Life Story Interview ‑ Myron George Barnhart
Well let’s start from this moment, November 4th 1999, in Brunswick, Maine. I’m visiting
my son Peter, his wife Mary and Gianna. Gianna is my granddaughter and this is the third time I’ve seen her, so it is of great importance to me and it seems to make me recall my early days and bring back some of the thoughts I had about my early beginnings. I was born Myron George Barnhart, on February 15, 1916, but was called Mike from early teenage years by most people except my teachers. Most people know me as Mike and naturally think my name is, therefore, Michael, which I like, but I kind of am caught unaware when I am called Myron because I so rarely use the name. That’s interesting, about my birth, I can relate my early years of two years old because of where we lived. After that two years, we moved to an extension of the original house. The original house was a store, my father ran a food store, it was the biggest one in Lancaster, New York and we lived in quarters above it until after I was two, then they built an extension and it became our very comfortable home with three bedrooms and a couple baths, etc.. But I remember living above the store, I was two, being held by my mother on her lap, being fed probably. I remember asking her if I could have a pony and she said “Yes, later when you are a little older, we’ll get you a pony.” But I never received the pony.
Another thing I can remember of that period of my life was that we had a very large kitchen and the cabinets were highly varnished. I remember crawling on the floor and picking off the varnish that had rolled down into little balls of paint and I was intrigued with getting them off. Also I remember playing horse and carriage. I had two chairs and one chair was the horse and I would be in the carriage. I remember that so well. Also, at that age, I could see birds outside
because it was up high and I thought I could fly too. I jumped off the top of our stairs that goes up to our house and of course, no flying, I just tumbled to the bottom but broke no bones, but I can remember doing that. I was born in 1916. It was after the first world war, of which I remember nothing, of course. Or was it before, no it was before.
I have a brother Ken, who was born in 1906. He is the oldest. After him I have another brother, Norm. I don’t think that Ken had a middle name. Just Kenneth Barnhart. Then next in line was my second brother, Norm. Norman Emery Barnhart, he was born in 1909. Both of them were born in Lancaster, New York. One was ten and one was nine when I was born. Following them was my sister Ruth Barnhart, she was born in 1909. She was a year apart from Norm, a year and two months difference in their age. My father was still living then. I had an uncle, Uncle Herman, he was a brother of my mother, he was a bachelor at that point and he lived in a spare room that we had for a while. When the extension was built the apartment became a source of income, we always rented that out. My grandparents were not living by the time I was born, so of course, I have no memory of them. All four were dead at the time I was born. They had all immigrated to the United States from Germany. Both sets of my grandparents had established roots in the Buffalo area. It seemed to attract many Germans. My parents were born in this country, it was my grandparents who immigrated to the U.S. Both my parents parents immigrated and their parents never came here. They stayed in Germany and were dead by the time I was born.
My mother had three brothers and one sister on her side. Her family were a total of five.
I had an Uncle Hermy (Herman), Ernest,,Uncle Edward and my aunt was Elizabeth, we called her Aunt Lizzy. My father, he had two brothers, George who lived in East Aurora, New York and Frank, who when I was a very young child, had a Tavern across the street from where he lived.
He then moved to Flint, Michigan, where good jobs were starting in the automobile business. He had a sister we called Aunt Annie, she was Anna, who lived in a little town outside of Buffalo, called Marilla. My father died when I was seven years old so I have only vague memories of him. But what I remember about him was that he was very kind, gentle and playful, he was never
cross, never angry, never spanked. He was a very nice person and in that respect, he was very well liked in town, everyone liked him. I didn’t hear this but my sister told me that she was so surprised that when his friends talked to him, they referred to him as “Johnny”, but we always knew him as John because my mother called him John. But he was Johnny. He died from having a tooth extracted which became inflamed and caused him to be hospitalized and he died when he was under the anesthesia. I was seven years old. They didn’t have antibiotics at that time. I remember his death very well because I was outside playing, it was November when there was snow on the ground. I was building a fort with friends and my sister came down to get me, to tell me what had happened I think. My father had been taken to the hospital and he died and that’s
the only memory I have there. At that point I don’t remember it effecting me as a child, but more later, growing up as a teenager. Well, I always missed the fact that I didn’t have a father like
other kids, my brothers were that much older and didn’t pay any attention to me. But actually, Ruth, my sister, was like a parent to me, she took care of my needs and took me around and did things for me.
I remember, as a teenager, how upset I was at times when there were other kid’s parents playing with them and it hit me suddenly and I remember going home and crying about it. I
remember that distinctly. I was about 14 years old. That I didn’t have a father like other kids. At that point there were no males who took over my father’s role, but when I was in high school my
English teacher befriended me and actually moved into our home and boarded with us. He took an interest in me and from that time I seemed to always be friends with older fellows. I seemed to associate with older people as a result, I think, of not having a father. I always felt so sad for my mother, she missed my father very much, felt so dependent now after having all these children and then suddenly getting stuck with raising us. My brother Ken quit school, he was a senior in high school but didn’t graduate, because he took over the business. My mother was so hard working and over worked actually, that it used to make me angry because she would complain, constantly complain, rave on and on about how tired she was and how over worked she was, it used to bother me so much, that it would make me lose my temper. That was my memory of her, that she was so hard working, that she loved to cook and bake, her whole life was that of a homemaker, raising children and family. My mother was a very nice person, she was a very kind person and a very capable person, but was over worked and therefore had a hard life. As I remember my mother, all she every did was work around the house. She didn’t seem to have much of a social life.
