Ann Bencks was 75 years old when interviewed by Joanne Bartlett in 2002.
Life Story of Anne Bencks as told to Joanne Bartlett
I grew up in Western Massachusetts. I was the youngest of four. My parents were quite mature when I was born. We had a family of two generations almost. My brothers were ten years older than I and my sister and it was 1927 and so we were approaching the very lean years. I grew up during the period of time when my father had lost his job he was an engineer. He had worked for a very good company Fred T. Ley Company. They built the Chrysler Building. So we had some very lean years when I was growing up, but so did all my neighbors and friends and I wasn’t ever really aware that we were poor. We ate a lot of very plain food. Salt pork and milk gravy was one of my favorite meals. I had no idea we ate it because we couldn’t afford to buy meat. I had a lot of hand me downs from my sister. We had a very happy family. As I said my brothers were 10 years older than we were so we had that kind of wonderful feeling of older brothers in the family. They went off to the service when I was in high school. My dad’s family came from Nova Scotia and we still have connections there. Not close family, but we stay connected because we love it there. My mother’s family came from Vermont and we were very connected with Vermont. My sister and I used to go to Vermont for part of our summer vacation. We were spoiled by our maiden aunt and our grandparents. It gave my mother a little vacation while we were away. So until I was in high school, life was bliss for me. Really. I remember the year when I got my first very own first winter coat that was not a hand me down. Never thought about being poor during that period. My parents were very hard workers and passed that on to us. We certainly all grew up with a very strong work ethic. I still have that feeling in my head that if I don’t do something worthwhile during the day then I have wasted the time. That was part of growing up during the Depression years. They provided very well for us. We all had the opportunity to go to college. Two of us graduated. My brothers did very well even though they didn’t complete college. We have maintained our close relationship with our siblings over the years. We try to be together as much as we can.
School was fun for me. I lived in one house all my life until I married. School was fun for me. It always came fairly easily for me until I got to college. Then I had to work very, very hard. It was more fun to play then concentrate. I was involved in musical things I loved the best – piano, particularly glee club and chorus. Also in church I sang in the choir. I was in Scouts from the time I was 10, I guess that was when we started then. One of my really happy memories, the first time I went away on a trip without a member of my family, was with the Girl Scouts I came to Portland, Maine. I was 10 years old. We didn’t stay in a hotel. The convention was in the hotel. I stayed in the parsonage of the minister of State Street Church. His name escapes me now. Anyway I had a wonderful time. I had never been on my own before with out family. It was great fun and I have vivid memories of that. Scouting has always been important to me and I had some wonderful leaders.
I continued to be involved as a leader and consultant for my daughter. I learned a lot from my involvement with Girl Scouts as a little girl and as an adult. So I finished high school in Springfield, Massachusetts and went to college during the Second World War in Troy, NY at Russell Sage. In those days I don’t recall taking SAT’s or any of the things that are causing such pressure for young people today. There wasn’t the competition to get in that there is now. My dad picked the college for me. As he frequently did, my dad controlled most of my life decisions and I had a very good experience at Sage. As I said I had to work very hard and I didn’t get the grades I could have. I worked hard. I was a Biology major. I had a lot of labs and full days of classes. I also learned to play bridge and had a big social life. My junior year I met Bob who was at RPI. In the same city. He had just come back from the Navy. I guess that would be an important event in my life.
It turned out we had been in high school together, but we didn’t know each other. It was a large city high school. He lived in a suburb of Springfield and I lived in a Springfield residential section. We had different circles of friends. He was a year ahead of me. I certainly remembered him when I saw him. He was a handsome young man. You notice things like that when you are a teenager. We had some friends in common, but we mostly traveled in different circles in high school. But anyway it didn’t take us long to become pretty close. We married the year I graduated. Since he was in the service for a couple of years, he wound up a year behind me as far as his college years. He was going to school on the GI Bill of Rights. I remember when he gave me my ring. It was Easter weekend before I graduated. My roommate had already gotten her ring. We knew, Bob and I, that we were going to be together at some point. So it was Easter weekend he gave me the ring. The next day we told my parents and said we thought we would like to be married at the end of summer between summer school and Bob’s fall semester. My dad said “Well ok, we’ll think about that.” The next day he came down at breakfast and said. “Well, we think it’s fine that you and Bob are getting married. We like Bob a lot. But would you just as soon get married in June instead of August. Because we really want to take a trip.” I was their youngest child. I was the last one to move out of the family home. My dad was ready to retire. They had planned to travel across the country. That was a very pleasant surprise.
