Life Story Interview with Frances Hawkes Hale
Joyce L. Hale
College of Education and Human Development
University of Southern Maine
On Wall Street, “It was the worst of times!” and the beginning of the Great Depression. As the fourth of six children, I was born on April 3, 1928 in a midwife home on Narraganset Street in Gorham, Maine. My parents named me Frances Gertrude Hawkes. Frances was a special relative and my mother’s first name was Gertrude. I hated it! Things were financially tough for most people. My father lost his business. My older sister recalls that food baskets were delivered to us at Christmas and Easter. At that time, Gorham was a rural area, as was most of Maine. Families who lived on farms were basically self sufficient and depended on the local grocery store only for staples such as flour, sugar, molasses, condiments, and spices. However, even though both my parents were raised on farms, it wasn’t until I was seven years old when they bought and moved the family to a farm.
By the time I was born, Mom had little time for keeping baby books. Therefore, records of my birth and early years are recalled entirely by “family lore”. It seems that my delivery was normal and my mother returned home with me after a week. The first experience that I recall vividly to this day happened at age two. My oldest brother, Ray, was carrying me on his shoulders, went through a door without ducking and I was hit in the head knocking me unconscious. The family doctor came, which in those times occurred very rarely. When I was three years old, I remember going with Mom and my older brother, Ken, for his first day of school. He cried because he didn’t want to stay at school, but had to; and I cried because I wanted to stay, but couldn’t. What I remember most about my early, as well as later years, is of all the fun I had playing with my brothers and the frequent family gatherings with grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles.
All of us attended the Gorham Training School, which was part of the Gorham Normal School, now known as the University of Southern Maine. At that time, it offered only a three-year program with a curriculum dedicated solely to “training” teachers. The State of Maine, not the town, owned the training school and paid for all the costs of the school as well as the teachers’ salaries, etc. It was located down the hill and adjacent to the normal school campus on Fort Hill Road. This modern big three story red brick school was the largest building I had ever seen. There was one classroom for each grade. The basement housed Kindergarten for four year olds and Sub-Primary for five year olds, as well as the Boys Room and the Girls Room, the furnace room and a room with big tables and chairs called the cafeteria. Hot lunch, which was prepared and transported from the normal school dining room, consisted of a single hot item to supplement bus pupils’ cold lunches. The cost was 3 cents. On the second floor was the principal’s office and first through sixth grade. The top floor for grades 7-9 was called the Jr. High School. It had three classrooms, a library where we had Latin, a “huge” auditorium with a stage and two small rooms for tutoring.
School hours were from 8:30 a.m. until noon and from 1:30p.m. until 3:00 p.m. All the teachers, except the one on duty, had dinner in the college dining room. The evening meal for most families was termed “supper”. In those days, mothers did not work outside the home and even though we lived a little over a mile from school, at noon we walked home for our dinner. There was less than one busload of students who remained at school. Our gym and music teachers were on the normal school faculty. Beginning in sixth grade the girls went to the college twice a week for classes in home economics and the boys for manual training.
We were provided with the best education possible in those days. From the time I was four years old until I graduated from ninth grade, every nine weeks we had two new student teachers training under the head teacher. We had every possible educational opportunity. As well as teaching in the classrooms, the student teachers served as tutors and taught us in all areas of extra-curricula activities including sports, cheerleading, drama, prize speaking, elocution, crafts, hobbies, etc. With only twenty plus kids in a class and two student teachers, we were provided with an excellent education.
Now back to my remembrances of my family and me. My early development was normal-precocious. Early language development was excellent. I often articulated for my two brothers, Ken, who was 18 months older and Lincoln, who was 18 months younger. My favorite sibling was my older brother Ken. We were either violent enemies or partners in everything we did. My parents thought I was OK and didn’t worry about me when I was with Ken. He was older and in contrast to my personality and academic ability. He had a difficult time in school even though we had the best that education could offer. He never was proficient in reading and writing. He stayed back two years and finally during World War II he quit school at age 16 and joined the navy. He had other strengths that made it possible for him to enjoy a very successful adult life.
