An Oral History by Heather Bilodeau
Commissioned by The Camden Public Library
Edited from an Interview Conducted by Ellen Dyer at the Schipper Home in Camden on May 22, 2001
Frances Alexander c. 1926
It was a great pleasure to work on this narrative, which is drawn from a one-hour interview with Mrs. Frances Schipper on May 22, 2001. Ellen Dyer, the former archivist at the Camden Public Library, conducted the interview in Mrs. Schipper’s home in Camden. She was assisted by Barbara Dyer, who is an expert in Camden history and a lifelong friend of Mrs. Schipper.
The Camden that Mrs. Schipper speaks of was a smaller town then, and though it has seen many changes through the years the quiet, graceful qualities of a close-knit coastal village have remained. Mrs. Schipper is a wonderful storyteller, and her tales bring a piece of Camden history alive once more. These are all her words, though I have rearranged the paragraphs for continuity and edited where needed for clarity.
Preservation of the town’s history through the stories of its residents is a vital component of the mission of the Camden Public Library, and this work could not have been done without the generous support of the Cawley Family Foundation.
I was born in 1908 on Willow Street in the house that my father had built, and my sister Ruth was born there. Ruth died last year at 93, and I am 93. I just had my birthday.
The Alexander sisters at home in Camden
Clockwise from left top:
Celia, Emily, Frances, and Ruth
Photo courtesy of Frances Schipper
We moved to Pearl Street after my grandfather died. He had built that larger house on Pearl Street because the family had grown considerably. We were 4 kids then, and my grandfather James Alexander lived with us too, so we moved up there where there was more room. It was a 10-room house. I don’t remember anything really about living on Willow Street, but I remember playing in the street. We could also play in the street anywhere on Pearl Street because there weren’t very many cars then, you know. At night after supper I remember all the kids in the neighborhood used go out and play tag. There were big trees that were all around there. We had a wonderful time!
In the winter we usually did all kinds of things. We went snowshoeing and sliding. We could slide from our house down to Free Street and walk over Free Street and down Mechanic Street or down Elm Street, and we could go down to the Camden National Bank from our house by walking just a little bit. They used to block off Chestnut Street from any traffic so that the kids could slide on it. We could start on a sled or something from Limerock Street and go down around the corner to Bayview Street. That was fun! Of course we weren’t allowed to do it, but we did it!
Photo of snow roller
Courtesy of Gorham Historical Society
They didn’t sand the roads then, you know, they just sort of rolled them down or something, so sliding was good. They had a big wooden roller they hauled with horses, and it flattened down the snow.
Oh, it was fun! We used to go skiing, too. We skied anywhere around we could, but mostly we went up on Marshall Hill on John Street. That was pretty good because that was quite steep and there were always big crowds there. We used to skate up on the bog that was off of Park Street, and we used to go punging – everybody had horses then.
I remember when the [Bay View House] hotel burned down on the Village Green. I don’t remember too much after that though. I remember when they used to launch the ships over on Sea Street. I wasn’t allowed to go over there, but I did go over once and got punished for it because I was just a little kid. Kids weren’t allowed to hang around downtown. It wasn’t considered nice. Jim Maloney’s rum shop was down behind what is now Cappy’s Chowder House. We weren’t allowed to turn our heads going by!
I went to the Elm Street School. My mother went to the Elm Street School, and all my three sisters went there. When my mother went there, Mr. Wilbur was the school teacher there or the principal or something. They called him “Pick.” She went to him, anyway, and I think my older sisters went there as far as the ninth grade. They all went through the ninth grade and then later when I was teaching they abolished the term “ninth” and they had “freshman” and “senior.” I don’t remember when the Camden High School was built. That was before I was born, but my sister Celia graduated from there in 1916.
Ellen Dyer: You would have started Elm Street School about 1913 then?
Frances Schipper: Well, yes, probably. Five years, yeah. I went through the sixth grade there, and by that time they were having the seventh grade up at the high school, seventh and eighth grade at the high school, and then I went to Camden High School.
