Gail Merrill was 50 years old when interviewed by Tina Aldrich in 1997.
My parents lived in Hanover, Massachusetts. My Father owned his own garage/ repair shop, lawn mower sharpening. My mom was at home and I have a sister who is four years older.
I was born in 1947, there was still a lot of talk about the war, and sailors and people in uniform and just that whole war thing was a big part of what was going on.
And my mom and dad had owned a bus business during the war and they took people to the ship yards to build ships . It was a big part of their life. I had some uncles that were in the service.
As far as my family itself, my mother and her family were from Scituate Massachusetts, they were older, much older it seemed to me. My mother didn’t work when we were really little. I can remember going there a lot to visit them. My grandmothers name was Lizzy and that’s how I refer her to this day. She wasn’t a grandparent, she was just Lizzy. She wasn’t a good person I don’t think and actually she hated me. And I didn’t like her much either. My Grandfather (Sampson), whom I loved, meant the world to me.
One of the people who had the biggest impact on me was my Auntie. She lived up the street from me maybe a quarter of a mile. And I spent a lot of my early life with my Auntie. And when I think of living in Hanover I think of her house and not the house that I lived in. She was warm, soft, smelled like Yardley powder. She let me iron the rags, dust, sweep, and she let me feel that I did that better than anyone else in the whole world. She loved me unconditionally. I didn’t know what that word was until I was much older. When I look back that is what it was. I was really blessed. I had aunts and uncles up there but there was always a secret there that I did not know as a child. I wasn’t sure how they were all connected to me. But at that time when you grew up you didn’t call adults by their first name. If it was a more informal relationship with your parents everyone was an aunt or an unde and you called them that. Instead of Sally or Jane it was Aunt Sally or Aunt Jane. So I never really knew how these people fit into my life other than that my father seemed to know everybody and was heavily involved in the farm were my Auntie lived and somehow it all just fit and weather they were friends or relatives it didn’t seem to matter to me at the time. I stayed with her a lot of the time, on the weekends my mother used to go down to Lizzy’s to help her with wash and shopping. My sister always went with her.
Beth was Lizzy’s pride and joy and she loved her unconditionally. So it just kind of worked out that I stayed at Aunties and Beth went to Lizzy’s. As I look back on it I have to admit that Lizzy had a big impact on my life. She was a very negative impact on my life and I think she instilled in me self doubt, lack of self confidence, and self esteem. The fact that I was heavy, I shouldn’t wear any color, because it wasn’t slimming, and because I had red hair I shouldn’t were colors. I couldn’t wear pink, I couldn’t wear purple, I couldn’t wear yellow, you shouldn’t wear flowers because they make you look big. And for those things I will always hate her. And that’s a part of me that I am ashamed to admit because the other part of the equation was that it made me believe that that was not the person that I wanted to be. I didn’t want to be anything like her. I think some of the other memories I have with that was when I did go there with my sister and my mother she would have coloring books and I had little Lue Lue and Beth had Snow White. For some reason that stuck in my mind, just the whole self image of the two. But when I think of it now Little Lue Lue always had a smile on her face so that counts for something.
I think the things that Auntie instilled in me were and my parents as well were honesty, family stick together, help each other, help other people, if somebody comes in and they are hungry just add another cup of water to the soup and come on in and sit down. It didn’t matter.
The other thing that was a big part of my life and stayed with me was that at my aunts there was always laughter in the home. Not laughter at people or at each other, but laughing with each other. Laughing at your self but having great fun. Some of the other things on my mind were to be polite, use your manners, make work fun, we all pitched in and the work got done. I think that stays with me even today. Or has stood by me in good stead that’s for sure.
My Auntie told me once that she read, she lived in Hanover Massachusetts and the library was small that she had read every single book in the library. And that for the first half of her life she read to improve her mind and the second half of her life she read for enjoyment. I thought that was a wonderful thing. And I think that that is where I get my love of reading. There were always books there to read. There was always quiet time to read. There were so many different kinds of books in that home. My grandfather (Pappy Kidd)had come from a very wealthy family and in the depression had lost everything, but they had the leather bound books shipped to them from Alabama. So they had every type of literature in the home. That was magical as a child.
My sister was and is my best friend. She is very different in that she is petite, and very smart and she had a lot of friends. She is four years older than I, so when I went to first grade she already had a good base of friends. But we always got along pretty well. Actually fighting was not something that was allowed in our family.
My mother worked some of the time when I was growing up, at the music box factory. And I stayed with Auntie and I loved that, it meant the world to me because I was safe and warm there.
My dad, I didn’t see much of my Dad because he was always working. The garage was right next to our house but when I look back, he was always trying to make ends meet. So he was always in the garage a lot. He didn’t have a lot to do with us kids. Except at nightJ after supper we didn’t have a TV when I was real little and I used to play pretend and sometimes I would comb my fathers hair and make up these concoctions out of water and whatever else I could get my hands on and I called it Palasassa. I can remember combing his hair and combing his hair and he just sat there and read and that was just fine.
My mom was a very strong woman, she was brave, she was athletic, she was one of the first women in the state of Massachusetts to have her commercial license. She was a feminist before it was thought of. She crossed the barriers, she pushed the limits, long before anyone had ever thought of about doing it. And that I am very grateful for. I am sure that for her it was very difficult to do what was called then male things”. So I admired her a lot.
The other big thing that sticks out in my life as a young child is of course going to school. I was very nervous as a young child and never felt as though I fit in. Although I think my days in school were happier in Hanover than they were in Tilton.
