Part II The Life Story
Mark: “My first thought is for you to tell me your very earliest recollection. Where did you grow up? Were you born in Boston?
Gram “Yes, I was born in Boston.
Mark: “Where did you grow up?”
Mark: What were your earliest recollections of either childhood or what is the first thing that comes to mind.
Gram: I think my first recollections were summer vacations which were really a joy to us because my father felt that you didn’t grow up right unless you left the city for the summer. Every summer we were bundled off, my mother and I, my cousin who was 15 year older than I, well he still is….
Mark: You were six or seven?
Gram Well, I started probably when I was 5. We went up to Antrim, New Hampshire, probably for ten years.
Mark Every summer?
Gram Every summer. My father would come up weekends. That was no problem for him,
because my grandfather was Vice President of the B & M Railroad, and both my father and mother had passes. He’d come up on the train. I can remember riding down with my mother in a horse and buggy. There weren’t the influx of automobiles. My father had one of the first automobiles around.
Mark Around Dorchester? Gram Yep.
Mark What kind of car was it?
Gram I’ve been driving, God, ….since I was 12. I never could have cranked the thing. But once it got going I could drive it. My mother could never master a car. She was not oriented to anything like that. She did better with the horse and buggy. So my father was always afraid that he might take sick and we might be on the road someplace and somebody would need to drive that car. So my feet didn’t even reach the pedals. He had me on cushions. He said “I’m going to teach you to drive, teach you to steer so that you could get to the nearest farmhouse.
Mark And that was when you were 12 years old?
Gram I might have been 13, no older then that. This was the country you understand. This was country driving. He wasn’t too disturbed about it in the city. Someone would always come along. But in the country ……
Mark You could be out there alone.
Gram It was an interesting place where we went. It was very prone to lightening storms. Mark This place in New Hampshire? Gram In New Hampshire. It was in Antrim. I want to say it was the Catuncook River it was on. :And every year they had these brutal thunder storms. We would watch from the window of the living room and we would see houses struck. The first year that we didn’t go there the place that we had stayed in burned down. And we would have been there. Mark That’s kind of scary isn’t it?
Gram Lightning kind of followed my mothers life. She was struck by lightning. We were up in
Lake Sunapee. They had terrible storms there too, because it was in a hollow down in amongst the mountains. A storm would get in between the mountains and it just didn’t go out …. it would circle around. I’d been in the movie house there two or three times when it would strike the steeple of the movie house and the whole inside of the place would light up. It was right next to Colby College. I think it’s called Colby ….
Gram Yes. It was just plain Colby College then. I don’t know how many times I was in there when the steeple was struck. The storms struck right around the hotel where we.. well we didn’t stay there. My aunt owned a place up there.. but we took all our meals in the hotel. So we’d been over there for supper …. and came out and stood in the hallway … and my mother put her hand out … you know the old fashion steam radiators? She put her hand on the steam radiator … and the bolt came through the door and hit the radiator …. and of course it went right through her. Mark Knock her out?
Gram God yes. She was out a good ten minutes. You couldn’t do anything with her. The telephone was ringing off the hook and you couldn’t get anyone one it. The telephone would light up like a Christmas tree if you picked up the receiver, but she came out of it eventually … she said…
Mark How old were you? You must have been scared.
Gram I was petrified. I wasn’t exactly a kid … maybe 14 …. 13 or 14.
Mark That’s a kid.
Gram Well yeah I suppose … but she went and was checked out the next day. But when it happened there was nothing you could do about it. She tingled for a while. But it left her with an
awful fear of storms. She never wanted to go up there again. My aunt was as superstitious as hell as a good many Scottish‑Irish people are, and she used to make people sleep with their rubbers on. In a storm you had to get up and put your rubbers on.
Mark That’s not bad advice these days.
Gram There was a transformer outside her place, outside her cottage and that damned thing used to light up.
Mark Bulls eye
Gram It was a funny place to be in a storm, I can tell you that.
Mark What was Dorchester like? I know it’s a lot different now.
Gram It was a beautiful place. My grandfather was …. my father’s people had money..and they lived in a place … and I don’t know whether it was called South Boston or Dorchester, but it was Dorchester Heights, and their home up there was opposite a park. It was very beautiful …. a three story single house..All the houses up there were very sightly … because my father took me there one day when we were out driving. I was perhaps 15 or 16 years old. My father had a brother who was killed in the Spanish American War and he had a sister who was considerable younger. While they were living in that house, she fell down the flight of three stairs from the third story and broke her neck, and my Grandmother, well I guess she went a little mental after that. She moved out that night and never went back. She died in the Hotel Van Dome. They had a suite of rooms there… and that’s where she lived until she died, about a year or year and a half after that. The girl was not old, she was only 17 or 18 years old.