I went to Farmington Normal School and came home. Mr. Charles Lord was superintendent then, and he went to my father and asked him if I had a position yet, that he wanted to hire me because there was an opening up at the brick school then, the Mary Taylor School. So I taught one year up there, and the rest of the time I guess Doris Frye or somebody had retired or gone on a vacation, and the third grade down at the Elm Street School was available. That was the grade that I wanted to teach anyway, so I was there for 9 years!
ED: Do you remember the other teachers you were working with?
FS: Oh yes. Dorothy Walsh was doing kindergarten. Louise Dyer was first grade, Minnie Oliver was the second grade, I was the third, Lucine Arau was the fourth. Who was fifth?
Barbara Dyer: Nettie Knight.
FS: She was principal. Nettie Knight was principal.
BD: Yes, fifth grade and principal. Ethel Staples was sixth.
I started at 8:15 and we went until 3:15. We didn’t have a play yard then. The kids used to go out and bat each other around and fight and play games. I was always fixing eyebrows and skinned knees. They didn’t have any equipment there at that time; that came after I moved away from Camden. I think at one time they had a swing from one of the trees, and they used to fight over that, but they played and they ran around and hit each other – had a good time anyway. We used to have to take turns being on the playground at recess time. We had a recess in the middle of the morning and the middle of the afternoon. It was pretty cold standing out there sometimes!
Much to Miss Knight’s chagrin, on a hot day when it wasn’t too pleasant I used to take my kids out and have reading and spelling under a tree, and she complained bitterly to Mr. Lord about it because she couldn’t do it. Mr. Lord said, “You leave Frances alone. She’s doing just what I want her to do!” So that was that. Whenever the kids were restless I’d say, “Take your little chairs and we’ll go out and under the tree.” There was a tree on Pleasant Street, so we sat under the tree, had lessons enough for an hour or so and then we’d go ahead and go back in the school.
Usually about 3 o’clock the kids were pretty restless so I’d read to them all or I’d have one of the kids read. George Tibbetts was one of my favorite ones to read because he read like a professor, and Philip Pendleton was also a beautiful reader. Philip was like a little angel. Oh, he was the cutest little thing, fat and cute! The kids called me Miss Frances at that time because I knew so many of them that it would be hard to say Miss Alexander, so they called me Miss Frances, and that Miss Knight didn’t like either. She thought that was being too familiar, but I didn’t mind it and Mr. Lord didn’t mind it. So Philip used to come up sometimes to the desk, and he’d raise his hand of course and come out to the desk, and he’d say, “Miss Frances, would you like me to read to the children?” The kids loved to have him read. He read so beautifully.
I had some good readers! I don’t know if the kids can read now, but in those days we put out some good readers – real good – because we had phonics and we had exercises in reading and everything. About the time I stopped teaching they brought in a new method of reading, which was picture reading, and none of the kids could spell afterwards and they couldn’t read worth a darn. I’d told Mr. Lord at that time they were making a very big mistake. Kids need phonics, and they need exercises in reading. He said, “Well, we’re gonna try it anyway.” So for a long time, you know, there were things written about why Johnny couldn’t read, and that’s why he couldn’t read. They raised some poor readers, and they couldn’t spell either.
ED: So what other subjects did you teach besides reading?
FS: Oh, there was reading, writing, and arithmetic, and English. We had music and drawing. I can’t remember anything else. I used to exercise them a lot, in-you know, holding up flash cards, and- Oh yes! Penmanship! We had penmanship and drawing, and old Miss Cleveland used to teach drawing. She was a wonderful, colorful character! And then after that there were several different people who came and taught drawing.
