Doris Congram was 67 years old when interviewed by Eillen Manglass in 2000. This is Eileen’s introduction to the interview: This is my mother’s story, transcribed by daughter number two. Doris is sixty-seven years of age, a strong, white woman of Irish-English descent. Doris’ health is currently good, although she is recently recovered from thyroid surgery. She lives with her husband (my father) of forty-seven years in the house they have owned together for three decades.
Doris has six children who live in the area and she visits with them often. This is important to her because as an only child, with her own parents having died so long ago, she doesn’t like to be alone. She works, and travels during warm weather with her husband in their motor home. She feels that her life has been rich and full though she has lived through many losses. She is a polio survivor; she buried her mother at twenty, a child at thirty, and a father at thirty-five. She is also a college-educated woman, mother to six and grandmother to nine, the wife of a loving and loyal man. She feels that her health is her biggest priority these days as she says, “that’s really all you have later in life”! This is the lively story of a remarkable woman recorded by one who adores her.
At the time of my parents’ marriage, my father was about twenty-five and my mother about twenty years of age. I was born about ten years later, during the time that the depression was ending. Jobs were scarce. I was the third pregnancy for my mother, whose name was Florence; my father called her Flo. She had a miscarriage in the wintertime due to a fall, then later got pregnant with my brother Jimmy who lived to be seven years of age and died of scarlet fever and pneumonia. She had very difficult pregnancies and was told not to have any more children but she did not want to live her life that way so two years later she got pregnant again for me. At that time medicine was not up on the fact that positive and negative partners would cause problems in the uterus for a pregnancy. During the first month or two pregnant with me she became very ill and had to spend seven months in the hospital. She had to have I/V feedings to keep her alive and I arrived on April 11, 1933. The delivery was very difficult and my mother’s uterus dropped so that she had to have an operation that would prevent future pregnancies.
So my mother came home with me two years after she lost a son, four years after her own mother died, and herself having spent seven months in the hospital. Her father had died when she was a small girl and her mother took in sewing and raised and sold chickens and eggs for a living. The first house I lived in was a triple-decker house. The owner of the house was a very close friend of my mother’s’, and they shared a lot of mother experiences, they were very close.
My father, Harold worked for twenty-five years as a janitor for the city hall, and took care of firing the boiler in the winter and so on. He hadn’t finished high school when he and my mother got married. He did eventually get his diploma later. He was very good in math, not too good in English but in math. Then he and my mother talked and he decided to go to Bentley College for accounting. He commuted working during the day, and my mother worked too, in the early evening for a company boxing greeting cards with some girlfriends. In this way I imagine she made the money to help my father travel to college. He did stick out about twenty years plus working there then he took the civil service exam and joined the postal service. At that time, accounting jobs were very difficult to get in our area so there was no work for him in the field even though he had the degree. He did get one offer in Connecticut and my mother did not want to leave the area so that’s why he decided to stay here. I don’t know if you would call it a good job but it was $28 a week. The money came in a little envelope. I still have some of them, my father saved them and then they came to me when he died.
My first memory was when I was three or four years old I remember swallowing a penny. My mother called a friend of hers for advice and she told my mother to feed me lots of plain, white bread and said that eventually it would pass. Well, it did. My mother sewed, and made many beautiful outfits for me. She made coats and leggings too, out of material that she would buy. I can remember when smocking became the fad she couldn’t figure out the directions but my father could so he explained it to her. He had been taught to sew as a child. His mother had wanted a daughter so when she had a boy she just taught him all the things she would have taught a girl child like sewing, and cooking. He was very talented and having learned all these things, he was a big help to my mother. Anyway, she had one of the earliest Singer sewing machines with a big black peddle that she would pump with her foot as she sewed. It had a leather strap that my father would figure out how to fix if it broke so that he didn’t have to order another. She didn’t ever teach me to sew, why I don’t know; perhaps because she got sick about the age I would be learning.