I was married very quickly after I graduated. It didn’t take us long to get a wedding together in those days. We were pretty young – 21. Didn’t know very much. So there we were, living on our own, on the GI Bill of Rights. I got a bookkeeping job, nothing to do with biology. Something I learned from my dad when I worked for him in the summer. I think I made $20 a week. We were in a one room furnished apartment, shared a bath with everybody else on the floor. Had a closet for a kitchen. But we were in love and life was wonderful. The world was at peace, or so we thought. There we were, starting our adventure. I remember every detail of that place. In the first twelve years of our marriage, Bob counted it up, we lived in fourteen different places, small apartments, little houses, we moved around a lot. He worked for a large corporation – Aetna. In order to get a promotion when you worked for a large corporation in those days. . You usually were promoted to a different location. Sort of moved you around like chess players. It wasn’t something you thought twice about, because it usually meant you were moving up to a better job with a little more pay. We lived in Hartford, Pittsburgh, Boston, back to Springfield our home town, and then from there to Portland within twelve years. Most of the time it was ok. There were times it was hard because we had made connections, and especially hard when we left Springfield because it was our home town and we had lots of friends and family there.
I thought we were coming to the back woods when we came to Portland, Maine. Although I had been here when I was ten years old. That was in 1960. But it has certainly turned out to be a wonderful part of our lives. We had two children at that point. They were, Jane was in 2nd grade and Doug was in kindergarten. We lived in Cape Elizabeth in a rented farmhouse. The building boom hadn’t happened then. It was just beginning. There were not a lot of houses to choose from. We had friends through Bob’s work who knew Portland. They told us about Woodfords Church and East Deering. We sort of had thought we would like to live there. He searched and searched and couldn’t find something that we could afford. It was, he finally put an ad in the paper after several months that he had been working here. I was living in my folks’ home, he was commuting on the weekends. It was not fun. Although we lived with my folks several times when we were in transition. We were very fortunate that we could do that.
Anyway he put an ad in the paper and received a response by a women who wanted to rent her farmhouse in Cape Elizabeth. It was the first time she had ever rented any property. The first time we had ever rented a whole house. Bob called me up to tell me and described it to me. It was a 200 year old farmhouse on multiple acres, with a barn. There was a swimming pool we could use. The gardener would take care of our lawn. And he named the number of rooms – 14 rooms and 2 ½ baths. I said Bob “You don’t have to make up stuff. I’ll come. I love you. I will live with you anywhere as long as you can just find something.” I couldn’t believe what he was telling me. So I moved in sight unseen. It was a wonderful, charming old farmhouse, that went way, way back to the early history. That was a real adventure for me. We were living there when Rob was born. That was a fun, fun time. We got to meet, the first people we met when we moved in, were people who had lived in Cape Elizabeth forever and ever and ever. They just welcomed us and took good care of us and got us through the first winter. We started going to Woodfords Church and made good friends there. Bob was building his office, hiring people and it was growing, the business was growing. He was very fortunate to be able to hire really wonderful people. Very compatible and eager to make the business grow. Most of the men that he hired or were sent to work with him also had a large interest in sports. So they had a basketball league, and would go to Boston to Red Sox games. We had a very successful transition, our move to Portland. Very fortunate, and Scouting, a good circle of friends. Sounds like a pretty happy life, doesn’t it?
Church has always been part of my life and I grew up in a very small neighborhood church. We were in a New England Baptist church. Maybe 100 people in the congregation. It was like a big family. We did all kinds of things together. Everybody knew everybody. Very young minister. We watched him grow. It was a really good experience. And then we were married in a Congregational church because our church merged with that one because of financial problems. We had a few years when we were first married when we were too busy to get involved. We were moving around too much to get involved in church. But as soon as the children were born, we re-established ourselves in a congregation. When we got to Portland and connected with Woodfords, that was one of the highlights of our life, really. There were unusual programs and friendships that we made there. We were both very active and gradually got to know a lot of folks.
