A soul searching auto-biography by a dynamic woman who learned to live
by Barbara S. Thompson
Plum Blossoms by Guy Weese
Stan had been finding that fall at Westinghouse
stimulating. From our apartment he could walk to work. New work, new acquaintances
We began to look at houses. Stan convinced me, with ease, that it was much more practical
to own than to rent. So we searched around for some relative to lend us enough to
make a down payment on a house. We looked at old houses; Stan's part of the country
had attractive old houses; we saw one near Morton; I was surprised that the Rodgers
were not interested in it at all; they would prefer a new house. I was sure that
we could renovate an old house, and have something we could afford (we could certainly
not afford a new place for many a year.
My father lent us $700, and we went out seriously to search for a house. Most of
them we looked at were far too expensive for us, with our little borrowed down payment.
One we looked at was too near a railroad; I could not risk my Bruce so near a dangerous
spot. Finally we found a tall, narrow, six-room house (no closets) in Primos, on
a rutty little road. Most impractical. Not handsome. A poor neighborhood. No decent
school (we accepted the fact that we should have to move before Bruce would be ready
for school). A long way from work (yet Essington was hardly a town we wanted to live
in, even though we had thought of trying to buy one bungalow there for sale). No
community in a real sense. In fact, many things against it. A big old coal range.
An inadequate kitchen. Not well built. No cross ventilation in the three bedrooms.
In need of decoration. A long narrow lot. The house sat up too high, an ungainly
building. The garage awkward to get into, built under a back porch. A dangerous long
flight of steps in the rear.
Yet we could manage to buy it. For $2550. Innocently, naively, we signed the papers.
I had misgivings while we were talking to the owners, a young couple who were planning
to move in with her parents as soon as they sold it - next door, in a weird affair
they had built after their original house had burned, leaving an unsightly foundation.
Yet I could not say just what they were. That my feelings, my intuition, were against
it, was not something I could express. I gave no credit to either. So we bought it,
and planned to move in right away.
Appalling things happened. We didn't for a time believe the evidence we were surrounded
by, but finally we had to realize that our house was infested with bedbugs. Then
a long, discouraging session with exterminators. One day and night the house remained
sealed up, with a sign upon it warning people away. We went out to supper that night,
and slept in the car; it grew cold, and I would drive around till the car warmed
up, then we fell asleep again for a short time.
This should have accomplished its aim; it did not. The company returned once more.
This time I was alone, Stan being in Pittsburgh for six weeks, and I invited myself
to visit Nell Gooch, whose husband was also in Pittsburgh. She had stayed overnight
with me earlier, and I had, while talking with her in the living room, noticed a
small creature on the floor; I picked it up. I had seen the hated, unmistakable shape,
and remarked that it was a spider, and I would dispose of it in the kitchen. So the
company returned. They continued to appear from time to time.
In the late winter and spring Stan went to Pittsburgh, as one of the Westinghouse
Fellows, for study. I managed alone, with Bruce, now a big and wonderfully alert
baby. I planned an elaborate garden; it was 1942, the time for victory gardens. When
Stan finally returned, I had seeds and tools ordered, and he dug up a large part
of our untidy back yard. Our garden did quite well, despite my chronic inability
to keep weeds down.
There were more friends in these years, and pleasures in finding young people with
small children and interests like our own. Not at all like living in Yonkers or Mt.
Vernon. Yet we had isolated ourselves on this odd street in an odd corner of the
county. Despite this we had found friends in Primos. Casual perhaps, and bound more
by our children than by ourselves.
My sister Connie joined us, out of a difficult, frustrating set of circumstances
at home. She stayed a few months. She finally got a job, in a war plant, and took
a room in town.
What vacations we had were spent at the farm. Stan was still consumed with the desire
to build up the farm, and lent his energies to working on various projects. One week,
our entire vacation for that first year, he spent putting a roof on the barn. I took
care of Bruce as best I could, with whatever disadvantages there were. And felt lost,
for Stan invariably changed; it was as though a wall was erected between us. It disappeared,
or at least to a large extent, when we returned to our own home.
Another image was taking possession of
me again; I wanted another child. A miscarriage, very early, was disturbing. There
was another, a few months later. Swift, complete, in just a short time; in each case
I had scarcely been six weeks pregnant. I began to wonder if I should ever have another
Then in the second spring I became pregnant once more and all went well. By this
time I was feeling that Primos had disadvantages, and I persuaded Stan that we should
look for housing in more of a community. We borrowed money from Stan's parents to
use as a mortgage, but our payments were irregular; it was a relief when we sold
that house, and returned all the money to them; no more borrowing large sums from
our families. Years later we repaid the down payment to my father.
During each summer I felt obliged to go to visit my family in Chicago for two weeks
- my father paid my train fare, and anything less than that wouldn't "be worth
it." The summer after we settled in Pennsylvania, Mother was in bed while we
were there. The doctor decided Bruce had whooping cough and we had to stay on another
We returned home after our month. To find a garden over run. Not only with weeds,
but also with tomatoes (my fifty plants which I had innocently ordered from a Delaware
grower; we had given plants away, and thrown some in a trench; surely all had grown).
Late in the fall we learned that Mother could come back from the hospital if someone
were with her. So I offered to go.
Bruce and I spent a month or so in Chicago, being with Mother, keeping things going.
Janet was studying at the University of Chicago, and having a rough and disappointing
time. About the time we thought I could return, Bruce got chicken pox. I began to
fear we would not be home for Christmas. Then finally, with urgings from both Stan
and my father, we left on the train on which we had reservations.
