Chapter 2: Children and Family Life
Lisa ( 01:55:33:22) : When we spoke last time, we spoke about your childhood and little bit about Mr. Elkin and married life and today we'd like to start talking about your family, your children. And I wonder if you could tell me a little bit about how your wonderful children Richard and Margot came into your life.
Eleanor (01:55:50:22): Richard and Margot came into my life because we wanted to have children and we were not so fortunate. We applied for adoption. Richard was the first one to arrive and it took us- I guess two years before we managed to get Richard he was premature and I knew he had been born. They told me he was in the preemie- word for babies- nursery. But they didn't know they said he's for you but you may not be able to have him because he's not well. Well I was determined to see him and I tried to get in but they wouldn't let me [laughs]. I went down to Penn- tried to get into the nursery but they wouldn't let me see him. So I had to wait. But- we were planning a trip to New York for the weekend and I had been to the hairdresser and I was all done up in pin curls, I think I mentioned pin curls once before they must have something to do with my life apparently. Got a call from the county office; at that time all the children's work was done through the juvenile court. There was no child welfare agency as such, or department it was through the juvenile court. I got a call, "come on up, we have your baby." SO we went up together, Phil was home fortunately that afternoon- cause we were going to New York so he was there. We walked up and there was Richard- a scraggly little baby but I knew he had been ill, he was two months old at that point and he weighed seven pounds. We called him a weaver and bobber because he was always weaving back and forth because he couldn't you know really hold himself straight. But we walked him home and on the way home my husband said "I really think there's something wrong with this kid." But it's all right. It's okay. We'll have him anyway. He doesn't remember saying that but I do. I never forgot it because it gave me strength many times that it was okay. It was okay. So of course we had neighbors that all wanted to see the baby and all looked a little shocked and began to say you really ought to send him back. I guess we'd had him about two weeks and the county called and said "do you want to send him back" and I said that's my baby you don't turn in babies like cars , you know. I had a feeling that a doll or something that was around. I had no maternal. I thought I should and I was a little worried but by the time that I'd had him a week there wasn't any doubt who's baby he was. We just say you know he's our and he's okay with us and we had several people that tried to make suggestions and others that were helpful. It wasn't easy because we felt like we were fighting people who we wanted help from. Our parents were fine, our parents were fine. They didn't say send him back. They helped. Both Phil's parents and mine were just fine. And we had said that we wanted two children and I guess Richard was about nine months old and we got another call, Phil was not home at the time he was out at Penn doing whatever he had to do there and they said we've got a baby for you do you want her? [Laughs] One of his students was in the apartment doing some work for Phil and using my typewriter and I said come on you're gonna help deliver a baby. So he got a kick out of that and we walked up together and there was a bouncing girl taking over the whole office reigning supreme. Completely different from what Richard had looked like. And she was five months old. Beautiful and just full of it. And of course we didn't have her very long we had no doubt about Richard's development. So I took both of them to see the pediatrician that I knew had been in the ward when Richard was born and of course they confirmed Richards disability and said where did you get her she's gorgeous. And she was always a delight. Richard was a challenge and he was fun and he was funny. They were quite different because of course they came from different origins but Margot responded to everything she had good speech- picked up like we said- Richard picked up things too which was interesting to me. He said always talk to children and don't talk down to them but we were not very much talking baby talk we talked silly talk sometimes but not baby talk. No itchy-kitchy's. They had fairly decent language usually and Margot- I guess I don't, I may have told you [Lisa] this before I'm not sure but Margot wanted to bake a cake so I got her the cake mix out so forth and she was working on it and she made it and she iced it and we had it for dinner and Richard said, "Margot, you make a delicious cake." You used very good ingredients. I couldn't believe that he knew delicious and ingredients. But you see he just said it like anybody else would. Margot had- did not, and I may have mentioned this to you too- she did not talk baby talk. She usually spoke words clearly but she had a couple that she didn't and it interested me why does she say it she used to say instead of oatmeal, "moatmeal." And I realized that I would say, "have some oatmeal." And I slur, it sounded like ‘moatmeal.' Have some oatmeal, have some oatmeal. And there was another one that I can't think of right now but I will- similarly. It was the same kind of thing. Oh mato. For tomato. Tomatoes were matoes but she never heard the ‘T' because I didn't say it loudly enough. Other than that her language was very good. She was fun, we took them everywhere we went, not where they shouldn't go of course you know we got sitters when we were going some place we didn't think it was appropriate for them to go. Like dancing at the country club. That was not a good place. I took them to the golf course though while daddy finishes his rounds and then he'd come home but never [?] of course. But otherwise they went everywhere we went. All the family parties and if they weren't invited to family parties we didn't go either. And that certainly became clear to family very quickly. But my family was really- all the kids came. We took them to restaurants and sometimes had problems but most of the time didn't. I used to take them out a lot at lunch. I was not employed, which was a good thing, so sometimes we all needed change and I'd say come on we're going out to lunch and we'd go to some place in the country. We were living in Bucks County around that time. We had moved into Bucks County and there's a lot of little places where you can go in together and get a hamburger or a peanut butter sandwich. We would go out to lunch- so they were used to going out to eat, it wasn't like being in a restaurant where you had certain ways you had to behave but they were pretty good. I didn't have much trouble with them that way. And Margo was very helpful to Richard of course.
