The following letter was from a nurse that was working
on her Doctorate. She wrote this book for my mom, and sent it
to me (Mark, her son) and other relatives.
Dear Mark, Bertha and Justin,
I have enclosed your mother's biographical sketch. I was pleased with the final product, but even more so, I was honored that I could share in her life in even this small way. She is truly a remarkable person.
I had the opportunity to read it to her; we both were in tears by the time I finished. Dolly had me make copies for her to send to family members, her cousin Pat was one.
This is an experience few of us ever get in our lives. to share the joys and sorrows of another in such an intimate and personal manner. I feel blessed for having known you mother.
I have given you my original, which you may keep,
I have a copy. As you can see my instructor was quite moved by Dolly
Thank you for all your valuable input, as you will see I used it in the biography.
Dorothy "Dolly" Goodrum, a resident in my Long Term
Care facility suffers from Multiple Sclerosis. Her body is so severely
contracted as to give the appearance of hugging herself. She speaks
in a slow monotone voice, that gives way quickly to a high pitched laugh.
Upon hearing hearing herself on the tape recorder she remarked : " I sound
like I've tied one on!" She is sixty-five years old, yet she looks
like a women of fifty. She has a complexion of light tan skin
and silver hair. She has reside in our facility for the last fifteen
years. Her son was a senior in high school at the time, and she had
been incapacitated to the point of being totally helpless since he was
six years old. This is her Life' story,
Dolly spent her childhood in Malden Massachusetts.
From the beginning, her life beset with continuities and discontinuities.
Dolly was an only child, the product of a mixed marriage; having a white mother and a black father. This seemed an unusual thing to have occurred at that particular time, the early 1920's. However, she said: " Mother's name was Frieda Schibel, she was white and German." It seems that Frieda's mother died when she was only three years old, leaving behind five children. Her father was unable to care for the children, and they therefore were made wards of the state of Massachusetts. Frieda was placed in a foster home with "Aunt Martha", and her husband, who were black. This was the way in which Frieda was introduced into the Black culture. Frieda stayed with Aunt Martha until she was 17, when she met Dolly's father in Woburn, and they were married; Dolly was born in 1927.
She was raised as the only black family in an all white neighborhood.
Dolly recalled that in school where she was also the only black student,
she felt different from all the other students. She said she had
a teacher who made it painfully clear to Dolly that she was different.
She said: " I had a teacher in grade school who told the children that
I was multicolored. I guess she meant I was mulatto, but I could
tell from her voice that it was bad. " Dolly's life was to be filled with
this continuity of issue of color, and it would surface again and again.
As Dolly related the events of her childhood, the theme that emerged, was loneliness, partly from being an only child, and partly due to the alienation she felt by being black in a white envioment. She met a family with five children through her church. She would often go to their house for dinner, and delighted in the noise and laughter she found there, a far cry from her own table, that consisted of only three. She recalls these dinners as being some of the "happiest" times she ever had as a child. She said: " I loved peaches, I still do, but to this day I cannot eat a peach without thinking of eating them with this family at those dinners that were such fun!" This is another theme that surfaces throughout her life's story; seeking happiness, and feeling that she belonged. Church and religion appeared over and over, as a link holding the threads of Dolly's life together. Dolly was the first grandchild of Alice and Archie Harris, her paternal grandparents. She speaks with great warmth about her grandfather. She says: " He always made me feel special." I asked her how he did this, and she said: " He listened to me." She also told me that he had his own kind of religion, that his family meant everything to him, this was his religion, his family. She often went to visit her grandparents in Woburn, and would spend her christmas and summer vacation with them. She recalls these as happy time when, she would be with her cousin Pat, who was the sister Dolly never had. This continuity of finding love and warmth in the house of her grandparents, especially with her grandfather, is made more apparent by the fact that her father had a problem with alcohol. She said this made life hard for both she and her mother. Therefore, the discontinuity she felt at home, on a house where things are not constant was easily traded for the continuity she acquired with her grandparents.
Dolly entered Malden High School, and at this time, there were now a few other Blacks students as well. Dolly was a good student, " .....not excellent, but good......", and her heart's desire was to become a registered nurse. In her senior year, she spoke with her guidance counselor about applying at Simmons in Boston. The counselor said: " People aren't ready for someone like you," that he was refering to her color. So, instead she graduated forn high school, and was accepted at the Massachusettts School For Physical Therapy. In the physical therapy program , she was still the only Black student. This is the storngest theme of all in the course of events in Dolly's life; she is never stopped by the barrier of prejudice. She acknowleges that it does exist, but she manages to find a way around it. Dolly had met her husband while she was still in high school, and he was a student at Boston College. She said at that time there was two kinds of Blacks, those who were content being where were, and those who were moving up. She said her husband was of the type that were moving up, and that was the type she wanted also. She decribed her husband as being a brilliant mathematician, and she said it was unusual in the 1940's for a Black man to attend college. This theme of upward mobility, this quest for equality runs throughout Dolly's chronicle, she is udaunted in her struggle to create a better life.