Mark Broke her neck.
Gram Maybe now they could have… but I think she died instantly. Now they do
Mark Not much advantage in that.. some.. but
Gram That’s right..But it was a very nice place..and I think it is still kept up
over in that area.
Mark Do you remember hearing anything about the war.. about that particular
Gram Well that was the Spanish American War. My father was in the Spanish American War. No I ……
Mark You don’t remember hearing stories about it?
Gram No …. I remember World War 1, or course, and World War II.
Mark Sure..But even as a person … like I would ask my Dad about World War II, even though I wasn’t around …. you might have
Gram No..I don’t think a girl would have been that much interested in it. He wasn’t too close to his family after my grandmother died, because his father remarried very soon after that and that ended it. So I never met those grandparents. The grandmother had died before I was born. But the grandfather I think I was probably 3 or 4 years old before he died and I never knew him. Mark And where were they haling from?
Gram Where did they hale from? That grandmother haled from Brewer, Maine as I remember the story, but never having met them, I really don’t know too much about them. I don’t know whether he came from Maine or not. I just don’t know where …
Mark How about nationalities? Were they? …..
Gram They were English … because I was eligible to join the DAR. But I’m not a joiner. I wouldn’t join anything. They were very much interested in that. But I was not.. I can remember we had a chair in our front hall that came down in my fathers family. The chair was supposed to come over on the second load of boats after the Mayflower. So much furniture was supposed to have come on those boats, I doubt that the chair made it, but it was a very beautiful chair. It had a rush bottom and a ladder back. You know your mother likes those chairs … that’s the type chair it was … it had the original bottom in it. My father had another bottom built over it to protect it. Did he think the world of that chair! In those days you used to have junk dealers, ragmen, he would call them, and they would go from door to door. They would ask, “Do you have any antiques to sell, do you have any of this or that?” My mother would have sold the house if somebody would give her something for it. Janny would attest to that. You could sell my mother anything. My father would say,”I’m going to be a door to door salesman and your mothers going to be my best and only customer.
Mark Wonder where that chair could be now?
Gram That’s a story. This man came to the door and I can remember him. He was a very respectable looking man/ He gave my mother his card … and said he had a person living on Beacon Hill who had the mate to that chair … and he would make an offer of five hundred dollars for the chair. She said, “The chair doesn’t belong to me. It’s from my husband’s family.” She didn’t dare sell the chair. But whether this guy watched funeral notices or what, we’ll never know, but a month later (after my father’s death) he appeared back at the door, and out went the chair. My mother sold (it) … and she really had no right to sell it because it was my chair. And that was something I really would have liked. It was very pretty. It would have graced…. And you know I’m not long on material things. They don’t mean much to me.
Mark But you liked that chair!
Gram Yeah I did like that chair. It really was a very pretty thing. It was simple, but pretty.
Mark It represented something too.
Gram Yeah. It’s someone elses to share.. I hope they enjoy it. My mother bought a mink neck piece with it …. I mean it! That’s what she did with the money. Eddie came home from work and looked and said, “Where’s the chair? ” I said, :”My mother sold it.” He took a fit of laughing. Oh God did that strike him funny. Things like that didn’t interest him either. It struck him awful funny.
Mark You didn’t have brothers or sisters? You were an only child.
Gram No, I was an only child. One of a kind. An original
Mark What were your folks like?
Gram What were my folks like? My father was very outgoing, very friendly..hale fellow, well met. My mother found it difficult to mix with people. I think Lois probably took after my mother …. because she had very difficult …. being with crowds or even being with two or three people. She was not a good conversationalist, neither was my mother.
Mark Was she afraid to be outside? Was she agoraphobic or anything?
Gram No, I don’t think … she had taken care … her mother had had a stroke, … which would have been my grandmother…. had a stroke at 48 years old and was
confined to a wheelchair for four years. My mother took care of her. My mother … and my father … used to come in every morning, because my grandfather would have gone to work, and lift my grandmother into the chair. And I had pictures of them. And I threw all the pictures out. And that’s a story in itself. He used to come in every morning and get her in the wheelchair and he would come in at night and put her back. But after she died, my mother had a nervous breakdown. She was in bed for six months or a year but she was in bed for a long time, because they didn’t have the drugs then to give people who had breakdowns like that. You either pulled out of it or you went to the funny farm.
Mark That was very recent that they started giving drugs.
