Oral History Interview of Henry J. Bettencourt and Margaret Rowan Bettencourt

Accession#: OH – Bettencourt, Henry J., and Bettencourt, Margaret Rowan
Title: Oral History of Henry J. Bettencourt and Margaret Rowan Bettencourt
Interviewer: Marilee Neale
Format: Typescript; 1 tape
Description: An edited version of Henry Bettencourt’s interview appears in Casey Edward Greene and Shelly Henley Kelly, eds., Through a Night of Horrors: Voices from the 1900 Galveston Storm (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, c2000), 151-52. An edited version of Mrs. Bettencourt’s interview follows on pages 152-55.
Date: Aug 30, 1972
Terms: Hendley Building; Tussup’s Grocery; Houses; Avenue N – 2019; Bader, Charles H.; Mud; Debris; Avenue O

Interview with: Mr. Henry J. Bettencourt and Mrs. Margaret C. Rowan Bettencourt
Date: August 30, 1972.
Interviewer: Marilee Neale

The following is an excerpt from the interview. Only the Storm-related pages are available here. To view the rest of the oral history, please contact the Galveston And Texas History Center.

MN: Mr. Bettencourt,
HB: Yes?
MN: What's your first recollection? Did you say you lived in League City?
HB: No, I was just over there during the strawberry pickin' season.
MN: What year was this?
HB: Me and my foster mother.
MN: Uh huh.
HB: I was eight years old.
MN: Yeah.
HB: see.
MN: What year was this?
HB: This was in 1900.
MN: Uh huh.
HB: Yes. September 7th we came in, because the season was over; there wasn't no more strawberries to be picked. So we came and went to the Hendley Building on 20th and Strand, because my foster mother had a friend there that told her to stay there until she could be located somewhere else, see.
MN: Um hum. You all were planning to move.
HB: Well, uh...later on, as we found a place.
MN: uh hun.
HB: But, this was Friday evening, when we came in. Saturday morning here comes the 1900 storm. See what I mean?
MN: What about that night, did you go on to sleep that night?
HB: You mean the night of the storm?
MN: The night before the storm? Could you tell anything was coming?
HB: We didn't, I didn't know anything about a storm was comin'.
MN: You didn't?

Bettencourt, Page 2

HB: My foster mother might of knew it. I didn't know anything about a storm was coming. That isn't the reason we left League City.
MN: Yeah.
HB: See what I mean?
MN: What happened when you woke up the next morning?
HB: Well, that’s when I saw all these horses comin' down Strand, see, movin' 'em west to higher ground.
MN: Um hum.
HB: See the East End was lower. Yes.
MN: Was there any rain at that time?
HB: In those days all cotton and that was delivered...by drays and that. Mules and horses pulled the wagons and the drays, you know, the trucks, whatever they called them.
MN: Had it started raining?
HB: Uh... In the morning, no it didn't start early in the morning.
MB: It started about nine o’clock in the morning.
MN: Not yet.
HB: DO you remember whether it started early in the morning?
MB: About nine o'clock in the morning, about nine o'clock in the morning
HB: Did it start early in the morning?
MB: About nine o'clock.
HB: Well see, well see, I didn't pay any attention to that, see... but, uh. . .
MN: What was your foster mother's name?
HB: Name?
MN: Uh, huh.
HB: Uh, at the time her name was uh, she was uh, under the name of Bettencourt.
MN: Um hum.

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HB: She had been married before, you know what I mean?
MN: Um hum.
HB: Bettencourt, that's where I come along with that name.
MN: What was her first name?
HB: Henrietta.
MN: Henrietta Bettencourt.
HB: Uh huh.
MN: Did she live here in Galveston?
MB: Yeah.
HB: Yes, she was, uh, born here.
MN: Uh huh.
HB: She was an Oppenbrink.
MN: An Oppenberg?
HB: Brink. B-R-I-N-K.
MN: >Brink, ok?
HB: Hu, her father's grandfather came from Germany.
MN: Yeah. well, did you stay in this building? In the Henley Building?
HB: Yes, that's where I was during the storm.
MN: Well, what did you notice about the storm, uh, was it real windy?
HB: Not early in the morning, but later in the evening. At five o'clock there was a wooden building across the street that had a restaurant downstairs, and it had one of these tin roofs that were pinched together. I don't know whether you remember that kind of a roof. Tin, but they were pinched, they come in sheets, you know.
MN? Um hum.
HB: They weren't the corrugated roof, but ah, they, it was a tin roof, but ah, they, it was a tin roof, uh, pinched together, and at five o’clock that evening, that, that roof rose up from both gutters, just like a hoop, and blew off, see.

