Kathryn May Robinson Hahesy

Kathryn May Robinson HahesyKathryn was born January 17, 1901 in Robinson, Iowa to Mary Elizabeth Montgomery Robinson and James Robinson. (Mary Elizabeth had come to America alone from Co. Fermanagh when she was 16.) Kathryn was one of 8 children, lived on a farm and attended a one room schoolhouse in Robinson, Iowa, through 8th grade, after which she helped care for her ailing mother, and younger siblings.

Kathryn told of the good times her brothers and sisters had going to local dances. The girls would visit their aunt's home where they rubbed their cheeks against the roses in the wall paper and blackened their eyebrows and lashes with burnt matches or soot from the kerosene lamps. The siblings went together and danced with each other. An older brother always made sure that his sisters had someone to dance with. Their family remained very close through the years.

They walked several miles to school, often through deep snow. They were very poor, so their lunch consisted of bread with lard or sorgum. That was it. Several of them slept in a loft. Cracks in the roof and walls allowed snow to filter in on them. They attended Silver Creek Methodist Church.

Kathryn worked at a restaurant in addition to housework for her family. When her family went to dances Kathryn left the dance for the restaurant at intermission, helped serve the dance crowd then came back to clean up after the dance. She worked 6 days a week for about 12 hrs. a day, for $3.50/wk.

Later she moved to Manchester and worked for a prominent family, helping with the cooking and cleaning and caring for a young daughter. Kathryn was even required to take the little girl along on Sundays, her day off, even if Kathryn was seeing a male friend. She had to quit that job because the lady of the house's elderly father was sexually harrassing her. No one would believe Kathryn about his exploits, so she left. Then she worked long hours at a hotel cleaning and cooking. When one of her employer's wife had to go to a santitorium for her health she requested Kathryn go with her. Kathryn stayed with her a few months, but was terribly homesick and lost a lot of weight.

Their family was hit with communicable diseases, including Scarlet Fever. They were all quarantined for weeks. Relatives and friends brought food and left it on their doorstep. The 8 Robinson children took turns with the disease, stretching the quarantine out many weeks. Afterward, Kathryn was called up to assist other relatives' families who also came down with it.

When she was a young girl she had appendicitis, the Dr. came to their farm home and performed surgery on the kitchen table. She had to have another surgery later due to adhesions. Her belly was full of scars from those operations and bothered her all her life. Kathryn's mother was ill often, either with diabetes or epilepsy. Once she fell off a log bridge carrying water from Silver Creek, broke her leg and was laid up many weeks. The 8 children had to take over.

Kathryn was courted by a young Catholic man, John "Jack" Hahesy, but she didn't like him at first, mainly because of his religion. One time he gave her a beautiful box of chocolates on Valentine's Day and she threw them in the river on her way home. Later, though, she agreed to marry him, but her mother was quite ill so they postponed their wedding different times. They were finally married February 5, 1929, living in an upstairs apartment for a time, then moving to his family home where Kathryn later gave birth to a daughter Joan Marie who died at 4 days old.

Kathryn's parents moved in with them. Her father, James, was a problem drinker and not kind to Jack even though they were providing a home for him and taking care of his ill wife. Kathryn gave birth to a daughter Beverly in March of 1932. Six months later her mother died. Her younger sister Esther's husband, Chuck, died unexpectedly of a heart attack in the fall of 1941, age 40. Kathryn's father went to Anamosa to be with Esther and children that Christmas and died there himself on Christmas Day.

Kathryn and Jack had many friends that they played cards with. They belonged to a Minuet Club, owned a new Dodge and seemed to be very happy. But Jack began drinking heavily after he had a physical and wouldn't tell anyone what the Dr. found. Jack died of kidney failure at age 42 (Nov. 1943) leaving Kathryn with 3 young children, 11, 5 and 3, plus two nephews she was helping to raise. Jack had no insurance or savings, which meant Kathryn had to work outside the home. Jack's brother Ed had part interest in the house, and roomed there in return for his share of the house. Kathryn became the bookkeeper at the poultry house where her husband had worked with his unmarried brother Ed. Alcoholism ran in the family and the brother and another male worker were often unable to assist customers, so Kathryn unloaded crates of eggs and poultry, weighed hides and helped clean up the poutry house. Because she couldn't afford a sitter for her youngest son, she kept him with her at the poultry house. He took naps on egg crates padded with blankets and played outside in warm weather. The man who owned the poultry business was a very cold, stingy man.

When all three of her children were in school, Kathryn continued not only to work at a job outside the home 6 days a week, but worked 2 or 3 jobs, incuding selling mail order hosiery, clerking nights at a friends small grocery, eventually selling Avon products. Kate and Bev crawled on their hands and knees at night with flashlights covered with colored bread wrappers, catching washtubs of nightcrawlers to sell to fishermen. One night Kathryn was doing that alone and came upon a man stretched out on the lawn. She thought he was dead and called for help. He was a drinking friend of her brother in law's who had passed out from drinking.