I do not remember any stories about my family’s immigration. I do remember my mother’s and father’s friends were German mostly and they used to like to play pinochle and they would have card parties, going to each other’s homes. My mother’s cooking was strictly German; the sauerkraut, pancakes, typical German type foods. Heavy foods, but very delicious. We went to the German Lutheran Church and I remember one sermon was preached in German for those who didn’t understand English. My parents both spoke German but they never taught us German. This is one thing I do remember, when they had secrets they would talk German and when my mother’s German friends would come they would talk German so that I couldn’t understand what they were
saying. As with so many people whose parents immigrated, they wanted to become Americans
and they didn’t hang on to anything, they wanted to do American things, they just hung on to their language because of their parents, but they didn’t seem to have any other German traditions that they followed. Well, the Christmas tree, but then everybody had a Christmas tree. The Christmas tree originated in Germany. I remember when I got out of the hospital. I had a gallbladder operation and when I came home, I had been in the hospital a month. My family came down and they had bought me a Lionel train set, the big cars which they don’t make anymore. I remember that Christmas so plainly because it was the best gift, the train set I got. It was a tradition, you asked me about traditions, for my mother to always made cookies at Christmas time and decorate them. I have those cookie cutters in my possession which her parents, my grandparents, brought from Germany, so they are very old cookie cutters and they will bring back a lot of memories because I remember the shapes of cookies because it was every Christmas that we had them. We decorated the tree with ornaments that they had collected and carefully put away each year. There was always a star or an angel. I think that the ornaments were probably bought here.
Religion was very important in my family. My father was Catholic and when he married my mother he turned Protestant and joined the Lutheran Church, which was the church of my mother. We were brought up very strictly, we had to go to church, we had to go to Sunday
school and then probably at night we had to go back to church. During Lent we had to go to a Good Friday (special service). We had a preacher that when I got to high school, he really turned me off to religion. He was German, very obese and he would get so excited and aggravated and pound the pulpit and tell everyone how sinful they were. As a kid, it confused me because I didn’t think I had done anything wrong and here I would be told that we were all so sinful. When I got
to high school I realized how impossible that was for me to accept, so I stopped going to church despite being raised very strictly, because that minister turned me off. Afterwards religion was very unimportant to me. I’m a spiritual person, I believe in the spirit but I don’t believe in the realism of the bible teachings, I just can’t accept that..
As a child I was kind of sensitive I think. I was so sick early on with the gallbladder infection, which was very unheard of in those days, it made me unable to participate in sports. My two brothers were football players and basketball players and were athletically inclined and I couldn’t do these things because I was skinny and my side, where the operation was performed, was very sensitive to movements. I would get adhesions if I tried to run or do things as other kids did. I remember I never learned to swim as a child because I would cramp up and that motion would bother me so I never became a good swimmer. I did not participate in sports for health reasons and early on, I was always interested in art, I liked to draw and so that became my hobby. I always was good at drawing.
I think my happiest memory was when my father was still alive. As a family, I remember we would take Sunday trips in the Model T Ford, we’d go out to the country. On one trip I remember we parked the Ford next to a lake where we were having our picnic and when it was time to leave, my father cranked the car, it was in gear and he didn’t know it and the car pushed him into the water. That made me cry and it’s funny I should remember this, my mother made excuses for me crying. She told her friends who were with us that I had a very serious operation and I wasn’t that strong. She didn’t relate it to my feelings, but my health. That reminds me of my Aunt Annie, who was my father’s sister, when we were out there visiting. They had a Model T also, which you had to crank to start. My Uncle and Aunt who lived in Marilia, that was Uncle
Will and Aunt Annie, had a farm. We used to go there and stay overnight. I remember riding in the car with my aunt and uncle and it had stalled at the bottom of the hill. My aunt who was deaf from childhood, early on she had Typhoid Fever and it left her deaf, so her understanding of things was different from other people I think, blamed my uncle for not winding it up enough. Because of the crank she thought you wind it up like a toy!
I don’t think being sick as a child effected my self‑esteem. It probably made me sensitive to the fact that I couldn’t do what other kids were doing and led me in the direction of art, I think, but I used to like to work in the garden and work around the house helping my mother, that sort of thing. I used to like to raise plants and watch them grow. After my father died, the big thing in my life was my sister. She really took care of me. My sister Ruth was a very athletic as a younger person, she played excellent tennis and she was going to teach me how to play tennis. She gave me one lesson and I was backing up trying to retrieve a ball, I went too fast and couldn’t stop and went down and hurt my wrist and that was the end of my tennis. I got along with my brothers, to a point. Norm, when he was out of high school got married and raised his own family, so he sort of moved out of our life. As a teenager I worked in the store with my brother but he would make me so angry, I was very sensitive to being criticized. He would embarrass me in front of other people and that bothered me very much, to the point where we didn’t get along at all. I liked him better as I got older. You have to excuse people. He was so over worked, making a living,
raising us really. You don’t appreciate that when you’re young. I think my struggle as a child was being without a father. That was the biggest thing to overcome. So I kind of took care of myself, I learned how to cook, work a garden and do things like that.
My best friend was an Italian boy named Dominic Manurella and we were inseparable. We were always together, always played together, I used to play at his house, I never ate there but their food always smelled so good. They were very poor, their father worked on the railroad so they didn’t have a lot but they would make their own wine. We were very close until after the fourth grade when his parents made him go to Catholic school, so we weren’t as close after that. I did have other friends, one of whom you’ve met, Jimmy Dickinson. Jimmy and I were very close friends, he became a Professor and President of Westbrook College. I started becoming interested in girls in my teenage years, I always liked quiet girls it seemed. I had a friend, Glen Dickinson, who was a couple of years older, I would have been 16 and he was 18. He got his license and drove, we’d go in his car and drink Italian wine which on one of those trips I got ill. In high school I went out with him in his Model T Ford, had a bottle of red wine and the next day I had my French Regency examination, but I drank too much the night before. I did manage to take the test and pass it, but with a hang over. Then I would never take wine after that. To this day I can’t drink it in excess.
