INTRODUCTION TO VAUGHAN
Dear Diary, June 10, 1935
Dear Diary, June 10, 1935
I suppose I should begin by telling you about my family. First of all, I will be 14 in August. My sister Janeth will be 11 in August. I have a darling beautiful mother named Ernestine who is around 40 years old. Her birthday is in August, too. She used to be an opera singer and we didn’t see much of her in those days. We heard her more than we saw her. She would turn the water on in the bathroom tub and practice her scales. I can remember being allowed to stay up late when she sang on the radio.
My father David is 13 years older than my mother and has curly hair that was straight until he got maleria in the Spanish American war. He is a very strict man, especially with Dicky. Oh-oh, we must say Dick. He doesn’t want to be called Dicky any more. He gets mad at me, even though I don’t do it just to annoy him. He will be 21 in October.
I usually never knew why my brother was getting punished except when he wet the bed. I could hear him getting the razor strap almost every morning. When he got to be 12 and still wet the bed, my father tried a new punishment. He made Dicky stand in the front hall for hours with his wet sheets hanging over his head.. When Vaughan called the family to dinner, he still had to stand there. I felt so sorry for him, I didn’t want to walk past him, so I went down the back stairs and through the kitchen to get to the dining room.
You’re probably wondering who Vaughan is.
You’re probably wondering who Vaughan is.
When my Aunt Mimmy got sick with cancer, mother hired Vaughan to help take care of her. She wore a white uniform and cooked wonderful meals, but my aunt hardly touched the food on her tray. I never saw her up and around. All I knew was, she didn’t like noise. Every morning she would call me into her room and promise Janeth and me a nickel each if we’d try not to shout in the back yard. I’m afraid we often forgot, but she gave us the nickel anyway.
No one told me Aunt Mimmy was dying. To me, she was just a white face on a white pillow. Then one day she dissapeared. When I was older, Vaughan described the way she died.
“I’ll never forget seeing your mother holding Aunt Mimmy in her lap in the rocking chair. She had lost so much weight, it was easy to lift her out of bed. Mother rocked her and sang to her in a soft voice, and after awhile Aunt Mimmi just stopped breathing. She went very peacefully.”
That was the end of the nickels, of course.
We children all loved Vaughan and her cooking and begged mother to let her stay. I think of her as my second mother because she understands my feelings better than my first mother.
It’s a comfort to talk to her because she can see why my sister gets on my nerves.
“I’ve seen what goes on, and I know how hard it is on you,” she said during one of our private talks. “Janeth is determined to have her own way. Your dear mother doesn’t realize she should find friends her own age instead of pushing herself on you and your friends.” Mother makes me drag Janeth along wherever I go. “Janeth isn’t a leper,” she says. “Why don’t you love your little sister? I always loved my little sister.” I get very tired of hearing this over and over, but I don’t dare talk back. Daddy doesn’t spank me anymore, but he has an almost worse punishment. He sends me to my room and says “Don’t read,” He knows I wouldn’t care if I had a book.
Saturday, August 24, 1935
I am still shaking from the most horrible experience of my life. I was just waking up when I heard mother calling Vaughan in a strange tone of voice. By the time I got my bathrobe on, Vaughan had hurried to mother’s room and was talking to her, trying to calm her down. I knew something was wrong, so I went to the door and looked in. The first thing I saw was Vaughan in the bathroom, cleaning up blood that had spattered all over the place. Mother was sitting on her bed, her face as white as Aunt Mimmy’s used to be. “Mother! Are you all right?” I screamed.
She said she was all right, but she was going to lie down because she felt faint. Vaughan said, “I’ll tell you what happened, dear, as soon as I finish mopping up. Go get dressed and I’ll see you in a minute.” Oh, what a long minute that was!
Diary, you won’t believe what daddy did. He circumcized himself. Mother tried to stop him, but he said he’d made his mind up. He was sick and tired of having to clean himself every day, so he was going to take a razor and get rid of the damn, dirty nuisance. With mother begging him not to, he locked himself in the bathroom, sat on the edge of the tub with a razor, and that’s where all the blood came from. He used mother’s kotex to bandage himself, and then he left.
