Mildred Estella Grant
Thomas A. Nash
June 30, 1989
BACKGROUND ON MILDRED E. GRANT
On January 18, 1908, Mildred Estella Moulton was born as the second child into a very poor family. Her father worked sporadically as a carpenter while her mother stayed at home to raise her own four children. She had a brother, Moses, and two sisters, Olive and Alice. Alice died giving birth to her third child; and her other two siblings just recently passed away.
My grandmother, Mildred has lived in Maine all of her life. Presently she resides in Shapleigh, Maine in a farm house which had been in her late ex‑husband, Raymond Grant’s family for almost a hundred years. For the last sixty years she has been there; first as a young bride living with her in‑laws, then as a mother, grandmother and divorced wife. Her nephew, Danny’s family lives with her now.
Her favorite room downstairs is seemingly disorganized and cluttered with the various crafts she gets into. Crocheting and knitting needles, bags of different colored yarn, a variety of projects in various stages of completion and an amazing collection of Better Homes and Gardens and Good Housekeeping magazines are all spread out systematically around her favorite chair. Little knick‑knacks stored in butter cookie tins and small wicker baskets also seem to envelop the chair. Mildred can either be found in that room creating some beautiful craft work or contently whipping up some delicious meal or dessert in her somewhat modern kitchen (circa 1960).
Mildred turned 81 this past January and she still gets around quite well despite her arthritic knee problem. For her age she is in excellent health and is still able to do an amazing amount of activities.
Most often she dresses casually in plain colored stretch pants and comfortable matching blouse. Her robust features show the look of a durable, hard‑working New England woman.
Of all of the fine qualities she possesses, her most endearing one would be her genuine concern for the happiness of others. There is nothing that brings her greater joy than to give of herself through the crafts she makes or the food she prepares for others. For 25 years she was the Master of the Mousam Lake Grange in Shapleigh. Over the last 10 years she has been unselfishly giving of her services to the American Legion Auxiliary Post in Rollingsford, N.H.
Mildred is generally satisfied with the way she has lived her life and feels that people will remember her as a good person and good friend. She has no regrets and holds no grudges. Mildred’s life has not always been filled with happy times ‑ poverty, losing a child, forgiving an unfaithful husband and divorce ‑ but she is remarkably strong ‑ willed as a result. Her story is filled with tears, humor and a sense of peacefulness. As a grandson who never took much time to really get to know her, recording her life history was enlightening and a joy. It has definitely, as a result, brought me much closer to her.
On a slightly overcast day on June 14, 1989 I sat in the craft cluttered front room of Mildred Estella Grant’s 19th century farm house in Shapleigh, Maine. What follows is a slightly edited transcript, for clarity’s sake, of the taped interview from that day. Very little was changed in order to maintain the flavor of her wit and the clarity of carefully thought out answers. She is a very special person with a fascinating, heartwarming and sometimes painful story to tell.
I was born and brought up in Sanford. I’m 81 years old. The doctor wanted to give my mother a thousand dollars for me. He wanted to give her a thousand dollars for me if she would give me to him. That’s all I know. Probably was a cute baby or something. I don’t remember much about my grandparents. My grandfather was Mel Durnham and I don’t remember my father’s father and mother. My mother’s father and mother lived right behind us on Jackson Street in Sanford. That’s where I was born. I don’t remember anything else about what my grandparents did for work.
My parents ‑ My father died at age 91, 1 think, and I don’t know how old my mother was. He died over at the Sanford Infirmary. God, I don’t know how old I was. If he has 91, I was married. I could tell you if I could find that thing ‑ I don’t know where it is now but I could find it sometime. I’ve worked all my life doing this and that. I quit school and went to work in the warp room, twisting, and then I got married when I was 18 and I’ve worked ever since until now. You aren’t asking any questions. . . My father was a hard working carpenter. My mother, she worked at home. We were poor, that’s all. He and Charlie Kitchen worked together building houses. Of course, there was no money in that back before 1920. Mom kept herself busy, crocheting; selling it many a time. We didn’t have much to eat; sometimes it was just bread and corn on it.