It appears that I developed normally in every way. I was tall and thin. A bad habit that I began in childhood, which persists now, is nail biting. I experienced usual childhood fears, nothing to a degree that created difficulty for me except fear of thunderstorms. Since our home was struck three times, this fear has continued to this day. I was, and am an extremely sensitive person and always empathizing. I do remember how I used to rotate my clothes in my walk-in closet because I didn’t want to “hurt the feelings” of the ones that were in the back. Isn’t that crazy? I enjoyed both active and quiet play. I spent a great deal of time reading and frequently went to bed with a flashlight to read under the covers when I was supposed to be asleep. Being born in the middle of four boys prompted me to be aggressive, outgoing, athletic, and competitive. I vied for attention by excelling in many areas. By the time I began junior high school I was assuming many leadership roles. The fact that I was physically attractive and well liked socially lead to my winning three beauty type contests, Queen of the Winter Carnival, Harvest Queen, and Poultry Queen. Doesn’t that sound like Maine? I was runner up in the state poultry contest. They said it was rigged. The governor crowned the local gal who was a resident of Belfast, Broiler Capital of the World!
My accomplishments were good, positive reinforcement for a good self-image. Back then, you didn’t show outward affection. You didn’t say, “I love you.” You didn’t do those things. You just knew from your behavior. You were supposed to know your parents loved you. Your parents were the authority figures. I didn’t question that.
The atmosphere in our home was happy, fun loving, gregarious, and bustling with industrious life. Soon after my parents purchased semi-rural farm our house became the hangout for all our friends. All family members worked hard caring for animals, bringing in the animals’ food and our own. We sold dairy and poultry products and operated a very successful truck garden and roadside stand. Boys did male things. My brothers had to feed the animals, milk the cows twice a day, sweep the barn and carry in wood for the two stoves. Girls did girls’ things. I made nine beds every morning before I went to school. I churned butter, helped my mother in the kitchen, washed dishes and tended the roadside stand. In the winter, we had to empty what we called “thunder jugs”! A thunder jug is a pot kept under the edge of the bed to pee in during the night! We had a flush toilet. My grandmother and grandfather had an outhouse and used the Sears Roebuck catalogue for toilet paper. My mother who was born in 1900 lived during a period of vast change in technology in the United States. Her daily transportation to Windham High School was by driving a blind horse that she fed in the school stables at noon during her lunch break. Just imagine having experienced a life span from an era when transportation was limited to horses and trains to those when automobiles, airplanes, and space travel were the mode of the day. Further, she lived during the times when the only source of light was from candles and lanterns and news was spread by word of mouth or printed, to the days of the radio and then television.
On the farm, my mom and dad employed and supervised many workers during the summer growing season. We had a live-in hired man who was always considered part of the family, and depending on his age, he was sort of the big brother or the uncle. We kids perceived our Dad as the dominant parent, but Mom handled all the day-to-day vicissitudes. I think we felt their cohesiveness and knew that while they did everything that they could for us, we were secondary to them. You knew your parents were the dominant members in the family. You did what they wanted. You didn’t say like you and Rob say to your almost three-year-old Molly, “Do you want to go do this?” We were told what we were going to do and we did it. It was just different. We respected authority and obeyed. It certainly was easier on the parents and probably kids, too!
My mother never did things outside the home without dad. They had a particular group of friends and they “played with them”. They went on hunting and fishing trips together, and that was their social life. We had my great Aunt Edna, my grandmother’s sister, and Grammie Hawkes, my father’s step-mom who came and to take care of us. My father’s mother died in the great flu epidemic when Dad was a student at the University of Maine. Back then, students took a regency exam to get into high school and he passed his at the completion of 6th grade. He skipped junior high and went to high school and then to the university. His mother died. The university was closed because of the flu epidemic. He went home and never returned. He ran away and lied about his age to join the U.S. Army in World War I. They caught him and sent him home. Then he taught school in a one-room elementary school house.
I remember our parents being extremely fair and impartial. Each of the six of us got special attention as warranted for successes, failures, illnesses, and individual needs. While they had no knowledge of formal child psychology, I realize that our parents had a natural knack for understanding how to rear children. Our home was the hub of our lives, and all our activities radiated from it. We ate all our meals at a big table in the kitchen. We had our own place. We all had our own jobs. Every meal was family style. We had a wood stove, which my mother cooked on year round. In the winter, we closed all but the kitchen and dining room, which also had a wood parlor heater. These two stoves were our only source of heat until I was in junior high. To this day, I can run a wood stove with my eyes closed and one hand behind my back!