One of the questions that I remember was, particular thing that made a huge change in my life. For me, I think it was during the ‘60’s and ‘70’s, our two older children were involved in college during that time. We had both, I had grown up in a straight Republican family, no doubt about it. There was no other way to vote, no other way to think politically. I’d never questioned it really until our children came home and started asking questions and sharing information that they had learned in their years in college and being on their own. I began to question things myself. Here I was in my 40’s and I was really just beginning to grow up. So I began paying attention to some of the other things that were going on, reading different publications by different people. I got together with folks at church who were having similar questions as I about the cold war. So that was for me a real turn around. Bob didn’t make such an abrupt change as I did. He became moderate, even though he grew up, also in a very similar, conservative family. So we had some interesting discussions along the way. At times Bob felt kind of lonesome because I and our two grown up children would be on one side of the aisle and Bob on the other. But when Rob grew up he became a straight conservative. He was sort of like a different generation. He doesn’t remember the Viet Nam War. He doesn’t, until this past year, he hasn’t experienced a huge crisis in our country. He is eleven years younger than Doug. He grew up with like two sets of parents. Jane and Doug were so much a part of his upbringing. Plus we had mellowed a lot by then, as you do. He received a very different ….., it will be interesting to see what happens down the line. That was one of the events that I think changed me a lot.
Spirituality for me, it suddenly made all the things I had been learning since I was a child about Jesus’ teaching began to make complete sense to me. Where before it had been sort of idealistic, maybe some day, but it suddenly became important to see it happen in my lifetime. So when I had a chance to go to Russia in June of 1989 as a member of the sister city project, I was really excited about that. Bob said go ahead. I went along and it turned out that my sister and her husband were also going. I didn’t know that at the time I signed up. I had a friend who was going and we roomed together. It was a real adventure. It was wonderful to be able to share that with my sister. We had lived very closely growing up as siblings, but with a great deal of competition between us. We were happy together as siblings and then we lived in separate places when we were married. This was a time to really share something together.
It was a wonderful trip. I made some friends in Russia; it was very, very special. I haven’t thought about it for awhile. We were at, – one of the things that we did was to have an experience with people who were interested in the same things that we were. This was very clear for some people because of their profession, the lawyers would visit with lawyers, the teachers would visit with teachers and that kind of thing. I was a homemaker and my other interest was peace making. So they put me in the category with the lawyers. When we had our day of exchange with professions I went with Fred Lipp who was a minister and two other men from Portland. One was a lawyer and the other I am not sure if he was a lawyer or not. He has been in the Maine Legislature and they, the Russians, were very interested in how their legal system worked.
There weren’t too many Christian ministers that were evident in Archangel at that time in 1989 because everything religious had been underground for such a long time. They were just beginning to be comfortable in the Orthodox Church, that was operating. The Baptists were beginning to operate again above ground. I did also have a chance to meet with that congregation and get to know that group well. So I had those two separate meetings one with the Baptist congregation which was very, very inspirational and then this other with the roomful of lawyers and we talked with them about their system of government and their social system. One was a group of men who were lawyers and city leaders. It took place within the framework of a large conference room with huge mahogany, shiny tables and chairs and food and vodka evident, a lot. I was very quiet in those sessions, even though they were polite and would ask me to share with the group why I was there. It was very intimidating. I was also, for Russia for the time, to have an elderly woman who would speak up in that kind of situation was pretty rare. Some of the younger woman were beginning to speak up, but you didn’t see very many white haired women out in the public and being vocal about how they felt.
