Dorothy Gunzelmann was 87 years old when interviewed by Julia Gaskins in 1990. 


My name is Dorothy Fitzpatrick Gunzelmann, and I lived at 24 Sherman Street, Cambridge. I don’t remember my grandparents. I remember, naturally, my mother, but I don’t remember my father. My father died when I was two and a half. And I was the youngest of ten children. You don’t realize that until you are older.

I do remember my mother getting me up in the middle of the night. I sat there and in the doorway –   I still can see this, but I can’t comprehend how I can still remember this‑it was the figure of a man in a white hat and a white suit. I can still see that figure in the room.

And my mother always said,”Well, maybe it was Dad.” This was after he had died. I don’t remember how old I was. As I say, I was the youngest of ten. My two oldest sisters, they were 18 or a little older, they worked. Two brothers died in infancy.

My mother was a wonderful person and I still don’t know how she took care of us all in the way she did. But I’ve thought about it and she was very fortunate that she had eight living children and never really had any problem. We lived in an area where there were large families.

But, of course, they had both parents and the husband was able to work. But my mother wouldn’t take welfare. She did with what she had. But, luckily, my father was a mason and he had bought this house. In fact, my sister is still living in it. She shouldn’t be, but she is. But she (my mother) did very well really when I was growing up I didn’t realize what she did. But she managed very well. And then the boys went to work. And, of course, when I was in high school, at the end of my junior year… It was during the Depression and my second oldest sister was in the telephone company at the time .But they were telling everybody that, at that point, if they didn’t get a job then they wouldn’t be able to.

So I left high school my junior year and I did go in the telephone (company) with her. And I worked there for years. I worked there until I was married. (In) 1940 we were married but they wouldn’t allow married people to work at that time. There were many girls that worked but wouldn’t admit they were married. I don’t blame them. They would discharge you if you were married. And that wasn’t only just the telephone company. It was other places. I wonder if it was at that time, “Women should be home.” But I got married in 1940. Henry worked in the “Boston American” in downtown Boston. He was the commercial artist in the newspaper. That was in 1940. In 1942 he was called into the service and then I was allowed back to work because he was going into the service. And he was in two and a half years. He went overseas. I still had my apartment. It was a two‑family house and we lived in Arlington. That was before I ever had Nancy.

But I was married ten years before I had Nancy. I thought that I had a tumor, you know. I thought,”Well, I have a tumor.. There’s something wrong.”Because after ten years of marriage you’d think, without using anything, you know… But I went and found out I was going to have Nancy. And then we were both so thrilled, we cried. But isn’t it strange. My mother had ten children and out of the ten, my older sister had one (child), my second oldest sister never married, and my brother had two, and my other brother didn’t marry, my sister Loretta had one and it died. And I had one. Isn’t that strange? But, of course, today people don’t have a lot of children. They can’t afford it. But when you think back, we couldn’t afford it either. But the cost of living was much less than it is now and what we made… we made it. We did with what we had. But I don’t know if the young people do that now.

We had a happy life really. That is the house where I was born and my mother. This, now, is the house and that’s my mother, my oldest sister, my second oldest sister, Mardy. That was Kit, my brother Edward, he’s dead. ,My sister May … she’s still living in the house. She’ll be 84 in December. And that’s me. We had a happy (life). Well, we helped each other. If one needed help, everybody helped.

Here is one of Nancy at Christmas. Here is another one of my mother and Nancy. She loved Nancy. I’d go down and help my sister take care of my mother and she would take Nancy out in the afternoon in the carriage and I would stay with my mother. But when Nancy was very young, my mother would say,”Dance, Nancy.” and she’d do it.

And that, believe it or not, is me. That was at Cape Porpoise. We used to stay at the Langsford House. We’d go out from the Langsford House on a boat and we’d go all around there. But it was wonderful. We stayed there… that was before Nancy was born. We came up. Henry was interested in art and there was an artist at Goose Rocks Beach … he had…a school there and Henry came up to go to get an extra course. And when he came up here, it was the first time he ever came, and it had burned down. The school had gone and he(artist) wasn’t there. But Henry loved it so much that he came home that Saturday night and said,”You’ve got to get off next weekend and we’ll go up.”   I was working at the time‑ “We’ll go up and look around.’ Which we did.

