*Grandmother Cahill’s circa 1930 Writing About Her Father and Husband

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Grandmother Beatrice [Anne] Hunter Cahill’s Autobiography

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This next autobiographical piece written by Mildred’s mother concerns the death of Mildred’s grandfather and the ending of her parents’ marriage.  It provides a vital sense of the ‘flavor’ of the family home that must have powerfully – and most destructively – impacted age-4 to age-5 Mildred.  I strongly doubt that during this time any adult in Mildred’s young life ever bothered to talk to her about what was happening or gave her any chance to tell someone how what the grownups did affected in her life.

Divorce in the early 1930s was extremely rare.  Mother often told her children that she knew only one other child of divorced parents all the way through her high school years.  According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) extensive research, being raised in a family of divorce is considered to be one of the most troubling traumas, or Adverse Childhood Experiences, of a child’s life even today.

The Stock Market Crash of 1929 had devastating effects upon the Cahill’s income, on Bea’s husband she refers to here as Senior, and on the family.  This was written shortly after the death of Bea’s beloved father, so  is circa 1930.  (Underlining was in the original text.  However, I have broken some of the paragraphs into shorter ones for ease of reading, have placed some very important ‘clues’ in bold type for emphasis, and have inserted a few italicized comments within brackets.)

Again, this was transcribed by Joan Hunter Pudvan, May 2003, Columbus, Ohio, who wrote at the top of her typed pages:  “This is a copy of [Anne] Beatrice Hunter Cahill’s ‘journal’ given to me by their son, Charles [Hunter] Cahill in about the year 2000.

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[Anne] Beatrice Hunter Cahill’s Account

Trying to review is a very amazing puzzle.  I’m going to try to analyze the problem on paper in so far as possible.  Nothing like putting things down on paper to see the justice of the affair.

For several months, Senior has been different in attitude, in actions, in feeling.  Believing all to have been caused by accumulation of financial worries, I have calmly and gently maneuvered to keep things calm and satisfactory in the home – avoiding arguments on any occasion whatsoever.  Everything as been serene for months – at least a year.

Financial strain has been present as a result of market conditions, business in the office, failure at the gas station.  By the way when this was taken on in September last, it was taken over, I believe, in generous, well-meaning spirit [by her husband], trying to help me and my family out of difficult financial condition, providing work and income for my father.  For this generosity and willingness to share and give part toward support of my family for this last year, I have overlooked everything and have forgiven lack of sympathetic kindness in words and in actions.

Appreciation I have had to the nth degree.  Faithfulness to my home duties I have given to very best degree.  Nothing has been lacking in home attention to management, to husband or to the children.  Driven by love and by duty to stand by parents in distress, I have given only according to their desserts.  They have been better than the best parents.  They have helped me through childhood to maturity.  Through my Mother’s insistence, I am still the wife of my husband, whom I have always found wanting in sympathetic affection in words and actions, priding himself that he is not sentimental, or emotional, that that is sign of weakness.  [I find this statement extremely enlightening as to the quality of Mildred’s parents’ relationship even prior to their financial crisis.]

He has never given me praise in words or deeds, accomplishments, home management – or expressed pride in my appearance.  Yet throughout all, he has been faithful, good provider.  Teaching myself by force that that was expression of his love for me, I taught and schooled myself to ask for nothing .  No affection was ever received that was not directly sought after.  Yet, I have been absorbed in my home, my little family and husband.

Again, I believed his insistence that we could afford a maid and keep one was demonstration of a love for me, greater than most men.  After the crash in the market (which I am proud to say I accepted bravely without criticism), I begged to be allowed to cut down expenses by giving up the maid and doing my own housework.  Now that the children are out of infant stage, I’m more than willing.  But no!  He would inform me when he wanted to change his mode of living.

[Bea’s statement here is a direct affirmation for me of the strong intuition I had prior to discovering this piece of writing.  Given the outcome of Mildred’s life I knew that neither she and or her brother were primarily cared for by their mother in the earliest months of their life.  I suspect that Mildred was sequestered away in her infancy attended to by a busy and probably uncaring – if not abusive – maid who appeared in the tomb of the nursery only when necessary to change Mildred’s diaper and leave her a propped bottle every four hours or so.  

