Yivian Provot Miller
Kathleen Miller Loc~er
Life Span Il
PART I ~ round
The person I chose for this Life History is my mother, Vivian Provot Miller. ags 62 years. We did the intervie~ on June 18, 1989 in my living room. She and my father, Walter Miller, live in Chalfont, PA, a suburb of Philadelphia. They are both retired. Much of their retirement has focused on travelling ~vith their trailer to various parts of the country and visiting (and helping) their children, grandchildren and my father’s family in Cincinnati and her e~‑stepmother. Helen.
My mother was born in 1926, shortly before the Depression. She was the third daughter in a family of 6 children (the last 3 were sons); her mother died when she was 5 1/2 years old. Her father was an abusive alcoholic, who lost his business in the Depression and his ~vife shortly after. He later married Helen, the person ~vho came to vork as housekeeper and caretaker, and they had one son after the others were almost grown. Most of my mother’s sisters and brothers had very little contact ~rith their father after they left home. She ~vas the only one ~ho tried to maintain contact.
She has 2 children. The oldest. adaughter (me), is ~1, in graduate school and has 2 children, 14 years old and 6 years old, living in Maine. The second, a son, is 38, married and a professor of bio‑engineering at the University of Ne~ Hampshire.
Although she thinks her life ~vas very ordinary, it ~asn’t. The surface of many people’s e~istence looks similar. However, what they lived through and by, ho~ they felt about themselves, and ho~v they integrated that understanding. makes for lots of unique indhiduals.
PART II: The I~fe S~ory
(NOTE: 3 dot~; u~ed in thi~ ~ction indicate a pau~e and not material omitted.~
Well, I’m 62, that’s pretty far back. I don’t remember anything really until about ~inder8arten . You figure that I had twin brothers, a lot of highlight went to that. They were younger than I was. Because I was the third girl, I mean, that must have been a little boring by then. What could I do that would be so different from what the other two did, so I don’t really remember any family stories of when I was really little.
I remember going to kindergarten. I remember being part of that. I remember tal~ing walks ~ith the little kids. I know it’s going to be a boring intervie~7. I can’t remember any highlight of that. I remember taking a friend home once and wasn’t allowed to bring her in. We had like a, I suppose today you would call it a mud room, we called it the shed. it’s vhere you were vhen you first went in the house. before you went into the kitchen. We had a blackboard in the shed. Whoever I brought home and I stayed out there and played on the blac~board. I remember that and I don’t knov why I’d remember such a dumb thing. But that’s about all I can remember of that, because after my mother died ve moved from ~hat house and that area, so that’s really the only memory I have of that area.
My mother died during summer vacation. She died in August. after I’d completed kindergarten. Of course vhen my mother died, I remember that so much because in those days they kept the coffin in the house. And we would all have to 8°. my two older sisters and myself, vould have to go and say goodnight every night before we went upstairs. I remember that my dad would take us each night until. of course, the funeral. By that I remember it. you know. maybe I wouldn’t have remembered it otherwise. It didn’t give me a phobia or anything like that, li~e you would think. It must have seemed normal at the time, but ve vere very obedient kids. I think maybe it was like a robot. He said “Go and say goodnight” and we went and said goodnight. I don’t remember that that ~ras traumatic in any way. I don’t like lavender. And the smell of the roses from the funeral, there were so many roses. Another thing that I remembered of that was my dad grieving so much, at the time, when the coffin was in the house. I don’t remember it afterwards. I’m sure he did, but I ~vas too little to figure that one out. But it sort of made him very human to us. With children, that he could be so unhappy, when his err in life, or whatever you want to call it, was making everyone else unhappy. (Even before she died?) I don’t know. I guess if you have 6 children and you’re not well, everybody better tow the line. I remember us feeling sorry for him, my sisters and I, even though I was only 5 1/2. I remember that.
Then we movet to Berkeley. That would have put me in first grade in Berkeley School, which I graduated from. We lived there. First. a friend of my Grandma Provot, a lady who was in the order with her in Port Huron, came and stayed vith us. She stayed quite a while. Then she left and then Helen came. My dad met Helen because she was working in a restaurant, and she was crying. It turned out that this woman had told her if she would work x number of months for her. she would give her this fur coat in payment. Well. it was depression and there vasn’t money. And Helen had left the farm, and was living with her cousin in Detroit. So for payment for worlcing there she was going to give her this fur coat, and then she didn’t give it to her. So she had worked for nothing all that time. So she was crying, so then my dad said “Well. come and vork for me.” She was only 16 then. So she came then and stayed vith us. My sister was 10, Leota was 8, I was 6, and the twins were 4 and Bert was not quite 2. My mother died in August and Helen came Halloween. In between then the lady came. Now, my Grandma Lang would have talcen us, all 6 of us, that would be my mother’s mother. But my dad wouldn’t hear of it. He just wanted to ~eep us together I guess, I don’t know why/ but he just wouldn’t. I do know tha~ I was what they would call today, an abused child. Because Helen, being only 16 when she came, would have this list of things that we had done wrong to read to my dad. And so then we would all get the tar beat out of us. But I had, I mean at 6 years old. a terrible temper, vhich meant I could get a terrible lickin’ and turn around and stamp my foot. And get another one then. for payment I’d 8et slammed into the wall and a few other things. So I, really, I had that temper beat out of me. But that was part of it, Helen’s snitching. but she was just a farm girl, she just didn’t ~now any better. I don’t lcnow that I ever held it against her, but I do ~now that’s how it would come about.
