This is Jean McMillen interviewing Mrs. Gudrun Duntz, the Seamstress, at her place of business, 350 Main St. Lakeville, Ct. This is tape number 155; the date is Sept. 4, 2012.
JM:What is your full name?
JM:Where were you born?
JM:What is your birthdate, please?
JM:Do you have siblings?
GD:Yes, I do two of them.
JM:Are any of them in the United States?
GD:Yes, one is in Puerto Rico and the other one is in Seattle.
JM:How did you learn to sew?
GD:I learned how to sew in Germany. My aunt was a Mother Superior of a very strict nunnery in the old section of Dusseldorf, and that’s where I learned how to sew for about not quite four years.
JM:is it something that you took to naturally; that you enjoyed doing?
GD:Not really, my mother encouraged me to do that and in those days you did what you were told.
JM:How did you come here to Lakeville, Ct.?
GD:Well, I met my husband over there. He was in the service; we got married over there, and then came over here.
JM:What year did you come over here?
GD:1956 about a week before New Year’s.
JM:When you came to Lakeville, did you live in an apartment or did you live with someone?
GD:No, we didn’t live in an apartment. My husband had a house here, but people lived in it, and they had to move out before we could move in. So I was very lucky to live with a lady by the name of May Bissell whose father was Dr. Bissell in Lakeville.
JM:Where was her house located?
GD:Right on Main Street in Lakeville which is now the Litchfield Bank.
JM:Did you speak English when you came over here?
GD:No only “hi” and “good by”, two important things.
JM:How did you learn English?
GD:Well, first of all from my husband, from May Bissell and many friends of hers which included several doctors that she was friendly with from Sharon Hospital. Dr. Fisher, Dr. Moore, Dr. Brewer, Dr. Wieler, of course my favorite doctor at the time and Dr. Smith also. They used to come and visit on purpose; they would sit in the library; in those days doctors still made house calls, and I am sure it was not all because of me. It had a lot to do with May whose father was Dr. Bissell. I was very grateful, and it turned out wonderful. That is how I learned to speak.
JM:Where was your husband’s house located?
GD:On Porter Street.
JM: Do you remember any of the neighbors on Porter Street?
GD:Oh sure, the Whalens, he used to be the Postmaster (#30 Porter St.) of Lakeville, further up was Mrs. Solan, down the street a ways it was Joan & John Palmer (#13 Porter St.) The town garage was on the right at the time; that’s about all that was there at that time on Porter Street.
JM:Tell me about your favorite meal that Mrs. La Fredo would prepare for you.
GD: Oh I will never forget that; that was wonderful fired squash flowers. Out of this world! She and I became friends; she worked for the Lakeville Journal at the time. How that came about was that her son and my husband went to school together. Of course her husband was a shoemaker.
JM:I remember Danny. When did you actually start a business of sewing, and alterations?
GD:Oh very quick, I started to sew alterations plus made new things. I made lots of new things; I made suits, men’s suits I was taught all that. I used to do things for lawyer Wagner and lawyer Becket. Actually I got here in 1956, and I started right in in 1957. Once we got into our home, I started working out of my home. Then after a number of years it got to be much too much. My husband complained rightfully so but all the traffic in and out; so I joined forces with a woman by the name of Marge Davis who was on Main Street opposite the Post Office. Then when Marge retired several years after that, I was able to carry on in the same building. I was in that building for 25 years, and went through several landlords.
JM:Was that the red Mulville building (336 Main St. Lakeville Ed.)
GD:Yes, but before that it belonged to Dr. Westsmith who was an eye doctor, and before that Mr. James Vaill who used to own the track (Lime Rock Race Track Ed.) owned it.
JM:You told me something that lawyer Becket specifically wanted you to make.
GD:Yeah, fix his socks. He said, “A good German girl must know how to darn socks, and my wife throws my socks out when they get holes in them. I spend much too much on socks.” To have her throw them out so of course I had the wooden egg at the time which I had brought over with me. I would darn his socks, and in return he promised if I got myself into little problems, he would be more than glad to take care of me, for me darning his socks.
JM:That’s a good trade-off. And you did something special for lawyer Becket too.
GD:Yeah, in those days they had those old bulky typewriters that they would take to court with them, and he always liked nice covers for them. Besides doing other things for him, I made new covers every now and then. He proudly marched into the court room with his new typewriter cover.
JM:Were they always conservatively colored or did he like plaids?
GD:No, he liked to start with sort of conservative, and I quickly talked him out of it because I said, “It is much too dull. You walk into a place like that with nothing but headaches at least you look at your typewriter cover and it will brighten you up.”