Mrs. Tibbetts, old Dr. Tibbetts’ wife, used to teach music, and she was beautiful. She looked like a fashion model. She was beautiful to look at, and she always wore beautiful clothes and the kids loved her. At that time we used to have an exhibition at the Opera House. We’d put up wires and put up their papers, and of course we’d saved all the ones with stars on them and put those up! Then in the evening we had, not a pageant, but something like that usually. When I was growing up we had this too and I was nearly always the queen, with a stick that was painted gold and a star on the top and a crown! Ruth was for a little while before she graduated from high school.
ED: And Ruth was your sister?
FS: My sister, yes. She was always paired with Doris Firth who was a redhead too. Ruth was a redhead, and they were cute together. They used to do little dances and singing and everything, so I grew up singing and dancing at the Opera House! And even after-after I graduated from high school, I used to be in the shows there. The Lion’s Club usually put on a show and had singing and dancing. I’ve danced my life away!
ED: So you mentioned that there were teachers that came in to teach music and to teach drawing? So you were responsible for everything else?
FS: Oh, oh yes. I had to teach singing and I can’t read music but I can do the do-re-mi!
While I was teaching I was very much interested in the Congregational Church, and I sang in the choir there, and I directed the young peoples’ choir. I was active in almost everything that they did. I was very, very friendly with Mr. Witham and his wife. He was the minister, and I had two of their children in school.
I had some very interesting people in school – George Tibbetts, Jackie Williams, Aubrey Young, Ken Dickey. I didn’t have Barbara [Dyer] and her family because they moved up to the other building, but I had some wonderful kids. I remember I wrote a column when they were thinking at first of tearing down the Elm Street School. I wrote a very irate letter to the Camden Herald and told them what I thought of it, and I said I felt that they should put the school on the National Register.
My father Frank had an orchestra called Alexander’s Ragtime Orchestra. I never did dance to his orchestra because he didn’t play after I was old enough. My sister Celia used to play for him, played the piano for him and his orchestra quite often. She played very well.
He was a blacksmith, a ship’s blacksmith. He used to make anchors and all that, and he had his shop down where the public landing is now. At one time he worked on the largest anchor that had ever been made. My great-uncle Ezekiel was the first steamship operator on the West Coast! Usually my father had a helper, but he did most of it himself, and then at night he played in his orchestra. Sometimes he had five people, sometimes seven, and at one time he told my husband that he had 31 engagements in the month of August one year. That means he worked 10 hours in the blacksmith shop and then he played music.
Alexander’s Ragtime Orchestra
(Frank Alexander in middle with clarinet)
Photo courtesy of Frances Schipper
He could play anything. He was a clarinetist; saxophone hadn’t come in then. That came in about the time he retired from doing music. He was a very fine musician, and he organized the band in town and bought the uniforms and the music and everything. I remember those big sheets of music used to come from Ditson’s in Boston, and at that time there was a little bandstand down between, well, the end of Mechanic Street that comes out Elm Street, you know, Arey Hill square there, and they had the bandstand down there. That’s where they used to play.
ED: How often would they play?
FS: Oh, probably every Sunday, I don’t know-whenever they could. They played and passed the hat around! That was the current thing to do.
My mother taught us how to dance. She was a beautiful dancer, and she taught all of us girls in the kitchen. We had a Victrola that we used to play, and she saw to it that we danced. Oh, and also, on Saturday afternoon, Ruth and I used to go down on Willow Street to the place next to where we were born. They had extended the ell of the house and made a little dance hall and everyone went! Oh, everyone went dancing down at Silas Heal’s! He had a hurdy-gurdy and used to wind it. Every once in a while it would stall and squeal, but we had a good time. After a while it stalled and squealed so much that he had it electrified. On Saturday afternoon they had square dance lessons there for the children; I think we paid 50 cents. Silas Heal’s wife and his daughter used to teach us, so we learned to do all the old-fashioned dances-the schottische, the one-step, the quadrilles, and waltz quadrilles and all kinds of things. Of course we had to waltz – everybody waltzed then. Old Zip Coon – we used to do that, and the Virginia Reel, and well, we had a rounded education. I used to dance the one-step with Bill Hodson. He’s still alive as a matter of fact. He lived up at 63 Washington for a long time until he became blind and all, but he was a good one-step dancer, and he always chose me. We one-stepped around the hall – I was thrilled to dance with him. He was blond and handsome, and he never danced with anyone else.
