Barbara McGiffert Lockwood's Writings

Preface
World's Fair
More Summer
Children's Island
Wartime Summers
Mother's Decline
Cousins
Thinking of Mother
Mothering
Music
Summers Then Summers
Stars and Stripes
Child's Play
More Manunka Chunk
Twinkle Twinkle Little Bat
My Brother Bob
More About Roselle
Discipline

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Preface to Barbara McGiffert Lockwood’s Essays

World's Fair 1933

More Summer

Children’s Island

Wartime Summers

Mother’s Decline

"If I ever get as dotty as old Mrs. Taylor," mother used to say, " Please put me out to pasture." She did and of course we didn’t. Anyway it was a meaningless phrase. Mother was in good health for most of her life. She’d been in a hospital only once before she was fifty, and that was to have Bob. The rest of us were born at home. At age fifty she had her tonsils out and was truly miserable. Some years after that she had a radical mastectomy, unnecessary, I think from what I found out later. She was uncharacteristically difficult and demanding while in the hospital. Inexperienced in the ways that I had learned in how to act in order to have hospital personnel eating out of your hand.

The real decline, physical, but chiefly mental, began when she had to have her gallbladder out. I went to Easton from the Cape, where we were living then, and spent a few days in her hospital room, noticing that she was a bit fuzzy, though not as dotty as old

Mrs. Taylor. Jim and Sidney were living in Easton, so after I had to return home, I kept abreast of developments by phone. Mother stayed in her apartment, alone for awhile, for she seemed to manage. However, one day Jim on a checkup visit found that she’d torn all her paper money into tiny pieces, which he spent some time laboriously scotch-taping together. After that he took over all her business and financial affairs and with Sidney’s help installed round the clock LPNs, as she became utterly unreliable, though cheerful and funny.

One day when I’d gone to Easton again to visit, we were sitting in her living room, having an idle exchange of nonsense when mother said chattily, " I’ve decided to change my will."

"Oh? Why is that, Mom?"

" Well, I’m going to leave the Massachusetts Bay Colony and follow Roger Williams to Rhode Island-- so I’m going to leave the sloop to Jim."

I’m not sure that mother had ever been on or even seen a sloop except in pictures, but she read extensively. I began to notice with fascination that what she’d read, heard about and experienced in her life was all mashed up in her brain as if it were all real and in the present.

Another day she asked me to go down to the railroad station to meet a shipment of sheep that she’d ordered. I said I’d be glad to do that, and what was she planning to do with them. Well, around the farmhouses in Ireland they used sheep to crop the lawns, so they never had to cut the grass themselves. Sidney and I had given up trying to make mother return to reality and since she seemed to be happy and contented in her never-never land we just went along with her. Jim, however, thought the wandering of her once acute mind was a disaster and became frustrated when he couldn’t make her talk sense. She was failing some physically, too, though there didn’t seem to be anything specific the matter.

Down to Easton again. Sidney and I were sitting by her bed one morning when she began to laugh. "Girls, did you ever think that my store teeth would make the front page of The New York Times?"

We allowed as how no, we had never thought that. Ordered to go to the living room and get the paper, Sidney brought back The Easton Daily Express, as we had long since canceled her Times.

"Look, there it is, right on the front page. THEY HAVE DUG UP MY STORE TEETH IN A JEWISH CEMETERY IN FRANCE!"

 

Mother died peacefully a few weeks later. None of her five children was there, as she had not seemed in extremis, but I like thinking of this story as the last words of hers that I heard. It was so typical of her.

Barbara McG. Lockwood

Cousins

Thinking of Mother

When I sent my bedroom desk out to be refinished, of course I had to empty the drawers and pigeon holes. I’ve never used this desk for writing letters or checks or whatever, but from 1967 when we moved here from Woods Hole its been a catch-all for STUFF: canceled checks, back income tax returns, papers from my graduate school courses at American University, manila envelopes of letters from sons—back in the dim reaches of time when we all wrote letters— and dozens of love letters from Ted, which I’ve started to chuck any number of times, but couldn’t quite. More about that in another writing.