My other strong suspicion is that Mildred’s two-year-older brother (a gifted genius of powerful personality from his youth), who had been an unwanted child by his father as Bea described, must have suffered correspondingly in his relationship with his mother.  He had been both neglected and spoiled to the point that by the time his sister was born he had already become angry, vindictive, mean and very possibly sadistic.  He no doubt had free access to his helpless tiny sister who I also do not doubt he could have tortured in ways no reader wants to imagine.  

I, of course, will never know the truth of what happened to terribly hurt Mildred from the time she was born, but the neglect alone in the scenario I describe would have been enough to permanently change her physiological development in the direction of adaptation to trauma.  It alone would have given her a serious insecure attachment disorder caused by a nearly complete lack of necessary loving human contact.  But given the patterns even as they are so briefly yet sharply clear in Mildred’s writings about the deep underlying painful conflicts in her relationship with her brother I feel justified in believing the worst about what happened to infant-Mildred.  

I also remember Mother often repeating to her children that her mother favored her son.  To her mother Charles could do no wrong although she, herself, very often ‘displeased’ Bea and suffered abuse in consequence.  Even if my grandmother did not have BPD, her patterns of splitting all good-all bad between her two children was extremely destructive.  Mildred would say, “My mother hated all men after her divorce, but she always worshiped her son.”]

[Bea continues:]  Having free time on my hands, I’ve yearned to use it productively.  I never craved to be a Whist player during the day – I preferred to carry on my work during hours when children were playing and needed no help.  The year I was writing my book the maid did not carry on my home duties.  I managed everything.  She did nothing for the children.  I was at home more than the average and took every personal care of the children from morning until night.  There could be no complaint that I devoted spare time to useless purposes!  This past year since book has been published, my spare hours have been devoted to my father’s bedside – just those extra hours or much less I had free for reading.  The book has soared to it’s own success without my help.  It has carried into 38 states and 22 universities on it’s own momentum.  [This period of time Bea is describing was well after Mildred’s critical first two years of life.]

I have been proud of it’s success as a leader in it’s own field, but so many more serious home problems have confronted me this year, that the thrill of success has been smothered with me.  [Note from Joan Pudvan:  I think this book was a treatise about psychology in the work place, written during her studies in graduate psychology.  I remember seeing a slim little copy of it at home when I was a child.]

As I remember, the late fall [1928?] everything was normal and happy at home.  Christmas is always an unhappy strain of feelings to me.  [This is a very important statement.  In her later life as reflected in her writings Mildred stated the exact opposite of her childhood memories of this season.  This is a clue to me that Mildred’s fantasies had replaced reality in many ways regarding the ‘happy family home’ she believed her mother had given her as she so wanted in her ‘all-good’ BPD world to reproduce it for her own children.  Mildred had dangerously split the good from the bad of her childhood in her mind.]   Constantly I made conscious effort of not throwing arousing antagonistic attitudes in my husband [sic].  In early spring [1929?], somehow I became aware of a lack of interest on the part of my husband toward me, mine, and my affairs.  Torn between fact it might have been dislike of giving financial aid to my family, or sympathy because I believed it due to strained business and finance, I forgave coldness, lack of interest, conversation and companionship.

Any diversion – movies or Whist with friends was always at my suggestion, followed by acquiescence without enthusiasm. Always, I excused him to Daddy, to Mother, to myself – blue because of business.  I tried to believe he needed cheer and joviality.  Tried to suggest Sunday trips to see friends and have some in.  Talked dancing and music.  No response.  Lack of warmth I could feel.  Tried joviality with our friends – almost to point of flirting with good friends to see if it would awaken in him a spark in return.  No response.  Didn’t seem to care.  [Was Mildred’s father suffering from depression?]  Refused to dance.  Not interested in eating out or asking me out anywhere.  When out dining one summer weekend, left party of three of us and walked outside when we started to dance to the electric gramophone – not interested.  Resented my advances.  Wanted to be “left alone.”

