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Sunday, July 16, 2017

(5) "WHY SHOULD I BE AFRAID OF YOU?" SHE SAID CALMLY.

From Kathie to Vaughan
March 8, 1962  
Swathmore College                                        
       Please excuse the stationery -- this is the only paper available to me at the moment, and I wanted to use these few spare minutes to write to you.  Mom says you haven’t been feeling too comfortable lately, and I certainly am sorry.  If you don’t start behaving yourself, I’ll have to come home and scold you.
      Mom sent me a section of your biography a couple of weeks ago -- what an exciting story!  I mentioned the fact to Butler and he asked to read it.  Of course I gave it to him and he kept it several days to read over and over.  He’s quite a romantic, you know, and loves reading about the “old days” in New England.  And when the story is about someone he knows -- well, he was really pleased and is anxious to see all the later installments.
     Butler used the necessity of returning your story to me as an excuse to invite himself over for dinner.  We had a lovely meal -- roast beef, Italian green beans, biscuits, yummy chewy brownies,  and best of all, wine!  What fun!  He asked about you and sends his love.
      I send my love too.  Take care of yourself. . .
March 9, 1962
To Kathie                                                                                           
       I am glad Butler enjoyed the chapter from Vaughan’s biography.  It’s really an autobiography, since my notes are virtually a word-for-word record of her reminiscences.  I will share the next chapter, in which she describes the early years of her  marriage.      
       “How did you meet Fred?” I asked.
       “Well, after I finished high school I went to Dover-Foxcroft to visit Aunt Maggie, my father’s only sister.  While I was there I met Fred, who had been a friend of Aunt Maggie and Uncle Al for many years.
       "I liked Fred very much right from the first, and when he asked me to marry him, only three or four weeks later, I accepted immediately."
       “How did he propose?”
       “One night I was going through the upstairs hall to my room when he came out of his room and took a little box out of his pocket.  There was a ring in it, and I remember he said, “I hope this fits you,” as he put it on my finger.  I was very excited and happy.”
       “Did he kiss you?”
       Vaughan smiled and said yes.
       She went home to break the news to her parents.  When they heard that Fred was 25 years older than their daughter and had never been married before, they advanced every argument they could think of to dissuade her, but although she was only 17, she had a firm will of her own.  Vaughan and Fred were married on Thanksgiving Day in 1893, when she was just eighteen.  None of her family attended the wedding.
       “We went to Union, Maine, on our honeymoon, by horse and buggy.  Fred had a beautiful black driving horse, and it took us three days to get there, while nowadays it’s only a few hours drive.  It seems so odd to hear Kathryn telling about the towns in Maine she’s familiar with, such as Union, Fred’s home.
       “Fred had two brothers living there, also a Mr. And Mrs. Morse he had lived with after his parents died.   His mother and father died when he was very young, and the Morses had always looked out for him and been kind to him.  They were very nice to me, too.”
       When Vaughan and Fred returned to Dover-Foxcroft two weeks later, they rented a little furnished apartment, the upper half of a two-family house.
       “I can see it now—how proud I was!  We had a bedroom, living room, dinette, and a good-sized kitchen.  We thought it was beautiful.”
       “What did Fred do for a living?”
       “He had worked for a good many years for his Aunt Sarah, his uncle’s wife.  She owned a lot of real estate and was very wealthy.  It was his job to look after her tenants.  Her husband, Fred’s Uncle Benjamin, had been dead for some years before I came into the picture, and she depended a great deal on Fred.  In fact, she seemed to feel as if she owned him and didn’t like the idea of his getting married.”
       “What did your family think of your husband after they got to know him?”
       “My brother Charlie was especially fond of Fred.  I used to hear him say Fred was one of the finest men he had ever known.  My father liked him too, but my mother was always cool to him.  It wasn’t that she thought he wasn’t a good man -- she thought I was too young and Fred too old.  Even after she had known him for years she never admitted that she was reconciled.  Fred was always nice to her and never seemed to resent her attitude.  I often used to wonder how he could be so sweet and nice when she almost ignored him.”