In 1955 when I was seven my mother got pregnant with one of my younger brothers. I think that was the beginning of a great upheaval in my family. My mom didn’t take it well. I think in retrospect she had today what we know as a nervous breakdown. She truly did not want to be pregnant. She had had a partial hysterectomy and thought that she would not be having any more children. Again in retrospect I don’t think there were any medications to help her such as estrogen replacement and things like that to help her through the transition of the partial hysterectomy. Things didn’t go well, at the same time my grandfather (Sampson) was dying of cancer. My mom had a real tough time that winter. Larry was born in March and my grandfather died two weeks before. My mom didn’t deal very well at all emotionally. Larry was born and all I can remember is my mother being mad at the world. The baby would cry at night and everybody was up. “If I am going to be up you are all going to be up” she would say. And so when I look back at that I can think of the distress she must have been in. But at the time I didn’t know and I am sure that she didn’t know.
We moved to New Hampshire in 1955 and again it was almost a surprise to me. One day I was living in Massachusetts and the next day I was living in New Hampshire. I knew it was going to happen but I was not part of the process at all. There was always an underlying current as to why we were moving. I knew there was a reason, but I didn’t really know what it was. It was just we were moving to New Hampshire and it was the best thing. So off to New Hampshire we went. Unfortunately, surprise, surprise we brought Lizzy with us. And she lived in two rooms on the farm which were on the back side of the house. And by now I was eight, so I had her in the same household as me and the first year or two were very traumatic for me. That set the tone all the years I lived on the farm I spent most of my time outside. Basically to stay away from her. Again in retrospect I don’t think my parents had a clue what was going on. They didn’t live in the enlightened age, lets put it that way. So I spent a lot of time outdoors with cows, chasing pigs and having a grand time. As far as living on the farm it was probably some of the happiest years of my childhood. And then we got a cow and that was great. I had something to focus on. At nine I learned to drive and that was wonderful. That gave me a new freedom. I helped with the tractor and helped my dad hay and get in wood. It also kind of helped keep me out of the way of my mother as well. She loved me, I know she did. But she had the baby and also had Lizzy so I did not know quite where I fit at that time. I felt like neither fish nor foul. I didn’t feel that I really fit in, and I didn’t know where I was in the scheme of things. This was all through third grade. I didn’t do bad academically, I didn’t do wonderful. Then as time went on Beth was in Jr. High and High School. She seemed to do well and liked it. I remember her going to the prom and my parents going with her. That’s when you were chaperoned.
I can remember us sliding out back in the field on our toboggan. My sister driving the truck in the field and we’d see how fast we could go before we came to the stone wall and having my father come home to find out that we had just mowed down all the hay with the pick up truck. Poor dad. We had a lot of fun.
I think 1955 was the first time I discovered that we were poor. I just didn’t realize it until then. That was our first Christmas on the farm and I got a pair of mittens, pink scarf and maybe a coloring book.
I was used to the big family Christmases at Aunties were we all went there for Christmas there was a huge tree and lots of presents. It ended up that everyone got two but it looked like a wonderful thing. And so for me it was a very unnerving time. In that we were poor and we didn’t have a lot of money to buy things. I heard a lot about that. That was a change for me.
We persevered. My mother was a great person with great initiative, ingenuity, creativity and allowed and fostered us to do the same. It didn’t matter how crazy it was. We dressed up for the Miss America Contest. If it was crazy we did it.
The other side of that was I was not sure were we fit in society. My moms illness, there were times when she was very up and times when she was very down. She could be cruel with out intending to be. But she had been an abused child, that I learned later on, the pictures just fit together.
By the time I was twelve Beth was dating, Larry was four or five. He was a rascal. He and I did not mix too well at those ages. My dad worked with a friend named John Aldrich, and we were friends as families. George was John’s son and four years older than I was. We would go there for supper and George and I started hanging out together. At twelve with a sixteen year old that was probably not the best mix in retrospect. But at that time it was someone to be connected with.
During this time it was quite emotional in the house, Lizzy was ill and she was going to be going to a nursing home. At seventeen Beth got pregnant with Roy. At that time it was not an O.K. thing to be at home. She went to a home for unwed mothers. That was very hard for me.
We used to go and see her on Sunday’s. I can remember the nuns. They had all these rules. You could only come and see her at certain hours. They couldn’t leave. It was just too much. This was how society was. Then Beth came home and she decided to keep Roy and Dad decided to adopt him.
When I was fourteen, that was when I got to know the secret. The secret was that my fathers mother was really Auntie. So my mother would sit down with us and say that you really do have aunts and uncles… because your fathers mother is Auntie, but she has never acknowledged him so we are not going to acknowledge her.
My dad didn’t spend much time going to visit his family after we moved to New Hampshire. I think it had a lot to do with the fact that my mother had a hard time around that whole issue of who his mother really was.
That is why we moved to New Hampshire. If we were to stay in Hanover we would have been labeled as children of an illegitimate father. My mother had great concern over that. We needed to move away and start a new life. She was not raised that way. That would give us an opportunity to marry rich men.
I thought it was wonderful. I was delighted. It had no adverse affects on me. She (Auntie) is really my grandmother. But I couldn’t tell anybody. That was O. K. though because now it was my secret too.
As a child I still went down to stay at Auntie’s over Christmas vacations and summer vacations I would go down and visit her.
All the while, Lizzy would torment me by saying things like “I know things that you don’t know.” I didn’t give much credence to it anyway.
Just before Lizzy went away to the nursing home I finally came into my own. I was asserting some kind of independence. The worse she treated me, I decided I would take up the trumpet, and I never wanted to really learn the trumpet but I knew it would drive her crazy so I took it up. I preceded to practice it every moment I could. Finally being exiled to the barn it was not as much fun anymore and I gave that up. Then I resorted to, Saturday morning my mother would shop, I would go up and move the furniture around in my bedroom, because her living room was right below my room. By the time my mother got home all the furniture would be back in it’s place and I would be outside doing chores and Lizzy would be on a rampage that I had been upstairs making noise. It seemed to serve the purpose that I was getting back at her in some small measure. It is not something that I should be real proud of but what the hell. I probably would have done more if I could have gotten away with it.
