Doris Chesson and Camille Gendell

Recorded November 2, 2009 Archived November 2, 2009 34:18 minutes
0:00 / 0:00
Id: MBX006023


Camille Gendell (67) interviews her mother Doris Chesson (92) about her life in Norfolk.

Subject Log / Time Code

Doris remembers growing up in Berkeley with a family called the Knights.
Doris remembers the day Kennedy was shot. She was working at the shipyard.
Doris remembers how Norfolk used to have a lot of parties when men went away and came back. She remembers dancing. She remembers the women as being independent, with no need for men.
Doris remembers saving for Camille’s college tuition.
Doris talks about rehanneling her life energy to meet her passing age and abilities: she has gone from bowling to bridge, from volunteering at hospitals to volunteering in nursing homes. She recreates herself.
Doris remembers finding her husband dead in bed. She never wanted to date again after he died.


  • Doris Chesson
  • Camille Gendell


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00:04 My name is Camille gandell and I'm 67. Today is November 2nd 2009 and I'm recording in Norfolk Virginia at with my mom. Who is this person?

00:19 And she's held you Mom. I'm an E2 to do try to always celebrate before you.

00:35 Anyway, the reason that I dragged you out here today, it's because I've been listening to storycorps for so long and I like toys like to say that we are both only children and where people who live in the present and so all my life. We're just spending our time enjoying each day and but I discovered I really discovered up with biggie who is your mother when we were taken care of her. I discovered that she didn't have any she couldn't discuss current things with me because she had a short term memory loss you of course don't have that but it made me realize that I had to discuss something with her that she knew and then it opened up a treasure Trove of what used to happen that I didn't know anything about even though I she died at 98. I've known her all my life and I didn't know so then recently with different events I realized

01:35 Grown-up studying history by unfortunately the date method but I realized that you had lived it. So for example the first time I realized something about history as when some movie came on the TV about that 5-day Holocaust thing and I was shocked and I called you up and said how could how could you let this build that all of your generation? And you said what makes you think we knew about it? So it was that that I realized that I had missed asking you so many things that you knew so today out. That's it. So whatever was wondering now as I know you lived during the Depression and I'd like you to tell us about when you worked at the is your telephone operator and about the clothes and that kind of thing in the food and how why you were glad I was

02:35 For a particular reason that you have told me about the the rationing function first because you were born because I tried so hard to have a child and I was really happy when I finally got pregnant and that was you were born just for that reason particularly and then I wanted more children, but I never had any more children. So that was fun. We were you were sufficient was fine. But then you told me that there was a happy byproduct of it in terms of the food that wasn't available to you. Yes. That was great. I will well

03:32 Come back to that little bit. I want to tell you if I'm going to tell you something. I should tell you a little bit about my childhood.

03:42 Innovate me to

03:45 My parents moved here when I was only six months old so I knew nothing about this.

03:54 In the area

03:56 And

03:59 I grew up in Berkeley and for five years. We lived with a family call nights.

04:09 And

04:11 I understand that the funniest thing they laughed at me about as far as me as a child.

04:20 Was

04:22 They had we lived in three rooms upstairs and there was a

04:26 Steps going down and they had a daughter that was three years older than I was her name was Mary Roberts.

04:36 And she was just old enough to particular tease me.

04:42 So she played dead. So when she played dead under the steps that led up to my house and I couldn't get her awake. They said they had to come in here because she started screaming because I was I was standing over her and had better and told her you'd be dead and if you're not not so that was my real youngest child. Are you always were a bit feisty always took care of myself. I'm still taking care of that person may be the next incident that was impressive to me was when Lindbergh landed.

05:29 In the plane and head cross the ocean.

05:33 And I was just walking with some friends and don't know who at all but someone had a wireless.

05:42 Set in their home big nice home. How old do you think you were?

