NARRATOR: BOB STECK
INTERVIEWEE: GRACE FOWLKES
PLACE OF INTERVIEW: HER HOME. LIME ROCK ROAD, LIME ROCK, CT NOVEMBER 25, 1985
SUMMARY OF TALK: MRS. FOWLKES TALKS ABOUT COMING TO SALISBURY AS A YOUNG WOMAN. SHE SPEAKS OF THOSE SHE WORKED FOR, ARTIE SHAW, A FAMOUS BAND LEADER, THE CHILDS FAMILY OF FALLS VILLAGE, CT, JONATHAN WARNER AND MISS MAY BISSELL. SHE TALKS ABOUT RAISING HER SON AND FOSTER CHILDREN AND HER INVOLVEMENT WITH A GROUP CALLED “CONCERN” REGARDING DISCRIMINATION IN THE AREA.
PROPERTY OF THE ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
THE SALISBURY ASSOCIATION AT THE SCOVILLE MEMORIAL LIBRARY
SALISBURY, CT 06068
BS: What brought you here to Salisbury?
GF: I used to come on vacation with my mother. That is how I met my husband; he was born and raised here. I got married to him, and I’ve been here ever since. It’s been about 22 years now. I worked as a cook, and I worked as a nurse’s aide since I lived in Salisbury. That’s how I earned my livelihood to build my home and I have taken care of foster children. I imagine I have taken care of about 10 or 12 Foster Children for the State of Connecticut. I have one son who was born in Florida. That is where I was born. He was in the service. He went to Bordentown Military School. He left there and he went into the service and he stayed in the service about 28 years, in Germany and parts of Europe. He’s retired now from the Service. About 5 years now he’s been living in Torrington. That’s the only child I really have.
BS: Mrs. Fowlkes, I think you mentioned your mother worked for some people here. Who did she work for?
GF: The Childs
BS: A family named Childs.
GF: Yes, Childs. They lived in Falls Village on Beebe Hill. She worked for them about 28 years.
BS: Was she here 28 years?
GF: She came up from Florida with them for around 28 years.
BS: What did she do in Florida?
GF: She didn’t do anything in Florida: she just came up and worked with them every summer.
BS: Was she a young girl when she came?
GF: No, my mother was, I guess, in her late 50’s…40 something. She came up with them every summer and lived right there with them and then went back to Florida with them.
BS: That would be approximately 1930 or there about?
GF: Yes, around 1930, 1928 or 1929 something like that. But I lived in New York at the time.
BS: What was Salisbury like when you first came here. What was this area like?
GF: Well, it was more or less like being as it is now. It was a lot of different type of people. I’ve watched it change, the people. Most of the people that I met when I first came to Salisbury are dead now, all gone.
BS: Who were some of those people?
GF: Well, there was Mrs. Blanding, Sarah Blanding and Aunt May: we called her, Aunt May. She was the daughter of Bissell, Dr. Bissell. Miss May Bissell. I used to take care of her as a nurse’s aide before she died, but we were good friends before then. And there was Dr. Everets. He’s gone. I worked for a family that had children. I worked for Mr. Warner, Jonathan Warner. I’d taken care of his girls.
One of his girls came to see me when I was living in Minnesota, the youngest girl. She lived with me most of the time when I worked for them, and when I left there and went to Millbrook to work, she went right with me. She’s married now and has a little girl, and she visited me last month from Minnesota. She came over and spent a few hours with me, her and her step-mother, Mrs. Warner now, Dot. You know Dot Warner that lives in Salisbury? That was Mr. Warner’s other wife. So, all the girls are grown, and I’m taking care of another family; they lived on the Race Track Road off of Wells Hill Road. You can take that road and go right into Sharon. Well now, that family was…they had 3 girls and then afterwards they had 2 boys. They separated. I worked for them a couple of years. I went to New York to live with them there for a while then they came back here. I nursed a lot of people.
BS: How old are you now?
GF: I’m 76.
BS: So you came here when you were around 50?
GF: Yeah, around 50.