Mother died the week before we moved here, so Sidney and Jim, because they were still living in Easton, had the task of going through her things. We had to return to Woods Hole immediately after the funeral to meet the packers , who do not change schedules for anything short of their warehouses being destroyed by dynamite. Some time later Sidney sent me an envelope of items from mother’s scrap-book plus a few personal letters, copies of her final exams at Vassar in 1908 and notification of her election to Phi Beta Kappa. Way back in a dusty corner of one of the desk drawers was a yellowing piece of note paper and a note from my girlhood friend Faith (the friend I wrote about in the Children’s Island memoirs, whose mother was fearful that White Slavers would sneak up behind Faith and me in Grand Central Station and carry us off forever): "Dear Barbara, my sister called yesterday to tell me about your mother’s death. Even though she hasn’t been the Mrs. McGiff I loved, I can’t tell you how sad I am that she is gone. Of all the mothers I’ve ever known, she was unique—who else would hop aboard a Piper Cub and go tooting off to visit her grandchildren? Your mother really had a knack for living that brought pleasure not only to her but to so many others as well. How lucky you are to have had her for your mother!"

Well, yes, as I have written and spoken about before. After I read this, I dumped out the envelope that Sidney had sent me back in 1967. I guess that I’d read the contents when I got it , but perhaps not, because it seems new to me. There’s a handwritten note on blue stationery from Vassar College Department of Economics and Sociology telling Miss Howe that her pupils reflected great credit on her (I guess she was tutoring), that their papers showed that they had done much more than learn facts "I am very grateful to you for it all and am most cordially yours"…etc.

Mother was a thrower-outer, so not many letters or other memorabilia escaped the waste basket. Unlike Amanda in The Glass Menagerie, she did not, as far as I know, confide in any of her five children that there had ever been a serious man in her life other than our father. Now there is no one alive who could tell me. I’m sure Bob couldn’t, although I’ll ask him.

I’m thinking now of one of the best times mother and I ever had together. For just two of us to be doing anything together was a fairly rare event, and I can’t remember the reason for this occasion or whether I was on vacation from college or what, but mother had gotten two tickets to a Bea Lillie one-woman show at one of the Broadway theaters. We went on the train to Hoboken and took the ferry over, planning to go to lunch at mother’s favorite place, The Russian Tea Room, see the show, and spend the night at mother’s cousin’s (Vassar 1902).

I can’t remember what went before or after the scene which I do remember in some detail. The curtain opened on a set of an elegant boudoir, furnished in the style of one of the Louis—I can’t keep straight which was XIV and which was XV when it comes to furniture. Anyway, it had dainty spindly chairs in white and gold, much royal blue velvet and white damask. Enter the beautiful Bea L., the patrician Lady Peale, in helmet and armor, astride a huge, spavined, swaybacked draught horse and singing The Ride of the Valkyries—note-perfect as its possible to be with that prolonged shriek. The audience was convulsed, but mother and I laughed so hard that we were nearly on the floor, gasping helplessly. For years we cracked up all over again whenever we mentioned it, and as a matter of fact it still makes me laugh yea, verily, even as I type.

Barbara McG. Lockwood

Mothering

After writing about how much we hated having our parents, especially mother, go away, leaving us to the unwelcome ministrations of Miss "Oh forevermore" Atkins, I found my thoughts turning frequently to Mother and to me as mother. Mothers’ Day was looming. Jayne was on the verge of producing Grandchild #8 and I was thinking of the kind of mother she is—and for that matter, my other two daughters-in-law. Three completely different maternal styles, methods, attitudes or whatever you’d call it.

Earlier in these memoirs I’ve written about childhood—mine, that is, and Mother’s indifference to housework, cooking, sewing, etc., although she did it. We had a laundress named Tilla Walkoff in Roselle and one named, incredibly, Mrs. Scheetz in Easton, but no other servants. Probably somebody came in to clean, but I don’t remember that. Both my parents were unusually even-tempered. They never raised their voices and when any of us did we were subjetced to "Children, children, birds in their little nests agree," spoken forcefully but not loudly. Once when Jack overheard them disagreeing about something, he told us he was afraid they were going to get a divorce.