I didn’t get into much trouble as a teenager, well the drinking of the Italian wine was one thing, but otherwise I was pretty straitlaced. I was a good student because I was conscientious and I knew I wanted to go to college and I had an IQ that was above average. I learned later
from your mother, that our IQs were exactly the same, we knew that because in order to teach school in New York state you had to take a National Teacher’s Exam and we compared the results and my test scores were the same as hers, go we were even, your mother and I. As a teenager I particularly liked winter for sledding and skating, I was never a great skater but I used to like to skate and I’d go sledding. Cars weren’t that popular, so we’d hitch on the back of a sled
that was pulled by a horse and get a free ride. They seemed to let us to that, I remember that very plainly. It was that time when the airplane was invented and I remember how excited I’d get when I’d see an airplane (a biplane, a two winged airplane) and I’d run trying to catch up with them. It was silly but they didn’t fly that high either and I’d wave. I liked to fish with my friend, who was older and had the car, we’d get up early and go but I never caught a fish. We’d go many times but ever since, as a result to this day, I’ve never been interested in fishing. I think I used to like the pond, getting up early and the adventure.
The worst part of being a teenager were the limitations I had not being able to participate in many things the other kids did. Once I got into my art I would release my feelings that way. I was pretty much of a loner, looking back, but I think my teachers were the biggest influence, certainly in my art. I had a very excellent art teacher starting in the seventh grade who influenced me. I would say so because she appreciated what talent I had and encouraged me. I remember
she treated me as a friend and took me and another student to a luncheon, out to lunch in Buffalo to a restaurant and on the same trip we went to the Albright Art Gallery where Wait Disney was introduced. He had just drawn the first Mickey Mouse and he was on stage and he showed us the first Mickey Mouse. He was a very young fellow then, maybe 30 or 25. That really left an impression and shortly after that of course, it became so popular. I remember how energetic he was, a nice acting person, enthusiastic.
In terms of school memories, I remember going to kindergarten and how much fun it was. Then I went to first grade and I had my operation. I remember writing on the blackboard, we all had to go up to the blackboard, they used blackboards around the room, more or less. I had to go up there. I had my first operation in the first grade and I missed so much I had to repeat the first
grade. First it was my appendix, they thought my pain was due to the appendix but it wasn’t. So then I repeated the first grade, went to the second grade and had my big operation, the gallbladder operation. I missed a lot of school, my family decided they’d rather I repeated the second grade. I remember my father reading to me and helping me try to read, I remember that about my father. I was two years back, first grade and second grade. I always felt older than my classmates and this might be another reason why I had older friends.
My favorite teacher was my third grade teacher, Miss Gonnerman. She was a teacher who was way ahead of her day, I think. She would go to different areas throughout the country and teach for a year or two and then move on because she wanted to learn the country. I was
fortunate to have her when she came to Lancaster. She was a very good teacher at the time. In Junior High my favorite teacher was my art teacher, Mable Bates. We became almost like friends because she wasn’t that much older than me. She went to Normal School which only called for
one year training and then they’d teach in those days. She was a very nice person, very ahead of her time in art. She remained my favorite teacher right through high school. I wanted to tell you about clock that was probably in my fifth grade classroom, the clock that’s hanging on your wall. It must have been there years before so that’s an old clock and I think, therefore, valuable, it’s in good shape. But I remember when I look at it, I can still see that hand on five minutes to three because that’s when the school bell would ring to get out. I remember that.
I did have girlfriends in school, but not to the point of permanent attachments. I liked this little girl from Marilla who was very pretty but it never developed far. We had high school dances and this good looking gal made a play for me and we went behind the curtain on the stage, the
stage and the gym were connected and that’s where we held our dances, we were kissing and the
gym teacher caught us. Then I went to her house, she lived with a sister, she was alone a lot, she was way ahead of her age. She tried to rape me. So I got out of there because I was afraid. Kissing wasn’t a big thing because we would have birthday parties particularly with this brother and sister, their last name was West and they were more or less on their own too. Their parents worked. They would have parties and we’d have spin the bottle and everyone was kissing, it was just a thing to do. I was somewhere around 10 to 14 years old at that time. I think my first date was with that little girl from Marilia when we went to the dance together. I think I was about 16 years old.
As a teenager I think I was turned off about anything spiritual because of my Lutheran background. I didn’t have any experiences of a spiritual nature because I was so turned off. I
think getting my driver’s license was a turning point for me, I could become independent. I didn’t have a car but my brother lost his license because of a drinking accident, he couldn’t drive
anymore in late high school. So when I went to college, I used the car. I went to college right from high school. Which we couldn’t very well afford but my mother somehow got the money, but of course college was so inexpensive. I went to the Albright Art Gallery. Started out there because I wanted to major in art and because it was the end of the Depression, I decided I had better get into teaching as a sure thing, so I took courses at the University of Buffalo and graduated with a degree in art education. Albright was an independent Art School that worked with the University of Buffalo. As a young child I grew up during the Depression, but we never felt it money vase. We never had a lot of money but we always had the grocery store so we
always had plenty of food to eat and a living income. It never effected us in our lifestyle because
of what I just said, we had our food, we never had to suffer that way. The death of my father had the biggest effect on our lifestyle, of course that was when I was only seven years old.
I always was going to be in art, there was never any question about it. So once I started my education beyond high school I knew what I was doing, the art. I was at the art school for four years along with the University of Buffalo at the same time. I got my Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Buffalo. My first teaching job, there were only one or two of us in my class who got jobs because it was the end of the Depression and there just weren’t many jobs available. My first job paid me $1,483 a year and out of that money, this shows how times have changed, I lived away, a place called Union Springs, New York. I had to pay my board and I bought a second hand car and had spending money on that salary. It shows how things are different. I moved from there and went to Mddletown, New York. That was about $1500 more in salary, a big jump. My first job I taught Art, kindergarten through senior high school. It was a centralized school so everything was in one building. It was a large school but I was the only art teacher so I covered it all. It was a good training background. I had a break in that when I was a student in college, there was a shortage of substitute teachers in Buffalo, so we got paid $25 a day to substitute and I got a lot of practical experience teaching in rough neighborhoods and good neighborhoods. When I was a senior in college they needed a teacher in a town called Depeu, New York and the college excused me from classes, so I could take the job and I did the college work at home. So I taught high school the last six months of that senior year.
