow I had an angel in the telephone company, a very nice senior level executive in the department who knew of my plight ‑ I must have told him ‑ who called for my return to the office because I was needed, which of course I was not ‑ who needed a clerk? He called me in and said, “Go on vacation.” I have been forever grateful to that man! So on a Friday night I was in Boston, my friend now lived in New York. I had done the travel arrangements ‑ I had purchased the tickets, and I was to fly down and meet Gretchen at JFK and then we would take the late night flight to Athens. I went by myself to the airport and the plane to New York left on time. We flew down to JFK, circled JFK, didn’t land. The airport, the pilot said, was fogged in ‑ we were going back to Boston. We got back to Boston along with seemingly 10,000 other people with the same problem. And I was in Boston and Gretchen was in New York waiting for me, and I had the tickets. And the check‑in desk, where everyone had gone to change flights, to complain and just to look for direction, was ten miles deep ‑ at least in my eyes it was! I finally did get to the desk ‑ it was TWA, I’ll always remember that. I told the desk clerk that I was meeting my friend in New York, that I had the tickets, and she was waiting to go to Greece and I was waiting to go to Greece, what would I do? I don’t understand how sometimes people can be so nice to a traveler when they must get this story over and over again. They took me in the back room of the airline, they called TWA in New York and paged Gretchen. She came to the phone, he explained to the TWA staff in New
York that I had the tickets, they said “All right, we will allow her to fly without a ticket to Greece,” and I would follow up when I could. I had no backup flight at that point, so we asked Gretchen to stand by so we wouldn’t have to call back again. The TWA person with whom I was dealing called different airlines ‑ it was getting very late ‑ and found that I could take a Lufthansa flight to Frankfort, which would eventually connect with another flight to Athens, which would get me in approximately 16 or 17 hours later the next day. I called Gretchen back in New York and the arrangements were made. She waited for me patiently at Athens airport for what must have been 12 hours until I finally arrived.
From then on it was a delightful trip. We found Turkey to be most interesting. The mosques, the Golden Horn, the coffee that was filled halfway with grounds, the Christmas music that was played in the Hilton in July an the time, the fact that you really never bought anything without bartering for it, and you could barter for almost anything because the merchants would not want to let you go in the Grand Bazaar. So that was very educational ‑ you learned how to get your way through almost anything. From Greece to Turkey to Spain was quite a switch because Greece was very informal, pleasant. Turkey was really like what you’d see in Casa Blanca. Most people were very dark, swarthy, but very friendly. We met two Turkish men who took us out to dinner. We didn’t understand a word they said and they didn’t understand a word we said, but we did just fine, smiling a lot. After that we went on a Mediterranean cruise. We got off the ship at Sardinia where we spent the most boring week of one’s life at a nice little hotel. There was absolutely nothing to do. We were glad to get out of there!
We went to South America ‑ to Columbia, to Venezuela, to Brazil. We went back to Europe ‑ to Italy ‑ Rome and Venice. It was sort of like Cornelia Otis Skinner’s book ‑ it was two people traveling around the world ‑ our hearts were young and gay. We went to Venice where we met two young Italian men. Again, they didn’t speak English ‑ they were very attractive. They invited us to go from Venice to the Lido, which is a resort and gambling area across the bay on the barge. So we took the boat across, and they had a car somehow waiting at the dock. We got into the car supposedly to go to the Lido, to the nightclub. And we didn’t go to the Lido, we went to the beach ‑ a dark beach! We didn’t know where we were. They drove down the beach for a distance and stopped the car and started making advances. Well, we did not accept advances from anyone. We got out of the car on the beach ‑ we didn’t even know which direction was back ‑ everything was just a circle. Gretchen, who has the nose of a bloodhound, said “This way.” They first got out of the car and started following us, and we started to run, because you really just don’t know. Here you are all alone out here, dark, night. We kept on going, they did not pursue us. We got back to the square, there was one last bus that went back to the dock that would take us back to Venice. And as we got onto the bus, the young men drove up in their car and blew their horn and followed along beside the bus. And we were very glad to get back to relative safety!