And we went down to Cape Porpoise and we went into get gas and we asked where (is) a good place to stay and they told us the Langsford House. At the end of the road there was this lovely inn. And we went in and, oh, loved it. We stayed for the weekend. And you could have three meals a day. Full breakfast, live lobster at noon or anything you wanted.‑ and a wonderful meal at night. So we loved it so much. We always had gone down to the Cape, but never went down to the Cape after we came back. (we went) every weekend and when we had a vacation we stayed there for two weeks. There were a lot of nice people from everywhere. But, naturally, they would go there because you could get a room and three meals a day for 45 dollars a week.

We found a little farmhouse off the main road that we rented. That was when Nancy was about four or five. And it was too lonely. So I said to Henry, “Let’s look around for something to buy.” And at that point I wanted to live there and Henry did too, of course. So we found the house we’re in now. But it was a garage or carriage house they called it. It was part of a house and on the front of the house there was the garage doors and a ramp and the car was in the downstairs. And there was a small kitchen and a dining area with three rooms upstairs. And we rented it and we loved it . And the man we rented it from was getting elderly and he had a very bad heart condition.

So he said he was thinking of selling it and, of course, at that time you didn’t have very much money. But we were interested in it. And not only that but there was a cottage across the street that he owned with a parcel of land to the left of the house, And that all went into the package. But we were afraid to buy the cottage. We thought we’d only have enough to buy the house and the land. But we went to the lawyer and finally we decided that we’d take it all for protection. Which we did. But then we lived there just summers while Nancy was in school. Nancy would go back in the fall to school. (We were) living in Massachusetts. That’s why it was kind of difficult.

See, we had the house to rent plus buying this. But we did, luckily. We were fortunate enough to do that. But… then Henry was commuting. He’d come up twice a week but he was living with his sister in Lincoln, Mass. And then we decided   that we would renovate it and we would move up and Henry would just go back (to work) two days. Which he did. And we renovated that (the living room) plus the cottage was filled to the top with boats and a lot of junk. And I mean junk. Henry did a lot of designing for the house. But we’re very happy there. We’ve lived there now since … well, it’ll be almost 35 years. Same house. It’s really the only place, no matter where I’ve lived, that I still love. And I wouldn’t want to move. I like the area and I don’t like cities anymore. I lived in Cambridge …and worked in Boston, but I still love the open.

[looking at photos] Well, this was when Nancy was a baby. Now this was Henry’s brother. He would be 71. He died. And this is my sister May with Nancy being christened. That’s Henry. That’s me. Oh, where was this? Oh, New Hampshire. (I skied) but not very much. I never could master it.

I was active. I always loved animals. But a group of us from the office used to go to this ranch where they had all these horses for rent and the guide would take us out. But one day this horse went up on a stone wall, you know, and had me on the back and that was it. And I was so scared. And the horse’s hooves were up and I couldn’t get them down. And then that spoiled it.

I enjoyed everything like that really. And when I look at that and see what I did then I said, ‘How did I ever do it?” …I’d be a wreck. But, see, when you’re young, look at how many things you do without thinking…without being scared. You want to do a lot of things because you’re not afraid to do them. I still don’t feel as though I’m that old, Except that, I tell Nancy, when I look in the mirror, then I know. But I don’t feel that old. I’m 78. But I think if you keep feeling that way, you don’t feel your age.

But, of course, years ago, now, like my mother, the more I think about her… she was 82 when she had the stroke. She was active. But to me she was old. I mean older. People were older, looked older, acted older than they do today. I think, well … women were in the house and they were always taking care of the family. They didn’t do anything outside. But they had so much to do in the house, you know. They were the main, well, my mother was the main one. Nobody there except her children. But, I mean she didn’t have a husband to help. Which I admire her and I still wonder. I keep saying to myself,”How did you do it, Moma?” And I still don’t know‑ how she did it.

But, on the other hand, when you have a large family like that, I think one helps the other. They have to. I can look back and I was happy growing up. I wanted more than I had, but everybody does. Years ago… nobody left home like they do now. Everybody stayed at home till., they married or, if they didn’t marry they, my brother and sister, stayed home. Luckily, my mother had them when she was ill. Because we kept her home till she died, which is unusual today. Especially with a stroke. And it was very very difficult. But they did it. But she deserved it.

