Abbrial Seagle

Oral History Interview with Abbrial Seagle conducted by James Carder in the Oval Room at Dumbarton Oaks on April 1, 2015. At Dumbarton Oaks, Abbrial Seagle was Financial Assistant (1987–1998) and she registered guests at the Dumbarton Oaks Refectory (2005–2015).

JC: I’m James Carder, and it’s April the 1st, 2015. And I have the pleasure to interview Abbrial Seagle, who is past her twentieth year at Dumbarton Oaks. Welcome and thank you for doing this interview. Can you tell me when you first came to Dumbarton Oaks, and what you did, and how you found the place at the time?

AS: Well, I actually came here as an office temp from an agency. And in coming – when I first – I got lost trying to find – as I normally do. [laughter] And finally, I had to call, and Jose Garcia told me, “Okay, do this, do that.” So, finally, as I’m walking over from – I came in on the bus – I’m walking over from Wisconsin Avenue, I see the – he said, “You’ll see a brick fence.” And as I approached this, I said, “This has got to be the place.” I said, “Because look at all those eights!” I don’t know if anybody realizes that the mosaic in the brick wall that goes around the place looks like all eights.

JC: Yeah.

AS: Big eights.

JC: Right.

AS: So, I said, “This must be the place.” And I came in. First, no, first I went across the street where it says “Dumbarton something,” you know, they have an awning on that building on the corner.

JC: An apartment building.

AS: And nobody answered the doorbell, so I said, “This must not be the place.” So, then I walked over and came in, and they said, “Okay, this is it.” And I think Jose was waiting for me to take me to the office. Now, the office for finance was right where – let’s see, right on this side. So, you went up – no, you didn’t go upstairs. Just before you went up the steps, it was an office right next to the director’s office. And Jose had a little desk this way, he had a little desk by the door, coming out. And that was the next person, the desk which eventually became mine. And I think it’s the office where Yota sits now – was Marlene’s office. Little cubbyhole, width-wise.

JC: Right.

AS: And in working here, after a point, I – they saw my – I got along with everybody, so Jose was saying to me, “Why don't you put your resume in?” I said, “Oh, I don’t know.” Then I said, “How much does it pay?” And I said, “Oh, this – that’s really low compared to what I’ve made, you know.” I said, “Well, I got to start some place, so I – I’ll put it in, see what fits.” So, then after I showed it to Marlene, I said – she said to me, “You did all of this?” I said, “And then some, in New York.” [laughter] So, she bought out my contract with the temp agency, and I’ve been here ever since.

JC: And what year –

AS: Uh huh.

JC: – roughly, was that?

AS: Let’s see, that had to be… in the nineties? I can’t quite remember. I know when I got out of here the first time, I think it was ’98. So, ten years back from that. And I’ve been here this long because I enjoy the house, the gardens, and the people.

JC: Mmm hmm.

AS: And the fact of meeting people from all over the world even though I haven’t traveled extensively, you know. Been to Europe, I’ve been to Hawaii, and I’m thinking about basking in the sunshine with a tall cooler in the back and having a Mai Tai. [laughter]

JC: That sounds like a good –

AS: In Hawaii.

JC: That sounds like a great plan.

AS: At least one more time.

JC: Good.

AS: And I’ve enjoyed – I’m the kind of person – I guess you would call me the old schooler because I enjoy what I do. You know, to be an accountant, you have to enjoy looking at numbers. And I know back in my office, eight feet ledgers running all around the floor and everything – and then you add the – you’ve got to be crazy to do that. I said, “You’re right, but I enjoy it!” The challenge of it. And then – the parties around here were just the epitome of – especially when the director was Angeliki Laiou. Leh-oo? Couldn’t pronounce it. And I’ll never forget at the Christmas parties, which would start at five o’clock, I would come down. I’d be the first one in the – I’d say, “I got to see if everything’s up to par.” [laughter] I said, “And it’s beautiful!” And she would always be there to greet the people coming in. And so finally, at the second Christmas party, she comes over to me and she says, “Abbrial, I’ve been watching you a few years.” And she says, “You’re always the first one in here.” And I said, “If you could see how much paper I have to process, you’d know at five o’clock, I could use me a drink.” [laughter] So, she laughed and she says, “What do you drink?” I said, “I drink rum and tonic. And she said, “Oh!” And I said, “Don’t knock it!” I said, “Bar keep, give me another one like this.” I said, “Make sure you squeeze the lemon in it.” Well, she tasted it, and she said, “My god, that is delicious.” [laughter] I said, “I know!” I said, “After five of them, it’ll knock you on your socks.” [laughter] So, she laughed, and then the next Christmas party, she said to me, “Abbrial, I have served your drink all year to my – to every dinner party I’ve ever had. Everybody in Washington D.C. is now drinking rums and tonics, and they love it.” So, I said, “Yay!” And who was it? Susan, I think, was – Gay’s like, secretary.

JC: Suzanne Mercury?

