Leona Wright Chass

PART I

INTRODUCTION

                                                                                    

                                                                                    

     The subject of this interview is Leona Wright Chasse. Leona is sixty five years old and live alone in a small house in Cornish,Maine. She is a young looking woman with black hair and a radiant face. She is about five feet and five inches tall. She is divorced and has a thirty se~en year old son who lives locally but not with her. Leona worked as clerk in the Cornish Post Office from 1963 until 1984. She was then diagnosed as havlng inoperable lung and lymph node cancer. She was given only a few months to live. After a painful course of chemotherapy, the cancer apparently went into remission. It seemed almost miraculous. Now, five years later it had not re appeared. Leona is retired and lives a quiet life. She tires easily and ha a lot of chronic back pain. She is involved in the community and is chair of the bicentennial commission . She visits her mother who is nearly 90 and who lives at a nursing home. Her view of life is amazing. She is a loving and inquisitive person. She has little bitterness about things that have happened to her. She grew up in Cornish during the depression.Her father had gone to prison for murder and Leona and her sister were raised by their mother. Leona went into the Navy during World War II and went to Washington,D.C. and Hawaii. She married in 1948 and her husband joined the Air Force. They were assigned to Paris,France for two years and then to Central America. Their only child, a son,Michael, was born in 1952. In 1962, her husband met another woman and eventual~y, after 15 years of marriage, Leona and Bob were divorced. Leona raised her son alor Her strength shines through. She is a strong woman who had a strong woman as rural town then

 

mother and model‑ She had had an eventful life. A poor girl growing up in traveled all over the world and eventually returned to the same rural town and worked as a mail clerk for twenty one years.

 

                                                                              PART I

                                                                                    

                                                                     INTRODUCTION

                                                                                    

                                                                                    

     The subject of this interview is Leona Wright Chasse. Leona is sixty five years old and live alone in a small house in Cornish,Maine. She is a young looking woman with black hair and a radiant face. She is about five feet and five inches tall. She is divorced and has a thirty seven year old son who lives locally but not with her. Leona worked as clerk in the Cornish Post Office from 1963 until 1984. She was then diagnosed as having inoperable lung and lymph node cancer. She was given only a few months to live. After a painful course of chemotherapy, the cancer apparently went into remission. It seemed almost miraculous. Now, five years later it had not re appeared. Leona is retired and lives a quiet life. She tires easily and ha a lot of chronic back pain. She is involved in the community and is chair of the bicentennial commission . She visits her mother who is nearly 90 and who lives at a nursing home. Her view of life is amazing. She is a loving and inquisitive person. She has little bitterness about things that have happened to her. She grew up in Cornish during the depression.Her father had gone to prison for murder and Leona and her sister were raised by their mother. Leona went into the Navy during World War II and went to Washington,D.C. and Hawaii. She married in 1948 and her husband joined the Air Force. They were assigned to Paris,France for two years and then to Central America. Their only child, a son,Michael, was born in 1952. In 1962, her husband met another woman and eventual~y, after 15 years of marriage, Leona and Bob were divorced. Leona raised her son alone. Her strength  shines through. She is a strong woman who had a strong woman as a mother and

model‑ She had had an eventful life. A poor girl growing up in a rural town then traveled all over the world and eventually returned to the same rural town and worked as a mail clerk for twenty one years.

 

                                                                             PART I I

                                                                                    