Lisa (02:04:43:04) : Eleanor when you say that sometimes you had problems in restaurants was it just typical kid behavior or was it the clientele perhaps reacting to-
Eleanor (02:04:56:10) l: Never had any problem with the clientele. They would sometimes ask are they twins and I would say no and that seemed to satisfy most people. Sometimes when I'd take them out in the carriage and I had to- I didn't have a twin carriage I used a regular carriage one in the front one in the back and they would ask sometimes in town people that didn't know me. A small town everybody knows but there are some who don't of course. Are they twins and I'd say no and I'd say there's four months difference and they'd get mad at me [laughs] and you know then I would explain that they were adopted but they both went to school and they both started first grade at the same time. But Richard wasn't in first grade, he was in a special education class. But it was the first special ed class in the borough. Maybe in the county.
Lisa (02:06:05:01) : Eleanor I want to ask you more about that later but firstly I'd like to go back and ask you about the relationship between Margot and Richard what was their relationship like as brother and sister?
Eleanor (02:06:17:20): Really it was not easy for Margot with Richard. The relationship was they loved each other, they would both say that, but there would be times where you know they didn't love each other. Or at least they didn't like each other. I think they loved each other but they didn't like each other, there is a difference. It was hard for Margot. She had to explain to her friends about Richard, "he learns slow you know" was the way she pretty nearly always handled it. He learned slow. And of course the children in the immediate neighborhood got to know him very quickly and I'm sure their parents also talked to them about Richard. So Margot would go off with her friends by herself- with them and leave Richard. Sometimes they did things together but they were things that you know they just couldn't include Richard in. They were in the house all the time and they would include Richard wherever they could, kids were always in and out of our house. I had friends- I was a little late getting around to this business [babies] so I had friends whose children were already past the three wheeler stage in bicycles and they gave them to us we had three three-wheelers in the backyard. We used to share them with the children in the neighborhood so Richard was included in that because he could ride a three-wheeler. He learned how. Margot I know felt that Richard was favored and that he got away with things that she couldn't and that was very hard to explain to her that I couldn't always treat him the same as I treated her. There was a difference. I asked the doctor once about it because I was concerned; a psychiatrist. I said I just don't understand about disciplining Richard. He was probably one and a half then or two. And he said what do you do with Margot? And I told him and I said you know I tell her that you can't do that and if she's really naughty I don't mind putting my hand on her bottom. I never spanked her but I gave her sort of a push, an encouragement of the rear and he said well you do the same thing with Richard. There's no reason to discipline him differently. And that helped, that really helped a lot. Richard wasn't allowed to be just naughty it wasn't cute, it wasn't cute. You know it wasn't real fun when he poured the soap flakes down the stairs. He got a hold of the box of soap flakes and he was having a great time shaking it around, shook it all the way down the third floor stairs. What a clean-up, what a clean-up! He did cute little things like that, they weren't cute you know. When he learned to use scissors he cut up everything in sight. That wasn't so cute either. I tried to have special times with each one not necessarily in the week but in the summer I always had at least a week with one just home and the other one away at camp or whatever. So one got complete attention and extra bonding, if you will. There was a rivalry, there was sibling rivalry all their lives. All their lives, it was always there. It was always there. They managed to get along together and of course Margot got married and you know she had her own life to live.