I don’t know where he is now. Vaughan doesn’t either. “You know how he hates doctors,” she said. “Maybe he went to the drug store to get bandages and some kind of ointment. If he’d allow it, I’d be glad to help him get through this craziness, now that it’s done. The biggest danger is an infection.”
Later: Daddy came home this afternoon, and he’s resting in his room with the shades down. He told mother not to worry, he’ll be fine in a few days.
Monday, August 26, 1935
Vaughan says the bleeding has almost stopped. She stands outside the bathroom and hands him a bandage coated with vaseline. He hands her the bloody bandage. Mother told me not to talk about this with Janeth because she’s too young to understand. Well, so am I!
Tuesday, August 27, 1935
Vaughan says to try and forget what happened. I’m trying, but it’s hard. I keep thinking about how painful it must have been. Did it hurt as much as pulling out a fingernail? Did it hurt as much as an artist I read about who cut off part of his ear? Did it hurt as much as Dick hurt when daddy used to beat him?
I know Vaughan is right, I should think of pleasant things instead of unpleasant things. From now on, that’s what I’m going to do.
Monday, June 21, 1937
Last night, on Father’s Day ironically enough, daddy was stricken with a heart attack. I didn’t know how serious it was until I came home from school today and found the house full of friends and relatives. I was terribly frightened until Vaughan comforted me by saying, “Where there’s life there’s hope.” Daddy called for all his business associates and he’s signing papers. The gravity of the situation still hasn’t quite sunk into my brain. I keep saying over and over, “It’s my father, my own father.” Vaughan says he has a 50-50 chance.
Wednesday, June 23, 1937
I went into daddy’s room for a few minutes yesterday and it was upsetting to see him looking so weak under the oxygen tent. Mother was quite hopeful yesterday, but he got worse today. Mother said he was half-delirious, saying funny little things to her. When he was restless, mother said, “David, if you love me please try to keep still.”
“All right,” he said, “but is it all right if I hug my nurse?” With that, he gave mama a big wink. Then, when the doctor said his condition had improved, mother told daddy it was because he had been quiet. “Yes,” daddy said, “I’ve been an angel.”
Mama overheard him say to the doctor, “I want to live just ten years more so I can see my children settled in life. Then I’ll be willing to go.”
Saturday, June 26, 1937
Daddy isn’t going to get well. I heard the doctor telling mother that it would be cruel to let her hope any longer. Mother is so dear and so brave! She said she was afraid she’d never be able to catch up with daddy—that she’d have to be awfully good if she was going to meet him in the after-life. I don’t know what mother will do. She loved daddy so much, especially during the last week.
Sunday, June 27, 1937
Daddy died this morning at 12:55. I still can’t believe it—just last Sunday, on Father’s Day, he sat smiling at the head of the table and demanded, “Kiss me, everybody.” Yesterday he said, “How did I get into such a jam?”
This morning I started into mother’s room but stopped in the doorway when I overheard something she said to Aunt Mary. They were changing the beds, and mother said, “I know he’s in heaven, but I loved his body.” Aunt Mary answered, “I felt the same way when I lost Sherm.”
I backed out of the room, terribly embarrassed. I didn’t know middle-aged people had feelings like that.
May 8, 1938
May 8, 1938
The most awful thing has happened! Mother says we’ll have to let Vaughan go. I heard Janeth telling mother that Vaughan wasn’t co-operating on keeping our food bills down. Oh, if she really leaves, I don’t know what will become of me! Mother can never see my point of view. It was such a comfort to pour my troubles out to Vaughan.
