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Chapter II - Larry's Mother and Three Older Sisters

dea Louise Strong, whose mother had been a special student at Yale, was born 1859 on a farm in Gambier, Ohio, the youngest in quite a large family. They were real farmers, and Idea loved farm life, even to taking part in cutting up a pig every year, making sausage, and all the rest.

Her father was a minister, Chaplain of Kenyon College. He went into the Civil War as a Chaplain, was taken prisoner and nearly starved to death in a prison camp. When he got back home he was just skull and bones and in very poor shape, and couldn't do any work at all; he lay in a hammock. One day he accidentally rolled off, broke his neck and died. Responsibility for the farm and the family thus was placed entirely on Idea's mother, a resourceful woman, who proved quite equal to the task.

There was a bit of whimsy in the family. When Idea was a child, they had a mustard pot in their home with French words on it. The family didn't know French, but they said the words as they seemed in English: they went "Moutardee de herpin vinegaree de sun La duchess de Berry a la evvy quee butty Roachy poachy palaysis". All the family learned this by rote.

One of Idea's uncles, Charles, became a minister and had a parish away off and hadn't seen his sister for many, many years. Eventually he thought he'd go back and see the old house and his sister. But so many years had passed that he wasn't even recognized. To Idea, her mother and the family, it was just another visiting minister (there were many) turning in at the gate. He was ushered into a little-used parlor, and the usual polite conversation with a visiting minister began.

He seemed mysteriously knowledgeable about the community, and they were wondering who this man could be, when he came out with "Mountardee de herpin vinegaree de sun La duchess de Berry . . . . . " Charlie!" cried his sister, and embraced him.

Idea's eldest brother, Al, became a famous surgeon, who taught medicine and had a deal with gravediggers, kept a carriage with two fast horses; he would prop up the stiff on the seat beside him and drive like blazes to the hospital for dissection.

When Idea was about twelve, her mother decided that she and her next older brother should go to Chicago for a better education. At Chicago she was impressed by a pipe coming out of the wall in the station, and a fire coming out of it; they didn't have gas light in Gambier. They settled in the West Side, and when Idea had finished high school, she entered the Rockford Female Seminary, a very fine college. One day while at college she received an anonymous note :

"Ida Strong, Brace up and be somebody or else go butt your brains out."

his strange message had a profound and unsettling effect on Idea, but she evidently determined to be somebody. She got an excellent education at Rockford Seminary and then she became an art student at the Art Institute of Chicago, quite a distinguished school of art. Her talent was very promising, and as her studies progressed, she became surer of her potentialities as an artist, and more ambitious.

But at this point in her life she met William Andrew Hammond. They fell in love, and before long they were married, and she had to give up her study of art for the time being.

Eleonora Duse
Idea was an extremely interesting person. She was not only artistic, but also very mechanical, and always thinking up gadgets to simplify her work in the kitchen. She invented a glasses-holder to protect her nose when it had a sore place. She had flashing eyes, and would transfix you with them, and she was a great poseur, Hammond remembers, liked to think of herself as Eleonora Duse. She was also a woman of great determination, and the strongest kind of disciplinarian.

A Young Laurens Hammond and his Mother

At the drop of a hat she would spank you. At a garden party in England, I thought, she wouldn't spank me here. And I did something. She had a parasol. She sat down, put the parasol over herself, took my pants down and really spanked me. I really didn't think that would be the result! She demanded high standards of her children. But she also inspired them with great self-confidence, because she believed in that. She gave them a real push with her active encouragement, and all four of her children did something with their lives. She was an extraordinary mother.

For example, when she had the three girls and Larry at Dresden, the King of Saxony died, and Eunice, the eldest, spontaneously wrote a poem about his funeral, with a great deal of feeling. Their mother read it and said, "Put on your hat, go down to the English language newspaper, and show them this poem" - - virtually chased her down there. The newspaper liked the poem so much that it alone appeared on the first page next morning, with a great black border around it. This was the beginning for Eunice - she became a successful writer for the Saturday Evening Post, and other publications, and for a time the acting editor of Poetry Magazine in Chicago, and published an autobiography, "The World at My Shoulder."

The next sister, Louise, Vassnar graduate and Episcopal Deaconness, was a missionary to China and the first foreigner ever to pass the formidable examinations required to become a Chinese Scholar, and ultimately translated and compiled (with Chinese assistants) the first Chinese Hymnal. Only those who understand the tonality of the Chinese language can comprehend how difficult that was - But by varying both the wording and the music of the hymns - with permission - it was finally achieved.

The youngest sister was Peggy, just four years older than Larry, and thus the closest to him. After interminable practicing as a girl, hour after hour, she became a concert cellist. She turned out to be one of the rare few who were sought after as soloists on this instrument. Her technique was tremendous, and impressed Casals by perfection. He said, "I can't teach her anything." She plays as soloist with many of the orchestras in the United Stated and some in Europe.

Perhaps the greatest motivating force in human conduct, Idea Hammond believed, is jealousy in one form or another. Certainly ambition became a very marked attribute in her only son.

Chapter III - Larry's Father and the Evanston Home    Index

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