I used to run away. My father built a fence with barbed wire on it. He took it down as faster than he put it up ’cause I run right into it, stove myself all to pieces. I suppose I’d run away from home and go to my aunt’s or somewhere. I don’t know where I was going, but that was when I was small. Later I had plenty of friends I suppose. I had a cousin ‑ she was worst than the itch. I used to go with her and her mother when they went shopping or something like that. My parents were friendly; they were friendly just like I am. Giving and helping. There was a woman who lived on our street and my dad was always takin’ something to her so I told him he’d give his behind away and throw his wrist in if he could. They say I took right after him. My mother was a good cook ‑ I guess I inherited that too.
Moses was my brother, Olive next, then I come, then Alice. Alice died when she was givin’ birth to her third child and Moses and Olive just died recently. I’m the only one left. Well, my youngest sister married this Freddie Savigo; I don’t know ‑he left her or something. She had the kids one right after the other. Yup, she had three children. She died when she gave birth to her third one. Well, my mother and father adopted them three. I don’t call them my sisters and brother either. They are my niece and nephew. There’s Frank Moulton, Moses Moulton, and Arlene Moulton. They all took the name of Moulton when my father and mother adopted them. Oh, I got along with my brother and sisters but the other ones will take, take, take. They had to have their share of everything. The oldest one don’t though. That’s the way they are now and that’s the way Arlene’s been all the time. The one that was named after Moses was the same way. Frank’s not that bad. My mother took care of them. I didn’t watch after them like my other brother and sisters. We had to watch every penny we had, we were so poor. I don’t remember them helping out. I think Moses went to work. He had to quit high school and I didn’t go to high school.
I went to Longfellow and Emerson School in Sanford. I don’t remember anything about it but I quit school and went to work after I stayed back in the eighth grade ’cause I wasn’t going to high school and then I went right to work in the Sanford mills; I went to work spinning. Since then I’ve worked everywhere: apple orchard, climbing trees, pruning trees, milked cows after I got married, worked in the summer camps, cooking at Wells, Sebago and nursing homes, cooked at Shapleigh School and the Sanford ~ursing Home. Sebago Lake ‑ I cooked for 200 girls. Wells ‑ I cooked for summer camp down there. There weren’t too many there. Oh yes, I cooked down in Wells High School and I cooked at Garbardines in Kennebunkport. I just liked to cook. I retired in 1975 when I was 67.
I met Ray Grant over to Larry House Dance Hall, at 3 Sanford Street on the back road. It might still be there today, but it isn’t a dance hall. I was 18. I only knew him six months. We got married and nobody knew anything about it until the next day. We were going out that night and we went and got married in Springvale in the . . . not the church but the rectory , ain’t it, where the minister lives? We got married there and we went to a room on Hillsdale Street. We were about two streets from my house. Seems to me that we rode the electric car and went down to Kennebunk or something like that for our honeymoon. We didn’t stay long. The electric cars used to go down through Main Street on a track. It used to go rlght up by the end of Tibbetts Avenue. Ray had a car, though, a Ford Model T. At the time he sold milk at his parents’ farm.
Took it over to Harry Howes and then Freddie Guay lived out here where White’s lived and they used to sell it to them. He was five years older than I was, 23. We got married on June the eighth, 1926.
We moved into the farm after a fashion. Before we had a place, a room down in somebody’s house right across from where the, I can’t remember his name, somewhere in Springvale. Then we moved out here. What brought us here? I don’t know. When we lived here, we were living with his parents at the time too. They were all right. I helped all I could. I’d milk cows in the morning. The last of it Ray went to work and I’d milk the cows before he got home and have that all done. He worked over to Rochester. Shoe shop, I guess it was. Then he used to work down to the mill down in Sanford. The same one I worked at. I’d work nights and he’d work days. I didn’t see him very much then between working at the mills and milking cows.