I was lonely as an only child, and I remember I had an imaginary playmate whose name was Meleeo. I don’t recall whether it was a boy or a girl but we would have long conversations together. My mother was baffled about it and thought it a bit queer. One of the things I remember my father building for me in the backyard was a bar, a kind of parallel bar like they have in the Olympics. Me and some of my girlfriends would see how long we could hang by our feet or by our heels, and have contests right there in the backyard. We also had a tire swing. The first school I went to was called D.M. Dillon School, which is still a school but no longer called that. I liked school very much but had made three school changes by the time I was in fourth grade. We moved from the south side of town because at that time we didn’t own our house, to the east side of town where my father bought a two family home. The tenant lived on the first floor, and we lived on the second floor. While in that home I went to first and second grade. I could memorize things very quickly if my mother read them over to me and made me practice. Well, one time for a Memorial Day Program at school I remember learning the Gettysburg Address. My mother attended, I’m sure my father was at work, I remember everybody clapping, and my mother had made me a beautiful dress with lace on it, I vaguely remember that. I also remember that we had neighbors who were very poor and I remember them having catsup sandwiches for supper sometimes.
My mother was unhappy in this home because she wanted to go back to the south side where all her very close friends were. So my father sold the house and we moved over to a home that he bought back on the south side. It was another two family where we lived on the second floor. Curiously enough we always lived on the second floor because my mother was afraid to live on the first floor. Then I went to another school for third and fourth grade. This school also had a nice playground where we could go to in the afternoon and play, Hosmer School it was called. It’s now a Head Start. Then after fourth grade I went to St. Bernard’s Catholic School. It was in walking distance and my mother felt that I was now old enough to walk down the end of the street and cross a busy street, Water Street, and be able to do that without her worrying about me. At that time the school was separated into a boy’s school and a girl’s school, a short distance from each other. It was a Catholic school but not a private school where you pay tuition. We belonged to the church so we didn’t have to pay.
The neighborhood I grew up in was mostly all Catholic Irish except for maybe one or two families. In Fitchburg there were several ethnic neighborhoods. One area close to our part of town was called ‘The Patch’, and was where most of the Italian people lived. Where I lived and for several blocks was called ‘The Lace Curtain Irish’, and didn’t have probably the best connotation. It meant snobbish. If someone said they were going to buy a house up off of South Street, someone else would say, “oh you’re buying up where the lace curtain Irish live”. There was also a French neighborhood, and a Finnish neighborhood. They even had a Finnish Steam Bath that’s still there, that was very active back then. People pretty much stayed where they lived, and everybody got along. I never remember my mother getting into an argument with any of her neighbors. We didn’t own a car, neither did many of my friends, and cabs were only .35 from one destination to another. So we pretty much stayed in our neighborhood until I got into high school and I had many friends in ‘The Patch’.
My grandparents on my mother’s side both died before I was born so the only grandparent I had was my father’s mother. My father’s father died five or so years before I was born. He fell off a hay truck and was killed. My father was about twenty when this happened. When my father was eighteen years old he joined the army to serve in the First World War. I don’t remember if he was away in France when his father died but it was about this time. He was wounded in France, took a gunshot to the leg, then he was sent home to recuperate at Fort Devens. His leg used to bother him when he got up in age but not before then. He did get a small disability for it, a little check each month, probably about $12. He kept the bullet in a little purse with a snap on the top, and occasionally he would show everybody the bullet that was taken out of his leg. Then he had to have his leg amputated, I don’t remember what year it was, but I had six children. He called me one morning; he was living in Fitchburg at the time, and said the leg was black up to his knee and he asked me why. I told him to call an ambulance and go right up there and not ask me any more questions. I got a babysitter and met him there. The doctor said that the leg had to be removed right away.