                                                                    THE INTERVIEW

My name is Leona Wright Chasse, I was born on Jan.24,1924 in Cornish,Maine. It was in a large two family house on Main St. and my grandparents lived there. I don’t remember very much about my childhood. I do know that I have a mother and I had a sister. My sister died when she was an adult with cancer. I don’t know too much about my father ‑ he was already in prison by the time I can remember anything. It seems that he had been involved in a love affair and it came to a bad end. He ended up in Connecticut ‑ they eventually got to Connecticut ‑ and he had a confrontation with her husband and as result they each pulled guns ‑ revolvers whatever, and my father shot and killed hlm ln se defense. The first memory I have of my father he was already in prison in Weathersfield , Connecticut. I later visited him, after World War II, I went to Hartford and stayed with a cousin. I saw him two or three times after that when my husband and I were stationed at Grenier Air Base in Manchester,N.H.~My husband was an Air Force sargeant. My father was in prison I think about, oh, fourtenn (14) years.He had life ‑ he was put in prison for life and if it hadn’t been self defense he would have had either the chair or whatever. I don’t know how old I was when he went to prison. I remember writing to him when I was youngster 8 or 11 years old.And I remember he sent money from prison for a bicycle for m_. I enjoyed it,And when my sister and I graduated from high school he sent each of us Hamilton which was a pretty good watch. I would have liked very much to have wristwatch ­ known my father. He kept in touch wlth us and apparently I kept in touch with him better t my sister did. From all I can gather now she was maybe more bitter or more sensitive or whatever. She was two years older than I was. I regret I did not have a chance to know my father until we were both ‑ wellhe was an old man and I was an adult. I would have enjoyed things with him. I was a tomboy.I was not close with my mother ‑ I~t‑e always loved her very much and respected her and been very proud of her. She and my sister were very very close‑ and I was kind of like a long lost cousin‑ always out in the woods. But my mother raised us ‑ it was very hard for her.She wasn’t bitter though.She never criticized my fathe in front of us.She always said he was a good man and I found out from a number of people th he was a good man.He just got in trouble and it got out of hand and he wanted to save his 1ife as much as anybody else would.

 

My mother worked very very hard and it was during the depression‑you know‑ when things were much harder to get and a single woman witn two children and a husband in

prison……..           She said at first it was very difficult for her.She just wore black and

it was like she was in mourning as though he were dead and she was very upset. She loved him

lot of talk around town about it. I do remember as I got older that pe

would look down on me because my father was in jail.

At first we lived with my grandparents in that same house I was born in. I remember when that house burned down. It was a double house and the fire started in the barn. I recall my grandfather standing at the head of the stairs in his underwear‑ what do they call it? longjohns with his pants in his hands.He was holding the door between the barn and the house because the fire was back there.He waited until my mother and sister an I got down stairs and he must have jumped aside because the door blew open and the fire came through. My mothers parents had several children. There was my Aunt Eve. Shes still alive here in Cornish. She’s 97.The oldest person in town. Aunt Nellie died about six months ago and Aunt Gustie‑ the youngest girl died seven or eight years ago. And there was my mother and two boys Henry and Hallie they’r~both gone now too. I have many many cousins. But mothe] raised us pretty much alone.She was proud and independent. My mother did just about everyth. to support us. She worked at the Inn as what we called‑ she called‑ a chambermaid.She also did washing ,cleaned peoples houses and she took care of people. She worked in mills as we got older. She worked in the Limerick mill and she worked in the Kezar Falls mill. She worked in a shipyrd du:ing World War II.There is a very interesting story about that.She ha~ a perfect attendance record and was chosen to christen a ship ‑ the S.S. Frank P.Reid‑I think. She worked in ‑ I don’t know ‑ ~est Ya d over near South Portland. My nieces and nephews still have the champagne bottle.They put it back together and wrapped it up and gave it to her.She has an engraved silver plate and a photo album of the ceremony.She was kind of it for the day. And another thing that happened to her ‑ a very famous~ corresponden I think it was Lowell Thomas ‑ came to the shipyeard to do a story. My mothee was working with a hood or whatever ‑ I think she was a welder.And she was down and bent over her work and he came and tapped her on the should~‑this is how I remember it ‑ and she kind of lifted up a little bit ‑ not really looking back and said “I’m sorry,I’m busy ‑we’ve got to get this finished ” and she went back to work.