BS: Who were your personal friends? These are people you worked for. Who were your personal friends in the area, or were they the same?
GF: All the same. I considered the people that I really worked for as my friends because I practically lived with them.
BS: You lived in with them.
GF: Yeah. One person I had taken care of, the house and them, they lived in one of the houses in the lake. He was a musician. Artie Shaw.
BS: Oh, Artie Shaw?
GF: Yes, I had taken care their home.
BS: So, Artie Shaw lived here in Lakeville, around the lake?
GF: Yes, he lived there. He lived there with his fifth wife. Her name was Evelyn Keys. I worked for them for a few years, taking care of the house while they toured the country. They bought a van. That’s when the vans were popular. They could sleep and cook and everything on the van. They toured America. They went all through big tree country, all out west. I got cards from them while they were gone. He and she, they were wonderful people. They were very nice to me. I used to take care of the house and fix their dinners and all. Of course, Artie Shaw, he was a wonderful person even though he had so many wives, but, he was so particular about everything. He wanted his napkin and his plate and glass; everything had to be perfect with him: his room, his clothes, he never taken his clothes off if he didn’t hang them up. That’s right. His socks had to be in the right place. I remember those things about him. He was so particular. He’d take off his things and hang them on his rack. He had a pants rack. You opened his closet and everything was just so. He was a very particular person about his clothes and his room and where he lived; I think that is one of the reasons he had so many wives, because he was very particular. Mrs. Shaw, Evelyn, she was very nice and neat, but she was harem-scarem, you know, with everything. She would take off things and throw them everywhere. He was just the opposite. Those were the people I’ve taken care of, so those people were my friends.
BS: You mentioned that you got married up here.
GF: Yes, Judge Raynsford. I had two weddings because I was a Catholic and he was a Protestant. Father Renos, he married us afterwards. He married me and him in the parsonage. He gave me my vows in the church, and then we went over. My husband stayed in the Parsonage until he gave me my vows and what-not in the Church and then he went back over to the Parsonage and married us because I had to be married by a Priest. We were married first by Judge Raynsford. He served us “Old Grandad” after that. I’d never taken a drink in my life. He gave us a little send off. They were my friends. She was very nice. We go by to see him, and then he died. She moved to another smaller house. We went there once because there used to be a club of women from the VFW, and we had a meeting there once or twice before she died. And that was Judge Raynsford.
BS: Is your husband living?
GF: No, he’s been dead now about 9 or 10 years.
BS: What kind of work did he do?
GF: He was a gardener.
BS: Was he raised up here or did he come here?
GF: He went to school here. He was born right here.
BS: He was born here. So, his family?
GF: His family is right here.
BS: Are they still here?
GF: Most of them. He has a sister, (Martha Chavous) still alive. Both of his brothers both died. One of his brothers worked at Community Service. Billy Fowlkes. He was the one that got crushed when some of the things fell on him in the store, and he died from it.
BS: Then your father’s folks were living here too?
GF: His father and mother. His father and mother lived here. They were from the south, someplace, I don’t remember.
BS: Do you know what brought them up here?
GF: No, I don’t know the history of his mother and father. I do know that he had 3 sisters and 2 brothers.
BS: That is your husband?
BS: Axe any of them living in Salisbury?
GF: Just one of the sisters, the last one. His brothers all died and his sisters all died now. She’s the last one. I’ll give you her, (Martha Chavous, tape 42A), so you can talk with her. She would love to talk about the family. She went to school here, my husband went to school here. They were all born and raised right around here.
BS: How did you enjoy Salisbury when you first came here? Did you like it up here?
GF: Yes, I liked it very much. Everybody was nice and friendly, everybody worked hard. There weren’t any loafers around, people that didn’t do anything.
Everybody that I knew of did something and they did it. As now, people all work together now. We have a very good nursing division. You know, people that take care of the sick people. They have a very good compliment of people that do that. I work with them some time.
BS: Did you participate in any of the town activities, like Town Hall meetings or things of that kind while you’ve been up here?
