Mildred Judkins Graham
by Robin Bell Schmidt
This photo was taken around 1960. Mildred was born in 1890. For the first six years of my life my Nana lived in the family home in Winchester, MA. It was the house her father (a Judkins from Maine) and mother (a Crafts from Vermont) built there. I do not know what her father's occupation was, but he was obviously very successful and upon the passing of both of her parents, my grandmother inherited a substantial amount of money and the house (her brother, my great Uncle George, for whatever reasons, did not chose to stay in Winchester).
That house was magnificent and to this day when I read stories or see movies about grand houses, it is that one which comes to mind. There was a center entrance hall, with, on the left side a "music room" (and though it had a piano in it, I never remember anyone playing it), next to it was a lovely, sizable living room with a fireplace. On the right side of the entrance hall was a very large dining room, off of which was a butler's pantry and behind that a big kitchen. Straight ahead was an enormously wide staircase with a magnificent crystal chandelier at the bottom. One of my fantasies (never realized) was to somehow slide down the banister and swing onto that that chandelier. Behind the staircase was sewing room.
Upstairs there was my grandmothers bedroom, with her personal sitting room attached and four additional bedrooms and the bathroom. The attic had been the bedrooms for those who had, back in the day, worked in the house and was then rented out to a single woman. Outside was a good sized yard with lots of trees and other plantings.
I loved that place! It was big and it was comfortable and, most importantly, it was the beloved home of my very beloved Nana. At 72 my memories of the actual experiences I had there are shadowy, I do remember having many wonderful times with Nana. Warm, caring, loving times.
What I didn't know then was that she had divorced my grandfather before I was born because while he was quite the charming Scotsman, he was a bad businessman, a gambler, alcoholic and womanizer. As was the case in those days, he was the one who took care of the finances, and he managed to completely wipe out my grandmother's inheritance. She managed to continue to live in the house until I was six or seven, but then had to sell it. After that she never again was able to live on her own. She either lived with my Uncle (my father's brother) and his family or with my father and his new family (my parents separated and later divorced in '52 when I was eight years old).
While broke and dependent on her sons (the sale of the house didn't realize a lot of money -- by the early 50's it needed a lot of work and due to its style it was considered a "white elephant"), Nana was always the Boston "lady" -- with all the perspectives and prejudices that came along with that upbringing.
At the same time, and essential to my life, she was my emotional center as I tried vainly to navigate two fractured, dysfunctional families -- (by mother's and father's and, sometimes, staying with family friends when under the care of my mother). She was the one person who loved me unconditionally. As a fairly young adult I came to the realization that a kid has a chance in life if they have one person who "just" loves them. That person does not have to the most powerful or most important person in the family, nor does it even have to be a member of the family -- a teacher or minister or another adult who is in the child's life on a regular basis -- can play that role. For me that person was Nana. I could talk to her about anything and everything. And even when I couldn't articulate what was bothering me, when I was acting out, she was there for me.
Sadly, she didn't always live with my father. With a younger wife and three additional children, living in a small house, there weren't enough bedrooms, so she also, at times, lived with my Uncle and Aunt and they had moved to southern CT from RI. Other times I was living with my mother, but I would return to RI for the summer and could re-connect with Nana then. This, of course, was decades before computers and long-distance phone calls were wildly expensive -- and I was truly not a letter writer. But the emotional connection was always there.
I left home shortly after turning 17 and I never lived with or around Nana again. Yet, yet... she was the only person to give me a gift on my 18th birthday -- a green scarab ring I still have and wear often. When she died she also left me a few pieces of jewelry, which I treasure. Two pieces I have given to my daughter, Julia. The piece I continue to wear a lot is her engagement ring consisting of an aquamarine stone surrounded by 10 small diamonds. Needless to say, I cherish both of these rings.
When she died in December of '66, when I was 22, I was bereft, but there was no one with whom I could really share my profound grief. So I basically submerged it. But to this day I carry Nana with me, close to my heart and soul. She still with me in my DNA and when I need to reach out to her.
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