And so he tapped her again ‑ 2 or three times. Finally he made her realize who he was and that he wanted to interview her. Oh ,my mothers a pistol.She really is.She’s still ~l iv~ T visit her all the time in the nursing home ‑ the Elms ‑ in Old Orchard. Sh ~s year. She is nearly 90 and was born in 1899. She’s well been there a little over cared for.She had lived in Cornish most of her life.My sister and her family lived with my mother for many many years. When they were going to close Cornish High School,they all moved to Windham ‑my mother ,my sister and her husband and the kids. It was the late 1950’~. She was a very interesting persion.She was always a joiner ‑ the Legion Auxilliary, The Rebekahs ‑ ODD FEllows.My mother was just given a silver spoon to commemorate her sixty years as member of the Rebekahs. She’s not herself anymore ‑ but she is physically al and well cared for. It is an excellent nursing home. But back to me.

   My school days were awful. I didn’t like school ‑ at all. I did not like to study ‑ to learn the dates or antything. I like arithmetic and domestic science. I liked boys and basketball and recess. But the school was nice.It was a big white wooden frame building.We went from first grade through our senior year all in the same building ‑ four classrooms.It was on the site of the present elementary school but set back in. It had been built in 1889 and was torn down ‑ oh maybe around 1970. I don’t remember the younger grades very wel I look at photographs and I think I do.My first grade teacher was Miss Mason.But I don’t remember what she looked like.  I think I had trouble with the children picking on me because of my father being in prison and because I was a tomboy. I used to get blamed for things I didn’t do. I remember one time when ~ was in sixth o~seventh grade.Mr.Clifford was the teacher. They had very very tall windows which opened from the top and Mr.Clifford had a long wooden pole with a little hook thing at the top to open them from the top. Anyway, one day a gir l in my class ‑ there was a window broken and she told him I did it. But I di do it. So he kept me after school and every once in a while he would ask me if I was going to confess tc breaking that window. and I said,”No,I didn’t”. And finally ‑ I don’t know how I ever got the courage to do it because we did not challenge our teachers in those days They were boss and we did as we were told. Finally he came over the last time.It was gettin late and I wanted to get out ‑ I was an outdoors person. He said,”Are you going to tell me­ to confess to me that you broke that window?” ‑ at least this is the way I remember it. And I got my courage up and I said ,”Mr.Clifford,I did not break that window and I’m not going to tell you I did!” And I assume he let me go home. And that was one of the things that happened to me, as I recall.

    But I did have some friends. Naturally school children came and went but there was one group that stayed together and that I went all the way through with. There were nine of us, four boys and five girls. We’ve lost three by now. I remember, before there were movie theaters and musicals cars and going to Portland ‑ we used to put on operettas ­down at the Town Hall. We made costumes.We had a lot of fun. I still have pictures of them.

I had a happy enough childhood,we were poor but we weren’t hungry and we had enough clot My mother always made sure we had enough to eat and to drink and enough to wear ‑ that sort thing. She taught us right from wrong.Most of the people in town were poor,but there was a small rich group ‑ old families ‑ old money . Of course ‑ as a child ‑ if a person was mid~ class they might have seemed rich to me if they had a car or a nice house or something. Your view of such things is so different as a child. There were the merchants too.There were lots of merchants then.There was a taxidermist, a dentist, a cobbler, a harness shop ,2 blacksmith shop. The hotel ‑the Lincoln House, now its the Cornish Inn, was there too. There were rooming houses and the pants factory ‑ the clothing mill. There was another large factory down town near the bridge. There was quite a bit of industry and on the outskirts we had farming, lots of farming mostly dairy farms and apple orchards. People just came into town on Saturdays.Route 25 was a dirt road well into the thirties. People would bring in eggs to sell or sell some hay to somebody or some firewood. They didn’t… people were self contained at home.They didn’t have to go to the store for a loaf of bread every five minutes or whate~er. They had their own chickens,their own gardens. We had vegetables, fresh vegetables really only in the summer. And I remember as youngster going into MerlinJohnstons First National and there would be fresh vegetables sometimes but almost never in the winter ‑ only potatoes and apples ‑ whatever would keep. Almost never any fresh fruit except apples.  Bananas and oranges were a luxury.But people ate well in those days.The food wasn’t gourmet but they got all they needed ‑ all the food stuffs and that sort of thing.Thi weee very different from now ‑ no pesticides ‑ and you canned your own peas and beans. Boiled dinner was common and baked beans on Saturday night. And chowder. Oh, I forgot to say ‑ my mother ran a restaurant for a while. She used to bake pies and was the greatest cook and pie maker for miles around. We didn’t eat a lot of meat. Of course, without in the house that made a big difference too. We probably ate our share of restaurant leftovers.

