Migrant Oral Histories
Project: Oral History Project
Interviewee: Penny Furgerson
Interviewer: Alyssa Scimeca
M: We left off last time talking about your husband; how you guys met and everything. So I guess we can start there. What year you met?
P: We met in 57’. The year after at Drake.
M: You talked about how you guys had been best friends and didn’t think about marriage because you both wanted to go your own way.
P: Both of us had all these ideas we were going to do and we shared with each other and felt very comfortable about there’s no way we can get serious. I met him at Drake. He went to Iowa State and he was just a very very chance, fateful meeting. I used to talked to people about destiny. It’s kind of funny how people he knew and I knew kind of…He was planning to go to…the nursing school had a mixer at Drake at that time. They would do exchanges with the dorms at Iowa State and they used to call it MOO College because there were very few of those at the time. It was more an agricultural college but he was an engineer, it was more science. So they’d come down to meet girls I guess (laughs). So they stopped off that day right before they went to the nurses school. Anyway, that’s where we met and I wasn’t going to go to the mixer and then eventually…But I had a young man who worked at the Methodist Hospital for pharmacy. He was like a clerk or…you know, wasn’t a pharmacist or a student, just a helper. Young guy, and he had talked about how he’d like to meet some people his age and stuff. And so I said “oh! Why don’t you come to this mixer? They won’t know that you’re not from Iowa State.” So I said “Just come on then, I’ll introduce you to my friends.” And so….yea. Lee was there and he asked me to dance. Well, Drake was very white at the time and he and I were the only people of color and I guess he was curious to know who I was and I saw him and I said, “Ah, he’s not gonna bother…you know, he was busy dancing with other girls” but then he did come over and we started talking and he wanted to know if I knew a girl that was from India and I did know who she was! I actually knew her from India. And she was very pretty, very vivacious. So I told him I’d try and get her address, I knew where she lived (laughs).
M: Ah, so you were setting him up with another girl!
P: Completely. And we started talking about…and he asked me “Do I dance?” And I thought he meant social dancing, and I said yea for fun. And then he said, “but do you dance your own dance?” And I thought this was a little odd he should ask me something like that. And I said, “as a matter of fact I do”. We talked about music and he was very fond of jazz. And he was talking about Duke Ellington and Count Basie, and explaining to me that Duke was not really a Duke, Count Basie was not really a Count and I let him go through it and he was so intent. And then when he was through I said, “you know, I grew up on that music. My father was a fan.” I said, “you made me…”
M: He gave you a lesson.
P: Yea! And I said, “you were so into it that I didn’t want to…” (laughs). So anyway, I didn’t think I would ever see him again (5:20?) Yea we started off kind of funny but I did get a letter from him asking if I would please go out with him. So that’s how it started. And we never actually connected until close to Christmas. I met him in the fall just when school started because I had a very busy work schedule.
M: So when did you guys decide to get married?
P: When I was about to take the ship out (laughs). Yea…We knew by the time that we were kind of serious about each other but…(pause for phone call)
So anyway, that’s how we met and we never lived in the same city. He would drive down here and stay. So I got to know his family right away. But we finally knew we were…kind of this was more than…And I was in school busy trying to finish up and I went to New York to do Shikotra? (1:57) which I explained to you and then he came and he said, “You better come to Iowa”. So I did come back to Iowa but then I was sending all my stuff to India because I felt that I needed to go back to India to see things in perspective. And I felt he and his family were being very embracing of me because they wanted me to stay or more in that was like…they weren’t sorry for me, it wasn’t that kind of a thing but they didn’t want me to be alone and they didn’t want Lee to feel like he’s now trapped. Anyway I had to go back because I was on a student visa and I felt that because you’re in a different country, like when you change into another phase in your life you just don’t know whether you’re seeing everything in perspective.
P: And I felt like I really needed to be around home and family and see things in perspective. But the chooser was God (laughs). We said, “No! We’ll both go together back to America” So that’s how it happened. It was a lot of letters going back and forth because of long distance calls were expensive.
M: Wait, so you did go back to India?
M: You ended up staying.
P: Yes, ended up staying because of Lee.
M: Because of Lee?
M: So why did you choose Iowa to live in permanently?
P: Oh, we had these big plans to join the Peace Corps and going to India because I said, “I’m a city girl”. So we had all these plans. But then we got married and he had his own business. A TV business that he started but it wasn’t making any money and then I got pregnant with Lee and he decided to go back to school. So that’s what he did and then we were still thinking, after he’s finished we’ll go some place else but then more kids and then we decided Iowa was a good place and it was close to family. His family.
M: So have you been back to India since?