Saturday, July 1, 1939
When I got home yesterday—well, I say “home” mechanically—the place was empty, echo-y, with newspapers scattered all over the floors. Yes, we have moved at last, after a lot of hard work, to 521 Commonwealth Ave., only a few blocks from 716. Oddly enough, I don’t mind a bit. Our new house, two-family, is very nice, with plenty of room for everyone, including our roomer, Jim Foster. My room opens onto a lovely airy porch, where I shall sleep this summer when Vaughan comes. Oh, I forgot to tell you. Vaughan’s back was so strained in an auto accident that the doctor won’t let her go back to working at Aunt Alma’s camp. He said light housekeeping for a private family would be all right, so my wonderful “second mother” will soon be with us again. Saturday, July 29, 1939
Never before have I been so happy with Ed as I was last night. We went dancing at the Totem Pole and for the first time, danced well together. In fact, we coordinated so perfectly that people stopped to watch us.
Today I can say that my future looks bright. I was thinking this morning how fortunate I am to have four years of college ahead of me, no troubles on my mind—no tonsilitis, no financial problems, nothing to worry about. Isn’t life wonderful! Isn’t it wonderful to be young!
Something just happened that everyone thought was funny except me. I had put my hair up in curlers and gone out on the porch to be with the family—mother, Janeth, and Vaughan. Suddenly I heard Jim Foster coming up the stairs and heading our way.
“Move over, Vaughan!” I said, scrambling into the narrow space under the day bed so Jim wouldn’t see me in curlers. I absolutely refused to come out unless he left.
Jim said, “Oh, come on, Barbara, you can’t look that bad!”
I said yes I could, but he hung around for the longest time while my family laughed at my predicament. Finally, on the verge of suffocation, I asked mother to bring me the kerchief in my left bureau drawer. It wasn’t easy putting it on in my cramped quarters, but I managed. Then I crawled out, knowing my face was flushed, my kerchief askew, and my blouse untucked. I scowled at Jim, who said, “You’d look just fine if you’d wear a smile along with those curlers.” Mother said, “Really, dear, you shouldn’t worry about your looks in front of Jim—he’s one of the family.”
I retired to my room and didn’t return until my hair was combed out and my face was almost back to normal.
Mother said, “You look lovely, dear.”
“Indeed she does,” said Jim, whereupon I felt myself turning crimson again.
“Look! She’s as red as a beet,” Janeth giggled.
Saturday, August 5, 1939
Last night, to celebrate mother’s 46th birthday, Ed and I arranged a dinner party at Pieroni’s. There were five of us, including Vaughan and Janeth, and we had a delicious shore dinner for five dollars plus 50 cents for a tip. Then we all went to a show.
Vaughan told me she has become very fond of Ed. She admitted she wasn’t at first, but now she really likes him. Mother reproached me for picking at him and said he must be a nervous wreck from trying to please me.
“But he’s so conceited, I’m always afraid he’ll say something that will make a bad impression on you and Vaughan.”
“I like Ed!” mother said. “I think he’s a grand person and anything he does is all right with me. You don’t want a wimp, a yes-man, Barbara—you want someone with a mind of his own, don’t you?”
She is right. I have carried my reform movement to extremes—almost giving Ed an inferiority complex, if such a thing is possible.
Monday, August 21, 1939
Back to my filing job at Liberty Mutual. I slogged through the day, wondering how much longer I could stand this monotonous work. Only two weeks to go. Then possibly a week in New Hampshire with Ed and two weeks to prepare for college.
Sunday, August 27, 1939
I can’t believe that in just four more weeks I’ll be at Smith. How will I ever be able to adjust to being separated from Ed? He is still pressing me to marry him, but I’ve definitely decided against it. Suppose I got pregnant and had to leave college. It isn’t just me—it’s mother and Vaughan and Mr. Rinker, my favorite teacher, and all the nice unknown people who had enough faith in me to give me those scholarships. I can’t let them down.
Smith College Sunday, September 24, 1939
Did ever a girl arrive at college in such a frantic state, saying goodbye to friends and loved ones, all the while praying she wouldn’t soon be saying hello? Ed, Mother, Vaughan, and Taffy drove to Northampton with me to see my room in Gardiner House and help me get settled. Only Ed knew the strain I was under.