AS: Yes. And I saw her at the Christmas party, and she says, “And the director has me drinking your ??? – [laughter] And it’s delicious! We have named it officially, ‘the Abbrial.’” I said, “Good. Let’s have a double, in fact.” [laughter] The parties and everything, and the maintenance staff was just superb. What was his name? Silvio! Silvio was the manager of the maintenance people, and I used to admire them, because I collect sterling silver, and it’s a job polishing that stuff. But I love to see it shine – that and pewter. And she has an excellent collection of silver. The lamps down this hall –

JC: Mmm hmm.

AS: – have the silver on it.

JC: Right.

AS: And they used to just shine, shine, shine. Just beautiful. And there’s one bowl right down the hall – where is it? It’s on that table over there. Beautiful crystal. I collect crystal and pewter. And every time I go down the hall, I hit it with my finger like that. And the ring, the bell ring. Ah! Beautiful. I found one just like that.

JC: Oh, good!

AS: It is a – well, it doesn’t have a whole lot of decorative – it’s actually a champagne thing that – a cooler.

JC: Mmm hmm.

AS: A drinks – my daughter, when I brought it in and I showed it to her, she says, “Oh! Oh! Careful, careful. Don’t drop it!” Because her mother –  her grandmother had a beautiful collection of old sterling silver and beautiful champagne goblets and whatnot – crystal. And so, I said, “Deb, you got to see the collection in the house.” You know, so I said, “But the only thing is you can’t get that far, you know. So, you can’t see it. You have to see the garden.” [laughter] And Angeliki was – she was like the queen of Dumbarton Oaks, but a tough cookie.

JC: Mmm.

AS: And when she first came in – I’d never forget. That’s when miniskirts were in. And she came in – she’s got nice legs. And she had on a miniskirt. And I’m saying, “Oh! What do we have here?” And at that time, I think she came in from California, I’m not sure. But I said, “That’s a woman after me own heart.” You know, I said, “She’s all woman.” And she was great to work with. She could be fun, but yet stern. And I never had a problem – I’ve never had a problem with anyone here, or any place I worked.

JC: Good.

AS: Because I believe in treating them, treating everyone, the way I want to be treated. And if you don’t treat me that way, then I say, “Later!” You know. I don’t have a problem. You have the problem. You keep your problem. You see? And that way, you get along with everybody, as long as you can speak to everyone and treat everyone as a human being, because we are all one family, under one God.

JC: Can you tell me something about Marlene Chazan? You worked with her when you first came –

AS: Marlene was another tough cookie. But she knew her stuff. And we would go at it, back and forth. I’d say this and this and that, and no, no, no, no, nope. Nope. Nope. Nope. And I’d show her, “You’re right. Okay.” [laughter] And one day, she came in and – it was just a three-man office – she came in and she chewed Jose out to no end. And then she went in her office and slammed the door. So, with this, after I cooled down, mentally, I went into her office, and I leaned across her desk, and I said to her – I looked her dead in the eye and I said, “Did you know you’re having a bad hair day?” [laughter] She laid back in the chair, and she roared. And I said, “You look like a woman that needs a cup of coffee.” I said, “Are you having your coffee this morning?” And she says, “Yes.” So, I went and made her a cup of coffee, which I did every morning. She and I had our coffee. And I came back in and I put it in front of her. I said, “When I go out, I’m going to close the door while you get your hair in order.” And I said, “And besides, I didn’t do it.” Well, she roared again. [laughter] You know, in about, oh, two hours later, she came in. Oh no, before that, she said to me, “Is it that bad?” I said, “That bad.” I said, “I’m going to close the door now.” And I closed the door. I went back to work, and about two hours later, she comes out, and says, “Thanks, Ab.” I said, “You’re welcome.” But this is how we got along with one another. I’m from New York, where we tell it like it is. You know, I know no other way to be. Straight from the shoulder, you see? And I told her that from the beginning. I said, “In New York, we would go at it all the time.” You know, you’d be a little more verbal, you see? [laughter] But in New York, I had a comptroller that – we had to put up a new system, which I did, and a programmer. And he would say, “This doesn’t work!” I said, “What do you mean it doesn’t work?” So, I said, “What are you looking for?” I said, “Did you find everything you were looking for? It’s still in the same spot, right?” And I said, “It does work. And I’m going to prove it to you. I’m going to make you eat every ledger that’s running up and down that floor.” [laughter] And I did. And I said – after that, we got an office manager, and I told him, “Don’t give me anything else to do.” I said, “Because I’m up to there. Don’t make a wave.” And I said, “I need some help.” So, I finally got an assistant to help with all this workload I had. And even, you know – like, back there, even though we would go at it, like I said, verbally sometimes, that’s just the way it was. So down here, I found people a little more… Hm,. How can I describe them? Not withdrawn, but scared to talk to one another on an adult basis. Okay? We’re all adults, not children. You don’t play games with children. You talk honestly with them, you know? And back in New York, we talked honestly every day. You know, like, “Up yours!” Excuse me. [laughter] “What do you mean you need this? Up yours!” You know. But down here, it was – not more sophisticated, god knows. No. Sophistication is the wrong word. But – I don’t know, like, scared to communicate would be a better description. And I don’t know why. Well, I – the south and the north are different. You’re more – freethinking, I guess, north wise. Whereas down here, because of the past history, you’re reluctant to speak on anything too much.