In college there was one of the art students I liked very much, we went out a couple of times, but she had the worst breath and I could never tell her. So she turned me off, she was so good looking too. But terrible breath. I was always interested in older people, so I went out with
fellows that were older and we would go to the bars and drink. I remember going in on a bus to Buffalo because I didn’t have a car yet and my brother Norm told me, “You be careful, going out with girls drinking because I had to marry, Mary. Because Mary was pregnant with Jack and I
had to marry her.” Jack is my nephew. Brotherly advice, that’s the one time I did get advice from my brother. Plus smoking, he said to “watch your smoking or you’ll get lung cancer”. Here he dies of lung cancer himself My brother smoked and worked in the steel plant and his office, where he was the timekeeper, was next to a blast furnace. He inhaled all those fumes and he smoked at the same time so he was really asking for it.
My older brother was still taking care of the store. He married when I went away that
first year to teach. He only had one child, Sandra. I don’t know her really, she’s your cousin but I don’t know her. She became a teacher and raised a family. They finally closed down the store.
Both my brother and his wife worked in the store, they did it for three or four years and then they sold it. He worked as a school bus driver. After I moved out my mother became ill and died. She died in 1940 from a gallstone operation. I wonder if I inherited that from her, that’s what caused
her death. I remember as a child she always had stomach problems. I remember in the middle of
the night, I knew she had died because I woke up and I just knew. They called the next day to tell me.
I always thought I had clairvoyance, up to a point in my life where I saw an ad in the New York Times and if you thought you had extra sensory perception, that Dartmouth University was having a television show and they were looking for people. I was tested and I tested so high they couldn’t believe it. I was tested with playing cards, they would turn a card behind my back and I had to call the card and I apparently did very well, because they put me on the show. Vincent
Price was the moderator but I was so scared I flopped miserably right there on television. That was back when I was teaching. Another experience I had involved being out in a boat, a flat top. I knew we had to get in to shore, we weren’t safe, I just knew it. I knew there was going to be a tragedy. I knew that the night before, I dreamt it, but I went out in the boat anyway. Sure
enough, a boat next to us, it was a pleasure boat with fishermen mostly, went down. We were in a boat that wasn’t very safe and had all we could do to get ourselves back in. We couldn’t save anyone, we threw our life preservers over to them but we had to go to shore to save ourselves. A storm blew up out of nothing and just sunk that boat. It was over crowded. It was unfortunate. As a child I knew things like what people were going to say before they said it, I remember that. But that could be coincidental also. I think that because I was overly sensitive, that I was aware of events because I probably got a signal somehow. I don’t think it was anything special, I was just very sensitive to my surroundings. I remember that I used to dream that I was in Spain, that was before we were going to Spain and that someone on a horse tried to kill me and I saved myself by killing him. When we did go to Spain I felt I saw the exact spot where this happened, under a tree in a town I can’t remember now. It was in my dream, yeah. That’s right.
Shortly into my teaching career I was drafted into the Army, but rejected because I had a heart murmur. They called me again and accepted me with the heart murmur, which I still have to this day. So I got drafted and took a train to Camp Upton, Long Island to get equipped with uniforms, shoes, etc.. Then I was sent to Aberdeen, Maryland. Since I had been to college, they used me in the Personnel Office to assign, men coming into the Army to different jobs in the
service and I was very fortunate in one respect in that I was always kept in that capacity and didn’t get to serve in active duty. I was sent to Washington Lee University to take a special course and
I remember in the class was Red Skelton who was there for the same reason I was. The purpose of that course was to prepare me for a job I was to be assigned to, setting up a program for soldiers returning from overseas which is what I did, I mean I tried to do it. I was sent to Fort Story, Virginia where I set the whole thing up, arranged for equipment, I was completely on my own. I finally got supplies, art supplies and I think there was one session teaching and the government called the whole thing off. The purpose of the program was to give returning soldiers a background or training in some field they might be interested in going into before being discharged from the Army. My job was to help those interested in an art career of some kind. I think it was typical of the government to stop the program. I then got myself assigned to special services and my job there turned out to be primarily doing art work again which I did for the remainder of my Army career. Making posters, doing signs for special events, social events, so forth. I was in for three years, it was almost like civilian life.
Courses were mostly about how to handle people and how to work with groups. I remember one incident when I was taking this course at Washington Lee. There was a program
for soldiers for entertainment. Gypsy Rose Lee was the invited guest, who appeared on stage and did a strip and at the final curtain she was supposed to be fairly without clothes I guess. The curtain opened and here was a soldier who was sort of a comedian, in her place and he finished the act. I remember I volunteered to be hypnotized, it was the only time I have ever been hypnotized. I was told that the next morning at the breakfast table, that I would stand up and holler at the top of my voice in front of the whole group what a wonderful time I had last night and then sit down as if nothing had happened. That is exactly what happened to me. I had this great compulsion to stand the next morning, while eating to tell everyone what I great time I had
last night. So it was interesting that hypnotizing really worked on me I guess. I went out with Army personnel and it was kind of difficult to date because the wife of the general who was in charge of the unit I was assigned to took an interest in me and when we would date, we would go out dancing and she wanted to make it more serious, but I didn’t dare. I didn’t want to because I thought I would be put in the prison. I did date a WAC and that was about it as far as dating. I learned to dance well because every Friday they would have a band and there would be a dance
for the soldiers and girls would be brought in on a bus and it was a lot of fun. The war ended and I asked to get out because I wasn’t really needed any more. I was discharged and went back to living in New York.
