Frances Peabody, who, at age 80, became an HIV/AIDS activist and co-founder of the Peabody House, an assisted living facility, was 86 when interviewed by Cindy Bouman in 1989.
PART I: CHILDHOOD AND YOUNG ADULTHOOD
I think it is important to start at birth – I was born where my mother and father came from. I was born in Washington D.C, on April 18, 1903. My father came from Boston, Massachusetts, from the suburb Winchester. He was a graduate of Harvard, class of ’98. My father is one of eleven children. His mother came from a little town of Orford, New Hampshire on the Connecticut River. That is important because it was kind of a focal place for her grandchildren. We didn’t go there often, but it was a place that I always loved and perhaps it was one of the reasons why I became very much interested in new architecture.
My mother came from a small town on the eastern shore of Virginia, Onancock, Virginia. She was the oldest of nine children. My mother’s father went to William and Mary College and it was a typical southern family, proud of the fact that they lived on the eastern shore during a very early part of the development of Virginia, perhaps the earliest. So I had a mixture of a very southern family, Virginia southern, and my father was very New England.
When my brother and I were five and three we moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico so we become south westerners. That was when New Mexico was still a territory, so I am a territorial girl and that made a lot of difference because if you were territorial, you didn’t have state government. You were governed from Washington but if you were a state, you were an independent government. New Mexico didn’t become a state until 1912 and I remember that date very very clearly. That is important too in my life, in more ways than one.
When I was 15, I went to boarding school in Connecticut. My brother had gone the previous year to Kent School in Kent, Connecticut, an Episcopal school. There were just the two of us and the main reason that I went to Connecticut to boarding school was because the boarding school was in a town where one of my father’s sisters lived. She had no children and was very anxious for us to be with her on the Christmas holidays. Once we left in September we didn’t go back home until the end of May when school was over. We spent our Christmas and Easter vacations with her. That was also because my brother could come easily from Kent and Kent school in those days wouldn’t let the boys go home for Thanksgiving. Families were invited there for Thanksgiving so my Uncle and Aunt and I always went to Kent for Thanksgiving dinner. That was a big treat because all the boys were there and that was fun for the girls.
I think the fact that I didn’t go to public school in Santa Fe up to that time was very important too. My mother did not like the public schools and there was very good reason not to like them. The public schools were very politically run and they were not very good. She felt that we had to have a very good education if we were going to go to eastern colleges (which we intended to do). There was a time that she took me out of school and I went to a private school, and a year when she taught us at home. In the seventh grade I went back to public school because there was an excellent teacher in the seventh grade, so I went for seventh and eight grades. I was a freshman in the high school there when I went east to boarding school. I was put back for the freshman year because they thought I wasn’t properly prepared. I had two years in high school there, that’s what I did. Then I went back east. I was put back a year because I went to become a sophomore. The school that I went to was a very old, small school, and it became extinct in the depression. It was run by two Maine ladies, one was a Vassar graduate and one was a Smith graduate. It was a school of about 40 boarders and 4050 day scholars. So that was that early bringing up.
When I went home for the summertime to Santa Fe, I immediately picked up my friendships that I had had and grown up with. There were about four of us, four girls, and two of them went away to boarding school at the same time that I did. One of them, as a matter of fact, went to the same school that I did and then she was taken out and put into another school but went to Smith later with me. We four girls used to go camping in the summertime. We were the first Girl Scout troop formed east of the Mississippi, in 1915, and we were very proud of that fact. The Boy Scouts in Santa Fe were very strong. We were Camp Fire Girls because the Girl Scouts hadn’t gotten up to Santa Fe, and we thought the Camp Fire Girls were kind of sissy because they had Indian traditions and weren’t anything like the Indian traditions that we knew in our Pueblo Indians. We thought they weren’t very authentic. When the Girl Scouts wanted to be organized, we were very thrilled because then we were going to be on the same basis as the Boy Scouts. It was a very early and important influence in our lives for all of us. It kept us together and gave us a common interest.
In the summertime when we went for our weeks camp, that meant a lot to us. (One summer I met my future husband. We were 15 and 16 at the time.) We (the four of us girls) stayed connected always. One of them married a doctor in Washington D.C. and when my husband and I went to Washington with our children at the beginning of the second World War, I picked up that friendship again. They had four children, we had four children and we just picked up where we left off many years before. One of the girls didn’t finish at Smith. She and I have kept in touch always and when I went back to Santa Fe, it was she that I saw a great deal of. She was a poet, had always been a poet from the time she was a little girl. All these people have died since. I am the only one left of this group.
It was very special and I find that my friendships with girls and with women last a long time. I still send over 400 Christmas cards and many of them go back to the early days. Once I have friends, I always have friends. They are my friends and that doesn’t change. There is something very special about each person and I have had people say that you really can’t love that many people, but you can you love them for different reasons. Each one fills in something in your life that you need. I don’t think you can have too many friends. They certainly have been wonderful to me and very supportive since my husband died 27 years ago. I don’t know what I would do without my friends.
I was a very serious little girl and my brother was eighteen months younger than I. I took very seriously being the big sister. I remember lots of funny things, such as sometimes I was a little hard on him. We had two burros, donkeys, each one had one but I happened to own the saddle. I took the saddle and made him sit on the back. If you ever sat on the back of a western saddle, it’s not very comfortable! He always kidded me about that. And then he would say, “Well of course my big sister, Franny, always looks after me”. He also always looked after me. Whenever I had hard times, he came to me right away. When my baby died he came right straight to me and I needed him very much at that time. When my husband died suddenly, and he (my brother) was at a conference in Texas, he came right away to me. That’s the way our lives were. When he was very sick the last two or three years of his life, I would go out (to Santa Fe) and spend Christmas with him. The last year when he was very sick, I was there with him quite a bit. And we were just entirely different. There were just so many things that we didn’t see in common, but it didn’t make any difference; we had that very close sibling relationship that I miss terrible now.
I often think, “Well I guess I must go call him up” and it was five years ago when he died, but I still have it. He was always there for me. His wife had a long and terrible illness and I used to go out and be there once in a while with them. I had great sympathy and a great feeling of wanting to help them both and helping him in particular I guess. We had very close, very close feelings for each other and that was very important to me always. I think it is important to know that when you come from Santa Fe there is a very special connection and this is thought by everybody that I know or have known who has grown up in Santa Fe. You have a tremendous pull back to just be there, just be in touch. I think it’s the country, the land and the sunsets, and the mountains. Santa Fe has an ideal location. My brother’s house was in a beautiful setting. You could go up on the roof of his house and have a full 180 degree sweep of the view. My father was a worrier but he was quite a scholar. He was very knowledgeable about geology and he used to say the best lesson in geology was the view from the top of that house, because you could see so many eons. He would tell you what had happened to that earth there in front of you and to your back and your side.
It is a very deep seated feeling. I feel right now I just have to go back to see the sunset. I feel the pull that it has and that’s the way all of us felt who grew up there. It is very very important and I think that most people feel that pull. It’s the roots that you put down as a small child to a great extent. But there is something more than that, because people can go there when they are a little bit older but still children and you know, they all have that same feeling. My own children, two or three of them, have the feeling too. Barbara has it very, very strong but then she lived there. The others have never lived there; they have just visited and Charlotte, my oldest daughter, spent two summers there. She doesn’t have that same feeling. She likes to go back, but I don’t think she has that very very strong pull. You must go back and see it to feel and connect it with it. And even though I have so very few friends left there, I still want to go back, so it isn’t the friends it is the country.
I didn’t think far ahead (about my adult life). I think so many teenagers don’t. What I wanted to do was both get into the boarding school which wasn’t hard, and then my ambition was to get into to Smith. That seemed like a big hurdle to me. We had to take examinations to get into Smith. We didn’t have the competition that they have today but the examinations for us were hard. There were four examinations, I think, three hours each and you just really had to know what you were writing about. We weren’t taught to organize our thinking like the young people are today, which I think is just great. We had to learn to organize ourselves and we didn’t really do that until we got to college.
Before I ever knew that there was any other college for a woman but Smith, that is where I wanted to go. In those days Santa Fe was a long, long way from New England and there was no way to get there except by train. It took two and a half days, almost three days, to go one way. And there were telegrams. The long distance telephone wasn’t used that much. It was not that good lots of crackle and that sort of thing on the telephone. You just didn’t think to telephone. But you wrote letters and it is too bad today that we are loosing (I think) the ability to write a good letter. The way you communicated with your parents was writing letters. It was just always satisfactory because it took a lonq while getting letters back and forth.
I was anticipating a career of some kind and for a while I thought about sociology. I think now perhaps that’s what I should have done. I thought for a while I might go onto law; my father was a lawyer. I decided against that. I think it must have been in the spring of my junior year that people came to interview us, businesses, just the way they do today. Somebody came up from R.H. Macy’s and they had started what they call a junior executive training class. They wanted some college people. You could go and get about three or four months training. The store paid your expenses and they paid you $25 a week
I graduated in 1925 and I went home that summer. Then in the fall I came east and started at Macy’s. I had an apartment with a friend at a club. There was a Smith club in the city and then from there we went to an apartment in Greenwich Village. I moved from there up to Riverside Drive near Columbia University and I was there for only two years because I was married. I went from there to the Rockefeller Foundation for about eight months and then from there I was married and moved soon afterward to Boston.
I think that Macy’s, my husband interrelated there again and this was very interesting. He went to Los Alamos Ranch School. He was an avid reader of Zane Gray western novels and he decided he wanted to go out to the west. His mother and father weren’t that anxious for him to go. He lived just outside of Boston in a suburb called Hyde Park. He had a grandmother and greatgrandmother that lived right across the street from him and anything that he wanted was alright with them. So they decided that if he wanted to go west to camp that that was a good idea and they would pay for it, which they did. And that’s the way he went out to Los Alamos.
The summer that he went, there happened to be not as many boys in the camp as there usually were. There were only two 15 years old and the others were 13 and 12 year olds. The head of the camp, Mr. Connell, who was an astute man, knew boys very well, and decided he would make these two boys counselors. They became counselors for the younger boys and felt responsible. I think it was a very good idea. It sort of kept them in line and they were really responsible. That was the summer that the Boy Scout cabin was closed and we had no place for the Girl Scouts to go for our camp. But Mr. Connell was a great friend of my mother and my friends’ mothers. He said, “If the Girl Scouts want to come up, we will fix a camp for them, a Los Alamos cabin”.
I don’t know how mother ever happened to do this because she hated to go camping but there was nobody else to take us. So she volunteered and a friend, Mrs. Wilson, came to help her out. So they took us up that summer and we did real camping. It was in a tent. We had pine bows underneath our blankets for mattresses. It was very hard and very bumpy at 2:00 in the morning. We did our own cooking over an open fire; fortunately we don’t have very much rain out there in the summertime. The camp had their own horses and the boys used to ride down to our camp. They would say, “Do you want to ride my horse?” We girls were pretty pleased about that because we loved to ride horseback. So we would take a little ride around with their horses. And we went up to the “big house” which was a big enormous log cabin for what we call cook outs, and would have cooking dinners around the big fireplace. The fireplace was one that was open on all sides with just a chimney up the middle. It was wonderful. And they had a tamed bear and you know, lots of things were fun.