Our religious beliefs or things that my parents passed down to me as a child we went to Sunday school every week. Said our prayers every night. It seemed to be hollow. I can’t ever remember my parents going to church or my grandparents. That seemed to be O.K. I could see what the message was. Be kind to other people, be honest, good to yourselves and that was the message about life itself that I got. I would go to church and Sunday school I think partly because it was expected that everybody send their children.
Churches are cold and dark and I have this thing about hymns. I hate them, they have no melody. They are not music, they are lousy. A lot of old people trying to sing and they can’t and it’s like going into a hen house. I never cared for them and I never will.
As I got older I did stay involved, when we moved to New Hampshire and later on with Mrs. Aldrich, she was a great, integral part with the Methodist church. I used to go to church with her on Sunday and she would come and pick me up. I think that she knew what kind of emotional problems I was having when no one else did, because she got me involved with 4‑H, she got me involved at helping at the church suppers and things like that. So that was good.
It also got me more involved with George, which was not a bad thing either. It got me out of the house. But I don’t think all of the songs or any of the sermons did much for me. My mother had told me at probably around age ten or eleven that really God was the same as Santa Claus, it was make believe. I think she probably did me a great favor, because I never really bought into organized religion. Not that I don’t think that there is something higher or greater or something. Spirits, Goddesses, Gods… I don’t know what you want to call it, but I think Jesus Christ was probably a swell guy and a nice neighbor, good man, and I think that’s all he was. The Bible has a lot of good messages in it. I don’t think they are any different than the messages that have been passed down for thousands of years from tribes and native people. I think it all blends into one message, be good to one another. If you treat the earth with respect and each other you will be a good society. I think everyone must do what they can do but we are not all going to do it the same way and we need to respect that as well.
So as far as religion goes I am spiritually religious, I think that there are good messages from all of these religions, but, I also believe that there are wars in this world around religion. How can there be one God and so many people are interpreting that God in so many different ways, that you can kill other people around it. It doesn’t make sense to me.
I didn’t raise my children to be religious. I think they will find their own way. They are all very bright, they can read and watch the news and they will find their own peace. I also believe that most organized religions are based in a patriarchal system, which I also believe has oppressed women for thousands of years. And before that it was not like that. And that is my slant on religion as we know it.
I inherited my fathers love of learning. Interest in so many different areas. My dad is a very bright man and has always been very interested in everything, whether it is mechanical, reading or computers or cooking. He always needs to find out the why’s and where fore’s. He could always come to conclusions on his own. I think I inherited that from him. That love to learn, to travel he likes to meet all kinds of people. He would go over to the next camp sight and Say hi how are you and I like your truck and where are you from, what is it like there. That I inherited from him.
I think from my mother I inherited my sense of adventure and probably more my sense of humor. Although I think my sense of humor also comes from Auntie slash Grandma’s family. My Uncles on that side are just a lot of fun and there was always teasing and laughter. So I think between my mother and Grandma’s side of the family I get my sense of humor and sense of adventure.
My sense of adventure I got definitely from my mother. She was great at athletics. When I was a child and living in Hanover I can remember a Hurricane and we decided to walk to Aunties house. And when I look back on it, it kind of makes my hair stand on end. We got all dressed up and we walking up the street. The wind was howling and trees falling down and we thought is was a wonderful adventure. When we lived in New Hampshire it would be 9:30 ‑ ten o’clock at night and the moon would be out and the wind would be blowing. My mother would say come on let’s go, let’s go for a walk. Down the street we would go. All would be quiet. We would be walking down the street in the moonlight, no flashlights. We didn’t really have to fear for much back then anyway. Or let’s go sliding at night in the moonlight. Let’s go to Massachusetts, we’ve got $10 we should be able to make it and back. That kind of thinking, not having a lot of barriers. Not getting so worried about the little things that you loose sight. I can’t go because I only have $15 and what if…
I don’t do “what if” well. I subconsciously probably do it but overall I don’t let it impact me greatly. It makes me crazy to be around people who do it too much. What if and what if and what if we can’t do that. To me you’ve just lost the adventure. By the time you do A through Z, I don’t want to go anymore. You’ve spoiled it or it is spoiled. I don’t do that well.
I think also through my parents I have learned thriftiness. How to save a dollar. For example, wanting to go on our first family outing, cutting the packages of Crisp cereal and sending away for free airline tickets for my children to fly to Milwaukee. We ate a lot of cereal that winter but we went to Milwaukee too. But if you are going to be thrifty have fun doing it, make it an adventure. It can be tiresome without anyone putting any energy into it. Put the energy into making it fun. Pasting Cheerios on paper, making paste out of flour and water. Kids are just as happy doing that as if you had gone out and bought them a new magic set. Put a table cloth over the table and let them make a cabin out of it. Let them play with the pans. Those are the things that are fun.
My theory in life is the ten year theory. Is it going to matter in ten years. If it doesn’t, don’t worry about it. If I don’t make my bed today, in ten years from now it is not going to matter one damn bit. The bed police are not going to come in to inspect and if they do what are they going to do, give me a ticket. It is that kind of stuff that I inherited from my parents and my family and some of it is just my own theory of life.
My Grandmother was a great person for telling stories of her family and about her children. She lived in the depression and when her children were young they would have to chop down trees in the back. My uncles would have to chop and cut it up. They would get out there fooling around and one day they were trying to chop some wood and my Uncle Rich was giving her (Grandmother) a hard time and teasing her and she picked up a piece of wood and started chasing him through the house with it.