05:51 8 or 9mm like 7-8, you know what I had had had TV use of course or radio or didn't even have radio good then his Pig had a liver twice a day or a little Flyers that extra extra. Did you have last night? These people had something that came from the front door, and they said we just got my wireless.

06:21 That he's landed Lindbergh and has landed and always just ran home telling everybody that he landed but as far as news getting out you'd be lying in bed at night. And we always have had the paper delivered in the morning, but they would hire out to tone.

06:41 Extra extra and all they did was spent one little line or two different of what had happened. And that was the way you got the news that came out that evening. Did you buy it or they gave it out? Everybody bought it but it was only a nickel and a special that line radio. I remember that accepts. It was the first and the men love to see are the fights. So my daddy would take me over to where they were doing the fight having listening sites and it had to exit and then the two men had the headset but every so often

07:26 My daddy was put it on my head so I can hear people talking to so I was always introduced to a lot of anything that came out new or activity, but that was the first I knew of any sort of.

07:41 Sonic serve any anything of listening like that and you and you had victrolas? Oh, yeah, we had did you have to find him up in a crank? I don't know where we got the money but we had this lavish up right but it's that was all the big records and I've got still got some of the big rides a few of the big records and it was wine. You had to wind it up. So we have kept that in the hall in the apartment on you know about on Poplar Avenue. And then after the Lindbergh is that was one of the other questions I was going to ask you later for you've made fun that I well deserve that I was at College when the moon landing came and you had to call and tell me because I lived in a rather insular.

08:41 Atmosphere at a girl's school and we were only paying attention to our daily things. It's so you called it and it would kind of disgusted. I guess a man walked on the moon or something. I have to say the for me the Kennedy being assassinated was the first moment that I can remember where I was and who I was with and and but for you it for you, it's Lindbergh and then what comes after that after letter after Lindbergh? That's your first one and what other plan what I remember about the man on the moon.

09:19 You were quite busy because I was

09:24 In October I think in that area, but I don't know you were in Pittsburgh and I said to go to your oldest child, John.

09:42 I said to Jack and typos just we're walking down the street and I kept pointing out of the Skies is see the months in the month and he says

09:52 There's a man on the moon now.

09:55 John you're not listen to me. There's a man on the night and he says I know that has always been a face in them. Well, I was thinking that I missed something else when I was in college you were disgusting cuz about cuz I didn't have the kids in college. I can remember but it was some major thing of which I should have been aware, but I wasn't but I don't know that part but for you, but Kennedy also being shot you remember where you were is that a big moment or not the same for you is as Lindbergh.

10:28 Yeah, I was.

10:32 I was just working and

10:37 We didn't have I didn't either if wherever I was working. I was working at the shipyard then we didn't have a TV there, but it came out real quick and I remembered Kennedy being shot. But when I think one of them was the

11:01 We had

11:04 The Family Affair we were the dining room table.

11:09 Yeah, I wasn't there because Tony was just commissioned and in the Navy on that day and we were all waiting for a fair and he we had just left Newport Rhode Island and we were going to tell Lehigh for a homecoming Eventbrite and someone in the car next to us edkin said the president was shot and at the end of everything just travel to it just as we were in shock because nothing like that had awful had ever happened to my generation nothing and they were to Rivera and if we are royalty they were Camelot if you will you knowing as seemingly Untouchable and I don't know I'm curious if you agree with this sometimes when I'm subbing in this time in history class and kids will talk about some things and I'll say they also want to know what I know about something about some history thing and I don't know but I know what I feel about it and I will say I think that when we saw

12:09 When we saw the aftermath when was Jack Ruby and and when he came and shot Oswald on television in front of us at 1 on top of me. That was the first that the media took over everything. It was the television happened before our eyes when we were grieving and it happened in that we were and then the rest of us from that was the first time. I remember that we just stayed by our televisions. Unfortunately. It's become a way of life.