Dolly graduated from the Massachusetts Physical Therapy School and she and her husband were married. They got a apartment in Everett and settled down into married life, in a neighborhood that was Black and white. Dolly began to look for work in her field, and wanted "desperately" to get a job in her home town hospital of Malden in the Physical Therapy Depatment. She had an interview with the head of the department, She said: " I sat across from him, and he looked at me and called me a Trail Blazer, he said that I wanted to go new places. But, he said that I wouldn't be able to be accepted in this hospital. I didn't get the job. I was really crushed by that, I wanted that job so bad." Once again Dolly, faced rejection because of her color, and yet she was no to be counted out. This continuity of rejection was not new to her, and she set out to find herself a job in her selected field. Dolly heard of a registered nurse, Mrs Peterson, who provided and organized home care, and was looking for a physical therapist. Dolly went to see Mrs. Peterson, and was hired on the spot! This working relationship lasted for ten years. Her funtion consisted of going into private homes to provided physical therapy. She said: " No one ever said anything about her color, if they were surprised to see a Black therapist, they never mentioned it to me! " Eventually, she worked in Mass General in Boston, She persevered, and obtained her goal.
Dolly and her husband welcome two children, a daughter Carole, and six years later, a son Mark. It was while she was pregnant with Mark, that she faced the greatest episode of discontinuity she had ever known. She said: " At first, I noticed that my legs were wobbly, I didn't know what could have been wrong with me. Finally, it was Mrs. Peterson, who thought that maybe something was seriously wrong." Dolly went to several doctors before a final diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis was made. I asked her how she felt about this news, she said: " I was sad, but, there wasn't anything I could do about it, so I just accepted it." By the time her son was six year old, she was confined to a wheelchair. She continued to live at home, help coming in to assist her in the activities of daily living. She said as time progressed, she noticed a change in her husband, that, " he developed a condition that ran in the family, high blood pressure." She said it affected his thinking, and things got hard for her then. He suffered a stroke, and althildren, she listens to the radio and tough he recovered from it, things were different. Drinking became a problem with her husband but he contuned to provide for the family and take care of his family. Dolly was overall happy and continued to be interested in her children, and felt that she served a purpose just by being there, even if she was unable to directly care for them. She was their mother.
In 1976, at the age of 49, Dolly's husband died, and it was decided that Dolly would enter a chronic disease hospital, Saint Camillus in Whitinsville. This little rural hospital was a far cry from the acute care settings of the big cities. I asked her how she felt coming into an institution, and being forced to leave all the things she had acquired over the course of her life, not to mention her two children. Mark at this time was approximately 16 or 17 years old, and in need of a mother. She said: " I was very happy in my apartment, and I was uprooted. I was sad and scared, but it was something I had to do, so I did." The discontinuity of leaving everything she had worked for, the loss of her husband, and her home were upheavels she could not have imagined, and yet she continued to face this new course of events with the same tenacity with which she faced so many other situations in her life.
Dolly saw many of events in her life, as being challenges and learning experiences. She chose routes that were unconventional and sonetimes traumatic, and still she continued to move forward in her life. She insisted that people accept her for what she was, a human being who had something to offer to others and to the world. I asked her if anything positive had come out of her illness, she said she like to think so, she said that while it made her unhappy, she never stopped being a human being, and in itself was enough. She said she never thinks about dying, she is too busy living. She has her children and grandchildren, she listen to the radio and television, and has very articulate and define ideas about what is happening in the world.
She has political views and is making plans as to who she will vote for in the upcoming elections. Dolly, although she is unable to move any part of her body other thatn her head, is an active member of the facilities' newspaper. She writes stories and opens verse poetry in her head, which she dictates to a scribner for publication. She takes great comfort from the ecumenical services that are held in our facility daily, and she attends Mass, even though her religion is listed as Baptist. She says God is very important in her life, and she has relied upon him for her strength. She said her past and her present life have been happy, and would not have changed a thing.
One of the most important question I asked her, for me, was; ' If there was just one thing you could tell me about growing older, that you thought it was important for me to know, what would that be?' She answered: " Just grab onto God. And just that there's a reason for your being here." She said: " I think that's what has gotten me through all this." I found those simple words to have a profound meaning. It may not be the same for all of us, God, may not be the answer, but what I think Dolly meant was hold onto something, and have the courage to face what comes you way.
So, the continuity of Dolly's life continues, in the positive manner in which she faces the remaining years of her life, that reflects the courage she displayed as a an only Black child on an all white school; and as a young Black women trying to gain an education to better her situation. The determination that kept her trying for a job after being rejected from places because of her color. The discontinuity that entered her life, with the advent of a debilitating disease, and yet she managed to weave this into the tapestry of her life. The themes of Dolly's life were perserance, education, acceptance, family, religion and God. And the message she gave to me was: " Even if you encounter disappointment, or rejection, or even failure, there is always tomorrow, and a reason why you were chosen to live this particular life."
Dolly past away August 5, 1994
Her Granchildren are as follows