I enjoyed (working). I worked in the telephone company and, yes, it was pleasant. It was very nice. In Boston, Yeah, I was happy there. Well, of course, then I lived in Cambridge and I walked up to Huron Avenue where you would get on a bus and the bus would take you to Harvard Square. You’d go down in the subway at Harvard Square. Get off at Park Street in Boston. Walk down from Park Street, which was quite a walk. Down to Park Street and then the office was a little (walk) from Park Street to Franklin Street. Brand new building. And, oh, it was wonderful. That was ecstacy for me. Because… all new equipment. At that time the operator would do all the work. And you had a supervisor behind you and if you needed any assistance you would ask her.

But then that was all changed. They built this brand new building and the manager of the company told us that we were moving into another building, but we wouldn’t be doing the work that we did now. It would be all changed. And we couldn’t believe that you could to what he was telling us that we would be able to do. If someone wanted a long distance call, that was what we were in, long distance, and if they wanted a call, the operator would have a card in front of her. Their name and their address and where they were calling and their telephone number and that…when they started to talk, when you would connect them, that would go into a machine. And it would be stamped. how long. You’d have to put it into a container and when the light would go on to tell you that it was finished, take it out. That’s where you got your time that they spent on the phone. But, it was wonderful. We loved it. But we wouldn’t have believed that you could do the things that you’re doing now. There aren’t any operators now. It’s all automatic. But they still had the amount of people that they had in the other building. No one was let go or anything. I really enjoyed it.

I loved it (fashion), as Nancy will tell you. I really did. When I first went to work, of course, we gave so much to our mother every week. But I would go to Filene’s Basement. They would send all these wonderful things from New York and I would go in every day to Filene’s Basement before I went to work. I worked in the evening five to eleven. So one day I bought this beautiful black velvet dress. I can still feel it. I loved it so. And I brought it home and I said to my mother, I said, “Momma, I shouldn’t have bought this, but I love it. She said, “Try it on.” And I did. And she said,, “Of course. You keep it. Of course.” That was wonderful. But I’ve always loved to shop. Always. And I still do. I feel as though why pay the full price for something if it will be on sale and if you have the time to spend shopping, which I do.

Really, the clothes were lovely then. Naturally, they were old fashioned. But, truthfully, I don’t like the new styles now. Too much. Too big. But I really did, I enjoyed going in everyday and seeing the new styles and getting what I could.

The hats, especially, they were in style then. And the hats that Filene’s would get from New York were really beautiful. Straw hats especially. And they had the wide brim and the flowers. Some of them were overdone, but they were really beautiful. And then the cloche came in,‑ without a brim. Sat on the top of your head. No brim And those were beautiful.

Suits were very fashionable then. Suits and satin blouses. Satin blouses and silk. Well, of course, then you could get a beautiful silk blouse very inexpensive. Now you can’t touch a silk blouse. And I love silk. The feel of it is wonderful.

I never minded being alone. But I liked to be with people. But it never bothered me to be alone. I love to read. I enjoy that a lot. I get a lot out of that. I would be very sad and lonely if anything ever happened to Henry. We are happy together and I would be alone except for Nancy. But still, you are on your own, you know. You don’t expect your child or children to give up their lives. And I wouldn’t want that. I wouldn’t want that at all.

We don’t go in for any entertainment now. We get up in the morning and have breakfast and I do what I want to do around the house. Henry, he loves cross stick. It’s like puzzles. But he does that and then he does things around the house. We go out to lunch everyday, which we enjoy. And we walk everyday if we can. If the weather is bad outside we go into a mall or walk inside. And then we have dinner and look at television. And if that isn’t any good I read and go to bed.

I always did (enjoy cooking). But they found sugar in my blood and that has changed my whole way of cooking. and enjoying food. You see, you can’t have sugar or carbohydrates. You have to watch the carbohydrates and fats. And I lost about twelve to fourteen pounds. I lost it and I cannot get it back. But, you see, without sugar or fats, you have no way of gaining. Those are the calories. But I have been having more than I did because I was down to 103, which was bad. I was up to 120 or more than that. At one time I weighed 130. But I’m fine at 117 or 120. 1 feel good. I feel fine, thank God. Except that you have to watch it, That’s always there, you know. When Nancy was home I loved to cook cookies and cake.