A knock came on the door and my Aunt Fran opened the door and here was this sales man and here was my Grandmother chasing Rich around the house with a piece of wood. Rich was ~hrowing chairs down in front of her and jumping over stuff. She was hollering at him “I’m gonna get you and beat you.” Of course everyone in the house knew that this was not going to happen. The poor sales man thought the woman had gone berserk. Uncle Rich was screaming “You can’t catch me, you can’t catch me,” and she would say back “I’m gonna catch you and I’m gonna beat you with this stick.” All of this exercise was for everyone to get warm because there was no heat in the house. But nobody knew that except for them. So she said she would never forget looking up and seeing this man with a horrified look on his face. Watching this lunatic woman with a big stick in her hand chasing this boy.
Those are the kind of things that I think life is about. I think that carried over later in my life when my daughters were older and it was winter time and it was time to get wood in. I sent them all and invitation to the first annual wood throwing contest. We put beef stew in the oven and everyone came and in no time we got all the wood thrown and into the cellar. We laughed and hooted. Some people had arm loads of wood and some had wheelbarrows full. Some people stacked some people threw, some people chopped. All the time we were singing slave songs. It was just a lot of fun. Those are kinds of things that are great. It also gives me a chance to have all my chicks at home. Which is also an ulterior motive.
I also had Spring Fest where I sent everyone an invitation to come clean up the yard. At that time I lived alone with my youngest daughter Jean. Things were overwhelming. We still had our Christmas tree outback on the lawn. Everyone came home and we raked and had the first annual Christmas tree removal and had a bon fire. Soon the lawn was raked and things were put back in place. That to me was what I got from my family and is as important as anything.
As I approached 14 or 15 I was dating George, at that point I really can’t remember anything about at home. Other than it really seemed to be O.K. to be gone a lot. There were not a lot of rules. And soon I found myself pregnant. At that point I had absolutely no idea what contraception was. George probably knew even less.
His mom was heavily involved in the church and his father worked a lot and was gone. George and I connected on a need basis. We truly loved each other. There is no doubt about that. Intellectually and emotionally we were about the same age. He was nineteen, but he was very needy and unfortunately what happened he married a child and I think that marriage didn’t have the beginning we would have liked it to have.
He rebelled by just not being around. Finding other people to be with. By about the third month I had had it. So I waited for him to come home one day and when he was in the bathtub I took the keys out of his pocket and I walked down stairs and then drove away in the car. I went back to my mother and fathers house. So now here he is, he wants the car back but he doesn’t dare come up. I’ve taken the car and I’m not supposed to be driving. He finally shows up and he says that this is probably best, just stay here. So I did.
I had Jo‑Ellen and I had a very difficult labor. Five days worth as a matter of fact. I didn’t have the best doctor. George saw Jo‑Ellen when she was three months old. He immediately fell in love with her. We got back together. Probably a year and a half later his wondering eye got the better of him again and off he went with new girlfriend and I moved home and got a job at the Franklin Hospital as a nurses aid and I enjoyed that work very much. It was the first time that I had begun to feel self worth. I had gone through nurses aid training and that was a positive experience for me because I had dropped out of school and got married at 15 and there was no avenue for me to go back to school. Then after several months we started to get back together and we decided to have another child. It didn’t happen right off but eventually it did. I liked being home with my children. I was probably the only mother on the street who didn’t like to see summer vacation end or Christmas vacation.
My parents and grandmother shaped my life. My Grandmother Kidd was the one person who grounded me throughout my life. Other people who have shaped my life was Dorothy Aldrich who took the time to get me involved with 4‑H as a child, taught me to sew and spent time with me. I think she was trying to guide me into a religious avenue, but still took time. My sister, she is a very important part of my life. Over the years we were not able to spend a lot of time together because we were apart geographically. We are very connected emotionally and think a lot alike. Basically we just have a wonderful time together. Just laugh at anything and everything, we like to play jokes and do funny things. We send each other jokes over the fax or e‑mail.
Other people who have influenced me are probably the teachers I had, the professors when I went to college, over and above that on a day to day basis my own daughters have influenced me. I have watched them grow to people who are open and deal with there emotions and their own issues much better than probably I could have at their ages.
As I have gone through my life I would say my husband (Jim) has influenced my life in a very positive way. He is a person who is not in the least bit discriminatory, is very liberal. I would say he is a feminist without even knowing it. He supports women doing anything they want to do with out having any preconceived notions about it. That has been a very positive influence on me. Whether I want to try school or try what ever I want to try.
As far as heroes and heroines, I think the people in my adult life as I look at the broad picture; Barbara Bush I have great respect for. Why I respect her is because when she became first lady and the media said you should dye your hair and you should lose weight or you should spend more time doing thus and so, she said you are going to have to take me as I am. Size 14 I have white hair, my family comes first. This is me, now let’s go on from here. She did not put one more moments thought into trying to impress anyone else. That’s who she was, she knew herself clearly. To me that is a very powerful person. I am just taken with her.
My daughters are all adventurous, have senses of humor, can laugh at themselves and that is something that is really important. They can also roll with the punches. They can pick themselves up, dust themselves off and go on.
Erma Bombeck, I’ve always loved Erma Bombeck. Our spirits are or were the same. Her ability to see the fun in everyday life to me is so crucial. There are just so many other things in the world that are not happy. If I can look back at something ten years from now and laugh at it I might as well laugh at it now.
Phillis Diller, that is her ability to laugh at herself. Just absolutely have a hoot. That is what life is about. All the other heavy duty things you have to do, but these are the things you can choose to do.