It wasn’t a very big hall, but we had a wonderful, wonderful time. We used to dance at the KP Hall too – that’s down where the movie place is now – and the Oddfellows Hall up over the Opera House, and at the Masons, and at-what was the name? The Pythian sisters? What was that organization? I can’t remember.
There were the Rebeccas and the Oddfellows and the Masons. The Masons had a dance usually once a month, and they sometimes had supper or coffee or something. Mr. Calder always made the coffee. He had three daughters who were in my school with me – Elizabeth, Catherine, and Marian. And we used to dance at the Cleveland Hall, you know where that is? Up over where David Dickey was-it was up, way up in that building.
BD: -across from what was the 5 & Dime. There’s a new store there. We went up those stairs on Mechanic Street.
We always had good orchestras. There were a number of good orchestras around here, and everybody danced. That was the thing to do – dancing. And my family were all dancers. We all danced. The Grange Hall – we used to go up there to dance – and the Opera House, of course. Once a year they had the Businessmen’s Ball, which was really lovely. You’ve probably heard about that. All the ladies went in evening dresses, and the men who had tuxedos wore them. Some had cutaway coats and they wore those! It was a very elegant thing, and my father used to play there a lot. The Firemen’s Ball was a big event held the week of February 22nd. Billy Dean had an orchestra afterwards and he filled in after my father didn’t play anymore.
We used to dance at the Oakland Park, you know where Howard Dearborn’s place is down there? They have cabins down there now. That was a big hall, and it was one that they could put the windows up, you know, in the summer, and we would dance there. They only danced in the summer down there because there was no heat. But that was a good thing, and they had one of those shiny balls at the top that used go around. That was fun.
We danced everywhere. We not only danced in Camden, but we went even as far as Monroe and everywhere! Whoever had a car would load it up with the dancers and away we’d go! The girls never went with boys, ever. They always went by themselves and danced with everybody. It was the thing to do and as far as I can remember there was no drinking, ever, and no smoking. There were some good orchestras. There was a nice one from Rockland; Hal Marsh had a beautiful orchestra. In fact, he was one of my father’s players in his orchestra.
You probably don’t know it, but my father was doing drills for the quarry in his blacksmith’s shop. He had a contract with the quarries, and he sharpened the drills. The workers were not supposed to use the drills. They were hollow, and they were not supposed to use the drills to tamp the dynamite in, but they did. One time my father was holding a drill – it had been in the fire and it was red hot and he was striking it. When he struck it, it blew his hand off. That’s why he didn’t have an orchestra anymore, or do blacksmithing anymore. He became the town tax collector then, and he was tax collector for 27 years.
I think the accident happened in 1922. I remember that I was a sophomore in high school, and someone came running up Knowlton Street hill and said, “Frank Alexander’s been killed!” And I took off and ran home as fast as I could run. I didn’t go to school. My mother had heard it and came home from wherever she was, and she said, “Why are you home?” and I said, “I heard Papa was killed.” “No,” she said, “he wasn’t killed but there was an accident and he’s down in the hospital.” That was in Rockland.
I remember that year we had tons and tons of snow, and the sidewalks downtown were like a tunnel, you know, because the snow that was in between was really high. My uncle George heard about this accident, and he came running from up in Millville somewhere just in time. At that time my father had his own blacksmith shop in back of the Opera House, you know, where it’s parking now I guess. He had two men working for him; one was shoeing horses and the other one was doing iron tires for wagon wheels, and my father did the expert work.