Lisa (02:10:23:29): You've talked about people reacting to Richard as a baby and even people saying you should give Richard back and I wonder if there was pressure to put Richard in an institution or if you ever considered putting Richard in an institution?
Eleanor: (02:10:58:15) People did react to Richard that you really shouldn't keep that kid around it's not good for Margot. It's not good for her to have him around and you really ought to send him to an institution- well it wasn't- first of all I wouldn't, but at that point there was a waiting list to get in the institution. But there were other avenues available and the Wood School offered me a day program for Richard. The- Ed John Stone*? was the name of the president at the Wood School at the time and he did some work with our little organization and he said to me we have some day programs and I could see that Richard got one: get him here. So I thought that would be just great because Margot could do her thing and he could his. I made reference of this to the county, would they help me with transportation and they said they'd think about it and they said you know you have to spend money for transportation and it turned out they said well we have a better idea we'll send him up to the Judge School. That was a private facility high up in the Poconos and I said no, no, no, that wasn't what I wanted. It turned out they did, they actually did take him away from me and sent him there. That's another story, it wasn't good. We did get him back but that was a kind of pressure that was put on us- yeah it was pressure. It was pressure that we should do that. Now today that would be different but today that was considered unusual- people had nothing else. At the time that this went on with the county he was only four years old I guess or five and we had not yet gotten our special ed class- there was nothing we had a little- we had gotten together in the neighborhood and we had a little class in the Church basement with a volunteer teacher for you know two hours, twice a week or something. Which helped a great deal but there were very few alternatives. Very few and some parents were ready to climb walls. It was very difficult for them.
Lisa: (02:13:49:12) Eleanor can you describe the impact that having Richard taken out of your family had on you and Mr. Elkin and Margo.
Eleanor: (02:13:58:24) The impact it had- it had a great impact on us when they took Richard that time. It was hard to explain to Margot where her brother was and we said we're going to go see him and we're going to bring him home as soon as we can we kept telling her he was going to come home because we determined he was. It was terrible. It was an awful time. I insisted- they wanted to come to my house and get him and take him away and I wouldn't let them I said I'm gonna take him. I have to take him there. My sister drove me and we did that but I never got past the living room at the place never. It was dreadful it was just terrible it was just it was heartbreaking but we kept pushing, you know. We kept pushing. It's a long story.
Lisa: (02:14:54:13) Would you share it with us?
Eleanor: (02:14:56:05) If you would want me to do that now, you do want me to do that now.
Lisa (02:15:02:15) If you feel comfortable sharing it with us.
Eleanor (02:15:04:08) Yeah, I'm willing to share it. First of all we never got passed the living room and they took Richard right away from me and I had some clothes and pack of diapers and I said do you want these and she, Mrs. Judge said to me, well we'll take them now but he'a not going to need them by the of the week. We'll take care of that, and they did. They did. They got him toilet trained fast I don't know what or how but they did. We weren't allowed to visit for six weeks I think it was. It was a special time and that not unusual that was sort of standard. That was because the children had to have a chance to settle and get used to you not being around and you had to get used to it, to adjust. You don't adjust, no it doesn't happen. You don't adjust. And then we couldn't go when the six weeks was up because there was a polio epidemic and so they didn't want anybody and that I was willing to honor of course. So we didn't see him for a couple of months and we finally- when you can only go on- every other Sunday something like that. The right Sunday came around and we- all three of us went, Margot Phil and I, and we went up and as we got there when we parked the children were playing- it was a big Victorian house. A beautiful old town, a beautiful town. Big houses, big old houses. And there was quite a large yard and the children were out playing in the yard and some on swings to play with. There was one child who was sitting by- it was a shed I guess they kept toys in it or bicycles or something- so way back in the corner up against the shed, where there was shade, it was a sunny day, and we had announced that we were there and we went out to look at the children in the playground. A little boy came running across the yard saying ‘Joey,' Richard's real name before he was adopted. They had him in under his original name. "Joey, Joey, Joey, there's somebody here you've got company and scooped Richard up in his arms- that was Richard back there all huddled up in the corner and scooped him up in his arms and ran across the playground with him. So we went inside and in a few minutes Richard came in. He had- now it would've been stylish today but it wasn't then- his bangs hadn't been cut so they were way down to his eyes and his hair was very long which it wasn't the style then. When I look at pictures of him now it was kinda cute. We didn't think so then. His shoes were too big, they didn't have his own clothes on. But he came in and he stood in the doorway and he saw us and he burst into tears. So did we. It was horrible, I could burst into tears now- trying