Stan met us at Paoli. Snow was on the ground. The train was late, and while he had
been waiting for us, he had bought us a radio. Wonderful gift - we had needed a radio
for a long time.
It had seemed a great achievement to get us all back together as a family. And as
usually happened, I felt a surge of effectiveness, of relating to life, on the impetus
We had two bicycles at this time, and in the days of gas rationing, rode the bicycles,
for errands, to the post office. Bruce often rode in a basket at the front of Stan's
bicycle. Sometimes I carried him, but he was getting heavy for me to maneuver safely.
Sometime in the spring, Connoe joined us, leaving us in the early fall I believe.
We saw her fairly frequently, and she called me often. She had a general effect on
me, of lowering my flexibility.
During the fall we were alone again, just the three of us, and making ready for the
new baby. I took Bruce on occasional trips, and I remember once going to the Art
Museum with him. A self-possessed small boy, declining to speak much; making himself
understood with only a few words. He and I started going to the Lansdowne Meeting,
first by train; later a neighbor, Mrs Burton, in Secane, picked us up.
On New Year's Eve, almost a week early, I had the first indications that my time
was at hand. I finished what I had to do, and we took Bruce and his crib and clothes
over to the Rogers, who were to take care of him while I was in the hospital.
Stan I saw just as I was to go up on the elevator, and told him good-bye; I was between
pains, and could give him the proper courageous smile. Not a moment later, as the
elevator doors closed. I had not believed this gripping of my body by unknown powers
could be so ferocious. Finally someone gave me ether, and I began to lose touch with
the tearing reality about me. Then presently the doctor's voice, telling me that
I was to have gas. Consciousness for a short while, and then once again oblivion.
When I was aware, dimly at first, again, I knew that I had had a boy.
Stan came to see me soon, having been informed by Dr. Dunne that he was the father
of a son. The joy of the reunion. The ordeal past, the new life successfully launched.
Home at last. A cold night. On the way
there was an air raid warning. We had to park the car and sit, with our little new
baby. He slept, and we were not too disturbed about him. He had been a joy in the
few days we had known him. I had felt at first that we should have had a daughter.
Perhaps because we already had a son.
Bruce returned after another day. He was the greater reality; the new baby, while
demanding and absorbing, was too unknown still. Bruce observed him appraisingly.
We spoke of him as "your baby" to try to cushion the blow of sharing the
house with another. On the whole he was an accepting little boy. Once when Michael
needed changing badly, he urged me "not to spank the baby" (something which
had happened to him at the Rogers for the same action).
The biggest change was that Bruce had suddenly and completely stopped sucking his
thumb. Later on of course he chewed his finger nails. The callouses on his thumbs
The first week I was home I presumably stayed on the first floor all day. (Doctor's
orders). Stan carried me up to bed. (All this precaution seems too absurd in this
day of activity as soon almost as the baby is born.
That winter we began to discover what a delightful baby Michael was. Vibrant. Enthused
over companionship. Responsive. He stayed downstairs in his carriage, and upstairs
in the old family crib in our room. Bruce had been moved into the room across the
hall, into a bigger crib which the Kroons had given us. Michael scratched his face
with his sharp little finger nail, and we tried to keep his hands covered.
Many a time I was impatient, lacking in imagination, in creative meeting of situations.
Bruce for a while refused to take a nap, and once I slammed his door in anger. (Then
a horrifying question in my mind; could I have hurt his ears by the slamming?) Once
downstairs in the kitchen, I spoke sharply to him; it was soon after I had come home
from the hospital; when Stan protested, I said something about being tired and he
bothered me; he told me I should get used to it. (Again I had felt I should have
extra consideration. The world owes me something. And Stan refused to accept my demands.
In February we began house hunting again. I tucked my sons in the back seat, and
off I went. I saw the house on Cornell Avenue [in Swarthmore] soon after talking
to the real estate agent, and that afternoon went through it. It would have been
better to have seen it with Stan, but he was at work, and tenants were unwelcoming
in any case. When I described it to Stan, he was for it too, and we made an offer.
Quickly; suddenly I was afraid that someone else would buy it before we made our
We had not enough money for the down payment ($1600), so I drove down to Philadelphia
and made a round of car dealers, to sell our car. A number of rebuffs. Finally a
pleasant man at a large car establishment bought it, rather swiftly, and wrote out
a check for $1000. [More than we had paid for it new]. I took it home, and when I
met Stan, held out for a few minutes; then I showed him the check.
We could not wait to take the car down, our sacrifice on the altar of our new home.
Mrs. W. next door could watch our babies that night, and in a swirling snowstorm
we drove the car down to the sales room, and left it. And saw a movie to celebrate.
Our new house would not be ready for us until June 6, three months from the time
the preliminary arrangements were made. Under OPA rules the tenants were given 90
days before having to vacate. Our house in Primos was not sold, but we apparently
had faith that it would sell before our three months were past. I don't remember
where we got the remaining $600; perhaps it was from the sale of our Primos house.
When Bruce was about two, we had an operation performed, a circumcision, which we
had not done when he was a few days old. We had felt he would not need it, but the
doctor urged us to, and presently we made arrangements. I was not allowed to stay,
and saw him off, a little boy beneath the sheet, unaware of what was happening. A
dreadful assault upon him. Later on I saw him, fretful, in his crib in his room.
