THE NAMING OF BABIES Kate’s Journal


Newly pregnant parents spend a lot of time searching through lists of baby names to bestow on the newest little one. My parents had no choice in the matter as my Grandmother named me for her long dead mother. This seemed logical since she had given my mother the same name.

Kate Kendall was taken from her family at the age of twenty-five, leaving a grieving young husband and three motherless children under the age of six. The stories which filled my childhood of my Great-Grandmother were of necessity filtered through the uncertain memory of a six year old. Who was Kate Kendall really? Her passing left her children to create the person they thought she was.

My Great-Grandfather, George Kendall, remarried soon after Kate’s death to an even younger woman who became a stern step-mother. Though George was an avid photographer, all photos of Kate were destroyed save one un-named mourning photo which may or may not have been Kate. It shows the value of putting names on our old photos.

Grandma remembered her as a happy playful companion who loved to dance and sing. Bits and pieces of an all too short childhood were often related to me if Grandmas saw in me a likeness to her mother. Grandma said her mother had been a teacher, but when I got her death certificate it showed that her job had been a mill girl. A not uncommon occupation in the cotton mills in New England. She probably had been a Sunday School teacher in one of the Congregational churches. Grandma said Kate had died because of catching a cold dancing in a draft, but she really died from consumption, probably from dust from the cotton mill.

Searching through the faded red velvet autograph/journal which is signed “Miss Katie Hadley, White River Junction, Vermont”, I don’t think anyone traveled too far from home in those days, but according to her diary, she spent a few months in Kansas City where a number of people signed her book in the flowing cursive writing of those days. Among the signers was George Kendall, who seemed interested in pursuing a relationship when he wrote: “Although our acquaintance has been short, And the time has swiftly flown, Permit me to call you a friend like those I have longer known.” It is dated August 13, 1886.

No knowledge of how they met, whether at a dance as Grandma thought, or from a work association, because her father and George’s father were cabinetmakers? George himself was a contractor, having at that time built many of the public buildings in Bristol, New Hampshire as well as many private homes.

Grandma said they never knew their Mother’s family, the Hadleys, though they apparently lived nearby. Why was that? Yet soon after Kate’s death, they came hoping to take the middle child, Aunt Georgia, home with them. They did not want my Grandmother because she was too “strong-willed” nor did they want the two year old baby because he was a boy and boys are too boisterous. It didn’t set well with their father, and they never saw them again.

Many years later, as I was entering the names of some of our children in the big Kendall Family Bible, I stumbled on the entry for Kate and George Kendall’s wedding date, April 22, 1886. Grandma Nellie’s birth date was October 13, 1887. Looking closer, I saw that the final digit in the marriage date was smudged and changed to 1886. Why would George write his ”hopeful friend’ poem in Kate’s diary four months after they were married? It seems clear to me that Kate was pregnant with Nellie on her wedding date, which would not lift an eyebrow today. Did the smudged digit show that Kate had rubbed out the original with a spit dampened finger, to make it all ‘come right’ with future generations? Did the Hadley grandparents disown Kate upon learning of her pregnancy? We will never know, and it doesn’t really matter, but it may have answered some questions at the time.

Why do we choose the names we do for our children to carry throughout their lives? They seem to come in great variety today, though family names still carry down through the ages. We often name babies for people we love or admire which is a nice tradition too. It is flattering to have someone named after you. It shows that someone cares enough about you to want their child to bear your name. Our granddaughter is the latest ‘Kate’ in our family. Grandma would be happy to know Kate Kendall’s name lives on.

CROSSING THE COUNTRY Kate’s Journal


Episode 6
New London, Connecticut, 1938

Through these past years I have blogged about various events which happened during our time in New London, Connecticut. Whether more things happened to me during that time, or whether I was simply old enough to have a better memory I can’t say, but Connecticut made a deep impression on me.