Of course, we have watched over the years as our sister city relationship has developed and there have been many, many more visits between the legal profession and the teaching profession and the medical profession. They have shared a lot over the years. I still keep in touch with some of the people, not as regularly as I did because the mail situation became very, very difficult over a period of time. I hope to be in touch by e-mail someday. But we do still hear once a year usually from some people. Once in a while someone will come to visit so I hear about my friends. Our trip was two weeks. We were in Archangel one week and the other week we traveled to St. Petersburg, and Moscow. It was a very good sampling of the museums and the places they wanted us to see that they were so proud of. It gave us a chance to really meet the people. We felt very safe. Lots of differences in the way they looked and the way people lived. For instance in the hotel where we stayed in Archangel, for all of us actually. There was always a matron sitting in the hall where our room was. She kept an eye on things and made sure the right people went in the right doors that kind of thing. It was like that in the museums, too. They were so proud of their art treasures. We couldn’t really communicate with them, the matrons. They didn’t want to communicate. They were just there. Making sure things were ok.
My children as I told you, my adult children, had a huge influence on me and still do. One particular minister as I was growing up. He remained very close friends with our family throughout his life. I learned, I didn’t know it at the time, when I was learning from him as a child and a teenager. He was considered a radical. He was a Baptist but he was quite a forward thinker. After my childhood and we had a chance to reconnect with him, we realized we discovered we had had a lot of the same interpretations of Jesus’ teachings. It was really neat to kind of grow up with him and learn from him. I don’t think my dad ever knew he was a radical. They had a really good relationship, but I think he respected my father’s point of view and wanted to keep that relationship. It was interesting that as I grow older, I always thought of a minister as being probably the most important person that I would know one on one, and now I am finding ministers today to be younger and younger. Maybe I do know almost as much as they do. It’s funny how your view point changes. There have been a number of ministers, I could name four or five, and they have all been spiritual leaders, that were younger. And I learned, I’m still learning from my kids, as I watch them parent. I find that to be one of the most rewarding things for me is to watch my children parent. They each do it differently, sometimes quite differently, than we did. But sometimes there will be something, and I’ll think, “Ooh, I think you learned that from me.” It’s very rewarding, but it’s also amazing to see the wisdom that they have acquired in what I consider their short lives, that I’m still working on.
Birthdays have always been big. As a small child my mother loved birthday parties. She planned parties, the decorations for the party. Planned the games that we used to have, outdoor parties in the summer time with scavenger hunts for my first boy-girl kind of connection. Christmas of course was very large. Easter was a big religious holiday for us. We would start with the sunrise service, then go to church all day long. We used to have family gatherings when we would get together with cousins as a child. We gather with our whole family now. It’s changed a little bit, a great deal actually, when our parents died. That’s a real passage. It didn’t happen all at once, but over a period of years. Both Bob’s parents and my parents lived to a ripe old age and so having been the youngest in my family it seemed like it was always going to be that way. We would always be together. I couldn’t picture myself ever being the senior member of the family. So when that happened it was like, “Huh” we’re all grown up. Now we’re really on our own. So that was sort of an awakening.
I had to begin absorbing the treasures they had accumulated over the years. Make a place for them in our family. We found old letters, old pictures, lots of wonderful treasures. We began to weave things together. Although a lot of our family history was known to us, we found some more stories that have become important to us. And now with the internet, there is so much information out there that we can find. We are connecting with other people with the same surname and so forth, finding answers to some dead ends that we hadn’t found before. Bob’s family name, we always thought was a made up name when they came from Germany, and we thought everybody who had that name was related because that name was made up. We pretty much knew who they all were even though we hadn’t had one on one connection. We knew who they were and approximately where they lived. Over the internet we suddenly found there are a whole bunch of Bencks in Brazil, a lot of them apparently. They are turning up in England in the 1600’s. We can’t figure out how it happened. It’s kind of motivated us to look more. The name had originally been Behnke. Which is quite a common name in Germany.
They moved to South Boston which was predominately Irish and they wanted to open a grocery store. They wanted to kind of blend in, this is what we had always been told, they wanted to blend in with the community which was common then. They didn’t try to keep their ethnic group, they gave that up. We don’t know if we are related to the other Bencks in Brazil or England. We have made an e-mail connection with a young man in Brazil who said his great-grandfather came from Germany too. We’re in the process of trying to connect this together. We have found very old records of people on the east coast of England, so we are off and running again. At least one in our family, our daughter, has kind of gotten the bug to continue the genealogy search, so that’s fun. Our family has always had an interest in staying connected, which is hard to do when the kids are older. Really hard. You have to have some reason to stay connected. So we do try to get together for gatherings. We have a thing in our family called “The Bimwackie” Bmwac being a combination of the first initial of our family names – Bencks, Mallik, Armstrong, Clarke, Ward, Walbridge, Bennett – I mean they all fit in there. So we call ourselves the Bimwackie’s and we try to get together at least once a year. It’s hard to do as the kids get older and schedules get fuller. College, jobs and all kinds of things.