I don’t recall ever being punished, nor any of the rest of us, either. If any one of us had been punished, it would have been Jack, as he had a fierce temper, a tendency to lie, even [when], as my mother once said, it would have been clearly to his advantage to tell the truth. Stern reprimands, expressions of disappointment, or even just looks, were powerful. When Mother said, "Now, see here, sister…" to me I knew that she was sorely displeased.

Mother was the parent with the colorful personality and an incisive mind. Indeed, she was elected to Phi Beta Kappa at Vassar and was always a voracious reader and a lively writer. Her everyday speech was rich with folk expressions: "She was as homely as a mud fence"; "Don’t teach your grandmother to suck eggs." When she changed a subject abruptly she said, "Leaping from crag to crag." I still say that occasionally and then have to explain.

If a guest or guests were at our large dinner table and one of us had a bit of food or a milk mustache on the face we knew what we were to do if Mother said, "There’s a gazelle in the garden." She wove into her everyday speech quotations from the Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer. (Although she’d been brought up in that denomination, she became Prebyterian when she married our father). It wasn’t until I became an Episcopalian many years later that I realized that Mother hadn’t originated part of the statement, "Now I want you to ‘read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest’ what I’m about to say." Literary lines were part of her cautionary remarks to us: "The road to Hell is paved with good intentions." Enough said.

Our father enjoyed a good laugh, but it was Mother whose wit and humor were original. My college classmate Sidney Meeker Keith, a frequent visitor to our house in Easton, still recalls whenever we get together how much fun it was to be at our dinner table. One of Mother’s greatest gifts was that she as able to make fun of herself. Actually, I think that’s a gift that everyone should have—and I don’t mean self-deprecation. Those relatively halcyon days later became clouded by the severe problems that beset some of us, all of us really, in one degree or another. I’ve already written about some of them.

The as the hyped-up prelude to Mothers’ Day approached I began to think about my three daughters-in-law as mothers. On the day before Mothers’ Day Jayne produced a son, Eli. I find seeing my sons as fathers especially satisfying and don’t have to bite my tongue often, recalling my mother-in-law who never bit her tongue about anything ([who] on hearing the name we chose for our first-born said, "Stephen! What kind of a name is that?"). My feelings about her have softened through the years as I recall how harshly Ted treated her. As difficult, outrageous and overpowering as she was, I still tried to persuade Ted to speak to her a little more kindly, or at the very least civilly, but then he’d get irritated at me for not understanding what it was like to be her son.

So back to Mothers’ Day. Of course, Ted didn’t observe it in any way. He also never remembered her birthday. As our sons were growing up he persuaded them that Mothers’ Day was nothing but crass commercialism (more true every year, isn’t it?), ad that every day should be mother’s day. Unh-hunh. We mothers know what to think of that pious idea. We do want to be especially remembered and thought of on that day, don’t we? And I am.

Barbara McG. Lockwood

Music

Summers Then, Summers Now (1997)

Stars and Stripes

Child’s Play

More Mununka Chunk

There are only two people left who can remember our summers at Manunka Chunk— Bob and Libby. Actually, Betty must have come there, but she probably stayed for about half an hour before getting homesick and departing. Betty dropped out of Vassar before freshman year was over—home to Daddy (Uncle Bill, mother’s brother). Again on her honeymoon—but I digress.

I’ve had Manunka Chunk in my mind lately, for some reason. Mental pictures of details. some of which I’ve written about before. Stronger are the occasional whiffs of something in the air that are so evocative that I’m right back there, on the bluff or in the cornfield walking to Stackhouses’ farm for fresh eggs. I guess I must have gone with Jim and Jack, for I wouldn’t have been able to carry the cans of milk—unpasteurized, of course, straight from the cow, warm and foamy. Eventually we had milk delivered in those glass bottles with the cream on top, under the pleated paper caps. Every now and then mother opined that it would be cheaper to have our own cow. All of us except her were avid milk drinkers.

Bob remembers everything about Manunka Chunk in even greater detail than I do. I called him the other day to ask him about cars, for I connect our first car to one of our summers. We didn’t own a car until I was about ten, I think, so Sidney, Jim and Jack would all have been in our teens. I asked Bob whether he remembered a Model T Ford parked on the so-called grass next to the bungalow. Yes—a Model T truck. We were allowed to sit in the driver’s seat, taking turns at being driver and passenger. The passenger was the one to shout "Gudoogit". We were forbidden to use the real horn.