That was when he was going to somebody else. Taking somebody else out. He was going to dances every Saturday night. I wouldn’t go when I had the kids. I lost my first one, I fell on the ice right up here on the top of the hill. That’s the first one, then I had three others. Raymond Jr., Carlene and Lorene. That’s all I had and that was enough. Well I got caught that night when I got married so I lost the first one when I was nineteen. I was about ready to have it. I didn’t have to go very long when I had it ‑ about a month or so ‑ when I fell down here at the top of the hill. It was winter time. We used to have to walk to Emery Mills to take a bus down toward Sanford. That’s a couple of mile walk at least. We had a horse and carriage but we couldn’t leave the horse at Emery Mills to get on the bus to go to Springvale. I had oysters in one hand and horseradish in the other and I haven’t eaten an oyster since. Rav was with me. I lost the baby then. I didn’t know about it. The doctor came up here and I had it two weeks after I fell. The baby was as black as the band on your watch. Good thing I didn’t get blood poisoning. Dr. Cobb came up as far as where Dana Merrifield used to live (the Shapleigh‑Springvale town line) and they had to go get him to bring him up. The roads were bad. It was icy. Ray went and got him with the horse. The baby’s buried out in the family graveyard but there’s no stones.
When the kids were quite young Ray started seeing someone else. He told Carlene or one of the other girls I guess. If you hadn’t asked me I could have told you her name. I wrote her a note and sent it in the mail. I said she should have been in the old Howard in Boston. I called her an old bitch. I wrote right on the front of the outside envelope. I put her address and I said “Husband Stealer” right underneath it. The Post Office got the biggest boot out of it that you ever saw.
That didn’t stop things. I was paying all the bills and letting him have his money. Then he got another one. She gave him up and I guess Ray got another one ’cause he married her over in Portland. That was Helen. I don’t know when it was, maybe 15 years ago, wasn’t it? I didn’t like the idea but I had to put up with it. I didn’t get divorced from him; he got divorced from me. He served the papers when I was working down to Camp Sebago. I still wear my wedding band, though. I ain’t gonna take it off. I still wear it. A lot of people think I’m still married. I don’t want anybody else. Even though he didn’t remain faithful. His father was the same way. He’s forgiven himself, I guess. He found out he was doing wrong. The last wife he had was taking all his money from him.
That was the worst time of my life when I found out he was chasing someone else. But I stayed with him. His mother stayed with her husband, so I figured if she could do it, then I could. When I refused to have him in my room he got to going all the time. I was happy before he started going with somebody else. Besides that I can’t complain.
It was fun raising children, though. I was expected to have children after I got married and I never gave it a thought. I didn’t work in the mills ’til they got older. One day Ray said to me, “I think you and Lorene should get a job down to the beach and have a vacation.” That was when I started working down to Wells Beach at the kid’s camp. ~aybe that was when he started his business. He says he behaved himself until the kids grew up. I shouldn’t be telling you this. Maybe he’ll come haunt me.
Bringing up the kids was not too bad. I just wanted to bring them up to be half decent. I’ve got some smart ones. I don’t know where they got if from, not from me. My son’s smart and so is Lorene but maybe Carlene is smart, but not as smart as she could have been. They got along fairly well, as best as kids could probably. I hope they appreciate the way I brought them up ‑ I don’t know.
After they got old enough, I went to work again. Ray wasn’t working anywhere so all he got was what they sold here ‑ milk and vegetables. Stuff wasn’t as high as it is now. His father used to raise potatoes and take them down and swap them for groceries. They sold the milk for 5¢ a quart. It seems to me that Camire used to live nearby and they sold milk to him. Then Freddie Guay used to come over on horseback and put two cans of milk ‑ one on each side of the horse ‑ and take it when we couldn’t get out. Like the time we were snowed in six weeks here one year. We had to walk on ten‑foot drifts along the stone wall. One time we had to leave our car at the Shapleigh ‑ Springvale town line and walk through the field. You got onto the stone wall ‑ you could touch the wires, the snow was so deep. We were snowed in six weeks.