My grandmother was a very witty woman, very funny, only went to the third grade. She could play the harmonica very well, any tune you can name. I can remember her as a little girl banging her foot on the floor, tapping it as she played the harmonica. She loved canaries and parrots, she had a very large mud turtle that she kept in a special kitchen sink aside of the regular sink. She would take it out occasionally so I could watch it crawl on the linoleum. She taught the parrot how to talk. She also raised bull terriers for money and sold them. She was very artistic. She would make these beautiful flowers out of crepe paper. Then she would get on the bus into downtown Fitchburg and sell them to people on the streets and in stores for extra income. She decorated her kitchen with flowers that she cut out of magazines. She liked a lot of bright colors, and was very artistic. She decorated lamps and pictures. We visited her every Sunday; my father and I would take a bus to Lunenburg to see her. My mother and her didn’t get along all that well, I don’t know why, but my father and I would go alone. Minnie was her name and when we would get off the bus in the summer time my father would yell, “hey Minnel, hey Minnel we’re on our way, here we come”! Her full name was Minietta Norcross Knox Bailey Sealy Wright, Wright was her maiden name. She was given her mother’s name, her grandmothers’ name, her great-grandmother’s name and so on at the time of her birth to have in her whole name. I was about twenty-five when she died, pregnant with my third child. I was living in Virginia at the time and so far along with the pregnancy that the doctor said I shouldn’t travel. I felt very bad about that but that’s the way it had to be. She was almost ninety when she died. She was healthy until she died. When she got up in years, about seventy, my father convinced her to sell her house and a lot of her stuff and come live over him. The third floor had a couple of finished rooms and after my mother died she stayed mostly there on the second floor.
My mother’s mom and dad were both born in this country but their parents were born in Ireland. Much of the Irish superstitions were passed on to me. My mother was extremely superstitious. Like never leave a dirty frying pan in the sink or you’ll have unexpected company, or if you drop salt you have to throw some over your left shoulder. Dropping a knife meant a male visitor and dropping a fork meant a female one. Never leave a sugar bowl get empty; never step on a crack or walk under a ladder. If a bird flew into the house you would have a death within a year, and whatever happens twice happens thrice. The music was a big part of our house. My mother would sing and play a lot of music, especially around St. Patrick’s Day, or other times too. We always had a piano; there was always a piano in my life. Our first piano came from the City Hall where my father worked because they were going to get rid of it. He probably paid $5 for it. He could not get it into the second floor because of its size, so he bought a smaller piano, called an apartment piano. Getting that one into the second floor living room was quite a sight in the neighborhood because the living room window had to be removed and the piano was swung up into the living room by a crane for us to have. I remember a lot of neighbors came out to watch. I still have that piano today.
My father’s people originally came from England but then migrated over to Canada. Phelps, which is my maiden name, is an English name. There was no cultural stories told about my grandparents and great-grandparents that I can remember. That part of history on my father’s side was missing. I don’t know why my father’s family settled in Canada or why they moved to Vermont from Canada. I do recall that my father said there was a lot of railroad work, especially going from Boston to New York. They probably moved here to get work.
My father was very witty, he was very outgoing, could talk to total strangers on the street. I’m like him in this way, of being comfortable striking up a conversation with just about anybody on any given topic. He used to joke a lot and I remember one time when I was a baby and didn’t have any hair at all and my mother was quite concerned about it. My father called her disguising his voice, saying he was the doctor and that she should put urine on my head and that would make the hair grown in. Another time he called the butcher and yelled at him saying that the butcher had sold him the wrong leg of lamb. He said that it was the left leg, that he knew the right leg had more meat on it and he wouldn’t stand for it in the future. He said that from now on he wanted only the right leg of lamb. After the butcher realized my father was joking they both had quite a laugh.
My mother was just the opposite, she was extremely shy. She realized this and decided she didn’t want her daughter to grow up that way so at a very early age she had me take allocution lessons, dance lessons, and piano lessons with recitals. She felt all this would make me easier to accept people outside in that big world where she was so extremely shy. I feel My mother had a great deal of sensitivity, she could sense when people were upset, either by their body language or whatever. She could pick up on things easily. I feel I’m like her in this way, maybe not to that extent. My mother was also extremely gifted musically, but so was my father. One thing about my mother though was that you could name any tune and she could not only play it by ear but also transpose it to any key that your voice could accommodate. My father had to have sheet music. My father had gone the Boston Conservatory of Music for a couple of years, and so he had a lot of sheet music that he would play. My mother was a great jig dancer. She knew many jigs and could do them very well. I never quite learned the footwork but my mother showed me how her mother had taught her, where you put your hands on your hips and keep your upper body rigid. When I see the show Riverdance now it reminds me of how she would dance.
