Then Mother met Dad, Frederic Elroy Greene
He was a young man from another world, from what Mother called “The Outside.” A graduate of Phillips Exeter Academy and Harvard University, Dad had taught school in Japan, was a scholar and a linguist and an artist. He also played an excellent game of tennis. His father had been a merchant, postmaster, and banker in the small town of Copenhagen in upstate New York, and he traced his ancestry to a Thomas Greene who joined Washington’s Army and was wounded in the Battle of Bunker Hill. When Mother met Dad he was visiting his sister, Elizabeth Streater of Lake Chades. At the time of their marriage in 1915, Dad was manager of the New England Children’s Aid Society, with offices in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
Following a brief honeymoon, Mother and Dad moved into an apartment in Pittsfield, and Mother found herself suddenly thrust into an entirely different civilization. Although she had no trace of a southern accent—The Captain and her mother had seen to that—she did have strong southern ties. Dad, in one of his many attempts to expose his young wife to Northern Culture, took her to a symphony concert. During the program, for some reason, the orchestra played “Dixie.” Without thinking, Mother rose and stood at respectful attention. One can imagine the reaction, and how Mother felt, but she had also felt she must stand, and stand she did, as only she could stand. (Dad used to say she looked like she was smelling for thunder.) As she stood there, the murmurs and suppressed laughter died and when “Dixie” was finished, Mother sat down. And the audience applauded.
We girls were born near Pittsfield. Shirley in 1918 and Marian in 1920. Also during this period a fire destroyed the Greene apartment, and most of Dad’s Japanese treasures, and they moved into a hotel. At the hotel Mother was introduced to another aspect of Northern Culture. She invited the woman in the next room to call on her some day, and the woman did. But first Mother heard her neighbor going through a long toilette, then descending the stairs to the lobby and then returning up the stairs to knock on Mother’s door. The woman entered wearing a coat, hat and gloves, which she doffed with much ceremony Mother and she drank tea and chatted and when she left, the woman put her coat hat and gloves back on, also with much ceremony, went down the stairs to the lobby and then back up the stairs to her room, next door. She had “called.”
During World War I, Dad worked for the Red Cross at Ft. Devons, Mass. then, when we girls were small, for a brief period with the Red Cross in Atlanta Ga. Early in the 1920’s we moved to Rome, N.Y., where Dad was to become a partner in a lumber and construction company there.
The following are letters from some of Mother’s friends during her years in Rome.
Viola Gaylord, Rome, New York:
“It has been my privilege to know Dorothea Greene since 1930. A flood of memories comes, each of which gives evidence of one or more of the far-ranging qualities of mind and spirit which were hers.
“May I write a story, small, but significant and of enduring values:
” ‘Certainly I will speak with him, but only if he will come around to the front door and ask for me there. ‘
“These words I overheard as I was coming down the front stairs of Dorothea’s Washington Street home. Then as a graying, rather feeble-looking colored gentleman appeared at the front door I realized that Dorothea, a Southerner, had invited him, a colored person, to come to the front door. -It was a sultry day in a depression summer, and Rev. McKissick had walked several miles to bring her a few vegetables from the bit of garden behind his church, an expression of gratitude for her help to his struggling congregation.
“Later I learned from Dorothea that this tiny colored congregation organized in 1928, had bought a small house on Whitesboro Street which served as church, parsonage and meeting place, and that now in the depths of depression, members were giving penny by penny from their almost zero earnings to try to avoid mortgage foreclosure. (In those years foreclosures were rampant.)
“Fire insurance rates on the building were high for they used kerosene lamps for lighting. At that time school supplies were almost nil and the electric shop was begging us teachers to bring in anything the boys might have for repair practice. Why couldn’t a class in electricity wire that building? Response to the idea was enthusiastic on the part of administration and shop. But where was there money to be found to pay for materials?
“When told the situation, members of the Williamson Bible Class of First Presbyterian Church with unanimity voted to draw from their little reserve fund. And shop instructor Wayne Seager and one of his classes found themselves in the midst of an exciting and worthwhile project! Mutual acquaintance led to mutual respect. The boys admired the dedication of the church members, they loved the boys and were happy that helping them made the boys happy.