not to. It was a dreadful, dreadful experience. Nobody should have to do that. Nobody. It was bad for him, it was bad for us, anyway we took him out and we all went to church. And we all sat in church and cried. And then we went to the playground- by that time we weren't crying anymore and I had taken his record player up because I knew that he would like that. He started to work on that right away that was a wind-up; portable wind-up. It was his favorite records and he knew- he picked out the ones he liked. He knew what he liked and Margot played on the swings and we played together and then we went to a Hotel and had some lunch and took him back. We took some pictures of him and we went again the very next time we could go and this time we had gotten a letter that I should stop corresponding. I used to send him- things that I could send a package of something that he could share with all the children like lifesavers or something like that. It said no more packages because if every child there got the same kind of attention that he got they would go out of business. The just couldn't handle that. It was not right and anyway it was too upsetting to him because he didn't know we were there anyway. If it was upsetting, and he didn't know we were there, it didn't add up and of course I was livid. I called Phil, he was at work, he was working on somebody with an estate plan no less. I said get him out of there and I told him what had happened in this letter and he said of course you know this means war. I said yes. So, we went up to see him right after that like as soon as we could go and we took pictures of him in the nude. I had had some correspondence with another person that said what they ate for breakfast was bread and molasses. They all licked the Molasses off. I noticed when Richard came home every time I gave him bread he turned it upside down and licked it. So that was probably true, anyway. She had given me extra courage because she had left and he liked Richard and so we took the pictures and we went to the [?] with the judge. As we're going in Phil says now don't get emotional- you've we've go to be- we'll tell him the judge this and we'll show him the pictures but don't you get emotional. Guess who cried? Phil started to talk to the judge and he burst into tears. Don't get emotional, I said I've got something to get emotional about. Then the judge said we could bring him home. He said I'm not sure this is the best thing for Margot and we said we thought so and Margot in the meantime was climbing all over the judge sitting in his lap and- [laughs]. So we brought him home and we stopped on the way home there was a church conference at one of the resorts in the Pocanos and so we stopped there for overnight and to say hello to friends. Richard couldn't walk. I had to carry him into the dining room. Then when we got him home I sat him down in the dining room of that house where we lived and there was a closet there. He got in the closet and out came the vacuum cleaner. And he got the vacuum cleaner and was moving it all around it was one of his favorite things. I plugged it in for him and he was walking. I think he was scared to death before. You know really he was just turning into himself and that's his way of being safe I guess.
Lisa: (02:22:35:19) Eleanor, I need to ask you, you mentioned taking photographs to show to take to the judge, why did you take photographs?
Eleanor: (02:22:45:07) Well we took photographs of Richard because we had noticed that- we thought there was malnutrition and we took photographs and he had a bloated stomach like he had eaten too much but that wasn't what it was. It goes with starvation. I don't think he was starved, but he certainly was mal-nourished. We took pictures to show the judge what he looked like. And it was effective. It wasn't a horror picture, it was a straight forward picture this is what is happening to a little boy that shouldn't happen. It wasn't like you know- he didn't have bruises or anything like that he had not been abused in that way. It was mal-nutrition; neglect. The abuse was neglect. There was a place to play but it wasn't part of a program it was go out and play. Which isn't bad necessarily but for Richard it was because the sun bothered him apparently and he was lonesome and afraid and he sat in the corner.
Lisa: (02:24:05:08) Eleanor, it seems when you're recounting the story of it, everyone was so concerned about Margot's well-being but how did Margot respond to her brother being taken out of the home?
Eleanor: (02:24:17:28) She missed him and she talked about it and I've- several times in the night I've woke up and she was asleep on the floor beside me. In my bedroom. She had come in just to be sure we were there. We lived in a old farm house and there were two bedrooms but it was separated by a bathroom. I don't know what it had been originally because it obviously didn't have a bathroom but that's where the bathroom had been put and at each of the bathroom there was a bedroom. And that was each end of the house. That's how big the house was and a couple times we found her on the floor. Occasionally she would come and ask to get in bed with us. But other times I just found- there she was on the floor, like the cat. Just to be sure we were there. When he came home then the rivalry started again because she had been the queen bee. She had been everything to all of us. Family and for us and that was for several months. Probably, I guess close to six months he was away. And then Richard came back and everybody was paying attention to Richard they were so glad to see him. So we had to even that out but she was the queen bee. And rightfully so. Rightfully so because she was a delightful child to be with and I took her a lot of places with me just the two of us. And I did that later too. We had time together. Richard always had Grandmom.
