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Interview with Marian S Svenson

Svenson, Marian S
Rubenson, Lisa
Date of Interview: 
Relationships with people and places; Stories and storytellers
Marian Svenson talks about her traveling adventures with her late husband, Andrew Svenson, an author and a ghost writer of famous mystery books.
Charlotte Narrative and Conversation Collection
Collection Description: 
Lisa Rubenson interviews Charlotteans to collect stories for a class project at UNC Charlotte.
MS (Marian S. Svenson): And talk about the boys-.
LR (Lisa Rubenson): Yeah.
MS: And all that. She just tried him out on all these different things first. \\ They loved it. \\
LR: \\ How interesting, \\ I bet he did.
MS: Then he began thinking, the children have traveled today and they know about the rest of the world more or less.
LR: Yeah.
MS: So he started traveling.
LR: Oh.
MS: And sometimes he'd call me up, he'd got there at X in the morning and call me up at night and say, "Get the next plane over, out over here." \\ Might be, might be. \\
LR: \\ Really? \\ Where would you go?
MS: Well, one time it was Portugal.
LR: Oh, really?
MS: And, Bermuda. It was all, they were all different places.
LR: Would you bring the children or?
MS: I've been all over the world.
LR: Oh, my goodness. Well, how would you, um, how, what brought you to Charlotte? Your son being here, or-?
MS: My son.
LR: -Did you live here with your husband as well, or, um, I'm just curious, why you're in Charlotte.
MS: Oh, why I'm in Charlotte? Well, my husband died in uh, Andy died in 1975.
LR: And you were living in, in this area?
MS: No.
LR: No?
MS: We were living in Bloomfield.
LR: Oh, I see.
MS: And then, uh, we had been doing a lot of traveling around Europe and places. And the other thing is, oh, I won't even bother with telling you about that. It's just the big thing is every year in, uh, Joe would take me a different place ( ). But, uh, this is only happened this past year that I forget things like this.
LR: Oh, and then when probably as soon as I leave you'll think, "Oh." [Laugh]
MS: Oh, yes.
LR: It comes and, it comes to you, I'm sure. Well, were you born in Bloomfield, New Jersey? I just need to know ( ).
MS: No, I was born in, uh, Pennsylvania, on O-, Ohio line.
LR: Ah, \\ what town? \\
MS: \\ Two miles \\ away from the Ohio line.
LR: What town were you born in?
MS: Well, lots of little towns up there.
LR: Uh-huh. My grandmother was from Canonsburg. I don't know if you know where that is?
MS: Yes, well I was from the lake region, \\ a lake region there. \\
LR: \\ Uh-huh. \\ And what, uh, now this question is only the fun one and you don't have to answer it if you don't want to but, do, what is your birth date?
MS: My birth date? September. September 11th.
LR: September 11th?
MS: Yeah.
LR: What, what year were you born?
MS: Oh, here's where I'm mixed up, see I was born in 1911.
LR: Oh, 1911. OK.
MS: And my birthday was the 19th.
LR: Oh.
MS: Of September.
LR: Mine's the 22nd.
MS: Yours is when?
LR: 22nd of September.
MS: Oh, 22nd.
LR: So you have been in Charlotte how long? Do you know how, because you've probably just been here about a year?
MS: I came down here with Joe after my, I, I stayed there with Andy-.
LR: Uh-huh.
MS: -While he was living, and he died in '75.
LR: Mm-hmm.
MS: So then, Joe had lost his wife the year before.
LR: Oh.
MS: And, he went on a search. [Laugh]
LR: [Laugh] Ah.
MS: While I was in Florida. Well, and he asked, uh, my brother-in-law, he was, he was, he, he didn't know too much. We, he was a kind of writer, too. [Laughs]
LR: Yeah.
MS: He was in a college, teaching. And uh, well, he, he was sick at the time when he asked him where I was and I always remembered his answer. He says, "I don't know where in the world she is." [Laugh]
LR: [Laugh] Because \\ you were traveling so much? \\
MS: \\ I was always off traveling around. \\
LR: Well, that's good to know, with 6 kids you were \\ still. \\
MS: \\ Yeah, \\ well, they were grown up then.