So Gretchen and I did a lot of traveling, we enjoyed it very much. We took several cruises to the Carribean. And then, as all things change, Gretchen married a man with whom she worked, and my traveling took a hiatus until Dan and I, recently, in the last two or three years, have taken it up again. And as I complete this tape, we are currently down in Chatham Bars Inn in Chatham. The sun is out, we’re sitting in our little cottage very comfortably ensconced looking forward to
going out tonight for a very nice dinner, and again enjoying seeing a little bit more of the world which we have not seen for many, many years.
Last year Dan and I rented an apartment in Montmartre (Paris), in full view of Sacre Coeur. And we also took a trip to the wine country in the Loire valley. Our (Paris) apartment was on the top floor, with a terrace. We sat out there at night and watched the lights come on at Sacre Coeur. And we were amazed the first night that we got there we were at a local restaurant, at quarter of ten, and it was bright daylight! We walked the city of Paris from one end to the other ‑ from the Eiffel Tower to the Louvre, to the markets. We stopped at night and bought vegetables and fresh meats, fresh fish. Dan is an accomplished chef. In fact in our lifetime we had a little catering service that went on for eight or ten years. Dan had no experience, no training. But we amassed quite a following of people who were very enthusiastic about his cooking and our services in general. Since we shopped for the food, we prepared it, we served it, and we cleaned up, it was a long day.
So from Paris, we went down to the Loire Valley and stayed in a sixteenth century chateau. It had back stairs like a castle, big wooden doors with iron latches that led into canopied rooms with canopied beds, beautiful furnishings, hanging drapes. And it was owned by a charming French aristocratic lady who took us into her kitchen and had us observe as she was making her Sunday night supper with all her gleaming pots and pans. We met people from the United States, from Germany, from many different parts of the world. We toured wine country, went into eaves, we didn’t understand a word they said. I could say a word or two which brought more smiles to their faces than understanding. But the warmth and the kindness that they showed us! We went to one winery, and we just drove up to the door of their little farmhouse, and tried to get it across to them that we would like a tour of their eaves. And the father, the husband, came in from the fields and took us in a little truck down to his caverns, and showed us the big vats where the wine was and gave us little sips of wine to drink. And they were just completely charming. There was no hostility in France towards Americans ‑ not towards us. Everywhere we went there was warmth, patience, and the best food I’ve ever had in my life!
And we went to some delightful restaurants in the Loire Valley where ‑ I’ll always remember ‑ I’ve never seen this or heard of this done before, but we went into this garden type restaurant, we went to a table and were seated. A minute or two later the head waiter or maitre de came out and said, “Why don’t you two sit over here. The lady will have a better view of the garden.”
This year in August, Dan and I are returning to Europe. This time we’ve rented an apartment in Rome, Italy. It’s owned by a Italian woman who lives part time in Italy and part time in the United States. The pictures of it seem very delightful. It has a walled‑in garden, it’s gated for security, it has a garage. So we’re looking forward to doing that. And from there we’re going down to Tuscany into a little fishing village where we’ve also rented an apartment. And we’ll take in the surrounding areas of San Remo, Rappallo, Sienna. So our appetite for traveling has returned and we enjoy looking forward to the trips, we enjoy the ease of the trips. We do sightseeing, but we more or less absorb the countryside with the people, just walking around. When we went to Paris, we didn’t even go into the Louvre! Maybe next time.
Another facet of our life together which I think bears introduction, is that Dan and I made a trip to Barbados, and absolutely fell in love with the country. As you can see, our diversity of choices, the people we have met, the cultures, the lifestyles, it’s been a real smorgasbord. Anyway, we went to Barbados, enjoyed the people so much, fell in love with the island, and being not that young, but obviously that impractical, thought what a wonderful idea to buy a house there. So we went to a real estate agent that we found in the Yellow Pages. We told him our intentions, he took us out and showed us different properties, and we found one on the East coast of Barbados, perched on top of a hill, a hundred years old. It was called “Train View.” The view from our back porch was that which you see on practically all postcards or shots of Barbados from the East coast of the island, which is the Atlantic side, the wild side. We bought the house ‑ a very big,
rambling house. It had been added on to by the previous owner, so that we had quite a big area for two people. But we bought it, and flew home to Massachusetts. We passed papers, we got the house, now it needed some furnishings. Our initial intent was to make the house into a gift shop, and as the real estate agent said, “You can sell junk to tourists.” We did not know when, since we were working full time, or the practicality of it. I went down there with my friend Gretchen, and we spent the week buying furniture, and having it shipped, and no matter how much furniture I bought it wouldn’t fill that house up. Dan and I went that Christmas and did some painting and repairing. It was a very large house, very old, and it had shifted over the years so that there were cracks in the walls which we had to have repaired, which came back again within six months!