GF: No, but I vote. I take pride in being able to vote every year. I’m a Democrat. I take part in their activities when they have a meeting or something like that. I give my little donation to the whatever they have to do.
BS: When you were working for these people, you lived in with them.
GF: Some, some of them. I lived in with Warners, because she and he were separated, and I was kind of like a nanny to the girls, fixing meals and their clothes, taking care of them.
BS: How long have you been living here, in Lime Rock?
GF: I’ve been living right here from the time I came up here.
BS: Oh, from the time you came up here? You got this house right away?
GF: My husband was living here. He bought this house. It wasn’t like it is now, because I worked and re-build it. He bought it when it was just a little shack and lived here. He had a nice flower garden and a beautiful vegetable garden, and I just enjoyed canning and doing things like that. He was a wonderful gardener. He gardened for most of the people around here. I can’t remember the people’s names, but he did most of the gardening. Scholle, remember the Scholle? They are both dead now.
GF: Scholle. They lived right across from the Catholic Church, that big house. It’s sold now, the daughter and son I think had it and they sold it too. They are all new people now. So many new people I don’t know about. I don’t remember because most of the people that I met and I was acquainted with, they know me and I know them, are all practically gone.
BS: How would you say things are different now than they were, let’s say when you first came up here as you knew it then. How are things different now?
GF: Well, there wasn’t quite as much traffic for one thing. There used to be a lot of horseback riding. It was easy to see people riding horses up the trail and around. But you don’t see any of that much now. There was a stable: the Miners had a stable over on that road. The young girls used to go up to Drummond’s to ride the horses. That place isn’t there anymore. I used to take all of the kids that I’d taken care of, more or less, up there to ride at Drummond’s Stables. It’s not there anymore. That’s a change, markets. You’ve got to go now a mile or 4 or 5 miles now to get a gallon of milk. When there was a little shopping store there in Lakeville. We don’t have that anymore.
BS: Where was the shopping store then, here in Lime Rock, you mean?
GF: Well, in Lime Rock there was a little store up there on the main street in Lime Rock, that’s not there anymore. And. then in Lakeville, where the Lakeville restaurant is now, that used to be a grocery store. (The Boathouse)
BS: Did you shop in Lime Rock at the little store there?
GF: Once in a while I would, stop in when I’d be coming from Canaan or someplace, I would stop in and buy something. But most of the time I would shop at the Lakeville Food Center at that time.
BS: Yes, I forgot the man’s name.
GF: I forgot his name too. (Morris Brickman). But that was a nice store to shop in. And then I used to go the A&P in Millerton. There is no more A&P around. Then there was an A&P in Canaan. There’s no A&P around this way anymore. So, it’s quite different now, we’ve got the supermarkets. We don’t have a supermarket at all in Lakeville; we have to go to Millerton to shop. And if you don’t want to go to Millerton you have to go to Canaan. So Lakeville don’t have any shopping centers for us at all. If you want milk or bread you have to go all the way to Millerton or Canaan, so I keep some in my freezer, just in case.
BS: You may remember about 2 or 3 years ago, there was a story in the Lakeville Journal about a Klu Klux Klan cross that was burnt on the property here. Do you remember that?
BS: I don’t think they ever cleared that up. Was there ever any problem about getting along between blacks and whites in this area?
GF: In Lakeville? Not that I know of, nothing to really be excited about. But, there was a big thing said about this burning the cross in Lime Rock on the lawn of Cynthia MacArthur. That was, they said, was because her son was living with a white girl there, and they said that’s why they burnt the cross there.
BS; Did they ever find out who did it?
BS: That’s the only incident that you know of, there weren’t any other times?
GF: No. But there was once during the time kids, the girls were in the Girl Scouts. There was a little incident that happened to the Klog girl. Marian Klog. The Klogs lived in Lakeville. Kids went to school here and this little girl was a Girl Scout. They were fixing to go someplace on a camping trip and the word was out that this little girl couldn’t go because she couldn’t stay in the same camp with the white kids. It was quieted down in some way, but the mother put up a little stink about it.