LR: Did you go, ah, did you, what, what is your education? Do, ah, you went to school in Bloomfield I'm sure. Did you, uh, \\ go to college? \\
MS: \\ I didn't, \\ I didn't go there. I came from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
LR: Uh-huh.
MS: And I went to college there.
LR: Oh, you did?
MS: And I majored in history. [Pause]
MS: So, uh-.
LR: Did you, uh.
MS: -And that's how I met Andy, Andy came on a scholarship to University of Pittsburgh. So, we met at a church.
LR: Oh.
MS: A church meeting in the evening and, where the young people got together. That was the beginning of everything.
LR: [Laugh] So after you got out of college, did you work at all?
MS: I, no, I, I worked but I didn't, uh, have a regular job.
LR: Right.
MS: I worked for about five years at the hospital-.
LR: Oh.
MS: -And, uh, I was interested in health then.
LR: Mm-hmm.
MS: And uh, that was a local hospital there.
LR: Well, now, since you've had six kids, I'm sure you have a lot of experience with storytelling.
MS: \\ Oh, yes. \\
LR: \\ Can you think of uh, \\ one of your favorite stories? Either something you were told as a child or something you told your children or something you, you'd like to tell your grandchildren today?
MS: My mother got me, of course, got me started in that, and she also got me started in playing the piano-,
LR: Ah.
MS: -When I was five years old.
LR: Huh.
MS: And, I kept that up until the time I got married. Don't ask me to play now. [Laughs]
LR: Oh, I won't put you on the spot. Besides, it's bad enough we came right on into your room but, um, can you think, I, this project centers around you know, story-telling, so I'm wondering, you know-.
MS: \\ Yes. \\
LR: \\ -If you \\ ever told any specific stories or do you have a favorite story?
MS: Mm-hmm. I got started on the series books there.
LR: Yeah.
MS: They were popular then.
LR: Do you ever tell your grandchildren any stories about growing up or what it was like?
MS: Oh, yeah.
LR: Can you think of a story that your mom and your dad told you? I know I'm really asking a lot but.
MS: Uh, no, I, I'd have to think. There's a couple of my great-grandchildren.
LR: I, they're so cute. Are these them, too?
MS: Oh, yeah.
LR: \\ Oh, they're sweet. \\
MS: \\ They're, they're the ones \\ up in New Hampshire.
LR: Oh.
MS: Here, there's a picture of Andy and me. We were up in, New York State, \\ I think it was. \\
LR: \\ That's a great picture. \\ Looks like you were hiking.
MS: Well, it was in Canada.
LR: Oh.
MS: We were visiting somebody up there.
LR: Tell me about the, uh, your favorite place that you traveled to. Maybe, was it Portugal or Bermuda or?
MS: No, we just made a, a short trip there, about two weeks in Portugal. I met him over there.
LR: Ah.
MS: Seven o'clock in the morning, flew in, I'll never forget the, the beautiful scenery, you know, the sun was shining on these houses, and they had uh, birds that lived in the chimneys of the houses.
LR: Oh, really?
MS: Storks, all kinds of birds, just it, it was interesting. So then we spent a couple weeks just driving around all over Portugal. Everywhere we went we, had a car and off we went.
LR: You did some exploring. \\ Did you go the seashore? \\
MS: \\ Oh, I've been all over. \\ Uh, spent five weeks in Japan.
LR: Oh, tell me about Japan. \\ I've always wanted to go. \\
MS: \\ Oh, it's a beautiful place, \\ just lovely. And we, it was the World, uh, World's, uh, Fair they had going on at the time we went. We spent, that's when we spent five weeks all around Japan, all around there.
LR: \\ That was a long trip. \\
MS: \\ Went way over to Taiwan \\ and then on to China and all around-.
LR: Really? All in the same, \\ journey? \\
MS: \\ -In a row. \\ We went further than, uh, than China. Let's see, where'd we go? We went to, [pause] Rail Oriental.