Anyway, when the accident happened it blew the nozzle off an acetylene tank, and it blew holes all through the ceiling of the thing and of course threw his arm up in the air, and when it came down there was nothing, you know. So he yelled at the men to help him and they were paralyzed with fear – they couldn’t help him! So he grabbed his arm himself and tried to stop the bleeding and ran up to the corner where there was Chandler’s Drug Store, which is now the photography shop. They couldn’t help him. They just were stunned, you know. It looked terrible! He ran all the way from there up to Dr. Hart’s house, which is now Hartstone Inn.
Dr. Hart had presence of mind enough to put a tourniquet on his arm. I guess he called Central Maine Power Company, and they sent a car up. We had street cars then. The CMP stopped everything and sent it right from Glen Cove while Dr. Hart was bandaging the arm, and they put him on this car and rushed him up. My uncle George arrived and jumped into the car as it was moving. They took my father to Rockland to the hospital and amputated what was left of it.
There was an old man by the name of John Paul who had been the tax collector here for years and years and years, and there were many people who wanted a change. I guess the first selectman came down to the hospital and talked to my father and asked him if he would take the job as tax collector, and he said he would. He was at a loss, you know. He didn’t know what he was going to do with both of his sources of income gone and four people and a father and a wife to support, so as soon as he was able they voted him in. I think it was in January or February that he was hurt. The town meeting came up and the other man was defeated. My father was very well liked, very well liked here in town. They voted him in as tax collector and he was tax collector for 27 years until his retirement.
Elizabeth Ayoube (2nd from left)
with other Brewster Shirt Factory employees
Photo courtesy of Barbara Dyer
Barbara’s mother [Elizabeth Ayoube] came to live with us but I don’t know if she boarded there or not. My father felt that she should have an opportunity to work and not be like a slave to the rest of the people who were in Bangor, the rest of the Syrians. She was just a young girl, so she came and stayed with us and worked in Mr. Brewster’s shirt factory.
with Salim Ayoube c. 1912
Photos courtesy of Barbara Dyer
She was a very pretty girl. She was more like a sister to us than anything. I haven’t any idea how long she lived with us. She sent to Syria for her brother Salim who was in the picture there. (pointing to picture)
Salim Ayoube in front of
the former Alexander family home
on Willow Street
He came over and they each had a store, and they bought the house that I was born in on Willow Street after we moved up to Pearl Street.
ED: Do you have any memories of the Depression?
FS: Vivid! Everyone had a very hard time, very hard.
My father was a marvelous provider. Even with one arm, he had big, big gardens, and my mother canned and worked very hard right by his side. He used to go out in the country and buy half a cow or sheep. He had to build a meat room on the back of the house in the shed. We had plenty to eat, but we didn’t have much of anything else. My mother made all of our clothes. We were poor like everybody else.
I remember when my father put electricity in the house and when he put town water in the house. There already was a sewer, but the sewer was put in this town way back when my mother was young, so we always had had a sewer but we didn’t have town water. We had a well out back. I remember very well when the telephone came.
I think I was away at school when they had the bathroom put in. That’s all I can tell you because I was thrilled when I came home and found they had a bathroom in the house. Before that we had a flush toilet in the cellar, which was where everybody put their flush toilet. My grandfather lived in the room up over the kitchen. My grandfather Alexander was the last Civil War veteran that lived in town. He also had the Boston Post Cane for a time because he was the oldest citizen. The ell of the house was the kitchen and a pantry, and my grandfather had the upstairs, and of course we had to go out back to the bathroom, out in back of the barn.
We always had cows and pigs and chickens, even though it was right in town. There were no zoning laws in those days. My father was brought up on a farm, and he felt that it was important to have good milk for the kids, and eggs, and we had two pigs usually every year and killed one in the fall. I can remember going out in the meat room. In the blacksmith shop he made big hooks, you know, all the way across this area, and I remember all those carcasses hanging up there. We had plenty to eat. My mother used to make sausage and cottage cheese and butter and everything. I had a nice life. It was a nice life – good parents and we were well provided for. Warm, we were always warm. I remember when we had stoves in the house and when the first furnace was put in, of course. It was in the cellar with a big grille in the hallway and I used to go stand over that when I was cold. He had hot water heat put in later. I can’t remember when that was either, but my memory is faulty sometimes.
