Oregon State UniversitySpecial Collections & Archives Research Center
A Good Life and A Good Death by William Appleman Williams
Page 8

VIII: Fulfillment - And Its Costs

Maude's diary reports some tough talk when Mildrede came home from Fairfield. "I told Mildrede that she had to be more of a mother. I can carry a lot of the load but she's the only one who can really be Billy's mother. Porter does some things very well, but that's all. He is going downhill. And this is a very important time for Billy."

Maude's mild, loving demeanor was based upon a very tough core of character. She drew upon her religious faith in ways that neither members of various fundamentalist cults or orthodox assemblies can comprehend. She was simply beyond them. If ever there was a person at one with their God, then Maude was that human being.

She had been raised as a Congregationalist, and the open community oriented part of that faith always attracted and sustained her during various difficult times. But somewhere along in her middle years she found more philosophical and pragmatic meaning in Christian Science. She was not such a fool as to think that faith and prayer, or reading Mary Baker Eddy, could set and heal broken bones or destroy cancer cells as a fiction of the mind. But she did believe and demonstrate time and again that faith in God, and love for fellow human beings, could deal effectively with the traumas of the Soul.

Maude had a quiet awe for powers that she did not understand. It was not a fatalistic passivity. That is why she talked to her flowers. Or threw that football back into the yard. Or knew how to deal with her grandson being kicked in the balls. And hired a Black to put up the basketball hoop. Her awe gave her the power to inform the life of everyone who knew her. She was religious in the deepest sense. She truly gave meaning to life.

Afternoon by afternoon, evening by evening, her grandson absorbed her truths during those years when Mildrede was gone. Maude had a second favorite aphorism, and an uncanny sense of timing about when to use it to dramatize her dealings with the grandson. Whenever the boy became seriously upset about the limits of their economic situation, or not being allowed to do certain things that other children did, she would discuss the matter with him to the point of saying:

"Billy, always remember to be very careful what you wish for because you are almost sure to get it."

No young child immediately understands the full meanings and implications of that aphorism. But, observing it in action through living with Maude, he did comprehend even more of its nuances. Maybe even more than Mildrede, at least at that time in their lives. That might have been the source of the trouble in Fairfield. Perhaps, just perhaps, the grandson-son sensed that life in the slow lane with Maude was more interesting and meaningful than life in the fast lane with Mildrede. Surely having to prove oneself everyday gets to be a bit of a bore. And lonely.

All that can be read as a harsh judgment, even as a kind of cop out in the modern idiom of where the action is. But the point about Maude is that she understood that the question is not fast or slow. The issue involves values, means, and ends. She knew how to define means and ends. And how to choose the right things to wish for.

Mildrede seems to have come home from Fairfield more open to those truths than ever before in her life, not least because she began to act on that blunt conversation with her mother. She was more at ease with her friends. She relaxed the pressure (but not the demands) on the parents, children, and teachers when she again became principal of that school "on the wrong side of the tracks."

She also listened to Maude about the need to cut their losses and abandon most of Tossie's sillier investments. They agreed to do so, although they were determined to keep the Montana wheat land. It was painful, but it no doubt eased their money problems. Such demons were pushed even further back into the darkness when Amanda Hammond died and the will gave Maude title to the first family homestead. They moved, and the rent and the taxes disappeared from the budget. That helped cool Mildrede's incipient anger toward Porter.

Actually, P.I. had a good bit to do with reestablishing a working relationship with his daughter. He had, in Maude's phrase, begun to go "downhill" after Mildrede took herself and her son off to Fairfield. He went through the motions without purpose. But he perked up upon their return and reasserted some of his old style and verve. He took better care of his remaining dogs, again trained a few pups with his old flair, and sold more than a few of them. It was not like the old days, but he was functioning as a member of the family.

Among other things, Porter developed a rather sophisticated touch in the social area. He had never been a hanging Justice of the Peace, but he had inclined more toward the letter than the spirit of the law. All that changed. Some of the children taught by Mildrede sometimes scrounged coal along the Rock Island right-of-way to help heat their homes during the winter. The pin-striped lawyers filed suit to stop the practice, demanding the return of the material. They even submitted a price per bucket.

Tossie knew as well as anyone that the money involved was trivial. It would not move a locomotive its own length. Maude's diary reports: "P.I. is terribly angry about all this." He heard the big men from Chicago make their case, and then reserved his judgment. They went back to the city on the streamliner. Once again Maude: "He is furious. He just goes off in the morning and spends all day with the dogs and puppies and comes back late and plays cribbage with Billy."