Social pressure when I didn’t have my GED. That was pretty heavy. It didn’t matter if I could do the job if you don’t have the piece of paper. Also having other jobs that were less than in pay because you were a woman. Jobs I knew that I couldn’t have gotten because I was a woman. Driving truck or whatever, avenues that were dead end.
Other social pressures are trying to break through literally the glass ceiling. The good old boy society, which I still work for somewhat. Those are the things that have been difficult.
The other part is not being the 110 pound blond. That is reality. I don’t care how you slice it. That is still out there. I think it is getting better. Maybe it is getting better because as I mature, I see myself putting less energy into dealing with those issues. I know that is a situation that unless I want to spend a lot of time and energy into remedying it, I don’t bother. It is not worth my time and energy. That has taken a long time to get to.
I search and continue to search for a sense of community. I am not involved in a religious organization. I put time and energy into finding a sense of community, whether it is getting involved with the alumni association or other avenues. It is important to have a net work of friends and co‑workers. I think that would have been a nice way to live when I look at the past. I came from small towns and that was there. We are so transient now it is difficult. It is also difficult for me to think of us now not being the Walton’s. That all my children and grandchildren don’t live next door. They will go to school and I will see all the school plays. Those are things that are difficult, but it is part of life.
In the community that I am in what is called CAST, community and schools together. It is an off shoot of the community trying to get together. It is something of an advisory board for a major health care transition grant that was funded through the school district. We touch on all aspects of community health care. Immunization, getting a social worker through the school, health care for the public school. Help work on issues of self esteem, drug and alcohol education. Finding things for the kids to do and adults. I think that the town that I live in has had a bad rap. They have had a hard time in the past, but they really try hard to connect with some good things.
I also volunteer and visit an elderly woman once a week. That has been very enlightening.
I had a male teacher in the sixth grade. I think that was the first real positive experience I had as far as school. Up until that time I didn’t care for school. It was not a happy place for me. He was very positive and one of the first teacher who would go outside of the barriers. Like on Fridays, which ever row did the best that week would get gum. At that time that was a no no.
I only went to one year of high school. I think I would have liked High School had I gone.
Jr. High was a tough time for me, I did not do well academically when I look back, I can see I was in a bad spot emotionally. It comes as no surprise now that I didn’t do well. Some classes I did very well. In math I was ahead of my grade by one level. I took algebra one when I was in eighth grade and did O.K. with it but my other classes were just in the toilet. It was a bad thing. I hate math so that was the most surprising thing about that.
When I look back, knowing what I know now, nutritionally I was not in a good place. I didn’t eat well as a child. In my Junior High years it was unusual for me to have lunch. I might have toast for breakfast in the morning and didn’t have any kind of lunch. If I did it was not a nutritious situation. That did not help my learning ability either.
As far as public school, I won a chance to be a speaker when we planted a tree. It was one of those time capsule things and the whole school had to compete. And I won it! I got to do that presentation in sixth grade. Then being able to do math ahead of my grade. I can’t think of anything else that I was really proud of in school.
College came later in life, I was in college and I felt very ill prepared. A supervisor that I had felt that I could do it so I signed up. It was a co11ege for adult learners.
To back up I got my GED when I was twenty three.
To back up even further, I had left school just after the ninth grade. So I had three years when I didn’t have any high school. I never wrote a term paper or had chemistry or biology.
When I was twenty three there was a GED class in Bristol. I thought I would give it a try. So I went. It was only six weeks, which is amazing to me. Then I went to take the test. It was a two day test up in Laconia and I knew math was going to be a struggle for me, but I read and studied and I passed. Math being my lowest score but I still passed it. I think the one thing that saved me or helped me with the GED was not the six weeks of classes. It was the fact that I read everything from cereal boxes to any magazine I could get my hands. In 1967 my sister Beth and I both bought a set of encyclopedias for our kids. That was probably the best that happened outside of reading in general. When I lived alone with my girls that is what I read everyday. At that point I could not afford to buy magazines. I did not have a car so I could not go to the library. So I read and each night I would read the encyclopedias. That was my entertainment. I think that really helped me with my reading comprehension and my history, geography. So by the time I went to college I had a base of knowledge that I would have gotten from high school.
I did not have the writing skills that I wished I had. It was a very liberal situation, they were more worried about content and what you knew and what you could share. For me it was the perfect venue for education. I remember the first day, I went to New Hampshire College for Human Services. We went down to the library at the south campus. People were talking about microfiche and this and that and I thought, I’m lost, I am never going to make it. This gentleman came up behind me and said are you O.K. and I started to cry and said that I am going to have to leave school because I don’t know what these things are. He was a black gentleman from Trinidad and he had a beautiful accent and he said, “No, no Gail you stay, it will be all right. Trust me it will be all right.” So I did go back the next day. It did turn out all right. It was not easy, it was a very difficult thing for me. Statistics just about undid me, but it was a wonderful experience for me. Yet it was a very traumatic time for me as well because I had come from a very conservative household and this was a very liberal college. So there in lies the problem. I was sure that after a few sessions that they were all communists, that I was not going to pay for books written by Angela Davis who was a communist, and why should I have to pay money for her books. I was quite pompous as a matter of fact.
We had a speaker come. She was a nun from Nicaragua. She went on and on about how we (meaning the United States Government) were down there doing things we shouldn’t do. What bad government we had. We shouldn’t be down there helping these people murder, steal, rape, pillage and burn.
I got on my high horse and once we got back into the class room and said, “I think she should just grab her ass in her hands and go right back there and get the hell out of this country if she doesn’t like it.”
