Page Wilson has lived in the same house on Q Street for over fifty years. Raising four children and three step-children with her second husband, she explains that they rented the house next door and cut a hole in the wall to connect the two to accommodate their newly combined family. In this interview with Joyce Lowenstein, she gives a tour of the neighborhood — from the sandwich shop on Dent Place owned by Mrs. Rosen, a Lithuanian immigrant, — to the drug store near Potomac Street where her husband and son “disappeared” for hours on Sunday afternoons. Page also recounts tales of her friendship with Kathleen Kennedy, sister of John F. Kennedy, Jr., and participating in the famous march from Selma to Montgomery with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Joyce Lowenstein: This is Joyce Lowenstein, and I’m interviewing Page Wilson at 3317 Q Street in Georgetown. The date is September 3rd, 2009. Again, thank you, Page, for doing this.
Page Wilson: I’m happy to do it. I’m a history buff myself so I think anything that records history is a great idea. Is that on now?
Joyce: Yes, yes.
Page: I moved to Georgetown, I guess it was the end of the second Stevenson campaign, sometime in late 1958 or maybe it was early ’59. I was very recently divorced and had fallen in love with an enchanting man who had been doing intelligence, joint intelligence, with the British during the war. And came back here and was actually working for the Stevenson campaign, as it turned out. He had three children. I have four children and was living in this house which ended where the kitchen is. It was actually a small house for my four kids and me. Tommy had three children. We fell in love. We were each already in the process of getting divorced, so that worked out fine.
We got married ‑‑ just before we were married, we were wondering where in the dickens we were going to live because this house was already small for me and my four children. We were sitting under a tree in the backyard. The tree was probably just about where this table is when two very nice young men who rented the house next house which was either a mirror image of our house or a twin house ‑‑ I’m not sure what you call it ‑‑ and they came across the fence which was falling down. It was a wire fence.
“Oh,” they called, “can we come over?” And we said sure, come on over and have a drink. So the four of us sat under the tree. And they said, “We’re leaving our house. We thought we’d tell you we are before we’ve told the agent in case you’ve got any friends that would like to rent it. It would be nice if you had friends next door.” So we thanked them and had a good time.
When they left, we said, friends that want to rent the house? The thing to do is to see if it’s for us to rent it and see if we can cut a hole between our houses and live that way after we’re married until we’ve made a decision about what we want to do permanently.
So we got permission from the owner of that house, and we cut a hole in what is now the dining room. We didn’t put a door there. We just put a doorway there, and my kids still come home now and visit. There’s this big beautiful painting over that and they’ll say, “I think I’ll go next door,” and pretend that they’re going to go through the hole which no longer exists and say, “Oh I bumped my head.”
So we decided we would live sort of extravagantly for six months. Now, this backyard had mainly crushed oyster shells in it, which apparently was quite standard in the old days for poor people. I don’t know who had owned the house. I think it was probably built in the early 1900s. A lot of people on this street pretend their houses are older, but I don’t think there’s any older than that.
We decided that at the end of the six months we would add on to this house. I thought that made good sense because we had such a huge long backyard, anyway. So we called a contractor, and he came to us on a Sunday morning. Tommy and I were having breakfast. He came in and he had with him a charming older man who I understand had been a Harvard graduate from Harvard architectural school, but had had a drinking problem which we’d come to find out.
Anyway, so first of all, this man named Eldridge said, “This house isn’t worth adding to. The thing to do is to get yourself a nice brick house.” It isn’t even brick. It’s just oak frame. Then one after another the children started filing into the dining room, including Tommy’s three children who ‑‑ two children ‑‑ one of his was living in France. They came from where they all were living at that point. And he said, “You do have a problem. Do you want this done in six months? You’ll have to get the footings in next week.”
So, he said he’d go down to the building authority, whoever you go to and get plans. Well, it’s nothing really but a brick warehouse which we added on at the most incredible price when you consider the cost of building today.
Joyce: And what was his name?
Page: His name was Eldridge, E‑l‑d‑r‑i‑d‑g‑e. I can’t conjure up his first name. Maybe I will. He was a rough, tough character from Vermont, and the architect that he had brought along with him took an envelope out of his pocket, and on the back of the envelope started writing down what we wanted. What we wanted was just a bigger space. Anyway, so this was done, and we were very, very happy with it. And we closed up the hole between the walls and turned the house over to what it was. We painted the room we had cut into in their house and, incidentally, had lovely neighbors there always. We were lucky.
Joyce: And so you added to this in 1950s…
Page: Iin 1959. And, indeed, we had friends visiting when the house was finished, and they helped us move the furniture. Now, I think there were two black families on this street. I don’t remember their names, and I never got to know them well. It was the kind of street where everyone knew everyone and you greeted everyone and asked about family and stuff. Our beloved neighbors moved about four houses down. There was Charles Ortman who I think was probably the best internist in Washington at that time. Anyway, so this was an absolutely a marvelous place for me and my four children and Tommy’s two children. His youngest child was living abroad in an old mill her family ‑‑ actually, his wife’s family ‑‑ had outside Paris.
When I first moved to Washington, I’d been living in California and I hadn’t worked for quite a while, but that’s the job I had been on a newspaper, the old Times‑Herald.
Joyce: You worked on that paper in California?
Page: No, here in Washington. And then we moved to California and I had not worked since I left Washington.
Joyce: So, are you originally from Washington?
Page: No, I was born in the countryside outside of Baltimore. I was the brash young woman who wangled myself a job through the Roosevelt family, which I knew. I was on Joe Kennedy’s staff when he went to London. So, I was 20 when I went over there to work for the press attache and the embassy in London.
Joyce: I see.
Page: Then, I came back here and got a job on the Times‑Herald, and then moved to California and got married to Frazer Dockerty. And he and I moved to California. We later got divorced, and he married the woman that John Hersey, the writer, had been married to. She was supposedly filthy rich, so that was very handy for him. The houses on this street were mainly very simple, and the two black families were offered ridiculous prices ‑‑ what seemed to them ridiculous prices in those days ‑‑ which, of course, we know now I bought this house for an absolute song.
Joyce: What did you buy it for, do you remember?
Page: It was $32,000 with this huge backyard and, of course, the playground across the street which was one of my main reasons for being so entranced by it. And the children played at the playground, which was fairly mixed but mainly white children there except for the basketball courts. I don’t know why these basketball courts became such an attraction for some of the best basketball players in the city, mainly black. We enjoyed them. They were beautiful young men, and they were marvelous basketball players. The park was wonderful. It certainly wasn’t all jazzed up beautifully as it is now.
First of all when I came back I got a job working in the Democrat National Committee, and later got a job ‑‑ I didn’t get a job on the Times‑Herald but got a job at an exciting left‑wing organization, anti‑Communist, left‑wing Americans for Democratic Action, where I was in charge of information, I guess we’ll call it.
I was always liberal and was very happy to be working for a very exciting liberal organization which had been founded by Arthur Schlesinger, Reinhold Niebuhr, the great theologian, Eleanor Roosevelt and so forth. And my husband, Tom, also was a great liberal.
Joyce: What was your husband, Tom’s last name?
Joyce: What was your husband’s last name?
Page: Thomas, his last name was Wilson; Thomas W. Wilson, Jr. All the houses on this block were owned by white people within a few years.