ED: Do you remember any of the businesses where your parents would go, where your family bought groceries, if at all?
FS: Oh, my goodness! It was wonderful! Camden used to be wonderful, but now it’s all t-shirt places and art exhibits and all that. It’s not the same, not the same. We bought our groceries very often at Carleton Pascal’s, which is now (pauses)-
ED: French & Brawn, isn’t it?
We bought our coal from Willey’s and from George Thomas and our oil after we had oil put in the house. My mother and my father provided food a lot, so we didn’t have to do an awful lot of shopping outside. My mother always sewed all of our clothes, even sewed things for my father. We were pretty self-sufficient, and I guess I learned that from my mother. I’m pretty self-sufficient too.
ED: How did you meet your husband?
FS: Well, now there’s another story. Jake Crockett used be a landscape architect here, and his wife was Isabel Edwards, and she taught sixth grade up at the other building, up at Mary Taylor school. And I had-I had rented a little house up on Limerock Street-and I was staying by myself. And Jake was an old friend of mine – I used to dance with him a lot. And he called up one night and I was engaged to another man.
Jake called up and he said, “You true blue?” and I said, “Yes I am. What do you have to offer?” He said, “Well, I have a young engineer staying here and we’d like to go up to Belfast and get a hamburger. Do you want to go?” I said, “Yes, I’ll go.” I was always ready to go. So I went, and I met Fred [Schipper]. Fred was the engineer who was staying there and he was building a girls’ camp up there. Now it belongs to the Episcopalians – Bishop’s Wood or something? Anyway, he was sent here by Hageman Harris to build this fancy girls’ camp up on the Hope Road, and he was staying down at the Belmont Inn and was very unhappy and lonely and everything, so Jake said to come on up and stay with him. So we went up there and that’s when they thought they’d entertain him one night and take him up to Belfast and get a hamburger. There used to be a real good place up there to get a hamburger. So I went! That was in October and in December I flew to New York and broke my engagement and we were married the next April. We were married for 58 years.
ED: So it’s a good thing you went for that hamburger that night.
FS: It was a wonderful thing, wonderful. He was a very, very nice man wasn’t he Barbie?
FS: Best, best, best, best.
I went to the University of Panama for a year and studied Spanish when my husband was working down in Panama just prior to World War II. They expected war of course, and they expected trouble from Japan. So he was sent down there by Hageman Harris of New York, the ones who built Radio City. He built a big, big radio station down there in the jungle and then he built officers’ quarters for the Navy and a big administration building. I came home because my mother was sick, and they wouldn’t let me go back to Panama! The State Department wouldn’t let me go back because there was no housing for wives, and I kept writing to them saying I had an 8-room house down there – please let me go home! I got the same form letter back from the State Department time after time, and finally my husband realized that I couldn’t come back. He was a reserve officer anyway, so he just said he had to go in the Army. War had been declared then, and he came home.
My husband had been in construction work and I said please, don’t go back to it. He was a lieutenant colonel in the war, and I was with him all the time because he wasn’t sent overseas. He was sent to Ohio, and he became area engineer there in Marion, Ohio. There was a big, big munitions factory there, and he was their area engineer. That means he was in charge of the whole thing. That closed ultimately, and he was sent down to Cincinnati to the head engineering office for that locality.
He was never dismissed from the service, ever. He just went on pension after he was able to be home. Before that he stayed in the reserves, and he went to Harvard for courses and to several places down in Washington and out to Fort Drum and a lot of other places. He used to go for two weeks in the summer.
We moved to Groton, Massachusetts, and he worked in Boston. He worked for an insurance company there, a big one that you never hear about called Factory Mutual. He was an engineer there, and they insured Boeing aircraft and all the big computer companies and General Electric and General Motors and all the things you never hear about. That company was a big, big company.
