“There was still one thing that we hoped and prayed for more than anything else – a daughter”
This section of Augusta’s memoir begins just before the birth of her daughter in 1909, and takes us through a period of relatively carefree prosperity towards the beginning of the Great Depression.
October 21, 1964
I shall continue with the story of my life. I am now 91 years old, and am living with my daughter and her husband in Hamilton, NY.
We had finally saved enough money so that we could think of buying a house of our own. We found one we liked on Ashley Street. It cost $3300. It was across the street from a good grammar school, Walsh School. It was on a hill, a location that we always seemed to prefer. The lot sloped down from the street to the back, and the house was built to take advantage of this situation, with at the back a kitchen and large vine-covered back porch the width of the house. Both were on a lower level, and the main rooms were on the street level. These consisted of a living room, dining room, study, and bedrooms. There was a gabled third floor with more bedrooms. The house was not really large, but there were many well-planned rooms.
The back yard began with a grassy terrace shaded by a chestnut tree, with steps down several feet to a lower level, where we had a garden and a chicken-house. We liked to have chickens and hens and a vegetable garden as we had had in Sweden. The garden was quite large, and we all worked in it.
The top floor we rented to a man and his 15-year-old son. His wife had left him. He was very nice. We called him the Duke because he always dressed so beautifully.
There was still one thing that we hoped and prayed for more than anything else – a daughter. I guess we wanted it so badly that we finally had one, a beautiful baby girl. Hylo was then 12 years old. She arrived on November 2, 1909 at 3:15 in the afternoon. Like our son, she was in a great hurry to be born and get started in life. Because of the cold weather, like her brother she was christened at home when three weeks old. She wore the same beautiful dress he had worn when he was christened. It still remains in the family. She was named Gladys Augusta, her second name Augusta in honor of me as Clarence John’s second name was in honor of my husband. The godparents were our best friends, Victor and Alma Hedberg. She was a nurse and assisted at the birth of Gladys Augusta. The first thing she said was that the baby had piano hands, and that turned out to be true, for she became a musician. Gay (as she later came to be called) was a beautiful baby, blonde and cute, a joy to us always. She was very good-natured and laughed all the time. She loved life.
Her brother was very proud of her, and later when she had a go-cart (we decided against another heavy carriage) took her for long rides to various parks around us. He was a great help to me.
We were a very happy family. We lived for our home, our family, and the church, enjoying the life we had made for ourselves. We did not have a lot of money, but it was enough, and we were grateful and proud to be able to earn a place for ourselves in this wonderful country that had become our adopted home. We felt very loyal to both Sweden and America. Early in our marriage we had brought two flags, large ones of equal size and equally handsome, the flag of the United States – red, white, and blue – and the flag of Sweden, blue and yellow. On holidays and other times when flags could be flown, both our flags were always flying from our home. We loved our homeland, but America had first place in our hearts.
We continued to live in our house on Ashley Street, gradually paying off the debts on it, and our lives went happily on. Eventually we were able to afford a summer holiday. My husband was given a two-week vacation each year, and every summer we went to the seashore for that period. As true Swedes, with Viking blood in our heritage, we both had a deep love for the sea, and chose to spend our vacations at Short Beach, Connecticut, then a small resort on the ocean. We rented a large house right by the water and shared it with our good friends the Hedbergs, the godparents of our daughter.
We packed several trunks and journeyed by trolley car to New Haven, then changed to another trolley car, often an open one, which went over salt marshes as we neared the ocean, with sea breezes bringing us the lovely smell of the sea. That was always an exciting moment. Then we soon reached Short Beach. For a number of years this routine never changed. It became the great adventure of these years.
After making acquaintance again with our rented cottage, the same one every year, we always had a wonderful two weeks of bathing and boating, picnics on the beach and an ice-cream cone every afternoon, games with the children of our two families, who ranged from 3 to 15 years, and many hours of good companionship.
The years went by. Our son graduated from high school with honors and four years later from Yale University, the third highest in his class. He remained at Yale for graduate study, receiving a Ph.D. in botany. He then married, and taught in a prep school, later becoming a Professor of Botany at Colgate University in Hamilton, NY. He also began to write books on nature, writing one a year for most of his life. He and his wife had two children, a boy and a girl.
Our daughter began piano lessons at the age of six, maintained her interest in music, and after graduating magna cum laude from high school entered the Yale School of Music, winning prizes and scholarships there. She received the degrees of Bachelor of Music and Master of Music in composition and organ. She too became a teacher.
Some years earlier my husband got a new job as shipping instructor and manager at the Heminway Silk Co. in the neighboring town of Watertown, Connecticut. Earlier we had moved from our Ashley Street house to a newly built one in Waterbury on Clifton Avenue, a lovely area of the city. We improved the house, which was not quite finished, and put a lot of work into the yard, which was unimproved and contained many large boulders. One day a man walking by took a great fancy to it, and offered us $3000 more than we had paid for it. We accepted this windfall and moved to Watertown where John was already working.
We found a pleasant flat, later moving to a larger one, and then spent our $3000 windfall. First we bought a car, an Oakland touring car with side curtains for bad weather. It was magnificent. John thought he should look the part of an experienced driver, and bought himself an ankle-length tan duster as was the fashion, for driving was a dusty business when roads had not yet been paved. He also had a cap, large goggles, and leather gauntlets (gloves that reached to his elbows). He looked wonderful, and I think he felt very sporting.
It was a fine car which delighted our son who was of driving age. We often drove to New Haven to see him, eating with him in the big [university] dining room, watching Yale’s annual boat races, and having other new experiences. The car I think cost about $1000. With the other $2000 we bought a fine large lot on the edge of town, part of an apple orchard, intending to build a house there some day.
But the depression that hit the United States about that time had an unfortunate effect on us. The Heminway Silk Company closed down and moved to New York City. They wanted John to move with them, maintaining his job, but he disliked the idea of living in a big city. Instead he returned to his old job with the Standard Electric Time Co, which had moved to Springfield, Massachusetts, at a smaller salary because of the effect of the depression on the job situation.
More on the impact of the Great Depression in the next section, which I’ll post soon.