12:45 That is that one was one. I was referring to because I had you know, my skates children liar and

12:59 And we were at the dinner check. It was the middle of the day when that sandwich it was a twisted metal is it that was in the day when Kennedy was shot? And it was the next fear and you couldn't imagine it to happen. That's right. And if we saw him go down and I'm sure that was the first time those children had ever seen. What was the first time any of us because we didn't we watch television for things like the Ed Sullivan Show and Howdy Doody butt and the Nightly News was given and for many years after it just has been given a news but not as in drama. And now of course the fact that everybody stopped eating and now we're sending people over to be embedded in troops it to go in Far More is now which and that was one of the other thing is I want to ask you that we jump at around but but but when when the men went off to War and World War II now

13:59 Might have to let my neighbor is go off to war. They're still in contact. The other wives can still email with them and often speak with them on cell phone. You didn't hear from him. And how long would my dick be wet before the x 8 months or a year to even get a letter or any sign that they were and how did was weather check sent home? I knew how much before they they got something themselves, you know, but the cigarettes or something of that sort, but most of the checks were sent home two families. Well, if you weren't married for example, like from a me guess it would be before the mother said she would get the check from the boys from not from John cuz he was married, but from Sam's check you think she got that money.

14:55 She got I think something like $30 more but it was a small amount but it was just something that it was more than he could then he would have needed over there and then you told me recently which I didn't know all these years that Daddy was in the Navy Reserves. I just found out on your birthday and I thought that he was the only one that the three boys that were they can a family of 5, where is you and I are only children are the family of 5 and and so I thought daddy hadn't served not because he didn't want to but I thought it was the the business of if your if my grandmother had sent two sons the third one didn't have to go that was a worse mess because he was when we got married he was in the naval Reserve. He was eight years and he had done for years already and was in probably about his

15:52 This year when I started dating in my life a lot and got to know him and he was going to reserve duty and he went Macy trips. And you said even think your son which is something we can't do now and then I remember you telling me Oh so that just the other night that which I wanted to ask a little bit more you said went because the the women weren't they could still go out to dance. Yes. Here's the saying you had it for the Uso you had all this stuff going because they felt sorry for the poor sailors and soldiers and mainly in Norfolk who were stationed here and here and there would also give parties form.

16:52 At that were going away and it would leaving and all this well.

16:59 Human two sister-in-laws my two sister-in-laws had husbands that were what if it said my husband's to process your dad uncles

17:11 And

17:13 Here I am with a husband who had to work about 12 hours a day. He didn't want to go anywhere or do anything you had to cook dinner dinner at one of the things where you had to push the plug in to connect to call. Oh, yeah. Yeah. Yeah, it took you to trade you for 2 weeks how to get those pushed in and I didn't know it was then when it was two people online to and you either had like eight to nine J. Are you have another letter and that was a but you got your so would your sisters-in-law I asked you to go out with him, but now I didn't go I wanted to kill him because it when I'm Dancin time and even so there was no real money. But but they know they just ate and had somebody was Furnishing this stuff always cuz it was

18:13 It would be like at the Y or they may be churches everywhere. I did it. So then they could go and dance with the Disney Magic cook it and you will see me while they weren't hearing from their husbands for maybe six or eight months just like they were free again. And then when those husbands came back, I mean I see now that was so much a Jasmine I was that's what I was wondering how many of them had gone to work. The women take guns are back to work and they were so independent then to because they played knew how to do everything on their own and they didn't need them to come back and then they they want to just take over again like they had been before you don't know about that part. I mean you don't live with him. I guess I never had to live through that but I didn't have that. I said the same old same old.

19:13 Going on. Oh, yeah, and and did you find them overly sad at the time or you felt that they felt so much it was for the for the good of the war that it was never. Okay. It's like every other thing in life when you know, you can't control it or you know, you just nothing you can do about it. You just might as well forget. I have a live so long that I give it 10 minutes, then it's saying it to you and I tried to text try to do moving violations to say any of it. So I gave it about 10 minutes. If I did nothing, you know, I really give it 10 minutes at all and then move and then move on and as I said, that's what I admire about the fact that you live in the present so much. Are you be a lot happier if you live in the present because you can't you can't change the past and hanging.