A short-tempered nurse spoke sharply to another child. Another nurse assured me that
the children fussed less, and got along better, if they were treated "firmly."
I took my small son home as soon as I could, feeling cruel in having forced this
experience upon him. In a few days he had recovered. Stan and I suffered, each alone;
it was not easy to communicate in this experience.
In that time Constance brought some puzzles, I believe for the Boyer boys, and wrapped
them at our house. Bruce tried putting them together, and we were both impressed
with the way he fitted the pieces together. I was quite proud of him and wondered
whether he might not have considerable manipulative skill.
He lived a solitary life. We used to go for walks together, early in the morning,
looking for birds, and anything else interesting along our way. He was a joy to walk
with; alert, interested, explorative. The main trouble was that I found it hard on
nice mornings to get my housework done.
After Michael was born, I had some household help for a time, a young thin Negro
girl. She helped me over a period of lassitude, or at least of lowered energy. Mother
sent us a check each month for household help.
The spring of 1944 we spent in anticipation of moving to our new house in Swarthmore.
Again the move was to solve all problems. I looked forward to more of a community
life. To a change. Again I put a tremendous burden of expectation upon the new home,
the new life.
We managed that spring without a car. Stan walked - to meet someone to drive to work;
part of the time I am sure he had a long walk out Ashland. We shopped as best we
could; I took the carriage, and returned with it loaded with groceries around Michael,
and Bruce often riding too, till we discovered the bottom was falling out of the
carriage. Sometimes I took along a board, on which he sat, his weight supported by
the sides instead of the bottom of the carriage.
I was content to wait till June 6. Occasionally we walked over to Swarthmore, a really
long walk, and passed our house, taking pleasure in its size and the shade of the
big oaks and the tall rhododendrons about it. Michael went everywhere we went, joyously
beaming at us from the carriage. And Bruce found expeditions full of new experiences.
I remember him once in Swarthmore, on one of those inspection trips, climbing around
and around a large tree by the sidewalk, clambering over roots that protruded.
Many of our activities had already centered in Swarthmore. Shopping at the Coop.
Spending a day with Dorothy [Rodgers]. Other friends. I was a little unenthused at
the knowledge that the McCorkels lived next door on Cornell. I don't know why. Yet
it was due to Betty that our years in Swarthmore were as rich as they were. She welcomed
us with undemanding warmth, and accepted me despite my occasional coldness and inability
to respond (I remember a time when I didn't take their kitten, while they were gone;
after all I didn't like cats, thus I had a "right" not to care for him
- despite all the constant generosities of Betty, her acceptance, her generosity
of spirit, her belief, it must have been, in my potential - the narrowness of myself
then, the incapacity to give of myself in any real sense). And the little girls.
Coming to us with ardor and intensity of feeling. Adoring the boys, especially Bruce.
Making us feel surrounded by uncritical love. (Was this one of the affirming experiences
of life? granted us, in the midst of the desert we sometimes make for ourselves,
by the archangels?)
On June 6, the day of the invasion of
Europe, we moved. A big enterprise. When Constance called up, about 7, to tell us
about the invasion, we brought back the radio, already in our borrowed car, and plugged
it in again, to have the voice of Quentin Reynolds following us through the house
as we prepared to leave. A moving truck came. I took the boys, and various things
already in the car, and drove over to our new house. Stan followed later, in the
Our house. Smelling of emptiness and dampness (a prophetic smell, in Swarthmore).
We explored it with joy. Bruce was enchanted with the fold-away bed in the attic
room, and presently fell asleep on it, one foot up, the other still on the floor,
himself half on the bed. Dorothy came over, and gathered up our two little boys;
Bruce showed a teary face, but I was told he soon cheered up on the way to their
Stan arrived with the truck, and we directed the arrangement of the furniture. I
suppose we were happier in achieving that particular house than any other place we
have ever lived. It represented more to us, and I had not yet begun to evaluate the
disadvantages, the drawbacks, as I promptly began to do with every other house we
We put up the beds first. So that that night, whatever the condition of most of the
house, we should have a welcoming place to lay our heads. We kept marveling over
the size of the house. All this room. And the closets. And porches, front and side.
And that wonderful big yard. And the trees. And a real, separate garage. I can still
remember smells from that first day, going out on the side porch, the moist smell
from the yard, and stone steps, plant smells, those tall scraggly wonderful rhododendrons.
For dinner we went to the Rodgers', and were united with our sons again. The Rodgers
were a most appreciative audience, wanting to know all about the house, and how our
moving had gone. Then home to our own, enormous, special home.
For a while we could not quite get used to it. It was cold one night, and we burned
a log, maple, which wouldn't entirely go out for three days. A real fireplace! Even
the smell of maple smoke on a too warm day brought joy to us.
The McCorkels had chicken pox, including Betty, so we saw almost nothing of them
that June, before they left for the cabin. I remember seeing Roy hang up clothes
one day in their backyard, pinch hitting for Betty. A Japanese family lived upstairs
in their attic, and helped watch the little girls (Mary Lou was only two) while Betty
was still in bed. Then they left for the cabin, and I had one long talk with Betty,
in the midst of her packing, and that was all we saw of them for two months.
One of my ambitions had been to have Bruce enter the nursery school that was held
each summer. It started about the fifteenth, so I felt a particular sense of achievement
in having moved there in time. So each day I walked with him, pulling Michael in
that big express wagon we had bought from Sears, while in Primos. And at noon I met
him again, with Michael.