You don’t have any interest in that when you can’t eat it. But I do have it for Henry. I don’t make them because he doesn’t want to have too much of that because of his heart condition. But it’s not the same as cooking when you can cook anything.

About four years ago he (the doctor) said, “l see a little sugar.” But that’s all he said and I thought well, that’s nothing. But two years ago it was 129, which was high. Then I went back and it was down to normal. So it’s a matter of taking care of it, Watching what you eat, how it effects your blood sugar. But you know, I never liked sweets… never cared about them. But now that I can’t have them I would like them. But isn’t that like a child?

(How did I meet Henry?) My oldest sister lived in Arlington and she had a son and at that time he was a baby. And I went up and I took him out in the carriage. And we went to Ginta Company. That was a grocery store. They had small grocery stores then. J.T. Ginta. And Henry was behind the counter. And I liked him right away. But Henry was shy. But we’d converse, you know. Not very much because I lived in Cambridge and my sister lived in Arlington.

But then one time I went to Harvard Square to go to the theater and Henry was an usher in there. And we talked but never went out on a date. And then another time I was coming home from work at night and I was waiting down in Harvard Square for the bus. And this coin was rolling down… it was sort of a hill…rolling down in the subway. And I turned around and looked and then I looked up and it was Henry. And from then on we started to date. We went together for five years, I think. And then we got married. I was 27. He was 28. Henry was working at the time and … we had an apartment in Arlington. Very lovely two family house. And that was 37 dollars a month. Five rooms. The cost of living was so low you see. Food, clothing, everything was.

I always liked Kathryn Hepburn. Nancy does too. And l can still remember Clark Gable. And Rudolph Valentino, he was the handsomest thing I ever saw. But they were good actors. Bette Davis, she was very good too. She was a little nippy, even then. But she was good. She knew how to act.

I remember I was in the kitchen the day that John Kennedy was assassinated. I’ll never forget that day. I was in the kitchen and it came over the radio that he was assassinated. And everybody was heartbroken. And I ran out to the garage and I said to Henry,”Henry, dear, John Kennedy has been assassinated.” Everybody was heartbroken, really. In shock. Because it was terrible.

If that (Pearl Harbor) happened now I think I’d be more concerned. Not that I wasn’t concerned. But, I mean, it just happened and you accepted it. And the thing that bothered me was all these young boys going over there and there were so many killed. it was terrible.

(The Depression) was terrible. I was telling you about when I started to work. The girls that went to high school with me, when they graduated they didn’t get work for I don’t know how long. And they needed it. I was just fortunate. I didn’t want to do what I did but I was glad afterwards that I did. But there were so many people out of work. It was terrible. I mean really bad. I think now we are in a recession but it can’t compare at all to what that was like in any way.

And that (picture) is when we were married. That was 1940. He went in (the Navy) in 1942. He was in Iwo Jima. I went back to work, naturally. It was bad. But at least I had a job and I could keep the apartment. That was important to me. It was two years, but, now that I think of it, it went by. I didn’t mind it. I minded him being away terribly. And worried. Because he was taking the soldiers into Iwo Jima. They were on the boat taking them into Iwo Jima. And the sailors would get off the boat and he would go back and get more and bring them out. But he was older than the other boys. He was 38 or 40 when he went in. It was (an anxious time) for everyone really.

I was extremely happy when we got married and then when Nancy was born. Those two were very important in my life. Really beautiful.

(The least enjoyable time was)when my sister died. She was 28. She had a goiter and I don’t know whether the medicine wasn’t right or not, but she died. And that was bad. And another bad time was when my mother died. I’d say I was 38 or 39. But in a way I was glad that God took her because she was in a wheelchair and couldn’t do anything for herself. “But sometimes you say to yourself, I don’t think I could take that.” But you find out that you do because of circumstances. It never bothered me really (to be without a father). I guess I didn’t think of it. I should’ve for my mother’s sake. There were so many around. It was good for that reason. When there’s only one or two it’s not as good, I don’t think.

