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Black Elders of Portsmouth


HAZEL SINCLAIR ( 1902 -- 1995 )

Hazel SinclairI liked dramatics and that sort of thing. In New York, I took lessons from Richard B. Harris, who played the Lord in "Green Pastures." He was going to get me a part in the play, but my father got sick and I returned to Baltimore. My father always said, "decent people don't go on the stage." I've been satisfied that I didn't get the part because I don't think I would have lived this long a life by doing that--you know, living would have been very different.

I came here as a lady's maid. [She] lived at the Plaza Hotel in New York in the winter and she had a summer home here. Of course, she had a cook and a housekeeper and a chauffeur, too. I would take care of her clothes, see that they are mended, pressed, and ready to wear. I had to take care of her bedroom and I served her meals. It was just one woman.

I met Clayton in the summer of 1936. He came with another family here in Kittery Point. We...married...and we came back here as a couple in the summer of 1937. She didn't have a cook that year, and I knew nothing about cooking. She taught me. I used to mess up a few things but it was all right--she liked me. She had cookbooks and she would explain how she liked things and so on, and I finally got to be a cook.

I got a job on the Navy Yard. They were taking women on during the war [W.W.II] and several of us black women went to the Yard to work. I got in the woodworking shop. I was a woodworker's helper. They didn't let women work on the machines. You just stood there and a man was behind the machine and you were in front of it, and as the lumber came through you would take it and put it on a little cart, pile it up on the cart. I was there two years and four months.

We had started taking guests at our house, in the garage...called it "Rock Rest." I served them breakfastand dinner. It went by word-of-mouth. After so many people were wanting to come, we extended the garage, put in two more bedrooms and another bathroom. We could take care of up to sixteen people. Quite often a group would call from Boston and want to come and just have dinner on Sunday. I'd cook and work all summer and Clayton was working at the navy yard. Then we'd take our vacation in the fall. We went to Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean... I have no regrets.

(c) Valerie Cunningham
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