Mostly, I never was one to go out and play. but we always had to stay outside until mealtimes. That was it, door was locked and you stayed in your own yard. but you vere not in the house. So I would squat dovn and pull my dress down over my knees and then I’d just vatch everybody. To this day I’m not a big outdoors person. So then vhen I’d get up, I’d rip the hem out of my dress, my heel vould catch in the hem. And I don’t knov how many lickins’ I got for ripping the hem out of my dress. I never learned not to do that. I vasn’t the brightest 6 year old valking. I know. But I do remember that I got an awful lot of punishment for, not e~actly what you would call cardinal sins.
But I also remember, in Depression, that my dad would bring us things and my neighbor would say, “Do you know how lucky you are that your dad brought you home a jump rope?” or something. He would come home sometimes with something for us girls; it would be one for the 3 of us, you know. The boys were little and I don’t remember if they got anything or not. I do remember him doing that.
But, yeah, he did drink and he did make our life (pause), well. it just wasn’t good, that’s all.
I remember a lot about my grandparents. because they were… Well, not grandfathers; my grandfather on my father’s side had been dead for a long time, I never knew him. My other grandmother was divorced and my grandfather lived in Canada, so I never really knew him. But she had remarried. and we called him Harry, but he would have been my grandfather. Just good stuff. They represented, I guess, the family to us that my dad didn’t, you know. I guess grandparents were always special, but they were good. Mostly I just remember laughing, it just seemed like we were always laughing. When we were real little. my Grandma Lang, who was my mother’s mother, would always set a place for my mother at the table. when we were there . Now I don’t know if. I’m sure she didn’t do that when we weren’t there. because, after all she hadn’t lived at home all those years. But it was just something she did. Of course, from my Grandma Lang, we learned a little bit about prejudice. She was concerned that Helen was Catholic. which was a simple thing, but, I do remember that. She was always pumping us about what did she lHelen~ tell us and this and that.
Yes, they were really good. They would take us, all sis of us, for a week or 2 weeks out at the lake in the summer or just for the weekend at their home in Detroit. It was a lot of kids, really, to ta~e on. We always enjoyed it. Harry had a real old car, like a Model T. sitting in the yard. It just wasn’t one he drove. but it wasn’t much after that, you would say that was the early 30’s. ~Iy sister and I would play in it and then he would call us “the ladies from New York.” And we were so, I don’t know, we just thought that was great, because New York, cripes, who ever thought we’d even see New York at that time. Now the world is so small and all, but he would say “Oh. here come those l~lies fr~m ~e~ Yor~” And we would get out of the car; we were allowed to slam the doors and everything. You just wouldn’t dream of letting your kids play in the car and slam the doors, but we did. That was Leota and I. I don’t remember doing much with my sister Kay. The age difference wasn’t that much. but she was the oldest, and with my mother gone, she kind of had to slide into that spot. Even though she was only 10. she was an authority figure. She was a big boss, let’s face it. She just bossed us around. It was Viv and the boys. And Leota, because she was lame. she had her little life. And then Kay. who was the boss. That’s all. For children that was a funny set‑up, but that’s how it was. My Grandma Provot, she was another one that was very funny. We went and played cards when we went there. Of course, she gave readings, so she had plenty of cards. We’d all sit at the kitchen table and play cards. Not my brothers, you see, they were younger. As I look back on it now. I feel sorry for them. I think they just had to sit on the couch and keep their mouths shut. I don’t remember them joining us in any of these games. I just remember my sisters and grandma, the 4 of us sitting at the table and playing cards and 1 a u g h i n g, just giggling.
But my Grandma Provot never invited us to come stay or anything, even one at a time. And yet when we were children I think we thought she was our favorite. because she was not only so funny, and not only did she always have these cookies baked for us~ which she made with whatever grease was handy. If she had duck grease from having a duck, if she had bacon grease, she’d use that for the shortening in the cookies. You never were quite sure what flavor was going to be predominant. It was Depression and even when you think of the generation before the Depression, they really saved. and you know, were…but she always had these cookies. And she was very affectionate. She was always hugging and kissing us and that was all the hugging and kissing we got really. I don’t remember my dad ever hugging us or anything. Or my Grandma Lang. as funny and as great as she was, I don’t remember her giving any. But my Grandma Provot gave us a lot. I think she was really our favorite. when poor Grandma Lan8 should have really been, because she, I don’t know, really did the most for us, and I would say because of that, probably cared the most. Thatwas then.