LR: A tour of the Orient?
MS: My husband went, I mean, I wasn't always taking pictures. He wanted me to have my picture taken with these, uh, monks, and they had orange robes on. [Laughs] They were, they were not allowed to have a picture with a woman.
LR: Oh, really? [Laughs]
MS: So I got a picture of my husband with the men. [Laughter] I mean, you ran into different, uh, things that are going on.
LR: I would think the culture's so different, you wouldn't know-.
MS: Right.
LR: -About their different-.
MS: Uh-huh.
LR: -Cultural differences just, just by happening upon people. Uh, did they speak English or how did they communicate?
MS: They seemed to understand a little bit. And that was, that was that. It was a beautiful place.
LR: Was it mountainous or?
MS: No. And across the, uh, across the water they're having trouble, they have trouble with the people on that island where we were. Recently.
LR: Hmm.
MS: See how I like history?
LR: You do like history, I can see that's why you were drawn to that \\ in college. \\
MS: \\ The Far East \\ and in Greece and all that area.
LR: Ah. Where did you go in Greece?
MS: Well, just \\ everywhere. \\
LR: \\ Athens? \\ Did you go to some islands?
MS: Islands? Yes, yes. We went to, we took us a boat ride from Athens to see all the islands.
LR: Ah, it's beautiful there. Did you see Italy?
MS: ( )
LR: Yeah.
MS: And I've been to, uh, Sweden a couple times and, uh, oh, this picture over here is France, that's Paris. Now at the end of that road is the Opera House, and the Grand Hotel is across the street where we stayed.
LR: And do you ever bring your children with you on these travels or did you have someone to \\ help you? \\
MS: \\ Yeah, \\ I just happened to have, I had a girlfriend with me.
LR: What was that \\ like? \\
MS: \\ We went, we went \\ we went, we were, I know what stands out in my mind with them was being in France and uh, we took them all around to different places.
LR: Were they little little or were they old enough to understand?
MS: In between.
LR: Mm-hmm.
MS: In fact I'm, I'm sure they enjoyed it and remember it. And, every time we stopped they wanted to get back to the hotel, so stop a, a, a cab and whhhhsst. [Gesture of a cab passing by them] And right off. Americans.
LR: They didn't want to pick you up? [Laugh]
MS: No, I said, "Look, all we got to do is get on the bus here and it'll stop right in front of this place, and we got back or about a block from there." And there was a lot to see there. We went on ( ) a big bus trip.
LR: Oh, yeah.
MS: And we went all around Paris.
LR: Now, was your husband working at the time in these different places or was \\ he just trying to get new story ideas? \\
MS: \\ Uh, probably he was at a, \\ a conference but um, but he was there you know, not too far away.
LR: Now, since he wrote these books was he, like, behind-the-scenes or \\ would he, would everybody? \\
MS: \\ Oh, yes. The material \\ he used.
LR: Yeah, I was wondering if, um, you know, today, if, if, if he were writing those books today, he'd be on talk shows and everybody would want to talk to him, did people treat him as though he was kind of famous or was he kind of more behind-the-scenes?
MS: I don't follow you.
LR: Um, since the books that he wrote were so well-loved by all these children in America, but uh, \\ he had written a famous. \\
MS: \\ Well, he had written at least \\ six hundred books.
LR: He wrote six hundred books?
MS: I don't, don't count them at, you know, what, at least that, 'cause different things that he wrote, different books, by title.
LR: Mm-hmm.
MS: 'Cause he worked, he was there when, he became, uh, a, uh, [pause] oh, uh, Harriet Adams, he was, the two of them would work together. He became a partner \\ with her. \\
LR: \\ Oh. \\
MS: With Stratemeyer Syndicate.
LR: Uh-huh.
MS: That's what I was trying to say.
LR: Wow. That's a lot of writing.
MS: So they got along very well.
LR: Was he a, a good, um, story-teller with your kids?
MS: Yeah, he.
