Energy Personified — Dorothy Kelsey Robinson

While working on collecting, copying, compiling, and coping with all that my Mother accomplished and accumulated in her life, I am confronted with the question, “When did she sleep?” Well, the answer is, “Not much.”

Indeed, Dorothy Kelsey Robinson did not sleep much as anyone who has ever stayed over night with her at the old Kelsey Homestead would certainly agree. For instance, one might be awakened on a cold winter’s morning at 5:00 a.m. with the words, “Get up folks” as she descended each step of the staircase. Some mornings I would be ready for this human alarm clock and be willing to get up and get going on one of our many projects or hobbies; but on others I would just like to be able to stay in a warm bed for awhile longer.

When downstairs, she’d be sitting at the kitchen table reading the paper, drinking a cup of coffee, and saying with a sweep of her arms, “The Lord helps those who help themselves,” meaning she wasn’t making breakfast. It was okay with me but when we had company it was a little embarrassing. She would, however, cook wonderful meals the rest of the day to make up for her lack of interest in breakfast.

I suppose she would fit into the category of a character, both she and her brother, Uncle Cliff. We were a great hobby family and my daughter, Martha, would laughingly tell the story that during those early morning hours Grandma would be at the kitchen table with her notebooks and charts spread out in front of her pouring over her genealogy, I’d be playing the piano in the front room, Uncle Cliff would be sawing on a furniture repair project, and we would all be singing!

“I’m going to whip that club into shape,” she’d say upon joining yet another organization during her eighteen years of widowhood. And sure enough, she did! They all loved her as a member and she, in turn, often loved being President with her drive and ambition. During her lifetime, she belonged to fifteen different groups and probably was an officer of most of them. “I’ve got that line almost done,” she’d say as she proudly exhibited her latest “finds” with her genealogy. This was her proudest accomplishment in later life, finding literally hundreds of ancestors in a persistent, patient, (for her), pursuit, traveling here and there throughout the Northeast and England. She was also a professional genealogist researching for others. Even though she was hampered by poor vision for many years, until a cornea implant operation, she was able to accomplish this research with more precision, speed, and skill than I could even attempt with perfect corrected vision. She could see family relationships and puzzlements in a flash and was quite a wizard at this precise type of work.

Even as a child she exhibited a fearlessness and determination that sometimes astounded her then two brothers, Cliff and Ed. The family vacationed at the “Portland Shack”, on Lake Pocotopaug in neighboring East Hampton. This was the first cottage to be built on this large lake by a number of the extended Kelsey family and, incidentally, is still there. Instead of walking around the point to fetch the family’s milk supply as her brothers would do each morning, Dorothy just swam across, a fairly long swim for just a little kid.

She seemed to have a knack of being in the right place at the right time — even as a child, escaping the terrible lightning bolt that ripped through her desk at the Rose Hill School House. There is another lightning story involving both mother and me. It seems that we were living at the time in a large rented house in Killingworth when a sudden storm came up. I was in a bedroom in a wooden crib, and mother was in the living room beside a window, not the one that was open with Dad’s aerial strung from the radio to a tree. Another bolt of lightning hit that, causing damage to the house. My mother took me in her arms and fled, surely thinking that lightning does strike twice to some people. We all developed a well deserved lifelong fear of thunderstorms

But photographers and newspaper reporters seemed to find her quite often to interview as all these articles verify. I think that she was just sitting waiting for an Historical Society meeting to begin one night when Peter Pach, reporter for the Hartford Courant, came along and asked if she knew anything about one room school houses. WOW, did he strike a gold mine with that question!

Over the years I have often wondered just where she got all her energy to accomplish so very much. Even now I wonder, though I think that her natural temperament, coupled with her enormous losses in life, must have supplied the incentive to keep going. Between 1971 and 1976 she lost her mother, her husband, and her son, with a daughter’s life threatened. It was during this period that her interest in genealogy grew and became a driving force in her life. If she wanted to make a difference in the lives of those around her, her family and community, she certainly accomplished that!

One of her interests that hasn’t been mentioned is her long and deep interest in food and nutrition. Way back in the early 40s when she was raising little children she was also stirring our interest in gardening. She would order some of the most weird, unusual kinds of vegetables that the Burpees Seed Catalogue had to offer. As a result of this experimentation, I think that we gained a curiosity and appreciation of how different foods tasted. Sally, in particular, took up this mode of thinking, using it in a highly successful dietitian’s career. I would say that the rest of us have always gardened and aren’t afraid to try something new in our patches. Parents, like teachers, never know just how much influence they will have on children and which interests and activities will “take.”

She didn’t always have a very strong interest in quilting and sewing, but as she grew older and with daughter Carolyn’s enthusiastic persuasion, she made some memorable artifacts. In later years, however, she admitted that sewing was one interest that she could easily give up in preference to all the others.

She loved to travel and I can certainly vouch for that as she accompanied me on a trip to England in 1986 when I attended an international rehabilitation conference in Manchester. A sprained knee acquired from stepping in a hole and walking home on it a few days later, did not stop her. She rested up during the conference so that she would have enough stamina to tour the country all the way to the Isle of Scilly during the rest of the trip. She did remark after she had finished it, however, that this would probably be her last trip to England. She did travel extensively in this country and England over the years.

One of her finest attributes was her life long devotion to her family, Dad, in particular. The two of them overcame many obstacles over the years but the greatest, which is described so eloquently by Aunt Julia, is his rehabilitation following the amputation of both legs. It took pure grit and the courage of both of them to accomplish that feat.

But, in thinking of my Mother, I always return to her study of genealogy. She would often say that if there was a genealogist every hundred years in the family, we would be able to keep track of our family lines. I hope that that will be the case in our family and that there is now or will be a person who will come along and continue the work which she so loved.

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Bethia Robinson

Bethia Robinson

Gardener, artist, and keeper of family history