And my Grandma Provot was, of course, a spiritualist minister. She gave readings and that sort of thing. The only thing I remember about the readings was that one time my Uncle Joe was going up with all four of us. I don’t know how we all got in the same car, although my dad had an old Packart touring car that had 2 little seats that folded up, in the center; it would hold pretty many people. But I do remember my Uncle Joe going with us. Chances are, we might have just gotten the car, so we were going to go to Port Huron and show it off, to my grandma. So my Uncle Joe went with us. He wanted to phone first, to make sure she wasn’t having a reading. And so he called and changed his voice and pretended like he wanted an appointment. And, of course, we all thought that was the funniest thing . And she was so put out with that, “Joseph !” she said. So, that’s about all I remember of her readings. I only know that she gave them and that she had her own church. a spiritualist church. ~e never went there. [Of my two grandmas] One was more or less psychic and the other was the one vho was very comfortable with ghosts. My Grandma Lang, if she would hear a noise, she would say, “Is that Kathleen?” which was my mother’s name or “is that so and so?” I suppose people today would think neither one had both oars in the water, but… People in those days, they just were their self and everyone accepted them that way. Either that or I was so naive as a kid, I didn’t reali~e that people weren’t accepting them that way. I don’t know, I don’t thinJc anyvne thought my Grandma Lang was a kook for saying “Is that so and so?” when the noises would be in the house. Or did anyone think it strange when she set a place for my mother. I can remember that my Grandma Lang would take us to these seances, where our mother would come and tell us to be good and do this and do that. There was a horn that you put up to your ear, but we took it very serious. They had these big ear horns; how did they do that? You’ve seen those pictures of people who were deaf, ~vell, it was just those kind of things that we held to our ear. But I wonder, she didn’t live long enough for me to have gone over all this, to ask her if she believed that. Or was this just some way of keeping us in line? Although I don’t think anyone had to worry about keeping us in line. In the first place. there were no temptations and there was nothing to show there was a different way to live. You just lived the way you lived. There was no television or anything. How would you know unless you read it in some book or something that people were living differen~ly.
So she would take us and then this voice would tell us. “Be good. be good children.” So, in a way, we were, because we always had a sense that our mother was watching us. So it was a nice deterrent in a way and it was also a comfort. You weren’t afraid if it was your turn to take the garbage out and you forgot until after dark, because you just felt that your mother was out there watching. But I don’t know if my grandma actually. because she would listen, too. She would get her message, too. We’d all get our message. That was like a church though, it wasn’t like a big table where everybody held hands or looked into a crystal ball or anything. We went to a church and you told who you wanted to talk to. Today I guess you’d get arrested for that, too, taking kids and making them do that. It didn’t do us any harm. And it didn’t go on long. I’m sure that once my sister Kay was bright enough to figure this stuff out, we just guit it. That comes of being a realist.
I went to the same school from first grade until I graduated; we went right in the same building. Most of my friends, I had from the time I started school until I graduated. I had good friends that hadn’t been there that long, who didn’t come until fifth grade, or maybe even high school. It was a small school. but it was a good school. Because when I was in grade school, I had shop ‑ as a girl, I had shop; we had typing. They had a house trailer on the property and we’d all have typing once a week for a half hour or so. So this poor beleaguered man would try to make these kids keep their fingers on the right keys, starting in grade school. But it was really, in a way, rather progressive.
There were 48 in our graduating class. But they separated the grades in half, we had 6A and 6B. You could start in September or you could start in January. So there was a graduating class in January and a graduating class in June. So I’d then say that maybe there vas really a 100 altogether that year.
I remember the football games. I don’t think we ever missed a football game. And the away ones, we had to take the bus. And that was always fun. because the bus ride was fun. And it was the same group of girls vho went. Let’s see, what else do I remember? We certainly liked our teachers. We felt friendly with our teachers. I don’t know, I was a…an underachiever. maybe that’s what they call them today. I did the minimum you had to do to get by. Unless. of course, it was a book report or something. I loved to do book reports, or something of that nature I was very good at. But as far as. well, studying for tests and things lilce that, I just got by on the seat of my pants. I did not…Well, no one really told me to. I had no e~ample. I read my history lessons. because I loved history and I liked our history teacher. and geography and social stuties. But when it came time to study for a test, I just didn’t do it. Sometimes I did well. Well. I got through. I didn’t put the strain on myself that I wish I would have. If someone would have encouraged me to do that. It never occurred to me, I guess, that that’s what you’re supposed to do. I see how you kids studied and got stomach aches and this and that, because there was going to be a spelling test the next day. I was concerned about that.
You have to remember the background of all this was Depression. So that people did not have nice clothes, but no one thought anything of it. Just all those things, weren’t there. There wasn’t money…and it was OK. You came to school kind of ratty looking. I remember wearing shoes that were a mile too big, and funny things like that, but no one thought, or if they did. like I said. I was too naive to notice it. No one said anything.
Then when I was in high school. it was war. I graduated in 19~, and the war started [US entered] in 19~5. So that had like a shadow and an influence on us. too. For one, as soon as the war started, there were jobs. There were people you knew going off to war. There were…It’s an awful thing to say about a war, but life all of a sudden had some kind of, something was going on, you know. Jobs had been very scarce. And Roosevelt had the WPA. And we had people in our classroom whose parents, or whose fathers, mostly the mothers didn’hvork. the jobs were for the men, dug ditches or did whatever else they did. And no one thought there was anything wrong with that. My dad. though, was very proud, and one Thanksgiving the V~W came to the door with a basket full of food and a turkey, and he wouldn’t take it. He made them take it back. And we really didn’t have a Thanksgiving dinner. l~ut I think we were proud, too. And I’m a little bit uppity about accepting anything today. Although I don’t think anything of someone who does. I don’t have that hang‑up, but I am a little bit about accepting for myself. Like when you were born and Grandma Miller kept buying you things, shoes… The shoes were the thing I remember the most. She brought you little baby shoes and I was so insulted. Did she think we couldn’t buy those shoes ourselves? I wasn’t oriented toward thinking that this gave her more pleasure than anything in the world, to buy those shoes. I’m sure she must have loved buying them. And I didn’t say anything to her, but I was very hurt, very insulted that she would thinlc we couldn’t…but she was probably right. But all those things did have an influence.