LR: Not just in writing but did \\ he like to tell stories? \\
MS: \\Yeah. He was, \\ well, I'll tell you one story. We went to bed one night and we had twin beds. So I got into bed first and he just said, "Here." And he's going through some papers, "Here, I'd like to have you read these." So he handed me a couple different, it wasn't more, just two pages. It was, uh, chapters, two chapters from a book. And I got, he was watching me, and my response and then I got through with the two and I went over and I said, "And where's chapter three?"
LR: [Laughs]
MS: He says, "I haven't written it yet." [Laugh]
LR: [Laugh] So that's a good sign, you wanted more, \\ right? \\
MS: [Laugh] \\ That's it. \\ He laughed. But you can see how it was, it was another book he'd been, he was writing, you know, or another, you know, chapter on something. \\ I don't know which one it was. \\
LR: \\ Did he ever ask you \\ for story ideas?
MS: Oh, yes.
LR: I mean, I bet after six hundred books, \\ he'd-. \\
MS: \\ Yes. \\
LR: -Gotten a little.
MS: Oh, he taught at this school in, ah, what did they call it ( )? Upsala College and that's in East Orange, in New Jersey.
LR: Oh.
MS: And, and he had another college [pause] might have been the University of Pittsburgh. That was, a long time ago.
LR: Well, it sounds like you all were all over the place. \\ You have a lot of \\ stories to keep track of.
MS: \\ Oh, we were. \\ I haven't even half mentioned the places.
LR: [Laugh] What kinds of places?
MS: Africa and really just all over everywhere.
LR: What did you do in Africa? Did you-?
MS: Oh, just.
LR: -Safari or anything like that?
MS: I don't know. I can't tell you. [Laughs] I, I better not bring them up, because that was a long time ago.
LR: Sure, sure. But that's a lot of, I'd like to see your passport, it's probably this thick.
MS: You would?
LR: [Laugh] Well, \\ you don't have to. \\
MS: \\ I just came across it-. \\
LR: Did you?
MS: -Just the other day, yeah.
LR: Oh, that'd be neat. Well, if it's too much trouble, don't.
MS: ( ) [Sound of papers rustling] It must be in the other box. I don't know what I did with it. I can find it, Joe, excuse me, I, he would drive the car and I'd write how many miles a day and where we stayed and what we went and what we ate and.
LR: I wonder where all that is? That would be \\ fun too. \\
MS: \\ I tell you, \\ I was all, you know, it's just like taking another trip, reading it. There's more pages to be written on. Hmm. I don't think I'm going to find it.
LR: Well, that's OK. Is this it?
MS: No.
LR: Oh, this is another trip that you took.
MS: No, I had them in, uh, better looking books than this. September, oh yeah, this is Joe, see I first started in when, he told me he wanted me to keep track of the mileage and \\ the gas.\\
LR: \\ What trip was this? \\
MS: These are all trips up North. They're not all in there, I've got some other ones. That's not what I'm looking for. Uh, darn.
LR: Well, \\ I appreciate you looking for them but that's OK. \\
MS: \\ I have something else. \\ I have some.
LR: There's another notebook, is that something?
MS: No, it's. Someday I will get in there. Well, that's pretty clear. Addresses. That's something I need.
LR: Oh, gee. Well, if anything, we found that for you, right?
MS: I've been sending Christmas cards for two years. Because I, uh, things weren't going right, but they're all right now. Uh, somebody started, Laura, the oldest one, she wrote Christmas cards up for me one year, but now I'm back and I had, that same year that I couldn't write them, I had five of my best friends couldn't write to me.
LR: \\ So everybody understands, right? \\
MS: \\ Gotten along with it.\\ And one of them, I knew something was wrong, she sent me a letter, wrote her name, it was not right. It wasn't her handwriting, an 'N' was an extra loop.
LR: Aw.
MS: And she said she's going blind. So she sent me a card this year, but uh, her, her son, lives, her son came and lives with her, he, he never got married or something, I don't know.
LR: Hmm.