20:13 Look back over it and you'll hear some people said if I just done that and if I just done is who's to say that's crazy and you're not a person who doesn't plan a bit for the future because I have meant to say earlier that you are not that you don't have but I keep mentioning say I'm but same as my Uncle Sam is my father's brother and he was Sims the difference between the family gathering at a party. Basically if Sam's there it's a party of it will say I'm dead now, but he lived with his butt but for a round butt for Sam and for you, although it seems like you were able to keep living in the present and not dwelling on anything old right? And it does you no good for you and for your habits to although both of you lived through the depression and you told me that some

21:13 MCI cardboard in your shoes and you have one dress or two dresses or something. And then Samuel course was in the service but still I find that the two of you are the only people who are not overly affected by the depression in terms of of feeling that you have to be to your Thrifty, but not to Thrifty about about everything. How do you think that happen for you and Sam?

21:47 I don't know. I think I wish I grew out to know that you could only ask for one thing could only go to the Little Theater down the street for a quarter and if you got a quarter to go to for the movie and it on Saturday afternoon.

22:07 You didn't I didn't say something told me not to ask for that extra $0.10 for a pet Peppermint Patty. That would have been breaking too much in that sounds like a but you just lived under those conditions, but I think I had that a little a little bit too because I never ever felt poor although you and daddy always work to not not all the other mothers worked. I know that and yet you you arrange that we never felt poor even though I guess you didn't pay every bill every week at your habits have stayed where you like your throat birthday like you still save money, even though you live on Social Security but and which is amazing to me and it but you're not fixated like Claire in that Claire is my husband husband.

23:07 Mother who is now deceased but for Clare who had a great deal of money. She was dominated by the money, but for you who just had you've always made it seem like whatever you had was just right. How much is enough most people want more than enough. It seems they do and that's no that's not going to get you anywhere. You just need a sufficient amount. If you I've never not had enough a few times one of the times was I thought I had off.

23:49 I came home from work everyday so that you could go to college and loan payday and put the money up on the Shelf in a little tent thing. Now you couldn't get in it percentage for it then or out of a problem putting some somewhere in the bank, but I wasn't going to do that cuz I might have snatched it out and eat on it one day or so to get yours leading up to it. But I have a policy that was to take care of your you I thought do you first year you went into school?

24:23 And the second year I was going to supplement it so.

24:31 Come to find out I needed that money the first year you were going to college and not the second year because you had to be a certain age to get over the pain. You were quite prepared for that know, I would choose and let me feel that for never know. I never said it but again and I just come in with my payday and I just put a certain amount to away for that. But when she came home when you came home from college that you tell you maybe remember me to Central saying to you. I don't give a damn what you do with this year. The summer didn't have the whole summer.

25:09 But you got to make $100. You got to work babysitting or doing something. I don't care what and I must say I am so she got a job. She went you went to the babysitting babysitting babysitting while she always was so lucky and she can and she got this this thing came out for Ames and brownie Bliss department store right on Granby Street. They wanted people to model for the song.

25:46 It's a Tearoom. @theshaderoom. Right? That was right down the alley right where it all but she was able to go and she got accepted end. And this was fine because he made her $100 in a heartbeat had a good time and had a good time too. And the rest of the summer she could do what she pleased so she have had that figured at 2. So we're in and what they say. I'm the first person in the family to go to college, but I was the first person to go to college and that you and Daddy although you did very well in your workout career, but that neither of you graduated from high school. I think he said he got kicked out for smoking and didn't go back and I think you told me that you had had a burst appendix and then by the time you were well enough to go back.