Bettencourt, Page 4

MN: And that was one of the buildings nearby?
HB: Yeah, right across the street.
MN: Uh huh.
HB: Right across the street. I was only two blocks from the, uh, from the, uh, city hall, which had the fire department downstairs. See what I mean?
MN? Yeah...
HB: Twentieth and Market. Sitting right out there in the middle of the street, had a clock on four sides.
MN: Well, how about that clock, did it stay up the whole time?
HB: No the third story was, was destroyed. It just, it, it, it, uh, demolished the third story of the city hall.
MN: Yeah, well, what did it do to the lower floor of the building that you were in?
HB: The lower floor? Just water damage.
MN: Just water.
HB: Yeah, the water damage.
MN: Stayed up real good, huh?
HB: Well, the water was real high there, we were, we were only two blocks from the bay.
MN: Yeah.
HB: See what I mean?
MN: Well, did you have to stay in this building? For the duration of the storm?
HB: Yes.
MN: Now I notice you say this is your picture in this book, Death from the Sea. If that's your picture, then you're out and around after the storm.
HB: After the storm.
MN: Right?

Bettencourt, Page 5

HB: Yeah.
MN: Yeah. Uh, did you help any of the people who were cleaning up?
HB: No, I was too small.
MN: Uh huh.
HB: But all able-bodied men wasn't allowed on the street unless they were put to work. Cleaning up the city, moving bodies and all that, see what I mean.
MN: The city was under martial law, wasn't it?
HB: Oh, yes.
MN: Um hum.
HB: Yes.
MN: Did you notice quite a few lawmen around town?
HB: No, I didn't, I didn't. I was there, you know, over on that corner, 20th and strand which wasn't up further towards the beach and the town. where I would of, might of noticed that, but no, I didn't.
MN: Yeah.
HB: You see all the wreckage, mostly, was in the uh, the southern part of the city, the gulf side.
MN: Right.
HB: See.
MN: Right.
HB: Now my wife was saved on 21st and N, where Menotti's store is now, . . . where Menotti's store is now, it was a grocery store there, a two story wooden building, run by the Tussups. And her home was next door. Right next door. So they didn't take her home where it would be safe, and they finally got out of there, and went next door.
MN: The Tussups, did you say?
MB: Julius Tussup.
HB: The Tussups grocery store, there. [ed. Note 1502 21st St.]

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MN: T?
HB: Now it's Menotti's.
MN: Uh huh.
HB: >But it's all been remodeled, and everything. Altogether different.
MB: You see, uh,
HB: That was a two story wooden building.
MN: Um hum.
MB: Where I got saved . . .
HB: And she can tell you more about what she went through.
MB: You see, we lived, we lived, uh, the store was on the corner, there was a, a, Mr. Bader’s butcher market next door to our house, a two story house right next to it.
MN: Mr. Bada, you said.
MB: Uh hub. And uh, uh, we wasn't going to leave our home because my daddy said, “Well the kitchen'll be very strong,” because he had just built on, and he said that would be the strongest. Well, we lived in a two story house and this was on the water. But we was so high off the ground that a man could walk underneath, that's how high our home was.
MN: Goodness. What was the street address?
MB: 2019 N.
MN: 2019 N, uh huh.
MB: And uh, so then, uh, uh, then the boards off the front porch started breaking up. But first, before then, my daddy had a horse and he told my oldest brother to go take the horse and Well, when he tried to take the horse out, the east wind was so strong, that he had a raincoat, and it went over his head, and at that time they had cisterns, they didn't have any other form of water. They had cisterns. Came in between the house and the cistern and he couldn't come out, and the horse went on by himself, and got saved by himself.
HB: Tell 'em how high the water was, for, at the height of the storm.