Smith College Monday, September 25, 1939
I am becoming acquainted with my dorm mates, but it looks as if it will only be until Christmas. College isn’t so wonderful, anyway—at least the two days I’ve spent here haven’t made me want to stay.
Later: Thirty-four days and all is well! Things look mighty different now. College is swell, the girls are swell—life is wonderful! I telephoned Ed to set his mind at rest, and the silly boy sounded almost disappointed. I'll be seeing him when I go home for Thanksgiving. Monday, December 25, 1939
Ed and I went up to New Hampshire yesterday to have the blood test required if Fate pushes me into eloping a week from today. I was pleased to see my prospective husband again—so pleased, in fact, that I decided it wasn’t going to be so bad being married to him. I’ll just have to make the best of it, that’s all there is to it.
What worries me most is the thought of Vaughan. I could probably convince mom that I will be happy to marry Ed, but I have assured Vaughan again and again that I had no such intention.
I told mother she couldn’t possibly understand what the relationship between Ed and me has been like. “It’s been different from anything I ever heard or read about. I know he has respected me and loved me, and I never felt ashamed about what had happened.”
Poor, dear mother! In order to convince me that she did understand, she said she once had an
affair during a serious quarrel with daddy. I don’t believe it. I think she made up the story just to make me feel better. I told her Ed and I would be married in New Hampshire on Monday. Sunday, December 31, 1939
I found a poem, Words for a Daughter, mother had clipped from a magazine and left on my desk. Though you have shut me out, your eyes
Betray some wound your speech denies.
You need not fear. I shall remain
Outside. That baffled look of pain
I shall not see, for I must learn
To mask my pity and concern.
And I am proud that you have shown
Courage to face your world alone.
Only remember this: when there
Are times when you have need to share
Your problems, I shall always be
Waiting for you to come to me—
Eager to help you on your way,
Or blunt the sharp edge of dismay.
Your need of me, if you but knew
Is nothing to my need of you!
Elizabeth Grey Stewart
Monday, January 1, 1940
Today, New Life Day, Ed and I drove to Hampton, New Hampshire, “the marrying town.” My wedding finery was a plaid skirt and jacket, scuffed white moccasins, and socks (with a hole in the heel). I don’t have a ring yet, but the Justice of the Peace declared us man and wife nevertheless. We agreed to pick one out tomorrow and then go to a hotel in Northampton for our wedding night.
We stopped for a hotdog at Howard Johnson’s, then Ed dropped me off at my house. Oh, how I dreaded facing Vaughan. She had just come back from a weekend baby-sitting job and had no idea what I’d been up to during her absence. I begged mother to break the news before I came home -- I was too cowardly to do it myself.
“Where’s Vaughan?” I asked. “How did she take it?”
“I think she went up to her room to recover,” she said. Then she described what had happened.
“Can you stand a shock, Vaughan?”
“Sure. Are you married?”
“Oh, no. Sit down. Barbara’s married.”
“No!” Vaughan screamed. “She isn’t! She isn’t!”
“She married Ed today.”
Vaughan was practically beating her breast and tearing her hair. “I don’t believe it! How could Babbie do this to us! Oh, I hate that Ed -- he has ruined my Babbie’s life! I’ll kill him!”
I raced up to Vaughan’s room, my mind a blank except for wondering if she’d be able to forgive me. Her arms reached out to me. She hugged me and we both cried, and she promised me she’d always love me no matter what I did. “Anyone can make a mistake,” she said, “but I did so hope you wouldn’t make this one.”
Then she told me that old Nanny over in Arlington has been seeing this marriage in the cards for a long time.
“Barbara is either married or she’s going to be.”
Vaughan said she laughed. “Oh no, that isn’t possible. Babbie’s going to college.”
“Well," said old Nanny, "I’m positive you’ll find out soon that I am right.”