Gram That’s right. I don’t know that her system ever recovered from it. She was the youngest and she was very much put upon. Because I fought my mothers battles from the time I was old enough. I used to say she was like Cinderella. Her sisters would lord it over her. Not the oldest one … she had a sister who was about 14 years older than she, she wasn’t bad. The one who was only a year older than my mother was a meanie …. They lived near together … they saw each other every day, but she had a sharp tongue. That’s probably where I got it from. My mother couldn’t cope with it. When I was old enough I did the coping. And she shut up! You know, that’s the way it goes.
Mark What was your first house like?
Gram First house…. well, it was a big old rambling house..with eight or nine
rooms, in Dorchester. I don’t remember too much about it because I think I was only 7 or 8 when we moved from Dorchester to Roslindale.
Mark Roslindale. What was that like?
Gram You wouldn’t remember it …. but Scotty would remember it. It was a 21/2
story single house …. a very nice house. We lived there until … actually we moved the
day before Russell was born. So that would have been 33 years ago. We were in that house all that time. It was a nice home in a nice neighborhood.
Mark You felt that you had a good relationship with your dad and your mom?
Gram Oh yeah I did. We had our disagreements. That’s bound to happen.
Mark What was the discipline … what was the upbringing like from them … you were an only child.
Gram My mother was very strict. She was bound I was not going to be a spoiled only child. Spoiled I was not. She had her own ways of discipline. Nobody ever had more wet dishcloths than my mother. I’d give her a sharp answer, and I’d get a wet dishcloth across the back of my legs. I don’t ever remember my father disciplining me. If he did, I don’t remember it. His would have been a different type of discipline. And I think he more or less left it to my mother.
Mark And he worked for the railroad, right?
Gram My grandfather. No my father was a ~hiobuilder by trade. During World War I or II. I don’t remember now to tell you the truth… Mark Well your talking the teens for WW 1.
Gram Yeah, he headed the Fore River Ship Yard. He was an expert riveter. During the war he never came home at night. He’d be gone for a week at a time. He stayed right there in the shipyard.
Mark How old were you?
Gram That’s what I’m trying to think.
Mark You figure, when you were roughly ten, that’s 1922, roughly. So WWI was before that. Gram Yeah. It was probably WWII.
Mark I would think so.
Gram No.. because WWII would have included your grandfather and it was before that.
Mark Okay so it was back when you were very young.
Gram Yes, it was WWI.
Mark So were they making boats for the war?
Gram Fore River. That was the biggest ship yard, probably
Mark On the East Coast.
Gram I don’t think it’s as big as Portsmouth, but it’s a good size shipyard. As far as I know ….. I don’t know whether they are doing any ship building there now or not. It closed for a while. It was a big, big yard.
Mark He must have been working all the time then.
Gram He was working all the time. He got home about once a week. And that was about the time of the flu epidemic … and people died like flies. He came home with it. They brought him home…because you dropped on the job. You couldn’t get anyone into a hospital. It was out of the question. Because my uncle, who was a bachelor, dropped at his work, and they took him to Boston City Hospital. He was on a mattress on the floor of Boston City Hospital because they didn’t have beds for them. And I contracted it. I was out of it for about five days. My grandfather lived with us, my mother’s father. And he helped. He was a big, sturdy, strapping, North of lrelander, and he helped take care of both my father and me. I can remember him coming in and sitting beside the bed trying to get me to drink. You know they wanted you to drink the fluids, the same as they do now. But I was one sick dog. They told me I’d never get the flu again, that I would have a natural immunity to it. I don’t trust it. I go and have a flu shot. Different strains come around now.
Mark And more … a whole host of them now.
Gram You got that right …. My father also knew a lot about small wooden boats. And there was a small shipyard in Neponset called Lolly’s. My father and a very good friend of his had been approached by … yeah it was during Prohibition, so that’s how far back that goes. They were asked to make rum runners for the Canadian government. And of course, they wouldn’t do it. My father was a very loyal American. They came to the house several times to see if they couldn’t get he and Arthur to lend their expertise to the Canadian government.
Gram I say the Canadian government. I shouldn’t do that. They were a bunch of Canadians. I’m sure they didn’t represent the government …. men from Canada who had money and wanted to make more.. There were things I overheard. They would come in and talk to my father and he would say, “No, I’ll have no part of it. I’m an American, a veteran, and I want no part of it.
Mark They were recruiting him.
Gram They sure were. The man that was with my father was Canadian born, well from Nova Scotia, that might have made the difference, that might be how they tracked him down. His name was Arthur MacKay. Somehow they got a hold of my father and Arthur and they wanted their rum runners built. They found someone to do it I’m sure.
