Dorothy Lawrence Smith Memoirs

My father, Caleb Wakefield Lawrence, was born in Wilton, Maine in 1868. He was the seventh child of eight children born to the Reverend John Lawrence and his wife, Nancy Wakefield Lawrence. Tragically, my grandmother Nancy died shortly after the birth of her eighth child, leaving my minister grandfather totally unprepared and incapable of caring for his large family. He kept John, the oldest son; the rest of the children were given to relatives to bring up. Caleb was given to Dr. Horace Wakefield and his second wife, Mary. She was a very cruel woman and treated the boy very badly.

In spite of a miserable childhood, Caleb developed into a brilliant and successful young man. After trying several ventures into the business world, at the age of 27 he decided to follow in his sister’s footsteps and he became a teaching missionary, going to Smyrna, Turkey to International College.

My mother, Helen Lewis, was born in 1877. She was the fourth child of eleven children born to William Lewis and his wife Leila Williamson Lewis of Sokia, Turkey, where grandfather owned a factory that produced a substance used in processing tobacco. At the age of 17, Mother went to Smyrna to become a governess to a British family. At the age of 19, Mother became a teacher at the American Mission School there.

Clara Lawrence was also teaching at this school, and in 1896, she influenced her brother Caleb to come and teach at the Boys Mission School. The teachers from both schools had afternoon tea together and this is how Mother and Father met. They became engaged a year later, in 1897. However, they could not get married until father became a full professor. He was taking correspondence courses at Queens University in Kingston, Canada at the time. Meanwhile, Mother went to England to train to become a nurse. Finally, in 1904 Father got his degree and sent for Mother and they went to Egypt where Granny was living at the time, and were married there.

Mother, training as a nurse in England

Eighteen years later, on February 18, 1922, I was born. It was such a special occasion that school was cancelled for the day at the college to celebrate the birth of a daughter born to Professor and Mrs. Lawrence after they had had 6 sons.

My earliest memories are of my life in Turkey, of the home I grew up in, and of the college campus, which was my playground in those early years. The village, Kizil Culla, was a few miles south of Smyrna. Its name was better known by us as Paradise. It was a picturesque spot – a lush green valley lined by hills filled with wildflowers and on the east by snow capped mountains.

Father, a college professor at International College in Turkey

Our home was built in 1912, the same year they started building the new International College at Paradise. The original college was in Smyrna. We had 4 bedrooms and a bathroom and a box room (a storage room) on the second floor. On the first floor we had a large living room, a central hall and staircase, a dining room, a kitchen, a lavette and servant’s rooms in back of the kitchen. The college had its own generator to provide electricity to the college buildings and to the faculty homes. Each home had its own well and windmill to pump water to the upper levels for running water.

Our home had a porch across the front and side and there were about six steps leading down into the garden. There was a high metal fence around the entire garden with a front gate leading on to the main road to the college. Mother had a beautiful flower garden in the front and a vegetable garden in the back. We also had many fruit trees. We were allowed to eat any fruit that we could pick. We became very apt at shinnying up these trees to get figs, apricots or peaches.

We had a Habusa, a large round holding tank, which was filled with water from the well. It had an outlet, which was opened each afternoon so that the irrigation system, a series of ditches and canals, could send water to the entire garden.

My brothers made a hut in the back yard. They made forms for the bricks and filled them with mud; when dried, the bricks were built into a nice little room. It stood up very well for many years.

My brother Jack was just one year older than I was so we played together a lot. Actually there were only two other girls among the faculty children so that I grew up as a tomboy – playing with the boys and competing against them.

Caleb Wakefield Lawrence

We had such ideal weather that we went barefoot most of the time. A typical day for us would be to do a few lessons in the morning and then pack a little lunch and go off somewhere to play or to explore.

I remember how daring some of these experiences were; climbing on the aqueducts, or playing on the tower above the college clocks. I am very much afraid of heights after these early experiences. We also climbed a lot of trees. I remember jumping from a high branch onto a flat section of a large tree, and in doing so, I sprained my ankle. We were quite a way from home at the time, but Jack and Eddy Maynard made a chair with their wrists and then they carried me home.