On my way home I promptly decided I was going to quit school. I had enough of them. I was not going to pay good money to listen to this crap. Well I got to about Henniker, just in a snit. I was lathered up and really pretty righteous. Then I started to laugh at myself. I thought, who the hell do you think you are. You are paying all this money to go to school, but obviously you think you already know more than them so why are you going. So I settled down a little bit and I went back. I never did really agree with this woman and I don’t to this day, not all of what she said. I think some of what she said certainly was true.
I did tell the professors at the end of that course that I had come full circle. I had come in thinking they were all communists and they were just stricken and couldn’t believe it.
That was an adventure. I met so many wonderful people. Black Muslims from Boston would come in with their heads covered. They were just serene. In fact I can remember one day a group of them came in and they were late. Instead of all of the oh I am sorry, my car broke down and we are late. They came in and said, “Our humble apologies, and may peace be with you.” That was the end.
It struck me that they truly had this inner sense of calm and they did not want to interrupt the class any more than they had to. They just came in a very soft and gentle way. I was very impressed by it.
We also had police officers from Massachusetts. They were coming for the Quinn Bill. They could get raises if they got a degree. Several of them were wonderful people and several of them, I was ashamed to know. They cheated, they lied, they didn’t buy their books, their wives did their homework. Some of us were incensed and tried to deal with that with the faculty. They tried to deal with that the best they could on some level. I lost a lot of respect for those, not police officers in general but those individual. While the rest of us were struggling. I also had to look at myself and what I wanted to get out of it and what they were going to get out of it. They were going to get a piece of paper and I needed to know that I had done my job. That was important. It was interesting having such a broad spectrum of people in our classes.
Then when I went to graduate school, I had just gone and was still going though a divorce and I needed to focus on something other than my sixteen year old daughter. As well as start thinking of an adult life again. That was even more opening for me. I met a lot of people who were different; sexual orientations, religious beliefs and it was very enlightening. It was much more open than the undergraduate was. It was more difficult for me because of where I was emotionally. It was much harder and I had to rewrite some papers. I wanted to say forget it.
Overall my college years were some of the best and happiest times of my life. I really enjoyed that sense of community, the college community. As well as the human service workers. We learned from each other and had some great teachers. Their expectations were that we were going to learn from each other as much as we could. 1985 is when I first found the poem ” When I am old I shall where purple.” It is the epitome of what I think about and where I am going with my life. Everyday I worry less and less what other people might think. To be honest, other people probably don’t give a damn. It is so egocentric to think that people will worry, they probably won’t like… Whose they? I don’t worry about most other people and probably it is a little bit silly to think that other people are worrying about whether I dye my hair or wearing green and yellow socks. It all goes under the ten year theory.
I believe that education is on going. I love taking classes and reading new books. Whether it is work related or just for entertainment value. It is a good thing.
The most important lesson I learned outside of school was; what they are, not what you think they are. Not what society believes or labels them. There are people I have met that I thought I wouldn’t like, maybe because of a mannerism or more of the first reaction. Then I began to like them. Later on I would have an interaction with them and I would like them a lot and want to cultivate a friendship. To worry less about what other people think.
Some of the other lessons are to be positive, think positive and let go of a lot of the negative thoughts. Take the time to spend doing things you want to do. No one ever dies saying I wish I would have spent more time at the office. They say I wish I had gone for that walk or taken that Saturday to go and visit so and so. Do what feels right. What your instincts tell you are probably right. A lot of what I tell people who work for me is that your first reaction is probably going to be the right one. If you feel that there is probably something not right there, there probably is something not right there. The same with the positive. I feel like I should go do this today but I have to change the bed. Go! Change the bed later. There are no laws that say you can’t. The bed police probably won’t come today.
I didn’t have ideas about sex other than you were not supposed to do it. I was ignorant about it. The only thing that adults said about it was don’t do it. That was it. As I got older I felt that there was something that it was O.K. for men to have sex and run around and be crazy, but for a woman you shouldn’t do it. It was bad. Actually women shouldn’t be enjoying it either. That was a different way of thinking then. You got married and had babies. If you were intimate with your partner and you enjoyed them, that was something that just wasn’t talked about from a woman’s stand point at all. That is all new until I was in my twenties. There was not a lot of information. Now my theory is sex won’t rot your teeth.
My children are fun. My children have always been fun. I have enjoyed motherhood from day one. My children are adventurous, they are open. I enjoy spending time with my children. Yet they are all very different. They have different personalities which all of us do.
I have a daughter (Jo‑Ellen) who always walks within the boundaries. Who is very bright. Can be very funny, but truly believes in rules and regulations and lives by those. She is warm and caring and is very sentimental as well. She likes to learn new things and can be very focused when she needs to be. Very detail oriented.
My middle daughter (Tina) is very adventurous. My athlete. She turns my hair gray and should not go rock climbing if she is smart. Has been the one who as a child was the athlete. Could take her bike apart and put it back together. She was not enamored with school particularly. We are very alike in those areas. I saw a lot of myself in her. Who would take several jobs and discovered that maybe there was something more that she would like to do. Put herself through college which is something that I admire her very much for. And now is in a very healthy and loving relationship. And now has gone back to school has a job that she loves. Is a mentor for girls and women everywhere and that makes me very proud. I am very proud of my oldest daughter as well.
My youngest daughter (Jean) is a youngest child. She has a wonderful sense of humor. Is a little more needy emotionally sometimes that my older daughters. She is certainly growing to be mature and a good mother as well.
I am very close to my daughters. We call often. Which to me is a priority in my life. I don’t get to see them as often as I might like but I do talk to each other. We are there for each other and that’s important. My girls are very important in my life.