JM:That was a wonderful suggestion. Did you every work at K & E?
GD:Yeah for a very short time. That was before I got so busy sewing. My husband objected, but like so many women I was able to talk him into letting me try it. So I worked for Mr. Leubescher making slide rules, and I still got one. I kept one.
JM:Good for you! I would think compared to the sewing it would be a very different experience.
GD:It certainly was. I was on a machine and just making the slide rules. It was so boring, and it didn’t last very long.
JM:You had a wonderful story about Bill Barnett and the bank shares.
GD:I did. When he got ready to move to Florida; I knew them very well because he also had a German daughter-in-law. One of his twins had married a German girl. He approached me in the Post Office at one time and said, “I would like to have you buy something that I own.” I couldn’t imagine what the man had that I would want. He said, “They are not worth anything right now, but I could almost promise you if you buy them, this little bank will go places.” Well, it was just a little town bank (Salisbury Bank & Trust Ed.)More people than I never saw this get to be what it is today. He said I think it was over 100 shares, and it wasn’t all that much that he wanted for them. I could have easily done
that, but I had no interest, and I have kicked myself more than once for not having done that because years later, oh Lester Hoystradt, Oogie, he had some and he would not let me live it down for a week. Oh they’re troubles, oh they’re troubles, they split; I guess that is what you call it. “Oh my god, you should have bought them years ago.” Anyway I didn’t.
JM:He did like to rub salt in the wound, didn’t he?
GD:He still does.
JM:Some people just don’t change. Do you have a story about Doc Leverty and his car in the wintertime?
GD:Oh yeah he was the only guy around had still chains on his tires because he had…When I first came here it was much more rural than it is now. The back roads were really back roads, and he made house calls so he had to go. He felt safe with the chains; he got stuck less than he would have without the chains on his tires.
JM:I remember chains. The driveway where I grew up was cobble stones and uphill. My father would stop at the street bottom; he would put on his chains so he could get up the hill. Was there an upholstery shop in town?
GD:Yeah, there was; the upholstery shop, I don’t remember their name, but I do remember Stanley and Ruth Revard. Stanley worked for the Prudential Insurance Company and lived on Wells Hill. They were good friends of ours. Her parents had an upholstery shop, and that was located where what is now the Black Rabbit, but it was many, many things. (Corner of Ethan Allen St. and Sharon Road Ed.) It was a laundry, and all sorts of things; I can’t remember them all. Next to it was a meat market,(Goderis’s Market Ed.), next to that was an old movie theater(Stuart Theater Ed.) which burned down, and next to that a very nice old house was Dr. Wieler’s office and Dr. Smith was in there, too.
JM:Tell me about the Andover shop, please.
GD:Oh Bob Darden, he was great and what a friend. He was a true friend. He worked for the Lakeville Journal, and a friend of his in Boston had a men’s shop which was called the Andover Shop. Bob was always a dresser, a beautiful dresser. He decided to go into that line of work, and he asked his friend if it was alright if he called it the Andover Shop because it was far enough away from Boston. He did, but before he opened up he would come to me and said, “Would you do my alterations, if I decide to do this?” Of course I said yes which I did until the day he gave the Connecticut Yankee up. I met some very interesting people while I was sewing for him; a guy by the name of, that was his stage name, the White Shadow, used to be a basketball team all black guys, except he was the white coach and that’s why they called him the White Shadow. Jimmy Cagney, I loved sewing for him; I did a lot of work for him until he got to the point that where he was in a wheelchair, and then when he came to buy from Bob, I would go to the store and pin him; it made it much easier. He was a character, very sarcastic but being German I could really keep him under control.
JM:I would expect so. Then there was another, I want to say Robert Montgomery, but I may not have the right name, a gentleman for whom you always did his cuffs, and I think he lived in Canaan. He was a movie actor.
GD:Yes, of course it was Robert Montgomery; that was nothing special just at that time screen people that some of us idolized, others didn’t. They earned their living like we do only in acting. We do it in different ways; we all need each other.
JM:We should all be treated the same.
GD:Oh yeah when they come in here that is what happens.
JM:That’s good equal opportunity. Mrs. Westsmith had a needlepoint shop at one time.