That is where I met him (my husband). There were about six of us older girls in camp in one tent, but there were only two boys you see, my husband and one other that were our age. There were two other boys that were just a year younger, but a year makes a lot of difference when you are 15. So we had to divide those four boys up with six of us and the younger ones had the rest of the boys and that was alright.
My husbandtobe was a very shy person and he was not very talkative. In fact, he was a man of VERY few words. And he used to look down instead of looking up. The girls would say, “I can’t make him look at me. Maybe you can, Fran”. So I decided I was going to do something about it. They wore their Boy Scout uniforms at the camp. They wore silk kerchiefs that were very nice, so the idea was to get a boy to give you his kerchief. By the end of the week I had Millard’s kerchief [giggle] and it was really funny. Well from all of the teenage talk that goes on, he said he hoped to go to Dartmouth. I said, “I hope to go to Smith”. He said, “I think I have a cousin that may go to Smith. Maybe sometime you could come up and visit my family”. It was very indefinite you know.
The Boy Scouts always had a long pack camping trip. They took pack animals and went a long distance and generally come back through Santa Fe so the boys could see the town. They did that same thing that summer so when we got back to Santa Fe, they came on horses on the pack trip. We entertained them and had a party for them. They thought everything was pretty nice. They liked it.
Well, I heard from Mil that next year. At Christmas time he wanted me to come up and visit his family in Hyde Park, but I couldn’t do it. So I had to reluctantly say I couldn’t do it. Then I didn’t hear from him again until my freshman year at college. I was taking astronomy freshman year and his cousin was taking astronomy too. We used to do observations from the roof of the observatory. We had little builtin booths of table tops to put our notebooks on. We had a little hooded lamp over that. We were suppose to trace the constellations. Well, you could see everything on your little notebook and you could also see next door to you and see what was there. His cousin happened to be right next to me and she saw my name on my book and said, “By any chance are you Frances Wilson?” I said yes. She said, “Do you remember anyone named Millard Peabody?” I said, “I certainly do!” She said, “I’m his cousin and he wanted me to send his best to you. He is a freshman at Dartmouth”. So I wrote to him, he wrote to me, I wrote to him and that was it.
I didn’t hear from him again until my junior year when he came to Smith to take his cousin to the junior prom. Well, I was as usual busy about doing things for the junior prom, but we had little dance programs so I signed up with his cousin for the third dance. But he didn’t arrive in North Hampton until after the third dance so I never saw him. The next morning he and she came to my house, and I met him. I remembered him and he remembered me. They were going to the picnic and we were going to the picnic so this visit didn’t last very long, only about 20 minutes.
I didn’t hear again from him until I was working at Macy’s, as fillins for Christmas. I was sent to a sale table on the first floor. He appeared and said, “Where did you come from?” I said, “Where did you come from?” And we had a lot of talk. He was at Columbia Business School which I didn’t know and he was taking this time Saturdays to work at Macy’s picking up some extra money and learning about the retail business. So I said, “Well come on down and see me sometime. I’ve got an apartment on 9th Street”. He came down for supper. That was the last I had heard of him because he had a girl (I found out later) right around the corner and he was more interested in her than he was in me. Soon after, I moved.
One time after I had changed jobs from Macy’s to Rockefeller Foundation, I decided to go up to Macy’s one day and have lunch with a very good friend of mine. She was on the 16th floor. Well, it just happens that this friend of mine was the only person in Macy’s (where they have about 8,000 workers) who knew that day where I was going to be. I went into her office and she said that Millard was in the auditorium waiting for me and “if you want to have lunch with him go right ahead”. And I said, “No I am not going to have lunch with him. I have a date with you. I will go in and see him for a minute and tell him that I am sorry but I can’t have lunch with him, but I’m not so sorry. He sort of stood me up the last few years so I am going to stand him up today”. And we had a good laugh!
So I went into the auditorium. Sure enough, he did want me to go out for lunch and I said, “Sorry, I have another date, but if you do want to come over to my apartment on 37th Street, I will be there about 3:30”, never dreaming that he would really do it. So we had lunch together and I just took my time and went over to 37th Street to the apartment. It was a Saturday and I wasn’t working and because I wasn’t at Macy’s. If I had been at Macy’s, I would have been working you see. So I went up stairs. My apartment was up on the fourth floor, three flights up, and one of my roommates was there. She said, “Who is that in the other room waiting for you? I’ve never heard of him”. I said, “Well he is Millard Peabody and it goes back to Los Alamos when I was a Girl Scout”. So I went in and there he was. But he couldn’t take me out to dinner because he had a previous dinner date, so we sat there and we talked. He said, “Let’s have dinner tomorrow. I’ll be in town. I’m living out in Yonkers”. So in town he came and until we were engaged and married, he was in town practically everyday to take me to dinner, at least four times a week. We got engaged over the 4th of July and we were married the 2nd of September so that was pretty quick, but that is the end of my romance. My children think that is pretty funny. I think that is wonderful.
What I am impressed with, what makes me ponder is how we kind of wove in and out of each other’s lives for all those years. This is why it is important for me to tell you this. I don’t know what it is about and I never could understand it, but I believe these things happen. I also believe that for some reason or other they are meant to be. This not only has happened with Mil, but it has happened to me with other people so often in my life. Of course I’ve lived a long time, but it has happened to me more than once. The people who do come back, weave back and forth in my life, are people that are very important to me. It was just coincidence, but why was Daddy up there on the 16th floor at the very time that he came? Macy’s worked six days a week those days and here I was off, because I was down at the Rockefeller Foundation. They only worked five days. It just worked out that way. And a part of you knows that things just happen like that and part of you says that’s meant to be. That’s right and he went to the 16th floor because two years before that’s where I was working. It was the personnel department so he just went up to where I was. He didn’t know that I had gone down to Rockefeller Foundation. He thought I was still at Macy’s. Then we were together 35 years until he died.
It is important to say all those things and how Santa Fe and Los Alamos was almost always a part of our lives. My father was a lawyer for the man who started Los Alamos. A.J. Connell was a friend of my family’s and my father was always interested in Boy Scouts. A.J. Connell is a forestry service, a wonderful background to start a boys school, and a graduate of Yale. He had all graduates of Yale with masters degrees at the school. Many of them stayed on and were counselors in the summertime. It was an outdoors school for boys who had asthma and who hadn’t been very well. One of my friends, Peggy Pond who is the poet, her father was the one that started it. He came from a family who was very well to do and had the money to do it. He bought this big ranch and decided to start a boys school because when he was growing up he was very frail, and had asthma and various things. I think he had tuberculosis as a matter of fact. He thought it was a great place for boys to get back their strength and have a first class school and be able to go back east after they were well to pick up their studies then.
There isn’t any doubt in my mind that one of the most important things was my father used to say, “If you’re not willing to go into the arena and politics, if you’re not willing to stand up for what you believe politically and a tenth rate person gets into an office, you deserve it, you deserve it”. Democracy is that way, so you must always be a person that is willing to work for what you believe, in politics and in your government. You must be willing to take office if you have to, whether you want to or not. Otherwise you are going to get fifth and tenth rate people to do these things. This was instilled in my brother and me.
Also [important was] the fact that you were luckier than other people perhaps. We never had very much money. My father had to scratch and he didn’t have anything to start with. He was from the east and he wasn’t very liked, because people were suspicious of him. None of the other lawyers were from the east, certainly not New England. He came from Harvard and they were suspicious of that too. There were a couple of times when my father got into real fist fights with various ones because he found terrific corruption out there in the territory and he was determined that these people are going to be punished for what they were doing. He would bring them to law, to court and they didn’t like it. So he was willing to really live those values. He absolutely did and my mother was also a person who did. She worked in the church; she worked in the clubs. There was a women’s club, and she worked in the art museum. It’s now part of the Museum System of Art of state museums, the big museum of art in Santa Fe. Mother was, I believe, the first president of the women’s board. I know she was president for quite a little while and she did things with the church.
There were four churches in Santa Fe. There were only 6,000 people in Santa Fe, about 3,500 what we call Spanish Americans. We used to call them Mexicans but they didn’t like that. And 2,500 Americans, it was very small. There were four churches: a Catholic Church, of course, which was the biggest, the big cathedral. Santa Fe was a cathedral town of the southwest; then an Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church and the Methodist Episcopal Church it was called, those four.
Growing up we always went to Sunday School and my mother and father didn’t go to church a great deal. My father was brought up a Unitarian but there wasn’t any Unitarian church so he became an Episcopalian. As a matter of fact, he was confirmed in a very low Episcopal church and the bishop of New Mexico whose headquarters were in Albuquerque used to come up across to Santa Fe and always stayed with us. He became very good friends of my mother and father because it just so happened (and here is another coincidence) he had been the minister in the church in Washington, D.C. where they had been married. That was very, very unusual, but that is what happened. And so I was confirmed there. As a matter of fact, one of my children was baptized in the church there. We went back to Santa Fe one summer, and Barbara was the one that was baptized there.
My father was a great admirer of Teddy Roosevelt as many young men were and in the war with Cuba in ’98 he was a senior at Harvard. Most of his friends in college left and enlisted in the army, which he did too. And their diplomas were given to them in absentia. And he was in the army for I don’t know just how long. Later he went to Washington and got a government job and went to law school at night. He and my mother were married there because she had gone up from Virginia and gotten a job in Washington, which was unusual, that she had a job in the government.
I’ve had a fascinating childhood because our house was always the place where famous people came and stayed. I was used to meeting very famous people. General Leonard Wood would come to town and you would be introduced. We knew him. The president of Harvard came, stayed at our house. Anybody like that who was well known at Washington or was a New Englander and came to Santa Fe for whatever reason (sometimes for lectures or talks or just on some kind of business) would stay at our house. And my brother and I were taught to be very good children. We could come and stay with the grownups if we didn’t say anything. And we didn’t say anything, because we just loved listening to the grownups talk.
Many times some of the interesting people in the territory would come and have dinner at our house. I could remember the tales they told about the old days in Santa Fe, what went on. We loved to listen to it. And mother used to have a big dinner party once a year for all the judges. Santa Fe was the capital so all the federal judges and the supreme court of the state, she would have all those people and their wives. There would be about 1214 people. And that was a big time. This was a social occasion! If the governor and his wife put on parties (which they did) and receptions and so forth, my mother was often asked to help out.
I would be asked with some of my friends to come and wait on people for tea time and all that sort of thing. I learned early.
There were a lot of things that went on in my childhood, but there are just too many to tell. There’s no way for somebody to tell their whole story. But I think I have had a rather interesting life because, and I might say here that we didn’t have an automobile. Automobiles were owned maybe in 1907 when we went to Santa Fe. My very dear friends whose father is a doctor had a Franklin Steamer, one of the first ones. And there were perhaps three or four other cars in town and no paved streets. There were potholes everywhere and if you went out of town you didn’t go to far because, in the first place, you had to have a lot of water and you couldn’t get water. You took water with you in a canvas bag that the water came through and because it evaporated, it kept it cold. I was a very poor person to drive to ride in an automobile because I got sick in anything that moved and they were not happy about taking me. Sometime the family would go out for picnics with friends and I would be left home. I didn’t want to go because I didn’t want to get sick.