JC: Right.

AS: Okay? And you’re scared of people you don’t – people are people the world over. And I found, in working here with so many people from all over the world – and I experienced it back in New York, going out of New York, you see? Traveling so much with – Canada, I drove to Canada. And I see people from all over the world just traveling from New York, Long Island, to Canada. And I found that visitors to the United States and Europeans and anybody that lives out of the United States are much nicer people.

JC: Mmm.

AS: You know? They’re more – considerate of the fact that you are a human being, not just someone to boss around or to throw around or throw away, you know?

JC: Right. Right.

AS: And you only learn this with time, and you learn it in traveling. For the ghetto guy that lives on the corner, he’s mad as hell at everybody, because he’s standing on the corner not trying to get off. He could get off if he wants to, but he feels he’s stuck. And with no exposure to the travel and meeting other people, you don’t know what’s around the corner even. I was amazed. I was back in Long Island, and after I got a divorce, I started going out with my girlfriends, my club members. And they said, “Come on! We’re going to a bar.” I said, “To a bar? What do you mean a bar? I don’t go in bars!” And I – my father had – now, my father was still living – I said, “My father would kill me!” And I’m almost… fifty years old! I said, darn right, I said, “My father would kill me if I went in a bar!” [laughter] So, they said, “Abby, you’re grown now.” “I know. We’re grown children. I know. Okay. Let’s go hang out.” So, I went to this bar where my one girlfriend – during the day, she was a big manager at Bloomingdales, and then nighttime, she, three nights a week, she moonlighted as a barmaid.

JC: Mmm.

AS: So we had fun. I went there and she introduced me to some nice people. And then talking with the – I think it was the bar owner’s daughter. She was saying she’s never been out of Queens! And I said, “What do you mean you’ve never been out of the Queens?” She said, “I’ve never been out of Queens anywhere. I haven’t even been to New York City.”

JC: Hmm.

AS: I said, “Did you know it’s a big beautiful world out there? Nice people, not crazy like these nuts in Queens?” [laughter] You know? And she said, “I’m scared.” You know. I said, “But try it!” I said, “And don't do this to your children.” I think she had two kids. Expose them to the world. You’d be surprised; you’ll like it. And I think, oh, maybe about three or four years later, I just stopped by to see if they were still there, and she had, she says, “Ab, I went to Canada!” And she says, “I’ve been to Mexico.” She says, “It’s beautiful out there!” I said, “Good. Broaden your scope. You’d be surprised it’s fun.” And that’s always been my thing in life, is to enjoy it! My father, when he was about to pass, left me a note that he found in a magazine. And I think it’s called ‘Day-zay dorada’ or something like that. It was like a poem. But the crux of it was to enjoy life. Live your life, no matter what you will be. And I said, well, that’s daring, but – [laughter]

JC: What did you do when you left here the first time? It was 1998, you said?

AS: Well, I went on extensive vacation.

JC: Uh huh. Good.

AS: I was gone three years, and within the interim, Marlene would call me. “Come on back! I need you.” [laughter] And I said, “Sorry, I’m on vacation!” Another time she called me, I was in California. [laughter] I said, “I’m on vacation in California!” And next time, I forget where I was, but I wasn’t here. In the Bahamas or some place. And this went on back and forth for three years. And finally, she sends – she sent me letters. I’d read the letters, put them in the garbage, and go jump on a plane, you know, going again. And finally, she sends me a registered letter, like, “At least talk to me. Come in and talk to me.” I said, “Okay.” I called her and said, “Okay. You win. I’ll come in and at least talk to you.” So, she said, “I want you to do the refectory for me.” “No, no, no, no, no. Give it to Diana or” – Diana was still living then – “Diana or somebody in the office there.” I said, “I’m having too much fun.” She said, “Name your price.” And see, at that time, I had retired. I was old enough to retire. When I retired from my first job, I wasn’t old enough. I was only fifty-five, so the reason I went back to work was because of the insurances going up, up, up.

JC: Sure.