“To this year 1974 whenever I am in the store of which one of these boys is now manager, he always takes time to come to speak of this project, a high spot of his school years. Today the Mount Calvary Baptist Church has a membership of 280, it has expanded its building, it sends representation to the Rome Area Religious Conference; its women are active in Rome Council, Church Women United. It is important not only to its membership, but to the entire community. To whatever extent the wiring project may have been of value in the early days of this organization, the project would never have been, had not Dorothea known of the problems of the church and had she not inspired the interest of others.
“These I also remember: When in the Depression o f the ’30’s, bread lines might be mentioned in a rather derogatory way, ‘There, ‘ said Dorothea, ‘except for the grace of God might we all be.’
“When she was initiated into State Honorary Membership in Delta Kappa Gamma, she said in part, ‘I consider this recognition not as an award for anything I may have done, but as a challenge. ‘
“When after her years of service in ORT and having given help to unknown numbers of war’s casualties, she said, ‘… but I keep seeing processions of those I could not help’ -and then she went on to do an unprecedented job in Santa Cruz Tuberculosis and Health Association.
“Her motto must have been: Unto the least of these, my brethren.”
Minor Steele Kelley, formerly of Rome, New York, writing to Marian:
“When I first knew her (you and I were nine or ten) she was the first woman in my life to give me a sense of there being more to being a woman than the role I had assumed all women I had known personally until then were inherently endowed to play – I realized when still a little girl in the 1930’s that a woman could be a person of action with impact on the world – and thus she influenced my life.”
George and Marion Cassell, Yountville, California:
“You had a most unusual mother. She was a person of great strength who inspired confidence in all who knew her, including her two daughters.
“George still remembers the day you, Marian, climbed to the high diving board at the little pool at Oneida. With trepidation you looked at the distance to the water, then you looked at your mother floating in the water. Calmly she gave you the nod to dive and you did so. George says. That is Confidence.
“Dorothea was almost a psychic. Dorothea, when I telephoned her, would often say ‘Hello, Marion, ‘ without having any knowledge, whatsoever that I planned to call. Perhaps her intuitiveness was a source of her strength. She was always ‘aware. ‘
“When Dorothea believed in something strongly she did something about it. I well remember the time she ran for Mayor of Rome. When she was giving a speech in East Rome one night, George & Maurice Steele sat on the platform with her. The following day when the East Rome paper reported the speech, the editor added ‘and who, may I ask, were the two chair warmers?’ I’m sure you were glad that your mother lost. Even though Dorothea could nail a miscreant to the wall with a glance, politics is a rough and tumble business.
“On the homey side, we shared with Dorothea her love of coffee brewed in individual French drip pots. We can still remember the big kitchen with Dorothea gradually dripping water into each of three drip pots while talking of her early days in Louisiana. We loved hearing her tell of the Sea Captain who was so far away, of her beloved brothers and her sisters, and of the neighbor who gave her bread spread with lard when she went there after school.
“I don’t believe this generation knows the taste of lard, but George says that if you shut your eyes, so as not to see the whiteness of it, it is delectable.
“Dorothea was a complicated person. She was a private person. She had a commanding personality with strong beliefs, yet she always appreciated the differences in others. She had a nice sense of humor.
“Saddened by the injustices of the world, Dorothea did the only thing an individual could do. She used her strength and talents to help the underprivileged. I said that she used her strength. I mean she gave of herself to the physical breaking point in Germany as well as in her community.
“There is no need for me to say you should be proud of your mother because I know that you are. Her confidence in you was a palpable thing. She spoke of you with pride, and in her eyes you saw the tenderness.”
Maurice and Minor Steele, Rome, New York:
“We have many pleasant memories of her and also of your father. In the early thirties, as you know, Mrs. Steele and I were members of a pleasant group of people here at Rome which included your parents.
“I well remember your mother’s great interest in world, national, state and local affairs end her great awareness of life in general She was most certainly a woman of many parts. I also recall your father’s quiet charm and the exquisite works of art which he produced.