BS: Did she go?
GF: No, she didn’t go. She didn’t go on account of that was the word that she couldn’t stay with the other kids.
BS: Was there ever anything at school? At the high school? Or other schools?
GF: Not that I know of. My granddaughter danced at the school. They had some kind of a Martin Luther King thing there, and she was a model and had taken up dancing and they received her very nicely there. They asked her to come to sing, I mean to dance. She was a beautiful dancer. Then she danced at Hotchkiss. They had a big band coming from the Caribbean, the drums, they beat the drums. They had a big concert over there, and she dance there. She danced over at Regional for a reception they had there, and she danced there, they had a big thing there. She danced there and I made the dress for her. I was a dress maker and tailor when I lived in New York. I had my own shop when I lived in New York. I came here every summer to spend my vacation with my mother and Mrs. Childs. Both of them are gone. They were lovely people. So, I never knew any bad people. I didn’t have no special friends. The friends I had before I even got married, a friend who lives in New Jersey now. She’s bound with arthritis as I am. I always worked and kept busy.
BS: About 10 years ago when I was teaching at Housatonic Valley Regional High School we started a group called “Concern”. Do you remember anything about that?
GF: Yes, we had meetings right here at my house.
BS: Oh, you had meetings here?
GF: Yes, we a meeting here. Mrs., what’s her name? She’s been sick a long time now… Aller. Mrs. Aller. We had a group that came. I had dinner for them and we had taken pictures with Mrs. Aller. And you know who had taken the pictures? They used to have a whiskey, a liquor store here.
BS: Where Marchello’s is?
GF: Yeah, that was…I can’t think of her name now. She was a lovely little person. She’s in a home, a nursing home now.
GF: Yes, that was his wife. They had the liquor store.
BS: Oh, Marchello’s wife, Wanda?
GF: Yes, Wanda! I saw him not to long ago, and he told me that she was still in a nursing home.
BS: In Torrington.
GF: I would, someday, like to go see her. I’m going to speak to him about that. But she came here and she’d taken the pictures. I have snapshots of those pictures. Because Mrs. Aller brought two girls here from—oh, what was the name of that place…they had a big riot and everything, in Alabama.
BS: In Selma?
GF: Selma. And she brought two of the girls that had graduated from school and one of them graduated from the music conservatory in Boston, and the other one graduated from Regional. They both got married and are living out west. One lives in California now. One married a friend of mine’s son. She lives on (they call it City Road) Town Hill Road that joins, if you are going into Millerton. Well, her son, she married him. He has a big job, and they are doing very well. She is teaching. One of them is teaching and the other one is some kind of music thing, because she went to some music conservatory. All that was because Mrs. Aller brought those girls up and helped them with their education.
BS: Who were some of the other people that were with “Concern”? Do remember any of the others?
GF: Well, let’s see now.
BS: I know that Andy Casale, for instance, was a member. Do you know him?
GF: No. I might have known him, but it’s been so long and it didn’t last too long. It broke up for some reason or another. It didn’t last too long, but I did go to a few of the meetings. We had one meeting in Kent. We used to go from house to house to have the meetings because they did come here a couple of times. It was “Concern” that’s what they called it at that time. That’s when Mrs. Aller brought those girls up here, and I had a big dinner for them, right here. Wanda came down and took the pictures. Sometime I’ll find them and I’ll show them to you.
BS: Oh, good. I would like to see them. I was very interested in that.
GF: Yes, well, I have all of the snapshots, and I’ll show them to you some time.
BS: You also said you had foster children staying with you?
GF: Yes, I got letters from the State that they wrote me thanking me for the care that I give the children and what not.
BS: Were they children from families around here or were they from further away?