       “When was Harold born?”
       “In 1904.  We had moved into a downstairs apartment.  Dr. Chamberlin, who was a bachelor, lived upstairs and had his office in the front room downstairs.  It was a very nice place, right on a corner, with a beautiful lawn.  I used to tie Harold out there when he was a little fellow.  Poor Dr. Chamberlain.  He was taken insane when Harold was a tiny infant and they took him to the insane asylum.  Fred’s brother Henry and his wife Julia said they had noticed things that were peculiar about him -- Julia was Dr. Chamberlain's cousin, and he used to visit them before he was taken away the first time.  I forget how long he was in the asylum before he escaped and came home.     
       “One day I looked out the window and saw Dr. Chamberlain coming across the street.  I was terribly frightened, and my first thought was for Harold.  I was vastly relieved when the doctor didn’t come to my apartment but went upstairs to his own.  There was a flight of stairs leading from the second floor down to my kitchen, and the door at the bottom was customarily locked.  The next morning I had just finished bathing Harold and was sitting by the kitchen stove drying him with a Turkish towel when I heard footsteps coming down the back stairs.        
       “I’ll never forget it.  He rapped and rapped on the door, and I made up my mind then and there that I would try not to let him know I was frightened.”
       Carrying her towel-wrapped baby in her arms, she unlocked the door.   Dr. Chamberlain greeted her with a good-morning, admired her son, and then said, “You’re not afraid of me, are you?”
       “Why should I be afraid of you?” Vaughan replied calmly.  Never in her life had she tried harder to feign a composure she didn’t feel.  She kept praying that Fred would drop in to see the baby for a few minutes as he sometimes did.
       “Dr. Chamberlain petted Harold and talked baby talk to him, and then,to my enormous relief, he left.  A few minutes later the authorities came and took him away to the Augusta Sanitarium.  I never saw him again."
       Vaughan lapsed into silence, filled with her memories.
       “Tell me about Harold’s birth,” I suggested.
       “I studied a doctor’s book,” she said, “and figured out that the baby would be born on Monday, June third.”               
       As the day approached, Fred alerted Nancy Burce, the woman who assisted Dr. Buck in his deliveries.  Mrs. Burce was a great grange-goer, and they were having a big “do” on Saturday, June first, but she told Vaughan she wasn’t going to go because the baby might arrive ahead of schedule.  Vaughan persuaded her to go ahead and have a good time, confident that her child would be born on the calculated day.
       “The next morning  I said to Fred, `Let’s make some ice cream.’  The hand freezer was kept on the back porch.  I sat on the step in the warm June sun and turned the crank until I was tired, then Fred took over.
       “That was Sunday.  Late Monday afternoon Fred went to Dr. Buck and told him he’d better come.  The doctor hurried over and examined me and said the baby wouldn’t be born for a while yet.  Then he returned to his home, which was a  short distance away.  At six o’clock Fred went for Dr. Buck, and Harold was born at 7:00.  Fred was sitting out in the kitchen, and I said to Mrs. Burce, `Go tell Fred it’s a boy.’”
       Mrs. Burce was about to put the baby down for a moment while she tended Vaughan, prior to bathing him.
       “Go make Fred hold him,” said Vaughan.
       Mrs. Burce wrapped the newborn infant in a blanket and put him in Fred’s arms. “My, how that little thing was squawking.”
      “How did Fred react to being a father?   Was he nervous?”
      “Fred was never a person to show nervousness,” Vaughan said.  “He was the calmest, most easy-going person I’ve ever known.  He was patience itself.  I can truthfully say we never had a big quarrel or spat back and forth.  Fred just wouldn’t let one get going.”
