Shirley Dragoo and Deborah Mattson

Recorded April 13, 2007 Archived April 13, 2007 37:51 minutes
0:00 / 0:00
Id: MBY002640


A woman speaks to her mother about growing up during the Great Depression and World War 2, and becoming an occupational therapist.


  • Shirley Dragoo
  • Deborah Mattson

Recording Location

MobileBooth West


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00:06 I'm Deborah Matteson. I'm 47 years old. Today's date is April 13th 2007 in Bronson Park in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and I'm going to be interviewing my mother.

00:22 I'm sure Lee dragoo. I'm 78 today's date is April 13th 2007. We're in the middle of Kalamazoo, Bronson Park and Michigan. I'm the interviewers mother.

00:41 Mommy parents came from Pennsylvania. They moved to Detroit in the late twenties. Probably thinking they were moving to a a prosperous City and and make a fortune. You were born in 1928 and it's been a year was the stock market crash. So you grew up in Detroit during the Depression. What it what was it? Like then what's it like going to school and living in Detroit during that time?

01:04 It was a very hard time.

01:10 People were out of work standing in line. They were cold. They were hungry. We weren't like those out in the country and times were bad going to school where I lived on the southwest side of Detroit near downtown.

01:33 I remember when I was in the second half of first grade. It was right in the heart of a depression and the boy that sat across from me sideways one day came to school with his little brother who was obviously sick and the teacher asked him why he brought his brother and he said because he was sick and there was no heat at home where his mother was in the baby and she said, I don't think that I'm going to be able to allow you to keep him here with you because he could disturb the classroom and the students and he said I remember he said, oh teacher mama told me not to be sure that make him mind me and he'll be good teacher. He'll sit right here and be quiet and she said well, I'll check into it just the same and the little boy who was sick was very quiet throughout the rest of the day the next

02:33 Morning, there were about six or seven other kids who brought there are younger brother or sister to school and we're sitting in the seat with seats with them and the teacher was dismayed and she said that she had spoken to the principal and she was sorry that she knew it was cold and home and the teach the children the parents send their children to school because the school was warm and it was cold at home. And she said but did after today that they all the younger brothers and sisters would have to stay at home and I can remember I know what cold is and I know what hungry is we weren't as bad off as some families who had five or six children, my mother save her money to get me a pair of boots for the snow and the cold sore boots were put in the coatroom outside the classroom and somebody stole mine and my mother's had their way.

03:33 No way that I could ever get another pair of rubber boots.

03:37 So

03:39 That's the way it what's one of the ways it was.

03:43 You on you've told me about as long as the depression were on.

03:49 One day you came home from school and in the bathroom in the bathtub is full of with rags and blood what happened that that was the time in Detroit when the unions were getting going and my father was a chief steward at Briggs & The Union people around the city gathered together and stuck up for one another. I think the average raise was somewhere depending upon where you work and what you did between $0.25 an hour and $0.35 an hour and Henry Ford had what workers in the people in Detroit knew was called The Blacklist and if you were sick, you lost your and didn't come into work. You lost your job didn't matter why you didn't come you lost your job. And if you did if you work in The Foundry men off and fell into The Foundry and were burned to death bird died burned up and there was no recourse for the men.

04:49 And

04:51 The workers were trying to get Union started so that they could have Fair wage and fair treatment. And the that this time the unions and my dad went out there to with his Union there was a bridge and overpass which I think is still there that connects the parking lot to the Ford Rouge Plant. It's a walkway and the men had gone up there to demonstrate and Henry Ford had what was locally called his goons. And these were men who had regular hats and jackets and brass knuckles and they came out and attacked these workers out on the walkway and among the workers was Walter Reuther who started the UAW cio-cio and his brother and the goons beat the men viciously. They didn't have any weapons or anything these men and

05:51 Grabbed the Hem of Walter Reuther his brother and pull it up over his head so that he was helpless and they beat him so badly that he was later crippled and when I got home from from where I was I came in the house and I saw these men sitting around our kitchen or about six or eight of them and my dad was there and my mother and they were bloody and beaten and some had their teeth knocked out and I went to the bathroom in the bathtub. My mother had torn up sheets and things to make Rags for compresses and she had the bathtub about 1/3 full of cold water and she would ring as he got the blood runs doubt. She would bring out the rage bags and take them back to the kitchen and use the most compresses on the men's faces and drawers and iron. They were a sorry-looking bunch.