Mrs. Taylor told me one day that he "was very shy," which I knew, but hated
to accept. Naturally, with my pattern, I hoped for too much. I wanted the nursery
school to bring him out of his shyness, at once, and more or less completely. Nothing
of the sort, of course, happened. By the end of the session she was advising me strongly
to send him to the Media Friends' School, to keep him with others, actively sharing
I expected too much that summer. Everything was to have happened at once. New contacts.
But most groups had disbanded for the summer. I scarcely met anyone else. I would
watch with pleasure people walking past on sidewalks. And to have the mailman come
to our very own door! But the people did not stop, and the mailman brought no mail.
There were no other families with small children in the block, and I began to have
the dreadful suspicion that perhaps we had moved into the wrong section of town.
Michael grew. During the summer the boys played in the stream of water from the hose
in the backyard. Did we take a vacation? Stan was working longer hours than ever,
and taking two night classes at the U. of Pennsylvania. Saturday was a working day.
In the fall we sent, after some discussion, our three year old son to nursery school
at Media Friends' School. Mrs. Taylor picked him up each morning, and delivered him
at noon. During the long cold winter he had daily companionship. Later on the McCorkel
girls went too, but Betty Ann was in a different group (when together she tended
to do for him, to look out for his welfare).
Moments of aggression; Bruce became quite aggressive around that time, and took to
hitting us. We tried to discourage him, without being unduly severe. (We had no idea
why he should do it. Innocent parents.) Once he ran down the sidewalk with some of
the McCorkel children, carrying some stamped large envelopes in his hand. I called
to him from his bedroom window to return. Off he went. I was furious, and when he
came back, having dropped the envelopes into the box at the corner (he had mailed
them), I spanked him. Afterward I felt awful; I had done what I had not intended
to do, and in anger. (My anger was outrage over not being obeyed. A fine Nero pattern.
It seized me, and I seemed unable to check myself. I was possessed; and this particularly
troubled me, for my conscious pattern, the role I had chosen, was one quite opposite.
I could not account for these moments of rage, and felt upset and guilty afterwards).
Against Stan I could not turn such direct aggression, but apparently I took all sorts
of opportunities to snipe at him; I was not ready to start a project which we might
have talked about a long time before - such as digging up and moving some daffodils
in the backyard; Connie remarked to me that I might have said yes, rather than let's
not now; I could not get ready on time for anything; (this was not merely to get
revenge on Stan - but part of my whole problem with authority; I started him on projects,
then went off and read a book (depriving him of my company too, which was important
to him); I corrected him, or otherwise diminished the effectiveness of a story he
might be telling (in the interests of accuracy, which was after all serving Truth).
None of this did I see of course. It was not till the winter of 1946 that I finally
began to realize, in a small beginning way, my destructiveness.
The night of the elections, in 1944,
when we were elated over the results, Roosevelt being reelected by a large majority,
Stan and I were at the Coop, and seeing Jim Malone, I started to invite him and Vivienne
over for the evening, to celebrate. Stan stopped me; he wondered if we might go to
a class Bill Trumpler had told him about, meeting that night. At a Mrs. Stein's.
And so we did. A group of young couples, with a few we knew - at least I think we
knew the Trumplers before. And Mollie Stein, with her warmth and vitality, with a
new kind of material, which sounded interesting, and not for a long time applicable.
Merely stimulating. A change from the ordinary outlook. But application to me? nonsense.
I remained carefully neutral at first, so that this new thing should come from Stan,
and not from me. (This was not wisdom; just maneuvering; perhaps wiles. I did not
choose to take responsibility when I could evade it.)
There were meetings that fall, until sometime in the winter, was it? when Mollie
went to Los Angeles to be with Peggy [her daughter] in her operation and her stay
in the hospital. Then in April, when she returned, the classes resumed. We did not
go to the first two, one because Stan had asked me to a Mechanical Engineering meeting
where there was to be a talk on jet propulsion. The other because we had been invited
to a Playhouse performance which was also a benefit for something, was it the Mothers
Club? or the Coop? I forget. But after that we returned to the group at Mrs. Stein's.
In late November I experimented with the free period, supposedly, when one is not
likely to become pregnant. To my chagrin I found myself pregnant again, immediately.
This was not according to plan. I felt that life had taken advantage of me again,
scarcely before I had had a chance to settle down (ah, to settle down) over various
upheavals, from Michael's birth, and searching for a house, and moving, and finding
our way in a new community. Moreover Michael would have a foreshortened babyhood,
if a new baby should arrive late next summer. Many good reasons for not having another
baby. I was not ready. When I told Stan, he was pleased, and started to talk about
something else of concern, then said something appreciative of my news again; I dissolved
in tears. I wanted to choose the time to have our next baby. Not yet. I wanted to
dictate to life.
For the first month or two I still hoped this was a false alarm and when I rode the
bicycle to the library or to the store, I wondered whether I might find again that
my fears had been groundless. Then I began to realize that I must accept the reality
of another pregnancy. I called the doctor's office, and made a reservation for the
hospital. I learned that Dr. Dunne would be away when the baby should arrive, and
changed to Dr. Briscoe, sure that this time he would make it possible for me to have
the spinal analgesia so that I should be conscious when the baby came. For various
reasons (defiance of fate, embarrassment that this should have befallen me - I had
become so much more rational, I thought, planning what would come, master of my fate)
I told the doctor that the baby would be due a month later (he caught up with this
soon) and told friends and relatives the same absurd thing.