When Mr. C [Cryan?] teased me about flirtatiousness – no response.  Knew he could trust me.  Informed me – “one or 12 men made no difference to me.”

Climax of lack of interest and sympathy during last weeks, and week, and days of my father’s death.  Never a word of cheer to a dying old man – whose son was 1500 miles away – never a call except 2 or 3 minutes upon request.  Never an offer of help when a man was needed desperately to help.  Business worry – I excused him – marking him queer.  Even to the night of death, no offer to look in on to help at the death bed, do errand or what-not.  I played loyally two roles, doing what I could a few free hours a day the ten days before death, returning at noon for lunch with my children, arranging for them.  Another hour with my dad and return at four to prepare children, self and home for dinner each night, putting children to bed – sometimes returning – about three nights the week before my father died.

The night he [her father] was dying – I begged my husband to meet my brother [Note from Joan:  This would be William Hammett Hunter, my father] at the train which was racing with death.  He [her husband] had suffered Saturday night and Sunday with severe headache and nosebleed, during which time I remained at home with him until he retired Sunday night at 9.  No sign of cold or what not, but repression of some worry.  Monday found him at work.  Nothing but dire necessity would have forced me to ask him to meet that train.  I dreaded to leave the bedside myself for fear I might not be with my dad at the end.  I might have asked any friend or neighbor to do as much and received aid willingly.  I hated to explain I could not ask my husband.  “No indeed not.  I’m in NO condition to go.  I don’t believe it necessary.  He can take a taxi from downtown if he’s in a hurry.”

“But,” I countered in despair, “I’ve asked no favor from you this last week while Dad is dying.  My uncles and aunts have done everything.  This is all I have asked of you.”

“Is that so – you’ve asked enough of me.  Haven’t I stayed in the house for you every night last week so you could go down there.  But I’ll go.”

“Thank you,” I said, and allowed the maid to go till 10, at which time he was to go.  Stunned by the accusations, she stayed in herself.  Upstairs, fixing windows for the night in children’s room, it dawned on me that he had not remained in every night that previous week and that it was a queer accusation anyhow.  I took a piece of paper to figure calmly.  Somehow, I was dumbfounded seriously for the first time.  Monday = [gas] station.  Guest Mr. Nichols had come to dinner.  I was home.  Then they had gone to movies in town while I went down to house to stay all night to help on duty – he returning around 12 o’clock.  [Did the maid sta to care for the children during this time?]  Tuesday night – he had gone to yard and watered awhile and read, I think.  Wednesday:  Went to ride with Dot and returned with Harry Cryan [Joan:  sp?] for evening after supper for the entire evening.  On Thursday to Cambridge while I was home too with Dot.  Friday:  Station.  Saturday afternoon station, yard a little.  Bad headache.  Up for dinner.  Reclining all day.  Queer attitude toward me – so asked him.  Diffident.  Asked Harry’s kidding has anything to do with it.

“Certainly not.  If you don’t know, I shan’t tell you.  It’s something we’ve had 2 or 3 arguments about.  Now let me alone.”

As much at sea as ever, I turned to my more serious duties.

That night I meant not to have him go, but doctor called at 9:30 told us he hardly dared to hope my brother would make the race.  So I pocketed my pride and hurt, and called and asked if he would please go.  As it was, he brought my brother within three minutes of my Dad’s last breath.  I didn’t believe I could forgive his eyes, his words, his attitude, his lack of sympathy that week, that night but at the bedside of Death, I was glad to touch the hand even a dog would have extended its paw and licked my hand with its tongue.  No word or real sympathy though – aside from the family.  In the throes of the most sacred experience of my life, I was willing to overlook human frailties and problems.  I never saw my husband from that time until 10 minutes before the funeral.  After all our relatives and friends had pressed to my heart, held me in their arms with tender words.  From Uncles I heard over and over, tender endearments and “you’re a honey-bee – you are faithful – loving, and good.”  With the last strangers my husband and his sister arrived.  Over the phone, when I mentioned a need of him, he said, “I can’t help it: my part was to take care of the children” (though kindest neighbors and efficient maid were willing) “and to wash the car” (which our own garage man could have done at our station).