Finally, the next week, Porter called the kids into his office-courtroom and explained to them that they had broken the law and had to return the coal. He had a special way of ducking his head off to his left when he was about to make a point. He did so. "You will have to take what is left of the coal out and put it on the right-of-way." That sentence made everyone happy about Porter. The children got the message. They dumped the ashes from their grates between the tracks. Give Tossie his due; but one wonders if Maude did not write that court order in the privacy of their bedroom.

Porter also stopped drinking on the way home, limiting his consumption to one glass of whiskey after supper. Along about 8 p.m., after his grandson had finished his homework, Tossie would pour a small jelly-glass tumbler of booze. Then he would fill a pitcher with water, get his lapboard and a deck of cards, go up to the radio in the bay window, and call his grandson to play cribbage.

It was serious. The grandson lost enough to begin to learn how to win. They played easily as almost equals, talking about school, sports, and sometimes stopping to listen to one of Port's favorite programs. Whether consciously or not, and probably the latter, Tossie was also teaching his grandson how to drink. P.I. began with a glass of pure whiskey, but every sip he took he replaced from the pitcher. Hence in the end he was drinking pure water. Sure, by 9:30 he enjoyed a pleasant buzz. But he never gave his grandson a nip, he never refilled the tumbler, and they taught each other various important things. They also developed a particular affection for each other.

It is doubtful whether Mildrede, before Fairfield, would have understood and tolerated that ritual. But she did; and, beyond that, learned from it more about how to be a mother. She also internalized more of what Maude had to teach. Mildrede never became a full-time mother - it was pragmatically impossible - but she engaged herself with her son on a far more regular - and sometimes intimate - basis.

There are many ways in which she unveiled her growing maturity. The stories could be spun out forever. But consider this baker's handful. She wanted her son to excel in music, earn high grades, be a fine athlete, socialize with ease with all kinds of people, make model airplanes, be kind to old ladies, and wash the dishes. It was enough to have driven Jack Armstrong, the image in those days of the All-American Boy, over the wall and into the arms of Al Capone or Baby Face Nelson.

The first confrontation came over the conflicting demands of music and sport. The son played the drums extremely well, gave promise of becoming a good singer, and was among the best in town in basketball and tennis. But something had to give. One day he asked to be excused early from glee club to go to basketball practice. The vocal instructor told him he had to choose between singing and "trotting around out there in short pants." He quit the glee club and chorus.

He arrived home late with wet hair. Mildrede demanded an explanation. "Well, I quit chorus and I'm going to make the varsity squad as a freshman." Mildrede exploded. "You can sing all your life but what are you going to do with that ball after you graduate from high school?!?" She began to harangue him, and he became sullen. Maude came out of the kitchen.

"Now both of you stop. You're not going to spoil my supper. We'll talk about this later."

Maude later called the coach and the music instructor and set the terms for a compromise. The son could play basketball on condition that he continued in the band and orchestra and maintained his grades. Mildrede later wrote her son a funny letter. "Well, I never dreamed pushing that ball through a hoop would get you into college. Oh, I was just furious with Maude. I don't think I really spoke to her for two or three days afterwards. But of course that's the way it worked - if you hadn't gotten that scholarship to play basketball we just didn't have the money to send you off to college at that point."

The son (bottom row, second from the left) and his high school
                            basketball team.
The son (bottom row, second from the left) and his high school basketball team.

Both the drumming in the band and the basketball put the son at risk out on the highways. Mildrede could not ferry a load of kids to the events because of her demanding schedule, and she worried more than a bit about accidents with drivers who carried a flask. And it happened, though not because of alcohol. The son left very early one morning after a night of thunderstorms to play in the state tennis tournament. Mildrede went back to sleep but awoke with a start: "I just sat there in bed waiting for the phone to ring." (Who knows about those things, even though it did happen again several years later when her son was injured at sea during World War II.)

The driver lost control on a slick, highly crowned road and the car flipped end-over-end and rolled three times. The son was packed-into the back seat and asleep. He emerged dopey and dazed but uninjured beyond the shock. Everybody was wedged-in and there was only one broken bone. Maude calmed Mildrede and they allowed the boy to continue his travels. Again the diary: "Mildrede seems to be learning to accept the Grace of God."

The skill at tennis grew out of Mildrede's determination to have her son learn how to find a job and do satisfactory work. That was not easy in the midst of a depression. There were not many jobs, and most of them went to men with families (with a few women like Mildrede getting teaching jobs). But she nevertheless taught him to read the want ads, and once a week (usually Saturday after the movies) sent him off on an expedition downtown and elsewhere to learn how to ask for employment. It was one of her great insights that taught the child more than he realized for many years.