In the winter, the only activities outside the home were school, attending the School Street Methodist Church activities, Boy Scouts, Campfire Girls and Grange. All of us kids went to Sunday school every week without question. At the appropriate age, we began attending church and on Sunday evenings, the youth group called Pilgrim Fellowship. I was musical and sang in the junior choir. As Methodists, we were not allowed to play games or do any work on Sunday. You couldn’t even polish your shoes. If my brothers wanted me to press their pants, I had to do it on Saturday. We used a flat iron with removable bases that were heated on the woodstove. I charged them 15 cents a pair. In those days, 15 cents would buy us a hamburger and an ice cream float. I got two dollars a week for allowance all through high school. We got a lot for our money. I bought my lunch on the days we stayed uptown to go to sports practice and paid my fare to the movies at least once a week. When I was in high school a small movie theater was built in Gorham. One Sunday evening I sneaked out of the house and met some friends at the movies. Within an hour by father appeared to get me and take me home. Nothing was said, but I got the message! I supplemented my allowance by doing a great deal of babysitting at 15 cents an hour or $3.00 for an entire weekend.
I recall a few major crises occurring during our childhood. My grandmother died of diabetes when I was in grade school. I had been very close to her and was her favorite. She and Grandpa always invited me to go to their farm in Windham to stay after the family feasts of Thanksgiving and Christmas. I was much older when Grandpa died of hardening of the arteries. We six kids experienced the usual childhood illnesses, but it was traumatic when Ray was rushed to Maine General Hospital where he nearly died of a ruptured appendix. In fifth grade, Linc was in a skiing accident and suffered what was termed as a severe “green stick” fracture to his leg. For months, he was in a cast from under his armpits to his toes on one leg and above his knee on the other.
The break up of our family began when my sister went away to college. Then my two older brothers went off to World War II when I was in high school. The two younger ones later joined the service following their graduations. During that time, when I had teenage rebellion difficulties with my father, I began to be much closer to my mother with whom I confided and had few problems. She was probably my closest friend.
I finally came to peace with dad in 1948 when I fulfilled his dream for me to go to college. By then, my youngest brother was the only one left at home, and the farm was inactive. Mom and Dad purchased 50 acres of land and two old farms on Sebago Lake. They remodeled one farm as a retirement home, built a lovely cottage on the lake, and developed the remainder of the property into house lots. Dad was elected as a state legislator in the Maine House, but never got to serve. At age 47, he died of a heart attack on a hunting trip while he was away with three other men. Dad’s death and the year following were real bad times for me. The town undertaker came up to Gorham State Teachers College to the dorm called Robie Hall where I was living as a freshman to break the news to me first. He then took me to go tell my older brother, who was at work, and then go home and tell my mother and my youngest brother. I was expected to be the brave one.
Dad’s viewing and visiting hours were held in our parlor followed by a large Masonic funeral. It was awful. I could not cry until the ride to the cemetery, but after that when I got back to school I started having blackouts. The worst one happened one day in class when the doctor came and took me from class. I think it was emotional. I was very sensitive. As previously stated, I couldn’t even sit at a movie without crying. If someone got killed or shot like the cowboys and Indians, I thought they all were dead.
My dad’s death was rough on Mom. I could hear her sobbing every night. For a time I wish she too would die and be spared of her misery. She had been extremely dependant on her relationship with him. She was very concerned about the lake properties, supporting herself, and raising twelve-year-old Bob without a father. But within a short time, all her latent abilities to assume managerial responsibilities sprang forth. She sold half the Sebago Lake property, paid off the mortgage, built another cottage, and rented their retirement home. She took a position in the office of Dixon Bros., which she held until she was 77 years old. In fact, I think she was working there on-call until she died. Time heals. The blackouts finally stopped.
By this time, the family was less cohesive and geographically dispersed. We were all married and involved with the challenges of raising our children. It was after my mother passed away that my brothers started dying one after the other, three years in a row. Each was tragic and a shock! Linc died in his doctor’s office while walking to the examining table Ray died in his sleep and Ken died while sitting at the kitchen table talking to his wife. The next year, Ken’s 35-year-old son and a favorite nephew, Dennis, “the menace”, died. He had been in an accident and fallen off the roof of a house where he had been working. No one realized, but he probably had a concussion. Those were a rough few years. Heart disease was prevalent among the males. My youngest brother, Bob has had open-heart surgery. The females in our family are fortunate not to have had cardiac problems. Both my mother’s and my father’s family members and our cousins all had diabetes, but no one in our family has it. Isn’t that amazing? My mother and father were brother and sister to my aunt and uncle. Brother and sister married brother and sister; therefore, my cousins are double first cousins. In spite of diabetes and other medical problems, all are still living.