06:46 When that made an impression on you sure did tell me about as you got older. When did you decide to take voice lessons and wife? Well, I was in junior high school and I loved music my dad played the fiddle and I love to sing and Miss Adelaide heart was in junior high school the teacher in charge of the choir and in those days it was an all-girls choir and she taught us so much about music and it was she who started getting us to go and at the school down to Detroit to the Masonic temple to hear the Kalamazoo deer the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, and she didn't have a sheets of music. So she wrote the music on the chalkboard and taught us to decide read and

07:44 She had a singing all the all the Hallelujah Chorus and all kinds of things in music with such a she made music such a beautiful part of my life and that very rugged time and I've always been grateful to her for doing that. We said we also put on a production of Mikado and I was poo by the Lord High everything else and then she was she who suggested that I study voice lessons and so once a week I took the bus in the street car over to st. Hedwig's Community House, which was a Polish neighborhood and took voice lessons from a Georgia Morrow who taught down at Wayne State University at the Detroit Institute of music and it was some of the it was such good training that when I was in college and an occupational therapy student. I was asked by the head of the school of the music if I would accept a Boy Scout leadership and I did I was a note E major among all those a music Major.

08:44 And I loved and I loved every bit of it. How did you get the job at the same as isn't saying, it's Saint Anne's cathedral in Detroit. How did you get that job or well, I also studied violin and my violin teacher and her family were catholic and she would ask me to sing for different programs and things that she was aware of and she had a friend who was organist its 8 and it was still say Dan's was started when Cadillac came to Detroit and started Detroit and a father Richard was the priest then and he's buried underneath the altar in Detroit. It's over 200 years olds now and at that time it was primarily a French Community French speaking Community. Detroit was divided up into different ethnic groups and they all spoke their their Homeland language. Well, she asked me if I would sing a solo for the organist at church on Christmas Eve.

09:44 And they had the service was in French from 10:30 to 11 and I had to go Sundays and let's sing with the people who sang in the French choir and I learned to sing all kinds of French Christmas carols, which I still remember could you sing on now? Oh Divino. The only thing was in this old ancient Church cathedral which was built like that the churches in Europe. The choir loft was way up and back and then you could sing anything there and you'd sound good because of the Acoustics the ceilings were so high and

10:28 There was no heat up there and it was so cold that when you would sing The Vapor would come out of your mouth. And there was this little Frenchman who is such a lively little fellow and he always wore earmuffs and mufflers and mittens and he would sing and so it's a wonderful experience and then when he was through singing he pulled the ear flaps down on your flaps and it was a wonderful experience. What about singing for weddings there? Oh, yes. I sang. I was asked to sing weddings. I learned the as a Protestant this real Joy. I learned the cast of the Roman Catholic mass words and and the sequence of the services and one day I was singing for a wedding for my friend and a window two back windows by the back sides of the altar were blowing blowing through the wind blowing in the wind through the Altar and the priest was singing along and I was responding and lat

11:28 And all of a sudden the organ is stopped. It was a man then and he said, oh my gosh, the wind is blowing the sheets over he's singing this the mass for the dead and I said, I don't know that he said I'll sing it when I sing and he'll realize what's happened. So he responded back for the mass of the dead and the priest looked up and he was shocked to a flip the pages back and then I got back on to the wedding.