Mildrede was so concerned about it all that she even offered some of the family's old business friends the money to pay her son's wages just to give him the experience. One of them wrote her a note that documents the nature and impact of that Great Depression. "Dear Mildrede. You know that Billy and I were good friends, and I would help if I could. I know what you are after. But there just isn't any trade to speak of. Little Billy would get bored by noon on the first day, and then he's smart enough to figure out that something was haywire. Keep him busy around the house and mowing lawns."

That was not enough for Mildrede. She kept at it and finally arranged a few deals. Atlantic was a home for a surprising number of talented and accomplished people; shrewd businessmen including world traders in agricultural products, the winner of a Pulitzer Prize for newspaper editorials, and even fine sports people (including a champion woman golfer, as well as Tossie with his dogs and shotgun).

One of the latter had been a national class doubles tennis player. He had retired to a profitable business of raising chickens, but on the side he built and maintained an excellent clay court which he used for his own pleasure and to give lessons. Somehow Mildrede persuaded him to teach her son how to play tennis in return for maintaining the court. It was fair as fair. The son used to bicycle out about four miles on a secondhand machine and water and drag and roll and lime the court. Then, after he had rested while the court set in the sun, he would get an hour or so of instruction. And then as necessary re-lime the court and pump on home. The money was very small, usually a pitcher of lemonade, but the pay was very high.

There were other jobs: Saturdays in a shoe store when the harvest was good, a few hours humping groceries, a trip or two watering stock, and always a lawn to mow or a sidewalk to shovel. The big break came when he got a newspaper route. He did that on his own, but only with the knowledge that Mildrede had provided. All kids in town considered a newspaper route the best available job in town, but there were only some six or seven and they were coveted beyond fantasies about movie stars or even the girl next door.

The young man who had the best route in town delivered the Appleman-Williams paper, along with about 190 others, six days a week and was paid a cent a week per paper. Today the sum of $1.90 per week seems ludicrous, but back in that time it was consequential money for a teenager. It was cash for dating girls, buying model airplanes, and once in a while an item of clothing that parents would not or could not buy.

The son decided that he was going to get that paper route and almost literally haunted the older boy who controlled it. He walked the route night after night. It was about four miles long, up hill and down hill and back up hill again. In good weather you could do it on a bike, at other times you slogged along in rain or thigh-deep snow. At first the older boy thought it was kind of a joke, but after awhile they became good friends, even made a few models together, and Mildrede's son got the route.

He later remarked, in the middle of graduate school, that he had "learned more sociology and psychology on that paper route than in 9 out of 10 classes I have ever taken. Maybe more than even in the Navy." That was because the route cut through all the classes in town. The first delivery was to a Black family (whose son played on the basketball team) and the last to a very wealthy and politically influential lawyer. In between there was every kind of personal and social experience. One divorced woman liked to wait in the door in a dressing gown revealing considerable cleavage. In the winter, a very old couple always was ready with a few cookies and a cup of hot Ovaltine. And there were lots of girls to flirt with. And it was exhilarating to whizz by on a bike tossing papers left and right with unerring accuracy. Well, most of the time. The son also learned to grub in bushes, and climb porch roofs, to retrieve his mistakes.

The lawyer who got his paper last once raised quite a fuss to have it delivered first, a change that would have distorted the inherent logic of the route. The boy asked his grandmother what to do. "You just tell him politely that if you start delivering everybody's paper first you'll never get done. Just carry the route the way it makes sense." Mildrede was an old friend of the lawyer's wife, and one has more than a hunch that the conversation between them ended the complaints.

It was not so easy, however, for Mildrede to deal with death and sex. Her son continued to ski cross country to the river to play hockey, and the son of one of Mildrede's friends had become the leader of the group (which varied from 8 to 12). Over the years the boys had become rather good at both sports. As a result, they took to coming down through a grove of trees close to home and making a four or five foot jump across a creek. It was a great way to end the day, and they traded fantasies about winning this or that event in the Olympics.

Except one afternoon in the spring the snow had melted a bit while they had been down on the river, and by late in the day it had developed a frozen crust. The leader, who naturally always went first, caught the tip of his skis in the crust, flipped over, and landed on his back on the frozen edge of the creek.