During the services – in the bedroom were – my brother, Mother, my father’s brother, my husband and I were together – two cousins crowded in late.  I sat on the bed, one arm about my grief-stricken mother on a chair in front, my brother on my left – my husband standing alone, aloof, cold and statue-like at the head of the bed, leaning against the door.  Neither a hand, a touch, a word, or a kiss had I during the time he arrived late or funeral was over.  When funeral was over, he remained on the porch in a chair – presumably waiting for his car to return with driver – and leave after.  Still no word.  Aloof.  Estranged.

I returned home for dinner that night and reassumed normal duties.  Just the next night seemed slightest show of natural sympathy and affection – which lasted shortly only.  The remainder of week – I had much to occupy me with my brother.  Monday the funeral.  Tuesday at home.  Wednesday – my husband went to Cambridge again to see his Mother, confined with a fall.  Natural and right.  Harry Cryan called that night to see him.  At 9:30 went to Mother’s.  Returned at 11:30 ….  Thursday – Mother and Hunt here for supper.  Watered grass.  Retired early.  Friday:  awhile at house.  Saturday and Sunday at home.  Monday = Charlie [her husband] to station all evening waiting on man proposed to lease station.  Tuesday = at Mother’s.  Charlie returns with complete proposition.  Attractive.  Wednesday = men at house with Hunt – Charles weary – severe headache.  Both at home.  Bed early.  Thursday = dinner at Mother’s, children, home early.  Friday = Hunt goes home:  afternoon.  Mother packs for trip.  Bee and C pack for trip.  Everything jovial.  Saturday = deferred plans.  Upset.  Queer attitude.

Sunday = poor cloudy day.  Beach.  Tried to reach bottom of strange attitude in view of gain [can’t read word].  Forged ahead, believing perhaps it must be business, and regret, willing to forget everything, asked, “Charlie, please tell me what worries you.  If it’s business, it will help to tell me.  You are like a cold stone statue to me.  I can’t understand you.”

“I just don’t care about anything anymore – just nothing at all matters.”

“Don’t I matter?  No nothing matters?  Don’t you care with your heart, your head, anyway?”

“Oh yes, I love you, not in a sensuous way.  It’s enough to come home, just find you and the kiddies here and go on and on.  I don’t care about anything.”  [Again, yes, sounds like serious depression to me.]

“But what makes you feel that way?  Is it business, another woman, because you think I’d like someone else?  Why I don’t know.”

“If you don’t know, you’re a poor psychologist.  I’ve felt this way 3 or 4 months and it will be that way unless you change your actions.  When I have something to say around here.  I’ll mange this.  I don’t think you appreciate what I’ve done anyhow.  I’m only a meal ticket anyhow.”

[Joan: End of pages I have.  Underlining is as it was in the original.  Have only put in a comma here and there to make it more understandable.  Joan Pudvan]

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[Linda note:  Please follow the comment link below for my response]

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2 thoughts on “*Grandmother Cahill’s circa 1930 Writing About Her Father and Husband

  1. Some of my responses to my grandmother Beatrice [Anne] Hunter Cahill’s autobiography, September 30, 2009

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    Grandmother stated: “…I have calmly and gently maneuvered to keep things calm and satisfactory in the home – avoiding arguments on any occasion whatsoever. Everything as been sere for months – at least a year.”

    I question whether it is ever possible to keep adult relationship troubles secret from children. My mother turned 4 on December 21, 1929. My guess is that she was astutely aware of the tension and unhappiness that existed in her home.

    I wonder if she wasn’t obliquely referring to her father’s financial woes in her childhood story about the fortune lost: +MY MOTHER’S CHILDHOOD STORIES.

    ++++

    That my mother’s childhood home was not rampant in caring love and affection between her parents is suggested by grandmother’s words:

    “Through my Mother’s insistence, I am still the wife of my husband….”

    Grandmother described a marriage of deprivation at best.