While I was working, my night Chief Operator was Florence. I went on a skiing trip and when I came back, my mother told me. she didn’t want to tell me… she hated to tell me…that she had died. And I was very very fond of her. And it really bothered me for a long long time. She was a wonderful person. She was older, much older then. But I became attached to her and it bothered me quite a bit when I learned that she had died.

Growing up I liked a lot of people, but not anyone very very close. I liked people in general. I never really had someone that I was very very close to. I had friends that I would go out with. Girls, you know. But they were just friends. I still like people. I still love people. But nobody close really. You go out with different people, but nobody that I’m that close to.

I still worry. I’m a worry wart to begin with, but I always worried about my family… if they were ill. When my sister died it bothered me terribly. Well, we were a close family, I guess. I think sometimes you are because being without a father and protecting your mother and she protecting her children. I think that has an effect on you.

(Now) there’s one sister living at home where we grew up. But, then, my other sister, I’m very close to her. Loretta. She had a stroke and she’s in a nursing home and she’s not very good. And that is upsetting. I have that on my mind a lot. But it doesn’t do any good. There’s nothing you can do. And I find that if you accept things I think you feel better in your mind. If you can accept things. Which sometimes I couldn’t. But I think you feel better accepting things that you don’t think you can do. Sometimes I do (feel I have an inner strength). Maybe I’m wrong, but I feel as though I do. I think you either have it or you don’t. I think sometimes you make yourself have it. And sometimes it doesn’t work. But if you keep making yourself believe that there isn’t a thing you can do about it, you accept it. And it’s better.

I think that if young people… of course they are subject to things in school we were never subjected to. But if they could be strong enough not to be on drugs and if the young people were morally better, I think they would feel better. When we were young, if anyone was unfortunate enough to be pregnant… in fact there was a girl across the street from us,.‑. She went away..Nobody would stay home if that happened to them. Nobody knew she had that baby. But she might’ve gone to work somewhere to have that baby. But that was a taboo. But I think they’d feel better themselves if they thought more about sex and waited until they got married. They’re young, very young people. Having sex at 13 and 14 is awful early.

I’m glad I grew up when I did…Looking back. We didn’t have the things people have today. But I don’t regret a thing. I’m happily married. I have a beautiful daughter. I love her… and I’m satisfied.

(What I’d like to happen now is) just that I have my health and the health of my husband and Nancy. That’s all I want. I’m very grateful to God for what I have. I’m fortunate

‑ I tell you, if I were bringing one (child) up now, I’d feel different that I did then. I never had to worry about Nancy that much really. But I would be more cautious, and the poor kid, I’d feel sorry for her. I’d be such a wreck about her. But you cent be. Not today. Because you’d be suppressing her. It’s a different situation altogether today. In every way, not just one way. It’s everything. Sunday morning we’d go to Mass and then we’d go out to breakfast and this girl…lovely girl… the type of person you’d never think would come out and say, “Well, my live in boyfriend.” and I said,”What! And, of course, I shouldn’t have said it. But, you know, that threw me. But I wouldn’t have said it if I wasn’t very friendly with her because somebody would resent that. Say it’s none of my business. Which, of course, it isn’t.

I am (a happy person). I have always been. You have to (look on the bright side). Otherwise you’re always down. And who wants to be down. Even when there’s sadness you always feel there’s something better ahead. You accept it and then you keep going.’Otherwise what’s happened. It’s you that suffers, not somebody else.

I don’t like what is happening now, I don’t think. Even Maine. When we first came here, oh, it was beautiful. Kennebunkport was a little town. Just enough stores to enjoy and not too many people. It was a srnall, small town. And nice. But it is growing. All of Maine is. I hope it never gets like Massachusetts, bcause that would be sad.

I like him (President Bush). And his mother is a wonderful woman. I have seen her close but never have met her. It’s a lovely area. Luckily, they’re away from the road because it’s terrible. The cars just parade. That road used to be wonderful. Just come out of East Avenue and zing back and forth. But now you have to watch out. There’s so much traffic down there. So many people.

But life goes on and there’s nothing you can do about it; accept… right?


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