When my oldest daughter married a Lieutenant in the Navy, I said that I did not care if you are in Akron or Alaska. I am going to come once a year. I don’t care, or it doesn’t have to be Honolulu. I am just going to come and what I am coming to see is you. Not where you live. That’s something I want all my girls to know. I don’t care what heights they attain. I am coming to see them. Not where they live or who they know. And if anyone of them or myself get to full of ourselves, we will remind each other.
There was an add in the paper for someone to work with low income families. Needed someone to help people help themselves. It sounded like the perfect opportunity for me.
When I got the job, I worked for Headstart for almost fifteen years doing social work and home visits. I went everywhere, meeting people on their own turf, and helping them set goals the way they wanted to go not where I thought they should go. I think that is a big key.
Sometimes society or the they’s in the world set pretty high expectations, when all they really might need is oil. They may not want to go to college. They may want to buy a hundred gallons of oil. It is up to us to help them set their goals. How do you get them so that next year their oil is paid for. Simple things, break it down and simplify it so that in three years they may go to college or finish their high school diploma. This year that is not where they are. That is the big key, is helping people set their own goals. Even though it is very difficult for me because I can see these people and I want to push, nag, pull them into something I think they ought to do. I like doing social work.
When Kennedy was shot I lived in Suncook, New Hampshire in a cabin. It was after Jo‑Ellen was just a few months old. We didn’t have a TV and we didn’t have a car. I heard it from a neighbor. I did not see the funeral procession until a long time later. I was never part of that at the moment. It was a tragic event, but I never felt the sense of loss that other people did. I also was not enamored with Jack Kennedy anyway. As a child if Eisenhower had been shot, there would have been more impact.
The most important thing given to me is my sense of humor. Without my sense of humor I probably would not be here today. The ability to laugh at myself and laugh at situations that could otherwise be perceived as tragic or well have a much more negative impact. You just have to look at that and say, what is the worst that is going to happen and just go from there.
The other thing is my children. Children are true gifts They are your family. Also everyone is important. I think it reaches beyond immediate family. I believe in looking at people in need and people around me as extended family. Because of what I have seen from my grandparents and my parents as well taking people in and helping and touching lives. It is true that you can not pick your family, somehow I feel that we are all family in society. It is just who you choose to be with. There are some family you choose not to be with and there are some friends you choose to be with. So some how that all becomes one.
I would hope my sense of humor is one of them. I also hope that something I have given them is self confidence in themselves. That they are able to do what ever they want to do. And if they do something for ten years and they decide they don’t like it, change. The job police won’t come and get you. Try to break down some of those barriers of thinking.
Crucial decisions around divorce. Two of. The first one was getting out of an unhealthy relationship that was probably not anyone’s fault.
To remarry was a crucial decision.
The other crucial decision was going to college. That changed my life and changed my thinking in a healthier way. In that I met other people. Part of the vision was to take care of ourselves. It’s O.K. to be by yourself. You almost felt guilty saying I need an hour. Those were not things that you said. It is your job to do X, Y and Z. That was the way it was. It was almost considered selfish to say I don’t want to go there, I would like to sit home and read.
Going back to college was again a crucial decision.
To remarry was another. To marry my soul mate who respects what I think and who knew going into it that it would be an adventure and not be dull. He jumped right in anyway. He is a person who loves and respects my children. And who is always there for me.
I would say the happiest time of my life, well there have been lots of happy times in my life. Being with my sister and my brothers. My mom and dad.
As an adult the happiest times of my life were the times when my children were with me. In my twenties we moved around a lot but we went camping and had adventures. Then I went to college and I liked that a lot.
I wouldn’t say that my teenage years were very happy certainly. In my early child hood as well.
I think when I got to be in my thirties I decided that people are as happy as they made up there minds to be. It became very clear to me that I had to take charge of my destiny. I think that is when I began to become happy with myself. As much as it can be difficult because that means other people might be unhappy. That was a struggle.
I would describe myself as a complex person. A person who likes to be with people, have fun beyond all other things. A true friend. A good mom. A good person. I would describe myself as not being quite as sure of myself as I would like other people to think I am. More doubtful of my own skill than I like other people to know. A lot of self doubt, not jumping high enough running fast enough. If I am so smart why do I feel this way. I would like to describe myself as a person who people would want to be around and trust that I will do what I say. Most of all I think I am a person who likes to bring happiness and fun to life. That is my mission I’ve decided. That is who I am. I have finally come to a place where I can say I am who I am.
I see myself learning a lot. I want to go back and take some more classes. Taking better care of myself emotionally and physically. Making some more tough choices about whether I am going to stay employed where I am. I am going to take some more risks. I would like to work in a hospital or an institutional setting with a lot of other people doing some good.
Somewhere I feel there is inside of me an artistic part that has not blossomed yet. Painting or drawing I am ready to uncover that side of me. I don’t know that I am destined to greatness but I feel that some of my best work is yet to come. I hope that I can nurture that I am strong enough to go there. Take more time to enjoy my life. I will spend less time worrying about other people. Let things come to me. I’ll be doing some more changing and some more growing and I don’t think I will ever stop. I am not frozen anymore where I don’t think I can move forward. I see myself moving forward and doing more exciting things. Taking more risks and challenges. Maybe go to an Outward Bound. I am considering doing an Outward Bound. It would be a big stretch for me physically and emotionally. I don’t know where I am going. Hell in a hand basket if I do not mend my ways.
I think I did not get across that fun activities that I have been able to do with my children and in life. Maybe that will be an addendum. Just the rip roaring laughter, fun and frivolity. Craziness that is such a part of me and a part of the children. I would like that to come across somehow.