They knew what to do. They stripped off most of their clothes to cover him beneath and above, made a sled from their skis, and raced him half a mile home. His parents took him to the hospital. The doctors could find no evidence of serious injuries and sent him back home for rest. After supper, Mildrede's son said: "I'm going up to see my friend." She had gained the wisdom to let him go alone. He returned in good spirits. "He seemed OK. We talked a little about the hockey game and then he said he was tired so I left." Along later that night the boy called his mother to his bed. "I'm dying and I want you here with me." And he died.

Newspaper article recounting the skiing accident resulting in the
                            death of Howard Herbert, Jr.
Newspaper article recounting the skiing accident resulting in the death of Howard Herbert, Jr.

Sometime along the next morning the boy's father called the parents of the children who had been involved. "I think that the best thing is to go out there and come down the hill again. We shouldn't stop it just because of this." Mildrede was shocked, aghast, and dead set against the idea. Maude probably explained it all to her; in any event, she sent her son off alone with his skis. They came down the hill with the father of the dead boy in the lead, jumped the creek, and two days later buried their friend. They went back to the river during that winter, but then the skis began to get dusty in the basement.

Mildrede's son concentrated even more on the drums and classes and basketball. Then, in a truly marvelous act, Mildrede and the mother of the dead boy organized a program to teach the children of their old friends how really to dance to jazz and popular music. Nobody said anything of the kind at the time, but in later years Mildrede's son thought it was kind of like the happy music played by Blacks on the way back from the cemetery after burying a dear friend.

Of course the dancing led to favorite partners who became special girl friends. But there was more than just dancing to it all with Mildrede's son. He and the girl liked each other: they talked about books as well as music, liked to dawdle along looking at flowers, and could make an ice cream soda last an hour. Inevitably they began to pet with each other, and even though he ran more than a mile across town after a date, he began to be late getting home. Surely there were long conversations between Maude and Mildrede about this new crisis. The evidence is somewhat vague but nonetheless persuasive: Maude told Mildrede that it was her responsibility.

Mildrede first talked about the need to have many friends. The son replied that he danced with many girls; but he continued to be late getting home. Then Mildrede tried limiting the number of dances and other outings. That was marginally effective, but it also led to the son being even later getting home when he did get the chance to date his favorite girl. Given her own passionate nature, the memories of her youth and marriage, Mildrede was no doubt a bit hyper about it all. The girl's father and Billy had been good friends, and he and the girl's mother kept a close if unobtrusive watch on what happened on the sofa or the porch after the lights were turned down.

But finally, and who knows what prompted the strategy, Mildrede confronted the issue in a bold way. One evening after supper she took a quick bath preparing to go out with friends for bridge, a drink, and gossip. Her son was down the hall listening to jazz and doing his homework. She called him to her room. As he entered she was just pulling up her silky step-ins trimmed with lace.

"Billy, we need to talk about women and necking and sex. I don't want you to get in trouble and hurt everyone's life."

He was then a junior in high school and she was a full-bodied, handsome woman. As she slipped on her bra she continued to talk. How she did it her son will never quite understand. It was surely one of her bravest, most magnificent moments.

"You see, Billy, there are certain places on a woman's body that when she is touched there by a man that she likes it excites her. It's the same with men and boys. Well, you shouldn't play with those places. You will sometime get so excited that you will have intercourse when you don't really know what you are doing."

A pause while ducking into a slip.

"I don't want you to mess up your life, and I don't want you to mess up her life. You don't really know what you are doing. You need to learn a lot before you have intercourse."

And then a shirtwaist dress dropped over her head.

"This is very hard for me. I don't think I'm doing it very well." That of course out loud to herself. Maybe a sob.

"I just want it to be good for you and the woman when the time comes. But this is not the time. Dance all night, even pet a bit, but please don't go all the way."

She began to brush her hair.

"It was very special between your father and me. Once I'd been with him, it never entered my mind to go with another man. I just wanted more of him."

She had recovered her composure and turned to her son ready for the evening.

"I know you like her very much, but don't spoil it." And off she went.

Few sons are talked to that way, even by their fathers. Even so, all easier said than done, and the son and his girl continued to pet to the edge. But they did not spoil it, and some years later their night of marriage was a joy.

Mildrede never again discussed the subject with her son. She concentrated instead on edging - if not pushing - him into the wider world. It was not wholly philosophical or unselfish because she was also preparing herself for a similar move. She had no intention of making another trip to another Fairfield. The next time she would be off to the college world. That became apparent when in the summer of 1938 she left for summer school with John Dewey at Columbia University to begin earning a Masters degree.