Helen Lewis Lawrence

The college property was surrounded by a high wall with a gate at the front entrance. There was a gatekeeper who had to give his permission to enter. Each year the college students participated in athletic contests with other schools. These were similar to the Olympic games. This grew a large crowd to watch the events. The faculty children also had a scaled down version of these sports and it was fun to compete with the boys and girls my age in races and field events. I received a few trophies at the awards ceremony.

Father was a great storyteller. Every night it was story time for Jack and me. I had many nightmares about his jungle animals that would chase after me in my dreams. Father was the astronomer at the college and he was in charge of the telescope. Many evenings he invited me to join him at the observatory to observe the planets and the moon through the telescope. Father kept a tin box full of raisins in his desk drawer and it was a special event for me to be offered some of these sweet treats. Father was also the college librarian and the teacher of many subjects. He was always a great help to me when I was doing homework or doing book reports.

Our house in Paradise, just after it was built in 1912

We had three earthquakes while I was in Turkey, which I remember very well. The first one happened in mid-morning when I was playing in the garden. I was sitting on the ground when the earth began to shake. I looked up and could see the roof of the house bending back and forth, from side to side some time before it stopped.

International College campus (Note wall on left)

Roman aqueducts (Note wall on right showing how close the aqueducts to the college)

A similar period (1938) postcard view of the same region, taken further back showing both the pair of aqueducts and college buildings in the distance.

The second earthquake took place during our noontime meal. We were all sitting at the dining room table and as the house started to shake, Mother yelled to us to all get under the table. We stayed there until it seemed safe and then ran outdoors. It was the safest place to be during an earthquake to avoid falling objects.

View from the entrance in the college

The last one that occurred while I was in Turkey happened during the night. The plaster fell from the ceiling onto me in bed; but it was Mother who woke me up and told me to hurry up and get dressed. A glass window broke over Jack while he was in bed, but luckily he didn’t get cut. We were told by our parents to grab a blanket and a pillow and follow them. They led us to the college campus and to the meetinghouse where all the faculty members gathered. We stayed there the night until it was safe to return home.

Gate at the entrance to the college

I can remember seeing our home after that earthquake. It looked like a dollhouse with the inside rooms open to see in. The walls had fallen out on the roadside of the house. There was a lot of devastation in the surrounding villages.

Another type of disaster we experienced was a rapidly forming flood. We could see the water bubbling up from the ground. The small streams that were fed by the melting snow from the surrounding hills and mountains soon were overflowing; it became clear that we would need a boat to get Father from the classroom. Jack and Ralph found a rowboat and before long they rescued Father. The water came up to the front door about six feet above the garden, but it did not come into the house.

Our British cousins, the Stevensons, lived in Bouja, a village southeast of Paradise. There were three children: Kathleen, my age and Donald and Phyllis, younger. Aunt Jesse was very sweet and easy going, but Uncle Leslie was strict and always said “Children should be seen and not heard!” I was always afraid to even open my mouth to speak in front of him.

They had a beautiful garden with many bushes and trees to hide in or to climb. We made a tree house there with the help of the gardener. We had a wooden ladder to climb up to it, a wooden floor, bushes for the sides and grass and leaves for the rug. One day during a birthday party the tree started to catch on fire. We had smoked cigarettes out of the sight of the grownups and someone did not douse the butt properly and that started the fire. The servants quickly got buckets of water and put the fire out, but we were all severely punished. We could not leave our property for a whole week.

Jack and me in Turkey

Our grandmother, Leila Lewis lived in Smyrna at the time with her sister Grace and her son William. We would go there by train and could walk to Granny’s house, which was near the train station. This home was always filled with guests and relatives who would stop by on their way to other destinations. I remember the lovely garden in the back of the house surrounded by a high cement wall. A lot of entertaining took place in this garden.