Lisa: (02:26:10:28) Eleanor, I'm sure it would be hard to choose but can you think of one of your best memories of Richard. Would you share with us-
Eleanor: (02:26:21:12) Special memories of Richard? Oh my. There's a lot... I really should have had one ready for you because well—Richard was always outspoken with people and now I'm trying to think of a good one with that where he would imitate. He- well I'll tell you one. This sort of [?] Margot had been naughty. It doesn't matter why I don't remember it and she was crying and I was [?] and he said what's the matter with Margot? And I said nothing's the matter with Margot that good spanking wouldn't cure. And he said no, don't do that to my little brother. She needs a good loving. That's Richard. ‘Don't do that.' He always called her his little brother. Don't do that to my little brother.
Lisa: (02:27:28:04) Would you be comfortable telling us- we're jumping forward a little bit. A little bit later on we'll ask you a little bit more about Richard's education and upbringing but we'll jump forward a little bit. Are you comfortable sharing with us how Richard passed away?
Eleanor: (02:27:48:25) Yes, that's okay. Richard was prone to fall and he had fallen several times and broken his elbow or that arm. He was full of metal in his right arm, all kinds of things. He set off the alarms in the airport. I had to warn them ahead because he would go berserk when the alarms went off. He had another fall. He was then living in his new condo on Germantown Avenue [with Florence Perdue] tell you a little about her later wonderful lady. He was with her and he fell again and broke his elbow, again, and she took him to the hospital she took him to Einstein because that's then where they were going to the doctor. And it was not too far away. And they called me and said that they had x-rayed it and they didn't think there would be any problem in setting it- in fixing it but they thought there was fluid in it and they wanted permission to drain the fluid which meant they had to put him under anesthesia. And they needed my permission and I said are you sure, you know, do you really need to do it and they said they thought it was essential because it would become infected and so forth. So I gave them permission to do it and they were going to do it the very next morning because they wanted to get that done so then they could set the elbow. So I said I'll be there and they told me a time- I don't remember what the time was it doesn't matter but I got there about a half hour early and he was already in the E.R. and Florence was sitting in the waiting room so I spoke with her and pretty soon they brought him down and I stayed with him that day. I think that was Saturday, anyway I came on Sunday and visited him again. I think Florence must have been there all night because it looked like she had. And she was capable of doing that. I stayed with him and you know fed him and talked to him and I was not in good shape and I didn't know what was the matter with me but I knew- if you've ever been in Einstein the connection to the building it's very long to walk it's miles and I was just having an awful time I said to Florence I have to get a wheelchair I don't think I can make it I should go home. I've got to go home I just know I've got to go home. It was dinner time anyway and I said to Richard I'll be back I'll come see you I'm going to come back after dinner if not I'll see you in the morning and Florence got a wheelchair and she wheeled me down to where you get a cab and I said you go back to Richard. She said are you sure you're alright I said I'll be alright I can get in a cab- I was very wobbly. I was really very wobbly. Well the cab didn't come, Margot did. Florence called Margot and said I can look after your brother but I cant look after you're brother and you're mother too and your mother's sick. Margot came and got me, we came home and had a little supper and she said mom you've got to go- you've got to go to the hospital- she had been telling me that for a couple of days and I had been resisting it. You look awful you've just got to go and I said okay I'll go but I have to go to Einstein your not sending me anywhere else I've got to be where Richard is. We went up to Einstein and I was being admitted, they had me all full of tubes and Margot got a call Florence was on the phone she said come up Richard's dying. And she told me and I said you go. She said I don't- I said go, go right away, go. Well get these things out of me I've got to go. Well they couldn't hurry it I guess but they got them out as fast as they could. They did send me up in a wheelchair but he had already died. That was a dreadful day. Those two incidents with Richard were the worst two days of my life. It was horrible- I had pneumonia which should have been recognized but wasn't- that's not important at the moment. I was in the hospital for about a week I guess, maybe a little