Unrealistically I assumed my pregnancy would not be apparent for some months (or
until I willed it perhaps!) and Betty realized it some time before I told her. Connie
heard it through Mother. I was too unaware to realize that I was hurting people.
In June of that year I took the two boys
to Chicago, for my duty visit. While there, my father told Bruce to stop teasing
Michael, he continued, and he spanked him. I was horrified. I took him upstairs with
me. On the first step or so, my father called him down. Tears were so close I dared
not speak (my dignity was more important to me than protecting my son. Or perhaps
I feared that I would lose all to the enemy if I spoke to him with tears streaming;
tears of failure.) So I stood by, while he took Bruce on his knee and told him severely
that he was to do as he was told. My father insisting that even the smallest must
bow to his will. In fury and humiliation I took him upstairs. While in the bathroom,
drying Bruce's tears, I found I had a nosebleed; my neck and throat were broken out
in large red splotches. Bruce forgot his tears, comforting me - Does it hurt, Mommy?
Poor Mommy." At least I had not broken down before him (did I fear total disintegration?
and then what would be left of Bruce? without even the poor excuse for a mother he
had?) Later I told Mother I was going back to Swarthmore. Only I could not get a
reservation sooner than my two week date. I stayed on, not willing to risk a break
with the family, by packing up and returning by bus, or plane.) Plane? such daring;
no one in our family had ever flown before).
If I was indignant over this situation, if I felt I was "right" to be indignant,
I was at the same time confronted by the original authority for what was "right."
How could I defy the individual who had set up for me right and wrong, by denouncing
his conduct as "wrong"? At the same time I had thought I was "grown-up."
Now I knew that in a crisis I still responded as a child would. I despised my conduct,
and myself as well for having acted as I did. What would support me? not myself,
so I felt, for I should dissolve in disgraceful, humiliating tears. I did not know
what to do with emotion. If I got into an emotion-packed situation, the emotion inundated
me. I had behaved badly before in the midst of strong emotional stresses. I had a
law for myself that I must only undertake something in which I could "win."
I was not at all sure that I could "win" in this case. Tears I took at
that time to be a sign of failure.
My only weapon was something of a legalistic one. Again I had no faith in feeling.
I would not bring my children there again. Yet only once did I say something about
it, at the dinner table, when my father referred in some way to his meaning it, that
Bruce was to behave, and I muttered something about what I would do. It did not especially
impress him. He expected obedience from all his family.
It may be that the thing which really disturbed me in this event was the Fear it
roused. I had not realized I was still at the mercy of such a powerful fear. There
was something indecent, inappropriate in a woman with two sons, another almost to
be born, being victimized by fear to such a degree. Yet it was born in me as forcibly
as it could be. I had not been released from my fear. I was still in the position
of a trembling little girl.
When we got back, I brought up the subject at the last meeting of our group, at a
picnic at the Trumplers' to which we all brought something. After my describing the
situation, Mollie commented on it to the effect that in the last analysis, if a choice
had to be made between the old person and a child, the child had his life to live,
and came first. I could accept that, but it did little to reconcile my own feelings
of failure in the situation.
The last month moved slowly, heavy with heat and moisture. As often happened, I had
an impulse to finish things up, and had a number of parties, mainly backyard suppers,
when we cooked over a fireplace of stones.
Late in July I went to have a checkup, and was told my blood pressure was high, and
I must go to the hospital that night. I was appalled, Marjorie was coming to see
me that evening, and stay for the weekend. Nothing was ready for me to leave. (We
had a mother hen and three chickens, which Stan's family had given us, and which
had got out that morning, so that I had chased after them, and missed my train, and
had to take the bus, and been late for a dentist appointment; the dentist had asked
me when I was going to have the baby, and I said in a few weeks.) Dr. Briscoe said
he would send the police for me if I were not there by five.
I went home, and made what arrangements I could. I remembered Christine's experience
with toxemia; I was not inclined to linger.
My colored helper Ruth, who had been with me for some months, one day a week, was
still there when I returned. I hoped she might stay until Stan got home, but she
had to go home to Chester herself. So Gerda, staying in the McCorkels' house for
the summer, took the boys in, and had supper for them when Stan returned.
Again with the idea of "sparing" people, and also using my own on moving
inertia to keep me going, I did what I could at home, packed my little bag, and departed,
without calling Stan till I got downtown. He had no car, and I was reluctant to get
him involved; I meant to handle this emergency myself. (Again my fear of strong emotions.
Better to manage my end of things; I was susceptible to other people's feelings and
concern). I called him from the train station, then took a cab to the hospital.
Leisurely preparations. I felt no worse than I had for several days. At one point
the baby's motions ceased, and I had the sickening feeling that the baby had died
within me; the nurse at the hospital reassured me; she could hear the heart beats.
The nurse was told to put me to bed, after I had been up for some time. Once I was
there I began to feel reassured; now that I had gone so far, I meant to have my baby.
Christine's ordeal and loss of the summer before were vivid in my mind.
Around six or seven I was given a dose of castor oil. And from time to time an injection,
to help things along. Stan came to visit me. I minimized the danger, and my symptoms,
even the occasional twinges I was getting. So that when he went home, he had no idea
I was going into labor, and a few hours later had given birth to another son. (Again
I lost some of the vitality of human contact by trying to carry a larger share of
the burden, to put a brave face on the matter, to wear my courage high.)