Joyce: So, the black families that lived here, they were offered…
Page: Probably the same price, $30,000 or something.
Joyce: Because people wanted them out?
Page: No, oh no, no, no, because they wanted the houses.
Joyce: They wanted the houses.
Page: In fact, the public schools in Washington had just been desegregated. which was one of the things that excited me, too. I was delighted with that. As far as I know, there was absolutely no racial tension of any sort. And the only person on the block who was racial was sort of a joke to everybody. He was known as Blackie. He had been a sculptor. I think his last name must have been Black, but I’m not sure now. He lived in a lovely red brick house on the corner of Q and 33rd. It must be, yes.
Next to him lived the wonderful doctor, Charlie Ortman and his wonderful wife and their son, John. In fact, there were practically no children on this street at all. John Ortman and my kids were the only kids on this street for a long time because people with kids couldn’t afford $30,000 to buy a house.
Finally, a very attractive nurse, trained nurse, married a black man, George. I’ll think of their last names in a moment. George, obviously, wasn’t entirely black, some white blood, but I congratulated him for making our block bi‑racial again, but he said, “I’m not very dark.” I said, “That’s all right, George. You’ll pass.” [laughs] They were absolutely delightful.
They later moved to one of the Caribbean islands. She was very creative and bright, Lucia, Lucia and George Robinson. Lucia was very creative, and they were doing some kind of creative health work in one of the Caribbean islands. George had a pretty daughter who went on the stage, and I don’t know what’s happened to her.
But the man on the corner, Blackie, was, ironically, anti‑black. Barbara Ortman, who lived next door, said that he was putting molasses on the seats in the playgrounds in the park where those black people were sitting on those seats.
And I didn’t believe it, but I went over and there was molasses, at least, one time. She and I wiped it off. I don’t know if he did it again any time, but I do remember that when Martin Luther King was going to speak at the Lincoln Memorial ‑‑ and I was much involved in that because Americans for Democratic Action was very close to Martin Luther King.
My kids were abroad with their father and step‑mother and came back in time to be at that very famous meeting and as they were walking down the street, Blackie saw my kids. They knew each other, of course. Everyone on this street knew everyone. Blackie said, “I thought you kids were abroad.” My oldest child, Frazer, said, “Yeah, but we’ve come back early on purpose just to go hear Martin Luther King,” and he looked absolutely horrified.
During the Vietnam War one of the left‑wing groups decided it wanted to try to take over Washington ‑‑ were you living in Washington at that point?
Joyce: I was not. Do you remember the riots when Martin Luther King was killed?
Page: Yes – Washington was shut down and someone turned a car over. A white kid with very long hair turned the car over right on Q Street on the corner of Q and 33rd on the other side, and Blackie ‑‑ oh, Blackie used to sit on his front porch on the front stoop, sort of, and lean back with the chair out, leaning back there, looking angry at the world. And he saw that kid with the long hair ‑‑ if there’s one thing he liked less than blacks, it was white kids with long hair. So he saw a cop coming and he didn’t seem to notice that the cop was black. So he said to the cop, “I saw that kid. He just ran behind there.”
So the cop set out in pursuit to get the kid who turned the car over because, of course, it was illegal, and that poor Blackie was so confused. He didn’t know what to do because he realized the cop was black. Anyway, that was the only overt example of a person on this street who was anti‑black.
Blackie lived here for a long time, and apparently he’d had some kind of a distinguished career as a sculptor. I never saw him when he was sculpting, but he had some history with the town. I remember he was telling me that there had been an ice house up in the corner of the playground which would have been the corner of 34th and Q Street. I’d never heard that before or heard it since.
Joyce: You’ve been here for some really important experiences. You came during the Stevenson campaign? What was it like? What was it like at that time?
Page: Stevenson had just lost. He’d lost the second time in ’58. And we got Nixon the first. Did we get Nixon then? ’58? Kennedy was next. Some date wrong here. No, no, no. We got Kennedy in 1960, of course. My husband worked, actually, during the Kennedy administration. Worked in a thing called I.O., which was International Organizations. That covered the United Nations. Tom was working on some speech writing for Stevenson, which really wasn’t generally necessary. Stevenson was so articulate. Still, he had to have speech writers.
The house next door to us changed hands a couple of times. At one point, it must have been in the early ’60s, the retired Bishop of Washington, Angus Dunn, moved there. I don’t know if the diocese paid for his house. He was known as Black Angus because he’d tried hard to integrate the Christian community in Washington, and the Episcopal community. He’d done so much to help the cathedral to get integrated.
He had a lovely, charming, bright, mildly‑acerbic wife called Kitty. We became quite good friends. Angus had a wooden leg from the knee down, and I told him a story about my mother’s father who also had a wooden leg. The story that I’d told Angus was that mother had asked her father ‑‑ her father would never discuss his leg. It was never discussed.
She asked her mother, whispering, “Tell me what happened to Daddy’s leg? Can you tell me what happened to Daddy’s leg?”
Her mother hushed her up, and said, “Nanny, it’s a subject we don’t discuss. We just don’t discuss it.”
Later she’d asked her mother, “How do people make babies?”
“Nanny, it’s something that we’re not going to discuss. It’s a very sensitive subject.” Until she got a bit older, she thought that a wooden leg had something to do with making babies.
Well, Angus Dunn absolutely adored that story. Every now and then, he and Kitty were over here quite often. I guess that they were here more often than we were there. He would say, “Tell me again about your mother and the wooden leg.”
At the time of the Cuban crisis, my darling Tommy was working day and night. This was Oct ’62, I think? Anyway, about the time that my oldest son, Frazer, who was a painter, had already moved to New York. Rush was the oldest of my kids who were home. He was fifteen, I guess.
Tommy called, or I had called Tommy at I.O. as they called International Organizations. I hadn’t even seen him in a couple of days, because he’d been working so hard. He’d get home late at night. They must have grabbed sandwiches at the State Department or something. He called and said, “Tell Rush that I’m just heartbroken that I won’t be able to share his birthday with him.” His birthday was the 28th of October. “Would you and Rush do me and the State Department a great favor?”
There was going to be a famous violinist who’d been invited once before to play in the State Department auditorium. I’ll think of his name in the minute. “I just can’t imagine that any of the men in the State Department will come, and I doubt many of their wives will come. It’d just be a sin to play before no audience. Do you think Rush would go with you?” Surely, Rush was not interested in the violin. However, he said he’d go. However, I looked over his wardrobe and he certainly didn’t have an adequate jacket. Maybe he could get away with a pair of pants he had. I called Angus and told him my plight – “Could Rush come over?” He said, “Of course.”
Rush came back in a lovely jacket, fit for a nice evening. He said, “The bishop wanted me to wear his white collar too, but we decided not to do that.” We went and I’m sure that the concert was beautiful, but to me, it was the most agonizing thing I’ve ever been through. Here was someone with just this little wooden instrument with catgut or whatever a sophisticated violin was made of. Making beautiful music, but the world hadn’t advanced enough to not be on the brink of atomic war.
So we fortunately got over that crisis, and I think that Kennedy was just marvelous. As we now know with the number of people, military people, and civilians too, who say that we should bomb Cuba and get at the installations that the Soviet had put there. Anyway, they resolved that problem.