And of course I can remember the telephone hanging on the wall and I remember very plainly when the territory became a state and hearing all the bells and things in town. Mother called up on the telephone and said, “What’s all the noise about?” and Central, the operator, said, “Well New Mexico has just become a state”. And mother said, “It is just about time!” [Laughter]
My husband was a year younger than I, he went to Dartmouth and stayed there through half of his junior year when he transferred to Columbia business school, which was a new business school in those days. He had been out a great deal of his junior year, because he had a knee injury and had to have an operation. In those days when you came back to college you didn’t have any advisors, nobody to tell you what to do and his marks were way down. He couldn’t catch up because he was gone for six weeks.
It was one of those things. So he decided to transfer to Columbia, but Columbia for some reason or other, didn’t look at his marks and didn’t know what they were. After he had been at Columbia for about four weeks he was called out before the powers that be and they said, “Look, we have never taken anybody with marks as low as yours. We didn’t know how low they were and we are in a dilemma, because you are now at the top of all your classes. We’ve decided to give you another month’s chance and we will see how you do the next month. But you are on a kind of probation until that time”. Well, he finished his two years work in 18 months, but they made him stay on because he ended with such low marks. He stayed through his two years.
It was just that he (all of a sudden) found what he knew and what he understood, and what he liked best. He couldn’t do chemistry so he repeated it, you know, ongoing onto the third year or something like that. At Dartmouth he had great difficulty. He had taken everything that was not his particular forte at Dartmouth and when he went to Columbia, he loved marketing and he loved all the things that he took there. In fact one of his professors used to let him substitute for him at times. And he couldn’t understand it. He thought they must be marking not very hard because he got such high marks. [Laughter] So this is just a little joke, but it is interesting when you put a square peg in a round hole and it doesn’t fit.
PART II ADULT LIFE FAMILY AND CHILDREN
We were married in the little church around the corner and my mother was ill, hospitalized and couldn’t come. My father was there. We had a very small wedding and we were married by the bishop of New Mexico, because we knew he was going to be in New York at that time and like I said before, he was a good friend of the family. So that made me feel very comfortable and the little church around the corner is a very nice place to be married. My husband had never been baptized and he had to be baptized to be married in an Episcopal church. So about a week before, we went to the little church around the corner and the regular minister was away for the summer, but the young assistant was there. We had a very fun time, [giggle] just the three of us, and got Mil properly baptized. So that was the first step of our marriage, I might say. My Aunt who had an apartment in New York had the wedding supper. The next day we went to Bermuda on our wedding trip. And we had a wonderful time.
When we came back, we went right up to our apartment which was way up on the Hudson, but still in New York City, but away from everybody. There was a friend of ours that had an apartment in the same building and I knew her very well. In those days a wife didn’t have to get a job right away or wasn’t suppose to. Well, I was always very fortunate in my life because many times we had very little money, but we always had enough money. I have always felt that was one of the big things because you could pay the bills and not have that hanging over you. And if you don’t have to deal with that, you are freer to deal with more important questions in your life and to attend to them yourself.
My husband and I had a very good partnership. He felt I was 100% his partner and he shared everything with me. I knew very little about business because I grew up in a lawyer’s household and he grew up in a business household, so I was taught little by little about business. I think it was one of the most valuable lessons in my life because I had to deal with it always. And I didn’t like accounting and figures and so forth, but he also taught me to think in broader terms of larger numbers, to think together like that. That made more sense to me than the little individual dollars and cents. I think we all have different kinds of thinking and that was the way my mind seemed to work.
The wonderful thing about that was whenever he changed his job or position or any time when he had his own business and he had a problem, he always talked it over with me. He told me what his thinking was and why he thought that way and then he would say, “What do you think?” So I had to think too. And it really was a milestone in my life and I feel so fortunate because I see the wives that are excluded from all this kind of thing, even to the extent of not knowing what their husbands salary is. And I think it is just so dreadful because they don’t know where they stand. I’ve known women left widows who never had even bought an airplane ticket for themselves, didn’t know how to go about it. They’re helpless people and the more independent you are and the more that you know, of course the better off you are to take care of yourself when the time comes. So that was very much a big plus in my life.
I think our marriage was successful. I think there were parts about it that I look back and regret that I didn’t know then as much as I know now about people, because my husband was a very complex person. It was very difficult for him to communicate. And we had some serious problems that I felt were not solved at the end when he died so suddenly. I wished that we had more time because we might have been able to solve those problems. He was a very devoted husband and I was a devoted wife. There was absolutely no infidelity or anything like that. It was a matter of my being very outgoing and very rather selfcentered in that I liked to express myself by doing things, whereas he really wanted
me to be he was very possessive. He also knew that he had a very very jealous streak; I don’t know what you would call it. He knew he had it and he was afraid of it. I took that, and it was really abuse to me. Because I couldn’t see if you loved a person or not why there could ever be any kind of jealousy, because I didn’t have any jealousy.
It was one of those things that was rather tragic because in those days we didn’t have support groups. We didn’t have people to whom you could go for counseling. There wasn’t such a thing as marriage counseling. I think had we lived later on, both of us would have realized that there was somebody else that could help us solve it. We needed a third person in there. But we had lots of happiness and he was thoughtless in some ways and most thoughtful in other ways. I felt that no one person could be perfect anyway and certainly I wasn’t. So I accepted things like that. It didn’t have to be that way; it could have been different but we didn’t understand how to come together on these things and come to terms.
Our first child was born after we had been married two years and we were very happy about that. I had problems with the pregnancy, but most people do, most people did then. He was very sympathetic and very understanding through it all and I appreciated that because I knew some other of my friends didn’t have a husband that was that thoughtful. I lived in Boston far from my own family and in days when childbirth was not that easy, so I was very dependent on my family inlaws. I had a perfectly wonderful motherinlaw which I never thought I would have the good fortune to have. She was the kind of person who if she didn’t approve of something that I did, never let on that she didn’t approve. As far as I knew I was perfect. It was a wonderful way to have a motherinlaw. She was the perfect motherinlaw. And she was devoted to my first child who was the oldest grandchild, Charlotte.
We named Charlotte from my mother. My mother had been unable to come to my wedding and so I thought this was something that was a little compensation for her. There was a tradition in the family that the oldest girl was named Charlotte Lancy. That was the tradition in my mother’s family, so we carried it on in our family. Charlotte was a very pretty baby and was lots of fun, we had fun with her.
Very soon afterwards I became pregnant again and my second child was born. This was a boy and I had a very strange feeling about this baby, a feeling that I didn’t have about any of my other children. A certain kind of closeness. It was a very strange thing. I have never been able to understand it, because I didn’t know and I don’t know that this happens to many people that a mother has that kind of feeling. In fact I was sort of afraid of it. I wondered if I would show favoritism because I’ve had this very deep feeling about this child. When he died so suddenly of crib death a little later, I thought, well, I wonder if I would have shown favoritism to him.
I don’t have the problem now because he is gone. But I have never been able to quite understand that. Did you ever hear of a mother feeling that way about a child? I never told anybody. I was afraid to tell anybody. I didn’t tell my husband because it seemed foolish in the first place. It seemed rather immature to me and maybe it was. And when you can’t explain it and you don’t understand it but you feel it so deeply, it is hard to communicate it. That scares you. I was afraid of it.
He was named from my husband’s father, George Millard. He seemed to be a perfectly well, healthy baby and I was out of nursing him. (I nursed the babies for about three months.) My mother and fatherinlaw went to Florida for a month every year and my husband’s younger sister and her husband moved into the big house, as we called it. The servants were kept on then so everything in the house was run as it would have been otherwise.
It was my sisterinlaw’s birthday. We went over there to celebrate it and took Charlotte and the baby, George, over. We put him that night in a bedroom at the end of the long corridor that had bedrooms all along the hall. We put him in the baby carriage that the Peabody children all had, and for a mattress we put a pillow, regular feathered pillow.
And that night for the FIRST time I gave him a bottle. He seemed to be smiling and very happy. Everything was fine and I put him to bed. For the first time I put him to bed on his tummy. It’s hard to realize today, but they believed that children shouldn’t be put on their stomachs. Put them on their backs or on their sides but not on their stomachs. But the new idea was that with some children it was very good, so that night I decided (with a bottle) I would put him on his tummy. I went downstairs and was listening for him all during dinner. All the time I kept going up to the bottom of the stairs and didn’t hear anything. I didn’t go up and check on him because everything was fine. He wasn’t crying and Charlotte was in bed in another room.
At about a quarter of nine we decided to go home. During the evening the family doctor, a man who had grown up with my fatherinlaw and his wife, came to wish my sisterinlaw a happy birthday. He was in the house and I went up to get George. I found him dead. I picked him up, I couldn’t believe it and in terror, in utter terror I put him back down and ran to the top of the stairs. I called my husband and he knew from my voice that something awful had happened. He came up those stairs, about three at a time, so quickly to me, and he came in and he saw the baby. He couldn’t believe his eyes and then the doctor realized it. He came up the stairs and took charge of the case. They told me to go downstairs, to go down and sit. So I went down to the living room. I’m a person that in an emergency does what I’m told to do by the person in charge. I’m just that kind of a person. And the fire department came. It’s a terrible thing that you go through.
They were trying to get my pediatrician and he was in Boston, we were out in Hyde Park. When they finally got him, he said he would be right out and bless his heart, he came out. And the doctor and the firemen took charge. In the meantime they had sent my husband down to be with me. And this person who was up there came down and said he (the baby) seemed to change color and they want you to know. So I had a little flicker of hope, and not long after that my pediatrician came. I was very fond of him and I knew him quite well at that time. He went up those stairs three at a time too! And very shortly he came down and sat down beside me and said, “There isn’t any hope, he’s gone. I want you to know that this happens every once in a while and it is no fault of yours”. I said, “But I put him on his stomach!” He said, “That doesn’t make any difference. We don’t know just why these things happen. It’s called crib death. And we just can’t tell you anymore, but it is not your fault”.
Well, I was in a pretty bad way. In the first place I always had a lot of milk and I was very uncomfortable. And I had my three month check up with my obstetrician and he knew about it and was terribly shocked, terribly upset, and was very sympathetic. My mother and fatherinlaw came up from Florida and they thought that we should all stay with them in the big house for a little while. And Father Peabody realized that I was not sleeping and I was in a very bad way. And of course Mil did, and this is another strange coincidence in my life. Each on his own decided to go to the pediatrician and talk to him about it and tell him they thought something should be done. What could be done for me? Of course, people thought the baby smothered to death and this was being said. So as my fatherinlaw walked into the doctor’s office on Commonwealth Avenue, my husband walked in. They were there together! They couldn’t believe it. So they went up to talk to Dr. Curtis. “There is one thing that we can do and one thing that I would like to do with your permission. I would like to do an autopsy”. And so they disinterred the baby
and had the man that they knew at the children’s hospital do this, because they thought it was very, very important.