    We graduated from high school in 1941. I didn’t like my teachers.I’m sure they didn’t li me.I didn’t like to study.I played basketball and a number of sports.I did nothing intellect ‑no debating or spelling or anything. I never really had any goal after high school.Mostly back in those days ‑ if you were a girl ‑ either you went to college or you got married. I definitely did not want to go to college. I~e made the remark many times that that was on~ reason I was happy we were poor ‑ I didn’t have the money to go to college ‑ I know that’s a terrible thing to say isn’t it? And in spite of myslelf I have had a little schooling since hi,gh school. But I didn’t want to get married then either so I ~id kind of have to find something to do. And then the War came and that was my way out of Cornish ‑ not that I wanted to leave for good, d on’t get me wrong. But most of the girls just got married and stayed here. Everybody stayed but me. Maybe the Whitney twins might have had a brief encoun~ with the military.I think they both had problems and had to come back home. So of my class that graduated from high school in the year of Pearl Harbor,I’m the only one that went into the military. I’d say we got a good education far more than they’re getting tod~ And I could have gotten much more if I had applied my self. But I m more of a pr actical person ‑ I do things with my hands. I find all those history dates nonsense ‑ we forget 90% of them as soon as we get out of school. But I got a good education.We had good teachers then and they really worked at it.They really taught. We had many teachers who were there a long time. Mr.Ayer in high school was there a long time.Miss Chaplin,my English teacher taught there all her life.Miss Sanborn lived in town and taught there ,manv many years. People didn’t move around like they do now. There wasn’t as much room for promoting and trying to upgrade.

I’ve always been very patriotic ‑ very interested in government ‑ and as I said, I was~ interested in college. I wanted to join the Navy ‑ the Waves. But you had to be at least twenty years old and weigh at least 100 pounds. So before joining I went to work at Limeric Yarn Mills.They were making yarn for blankets for the military.I earned eighteen or noneteen dollars a week. I went with my mother by bus from Cornish early in the morning. I worked there for a while until I found out about a course I could take ‑ it was run by the National Youth Administration and it was a project up in Quoddy,Maine that had been built for an engineering project. I can’t remember very well. But it was almost like a vocational school to train young people in skills they would need in the military ‑like sheet metal and aircraft enginesIchefs cooking and radio technology. ~or some reas~‑ n, I had my mind and heart set on this radio thing. Anyway,I went up there on the train and st for probably a school year and finally I was old enough to get into the Navy. My mother was heart broken she didn’t weant to see her little girl go. But I persisted and went into Por tland and signed up. I had to go to Boston for my physical and to be sworn in etc. I had never been anyplace except up in Quoddy.I went on the train‑ we went into Portland and I stayed overnight with Aunt Gustie abd went from Union Station. Union Station was so great I miss it terribly. We went to Boston and did whatever I needed ~. I came back home briefly and then was called for active duty. I went to Hunter College in New York to boot camp and after that I was assigned to a radio unit in Washington ,D.C. ‑ Mass. Ave.N.W. near the Naval Observatory.There was a barracks complex there. Thousands of Waves manned this place along with other office jobs throughout Washington. I still don’t know really whatwe were doing. I assume we were decoding messages.It was all very secret. messages from the European theater. It was a machine type thing and very well may have been the beginning of computers. I was in Washington for about a year and a half and hen the war ended in Europe in 1945 I was allowed to go to Hawaii‑ Pearl Harbor. I worked at FRUPAC Fleet Radio Unit Pacific for several months until the war ended there toO.I had spent just under two years in the Navy and I was very proud.I’ve always been patriotic, and very upset if I see anything happen to the flag. I know things have changed but I do.

    I really did not come back to much in Cornish after the war. I lived with my mother and sister at first.I drew what we called ‑ it seems to me‑ 52‑20. It was something like a veterans benefit to get us back on our feet and ready for jobs. I~ was fifty two weeks at twenty dollars a week. And there was talk of a special veterans bonus but that never came about.