She felt free to go because her son had become a junior counselor employed by the region's best YMCA camp, because Porter had apparently settled into a reliable routine, and because Maude clearly needed a rest after ten years of laboring in care of a husband, a daughter, and a grandson. Maude was weary, more so than anyone then realized.

But it was a good summer for everyone, and the son's last year in high school was a pleasure. The music went well, the basketball was exciting, the grades were high, Maude's health seemed to revive, and Porter sold three or four dogs. It came to a marvelous climax when the son was awarded an athletic-academic scholarship to Kemper Military School in Boonville, Missouri.

The son and two of his friends in high school.
The son and two of his friends in high school.

Mildrede celebrated for the entire family by taking the son back to New York for a few weeks of her second round of summer school and the New York World's Fair. It was like being back in California. She was magnificent. She taught him how to use the subway, marked out certain reference points so that he would not get lost, and more or less left him free to roam the city while she attended her classes and seminars. They would meet late in the afternoon and go off together to explore other parts of the city and the Fair.

She took him to hear Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway (her romantic favorite for dancing), along with Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw, as well as the symphony, the Rockettes and various art museums. And once again they did the Midway together. She even indulged him in a crush on a most attractive young woman from Canada he had met while wandering innocently through Harlem. The three of them sometimes did part of the town together.

Then, in a fine gesture of trust, perhaps of setting him free, Mildrede sent her son back alone on the train to his job at the YMCA camp. Those weeks seemed to portend good times for everyone. All the years of pain, struggle, sorrow, trouble, death, and fear seem to be behind them. And for the next 15 years or so that was largely true despite the perils of a global war and a few domestic crises.

Mildrede's son did extremely well his first year on his own at Kemper, and she finished her degree work at Columbia. Even as she was in New York, moreover, she was offered a job at Central State Teachers College in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. There no longer seemed any reason for her to refuse, and she moved from Atlantic even before her son returned to Kemper. The consequences of success were coming over the horizon.

Mildrede had a great capacity for a caring friendship, and she quickly began to establish a wide circle of continuing relationships within her new environment. She was then, at 45, an attractive, vivacious, talented, and unmarried woman. It is hardly surprising that she caught the eye of more than a few men. One of them who became a close friend (but no more) later wrote her son this candid commentary.

"It didn't take long to learn that she was not into monkey business. She enjoyed going out for a drink and dinner, and a bit of dancing, but you quickly learned that she was going home alone. She was a great talker. Maybe she even talked better than she danced, though that might be saying too much. But she could talk men right back into bed with their wives, which was probably where they wanted to be anyway. She could say No in the nicest way and still stay friends. I suppose it was even better than a Yes."

Mildrede did allow herself, hesitantly, to become involved with one man. He was married, but his wife was dying in a nursing home. There was never any talk of divorce. Yet they had that special ease with each other. They could pick up a conversation after a week or a month, they were easily affectionate, they shared a talent for witty word play over a cocktail, and enjoyed music and theater. They cared deeply for each other. Her son saw them together a few times and hoped they would get married.

After his wife died the relationship may just possibly have become sexually intimate. The few surviving letters hint at that. As one of her friends remembered: "After she saw him she was different. He added a sparkle to her days." Then he suffered two major strokes, and that was the end of it all. After that she no longer went out alone with males. She had lost the only two men in her life who had evoked her deepest emotions. That was enough.

She focused her energies on teaching, professional activities, female and family friendships, and her own family. If they are discounted for jealousy, the peer group evaluations of her teaching give us an insight into her classroom performance. It is also useful to realize that John Dewey never fully persuaded her of the virtues of the permissive classroom. Given her experience on "the wrong side of the tracks" in Atlantic, she probably brought as much to those seminars at Columbia as she took away. Her final recommendations described her as being "in the top 10% of her group of graduate students.... I recommend her strongly."

Others had some trouble with her combination of toughness and compassion. One report reads this way. "Mrs. Williams is a fine teacher. She runs a 'tight ship,' so to speak....but is always fair. When she demonstrates methods and lesson plans for other courses she is very effective and many students comment quite favorably. She is diligent, if sometimes 'smarty,' on faculty committees, and a leader in evaluating curriculum, etc."

Some of the students that she was training to be teachers complained that she worked them too hard. "I was being forced to do too much; had to stay at school after 6 p.m. many nights. She was there, too, but that's her job, not mine. Also, she's too tough on the kids."

A colleague's comment in review. "Well, some student teachers and some children are scared or resentful. She is tough. But they learned and most of them come to appreciate her. It is interesting to follow her students through high school. Most of them do very well and about 99 percent of them graduate."

