*Grandmother’s Autobiographcial Writings About Childhood and Motherhood

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Grandmother Beatrice [Anne] Hunter Cahill’s Autobiography

Two informative short autobiographical pieces of Mildred’s mother’s writings survived to be included in this book.  They have proved very useful to me as I work through the history of our family as it contributed to Mildred’s mental illness and to her severe abuse of me.  In this first one my grandmother, (Anne) Beatrice Hunter Cahill, provides a rosy picture of her own early years.  (Mildred says in her own 1974 short autobiographical writing that she did not find out until after her mother’s death that Anne rather than Beatrice was her mother’s first name.)

Mildred’s grandmother died in 1952 at the age of 91, so these undated words were written after that time.  Mildred lived with this her grandmother – her namesake – from the time she was five until she married my father when she was 23.  It seems informative in itself that I have yet to find among the hundreds of photographs within Mildred’s papers a single picture of my great grandmother who was living in our home when she died the year I turned one.  Mildred repeatedly expressed vicious anger at me throughout my childhood for being such a horrible girl from the time I was a baby that I had cried when placed on the lap of my great grandmother.

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Transcribed from original by Mildred’s only first cousin’s daughter — Joan Hunter Pudvan, May 2003, Columbus, Ohio – from writings that came to her on small bits and scraps of paper.

Joan wrote at the top of this collection as she typed the following:  “This is a copy of [Anne] Beatrice Hunter Cahill’s ‘journal’ given to me by their son, Charles [Hunter] Cahill [my mother’s only brother] in about the year 2000.”

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“My Sea of Life

[Anne] Beatrice Hunter Cahill

The first eighteen years of my life were spent in very happy, genteel living in Boston, Massachusetts.  Genteel is chosen to portray a picture of the life of a girl of the early twentieth century who was raised by loving [can’t read word] Scotch Canadian parents.  [Who had immigrated from Scotland to settle in Prince Edward Island prior to their move into America in the late 1800s.]

Home life was happy and stable without any unusual storms or upheavals which affected my life in any way.  Mother was a devoted and loving [can’t read word] homemaker and devoted parent who taught me all the things a girl should do and not do.  She taught me all the duties and arts the female of the day should perform:  cooking, sewing, knitting, crocheting, tatting.  She also taught me how to scrub and clean and cook – admonishing me that she’d “teach me how to do these things” but hoped I had sense enough to marry well enough so I wouldn’t have to do them myself, but would know enough to see that they were done properly by others.

So to offset all this domestic training, lest I become too absorbed in it, perhaps, much emphasis was gentle [sic] laid on the value of a girl gaining a thorough classical education, whether it was to be used to enrich her own life or for later vocational advantages was not stressed as important.  “Higher Education” was taken for granted by our family.  [then Bea wrote, “with it’s background of teachers,” but that is crossed out.]

My sailing through public grammar school was calm and easy.  From there I proceeded happily to Girls’ Latin School in Boston – where I received a sound and thorough classical high school education – and easy [can’t read words], in spite of labor.

To make up for my confinement once my hours of study in the winter [sic], the family spent summers in the country or seashore where I had the opportunity to learn first hand Nature and her glory;  On the sea, on the lakes, on the rivers, on the farm and in the woods.

Here I learned “to do” things, to be active physically and socially, as well as mentally.  In retrospect, I can see that to a girl of those days, I did many things quite unusual, I guess, though I did not realize it at the time.  One was so busy just day by day, and year by year that I never questioned the activities of my life.  I merely sailed along on that quiet, calm River of Life in the sailboat provided for me.

My father taught me to shoot, to fish for trout in the tumbling streams of Vermont brooks and rivers.  For hours he patiently taught me to cast a fly rod, to shoot a rifle so I could “shoot the bullseye” in our improved [sic] gallery.  He took me to fish in the trout streams and to enjoy the catch – but he taught me to be a good sportswoman and measure my fish, throwing back those too short or too little, to keep.

He took me in the marshes to shoot the birds on the wing.  To the woods to hunt for quail.  But my heart was never in the hunt – though I loved the rambling through the woods and dale.

My mother hours pent [sic] could not share our shooting nor cast a fly for trout, but with us, she shared the love of deep-sea fishing off the Maine coast where she could sit quietly in a dory and put bait on the end of the line and catch flounder or bass.