I’ve gone from horse drawn carriages to space ships! It’s terrible! As long as I can stay on the ground that’s where I’ll be. If I need anything I get in the car and go. Besides that, don’t need much else. Well, if it weren’t for the television we could get a lot more done. That’s right! Don’t care for microwaves either. Well, somebody thinks they are a good thing.
Changes? I would probably do the same thing. I’ve probably made mistakes but I don’t remember what thev were. I don’t want to travel except to the Dutch Country as long as it’s not on plane. Well, I was brought up to not want anything ‑ only what was given to me. Red Cross gave us underwear to wear when we was growing up ‑ them old‑fashion, long‑legged union suits. There was a negro that worked for Hussey that lived on School Street. She worked around the house cleaning. Ethel and she got us these clothes from the Red Cross, Salvation Army.
So we were poor once. We had to work all our lives. I don’t mind that. I’ll work as long as I can but I don’t know how long that’s going to be. I don’t know as I would want to know. I hope my kids keep the hard working nature going. Don’t lose nothing by it. Your mother is doing the same as I do. Cook and give it away. Carlene does the same. giving, but course his wife Marion, I don’t know what she does. Buster So I guess they have taken it from me, I don’t know.
The world has treated me pretty good. I have lots of friends. I’ll help people as much as I can. As long as I can keep going ‑ and I ain’t going to give up ‑ and do my cooking. I can’t paper anymore; I used to do papering and painting and all that crap and now I can’t do that. I may start again~ I don’t know. I’ve got the paper to do this kitchen.
I’ve tried to work hard. I think I’ve done mv share. As long as I can keep going and keep my bills paid that’s all I care. When that time changes I probably won’t be here. When I pass on I don’t think people will have anything bad to say about me. Dot Nason said I was a good friend I help all I can. . . I think they will say, “Mildred was a good person.” Be good to your wife when you get one. Behave yourself.
As I comment on Mildred Grant’s life I will use as a mainstay, my personal subjective perceptions on her life. I’ll interject some objective perspectives pulling from a variety of theories that are appropriate to the situation, theme or dilema in her life.
What shaped ~ildred’s life? Why is she who she is today? To take a look at her development, one needs to understand her as she is presently. Knowing her personally for my entire life and through the insight garnered from the interview I feel I’m able to delve into that task with some expertise and with great enthusiasm.
How would one describe my grandmother? The qualities that one would expect to find in a traditional, down‑to‑earth New England woman from the early 1900’s shine through in Mildred. She possesses that quick, simple Maine wit, seasoned with the native colloquial speech. Words one would use to describe her would be: thrifty, graceful, dutiful, loyal, spirited, honest, committed, loving, determined, hard‑working, accepting of her position in life, and true to her convictions. She is not very religious but has a strong sense of what is morally right or wrong, and has taught that by example to her children and grandchildren.
Her most endearing quality though, would have to be her genuine concern for the happiness and welfare of others. There is nothing that brings her greater joy than to give of herself through the crafts she makes and the food she prepares. Mildred is one of those people who would give away her very last dime to someone who needed it. Her heart is as big as one of her apple pies.
At some point in her childhood, Mildred formed a loving,trusting relationship with her mother and father. With much fondness she recalled bits and pieces of her childhood. Even though her family was extremely poor, getting clothes from the Salvation Army or often eating only corn and bread, it wasn’t an unhappy childhood. That trust she had developed carried her through the seemingly hopeless times. Fa;th and hope instilled in them by their parents most likely also helped. Those things that Mildred learned in that part of her life were some of the many tools that helped her face the pain and sorrow that found its way into her life.