We owned the house for probably 17 or 18 years. We went down there several times. But then we found that it was deteriorating. We thought we wanted to rent it out, and once we started renting it out we no longer had the option of being able to stay there ourselves. The gift shop also never materialized. But the idea was fun, and it was fun to even own a dream house. Not many people own a fantasy, and that’s what we did.
As I look back at my childhood, that is a very special time to me, and I have told Dan about some of the things that affected our family as a young child, my grandmother living with us for so many years and the resulting tension. My mother was stuck in the middle between her husband and her mother, and I was aware of that. But I loved being at home, I loved having my girlfriends in, we had parties. Everyone came to my home, and I was always comfortable there with people. And so yes, I would have to say that I did have a happy childhood.
My family wanted me to be a good person, to think well of myself, to conduct myself in a way that other people would recognize it ‑ not to cheapen myself, not to go along with what others were doing because I wanted to be part of the crowd. But I did all that. I didn’t listen then to the extent that I absorb it now. Yes I wanted to be part of the crowd. But my parents were there to make sure that 1, as a teenager, as a young person, held to high standards of behavior. My actions today are still predicated on the standards that were set for me as a child.
Everyone likes to think that they have inner strength. It’s difficult to define inner strength. VVHAT is it? The ability to say “No” when it’s easy to say no? Sometimes when you realize how things affect you, how easily you are swayed by, maybe, public opinion, how you feel pain over things that you don’t know why, you wonder “VVHERE is my strength?” If I had inner strength, wouldn’t I be above pettiness and hurt feelings and hostility? But I’m not. I don’t know if I have inner strength, it’s something I would like to have. Sometimes yes, but I still know it’s not as complete as I would someday like (it) to be.
Most of the time, yes, (I have inner peace), but a lot of the time no. Because I have feelings I don’t know where they come from. Nothing happens, but I’m upset. The day’s sunny and I’m depressed. People don’t do what I like and I’m hostile. So I have negative feelings that really don’t come out of anywhere but I know they’re there. But, overall, I like going on, I like seeing these things, I like the challenge of knowing they’re there and knowing they don’t need to be there. But it’s a long road to go.
Spirituality. I don’t think that I can think my way into spirituality. At times right now I’m a little put off by the wholesale mass distribution of spirituality. I hear about spiritual healers, spiritual advisors, and read this book and you will be spiritual, you will have growth and healing, join this group and they win lead you to spiritual uplifting. There are television shows on an gels and spirituality, they have gurus on television with the seven steps to spirituality. Is that spirituality? That’s not spirituality to me. Spirituality is being able to rise above what I am. And I can’t do it by thinking about it. I can’t say that I’m a good person and I’m reading all the spiritual books, joining the right organizations and listening the right advisors so therefore I’m spiritual, because I’m not. My husband and I knew one spiritual person in our lives ‑ we never met him, but he knew both of us, completely. We are students in his teachings, and we realize how far we have to 90, and what spirituality does not mean in this world. So spirituality, I would say, is a lofty goal, a constant striving to understand better and to grow out of myself into something that is above this world and its chaos.
I don’t think my life has had many crucial decisions. I think one of the most crucial was marrying Dan, because it was not an easy relationship with my mother. I was, as you might have guessed from my past musings on the tape, very close to my mother. I lived with her since I left my first marriage at twenty‑two. I had been back with her for almost twenty years. Dan was a person who was different from any other man who had ever come to my home. He and my mother did not really get along ‑ there was a competition, a struggle, to see who, I guess, who could “win” me. It made for very emotional scenes that I had never known in my life. There was arguing and screaming and crying. I moved out of the house that I lived in because Dan had influenced me. I was under his influence completely at that time. I didn’t want to disappoint him. I was quite torn. And emotionally it was a very, very long stretch, but somehow I knew I wanted to marry him, and there was a great deal of pain in many areas. So I would say that was what probably stands out in my mind as a very crucial turning point. I want to add that the relationship between my mother and Dan mellowed and grew over the years of our marriage. My mother was proud of her son‑in‑law. She felt quite flattered when he cooked special dinners for her or baked her a lovely decorated cake.