Wednesday, January 3, 1940
I took the subway and met Ed in Boston yesterday afternoon. Together we picked out a darling wedding ring with ten little diamonds for $25.00. When I slipped it on my finger I felt really married for the first time. My dorm mates won’t believe their eyes.
January 16, 1940
Enclosed is two dollars. Would you please send me a check for this amount, payable to the Registry of Motor Vehicles? It seems so funny to write Barbara B. Malley on my license. I’ll never get used to it!
Did Ed tell you about our apartment? It's on Beacon Hill, right plunk in the middle of everything that is of interest in Boston. It sounds ideal, although Ed told me gloomily that the refrigerator is in the bedroom. When I pointed out how convenient this was for midnight snacks, he felt better.
I had a terrible dream about the family last night. I dreamt that when I came home, I found an official-looking document in my room, stating that the undersigned intended to have nothing to do with me. Signed: Mother, Vaughan, Jim, and Janeth. I was heart-broken when Jim, instead of greeting me with his usual warmth, said frigidly, “Oh, hello Barbara.” Vaughan stayed in the kitchen, and you just looked cold and reserved. I was so miserable that Jim finally spoke kindly to me.
Tell Vaughan that I’m mad at her for being so mean to me. She’d better send her love in her
next letter to blot out the impression of that nightmare of a dream. You, too, mother dear.
March 2, 1940
Newton Center Saturday afternoon
Dearest mother—We were glad to hear that you and Vaughan survived your long drive to Florida. I am having a wonderful time keeping house. This place has one big advantage over our tiny apartment -- sunlight! I think I shall visit you every day when the warm weather comes. It’s fun to cook in a kitchen that has such an ample store of provisions, spices, and an assortment of pots and pans and modern gadgets that make cooking a fascinating game. Jim and Janeth have been praising every meal I cook.
Monday, March 4, 1940
Paul Elicker came over Saturday morning to give me his senior picture. I learned that most people don’t know I intend to pay back the scholarship money, that I would not be cordially received if I visited the high school, and that it would be folly to show my face at the Women’s Club. Before he left, Paul autographed his picture, “To a girl who had everything.” What a cruel slap in the face that was.
Jim felt too ill to go to the symphony Saturday night, so he gave Ed and me his tickets. During the intermission, Mr. Rinker was the only person who greeted me kindly. My other English teachers, Miss Robinson and Miss Bigelow, said hello hastily and then walked on. This facing the music—what an appropriate cliche!—is distressing, especially since I have no one to blame but myself.
March 11, 1940
Dear mother—If you don’t get this letter, I don’t know what I shall do! We have all written you—Janeth, Jim, and this is my third letter, but I’m very much afraid the address you left us in incorrect. At least it is different from the one you enclosed in one of your recent letters.
Of course we haven’t forgotten you! How could you think such a thing? We think about you and talk about you all the time. It is the most frustrating feeling to be unable to get word to you. I’m so upset I can’t think of anything to say. I can hardly wait until you get home and everything is straightened out.
Florida sounds wonderful! You are so lucky to be surrounded by color and green growing things. The cold, grey winter’s end here in the north can look beautiful to no one but a poet.
Tell Vaughan I stuffed and roasted a chicken all by myself last Saturday. It was just as good as Dorothy Muriel’s Bakery and almost as good as hers. Jim said it was delicious.
Much, much love goes with this letter. I do hope you get it.
May 13, 1940
It looks as if Ed has won Vaughan over. I thought a few months ago those two would never be on speaking terms again, but lately she laughs and jokes with him, and yesterday she even kissed him goodbye.
For a Mother's Day celebration, mother, Vaughan, Ed, Janeth and I went to "Sailor Tom's" for a shore dinner. I footed the bill (only $4.50). I think I enjoyed the party more than anyone—eating out is a big treat for me these days. June 10, 1940
Dick is home for his vacation. He is being very kind to the family—stayed up with Janeth and her algebra until midnight—and he came to see my apartment and left three books I didn't discover until after he had gone.