When we lived in Groton, I wanted to do something. I’ve always done things with my hands and I thought I’d like to learn to paint. There was a woman in the neighborhood who was a very fine painter and sometimes she gave lessons, so I went to her and took some lessons. From then on I painted all the time. I’m still doing little things.
FS: I didn’t do that. (pointing to paintings)
ED: That’s the picture of your house.
FS: That was my house, but a very famous artist did that who was a friend of ours, and I hooked a rug for him. It was kind of a Yankee swap.
I first painted in oil, and then when we moved to Florida I took lessons in acrylic, and those are all acrylics there. (pointing to pictures on wall) I was very prolific! I painted and painted and painted. I had paintings in back of the sofa and under the chairs and everywhere. I just tired my family and friends out giving them paintings I guess. So then I didn’t feel like having the mess around anymore so I just do watercolors now. I do greeting cards now too. Once in a while I feel like doing something so I paint a little bit, but always watercolors now, which I didn’t take lessons in. I just kind of learned it.
I do all kinds of handiwork. At one time I taught cake decorating, and I was having shows all the time. I had about 24 pupils a week, and American Home magazine heard about me. I was living in Sudbury in that house then, and they called and asked me to come down to New York and do some cakes for them in their kitchen. I said I wouldn’t go unless my husband could go with me, so they said yes and I went. I did two articles for the magazine for them. When that was over I said no more! No more anything! They wanted me to go on TV and I said no way, no way, don’t want it anymore. So I stopped cake decorating. It was too much, too much. Too hard working in that kitchen with the great big klieg lights, you know, that they have in the movies and everything. Oh, goodness. No more! So that ended my cake decorating career. I gave away all my equipment and everything. Now I just do little things like embroidering and greeting cards.
It was a very sad time. I was married for 58 years, and my husband was an engineer so I went with him everywhere. We lived in Sudbury, Massachusetts in that house for 30 years. He built it himself and it was beautiful. After he retired we went to Florida and we were down there almost 20 years. I began having heart trouble and things like that, old lady stuff, so we moved farther north in Florida to avoid the pollution that was in Ft. Lauderdale because I was on oxygen at that time. We came up here and stayed summers for quite a while, but then we went to Concord, New Hampshire and went into a retirement home. We were in a retirement home in Florida for quite a while, and then we went to Concord, New Hampshire and that’s when my husband became sick.
He died of leukemia almost 5 years ago, and it was very bad. He was sick for two years and I was a basket case. We stayed in Concord because the Hitchcock Lahey clinic was there and they were treating him. There wasn’t very much they could do to him except give him blood. After two years he died and that’s when I became a basket case. I was really in bad shape. My nephew Brian Smith came up and said, “You can’t stay here.” Oh, it was awful, and my nephew came up and he said, “Come home.”
The Alexander sisters:
Emily, Ruth, Frances, and Celia
Photo courtesy of Frances Schipper
Well, I came home and my kids [her students]-I must have done something right when I was teaching because my kids are wonderful, wonderful to me. We adopted a boy -I didn’t tell you that. We adopted a boy, and he was 21 when we adopted him. He was a friend of ours and we both liked him very, very much, and we had tried to adopt children before but it wasn’t possible. I was too old for one thing. So I came home and Muriel, bless her dear heart, arranged a breakfast down at the Spinnaker with several of my students. She thought it was such a good idea that she had another one the next week, and then on and on! That was a pretty big group. We’d meet every Sunday and have breakfast together – many of my kids and their friends who have joined the group. I’ve met so many, many lovely friends here. I guess I survived. I guess I must be a survivor, but I don’t think I would have if I’d stayed in Concord.
BD: And she still dances-
ED: (laughs) You’re still dancing!
FS: Every chance I get! If anybody drives in the yard and wants me to do anything I have my hat on ready to go! (laughs) Well, that’s the story of my life.