SEEKING SAFETY IN MAINE
Robert was awarded a PhD in political science from Columbia University, early 1960. The shower of job offers he had counted on didn't happen—perhaps we needed to do a rain dance! Eventually he gathered enough courage to inquire about vacancies from his professor at Columbia. Dr. Hazard mentioned casually that yes, there was a temporary opening at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, was Robert possibly interested? So Maine it was, at least for the school year 1961-62. We shopped for a more spacious car for the upcoming move and, despite my eye-rolling, Robert traded the Plymouth for a decrepit Nash station wagon that would run like a balky mule in the Maine winter.
Deborah's 24th birthday, August 196l, with Larry and family. Laurence on right, Elizabeth on 2nd row left
Meanwhile, our second baby was due in June. We initially planned to relocate after her arrival. However, those were the days of basement shelters and attack drills in schools. Upon the Bay of Pigs fiasco in April, Robert panicked, and in two days of frantic activity we listed the house, packed up everything we owned, called the movers, and drove off for Lewiston in search of safety. Instead of an antique chair, this time I shared the front seat with two-year-old Laura perched on my 8-month-pregnant lap, no car seat or seat belts. Our empty house sold within days for the same price we'd paid for it, $14,000.
Laura age 2
Housing in Maine worked out very nicely that year. After a few days in a motel, we moved into the house on Labbe Avenue, subleased from the professor whom Robert was replacing. The house came furnished with everything we could possibly need, furniture and appliances, dishes and bedding. Picture an old farm house on a large lot on the edge of town framed with whispering pine trees, with a view stretching out to the next mountain range. A hundred-foot driveway on a curving slope would turn out less than charming in winter.
Labbe Ave. house
Carol was born in Lewiston, June 2, 1961, during an early morning thunderstorm, after bumbling by us and a botched delivery by the hospital. In the morning of June 1, Robert saw me in the living room, watch in hand, timing contractions. Next thing I knew, he descended from our upstairs bedroom, my packed suitcase in hand. I figured he must know better—what do I know, I'm just a woman—and we left for the hospital. When they checked me in, contractions had stopped, and the Demerol they immediately administered did not help a bit. I spent several hours in a nightmarish twilight state, unable to move, guilty that I had checked in before I should have, guilty that they would charge us for another day. Eventually they called Robert to take me home.
Carol and Laura, April 1962
Around midnight, labor began in earnest, but this time I wasn't about to check in prematurely. I waited until I was absolutely certain before waking Robert. He whisked me to the hospital and headed back home. After an exam, nurses stood around the foot of the bed: “She was here in the afternoon, she wasn't in labor, and now she's back, and still not dilated!” Besides being terribly rude, this was discouraging to hear—after all, I'd been in labor for four hours already. They must not have known what to look for, because soon my water broke and I went into a strong second stage. Now nurses stood en masse around the foot of the bed, hollering at me not to push, holding back the crowning head with a towel. I only realized what was happening when they told me, “The doctor is here, you can push now.” So Carol had to wait in cramped quarters for the MD to do the honors.
The infamous driveway
Maine is as lovely in the brief summer as it is challenging in winter. The first snow arrived in October. The ancient oil furnace burned without pause, but still, ice grew on the inside of the walls. Probably due to our attempts to maintain humidity in the overheated air, the floor boards in the dining room swelled and buckled some six inches. We got used to the obstacle course, but visitors exclaimed at the unusual sight. We also had our very own car trap. The house was last on Labbe Avenue. The street dropped steeply, linking up with the main road a couple of miles away. On the map it was a tempting shortcut, except that in winter the snowplow stopped just below our driveway, leaving the rest of the road unplowed. Cars that ventured past our house got stuck on a slippery downhill grade with a mountain of snow blocking the road. One time we'd changed into our PJs, after an evening of entertaining, when we heard the now-familiar whine of spinning wheels. One of our guests was mired on the slope. The last thing you want to do after an evening of wine and rich food is to shovel snow and put on tire chains, but Robert threw on overcoat and boots and helped him dig out his car.
During our first summer in Lewiston, before classes began at Bates, with time to burn and anxiety egging him on, Robert dug himself a poor man's nuclear shelter, a manhole in the yard. Maine soil was fairly porous and soft, unlike the brick-like adobe we would find in California, and the work went fairly easily, not that I stood around watching. Robert soon dug down so far that his head disappeared below the rim. We didn't discuss what good it would do when the bombs started raining down—stand up in the hole? The neighbors watched the activitiy next door with incredulity. I overheard one of their children: “My mom says that Dr. Wesson is a political science professor so he knows what he is doing.” The hole filled with snow during the winter, or he may have covered it with boards. We used it as a dump in the spring. Robert topped up the trash with fresh dirt before we left for England in early summer 1962.