There wasn’t any celebration from the town for St. Patrick’s Day then, or even in the neighborhood church, but we would celebrate it ourselves. Otherwise the church was a big part of our lives. My mother was born Catholic but my father was Episcopalian when they got married. After several years though my father converted and they went to the Catholic Church together. Religion played a big role in my life. We prayed a lot in the home, had many religious pictures up, said the rosary, and did special rituals for plenary indulgences. I remember doing the nine first Fridays and five first Saturdays, which I did in Junior High School to receive indulgence from Purgatory. These things were all important at the time.
The Italians had a big celebration with their church and several blocks would be involved selling spaghetti and other Italian foods. We would go and watch this one game where Italian men would throw out their fingers and yell out these numbers. We used to stand on the street corner and watch them. I never did figure out what they were doing or who would win, but it was fun to watch.
We had a big, floor radio, curved on the top, and listened to it a lot. We’d listen to stories and news and music. We were also lucky enough to have one of the first refrigerators in the neighborhood, not like most people who had an icebox and had to have ice delivered each day for it. I remember it was called a Norge, and that also had a curved top to it. I guess my folks learned how to save well in order to have these things. We had an Old-Easy washing machine, which was a very dangerous machine because it had these rollers in it that you had to push the clothes up into it. On more than one occasion my mother got her hand stuck in it, it was extremely painful. She would forget to slam down the upper part of it, which would prevent it from continuing to move so that the actual accident happened twice. She would wrap her hand up in a towel and I don’t know if she ever broke any fingers, but they would be swollen and red and sore for several days. She always told me never to get that kind of a washing machine; it was too dangerous to own. She did eventually get a new one.
I also remember one time my mother decided to color her hair. She had salt and pepper hair and I guess she started to gray when she was quite young. Well she bought this comb contraption that had some sort of dye in it and she pulled it through her hair until it all turned jet black. My father came home and was shocked so see it. My mother’s skin was very fair and I guess it was quite a shock for him. She didn’t do that again. My mother was a great dancer, both my parents were, and they went to the firemen’s’ and policemen’s ball each year. My mother wore the most beautiful gowns. Her and my father would practice for several weeks before the ball, in the kitchen. I always thought they looked like Fred Astair and Ginger Rogers as they glided across the linoleum. He would dip her, and twirl her around. I would sit in a kitchen chair watching them dancing like that in the kitchen. I remember now playing dress up with those gowns. One was white with lots of fringe; the other was black with flowers. I would play dress up with my friends, I loved that.
As far as the values my parents tried to give me, I would say to be honest is one of the big ones. They also taught me not to be bigoted, I can remember my father had a male friend living in the city who was black and who washed windows for the bank. Whenever we would see him while walking in town we would stop and talk. My father always said that just because his skin was not the same color as ours, that this was no reason not to treat him like he was not a worthwhile human being. I was taught never to use the term “nigger”, that this was a crude word. Fairness was brought up a lot, my mother would say, “don’t judge a book by its cover”, and “don’t snap to conclusions”. She wanted me to wait until I had all the facts.
I met my husband, Herb, for the first time in high school, we both tried out for the same play. I didn’t end up getting a part in it and I don’t remember if he did either. He was four years ahead of me so he was a senior at the time and I was a freshman. Anyway, I didn’t see him again until four years later when I was working at the five and dime. I guess I was taken by his full head of red, wavy hair. He seemed different to me, his hair made him stand out. He said he remembered me from school and asked if he could see me some time. He was living away at the time and was home visiting his parents. This began what I call a three-cent romance. We used to write to each other a lot, and three cents is what it cost to send a first class letter back then. My mother, who was quite protective of me with boys, didn’t mind this relationship because we spent so much time writing to each other. We went on like that for two years and then he came back and we got married.