AS: I said, “Darn, I gotta go back to work! Oh jeez. Spare me.” [laughter] And I was lucky and fortunate enough to find this, you know? But she came back here and I said, “Okay, I don’t want to go too high.” She quoted a price. I said, “No way! Are you out of your mind? I won’t work for that.” You know? [laughter] So I said, “This is my price, take it or leave it.” She said, “You got it.” Then we sat down and started going over the – what she wanted, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. And it’s beautiful. And she was like my daughter. I think she, in essen – in fact, she’s like, two years younger than my daughter. And I said, “Whether you like it or not, I’m your mom.” [laughter] And she said, “Okay, mom.” And with that – like I said, when I thought she was wrong, in anything, I would correct her. I said, “Because” – and I told her – and Jose, when we worked in this little office, we also did supplies. And – I’m trying to get – I – is it that way? Yeah. It was back that way, just before you came in the doors. Finance used to be over there. And like I said, it was a little cubbyhole. Marlene had a little office about half the size of this, and then another little space, and then there was a desk by the door, then Jose’s desk there. And the supply room used to be to the right, with three steps going up. So, anybody who’d come in the office to get supplies would have to run up and down stairs. “Hey Ab? I don’t know how you do this!” Think of it this way, so that you don’t go nuts. It’s good exercise.

JC: Yeah.

AS: Keeps your legs toned.

JC: Yeah.

AS: They say, “You got an answer for everything!” I have to, to keep my sanity! [laughter] Every day I come in, I run upstairs, I run back down. And I said to Jose one day, “This is a trip.” And then once I came on board – Jose was Cuban and had an accounting degree, and worked at that in Cuba before Castro came in. And so when Castro started coming in, him and his wife and two children got out with only the clothes on their back. And so when he got here to Dumbarton Oaks, he was working in the maintenance. And through conversation, I guess, he told Marlene that he worked – you know, he had a degree in accounting. But I mean to tell you, he knew his stuff. And I can tell that because I came from good old school accountants back in New York. You know, this was before computers. And we had one in our office, and he knew his stuff. And when I saw that Jose knew his stuff – and then, one day I said to him, I said, “Let’s you and I have some conversation. You – first of all, I know that you know that you are not showing me everything I need to do my job efficiently.” And I said, “So, therefore, I do not have your back.” I said, “You show me what I need to know. I’ll do the rest.” I said, “But show me, and then I’ve got your back.” I said, “You capisce?” So, he says, “I capisce.” And he showed me. So, one time, he was saying, “I haven’t had a vacation in so long because of the work load.” You know, and the – at that time, financial assistants, they kept coming and going. The last time – the one that was before me, she kind of showed me a few things. And she said, “I’m out of here! This is too damn much work.” [laughter] And after I got into it, I said, “Oh, I see what you mean.” But it’s a piece of cake in reference to the volume I had in New York. And so he showed me. So, finally, the office upstairs moved downstairs in the basement.

JC: I remember that.

AS: And I had my own office, and a beautiful storeroom in the back. All I had to do was walk around the corner; I didn’t have to run up and down steps again. And Jose was down the hall, and there was another spare room. And then we had a nice conference room there. And Jose says – I said, “When are you taking a vacation, Jose?” He says, “I don’t know. I haven’t been on vacation in so many years.” I said, “Well get the hell” – excuse me – I said, “Well get the hell out of here! What are you sitting here for? I got your back! You don’t trust me yet?” And then, you know, a couple years or so had gone down. And he says, “I think I will.” So, he took a week off. Getting back, everything is laid out for him. No problems. The next time, he says, “I’m taking two weeks.” [laughter] I said, “Now you’re getting spoiled.” [laughter] He said, “Ab” – he came over and gave me a big hug. He said, “Thank you.” He said, “I’m a different man now, because I – I can enjoy some time away from here.” I said, “I know what you mean.” And even to this day – he lives in Florida. And he used to do everybody’s taxes – you know, some of the people that worked here – and he still does it! So, he – Natalia Teteriatnikov? She was in for lunch the other day, and she said, “Jose says to call him.” [laughter] I say, “I don’t have his number.” She says, “I’m going to bring it for you. He wants you to call him to say hello.” I said, “Beautiful, honey. It’d be nice to talk to him.” But Jose and I, pers – just the two of us – put finance on the PC, on the computer. Prior to that, it was all hand. And we ran the same, the two new systems for three months before Marlene said, “Okay, it’s good.” So, I had reward – I guess the most rewarding experience was, when you’re up for a raise and whatnot – Marlene called me in the office and she says, “I want to show you something.” [coughing]

JC: Sorry.

AS: And she says, “Out of all my years of being here, you’re the only one that’s ever gotten ‘excellent’ on your review from Harvard.”

JC: Nice.

AS: And she said, “I’m flattered.” And she said, “I’ll be damned!” [laughter] You know? Like – and I said – well, I said, “Thank you. I’ve earned it,” you know. [laughter]

JC: Yeah. You had.

AS: And she was – she said, “I’m just blown away.” You know? I said, “Why?” Well, whatever. But the other directors – Thomas was – I think that was his last name.

JC: Thompson? Is that Robert Thompson?

AS: I think. When I came, I think he was the director. Then there was – was it Angeliki after him?

JC: Yeah, I think so.