Meanwhile, Georgetown was changing tremendously, of course, because there was no longer the streetcars, which I had adored, which were two streets down from us. My daughter, Page, turned out to be passionate about streetcars. She and her friend would just get on the streetcar and go in it until it’s end just for the pleasure of riding on a streetcar.
My kids went to the local public schools, the little school down just below you. What’s it called? That’s not Eaton. What’s it called? That little children’s school.
Anyway, she could walk there. My other kids went to the high school up on the ‑‑ Wisconsin Avenue. Which I think had certain limitations, academically, because the principal was a basketball coach. I think they had some stimulating teachers. Then, as they got older, they went to what is now the Duke Ellington school.
Joyce: It was a high school then?
Page: Gordon Junior High was the high school. It just slipped my mind. What was the high school?
Joyce: I’m trying to, Eaton? Was it Eaton?
Joyce: Was it Beale?
Page: I’m sorry, I’ve just completely forgotten. I think, probably, where there’s now a nice little shop on 32nd street. A couple of blocks up, where you can get sandwiches and things.
Joyce: The little corner store? That’s on 34th and Dent.
Page: That was run by an absolutely marvelous Lithuanian Jew named Mrs. Rosen. R‑O‑S‑E‑N. Who had two daughters, and her husband had died shortly after they moved here. My kids they just loved her. I got a lot of food from the Rosens, as a matter of fact. Mrs. Rosen was very small, but she could heave that butcher’s knife. She was an absolutely marvelous butcher. She asked me once, “Have you even seen blood on the snow?” I said, “No.” And she described a pogrom in Lithuania.
She and my son Rush became great friends. He was mad for matzo. I’d been married to a man named Dockerty, which is such an Irish name. She said, “How come from a name like Dockerty is so crazy about matzo?” And Rush said he didn’t know. And then Rush got some beloved Israeli friends later.
Rush got a job working his way to Israel on a Zim freighter, when he was about 16, which is an absolutely marvelous job for a kid. He came back speaking ‑‑ a little bit of Yiddish I guess, not Hebrew, I don’t think. Mrs. Rosen was so delighted when he got up and talk to her in a few Hebrew words. Her two daughters both married lawyers, which was the acme for success for immigrants.
They moved away, and I lost track of them. She was a wonderful character, and that store changed hands and now it’s a very charming little store that sells sandwiches and so forth.
Joyce: They still have a picture of her.
Page: In the store?
Joyce: In the store, yes. Right now it’s back where you go by the sandwiches. There’s a photo.
Page: How absolutely marvelous. I never heard the tales of how she got from Lithuania to here. If I had any sense I would have asked her, of course. I later got to know many Jews from Eastern Europe, many who turned out to be very distinguished. The ones that were near the store they all seemed to land here with $8.00. I think I had three Russian Jewish friends whose mothers or fathers had landed here with $8.00.
Page: I’m delighted that there’s a picture of her there, and my kids will be delighted to hear that too. Maybe I’ll make a special trip to go there.
Joyce: So it sounds like this was a wonderful street to live on.
Page: It was except there was so few children. There were not a lot of children playing in the playground across the street at that point. I think many didn’t come from Georgetown. It’s amazing the number of children in Georgetown now. I think it’s a matter just in so many cases, that probably both parents are working and they can afford these rich houses. Lots of them make great success of the little public school. Down the street?
Joyce: We’ll think of it. I can’t remember.
Page: I know for a fact it’s not Eaton. My kids will be shocked that I can’t remember. [laughter]
Joyce: I’m amazed at how much you are remembering.
Page: I’m going to pause for a minute.
Page: I’m just trying to collect my thoughts.
Joyce: Definitely. Don’t feel pressured.
Page: I really should talk more about the changes in the town, the famous druggist, the guy that ran the drug, Doc… Boy… [silence]
Page: OK, I guess I can go on now. There were a few stores that I can recollect, in the area or close by, which is so important for communities. One of the places where people meet, exchange gossip, talk, and get a chance to know each other a little better. I think when Mrs. Rosen’s shop closed ‑ ‑before it was taken over by other people later ‑ ‑I think that was the only store for a long way around.
One of the places where everyone seemed to meet was run by a druggist down Wisconsin, and around Potomac. I’m not sure. I think it was further this way than Potomac. That seemed to be a meeting place for newspaper people who lived around, and Doc was the source of everything interesting in Georgetown.
When Dr. Charley Ortman died‑‑I think his name was Wolinsky,but I’m not sure, told my husband Tom and me, “I’ll tell you who’s the best internist in Washington now. And you’d better see if you can grab him soon, because he gets such a big group of patients that he won’t have room for any more.” He gave us the name of the doctor, and it was Dr. Michael Newman. He was absolutely right. I think Michael Newman’s turned out to be just the most fantastic internist. Many, many other people I know think the same thing.
I remember that I lost both my husband and my son Rush one Sunday, and couldn’t find them. It turned out that Rush was sitting on the floor at the drug store reading all the funny papers, and Tom was sitting there as if he was still living in Paris. He’d lived in France. He’d worked for the “Paris Herald” for a while. He was sitting there drinking coffee as if he was in a Paris cafe, and reading a newspaper, or writing, I guess. That drug store was a great social gathering place.
Joyce: Do you remember what the name of the drug store was?
Joyce: Do you remember what the name of the drug store was? But it was on Wisconsin?
Page: It was on Wisconsin. And one of the people that used to hang out there, I remember, was Ben Bradley. If you want to track Ben down, you can find out the name of it. That must be where ‑‑ I don’t know.
Joyce: I’m sure, probably he knows. I just don’t know.
Page: Funny, I just cannot remember that. And there was one garage on the corner of Wisconsin and Q. There was a very good liquor store, run by a very crafty man, who was a passionate golfer. Golf was never important in my husband’s life, or either of my sons, but he was a charming, quite sophisticated guy. That’s where we got our booze.
Joyce: [laughs] So where did you do your food shopping? Where would you have gone to go food shopping?
Page: I did a lot of shopping at Mrs. Rosen’s. I can’t remember what her vegetables were like, but she had marvelous meat, and obviously I thought the vegetables were adequate.
Joyce: And after that closed?
Page: After that closed, I guess I shopped at the Safeway.
Page: There certainly were none of the nice farm vegetable stands that you have: one in Georgetown now, one in Dupont Circle, and around and about, which are a great, great addition to the community, I think. I’m sure they didn’t exist in my early days here.
Joyce: So, when you came to Washington, like when you would socialize, was it mostly people going to each other’s homes?
Page: Or restaurant, yes.
Joyce: Or restaurants?
Page: When I was here during the war years ‑‑ now when would that have been? That would have been when I was working on the newspaper.
Joyce: Is that after you came back from London?
Page: Yes, this is after I came back from London. When I was footloose and fancy free, and there were lots of so‑called dollar‑a‑year men, and younger men, in Washington working. They would invite one out to dinner, and usually had dinner in a restaurant in a hotel, where there was nothing very exciting. I later had a very, very dear friend, who was the director or assistant director of the Corcoran, a very creative guy. He was an Alexandrian Jew ‑‑ Alexandria, Egypt ‑‑ whose family had moved to France. He used to take me to restaurants in town, and there was one French restaurant, I think, which had fairly good food. But the plethora of good restaurants, which you find all over Washington now, certainly did not exist until, I would say, the late ’60s, if then.
Joyce: Page, where did you live when you were working for the paper?