less. I of course recovered. Margot was going to stay with me overnight and I said go home to your family I'm not going to die. She said I don't like to leave you- she thought I was going to die. I guess one death was enough to handle. I have to tell you this about Margot and her relations with Richard. I came up to see Richard and he had already passed. He couldn't close his eyelids tightly because he had the short upper eyelids so it always looked like he was peeping. And I said to him you're peeping at me again and Margot said, "mom, he's gone" and I said I know that. I'm just talking. So I was sitting there holding his hand and patting him and she's over across from me and she's over across from me and she's starting to cry and she said Richard, Richard you were always a terrible pain a terrible pain but I'm sure going to miss you! Which is true that was the way their relationship was. I would say a different word than he was a pain but I'm not going to do it on the tape. I think you can guess. Those are memorable, very memorable things and I really had not intended to talk about but I'm glad I did because they are important. Richard went out in a blaze of glory. Happiness I should say. His birthday was April the 7th and I always had a big party for him. He selected the guests, he selected the menu and it was a big thing here at the Watermark special dining room and big goings on with wine on the table. We had a woman that he liked that would come and sing and people would dance to her singing. So it was a big deal but they wanted to go to Disney World and Florence was able to get a good deal for them to go and it would be over his birthday and I said that's alright we can have his birthday when he comes back. So he went to Disney World he had a wonderful time. He didn't always talk a lot about trips but that one he just bubbled when he came home he talked about it and he had a whole album full of pictures and mini-mouse had kissed him on his birthday and all this it was wonderful he had such a good time. It was Florence and her husband and then there was the young woman who Richard knew who had been in his class or something and she went along too. So they had quite a group. He had a great time and so that was a big deal and then immediately following that I had his party which was as usual a great success and he had a good time and he danced and he sang he sang with Karen. I'll try to remember the name of the song I know it- well I've got a copy of it here. So he had been singing with her I have a picture of him singing with her it's very cute. And then the next Sunday was mother's day and he was up here with me and the next Sunday he died. Just like that 1, 2, 3. So he had a great time and it was good for all of us really because we could remember him happy you know not just think of him in a hospital bed dying. That was a terrible shock because I didn't think he was dying I didn't think he was going to die. I knew that Richard could die at any time that he was a risk always but somehow I just wasn't prepared for that one. It was tough.
Lisa: What did Richard mean to you?
Eleanor: (02:36:57:28) What did he mean to me? What do your sons mean to you? He meant everything to me so did Margot. I mean they're my children, yea. Because of his need he probably was closer in many ways than Margot but there ways that she was close that he never could be. We've shared things you know mother and daughter things. Her son calls them [?]. We said throw the men out and we'd have an overnight together. Because of his great need I guess in some ways he was more like a baby but he wasn't a baby, he was a man. And he let you know it. He listened to the television and the radio and he knew what was going on. He wasn't a baby. He would let people know.
Lisa: What's been the hardest part for you about losing Richard?
Eleanor: (02:38:21:09) What was the hardest part about losing him? I don't know that there's a hardest part the whole thing was hard. The hardest part is to let him go. I miss him all the time but I have let him go pretty much- I mean I'm not overwhelmed it. I was for maybe a week and I knew that that wasn't right I did a lot of praying and I had a lot of help from my church. I saw him once and I'm really not at all sure that I didn't have it in my heart that he was there or whether he really was. It doesn't matter, it doesn't matter whether it was real or not real. It was the night he died, and it was like he said goodbye. There was no words. He was just there smiling and that was all and then he just disappeared and I think a lot of it was in my head, I don't know. I'd like to think it was real and I remember it but I don't dwell on it at all, I don't allow myself to do that. You can't keep someone all the time. I had to let him go and it wasn't easy.
Lisa: (02:40:39:04) How do you think that Richard would like to be remembered or how would you like people to remember Richard?