AS: Angeliki. And then it was Ned. And now, hmm, Jan. Okay, but – the first one, he was very stuffy. You know, he didn’t – more of a figurehead than, hmm – you know, say like, being courteous to the ‘help.’ [laughter] Angeliki was the best. Like I said, she was real, and she gave great parties.

JC: Yeah.

AS: The food. Oh! The last time we had a Christmas party, I think they had like, one table, a little bigger than this other square, for the food. And I said, “When Angeliki was here, we had a table that ran almost the length of the music room, with everything you could imagine you wanted to eat.” And it was like that the whole time she was here.

JC: Mmm.

AS: Everything was just so. And I said, “Oh! The budget must be getting tight around here. They’re getting stingy with the food!” [laughter] You know? I said, “I’m not coming! They don’t feed you anymore!” And – but everything was excellent, because Hector’s been around here twenty-six years, I think. He came after Winnie. Were you here then?

JC: I was.

AS: Yeah, I thought so! Winnie was good. And then Hector just followed what she was doing. So, I said – but the food was still pretty much the same, very delicious, but the table kept getting smaller and smaller, you know? [the phone rings] And – who is that? Then after that was Ned. Ned was more like the first person. And – [phone continues to ring] probably my daughter. [laughter] And he wasn’t too much of a social person. And then Jan, who is very social, I think. But there have been many changes, and, well, most people don’t like changes. You know, they find it difficult. But it is inevitable that things change.

JC: Right.

AS: And I said, “What if they didn’t change? How boring would it be?” You know. And in this computerized world, everything has to go that way. I mean, this is a younger person’s world, and it gets faster and faster, you know? I’m glad to see that they’re going to repair the floors out there, because – when I saw them, I said, “Oh my god!” Angeliki would just be besides herself. [laughter] She’d be cussing – she could! She cussed pretty good. [laughter] And fussing about those floors, you know?

JC: Yeah.

AS: And I said, “I hope they” – they ruined them with the sun! They let the sun in, you know? And I used to say – oh, Jose was the first one. I have to tell you this story, because you might have experienced it. A lot of people around here have. But Jose was the first one that says to me, “Did you know Mrs. Bliss is still here?” [laughter] And he said when he used to work as a maintenance – you know, having to check the rooms and whatnot – he said he’d see a cold white figure coming down the hall. You’d be on this end – he said, I’ve seen her many times.

JC: Mmm.

AS: And I said, “I bet you did!” I said, “Were you scared?” So, he said, “Yep!” He said, “I went back the other way!” And so another security – what is her name? Oh, Daisy’s sister. Oh, I can’t think of her name. But anyway, she said one night, she was up checking in Marlene’s – shortly after Marlene died. She says, “I went into the office there.” And like, in her office, she said, “I could hear papers rattling.” And it’s like, one went flying across the room. She says, “Abby. Abbrial. I got so scared, I ran out of there.” I said, “I know. I’m not afraid, though.” And I know they still walk around. And then, even outside in the garden. What is her name? What is Daisy’s sister’s name that works on security? Black hair…

JC: Nora?

AS: Nora! Nora was up – she said she saw both of them – Mr. Bliss and Mrs. Bliss – down by the gate.

JC: Mmm hmm.

AS: Right down there, coming up the walk – the pebble walk? I said, “I’ve seen them.” And one day, I was coming in to do the garden, and I think that’s when the whackynuts were here, the agency. A young guy was on the desk, so I had to go, come upstairs to get the bag, by finance. And so when I get upstairs, I get ready to go into the ladies’ room. And the men’s room is right next door.

JC: Mmm hmm.

AS: Up a hallway, going down that way. And I hear two people talking in – no, when I first get up to, like, the top of the stairs, I hear a door slam. And then as I am approaching the ladies’ room, I hear two people talking in the bathroom. And there was – it sounded like two women. So, anyway, I go and get my bag, and I go back downstairs, and I said to the security guy on the desk, “Is anybody else in here, besides you and me?” So, he says – he checks the screen, and he says. He says, “No. Just you and me.” I said, “Well, I just went up – went to get the bag and I stopped by the ladies’ room, and the bath – men’s room right next door – I heard two voices, talking.” And the door slammed. Well, his eyes – he slid back into the chair, his eye – [laughter] When I said, oh – [laughter] his eyes got big! I don’t think he lasted another week. [laughter] And then, another time, we had – security would tell, told us that – and again, it was this whakynut, whackanut group of security. They said – this one guy had to patrol at nighttime, and it was get – it wasn’t nighttime yet, but dusk. And he was out doing the garden. Well, he came running down by the Orangery. Another security was standing by the gate. He threw him the keys and he said, “I’m outta here! They’re out there in the garden again!” [laughter] He quit!

JC: That’s amazing. That’s like, five or six people.

AS: Oh yeah.

JC: Wow.

AS: And then another time, I think it was one of the security here. He was doing the front desk, and he said all of a sudden, something cold touched his arm. Well, you should have seen his face when he was telling me about it. I said, “Oh, that was just Mrs. Bliss. Or it could have been Marlene.” His eyes got big again. [laughter] But the experiences are – and I felt it when I was going to the ladies’ room – it’s cold. There’s something cold around.