That night Father Peabody came back from the office. I remember that I was coming down the stairs. And he said, “Franny I want to speak to you. I want to talk to you. You have to believe what I say, because I am going to [“Sixty years ago and tears. I can still feel it!”] tell you the truth. Your baby didn’t smother to death. Your baby had an infection which they believe from the autopsy and the doctors believe is related very closely, perhaps is the same thing as, the terrible flu that people got after the first world war”. He had had it himself. And he said, “We believe that that is what the baby had. How he gets it and how it goes, they do not understand, but this is the way it was”. And he told me the physical things his chest was distended and so forth. “And I want you to understand that you must never blame yourself for this. A baby cannot smother; they don’t smother. They can go down to the bottom of the bed and still find air. Furthermore I said to Dr. Curtis before all of this, ‘Suppose you don’t find anything?’ He said, “You leave it to me and I’m going to talk to her and she will never know the difference, but she is not going to suffer for this because it was not her fault”. He said that that is what Dr. Curtis said but he doesn’t have to say it, because this is what they have found. My case was published in the New England Medical Journal, hoping that other people would see it and that they would understand.
Well after that it was ten days after the baby had died, we stayed on there and then we went back to our house in Dedham. Mother Peabody had taken everything out of the nursery and had it all fixed up for Charlotte with a little small size bed, you know. The bassinet, everything was taken out. I never saw anything again. And I didn’t want to! I thought that that was the most thoughtful, wonderful thing for her to do! Because when Barbara lost her baby, her motherinlaw left everything for her to come back to from the hospital. With the bassinet all made up. When she saw that, she just practically had a nervous breakdown. So my motherinlaw was so thoughtful and so understanding. She thought of everything for me, so of course I became very, very fond of her and my relationship with my inlaws became very, very deep. Whatever they did, it made no difference, they were perfect to me. I learned a great deal from that whole experience.
Then I came down with scarlet fever, just before my birthday, the 18th of April. The baby died the 23rd of February. And rather than send me to what they called in those days “the pest house”, they kept me at home. They were able to get a trained nurse that would come in and help me. But I was alone for two months with a trained nurse and my nice little Newfoundland maid who said she wasn’t afraid, she would stay. My husband could come to the doorway and speak to me. My mother came east, and she and my motherinlaw sat outside the door. But I was really so sick by that time, I got down to about 103 pounds. I was still having a very hard time with this ear. I almost had a mastoid. So that I learned from all of that.
Afterward, after all of this during that year, I really had a nervous breakdown. I realized then that a nervous breakdown is a very real thing and it can happen to anybody. So always afterwards I had great sympathy for people who had nervous breakdowns. See, this keeps broadening your experience. You have these experiences and then you know what it is for other people. And I had them and I had them early. I realized life is very fragile. I thought I learned it in the accident, but then I knew it after this happened. So you make the most of everything you have. You’re grateful for all the blessings that you have and your life takes on another dimension because you recognize these things at a very early age. I was about 26 or 27 which is early to learn a great many of these very important things, perhaps the most meaningful things you can have in life. Mil and I realized too what it meant to be supportive of each other, to be separated from each other, and to go through this very tragic thing that happened to us. And we had such wonderful letters! All the doctors were so wonderful to us and so sympathetic that I recognized the fact that there was a great deal of goodness in this world and I can’t get over that. [Teary eyes…a little laugh] It becomes very real. I still have the wonderful letters that my doctors wrote to me. I have the letters that friends and people wrote to me. People didn’t talk about it to me, but I could tell from the way they were relating to me that they were sympathetic and trying to be understanding and wanting to help. I realized at the time that these things could happen to anybody at any time. I wasn’t singled out, it could happen to anybody. I never felt that more things were being done to me than I deserved. I never had that feeling. And my grandmother, (I was so fond of my grandmother Wilson from New Hampshire) always said, “You never have more than you can carry on your shoulders. You can always take care and meet the tragedies that happen to you”. And she had a lot in her life. And I really believed that. I think that most people can do that. Now I did have a nervous breakdown, that’s what it really was. But I pulled myself together with the help of all these wonderful people that were helping me and my husband.
What I learned from that was that you can do this and pull yourself together and learn from the experience, so that I have always been very sympathetic with people who had mental problems and emotional problems, especially emotional problems. I think it is very important to learn these things very early. Not many people have the drastic things happen to them that happened to me and some people never get them. But I find those people very often never really mature. So there is a gift that helps you grow. It is something that you can find is very positive and very essential to what you are called upon to do the rest of your life. You may have other things happen that are just as bad, but you know.
My next child was born in 1933 and was a little girl. Barbara was always a very serious little girl, a child that was ahead of herself in her school, ahead of her age group. When she went into the first grade in a private school, the teachers were rather loathe to put her into the first grade. But I was anxious to do it because I really thought she needed to be in that grade. And she didn’t do very well. During the year they found out that she was a little left handed, so they taught her to do everything with her left hand. By the end of the year she was at the head of her class with one other person. It was sort of a classic example of what can happen with left handed people.
From that time on, as she went through school, when she applied herself she got very good marks; when she didn’t, she didn’t. She has always been an independent person and very sure that she was right [laughter]. She made lots of mistakes . She was our social minded child, always standing up for the underdog. Finally one day I said to her, “You know the underdog isn’t always right. And sometimes it isn’t wise to stand up for the underdog. It just involves you and makes you get into trouble”. This she found out when she went to boarding school and had the lesson brought home to her. But she still stands up for the underdog! She’s learned her lessons, of course, along the way. But she was a person who was very sympathetic with the person who didn’t have the gifts that she felt a lot of people did have and she was always on the defensive for people like that. Always befriending them. To this day, her friends will be the people who don’t have very many opportunities. I think that is not always very wise, because the people who have the opportunities and take advantage of them are the people who often times are really more her equals, I think. But nevertheless, this is the way it has been.
Barbara was the one who went to Mexico with the Quakers when she was sixteen, for two or three summers, worked in Mexico and became very proficient in the Spanish languages spoken in Mexico.
In fact she speaks it as well as she does English and they can’t tell. The people in Mexico, taxi drivers and so forth, are very puzzled about it. They can’t understand why apparently this “gringo” speaks such good Spanish. [Laughter] They are always very interested to know where she comes from, and why she speaks such good Spanish because most Americans don’t. This stood her in good stand. She’s an artist, and has shown her pictures in various colonial capitals and had programs there. Because in Mexico they have cultural programs. I don’t know if they do at the present time but they did for sometime. She would be asked to go and illustrate silk screening and all this sort of thing. She enjoyed it very much, but this is before she had other things happen to her. That was my third child.
My next child was Sandy my son, another son. Milard Sanders Junior was born in May of 1937 which is another sort of disastrous year in our family. Because in September one day, before we moved to our summer house from the winter house, Barbara was sick and she seemed to have a very bad cold and complained of aching all over. I put her to bed as we did in those days and she had very little temperature so I thought she couldn’t be too sick. The next day Charlotte came down sick and I thought she just had the same bug, that she caught it from Barbara or whoever they might have been together.
It was in the days when people were very afraid of polio. I was one of those people. I washed all the fruits that came into the house and did all the things that I was told to do. I never thought about polio. So Charlotte I kept in bed as she was a child that seemed to catch cold very easily anyway. The next Sunday morning she said, “I’m having a hard time walking”. I thought well, Charlotte always liked to put on a little show. I don’t know if it was for attention or what, but anyway I was used to that. I said, “I’m sure you are just weak because you have a little temperature and you’re having aches and pains are just like Barbara”. She said, “Yes I have”
As the day went on, she seemed to have more trouble and I had to practically half carry her to the bathroom. I still didn’t think about polio. I began to wonder what was the matter. I found out that our pediatrician was away for the weekend but was coming back the next day. So I left messages for him to get in touch with us as soon as he got back. By Monday I was very much concerned. I thought that it might be rheumatic fever and that frightened me to death because rheumatic fever in those days was so very very serious. So I kept her quiet. He told me that he was going to come that afternoon. And this he did.
It was about noon time I guess, and we were in our summer house, you see. It was a small house with all the bedrooms on the second floor. The children had small rooms, we all had small rooms. But I did have a little maid and we just had one bathroom for everybody. Sandy was a baby of course, and had a very small little tiny room just big enough for a crib and a little chest of drawers in a room between our room and Charlotte’s room. We had Barbara in the guest room and the little maid in another room in the back, all on the same floor.
I went in with Dr. Curtis when he examined her. I said afterwards when we got out, “I am so afraid of rheumatic fever”. He said, “Yes I would be worried too”. And then he said, “I need such and such”. It was an excuse to get something from downstairs. My husband Mil wass This was Labor Day on Monday. When I was gone he (the doctor) said to Mil, “I am very concerned about polio, but I don’t want her to know, because I don’t want to frighten her”. Well I was already so frightened with the thought of rheumatic fever, but he didn’t realize how frightened I was.
He said, “I want to bring Dr. Smith down”. Dr. Richard Smith was head of the Children’s Hospital and THE pediatrician in New England, really. He had written a book for mothers of children. When he said he was going to bring Richard Smith, I knew that we had something. But I never even thought about polio. I don’t know _why I didn’t think about polio. I was so concerned about rheumatic fever that I had made up my mind it was rheumatic fever. I kept it very quiet because I knew that affected the heart. He said, “There isn’t very much we can do, you know”. And that is all he said and he left.
The next morning he came with Dr. Richard Smith and they went upstairs. They asked me to stay downstairs. They examined Charlotte. By that time she was really pretty badly paralyzed. They came downstairs and said, “We want to tell you that this is polio. We know this. We don’t have to take any tests”. And it had occurred to me, I remember now, in the night, that maybe it could be polio. I was a basket case and I had been up all night with Charlotte anyway. So it wasn’t a complete shock when he told me. I said, “If it is polio, you have the serum. You can give it to her right away, because we found it out so fast”. They said, “That doesn’t work. That was all a false thing that can’t be used, it doesn’t work”. I said, “Oh”, and then of course, all reality of the thing just dawned on me.
I said, “Now what do we do?” The doctor said, “You must watch for her breathing. Make sure that her breathing is quite normal. We don’t want to put her into the Children’s Hospital because the floor that has been turned over to polio has children from all over Boston, all kinds of families. And always they bring chicken pox and measles and all the other things that Charlotte’s never had. We don’t want to be complicated with those diseases. We don’t think she has to come into the hospital until she absolutely has to go into an iron lung. We will get you a nurse tomorrow morning and we will watch her very carefully. But we want you tonight to watch her to make sure. Keep the car right out in the driveway. Be ready to go up to the hospital. We will be ready for her if she has to come”.