I worked in a clothing factory in Cornish for a while. It was down across, next to the bridge ‑ by the variety store.There was a coat factory there. I met my husband ‑ to ­ there. My friend and I were hanging out the window one day and he was at a restaurant next door with a buddy. He was from Saco and was driving a truck for Biddeford Auto Parts. Then the two fellows came out of the restaurant and we got to talking with them and I met I started dating him. The first time he asked me out I wasn’t too excited about going and so I tired to discourage him. I told him,”I’ll go out with you if you bring a fellow for my cousin and if you come in a Cadillac of whatever year it was “…. I had four or five impossible conditions. I figured he couldn’t possibly manage all that. But he did. And he cam e and brought a friend for my cousin and we went to the movies in Bridgton. An then I became more interested and we dated and had a lot of fun. As our lives progressed went to work up in Lewiston and lived with his brother.He worked for his brothers meat packing business. So I moved up there and lived with a lady and her son in Lewiston. I decided to go to beautician or cosmetology school on the G.I.Bill. So I did get some benefits and I was working on the practical part. We would do classes and then do hair­ permanents and that sort of thing. My back started bothering me ‑ from bending over and b~ tense. It bothered me so badly I decided to give up being a beautician. I never got my license. Then I came back to Cornish. Iv’e come back home more times than anybody I knowr But always to Cornish which I dearly love. Then,I talked him into joining the Air Force. He had served in the Air Force during the war. By the way, his name was Bob ­ Robert Chasse ‑ that’s how I got to be a Chasse. I was born Leona Lillian Wright. He went into the peace time air force and had basic training at Fort Slocum in New York. The from there he was assigned to Davis‑Moncton Air Force base in Tuscon ,Arizona and so   we got married and went on out to Tuscon to live in 1948. He was staff sargeant we lived in a little bitty trailer for S65 dollars a month for quite a while. I wanted ‑‑‑ we wanted children but didn’t have much luck .It was eventually four years before Micha, was born. We stayed near Tuscon and really had a lot of fun. We belonged to the NCO Club We used to drive down to Nogales,Mexico and buy Baccardi ‑ we didn’t have much money ‑ we d a lot of rum and coke. But we met a lot of nice people. We took trips to San Diego and Los Angeles. ~e went to Ciro’s ‑ night club and saw Lilly St.Cyr perform.WE saw Donald O’Connor and Bruce Cabot and Errol Flynn.It rained all the time we were in Los Angeles So we became what they called “RTdio Fleas” when it rained we went into studio audiences for radio and early television programs. We saw Red Skelton. In the early fifties we got to move to a small one room house on the base and then finally got permission to move into the nice new base housing. Then everything happendd at once. ~e went into debt for a movie camera which was a big thing. We got pregnant and we found out Bob was ~etting a special assignment to Paris. He was assigned to MAG because he spoke fluent French. So we gave up the base housing ‑ which would have been beautiful. We came home for the summer.This time we stayed at Bob’s house in Saco because my sister was married by then and had children so it was pretty crowded at my mothers’ on Cornish.We ran into a snag weth his orders for Paris. We got delayed and I was getting more and more pregnant.I was nearly When Bobs orders finally came ‑ I was ready to have my baby.So Bob was going to have to go on ahed.So my son,Michael did not get born in Paris‑ as he was supposed to. He was born om Dec.6,1952 at Portsmouth Naval Hospital. He used to tell his friends when he was little he had been born on a submarine at the Navy base. Bob was with us for a couple of weeks and after that he went to Paris. They had a rule about bri nging babies. They h ad to be at least three months old. So we went over in March of 1953 when Michael was three months. It was my first flight and I didn’t like any better then than I do now. We flew down to New York with other wives and children.There must have been eight or ten wives and over forty children.We had a hectic flight. We left from New York and flew to Gander,New Foundland to refuel. There was a terrible storm there. I remember the wind blowing across runway.It was so strong the co‑pilot had to carry little Michael in his arms to the termina