Family gives my life happiness and meaning, obviously it’s all I’ve talked about. As I said I think grandchildren and watching kids parent really is number 1 for me. We’ve been fortunate to be able to travel since Bob retired. Certainly the people we’ve met and the countries we’ve seen, gorgeous sights all over the world have broadened our outlook. It’s been the frosting on the cake, in my education along the way. I wish all people could travel while they are young and then maybe do it again when they are old. It is a wonderful pleasure and privilege to be able to see people living in their own countries and with their own customs and traditions and realize that they are still people just like we are with the same basic needs and reasons to live.
My favorite trip was to New Zealand, so beautiful. Small enough so you can see it in a couple of weeks and appreciate the fact that everything that we have in this great, big, huge country, the United States, is there in the way of mountains, oceans, woods, geysers, plains, anything you can think of that are great places to see in the United States are there, but more compact and easier to get around. Plus the people are just lovely and welcoming. They seem to have their priorities right, they spend more time on the road traveling in their caravans, what we call RVs, they are only a couple of hours from the ocean no matter where they live. They do a lot of trail walking, fishing, boating it’s a very pleasant place to be. India is another place that was life changing and glorious to see. Full of great contrasts, mind boggling history, and if you could wrap your mind about the Hindu religion and the Muslim religion they are almost more than you could absorb. But again, beautiful, beautiful people. You should either be prepared to spend a lot of money shopping or not, it’s up to you. It’s a wonderful place to shop. Everybody is selling something. We’ve seen a lot of the world.
China was interesting. I think I’m glad I went, I was very glad to come home. Again, very beautiful people. That was our last trip. Politically, I was not happy about going, but Bob wanted to. I’m not happy about what they are doing to the Yantze River and I’m not happy about their politics. Historically there is so much to see. The young people are showing some signs of perhaps making some changes. I’m not sure it is going to happen soon. They are so much in the habit of doing what they are told, learning to paint when they are a little bitty child and painting the same picture for all their life until they can turn out hundreds of them for the tourists. You think “Oh my goodness, you are a wonderful, wonderful artist”, but when you watch them they are technicians. Turning out beautiful art work because they do it every day. The same! I don’t mean to belittle their ability to do it. Just to be able to stick to something and do the minute detail that they do is wonderful. But, they don’t have the freedom to do anything else. As I said we saw signs of the new generation being different. When we first come back from a trip we are very tuned in to what is going on in the country. When you have been somewhere and seen it for real, it has a lot more meaning for you.
We have traveled quite a bit in the US. We haven’t finished. We hope to do some more. We have done the Rockies, the Northwest, the Canadian Rockies, and of course Florida. We know Florida well. We have a life there. California, we’ve done the Southwest, we’ve done a lot of Elder Hostels. Really a good way to travel. We’ve seen a lot of South America, Central American, Europe, Scandinavia, Turkey, Greece. Italy was an Elder Hostel and Costa Rica was an Elder Hostel. Both excellent trips. It was great because we were staying outside of Florence in a lovely mountain town and we would have a lecture on a particular artist or on a particular piece of art, Renaissance Art, and then the next day we would get on a train and go to Florence and they would take us right to it. We didn’t have to stand in line, or wonder where it was or how to get there. Then they would turn us loose and we would go see other things too, but we got to know how to ride the train, walk around Florence. It was a very, very good program. Run by Trinity College in Hartford, CT. Most of the instructors are very young people who are doing their Art History Major maybe from the University of Syracuse. They go to Florence. That’s where everybody wants to go when you are an Art History major. They’re still sort of studying and yet an authority themselves, but they take on this job of sharing it with other people. They are full of enthusiasm, energy and information that they are very, very well done programs. It is a great way to travel.
