York, ME

Jack & Dorothy, York, ME — Married 1946

A filmmaker friend of mine, David Petersen, made an award-winning feature documentary entitled If You Lived Here, You’d Be Home Now, which profiled the painter Jack Lewis and his impact on the community of Bridgeville, Delaware, where he and his wife Dorothy made their home.  In early 2002, David made an introduction and I went to visit Jack and Dorothy in York, Maine, where they have relocated in order to be nearer to their children.  Dorothy, a 17-year cancer survivor, is a former artist as well.

Jack and Dorothy met in New Guinea, where they were both stationed during World War II.  They have two daughters.


RF:
Tell me about this marriage proposal.

Jack:
I was afraid of her, I tell ya.

Dorothy:
Oh, he was not.

Jack:
Scared the life out of me.

RF:
Why?

Jack:
Well, I was afraid I would say something bad and indecent and I was very, very careful, I’d sit down very carefully.  And then I learned that she was reading some of the scorchiest kind of letters you ever heard of.  She told me that later on; that she was a censor, a base censor.  And I was so careful to say the right things, not knowing that she was on to just about everything a GI could say.

Dorothy:
Anyway.  He said to me, “I want to get married.”  You know, most of the guys did, after they got back from the war.  Jack said to me, “I want to get married.”  And I said, “well, that’s nice.  Whom did you want to marry?”  And he said, “well, you, if you want to.  But otherwise, I do have another girl that I might speak to.”  He just wanted to get married, you know?  But so many of the boys did.  Because they were tired of all this Army stuff, and being away from home and I think they wanted to establish a home, and get kind of settled and all.

So nothing was said that night, that was it.  And the next night, he came over again and I just said to him, “did you mean what you said last night?”  And he said, “yes, I did.”  I didn’t ask him anything about the other girl.  (She laughs.)  So I said, “well, I think I’d like to get married, too.”  So he said, “fine.”  So we were engaged.

RF:
Did you have the same reasons that you’re assigning to him, about wanting to settle down?

Dorothy:
You know what?  I think so, yes.  I had had this other boyfriend I was getting sort of serious about, and he really wasn’t.  And I broke that off, and yeah.  I think I wanted to settle down and get married, and Jack and I were such good friends, and… I don’t know.  It never had been any really wild romance; but we knew we liked each other.


Dorothy:
He’s an artist.  He’s not a very organized person.

Jack:
Well that has been a little bit of… a thorn in the normal kind of marriage; because ours is not a normal kind of marriage.  Because an artist doesn’t make a very dependable kind of parent.  I was going off to paint as soon as that last day of school hit, and that isn’t a very nice thing for a father to do.

Dorothy:
I encouraged him to do it.  I wanted him to go away.

RF:
You wanted him to go away?

Dorothy:
(Laughs.)  Well, yeah, and do his painting… if he had stayed home, he’d have been fussing.  So I just said “go on…”
 


Jack:
Sometimes I think a good marriage needs to have a challenge to make it or break it.  I think that many of the arguments are casual bits of offended vanity; but the deeper love and ties of a marriage come at the deeper trials.  I think Dorothy’s cancer has caused me to try to overlook my shortcomings, which I have many of, and it looks like I’m having a losing battle with it; and I keep remembering how dearly I love her, and how trivial my objections are.  And I usually am a little late at realizing this and I have to come back and give her a kiss or something like that to try and get back among her good graces.

RF:
You talked about how you'd nearly split.  You'd had an actual physical fight.

Dorothy:
We had such a bad time that we went to a psychiatrist.  And it was really good.  He asked us heaps of questions and told us, first of all, that he was the sort of man that if he felt a couple were terrible together, and they shouldn’t be together, he’d never hesitate to say “go ahead and divorce.  Get this over with.”

But actually, he talked with us, and listened to our different feelings about different things, our likes and dislikes; he said, “well, I think it’s not only a good marriage, I think it’s one of the best I’ve ever known.”  He said, “your likes and dislikes are so much the same,” and we have the same tastes in practically everything.  Music, literature, and a point of view about politics and, you know, all that stuff.  And you know, it gave us a nice little feeling.  To have someone say that, that he thought that we had not only a good marriage, but one of the best he’d ever seen.

Jack:
Lemme throw this in, too.  I think that you have kind of a milquetoast kind of marriage, where things are so even, and nothing—it’s not a good (Dorothy laughs.)—I really do think you’ve got to have life in a marriage.  And it may be hard, but that’s part of it.  And I kinda think some marriages may break up with—

Dorothy:
Bored to death!

Jack:
Yeah, that’s what my wife is just saying, they break up because they’re bored.  That would seem to me the way—but some good marriages are really knock-down, drag-out things.

RF:
You said early on in this conversation about your secret being that you don’t hold anything back.

Dorothy:
I think that’s pretty much true, yeah.  I don’t think we sulk.  I really don’t.

RF:
Is the marriage more of a partnership, or a competition?

Dorothy:
Oh, it’s a bit of both.

Jack:
I think that we need another discussion to talk about whether I really think artists should get married.


Jack:
I really suppose that I’m an old-fashioned person.  And I can hardly get in step with the modern way of life.  But I see men very happily pushing children around, I think that’s a pretty good thing.  They love their babies, I know of men in the homes; this would have been unheard of when I was young.  It’s just there are conditions completely changing around and there is nothing said about it.  This, teaching the philosophy is not saying anything about this.  What is going to be the solution of it is a thing you can be concerned about.

I’m an old-fashioned person, and I resent women doing all kinds of men things.  And my girls are all mad at me because of that, but I can’t help that.  I notice that men, a lot of times, don’t seem to be bothered by it.  And it makes—I guess it’s just because I’m old-fashioned.  My girls don’t like the fact that I act so man-dominated; but that’s the way I am—

Dorothy:
Well, they think it’s too bad for you.

Jack:
Yeah, I’m out of it.  It would have been, really, easier for me to be an artist without women in my life, but I would not have lasted more than fifteen years or so.  I get a good meal, my wife’s a wonderful cook.  She tolerates my rampages, and so I’m getting in condition with this.  And I suppose—

Dorothy:
He’s getting there…

Jack:
I suppose that’s what men are going to do… and women, on their side, will please try to be a little patient with the men.

Dorothy:
(Laughs.) What can I say?  He thinks he’s getting there, and… he’s only 89.  So he’s got a long way to go.

Let me just say this.  If I didn’t find Jack’s opinions, most of them, a little bit ridiculous, and funny—so that, really, I’m afraid I laugh at most of ‘em.   I can’t do anything else.  I mean, to me they just seem to utterly ridiculous.  But—they’re his, let him have ‘em.  I don’t care.

Jack:
I’m saying nothing, Bob.

RF:
I hear that.

Jack:
I’m saying nothing.

RF:
I hear your silence.

Jack:
Okay.


Dorothy:
Jack forgets what day we were married!  He forgets my birthday, too.  What’s my birthday, darling?

Jack:
(Pauses.)  October.

Dorothy:
Oh, come on.  You think he’s kidding.  He’s not.  My birthday’s in January.

Jack:
(Looking out the window.)  Our cardinal is back.

Dorothy:
Oh, the real bright one!

Jack:
He doesn’t go too far.

Dorothy:
We do enjoy watching the birds.  One thing, I love this little house.  I love the silences, I love a little house.

Jack:
Our little house is part of marriage in your book, too.

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