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HB: It was a two story building.
MB: My daddy missed my brother and went out there he had to pull him out. That's how strong the wind was.
MN: Um hum.
MB: He had to pull my brother out, and, brought him in the house. And, uh, the, the uh, the water was uh, was high, we had a...our house was high enough a man could walk under it. Then we had a...I don't know, like this little room, there was another room, we called it the sitting room. And it had a step up. And we had a piano in that room. We had a piano stool, and that water was over that piano stool.
MN: Humm.
MB: That's how high it was there. And at the store it was, uh, they, the grocery store was up to the very top step of th, it was the, they had a grocery store down, and the people lived upstairs, and uh, we went, that’s how we come to move out, uh, out of our house. So, Mr. Bada had to carry me on his back.
MN: Um hmm.
MB: See.
MN: And you were about nine years old?
MB: Uh huh.
MN: Uh huh.
MB: I'm gettin' old, I ‘cause see, I’m 81.
MN: Um hum.
MB: To get over to the store, and, uh, they carried my sister and my brothe, my brother and all of ‘em, you know, help ‘em along, to get over there.
HB: Tell 'em about your kitchen goin' down, the newest part of your building, went down?

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MB: Uh huh, and, uh, so then,
HB: And the old building set, where you lived, it’s your homestead.
MB: We went over to the, uh, over to the store, and we walked, went into the east room, and my, one of my, my youngest brother was a baby then. So my mother was holding her, holding my brother, in her arms, and a brick from my chimney went down, the kitchen went down, and a brick from my chimney blew off and hit that window and struck my brother on his temple. There was no, uh,
MN: Was that brick, or the glass?
MB: It was the glass.
MN: Uh huh.
MB: And so, uh, there was a, uh,
HB: Tell 'em about the chimney crashin’ through the window?
MB: Uh huh, I'm telling 'em now.
HB: yeah.
MB: And uh, so she said, “We're all going to be saved”. She said, “Look where this glass hit.”
HB: Didn't you say that the water was two, two steps...
MN: That’s right.
HB: from being in the top of, the top floor? Just two more steps, it would have been in the top floor.
MN: Um hum.
HB: That's how high the water was, there on 21st and N.
MN: Um hum.
MB: These Jewish people, lived on the other side of the grocery store, and they had a two story home, house they lived in it. And when this two story house moved out, into the street, it hit the grocery store's back porch. And... the...boys came and said... I was asleep, my mother told me this part. I was asleep. The boys came into the room

Bettencourt, Page 9

where the ladies were, and said, “Mother, we want to tell you goodbye, all gone." And at that time...we were over it, the storm was over. Wasn’t that somethin'?
MN: How fast do you think
MB: It went down
MN: that it took, that it went down?
MB: Oh, they said it didn't take very long.
MN: yeah.
MB: And my mother said, now I didn't see this part, 'cause we, us kids were put in a bed, and asleep.
MN: Um hum, you didn't even get to go to any windows? I imagine they were all boarded up.
MB: No, we never did, we didn’t see any, we didn't look out.
MN: Uh huh.
MB: And, uh, my mother said people were passing by on, uh, in, screaming and crying for help, and uh, had no clothes on.
MN: They were in the water, or was this after the water went down?
MN: They'd been the water, and the water had gone down.
MN: Uh huh.
MB: And they were trying to get help. they had no clothes on, the wind had ripped all their clothes off, I might say, and they were trying to get help. You know for people to take them in and help ‘em.
MN: Um hum. And she had told you about this, but you didn't, uh, you were sheltered from this.
MB: I didn't see that.
MN: Uh huh. Well, now, what was your maiden name?
MB: Rowan, R-O-W-A-N.
MN: Ok. Now, your first name is Margaret, right? Ok. And, what was your father's name?