11:57 Well, I know that during World War II so many, you know men were going to gone to war and then women went and took their jobs in manufacturing. So

12:09 Teenagers like you had a very young age got work permits and they got jobs. What were some of the jobs you had the real nature while I had my work permit when I was 14 and it was a lot better than babysitting for $0.25 an hour. And the first job I had in the longest-running job was a job at Fannie Farmer candy stores, which was a very very kind of Posh candy shop in those days located downtown where the businesses and things were and my girlfriend told me about it. And I remember her saying surely you got to go sign up there looking for help and we'll get $0.25 an hour. And this was during the war and of course there was no chocolate candy and the word dates and the sugar-coated things and it was a very that during that time there was so much racing butter eggs milk meat

13:09 Everything and the people would come in from the business offices in a row and then get whatever candy we had. And then I remember when the war ended at write it at attending all of a sudden chocolate candy began appearing in the stores and our stores and people would line up the word got out and they would line up outside and down the streets to get there chocolate in those of us who work in the store. We each got a box for our family and took it home and I remember that Christmas everybody was so astonished at home because we had a very modest one pound box of mixed chocolates. They weren't people allowed to buy they could buy two boxes of one pound. They could only buy one pound pound and then later they could buy two pounds and they still lined up out on the street when it was first announced you said there was a line of people waiting on the Block to Dubai and downtown Detroit on Woodward in a pound of candy at Christmas time.

14:09 Pennywise said that it didn't snow at Christmas time. We never had a snow during the war and the war was very hard in Detroit. We had refugees and people from around the world and I remember the blue stars in the windows. And then when the blue starts with turn the gold stars, which meant they were killed and

14:31 Ask me again what you're asking. Well, I always have this image you telling that there was that one Christmas for it. It's finally started to snow. Yes, I will deliver buying candy and that Christmas people would say, I would hear Elders around Detroit saying it doesn't snow because of the war and there is no peace and the winter after the war in Europe stopped that Christmas it snowed and everybody was going around and saying see God sent us know because now there's peace even people in the Hungarian the Italian the police today in these they were all saying that God has sent us know because there was peace. We still had to get through Japan though through to the Pacific

15:20 Do you remember the when they bombed Hiroshima? What do you remember about that day? I remember that I was at the lake with my family and I remember people there was everybody seemed to be relieved that Harry Truman was sending over the atomic bomb. Nobody like that. We were all so thoroughly tired and heartsick of the Warren and everything that went on and I remember it was very quiet at the lake and the people were saying about now they should be dropping the bomb and and I know that there was I remember that there was a little discussion about why Harry Truman would allow that bombing. But whenever anyone brings out up to me now, I remind him of the fact that I knew you would Jima we lost fifty thousand Marines and the they didn't know that the Japanese were deeply deeply entrenched in the

16:20 Island South of Japan and that they The Truman and the other leaders were told that after we went through Erie you would Jima and lost so many men and that brutal battle and all those underground Japanese and everything were blue or deeply ensconced in there and they he was told in the country was told to those who were listening that the send American troops to those islands would be like death traps for them that we would lose a lot of troops and it would be a bitter brutal ending in of the war and would take his right into Japan and they would fight to the death and that this was the only way he felt he could stop the the car needs from going on in the Pacific and a lot of people don't either don't know that or don't I don't want to remember.

17:20 The when the war ended you don't we went on to the college to become an occupational therapist. Was it like going to college for the we're well, I wanted to be an occupational therapist and other people's lives there who don't know what they do and I remember reading about it in the school library. And so I investigated in the school counselor guidance counselor. Help me to find out where the best schools for being an occupational therapist would be in America and the three best schools were Milwaukee Downer private women's college in Wisconsin and the Philadelphia School in the Philadelphia Medical Center and the other place to my astonishment was what is now Eastern Michigan University was then called Michigan State normal College wouldn't which man it was a teacher's college and it was right down the road in Ypsilanti. So I went there and there were 30 of us who enroll is freshman.