My first experience with death was my mother. She had gotten sick when I was twelve or so with breast cancer. She had felt a lump but didn’t do anything about for about a year. It kept growing and got so big that she finally went to the doctor. She had the breast removed immediately but she waited so long that the cancer had spread. She ended up being sick for seven years with cancer. At the time of her death I hadn’t been married long, my first child was just three months old. We knew that death was imminent because she had been very ill for so long with cancer ravaging various parts of her body. During the week prior to her death, I moved back home to be with her. I had been living with my husband and new baby in Peabody, Massachusetts, which was about an hour and half away. My father was hospitalized at the same time as my mother. He was having great difficulty coping with my mother’s illness and so he was drinking to cope, and ended up in the hospital with her. He was on one of the floor and she on the other. I remember walking up and down the hallway to visit with each of them.
I was staying with my husband’s mother at the time, and she was helping with the childcare. It was a very difficult time and I felt cheated at her death. She always felt she was going to get better, right up until four or five months before she did die. But finally the doctor, who had been coming to the house, said that he could no longer go along with the lie that she was going to get better. When the doctor told my father how sick my mother was, he decided it would be best not to tell her the truth, so we kept it from her. She would ask the doctor about it each time he came to the home. So my father decided that he would prepare her, to tell her that death would be coming in the three or four months. He asked the priest and the doctor to come and with them present he told her. I knew about the lie, and I went along with it because we felt we were giving her hope instead of her being so depressed. We felt it made her feel a little better than the alternative. I vividly remember her saying to him, “Harold, you should have told me earlier because I might have wanted to live the last six years of my life differently.” That’s why I feel now it’s very important to tell a terminally ill person about their condition. I felt very bad about that afterward, and so did my father. My mother died in the winter and at the time of the wake and funeral the bad weather made everything seem worse. She felt cheated at not being able to see her grandson. At that time they wouldn’t let you bring a baby to the hospital to visit and every day my mother would ask, “where is the baby, why can’t I see the baby”?
Religion still plays a big role in my life, it’s very important to me. I take the time pray often. When people in the family have been sick, or during times when my children are experiencing pain in relationships, I turn to prayer. If I feel I can’t rectify things on my own I turn things over to God. I believe that God helps those who help themselves, and I don’t believe in giving up or doing nothing, but prayer is a comfort to me.
Becoming a mother was a wonderful experience. I felt a little inadequate early on because the baby, Herb was having trouble adjusting to a formula, but after that it was a wonderful experience. I put him on the formula because I got a call when he was just two weeks old to come home because my mother was dying. Being away from my husband so soon in our marriage was hard too. I was also just pregnant with child number two when all this happened and experiencing a good deal of morning sickness. I had it bad with the first three kids then it subsided with the rest. They had a great pill out at the time for the nausea and that helped a lot. I remember it was pink on one side and blue on the other. Not that other pill that caused all the problems with the fetuses.
The summer I was pregnant with Stephen, my second, I contracted polio. We had been at the beach, it was summer, and I began to get quite sick all of a sudden. My neck was very stiff, and felt feverish, and felt terrible. My husband called the doctor who came and stood outside the door while I told him my symptoms. He told my husband to immediately take me to the hospital and he rushed out. Getting to the hospital was quite a frightening experience because they put me on a gurney, told me to say goodbye to my husband and baby with no kissing, then they wheeled me into a quarantine unit. I spent the next two months there sick with polio. They determined quickly that it wasn’t paralytic polio or bulbar polio by extracting some blood from my spine. My pain was mostly in the left leg and left arm and my neck. No visitors, no mail, no flowers, no communication. The only way my husband could see me was by crawling out onto a roof through a window at the end of the hall. He would walk across the roof, over to the quarantine unit window and they would wheel my bed over. He could talk to me through the window screen, and would do this once or twice a week that way until I got released. They were so fearful of spreading the disease that the food was made in the ward and then burned in the ward afterward.