After high school, of course, we immediately got a job. The day after we graduated Bonnie and I had a job at Chrysler’s. in the office, “bo~ engineering.” We just typed up these ditto things that said so many nails, so many boards this long, in other words. bo~ engineering, what it took to make this bo~. Then we woult run off so many copies and staple them to the big drawing of the bo~ that the draftsmen did, fold them up and 8et them in the mail to whoever got the copies. That was our job at Chrysler’s. You wouldn’t dare make a mistake, so there was a lot of proofreading and fooling around. When we did that, there wasn’t any conscious thought. Bonnie was going to college in the fall. and I think my goal was just to make a little money. You get a job and earn money; I don’t think you talked career. Because the home situation was so bad by then … It had deteriorated to the point where. my dad was … just terrible, that’s all I can say, just terrible. When he was really drunk, you didn’t know where he was going to go to the bathroom. You didn’t know if he was going to get a knife out of the drawer and 8° around the house with that, and scare everybody to death. And embarrass you, because the neighbors knew. You were old enough by then to know this just wasn’t right. Anyway. I was an~ious to go. I wanted to join the service but I couldn’t because I was only 17; I graduated in June and wasn’t 18 until October. After hiBh school, you would Bet all this propaganda in the mail. because you had graduated from hiBh school and your name was on the mailing list. So, in the meantime, I got this brochure in the mail which said. “15 THIS YOU telling the pilots the weather? IS THIS YOU…doing all this stuff? And I thought, “My, God. that is me!” So I wrote the letter to the Electronics Institute in Minneapolis and back it came with the application. They trained people for the commercial airlines. I had planned to go immediately in January, which was when the ne~t class started. Of course, Joanne didn’t have enough money because she had gone to work for Bell Tel. And there was a law during the var that you couldn’t change jobs. Because. of course, if you could, you’d be constantly getting one that paid a little more money. So in order to get a release, you had to not work for 3 months. She had gone with Bell Tel and hated it, then she had to wait 3 months to get a release. So she had no chance to save any money. When she went to Chrysler’s, it was only a month or so before it was January and time to go. She wanted to make a little more money, so I said. “Alright, I’ll wait and go in the ne~t class,” which started in July. I’d wait until she’d saved some money, which she did and then the two of us went in July. We weren’t in Minneapolis very long at all. It was supposed to be a 3 month thing. We were there about 1 month when United Airlines came in and gave these tests. If you stayed 3 months you got to build a radio, with tubes and all that stuff, which Lucille. my friend from United did. She had stayed the whole 3 months. but that was before us; she was a year older. United needed help because the war was just about over. The government had taken over most of the planes during the war; none of the airlines had many planes at that point. United came through and the first criteria was to had to pass a test to get your first class restricted license. In other words. you had to be able to take Morse code at so many things per minute and you had to know the laws, ‘no obscenity on the air,’ the rules of the air. We had done that. Joanne and I, and you had to type 50 words a minute, so you had to pass a test for that. Then United gave you a personality test. So they only took ~ out of that whole group that was in Minneapolis at the time, and Joanne and I were 2 of the 4. But we wouldn’t have had to go; I don’t know why we went, why we were so ea8er to get going. But we were so e~cited to be chosen. Joanne calls it a different kind of test, I call it a personality test. She got an A on it and I got a B~. because the question they asked vas: If someone was stealing from the company, would you tell? You were supposed to just answer them as you saw them and not think about them a whole lot, you just had a few minutes. Of course, my first reaction was “No.” because. I don’t know if I would or not. At that time, I’m sure I was at a very self‑righteous age. I guess Joanne would tell, I don’t know. She must have said “Yes” because she got an A. That was it. They hired us. So we went…home, to Detroit; you weren’t supposed to. You were supposed to go right to Chicago. United had their headquarters in Chicago and we were to go right to Chicago on the train. Well. going from Minneapolis, you could go to Detroit and then Chicago. which we did. We were so proud of ourselves that ve were chosen. plus that was the first time we’d been away from home, we’d been away a month. We were ready to go home, so we went home, just long enough to let them know how smart we were. Took the train to Chicago. They had a United school there, by that you learned all the United coding, because all their messages went by Teletype and they had to pay by the pulse. Western Union owned the Teletype and their messages went all through that. So all the stations and everything had codes, like Chicago was CG. and so forth, and you had to know all of those. Then, of course, we had to learn to run the Teletype machine, we had never done that. But the big thing about that was that the war ended while we were there in Chicago. So VJ Night, which meant Victory over Japan, was such a big night in every town, you can imagine a big town like Chicago. It was wild, but we went downtown, Joanne and I and another girl from South Dakota. It was WILDI Joanne today tells me she was scared to death. but I didn’t know it, but I didn’t have sense enough in those days to be scared, I was just happy with the rest of them. So we just went down and ate in a restaurant down there, where everybody was yelling. The streets were real crowded, but nobody accosted you or anything. I mean, you see in the news where everybody was l~issing everybody else, but we didn’t run into any of that, we went home. There was a lot going on, I don’t really remember what all. But the nest day, in the Chicago newspaper, the bi8 headline was in enormous letters, “PEACE! IT’S WONDERFUL!” and then they had this great big picture of this mob. and I found myself in it. And I had it, but where is it? We had it hanging over our beds when we left there and went to New York to worlc. But, Helen had bought me a dress for graduation that was plaid. a cotton thing that had kind of puffy sleeves. It was plaid. but it had white eyelet there and white eyelet yoke, and then the rest was plaid with a little bow here. Well, I found that dress in the crowd and I know nobody else had that kind of dress. So if I ever see that front page of the Chicago paper again, I’ll show you. We had it on our wall for a long time in New York in the rooming house.
