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Childhood and tensions between the two sides of the family


Family background
Donald Hall Poet
Comments (1) Please sign in or register to add comments
Susan Bisiewicz
Sunday, 21 January 2018 01:19 AM
Thank you for sharing pieces of your heart.

This house where we're talking is a very old family house. The house itself was built originally in 1803, on an ox track and my great grandparents moved here in 1865, same family has lived here ever since. I've been here full time for the last 30 years. It's a big old farm house in New Hampshire, very cold in the winter, in the very beautiful country... nice hills around. My great grandfather moved here. He was a sheep farmer who had a farm way up in the hills about five miles from here and I figure that he... sheep farmers in general made a lot of money from the war, and at the end of the Civil War he bought this valley farm with a little more flat land, and my grandmother was born here in 1878, and my mother in 1903, and I was not born here, but I chose it. I chose this place. But my mother went to college, went to Bates College in Maine, and there she met my father who was from Connecticut, from a little town becoming a suburb, and his father had a dairy business, home delivery of milk and so on, and my father was the eldest of two sons of a self-made man. My grandfather down there - Henry - had gone to the fifth grade and worked with his hands all his life until he began to hire people to help deliver milk, and it grew and it grew to be quite prosperous. He was a self-made man. He was a hard man and he was a difficult father, especially for his eldest son. When my father and mother got out of Bates, she from... this society, which was long dresses and church twice a day on Sunday, and sometimes three times a day with Christian Endeavour at night, and a very kind of Calvinist society... when she went to Bates college, which is a little college, a good one, in Lewiston, Maine, she went to the big city, which of course is not a big city, but there was nothing around here.  And she met the man from Connecticut, and they fell in love. Well, he did not want to work for his father. He had a job, if he wanted, in the family business. He didn't want to do it. After graduation, they both taught separately for two years. She made a $1000, and he made a $1000, and they could not get married in 1925, which is when they graduated, at that amount of money, and after two years, they gave up. My grandfather took... my father took the job with his father, dreading to do it because he wanted to get married so much, and I was born a year later in suburban Connecticut, and I grew up there. I spent all the school year down there in Connecticut in a... in the '30s and the '40s when the neighborhoods were pretty... pretty conventional... they had their own conventions. The... our neighborhood was six room houses and with one... one car to a house and people tended to make similar incomes in the... in that neighborhood. It was middle class... middle, middle class. There was an avenue up a block from my house, on the other side of it... the people with more money, which in America we would call upper middle class, but not in England, you just had a little more money. Class was almost entirely a matter of income and education. Having gone to college in the '20s, and making what would seem like a ridiculously low amount of money now because the dollar's totally different, but he worked for his father. We lived in a series of rented houses down there, and then my parents finally bought a house in 1936 when I was eight and moved into it, and my mother turned 90 in that house and my father died relatively young. He died at 52, and he was an unhappy and thwarted man. He was very kind, very soft. He wept a great deal. I always thought it was a great gift to have a father who wept in your presence. I was an only child and one of the family myths when, I believe it's true, is that when I was a baby in the crib, he came home frustrated from working at the dairy, where he was pushed around and belittled and people were sarcastic to him. He could never do anything quite right. He came home at lunch and shook his fist over my cradle saying, 'He's going to do what he wants to do'.  And it turned out to be poetry. And even when it turned out to be poetry, he stood by it, and helped me, and they were supportive. I was the only child. I was the only grandchild, and so all the focus of the family, both in the Hampshire side and the Connecticut side, was focused on me.

The 14th US Poet Laureate Donald Hall (1928-2018) was educated at Phillips Exeter Academy, then earned a bachelor's degree from Harvard in 1951 and a BLitt, from Oxford in 1953. He published many essays and anthologies of both poetry and prose including String too Short to be Saved: Recollections of Summers on a New England Farm, White Apples and the Taste of Stone, Without: Poems, and Ox-Cart Man, a children's book which won the Caldecott Medal. Hall was editor of the magazine Oxford Poetry, literary editor of Isis, editor of New Poems, and poetry editor of The Paris Review. He won many awards, including two Guggenheim Fellowships and a Robert Frost Medal. At the end of his first Oxford year, he also won the university's Newdigate Prize, awarded for his poem Exile.

Listeners: Kendel Currier

Kendel Currier started working for Donald Hall in August of 1994 as his correspondence typist. Later she took on his manuscript typing as well, and in October of 1998 moved 100 meters down the road from Donald and became his personal assistant, adding many various new tasks to her work. As well as working for Donald for the last 10 and-a-half years, Donald Hall and Kendel Currier share a set of great (or for Kendel great-great) grandparents, making them distant cousins and part of a similar New Hampshire heritage.

Tags: New Hampshire, Civil War, Bates College, Maine, Connecticut, Lewiston, America, England

Duration: 5 minutes, 33 seconds

Date story recorded: January 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008