I worked in an office for a tea broker. A person who imports tea and then tests it. I was doing secretarial work which I was not trained for, but it was not that complicated. Filing and doing simple letters and answer the phone. I did that until I decided I had better go back to teaching, so I applied for a job over in Scarsdale, New York and was hired. I was hired as an art teacher in the junior high school. It was there that I met your mother. She and I were the faculty sponsors for a school dance and chaperoned that thing and that’s when we met and started dating. Barbara was a gym teacher at that time and it was the Fall of that year that we met and the following February we were married. We didn’t have a long courtship. Both she and I were
ready for marriage, we were that much older and wanted to have a family. I think I must have been about 35. We decided to move to Long Island, New York. I had an apartment in White
Plains and she had an apartment in the village in New York City. I was attracted to her because she was a practical person. She wasn’t frivolous in any way. Although she was attractive, she never painted on makeup and that sort of thing. She was attractive enough not to have to use
artificial helps. I liked her for her naturalness I think and the fact that she liked many of the things I did. Mainly, outdoor type things like camping.
We decided that we would live in the apartment I had. She held on to her apartment and rented it out. We decided we would get married in the little church around the comer, Episcopalian Church, Barbara was Episcopalian. I recall the minister when we went to make the arrangements to be married, how pleasantly surprised he was that neither of us had been divorced because he was so used to marrying theatrical people who had a reputation of having many marriages and divorces. I remember his making the remark of how refreshing it was. It was a
small wedding, just friends. Best man was Ralph Lutrin who was a friend of mine and the maid
of honor was her roommate, Louise, who was a Latin teacher in Scarsdale. Barbara’s family were there, no one from my family. Her mother and father actually were the only family that were at the wedding. I was very impressed with your mother’s family. They were both educated people, her mother had been a teacher for a short while and her father worked for Dupont. Her father was an engineer, a chemist who worked for Dupont. They had a nice home in Philadelphia in the residential section and your grandmother was such a lady. Your mother was such a lady also, but her mother even more so.
We used to go there on weekends and take you along when you were born. Barbara’s mother was Irish / English background and her father was of English background. I think they were a bit concerned that your mother was never going to get married because she was so interested in her flying and all her other interests that she had. They seemed to like me and took me right in and were delighted when you were born, but they were concerned because she was too old to have children and concerned about you. It made them very happy when she got married, because Barbara’s sister had an unfortunate marriage. She was a nurse stationed in Europe during the second World War and she married a pilot and they had three children and he was a womanizer and got involved with an airline hostess and I remember that the involvement made the headlines of the Long Island scandal paper because the airline hostess ended up dead and he was partly involved in that. I don’t know to what respect or what degree. So, Sally, Barbara’s sister, got divorced and raised the kids (her boys) on her own. She went back to college took up education courses and taught school. She gave up nursing to teach school.
I felt so impressed with the lady her mother was, so cultivated, such a lady and very nice person. We took you there when you were a baby, you probably don’t remember it, you were too little for that. My family were in up state New York and I only had two brother’s and a sister and they couldn’t get down. Her father had the reception at the local hotel near the church around the corner. We had a buffet and bar open to us.. When we had our honeymoon we decided we would go somewhere where we could ski. So I bought suitable clothing and we went to somewhere in Pennsylvania and it rained the whole time. So much for that. Since our honeymoon in Philadelphia didn’t prove very interesting as far as a place, we decided the following the summer we would go to Europe. So we went to Europe and toured and got down to Italy, saw Italy and then went over to Malta and lived there that summer.
Anyway, when we came back from Philadelphia we lived in my apartment then decided to move into her apartment,. there was a lot more room as my apartment was a one room apartment, so I gave up my lease. It was difficult to find a place to live in New York at the time and she still had her apartment to we went down there to live. We were both still working in Scarsdale. Then she went back to college at the end of that year. She went back to Columbia and I went to
Columbia to get my Masters and she got a job as a Guidance Counselor in Long Island at Syosset High School. I had a job in Great Neck, Long Island, as a junior high teacher for art. It was difficult to get jobs and since Barbara got a job as a Guidance Counselor there, we moved for practical reasons. It was convenient though, since I owned, with a friend, a house in Montauck, Long Island. He had decided to get married, then I got married and we owned it together, but I bought him out. This was a house that was on two acres overlooking the water. It was very attractive. His name was Arnold Sametz, he was a professor at Princeton who later transferred to NYU.
I did some private work decorating the office of a Wall Street Broker, W. Hal Pulsifer.
He hired me to work for him in a house they had built up in Maine. He made arrangements for me to go up to Maine to see the house, which I did and made sketches and a list of things that I thought should be done, then continued to decorate that house. It was a little hard because they had given up their home in Long Island, New York which was a large mansion with many old things. She wanted to get rid of most of the furnishings, but she didn’t want an auction, she didn’t want to go through all that so she asked me to sell her things for her, which I did and picked out things which would go in the new house in Maine. They had a very large dining room, of course, this was a close family with lots of help. It was a huge house. They had an oriental rug on the floor which was very beautiful, I thought that should go in the house in Maine. That and a few other things we saved and sent up. I sold the rest to friends I know and bought some myself The armchair you have in your dining room came from that sale and the other chair in your dining I bought from that sale also.
They owned an island and they took us over to see it. Your mother and I were both so impressed that we decided to go to a Realtor and see if there was an island for sale and it just happened there was. The A & P store was thinking of buying it as a door prize in their store in Brunswick, Maine but they couldn’t make up their mind and we came along and we bought it. It wasn’t very expensive, $2,700, I believe. I didn’t have the money, so Mr. Pulsifer loaned me the money to buy the island, that I later paid back and that was the beginning of Flag Island in my life. The house is primitive now, but it was even more so then. I decided to buy a boat because you had to have a boat to get out to it, being an island. Mrs. Pulsifer advised us to get a boat that was a little bit higher than a normal boat because of the high surf and we followed her advice. She also advised to have the bottom of the boat fiber glassed, which was something new at that point. We did this and that boat still exists and I think it was for that reason that it is still in very good shape. It’s about 45 years old. We would stay there in the summer then we would go back in September to Great Neck where I was then teaching and Barbara to Scardsale and then shortly after to Syosset, Long Island.