So it was another night for me. I talked to the little maid we had and said, “Of course we have all been exposed. Now if you feel that you can’t stay, you can go”. She said, “Well, I’ve already been exposed and I don’t think I will get it”. So Mil and I went up to tell his mother and father, whose house was two houses up from ours. They were absolutely so distressed! Father Peabody said, “I have always been afraid that my own children would have it. I think I’ve almost brought it on Charlotte because I was so afraid of it. Now the first thing I want you to know is that you don’t have to worry about expenses. They will be taken care of, all the expenses. They will be taken care of, all the expenses. Don’t think that you’ve got to meet those. And you’ve got to have a nurse tonight. You can’t stand to sit up and go through another night as you did last night. You’ve got to have a nurse tonight. Didn’t the doctors realize it?” I said, “No, I guess they didn’t”. (I guess they didn’t come down until late afternoon, it wasn’t the morning.) And it was raining .
Father Peabody said, “I will get on the telephone and get a hold of Dr. Curtis. You’ve got to have a nurse tonight. I don’t care what they say! You’ve got to have a nurse tonight”. I was in such a daze anyway, I didn’t know what was going on. It is a terrible blow of course. Here is this child that has always been so well, healthy and strong, so paralyzed already. They said, “We think that the paralysis will probably start by noon time tomorrow. This is what we expect”. The nurse came down in a taxi at midnight and I really was glad to see her. I was exhausted, emotionally and physical exhausted. So I did get a little sleep, I don’t know how but I did. I guess they gave me a sleeping pill. I’ve forgotten all of that.
The next day it was just absolutely terrible to see that child little by little lose the use of any of her arms, hands, legs and feet. It is a terrible thing. The nurse was not a polio nurse, but she was a help. The word went out to the rest of the family of what was happening. My husband’s sister, the older one who lived in Connecticut and her husband, packed up and came right up. Then the other sister and her husband came down to be with the grandparents because they felt it was very important. Then the other youngest brother and his wife said, “Of course we can’t possibly come close to you, because we don’t want to expose our children”. So immediately we knew who our supporters were and who they weren’t. I never blamed them, I thought they felt that way and I just didn’t know how I would feel myself at that point.
Well, by noon time she was not any more paralyzed and her breathing was not measured. It was uneven, but she was still breathing. As I understood it then, if we could keep her in that condition, she would exercise her lungs back and she would be alright. She wouldn’t have to go on the iron lung. We were grateful for that. We were grateful for small things. That was really not so small.
The next thing to do was to get sandbags made for her legs and some kind of a little support for her feet so that they would not be dropped, but be brought up into the position. We put a pillow under her knees until they could get splints made to put on both legs, which would keep her legs in that position so she would not have anymore deformity of those muscles than might be.
I had this nurse for about three weeks. She stayed with us and helped me a great deal with Sandy. Sandy came down with a bad cold, aches and pains, cried and so forth in ten days. But we never could discover that he had any real paralysis. When the nurse came down from the polio office, (the doctors we had were the specialists in polio) she felt that he had certain weakness in a muscle on his face and down the side of his neck. She always felt that he very definitely had polio. But he had it the way that a lot of people do have polio and fortunately those people have an immunity then. My husband and I both ached and were miserable and didn’t dare tell each other, because we didn’t know whether we were going to have polio or not. We never even told each other for sometime afterwards. Whether it was just the stress we were going through or we did have this infection and our immune systems were strong enough to throw it off, so that we just had the symptoms and not the actual disease, I don’t know. It was very scary. The little maid that we had didn’t seem to have anything, so apparently she was immunized. That’s all we know.
Charlotte was in bed for two years. In that time we had a wonderful Children’s Hospital nurse come who had done a great deal with polio nursing. It was the time of Sister Kenny, and Sister Kenny’s theory was to start exercise right away. This office did not believe in doing that. They believed in waiting until all the soreness was out of the muscles. They had found that if they started too early that seemed to be prolonged sometimes to six months. And Charlotte wasn’t ready. Her muscles were still hurting after about three months.
At the end of that time the physiotherapist who worked in the same office came down and tested all the children and had charts and marked all the muscles down. The strange part about it is that that was in 1937. Charlotte was the one who was so badly effected and has gone back because of post polio syndrome. The doctors in California tested her muscles. She happened by chance to find one of the early muscle tests and they were practically the same! They did it the same way. So this is very interesting. I think that our people in Boston were far ahead of most of the polio treatments in the country. They felt that she definitely was developing a spinal curvature. Gradually (we were so lucky) her muscles in her shoulders, arms and hands seemed to come back. But the abdominal muscles and her leg muscles did not. So that was what we had to work on.
They were taken sick in September. Along in January they decided they would start a few exercises. I was taught to do the exercises. The physiotherapist that they sent down, with whom I became very friendly, Miss Mildred Evans (who was really famous in that office for the work she did with polio children) had found if you had a child nurse do the exercises and was taught to do them, that was alright if you had her. But they would leave. It was the mother who was there all the time. So the mother (if she had any abilities whatsoever and desire) was taught to do the physiotherapy. I had to get a book on anatomy and learn all the muscles and anatomy. That’s what I did. I learned how to do all the exercises.
Charlotte was carried down to the dining room table and put on a pad that we put on the table, which was very thick army blanket. She was given the exercises, just a few at a time. Her treatment (when we finally began to try to treat the muscle pain) was to put her in a bathtub and keep the hot running at least twice a day. We had a little platform made for her. One of her uncles, who had come down to see the grandparents, made the sandbags; the other made the little wooden support for her feet. That uncle also made this little sort of stretcher that we had to put her on because it hurt her to move her. We would roll her very carefully onto it and the nurse and I would carry her into the bathtub (she was just the length of the bathtub). We put her down in that and would run the water in as long as we could.
We talked about having a little pool made for her in our cellar, but then the doctors decided that she was well enough, and her arms and shoulders were strong enough, to go over to the swimming pool, the YMCA pool in Hyde Park which was not very far from us. Mother and Father Peabody lived in Hyde Park. Father Peabody had said to the YMCA people, “If you build a pool, I will give you half the cost of the pool. You raise the other half”. They did and the pool was all built. It was quite new. They heated the pool for Charlotte. We took her over there two or three days a week, starting in April or May for the next year or year and a half, we took her over. What happened was that gradually she got some motion back in her legs. Her arms and shoulders became very very strong. In fact, they were over developed because she had to compensate with her arms and shoulders. But in that time she had a change of scene because children get very bored with doing their exercises in one place day after day after day. We would take her over twice a week to the pool then give her the exercises the other days of the week on the table top. This is what we did for two years.
I learned that it is important for the mother to do these things for their children. I learned that you had to be very careful about this because the attention you were giving to her was translated by the other children as very special and they were being left out. One morning Mother Peabody came over to see the children. She brought a little something for Charlotte and she often brought something for Barbara. But one morning Barbara met her at the front door [chuckle] she looked at her and said, “Do you think you could squeeze a little dolly out for me?” Mother Peabody hadn’t realized that she was giving special attention to Charlotte. She said, “I think I could squeeze a little dolly out for you and lots more too Barbara”. [Laughter] So Barbara got extra special attention from then on because we realized that she was feeling a little left out. But she had been so wonderful, going up the stair~ with her grandmother and going in to see her sister Charlotte. And you know, there was that little feeling that she would like to have some special attention too. Mother Peabody thought she was getting it to her but it wasn’t quite enough.
I also had a new baby. It’s not easy. Each one is so different. But Barbara was like that, always very concerned by the person that was down and out. I think she learned very early that she was lucky that she wasn’t the one that was completely paralyzed or paralyzed to that extent. She was always very thoughtful of Charlotte and willing to do things for her. The thing that happens is that you depend on that child more and more, and ask her to do things because you think she is so willing to do it, without realizing underneath it all, “yes but”. She is still a little one.
Sandy was getting a lot of attention from the baby nurse we had. We changed from the trained nurse to the baby nurse. The trained nurse was absolutely fantastic. She is still a very dear friend of mine. She taught me how to feed a child lying flat on her back. She taught Charlotte how to drink water and liquids lying flat on her back. She taught us how to treat her just like a normal human being. Also she pulled my husband and me out of our great depression, which we did have. She gave us something to laugh about because she was a person who could joke and had wonderful ways and means of doing that. We owed her a great debt always. I was able to repay it to a small degree when she was married and her child had a terrible kidney infection. She called me and I went right up to her. I was with her all through this at the Children’s Hospital. That was a very small way to repay it, but she thought it was a big way. I understood and she knew I understood. They almost lost their daughter but she pulled through and was all right. But it was a very serious thing. She was the only child they were able to have so it was very valuable to her.
During those two years we started school again. Charlotte’s uncle, who was very thoughtful, made a table out of a bread board which fitted over her chest with little legs on it, very sturdy. She was able to have her food put on that and she fed herself. He made her another wonderful one that was tilted just enough so that she could write on it. It had a little tray in front of it for crayons and pencils and so forth. She loved to draw and did a great deal of drawing. She loved to draw ladies, costumes and designing, that sort of thing. So she could do that and also do her school work.
We had the teacher from her class at private school come every Wednesday. She heard the lessons that I had been giving her the four days before, and she left us with the assignment for the next week. Every morning we had school. I don’t think I was a very good teacher, but she certainly did know her multiplication tables and a few things like that [laughter] because I was a good driller. She kept up with her class in school so when she got up on her feet and went back to school, she went back into the class that she would have gone. She lost no school time, which was very fortunate. This schooling started six months after she had polio. We tried to get some of the children from school to come to see her and visit. It wasn’t very successful. The mothers didn’t followup on it. The children felt a little bored with Charlotte. But she had other things that were compensatory. Mother Peabody had a wonderful Irish chauffeur and we had to go in town to the doctor every two weeks. He would come up the stairs in the house and say “Come on, Charlotte”. He would carry her down to the car and take her. He was wonderful.
Charlotte’s grandfather bought her a radio. In those days a radio was a very special thing. It was a portable set you could put it right on her big bedside table. She loved to listen to it and it was one of the things she could do for herself. She could lean over and turn it on. She listened to the soap operas and I thought that was sort of a fun thing for her to do in the afternoon. Then she began talking about divorces and all the things that went on with the soap operas. I said to her father, “You know, I don’t think those soap operas are very good for her to listen to”. We decided to tell her that we thought she should just listen to one an afternoon. She got around that by listening to one and the next day to another, but she would listen to the summary of the other one. So she kept up with them but we thought she wasn’t getting some of the details and maybe that was all right. [Laughter] You know, you can be outwitted by your children very quickly!
Then she became interested in one of the programs in particular. She decided to write to them, tell them that she liked their program, that she had polio, was in bed and had to be right flat on her back for awhile. She just wanted them to know that she liked the program. Well, she got an answer from the girl who was putting on that particular one. (It would be like Diane Atwood [WCSH TV Reporter] is here). They invited her to come in to that studio and see what was going on, how everything worked.