Eleanor: (02:40:46:24) I would like him to be remembered as he was and it came very clear in the services. We had two services for Richard, one at the church and my grandson spoke and John spoke and so it was very nice and I insisted that it not be maudlin and I insisted that it had to be like Richard I told the minister I want you to play ‘Jesus Loves Me' and some of those songs that Richard loved and sang and she did and then there's one that ‘Jesus Christ is Risen Today' he loved that he loved the hallelujah's. So two of the women who were members of the church and worked with him, Kathleen Sheraton and Diane Paulk, both were in the quire so they sang that hymn for him and it was different than many memorial services in the church even though all the right things were there. And then I had a service for him here, a memorial for any people here who wanted to come and for the people where he worked. And they brought up two bus loads. Two little buses, vans and we had Jim Conroy spoke and did a magic trick for Richard. Several people spoke to him and the girl who had been with him in Florida got up and cried and spoke and that was good because she needed to and it was happy and people were remembering things about Richard. Funny things, too, and that's the way I like him to be remembered. As he was, as he was. A character.
Lisa: (02:43:42:01) So we were asking about any hopes and dreams for Richard. Were they realized?
Eleanor: (02:43:47:04) I didn't have hopes and dreams for Richard I don't think. Not like you would for like I did for Margot going to college, getting married, all that. I knew that that was not going to happen. I never said never but I knew it wasn't going to happen. All you have to do is say it'll never happen and it happens. Those were small things. I think that the thing I wanted most was for him to be- have a home of his own which he did wind up having. It wasn't in his name- it was mine but he lived there I didn't and he lived there with Florence. He knew that when Florence first started with him, well he knew from others too, that it was his apartment. It was his, and whoever lived there with him was up to him. And if he didn't like them, they didn't stay. So he used to fire Florence about every two weeks and then he would tell her he didn't really mean it. So I always wanted for him to have a home like that, that he would have someone with him I knew it wasn't going to be me all the time and it shouldn't have been I was getting older and he needed someone younger that was more his age or near, you know she was probably pretty close to his age. And that was one of the dreams I had that he would- not an institution not ever an institution, not another private facility, none of that. A free-standing, life-sharing kind of place. And we were able to make it. I'm a little bit proud of that and that's another story that we were able to do that and it worked very well for Richard. I knew that he wasn't going to get married I wanted him to have more friends than he had in the neighborhood, but there weren't. They just weren't there. He had friends where he worked and they were good friends, they came to his funeral. I see them and they make a big fuss over me if I go in because they know you know I'm with Richard. No you learn very quickly that isn't going to happen so you try and figure what you can do to make their lives best. I wanted him to be able to go to school. He did go to school he was in school until he was 21 and then he went to a shelter to work shop. That could've been better but it was okay it was something to do during the day and he made friends there. I think that's it. We had one other bad thing with Richard. Do you want to hear that?
Lisa: (02:46:55:13) If you're comfortable sharing it.
Eleanor: (02:46:57:03) Yeah I just thought about it because of the workshop. We lived in a place called Cheltenham terrace on route 73 I guess it is. And I'm not sure whether its in Philadelphia or if its in Montgomery County its on the line there anyway and we had to throw our trash down a chute and there was a big thing at the bottom that it went into and was carried away in the trash truck it wasn't an incinerator it was a trash wagon and that was one of his jobs when he came home from the workshop; he would empty the trash and then he would go down to the laundry room where there was a coca-cola machine and get himself a coke and come back home. And that was a routine. It worked fine except occasionally people threw cigarette ashtrays down the chute and then there would be a fire. Anyway one day there was a fire. Richard had been in the basement getting his coke. He came up and we took the dog and we were going- we went out. I wanted to go back in when I left my purse in there and Richard wouldn't let me. So we stayed outside and the fireman came and the fire was in the basement in our- it started an air locker according to the fire marshal. Air locker was the furthest away from the door you could possibly get in the corner. Anybody could have been back there doing anything and nobody would see them. Of course Richard had been in the laundry room so all the ladies in the laundry room said he was downstairs. He did it. You know we moved - we had to move out because we couldn't live in our apartment the flames came up - we lived on the first floor and the flames came up through the sur-bases and it burned a couple things not too badly but it knocked things over, books were ruined. The fireman went in and locked everything and of course they sprayed water on everything. So we had to move out we moved up to Howard Johnson's for a while and one day there