18:20 But there was a a thing we learned about as freshman and that was that the director of the occupational therapy department.

18:31 Had a rule that you might be accepted at the college, but you are not accepted into the school of Occupational Therapy beyond your freshman year and during your subsequent three years, unless you maintained every semester maintained a B+ average be was not good enough. If you couldn't take care of that you were asked to leave the school. You could still go to Michigan State normal college, but you could not be in occupational therapy student. And what is the release track? Very strict what were some of the things she well you weren't allowed to date if she found out that you were dating she would call you in and reprimand you and saying if you were going to be an occupational therapist to your marriage would be your career and one of the brightest girls in our class. She became engaged to a graduate law student at U of M.

19:31 Which was just down the road from us and when Miss Tammy so I'm standing holding hands outside the movie theater in downtown Ypsilanti. She called her in and this to me did everything she could to discourage this girl from getting from continuing and she was the best of the lot of us only eight of us ever graduated out Freshman Class of thirty. There were eight of us seniors who graduated. Well her fiance was a graduate law student at U of M in the law school and he took Miss to me to court. I probably shouldn't be saying your name and he

20:14 And she lost in the University fired her and that this had her her firing came while I was out on my internship. And then in those days they were trying to make the OT internships a year long and they got it up to eleven months when I was graduated and I was the first American student in Canada and then you had to take what then was a 6-hour national exam. And if you passed that then they let you be and treating patients on your own. I remember when my first job was at James Riley Children's Hospital in Indianapolis at the Indiana Medical Center and there was another young woman who went to a local University at the time and if she had to it was kind of embarrassing she had to take lectures with the students 40 students who were there an internship and I didn't because I went to

21:14 Michigan State normal college and we I think what did that was when we had our neural neuroanatomy in urology. We were bussed out to Ypsilanti state hospital where we worked right in the past. And then when we had our medical lectures, we had those and are cadaver work. It was over at the University of Michigan medical school and the University of Michigan hospital. So they were the pros and cons of of that I've missed two Maids bgm. Yeah, but I understand why she did that because OT was a new profession and in most of their departments ended up in the basement a lot of medical people thought it was just, you know, nothing to be taken very seriously and and then down the year is it got so that everything in the PT Department was from the waist down and everything yoties did was from the waist up and and then there was a debit a heavy emphasis on crafts at that time for in case you were at a VA.

22:14 Aurora a mental hospital, but now that is changed and when I did my graduate work what was changing in and I also had my masters in special ed learning disabilities was that there was an OT in California Jane Jean Ayres who was studying these kids who may now call ADHD and add and so forth and then they were called hyperkinetic and all sorts of things and I noticed them to they were kids who were very bright and very articulate but just could not read or get it together and she did the groundwork in research that helped us that taught OT something called sensorimotor integration therapy and I became certified in that and

23:02 It now it's coming. It's coming in all the OT Department size. I designed and started the occupational on PT department at Van Buren Intermediate School District and are they they gave me a year to visit different places different sites and make that the best thing we could be and at that time when I was in graduate school, we were told the most forward states in the United States for Ford development in and looking ahead Ware, Massachusetts, Michigan and California and we were told that we couldn't take any Norms from California because they were in the class by themselves and Michigan at that time passed a groundbreaking rules called Public School 193 and a lot of therapists and special ed people and University professors worked on a committee to get that lost through the public the federal law at that time said

24:02 That children from 3 years to 21 years old had the right to the least restrictive environment and the Michigan always far far better. It said newborn to 26 year olds had the right to the least restrictive environment in an education because if you waited till a child was three just you really just about Boston and our older two are older students who are developmentally delayed if we cut them off at 21, they weren't really ready for it. But if we let them go to 26, then they could they would get the training and work training and everything they needed and we had one young man at the ISD turn 26 and the staff their work so hard with him and he was getting training. He had a job. He was working. He was getting his own apartment and the Foster mother who had him was furious with us because

25:02 When he moved out she lost his SSI check she lost it and she didn't we didn't matter to her that he had made this great progress. She wanted the money for having him as a foster student. What are some stories of patients? You've had that really struck you with their Bravery children have struck me with their bravery more than any anybody else through the pain amputations and there are there are two students who won.