26:46 Things weren't the same. Is that right? Is that why you didn't ask that was the part? I had to your dependents and Junior High School and my whole High School class graduation class of the three years later would have been they went on ahead of me and I couldn't go into a February and but I was picking up on that again and I had had all the Latin and all the all the stuff. Well this was

27:14 Not the reason I probably could have I just couldn't see any way that Daddy could have swung anything at that point of money for me for college under buddy who I went to.

27:30 The nursing school over I don't know what I did but I went to I was could get it and if I would take some it was I guess it was physics and and biologists of that y'all could get in on just a high-school and nurse if I bet you didn't go.

27:57 No, because I got job they offered to two jobs. This is how bad it was. They have not hired anybody in 5 years at the telephone company and at the end of Berkeley Office that I went to work in they offered you $11.76 a month a month. I wake up and I wonder if when I was going to do with it, it was so much money so much money. So I went and you know all the time. I thought well, I'll go back and get those last few credits and then they didn't get better. LOL so long long time. Is there a time on this over? I don't know.

28:41 Tell me the okay. So I just wanted to be sure I guess I would just wanted to say I wanted to be sure to say that my mother still lived alone and she drives and still volunteer as for the nursing home and generally helps with a lot of other people. So everybody in the family is extremely happy to share her genes and extremely have a well I ended you do when you have spun things that you can no longer do or use.

29:26 I call it transferable. You have to transfer your interest to something else that you can do.

29:34 So the volunteering soda became a boat from one angle of that because I love the hospital and

29:44 Casaba, what are there 30 years as a messenger and then I'm still volunteering at Sentara nursing center for meeting them at things and helping them with picnic. Can I give him a picnic every year? So in mind so you transferred what are the energy that you had and that you do for one thing? But when I couldn't Bowl anymore, I started learning to Paris Bridge and I for sale for years and years 30 years, I guess a flavor rich. Is it so ironic that you brought this up yourself? Cuz it was one of the things that I've been thinking of and I had a little note to say that the fact that the core of you has always remain the same the core of you but you have always been able to recreate yourself in terms of how you live your life and what you doing. It's not to say

30:44 There's been no adversity. But as you said you give it your 10 minutes and do you think that that resilience comes mostly from with image site before? I quit it? Maybe I'm I feel stronger because I have had to be more or less of their self supporting woman it even to the fact that when my husband left this Earth, I found him dead in bed at at 2 in the morning, but you were strong before and yeah, but I meant then I really had to regroup in a whole new life sprung up around me at that point. But in this is I mean that I certainly enjoyed by my father a lot, but I'm it would be no secret to say that I was happy for you to have that freedom to have the whole new life because his presents kind of dominated things as men.

31:44 Often will do and then once you got over the shock of what had happened then you had to deal with your mother would be for a good bit longer and then when be plenty of asking me was Ted and I was fixing all her dinner. She say why you got to go home and fix dinner now, I haven't you well, that's a genital herpes and know the different said he was gone and here we were but you always kept yourself to a full and do you think that that resilience comes from going through the depression or just something or worn-out? I do or some combination. I always felt like other than maybe you I should come first.

32:30 My life and I still wouldn't let somebody else take it away from me. And when I asked you where I swear, I wouldn't want a date for me forever. I love the devil Gatherings and I love a big crowd and I love to dance and I like good things.

32:50 But I want to live my life the way I want to lend you pass that on to me too, because I feel like I was born happy and I guess I don't know if I was or not. If you say she was and you definitely pass it on to me that I'm going to come for us to not over my children, but my children and grandchildren one thing. I don't know how good it is that they don't have gotten married. But I think the one thing is that we all got so that we could all speaking to each other on the even Keel and on the same level and I know if we want to say go to hell I thought it would only be over my am i coughing at one time that they would all speak to each other pleasantly, but we can finish always hate for a conversation to be

33:50 Suggested I just want to say that I don't know if there's something else special that you want to add after I say, there's no I just want to say that I need to have many people in my life to love and to love a lot and to be well-loved, but there's nobody I admire more than you. Thank you. Thank you.