Jack, Henry, Ralph and me in passport picture and me and Jack / rollover: Jack and me with British cousins Donald (front right), back, left to right: Phyllis, Kathleen

In the cold weather there was always a tundour, which is small charcoal stove under a table covered with a heavy quilted spread. People would sit around the table playing cards, having tea or visiting while their legs and feet were kept warm by the heat from the stove. Everyone in Turkey had a tundour during the cold weather. Granny’s youngest sister, Aunt Althea, lived in Bournabat, a fashionable village northeast of Smyrna where many wealthy British families lived. We used to go there on special occasions to visit relatives.

When I was six or seven, two of my brothers, Edward and Alfred who were in America going to school, came to Turkey to visit us. I can remember how they used to throw me up in the air and almost forget to catch me. Alfred was especially affectionate, calling me his “best girl.” The following year when he was at Brown University he sent me his fraternity pin. I used to write to him quite often. Eddie and Alfred taught me how to swim that summer. They just threw me into the deep water, way over my head and I had to swim or drown.

There was a wealthy lady from New York, a Mrs. Kennedy, who used to periodically send money to Mother to help support her large family. She also used to save the New York Sunday funny papers and when she had a large bundle she would mail them to us. It was such a happy occasion when they arrived. We devoured every comic strip on every page.

We had movies quite regularly on Saturday nights. They were shown in the auditorium, which was also the chapel on Sunday. The college library was on the lower level. They were silent films with captions underneath. Our favorites were Harold Lloyd and Charlie Chaplin movies.

Sunday was truly a day of rest for us. We could not play games, cards or even sew. We always went to Sunday school and church in the morning; after a special meal we would go for a walk, still in our Sunday best clothes. We often picked wild flowers in the nearby hills.

When it became close to the time that we would be leaving Turkey, Mother looked for someone who could give us more formal schooling. One of the faculty members’ wife was a former schoolteacher in the United States and she agreed to give us two hours of classes a day. There were five of us children who went to her home from 9 to 11. She kept us up in our studies for the grade level we belonged in according to our ages. I also took piano lessons and dancing lessons in Turkey. My piano teacher couldn’t speak English and I couldn’t speak French, which was her native language, but we both could speak a little Greek so that is how we communicated. I loved to dance and even performed in a recital at the Alhambra Theater in Smyrna on one occasion. It was a great success.

We knew that we would be leaving Turkey in 1932. I was 10 and Jack was 11. Henry was still with us but all of the older boys, Arthur, Edward, Alfred and Ralph were in the United States. Ralph was living at the missionary home in Auburndale, Massachusetts, and going to Newton High School. He was always getting into trouble and my parents were anxious to come to America for his sake. Father had another year before his retirement but he wanted to come and help Mother get settled in America.

I remember that trip very well. We took a small ship from Smyrna to Bare at the heel of Italy. Then we boarded a train for Genoa, staying there overnight. The next day we boarded a large Cunard Oceanliner for America. I can remember how special I felt because I could have delicious apples anytime on the ship. We celebrated the Fourth of July at sea with fireworks, singing and dancing.

The ship arrived at New York Harbor on July 5, 1932. Louise, Edward, Alfred and Ralph met us there. Jack and I rode home in the rumble seat of Eddie’s Ford Coupe while Mother and Louise came home on the train with Alfred and Henry. Father stayed in New York to tend to business. My home at that time was an apartment Alfred had rented for us from his roommate at Brown. It was on Arnold Street, just a short distance from the apartment Arthur and Lib had on John Street, near Brown University. Nancy was 2 and Gail was a newborn. Jack and I played with the kids in the neighborhood and I was scolded because I played with a black boy named Kenneth.

Soon Father had to return to Turkey to teach his last year. Mother found a house for us in Norton, Massachusetts. It was a large old farmhouse with 15 rooms, 18 acres of land, 2 barns and a garage. This was during the depth of the Depression and the family who was selling the property had lost money in the stock market. They were happy to get $3000.00 cash for the home and they left a lot of curtains, silverware and furniture. This is all the money that Father and Mother had saved and yet they still had to buy two used cars – one for Alfred and Ralph to get to Providence because Alfred was a senior at Brown and Ralph was going to Providence Country Day School. Mother had to learn to drive a car so that she could buy groceries and take us kids places. Father had to return to Turkey to finish one more year before he could retire.