A student who was in her third grade and went on to become a very successful lawyer had this to say. "At the time I thought she was rather strict. And frankly I think she was. But in later years my wife, who had her too, said she was the kind of teacher that students don't appreciate until many years later. I wish she was around for our kids. Also, you must remember, she had absolutely no prejudice against Blacks, Indians or foreign students. She was simply the best one in town on those matters. She made sure they found housing, would co-sign a loan, tutored them, and when they were lonely took them out for a meal. She made an enormous difference to those kids. I don't much use that word love, but they loved her because she really cared about them."

Mildrede ca. 1940s.
Mildrede ca. 1940s.

All that jibes with Mildrede's reputation for lacking patience with academic flim-flam. She was once asked to evaluate people outside her experience and competence for salary increases. "I'd like to begin by quoting Webster because I feel that such a request is an 'absurdity....inconsistent with the plain dictates of common sense, ridiculous.' My training is vastly different from that of a person in art, music, or physical education.... It appears utterly absurd and unfair to ask me to place those people at the top, middle or bottom of a scale of fifteen.... I refuse to harm people that way.... I cannot be a part of such a procedure in relation to my colleagues."

Such elementary toughness and honesty explains why so many people treasured her presence in faculty and professional and public organizations, as well as in personal friendships. She could be as incisive and powerful on her feet as when writing a formal report. That was no doubt why she was elected as president of the local chapter of the American Association of University Women, to the faculty search committee for a new president, and countless other such organizations.

Mildrede gave even more of herself in personal relationships. She had a knack for writing interesting and moving letters to old and new friends. But of course the real point is that she remembered to do so and took the time to do so. "She was marvelous and very generous with her time. She reached right into your heart." She also liked face-to-face contact. One friend's comments: "Oh, she protected a deep part of herself - she had been hurt very badly - but on the other hand she could be so spontaneous and twinkly and fun. She could just pop your belly with a couple of words.

"She loved to stop by with no notice, you know on the spur of the moment, even in the winter, and take us for a ride in the afternoon. God, sometimes she used to scare me to death she liked to drive so damn fast. She was good, but she scared me anyway. And then she would come to a stop and point out the window and tell us about a bird or a flower. And she just loved to go out to dinner. Honest to God I don't think she ever cooked a real meal in her apartment. Who cares. She was a great hostess at the end of a table in a restaurant."

Mildrede once spent the most of two weeks, nights and days, comforting and caring for a friend who was dying of cancer. It was part of what others called her "giving countless hours helping and bringing cheer to the unfortunate and sick. She was a very special lady who gave so much of herself. And she wrote so many Christmas and Birthday cards that she must have funded the retirement of unknown numbers of stockholders."

She could also be caustic and sarcastic. "For so good a teacher as she was, she didn't suffer fools very well. She could come forth with some very unnecessary remarks. Sometimes I wanted to slap her face or spank her bottom or wash her mouth out with soap. It was none of my business, of course, but once in awhile I used to wonder if her husband had ever given her what-for, or just walked-out for a drink.

"But she mellowed in the later years, and in any event she was always good company with a great sense of humor and extremely thoughtful despite her periodic outbursts. Maybe I liked her most because you could talk to her about anything and know she'd keep her mouth shut. I guess that was not so strange because she kept her own mouth shut about a lot of her own life. I'm not sure that any of us knew Mildrede."

That was an extremely perceptive remark, as her son could verify. She was intensely proud of his record at Kemper, and his honorary appointment to the United States Naval Academy. Even so, some of her friends did not know about the latter until he came to Wisconsin on leave at the end of his first year at Annapolis. She was even more secretive about his marital situation. And she spoke only on the terms of strictest confidentiality to one or two people about what was happening to her parents in Atlantic.

The son's yearbook photo at Kemper Military School.
The son's yearbook photo at Kemper Military School.

The son's diploma from the United States Naval Academy. June 7,
The son's diploma from the United States Naval Academy. June 7, 1944.

It is easy to explain that reticence in terms of guilt. Guilt about leaving her son when he was young and vulnerable, and guilt about leaving her parents when they were old and vulnerable. There may be some truth in that kind of analysis. But independent people accept those costs. The price of independence comes high, and Mildrede knew that she would have to bear it alone. The only problem was that she had not understood how high the price.

It began with Porter's psychological and physical disintegration. Then came Maude's loneliness unto death. Porter's death was an anti-climax. Mildrede learned that independence involves dependence.