But that was esciting. The war was over and the airlines were getting back on their feet. It was a fun time to work for them, because they were really just starting out. Joanne and I were radio operators. They only had DC 3’s. And everyone knew everyone else: you knew every pilot, you knew every stewardess. you knew every passenger agent. You couldn’t begin to do that today, but at that time it was on the ground floor and it was a lot of fun .
As soon as the war ended, and they could get men, who had licenses like your dad has. first class, then we didn’t have jobs anymore, we were back on the Teletype. We were radio operators, see they didn’t have any men to operate the radios, so we were radio operators and loved it. Then the men came back, and if the women wanted to get a first class license, they could be operators. After we left, I understand there were some women who did have them. Probably they were ser~rice women or colle8e women, because you do have to know a lot of math to get that first class license. The third class said that you could only work if there was someone with a first class there working over you. so, of course, it would be supervisors. But it was a fun thing. No unions, or any labor things that you have now. It wasn’t quite so complicated. For e~ample, the airport in Boston didn’t have lights, only smudgepots. So every time there was a windy night and the smudgepots blew out, all the flights were cancelled and everybody got to go home.
I was on the radios until about 6 months before I left. But they were neat. The guys who came back from the war and were radio operators were neat. They were fun guys; you were friends. It wasn’t a man/woman thing. We were friends. We ~rere always concerned if someone was getting a raise or someone wasn’t. There was always someone to sneak and look through the bulletins that came through communications, everything came through us, you know. “Hey, you’re getting a raise.” We were always pleased for each other. Joanne will tell you they were nice guys. They were married, but they were young like us and they were very nice. It was a good group. When they took us off radio, they made us supervisors on the Telet~ pe. We were “LTO’s,” lead Teletype operators. They didn’t just say, well…and we got a raise for being an LTO.
We did work the night they flew the first non‑stop cross‑country flight between New York and L.A. I worked Teletype that night. And we had to type all the news releases to go back. That was e~citing. I remember one guy ended his news release, “It’s the first time I’ve crossed the country without using the can.” That was funny. That was what he sent to his editor. We typed all the news releases for the papers, they all went over Western Union and we did the typing. They gave all of us that worked that night a ride. They took us up and circled around awhile in this DC 6 that was brand new. That was e~citing. I think that was 19~6. If it hadn’t been for the war, I’m sure the DC 6 would have been before that. but everything halted and went into the war effort.
We didn’t get to choose where we were going to go, they assigned us. I don’t know why they thought we were sophisticated enough for the big city, Joanne and I, e~cept that we were kind of…By Joanne’s mother having died when she was little and mine, and her dad worked nights and mine just didn’t bother to come home nights, we were pretty free. And I think we kind of carried that freeness…No one said you had to be anywhere at a certain hour and you couldn’t. you know…My dad was real strict when we were little, but once I was out of the place, there was no one to tell me what I could do. I don’t know they chose us to go to New York, but we went. And it was great! We first lived in a boarding house. There were 2 boarding houses on the street, one for men and one for women, but everybody ate in the one for men. And that was right near La Guardia Airport. Someday I’d like to go by there and see how the boarding houss is.
Then we moved to an apartment, the bottom of a two story houss, becauss finally they wanted just men in both boarding housss, becauss there were so many men neet~ng places and it’s really sasisr to havs msn. So 6 of us girls got ths bottom of a two story house. hnd ons of thoss girls was going with a fellow who wor~ed with daddy. He worked for United Airlines, too, but he came after the war, of courss, because he was in the ssrvice. He didn’t come with Unitsd as early as I did. He was a radio electronics person. He repaired the plane radios, or any wiring that was any problem on the plane. Clareta was dating this fellow that worked with him, who, and this may be the raciest thing of the whole intsrview, was a communist. Of course, in thoss days Russia was our friend. so I guess it was alright. He used to subscribe to this communist newspaper in New York, I don’t remember the name of it.
But, anyway, daddy had a car and this guy didn’t, Pets, Clareta married him. Clareta wanbd me to go out with daddy so that the 4 of us could go and there would be a car. And I had this high‑faloutin idea that there was no way I was going to dats anybody from United, because everybody talks about it, and I just wasn’t going to do it.
So she wouldn’t talk to me. She spent about 2 days not talking to me and I couldn’t stand that, because she worked at United, too, and lived there with us and all, so I said. “Alright, I’ll go.” So that was how I met him. That was a blind date. We went, and Gracie Fields was live at the theater that night. They always had a live act with the movies in those days and she sang “Walter, Lead Me to the Altar.” And they’re poking each other and I’m thinking. “Was his name Walter?” I didn’t even remember ~hat his name was. It was really funny. So that’s how I met him.