GD:Oh that was great. That needlepoint shop was right next to…first came Mulville Building and the wife had April 56 which is what she called her store. I rented from them for a number of years; I had one side and she had the other. Then there is a small house, for the life of me I can’t remember the name of the person, and then came Mrs. Westsmith’s needlepoint shop which is now the White Gallery. That was where Dr. Westsmith had his practice in back. There is a big building in back of the buildings which are on Main Street. She had a wonderful needlepoint shop; it was the best, people came from miles and miles. I was quite ill one time, and a friend of ours had her draw a huge anywhere 36 to 40 inches across (the diameter) absolutely gorgeous needlepoint. I do just about anything, and I never had the patience nor good at needlepoint so a friend of mine doing it.
JM:I bought a small needlepoint and it is this tiger with bloodshot eyes and he is on a limb!
GD:Too many martinis!
JM:And it says, “Leave me alone, I am having a crisis!”
GD:Did you finish it?
JM:I did. I gave it to my mother, and when I broke up her home, it is now in my kitchen.
GD:Oh how cute.
JM:They were so wonderful about helping, suggesting.
GD:She was excellent color-wise, design-wise; as I said they came from all over to shop from her store. She’s still alive.
JM:No, she passed away just about a year ago. She was a fascinating lady.
GD:Yes, she was.
JM:The school that she started, the things that she had done. She was still going to TLC courses up until last year.
GD:She was a very nice gal.
JM:Anything that you remember about Bonnie Mulville or John Mulville, or her shop.
GD:Her shop was great; it was expensive, but all nice things are, or at least most of them. Her things were unusual. I have several of them because I was very lucky. Because I rented from her, I usually got a little break on them, and liking animals like my husband did, I got some beautiful monkey lamps and 2 …there was a television program, Beauty & the Beast, she had the Beast as a lamp, gorgeous. It captured him just like he was in that show. I got two one on either side of my fireplace. They are so nice. She had some really lovely things.
JM:Do you know why she named her shop April 56?
GD:Yeah, it had to do with the family; certain family members added up to that number, if I remember right. I think that was what it was.
JM:I always wondered.
GD:I am saying it because it must have been what she said.
JM:Do you remember Jerri Appleyard’s sweater shop?
GD;Oh yes that was in front of me; that was nice. She was doing very well. Everything handmade, beautiful colors, she had a nice store.
JM:They also were expensive but the quality of the work was perfect.
GD:Oh yes and they last forever. I mean really it is just like Jaeger products from Austria; you have them forever. They go for a while and then you take them back out and they are right back in style.
JM:I have a black and gold Tyrolean jacket that I think my mother bought me when I was in high school; I am still wearing it.
GD:Boiled wool you can’t wear out. I had the most beautiful, they are all beautiful, but I call it beautiful because it was mine, dirndl dress, a very dressy one. I kept it for years after I outgrew it in my daughter’s cedar chest. I got to know the man, who owns the Hopkins Inn on Lake Waramaug, and of course those girls all wear them, but they look like they are made in the United States. You can tell the difference. I decided that it was no good in the hope chest so I took it out and took it over to Millerton to the cleaner. It was black with beautiful embroidery and it had a green velvet short apron that went with it with a very low neckline with the poufy inset sleeves. One night when I went to the Hopkins Inn for dinner which I patronize a lot because I love it right there by the water. The food is excellent. I took
it over and gave it to him. He just couldn’t believe it; his face was priceless. It was worth every bit of the effort. He really really liked it so I said, “Give it to whoever it fits.”
JM:Wonderful! It is so nice a treasure like that to pass on to someone who appreciated it.
GD:That’s why I not want to give it to a thrift shop or something. It is nice to give it to somebody who knows what it is, and give it to someone who will really enjoy it.
JM:It carries on the care and attention that you had for it to someone else.
GD:I remember one night I had also the jewelry that matched the necklace which was a strand of 8 or 10 small strands of old silver which had an inch and one half amethyst stone in the middle of it. I never wore that again; either my taste in jewelry has changed so I couldn’t find it when I took the dress. The next time I went I took it over and gave it to him. He was absolutely speechless so he said, “Alright dinner is on me.” “No, dinner is not on you. That’s not why I brought this to get a free meal. Of course I shall pay for my own meal.” He was so grateful, so now the whole thing is complete.
JM:It gives you such a nice warm feeling. That is so important.
GD:It is important; more people should do that. When you have things that you know you will never use or your children might not, give it to someone that you know will treasure it.
JM:It is difficult sometimes to find that person, but it is worth it when you do.
GD:Also it’s difficult to part with things that are really close to your heart; but you have to make up your mind that this is really what you want to do. If you cannot do anything with it, either wear it or match the décor of your house any more, make someone happy.