We were settled by September in time for Jack and me to go to school at Norton Grammar School. It was a difficult beginning for me because I soon discovered that I talked and looked quite different from the American children. I had a British accent and my clothes were old fashioned or home made. There were not enough desks for all the children so I had to share one with another girl. I remember a boy in back of me whispering “I’m going to tease you at recess.” When they found out that I came from Turkey they would make gobble noises every time Turkey was mentioned. Somehow I rose above the teasing and embarrassment and did very well in my studies. I fit right into the fifth grade without ever going to a real school before, which was a credit to Mrs. McFarland, my tutor in Turkey.

I remember how very cold it was that year, 1932. We never had snow in Turkey, and while it was fun to play in the snow, it was hard to warm up afterwards. There was no heat in the bedrooms at our farmhouse; we would fill a hot water bottle and put it in the bed before getting into it.

I made new friends in Norton. Audrey Wiley lived in a large home at the center of town. We were a lot alike and soon became inseparable. My brother Jack had a lot of boy friends and we used to all go out together – not paired, but just as friends. We would go bowling, or to the movies, or to a baseball game or to the beach in the summer.

When I was in the 8th grade I got a job after school working at the Cressy’s, who lived in the center of town and who taught at Wheaton College. I did light housework and looked after two children. Mr. Cressy would drive me home afterwards, or I would call Mother to come and get me. I earned 25 cents an hour, which added up to buy a pair of shoes or some clothes I needed. Soon I became more in demand, working at other college professors homes.

Jack got a job after school working in a chicken farm nearby. On Saturdays my job at home was to clean the house. Mother was busy with garden, washing, cooking, etc. We only had a carpet sweeper, a broom and a dustpan but I always did a nice job. I also took turns with Jack washing or wiping the supper dishes.

Jack had the job of milking the cows twice a day while I helped with the canning and pickling and making jams and jellies. We had a big vegetable garden and a large strawberry patch. We had a vegetable stand in front of the house where we sold vegetables, blackberries, strawberries, blueberries, jams and jellies. Mother also sold some milk to the neighbors.

Father returned from Turkey in 1933, bringing Mother’s sister Louisa to live with us. Aunt Louisa was a sweet, kind lady. She was never married and she was a great help to Mother and a lovable addition to our family. Father and Henry were always busy going out into the woods to cut down trees, split wood and stack it in the shed for the winter. We had a hand push cart with two big wheels to put the wood in. The two dogs always went with them.

Aunt Louisa

Christmas at Norton was always a joyous time. Because I didn’t have much money to buy presents for the family, I usually started knitting early in the fall. Argyle socks for my brothers and mittens or gloves for the children and scarves for the women. We would find a nice tree on our property and cut it down for a Christmas tree. Mother would cook a huge turkey and all the family would come together. Those were very happy days.

The public schools in Norton consisted of the elementary school on the first floor and the high school on the second floor of a large old wooden building. There was a common playground in the back of the school with a separating fence in the middle to keep the boys and girls apart. There was a boy in the high school who used to send me notes from the second floor via paper airplane, telling me he wanted to go out with me. One day he came to see me at my home. He rode a motorcycle and wore a leather jacket. He asked me to go to the senior prom with him. My parents objected very strongly but decided to let me go if my brother Jack could come with me to chaperone. It was embarrassing for me but I wanted to go to the dance, so Jack came, too.

When I was in high school, all of the girls “dressed up”. That is to say we wore a skirt, a sweater, a blouse and pair of shoes with heels. One day in class I slipped off one of my shoes. It was on the floor, under my desk. One of the “smart alec” boys in back of me took the shoe and threw it out the window. This started a commotion and the teacher made me stay after school, thinking it was my fault. The teacher was very angry and he hit me with a stick. I had never been struck before and when I got home I was in tears. Explaining what happened to my parents, Father was furious. He called the teacher and made an appointment to see him that evening. He took me with him and he made the teacher apologize to me and he warned him never to lay a finger on his daughter again.


to top of page