June 20, 1940
Mother read one of the books Dick gave me, "Look Homeward, Angel," by Thomas Wolfe. She was so shocked that she immediately wrote him a letter reproving him for permitting my pure eyes to see such ugliness and asking him not to send me any more books like that. When mother told me what she had done, I flew off the handle. I told her she could stick to "Alice in Wonderland" and "Little Women" if she wanted to, but I was going to continue looking for Truth, even if it wasn't always beautiful. I had read books much more lurid than Wolfe's; why had she always given me free rein in my reading before? Well, she fondly imagined that if I came across anything naughty, I wouldn't understand it.
I shouldn't have lit into mother the way I did—especially in front of Ed. When he finally ventured, "But the book really isn't indecent, Mrs. Beyer -- “ that was too much for my harassed mother. She screamed at us both to get out, she never wanted to see either of us again. I went down to the car with Ed, but of course I couldn't leave her feeling that way. After a few minutes I went back alone and apologized.
Mother can't help thinking the way she does. She belongs to a generation that prefers not to call a spade a spade, while my generation has no such inhibitions. Mother doesn't mind an author talking about sex, as long as he does it subtly, delicately, without coming right out and naming things.
I thought my apologies of last night had cleared the air, but this morning she came all the way into Boston at 8:30—Ed was in the bathroom, shaving --to tell me she had telephoned Dick's landlady in Philadelphia, asking her to mail back the letter without letting Dick see it. She wanted to inform me of her action so I wouldn't write to him about it. As a matter of fact, there was a letter in Ed's pocket that I had asked him to mail this morning. Only it didn't say what mother seemed to think it would. I didn't write him to take sides with him against her. I begged him not to reply to her in a biting, sarcastic vein (for I feared he would react to her attitude as I had). A critical letter from him would have been the crowning insult after the way I wrangled with my poor unsophisticated mother last night. Damn, I wish it hadn't happened. We were getting along so happily together.
Later: All is well. Mother was as unhappy all day as I. She said she had been wrong and I said no, it was my fault, and so we made up.
July 21, 1940
I saw my doctor for the first time Friday -- the doctor who is ushering Kathie into the world at the Boston Lying-In. He is young and good-looking and charming -- and married, I am sure. That’s funny, so am I. Dr. Kirkwood told mother I was made to have babies, I could easily accommodate a ten-pounder.
July 26, 1940
I’m sorry I didn’t see you to say good-bye before you left. Anyway, thank you for the books and for the nice time I had on your vacation. I wish you had more of them.
Poor Janeth! What a miserable time she is having at Aunt Ruth’s. I really feel sorry for her, don’t you? Mother has sent me a couple of her letters which are so pathetic, they are funny. She has to write them on the sly after she goes to bed. Otherwise Aunt Ruth would insist on reading them, point out misspellings, make Janeth look the words up in the dictionary and write them 20 times correctly on a notepad. I wouldn’t be in her shoes for anything, even though my own don’t fit very well at present.
My condition, alas, is no longer concealable. People are beginning to look twice as I walk along the street -- and not because of my arresting beauty. The neighbors say solicitously, “How are you doing today?” and they smile significantly. Only another month to go, though. I guess I don’t mind being a walking side-show for that long.
Ed and I are swamped with books. We fine-tooth combed the library and found six good ones: Wolfe’s The Web and the Rock, Of Time and the River, O’Neil’s plays, The Forsythe Saga, The Late George Apley, and Healthy Babies Are Happy Babies.
August 16, 1940
For my nineteenth birthday tomorrow, mother gave me a book by our favorite author, P. G. Wodehouse. When I had my lazy eye operation six years ago, she read to me every day about the comical adventures of Bertie Wooster and Jeeves, his problem-solving butler. What a good mother she was—and is!
The doctor who examined me at the clinic yesterday said he thought Kathie was a boy. I can't believe it. I have concentrated so long on a girl, I can scarcely comprehend the idea of a boy. It feels like a girl. It must be a girl.
When Kathie read my diaries a couple of decades later, she penned a note: “I hope it’s a girl!”