A date was decided on. Jack, our wonderful chauffeur, said he would love to take her in. So Jack and I went in with her. She went all through the whole studio. They took her everywhere; Jack carried her. She was allowed to go in without her splints, and she wasn’t in braces yet. They just gave her the most wonderful time! They all came out and talked to her. She just was the queen. It was the big thing in her life for that whole year, this wonderful visit. It meant so much to her and she wrote notes to them all. At Christmas time she made little presents for each one of them and we sent them. It was just this wonderful thing going on! I don’t think they could possible realize really how much it meant to her. It was something that gave her a change, an outing. She felt that these were adults, they were paying attention to her and it was absolutely wonderful in every way for her morale.
After two years she was given braces. She had braces to her hips. In the meantime she had been given and had made for her a body brace, a corset with steel so strong that I couldn’t bend them myself. The doctor had to do it. These things had to be made for her, and as she grew, she would have to have a new one made so it would take care of her. And all of those things, you see, were paid for by my fatherinlaw, her grandfather. She finally was allowed to stand up with her new braces in August. It was two years after she had been stricken with polio. I will never forget the first day that she stood up.
In the meantime, instead of being at our house in Dedham which was so small, Mother and Father Peabody had gone to Florida in February so we moved over the big house. She had the big room there, the big guest room. It gave her much more space. (Let me see now, I don’t think it was in August that she stood up for the first time. She stood up for the first time that spring, probably about in April so it wasn’t quite two years.) We stayed on in the house because they thought it was good for Charlotte to have that room. She was sort of rolled out of her bed onto her feet. She had Canadian crutches, the kind that come up with a cuff around the elbow. She was absolutely elated that she was standing on her feet for the first time.
Mother Peabody and I were both there with her and the nurse and the physiotherapist. The expression on her face was just unbelievable. [Tears] We walked a little bit and gradually got her outdoors. The flowers were all blooming. They had a beautiful garden and an Irish gardener. We took her outdoors. She took her steps with her Canadian crutches and went down to a flower border. She was with Mother Peabody and me. She got down on the ground, sat down on the ground, and smelled the flowers. [Hesitant voice] It was just like the first time that she had ever seen a flower! Mother Peabody and I never forgot that. We wished that her father had been there to see her, because she had this expression on her face of discovery and joy, this being able to get down there herself and doing it.
She took a walk everyday up and down the driveway. We got her out more and more to walk. The braces she had on her legs were made of a new material, light weight very strong aluminum combination. They were quite light weight and the shoes had to be attached to them. In the back of the knees was a kind of break which allowed her (when you pushed it down) to bend her knees. When she walked, she had to have stiff legs because she couldn’t walk with bent knees. So she had to clip that thing up. When she sat down on a chair, she could click it down and then she could bend her knees. All of our chairs suffered from it because that metal piece was right against the chair. Any chair that wasn’t upholstered all the way across was nicked, but nobody cared, that was alright too.
We stayed over there until her birthday that year. Mother Peabody gave her a birthday party. She was so thrilled about that party! She had all the children from her school, the whole grade come. We made a spider web and went outdoors. (It was a beautiful day.) They all had fun finding their presents on the spider web. It was a day that we always remember that particular birthday. The children did come and they enjoyed it. They found out that she could get around pretty quickly on those crutches and she could keep up with them on a lot of things.
She went back to school that fall. We moved back to Dedham and she went to school. Her grade was upstairs. The teachers arranged to have somebody at the bottom take her crutches. Fortunately the stairs were narrow. They had boards [railings] all the way up for people to hold onto while going downstairs. They were strong enough for her to pull herself up, so she didn’t have to have help going up those stairs. The children helped. They felt quite honored to be able to hold her crutches for her while she went up and gave them to her when she got up to the top. There was a lot of cooperation. From that time on she went back to school.
The doctor felt that I must get away about once a month. It didn’t really come out that way but it came about every six weeks. So Mil and I would drive down to the Cape. There was an inn there that we were very fond of. The person who ran the inn made a special exception for us. It wasn’t open in the winter time, but she would open one room for us. We would go down, take the car and drive around the whole of Cape Cod. We made a little game up for ourselves. There was a man named Jack Frost who had written two books about the Cape and drew pictures. We went to everyone of the places that he drew about. We looked it up and put down the date in the book. It was a little game for us to do.
It was a time we could sit and talk. We went out to the end of the dunes and on a Saturday would listen to the opera. We did things like that, rather simple things but they were fun. It was a change for me and we were able to be together by ourselves. Otherwise, in our little house we had so much going on all the time, we couldn’t really talk and be with each other. The nurse had meals with us, so we weren’t alone at meals, which we had always been able to do before. We really had a chance to enjoy something that was quite different than what we would do at home. We both enjoyed looking at these landmarks and interesting places. It might be a house, a monument, some special spot that historically meant something at the Cape. We went to all of these places.
[The death of baby George, Charlotte’s polio, and her own “nervous breakdown” were described as turning points that changed her life. CB]
The accident was a turning point in my life too. It was after I had graduated from college and before I went to work. The accident really taught me a lot. Three of us were driving from the Grand Canyon by way of the Petrified Forest. There had been a drought for three years and a terrible cloud burst hit us at that time. We went back up to Route 66, which in those days was just a long dirt road, a very good one that was all kept up because it was the main highway to California. Just after we passed it the evening, we came to a bridge across the Rio Puerco. The Rio Puerco means the “pork river, the pig river”. It was a small canyon; the river was down underneath. We hit the bridge at the height of the flood. The bridge gave way and the car went backwards into the flood with the three of us inside. It was a roadster and in those days they were not glassed in as they are today. When it was bad weather they had curtains you put on, with little turn buckles that turned around. We had taken off the one side (fortunately) away from the driver. The driver’s side had the curtain up still, so that when the water rushed in and we were turned over by the force of the fall, the water was stopped temporarily from rushing in on that side quite as much as it would have. The other side was open for the three of us to go out. We went out with great force into a kind of a whirlpool place. Emmy, my friend from boarding school and college, was thrown up and out and free. But Dick and I were carried down the river. I remember thinking that this was the end, we were all going to drown there.
Then not remembering anything or even getting out of the coat that I had on, I was being carried down on a river. I thought it was a beautiful sunny day, and I was swimming and swimming. Suddenly I came to and realized that it was no sunny day, it was night time! I put my feet down to try to see how deep it was. There was quicksand there and that frightened me. I realized that I heard a little waterfall down below; I could hear it and the stars were out. For some reason, I had enough sense to try to roll. I rolled and rolled and got over to a part that was dry because the river there wasn’t that deep: but it was the quicksand that frightened me.
I got up where there wasn’t any water running and just by the greatest luck there also was a sort of a crevice that came down. I found my way out and up over the canyon wall. It was small, not a very high wall on that side. I was very lucky. I got up onto the mesa and the first thing I did was to try to find the other two. I called and didn’t get any answer. Then I knew which direction to go towards the road. I found Emmy up there on the side of the road, she had been able to crawl up. The rain had stopped and the stars, (we were getting used to it) gave us a little light. I found her there safe. I was sure that she had drowned. I had thought about having to tell her family. It was all a very quick flash.
I couldn’t find Dick. I said to her, “Stay here. Don’t move! am going to go back and see if I can find Dick, because you and I are alright”. At that point a car came down on the first part of the bridge that hadn’t fallen. We screamed at them and of course over all noise from the river they couldn’t hear. They backed off and apparently were alright. I went on down the mesa on the edge. At one point I slipped into something and pulled my foot back up. I was too close to the edge and nearly fell back in. I went on down to call him. Way off in a distance, I couldn’t believe it, I heard somebody answer me. I knew it was he. He said, “I’m dying I’m dying!” I was SO frightened. I tried to run down, because at first I thought it was one of the little Navaho Indian shepherd boys. But no, he was really saying this. I finally found him trying to find his way up. He had gone down over the little waterfall into the next section. I did catch up with him and he was able to walk. But he had hurt his leg. We walked back up.
The next day when they went down, they found our footprints. They said he went down a half a mile, and I went down a quarter of a mile. It was just by greatest good luck we all got out on the same side and were able to find each other. We just held hands and walked on the road to Gallop which was 12 miles away. A man had been told to put a ladder out for warning at each end of the bridge, but he never did it.
I learned you can stand great physical disability and do the thing you have to do, when you have to do it. We were all hurt and bruised very badly. We had no broken bones. We did finally get to the hotel. I realized that there was something that can sort of guide you to this business and that in an emergency I was able to cope. I always wondered if in a great emergency if I really could. This time I learned that I could. The other two I think probably learned the same thing. I had the strength to do it and I had to. I found later on, when the baby died and when my husband died, that I could cope with it. I might go to pieces afterwards but I could go through the emergency. I knew I could. I had that self confidence.
That was another thing. Also I learned that sometimes amazing things happen. It was like a miracle. We could all get out the same side, find each other and walk. I think it WAS a miracle. I do. What else could it be? Particularly when the three of us lived to be the ages that we did. We had our family reunion on the 50th anniversary of it. Why do you live that way? Why were we the ones that were able to live? I don’t know how to answer it, except that there has to be something that is stronger than you are. There is something there that directs these things, whatever it may be. Call it what you want to. You can call it God; you can call it a spirit; you can call it a tremendous moving force that is very important in this world. You can call it what you want to. There is something there. It certainly directs.
I found that you can find super human strength when you have to use it, to survive, because that night, that walk to Gallop took everything and much more than what we had. We were all hurt, bruised and cold. We had our riding boots on, full of squashy mud; every time we took a step, it squashed and it was cold. Our hair was stiff with mud from the river. Our skin felt as though it was being stretched, like a mud pack on us. We found that super human strength that night. We found by holding hands we had the strength to give it to each other and we did it. It was a terrible thing, it really was. We got into that hotel and sat down on the tile floor. The night clerk couldn’t believe his eyes. He couldn’t speak, he was so amazed. But we had the strength to do it.
I think that at those times it’s like climbing a great mountain or falling into a crevasse or some of the things that people do and say to themselves that it’s that extra strength human strength, that is given to you to pull yourself out of that predicament, which we all three found. And I learned it so young. I put it to good use, what I learned that night. I also learned that I was so grateful for I didn’t have to tell Emmy’s father (her mother died when she was a baby) that she didn’t survive and I survived. I couldn’t stand the thought of that. I didn’t have to do that. We were very lucky.
Here is a time of crucial decisions. After my husband died and you see what happened there again. We knew that he was not at all well. I got up one Sunday morning and he was sleeping later because he wasn’t feeling very well. But I was completely unprepared for the telephone call. I was writing a letter downstairs. I had a little electrical communication system between our bedroom upstairs and the kitchen, and the breakfast room. I was in the breakfast room, writing a letter, and the telephone rang. It was Barbara. I had a little conversation with her, talking about the children and so forth. Then I said, “Do you want to speak to your father?” She said, “Yes”. I said, “OH”. Suddenly I had this terrible feeling. I haven’t heard a sound up there through the whole while. “Barbara, hold the wire!” I decided if anything had happened that she was an adult and deserved to be a part of it. I ran upstairs and I got this terrible shock which I knew that he was gone. I ran to the telephone which was there and I said “Barbara, your father has gone”. Barbara screamed. I don’t really realize she did it, but she had this little scream. She said, “Oh, we will be right with you!” She was down in Virginia.