Kathryn's family

Bev, Kathryn holding John, Jack holding Bill - ca. 1940

Kathryn's home was the family headquarters for not only her blood relatives, but her husband's siblings and families, which caused a sister-in-law to treat her terribly out of jealousy. Kathryn valued family highly, was a wonderful cook, won prizes for her breads, and was known by all for her Christmas candies, especially divinity. She was very generous with what little she had.

Kathryn's health was never really good. She had suffered ulcers, a heart attack, had pernicious anemia and was lactose intolerant, which meant her bones began to disintegrate. There were no preventative treatments for osteoporosis then. Drs. assumed all womens' bones would disintegrate.

When she cashiered at a National Tea store, standing on her feet all day and/or evening, she was required to scrape down the frozen food chests. Her bones were so fragile that just by leaning over the frozen food chests, she fractured her ribs. The only treatment was to tightly tape the rib cage and wait for the bones to heal, an extremely painful ordeal. She often couldn't sleep because of the pain. She couldn't take aspirin because of her anemia. When it came time to remove the tape, she soaked in hot water for hours, hoping to loosen the adhesive, but it always pulled her skin off. Her daughter, Beverly, remembers her crying in pain, and asking her (Bev) to rub Vaseline on to the red, raw skin covering her rib cage front and back.

When the National Tea closed, Kathryn went to work selling Avon, and built up a good clientele. She was a natural saleswoman, and also people wanted to help her make some money for her family. She was offered a bookkeeping job at the electric company which would have paid fairly well, been decent hours but she didn't think she was "qualified" to do the work. She was always self conscious about the fact she had only an 8th grade schooling. She refused the job. All her children worked somewhere from the time they were young, babysitting, delivering papers, hauling ashes, working in restaurants. She continued selling hoisery and greeting cards by mail, and worked the election board. Several people who had borrowed money from her husband and signed promissory notes, reneged on their agreement and never repaid.

When her children were gone and her brother in law died, she finally sold the old Hahesy home and moved to an upstairs apartment. When she was in her 70s and still lugging Avon orders up and down stairs, Avon doubled her sales quota and required her to meet the new quota in order to get her regular commission. After all those years of faithful service to that company, she had to quit because she was no longer physically able to work that hard. She had won many premiums for her excellent salesmanship, but they forced her out without so much as a thank you.

Everything changed when she fell down a flight of her back steps, broke her kneecap in many pieces, had several surgeries, and from then on was plagued with weakness in her leg and arthritis. She had to move to a series of downstairs apartments and was always at the mercy of the landlords as to rent she had to pay. She eventually relented and accepted government assistance on rent, food stamps and Medicaid, but the last landlord raised her rent as high as the govt. would allow, which left her with little expendable income.

Kathryn continued to play cards with her women friends; she attended church as long as she was able to drive, but when she decided to give up her car because her eyesight was failing, she missed out on much of the social contact with her friends. She had several grandchildren living in town, but they usually came to see her only when they wanted something; the rest of the time they would pass by her place and never stop in. One grandson even broke into her apartment when she was away for a few days, pried open a china closet and stole money from her. He was placed in a Juvenile treatment center and eventually made peace with Kathryn. One granddaughter whom she enjoyed very much borrowed $100 from her and never paid it back. The granddaughter apparently was too embarrassed to face Kathryn, and rather than talk to her about it, never went to see her again. Those episodes hurt Kathryn terribly.

Kathryn May Robinson HahesyShe gradually went down hill physically in her late 80s, becoming quite thin and frail. She had various homemakers come in a hour or so a day, but when she had more bad spells and was away from her apartment for more than a week, she lost the homemakers and was on her own. After she had cataract surgery and needed eye drops applied 3 times a day, her daughter tried everyone she knew in the church, her club and her neighbors, but no one would or could administer them. After all the years that Kathryn was there to help others, no one was there to help her. Kathryn subsisted mostly on black coffee and toast, everything came to disagree with her. Her spine disintegrated until she lost several inches in height and was in constant pain. Her daughter brought her to her house over Christmas of 1989 where she became extremely ill, couldn't eat, got the dry heaves, had bowel trouble. Kathryn entered the hospital at Manchester December 30, 1989. The Dr. on duty thought she just needed to be "built up" again and would soon be out. The nurse on duty called her daughter New Year's morning to say that Kathryn was asking for her daughter and talking about dying. Bev and her husband went immediately. Kathryn immediately launched into who she wanted for pall bearers, what to give to whom, how much she had loved Jack, etc. She continued to talk but became very confused, possibly she'd had a stroke. She became delerious and did not respond to normal sedatives. She was in intensive care for several days heavily sedated and on morphine. Her daughter stayed by her side for 9 days and nights, sleeping on the couch in the hospital lounge, but had to leave (she was a state senator and session had begun a few days earlier.) On January 10th Kathryn rallied momentarily and said to a niece "You're not Bev" and then lapsed back into coma state. On January 11, 6 days before her 90th birthday, Kathryn died during the night. Her death certificate gave pneumonia as the cause.

If you have any information on this family or recognize any surnames,
please e-mail Beverly Hahesy Hannon

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