Whose was it? Not any of the island neighbors. I can’t remember where they kept their cars. Bob does, though and told me that it belonged to a college friend of Jim’s, one Bill Lewis, otherwise known as Kayo for what he did to an opponent on the third blow struck in an amateur boxing match.

As I’ve mentioned before, in the pre-first car days, the food arrangements were fairly complicated, not that Bob and I paid much attention to them, except on the days when Howie Helb, a baker from Belvedere, came rattling down the lane in an old truck and we would race out behind our mother to beg her to buy sticky buns—called that then, as now—I think. I do recall that our father, coming by train and then hiking from the station, brought a large roast and a few chickens and always a large jar of sourballs. He came only on weekends, of course.

And then, and then—wild excitement for everyone. Our father bought a car—a Gardner, with one front seat and a rumble seat for two. Of course, the whole family couldn’t fit in it, but Daddy taught the three older ones to drive. At some point mother learned, but where? Even Bob isn’t sure, nor do we know where and when our father learned. Bob recalled that he was riding in the rumble seat, going to Belvedere, when Dad pointed out the window for a left turn (this was years before the invention of the steering column direction signal) and a car behind us—unusual in itself—ran into us, more accurately, bumped into us. No damage, but the other driver and daddy got out, daddy mentioning calmly that he had signaled well before making the turn. "Oh," said the other driver, "I thought you were pointing to the scenery." In these times of safety features in cars, I think of how Bob and I loved bouncing around in the rumble seat.

Our landlady for the Manunka Chunk summers was one Mrs. Jones, known to all as Curly. Someone taught her the rudiments of driving and one day she offered to take Jack for a spin. We’d been cautioned not to ride with Curly, but Jack climbed in anyway, and then didn’t dare tell mother that he had. Shreiking with laughter out of earshot of mother, he told us that Curly had successfully negotiated the turn into our lane from the main road, but forgot how to straighten up, driving on right into the rows of ripening corn.

Getting a car started in those days before the "self starter" was invented required skill and practice. The driver had to get in front of the car and hand crank it until the motor kicked over. Then he had to leap into the front seat and pull out the choke just enough to keep the motor running but not enough to flood it. It was a routine almost identical to that of starting our motor boat at Squam, except there at least we can stay in the seat once the motor kicks in.

Barbara McG. Lockwood

November 1997

Twinkle, Twinkle Little Bat

My Brother Bob

More About Roselle, More About Child’s Play

For a house as modest as 124 West 6th Ave., the yards, especially the back yard was relatively spacious, and my special space in it was a grand apple tree which bore both blossoms and fruit. Spring and Fall, carrying a book in something that I can’t remember, I would climb to one of several natural seats near the trunk, blissful in the blooms or among the not yet fallen apples. From the ground came the sharp scent of mushy, decaying apples, slippery as ice under foot if you didn’t watch out as I started my climbing adventure, for that is what it always seemed to me to be. I liked it best when no one else was in the yard, and I alone in my private kingdom, away from the always busy house. Then I could read, dream or pretend that I was a fairy princess. If someone else was in the yard it was usually Bob and his friends or Jack and his . Then I was a spy, pretending that they were engaged in some wicked, nefarious business or plot. What they did to me if I was discovered couldn’t have been horrendous because I don’t remember what it was.

The sense [of smell] is the strongest, even more so than sight in invoking something out of the past. But how to explain it? The smell of rotting or rotten apples still flashes me back to that leafy perch. One clear blue fall day at Vassar Cathy Marshall and I rode our bikes out to the Cider Mill, wherever it was, in the countryside. Sniff—ah—back to my tree in an instant. Diane Ackerman’s book A Natural History of the Senses is a treasure.

I’ve written before of the various outdoor games that my girlfriends and I tirelessly on sunny afternoons and some that we played with boys, but I think I was the only girl who played marbles with the neighborhood boys and Bob. I still recall the soft feel of the little chamois drawstring bag (the drawstrings were thin leather laces) which held our precious supply. With due modesty I can say that I was an ace at marbles. It’s traditionally a boys’ game—boys in ancient Rome played it. Maybe a girl’s smaller, thinner fingers gave me the advantage. Naturally, they weren’t thrilled to have me in the circle, but I’d won some of their prettiest marbles and the could always hope to win them back. Of course they often did or there would have been no more games. My shooter was a gorgeous "aggie" —white and pale green swirls. I wonder what happened to it.