    ++++

    I always believed that mother’s early care was provided not by her mother, but by a nanny. One of my nephews found the name of this ‘maid’ on the 1929 census as he searched the Mormon online data banks for family history [I do not have access to this information at present, but hope to].

    I have more to say about the possible deprivations of mother’s early care elsewhere in my writings. However, I certainly find grandmothers words confirm some part of my thinking. My mother’s mother was NOT intimately involved in her children’s primary care during their infancy and early childhood.

    I believe that circumstances of deprivation and perhaps abuse threatened her healthy mental development even before the events grandmother is describing post-crash occurred. The financial and marital tensions which ended in her parents’ divorce FOLLOWED her early traumas and – perhaps coupled with sexual abuse in the picture that we will never know anything about one way or the other – broke my mother.

    Grandmother stated:

    “Again, I believed his insistence that we could afford a maid and keep one was demonstration of a love for me, greater than most men. After the crash in the market (which I am proud to say I accepted bravely without criticism), I begged to be allowed to cut down expenses by giving up the maid and doing my own housework. Now that the children are out of infant stage, I’m more than willing. But no! He would inform me when he wanted to change his mode of living.”

    ++++

    I do not at present know what year grandmother is referring to here, bout sounds like 1927 – 1928 when my mother would have been 2 to 3 years old. Interesting that although there are no copies listed for sale, reference to my grandmother’s book appears at amazon.com:

    Pupil guidance, by Beatrice Hunter Cahill
    (Unknown Binding – 1929)
    Out of Print–Limited Availability
    97 pages
    Publisher: The Colonial press (1929)

    Grandmother stated:

    “The year I was writing my book the main did not carry on my home duties. I managed everything. She did nothing for the children. I was at home more than the average and took every personal care of the children from morning until night.”

    I do wonder about the contradictions I see in these words. How could she be “home more than the average” and at the same time take “every personal care of the children from morning until night?” I’m sorry, but the math doesn’t add up here for me here unless she took the children out with her when she was gone from home during the time included in the ‘less than the average’ period?

    ++++

    Considering my mother’s fantastical obsession with ‘Happy Holidays’, I found this statement grandmother made interesting:

    “Christmas is always an unhappy strain of feelings to me.”

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    I find this to be an interesting statement, particularly in grandmother’s use of the word “somehow”. My grandmother does not sound like an oblivious woman to me. The word “somehow” makes me think of accidents, like “Gee, I don’t know how that happened! Somehow it did!” Just seems odd to me!

    She stated:

    “As I remember, the late fall [1929?] everything was normal and happy at home. Christmas is always an unhappy strain of feelings to me. Constantly I made conscious effort of not throwing arousing antagonistic attitudes in my husband [sic]. In early spring [1930?], somehow I became aware of a lack of interest on the part of my husband toward me, mine, and my affairs.”

    ++++

    [Linda note: It seems that her parents connected grandfather Charles Senior to the gas station business after the crash – certainly not a fact that mother EVER alluded to in our childhoods! Was she as ashamed of this ‘labor’ as her father seems to have perhaps been? What follows sounds to me like it could be a rather classical description of her father’s depression — serious depression? Or was it ‘something else’? What would have been the effects upon my mother of her father’s depression? Had he EVER paid her any affectionate attention?]

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    “Somehow, I was dumbfounded seriously for the first time.”

    Shortly after grandmother wrote these words mother’s parents divorced – an unusual action for couples to pursue in 1930. My mother lost her father and her grandfather at this time. Her widowed grandmother took up residency in her home and her mother went to work full time.

    I doubt anyone took the time with my mother to help her process the traumas of this crisis time in her life. I think she was left alone from infancy onward, during her earliest years being cared for by a maid-nanny who well might not have been of the most nurturing nature.

    My mother was then raised by a single mother, who appeared to greatly favor her son over her daughter. I never understood her mother to be particularly interested in any more domestic chores than were absolutely necessary. As my grandmother’s additional writings show, it was mother’s great grandmother who was the expert at teaching the domestic arts. Mother’s obsession with them had to have originated in these circumstances within her home of origin.

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