My maternal grandfather was a farmer and my mother grew up on a farm typical to the area. Back then, and even into the 1950’s on our family farm in Gorham, families were self-sufficient. Everybody except those living in the town centers, had cows, pigs and chickens. What we bought at the grocery store we could bring home in one bag. I remember my mother giving me $1.00 and telling me to ride to Hawkes IGA to get four pounds of hamburg! We watched the butcher cut fresh meat and grind it. (This is the store where I later worked in high school and college.) We canned everything: string beans, tomatoes, peas, beets, carrots and of course all kinds of pickles! We had carrots, turnips, onions and beets that we stored packed in sand in barrels in the cellar. Slabs of bacon and ham were hanging from the cellar ceiling. One or more deer hung from the rafters in the barn. We had a cider barrel under the cellar stairs and by Thanksgiving, after a morning of hunting deer, all the men used to go down cellar and drink hard cider before the Thanksgiving feast consisting of a half a dozen chickens, a pork roast, fried venison, and baked duck or goose plus mounds of vegetables along with every conceivable kind of cakes, pies, bars and cookies! Sinful.
We lived very differently! It’s just unbelievable when I recall life during my childhood and how it is now. Here I am at this moment sitting in a fancy van with push button everything at the boys’ and girls’ state championship soccer games. I’m talking to a tape recorder looking at the multitude of automobiles surrounded by fancy athletic fields with P.A systems, etc. etc. All in the name of progress, but being aware of all the problems people face, the high rates of disease and suicide, I wonder. Things were so much simpler and less stressful. It used to be an all day trip, but almost every single Sunday when weather permitted, we did something with our relatives and family.
My general attitude growing up was positive. You know, nobody was rich then. I remember us being quite well off because we had a lovely big home. We had a double parlor well furnished with carpets, “over stuffed furniture” and a piano. By the time I was in junior high, we had a furnace with central heating and radiators, so the whole house was warm all winter. That brought an end to having Saturday night baths in the galvanized washtub in the dining room!
I was taught to believe that my life would be exactly what I made of it. So I set out to make it the best that I could. I was cooperative and obedient, which I think was somewhat contrary to my inner self. I exhibited rebellion and stubbornness on occasions when I could not go along with the dictums at home or at school. I was gregarious, social, fun loving. My high school yearbook said, “Not that I study less, but that I have fun more.” I was always throwing parties. Our house was the hub of where all the kids came. Kids who lived in South Windham, which was part of Gorham, always came over and stayed at somebody’s house after a basketball game. We never had school buses take us anywhere. Whenever we went to a basketball game, our teams went with parents driving and boyfriends, and girlfriends together. At school dances the adults and siblings came. I don’t recall that my parents ever went to our dances. We danced with adults, boyfriends, girlfriends, or the same sex. It was just different. I expect that probably what we old folks are referring to when we say “the good old days” is how much simpler it was without the constant worry of legal issues. If we spilled hot coffee in our crotch we were careless not the business which provided the coffee!!!
I had my own stubborn streak. I see that in one granddaughter, approaching three years old, even though she’s not really blood related. (Our son, Rob was adopted.) I think if you’re capable, you have a good mind, and you read a lot, you know what you want. Molly certainly does and her intellect is amazing! In spit of my stubbornness, I was always very sensitive, pensive, and had deep emotional feelings. I was always the one in the family selected to care for sick animals, or runts in the litter. Many baby kittens and pigs given up as hopeless, I nursed to robust health by feeding them with a doll’s bottle and wrapping them in warm rags in a box behind the kitchen stove. I was extremely empathetic so much so that I could not attend movies without getting sick until I was in junior high. I projected myself into the screen and suffered all the ills of the actors and actresses. I’ve always taken the side of the underdog and encouraged those less fortunate than I.
I’ve understood the handicapped and can work with them without pity. I look towards the positive in most people, and I never taught I child that I didn’t truly like. I found something really good and unique in them and nurtured their effective. This was carried over to my staff when I was school administrator. All my positions in my work were positive experiences.