School became difficult for this young girl. She wasn’t able to deal with the demands of her schooling and was faced with a feeling of inferiority. Seeking to find some niche of her own, forced to make a change ‑ to attain synchrony (Percer & Bielby, 1980) ‑ she turned to a familiar world. At age fourteen, armed with her parent’s strong work ethic, her pride and determination Mildred went off to work in the textile mills as a spinner. She was being productive and helping her family financially. An identity was forming. Although the job was not complex (as were her subsequent jobs throughout her life),thus not leading to more complex and elaborate ways of thinking, (Percer & Bielby, 1980) she accepted her work role and it soon became a way of life for her. Like most other blue collar workers, she too found her interpersonal commitments centering around her family.
A new role for her was about to emerge though. She had adapted quite well to her new work environment and the demands it had placed upon her. Now a sociological change confronted her (Riegel, 1975). She would leave a stable home and work life for that of a young bride.
At age 18, in hopes of creating a truly intimate relationship, Mildred married Raymond Grant of Shapleigh after a six‑month courtship. For her it meant a chance to spread her wings. Leaving town and the mill life behind led her to a quieter existence in the country about six miles away. Farming activities such as growing and picking vegetables and milking the cows and their care now occupied her time. Accepting her new role came easily. She helped all she could and worked as hard as anybody on the farm. She was succeeding in establishing an independence- a new life separate from her family ‑ as she stepped into her early adult transitional period. (Levinson, 1978). Her dream was about to become true. She was leading into the altruistic commitment period (Fiske, 1986).
On her wedding night, Mildred was “caught” as she put it. Tragically, though, eight months later in February while walking nearly three miles to the farm from a nearby village bus stop, carrying a bucket each of oysters and horseradishes, she slipped on the ice, unknowingly killing her unborn child. A month later the child was born, black as the night. Surprisingly, the experience didn’t dampen her spirits. Faithfully she brought three more children into the world and through perseverence and determination got through the Great Depression.
Disappointment and disbelief beset her young marriage soon after. While the children were of school age she discovered that her husband was seeing another woman. She fought fiercely for her husband at first and then realized that she couldn’t change the situation. Just as her mother‑in‑law had to accept living with an unfaithful husband, so should she have to learn to live with injustice being done to her. Ray served her the divorce papers one summer when she was away cooking at a girl’s camp. Mildred never wanted the divorce. She had found it in her heart to forgive his infidelities.
Once again her life changed drastically. Now she faced the threat of isolation, no longer involved in an intimate relationship. The midlife transitional crisis had hit her in middle adulthood (Levinson, 1980). Her choice was to seek solace and comfort in her relationships with her daughters and a few close friends, Viola Hilton, Dot Nason, and Gladys Yuill. At this stage of her life came to a culmination she invested herself in her work (mastery stage of commitment) volunteering in the community, and in her relationships with friends and family. Whether the divorce steered her into this or it was just the normal progression of her life, I’m not sure. I do know that she became amazingly strong because of the suffering she experienced and of her ultimate acceptance.
Mildred has weathered life’s storms and continues to sail on across the sea ‑ the openness she has always maintained. As long as she stayed on course, following the rules of the world ‑ the laws of the sea ‑ she would be happy. She now prepares for physical decline of her late adult life. Beliet in the good of people and hope have brought her this far. Physical and economic survival concern her as she floats into her self‑protectiveness period of commitment. As long as she can continue to pay her bills, get around where she wants to go and not be a burden to anyone she’ll be content. She is by no means ready to lower her sails yet.
Mildred Grant’s life has been one of struggle and survival but now more optimistically, that of acceptance. She yielded to her bliss. Work and her children became her life. Although she still wears her wedding band,which in a sense is a denial of a painful event in her life, she looks at it as an undying love for someone. She instead lives in the present, and has become committed and invested in the world around her, a genuine concern for humanity. Erikson sums it up quite well when he states,”It is the acceptance of one’s own and only life cycle and of the people who have become significant to it as something that had to be and that, by necessity, permitted of no substitutions. . .and of acceptance of the fact that one’s life is one’s own responsibiiity.”
Mildred Estella Grant through her faith and fortitude, generosity and compassion will leave a memorable legacy with those who knew her. What a remarkable, beautiful tapestry her life has woven for us.