JC: Mmm.

AS: And especially with Nora, the same thing – and I’ve seen Mr. and Mrs. Bliss in the yard, standing up by the Orangery from down at the gate house. So, they’re still here, but lately, no one’s said they’ve seen ‘em. I said, “Well, maybe they got tired, roaming around the garden.” You know? And the house, and gave up. And when they started doing the renovations on this house, that’s when they saw them the most. And so after my encounter with the – well, my experience with the bathroom there, when I would come in and nobody’s up here, I say, “Good afternoon, Mrs. Bliss. I’m here. This is Abbrial.” I say, “Hi Marlene. You feeling all right? You doing okay?” You know, acknowledging their presence, which, you know, you can feel it around.

JC: Mmm.

AS: So, with that I don’t have to – I go about my business - nothing. But one night, when I was working full time, down – when the offices were downstairs. I was working late. And all of a sudden, there was a cold breeze coming down the hallway, like somebody opened a window or something. And I said to myself, I said, “Mrs. Bliss, are you here?” I said it out loud because I’m the only one down there. And I said, “Mrs. Bliss, if you are here,” I said, “you’re scaring me.” And I said, “Because you’re cold. There’s a cold breeze in here.” And I said, “You’re scaring me and I have got a lot of work I got to get finished tonight.” I said, “Then I will be gone.” And I said, “But, would you please go and stop scaring me?” Went right down – the breeze went down the hall. Gone. Serious. And the stories that Jose can tell you, oh! And like I said, if I only heard it from Jose, I might not believe it. You know, I’d take it with a grain of salt, as they say. I said, but so many other people have encountered the same thing, you know? But I haven’t, as I said, for – ooo, must be at least a couple of years – I haven’t – you know, a couple of years. I haven’t heard anybody say anything. So when I used to come in – I think it was last year, or the year before last – I would come in and acknowledge this is her house. And one day, they had a picture of her in the hallway on an exhibit from years ago when they did so much travel. And as I’m walking down the hall, I said – above my voice a little bit; nobody else was there but me – I said, “Mrs. Bliss. That’s an ugly picture of you. You need to have them take that down.” [laughter] I said, “I don’t like that picture.” You know, they took the picture – [laughter]

JC: They took the picture down?

AS: Yes! But it was ugly of her. I mean, the one in the dining, in the refectory is gorgeous.

JC: Right.

AS: And everyday, I come out and say hello to her. And I just think that’s a magnificent – a magnificent – dress she has on, a gown would be better. And it’s a very beautiful picture of her. And I said, when I was looking at the picture down the hall, I said, “Now you know you don’t look like that. Look, that’s an ugly picture. It’s not like your picture in the refectory.” I’m talking to the picture, right? [laughter] And I look around and see if anybody’s watching me. And I said – for some reason, they just – that picture was gone in less – she took it and moved it.

JC: She took it down.

AS: But the fun of that is – it’s fun – well, I guess it’s because I’m not frightened by it, you know? She’s a restless soul, whatever the reason, and him also. And I guess this was her pride and joy, Dumbarton Oaks.

JC: Yeah.

AS: So, she’s still around. And I keep asking, “Marlene, are you here?” [laughter] You know. And like, I heard two women’s voices in the bathroom. You know, so – I understand there was a younger family that got here before the Blisses that had children?

JC: Mmm hmm.

AS: I’ve never seen any children or heard Jose speak about seeing children in and around the hallways. It was always Mrs. Bliss and – or Mr. Bliss would be outside, more so than inside. But it’s been interesting. And, you know how I used to see on TV, how at Long Island, they’ve got several homes that are haunted for whatever the reason. And I said, “Well, I guess this stuff is real!” After experiencing what I experienced here, you see? And I just – when I come into the house, it’s “Hello, Mrs. Bliss.”

JC: Mmm.

AS: Oh, and then another time, when I was downstairs and I felt that cool breeze come down the hall? I said to her, “Thank you for allowing me to work in your house.” I said, “I mean no harm, and I’ve got a lot of work to do, but you’re scaring the hell out of me.” [laughter] “So would you please go away? Let me finish my work, and then I’m going home.” And it went away, just like that. And I said, “Wow” – And I’ve heard other people say that they were working downstairs and they – we used to have stacks downstairs–

JC: Right.