We commuted to Maine every summer for 17 years. You were born shortly after we bought the island. Your mother never left her job. She stayed out only long enough to recoup then we hired a housekeeper and she was able to go back to work. We didn’t want to raise you as a single child and the doctor said she should not have any more children because she was close to 40, so we tried to adopt and were turned down because of our ages, we were too old. We heard of a Chinese girl through some Chinese people and we decided we’d adopt this girl and sent money over to China and like many people we were taken by this scheme. They got the money and changed their minds, ‑so that didn’t work out. Then your mother was in a store shopping and
ran into a mother who knew that she wanted more children and said she knew of a family that was looking for someone to adopt their two boys, because of problems the mother and father had. The mother was an 18 year old who was married to a teacher who was 40 and these two boys, they were going to put up for adoption or put in an orphanage. We contacted them and the father didn’t want them separated and we agreed to adopt the younger boy, David and the older boy, Chris. They are blood brothers and we brought them home so that you would have siblings to play with and grow up with.
I was teaching in Great Neck when I applied for a Sabbatical, that would be a year off from teaching and your mother applied for one from her school and she got one also. We decided to go to Europe to live for a year and take the three of you with us, of course and we choose to live in Spain because you had one year of Spanish and we didn’t have a language and didn’t want to go to England. So that’s why we choose to live in Spain. We bought a car, a Volkswagen camper while in the States that we picked up when we arrived in Europe by boat. We went to Maine for the summer and at the end of the summer we went to Montreal, Canada and took a boat. It was called the Alexander Pushkin, a Russian boat and Marilyn Breed invited up to stay at her house and then she would take us, as we had sold our car, driving us to Montreal. I remember how much fun the three of you had on that boat. You explored it from front to back and they didn’t seem to restrict your flying all over the boat.
We landed in LeHavre, France and stayed overnight. Picked the car up next day, it had arrived already and was there waiting for us and we ‑collected our belongings and started off for Spain. The first night when we finished traveling a bit, we were still in France, we parked in a farmer’s pasture and set up our tent. Our view was a mountain range in the distance. The next
day we went up to the top of that mountain, there was a village up there, that was kind of fun. The next stop over was when we reached the boarder of Spain and I remember eating in an outdoor restaurant where the only lighting was candies and it was very romantic, that was in northern Spain. The next day we started down the coast of Spain then we had to find a place to live where they had a school which you could attend. This was kind of difficult because there weren’t many choices. Finally, we heard of an American couple who were opening a school in Torrelimos, Spain. They had started the school because they had the same problem, they moved
to Spain and had children in school. They weren’t educators but they started it and hired teachers from England. But that was not so great of a school because they really didn’t know what they were doing. Peter, you were in Ninth grade.
The best memories I had of the sabbatical were in discovering Europe. Learning about other cultures and meeting new people was very exciting and very adventurous. We found the school so then we had to find a place to live and we found this house which we rented furnished and it came with the services of a maid who would come in a clean and get one meal a day. The three of your walked down to the main road and caught a bus to your school in Torrelimos as our house was a little bit further south from there. Our house was only about five or six miles away, actually. I felt very safe in Spain because it was still under the rule of Franco and he was very strict so you didn’t do anything wrong because you didn’t get a second chance, you went right to jail, so there was very little crime in Spain. There were always two policemen patrolling the streets so it was a very safe environment, at that time.
One thing that impressed me was going to Granada. We all went up there, if you remember, we drove up and stayed over night. It’s an old old town and we visited the castles. I
think the most impressive thing was discovering history really. Parts of the country that you read about, but that now we were there to experience and Spain had a rich history. We didn’t get to know France too well because we were just driving through but we did make a note of the fact that the people in the cities were not very friendly, they didn’t seem to like Americans, but you got out into the country and they were a different type altogether, much more likable and we were accepted much more readily. What was fun, while in Spain, we had decided to take a trip to Africa. We took the boat with our car, ferry boat, across to the African coast and we met an English couple (actually he was Indian married to an English girl) and we invited him to ride with us to the hotel when we got to Africa. He was very friendly and a very likable person. Then we decided the next day to start our trip to Marrakech and that’s where he was going so we invited him to go with us, which turned out to be very positive because he was more sophisticated about traveling and he seemed to lead us around in directions that proved to be interesting. Marrakech had a lot of atmosphere, it was very primitive in many ways but very interesting at the same time. I think what I liked most about that town was it’s market which was all under a continuous tent. The tent like atmosphere to cut the sun with all these stands, and the donkeys, and the food stands, furniture, etc. That was a lot of fun. We spent a day there then we parted company after Marrakech. On our return to the States we kept in contact with Chuck and his wife and saw him periodically for years after that.
Since you were older, we decided it would be to your interest to stay and finish the Ninth grade in Spain. It didn’t make too much difference to Chris and David because they were younger, so you boarded with friends and finished that year and the rest of us went on our way. We took a ferry boat from Malaga, Spain over to northern Italy and proceeded to drive down the coast to Rome, Florence, and even further south. We saw southern Italy and then drove back north into France and then went to Germany. I didn’t see anything that related to my ancestry, actually. We wanted to look up the birthplace and home town of Trudy, our maid, that we had before we left on our year’s Sabbatical. We looked up her family in Germany and then proceeded, took a boat, over to England and looked up Jean Sutton, who was living in England. She had been on a Sabbatical and had married someone she had met there and moved from Long Island over to England and they had built a home near Canterbury. We were invited to stay with them. Then it was time to come back to the States and we took our van to England and when it was time to return I brought the van to Belgium to be shipped to the States. We returned by Airplane to Long Island, New York.