Presently there was no doubt that the medication had worked. I went upstairs. This
time I felt all would go well. The doctor was there, when there was still, surely,
plenty of time. He assured me it was not yet time to have a spinal. Then suddenly
things began to happen extremely fast, and before I realized just what was happening,
I was being given gas. Thankful to have it, even though as I began to sink away,
I felt the loss of this last chance to have the baby while I was conscious.
I woke to the knowledge that a son was
born. I could hear him. He was all right. The danger had been successfully averted.
I had my baby. Yet I was deeply disappointed. Dr. Briscoe explained it later on the
basis of the baby's position being wrong.
Stan came the next day. He had not learned of his son's safe arrival till fairly
late in the morning, after the turmoil of managing to get two small boys dressed
and fed. He called from the McCorkels'. He had wired to Evie to come and stay with
me, being then with Edith. Both of them came, as it turned out; Edith because she
wanted to be sure all went well, and was a little uneasy about Evie's efficiency.
I was restless to be up, and ready at once to be doing things. But it was still the
time we would stay in bed, scarcely sitting up for the first few days. Later on I
was weary and listless, not at all eager as I had been the first few days.
There were some disappointments while there. My sister Marjorie who had come some
distance to visit me (I believe from Riegelsville) for that weekend, arrived, stayed
overnight in Swarthmore, and returned at once. This was startling. I had assumed
somehow that she would come in to see me at least. Evidently I could not count on
her helping in this unexpected situation. Was she offended that I had not let her
know the baby might come early? He was early, even in our most conservative estimate.
I was hurt; again that feeling of betrayal, of not being able to count on anyone
in my family.
From Stan's sisters on the other hand, warmth came. Edith lost her way one night
in trying to visit me, and wound up in Chester. I felt exasperation at such a foolish
act (one "ought" to be able to read train signs) yet forbearing too. This
was Edith, her feelings were vigorous and to be relied upon. (Was this the trouble
with my sisters? their feelings had been repressed, and only logic remained? rationalization?
a kind of measured you-do-this-and-I'll-do-that sort of relationship? not a real,
living relationship at all?)
Finally I went home. A rainy evening, when we took a taxi home from the station.
Stan carried the new baby up the steps and to the house. Bruce came to greet us,
and had a word of greeting for me. Michael, 19 months old, studied me hard. Then
in the kitchen he made up a little game, in which he fell down on the floor, and
then came to me, hands out, so that I would sympathize and brush off his hands. I
felt unlike myself; the house familiar and yet strange. Bruce had to show me the
little lavatory Stan had put in, downstairs off the breakfast room, on which he had
worked to help Stan. One night he had stayed up till 10!
Evie was there, and Edith with her tiny Karen, scarcely a year old. For some nights
there were ceremonies of bathing children at the end of the day. Karen and Evie and
Edith stayed on our top story. My birthday came while they were all still there,
and there was quite a celebration in our dining room.
Edith had gone back to New York when news of final victory came. Evie, that night,
went downtown, and came back with ice cream which we all ate in our bedroom.
Presently a decision had to be made about
Evie; both her parents were working at the GM plant in Trenton, and there was no
good place for her to live meanwhile. We suggested that she come to stay with us
and go to high school. Her parents were, I'm sure, relieved at the suggestion. She
was much help to me, doing dishes at night, sitting with the children, taking the
burden from that first year with three small children to care for. What the year
did for her I do not know; I gave her much less than it seems as though I might have
(and yet I realize, I suppose, that I gave what I could). She managed fairly well
in school, yet was shy enough so that later in the year the school suggested that
she talk with a psychiatrist in connection, I believe, with the Family Society. Her
Dr. H. gave her much support, and someone she could really confide in. After her
years of living in her brother's light, it was evidently some relief to have interest
and concern for herself. Neither Stan nor I was free enough to give her the warmth
she needed; yet perhaps we gave her what was useful to her at the time.
One change in respect to Stan's family had occurred. Since both parents were working,
and the farm was a secondary matter (there was a tenant farmer on it for several
years) there was no longer any purpose in Stan's going to the farm to work long and
hard on improvements. Yet we still saw them perhaps even more often, for they would
come from Trenton to see us, always bringing food, corn, or other things in season.
As Stan's father believed in surprising hosts (otherwise they would "fuss"),
we never were informed beforehand when they would arrive. Once Stan went back with
them, and we had one of our quarrels afterwards, to my confusion, because I had been
interested in what went on, and had asked about it and received less and less informative
answers; apparently I was asking in a way which irritated him.
There were many exasperations in connection with the family. We both felt that there
was great room for improvement in their treatment of Evie. Aggressively one night
we proceeded to tell them how they might improve it; I sewed diligently on some mending,
for I was trembling (thus to defy authority!). What we said was "right"
from a legalistic view; neither of us felt comfortable afterward, and Stan dreamed
about throwing stones through glass walls of his family's house. Thereafter we abandoned
any direct attack on the problem. I "disapproved" so highly of the way
they treated Evie, and had for so many years, that I felt morally righteous, a judge
of others. Also I still felt others could be changed. (No wonder that was a difficult
year. It was surely one of my worst years, and I suppose I was carrying a load I
simply was not equipped to carry; I took refuge in the only strength I believed in,
my moral rightness. Surely if my position was "right" I was unassailable.