Mark So he wasn’t in WWI. He was a veteran from before.
Gram He was a veteran of the Spanish American War.
Mark He didn’t fight in WWI.
Mark But he was working in another capacity.
Gram Yes. He was at the Fore River Shipyard. That’s F‑o‑r‑e.
Mark I remember.
Gram It is quite an operation. It runs really like from one town to another. It’s on the river there … it’s a very interesting place. I can remember going there and looking at the big destroyers and things like that. Even when I was old enough to drive myself. There was a dance place that the young people used to go to right near there. You had to go over the bridge. When the bridge was up let me tell you it was up for a good long time. It was a drawbridge.
Mark Boats were coming through …. So you’re driving. What kind of things did you like to do in Boston?
Gram I stayed mostly in my own community. I was active in church work. I choir sang for years up until the time I was 18 or 19. It was like a youth group. Then there was an evening service. They don’t have evening services in the churches anymore I don’t think. If I’d go to church, I’d find out. It was a nice group. I grew up basically with the same group.
Mark But in those years …. those are the roaring twenties.
Gram Yes …. But I was a tennis player. That was my diversion. I started probably when I was about 13. I played tennis for the City of Boston … You know, the playground. I played tennis from 8 in the morning until 8 at night. And it would be the same group. We stuck together. And even when the fellows got old enough to drive cars, we’d play tennis, and then we’d go off someplace swimming at night, but it was always the same group.
Mark Your passion was tennis, though.
Mark Other young women playing too?
Gram Yes, but not as much as I did. I was mad for it …. loved it. I think anything you’re good
at … and I was good at it …. you know I’m ambidextrous, and that was a novelty in those years. You didn’t see…
Mark It’s a novelty today.
Gram I’m a freak. But it’s handy that I am though. And I loved to dance. We used to go dancing every Saturday night to Mosely’s, which is still in existence. They have ballroom dancing there every Saturday night. It was a lovely place. It was the same group that went. We just stuck together. There were 12 or 14 of us.I’m trying to think if any of the group intermarried. I don’t think they did. One of the girls went steadily with one of the fellows who came to the group occasionally, and he died of terrible complications., and I don’t remember what it was from, and that took her away from the group. She was one of the older ones. That was it. The others just went their own way. So that was my pastime. Nothing real wild.
Mark So, you liked tennis and dancing. That was flapper time then, right?
Gram Sure, the Charleston and all
Mark And the bands?
Gram Big bands. And I still to this day will turn anything off on the TV if I can
hear big band music.
Mark I’ve heard that before. People say that
Gram I love it. Good big band music
Mark I think any person remembers the music of their first courting… back in their twenties. They say they really relate to that.
Gram I can remember we’d go up to Mosely’s. Sometimes there weren’t enough cars to go around. We’d say, “Well you got a ride last week..so we’d walk home. You could do it in three quarters of an hour. It was perfectly safe then.
Mark So you’re going through high school?
Gram I went to Jamaica Plain to high school. Roslindale didn’t have a high school.
Mark What were the other surrounding towns?
Gram It was mostly Roslindale, West Roxbury, and Jamaica Plain. Roslindale eventually got a high school. That’s where your mother went.
Mark Did you enjoy school?
Gram Yes. But amazingly I still stayed with the same group. There were three of us who went to Jamaica Plain. I was one of the younger ones in the group. I was more geared to an older group. Being an only child, I think, makes you older than your years. Most of my friends are gone now. You figure I’ll be 85 in September. Most of my friends are either bed ridden or gone …. one foot in the grave and another on a banana peel. I had a very good young life. I had almost anything I wanted. Being an only child, you almost always do.
Mark I like the fact that you had your city life and then you had your vacations in New Hampshire. My dad had that too. He grew up in Boston and then spent summers in Maine.
Gram I spent time in New London, New Hampshire. That’s become quite a place now. And before that it was Antrim.
Mark Do you remember what your goals were finishing up in high school?
Gram I wanted more than anything in the world to be a nurse or a doctor and my father went along with it 100%. He was very supportive. But if you were under 18 you needed the permission of both parents, and my mother wouldn’t give it. Mark Permissionforwhat? To go to school?
Gram Permission to go into training. Three of my friends went in and passed the course. One was my “twin”. She was born the same day as I was and in the same hospital. We’d gone all through school together.
Mark One of the clan?
Gram No she wasn’t one of the clan really. She was one of the church group. I’d meet her more at church …. because it was a mixed group. There was a mix of religions in this group …. denominations. I was Congregationalist, some were Baptist, some were Catholic. I a big