I don’t know whether I should have told her that way or not. But I felt and always have felt, my children were adults. They deserved to be treated as adults. I treated her as I felt and made a quick decision. It was a terrible shock for her. I’m not sure it was the right thing to do, but that’s what I did. I did learn one of the big decisions was that I must treat my children as adults. But maybe there was an easier way to let them know when a tragedy had happened. Maybe it wasn’t right for me to expect them to be able to take that terrible news so suddenly. As a matter of fact, I haven’t talked to Barbara about it since then. Maybe she doesn’t feel that way. But different people should be handled differently, you know. I will be more careful, maybe, the next time. There were other ways you could do this and still treat them as adults. But this is something you do have to learn. It was a decision I made quickly and felt it was right at the moment. But maybe it wasn’t. They started that night, she and Walter, and drove all night because she didn’t want to fly. They drove all night to get to me. They did. They brought the baby with them.
I have eight grandchildren now and I guess I would say two great grandchildren. I never know exactly how to say that, but I love Anthony, who is Jonathan’s baby very much. He was born out of wedlock and you just don’t exactly know how to think about this. How to name it. The relationship. I wish I knew. I wish somebody would tell me what you do in a case like this. But I see my relationship as a great grandmother to him. Yes I do. I don’t have a chance to see him; I have seen him only once or twice. But I feel that he is a beautiful child and a part of the family, very definitely. But we are excluded at times.
PART III THE PRESENT AND THE FUTURE REFLECTIONS AND MEANINGS
Mil died in 1962, so I’ve been alone now going on 27 years. I’ve learned to live alone. I still wish he were here to help me with some of my big decisions, but I’ve gotten so that I have help, professional help and help from friends. I have been very fortunate that way. Fortunate, because always I’ve had the money to pay the bills! I feel that anybody who has that kind of independence, a single woman, is particularly fortunate. I’m called a business woman but I don’t consider myself a good business woman. I have learned a great deal from my husband, who always shared everything with me, talked over his problems, and told me why he was coming to certain solutions. I learned a lot about business. I read the Wall Street Journal. I can read the business pages. I’m always very much interested in all the things that are going on in the business world. I follow all the parts of putting businesses together. It’s very interesting to me, yet it frightens me in a lot of ways. I follow very carefully the Chinese and the Japanese, particularly investments in this country, because I am very aware of the fact that this can be dangerous to this country.
I think we’ve got to do a great deal more education with our children. It’s a real challenge! The world has changed a great deal from our unquestioned dominance in the world the top of the pile, to a place where we’re now even with people. We have a lot of thinking to do, a lot of education of our children so they will keep up with the other countries in the world.
Concerning the future, I feel we are at a turning point. I feel that we have a great deal of very serious thinking and doing that must go on. Our children have been allowed to think they were getting a good education in the public schools and they were NOT. They think a mediocre education is a top education and it’s not! They have to learn to apply themselves and they have to work very hard. I don’t think that’s going to hurt them one bit. I think they’re perfectly capable of this. We have to give them the chances to be good students and understand what it is to work and compete. I always feel optimistic. I think our children are just as capable as other children. We have to give them the opportunities and make them understand that this is not a world where you play all the time. Some play is good for all of us. But you mustn’t play all the time, because work is good for us too. The work ethic in this country must not change. It must be very important. We must do a good job, the best job. And we can do it! We just have to turn over some of our thinking and make our children realize this. Be serious about this.
And for THAT reason, if you want to call me a good business woman, I am. I am farsighted. I see things that are going to happen before other people do. That frightens me! Because I don’t consider myself a good business woman or a person who should be ahead of other people, seeing this vision of the future. Other people should see it as soon as I see it. I guess I’ve paid attention. I guess I’ve had an ear for this. I don’t like to feel that I’m a better seer than some of the others. What I see, I want other people to see, even sooner. I think they should. If you want to call me a good business woman in that respect, then I’m afraid I am.
I’m very active in my life. The things that have been important to me have been, very often, movements that have not been very popular. It was not popular to be a preservationist when I started doing work in preservation. But I thought it was very, very important, because I’m history minded. I believe it’s important for us to know our past history in order to build a good life for the future. I’ve always been fascinated by history. I like to try to figure out what it is about history that is very important for us to follow and the things that are not important. You can’t follow ANY of it unless you know your history. I have been very upset about the fact that history wasn’t called history. I don’t think social studies is any way to call history. History should be called history. And if it’s hard, it’s hard! But, study it! It’s so important. Social history is important too, but that’s only one part of history, not the whole history.
I like being a part of the preservation movement. It hasn’t been easy. A lot of people have thought I’m pretty kooky to believe some of the things I believe. But I decided it was important. So I decided to put this house back into its beginnings, the way it looked when it was first built. I’ve learned a tremendous amount from the work that I’ve done on this house. I’ve restored this home to fit its period and be authentic. And to let people know that a thing is possible to do. It brings you a great deal of joy and it does have a part in our heritage. I hope people will always believe that this house has an important role in the history of Portland, Maine, which is part of the Victorian era. I just was very lucky that my son bought this house. I thought it was important to take it over from him and develop this house as it should be developed. I’ve learned a lot from the artists that have worked in this house. I enjoyed it thoroughly and feel that these young people [the artists] are of course part of our future. They’re the ones that are learning how to do this thing. I’ve always been interested in the Landmarks, and what they do.
I’ve been interested in children who have handicaps, as Charlotte has. Or my son Sandy who was dyslexic long before that word was attached to his sort of problem. I had a great deal of trouble trying to find help for him, and worked and worked on it for years. I feel that the work they are doing at Sweetzer Children’s Home is very important. I’ve been on that board for years, and an honorary member of one of the boards that make up Sweetzer Children’s Home.
I’ve been very active in seeing to it that the history of Sweetzer Children’s Home was written. It goes back to the orphan asylum and what they did for children. It’s probably the fourth orphan asylum in this country that was recognized by the legislature in 1828. The group of women that was forming one of the orphanages went to the legislature to get permission to indenture children. This was a way of promoting the children’s life, who were orphans. It isn’t the awful thing we thought it was. They were very carefully watched when they were put into homes as indentured people.
Now my very great interest is to understand homosexuality, why some of us are born homosexuals and some of us heterosexuals or bisexuals. I’m very much concerned with AIDS because it hit the homosexual part of our community. It doesn’t mean that it’s a homosexual disease but it happened to hit them. I’m very much interested in trying to do what I can for families concerned with AIDS. It’s been a very real blow to some families to learn at the same time that they have a homosexual child. It is extremely important for us to come to terms with homosexuality, to learn all we can about it and to help the people who are born that way. I would like to feel that people would be more openminded, more understanding. Particularly the parents of homosexual children, to understand their children and love them just as much as they do their heterosexual children. That’s what I’m trying to do, live out that belief.
I am humble, because while I happen to be one of the AIDS Project founders here, I don’t do actually as much work, comparatively speaking, as the young people who have fulltime jobs and are giving their little spare time to it. They’re going through the aches and pains of getting a new organization started and there are many pitfalls. We’ve had them. We try to solve the problems. The leadership tries to meet headon that which come to us, because it was early in AIDS when this organization was started.
I got involved because my oldest grandson died of AIDS. He was one of the early victims of AIDS. He died five years ago this fall. I can’t believe it’s five years ago. It seems almost yesterday in many ways. I also have a homosexual son. This whole problem I had to solve after his father had died. I needed Mil’s help so much at that time, because he and I could have worked it out together. But I worked it out alone. I don’t know if I was very smart or very wise in the way I didn’t understand it or didn’t realize that this was going on for so long. But this happens to a lot of people. I hope it doesn’t happen in the future. I hope people realize it sooner, and are able to deal with it. It’s just one of the problems I have in my life.
I can’t understand a family that isn’t completely supportive of their children. It’s very difficult to do when you have a child that’s on anything like alcohol or drugs. You see what it’s doing to them and it’s difficult to be as supportive with them as you really want to be. But you’ve got to somehow stick to them and try to support them. I know what it is to be so very thwarted and frustrated in every way when you think you’ve done everything for that child that you could do. One of our grandchildren had many problems with adjustments. At one time I thought I just couldn’t understand why she did this to us. I tried very hard and was almost at the point of giving up. And she decided to change and then everything was straightened out.
But I understand this, because I’ve had the experience; I know what it is. I believe that all the things I had in my life that were great tragedies along my life really prepared me for being very openminded. I couldn’t be rigid in my thinking, I just couldn’t be.
I was lucky in another way, a way that I haven’t spoken about. My mother had a very dear friend whom I was devoted to. She had had a very, very sad life. She was wonderful about the way she met all these things. All through my life I thought, “Well Aunt Marjorie had this… If she could do it, I could do it”. That’s the way I lived my life. She was what they, the young people, call now, a role model.
I’ve heard people say that so many times about Barbara’s book [The Screaming Room, by Barbara Peabody, 1986] in which she wrote about Peter, his illness and how to take care of it. I’ve heard them say that same thing. I understand exactly. How necessary that is to know that somebody else has had a harder time, and been brave and courageous. maybe they did have weak moments, but as far as you know, there weren’t any weak moments. They were just strong. And you could do the same thing. I’ve been very fortunate to have that, very fortunate. Barbara’s been a role model for me, to see how she went through all those very difficult things. I wonder if I could have done it that way. She would say to me probably, “You did it with Charlotte”. Yes, but it was a different thing. I could handle that. But I don’t know that I could handle all the cleaning up of all the messes and all the pain that he went through, screaming with the pain.
In life, I feel, we have to help each other. I know we have to. I’ve been so lucky! I’ve had so much support all my life. How could I do anything else for other people than try to return some of the wonderful things that have been done for me? This does give life meaning to me, that people are so good to you in the emergencies and the sad things that happen. They never forget to support you. My friends have done this. Always. Now if I can do anything myself, for them, for other people. That’s my way. I believe that people do for you and then You return what’s been done for you to other people to the best of your ability to help them.
My mother and my father would talk about living your values. While they were saying that to me, I could see Aunt Marjorie going through all these things, and Mother helping her. And Aunt Marjorie in turn helping other people. She had a son who was badly, badly burned. He was my age. I could see the terrible, terrible time she had with him. I could see what she did with him. It was a wonderful example to me. Just what Barbara did for Peter. They had pain [to deal with] and they had blood all the difficult things there are to see and do. I never had those; I had very different kinds of things happen to me. With Charlotte there wasn’t the great pain after she got over the initial part of it. We could work with her. I always had the chance to work. That’s all I asked for. I just prayed that I would have the chance to work with her. If I had that chance, I would never think that it was a iob just that I had the great opportunity to do it. That’s how I really felt. I did have that opportunity. I was lucky. I have had a lot of thoughts about God. I feel there has to be a Great Spirit. I do not really believe in a personal God. This is something that I’m sorry about, but I can’t do it. I feel there is a wonderful, strong spirit in this world. Things don’t just happen. Too many coincidences are in my life; it couldn’t just happen. There has to be some kind of a frame of a development that goes on with each one of us. I don’t know what it’s for. I don’t know what the final outcome will be. But I just know that there is that spiritual force. I think that must be why the Episcopal church that I was brought up in didn’t go along with some of my beliefs. My beliefs are more along the Unitarian way of thinking.