I tried to get changes made through Stan, as though if he too "disapproved",
which he did, of many of the things his parents did - indulgence of Robert and neglect
of Evie, some smaller items - something would be accomplished. Something might have
been, in the sense of our sharing our views, and without harshness, looking out together
on the scene with a somewhat similar approach. But instead I pushed a kind of judgment
on them, so that he was almost forced to be defensive in spite of himself. Judgment
without the redemption of understanding. How could I understand? when life about
me was chaos? when they "took" my love away from me whenever we were near
them, making him less than he was ordinarily, and that was already less than he could
be, as I knew all too well).
Meanwhile other influences were at work. My tremendous hopes and aspirations, the
emotional load I had cast upon our marriage, on the birth of each child, on the moving
to the "perfect" location, all these things had reached a point where reaction
had to set in. My whole philosophy of life was inadequate to the load I put upon
it. I could not change; that would have been apparent death. This was the year without
dramatic challenge; the year of maintaining and caring for and cherishing and building.
But what had I with which to build? An outworn philosophy (a hodge-podge of views,
essentially static, with a rigid, empty moral standard instead of anything alive
and fluid and outreaching). Alienation from myself. No real concept of what relationship
consists of (thus failing Stan at every turn).
One of the troubles that year was that
I had in a superficial sense what I had hoped for. A husband who was devoted, children,
a home. Yet I was restless and dissatisfied, and I could only feel guilty for my
discontent. Inevitably I took out my deep inner frustrations on my husband. He had
not, as no human could, filled out the form of the perfect man, embodying all my
ideals, which I had projected upon him. I felt betrayed. I had wanted him to be thus
and thus and thus, and he was not. Worse, he withdrew from me, in defense no doubt,
but withdrawal was a further blow. Perhaps I found it hard to forgive him for doing,
however unconsciously, the very thing which endangered me the most - to withdraw
from me, plunge into gloom, deny in a sense the validity of life (by his depressed
mood). Very likely I never saw him as an individual, but my idea of what he should
In the fall Mollie Stein resumed her classes. By Christmas time we had at last almost
reached the point where we felt perhaps, just possibly, it would be useful to consult
During the holidays we visited the Steins, and Luke took a picture of our boys blowing
out the candle on their coffee table. Bruce and Michael, each totally absorbed in
the light, mouths rounded for blowing. And we gave the Steins a recording of the
Beethoven sonata which is Stan's favorite.
In January we had our first interviews. I prepared for mine, absurdly enough, by
trying to read Jung's Modern Man in Search of a Soul. Needless to say, that had nothing
to do with our discussion. For a few times we talked around and about. I did not
make any real discoveries. Mollie told me later that my eyes glazed over at the mention
of anything which would have impinged on my star pattern, (moral star, surely one
of the more difficult ones to dislodge; one has such a vested interest in it!).
Once there was a party at the Kings', and late as always, I was hurrying about when
Stan got home, and asked him to feed the boys while I got ready upstairs. Not only
did he feed them, he had supper himself. I was both hurt and upset, and when I became
hurt I usually showed it as indignation. Here I had fixed a casserole to take along
as our share of the dinner; he cared so little about our activities that he did not
even know that we were to go out to dinner. His refusal to take an active part in
our affairs was a source of dismay and anger for me; it must have represented again
withdrawal, which was, in my terms, rejection. (It was of course a weapon, against
the demands of life, especially against officious women - his mother, me - but it
was a weapon which invited my frustrated fury. I could not reach him, and so I tried
in all kinds of small ways to attack him). At the party I met Vivienne, and told
her in exasperation that Stan had eaten before we came (why? to make him ridiculous
before another? to vindicate myself? I was right" to be annoyed, wasn't I?)
Also at the party someone mentioned men suffering for their wives in childbirth,
and I told about the tribe in Australia which considered it appropriate for the men
to go to bed rather than the wives. There was something of a silence afterwards.
(Mollie had already told the story, before I came in; I offered it as my contribution.
Why did people give me such a cool reception sometimes?)
In January I began to experience my first
pains of awakening. It happened first in an interview when Mollie told me that one
of the members of the class had a negative projection upon me. It was Sarah P., whose
opinion I did not especially value as an individual (I projected to some degree on
her too), but as she represented Others, Them, Public opinion, I suffered a blow.
I began to realize, however unwillingly, that my idea of what I was, and how I appeared
to others, was vastly different.
There were times in the class when I said sharp, impatient things to others, discounting
their views, quoting an authority for mine. Once Mollie asked me seriously, (not
warmly) who it was who had said that thumb-sucking was not significant in the first
few months (someone in the group must have had a thumb-sucking baby, and I had sought
to reassure her by telling her what the Child Study Association view had been on
the subject). Once when a dream of Stan's was discussed, I belabored it, asking questions,
drawing "logical conclusions", so that as Vivienne said later, it was not
obvious that it was Stan's dream. The group knew by now that I pounced on Stan, puncturing
his ideas, diminishing him where I could. This was the burden of Sarah's resentment
of me. (She did the same thing, Mollie assured me, to her husband, hence her resentment
when I did it). The fact that she did it unawares and I as well was no consolation.
It was horrifying to realize suddenly the spectacle I made of myself. (Again the
star reaction; I had conspired to make myself ridiculous, indeed both of us, for
I put Stan in an absurd light by my treatment).