Still living in the details of my memory; the hurricane of 1938, my near-kidnapping, rustic country life and the summer-long case of poison ivy which greeted our arrival in New London, Connecticut.

In 1938 we received orders to go to New London, for two and a half years where my father began training in the submarine service. We loaded our belongings into our used black Chevy car and set out across country, like today’s migrants.

Assigned to the submarine base, both enlisted men and some officers could choose to find their own living quarters, which were few and far between off the base.

Our first was a one-room apartment bathroon-down-the-hall over a small grocery store, and the second was slightly better though it had no indoor plumbing, just a privy some distance away. Water had to be pumped each morning, and baths were taken in a tub after water had been heated on a huge wood stove. It sounds awful, and it was, but for two and a half years it was our home.

outhouse

The whole monstrosity overlooked a large field and a small lake which in New England is called a pond. The field was promptly planted with vegetables, and the pond supplied recreation both in summer and in winter when it froze solid and we skated. During the winter freeze I skated part of the way to school.

Connecticut abounds with rivers and streams, and we lived between the pond and across the road from the Thames River, a deep-water river with the Submarine Base situated on its shore. Local kids swam in sight of the diving tower, where my Dad trained. It was there I first learned to swim when my father threw me into the river.

The Base had a commissary, or ship’s stores, where we did most of our shopping. There was a movie theater, a bowling alley, and other places of recreation. A large parade ground was in the middle of the compound, and there was always a dress parade on Saturday mornings, where I loved to watch my father, in his dress blues, march in formation behind the Navy band. We Navy kids used to play ‘parade’ with a majorette, and the rest of us following behind blowing on combs covered with waxed paper.

The first winter we lived there, New England felt the tremendous power of a hurricane, still referred to as one of the worst of the century. It was a school day and we were all hustled into the hallway to protect us from flying glass should the windows cave in. The incredible roar of the wind and the rain pounding on the roof was very frightening. One of the big double doors at the end of the hall blew open, and three teachers pushing on it could not close it. When the noise quieted, and the wind calmed somewhat, we were sent to our various homes.

It still amazes me that we were sent on our way alone in the wake of such a terrible storm. But the road was impassable for cars because of fallen trees etc. I lived some three miles from the school and walked each way except for cutting off about a mile in winter. The rest of the children were local farm children whose parents in most cases had attended the same small school.

The school consisted of two rooms and the principal’s office and I went there during part of the fifth and all of the sixth and seventh grades. We were expected to memorize poems regularly, and a Charles Kingsley poem reproached: “Be good, sweet maid, and let who will be clever.” I still feel a twinge of guilt knowing I grew up more clever than good, and as a “sweet maid” I was a disappointment. Having practiced being “good” up to this time without gaining the benefit of friends, I chose to be funny.

I still remember the smell of oiled wooden floors in the closkroom, wet wool snowsuits, and egg or tuna sandwiches emanating from the tin lunchboxes or paper bags containing our lunches. I had close contact with these odors on the occasions when I was sent out of the room to consider my acts of disobedience.

My teacher, Miss Lillian Ingraham, was possibly the best teacher I ever had, and thought I was smarter than I was, because I had read the most books, for which I received a prize. She was quite tall and skinny and had dyed red hair and eyes in the back of her head. She placed me in the front row, not because I had trouble seeing the board, (which I did) but so that she could keep one of her eyes on me.

A boy named Cecil Kirk was in my fifth grade class and passed me a note one day suggesting that we meet after school behind a certain stone wall, where he would show me ‘his’ and I would reciprocate. I ran most of the way home never looking at the aforementioned stone wall. We never spoke again.

I was not a star at team sports, but I was a fast runner, and could shinny up the flag pole faster than most of the boys. I was also an apt pupil of my father in games of marbles, cards, and mumbly-peg, which was a game of skill in throwing a jack-knife point down into a preordained spot within a large circle drawn in the dirt. I ‘m afraid that most of the games my father taught me were not looked upon with great favor by my teachers.