I was lucky. I had two wonderful people share their life history with me, due to the fact that I’m not very technical and I mistakenly erased my first interview. But I think it was for the best. My friend and roommate Diana is very close to her grandmother and talks to me about her quite a bit. Her grandmother, Leola Jordan, agreed to talk with me and I spent the evening with her at her home in Cape Elizabeth. It was the first time I had met her but we had spoken quite often on the phone and of course knew about each other through Diana.
Leola, Mrs. Jordan to me, is 87 years old. She has clear eyes, beautiful skin and blushes easily. She has trouble walking because her arthritis is very painful and she also wears a hearing aid, but still has difficulty hearing everything. Both her husband and her son are dead but she has 3 grandchildren and many cousins scattered around. She lives alone right now and her main contact with the outside world is Diana, her granddaughter who lives in Portland. But she’s still interested in life and people which was apparent in our conversation about my family and recent news events. Her sweetness comes through at all times. She has lead a fairly simple, traditional life‑ growing up and living in Maine, working most of her life, marrying and having a child. She is currently in a time of conflict as to her future plans. As many people her age must face, she doesn’t know whether to continue to stay in her home or find a place that requires less maintenance and provides her with more direct care. She is also ready for death, telling me at one point that she had “lived too long.”
Basically this project is to have people talk about their lives in any way they want to. We can start at the beginning if you like. What was your family like?
I was born here in Maine, way up in Aroostook County. Smyrna, ME. S‑M‑Y‑R‑N‑A. Just my brother John & I, a small family.
What was growing up like in Aroostook County? Did you have to pick potatoes?
We did that, when we were, oh I forgot how old we were. They used to call us formats and a farmer would come and pick up a whole load of us girls and we had small baskets for potatoes, that was fun.
Did you go to school too?
Yes, that’s when we were in the grade schools.
Were your parents farmers?
No, I was married down in Auburn. My husband was an Auburn boy.
How did you happen to meet him?
Well, . . I guess I don’t know. (little laugh) I met him as I was going to business college.
You decided in high school to go to college?
No, no I didn’t think about it and I think my relatives thought I should go on. There was no high school in our town, it was justa small town where I grew up and there was no high school. And oh, my 2 Uncles decided that they’d take me. One lived in Millinocket and the other in Old Town. So I had 2 years of high school in Millinocket, 2 years in Old Town.
Was that hard to go from one to the other?
Yes, because I didn’t get acquainted really, just going for 2 years in a school, but then when I graduated from Old Town high school, the well, she was the business teacher, taught commercial subjects. I liked shorthand so well and I did quite well in it, so she thought I should go on. She was the instigator really of me going on to business college because I though I wanted to be a court stenographer. I though that I’d like it.
How did your parents feel about you going to business school in Auburn? Did they encourage you?
Well, not so much, you know back in those days people didn’t think girls ought to continue because all they did was get married anyway. They didn’t think there was much use in furthering your education, so well it was really my 2 uncles that took more interest in my going on to school.
Did you think you were going to get married?
I thought I was going to be an old maid. I was sure I was going to be an old maid.
How old were you when you got married?
23. Not exactly an old maid!
I hope not, I’m 25!
Diana’s worried because she’s 26! Don’t worry about it, Mr. Right comes along.
Is that how you felt about your husband?
What do you mean?
When you met him did you know?
Well, I don’t really know.
Was he older than you?
Yes, almost 3 years. He was, he wanted to be a doctor. He’d started college at Bowdoin, a medical course. But they took the medicine course out of Bowdoin so his parents weren’t able to help him go to an outside college, further away. Well, he was born in Brockton, Massachusetts but he really went to school, Edward Little high school, in Auburn. But that kind of spoiled things for him, furthering, you know, he wanted to be a doctor.
Was he still in school when you met him?
No, it was during the summer. We started dating well, in June. June I guess. But that’s when they had decided to take the course out of, that’s too bad. It was too bad, but some of them, of course we kept going to the Bowdoin reunions because it was the class of ’22. And I found out that quite a few got disappointed. And some of them could afford to go on and were doctors and did very, very well in the profession they chose.