The recovery took about two years and I fell many times after I got home. One time after I got a bit more steady on my feet I remember going into town to get something at a local store. I had been using a cane but didn’t want to on this particular occasion so I left it in the car. Well I couldn’t find a parking space right out front of the store so I had to park around the corner, which as it turns out, was right in front of a bar. The street was made of cobblestones and walking was very difficult. I remember tripping and grabbing a pole to steady myself. All of a sudden, a policeman approached me and, thinking I had just come from the bar, assumed I was drunk. He was quite brusque with me until I indignantly explained about the polio, then he was became helpful, helping me cross the street. It’s funny now that I look back but it didn’t seem funny at the time. All this while pregnant! I lost over thirty-five pounds in the hospital but gained a lot of it back when I got home. My stomach muscles were extremely weak from lying in a hospital bed so the pregnancy was difficult. Stephen was a really ugly baby because he was so long and skinny, he looked like a bird that fell out of a nest. He was so lucky though, because I was four months along when I got sick. Another woman in the ward who was two months along aborted her baby right away. The only people allowed into the ward was my family physician and a priest who was a friend of the family named John Nally. He would come a couple times a week, and became a lifelong friend afterward
I felt very angry for a while after that. I had just buried my mother and then this terrible disease. I felt like life just wasn’t being fair to me. And the recovery took so long. At first I had to be carried to the bathroom by my husband, then I learned to crawl there on my own. My husband helped with this particular treatment called the Sister Kenny Treatment, where they put hot, hot flannel strips on your legs to stimulate circulation. We had to do that five times a day. The Polio Foundation was a big help, with the bills as well as with the physical therapy. Thank God I had such a loving husband. He stood by and supported me, allowing me to cry and feel bad, and said that we would get through this. I had little time to feel bad though because my husband’s work transferred him to Virginia and we had to pack and move. So Stephen was four months old and Herb was almost two when we moved. I was soon pregnant with my third child and after some morning sickness delivered my first girl named Ann Louise. I was excited to have a girl, and let me tell you girls are a lot different from boys. Six months after that, while bending over to swat a fly I ruptured a disc in my back. I was hospitalized for three months and had back surgery. I was off my feet for six months altogether. I had to have help in the home to clean and cook and help take care of the children, so I hired a black woman because that was the only help you could get at the time. I had a couple women to help over the period and they were a big help.
I was so lucky to have the husband I did, who didn’t drink or gamble or stay out of the house for long hours playing sports. Our intimacy was an adjustment for me when we first got married because my mother never talked with me about sex and my girlfriends and I never talked too much about it. I certainly never had any experience with sex before I got married. I remember when I was a young teenager I thought babies came out the belly button because I couldn’t figure what other purpose the bellybutton had. One didn’t ever talk to one’s mother about sex; it was a taboo subject. My girlfriends and I would sometimes ask each other, “did you ever talk with your mom about it”, and the reply was always the same, “no, I would never”! The night before I got married I asked my mother if there was anything she wanted to tell me about it and she said, “no, when you wake up tomorrow you’ll know what it’s all about and your life will carry on from there”. That was as much sex education as I got. I remember when I got my first period I came running out of the bathroom to tell my mother I was dying and she asked me why and I told her the toilet was filled with blood. She said, “oh, you’re not dying and your father will talk with you about it”, and he did! He sat me down on the bed and explained to me all about it. I guess she felt she couldn’t do it; I don’t think that was quite appropriate but that’s how she decided she needed to handle it. My father explained in a very loving way how it was going to happen every month, that all women go through this and it was going to be o.k. He put his arms around me and gave me a hug and said I wasn’t dying! He said my mother would talk with me about what I needed to do now and I went out and she showed me.
My children were all so different. I had one daughter, Ann, who wouldn’t walk when she was almost two and another, Eileen, who walked at nine months. This early walker gave us quite a scare. She was child number four, and three weeks after she was born we took her to the doctor for a check-up where it was discovered that she had a congenital hip-dislocation. She had to be put in a cast, one of several over the next six months, up over her waist. They left a hole in the crotch area so we could awkwardly diaper her. She didn’t fuss much even with the confinement. She would drag herself across the floor and eventually hop like a bullfrog. But the day they took the cast off she stood up and walked at nine months. Shortly after this we moved again, this time to upstate New York where we spent the next five years.
My next child, John, was breach. The doctor was nervous about this and so they wouldn’t give me any painkillers for that delivery. The doctor had a sense of humor though and merely said, “Uh-oh Doris, this one’s going to be dancer”. By the time I had five children, that was quite a handful, but the older ones were able to take their own baths and make a sandwich for themselves. My second oldest broke his collarbone about this time and that was quite a comical thing to see. He had to have the cast put on with his arm straight up as if he were raising his hand in school. He couldn’t fit in the car with the arm up like that so he had to lay down in the back of the station wagon with the seat folded down.