    We finally got airborne again and when we got towards Paris it was very foggy.When we landed we touched down on one wheel then went up and tou hed down on the other ‑ be bo~ to a landing. I said “Thank God~” I called my mother after we landed to tell her we were alright.She was working in the woolen mill in Kezar Falls at the time and the manager was nice enough to let her come to the phone. We were in Paris from March 1953 unti l the Spring of 1955. When we were ready to go home, The French government was ying our way. I heard somewhere that they would pay either to fly or go by boat so I said,”Bob, get on it”. I did not want to fly. So we returned to the States on shiP ‑ the S.S.United wonderful trip though we did both get sea sick for a couple of days,it was a five day crossing.

Whi le we lived in Paris ‑ Bob worked for MAG.It seems the U.S. government was sellin~ and sometimes giving a lot of military equipment to the French government and Bob was involved in inventory control.We traveled around Europe a lot. We went to London just after Queen Elizabe ths coronation ‑ the decorations were still up. We went to the theater ‑ “Guys and Dolls” with Stubby Raye and Vivian ‑ whats her name? Vivian Blane!. And we went to Germany and down to Italy and to Switzerland and to Belgium and Holland and we went all over France up to Normandy and so on. I never got to Vienna ‑ I’d still like to go there. But Michael was my first concern ‑ so I didn’t go everywhere with Bob.Bu I remember seeing him off and meeting him at Orly.And I remmmber going to the Marine Ball every year at the Embassy.

When we returned home it was 1955.We were stationed at Grenier Air Base in Manchester,~t Hampshire and at that time Bob’s parnnts were getting older and he wanted to be closer to them in Saco, At that time Pease Air Force Base was just being openned and we applied for there and were transferred there,those were the early days at Pease.It has grown a lot sin. We bought a little house in Rollinsford, near Dover.We were stationed there for quite some time ‑ maybe from 1956 until 1958. Michael was growing and ready to start school.

 

We applied for another overseas assignment and were offered a post in Bagdad . We kind of had funny feelings about it though. There would be no base school for Michael and we just didn’t feel right. So we eventually turned it down. And soon after there was an uprising there and a lot of turmoil ‑ I don’t remember the details. So we thought we did t~. right thing. But we applied again and got an appointment to Tegucigalpa,Honduras. We felt better about that.We didn’t sell the house right away.We rented it out. We sent some furniture on to Honduras, some into storage and some to Washington,D.C..We had to spend about six months in Washington at language school to learn Spanish.The State Department had a language school. I took a “quickie” wives couses. I wasn’t very good at it. He did very well. I really love Washington.I keep going back there. I’m very impressed by it. All the monuments and everything. Maybe today the edge would be taken off with some of the activities that are happening ‑ both in government and in th streets. But anyway it was very enjoyable while we were there. We did some sightseeing and saw a play ‑ Bells Are Ringing” with Judy Holiday.We went to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldie My mother had come down to visit. I remember when we were visiting the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier young Prince Constantine of Greece came and layed a wreath.

And I remember when we were driving around the White House we saw President Eisenhower p~tting on the back lawn. It was always interesting. One of the wives in my Spanish class ‑ Maggie Stimson ‑ was Senator Byrds sister.She was going to Paraquay or Uraguay as Ambassadors wife.She had us all over to Georgetown for lunch one day . And we saw, of course,all the monuments.I love them so. I have a the ory about the monuments. I think the Washington Monument is for engineers…they would appreciate it most. And the Lincoln Memorial is awesome and very impressive‑ very strong.But the Jefferson memorial is my favorite‑ I love circles and arches.I’m not imptessed by bulky squares or rectangles.So we finished language school and were ready to go to Honduras.We drove on down to New Orleans and Bob turned in the car to the Port to be shipped.We were staying at a motel.I remember Michael got up and walked in his sleep one night and almost went int the swimmin~ pool.