My mother had a heart attack at age 88. She was not expected to live, however she did pull through. She came home from the hospital and lived for another two and a half years. During that time she never fully regained her strength, but her spirit was indomitable. She never aged mentally, so she was enjoyable to be with at age 88, 89. Because of the severity of her heart attack, during the last six or eight months of her life her health did decline. She became weak, but still ambulatory, and we still went out to lunch often. I last spoke with her after she had attended a Christmas party in her senior citizen home where she lived. She had a good time, enjoyed it very much, she was very happy, very peppy. That was on a Friday. I go to Maine on week‑ends to be with Dan. When I returned home that Sunday, one of the women from her house called and told me to call Mass General Hospital because my mother had been taken ill. I called and was told that she had died on Saturday. No one knew how to get a hold of me ‑ I didn’t feel very good about that. So that Sunday might after I got home I called the woman back in the house and she told me how to set up funeral arrangements. The next day I picked out the casket, Dan came down from Maine, we had a short visiting period with my mother. People from the senior citizens’ home came over and payed respects. The funeral procession was the hearse and Dan and I in the limousine. And the three of us ‑ my mother, Dan and I ‑ went to Beverly cemetery and buried her alongside my father.
If I could say something to her today, I would say “Understand me. I did the best I could at the time. Let me know you better, and I hope you are someplace where you can get to know me better.”
I see now that I am not the image that I built up for myself over the years ‑ strong, confident, superior. I am frightened and shaky inside although I don’t act any different outside. I am able to see these things. I am able to talk about them with Dan, who also comes back and tells me ht’s inner feelings and workings. We find out they’re not all that different. In fact you wonder if anybody in the world is any different. I see myself more for what I am rather than what I thought I was. I like it better, it’s more comfortable. Unless you see the pain that you’ve inflicted on yourself over the years, how are you ever going to rise above it? I can’t, but I know it’s there, and it’s a fascinating life lesson in self discovery. It’s not boring, but it’s not easy.
The future? I would like to keep on going up ‑ I believe there is so much. If people really believed in God, in heaven, why would they spend all there time with their body, their faces ‑ which is what I do. So do I believe in God, do I believe in heaven? I don’t know. Because if I did, I wouldn’t be worried about the physical world. We all say we believe in God, it sounds good. But I guess I just want to continue to learn.
(As far as advice to the younger generation) I’m not sure the younger people would want the advice. I don’t think I would have wanted the advice. I think advice, coming from an older person, is a lecture, it’s not advice. The way children grow up responsibly is for parents to start from the time that the child wants the first candy bar in the supermarket, and mother says “No, no, no … yes.” If you grow up within a structure that has limits, that has boundaries, that has love, that has guidelines, that has loyalty, you’re not going to always accept it, but it’s going to be there when you’re going to be teetering on “Should I or shouldn’t I.” It’s like any launch of any missile, you shoot it in the right direction, it doesn’t always go into orbit, but it has a better chance. And that’s the advice, I guess, to live by for little children. It’s the little seed ‑ they might wait for someone else to give them advice when they’re eighteen or nineteen. It’s too late ‑ I wouldn’t listen. I didn’t even listen at the time. But I knew the way my household was run, and now I thank whatever powers that be.
I guess if we did the interview all over again I could expound more and think of other things. Is my story colored by my own desire to sound good? I don’t know. Maybe a little, but I tried to look inside and say “What do you really think?” You know you do so many things for a motive that you don’t know. How many times do you do things just to get the feeling that you want back, and (you realize) you really almost struggle for the attention that makes you feel better about yourself. Right now, I think, Dan and I both are on a path that is very enlightening, but it is not easy. I talk about it like it’s really difficult! We are currently enjoying the best years of our lives, and I would like to think the best years will be all the years from now to eternity.