“I recall particularly one time when a party from Rome went over to Krebs, the famous restaurant at Skaneateles, New York, for dinner. We went in Dr. Helen Wolcott’s brand new car which she insisted I drive. Included in the party, in addition to your parents and Dr. Wolcott, were the Gordon Kents and Marion and George Cassell.
“While we were waiting our turn for dinner on the front porch at Krebs the conversation turned to your mother’s candidacy for the mayoral post at Rome. She outlined certain problems that confronted her and I remember making the offhand suggestion that what she needed was a campaign manager. The result of this remark was that she at once asked me if I would take the job. I accepted her offer and did the best I could on a part-time basis. Several meetings were arranged and handbills were distributed from door to door. Her campaign was a vigorous one but, as you know, she did not win. She made great inroads into both the Republican and Democratic ranks. She undoubtedly changed the outcome from a Republican to a Democratic victory.”
(In 1926, the lumber mill and construction company, Mohawk Industries, had to go into bankruptcy. Dad went to work for the Boy Scouts in Denver and Mother took over management of Mohawk Industries and by 1932 she had paid off all the company’s debts.)
A. J. Larrecq, Yardley, Pennsylvania:
“Dorothea will be remembered for her great human qualities, a truly extraordinary person. She was given to premonitions, terrible in consequence. It took rare courage to face each new day given such perceptions, real or imagined
“It was in Rome (upper state New York) that Fred first brought me to meet his family of which he was so proud and to which he was so devoted. He was native to the soil but had roots in the heritage of classical New England. Dorothea fitted comfortably into the Victorian backdrop that was the pride of another era. She was, after all, the daughter of an English sea captain, a beautiful and gracious lady. From this safe harbor she ventured to do the Lord ‘s work and if there be a heaven there will be many there greeting her.
“It was a rare privilege to have known such a wonderful human being”
Albert and Alice Tully, San Jose, California:
“While in Rome, I had the unforgettable experience of supporting Dorothea when she was a candidate for mayor. As a member of her campaign committee, I took part in many of her vigorous pre-election activities.
“A favorite anecdote that I recount to this day when the subject of women’s equality arises stems from that time. During a question period one evening, an opponent of Dorothea’s asked her how a woman could possibly deal with the problems of a city department like that of the police. Her reply came flashing back, ‘What is wrong with the police department that a woman can’t handle it?’ It was Rome’s loss that they didn’t elect her!”
Anne C. Vandewater, White Rock, B.C., Canada:
“The passing of Dorothea was to me the loss of a cherished friend. Our friendship spanned almost fifty years and for many of those years I lived with the Greene’s as a family member. Those were precious years during which I felt indeed privileged. It was a household where consideration for each other was predominant. I learned much from Dorothea’s philosophy of life. There is no doubt that her friendship illumined my life by helping me to develop my own potentialities.
“We shared our joys and sorrows. When I was experiencing some ‘choppy seas ‘ as she called them, she was beside me all the way with her moral support and wise counsel when requested. “
Sarah and Gordon Kent, Rome, New York:
“I have in my hand a portrait -framed with jewels, Dorothea gave me when she came back from the war.
“She had fed and clothed an elderly lady and found a home for her. This elderly lady gave her the portrait, a token of love – but Dorothea would take nothing – she gave it to me!
“As soon as your letter came I went directly to the dress that held the unique pin. A tie between us for always.
“I have cherished several years this poem -a “peace” of paper -blue and purple. I pinned it to the woodwork of the kitchen and look at it almost every day.
“Because I could not stop for Death
He kindly stopped for me
The Carriage held but just Ourselves
And Immortality.-Emily Dickinson
“I believe with Dorothea and Emily. “
One thought on “Chapter 4: Lake Arthur, Pittsfield, Rome”
Wonderful writing. Please continue. I first became interested in the Cajuns and Louisiana some years back studying their distinctive music. Those poor folk uprooted from Canada and scattered after the French-Indian war with some of them finding themselves in the deep south of Louisiana – sad and yet fascinating.