HRD 643: Multicultural Adult Development
Instructor: Robert Atkinson
Life Story Interview: Patti Levenson’s Story
Interviewed by Luc Nya
My name is Patti Levenson. I was born March 13, 1954 at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts. I lived with my parents for a year on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston, Massachusetts. I guess we lived in a small apartment and then my parents got a house in Nedick, Massachusetts –just West of Boston. It’s about a 30 –minute drive wet of Boston. May parents bought a ranch house and my sister was born two years later. She was also born at the Beth –Israel hospital in Boston, Massachusetts.
My mother was a stay –at –home mom while my father worked. He was a salesman who sold toys from door to door and sometimes traveled out of town. I vaguely remember that time of my life. Nedick was kind of a residential area. It was just starting. It had a few ranch houses, a school and a few stores. I remember playing in the backyard. It was a closed in, fenced in backyard. My mother had a portable swimming pool. We had a large back yard, lots of grass and I loved playing in it. As my sister got older, she joined me. We also, I remember back in those days, it was very weird. I guess you don’t do it these days, but some communities still do, we did not have garbage disposals. We had a little place in our backyard, we were not supposed to touch it or go near it, but we always got into it. It was like this little metal door that was in the ground. We would put all our food and perishable garbage in it and would and then when the trash people came they would take it away. My sister and I got into it although we were not supposed to. It was in the back yard.
As we got older, I realized that my sister was very adventurous, a daredevil kind of risk taker and I wasn’t. My sister would figure out ways to escape from the backyard. My mother had this huge bike. I guess it was a pale green with very heavy tires and a basket in the front. She would come down the street, trying to find us and we would be just down the street, playing with other kids. She would make us come back to the house. We also had neighbors next door that we played with, as we got older. Two of the boys were our ages and then there was another boy who was older but he did not play with us.
When I was five, I went to school. I went to school with two of my friends, Anne and Pam. We went to school down the street from our house; it was called the Bennett –Hemingway school, a winter school. My first class was kindergarten. It was in the morning. I remember my mother taking tons and tons of pictures and back in those days they did not have lunch boxes or knap sacks or these little plastic handy Baggies. I remember carrying a little wax paper baggie with a snack in it. And I went to school in the morning and returned home probably around a quarter after twelve. I met up with my friends and we walked to school everyday. I remember my first teacher she was Mrs. King. She was an African-American woman, very nurturing and caring. I think we had a very large class. I just remember a lot of kids, I don’t remember too much more about that. Things in those days I guess were pretty good. My mother stayed at home and took good care of us. I remember my father would come home and play with us and do different things. I remember that he stored his toys up in the attic. If we were good and it was a real cold rainy or snowy day, my mother would treat us with a toy. She would go up in the attic and get one for us and we would play with it. My sister and were pretty competitive. The story is that when she was born and brought home, I told everybody that she should be brought back to the hospital because I did not want her.
We lived in Nedick until I was probably 7 years of age. I attended most of my first grade at the Bennett –Hemingway school and then my father moved up to Lewiston, ME. My grandmother and grandfather lived in Brookline, Massachusetts. We were very close to them and often visited them. My grandfather had somehow moved to this area in Maine. He became very successful as the owner of a shoe factory. He expanded and was very successful, so he asked my father to join him and my uncle to help run the factory and he did. We moved up there and I have to say my mother’s father moved in with us. His father died when my mother was only three years old of a massive heart attack. The story goes that he was a bootlegger on the side – he also owned a haberdasher in Framingham, Massachusetts. He owned a liquor store and sold alcohol during prohibition. He had gone to a customer’s house at Christmas time and had a heart attack in the bathroom. My aunt and uncle were in the car waiting for him when it happened.
I never knew my paternal grandfather but I knew my paternal grandmother and she was a very loving and nurturing woman- I used to enjoy going over there. She would spend a lot of time with me, talking to me, caring for me, pampering me, cooking for me. She would fix me up in a dress or whatever I was wearing. My other grandparents were a little different. I did not understand back then, but I guess they were very nervous, high-strung, everything has to be just so. There wasn’t a lot of nurturing that happened. It was kind of serious when you went to their house. I do remember that my grandfather drove a nice car. He always had a nice car. It was a 1960 Cadillac. The Cadillac for that year looked like a bat mobile because it looked like it had wings in the back. He had some medical problems, which I didn’t know at the time but now I know that he had some serious thyroid problems and goiter. He had some complications with that and went into Massachusetts General Hospital. We weren’t supposed to visit him there and I did not realize that because when we went in, he was very quiet. He had several surgeries on his eyes and could not drive. He had to rely on other people for transportation. My father drove him and they finally sold the car. H e used mass transportation to get around. He would use the street car to go to his Doctor’s appointment or wherever else he needed to go. So anyway, at 7 we moved to Lewiston, Maine.