I knew my maternal grandparents as a child. I didn’t know my father’s parents. His mother was from Switzerland. They met in Nova Scotia at Acadia University. It was a college then. She came over to teach French and German. He was also teaching there. They married and had two boys and later moved to Massachusetts and my father was born there. She died when my dad was 3 years old. His father remarried and I did know his wife. Grandmama we called her. I never knew her well. She was kind of distant. In her later years she was blind. My mother’s parents I knew quite well. We spent several weeks there in the summers in Vermont. That family history went back to the Battle of Bennington. My mother’s name was Walbridge and General Ebenezer Walbridge was a Colonel at the Battle of Bennington. Bennington is quite a historic place. It’s fun to visit. Most of our antiques came from Bennington.
We were fortunate to have that grandparent connection. My parents, our children were fortunate to have grandparents on both sides with lots of family. A great, great gift to have. When I think about it, our family is, there is a term called a nuclear family I didn’t know what it meant at first. I guess it means family that really stays together. Because of our good genes and the fact that most everybody lived in New England, it had made it easier to connect. A pretty fortunate life. We have had some hard times along the way. We were poor, and we’ve had some challenges with our kids. They were challenges at the time. Things happen in ways that you don’t fantasize they will happen, when you dream about how your first, older daughter is going to look when she walks down the aisle as a bride. And she chooses to have a tiny little ceremony with six people. Then you know it’s the kind of….. “OK” you have to realize it’s her choice and almost 30 years later they are doing great. Her husband’s father was from India, from Pakistan. That was an adjustment for us when they first got together. She had just graduated from college, and then went to Katy Gibbs.
When she finished that she got a job at UMPG, now USM, as a secretary to the professor in rehab counseling at the Gorham campus. That was Huss Malick, Dr. Malick. He had just come from Eugene, Oregon where he had been teaching for a long time and had gotten his doctorate. Had a change in his life with a divorce and came to Maine. Jane went to work for him. Four weeks later they were a couple. We didn’t know him very well. It was difficult, but Janie was so happy and my mother was so wise. She just saw awfully good things in Huss, and opened her heart to him. So we got to know each other gradually over the summer and they were married in December. During that period of time we met his mother, we didn’t meet his children until after they were married. We watched them grow up. He’s an amazing person. Collected a lot of wisdom along the way with all the degrees he has and all the traveling he’s done.
Soon after they were married, well a couple of years later, they had their baby, Jenny. My first grandchild. All of a sudden they decided to sell everything they owned and buy property in the Caribbean. They took our sweet one year old baby and moved down to the Caribbean for nine years. They lived on an island and ran a lovely guest house. That was a real career change for them. We then became pretty familiar with the island and explored other parts of the Caribbean as well. So our first grandchild was an island baby, grew up there for the first nine years. It’s called Culebra, it’s part of Puerto Rico. It’s not highly developed yet, although it’s getting there. When Jenny got to the age where school was becoming more important, she grew up bilingual because of the school being Spanish. They used to say their smiles were broken, their business was year round. They really got very tired. They were lovely hosts. People kept coming back year after year after year. There is quite a group of people from Portland community that go to Culebra. Anyway they decided to sell and shortly after they sold, Hurricane Hugo hit Culebra very bad and there was quite a bit of damage. We were grateful that they didn’t have to undergo that disaster.
They spent a year here in Cape Elizabeth and then they moved back to the West Coast where Huss was before near Seattle. They were there for ten years until Huss retired. Now they live in Florida. He was working for the state of Washington in the mental health department. He became nationally known with some of his innovative ideas to help people with mental illness to help them cope with their lifestyle. He is very highly thought of in his field. He is having a little trouble with retirement because of no longer being connected to that intellectual setting. He has done some part time teaching with a community college in Florida. There’s got to be a good spot for him. This is a man who is 30 years ahead of his time. Who just seemed to have a grasp for what the real problem is and implementing it is something else. But he has a very, very good mind. He has a good understanding of racism, poverty, hunger and all those major things that are at the crux of our world’s problems. Our human problem. He’s a very good counselor and constantly does that anyway. His friends often call him and say “My daughter is having such and such a problem, could you talk to her?” He has friends all over the country.