I don’t know what gave me the ability to work with the handicapped, but I guess back then, we were taught respect for the person. Don still loves to hear me tell about Norman Gallop. Across the street from us, in Gorham lived a couple who had their only child when they were much older who was born mentally retarded. Back then we used the term, feeble minded. We thought Norman Gallop was so funny. His mother was allowed to accompany him to school and stay with him all day until he was in the middle elementary grades. Norman built a mini-village of little shacks out around their house. He wired them with electricity, including the seats of his private outhouse! Norman would come with his mother and father to visit. We always entertained them in our parlor. Norman would sit there grinning, drooling and mumbling. So when we were disgusted with a sibling, we would say, “You act like Norman Gallop!” I can remember one day when Norman threw a snowball at my father. My father ran across the street and chased him onto their porch, through the front door of their house and out the back door. I knew many handicapped adults, but we were instilled with sensitivity for the “less fortunate” and grew up knowing that we should not “pick on people” less fortunate. Further, we were never allowed to be unkind to animals.
In our family, we often played pranks and enjoyed plotting them. This tendency one time got me into trouble. One year a few minutes before the beginning of the traditional Christmas White Gift Service at our School Street Methodist Church, I was an accomplice to dropping bubble gum down through the register of the hot air furnace, which was located in the vestry below. When that gum hit the piping, hot furnace top smoke immediately filled the church. White Gift was when everyone in the church brought food wrapped in white paper and you came up to the altar and put your gifts in baskets for the poor people. Of course, my older sister trotted home, tattled, and expanded the account to my father. She was his favorite. Brother did I get it! It was one of the few times, I recall, getting a spanking, and I believe it was the last one. That prank had backfired and my fanny and psyche bore the brunt. It also drove a little wedge deeper between me and my sister. I always called her my “smother” because as the oldest of six children she had to be the surrogate mother. She had to help mother take care of all of us kids, especially when we were being born a year and a half apart.
As expected according to my birth order factor, I was creative, had spontaneity, and self-confidence. I had discovered by the time I entered high school I had the ability to do whatever I wanted to do. I think I was well liked by my peers and especially by adults. My mother was very good after my father died. After she was cut out of the family will by getting a check for one dollar, she never held that against her brother and sister and when they were ill. With [ailing] aunts, uncles, and great aunts we used to go and visit. I did that with my mother, and I did that just up until the day that she died. I’m sure my family did recognize that my mother didn’t carry resentments, but you didn’t talk about it then. Well, growing up in Maine everybody was stoic. You persevered, and that’s the way you lived.
I was taught early to respect older people and they really liked my attending to them. I gave sparkle to their humdrum lives, and I’ve been doing that through my adult life. I became very friendly with a lady, I guess she is almost totally blind now, and she’s in a nursing home and she is 99 or 100 years old. I used to take her out for lunch every other week. Also, I have another friend who is paralyzed on one side from a stroke, which she had when she was 50. I used to take her weekly to her hairdresser and grocery shopping. Then, she got severe lung problems and is on oxygen twenty-four hours a day, and often needs a wheelchair. Other than her family, Don and I are the only ones who will take her to social events. I’ve just always taken care of people. You know, look at our relationship with Captain Eliot Winslow and Marge for heaven’s sake. (These are close friends of ours who we have been caring for for years). I hate to think of the future when family and friends will have to care of us! Until then we’re going to go on showing concern and caring for these special friends.
I worked in the local grocery store downtown in Gorham all through high school and college. Everybody in town knew me and I knew them. You know, imagine back when you could name the people living in every single house in Gorham, Conversely, these people also knew us and we didn’t act up outside of home because if you did, your parents knew it before you got home. I had many friends and was the instigator of most of our social activities. In short, the world was my oyster back in high school.
My first memory of anything to do with sex occurred probably about age four, and I can still remember because it was such a traumatic thing. I guess we were playing doctor. It was discovered by my mother, and I recall her questioning us, and I didn’t know why. I didn’t even know what we did, but her attitude gave the caution that it was “bad.” That’s the way it was back then. Because of my having so many brothers, I knew that there were physical differences between boys and girls. When playing in the woods we did some undressing and getting a comparative look.