He was disappointed.
Yes, he was disappointed. No, he didn’t do any work with medicine. He had the makings, he’d have made a wonderful doctor. He seemed to know just what to do, if anyone was sick. I wasn’t any good. Yes, Yes, he was nice to me when I was sick, and he was a wonderful patient when he was sick. He was very patient and good, never complained.
Did you have children soon after getting married?
We had one boy, we weren’t married too long. That’s why I’d like to have worked longer, but well, anyway, it didn’t work out. But he was a very smart boy too, he got his doctorate in research chemistry. Yes, he was very smart in school, took right after his Dad. But my husband with his work, we had to, we got moved around a lot. He decided to go with this company, he had to agree to move whenever they wanted. He worked for loan companies, so we got moved around a lot.
Did you get to see your family much?
Oh yes, when we got moved to brewer‑Bangor that wasn’t very far. We could drive up to Aroostoock County to see my family. And his family lived in Auburn, so we got to see them.
Did you see your brother much, did he stay up there?
No. I lost my brother when he was 25. He died of pneumonia, very young, 25.
How old were you?
I was 2 years younger.
That must have been hard.
Yes, he’d had pneumonia, that was the 3rd time. They don’t lose them so much now, with all the antibiotics and everything, things never heard tell of then. I don’t remember if I was still dating my husband at that time or not. No‑ matter of fact I got back to Auburn‑ course I stayed home with my folks after losing my brother. I was working then, all through school. I was working in an office. I took the normal training, what they call normal training or teacher training. It was a business school, but you could take the normal whatever course, and I though I wanted to be a teacher. But while I was waiting to be a teacher I got this job doing office work and I liked it so well that I, I kept my teaching certificate renewed for several years if I needed to use it, but I really liked the office work.
Did you work after you got married?
Yes, not very long. No, my husband thought my place was in the home. I wish they more felt like that now. I think we’re losing something not to have, be home. But I guess it changes, it has changed a lot. I heard one of my relatives say it’s good for parents to leave their children, but I think they’re missing a lot when they’re babies. Not to be home with them. My husband didn’t want it. When he got old enough to be more independent, well time enough for me to work.
Did you go back to work?
Not until my son was in the service. Oh, it was an anxious time, although he’d gotten into the Navy B‑12 program, for the officer’s training school. But it was an anxious time just the same. He had courses to take, if he didn’t pass them he’d be thrown into boot camp. In active duty, in the regular war. So there was anxious mothers everywhere.
Was your husband in the service?
WW I was it? He didn’t see active service. He was in the National Guard I think.
And when did you move down here, to Cape Elizabeth?
My goodness, well we’ve lived in this house since 1945. Yes, my husband got transferred after he got done with the loan companies. He went to work for a bank down here. The last of his work before he retired was bank work. Yes, he was happy doing that.
And then you went back to work too?
Yes, I worked for a law firm here. Well, that’s when my son was in the service I went back. When he was in the service I worked for Bicknell Photo Service, photographic place. And then I worked for the law firm for 17 years. Yes, I enjoyed that. I stopped working there, I’m going to say ’64, 1964. I’m not sure. It dates me doesn’t it?
Did you like living here?
Oh yes, I’m all settled. Don’t like to think of moving.
Was it hard to move from Auburn, did you have to leave friends?
No. it didn’t matter so long as the family was together. I know some people don’t care about pulling up stakes and moving, well I don’t say I enjoyed it, but it didn’t matter as long as we were all together.
Was it an adjustment to go from a full time mother to, you know, going back to work?
Yes, that’s why I did it, too quiet. I wanted something to do.
Was it easy being a parent, or were there hard times too?
Oh no, I enjoyed being a mother. He was a happy boy, a happy child. Very happy‑ I enjoyed it.
Is there a difference in being a parent and being a grandparent?
Oh my goodness. I would like to have had a daughter to go with my son. And I told Diana one day‑I didn’t get the daughter but I got the granddaughter. (laughs) And she’s wonderful.