About a day or two before we were supposed to go down to Honduras, we heard on the news and in the newspapers about the uprising down there. That must have been in 60 i~ 1960. And Bob said, “What should we do?” I mean they were really shooting them up down there and the police and the military ‑ the military coup was trying to take over the government. So we were sitting in the motel and Bob said, “Whht should I do”?”Who can I call?” We decided that if the assignment was to be cancelled somebody would have notified us. But we were young ‑that helped ‑ and we decided to go down. And we went on as scheduled and landed in Honduras …in Tegucigalpa, and the colonel came to pick us up and take us to the hotel. And from the airport into the city we saw all the sights that are available in Honduras.And they are ‑to most people ‑ pretty horrible. The poor people in shacks, the children with no clothes and eating an ear of corn and no water, no plumbing, no nothing. Bob was very cordial while we were with the colonel but afterwards when we were alone he said, “Lee, we are not staying here, we are not!” And I said,”people have been here before us and people will be here after us.We can at least try to find out what is here.It can’t be that bad. Where we live it won’t be that bad,If it is we’ll go back. So we stayed and it was nice. We met a nice crowd and in fact I think we had more fun than in Europe.Michael was older then ‑ not a baby anymore. We made very special friends down there.I remember them well and think of them often.It was very interesting.We did some traveling while we werethere. Living conditions were bad, but not for us.We ate off the market ‑ the Honduran market and had to soak some things in Clorox water and thke precautions that way.The water wasn’t that great and the milk was not good.I had to mix i~ for Michael from pow dered milk.I didn’t drink a drop all the while we were there. But anyway, we traveled to Guatemala a couple of times and we went to Salvador and I think we went through parts of Nicaragua ‑ I sometimes forget. When we were going down we landed on the Yucatan Penninsula. We went to Panama every so often for R & R ‑ Doctors and Dentists and such.The American Zone was more like home.We als did shopping for clothing there ‑ the good old Sears Roebuck catalog. I only got to stop at the airport in Costa Rica but I understand it is a beautiful country. I liked Guatemala very much.Right after we got to Honduras Michael had an appendix attack and we had to go down to Panama for a appendectDmy ‑ in the American hospital down there. Then I came up to Miami once to meet my mother.

   We had a good time ‑ but living conditions for the Hondurans were terrible ‑ I could do a whole tape on that.We went downthere in 1960 and came home late in 1962.Michael and I came home early because of school.The school term down there is February to November.So he finished school in November ‑the fourth grade. He was to start fifth grade in January back home in Cornish. I thought he might have some trouble. Anyway,Michael and I came on alone. And Bob came later, up to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. And while he was at Dover he met a lady ‑ a woman ‑ and it ended in ‑ resulted in a divorce and I stayed on with Michael in Cornish and brought him up alone. The whole thing took a while. Bob eventually volunteered for Viet Nam ‑ I think to get away from the situation.He didn’t have to go he alaeady had in over 20 years. He was wounded in the heel during a bombing raid.

Michael and I have been living in Cornish ever since.He went to school from fifth grade in 1963 all the way through high school ‑ all in the old building ‑ it was torn down after he graduated. At first Bob sent us money ‑ right up until Michael finished high school.Michael went to Husson College for a year and Bob was hoping not to have to pay any more. His new wife had five children and they needed the money too.

