Who was that angel?

by DRM


Her name was Arline. She was my father’s mother. She died in 1949 when my father was 16.

We knew very little about her growing up. In the early 1980’s, after my grandfather died, a letter arrived at the house from my father’s aunt Marie who was six years younger than her sister.

My parents were going through an acrimonious divorce that still leaves scars. My mother read the letter as validation that the men in that family were mean and hurtful.

There’s something else at work. Read on;

Arline was a lovely little girl, very pretty and the apple of her father’s eye. My mother always called her “little peacemaker” as she settled arguments and I never recall quarreling with her although I did with my brother.

Our father’s death must have been more tragic for her as I was so young that although I remember him I didn’t realize the loss. We moved to Bridgeport which would have been traumatic, from affluence and a lovely home to a first floor flat in the city. Arline returned to parties by train to New Milford.

My mother enrolled us in St. Augustine’s School. In high school, Arline took college courses and received high marks, especially in English, Latin and French. In her quiet manner she was well-liked by teachers and classmates. She was elected vice president Junior and Senior years. (The president was always male.). At graduation she was voted the Prettiest and Most Popular Girl in her class.

She studied Dental Hygiene at Dr. Fones school — the founder of Oral Hygiene. She lived at home until 1924 or 1925, then worked in Greenwich, CT with Evie Maker, a classmate.

She always had many friends and suitors didn’t seem ready for marriage. E never discussed it. Jack courted her for many years, off and on (he was in camp during the war and afterwards). They were married November 16, 192?

Economic conditions were not too good and they lived in New York, New Haven, Philadelphia and Flushing due to changes of jobs.

Arline had difficulty in becoming pregnant and treatment with an obstetrician. You were conceived and born in November 1933 but even with treatments she was unable to have another baby.

In 1934 Jack went to work at Seagrams. In 1935, you and your parents moved to Intervale Place in Rye.

Summer vacations 1937 and 1938 were spent in New Hampshire with friends from Seagrams.

Arline, a very private person, rarely discussed personal problems but I recall she told me that it was not relaxing. You were a typical little boy, very active, and these people were childless. Jack was courting their approval to advance in the business. I can imagine the assure that Arline was under and I am sure that I couldn’t take it.

The woman (was it Green — I never met her) visited for a week in Rye. As you know your mother entertained beautifully but your father was persnickety neat and tight on the budget, and I suppose so anxious to get the promotion that the stress must have been unbearable. Arline suffered insomnia for weeks and sleeping pills were prescribed.

Jack called me in Bridgeport and I went down by train as Tom was traveling by car in business. I was shocked by her appearance, out of touch with reality and confined to bed. She seemed like a hurt child and told me that Jack had said awful things to her. I reassured her that they were all bad dreams and not true — I never knew. The doctor said to “put her away.”. You can imagine my anguish.

Psychiatry was in its infancy, but I heard of a psychiatrist named Dr. Griffin in Bridgeport so suggested we contact him. He made arrangements at Bridgeport Hospital. We drove up that night and Arline was a patient for a week. He diagnosed it as schizophrenia but I always doubted it. Maybe because I didn’t want to believe it.

Jack transferred her to the Hospital for Nervous Disorders in White Plains.

I went to visit her, which was heart-breaking and I can’t tell you the length of time she was there. After an interval she was discharged and Namie went down to stay for a while. She suffered a relapse and had to return to the hospital. That time “shock treatments” were used and eventually the recovery was complete, never to reoccur.

The next years were happy ones. We moved to Rye in 1941 as Tom was working in the New York home office of Metropolitan. Your new home was built on Highland Road and your Dad was doing well financially at Seagrams.

In June 1949, tragedy struck.

Arline had been treating with Dr. Peterson in Rye and then a specialist in New York for a persistent sore throat and difficulty in swallowing food with coughing spasms.

She was treated for sinus problems although she suspected it might be cancer. The doctor replied, “It is possible but not very probable.”

Arline attended a luncheon at Coveleigh Club and many friends remarked to me that she never looked prettier than she did that day. She went into New York for dinner and theater with your father. On their return she suffer a coughing attack and hemorrhaged. She was rushed to Port Chester Hospital.

By 7am, the Emergency Room was filled with her friends to donate blood before taking commuter trains to New York. The transfusion saved her life.

The previous week Arline had consulted with a local general practitioner who suggested a series of tests to diagnose the trouble but Fate intervened before the first tests.

She was unable to swallow food so an operation to insert a tube leading directly to the stomach for nourishment. An exploratory showed that the cancer involved other organs so it was too late to operate.

She was told it was bronchitis but when her condition worsened I think she suspected but no one ever mentioned cancer.

Arline was loved and admired by all, a truly kind and gentle person. Your father was at a loss and mourned her for years.