He hadn’t wanted to go that night either. There was a terrible snowstorm. And Aunt Dorothy [his aunt], who he was staying with at the time in New York because he couldn’t get a job in Cincinnati, had insisted that he go. She said, “If you made a date, you go. you don’t just not.” Of course. c~eryone didn’t have a phone, like today, he could call you up and say, “It’s snowing. Forget it.”
The ne~t time that I worked afternoons. daddy was permanent on afternoons. 4 to mid. I was in communications, and you worked sort of like what you call swing shift. They just set up a schedule and in a month you would have worked all of them. So the first time I worked 4 to mid, he came up and said would I want a ride home. because I usually took the bus. And I wanted a ride home. But even in those days. I couldn’t. that’s right, I couldn’t find my way around. So how he ever found the way home. I don’t know. I remember I did screw that up a bit, ~igging when he should have ~agged.
Then we just started going together all the time. When we could see each other, we did. We were working opposite shifts. We started going together just before Valentine’s Day and I think in my engagement ring it said April 23rd, so that vasn’t too long, and then we were married in June. We had a lot in common, though. conddering that I was a radio operator and he was in radio electronics, and he was from a big family and I was from a bi~ familY. I don’t knov. we iust hit it off.
We vere married in June and I worked until November or December, it was quite late in the year when I quit. I was pregnant, I guess that was the main thing, and we were working different shifts.
Then in January. we moved to Cincinnati. Your dad’s grandfather died right after New Year’s and daddy went back to Cincinnati for the funeral. While he was there, they decided that we should come back to Cincinnati. So that was it. He came back and gave 2 weeks notice at his job, and it was a good, high paying job, and we moved to Cincinnati. That was traumatic. I ~vould say that might have been one of the most traumatic things because it was the first time I didn’t have any control anymore. I wasn’t a free spirit anymore. I was living with in‑laws. vho were really wonderful people, you know that. They’re a great, fun bunch. But I wasn’t one of them. Clara, Bob’s wife, had grown up living right ne~t door to them. She was one of them. And I was an outsider. And they were very family oriented. They couldn’t believe a girl would actually leave home all by herself and go some place. They just weren’t into that. And, plus they lived in the suburbs and I was used to, even when we lived in the sticks, we didn’t call it the suburbs then. While I had grown up in that, I still had a bus where I could go wherever I wanted and I had some place I wanted to go and friends to go there with. But when I moved there I had no friends. And I didn’t have any freedom to go anywhere. That was hard. I really missed having someone who had something in common with me. That was hard. It wasn’t impossible. but it was hard.
There was a strain. Everything had to be picked up all the time. You could never be on your own, you couldn’t sit down and have a good cry if you felt like it. But a lot of people did it that way. There just weren’t apartments to be had in Cincinnati. I wouldn’t want you think I was always unhappy. because I wasn’t. In the first place. Gram worked a couple or 3 days a week, and while I didn’t go anywhere. I was alone, I had a certain amount of privacy.
Then we moved to the apartment building, when you were not quite a year old. I met the people who lived in there and they had children and we sort of had a little more in common. It didn’t have anything to do with the Millers, you know. It’s just that your whole life can’t be that. Then when the Herlinger’s moved into the apartment building, that was even better. They were the same age, with kids the same age. When I had Tom a couple of years later, they had ‘Mu~ie‑girl.’ While we were there we each had our babies and so we looked out for the other one’s kids.
Dad was already going to school then. Dad has always been going to school, and also taking correspondence courses. When he was home he was always busy writing, or repairing a TV.
Our goal had been that you would start school and ve would be in our own home and you wouldn’t have to move. So ve were ~ in6 all that time for a down payment. How we happened to end up in Greenhills 12nd planned community, after Greenbelt. MD] is because Uncle Jew was a bar drinking friend of the builder. And he told about these houses and how this guy was a good builder. So we went to look and ended up in one of those houses. Which was a good move. I always liked it there. It vas just the conventional in those times way. You moved into a little house and sent your kids to school. I often thought that song kind of covered me at that time, “On a Clear Day You Could See Forever.” It just seemed like I could chart the course and I was villing it. I worked in the supermar~et part time. Like I said. the very conventional things: I was a den mother and brownie leader, ant made the ballet costumes. I did the things that kept women busy then that people don’t do anymore, or kind of look down their nose at, which I don’t blame them. I don’t know that I would do them nov. But at the time, I enjoyed it. Like I said. it was part of the charted course.
Plus, it was a good marriage: ve were happy. It was good with the Millers. too, don’t you think? Don’t you remember we had a good family life. Talk about ordinary.
I always thought. when you kids vere little, that you would go to Miami and Tom would go to UC. ~ut I alvays thought that Tom wouldn’t move away from home to go to UC. I always thought he’d never live away from home. I knew you and your independence, your way, you would go to school and live untampered. I just always thought that’s how it would be. And that’s how it was, but it was entirely different circumstances. [Dad was transferred to Philadelphia in lg61.1 He lToml never had any desire to live at home and go to college. I remember his bein8 so happy when he heard that you were going to go to college and live on campus. He said, “You mean we can do that?” I think he thought we vere paupers, because ve often talked ‘poor mouth’ a lot.