Page: I lived here, I guess, with my kids.
Joyce: You lived in Georgetown?
Joyce: OK. You lived here?
Joyce: OK. And so that was…?
Page: For the newspaper, with ‑‑ Oh, no, I beg your pardon. I wasn’t married then.
Joyce: That was before you…?
Page: I had lived in London with an absolutely marvelous family ‑‑ as a paying guest ‑‑ who had a huge, big house. And funny enough, I was able to find the house near Dupont Circle on 20th Street, 1606 20th St. It was a brick house, a tall brick house. It looked something like the house I had lived in, in London. It was an absolutely wonderful place. I had what was called an apartment, I guess. Well, it was. It was a room, and a bedroom, and a living room, and a kitchen, and bathroom. Maybe there were two rooms ‑‑ two bedrooms. I think there were. Incidentally, it was owned by a man named Dr. Wells, who was a dentist. It was his two daughters that started the first big shop here in Georgetown, which sold furniture and everything.
Joyce: Down by the water?
Page: No. Just down a little bit from Q Street. It’s still there. I hope my memory is…
Joyce: Oh, your memory is amazing to me.
Page: I have just finished a book of memoirs, but fortunately I had written most of that before, and I have written most of what I’m going to be banking on next. I hope my memory is not as bad as someone. A friend swears that she knew of someone who went up to greet someone at a cocktail party, and said to him, “I can never remember whether it’s you or your wife that just died.” [laughter]
Joyce: So these two women started this furniture store.
Page: Yes, and it’s still one of the biggest stores in Georgetown.
Joyce: Here in Georgetown.
Page: I can’t remember many stores in Georgetown then, there was a dress shop run by a woman which had very nice clothes, I imagine they were pretty un‑jazzy, but she was one of the most successful, had one of the most successful dress shops in Washington, I guess. And she had her own dressmaker there so that if a skirt needed to be taken up, whatever, it could be done right there. But certainly the fashion wasn’t very ‑‑ it was fashionable but she wouldn’t have had anything very exciting. It’d be pretty dependable to see friends and guess where they’d gotten their clothes.
Joyce: So, Page, what about you? you were very active in the Democratic Party.
Page: Well, in the left, whatever left wing there was in it, yeah. Americans for Democratic Actions is where I worked mainly, and we were working mainly that point in the Civil Rights Movement. And I had the great honor of marching with Martin Luther King from Selma to Montgomery.
Joyce: You did?
Joyce: What was that like?
Page: Oh, it was just absolutely wonderful. Actually we didn’t march all the way, ADA got a plane and we got ‑‑ Dr. King especially asked Joe Weil, who was the great civil rights leader of ADA, to be sure to bring a load of ADA people. So the ADA got a plane and we all met in Washington, and we flew part of the way, so we got in for the last half of the march. It was ‑ well, first of all let me talk about his speech at Lincoln Memorial, which my kids had come back early from Greece to go to.
Joyce: Oh, wonderful.
Page: And Tommy drove me down there, I think it must have been 5:00 or 6:00 in the morning, and left me and came back because I was going to try to help the newspaper people. There wasn’t a thing I could’ve done, it was so well organized but, much more trained people, but I do remember that the woman who was executive director, Violet Gunther, she was brilliant, absolutely brilliant, one of the most brilliant political minds in the country, I think, she had gotten on the top of the Lincoln Memorial through some newspaper friend, I guess. And I don’t know how you get up there, but I remember her coming down and saying she’d looked out and said, “It looks like a pointillist painting. You look out and it’s just these fantastic dots of color all over the place.” It was just so tremendously moving, but you were a passive, you know, a bystander there.
But the march to Montgomery, you weren’t passive at all, you were moving along and all the people lining the streets had definite expressions, the white people one of disbelief as much as anger, I think, disbelief that this many people, especially middle‑class white types were just marching by the hundreds in support of civil rights.
And then on the other side there were black faces just absolutely joyous. And I remember seeing a bunch of beautifully dressed little ‑‑ it seemed to be girls mainly ‑‑ that I saw in this group, lovely pinks and lavenders and dresses and they were yelling at the top of their lungs, “Fweedom, Fweedom, ” I wrote an article about this and I spelled it ‑‑ it sounded like F‑W‑E‑D‑O‑M.
But they were shouting at the top of their lungs. It was incredibly moving. And one of the people in our group, she and her husband had been in the Peace Corps, and the youngest child I saw in the march was their child, who was named Mandela.
And they had been in the Peace Corps in some country in West Africa, and she was carried in a bag like the women in West Africa carry their children. And in fact, there was a picture of them in the American Democratic Action newspaper, which I wrote an article.
Yeah, I did a fair enough articles, writing in those days for various papers, but I don’t think they’re of special interest. This discussion doesn’t have much to do with Georgetown.
Joyce: Well, but it has to do with you, and you’re a part of Georgetown.
Page: One I remember, shortly before Reagan was going to meet with whichever was the Russian leader at that point. There was a very interesting woman I’d heard of who knew Russia quite well and had written stories about Russia. And she ran across the senator from Maine and told him that she had been in Russia and that the Russians were just terrified that we’d come so close to war and that she wished people would understand that the psychology of the Russians been invaded so often. And of course, harking back to the attempt of Hitler to invade it, I guess Stalingrad was still in their mind, and that she would like tremendously to have an opportunity to talk to the president.
So this senator from Maine ‑ it wasn’t Muskie, it was later in the news, I forget ‑ anyways arranged it, and she was very surprised to find that Reagan was very interested in what she had to say. I wrote a piece saying that Reagan had actually changed his attitude toward Russia from what she had said, and it’s something that some of the people in the State Department had been trying to get him to do for quite a while. And they had not had any effect, but she had had a huge effect on him. And the Post carried this piece, that’s one piece I remember that was political.
But meanwhile, Georgetown was changing. Many, many of the people had the big, huge houses. Well, first of all, during the Roosevelt administration, a lot of bright young people had moved into Georgetown. That was before I lived here, but I think that was probably the beginning of the change. And then I guess Washington ‑ Washington was a very provincial city. Wasn’t it Jack Kennedy who said, “It had all the disadvantages of the North and some of the South,” or something to that effect.
Page: I do remember one restaurant I’ll go back to ‑‑ but this is a long story. I was at the ADA office fairly late one Friday afternoon and someone came in asking for some material. And he had an accent and I was always interested why anyone non‑American was interested in the material. So I asked him. It turned out he was the cultural attache at the Soviet embassy, so I was very interested. And I told him that was going to be the night of the Republican Convention when Nixon was inaugurated ‑‑ I can’t remember that date.
And I said, “By the way, have you ever watched a convention on television?” He said no, he hadn’t been here very long. I said, “We’re going to have a gathering at our house tonight. It’s very informal and we’re just going to be sitting there and having drinks or something and watching the convention. Would you like to come?” And he said, “And my wife?” And I said of course.
So I wrote down my address and they turned up and it was a pretty motley group of us here. At one point we decided we were going to order Chinese food. My oldest son Fraser went around to take the orders and when he got to the Russian couple, he said he didn’t know much about Chinese food. And Fray was probably 16 and didn’t know anything about it either, but he pretended he did.