Our grandchild, that was a surprise. [Younger son had a child out of wedlock] He is a gift to our family. He has been a part of our family from the time he came home from the hospital. He would come to our house every Tuesday for the day. We saw more of him than any of our other grandchildren for awhile. He seems to have juggled this whole thing. I’ve never had a really detailed conversation with him to know whether he understands all this or not. I’m sure he does by now. But he just juggles all his family life as normal, like everybody has all these. He has a mother, two dads, at least four sets of grandparents. There may be more because I think there are multiple marriages in his step-dad’s family. They all love him. He’s got so many people who just cherish him. He is the oldest grandchild on his mother’s side of the family. He is a favorite cousin and he fits right in with all ours. When something like that happens and you say “Oops, that was a mistake”, it is a mistake to say that. Because it is meant to be. The only heartache is because your child is hurting. These things happen. We were very fortunate because communication was open. Rob was able to keep good communication between the child’s mother and himself. People say it would be hard to accept, but you know it just seemed so right to do. I’ve never been sorry. When we think of our life without Tyler, there would be such a loss. We’ll see where this goes. There’s the push for college now. The plans of him and his cousin Jarrett. Our older grandson is on his way to college in the fall. Jenny is in college as you know. The two 16 year olds are doing the last push through high school. You know those last couple of years can be rough. And then a couple, no three younger grandchildren. Hopefully we will get to watch them grow up. It’s precious times with babies. This was all in answer to “What means the most to you?” See I keep coming back to family. I can’t imagine life any other way. There are certainly times when I have gotten on a soapbox and gotten involved politically, through church or through scouts or different organizations that I have been part of. Trying to make changes here and there. That has been very rewarding.
One of the most fun things I learned to do which had instant reward was playing the hand bells. Boy, is it hard when you first start, and frustrating and discouraging. But when you get it right it is so rewarding. I did that for just a short time when we got that first set of bells at church that I think were antique actually, and then gradually we got a good set. Now aren’t they wonderful? Whenever I hear them play something that was in the collection of music that we had when we first started, I remember it.
Then there was getting involved in church around my interest in making peace rather than war. It was very rewarding because I found other people who had similar interests and viewpoints, and combined with our Christian background that gave us a safe place to work on it and talk about it and pick out the important parts and share them with other people in the congregation.
The process of learning about what it means to be a “Just Peace Church” and then sharing it all with the congregation was a long, but rewarding one, during the 80’s. A fairly large group of interested people came together within the church to study and discuss the history and the political changes that we saw happening as we moved from “Just War” in the 40’s, through the Cold War… plus how this all seemed to be in conflict with the biblical teachings and especially the teachings of Jesus… Christianity, as we interpreted it to work in the times of ever increasing Nuclear Armaments, Star Wars, etc. It was a huge subject and we worked through it, gradually formulating ways that we could share with the congregation to listen, learn and be heard in the important decisions being made in our church, our community, our country and our world. Working through our own church organization and the Social Concerns Dept., we made recommendations to the Governing Board that would give importance to being a “Just Peace Church”, through planning or programs, making church an accessible and comfortable place for all, offering opportunities to be Socially active – such as Amnesty International, Bread for the World, writing letters to and visiting members of Congress and being good stewards of our green earth. It was a very rewarding process although it took a long time and is still going on, of course. At the time, it seemed so important as if I were doing something useful. I guess that is how I learned to see my life – small changes where I can, in my community and I can handle it. It will have some kind of an effect on others, to my children, my grandchildren, hopefully.