We spent hours and hours in the woods. We had a back way through the fields and woods up to the Gorham Training School. We frequently played in the woods, made shelters and cabins, built campfires, had cookouts, ice skated, etc. We were just totally free in the woods. We never were worried about the things that kids do now…..of not speaking to strangers, or being kidnapped. Back then, you had to speak to everybody or you were punished. Now it’s very stressful for these little kids and their parents to think, “I can’t let my kid out of my sight, ’cause they might be kidnapped or sexually molested or murdered.” At home, we always had to dress in privacy. You never saw your parents’ nude bodies or your brothers’. We knew that people had intercourse to have babies, but not for sexual pleasure. At the age of eight or nine, my father cautioned me about men and the hired man in particular. But I didn’t know what it was all about. Sex, birth, death were all natural phenomenon because it applied to animals on our farm. I obtained no information about sex from my parents. I learned most everything from my girlfriends. I didn’t start my menstrual periods until I was 14 years old. I thought there was something wrong with me, that I was half boy or something. Because of my flat chest, I was convinced that I was one of those queer girl-boy people. I thought, “Oh my God, something’s wrong with me.” Out of all my girlfriends, I must have been just about the last one of the girls in our class to start my periods. After a few bouts with menstrual cramps, I almost wished that I was a boy. We used to call it the “curse”. And I had cramps like that until I had my daughter, Soni, and I was 25 years old.
We never saw a doctor unless you were going to die. We didn’t see doctors. We didn’t have shots. The only thing we had to do was to line up every morning for a tablespoonful of cod liver oil. That was to prevent rickets. Otherwise than that, we never saw a doctor. One time the doctor came to the house. I had bronchitis my senior year or junior year of high school and you didn’t go to the doctor’s office.
When I was 10 years old, I rode my bicycle half a mile up the road to where our family doctor lived, while his wife, daughter and his wife’s sister used to go to Sebago and live all summer at the cottage, and at 10 years old I cooked that doctor’s lunch everyday. Imagine, making his lunch! But, life was so simple then. But, I don’t wish that it were that simple again. I love to push buttons [laughing]. Getting ready for that dinner party [I had last night], I thought, “It’s so nice to have this wonderful kitchen.” It just makes entertaining so much easier!
Digressing back to my teenage years, boys always interested me. I related to them in many ways, better than I did to girls. My best friends were always boys. Except in high school, I had three very, very close best friends who were female. In many ways, I functioned more like the boys. The boy across the street who was a classmate was among my best friends as were his parents.
I always had a boyfriend, dated when it was popular to do so, and traveled with the “in” heterosexual group. I don’t think, as I look back on it, we had any outwardly gay kids in school. I’d like to think about that because even now I think I recognize a gay person. They just have different ways of being. I fell madly in love many times, but during my senior year in high school I thought I’d found the guy I wanted to marry, so I wouldn’t listen to my folks wishes for me to go to college. It appeared to me as a waste of time and money. I took a position as a dental assistant in town and started filling my Hope Chest while I waited for this guy to get out of the navy. Within two years, that relationship had folded. Maturation and having a job changed my perspective. Marriage was not part of my immediate plans. First, I must get an education. By that time, my father was still alive, but he died my second month of college. He died in November and I just started college in September.
I decided to go to college and arrangements were made for me to earn my room and board in order to live on campus in the dorms. I waited on tables, and I had a full scholarship. Tuition was $50 a semester. Room and board was $10 a week, and I earned my room and board and a scholarship for my tuition. I was a town kid and they all knew me and I just applied [for the scholarship], and they had money, and I got it. We were the biggest incoming class at Gorham State Teachers College in 1948 with 128 students. Now there are over 10,000 students!
We had a lot of veterans in college, and in fact, we had 32 veterans who came back, in our high school class, and graduated with our class in 1946, and there were 46 students in my class at Gorham. As far as the gender split, I would say there were more girls. Back then, the college had no boys’ dormitories. They had only female dormitories, and the boys lived in houses all through town. Some of those houses became frat houses. We had Kappa Delta Phi, which was what Don belonged to, and Lambda something or other that was considered the effeminate fraternity. We used to make fun of them.
Some of the major experiences in my life, the positive ones, were graduating junior high in 1943, high school in ’46, getting my B.S. in ‘52 my M.A. in ‘57 and my certificate of advanced graduate study in 1972. Our wedding was on June 9, 1952, which was the day we graduated from college. They took the flowers from graduation and took them down the hill to the Methodist church. Everybody came to watch our wedding that night. I met Don in 1948, well we were in the same class in college and I started dating him in the spring of 1949, our freshman year.
That freshman year was a rough year because I had seen Daddy die, and I was madly in love with this guy, and he had a high school sweet heart back home. I think Sally was still a senior, but the people, the couple that replaced my father in the state legislature invited me to go to the Governor’s ball and I went with this Charlie. I really fell head over heals in love with Don when we met.
