“Flow gently, sweet Afton, disturb not her dream”*

by chuckofish

As my dual personality mentioned last weekend, this is the birthday month of our grandmother Catherine Carnahan Cameron. I have searched high and low and cannot come up with the date of her birth in 1900, but it was probably this week. She also died in September, a few days after her 67th birthday.

You will recall that my great-grandparents had five children, the youngest of which was our maternal grandmother. Named after her two grandmothers, Mary Hough and Catherine Rand Carnahan, she was considered the family beauty–and by one of her sisters to be spoiled.


Catherine in 1917

My mother and her sisters always rejected this latter claim vociferously. They did not take kindly to anyone criticizing their mother.

She was brought up a strict Baptist in a deeply religious family. Her family observed the sabbath and no smoking, drinking, dancing, etc. was allowed ever. Not surprisingly, she fell in love with our wild grandfather and eloped with him in September of 1921.

She was raised to be a lady, but she was also trained to take care of herself and she believed in women’s equality. She never worked at a paid job, but she was the treasurer of every women’s club she belonged to (and she was quite a club-woman) and the first female treasurer of her large Baptist church in Worcester, MA. She also kept the books of her husband’s lumber company, and it is my belief that when Bunker faltered–as he did from time to time– she pulled the business through the hard years of the depression and WWII.

She had her own money and her own (female) stockbroker. She had a female doctor and a female lawyer. She believed, however, that a married woman with children should stay home. Today she would probably be the president of some bank. I have no idea what became of that accounting gene, but it got lost in my branch of the family!

I wish I had known my grandmother better. We always lived far away in flyover country and only got back to Massachusetts once in a blue moon. She and my grandfather only visited us once and they stayed for just a few days–our grandmother had meetings back at home she didn’t want to miss. Our mother was devoted to her and missed her a lot. On the other hand, I think she liked “doing her own thing”. She would have had a hard time living up to her mother’s high standards. I remember she told me once that her mother always wore a girdle, stockings and high heels every day. Well.

Catherine Cameron (right) in New Hampshire in 1963

Catherine Cameron (right) in New Hampshire in 1963

Catherine did her best to keep in touch via letter, but our mother was a terrible letter-writer, and it must have been frustrating for her. Frequently my grandmother would write to me, because I wrote her back. I think she meant this as a bit of a dig to our mother, hoping to encourage her to improve her habits.  It didn’t work.

She was not an outwardly warm person, but once she sent me the spoon I had admired when visiting her house and had insisted on using every morning to eat my cereal. I thought that showed that she had noticed and that she cared.

I still have that spoon–of course.

P.S. My movie pick for tonight is Ninotchka (1939) in honor of Greta Garbo whose birthday was yesterday.

Garbo with Melvyn Douglas finding love in Paris

Garbo with Melvyn Douglas finding love in Paris

If you haven’t seen Ninotchka, you are in for a treat! It’s the one where “Garbo laughs!” Directed by Ernst Lubitsch and written by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett, it is one of the great comedies of all time. Garbo plays a stern Russian (Communist) woman sent to Paris on official business who finds herself attracted to a man who represents everything she is supposed to detest. If you have seen it, you are in for a treat, because its humor is as timeless as Garbo’s beauty.

Our mother loved this movie and raved about it to us growing up. We finally got an opportunity to see it when they were showing it at some film series at Washington University. We walked up to the campus to see it and I think our mother was a little nervous, fearing that she had built it up too much. But, of course, we all loved it too.

*Robert Burns, Sweet Afton