I enjoyed my job teaching up to a point, it was very close to the 60’s and the kids were difficult to manage really, or they were for me and I had just had my share of teaching. I was tired of it. I decided to retire when I reached 55 and your mother wasn’t ready to retire, but since I wanted to she went along with it. At which point, since we had the island and since we liked Maine, we put our house on the market and sold it and moved ourselves up to Maine. By then, I think you had finished college. David finished his schooling in Maine. Chris applied to Bowdoin College and was accepted so, that worked out well. He moved to Maine and he lived at home for the first couple years of his Bowdoin days, then finally moved on campus. David finished high school and he decided he wanted to be in law enforcement and enrolled in a school in Portland.
He was graduated from that school but he never got a job in law enforcement because he got into trouble with the law. He had a drinking problem and created for himself a criminal record in that he was arrested several times for driving while drinking, so he never did further his career in law
enforcement. We recommended he apply for a job in a hospital where at least he would have medical and dental privileges. The pay wasn’t so great but the benefits were good and to this day he is working there.
I didn’t miss teaching at all. I have never gone back to any teaching since. I have been approached by schools, colleges in Florida, but I wasn’t interested in teaching at the college level anyway. After retirement I was so involved in houses. I was constantly moving the family around. We moved to North Harpswell, the first house, although we had the cottage on the mainland in Cundy’s Harbor that wasn’t at that point adequate for round the year living, so we bought the house in Harpswell which I disliked very much. We stayed there for a little over a year and sold it and moved to Pinkham Point, also in Harpswell. Chris was in college still when we moved to Pinkham Point. I liked buying houses and fixing them up and your mother went right along with it. Your mother liked retirement after she got into it because she could pursue her interests, which were sports, tennis and birding and things of that sort. David lived with us and you lived with us for a while. Chris had moved out and you had moved to California (met a girl and took her to California) and then came back with this babe. You came back to Maine and lived in our house for a while. I was so busy doing things, just picking up a living, keeping the family together, seeing that we were comfortable and we had a good retirement. Money wise it was no problem but the big problem at that time was David who had a drinking problem. That was a pain.
Since I had time, I took up painting again. While I was teaching and raising a family I couldn’t paint comfortably, it was kind of spotted. When you three boys were grown up and more or less on their own except for David, I did go back into painting. I decided to stay in watercolor
because I enjoyed doing it. I liked the watercolor medium because it was fast. That’s why I stuck with that. I never thought I was very good but people liked my work. I never thought highly of my ability but then when I got older and started to sell, I realized that I was pretty good. That other people liked my work. I started painting seriously and it showed. We visited Spain again but then went to Florida in the summer and I found that I was ready to move to Florida permanently, so we sold the house up in Maine. We would like to have gone some other place, but Florida was more practical because we wanted to be able to get back to the family if desired, so we didn’t want to go too far away. But we choose the warmth. We didn’t like the cold winter in Maine. I must have been 65 at this time.
When I was very young, I couldn’t wait to grow up. At each level I couldn’t wait to go on to the next one and that stopped though, at the end of high school. By the time I finished college, I wanted the years to slow, down. But when I was younger, I wanted them to go faster and move on. At 30 1 was a playboy and having a great time, but I realized that wasn’t enough, that I wanted to get married and then met your mother. I never felt my age, actually, I always felt younger, like eight or nine years younger than I actually was. But as far as turning 40, I never thought about it. It wasn’t an issue. I didn’t mind turning 50. I think when arthritis starts hitting you at about 60, that’s when in my case, health wise and work wise, its harder to take. Of course that’s always a personal thing for everyone. By the time I was in my 70’s, it was at that point when I became concerned about your mother because she was acting in a strange manner.
She was becoming very generous with our modest incomes and giving all our money away to charity. I never kept tract of the finances in the house, but when I was looking at our checking account, I realized she was paying things over and she wasn’t keeping good records. This
condition got worse and I took her to a doctor and he diagnosed her with a dementia that was probably deteriorating. She resented that very much, she didn’t like that Doctor because of what he had said. So she always knew that she had this problem, right up until the end. That was the biggest change in my life, of course, learning that. She covered very well, most people didn’t know. She would cover it so beautifully that I felt a bit embarrassed because she always had an answer for every question or any discussion or anything and it wasn’t always accurate and I knew it. I knew that was what was happening. She used to not want to admit to how her thinking was going.
The last ten years of her life are kind of a nightmare for me because I had to take care of her, I didn’t have much of a life of my own, I was a care giver. The nights were awful, I wasn’t sleeping because I was taking care of her. The wonderful thing about your mother was that she knew she had this problem but she didn’t want to depend on others and She knew I was over taxed and she came to me and said “isn’t there a place I can go where they will understand my problem and take care of me.” It so happened that I had heard of a place. I was visiting a few nursing homes checking it out and I heard about this place that had just opened up so I went over to check it out and I was impressed because when you walked in you felt that you were like in some hotel lobby with big shrubs and tree and it was very attractive and not people sitting around in wheelchairs. They didn’t let patients come out to the area which was different from the normal health or nursing home. So I said, “yeah, I know of a place, let’s go over and check it out.” So I took her over and I said, “Do you think you would be happy here?” and she said “Yeah.” So it was not a struggle or a forcing situation at all, we just packed her suitcase and took her over and she worked right into the routine and then her condition got worse. But she was a favorite of the
nurses because she was very cooperative, didn’t want to cause anyone any trouble that stayed with her.
I was 81 when she died. I was very sad, I’ve missed her so much. But I was glad, in a way, that she passed away as she did. Because she always said when she heard of people passing away in their sleep, “I hope I go that way.” Sure enough, that’s what happened, she had her lunch, went for her nap and never woke up. I have a feeling that she just didn’t want to go on and she willed herself to die. I really do think that. I think that is possible for people to do that when they are weakened. She didn’t want to be a bother to people. She was always so considerate, you know, of others. Even up to the end. She was so well liked by the nurses and the aides and when she died, they were in tears. Caregivers, especially nurses, are trained to hold their emotions back and they felt so badly because she was such a good patient, she was cooperative. It was rough after that, but as I said I was thankful that she didn’t have to live long because I didn’t want her to live awful last months when she was completely incapacitated. She didn’t go through that. At the end, her brain wasn’t functioning and she didn’t know how to eat. She would play with her food like a child because she didn’t know what to do with it. I had to direct her fork to her mouth because her brain just wasn’t functioning. I sure hope they have a cure for that soon. She was a bright, very very smart woman. I’ve noticed though that often this has happened to people who are exceptionally bright. I don’t know why. But I’ve happened to run into that.