Some more about the Roselle backyard. Our great-aunt Esther, mother’s maiden aunt, known as Auntie to us kids and all our friends, boarded in a house on the next street in back of ours. Her window overlooked our yard, and when she wasn’t at our house, which was most of the time, she sat at it, watching whatever activity was going on, and often telephoning mother from the hall telephone to report. "Eloise, Barbara’s high up in that tree again. I’m so afraid that she’s going to tumble." Mother was patient and calm. In the corner of the yard there was an old shed. Phone call from Auntie, in a state of shock, according to mother’s years later account: "Eloise, Jack and some boys are behind the shed SMOKING." Again some years later, reminiscing about Auntie, mother said her response was, "Well Aunt, I hope it makes him sick." Jack was about twelve, I guess.

A full sized pool table took up most of the fronnt hall of 124 W. 6th Ave., but there was still room behind it for the upright piano. We all took piano lessons, but I don’t remember all of us playing, though we must have had a practice schedule. I recall Jack and me playing, but perhaps that’s because we were the ones who kept on with it well into adulthood. There was usually some group shooting pool, with me playing piano in back of them. I must have been developing great powers of concentration.

When none of that was going on Sidney and Jim and some of their friends were on the landing at the turn of the stairs feeding records to the "His Master’s Voice" Victrola: The little old Ford rambled right along; Auntie Skinners chicken dinner; Romana; I love Louisa .We youngsters thought that one was deliciously dirty because of the line "Ach, when I choose ‘em I love a great big boozom."

Barbara McG. Lockwood

Discipline

Every now and then I feel driven to attack my hanging files with a wastebasket beside me. There’s a great sense of accomplishment to chucking things, then hoping later that I won’t regret it and want something back. I’m just like mother in this. We five children joked about it most of the time. But why have I kept all this stuff packed into my files until they’re bulging so that I can hardly cram in one more piece of paper? Many old notices from AARP, receipts from long ago car tune-ups, copies of mother’s final exams at Vassar in 1905 and 1908—in English Literature and Sociology. Big emphasis in literature on the Transcendentalists, especially Emerson, and in sociology on child labor and "labor of married women." Well, anyway, I threw away some of this and went on to the Picture file and here are Bob and I, maybe five and six years old.

We were gently reared. I can’t remember hearing either parent raise a voice, let alone raise a hand. We were never spanked, but a certain tone of voice when we were reprimanded was chilling. I’m talking just about Bob and me. Jim, Sidney and Jack were enough older that we weren’t privy to any scolding for them. We wouldn’t dream of talking back to either parent, but once—ONCE—I did and have remembered it in detail ever since. This memorable event took place in Roselle, so I must have been under eleven. Mother and daddy had guests for dinner and we had been fed first in the kitchen. Mother did all the cooking and all other work involved. I was allowed to read in the living room, which opened directly into the dining room. As usual I was totally absorbed in my book, a new Christmas one in The Five Little Peppers series, when mother called out "Barbara, please come and clear the table." Oh, the injustice of it! It was the only time that I can remember the I hadn’t eaten at the same table as my parents and all the rest of us. I answered with the unthinkable: "Oh, go sit on a tack!" Momentary shocked silence. Then mother, in an ominously low voice: "Sister, go straight upstairs. I’ll speak to you later." Whenever she called me "Sister" I knew that the infraction was serious.

Although I rarely misbehaved, mostly because I never felt I wanted to, I did argue, or more precisely begged about some things, mostly having to do with what I was made to wear. Looking at my legs and feet in this photo brought this pleading right back into my mental voice, "NOBODY else has to wear long underwear under stockings and these high shoes. Please, please don’t make me." "Well, you’re not ‘nobody else’ and I only want you to be comfortable in the cold and not CATCH cold." I usually tried again, but if the pleading tone turned into a whine, I got "Sister" again in short order.