I don’t think ever in my life I ever felt the need of equal rights, because I always felt like I had them. Every job I had was a job that was also held by men . Even when I was cashier at the supermarket, there vere men cashiers. At the airlines, there were men Teletype operators. When I was an LTO. I was over men who perhaps were studying to get their license. Then even when I went to work in admissions at the hospital, which I loved, too, because that was a real people job. many hospitals had men admissions people. So I never, ever felt…Other than when I was at home, because my dad called certain things “squaw’s work.”
Retirement isn’t all its cracked up to be. You really don’t have any reason to get up in the morning. It really wouldn’t make any difference if you did or you didn’t, I guess is what I mean. We do things. When your dad goes to bed at nighl. man, he’s got all this stuff he’s got to do the ne~t day. “Oh, I’ve got to get up early. I’ve got this to do and that to do and the other thin8 to do.” And I just can’t pump myself up to say, “I’ve got to get up early. I’ve got to run the sveeper,” you know. The things that I have to do and that have to be done. and that I don’t mind doing, are going to be, as Erma Bombeck says, “You can make the beds and wash the dishes. and 3 veeks later you gotta do the same things over again.” That’s just how it is. What I have to do doesn’t stay done. Where he can think I’ve gotta get up and change the spark plugs or something. He knows that’s going to stay done. I like it when there’s a piece of furniture to be stripped.
But it still isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. It’s nice to be among people. or to go out in the world, and know that the world’s out there, and you’re part of it. There’s a lot to be said for working a little longer, really. And had things in the office been a little better, not so negative, alvays bickering between the other girls. not me, I never bicker, I’m sure I would have hung in longer.
Retirement is good otherwise. We have our health and we do things. And financially we’re able to do it. We’re not rich, but we’re comfortable. Although neither one of us has been to the doctor forever. we don’t have to concern ourselves with that. I mean we’re covered if something would happen and we were in need of something, we’d be alright.
I will say it’s very nice having grandchildren. It’s very special. It really is. A parent has responsibility to raise them, and this and that. but a grandparent doesn’t. A ~randparent has one responsibility, which is loving you.
PART III: “Development through living”
Most of the stories my mother has previousb told of her childhood are not included in this life story; she wasn’t sure which ones I meant when I asked abou~ them. She said that eventually you want to forget some of that and focus on the good that happened.
The harshest incidents from the 2 most difficult periods, growing up with no mother and an alcoholic, abusive father and the early years of marriage with in‑laws that didn’t think she was “good enough” for their eldest son, are not included in depth in her story. I don’t see this as an attempt to gloss over or whitewash or as a distortion of reality. It seems to me that she has integrated this information with what was relevant to her sense of self over time.
Her childhood was the way it was, she accepted it as such and left to start her own life as soon as possible. (Although she had told us many stories of electricity being turned off, her father burning the furniture for heat. and other side effects of his alcoholism, the extent of physical abuse and threatening hadn’t been shared before.) She didn’t rush into marriage (to escape ) as her 2 older sisters did. perhaps with another alcoholic, abusive person, and repeat the pattern (that we hear is so often the case). She integrated that part of the past that had meaning for her. For e~ample, bein8 too proud to accept things for herself, yet not thinking that accepting help is a weakness in others and noting the important role that grandparents play in families. and including that role in her life.
Despite being treated like an outsider by the Miller clan. her in‑laws, for an extended period of time (long enough that I can remember them talking about her in front of me as a child), she has come to an understanding and acceptance of that time, valuing strong family ties even in a family that had once been so unsupportive of her. They in turn have grown to love her and value her strength and character. A simple e~ample included in the history is the incident of my grandmother buying things for me: what once had seemed like an insult is now seen as an act of love, one that she can now enjoy with her own grandchildren without feeling intrusive. She also relates why they thought of her as different without berating herself or them. During the time she lived with them, she may have been unhappy a lot, but she knew things would change and she would again be in control of her life.
A concept from Goddesses in Everyvoman by Jean Shinoda Bolen aptly describes how she has dealt with crisis in her life: she identifies the problem, waits (squatting in the cold with her dress pulled over her l~nees, while the goddesses convene) until the solution at the right time presents itself, and then acts. This also is representative of the metaphors of development, for e~ample, Riegel’s thesis, antithesis and synthesis. The pattern is apparent in her current life situation as well, dealing with retirement, where she has not yet reached synthesis, but I have no doubt (and lots of hope) that she will .
Faith is one aspect of my mother’s life that is not in this life history. It may be because she knows the interviewer so well, the interview focused on events and not inner beliefs, and she is totally opposed to “imposing” her beliefs on anyone else. So I’m afraid you’re getting second hand information here. Faith has played a major role in enabling her to meet the challenges of life, but she strongly supports every person’s right to come to and have an understanding of their own, so she rarely discusses her beliefs e~cept in private.
Another aspect that is not included here is that my mother has some psychic abilities that she is not comfortable with and ignores as much as possible. She has dreamt of many events either before or while they were happening, mostly to family members. For e~ample, one night (in the 60’s~ she dreamed that her father had been beaten and robbed in an alley by a gang of kids. Thinking that her father was safe in the Veteran’s Hospital he had been living in and working at for several years, she told us of the weird dream she had had. Two days later she got a call from the Michigan police, saying that they had a person there claiming her as his nearest living relative (although in reality she was the second farthest away). He had been beaten and robbed in an alley (and very drunk), so he had been unconscious and anonymous for 2 days and was just now able to talk. This is only one e~ample of many.