She loved to sit on the beach in Maine and eat the clams and lobsters at the “clambakes.”  She loved to motor boat and to sail.  This outdoor living in the summer got “the [can’t read word] out of our bodies” as my dear old Dad used to put it.

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I learned to love gracious living from my mother, who was “very English” in her devotion to proper manners and procedures.  What a woman – could be uttered with humility, respect, love and awe when I think of my mother’s life as she lived it usefully, happily and actively with a zest and interest in life and in the world to the very end of her life.

Primarily a woman of the home who never believed in working outside the home, force of circumstances of my father’s illness for a year, my Mother became interested in building and real estate.  From early years of my life, Mother owned and managed a few pieces of her own property, though it was distinctly an avocation with her.  By and large, my mother was a home-maker, devoted to her family life.

Yet, my mother was the most avid and selective reader of books and magazines of any woman I ever knew.  Looking backward now, I marvel not only at the breadth of her education but at her retention of all she read!  The “best in books” was her steady diet — in literature, religion, world affairs and politics.

With all the educational facilities provided for me – except for translations in foreign languages – my mother’s self education superseded my own education by at least 50%.  Why?  Because Mother sought knowledge and selected her fare with purpose of digestion and enjoyment.  While teachers present the work for pupils half-heartedly without motivation which brings out the desire to retain and to enjoy!

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To complete the family picture lest I be labeled as an “only child” entirely spoiled let me briefly introduce a brother whom I adored – with love bestowed by a sister twelve years younger than the brother in the case.  To me he never did wrong or could.  While I was in grammar school he attended Harvard College.  There, he was no “Rah Rah Boy,” but a serious student of Chemistry, getting his doctorate there when 21 years old (Joan’s note:  he was probably older [speaking of Joan’s father]).  At that time he was appointed a Professor of Chemistry at Bucknell and ten years later at the University of Minnesota where he taught all the years of his life.  After never spending a day in bed in his life, he died of kidney poisoning when only 49 years of age, leaving behind sorrow in family and academic circles which found it hard to understand why one so needed and keen should be cut down in the prime of his life.

I have surprised myself to find that my autobiography has begun with such emphatic build-up of family early background life.  But why not?  The family life builds the foundation for enjoyment of life, and the ideals and the individuality of each one of us.  Without that, school and community living provide little to family life and personal experience outside of school or help to mold the thinking of habits of the individual as he prepares to go on independently to develop his own adult life patterns.

[Linda note:  It is hard for me to believe that the woman who wrote these words was my mother’s mother.  But grandmother’s intellectual nature was probably not a nurturing one to my mother, who obviously seemed to need more – much, much more.]

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I attended Boston University for four years and secured a liberal arts degree, with major in English and minor in psychology, expecting to be a teacher of English in high school.  In fact, I was appointed to a high school position in New Hampshire University after college graduation, but Fate interfered with my plans.  My father’s ill health demanded a change of climate so we joined my brother in Minnesota for a reuniting of the family for a year prior to his marriage [Joan:  He and my mother were married in 1918].

Because of this I was offered an opportunity to study at the University of Minnesota and gain my Masters in Education.  This met with my approval, even though I had become engaged to a college classmate after graduation.  [back east]  We planned to marry in about a year, it seemed that all were content with plans for the year at the U.

It was at the U of Minnesota that my minor in Psychology became my Major and my major in English became my minor.  These choices inadvertently shaped the whole of my career-life.  It was a wonderful year at the U of Minnesota – stimulating from an academic viewpoint and contacts and happy from devoted family reunited.  [Her thesis was a psychological study on vocational testing.]

During that year my Master’s thesis developed my interest in both industrial and Personnel, since my project was concerned with Psychology of salesmanship and my experimentation work was carried on in one of the Minn. Department Stores where I am delighted to say the results were good and much appreciated.  As a result, I received a fellowship of $500 in Department of Psychology at Carnegie Tech.  I wanted it badly, but knowing I would be married in Boston the following June, I refused the fellowship.

[Linda note:  My mother wrote in her letters that she was herself ready to start her junior year of college when she married my father.  She changed her mind about pursuing her education in favor of ‘home making’.]