The values I wanted them to learn was integrity as Number 1 and consideration of other people. I’ve changed my way of teaching over the years. You know you learn from your parents and my parents were very strict. My father was very stern, although fun. So my method of parenting mirrored them for awhile. I expected a great deal of perfection from child number 1, before I mellowed. But I think examples are the best teacher. We have had some rowdy family discussions sometimes. About all kinds of subjects. And we have such a huge range of ages, grandchildren go from 25 down to two months. They are in all different stages in their lives, and our children had a lot of similarities, but because of their own life journeys they have had different experiences too. But we are very, very pleased and proud of all three of them and what they have done with their lives. I constantly learn from them. We also tried to give them their own space and their own privileges. Our parents guided us rather strictly up to a certain point and then turned us loose but I think the letting go part is hard, the hardest thing is to stand back and give them love and say “You know we are here if you need us”. But I try to teach them by example. With all our children we have talked a lot about church and religion and the part it played in Bob’s and my life. But only one of them is churched. He goes to the catholic church and takes part in it. He even redesigned the church for them. He’s an architect. He is very much respected in the church community. So that has been interesting because they all received the same amount of church education, Christian education. Jane seems the closest to it. She still goes to Birger’s [former minister] church when she’s here. They are very close friends. They were part of their Culebra guests. Huss helped Birger launch his new sailboat the other day. But so far Birger is “it” for them. I understand their not having a church community. I guess I would have to say it is a little bit disappointing. I think it would be a good resource for them. Huss claims he’s an atheist. I don’t agree with him. He has no really good church experiences. Birger is his very good friend and I am grateful for that. So in a lot of different ways you get your spiritual life. There isn’t any one right way to do that. I wish they had found the same sense of community from the church that we have. It will be interesting to see where the grandchildren go.
There are going to be some changes in education. Based on my own situation of not being too successful with the traditional way of learning in college and then watching my grandchildren start in, I really think education should be learning how to learn. In other words, learning the methods of library resource, internet source, book resource whatever, as a way to learn something rather than learning facts, memorizing vocabulary words and memorizing facts in order to get a good score. It really is a business now of getting your child through high school and accepted into college. It takes a whole school system and then extra people, tutors, all those companies out there who are tying to teach your kids how to take the tests to get into college. There is so much pressure on children, and a great amount of depression from that. Along the way something gets lost. I don’t think we are doing it right. Huss says some big universities are beginning to change in the way they screen their applicants. The don’t pay as much attention to SATs . I do know that they are changing the testing. Jenny, for instance is a good example, she struggled to get through high school. It was part of the teenage thing. Not wanting to be in class. But it was just a real struggle for her. There was no reason she couldn’t do the work if she wanted to. And then followed several years of not being happy with herself. She’s 25 and she’s just finished her Jr. year. Which she has loved, but there was a space in between when she wasn’t ready for it. She received her massage therapy license, did some traveling in Europe, but once she decided that, yes, she wanted to go to college, she just loves it. I don’t think she’s going to want to leave. It’s a great feeling of self-esteem being in a group where she’s intellectually challenged and doing good stuff. Expanding her mind, hoping to teach the whole world how to eat properly. She’s a philosophy major, but she’s very tuned in to nutritional, organic food.
I’d like to be remembered for, I guess, as someone who loved life and God. I’ve always felt young until I hit 75 and then it sort of hit me, “Wow, Anne you’re 75”. That’s really old. This winter I’ve had a discussion with myself about making that change in my mind. I still am scornful of old people. I don’t want to hang out with them. I want to be with young people although I have a lot of friends my own age that I adore. Anyway there’s something going on in there that I’m not really sure of because I haven’t had any great physical, medical change. Well, I have really; my muscles have gone to mush because I’m not using them. This little house is so easy to take care of. There are no stairs. I don’t push myself to do much. I think it’s a mind thing, not a physical thing. I guess I’m in the midst of another passage – accepting being a senior citizen, an elder (not elderly) in my community and family. I certainly am trying to keep on learning, listening and learning, but seem to be more observer now than an active participant. There is much joy in this because I am by nature a hopful person and I believe in the talents and intelligence of each new generation. Certainly I have witnessed it in my own children and grandchildren.
Each of our three children have worked hard to get a good education, are doing creative and worthwhile work, contributing to building communities that will sustain our lovely earth. They have each found marriage partners that I love and admire and are parenting in ways, sometimes like me and sometimes very different…. but amazing and with great joy. So with high hopes and great pleasure, I/we watch our 7 grandchildren grow and DEVELOP THEIR OWN TALENTS IN A WORLD VERY DIFFERENT FROM the one I grew up in.