Going away to Waterville Valley with my daughters and deciding that we are all going to go horseback riding. One being on sideways, one being on almost backwards, children gripping on the horn, laughing and howling. Getting dressed up for the Miss America Contest. I had a blue check bathing suit with a medal zipper that I got at a rummage sale. I wore that to torment my children for years. I still have part of it and I mail pieces of ii to them once in a while just to remind them, be humble, never mind these spandex things. This nice cotton check is just the ticket. Wearing a beaver skin hat or a blue check hat to bed are the things that are really part of our family culture. Being able to make fun of doing things. Throwing wood or cleaning the yard, going camping, those kind of things. Everybody just getting together and laughing. It is a big part of life.
Overall I have seen a lot of changes in my life. Growing up, not having TV. Having today what would be considered, well dysfunction is the word I better put right out there, dysfunctional family of sorts. Really deciding, and I decided young in life that if I was going to make it I was going to make it on my own. Persevering, there where times when I took two steps forward and one step back. In the mean time there were so many other positive things that went on in my life. The fun with my children, watching Sesame Street when it first came on. Singing songs.
The whole issue of women’s issues and where we have come from a place where birth control was not talked about to having abortions become legal. To people saying it should not be legal. My view that if you take away a woman’s choice, no matter who it is, if that choice of abortion is gone, which is a form of contraception per say, not the best, and I don’t agree with that, then you need to look at the next step. That may in fact be outlawing contraception. Why is it that any religious group or any group can tell me as a woman what I can do to my body. We have fought long and hard as women and some men to provide that freedom. I look at the world population and where we are going with that. Above and beyond that if we look at a woman’s right, we need to look long and hard at who we support when we go to vote. What is going on with a woman. If a woman is put in jail for drinking and she is pregnant and is arrested for endangering a child. We need to look at that and what the history says. What other countries are acting like this. Why are people being put in jail for infrin~ements of so called rules. Where are we heading. Are we enlightened or are we just stepping back. Keep an open and objective view of where we are going with this kind of stuff with woman’s bodies and if it is not our bodies, it could be.
This has been a very opening experience for me. To look at some of the things that happened in my life and how they impacted me. From my parents moving away when I was eighteen to Wisconsin. Looking at just some of the transitions in my life. Where the steps have taken me. Putting the pieces to the puzzle together. Pieces that I didn’t even know where either missing or I hadn’t been able to see the picture before I started putting the pieces together. It is kind of a blind puzzle. It has been a wonderful exercise. I think I would like to work more on something like this on my own.
Tina’s reflections on the life story interview follow:
Having the opportunity to listen intently to my Mother’s life story has been one of the most powerful experiences in my life. I look at my Mother through a new lense now. I understand better where her and my belief systems come from. What her hopes and fears are. How her hopes and fears were developed.
After ready and re‑reading Mom’s story I brainstormed a list of words and phrases that were my impressions of the story. Those impressions were: Perseverance, laughter, strength, loneliness, loving, abandon, abused, insecure, open, self growth, be he best person you can be, honest, devoted, Mother, giving, unselfish.
To me her life tells a story of true inner strength. Her shear will to go on in the face of many adversities, great and small is a testament to her character. So where did this inner strength come from? Is it her inner strength that is amazing or is it her outlook on life. Are these one in the same? Make the most out of what you’ve got. This has been a strong message in Mom’s life.
When I look at Mom’s life and try to make some associations with Erikson’s stages of Psycho social Development, her life seems to have followed the stages. From birth age seven she lived in a stable home with loving and nurturing family. Her Grandmother, whom she spent most of her time, was down the street.
It is in the first seven years where she gains hope, will and purpose. It is these three strengths that I believe guided her through the very rough years that followed.
In 1955 at the age of seven, several things happened that may have had a significant impact on the fourth stage. Her Mother became pregnant. This was not taken well by my grandmother and lead to volatile family dynamics. The transition that followed were moving to N.H. away from Auntie. untie was a huge source of love, comfort and support for Mom. Lizzy moved with the family to N.H. Lizzy was a source of self doubt and nervousness for Mom.
Stage four may have been achieved later in her teens. She was involved with 4‑H and later becoming a nurses aid. These things seemed to help develop competence.
Stage five I would see as developing in her early 20’s, after earning her GED. This is when she is starting to think about herself in society and where she will fit in. What she wants to identify with.
Stage six also comes in Mom’s early 20’s with her relationship and marriage to Maurice Ford. This would be her first significant partner which lasted 18 years.
Stage seven is where I would see Mom now. It is important for her to keep in close contact with her daughters and grandchildren. Her community activities and profession keep her focused on children and families in need.
Some of the new information that I learned about my Mother from this interview was:
‑ traumatic circumstances surrounding her childhood
‑ how she and my father met
‑ she was “on her own” from her childhood years in N.H. on
‑ impact of Auntie on her life
‑ impact of Lizzy on her life
‑ how scared she was of college
One of the many things I learned from this story on a big picture level is this. To judge people in a snap shot of their life is not the whole picture. When I think of my Mom at 15, I see a young girl who is pregnant and has dropped out of school. For many the future does not look bright in this picture. As the tape roles forward I see a woman of strong character who worked hard, persevered, raised 3 children, finished her High School diploma, went on to earn an undergraduate and graduate degree and is a successful human resource administrator of a whole county. Who would have known?
Today when I hear of girls becoming pregnant at a young age I cringe, then I think, look a what happened to me. I couldn’t have asked for a better Mom and role model.
Another important overall theme of the story was that attitude is everything. If you have a good attitude and cant make the most out of what you’ve got, you’ll be O.K. She has it and has instilled it in me.
This experience has helped me reflect on my development and my future development. It has brought me closer to my Mom. Hearing her life helps me understand and reflect on mine. Our family dynamics have anew and richer meaning to me.