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MB: William.
MN: William Rowan. Uh huh. so..you went ahead and lived in that house after the 1900 storm?
MB: Oh yes.
MN: Uh huh.
MB: What happened, we wasn't allowed, us kids wasn't allowed, us kids wasn’t allowed, and my mother didn’t go back in there because the water, you see that that water, when it comes in, it carries a mud, and that mud
MN: Yeah
MB: is (shovel?) deep the house, and, and they had to take shovels and shovel that out, and my, and that time they had mattin; everybody had mattin' on the floor. They called it, I dont know whether you all know what mattin' is, but they called it mattin'. Well, they had to tear all that out. If you could, oh, the odor, it was terrible!
MN: Uh huh.
MB: You know. Then they, before they'd let us go over there. And then, I don't know, I guess it took about two weeks before they could get the house
HB: You tell 'em 'bout the house next door float1n' (out in?) down the street?
MB: Uh huh. Tell 'em
HB: In the middle of the street.
MB: The mud in the house, it was so deep, they had to shovel it out. And, uh, now, . . .
MN: Well, I think you all were a lot luckier than your neighbors, ... some of your neighbors.
MB: Uh huh. Well, uh, now, in the East End, I had a grandmother and aunts and uncles, lived out there and they had nothing left. Their houses was just in splinters.
MN: Uh huh.
MB: And, uh, my grandmother didn’t want to leave her home...At that, you see, that was the worst storm that ever came here.
MN: Yeah.

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MB: You,they just bored holes in the floor, and the water would go back down,..And, uh,
MN: What was her name?
MB: Walstein.
MN: W A L S T E I N? Uh huh.
MB: And, uh, so they picked her up, uh two uncles picked her up, put her in a boat, and sailed her, she got saved on Broadway. At that
MN: Uh Hum.
MB: church, you know, 16th and Broadway.
MN: Right.
MB: She got saved there.
MN: Sacred Heart.
MB: And uh, they never would've found their place, but my aunt had a polly, and it was up in the attic, and the attic didn't go to pieces. It just sat on top of the house, and the polly was, the next morning the polly was hollering "pretty polly, pretty." That’s how they found where they lived. Or they wouldn't have ever known where they lived.
MN: Yeah.
MB: Uh huh. you see, my grandma owned half a block, and kept three houses on it. I , I guess its from the alley to the, she had three houses on it.
MN: Do you know what block that was?
MB: It was on 13th and M.
MN: 13th and M, uh huh. And, well, is 13th and M right at the seawall? I don't recall.
MB: Uh, at that time it was way off from the seawall.
MN: Was it? Um hum.
MB: I mean from the beach.
MN: Well, that's what I mean.

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MB: 'cause my aunt lived right on the beach. I had an aunt that, I don't know what street she lived on but she lived right by from the beach.
MN: Um hum. But all of that property of your grandmother's was just torn apart.
MB: Oh, just torn apart.
MN: Um hum.
HB: DO you know what really saved them, they were on 21st and N.
MN: Um hum.
HB: And every thing from the beach up to O was pretty near all gone. But on O it piled up as high as a two story house, the wreckage, car tracks, half the houses, the telephone poles, that's what saved them.
MN: Um hum.
HB: It formed a breakwater. See what I mean?
MN: Yeah.
HB: And that's what saved them, and, and, and, people north of them, see what I mean?
MN: They were lucky. Yeah.
HB: So, I think that's where they got the idea of the seawall. A breakwater.
MN: Yeah.
HB: Yeah.
MB: We went to Houston---
MN: Well, this was at...O, and about, uh,
HB: 2lst.
MN: 21st, right?
HB: Yeah, 21st. She was on 21st and N.
MN: Because there was some--
HB: 21st and 0 was where the wreckage piled up.
MN: Yeah, there were some, uh, places, say on Avenue P, farther out this direction, away from 21st, say around 35th and 40th---
HB: Oh, out further west, yeah.
MN: That were all right.