       Vaughan was 29, Fred 54 when Harold was born        
      “Harold didn’t have a colored garment on him until he was two years old,” Vaughan told me.  “I made all his clothes and always dressed him in white dresses with lace and Hamburg trim.  He had naturally curly hair that could be combed into beautiful long ringlets.  The summer that he was four, my sister Clara wanted him to come and visit her.  We were then -- where in the dickens were we --well, I guess it doesn’t make much difference -- he wanted to go see Aunt `Taddo’ (he couldn’t say Clara and he still calls her Aunt Taddo), and she was eager to have him.
     “We told Harold we’d take him to the station, but if he decided at the last minute he didn’t want to go, we wouldn’t force him.   
      “He had two changes on the train to make all by himself.  I dressed him in his little `Russian suit,’ as it was called -- it had a pleated skirt, very short -- and put his name, where he was going, and his mother’s and father’s name and address on a card and pinned it in his pocket.  Then Fred and I put him in charge of the conductor.  When he got there -- how did we know?  Were there telephones then?  Anyway, Clara let us know when he got there safely.
       "My sister took one look at Harold and decided it was time he had those long curls cut off.  I realized he’d have to have a haircut before he went to school, but I'd been dreading the thought of it.
       “When the visit was over, Fred and I went to the station to meet Harold.  As he got off the train I saw that his lovely long curls were gone.  He started to cry even before I did because he knew I was going to feel bad.  `Never mind,’ I said, `You’re a big boy now, big enough to have a haircut just like Daddy’s.’”
       Harold had a big rag doll that Vaughan’s mother had made for him when he was barely old enough to hold a toy.  The doll was named Isabelle, and it was his pride and joy.
       “He never went to bed at night without Isabelle.  One time when he was around five, my mother took him to visit Clara again.  He was packing his little suitcase himself, and when his grandmother saw him putting the doll in, she threw it out.  Harold cried bitterly, but she held firm, thinking she was doing the right thing.”
       At Aunt Clara’s, Harold continued to cry for Isabelle, and when bedtime came, he was inconsolable.  He wouldn’t go to sleep until his grandmother, who now understood how much Isabelle meant to him, fashioned a makeshift doll from a rag and a skein of yarn.
       "As he grew older he became embarrassed about his attachment to Isabelle, and yet he couldn’t bear to give her up.  He would take her to bed with him and then hide her away in the morning.  No one would see Isabelle until night time, when he’d drag her out from her hiding place."
       “Did he ever give Isabelle up or does he still take her to bed with him?”
       Vaughan laughed.  “I think she finally just fell apart.  She lost her eyes and hair, and then the stuffing started coming out.  I don’t remember how old he was, but he was older than most girls when they stop playing with dolls.”
       Fred died of a heart attack in 1915, when Harold was eleven years old.  “The night before, we had a couple in to play auction bridge.  It was quite late when we got to bed.  The next day, the 17th  of February, was very cold, and Fred got up early the way he always did and shook the coal down and fixed the fire.  We had no heat upstairs, so we used to scoot down to the bathroom off the kitchen and dress there. 
      ”I got up and started breakfast.  Fred had just finished dressing, and as he came out of the bathroom, he stood near me adjusting his suspenders.  I went into the dining room with bowls of cereal, and when I came back he had gone from the kitchen.  I heard a noise -- it sounded as if he were nauseated and trying to vomit -- so I ran up to the bedroom and grabbed a wash basin.  Then I ran into the living room, where the noise had come from, and said, “Oh dearie, are you sick to your stomach?”
       "Fred managed to stagger to the couch and was lying half on it.
       “I saw that something was radically wrong, so I called out to Arid, our young man boarder, and asked him to go for help.  We didn’t have a phone, you see.  Arid ran up to a neighbor’s house and called the doctor.
       “Babbie, it was the strangest thing -- only the morning before, Fred was reading the paper and he read that a man we knew very well had died suddenly with a heart attack.