This ability is not unusual and probably not surprising, but it is uncomfortable for her. I include it as another dimension of understanding her life, and one I value and wish she were more comfortable with. Finding signs of this 8ift in her granddaughter (since age 2) has not helped.
I’d like to include one other event in her life that has not been addressed in this section, that of her mother’s death and the way the family faced it. Because of the customs of the time, her mother’s coffin remained in the family home until burial. This allowed many positive things to happen to help the children deal with their loss. All of these aspects are discussed in On Death and Dyin~ by Elizabeth Kubler‑Ross. First, the children, though not understanding it as such, could be8in to see that death was a natural part of life, not something quickly covered up and removed to a sterile, artificial institution (the funeral home). As their father had them go in and say goodnight every night until the funeral, they had more contact and could face more realistically the fact of their mother’s death. They also could see the other family member’s 8rief and share in that e~perience, rather than be isolated from it in experiencing their own grief. The e~perience had the added benefit of allowing them to see their father (in this instance) as a human being for a change, and at least helped my mother in her understanding and acceptance of him.
Also, my mother’s maternal grandmother helped the children to have an ongoing connection to their mother, by setting a place for her at the table and through the seances, probably not an approved practice, but effective for my mother none‑the less.
In looking atErikson’s stages, there is lots of evidence of how these issues were resolved in her life. After high school, during the “Identity vs. Role Confusion” stage, she immediately started to wor~ to save money to be ready when the opportunity arose to “be all that you can be .” When the flyer came that said “Is this you … ?,” she knew that it was, left home and headed for Minneapolis and New Yorlc. where she established a very satisfactory life with meaningful work. As she sait, it never occurred to her that girls didn’t do that kind of thing. (The one piece of advice she gave me throughout life was don’t marry until you’~e lived on your o~n and don’t marry anyone that hasn’t lived on his own either.) Also. the way she tallcs aboutvhy the airlines may have thought she ant Joanne were sophisticated enough to ta~ce on the “big city” is indicative of how she used the reality of her childhood to form her independence (rather than create a neurosis). The biggest crisis in identity she faced was when she was e~pected to move to Cincinnati without her consent or consultation. It was the first time she felt she was not in control of her life.
Validity of stage theory and where people “fit into” the various theories is largely based on interpretation. Because of her acceptance of her father, even at this point in her life, I would add that she was already operating at both the Individualistic (note the way she spoke of her colleagues at the airlines) and Autonomous Levels in Loevinger’s theory.
During that period, she was also tested on Kohlberg’s (initial, since modified) scale of moral development by United Airlines. (Would you report an employee who was stealing? She wasn’t sure she would.) She only got a B~ on Kohlberg’s, Piaget’s and the corporation’s scale, but she gets an A~ in Gilligan’s, for immediately thin~in8 in the contextual mode.
Because of her resolution of identity issues, she also faced the Intimacy vs. Isolation stage with relative ease. In The lournev of Adulthood. Helen Bee stales (following Erikson’s theories) that those people who have formed a clear and positive identity have a much better chance for a long, satisfying intimate partnership. The successful working through of ongoing issues with respect for each partner, has helped create a 42 year marriage of 2 individuals with different personalities, but mutual goals.
In the stage of Generativity vs. Stagnation, which I feel overlaps ~ith Erikson’s last stage of Ego Integrity vs. Despair, my mother first focused on the growth and development of her children and family. She felt she was very much in control of her life at that point and enjoyed it as well (hence, “On a Clear Day…” ). (I always wondered why I insisted on Miami University, despite my guidance counselor’s opposition.) After her children were fairly well on their own, she took a job in admissions at a hospital, a job that by her own description was generative. In order to do this, she was also faced with the task of 8etting a driver’s license for the first time, as we had moved from a planned, entirely walkable (with good public transportation to the city) community in Ohio to an isolated suburb of Philadelphia.
She has continued the generativity aspect in her involvementwith her grandchildren. But there needs to be more…
This is why I feel the last two stages really overlap, because from my perspective the issue of generativity needs to be addressed, adapted and fulfilled until death.
It is apparent from the section on retirement that the last stages are still bein8 worked through. Currently my mother is feeling isolated from the world (not intimate others). She talks of not having a reason to get up or being part of the world, and of the wish to have worked a little longer. This feeling is different from missing what “used to be” or even bein8 afraid of what’s ahead. It’s a matter of continuing generativity. I think Robert Atchley’s stages of retirement are very apropos in this instance. Both of my parents had looked forward to the time they could spend more time travelling, which they have done. They are grateful for their health and financial security. During the honeymoon period, my mother enjoyed the freedom to take the trailer ‘cross country and reconnect with family and friends. Now, however, she has reached the disenchantment phase, and in Riegel’s terms a period of antithesis. A “logistical” problem that needs to be resolved is that the only car she can drive is frequently weather‑sealed into the garage, so for “ease,” my father drives her to the grocery store and other errands. The result is that she feels she is under “house arrest” again. The task she faces is in finding her way of reconnecting to the world. When the she finds the solution or the solution finds her, she will move ahead. Past e~perience makes me sure she will. Perhaps now she is a8ain squatting down, with her dress over her knee~.