AS: –in the room? Periodically, I could hear them moving, and I knew I was the only one downstairs, but I didn’t – it didn’t bother me. I said – it just made me work a little faster. [laughter] But it’s been real. It’s been fun. And I said, “Oh!” I just – I’ve been blessed, you might say, to have – I’ve always chosen things I wanted to work at and to advance my knowledge to where I wanted to go. And to me, that’s important. And I always taught my children, “You work at what you want to work at, in order to be happy, to not have stress in your life.” You know, you choose what you want to work at. And I said, because back in my office, I had many – my company was a company within the big company. And we had a main accounting office, and then my unit. And so many people that worked in the main accounting part had four-year degrees, but two and two would come out five, you know? And then the others would sit there and complain all day long because they didn’t like their job. I said, “You’re not happy because you’re doing something you don’t really like! If you like it, you are productive. If you're not, you’re not a happy camper. And I’ve always had fun. I know one time, back in New York, my boss – God bless – he had a problem with one of the guys over in the main accounting department. They were saying, “We should have did something or whatnot, what–“ And so – something about insurance. So, he says, my boss says to him, “I wrote you a letter about this.” He said, “You did? When?” And he said, “Such and such a date. Don’t – didn’t you get it?” “What? I didn’t see it.” He said, “Well, go back and look for it!” So, in the meantime [laughter], he said, my boss comes in and, [in a deeper voice] “Ab, write me a letter.” [laughter] They did such and such, and he said, “I’ll call him over. You go over there and put it in his file.” [laughter] But that’s the kind of stuff they did around there. I know, the head CEO of the accounting department, him and the guy next to him and a couple of other guys – every night, they would go in their office and drink. So, finally, the big dog on, the CEO on the front comes out and says, “You guys cut this out!” They said, “Well, we’re not working. We’re just sitting here, having a few.” He says, “No more! Okay?” He leaves. So, they come over to me and says, “Ab” – it was always “Ab” – “Put this in your desk and here’s the key. You got a key to your bottom drawer?” I said, “Yes.” He says, “Take the key out. Take it home with you.” They put their liquor in my cabinet. [laughter] And another time, they went down on – is there a Black Friday or something like that? They had on the calendar or…

JC: After Thanksgiving.

AS: Black Friday, they called it? Oh, okay. Well, they decided on Black Friday, they were going down to the local pub and drink Black Russians. The same guys that – well, they left at lunchtime. One o’clock, two o’clock, three o’clock, nobody’s back. My boss is there with the rest of them, main accounting. And so the big person comes out and says to me, “Ab, do you know where the guys are?” I’m working. “Uh, no sir!” Okay, that was about three o’clock? Four o’clock, he came back. “Ab, have you heard from the guys?” “No, sir.” Still working, working. Five o’clock. Six o’clock, he comes out, and I said, “Before you ask me, I take the fifth.” [laughter] And he said – and he said, “Abby.” He grins. He said, “I know you know where they are. And you tell them, for me, that each one of them will get docked a day’s pay.” [laughter] I said, “How can I tell them? I don’t know where they are!” He laughed and went back to his office. Anyway, when I left, I went back down there and I found their car, and one guy was leaning on this side of the back seat, and the other one was leaning on the other side, and I said, “Where’s Vinny?” Vinny’s still in there – him and two other guys – still drinking Black Russians. And I said, “Okay guys, I took the fifth for you!” I said, “But you all got docked a day’s pay.” They said, “Pour me another one!” [laughter] But back there, it was fun because we played sports. I played all sports. We had a golf league. And I was pretty good; I’d get two hundred easy in driving, to the point where the guys couldn’t beat my team. So, we were having, like, a semi tournament, and I told the girls on my team, I said, “When you’re out there today, when we go out to play the guys, let’s –“ [laughter] I said, “Wear your short shorts.” [laughter] So, we did. When we were getting ready to tee off, I said – well, the guys just – they loved it. They were so busy looking at the girls, and we beat them tremendously.

JC: Right. [laughter]

AS: And here, they used to have a baseball team, at least. But they used to have so many nice things that the employees participated in, like the art exhibit. And it’s – it was – I was astounded at how many talented people we have in this place that you don’t know about! And I said, “That would be nice.” You know, give something to the employees! Instead of just work, work, work, you know. And no satisfaction. And that’s what Angeliki did. She let this thing jump off, and, well, beautifully. And it stayed on exhibit in the – like the hallway in the rare book room?

JC: Right.

AS: For a couple months or so.

JC: Yeah. Art done by the staff members?

AS: Yes. All the art done by –

JC: I remember that.

AS: Yes! And it was – I was amazed! Really amazed. Beautiful stuff. So, it’s been a beautiful experience. And I mean, I –

JC: You’ve added to it, too.

AS: I added to it?

JC: Mmm.

AS: Well, I hope so. Over the years, I’ve had some people say to me, “You are a role model.” I said, “Well, I wish everybody could be like me – or happy as me.” And one time, Gail the gardener comes in – the minute she comes in to the refectory, I said, “Hello! How are you?” You know, and she says, “Damn it! How come you’re so happy?” [laughter] She said, “You’re the happiest person I know.” And I said, “Because I choose to be happy.” And then she says, “Are you religious?” I said, “No. But a devout believer.” [laughter] Difference. And she says, “Oh.” She said, “But you’re still too happy.” [laughter] I said, “That’s because I am a devout believer.” I said, “Well, what I can’t solve, I let him solve ‘em.” And he does. And –

JC: Listen, remind me when you have to be on your road before it changes direction?