My first reaction was one of shock at Mollie's cruelty, to make me "still more
self-conscious than I was." How could people belittle the effort it took for
me to appear as much at ease as I did? The fact that my look of being at ease was
only in my imagination was too staggering for me to accept yet. I grappled with the
first portion of what Mollie had told me. I narrowed down the implications. It was
hard for me, for many years thereafter, to accept the fact that I could have been
as "bad" as all this; could I have thought in terms of deviation it might
have been easier; as it was, I ran into the difficult wall of my own pattern, expecting
that unless I was right I was wrong; if I was not functioning well, I was functioning
badly; no room in between for comparative actions. In fact I was, rather than did;
I was this monstrous character who had nagged her husband and said sharp and critical
things to other members of the class and quoted one authority after another in an
effort to build up her own ego.
When Mollie later on mentioned that a man could become impotent under prolonged treatment
of this nature, I was unable to accept it, and felt that it was his family which
had given him a tendency to be so reduced. This was too much for me "to bear"
should I think I was responsible for such a possibility. I should be shattered. Perhaps
Mollie suggested that it was my shell that would be in danger of shattering, not
my self. In any case I could not have believed it. Other situations had threatened
me before; this was a particularly severe threat.
It may be that one can change only slowly. I grew impatient, when I began to see
that some changes were necessary. Yet I resisted the pain so strongly, that it was
doubtless difficult for change to make much headway.
In February of 1946, Westinghouse was
on strike. Stan had been promoted into the supervisor group, having been active in
the union along with Jim Malone before. Yet after a few weeks it was evident that
he would be asked to gather his group together and put them to work, in his house
- someone else's house. We stood once more on some kind of threshold. The first week
or two we had given a large check to the union, for their strike fund (if there was
such a thing). The next pay check we had begun to realize that it would be only a
matter of time before Stan would be put in such an untenable position he would have
to resign. He resigned. I typed the letter.
Another frontier. Stan set about finding a job. He went to Trenton, where one beckoned.
I remember the joy of seeing him, in our kitchen, after a long, long day. We discussed
the Trenton possibility. Then an employment agency sent him to Franklin Institute,
which he had rather thought of trying anyway, and where he found what looked most
promising. We had not had to move after all. He was a little chagrined to have to
pay the large fee to the agency, but I attempted to show its inevitability, and the
need for us to accept it as such (I had a few sound ideas, but they all too often
remained remote, not felt all the way through me, only in a corner of my being).
In June there was another offer, from a company in Pittsburgh. I don't remember all
my misgivings about it, but I was agin it. We used to take walks in the dark shaded
streets, talking and talking. Perhaps I was beginning to trust my intuition in the
very slightest way. In any case I did not feel somehow that this was the job for
him. It was the only one in which I remained definitely negative. He passed it by,
and later on has felt that the subsequent developments in the company made his decision
a good one.
Meanwhile the group had changed, with the loss of some couples, who evidently felt
the material to be disturbing, and the addition of the Perkinses, missionaries from
Brazil. We saw a good deal of them, and they stayed with us at least once. During
the summer, while the Steins were at Tahoe, they lived in our house, and Evie baby
sat with Barby occasionally. It was our first experience in being with a couple,
around our own age, who were actively seeking change and understanding. Roger was
exciting to have known; to feel his push toward creativity. My sympathies were with
Jo, who would have chosen a more prosaic path than the one fate (through Roger) had
given her. Yet Roger fired one's imagination, and for Jo one felt there was only
the imperative to grow, to widen her understanding so as to go with him, to meet
with more of her capacities the challenge of their life.
I began to go to other meetings that
Mollie gave, and to seek more, and oftener. Later on the group composed of Quaker
women largely, invited me to join them; I forget how, or through whom. Mrs. Bair,
a neighbor I knew slightly, killed herself; Bruce and I, returning from the store,
saw the fire engines in front of her (and our) house. Mollie held a meeting of our
group to explain what might be useful for us in understanding more about what brought
her to such desperation.
Then our last fall in Swarthmore. Letters began to arrive from Los Angeles, from
Bill Bolay, about the possibility of a job at North American. At first it seemed
a staggering thought to contemplate; to move across the country, to Southern California.
By this time I had an image of us rooted, rearing our family in our large house,
living on our tree-lined street; whatever the disadvantages there, it seemed to me
that they should be worked out where we were, not on the far side of the country.
I felt we "ought" to struggle with the problem of Stan's family. We ought
to finish out Evie's year at high school. To leave, and to desert our problems, was
the easy way out, therefore the unworthy one. We ought to face them where we were.
Yet the job beckoned. By the end of October, Stan departed by El Capitan for the
West Coast. I was left with the house to sell and things to dispose of or pack. Evie
was with me, so I had considerable support. Ruth still came, to clean on Fridays
for me. And Betty - what would I have done without Betty? next-door, taking my little
boys, when I began a series of medical tests downtown.
Meanwhile there was the sustaining strength of Mollie, with whom I had occasional
interviews, and classes whenever I could manage. Betty and Evie gave me considerable
freedom. The classes gave me what I was searching for, strength with which to meet
what lay ahead.
Other things proceeded. The sale of the house, which took place relatively soon.
Stan meanwhile was searching for housing for us in Los Angeles, and presently decided
on a house in a development. Each Sunday night at ten he would call me, and both
Evie and I would wait, expectantly for that call. The classes too came to an end
about then. The Steins, I learned, were moving to Oak Park. The most urgent reason
for staying, to continue to find myself and to grow, was gone.
Various things began to fit into place. Evie found a welcome in the home of one of
her friends. One of our responsibilities thus resolved itself.