He said, “Mmoo goo gai pan is nice.” He said, “Oh, I’ll have moo goo gai pan. I don’t know much about Chinese food, but it’s not that we don’t like the Chinese.” That’s the only political comment I heard. But I think he heard some pretty wild language, anti‑Nixon language, that night and I would love to know what kind of report he wrote back to the Soviets after that. [laughs]
But they were so grateful for this invitation that they invited Tom and me. They wanted to take us out to dinner some night. And they said they wanted to take us out to the nicest restaurant in Washington. Well there was a restaurant that served Pennsylvania Dutch food, and I think it’s where the Watergate is now.
And they took us there and it probably was the worst food I’ve ever had in my life. [laughs] But we had a delightful time with them. And they were going back to Russia. And as a matter of fac,t he one day brought me a lovely little bottle of vodka from when he was still stationed here, back on a visit. And then they went back to Russia. He was transferred, I don’t know where he went from there. But that’s one restaurant I went to.
Joyce: So when Martin Luther King was assassinated, what sort of reaction was there here in Georgetown?
Page: Actually we happened to be in New York staying with friends. All the kids were staying with friends, dear friends who had a big apartment on Central Park West. And absolute horror struck. We were all, just absolutely horror‑struck. It was a spring day, I don’t remember the day. I remember there was immediately going to be a service in Central Park. And one of the great symphony leaders in the US is a Russian name. I’ll have to reconstruct some of these names. It must have been the New York Symphony that played outside. And it was just the most moving thing in the world. Beautiful day in Central Park, which is such a wonderful place, such an iconic park, I think. And it was just incredibly moving.
So when we got back here, that kind of thing was over, but the trashing of the town was still taking place. The anger, the grief, all the years of pent‑up grief and here this great leader had been assassinated here. And of course the assassination of John Kennedy.
Three of my kids were living away from home and they all came back. My youngest daughter ‑‑ and at that point Tommy’s two older children, one was in France in college, the young man. Sally, the daughter, was married. And Remington, who had been living in France with mother, was back living with us. She and my daughter Page were dear friends and pretty close in age.
It wasn’t a school day, it must have been a Saturday because Page was in a dress store and tried on a dress and heard that Jack Kennedy had been shot. She walked out of the store and said she had nearly gotten on the bus when she realized she walked out in the dress she was wearing.
My step‑daughter Remington was at Sears & Roebuck and had gone down an escalator where they had lots of television sets and as she went down she said all the television sets had pictures of Jack Kennedy and that he had been assassinated.
I was working at ADA and for at least a month, I guess I had been working on a book which was anti‑Goldwater, made fun of Goldwater’s, to me, most irrelevant right‑wing comments. It was called “Through a Glass Darkly.” This was all of his comments.
It was released, it had been sent out the day before Kennedy’s assassination to be released that morning. I had gotten a call from the AP, I guess the day before, saying they wanted to send a photographer to take a picture of me. He was coming early that afternoon and then at lunch we heard.
Funny, the guy who was published and wrote a paper for ADA was a man named David Williams. There was a great big story about David William’s will in the Washington Post today about her sculpture and absolutely fantastic garden.
Joyce: Oh yes, I saw it.
Page: Did you see it? She is a dear friend of mine. She’s ‑‑ what did they say ‑‑ she was 95 or 96 or something. She is absolutely fantastic. Well anyway, David and I were stable mates at ADA and we were having lunch together while having an absolutely marvelous time. I had this little paper, little pamphlet, I guess it was. A little printed book probably eight or ten pages. It was done as if it was an advertisement for a circus, I guess.
Joyce: That you had written?
Page: That I had written with an ‑‑I had an absolutely marvelous assistant or secretary that she was called, that was absolutely wonderful.
Joyce: And it was called…
Page: “Through a Glass Darkly.” First of all we had heard that he had been shot and there was a woman ironically named Dallas Reed and there was Kennedy and Dallas. We heard he had been shot, but for some reason didn’t know it was that bad, I guess. But we were horrified and then we heard he had been murdered. And he died. That’s when my kids turned up. It was a death in the family.
Joyce: Had you ever met him?
Page: I had. I had worked in London in the Embassy and had met ‑‑ Jack was about my age, I guess. He was in Harvard then. I was 21. Maybe he wasn’t quite that old. He and Joe were both there. I’ve just finished a book, which I hope will get published anyway, and I write it about them both there. I didn’t know him well, but the only member of the family I knew best was Kit, Kathleen, who became a great friend of mine. And as a matter of fact, I got her a job on the newspaper here in Washington, the one, when I left that particular. Not reporting ‑ ‑I’d been doing research for the publisher, for the executive director, I guess he was. So, I knew Jack slightly. The last time I’d seen him is when…
My mother’s mother had a beautiful old house in Virginia, a really old southern plantation, Palladian‑type house, which is a museum now, incidentally. I used to go, when I lived in Connecticut with my first husband, and I used to bring my kids down to stay at grandmother’s house. And after she had died, the house was still there, so my four kids, a wonderful handyman that I had, and a friend with her three children, we’d all driven down there. Before we left, we decided what we were going to do in Washington.
McCarthy was the big news out of Washington then. My kids were brought up on anti‑McCarthyism. I said they knew about the Senate, and we were trying to figure out where we were going to have lunch. They said, “Could we have lunch in the Senate? Is there a place we could go to have lunch there?” I said, “I don’t know if there’s a public lunch place there.”
But then I remembered, that Jack Kennedy was senator. So my two oldest kids, my two boys, and the two other of my friends, had decided that the four ‑ ‑it’s mother and I, and the four oldest kids could go into Washington, and Carl, the handyman, would look after all the others.
So I sent Jack Kennedy a note, and said, “Are you brave enough to have lunch with me and a friend of mine, and four kids who are excited about being in Washington?” And I got a message saying he’d be delighted.
So we appeared there, and the head waiter in the Senate Dining Room ‑‑ oh he picked the time ‑ ‑immediately recognized us. I suppose Jack had said, “If you see a couple of old dames with a bunch of brats or something.”
Page: So they took us to a table, and then Kennedy came in. He placed the two girls, one on each side of him. They were, I guess Bitty was probably 14, and 12, about the same age as my boys then. He was just so sweet and charming, and they both, those little girls, just fell madly in love with him. We’d said how angry the ones we’d left behind were. He said, “We’re going to have lunch with them sometime, then.” In fact, he autographed the menus, I think for all four of the children. I know that he wrote something special, on the 14‑year‑old’s, incredibly pretty, that he wrote, that was just so adorable. No one kept them.
Joyce: Oh, oh.
Page: So I told the other kids, “We’ll arrange for you to have lunch with Bobby Kennedy sometime,” and I never got around to that. Anyway, so that was the last time I saw Jack Kennedy.
Joyce: Page, before we end, there are probably other things you could tell me. I wonder if you could tell me some of your own history? Give me some of your history, like where you were born…
Page: Oh, right. Well, I was born in Richmond, Virginia. Because my father was ‑‑ 1918, he had volunteered and was being trained for a machine gun, to lead a machine gun, a battalion, I don’t know how they trained leaders, but anyway. They had two little girls, Roslyn and Nancy, who were probably three and five I guess, and Mother was pregnant again. And they had all taken a little house in Richmond where Daddy was being trained at the military base there. And then Mother was ‑‑ he rushed her to the hospital January the 15th, 1918. And I’m sure, I’ve thought since, they must have wanted a boy, someone was going to go right off to war and had two little girls. But if so, if they were disappointed, I never knew it. In fact, I’ve always felt I was my father’s favorite child, but in any case, there were four children and I guess we all felt that way.
