Early in the Century

My father was born in 1904 in Greenfield, Massachusetts and taken to Europe at the age of 3. He lived in Germany and Italy and was educated in England. He didn’t return to the United States until he was a married man in the late 1920’s. My mother was born 1905 in Weymouth, England and was taken to New Zealand at the age of 2. She met my father when they were both graduate students at the London School of Economics. I was born in 1932 in Washington, D.C. where my parents worked for the U.S. Government as economists. I want to include in some of my posts excerpts from memoirs that my mother wrote for my daughter, and bits of a long verbal interview that my daughter did with my father.

Here is what my mother wrote about the first years of her life and her origins:

“My mother was a Londoner and my father a Dorset man. Just how they got together I do not know. Somewhere I heard, perhaps from my grandmother, that Mother was very mych in love with him and ‘chased him to London.’ My mother’s mother, Grandma Machell, had nine children and was widowed. She then married a Mr. Lilly. This marriage was a failure, Mr. Lilly probably being a drunk. She got rid of him and proceeded to bring up the eight children unaided and with a no-nonsense iron will. She had enough money to invest in property in London and lived comfortably on the collected rents. My father’s father was a farmer but he also owned several food stores. My father owned 2 shops in Weymouth, produce and meat.

Mother and Dad were married at St. Margarets Church adjoining Westminster Abbey. I have only scraps of ideas about how or why (see note) we went to New Zealand. Two sisters of my mother with families had already emigrated. My father and mother and I went out together when I was about 2 years old. My sister, Freda, 4 years older than I, was not with us. My father must have already been an ordained deacon and I think had a parish to go to. My mother was afraid she might not like New Zealand so Freda was to follow later if they decided to stay.

I am supposed to have said my first words on the ship going out, which legend has it were, ‘Goodnight, Mr. Smith.’ I was told that I hung on to Mother’s skirts every inch of the way. Thus I started bravely for the New World.

Our Journey was, of course, by steamship and our route was through the Suez and around Capetown, South Africa, a long journey, no doubt. Mother was always a very poor sailor, and I can only wonder how soon she got her sea legs and felt well.”

Note by Old Woman: It is rumored in the family that my grandfather was quite a ladies’ man, and that he may have been suspected of an indiscretion with a lady of the parish where he was a deacon. Because of that he was shipped out to New Zealand. This may have accounted for some of my grandmother’s uncertainties about staying in New Zealand.

Here are some excerpts from my father’s memories taken down on tape:

“There was money in my mother’s family, I don’t know how much. Her father, Colonel Fincke — he was a colonel in the militia — was making money and doing pretty well in Wall Street, and then he got tubercular lungs, so he had to give up his work. In those days they had no way of treating tubercular lungs except rest and healthy environment.” (note by Old Woman: the family lived in a brownstone house in Brooklyn, and when the Colonel got TB they moved for a while to Ashville, N.C. because the mountain air was supposed to be good for the lungs.) “One of the things he did was to go around the Horn on a sailing vessel. And there was one time when he went to the French Riviera. That was my grandfather.”

“My father was rector of St. James Episcopal Church in Greenfield, MA. He had apparently given some serious thought to an offer he had received to go and preach to the ignorant and poor inhabitants of Newfoundland, but he had just been married, and he thought that Greenfield would be a better place to raise a family than the wilds of Newfoundland. He stayed only a few years in Greenfield because Mother was — unkind to say, but it is a fact — she was an awful snob. She had tremendous admiration for titled nobility in England and Europe. I remember she used to daydream about my younger sister, Clare, getting married to a duke when Clare was no more than an infant. Anyway, Greenfield was not a place to meet Dukes, and Mother was very unhappy there and kept pressing my father to become rector of one of the American chruches in Europe.

Eventually Mother prevailed on him to go to Europe, even though he felt that there was no chance there to get a following as a spiritual leader. Just a bunch of mostly elderly people who had gone to Europe because it was a nice place to live with cultural opportunities and art.”

Note by Old Woman: I knew my father’s mother well as a child. She was a widow by that time, and I was her only grandchild until I was 8 years old. I spent several summers with her, before World War II in Italy, and later in Maine. During the war she worked for the OSS (Office of Strategic Services, which, I think, was the forerunner of the CIA) translating Italian documents and making propaganda broadcasts to Italy. It is true that she was always a snob. It got to be a family joke, and when she was old we referred to her as “The Duchess” behind her back. She taught me a lot of things, especially manners. She said one must always be polite to servants because they were in an inferior position. Now that I am an old woman myself, I don’t have much use for that good advice, since I have no servants.

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1 Response to Early in the Century

  1. Marion says:

    I found your blog yesterday, and am really enjoying it. Thanks! I am not in your age group, (am 55) but I like your history.

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