Other highlights were the birth of Soni in Alaska, driving down the Alkan highway with her when she was 8 months old and a year of graduate school in Colorado, where we [Don and I] graduated together with a master’s degree. Soni was 3 years old. They put a photograph of us in the school paper. We lived in Weston Massachusetts for 10 years for professional and personal growth. There were great, great lasting friendships. We built a cottage on Sebago and had a lot of fun. Everybody came up there from Massachusetts and worked on the cottage, and we’d get 20 or 30 of us go up there and sleep and stay and play in the boats and have a party. The kids all grew up together.
Another highlight was the adopting of our son who was five years and nine months old. [Other highlights] were getting jobs, returning back to Maine, and purchasing our 66-acre farm in Cumberland. The man who sold us the farm lied to us. We didn’t know. We took his word. We never had it measured out until we sold it. We were shocked, but what was the difference between 15 acres then? Of course, we gave Rob 15 acres. Rob used to take the dog in the woods; it was beautiful. It was a great place to raise kids. They’re charging a million dollars for that now. Especially since Dr. Harper bought the land, that house now has 20 acres with it. 20 acres in Cumberland a mile out of the center now is a gold mine. It’s what put us on our feet.
A big highlight, which brought about a complete change in my educational career for me, was being the director of Special Education in Cumberland. In fact, I was the first and only teacher in Special Education in Cumberland. They started Special Education in Cumberland because there was a man, who was in the state legislature, who had a son, who was learning disabled, and they wanted to send him to private school in Massachusetts. Back then, the law said, and I think it still does, if your public school cannot provide the education that you need, you can send them anywhere, and the town has to pay for it. So they wanted to prove that they could provide the education, and I was the only teacher in the school system who had special education background and training from my masters in Colorado, and they hired me. Then, I was the only Special Education teacher. Now think how many you’ve got.
I taught in the worst places, [like] basements. The used to call the basement at the Drowne Road School, or we called it the dump school, “alphabet lane.” You’d go down the stairs into the cellar, it was right next to the furnace, and sometimes the door on the furnace would blow. It was special education [what else was to be expected]. There were no windows just bulkheads. I didn’t mind. I had it painted up bright, and I made a lot of fun for the kids. They were glad to get out of the classroom and come to me. It was a place where they could be respected. By that time, I was director of special education; I don’t know how many teachers we had at that time.
I applied for a Ford Foundation Fellowship that I saw in the Teachers magazine and was awarded a year’s fellowship by the Ford Foundation Leadership Development. It was a great, great year. I was granted $15,000 to travel and the school board gave me a sabbatical to have the year off. I didn’t get the school salary. Of course then your salary was $7,000 or $8,000. So $15,000 was more, and they paid your expenses to travel or do whatever you wanted to. I traveled out to Stanford University in California. I was out there for a week, and I saw this early intervention program.
I think you’ve learned enough about me, but let me just say this. After that, I wrote a federal grant, and then started a program that lasted for 8 years and [the program] is still going on now.
Listening to Frances Hale tell her story made me realize that I overlooked stories from my own grandparents. As I listened to Fran orate her past, I felt great regret of neglecting my own familial history, and now since my grandparents are deceased, I can never hear their personal stories. Since my interview with Fran, I have often wondered what my grandparents would say if given the opportunity to tell their life stories. What could I have learned about my self? What could I have learned about them? Would they have gained a better sense of self in the process of sharing their stories? Had anyone ever asked them about their history? Did they know that their history was important to the evolution of our own family beliefs and practices? My grandmothers were very important to me, but I never thought to ask them about how they developed throughout their lifetime, nor did I take the time to inquire out about their cultural heritage. Partially, I believe this was because I was too young to be able to appreciate or understand how the past influences the future, but also, the family tension prevented open discussions, and most of our energy was centered on keeping the familial peace. Nevertheless, my grief of losing my history with the death of my grandmothers remains.
Along with the sorrow, however I simultaneously began to gain a clear sense of importance regarding that history, where we came from, how we have evolved, and how we came to claim our own values, beliefs, and traditions. Before interviewing Fran, I saw little need for knowing my past. I saw no connection between the lives of my ancestor’s and my life today. Now, as I write this paper, I am amazed at my ignorance. Hopefully, I will learn from this experience and never take for granted my links to the past. Furthermore, I wish not only to be aware of our history, but also to teach our daughter about the struggles and triumphs of our families that brought us to the present moment. Maybe, then I can prevent her from a sense of loss about not knowing her family history. My first action towards this end is to make connections between Fran’s past and my own while attending to the cultural differences that have emerged with time.
