Many people in Bellingham know Kathryn Whiting and her husband George from when they ran for many years Country Charm, a hair dressing salon on South Main Street. George was born in Bellingham while Kathryn moved here from New York when she was six months old. Both Kathryn and George grew up here in Bellingham, met in high school, married and raised a family here. Kathryn spoke to Marjorie Turner Hollman about her mother who was widowed when Kathryn was six years old, and the challenging life her mother led as a single parent.
My father had a successful upholstery business in New York City and met my mother there, where she was a registered nurse. My father was from the Boston area and took sick when I was just a tiny baby. Because of his illness he lost his business in New York. They came back here to Bellingham when I was six months old.
My father died when I was six years old and there was no such thing as any kind of help in those days. There was only the poor farm, located on Farm Street in Bellingham, which my husband George’s Grandfather ran for a time. The farm is no longer there. We lived in a house on Taunton Street—one of only two houses on the street at that time. We had a miniature poultry farm, raised a few vegetables and the like.
Because my mother was a nurse, the City of Boston allowed her to have many, many more foster children than the law allowed. At times we had as many as fourteen to sixteen children. Other families in town took in foster children as well. Ida Hood Parker’s family took in girls, and her grandfather’s family across the street took in boys to work on their farm.
We had a goat that was like a puppy to us. It was allowed in the house when the state inspectors weren’t there. But one day the state inspector had come by and one of the young children had let the goat into the house. Up the stairs the goat came, to where the inspector was looking at the bedrooms. My mother put on an act that this was the first time the goat had come into the house. “Heaven’s, what’s that goat doing in the house?” she said. And all the children went along with her.
My mother treated me exactly the way these foster children were treated, which was the right way to go. I was never put on a pedestal. After breakfast one morning I went upstairs and found one of the little girls, Anna, crying. I asked her, “Anna, why aren’t you out with us? What’s the matter?”
“What’s the matter with you?” she answered. “When you get told what I was told this morning, you’ll be crying too. They’re coming to take me away tomorrow. When they tell you that, you’ll be crying too. This was the best home I ever had.”
The authorities never let any of those children stay in one place too long because they didn’t want them to get too attached. You see, my mother was very fair—when I deserved discipline, I got it. Anna didn’t realize that she was my mother.
My mother remarried when I was eight and my step-father was a wonderful man. My mother died just before the town’s previous centennial and we had an open house planned. Everyone was invited to come tour our house. Boy, I wasn’t up to that, but my son said, “Come on Mom, that isn’t the way you brought us up,” and he was right. I always said to them, “Mom always said, ‘You don’t say ‘I can’t.’” I knew that if anyone had a reason to say “I can’t,” she did, but she never looked for excuses.
Marjorie Turner Hollman is a personal historian who loves the outdoors, and has completed two guides to Easy Walking trails in Massachusetts, “Easy Walks in Massachusetts 2nd edition,” and “More Easy Walks in Massachusetts.” A native Floridian, she came north for college and snow! New England Regional Chair for the Association of Personal Historians, she is a Certified Legacy Planner with LegacyStories.org, and is the producer of numerous veterans interviews for the Bellingham/Mendon Veteran’s History Project. http://www.marjorieturner.com