In thinking about crucial decisions I’ve made in my life, I was ready to give up on David and have him committed or something because his drinking was so awful, he got into so much trouble. Your mother always stood by, she insisted on that, more so than me. I think that was a crucial point for David and for me, when he turned his situation around and realized his folly,
doing something about it on his own. A mistake I feel I made in my life was probably staying in the teaching profession and not moving into administration. I never seemed to like that direction, that’s why I stayed with teaching, but I think probably it was a mistake because I had the background, the education, to maybe become the head of a department or city or something. But I did work up as head of the department in high school. I could have gone on further but I was comfortable, I didn’t have that urge to push it. That was a mistake really. I think the happiest
time was when you were born. That was the happiest moment of my life. The birth of you. And you are experiencing that yourself now. I felt that really was an accomplishment and happiness was the result. You were always healthy and smart, you never got into trouble.
I feel that I am so fortunate because my health is good really. The only problems I have are due to accidents I had involving my knee. But I’m not ill, I feel well. I have my friends.
People seem to like me when I meet them and I feel good about that. I think the purchasing of our Island, in looking back, is one of the most awe inspiring things I’ve done, because I had never been involved in boating too much. So I bought a boat, learned how to navigate the boat, took it out to those rough seas out to the Island and I think doing that, with my background, is quite an accomplishment and I got good at it. Having taken three kids out there, back in forth, in that rough water. Learning how to do it, through just trial and error actually, I was never given lessons. I think that was probably the most awe inspiring. What matters most to me now is the success and happiness of my children, mostly, happiness. I wish David would get more happiness in his life, that would make me happier. It makes me feel sad because he doesn’t have a richer life. I see my life more structured now, than in the past. Things happened as they would. I feel that I now have more control over what I do and what I think.
To me, in looking at the world, it’s very depressing that people don’t know how to live together. I think that unless they do learn, it’s the end of our civilization. I really feel that because there is too much friction between people over situations that don’t seem to warrant this. I’m thinking now of the Irish, English and the ongoing war in Ireland. Spiritually I was brought up strictly in the Lutheran faith but I never excepted it, I think because of the leadership/minister always telling you how sinful people are. But much more than that, I think that I don’t accept the teachings of the bible as facts as we are lead to believe. I think a lot of it is myth made up by man, but I believe on the spiritual side that there is more to it than our being here on earth. I think, that what you call spirit goes on, somehow, some way, we’ll never know how. I believe in evolution rather than creation. The bible’s definition of life as we know it, is that we were created. I believe we evolved. I really believe in evolution. Some life went in one direction, another life in another direction. Mankind went in a different direction.
My life seems fulfilled, I have everything I seem to want. What I want to see is that all three of you are happy in whatever you do. I don’t know how long I will live. I think that anyone could live longer if they felt positively about it but sometimes people get so sick they can’t. But I don’t feel sorry for myself, I don’t feel depressed, I feel well and I don’t dwell on sad things. I don’t let myself dwell on unhappy things, sometimes you can go that way but I don’t happen to. I’m happy to be able to control that. I don’t let it get me down. I think that I’d like to advise people not to waste what they have been given. Everyone is such an individual and have strong points and they should concentrate on those, do the most with what they have and not feel sorry for themselves and not let their environment get them down, but feel positive with what they have. Looking back over my life, I often wonder how it would be if I’d had a father to grow up
with. I miss not having that. I feel sorry for children who don’t have mothers and fathers because I feel that is so much a part of us. If that’s lacking then there must be a lot lacking in one’s life too because you don’t have that connection.
I don’t feel that I’ve given enough credit to my sister. Only having a mother to raise me and having two brothers that were that much older and didn’t seem to care, through probably did, my sister took a really strong interest in my education, my friends, everything. I’m very grateful for that. I’ve always been aware of it and I’ve always felt fortunate that she was around. I was also so lucky in my education because we didn’t have much money, my mother raised us and my brothers. I was so fortunate in that I got financial help under the GI Bill of Rights. I practically paid for my graduate work and otherwise I could not have done so and neither could my mother. As far as four years of college, I worked my way but I didn’t seem to suffer for it. That and my mother’s struggling for money, helped me get through. The most difficult part of my life were the recent years, losing your mother and her recent illness. That was the hardest part of my life, really. I was too young to really feel my father’s death and I felt good about my mother’s death in a way because she didn’t have to go on and suffer. She had cancer of the stomach and intestines and she was in a lot of pain. She was in a lot of pain the last 10 to 15 years of her life.
I feel I’ve had a dull life, I but positive. I think that the happiest time of my life were the early years particularly involving Flag Island when we bought it and raised you children on it in the summer time. The looking forward to it every year as a summer time place to go. It was so satisfying and happy, adventurous and whenever we mentioned owning an Island in Maine people were so envious in a way. “You have your own Island! ” is the reaction I’d usually get and I feel the same way. It doesn’t happen to too many people. We were just very fortunate in being able to find it as we did and to have it all those years and very fortunate we had the summer off so we could go there. Most parents can’t do that because they have to work all summer, but we had teacher’s vacation and you children had the same vacation, so that worked out so very well. They were fun years, adventurous and fun.
The most recent time of great happiness for me was when. I heard my granddaughter Gianna was born. I was very happy, in that I thought I would never become a grandparent, so it was a great thrill and gratification and it’s nice to know there will be someone to carry on the family tradition. A grandchild will inherit. That’s a nice thought and a satisfying feeling.