Anyway, then when he came back, after he’d been back awhile, they did have a boy. First of all, after the war ‑‑ well, before the war when he graduated from Harvard with no training for a job, he got a job teaching English in a girl’s school in Wanton, Virginia, somehow, with no credentials except that he loved English.
And anyway, while he was there he became interested in growing apples and he bought a little bit of land in a place called Romney, West Virginia where he was growing apples and peaches. Apples and peaches, I think it was mainly. And he and Mother, when he and Mother got married, they had moved there and Mother said that she could have quail and rail birds which in France are called ordelaines. Which are the most elegant things you can get in France. You eat them in one gulp, they are so tiny. She could have had them three times a day because all of the farmers there shot them and brought them to her.
Anyway they decided that after the war, this was not a place to bring up children, the schools were totally inadequate in this beautiful part of West Virginia. So he got a job in the plastics business in Pennsylvania, then moved closer to Baltimore. We lived in the countryside outside of Baltimore.
Joyce: And what is your maiden name? Your last name? What name was it?
Page: Huidekoper. H‑U‑I‑D‑E‑K‑O‑P‑E‑R. Actually there’s a street in Washington that’s named that. They were distant, rich cousins of daddy’s that lived here. Terrible stuff the old boy was, but anyway, I guess he must have been in development or something horrible like that. I don’t know why the street is named for them. But, there was one of them, I guess his wife was beautiful, she was a Dupont. Bessie. Bessie Huidekoper. And I noticed that the Kennedy Center…
Page: Yes, flowers from her. The flowers were given by her. The wife of a second cousin of Daddy’s, I guess.
Joyce: Bessie, that’s her name. Bessie Huidekoper. She never missed a concert.
Page: Isn’t that marvelous? She was absolutely wonderful. I know their daughter. Their daughter was head of all the finances of Harvard. Which was big, just unbelievable. And she left…
Joyce: So this was your father’s cousin?
Page: Reggie Huidekoper, and he was married to Bessie who left those flowers, yeah. And their daughter, or was it granddaughter? I guess it’s a granddaughter of that couple. Elisabeth, known as Betty, was head of all finances of Harvard. And she left a few years ago. She left when that president…
Page: Summers. But she didn’t leave because of him. Anyway, she was offered a job at Brown, which she couldn’t resist. And she’s there now. Ironically, Harvard has had terrible trouble with its finances since then. It’s not because she left, I don’t think, but anyway. And I’ve got a wonderful cousin in the Tetons in Wyoming, or married to a cousin, who’s in her 90s and very, very sick now. She started the first liberal newspaper in Wyoming. Her name is Virginia Huidekoper, she’s spectacular. Anyway, so we were living in the country outside of Baltimore. The depression came and hit us to the extent that we had to sell horses. We were never starving, I’m not trying to complain. I was always a very good eavesdropper, overhearing Mother and Daddy discussing, should it be jewelry or horses first? And Mother had very little jewelry, but said jewelry of course.
So they sold jewelry, and they sold the horses except for my sister Nancy’s little mare Fancy, who had won every horse show in Baltimore. And Fancy went down to live on my grandmother’s farm in Virginia, and my little pony Dewdrop went there too, they didn’t sell them. I can remember the names of the horses, I can’t remember the name of the doctor that ran the store,but I remember the names of the horses. [laughs]
And then we were renting a huge house out in the Greenstone Valley, and we moved from there to a suburb outside of Baltimore. But my parents really didn’t know how to cope very well, because we still had a driver, and we kids all still went to private school. Though, all three of us girls were in one school, one private girl’s school, and I’m sure we got a big bargain with the three of us being there, but even so.
And when I was in eleventh grade I decided that I wanted a broader world, I just needed something more exciting than my life there. So, I told my family that I was going to stop school, I wasn’t going to go on to school the next year, and I was going to look for a job. With which they were aghast, how in the world can a ‑‑ I was like 17 or 18, with millions of people unemployed.
Anyway, I did get a job, working for a man named Samuel Tissenbaum, who ran a thing called the Deluxe Saddlery. And Sam had come from a shettle in Poland. And anyway, it was a marvelous adventure for me, and I just loved it. And I made $15 dollars a week and I took a secretarial course while I was there. Tried to take, to ‑‑ listen? What do you call it? Listen to a course.
Page: It was a course given at Johns Hopkins.
Joyce: Audit. Audit a course.
Page: Audit. And when I went there I was still working, this was an early evening course. I went there, and this guy with a thick German accent said I couldn’t go to his class. And I said, “Why? Here’s the card.” And he said, “I don’t take girls, or women in my class.” And I said, “You signed this yourself.” And he said, “I thought Page was a boy’s name.”
Page: And so I insisted. He put me in the front row. He started the first course talking about the Geneva Convention for trying to stop the trafficking in women for prostitution. I have no idea what he had planned to talk about, but I know he thought that that would shock me. I stuck with it for a little while, until he was talking about the sinking of the Lusitania. I obviously wasn’t around then, but I knew enough, had read enough, to know that the Germans had sunk the Lusitania. He kept insisting that the US had done it, and blamed it on the Germans. So I checked, and found that the Germans had even paid us reparations or something. So anyway, I thought I wasn’t getting anywhere there.
We had a good lecture course at our school, by a woman who talked about international relations. It was talked about at our dinner table to a certain extent. Daddy was very interested.
Then one weekend, I was invited to young Franklin Roosevelt’s birthday party, which was going to be held at Hyde Park. So two other…
Page: I’m getting so excited. [laughter]
Page: I’d better drink a little bit of it. [laughter]
Joyce: That sounds pretty exciting, to be invited to Hyde Park for a birthday party. [laughs]
Page: That was exciting, yes. So two young men, and a girl that I knew, were going up too. So as we set off, Daddy saw us off. He said, “I’ll bet you any, you’re going to come back a goddamned Democrat.” On Saturday I was working in the Landon headquarters in Washington.
Joyce: Do you want to get an aspirin? Are you OK?
Page: No. [laughs]
Joyce: OK. I’m just asking.
Page: Put it beyond my reach. [laughs] Anyway, there had been a picture of me, with friends from school holding sunflowers ‑‑ which were the Landon, the flower of Kansas, and he was governor of Kansas ‑‑ taken.
And anyway, here I was at Hyde Park. I was amazed. I didn’t know about security, but there was one little tiny house, that looked exactly like ‑‑ I had a little house, but my brother collected little British tin soldiers, and there was a guardhouse, that was about this big. There was one guardhouse, and one person. That was the only security I saw the entire time I was there.
Some of us went riding, including me. We rode down practically to the Hudson River. We came back, got dressed for dinner. I’d borrowed a dress from one of my older sisters, that had ‑‑ it was black silk, pleated. It had elastic around the pleats at the neck. As we were getting dressed for dinner, I said to my friend, “Demure or dashing?” And she said, “Oh, dashing.”
So I pulled it down to my smallpox scars. It obviously made me look older, which was my point, because I was handed what was called the house martini. It was delicious. I found myself seated next to President Roosevelt, on his left, at dinner.
Joyce: Oh, my goodness!