The summer following that receipt of my Master’s Degree [1918], Mother and I returned to Boston to visit relatives.  I enjoyed a short “leave” with my fiancé who was working for the government in Washington [D.C.].  Also, it was conveniently arranged for me to go to Washington, to work with my former Chief of Psychology who was [can’t read word] there for war work on Tests and Measurements for the Army Tests.  Mother and I spent 6 months there – I enjoyed that work immensely, but we went to Boston for Christmas holidays on my accumulated “leave.”  I felt a “cold coming on” as I left Washington D.C. – and had little heart for the farewell party given to me.  Alas for the many who insisted on showering farewell “pecks on me:  for I must have left plenty of “flu germs.”

By the time I reached Boston I had developed “double pneumonia.”  Again Fate cast ripples on the River of Life and turned the direction of the sail boat once again.  It took a few months to finally recuperate.  Perhaps that bit of relaxation and recuperation proved too luxurious and pushed me back to a childhood of habits again, or not.  I do not really know.  But the “female of the species” was ready to settle down to married life and my fiancé was once more in civilian life and employed very happily as a stock broker.

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Again, it seemed as if my life moved along on smooth waters.  Financially and socially I had everything I needed.  Because I was never a wife who unhappily yearned for inaccessible things of imaginary needs.  My husband and I moved on in old grooves of college days – our college friends had married and lived in nearby towns.  Our families lived in Boston.  We moved on in the Sea of Matrimony seemingly the ideal couple I guess.

But we were dependent on each other and try as I might I could develop no enthusiasm or much knowledge of the dry old stock market manipulations – so I listened and shared as an auditor chiefly.  Certainly that was satisfactory and all needed by my husband.

We wanted a family, but years passed without one, so I began to dabble again in Psychology with my husband’s consent and interest.  I attended classes at Harvard and Boston University on Saturday mornings – only meeting him for lunch and afternoon play.

It worked out fine – it never interfered with nor ever [can’t read word] on our time together.  To me it was just an avocation.  I did some substitute teaching, half heartedly always waiting for the day I could have happy news of pregnancy.

Five years passed by.  I was discouraged about my chances of having children of my own.  The doctor said the pneumonia had depleted my health so that I wasn’t physically ready.  I began considering adoption – when the happy day arrived that assured me I was pregnant.  It was a Big Moment in my life.  I guess it is “Like Mother Like Daughter” for motherhood and family have always been “First” in my life.

But not so with my husband – after five years of married life without a family, when he had been the complete center of attention, the new role of fatherhood had distinct limitations and disadvantages.  Life became difficult when I realized that he lacked knowledge and desires needed so much by the father of a family.  Using my knowledge of Psychology, I soon realized blame was not to be placed on his shoulders – he had a very different background than mine – as far as family life was concerned.

[This is the end of this collection of short notes.  Through a simple genealogical search that included census information I discovered that Mildred’s father was the 8th and last child born in his family.  Of his older siblings only his oldest sister survived out of the firstborn six.  Five had died presumably from flu prior to the family’s move into America.  This would have created much grief in the heart of his parents, who were also immigrant descendants of parents who had settled in Halifax, Nova Scotia.]

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[Linda note:  This is all we have of her autobiographical writings.  If there were more, they appear to be lost to us forever.  Please see the comment section for my response to this writing.]

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One thought on “*Grandmother’s Autobiographcial Writings About Childhood and Motherhood

  1. This piece of my grandmother’s writing does not address what happened once her children were born. My mother repeated stories about her childhood that indicated that her childhood memories included what we would today call abuse. She told of how on occasion her mother would have her brother hold her down while grandmother beat her with a razor strap. She told of being fed soggy milk soaked crackers when she was deprived of meals.

    I do not remember mother ever telling us in her repeated stories WHY grandmother would get mad at her. She did tell of her brother coming into her room when she was a teenager and dumping out her dresser drawers and tearing her room apart if she refused to go out on a date with one of his friends.

    She told how there were times when she was in grammar school, the divorce having already happened, wanting to see her mother after her day at school. Her mother taught a private kindergarten, and would tell my mother to leave her alone and take care of herself because her mother was busy.

    Mother told how when her mother was angry with her she gave mother as a child the silent treatment — for weeks at a time. At the dinner table grandmother would speak to her son and tell him to tell mother something. Mother would have to speak to her brother to answer her mother back.

    I believe much went on in my mother’s childhood home that we will obviously never know anything about. But I do believe there was abuse.

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