P: Yea. I’ve been several times now, but he and I didn’t go til the kids were grown.
M: Oh wow.
P: Yea I’ve been here about thirty years. We went in 93’. And then we went again in 96’ because we didn’t feel like we could afford it and then his health got bad and his doctor said, “When he gets a new kidney, you can book the flight”. And we did and actually they got a transplant through and they called and said, “Hey, book that flight!” So we went and had a great time and we went again so we made two trips.
M: Has your family there ever come here?
P: Yes. But I have a brother who happened to be in the States before I got here. He came on a scholarship and he was in New York. We both came at a very crucial critical time for this country and what was going on in India. It was a time of civil rights and Little Rock, Arkansas. All that was going on when I got here. And I was involved in some things in Des Moines before I met Lee because I wanted to know how the city worked and they had a community center that I didn’t know was strictly, mainly black people. And I didn’t believe that you were in Des Moines, IA. So I got enlightened by some things and (brother, 7:12) went to college in Charleston, West Virginia. Lores Halby College (? 7:18), a segregated college. A white college. But they admitted him because he was from India. And he said, “you know, I’ll invite my friends from the city to come” and it was okay, but they couldn’t stay there. And it was really funny because then he went to New York. And I convinced him to come to Drake and he said, “but I don’t have money!” And I said, “that’s okay, you’ll make it somehow.” So he came to Drake. So when I met Lee he was here. And Lee ended up staying in the dorm with him.
M: Oh cool!
P: Yea and my mother had…because my brother went back to India and she said, “why didn’t you get married when (brother, 8:25) was there?” And I said because we weren’t thinking of marriage then!
M: So one of your brothers was actually here with you?
P: Yea. One brother. I only have one brother and one sister. And then my sister came years later after her children were grown and Lee and I talked her into coming. But my mother did come to visit me when my second son was born. My husband insisted on…he said, “I think we should bring mom” and she came and I said, “Ah! Mom!” You know, people in India have this vision of country with milk and honey. And Pamaccord? (9:18) at that time looked like a slum. There were huts with metal on it. So it was quite a difference. But that’s how we met and he had been involved in theatre in high school. He was backstage doing the sound and writing (pause).
M: So you have two sons?
P: I have three sons.
M: So what do they do now?
P: Well Lee is the oldest and he has some special needs and that was when they didn’t know about ADHD and stuff like that. So I don’t know exactly what his diagnosis is but he’s quite independent.
M: Yea, it’s not severe.
P: Right. And we learned how to work with his ADHD and he’s learned how to do it too. And he was never disruptive. Some kids were. And my middle son is in video production and stuff. He went to California and then he’s back here now because he has a child. And she’s not a child anymore she’s a sophomore in high school. And my youngest is in California. He’s in computer information systems. And they’re very involved in the dance company. Can’t keep them out of it.
So my grandmother came…I mean, really our family is…we used to talk about it that we all came from different cultures and countries but we were so alike in our upbringing and our families. My family was very involved in civic duties and his family was too. So we both grew up the same way. So I said if our marriage was arranged they probably they probably would’ve found someone like you. It was an accident.
M: One other question I forgot to ask last time…when you came here from India you were already speaking English right?
P: Right. Yea most Indians do speak English. They’re educated because the system in India, as least it was then, the medium of education is in English in many schools. Now they are using the local language but they do insist that they learn English too. And in India because of colonialism by the British, I think English was used so much as the official language that a lot of the documents…And there’s so many documents! So many different scripts. But now they chose to have Hindi as the official language in India and not really that many people spoke Hindi. But I’m glad that there is one. So they required, and that was happening just about when I was leaving, that you were required to take Hindi. And then you also learned the local language of the area. And English of course was always there. So I wouldn’t be what I am if that happened because when mother and father’s marriage was a love marriage because it wasn’t arranged, and she came from a different area than my dad. So their language was completely different, their foods were kind of different, everything. And they communicated in English.
M: So English was kind of the universal language.
P: Yea in our home.
M: Well if there’s anything else you want to touch on feel free because I want to make sure I get the whole story!
P: Okay actually I might send you…It’s my grandmother’s bio that I didn’t know anything about. She was a doctor and… we were lucky in our family that the men in the family were very supportive of the women. So they were very progressive. I mean they didn’t want…and then Lee was the same way with me because when I was…this director called me to do this play and he said, “well, I think you should try it” and then when we went to New York he said, “are you really going?” (laughs). But then my mother wanted me to do it too. ?????
M: Mmhmm. Well yea, I would love to have that! Anything you want is perfect.
P: So I do have pictures and stuff!