Thursday, July 20, 2017


12-5-15   Googled the Pope's visit this morning and was reminded that he officially gave priests permission to absolve the faithful from the sin of abortion. . . .   
     In December of 1939, while my freshman classmates at Smith were preparing for their midyear exams, I made a devastating, mind‑reeling discovery:  I was pregnant.  Not only were my own dreams and aspirations suddenly dashed, but also the expectations of my widowed mother, Ernestine, my "second mother" Vaughan, and the trusting strangers who provided scholarships to worthy applicants.  Feeling utterly unworthy, I realized Ed and I had tarried once too often beside "Passion Puddle," a small pond on the outskirts of the campus.
      Here is an irony.  I happen to believe in a woman's right to choose.  Had abortion been a legal recourse in those days, I wouldn't have hesitated to have one.  Yet I am devoutly thankful it was not an option, for I would have lost the opportunity to know a remarkable human being, my daughter Kathie, my magical, miraculous mistake.
      I confess that in my despair, the thought of an abortion crossed my mind, but Ed was adamant.  "Go to some dingy room in a back alley where God knows what might happen to you?  Barbara, you could die!  No!  I won't let you do it!"
      That was that.  I had no choice.  I would have to break Mother's and Vaughan's hearts with the news of my pregnancy.
      In 1929, when I was eight years old, Mother had hired Vaughan as a practical nurse for my Aunt Miriam, who was fatally ill with leukemia.  We children, my older brother Richard, my  younger sister Janeth and I, had become devoted to Vaughan.   After my aunt's death, we begged Mother to let her stay with us as our housekeeper.  And stay she did, off and on for the next three decades.  During my teenage years I was sure that the only person in the world who understood me was Vaughan.
     The affection was mutual.  "When I get old, Babbie," she used to say, "save me a place by the chimney corner."  I promised I would.
     I was married on January 1, 1940, several years sooner than anyone, including me, had expected.  Yet, what I would have missed if I had remained in college instead of conceiving Kathie, Teddy, Vonnie, and Timmy!  I suppose I would have had four other wonderful children, perhaps by Ed, or who knows, perhaps by a suitor from Amherst.  But those children  couldn't possibly have been as special as the four I had and the grandchildren they bore, thanks to an indiscretion beside a trysting place aptly known as Passion Puddle.                                                                                  

     Telling Mother I had eloped with Ed and would be leaving college wasn't easy.  Telling Vaughan was impossible.  I asked Mother do it.   "Can you stand a shock, Vaughan, dear?" 
     "Sure.  Are you married?"
     "Oh no.  Sit down.  Barbara's married."
     "No!" I could hear her scream from the other room.  "I don't believe it!  How could Babbie do this to us?  Oh, I hate that Eddie!  He has ruined my Babbie's life.  I'll kill him!"
     Another irony.  The day before Vaughan died in July of 1962, the last words she spoke were to Ed.  He had wandered from her nursing‑home room while I said my goodbyes and told her I'd be back the next day.  Her beautiful brown eyes looked tired and sad and a little frightened.  (Kathie told me later that Vaughan had said to her, "I've given up all hope of getting better.")
     "All right, Babbie," she said to me.  Then she called out in a stronger voice than she had been able to muster in weeks,  "Goodbye, Eddie!"
     The urgency in her tone startled me, and it flashed through my mind that she didn't expect to see him again and was saying farewell for the last time.  I had an impulse to go after him and bring him back, but when I saw him standing on the porch, gazing at the traffic with slumped shoulders, I decided not to trouble him with my forebodings.
     I can still hear Vaughan's last farewell to a man she had grown to respect, admire, and love.


  1. Young as I was, I do remember her; what a darling person.

    1. Yes, that's what she was. Thank you for sharing your feelings about my dear second mother.