When my sixth, Michael was born it was during a time of transition. We had just found out that we would be moving back to Massachusetts, where we were from. We had been living in upstate New York for five years and were looking forward to moving home. Days before we moved, the baby that I carried full term was born, lived only eight hours and then died. It was a very difficult time for me because my husband had to take his new position in Massachusetts and would not be able to stay longer than the weekend. A friend helped put away new baby things and finish packing. We traveled over the road with the baby in a little white box in the back of the station wagon because we wanted to bury him back home with our other family. A funny thing now as we look back, happened when we got here after traveling all day. We went straight to the cemetery and told them we needed a burial and wanted a graveside service because we didn’t want the baby in the car overnight. They wanted to know where the baby was and we told them he was in our car. I remember they were shocked by this even though we explained that we had papers to travel over the road with the body. After much ado they agreed to bury the body. They were much annoyed with us because by law they weren’t allowed to leave a body out of the ground over night, and we didn’t want it in our car overnight, and it was late in the day, so they grudgingly agreed to dig the grave and bury the baby. It was so late that we had to return the next day for a small graveside service. The only reason we were staying in a motel to begin with was that the moving truck with all our furniture in it took two days to get there. That loss took many years to get over and only with the help of a college class on death and dying that I took. I had a lot to turn my mind to though in the interim, I had so many other living children, a new home to adjust to. Some of the help at the time came from my father and my husband’s mother, who were still living at the time. I carried much anger around about the way that whole thing was handled. I was never allowed to see that baby, and this upset me greatly. They don’t do that now. My husband saw him, my oldest son saw him, but I was not allowed to see him lying in the incubator dying.
My seventh child, Maureen was born about two years after we moved here. I had wanted to get pregnant again to replace the loss I felt about Michael. This birth was memorable because I was standing in the kitchen by the phone, getting the other children ready to go off to school, and my water broke all over the kitchen floor.
My husband’s mother died when our youngest was two and my own father passed away within two years of that. This left my husband and I without parents and my children without grandparents. We both felt quite cheated at this.
As my youngest got old enough be left alone and still feeling the need to go out in the world and be useful, I took on a job as a person who monitored a dinnertime place for seniors. I loved this job but it was only two hours a week, and it wasn’t enough time for me to feel like I was of use to them. I saw then, an advertisement for human service classes at a local community college, and decided to see what that was about. I went for two years, while my youngest was in junior high school. I especially loved the fact that I didn’t have to take any math classes, because I wasn’t much good at math. Then after that I got a job working as a family advocate at a human service agency in the area and started working twenty hours a week. As my youngest child got older I worked more like thirty hours and I stuck that out for about fifteen years.
As I look back on my life I am grateful to be able to still carry a tune, and play the piano. I’m grateful that I’m musically inclined. I feel I have the ability to work with all kinds of people, and enjoy working in ways that help them. I feel like I haven’t come to my biggest turning point yet because I’m still working in the social services field and even though I’m sixty-seven years old I’m not of a mind to retire, at least not this year or next year. I still have good health and so does my husband. I have a good, attentive husband. I have been married forty-seven years so far in a really great marriage. We’ve never separated during that time or ever spent any time apart. So I don’t know as I have come to any kind of turning point. Things have always just gotten better as far as our lifestyle is concerned and barring any unforeseen tragedies of any kind I assume it will go on like that a while longer.
I feel really lucky to have had six great kids. Sometimes I was kind of forceful with them and sometimes caused bad feelings, but I love them all very much. I wish I knew more about parenting techniques back when my children were little, as I have learned so much since all of them grew up. I wished I understood them better then I did at certain points, so I could have seen things from their perspective. Out of ignorance I did the best I could. I feel very lucky to have all the grandchildren I do, and have one of them engaged to be married. When I think of my mother never having had the opportunity or that privilege I feel very, very lucky. Any losses I have experienced have made me stronger. I never want to forget the memories I have of my parents, the funny things that happened, the things that make me smile.