25:33 I will always remember her dad was superintendent of schools over in Grass Lake and they wouldn't hire me full-time at Jackson Intermediate School District because I had too much experience. They have to pay me too much money. So they hired me as an interim therapist and my assignment was one of my assignments was to bz the occupational therapist for a preschool, which I helped develop in Van Buren County the preschool for handicapped preschoolers up to age 6 and several of these children were language delayed and I will always remember there was this one six year old girl who was to going to be 6 and then she would be I peed out of the out of the program back to regular school because of her age and she was a nonverbal child. She her parents her mother and her father had both sexually abused her and she wouldn't talk. She didn't talk and I got this child and

26:33 Danielle's work and I had done some individual case study research on my own back at

26:41 Van Buren ISD and when I was on the project fine team for that public law 193, which we started the the elementary are the preschools for handicapped preschoolers. And I had a lot of experience on that team was a speech pathologist a speech therapist a social worker a psychologist in me and we worked as a team first we had the screen the kids and then if we found that they were eligible for Diagnostic treatment and then treatment then we did the Diagnostics and one of the things that I did there, I'd that I learned through Jean Ayres working through sensorimotor integration was that there were things that I could do as a therapist with nonverbal kids that would that would elicit sound and vocal things and sometimes the speech therapist would come in and asked me if she could watch me work with these kids because she couldn't get any sound out of them. And so this girl back to this girl who is now

27:41 Verbal, I started trying some of the things that I did with my little students back and Van Buren and one of the things are oties did which sounded off your crazy? I think that's why a lot of us Canarian psychologist. Thought we were weird I once had a skinnerian psychologists tell me if you give us a cerebral palsy kid enough Eminem's you can get him out of that cerebral palsy and I would say there aren't enough M&Ms on the planet to do that. But anyway to send the girl I was doing some of the treatments things that I did with nonverbal with all of the non-verbal and weird as it sounds one of them was depending on how you rock or spinach child you fire off different synapses in their brains where they're not going across I won't go any further with that. But anyway, I've had this little girl and a carpeted barrel with carpeted on the inside and carpeted on the old side and you have to be very careful when you spend these children because you couldn't listen to see

28:41 And I was trying to get this child to say no to me or say stop to me because she wouldn't say anything and and so I would spend her slowly and then I'd stop I was on my hands and knees and I peek in the barrel and I would say do you want me to keep on spinning and she would she would say nothing eventually she would say and I said, I don't understand that. Do you want me to stop? Can you say no and she would just Mumble something Panda and that's above supposed to go with that and then one day to my astonishment.

29:22 I was asked to come along with the Elementary Preschool on a trip to the elementary teacher. I mean to preschool handicap preschool teacher wanted to take the kids out to what was called an antique Orchard, which is an orchard outside of Jackson where they had Apple stock trees from the 17 and she was going to take the kids out there for a field trip, but we were going to ride in the back of a big flatbed behind the tractor and then end up having cider and donuts and it was a big old dog. Well, we were out in the Orchard and the teacher had all the kids sitting on the right side of the edge of the tractor bed and I sat over on The Far Side by myself because they didn't need me over there and the man who owns the orchard was taking wouldn't bright red painted wooden apples with a wire stem on them off the tree and he took it up to the kids was all covered with bugs and he was telling me

30:22 They had these apples all through the Orchards and that they sprayed them with something sticky that would attract the bugs and each week. They would go out and check the apples to see what bugs were on there so that they could tell what sprays to use on the apple trees and he was going down the line and he got very close to each child right up to their face with this apple. What's the bugs on it? And he came to the little girl that I was working with and she gasped.