But I also got a clerks job in the Cornish Post Office. Two ladies were retiring and I replaced them. I went in in 1963 and I worked part time ‑ that’s why my retirement pay today is not what it should be. But I stayed there and worked at the post office and tried hard to do the best I could with Michael ‑ tried to be a good mother ‑ tried not to spoil him ‑ tried to make him realize that we were alone and didn’t really have anyone to fight for us if he got in trouble. His father used to come up from Delaware to see hime, before Viet Nam. We just got through it and I tried to be a good mother. My greatest regret during those years was that I worked a split shift at the Pos~ Office and when he was coming home from school I was just getting ready to go back to work ‑ and it was very difficult trying to get him to do his homework. And I hired ‑ so called babysitter~ for him. Until everybody tried to embarass me for it. But I did not hire them to sit and watch him every minute,I just wanted somebody there in case he broke his wrist or chipped a tooth or hurt himself ‑ they could call and get help. I didn’t have anybody. I mean my mother was here in town but she was working full time and my sister had four children of he] own.And I’ve always been a loner anyway. I’ve always been a loner. But I did work at the Po Office for over twenty years.Mostly part time. But when Mr.Dennison was retiring as Post Master and the Post Masters job was available again ‑ I applied and I really had it wrappe up ‑ except for my illness ‑ my cancer. I had applied for the job and even took an exam.I acting as helper to train the tempocary post masters ‑ the called them OIC charge. They came from other Post Offices. The I became tired and I guess I had been ill for a long time without really knowing it. It was in 1984 in the spring. I thought I had the flu and I went into the hospital and it was pneumonia. And while I was there they took many,many X‑rays and eventually they found out that I had cancer.Inoperable lung and lymph node it was called. I found out afterward thast Dr.Pickus had told Michael that I h four to six monthn to live. Michael was really upset ‑ I heard from other people later on. So I stayed in the hospital and they did biopsys up here in the nec k area to find out if i was spreading and they left two three inch scars. They came into my room ohe day and said they didn’t know what it was for sure but it was either Hodgkins,Legionnaires,T.B. or cance quite a menu!

Somehow T.B. scared me the most.Dr.Pickus said that would be the least of our problems. I was in there for two months ‑ eight whole weeks! I remember most of it.They started me on chemotherapy. And after I had my first treatment the X‑rays showed that the cancer had nearl~ disappeared. The Doctor came into my room one day and he said “I have some good news for you:  I thoyght there must be some mistake.  But I still had twelve treatments. It was unbearable ‑ much more than anybody can describe. Terribly strong ‑ they had to be a month apart. I started out having the treatments at the hospital ‑ it was beyond belief.I was terribly sick and terribly uncomfortable.Teribly upset at being there. Always a different room mate ‑ one had it cold ‑ one had it hot. Having to get up ‑ to measure the unine and getting up and wheeling my I.V. thing to the bathroom‑ and all that horror. Just horrible. Like a dream ‑ a nightmare. Finally I went to Dr.Pickus batween treatments an( I started to cry and I said, “Doctor”,I said.”do we have to do it ? “Is there any other way?’ And he said that I could take the treatments at his office instead of going to the hospital. So that’s how I got through it.

                                                                                   16

                                                                              PART III

COMMENTARY

Leona Chasse has traveled an incredible journey in her sixty‑five years. ,Her childhood years were lived during the Depression; She was raised by her mother .Her father was serving a lengthy sentence in prison in Connecticut for murder . He had left the family for another woman. Not an easy beginning.This was small town. Lot’s of talk.  Very early on she set herself apart. She refers to herself as “a loner”. She was “always out in the woods”. School was a difficult experience for her in many ways. Yet she still says she was basically happy as a child, When she graduated from high school ‑ it was 1941 and she joined Navy. This meant getting away from Cornish and ultimately traveling all around the world. She shared her life with a husband for nearly fifteen years and they had a son after trying fc four years. The really had good times together and Leona recalls these times fondly.She speaks very little of the divorce itself or of the twenty five years s‑ince. The years she raised her son alone. The years she fought cancer and the harrowing experience of chemotherap~­ She now lives an ordered ,almost contemplative life. She has trouble keeping up her physical energy she says but she looks more like 45 than 65 years old. She gives herself to community service .She visits her mother and others regularly in nursing homes.This is woman who heard h own death sentence spoken and was then unexpectedly reprieved. Leona has Eaced ~ contended wit all the events of adult development. She estabiished an identity, a relationship, marriage and motherhood. She went through divorce,seeing her mother become an invalid and own nearly fatal illness. She has become a strong independent woman in through her surrounding where this could easily not have happened. Her inner resources have helped her ‑ since a very early age. She is not a comformist or follower. There is still a deep part of her she does nc readily reveal. There is more hurt than she reveals. More pain. She has looked death inthe eye. Suffered much physical and emotional pain. And she is a whole person today in way that can only be wondered at and admired. Her spiritual strength and peacefulness shine through. I feel priviledged for having listened to her life story.

 

 

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