Page: So, he recognized the name, because it’s Dutch also. He asked about a Dutch cousin of mine. He talked to the person on his right. He was a cousin, and they talked about breeding some dogs. And then, I’ll never know ‑‑ and I wrote this piece, and the Times used it, and I’m using much of that in my book ‑‑ I’ll never know how we got around to discussing Kipling. But it turned out that we both thought Kipling was a marvelous storyteller. The President said that he wanted someday to…
Oh, I guess before that he had asked, “So what do you do with yourself,” or something like that, and I told him I worked at the Landon headquarters on weekends. He thought that was very funny. And he told me two obviously apocryphal stories about Landon, which you don’t want to hear now, do you? No? You want that? No?
Well, one was, he said he talked to Landon about international relations, and Landon thought he was talking about the great, big plow called International Harvester.
Page: And the other was, oh, then he said he wanted to talk about international relations, and Landon thought that was the people that landed at Ellis Island. Oh, he was funny.
Joyce: Now, how did you get invited to this party?
Page: Because I knew the young Roosevelt boys. Scott Fitzgerald has the term, “The St. Midas schools, ” by which he meant the schools for rich people, boarding schools, like St. Paul’s and St. Mark’s and Groton. They weren’t all saints. They weren’t all St. Midas’s, that were full of, I say white Anglo‑Saxon Protestants, but I don’t know why we say white, because if they’re Anglo‑Saxon Protestants, they’re bound to be white anyway. I tried to get people to say “ASP” instead of “WASP,” but it didn’t work anyway.
Page: And to teach them to be upright Christians, and to be good business people too. [laughs] I was already was a bit, not scornful, but aware of what those schools were like. But I knew a fair number of boys at them, and got invited to dances there, and I met John and Franklin. Actually, we were friends of Franklin’s, the ones that went up to Hyde Park. I mean, a friend of Johnny’s, John Roosevelt’s more. But Frank’s girl, whom he later married, was in Europe, and he missed her, so maybe that’s why, he might as well ask some friend of John’s anyway.
So after Roosevelt told me these silly stories, we got to talking about Kipling. He mentioned that there was one Kipling story. It’s a very obscure one. He said, “I want to make a movie of it some day.” So we talked about how we would cast it. Well, we couldn’t think of… I told him it wasn’t so obscure, I knew it well. Anyway, we couldn’t think of the names of the characters. So afterwards, he said, “We’ll look for the book that has the name.” We couldn’t find it.
Then after the inauguration ‑‑ this was ’36, and that of course, Roosevelt was overwhelmingly elected ‑ ‑after the inauguration, Mrs. Roosevelt had a dancing party at the White House, to which my sisters and I were invited, because it was for three women, three young women. We each knew at least one of them. One of them went to school with us. Margie Delano.
And there, I saw Jimmy Roosevelt again. I had seen him, and we talked about what fun the birthday party had been at Hyde Park. He asked me what I was up to. I said, “I’m restless. That’s what I’m up to.” And I said, “I just want to travel. I’m even considering that someday I’ll try to go into the State Department, because that would be interesting. You would travel.”
He said, “Listen, a friend of mine is about to be made ambassador to London. If there’s anything on his staff, do you think you would like it?
I said, “My God.” So he arranged for a meeting to meet Joe. He told me to write my background, which filled one page triple‑spaced practically, [laughs] and told me to go over and see Joe Kennedy. It turned out that there was a space for a clerk to work for his press attache. And so that’s how I got to London. I think he changed the title to “assistant” instead of “clerk,” or something fancy like that.
So, all the way going over we talked about the problems, going to Europe. The Spanish Civil War, obviously the threat of Hitler, which was already obvious, and Mussolini. And shortly after we got there, the Germans took over part of Czechoslovakia. And then Munich came along and then the outbreak of war. And I wrote a piece about what it was like at the embassy at the outbreak of war, because ‑‑ do you want me to go on?
Joyce: If it’s OK with you. Are you getting tired?
Page: No. I’m not even spilling any coffee. [laughs] So, I went to the ticker just before 11:00, because Chamberlain was going to announce the outbreak of war. But the ticker stopped and they gave scores of snooker games and stuff. Snooker is a funny thing they play in the provinces, and I thought, my God there always will be an England, but of course it was because the ticker was trying to catch up. But at that point the messenger boy came in with three envelopes addressed to the ambassador, and I knew they were official. My press guy had gone back, and I was working in the file room, so I took them to my desk in the file room, and I knew they were official so I opened them. The first one looked like an invitation and it was engraved: His Majesty, the King of England, and whatever, and the whole three lines of his title, is constrained to announce that a state of war exists, and then in pen it was filled in with “Germany” and then the date! [laughs]
Joyce: So it was like a form letter?
Page: I couldn’t get over it. This beautiful velum paper. So, I opened the second one, and the second was bold typing asking if the US government would take over British interests in the countries that Germany occupied now, because they obviously couldn’t. On the assumption we would ‑‑ there was a third letter on the assumption that we would say yes, and that was, would we get a little circus team out of Czechoslovakia. It was a husband and wife, and it sounded like a real mom and pop circus, but anyway, they were stuck there. And on the assumption that we would say yes to their interests, I figured yes, we would get them out. So those were the three letters. I stayed there until the son of the family I lived with had been badly shot, he was a fighter pilot, and he was shot up, and fortunately was saved, but the war was getting worse and worse. And Kennedy told me once that he would ‑‑ oh, my father had insisted on meeting Kennedy, and Kennedy had said that if I was ever in harm’s way he would send me home.
Now, I’m not sure he used the expression in harm’s way, I say that, but I don’t know what the expression was but that if war broke out. So war had already broken out, but Kennedy said that everyone knows the dreadful bombing of England was going to start, and even the church, everyone knows that. Many of the wives and children of embassy people had been sent home. Joe had sent his wife and family home and he said that I was going to have to leave. And I was heartbroken. I was torn, absolutely torn, but anyway I came back to the US.
While I was in London I had met a friend of Joe Kennedy’s who was the top political writer for the New York Times, Arthur Crock. You’re too young to know these names. Anyway he was very conservative, but very, very bright. Arthur asked me what was going to happen now after Munich, and I said what I thought, and he said he had been very interested in opinions I’d had, so he said you ought to be working on a newspaper. If you ever come to Washington let me know.
Anyway, so after I’d gotten caught up with my family here, I called Arthur and he arranged for me to see someone on the Times Herald who hired me as his research assistant. And then I moved from there to the city desk. And then I got married and became a ‑‑ whatever they call the prostitutes that follow ‑‑ camp follower. [laughs] And my husband was flying B25s out of New Guinea, and I was pregnant and the baby was born while he was abroad still, and then he came back ‑‑ you don’t want all of this.
Joyce: I do.
Page: You do? All right. When he came back he met a guy, still in the Air Force, who was working on the invention of an automobile airplane, which was going to be built, he had bought some land near the airport in Connecticut. And Frazer was fascinated by that, and this guy was a genius. Bob Fulton, but no relation to the steamship Bob Fulton. And he offered him a job, and so after the war we moved to Connecticut and that’s where Frazer worked on the car. He was the pilot for the airplane and worked on the car. He was intrigued. He was the only one to ever get a federal aviation experiment license and stuff. And then he lost that job and got a job working for a company that was building airplane parts in California, and we moved to California.