GF: Further away. They came from out of Hartford and out of Waterbury, Bridgeport; they would bring them up here. Two of the girls went right over to Regional. One of them, Vanessa, she used to work there after school and sometimes during the summer vacation. I kept her about two years. And, Wanda, she was a very nice looking girl and she could have gone far, but as I say sometimes it just isn’t in a person. I think when they have certain genes, it’s going to be there; you just can’t change them, that’s what I think. She had all the opportunities that a girl could want. She could type beautifully, I got her a typewriter for her and everything while she was here, and she was taking up typing and everything. Her name was Wanda. She’s got one child. She had one while she was here over at Sharon Hospital. A little girl, she’s 8 years old now. About 5 months ago, she had another baby.
She lives in Hartford. She had this child with a black man, the one that she just had, but the first child was with a white man.
BS: Is she black or white?
GF: She’s black. Very pretty girl, but her mother or father must have been white too because she has green eyes and she’s fight brown. She’s a very nice looking girl. So naturally, she’s attractive to men and boys. But, they’d taken an interest in her after she’d had this child. She went to Hotchkiss and lived because she still went to school. They were trying to help her out. She was typing and learning more and somehow or another she strayed away from it. She’s got this child now. She came up to see me about a month ago, brought the baby for me to see.
BS: How are you getting along now?
GF: My living conditions? Well, I live on my social security and that’s not an awful lot. Not according to the expense and the way things are now because my oil bills come….and you know about that.
BS: I do.
GF: do try to keep my house warm.
BS: Did you ever get a pension for any of the work that you did?
GF: No. No, I never have. Never was lucky enough to get a pension.
I do get a discount like from all my taxes because my husband was a Veteran. So I do get a cut on my taxes, I don’t have to pay the full amount, what it’s really worth. And when I get a chance and I’m feeling good, I go out with the nurses and if there’s someone I spend nights with, I make a little extra. It helps me have a little spending money.
BS: So, you still do some work?
GF: Yes, I haven’t just knocked off entirely. Let’s see, this is November. In September, the first part of October, I worked. I’d taken care of a woman, she’s dead now. She was a very nice woman. She had cancer.
BS: That’s in the neighborhood? In the area here?
GF: That was right down on Indian Mountain Road. Not too far. I don’t like to go too far, now but I stayed with her, nights. That’s not too hard: I just have to be alert to give them the bedpan or their medication if they have to have it during the night. Rub them a little bit, bring them water or a bit of tea or something. It’s not like having to lift them or nothing. They just love me for it. I go there and they don’t ever want me to leave.
BS: So that means that you have to do some work because you don’t get enough on social security.
GF: That’s right! I have a boarder that’s been here with me now for two years or more who lives upstairs. I have a little room upstairs. He’s been here for about 2 years now. I have a girl and a boy who came for a couple of weeks. He was fixing a home.
BS: So you have, like a bed and breakfast place?
GF: Yes. I do that too.
BS: Do you have another little place up here? Is that your place, the next place up here?
BS: No, just this house.
GF: No, just this house. That fellow that owns the service station on the corner, when the races come, he always sends somebody up. I fix coffee for them. I get tickets to the race, I give them to someone.
BS: How about other things, socially and so on. Are you enjoying yourself? I know you like the soap operas.
GF: Oh, I enjoy that! I don’t care about anything else! I used to go to Mass every Sunday morning, but after I came out of the hospital from having my accident and everything, I just don’t rush myself or bother because I think no one bothered from the Church to come see me and I was in the hospital for over three -four months.
BS: No one came?
GF: Not from the Church.
BS: How about the Priest?
GF: He didn’t ever come. He never came here either. So I just don’t worry myself.
BS: Which Church were you a part of? Canaan or Lakeville?
GF: St. Mary’s. But the Priest from Sharon always came. He gave me my Communion and he talked with me. So, whenever I feel like going, I go over there because I didn’t lose any Sunday’s when I was able. I was at Mass and I always filled my envelope and everything with what little I could which was 2 dollars for my Church. But, I feel that they didn’t think about me when I wasn’t able to come to Church. No one from Church came and I think about that. Once I called, I felt like going to Church and Communion but I just couldn’t walk too far and go up those steps at the Church. I called ‘Cilio, you know ‘Cilio?