Christ perhaps was a spiritual part of God…maybe he wasn’t. He doesn’t have to be, as far as I’m concerned. He was the most spiritual, the most perfect man that there has been. He doesn’t have to be part of God to be that person to me. And that’s the Unitarian belief. Lots of people think that’s not the way to believe. That to me fits into my thinking, and only makes him a greater person. If he was God, it wasn’t that hard for him to go through what he did. That’s the way I do think. I would call myself a spiritual person, without being maybe a religious person.
I had a very interesting thing happen in talking to some high school children. [Mrs. Peabody speaks often to community and school groups about AIDS. CB] One of the girls said, “Was Peter a religious person?” I said, “No, I wouldn’t call him religious, but he was a very spiritual person. He believed that after this life, there was a greater development, another development”. I think that’s what I believe. That little girl was very sweet. She said, “I didn’t mean to criticize”. I said, “You’re not criticizing. You’re asking a very good question. It’s a question that we all have to think about and study. We probably will never have a solution, but we will find an answer, each one, for ourselves. In my thinking, no one person’s idea is better than another’s”. I really envy the person who can take a stratified religion in the way that it is set up and believe everything that that religion teaches. The catholic church is very much that way. I can tell you I would like to be one of those people, really. Because I would know exactly what was expected of me. Instead I live with the questions. But to me that doesn’t weaken it. In a way it’s perhaps more of a challenge.
[About death] I’ve seen people die (in my work with AIDS people) and it so happens that everyone of them has died peacefully and beautifully. A lot of experience that I’ve had with death, made me think the same thing. Those people perhaps were fortunate in the way they went, because I know that some other people don’t. I believe that for most people, the transition from life to death is just a transition. I don’t know what it holds. I hope that I can be reunited with the people that I love, but I don’t know that I expect it. Whatever happens, it’s the right thing, and the way it’s going to be. That’s alright with me.
I don’t have any real fears about the future. I think we all have fears (I think you can’t be a normal human being without having fears). The fears that I have are not for myself but for my children and my grandchildren. I hope that they can have the best. It’s not a primrose path. It’s always going to be hard. The people who don’t have some of the hardships are not the persons who mature and become wellrounded human beings. The people who have the problems are probably the ones who are the most mature. I think this life is meant for us to mature as much as possible and then the next life we go on from there. If you’re not one of the lucky ones to mature thru hardships, you perhaps won’t start that far in advance when you die. Now this may be a simplistic way of looking at it, but that’s the way it seems to me.
What I want to do in my life yet is… I want to make things better for homosexual people. We have some of our greatest artists, musicians, designers, architects, social workers who are homosexual. I would like to see them have their proper place in society, and be recognized for what they do. That would be an ambition that I have. I hope that more people all the time will do a lot of reading, understand what goes on, and try to make things better for the people who are homosexual. I would like to do that. So I guess I will.
I’m very busy right now. You know, last year when they called me up from Newsweek and said that I’d been chosen to be the “unsung hero of Maine”, I thought that was the most ridiculous thing I’d heard! I said to them, “You know I am not a hero, and I’m not unsung. Neither of those two things”. “Well, you’ve been voted that”, this woman said. I said, “It is really not right because in the first place, I am not a hero. The things I do, I do just because they’re there to be done. If a person is a hero, they are doing something great, with a great many difficulties along the way. And I’m not unsung! People here in Maine have been wonderful to me. I’ve been given awards. I’ve been recognized for more than what I do. I am neither of those two things, so I don’t feel comfortable with that. I can tell you the names of a lot of people who are unsung heroes”. [Laughter] She didn’t like that idea. I thought I must quickly say “I do appreciate what you’ve done. I do very much appreciate it, that isn’t it. I just feel I’m a person who doesn’t fit this role. I don’t feel comfortable about that”. And I thought, I have to be gracious, you always have to be gracious, because I don’t like people who… don’t accept awards and don’t accept them with grace and appreciation. So “I do appreciate it very, very much and will accept it with grace”.
Then Bowdoin College sent me a letter asking me if I would accept the honor of an honorary doctorate. I said practically the same thing. There are many who are better qualified for this very much appreciated award. This is a wonderful thing to do for a person. That I’m being given this award for myself, yes, but also for all the wonderful Maine women volunteers that I have worked with throughout the years. When I think of it in that respect then I am very happy and very honored to receive the award, doubly honored because I feel it’s not just for myself but for others too. That way I felt that I could do it.
I was received the award with a great deal of happiness because I felt that I was being recognized with others too. I didn’t have a chance to say that but if I was going to respond that’s what I would have said. That’s the way I felt it was. And that is not being big hearted. [Mrs. Peabody received her Honorary Doctorate from Bowdoin College in May, 1989 for her years of volunteer service in Maine with Sweetzer Children’s Home, Portland Landmarks, The AIDS Project and other work of which I am unaware. CB]
I felt the same way about the award I got last fall in Boston for the civil rights and I said so. I wasn’t going to respond because I didn’t have to. Then I was so moved by the applause and the fact they were all standing up. That was very moving and I’m not quite sure what I said, but that was the jest of the thing. Nobody could remember afterwards what I said, but I really meant it. I want the award to be framed and put up in The Aids Project so that everybody can see it and know that it was representing everybody who comes in, who’s working for civil rights.
I have lots and lots of very good friends. I love them all dearly and I think they know it. I just feel so fortunate to have them. I have friends of all age levels. And that is another wonderful thing because the younger people seem to accept me and all this business about there being age barriers and so forth. I don’t see that, I don’t have it. I feel very very fortunate. I am very fortunate.
I think the greatest pleasure in my life now comes from the work that I do as much as anything and my friendships. I think they mean so much to me. Of course my family comes first (but that is taken for granted), then my friendships, then anything I can do that seems to help other people. It gives me a great deal of pleasure. I have a very wonderful family because they take me for what I am. They don’t criticize me for what I do and they don’t feel left out if I do things for other people. They feel that they are also included and they know that they come first. When the cards are down they come first always.
I think I would say that I’ve been blessed with a wonderful family. Charlotte has been fantastic in accepting her handicap. Gone on and done all the things any normal person would do. And she is normal; she is a normal human being. She’s a normal human being with a handicap. That’s a wonderful thing for a person to do and make other people feel that way. They forget she has a handicap very shortly.
And Barbara has been a wonderful person. She’s done things that I don’t think I could have ever have done. She’s been a person that has lost and lost and lost. She’s lost personal friends to cancer in tragic ways, I think three best friends. It just happened, but it was awful. She’s done so many things with the men with AIDS and girls; she keeps on doing it, and on and on. I think that is a wonderful thing. She’s always got this spirit of laughing at things. She has an ability to see the funny side of things and put it into words that I don’t have at all, but I love it. I have always loved that.
Sandy’s helped me in many, many ways. He’s had to put up with a lot of things in his life. He had a real hard struggle with this dyslexia and I guess he still does have it. But he has made a lot of his life and he’s been very productive, a person with ideas and can put them through in architecture which I very much admire.
And then, of course, Emmy Lou was our baby for a long time. She’s has matured and she’s handled her life very well. And she’s been through a great deal. She has just sort of blossomed now in her later 40s and that makes me rejoice because I like to see her successful in doing the things that she loves to do. She has sort of dropped about ten years off her life and I think that’s fine. I have been very lucky with my family.
To the young people of the world, I would say that they have the youth and should have the flexibility and broad mindedness to understand that in life they are fortunate if they are the people who are in the majority. I wish they were to look at the minority and understand homosexuals have a great gift to give to them, to appreciate it and to understand it. There are sleazy people, there are villains in every part of life. Some homosexuals have it as well as the heterosexuals or the bisexuals. But there are so many, wonderful, beautiful people and look at them and know that they have great gifts to give. They can learn to accept them. Some of the things that they find the homosexual part of our civilization will change but what they ask for is acceptance and to be on the same level as the heterosexuals in their civil rights. These things they deserve to have. When they don’t have to fight for them, like the suffragettes before them, some of the rough edges will be gone. I think they [the young people] could do that. They will be happy and the world will be happy and then all of us would have a better place to live.
A title be for my story? Well, I’m not very good at picking out titles. I find that in the books that we write, I have an awful time doing that. I leave it up to Bill Berry or somebody else. Well, let’s see. I would like to say something like Life Begins at 80 [laughter] or Life Can Begin at 80 or The Best Is Yet To Come or something of that sort. I think that is where I have been so lucky. I often think it is very strange in life that sometimes when you lose the most, you can still gain a great deal. When Mil died a half of my life went, I thought, but then as I began to pick up the pieces and try to put them together, I found I could build a different kind of a life. What has happened to me in awards, in development and recognition I never would have had if he lived, because I never would have lived this kind of a life. I couldn’t have, because I would have been devoted to him and the things that he was doing. I wouldn’t have had the time to do these things. I think that together we would have been just as broad minded and just as flexible as I have been, because I know that that’s the way he was. Maybe we could have been better. Perhaps we would have built something better, I don’t know. But I certainly wouldn’t have built a life alone without Mil, which wasn’t all my building. It was with help.
It’s true that each generation does as much as it can. It’s limited to thinking and the development that went on, which was slower. Things move at a faster rate today. The very fact that we know more about science, we know more about so many things, puts you beyond me in this age in your life. Also, the way people think today is beyond, wider and broader than the way they did when I was your age, for women especially. That is another thing I believe that women are going to be able to do a great deal in this world and make it. I still think they can make it better. Yes, I think they could make it better. Because the world must have the feminine AND the masculine. Each one has it’s very particular and important gift to give. When this is recognized and women are given there just dues. . I don’t think they have to have complete independence and all that sort of thing. I think men and women are independent and it’s through the independence that we get the best results. Women have got to learn that. They’ve got to learn that what they have to give is important, but just as important as men. Life would not be very interesting without the masculine part of it.
I think of all the other little things that I could put into my story and it is very hard to get the essence of what has gone on in life. It’s been very good for me [to share it] because I have thought a few things and have come to certain conclusions that I hadn’t fully realized before. I think that is good for me. It is good for us all because we don’t take time out to reflect. I hadn’t realized that some of my more important mature thinking came after the accident we had, that awful accident, that river accident. It made a foundation for later development thinking. Each one of these things gives you a step up in your development.
That’s why I have to think that this doesn’t stop here. It has to go on. I think that if you believe that, you can go on with both eyes open and with a great deal of assurance that what you do here has some kind of meaning. You may not understand why, but it has some kind of meaning. That’s another thing I can’t understand about people who won’t recognize the value of their children, regardless of what their sexual preference might be. Why should that make any difference? I don’t see, but of course it does, with lots of people. We sort of have to understand that too.
I thank you very much for asking me to do it because it was good for me.