Fran’s childhood setting was vastly different from my own, but I could see common themes between our lives. Education was critical in my family, too. Our lives revolved around our education and nothing was to stand in our way. Like Fran’s family, my family engaged in little activity outside the home with the exception of school, church, and swim team practice. Athletics were the only major differences between our childhood families’ daily activities (with the exception of the duties that differ between an urban and rural setting.) Today, I can see this value playing out in my own nuclear family. Staying close to home is important to my husband and me. We wish to create a warm, loving, and inviting atmosphere. We strive to make our home a place where we want to stay for play and for relaxation without a dependence on entertainment outside the home. Perhaps this value is one that attracted me to my husband. I certainly want to pass this on to my own daughter. As our lives become increasingly more advanced in technology and opportunities abound, I want to remember the simple contentment that comes from being with family and friends without the distraction of frenzied activities.
Another common theme I discovered between us was a belief in God. Both of our families imparted a strong sense of faith upon us, which I think lead to a commonality in the way we view others. Fran mentioned that she was taught respect for life, and I too grew up with that value. Today’s dominant culture seemingly puts little importance on respect for humankind and instead instigates competition for profits and status. I am saddened by the poverty and misfortune of those with scarce opportunities to be successful in this world, while others maintain and overabundance of resources and only seek more. Fran’s religious upbringing taught her to be cognizant of these issues and instilled in her a sense of responsibility to people less fortunate than she is, particularly with the disabled. Again, this value of advocating for others is one I want to pass on to my daughter. First, I must begin to practice this value more diligently. I was inspired by Fran’s generosity and selflessness in caring for the sick. Not only did she help them by obtaining necessities of living, but she also enhanced their quality of lives by bringing them out into the community and showing them that their company was valued. Fran and her husband transcended the stigmas associated with ailments and handicaps to become acquainted with the true person within. Fran embodies love for the human spirit and I aspire to reach her level of spiritual wholeness.
My heart ached for Fran as she recounted the aftermath of her father’s death. Her sadness was palpable, and I thought I detected a hint of anger at the undertaker for asking her to become the family messenger. She was given a difficult task, and she rose to the occasion, but I wonder if encountered with the same circumstances today, how her situation would have been handled. Fortunately, today I see society’s growing acceptance of seeking counseling and acknowledging a need for emotional assistance. I hope that the university’s response would be to recommend counseling for a student faced with such a traumatic event, and that the person in charge of relaying the message about her father’s death would recognize the inappropriateness of placing a 22 year old in a position of informing her family about her father. In this regard, I see our society as having evolved.
Advancing technology brings the dialectic of modern convenience versus adverse complexity. How can that balance be struck? On the one hand, daily activities are accomplished more quickly and easily than compared with Fran’s childhood days. Tasks that usually took an entire day can be completed in minutes (like washing clothes, or buying butter as opposed to churning it) leaving more time for devotion to family and friends. Is that how we are using our increased free time? Instead, as a society, we seem to drive ahead towards competition and acquiring material possessions. On the other hand, we have a better understanding of human growth and development and the need for nurturing our children. With the advent of birth control, having children has become more of a choice and families choosing to have only one or two children rather than several, have more time to devote towards raising them. Together with fewer children, a better understanding of human development, and an increased awareness of nurturing, our children have a better chance at being well-balanced, successful, happy adults while diminishing the prevalence of abuse and neglect.
We learn from our past and gain the opportunity with each generation to improve upon ineffective parenting methods. Fran’s disagreement of how my husband and I parent our daughter by giving her options, suggests that she does not find merit with the culture’s evolution towards honoring children’s opinions. However, I see this improvement as a means towards validating our children, their perspectives, and sense of worth and esteem, but maybe there is a middle ground. Perhaps by listening to Fran’s method of dictating children’s actions and holding my view of inviting children actions, I can strike that middle ground.
Leaving the interview was difficult. I wanted to continue asking questions and I felt as though we were just beginning to delve deeper into her core feelings about her childhood that have carried over into her adult life. I am fortunate to have had this opportunity to get to know my mother-in-law in a more profound way. I also feel that I have developed our relationship in such a way that the interview can continue informally out of a desire for deepening our relationship rather than as a class requirement This interview has been a great journey into my own spirituality and a fantastic vehicle for practicing empathy.