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MN: Right.
HB: Out further west, yeah.
MN: Right.
HB: They had a better chance,
MN: Yeah.
HB: Because the island was wider there. see what I mean?
MN: What do you recall about that day, did you, uh, get out later on in the afternoon, after the water went down?
HB: You mean, uh, the day after the storm?
MN: Either late in the day of the storm, or the day after.
HB: Well, being eight years old, you know what I mean, I, I didn't. Now, I'll tell you what happened. Sunday morning, which was the day after the storm, the sun was shining like nothin' happened.
MN: Um hum.
HB: But on 20th street, from the bay up to, up to Strand, up to 20th and B, where I was,
MN: Um hum.
HB: Was nothin' but launches, uh, fishing boats, all, the whole street, all the way up to, to Strand. See what I mean?
MN: Um hum.
HB: And I never will forget it, at about eight o’clock that mornin' I looked out of the west window, the Hendley Building, which was there before the nine, before the Civil War. I don't know whether you ever knew that or
MN: Good night.
HB: Yes...There was iron doors there. There was cannon balls the battle of Galveston. See what I mean. Dented those iron doors. They didn't explode, they just dented them. It was built before the Civil war, and went through the Civil war. The building I was saved in.
MN: Um hum.

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HB: But what I wanted to tell you was, I looked out the window at eight o’clock that mornin', was somewhere along about there, and here come, uh, one of these men off of one of these boats that got su, anchored out in the harbor and rode it out, which a lot of them did, you know, them big boats. He come along, there spick and span, with all his uniform on climbing over all them uh, those launches and that to get to Strand. Where he did have a better going, you know, until he got south. As he, the further south you got, theres where the damage was. See what I mean. Deaths, and destruction. There.
MN: Do you think---
HB: It was such a contrast to what had happened. ‘Cause he looked so spick and span. I never will forget that. See.
MN: Um hum. Well you did get out, evidently then, to go around a little bit after the storm. Uh, where did you wander, do you recall?
HB: Where'd I do what?
MN: Where did you wander, where did you walk, after the storm? DO you recall that?
HB: Not too much, no, but I'II tell you what happened. My foster mother uh. . . there was a sea captain, had a child born the night of the storm, while it was going on. He named child Cyclone Junction. . . Which was
MN: Cyclone.
HB: Born on the night of the cyclone, or the hurricane, see what I mean?
MN: Uh huh. Uh huh.
HB: Yeah. And my mother went to work, to wait on this lady. My foster mother went to wait on this lady and we moved to 21st, to 22nd and uh, uh, N1/2 and stayed there for quite a while, you know what I

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MN: Ok.
HB: Thats where we went from the Henley Building over there, 'cause she worked there.
MN: Did you move over there pretty soon after the storm?
HB: How's that?
MN: Did you move over there pretty soon after the storm?
HB: Yes, must have been very close. You know, some things you don't remember, I remember, I don't know why. But it wasn't too many days after the storm,
MN: Yeah.
HB: 'Cause this child was born during the night of the storm, see?
MN: Ok.
HB: So it could have been that uh, could have been a day or two after the storm.
MN: Well, were you not in school, uh, had you not been attending schoo1---
HB: Oh yes.
MN: Years before that, and did you, did you go back to school after this storm?
MB: They didn't have any school for quite a while.
HB: Lets see, now, uh...
MN: Yeah, that's what I'm trying to get. . . . If you were eight years old, you probably would have been in about the third grade.
HB: Oh yes, yes, I had been to the K school, there was one over there on 31st and L, what'd they call that now? Not the K school, it was uh, it started W, it, uh, Key school, wasn't it?
MN: Beg your pardon?
HB: Rural key?
MB: Row key.

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MN: Rur W Key?
HB: Now there's a colored school there.
MN: Uh huh.
HB: I think they gave it over to the colored.
MN: 31st and L, uh huh.
HB: yes maam. Uh huh.
MB: It was getting higher and higher, and we were still at home, you know.
MN: Uh huh.
MB: And uh,
HB: You see, uh..
MB: every little board, every little splinter, had about uh, 20 or 50 toadfrogs on it. I never seen so many toad frogs in all the days of my life. And we would sit still in the dark, and we would just have the biggest time, pickin' in those toadfrogs, you know, so my mother says you're gonna be cryin' before the nights over, don't be laughing too much.
MN: But you haven't seen that many since, huh?
MB: No, I haven't ever seen as many toadfrogs since, I'm tellin' you.
MN: Um.lll. . . Well, you were going---
HB: Seems to me, seems to me that it wasn't too long a few months after the storm, that we moved to 33rd and H. And I went to the L school. Twas the L school then, before Mr. Key bought the property and put a new building there, and called it Rur W Key (Brewer?) School. Ya’ll have a record down, down in the library of that?
MN: I---
HB: Brewer W. Key.
MN: I'm sure we do.
HB: Yes. Mr. Nicolai.
MN: And so, this was---