She’s an important part of your life.
Oh yes, well I have 2 others too, I have 3 wonderful grandchildren. I feel very rich. Pretty nice grandchildren.
Do you find you still have friends that are important, that you keep in touch with?
You know it’s too bad. Moving around, and your family life, it seems you get weaned, but I don’t know what it is. As a matter of fact I was thinking the other day of a roommate that I had in college, is down in Florida and I haven’t heard from her in so, so long. It’s just you drift apart is what I’m trying to say.
Right, you get busy with your own life.
It’s too bad it gets that way. Well, all my family and friends were all scattered really. Some are still up in Aroostook County. About all I have is cousins now. Some in Florida, and I’m getting so old my friends are all going, they’re all leaving me. I’m living too long.
Are you happy with your life now, here?
It’s lonely, a lonely life. My husband’s been gone 15 years. He went in ’74. He had a long illness before he died. Well he was in the hospital. He was here but the last of his sickness he was in the hospital. . . . It’s so nice to have Diana and to see the others too, once in awhile. Kenneth and Susan, on holiday time we get together.
Did I hear something about you having both your mothers living here with you?
Mother lived with us quite a few years because my father passed away in 1941 an we were living in Brewer at the time. And of course it wasn’t easy for her to be living alone. She lived with us quite a few years. My husband’s mother no so long. Yes, we had the 2 of them here and of course I was working and when I was working they took care of the house.
Wow, that must have been interesting.
It was a challenging time (laughs a little)
Did you have to take care of them or were they pretty healthy?
No, of course my husband’s mother passed away here. But my mother lived to be 99. I’m kind of in between, my dad died at 69, my mother died at 99.
Was it a strain on your marriage at all to have them with you?
No, my husband didn’t let it. No, it wasn’t, although I’m not saying there weren’t times when it wasn’t that easy, but it didn’t make any great difference. When my husband’s father died that left her alone in Auburn. Got so she couldn’t stay alone. But my working, you know, it made it. . . it was alright, it worked out alright.
So it was then you and your husband again when they were gone?
It’s strange how life goes. .
My friends that I have, I’ve got nice friends. They’re getting fewer but there’s 2 special ones, that are, I keep in touch with. One is a retired teacher, and the other is a wife of a bank president my husband worked for. So I just talked with her today, she’s having a bout with shingles. It isn’t funny, it’s just pain and suffering.
How has your health been, have you always been pretty healthy?
That’s what I told the doctor when I was having this cyst. I’ve been a very healthy individual. So I think that makes me a sissy.
Would you like to live to be 99 like your mother?
No, No no.. . . I’m living too long. This is going to sound silly.
Not at all! This is wonderful~, I enjoy hearing.
My mother, she was a beautiful, beautiful, mother. And my grand children, of course Kenneth doesn’t remember her, but the grand daughters do. And tremembereber her with love, I know they do. And I know Susan said one time I like to think of great‑gram and I know Diana remembers her.
What was she like, your mother?
Oh, she was just a lovely, gentle person. Just wonderful, a wonderful mother.
What was your father like?
He was a jolly. . . jolly good natured man.
So you must have good memories of your childhood?
Yes , I have happy memories of both of them. And that’s what we live with when we get our age, we live with memories.
Is there a special area you remember more than any other?
No,. . . of course my husband and I when my son was home and going with us camping. In the tent, in Baxter park. Up to Baxter park, Diana would like to get up there when I talk about them. I think it’s probably changed a lot since we were there, mcommercialical and more people. I’d like to go just one more time to see what it’s like. Of course when we lived in Brewer it wasn’t too, too far you know, to go to Baxter park. After we got down here it wasn’t so easy. Well we worked but we’d go on vacation. A lean to, a tent, cook over an open fire. A stream, Katadhin stream, went right down by us. I was telling Diana about that one night and she said oh, I’d love to go see that. Got all camped down for the night and the water. . . I gutherether’s a lot of mobile homes, not mobile homes I mean campers, go in there now, of course when we were going, you didn’t see too many of those. When we started going there, one could have a tent and you could also occupy a lean to. Then when it got busy and more people coming, if you had your tent you couldn’t have a lean to. We got moved down here before it got that crowded. Once in awhile we’d go back, just for old times sake. We’d make a cup, a pot of tea, just in a pail, built a little fire in the camp site, have a cup of tea. I had to learn to fish.