MS: Uh, anyhow, he's living with her and that's in [pause] Ohio. It's not Ohio, it's Virginia.
LR: Oh.
MS: And, uh, well, I, let's see, I knew her from way back fourth grade I guess.
LR: Fourth grade? \\ Oh, wow, that's a nice long friendship. \\
MS: \\ Fourth grade. Oh. \\ I have one that I met before I went to kindergarten even. We visited her and she was one of the girls who couldn't write to me. She was just, too much to do. But, I took Eric and Barbara. Oh. One year after my husband, first husband, Andy, died, I decided to go on to Europe, see my friends over there.
LR: Wow. Off you go. Well, tell me about that.
MS: So I got there, I had, Eric heard about me. He says, "I hear you're going to Europe. Where are you going?" I said, "Well, I'm going to fly to Switzerland." No. I didn't fly there, did I? I, I've been all over Switzerland several times. Let me see. Yes, it was Switzerland. And I had a friend there, still have a friend. And, but, she writes me, anyhow, let's see-.
LR: Is your friend?
MS: -He found out that I was going to go. He says, "Who are you going with?" and I said, "I'm going alone." "Would you like to have Barbara go with you? She needs a vacation."
LR: So you had a travel friend. [Laughs]
MS: He didn't want me going alone. [Laughs] Something might happen.
LR: Interesting. You might not come back.
MS: That's right. [Laughter] So, uh, Barbara and I went over, we had a wonderful time. We went over there for three weeks. We even went over to, uh, Germany and Austria. You know, \\ it was then. \\
LR: \\ When you traveled, \\ how would you travel, by train and by boat \\ when you were over \\ there?
MS: \\ Well, we \\ flew to, uh, Geneva-.
LR: Right.
MS: -Switzerland, and then we took the, uh, ah, and we took a train. Went up to the top of the high mountains, and then, uh, we looked all around there. See I had been there several times, so I knew what to do and I had a friend there, we stopped to see her. Then we took a boat ride over to [pause] a beautiful place in Switzerland. I wanted her to see everything like that. Then we got to Germany somehow or other and, uh, Vienna.
LR: Uh-huh.
MS: And there was a place where the, uh, they had the movie, stan-, she would start, the movie started out with her standing on top of a ridge of a mountain.
LR: Sound of Music?
MS: Hmm?
LR: Sound of Music?
MS: Yes.
LR: Yeah?
MS: Yes, it was.
LR: [Laughs]
MS: So we went all through there and we stayed there for a couple days.
LR: Aah.
MS: Saw the place where the show was made.
LR: Oh, that's interesting, that's where the Von Trapp family was?
MS: I guess. ( ) Oh, we went out. We took a night tour around, by bus, and stopped to eat someplace, and I saw this guy over there, young fella, looking Barbara over. [Laughs] I knew what was going on there. And then I said, "Barbara," I said, uh, "There's a man over there and he's speaking German but I understand it," because I had taken German. My husband loved German, he could speak well. And uh, well, I took German when I was in college. So I know what's going on. So, well, all of a sudden he gets up and comes over. You know, we were kind of, everybody's eyeing each other. So, uh, that was fun.
LR: What did your friend Barbara \\ think about that? \\
MS: \\ But he could, \\ he could speak a little bit English but not so much, so I translated-.
LR: Oh.
MS: -To Barbara. I said, "He said you were a really beautiful lady." \\ So you know. \\
LR: \\ So you translated? \\
MS: Yeah, yeah that was one evening there. [Laugh]
LR: What fun.
MS: Yeah, I was glad she had that romance like that. [Laughs]
LR: It's a good thing she, yeah, \\ you agreed to bring her along. \\
MS: \\ Yeah. \\
LR: She finally \\ had a great time. \\
MS: \\ Well he was going \\ some other direction.
LR: Aw.
MS: So we're waiting in the station there for ( ) our time, I guess that was on our program.
LR: Mm-hmm.
MS: I am sure taking a lot of your time.
LR: Well, I'm taking a lot of your time and I'm going to let you get back to your busy schedule and I.