My first recollection of coming to Maine was, after a long drive and coming into the Town of Lewiston. My father was a real jokester and always made jokes and kind of stretched the truth. We came to this kind of great building with these beautiful ornate decorations on it and it was very decorative and my father said we were in another country. It probably seemed that way to me as a child because we had traveled for so long, it turned out to be the Kora Temple.
My father had been working in Maine far a while. He offered to go get us some sandwiches and he asked if I wanted an Italian. I had never heard of an Italian. We went to Sam’s, which was probably the first Sam’s in the entire State of Maine and we got our sandwiches. We moved into a very large apartment in Lewiston on Central Avenue. It was a pretty happy time. My father worked with my grandfather. My uncle was out there with his wife and they had a baby named Abby. I do not remember quite when she was born –maybe she was two because she was five years younger than me. Anyway, it was a pretty happy life. My mother had been a dental hygienist but had stopped working and wanted to go back to work. She wanted to make some changes but ended up staying at home. We were very friendly with the neighbors. There were some people in the back at whose house would often play. Their names were Ira and Karen and the others were John and Cynthia, they lived beside us. And there was another family that lived beside us. They had three girls who were about our age and their names were Debbie, Diane, and Denise. Then the mother had twins and she named them Doreen and Donna. I remember her as a little girl screaming Denise, Diane, Debbie, Doreen and Donna to get all her kids to come home. So that was a really happy time. This is when the Beatles were first becoming popular. I remember we played outside a lot. I remember also the Bernier Family. The Berniers owned our building.. Actually, it was the grandfather that owned it. They lived just in an apartment below us. We were infatuated with the Beatles and we made ties out of rope and we spent a lot of time getting together. The woman next door made the tuxedos and she would curl our hair to look like the Beatles.
When I was 9 and my sister was 7, my mother went back to work. I guess it was because my parents did not have enough money and they wanted to buy a house, which I did not know or understand at the time. Once she went back to work, she became very, very, angry. I remember as a 9-year –old girl having to take care of my sister after school. We went to the Frye School in Lewiston, which was a very old, old, arcaique looking building. At home, my sister and I had to change our clothes by ourselves. The Berniers lived downstairs from us and were often available to us if we needed them. I had to see to it that my sister changed her clothes and that she was safe. Then my mother taught me how to use the stove and how to make food, set the table and do things around the house. I was quite resentful of this because I was only 9-years –old would liked to be outside playing. At school, I had responsibilities too. Things started to change. My mother started to expect more and more from me. I think it actually started when I was 8 years old. She started to make us iron our clothes correctly according to her. We had to strip our beds and make them with hospital corners. My father would teach us how to do that. We had to learn to do household chores, we never had time to play. It was kind of a hard time for us. I remember one day, I thought I was doing the right thing, I put the casserole in the oven, she always had the casserole ready to go in the oven and I had to stay in and watch it. If I went out to play, I had to come back and watch it to make sure it didn’t burn. I left the seran wrap on and when my mother came home she screamed and yelled at me all day and all nightlong. I have been through counseling now for over 23 –years but my relationship with my mother has not improved yet. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten over it yet even though I now understand what she was going through.
Personal reflections on Doing This Interview
I was struck by Patti’s story in the following ways:
- Traumatic experiences that happen to us during childhood do not leave us very easily.
- I used to believe that counseling could resolve these issues but Patti’s experience has proven to me that however effective counseling could be, it never really resolves the hurt.
- This reminded very much or at least made more sense out of a newly developed theory in trauma healing that is putting more emphasis on social justice because research is proving that until the wrong-doing has been fully acknowledged and some restitution done, the healing never really happens.
- This interview helped me make sense out of why descendants of African slaves are now demanding public acknowledgement of the evil of slavery, and also reparation from the United States Government. It makes sense out of the truth and reconciliation movement in South Africa.
- It makes sense now to me why I should make a stronger commitment to social justice especially for the refugees and immigrants I am trying to help in the mental health field.