30:52 And and hunched back and scampered all across the Triad trailer bed came up to me flung my right arm out got up his clothes and side of me as I could brought my left arm and my right arm around her as tightly as she could in this number of child staying out. It's safe here.

31:13 And we were all dumbfounded because that was the first sentence. We in this whole semester never heard her say and whenever I think about looking back or that I'm old and retired now and what good am I at now? I think of that little girl calling out in my arms. It's safe here and I've had kids who were who were so badly abused as sometimes I still think of them.

31:44 And I pray for them. I wonder how life has treated them. I had a little boy in a preschool in Van Buren County. I have never in my entire life working in Psychiatry or anything else. I have never seen a three-year-old child with such deep fear in his eyes and he was non-verbal too, but that's another story.

32:17 We having lived through a lot in your lifetime Racine the Depression and World War and different things. What would you say to a younger generation on a look around and they may be SeaWorld events. And if they think are traveling and distressing and thinking of those people in Detroit during the war looking for the snow or whatever the sign would be for food. I remember standing in line with my mother at a fire station getting food from welfare. I don't know I decided we're going to end or what do I do now? I wonder that too and I the war in Iraq just sickens me, but one of the things that I notice is that young women, especially and I I'm all for the young women in the advances. They made I've lived through some of that too, or you couldn't use a library in a graduate school because you were a woman but

33:17 Two things when I hear young woman say we can't get married yet. We don't even have a microwave and things like that and when I see

33:30 I I am sometimes saddened by what I see in this country is such a

33:41 Almost rabid to stronger word for such a clutching after material things the clothes the language the cars the Madison Avenue effect that has you got to have this you're not complete unless you have that and and I'm astonished and I think of the people who were burned and tortured and the concentration camps and I see this war this what I think is his mind us and uncalled for if I see one more flag at half-mast. I think I'll cry. I don't know what to tell him. I wasn't one thing. I tell my son is is that there's something that I think that we've lost and that's something that I think we forgotten what we've lost I think is good quality Statesman.

34:38 Who care about the people I think that the government of the people and by the people and for the people has become the government of the corporation's by the corporations and for the corporations and I think that I told my son the other day when he was saying doesn't anybody speak out about this and I said, you know, the average American doesn't realize what a power he or she has we have the right so far to free speech we have the right of the vote and we have the right to read or think or just debate and talk in public and we have the right to to meet and we have the right to their what's the word and we can walk in the streets like we did in Selma and we can say these things are wrong and

35:40 And I wonder sometimes as anybody read Does anybody read the papers in the editorial section A news the news Magazine's do they really listen to the radio to NPR to to what the news is or is it all how naked can you get a woman before you turned off television? I just I just don't understand that and I think we're just wasting and I I love this country. What is a a hopeful thing a hopeful thing? I think the whole thing is the young kids. I see this Kalamazoo Promise the young kids who I see who are trying to get into good schools are trying to learn whenever I see a young woman in the restaurant trying to get through Western Michigan University, and she's trying to park it enough tips to get through that gives me a sign of Hope and when I read as I did in Newsweek those pitiful letters of the of the soldiers

36:40 Marines who got killed in a wreck and the letters they left their family and then their integrity and they're there hope for their families. I don't know.

36:53 But I think it's a great country. I just don't know how long we can keep it that way and people who poo poo the idea of global warming and you know, I just it's just that when I drive through the countryside and I see the big homes that are going up around Kalamazoo who can afford them and I wouldn't want to heat one and I sure wouldn't want to clean one and I just don't know why family have to have to live in and such Mansions when so many people are suffering.

37:25 Well, I just want to say thank you for the opportunity. I've I've enjoyed hearing your stories over the years, but I had an opportunity to 2 to share them with with others to thank you, and I want to hear that. I'm honored to be here and I'm so delighted to share this with you Deb. I thank you.