AS: Oh, yes! It –

JC: Because it’s three now.

AS: Three. You want to cut?

JC: If you’re willing to stop, it’s good, but if not, that’s fine, too.

AS: Well, just a few other things I – I think I covered most of it. The fun part of it, anyway. I’m trying to think who the gardener – the old gardener was named – Smith.

JC: Don Smith.

AS: Don Smith. Right. He was a real nice person. And we used to get the poinsettias at Christmastime –

JC: Mmm hmm.

AS: – and the lilies at Easter, where they grew them down there. That was nice. And who else? Ned. Ned – God bless his soul; he’s passed on – but he… he was again a figurehead. Jan? He’s a bit of a swinger, I think. [laughter] Well, anyway, he has fun – I hope – in being the director, because he smiles a lot.

JC: I think he does.

AS: Yeah.

JC: He’s done a good job here.

AS: Uh huh. Yeah. And he has a – at least he smiles. Some people walk around, they don’t smile. They never have – nothing nice to say to anybody. But that’s their problem.

JC: Mmm hmm.

AS: You know. They have to learn how to smile and to laugh and be happy, you know?

JC: I agree.

AS: I wish I could have stayed past – I originally said to myself, “Well, I’ll at least stay until I’m eighty-five.” Then I said to myself, “No, dummy. It’s time to sit down and rest your bones.” You know? Stop working. And then my daughter and my son, they’re all saying, “What are you still working for?” I said, “Because I enjoy doing what I do.” It – It’s a reason to get up, put clothes on, and go out of the house. Hirsch thought I should become a couch potato. Oh! Jeez, I couldn’t stand that. [laughter] But as long as they got a casino out there, mmm! [claps] And I said well, maybe me and my over-the-hill gang in New York, we’ll go to Vegas. We haven’t been there in many years. But if we don’t go to Vegas, we’ll go to Atlantic City, in New Jersey. But everybo – I think the changes, with all the changes, I hope the changes are not going to be – where management, again, loses their feelings for their fellow employees.

JC: Mmm hmm.

AS: When I came here, not anybody who was talking to anybody – nobody said good morning. So, I st – when I walk down the hall, “Good morning! Good morning.” And one day, I’m coming down this hall, and Elizabeth Boone is coming, and I said, “Good morning!” Nice, sunny, beautiful day. And she walked right past me. I walked about three steps then I said, “Whoa! Is it or is it not a good morning?” I yelled at – past her, because she’d passed by. And so, she turned around and says – I said, “Look” – we’re right next to one of the windows there. And I said, “Look outside! The birds are chirping; the sun is out. It’s a beautiful day. Is it not a good morning?” She says – she looked out, and she says, “You’re right! It is a good morning.” [laughter] I said, “Thank you!” Well, she spoke after that. But I found, you know, a very cold – and everybody – once I got here, I got everybody speaking to one another, at least acknowledge that I’m a human being walking past you. I – on the street, I either bow my head or say hello or good morning, you know. And the bright – when I was a young woman, married, I went on Saturday morning to do my chores, and I would take my husband’s shirts to the cleaners. And the cleaner’s was on this side, and across the street was the best darn Italian deli you ever had. So, I was going over there to get my sausage, et cetera, and as I’m passing – there was an old run-down bar on the corner – and laying in the street was a man. So, just as I get to him, you know a bum, he said good morning to me. No, he looked up at me, and I said to him, “Good morning!” and kept on walking. So, I hear somebody say, “Miss! Miss, miss.” So, I turn around. He said – he got up, dusted some of the dirt off of him, stood tall, and said, “Thank you, for saying good morning.” He said, “You made my day.” He got up and walked as straight as he could down the street.

JC: Hmm.

AS: But he got out of the dirt. You see? And with that, I’ve always spoke to whomever is approaching. And sometimes, when somebody says good morning to you, that’s the only thing good for that day.

JC: Mmm.

AS: That “good morning.” You see?

JC: Indeed.

AS: So, you accept it as it is. And now, I’m going to quit talking, and if it’s all right with everybody, I’ll go home and have me a cold beer.

JC: You do that. [laughter] Abbrial, thank you so much.

AS: You’re welcome.

JC: It’s been a great little session of your memories, and I wish you every possible happiness –

AS: Awww.

JC: – in your second retirement.

AS: Third!

JC: Third retirement. [laughter]

AS: I told Gayatri  –  I said – the last time when I retired from here, when I got out the door, I jumped straight up, and I said, “This time, I’m going to jump, but not so high as I did before!” [laughter] And I’ll go, “Yay!” [claps] “Finally!” The final one.

JC: Good.

AS: Three strikes, you’re out. So.

JC: Thanks again, and best wishes.

AS: Oh, thank you. It’s been my pleasure.