GF: I say when you go to Mass would you stop by and give me a lift? He said, “Well, I go pretty early.” He couldn’t come because he has to go early for some reason or another. But he couldn’t come. So, I never bothered to ask anyone else to carry or give me a lift. Now, my brother and my sister come up from Florida to see me, they go. They are devout Catholics at home and when they come they have to go. So, I drive them. I still drive. But, going up and down the steps when it’s slippery is something I don’t dare try. Because I had such an awful time with my knee when I fell you know. I had an awful fall when I worked for the Blagdens. I fell in their hallway. Stumbled over their little dog and that’s when I was in the hospital so long. They kept me there, with my knee in a thing hanging up, because compensation was paying. She had compensation on me. Compensation was paying and they just kept me. And when I left there and I went up to Charlotte Hungerford because I was still having trouble, they asked me had I been in whirlpool or had they given me hot treatments or anything. And I said, “No, I got nothing like that.” They gave it to me and I felt better. The Doctor told me I would have to wear a brace the rest of my life. big old heavy braces. I went to a chiropractor, and he told me to take the brace off, don’t wear it because it was interfering with my spinal cord. I stopped wearing it.
He said use a stick as much as you can, but don’t wear that brace. It had me leaning over, twisting my spine, so I stopped wearing the brace. Now, I go out to work, but I let them know I can’t stand up, because I used to cook. I used to do a lot of cooking.
BS: If, say, the Selectman were to ask you, “What would make it better in this community?” Would you have any suggestions towards that?
GF: In the community?
BS: What would make it better, you know…
GF: Oh, for the people in the town.
BS: Yes, the people in the town, for all of us living here. What would make the place better?
GF: I tell you the truth. I like it around here because it’s quiet. It’s not a lot of confusion. It seems like everyone likes to mind their own business and do whatever they do. I like to be to myself a lot. I don’t like having next door neighbors on my door like my daughter-in-law, when she first came here. She’s a German girl. She came here with my son. I have two beautiful grandsons and a granddaughter. They live in Torrington. They lived here for a while with me but it was so lonely she didn’t like it out here for nothing. She liked next door neighbors and all. She’d like someone to come in and they’d have coffee and all of that. I never had time for that. I like people and I like to do things for people if I can, you know. But to run in and sit and have coffee and what not. You know, I’ll invite you to come when I’m expecting you, but just having a neighbor to run in every time they feel like they want to chat and gossip and whatnot, I never had that. And that’s what she liked, you know. She’s got neighbors up there now, next door neighbors and across the street and all. She loves that. But she is getting older and tired now and she’d like to be back out here. I lived in New York and I had an apartment but I worked all the time. I didn’t have time to even know who was living in the next apartment, you know. That’s the way you lived in the city.
I started working when I was 8 years old. I remember one of the first jobs I had was helping a little old woman that had a boarding house. She had this big boarding house and it was not too far from our school. I went there one day because I wanted to buy myself a trunk to keep my things in. I was around 8 years old. I went to that lady and I asked, “Do you want me to bring some wood in
for you?” “Do you want me to help you?” And she said, “Yes, child, come on in.” “You can wash the dishes, can’t you?” “Help me with the dishes”.
She had boarders that came in off the railroad. She’s a nice old lady. She was a blonde, I will never forget her. She wore a big old bowler on the top of her head. She said “I’m going to show you how to set the table.” And it was a long, long table. She put the cups and glasses and showed me how to do it. I was there and learned how to put prunes in little dishes, little round dishes for her and I put the glasses on the table and put the water in. I got 2 dollars a week. I got 2 dollars a week and I’ll never forget that. On the pay day, those men that would work there, they’d see me: they’d give me a quarter and tip me. I’d come home with 4 or 5 quarters and 3-4 dollars with my salary. I bought that trunk. It was a little tin trunk, spotted like a little steamer. It looked like a leopard. It was tin spotted like, but it had a lock and key on it. I wanted to lock my ribbons and my blouses up from my sister because I washed and ironed mine.