       “Fred said, `That’s the way I want to go,’ and I said, `That’s wonderful for the ones that go, but hard for the ones left behind.’”
       Vaughan didn’t know what steps she would take next.
       “I didn’t want to buy a cemetery lot . . . I guess I did the right thing.  We had the services in Lynwood, and then Harold and I took Fred’s body to his old house in Dover-Foxcroft where his brothers were buried.  My sister Clara was living there then, and she and her husband had a lot in the local cemetery."             
       Also living in Dover-Foxcroft was Fred’s nephew, Ralph Vaughan.  He took over and looked after everything.  It was winter time, too cold to break ground, so he arranged to have Fred’s body put in a vault until spring, when he was buried in the cemetery.
       “Fred had enough insurance to cover all the expenses.  He never used to complain about his health, but I think he had a feeling maybe he would go suddenly.  I remember he used to caution me not to let my insurance lapse.”
       I asked Vaughan to tell me about the early years of her marriage.  Since eleven years went by before Harold was born, I wondered what she had done to keep busy. I was sure she hadn’t been idle.
       “Well for one thing, I went to the schoolhouse evenings and studied practical nursing.  When I finished the course, my, didn’t I feel smart.  I thought I knew everything there was to know about nursing.  Most of my cases were elderly people.  I remember one in particular, poor old Aunt Harriet.  She wasn’t related to me, but everyone called her Aunt Harriet, so I did, too.
       “She was extremely poor.  There were no screens on the windows, but they were left open because of the heat.  I used to fold a newspaper into a fan, and all night long I'd sit and fan Aunt Harriet -- partly to cool her, partly to keep off the flies.”
       “Was Fred still working for his aunt?”
       “No, he wasn’t.  I guess I told you Aunt Sarah didn’t like it when he got married.  She didn’t want to share him, I suppose.  One day she called him in for a talk and told him she no longer required his services.  I remember how he looked when he came home that day.  Fred always had a smile on his face, and I remember how he smiled when he told me he had lost his job.”
       “What sort of work did Fred to after that?”
        Vaughan pondered.  After a time she said apologetically, “I can’t seem to remember.  Fifty or sixty years is a long time, you know.”
       “Vaughan, you have a fabulous memory,” I said.  “Everything that’s happened to me prior to the day before yesterday is a complete blank.  I don’t know how you do it.”
       Vaughan said that recent episodes in her life were nowhere near as vivid as some of her experiences of half a century ago.  “I feel so stupid, not being able to remember what Fred did after he got fired.  I’m sure he didn’t let any grass grow under his feet.”
       “Did he work in a factory or a shop of some kind?” I asked.
       “Oh yes, now I remember.  There was a big woolen mill going full blast in Lynwood -- the Lynwood Woolen Mills.  Lena Harlow, a cousin of my father’s, lived in Lynwood, and she wrote to me when she heard Fred was out of work.  She said her husband, Del, worked in the woolen mill and she thought he might be able to put in a good word for Fred.
       “Mr. Harlow spoke to Mr. Maddox, the superintendent, and Mr. Maddox said he had a job he could give Fred if it suited him.  He needed an office boy, someone to pick up the mail, open up the office, sweep it out, do errands, and make himself generally useful.  Fred took the job.”
       “How much did he make?”
       “Ten dollars a week.  I know it doesn’t sound like much, but we managed very nicely.  Things didn’t cost as much as they do today -- sugar was only five cents a pound, the best hamburger was fifteen cents a pound, vegetables were dirt cheap.  We never lived beyond our income.  If we could pay for it, we had it, if we couldn’t, we didn’t.  Pay as you go meant something different in those days.”
       “What did Fred look like?  Did he wear a beard?”
       “No, a mustache.”  Suddenly Vaughan chuckled.  “Now that I think of it, he ought to have put me across his knee and give me a good spanking.  It was so silly . . . “
[To be continued]

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