In the last year of my mother’s life, our hospice angels recommended bringing in photo albums to assist my mother in her “life review.” Some pictures brought a smile, some a short sniff of dismissal. Some elicited a story.
The black-and-white photo was faded—five young women grouped around an old 1934 Ford. Yet the sight of that photo brought a light into my mother’s eyes that I hadn’t seen in months.
My Story of Mom’s Story
In 1939 the five young women in the photo taught at Drew Seminary in Carmel, New York, where the Readers Digest Corporate offices are today. Some of the teachers are more formally listed in the 1939–40 Drew Seminary faculty and staff program as:
Carmel Benson—Math and Chemistry
Agnes Hyatt—Piano Harmony and Organ
The five in the photo were part of a close group of girlfriends calling themselves “The Jolly Five.” The camaraderie of the group was deepened by affectionate nicknames—“Aggie,” “Harvey,” “Moo,” “Itchie,” and “Benny.” It was unusual for a young woman to have a college education in those days, and to be teaching. It was probably unusual for five women to undertake the investment they did in those days too.
Over the years, my mother, Gladys (Itchie), and Carmel (Benny) stayed in touch. The two friends wrote of their careers, children, then retirement, grandchildren, deaths of spouses, and births of great-grandchildren. Gradually their letters included memories and photos of their time together at Drew.
My part in the story
In 2001 I was invited into this intimate correspondence when I began to act as secretary for my eighty-four-year-old mother after she suffered the debilitating stroke that robbed her of writing and some speech abilities. I had heard of Benny over the years as a teacher friend at Drew Seminary where my mother had taught Latin. So I knew part of our correspondence would be to Benny in Massachusetts.
Birthday, Halloween, and Christmas cards came and went for several years. Then one day “Pegasus” arrived. My tiny aging mother reached out a thin and shaky hand to hold the faded photograph. She placed it down on the table where we were sitting. Then she smoothed her worn hand over the photo, back and forth, as if to absorb the memory into her skin.
Back in 1939, Benny had an invitation to teach math and science at Drew Seminary. In September she joined the faculty and soon was part of a happy crew of teachers and students. The little “gang” included five single female teachers.
Benny’s Uncle Ed lived in Brewster, New York, the town next to Carmel, New York. Uncle Ed knew of a good second-hand car available for fifty dollars. So the friends gathered funds and bought it—probably in 1940. They named the car “Pegasus.” Like the Pegasus of Greek mythology, this Pegasus had wings to take the young teachers on weekend adventures.
Benny wrote, “Uncle Ed worked out the paperwork (insurance, etc.) and we had fun driving about shopping in nearby Danbury, Connecticut. A few times some of us drove to my hometown, Dover Plains, just thirty miles away. We parked it on campus in a place that wouldn’t be in the way at Drew. We loved our Pegasus.”
More unusual for me than my mother having a career was the realization that she had had her driver’s license, as did Benny and Moo. They were independent beyond my imaginings about my now shy and mostly quiet mother.
These women continued to be ahead of their time, even financially. They eventually sold Pegasus for seventy-five dollars—making a financial profit to split amongst them.
What car was your Pegasus?
Coming Soon: More Car Talk-Lily
Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. In retirement she writes to inspire, to connect with folks, and for the pure enjoyment of it. Ethel enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Zoom gatherings, and anywhere there’s a Zoom mic.