Your husband taught you how to fish?
Yes, he taught me, it was fly fishing. That was fun, oh I had to learn. I’d never done it. Of course when my Dad went fishing or hunting, I was too young to tag along. He took my brother, my brother used to like to fish too. My husband was an outdoor man, he liked the outdoors. He went hunting in the fall, I’d tag along, I’d carry a gun, but I never would fire! Well he tried to teach me but that didn’t interest me. I never liked the hunting. When we got down here, of course when we were up in Bangor, Brewer‑ I guess perhaps there weren’t so many people, hunting in the woods. But when we got down here, my husband would get his license and go, but he said there were too many people shooting at the moving bush. He wasn’t comfort able. So after a while he didn’t even get his license.
Do you belong to a church around here?
Yes, the First Congregationalist. They call it the top of the hill church. I’ve gone there a long time, since we moved here. I haven’t been able to go, on account of, the parking isn’t that good. Since I haven’t been able to walk very far. I haven’t been, I go on T.V. I watch T.V., go to church on T.V. (laughs)
Do you miss going to church and being around all the people there?
Yes, I do , course I know I can’t do it now. So I don’t think that much about it. I do miss‑ oh, because they have their bazaars, and Christmas things, suppers, yes association with the group. But you have to give up some of these things as you go along.
Has religion been important to you your whole life, believing in God?
Oh yes. . . it’s too bad that so many people moved so far away from religion. I hate to think it’s too much that way. I think more people are kind of coming back to it too, as you find just making money and a job , doesn’t give you everything.
It must give you comfort when your friends and relatives die, your belief in God?
Oh yes, well I had a very religious mother. My mother was very religious. She was such a wonderful person. I was telling Diana I don’t at all in my life heard her say an unkind word about a person, ever. Just a serene, wondpersonperosn. I wish I could be more like her.
Well, you seem a lot like her. I never met her, but from what I’ve heard through Diana.
I liked my dad too, he was a jolly, happy person. I was sad about losing my brother so young, he was only 25. Sometimes I think I didn’t have him very long. Of course, I went away to school.
You went away quite young.
But my 2 uncles, I was just like one of the family, immediately one of the family. They had younger children, both uncles, younger than I. Is it all over?
Well, if we want it to be.
Do you see that the world, even Maine has changed a lot?
Oh, yes, people so busy. I think this what happens to us as we get older. People are so, moving raster, busy and we’ve become more settled. I think perhaps away from here would be much more so, in the larger cities.
What did you do for fun when you were growing up?
Very simple things. Whatever entertained us then, would be so simple for young people now. I can’t seem to think of anything right off.
Did you read, or knit, I mean today everybody just turns on the T.V. What did people do before?
Well, I did, my mother was a dressmaker. She did fancy work and I think I did some fancy work. When I was away to school I did some of that to pass time. There wasn’t much money to go, we hardly ever went to a movie because I didn’t have the money. And, you were satisfied with what you had to do. My goodness, young people today have to have so much. Yopeopleeple when they start out getting married, they think they’ve got to have a color TV, have everything new, new gadgets. We started out on a small scale. We didn’t have a TV. But we were happy. We had couples we played cards with, played bridge and visited. Well, moving around so much, we rented‑ which was a mistake. Because we lived in Brewer for 10 years and we could have had equity in a house, but we didn’t dare, didn’t take the gamble. We didn’t know we were going to be there that long.
Did you ever move out of Maine?