In Connecticut, one of the couples in Connecticut we saw most of was a couple named Frances‑Anne and John Hersey, John Hersey the writer, he rings a bell? And they were our good friends, in fact we’d met them in Long Island, someone had introduced us before we moved to Connecticut. They were our best friends there.
Well, it turned out that Frazer and Frances‑Anne Hersey were having a hot and heavy love affair. And she was immensely rich, she was a Cannon of Cannon Sheets. In fact, she had been an old girl of Jack Kennedy’s, that’s funny. [laughs]
Anyway, so we got divorced and then I married Tom Wilson and she and Frazer got married. And she has since died. And John Hersey married the wife of a New Yorker artist. I don’t know how long ago you remember the New Yorker, but there was a woman who always had very dark hair, she looked ghostly. I’ve forgotten the name, but John Hersey married her. She was the wife of an artist. And he has since died. And then Tom Wilson and I met, and I’ve told you about all of that. I’ve told you more about me than about Georgetown, dear.
Joyce: No, no you haven’t. You’ve told me a lot about Georgetown. So then you raised your four children and Tom’s three children here. Seven children in this house.
Page: And my step‑children are physically close. Tom, young Tom, bless his beautiful heart, smoked, and smoked, and smoked, and got cancer and died. It was just heartbreaking for all of us. Just heartbreaking. But both Sally and Remington live in Virginia. So they are closer physically.
Joyce: I see.
Page: And Tom had one wife who I am still very close to, they got divorce and he had a second wife who I am close to. So, my closest friends are, an outlaw as I call them. And my step‑children, I see them all the time. And my kids, two of my children live in the east. And both my daughter Ariel and my son Rush fell in love with that sere,dried country. Ariel’s in New Mexico and Rush is Arizona. So they come East whenever they can, and I see them. In fact I’ve got a nephew getting married in two weeks to a young Chinese. A very, very bright Chinese‑American, but none of her family speak any English at all. [laughs] I am trying to learn to say something in Chinese. Anyway, so all of my family will be there for that. And I’ve got a mess of grandchildren, and I’ve got six great‑grandchildren!
Joyce: Oh, how wonderful! Wonderful.
Page: Yeah, so, and the kids come back here often and they love this silly house and they love the garden.
Joyce: So you’ve lived in this house for 40‑some years?
Page: 51 years, 51 years.
Joyce: Is that right? Yeah I think so. And Page, just one more question. And you are writing a book about…?
Page: I’m doing a memoir of from Munich to Hiroshima. I have an agent and he thought it was much better to confine it. And just my impressions. Now I don’t know whether I have a book. He was also very frank to say when he took me on that memoirs by people who aren’t famous have a very hard time selling to a publisher. Which is understandable. Any famous person can sell a memoir. So, some of the stories have been published and I’ve written a lot of them over the years but I’ve just started about a year ago to tie them together in a book, and I don’t know whether I’ve got a book or not, but I’ve sent it off to him. And, I haven’t had time to hear from him, yet.
Joyce: Great, great, I want to thank you so much.
Page: Well listen, I got so away from Georgetown.
Joyce: No, I think we talked about Georgetown quite a bit, and then really maybe a half hour about you. Unless there are any other…
Page: I really can’t think about anything else, except that we found a marvelous garden architect who was an old fashioned German with saber scars across his cheeks, literally.
Joyce: Oh, my.
Page: Wonderful, wonderful man. And he let out this garden for us, and I think it was marvelous because the bone structure of it is good. As long as I have someone that can cut my wisteria, which keeps growing so madly, I can keep it under control. Well, one thing about the house, when people said, “Are you all ever tempted to get a house for weekends in the country?” Tommy said, “Of course not. We live in the city, but I come in off the city streets and we are in the country. We’ve got it all right here.”
I remember thinking, that the smartest thing I’ve ever read in a political column was, Scotty Reston, he and his wife had a place in the country somewhere, and Scotty Reston said, “My wife says I can either get ready to go to the country for the weekend or I can go to the country for the weekend but I can’t do both.” [laughs] Which I think is wonderful. That’s the way I feel. Do you have a place in the country?
Joyce: No, I have a backyard. That’s my luxury.
Page: Isn’t that marvelous? Aren’t we lucky. And I think people that go off, oh, that would drive me crazy, but I know people that do it.
Joyce: Could I take some pictures of your garden?
Page: Sure, and my neighbor, my wonderful neighbors, they just bought a place in Middleburgh of all places, and her tomatoes are creeping over my fence and I think I am going to have some tomatoes.
Joyce: Now, the house always had this entranceway where you came back between the…?
Page: No, it didn’t.
Joyce: OK, so I should find out about that.
Page: It had a beautiful wrought iron stairs just like the house next door has.
Joyce: I see.
Page: And we eliminated that and made the entrance what would have been the way to the kitchen instead.
Joyce: OK. When did you do that?
Page: When Tommy and I got married. Fairly soon, about a year after I moved here, I guess. And I thought, if there were some way we could put those steps that were sitting in the garden like a chariascuro or whatever it is, painting. Anyway, if I’d had any sense I would have done it, but we didn’t. And they were beautiful, just like the ones next door.
Joyce: Well I love your entranceway, it’s so neat.
Page: Oh do you? Well that’s what we did. But, when we took the steps away, my older son had been using that back room, which is now the dining room, as his bedroom, because we had the house next door, too. We discovered that that door had never been locked, all those years. [laughs] So anyone could have taken a ladder or come up those steps, even before we took them away, and unlocked it. We just used this entrance so we forgot about that. Tommy and I spent all of our weekends, and so did visitors, working in the garden, which was fun. It took two able‑bodied people full‑time, and now my able‑bodied person, Tommy, died about nine years ago, and I ain’t so able‑bodied anymore.
Joyce: Do you have someone that helps you in the garden?
Page: I found the most marvelous guy. Who, well, some friends of mine found, who is steward on an airline, and he just wanted the extra work, money when he wasn’t working. He loves the work. He’s a farm boy from Minnesota. And actually he’s been laid off for 30 months. I’ve forgotten who he’d worked for, United, I’m not sure, and he keeps his health insurance and some kind of basic pay still. He and his wife are away right now. But he’s wonderful. And marvelously handy. He does things like find a window air conditioner and put it in for me in the apartment. Even before Tommy died, long before, when all the kids left, we turned the front into an apartment. I couldn’t live here. It’s still a huge house, but the apartment’s huge.
Joyce: So, you turned the front of the house into an apartment? I see.
Page: Well, you entered through the front, downstairs. But it’s got three bedrooms, it’s huge. But I’ve still got a big house here, too.
Joyce: I see.
Page: But I couldn’t live here for two reasons. First of all, it’d much too big, it’s already big for me. And I couldn’t live here without that money, that nice money. That nice rent. And I’ve been so lucky with the people I get.
Joyce: Great, great.
Page: The couple in the front, now he’s just started a bar, so I hope he will be able to keep on paying the rent.
Joyce: Well, maybe you could take me around to see the house?
Joyce: And I’ll take some pictures, if that’s OK with you.
Page: Sure. Do you want to go upstairs, too?
Joyce: Just in terms of anything that’s changed.
Page: Maybe the porch, you could see the porch.
Joyce: That would be fine.
Page: I think my bedroom, which is also my working space, is kind of messy.
Joyce: You don’t need to do that.