"I never wanted to live anywhere else, no, never a question."
I'm Betty Brown. I was born December 6, 1934 on North Haven in the house right next door to where I live now. I have lived on the island 83 years. I never wanted to live anywhere else, no, never a question. I never thought about wanting to live anywhere else. That's why I wanted my children born at home because I didn't want to go anywhere else.
I spent 19 days away from North Haven in February of 2015 when I had to be in the hospital in a nursing home with double pneumonia. Actually 23, because it was 19 at Knox and four at Pen Bay Hospital. Yeah, that's the longest I’ve ever been away from home.
Overnight visits? Yes. Two- or three-day trips? Yeah. Weekend trips? Not very often, but when we did. I just feel safe here.
First thing I really remember is that we, basically, we grew up at home. We didn’t–other than a few playmates in the wintertime to go skating or sledding, I did not, and you won’t believe this, but I did not know the children in the village.
I started school in the lower half of the old high school in 1940. There were five in our class. ‘41 or ’42, I think ’42, they moved our grades, which was first and second grades, they moved us down to the village school. And I knew none of the children that were there, including two cousins who I didn't even know. Yeah, it was strange and I didn't like it. I didn't enjoy school anyway and I–actually I felt that, well, being seven years old or whatever, I got homesick.
I always felt I'd rather be at home. I was nervous and I didn't really have much self-confidence. I really didn't enjoy school until I moved back up to the lower half of the high school and that was in grade seven. And from grade seven through high school I enjoyed school. But it was the joy of being with young people, because otherwise I really didn’t get to play with other children.
It just seems like as a child, it sounds ridiculous, but I can't actually think of any very happy moments until I got, sort of, nearer going into the sixth, seventh grade because I did have–I developed more friendships.
War was declared December 7, 1941. It was on a Sunday afternoon and, now let’s see, it was 1941, so I was just about six years old.
Daddy had taken the family for a ride and I remember coming home from the ride, it was a beautiful Sunday afternoon, and someone had talked–stopped and told my parents that they had bombed the ships in Pearl Harbor.
Of course, then they would have the air raids and you would draw the shades–lights were out, draw the shades. I do remember when we were in school in the village there used to be–well I think [the] slang was blimps, but they were the dirigibles that we would see going over. And that always made us sort of uneasy.
And then also they would have, well it was bombing tests or test bombings and they did it on the Seal Islands and when they were doing that the dishes and the cupboards would rattle. I mean, it was vibrating, yup, very vibrating. It was–you knew what was going on.
Food was rationed, you had the ration stamps. Employment was down. So many people left the island, couples left the island, especially for the men to work in the shipyards, if they were not physically able or beyond the draft age of going to war. I remember I had all the letters that my mother had written to brother and she would write saying that so many people were moving away, she wondered if there was going to be anyone left on the island. Really, a lot went away.
Leta Do you remember when the war ended, when it was over?
Betty There was a different atmosphere because a lot of people were returning to the island for work. And there were a lot of new summer people. The economy was much better. Houses were being sold and more summer families were moving here, work was much better.
At home, of course, it was mixed. It was happiness but there was also sadness because if your loved one’s not coming home.
In the spring of '42, back then we had the telephone operators, and the telephone operator had received a telegram and she had to come and tell my parents that my brother had been taken prisoner of war. And that was in April of 1942. So that, it was so traumatic that those I remember clearly.
I didn't actually realize how terrible it was at that time. Until, of course, we kept getting more information. And, then I remember my mother sitting at the table, every night, writing letters to brother even after she'd gotten word that he'd been taken prisoner. She continued to write.
I have all of the letters and, when I have gone through them, her last letter she wrote in April, or Easter Sunday, 1943. And that letter was returned edged in black and she had received word at that time that he had passed. So, when I hear the song, "Letter Edged in Black" then I realized exactly there is such a thing as a letter edged in black.
And my nephew has tried to explain to me, but it was something to do with a technicality with the government. But, they first received word that he died, June 16, 1943. But he actually, his actually passing was September 23, 1942, which would have been on my Dad's birthday.
I learned to iron when I was really young to help mother. My neighbor told me, or my cousin told me that I used to stand on a box to reach the ironing board to learn–when I was ironing, but I don't remember, maybe I did. But I was helping mother do laundry work when I was, I’m sure, twelve or thirteen years old.
My labor has actually been just common labor. I cleaned cottages when I was a teenager. I helped my mother do laundry work, which I’ve continued to do and still do. My job of actual employment and paying into social security was when I worked for the Pulpit Harbor Inn. August 1984, I started working for Barney and Christie at Pulpit Harbor Inn.
Leta And, what did you do there for them?
Betty Housekeeping, laundry, dishes. I liked working there very much and I still have dreams about working there. Well, I liked being busy and they always were so appreciative of anything and whatever I did for them.
It gave me a purpose to keep busy during the day, after I'd been on a continual caregiving for my parents for several years. I took care of both my parents when they were in passing years. I don't have any regrets, but I got extremely tired because the last few years of mother's illness was very demanding. I do regret in that I feel like perhaps that–my responsibility was split terribly. And I feel like that I just was sorry that I couldn't have perhaps been stronger, but there was no one to help me.
Leta After your mother died that’s when you started working for the Pulpit Harbor Inn?
Betty That’s when I started, yes.
Leta And so, did the Pulpit Harbor Inn kind of help you in that transition?
Betty Yes, definitely. Definitely it did, yeah. Because I'd had such a schedule of morning, noon, and night and in between, going back and forth to Mom's trying to keep her so she could live in her own home. But yet again, she needed a lot of extra care. That gave me a purpose of being to work on time at the Inn and staying busy. I stayed there until they sold the Inn.
The summer people and the year-round residents, they didn’t associate with each other like they do together today. But the older summer people were very generous to the town. I remember my sister, oldest sister, she was married and they had three children and they were terribly, terribly poor.
But in the winter time Mrs. Zimmerman, who owned the Watson Estate, she always would provide winter clothing, snowsuits and boots and warm clothing, for my sister's family. I think she also was the one that, after the war, they had a dental clinic, particularly for the school children. Two dentists that were in the service did it.
And then I developed a lot of friendships with the families that I was doing the work for. Met Dr. Poole and his wife when they came here and bought the house across the street that belongs to Mara. They bought that right after the war. And I babysat for their boys. They were wonderful to me. They were sort of an out for me because I spent a lot of time over there with them.
I used to take care of the boys but Mrs. Poole always used to read to her children at nighttime and I used to like to go over there and sit and listen, even while she was reading to the boys. It was peaceful and I enjoyed it. And they always made me feel welcome, that sometimes they'd even take me on picnics with them. I was only, well, twelve. So, we were, I mean, friends, and I still have a friendship with them.
One lady that I washed for, we call it–they always used to list their laundry. I always felt like she would be lacking a towel or a pillowcase or a button off of her dress, but I handled it well. The only time that I really made a–determined that I would not wash for this lady anymore was, she brought her laundry in, I’d washed for her for quite a while, and she brought her laundry in one day, and she said, “Betty, I think I have a plan.” She said, “When I bring in my laundry,” she said, “I'm going to sit down with you and we're going to go through my list.” I said, “OK.” And she said, “When I come to pick up my laundry, we're going to go through my list, double check.” I said, “OK, fine.” But after she left, I wrote her letter and just said, I felt that she did not trust me and that I was not going to continue wash for her, or whatever way it went. I said, I just, feel if you do not trust me than you should not be bringing your laundry to me. So, I very nicely bowed out.
Photos courtesy of the Brown family