No. always in Maine. Never did very much traveling either. I’m kind of content just to, one of my friends she takes these tours. She’s been to Alaska, a lot of traveling. But that doesn’t seem to be in my blood. I don’t care about, well I don’t like flying. I’ve never flown. Though I don’t get very far without flying! (laughs) It’s what people like, I think. She enjoys it and she gets a lot out of it. And Diana, she loves to travel, I’m glad she could. She’s so self sufficient, independent. And she gets a lot out of traveling too. Pretty special.
And you get to see your cousin?
Oh, Margaret, she’s retiring , she’s so busy. I don’t get to see her too much. On my birthday she usually has me over for dinner, and the holidays. But we talk on the phone. I can’t picture her just not doing anything.
Did that feel strange to you when you stopped at the law firm?
I was kind of glad to stop. Yes, that was‑ trying to keep my home and working. It got to be a chore. My husband didn’t retire until ’71. He died in ’74. I think it was ’71 when he retired.
So you had a few years just the 2 of you.
Yes, too few. When I think back, course he worked, after they required 65 retirement. He wasn’t ready to retire. So he got a job at another bank. He worked 5 or 6 years longer. But he was ready to retire then. But I think we didn’t get to do as much as we would like. To get to Florida in the winter months. We did make it one trip. We drove down, stayed a month. And I’m sure he would have gone more because he didn’t like the cold weather.
How did you like Florida?
I didn’t want to live there all the time. It was nice to go for that little while. I don’t think he would’ve like to live, like some people uproot. I think that’s a mistake, I’ve heard people say it was. Or they just better go and spend some time before they really sell their home, settle down. We went in the winter, it was nice but glad to get back too. I was down in Delaware, my son and his family, that’s where they lived. And the humidity, I think ;t w~s awful hard. You don~t get relief at night.
Was it hard to have your son and his family live far away?
Well yes and no. We knew we could get there to visit once in awhile. We always enjoyed it so much, looked forward to going. Easter time when we’d go, a happy time, they were all so happy. My husband used to say he like children when they were eating and they had a dirty, all messed up. But he didn’t want it to stay on long. We got a picture of Diana at Easter time, oh, was she smeared with her Easter basket, chocolate I guess. We got a slide of her and I’d like, I told her, one day to go through those slides again. This one’s cute with her at the table and her Easter basket, all smeared with goodies. We didn’t stay long, weekends, but it was vacation time and my husband always wanted to go fishing. And he didn’t like to give up his fishing trips for too long. I really didn’t like the trips at first because I wasn’t used to it, but I got used to it. No, it was a lot of fun. We used to rent cottages up to Rangeley Lake and Moosehead Lake. I was trying to think where
we went last. I think our last fishing vacation was at Rangeley. No, well he was taken sick. He had an aneurism operation the first time and I don’t know how long. He wasn’t able to do things like that‑handling the boat, you know taking it in and out of the water. Yes he had an aluminum boat, not very stylish, but I wanted a good wide beamed one. I was afraid of the water, I didn’t swim. I never learned to swim so when he bough a boat I wanted a good wide one, a safe one.
What do you see in the coming years? Any changes?
You know decisions, they are the hardest things for widows to make I think. And as time goes on it gets harder. I mean by that is whether I should plan to stay here or move into something that. . because as time goes on I can do less, and it doesn’t please me. I like to keep my house better than i keep it now. But I learned not to let it get to me, bother me too much because I can’t do it. When I think about it‑ what I was doing when I was working . I’d get up and have a day’s work done before I went to work. And when I came home I’d iron curtains and how foolish that is. Here I am now with a house and nobody in it. All that hustling around, but I enjoyed it. And then my mother was in a nursing home because I was still working and she wasn’t able to be alone.
Was that difficult to have her go into a home?
Yes, that was very hard thing. But she never complained. But she wasn’t far enough away what that I could visit her often. I hear other people say the same thing, making decisions now is hard. What you should do, what you shouldn’t do. Now a lot of us are in the same boat. That’s what keeps you going, keeping on.