was a knock on my door and the fire marshal is there. Well I knew him because every time there was a fire in the basement he was always there. And Richard knew him too and he came in and he said did it ever occur to you that Richard started the fire and I said of course not. Well he went through a lot of things- parents are always the last to know and then these terrible things can happen and oh its awful and he wanted to see Richard. Richard was down getting an ice cream cone in that part of Howard Johnson's and I said no you can't see him unless my husband's here. So he made an appointment to come back the next day. So Phil was there and he came and I didn't say anything to Richard. We didn't say anything to Richard about it. But the man came in and he started to interview Richard and he said, "where do you keep your matches?" and Richard said I don't have any matches. He asked him a couple things like that and Richard answered them all. He didn't do it, he didn't have anything to do with that. I had said I didn't think he did he doesn't even like to blow out the match when his father lights his cigar. He doesn't like flame. He left and Richard went out to the- Phil went out to the car with him and when he came back I said weren't you proud of Richard to handle himself so well? I didn't say don't say this don't say that, we didn't say anything to him. And Phil said well you may have thought so but the fire marshal said well it's obvious that he did it. And he said don't worry- he said, "I won't press charges we'll just have to send him to Pennhurst and tell them he's a fire bug." Well....and Phil said to him go ahead if you want to but you haven't got a case and you know it. Well of course we contacted our lawyer right away and they had a fire the next day in the apartment building and then they had another one and the second one on a ladies door was written in lipstick "catch me if you can." So it's pretty obvious to us that Richard was- we never thought he was anyway. But that was one of the most horrible- you know- some pretty horrible experiences and you know you tend to forget them and write them off unless some other thing reminds you and of course we never heard anymore from the fire marshal but- oh, yes we did. He came to the workshop and he wanted to interview Richard. He brought the janitor from our apartment with him because the janitor said he had seen Richard in the area. He said he'd seen him throwing matches down the stairwell; I don't believe that. So he brought him with him and he wanted to see Richard and Mr. [Rudolph?] who's the superintendent or whatever- the boss called me and I said no, he cannot see Richard unless one of us are there. No he cannot see Richard because Richard will just say ‘hello! Mr......','how are you?' and he'll read anything. No he cannot see him unless we are there. So that was that except Richard did come downstairs while they were there, he was working on the second floor it was an old house that they had. He came down the stairs and he said, "hello! Mr...." [laughing]. But apparently the other man was outside and so he didn't. Nothing more happened from that and they had all these other fires.
Lisa: (02:53:23:16) But what did it do, Eleanor, to you and your husband for a second time to be threatened with the institutionalization of your child?
Eleanor: (02:53:33:24) Oh well it just made us more certain that he wasn't going to. We had hired a lawyer, we never had to use him but we wouldn't gone to all extremes. Sure, it was dreadful. Dreadful. Kept awake a few nights, of course- dreadful. But Richard was with us and we didn't want to say things in front of him you know so. Richard was living with us at the time.
Lisa: (02:54:03:04) Eleanor so much of your life you, obviously, devoted to both of your children but as you said was devoted to taking care of Richard's particular needs. How are you different now that Richard is no longer here- how are you a different person?
Eleanor: (02:54:21:25) You'd have to ask somebody else that. Well I'm older, you know, and I'm here. I've moved into a smaller apartment, those things all effect me. I just think I'm at a different stage at my life. I guess in a way I'm freer but I'm not because I'm older. [Laughing] I can't do much anyway. I was able to do pretty nearly anything I wanted to do with Richard because I always had help and I made sure that I was the person and I wasn't just Richard's mother. You know I went all over the world mostly on account of him, but it wasn't directly about him. I don't think I'm very different but ask Margot.
Lisa: (02:55:20:14) One last question, do you have any traditions- traditions that allow you to honor Richard and Richard's memory?
Eleanor: (02:55:28:24) No not really. I'm thinking of one before Richard. At the ARC in Philadelphia they have given me some honors but they are now talking about naming the- getting a new creative workshop or something where Richard- the thing he was working with art and music and dance and stuff. And they said how would I feel having it named after Richard. And I said well that would be wonderful and they said well maybe it can be named after both of you and I said well I think it'd be nice if it was named after Richard. So I don't know if anything will come of that. I would like that- I would like that. Otherwise, I really don't know what to do about it. I have a scholarship for my husband but that's different.
About Eleanor Elkin
Born: 1916, Philadelphia, PA
Parent, Advocate, President of National Association for Retarded Citizens 1967-68
Resides in Philadelphia, PA
Parents, Families, ARC, Institutions, Advocacy, PILCOP