JM:I try. I had a portrait of my great grandmother. She had been hanging on my grandmother’s wall, and my mother’s wall, and my wall. None of the second cousins knew her or wanted her. Her grandparents had settled in a certain country in Indiana. It has taken me eleven years to find a museum that will take Letitia back with her genealogy. They are thrilled and I am thrilled.
GD:That was a smart thing to do.
JM:She belongs there; she doesn’t belong on the east coast. I wanted it to go to someone who would understand and appreciate her. I have several people whom I have never seen who were very helpful in getting this mission accomplished. That is important.
GD:The old pictures, the old people, I love the bone structure in Indian people, the old Indian people. You also find it in others, not just Indians, but it is just so nice for people to enjoy that type of thing to look at. You see the hard work in it, the faces you appreciate, the character which is so hard to find now. You don’t find that anymore. I always did like that; the bone structure, it tells a story just looking at them.
JM:Any stories about Herrick Travel?
GD:No other than that they were good customers of mine. Before him there was, oh I worked for them for so long, he was the guy when I first came to town, was the only one with a white convertible. The girls just absolutely adored him.
JM:It wouldn’t have been Mitch Finlay?
GD:That’s it, Mitch Finlay. Thank you.
JM:It was the white convertible that did it.
GD:They were very nice and I liked them very much. They traveled a lot when they were younger. She used to bring wonderful fabric back from Japan. She would bring back saris which we then made into evening clothes, or pretty blouses. That was really very nice.
JM:She had more clothes than anyone I have ever known. She lived in my house for 15 years.
GD:That woman was a dresser.
JM:She was a fashion plate; I always loved to see what she looked like.
GD:She was pleasant. That was nice too.
JM:Even though she is in Noble, she still dresses beautifully. She’d be up and down in her wheelchair, paddling along beautifully dressed top to toe.
GD:Make up and all.
JM:Oh yes, make up, the hair done the whole 9 yards. It is so good to see.
Can you tell me anything about the Borden Turkey Farm? Shagroy’s?
GD:Was it Borden? I thought it was Shagroy’s over on Belgo Road. I remember one time we used to go, in those days like with so many people you worked hard; the money wasn’t always readily available, but gasoline was cheap. We used to go for rides on the back roads, and my husband liked elderberries, so we used to go up over Belgo into New York State on the back roads and that area was loaded with elderberries. We would pick elderberries; we’d make a little picnic lunch, and the kids would love it. They were just young enough that you could control them and make them love it. I remember one time it was close to Thanksgiving, I don’t know where we were coming from, but it was late, and we were coming up Belgo from New York State and what should we see on the other side of the fence, almost running in the road in front of us was a turkey. Well, my husband stopped the car, shot that turkey down, and we had a turkey dinner. It must have flown over the fence; but that was nice they used to have some wonderful chicken pot pies. It was such a different era then. There were none of those houses that are there now. The Ford House down below with the white pillars that was always there.
that was a nice house. The other house next to the turkey farm I assume that there was where they lived. None of the other houses like Evelyn Keith and Artie Shaw who were good customers, and excellent friends, very nice people. None of those houses were in those hills. A German friend had built a house, hanging off the ledge; I used to be so scared of that house. Steel beams coming out of that hill and half the house hanging out. I would never want to live in a house like that. I was petrified. Belgo is so built up; in a way it is a shame. I know it is progress, but it took away so much of the charm of the town the way I remember it when I came here.
JM:Is there anything else that you would like to add to this interview.
GD:Oh we’d be sitting here all night!
JM:Well, that’s perfectly alright.
GD:You have probably heard all the stories and the stuff that was here.
JM:I have and that is why I was specific about some of the ones that I haven’t got a lot of information on. Have you had an enjoyable life here in the United States?
GD:Oh yeah. I really did, right from the start I was made to feel very welcome. Different people too were very nice. The Belchers, the Blagdens, they were all such down to earth people, really nice the pillars at that time of Lakeville. I met them through May Bissell, Dr. Noble who was a great doctor and was my husband’s father’s heart doctor and also became my doctor; the town was so different then.
JM:It has evolved, it has changed but there are still so many wonderful people here in town.
GD:That’s true; it is just a set of different circumstances. The older people that we remember that made us feel so warm; they had a way of making you feel just like you belonged. That is such a big thing.
JM:It is a big thing. I have lived in a couple of other countries where I didn’t speak the language, and it is the warmth, not the words, but the warmth that comes from people.
GD:You can feel it, even though my English was not good at the beginning. They just got along. I understood them and they understood me either with gestures or eye contact, smiles. It was really nice.
JM:I am so glad. Thank you so much.
GD:You are welcome, and thank you for doing this.