I didn’t realize until I was actually doing the interview how much delicacy is required. It was important to me that she felt comfortable and at ease, not afraid to give a so called right or wrong answer. She was slightly apprehensive about the tape recorder and we joked about making up a false name for her. But I didn’t want her to feel that I was passing judgement on her life in any way so I tended to let her control the depth of the discussion. I don’t know if she didn’t go deeper because she herself doesn’t dwell on that level, or because I’m pretty much a stranger to her and she has a natural reserve on sharing intimate issues. Through my friend Diana I know that her son, Diana’s father, set his family’s house on fire and then killed himself. Yet never once was this horrible experience mentioned. Obviously having one’s only child die, let alone in that fashion, was a terribly painful experience. It must be something she has buried very deep. I wish she had shared some of her grief with me.
Leola frequently used terms like “happy” and a “happy time” in describing some of her life’s events. She is a modest woman and seems to view her life as being very simple, even mentioning to me a couple of times that her story was going to sound “silly.” It was only when I probed a little bit, such as commenting that the period when both mothers were living in her home must have been difficult, that she would admit some difficulties. But she called that period ~challenging~ not difficult. She seems to be one of those people, although noticing change, that accepts its inevitability and takes it in stride. She has a certain sereneness about her, which is no surprise considering her accepting attitude. She may not always like the changes, like parents not staying home all the time with their children, or Baxter State Park getting more crowded, but she is not bitter about them.
Although her physical health has deteriorated over the years, she rarely mentioned health problems in our talk. She wears a hearing aid but doesn’t always want to admit that she couldn’t hear my questions. A number of times during our conversation I would ask a question and she would answer what she thought I’d asked, not my actual question. I’m sure it gets frustrating for her but she never complained, never made any excuses based on her physical problems. She told me she is a scaredy cat about pain, but obviously her arthritis is very painful and yet she never complained to me at all. She is also ready to die, as evidenced by her statements that she’s “lived too long” and that all her friends are”leaving me”, but shows no fear of death. Yet at the same time she shows a great deal of generativity in her interest and concern about her grandchildren and friends. She knows some things about my family and wanted to know how my brother was after his emergency appendix operation. So although she has trouble recalling events from the past, like how she met her husband, she does remember the present quite well. She is also concerned with Diana and I finding a new place to live and being able to bring Diana’s horse along as well. Her relationship with Diana is obviously extremely important to her, as I know it is to Diana. So it appears to me that she also faces in conflict in wanting to die, being ready for it, and wanting to be with Diana and watch her growth.
Her admiration for her mother is very strong and her childhood which she describes as a ~happy time” obviously had a very positive affect on her. Interestingly enough to me, the qualities that she ascribes to her mother‑ a wonderful, gentle woman with never a bad word about anyone‑ are just as strong in her!
While transcribing the taped oral history, I was struck at how impatient I sounded at times. Not impatient maybe as much as quick and anxious to get to the next question. She was much slower and more reflective. I was slightly uncomfortable with long pauses but those periods seemed to provide her with a space to think, to dwell on a question I had asked earlier. I think it made it a richer experience for her and for me. Plus, I learned from it. Sometimes I’m rushing around so much to “do” so many things that I miss the depth of some of those experiences. It was good to keep in mind that reflection and introspection are just as important at my tender age. I also learned a greater appreciation for age. I guess in the back of my mind I still] think older people don’t have conflicts or difficult decisions to make anymore. But even though they certainly still have those, as Leola does with her house, health, and loss of partner, there seems to be a greater acceptance and wisdom in how to deal with them than is seen in younger people, certainly in myself. Maybe when you’ve seen so many changes throughout life you finally learn to accept that change really is inevitable so you might as well accept it with some grace. But that doesn’t mean you can’t acknowledge that it still is difficult, at any age, as Leola does. Talking to her about her life makes me wish my grandmother was around the area, rather than in New Jersey. I believe I’m at a point now that I would have an appreciation and interest in her life as a person, not just as my grandmother.
To close, I guess I’d like to say thanks for this assignment, though not for all the typing involved! It was certainly more than an assignment or a paper, it was a rich experience for me and for Leola too I believe.