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HB: Mr. Albert Nicolai. Worked for him as a chauffeur, and when he died, he left all but $5,000. That's how Albert got his store. Do you know the Nicolais?
MN: No, not too well.
HB: Albert Nicolai, uh, lives over here on, uh, s~, near 35th street.
MN: Um hum. well, you went back to school then,
HB: Oh yes.
MN: Uh, were classes very crowded?
HB: No, they were normal, they were normal.
MN: I thought maybe some of the other schools might have suffered more than your school did.
HB: Well, 'course, now ,that I don't remember,
MN: Yeah
HB: See what I mean? I really don't.
MN: Was the school in good condition?
HB: You mean, er, uh--
MN: It wasn't torn down right after the storm.
HB: No it wasn't torn down right away. It wasn't rebuilt.
MN: Yeah.
HB: Yes, it was a wooden building. Yeah.
MB: I think, I don't think anybody went back to school before probably a month or two. I can, I can remember,
MN: Yeah.
MB: I know. We, we left out and went to Houston.
MN: Yeah.
MB: And uh, my daddy, you see, my, my oldest brother---
HB: I don't imagine either one of you know what---
MB: and he had a very weak stomach, stand it. He couldn’t stand to look at dead people.
MN: Your father.
MB: NO, my brother.

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MN: Your brother, uh huh.
MB: So, my daddy was a Knight of Pythias, and all they, they all got together, they got their families together, and they sent, as soon as there was a train leave out of here, they sent all their families to Houston. And kept them over there until the, until they cleaned up here. Cleaned up in Galveston.
MN: So you were up there for several weeks?
MB: Oh, about a month, I guess.
MN: Uh huh. And then you came back down and started back into school?
MB: Oh, yes. I was probably. And they had the mule cars. You ever see a mule car?
MN: No.
MB: Well, they had mule cars. They call ‘em the meat cars. They had cars, and they had mules, you know, and they had a man driving the mule cars. At that time.
MN: Is this part of the railroad, or . . . or what.
MB: The street cars.
MN: Oh, on he street cars. Ok.
MB: Had mule cars.
MN: Well then, you and your whole family stayed up there for about a month after the storm.
MB: About a month.
MN: Yeah. And then when you came back, what did your family do?
MB: Well, my daddy stayed here.
MN: Oh, he did. Ok.
MB: You know he worked at the News office. He couldn't leave. He worked at the News office.
MN: Ok. Uh huh.
MB: And he stayed. But my mother, and my sisters and my brothers went up there...to Houston.

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MN: Right. They went on.
MB: And we stayed there, and we couldn't wait to get home, because my daddy wrote my mother, and said they had started the mule cars. oh, we begged. Let us come home. Let us come home. We wanted to come home to see the mule cars. Isn't that something?
MN: Yeah.
MB: They had no electricity for a long time, you see. It was all down here, now.
HB: You want me to tell you a funny incident that happened when I was going to this old school?
MN: Yeah.
HB: On 31st and L?
MN: Sure do.
HB: Well, anyhow, you know, some things you never forget. My foster mother had give me lunch along and in that lunch was limburger cheese. Well, me without thinking, when I got to school, I set it on the radiator. And it caused a terrible commotion.
MN: I bet it did.
HB: You know what limburger cheese is?
MN: Yes sir!
HB: Was very, very popular, and had an awful good taste,
MN: very potent, too, though.
HB: It was, yes. so, uh, the teacher wanted to know wh, uh, whose lunch that was over there. Well I had to tell her it was mine, and go get it, see. I never will forget that...as little as I was.
MN: Well, was it roasting on the radiator?
MB: Yes, that's what happened.
HB: Well, it would melt.
MN: Yeah.

Oral History Interview of Henry J. Bettencourt and Margaret Rowan Bettencourt