How I Got Here: Helen Willis Duarte

From August 25, 1941, to May 10, 1942, Helen Duarte of Vineyard Haven worked as the Charles Lindbergh family cook at Seven Gates Farm in West Tisbury. Lindbergh first saw the Island in 1932, after a ransom note said his kidnapped son, Charles Jr., would be found on a boat named Nellie near Martha’s Vineyard. Lindbergh later brought his family to the Island to escape the celebrity he could never quite shake on the mainland.

I first came to Martha’s Vineyard in 1939 to work as a nanny for the summer. I was twenty-one. I had been working for a Brockton family, and they spent their summers in East Chop.
I thought it was beautiful, but I was lonely. My employer had me wear a uniform, which made me feel awful. Then Dot Darling, who ran a coffee shop in Oak Bluffs, introduced me to Maynard Duarte. He was a plumber.
I went to the movies and was having coffee afterward at Dot’s. These two fellows came in, and one of them had a girlfriend. Maynard was quiet and 
reserved, and the other one was outgoing. He was the one I wanted, but he was already taken, so I ended up with Maynard. He had a Model T Ford with a rumble seat. All he talked about was that car. I was so bored.
That fall he came up to Brockton every weekend. We were married on December 2, 1940. Then I moved to the Island, and we stayed with my in-laws until we got a place of our own. Maynard’s aunt and uncle, the Ernest Duartes, worked up-Island on a farm, and they heard the Lindberghs wanted a couple. The Lindberghs came to Martha’s Vineyard from New Jersey with two secretaries, a governess, and a chambermaid, but they wanted an Island couple to cook for them.
We met them at 7 p.m. They fired all kinds of questions at us. Because my husband was quiet and reserved, I was the extrovert. We were fingerprinted because of the kidnapping in 1932. We got the call in a matter of days, and we worked for them while they lived on the Island.
There were three children, and Mrs. Lindbergh was pregnant with the fourth. The first summer they stayed in Seven Gates Farm in West Tisbury, way down by the water. I haven’t been there since. They had signs all around that said No Trespassing. They also had a beautiful dog – a watchdog. In winter we moved to the Webb house in Seven Gates – the other one was just a summerhouse.
Thursday was our day off, along with every other Sunday. We were allowed to go out at night – visiting, to a movie, dancing, or out to dinner. If they weren’t home, though, Maynard wasn’t allowed to leave the premises. Colonel Lindbergh always wanted a man on the property.
I knew how to cook when I went there, but Mrs. Lindbergh taught me how to make the recipes they liked. They weren’t much for sweets. Sometimes I’d serve gingerbread and whipped cream, puddings, or ice cream. You can’ t have children and no sweets.
Both Anne and the Colonel – they were wonderful to us. Maynard worked as the chauffeur and handyman. He drove Jon, who was in the third or fourth grade, to school. Land was in kindergarten in Oak Bluffs. Anne, the little one, died of cancer later.
We lived right in the main house in our own quarters – a bedroom and a sitting room. The Lindberghs never entertained. When Anne’s mother came, I made a liver loaf. As the help, you never asked any questions. They were nice to us, but as far as asking any questions, you just couldn’t or wouldn’t.
Mr. Lindbergh always told us to call him Colonel. She was called Anne Morrow. She had all the money; his mother was a schoolteacher. I liked her very much. She was quiet and reserved. I liked her mannerisms. He’s the one who fired all the questions at us. I liked him, but I felt more comfortable with her.
Anne would come out to the kitchen in the morning and say, “Helen, sit down. We’re going to go over the menu.” I was glad because I was a little nervous at first. I’d phone the order in to SBS, which was a grocery store then near the harbor. Then my husband would go and pick it up. They never expected anything fancy. They were meat, potatoes, and vegetable persons.
Every Saturday night I’d make baked beans and brown bread. They didn’t like anything in a can, and the vegetables had to be fresh. On Sunday he’d come in the kitchen and say, “Helen, where are those cold beans?” I’d say, “Let me warm them up,” but he ate them cold in a sandwich.
She wrote books. She had a tent way out in the woods. She always went out in the tent in the morning to write. 
And she spent a lot of time in bed because she was pregnant with Reeve. They were people who wanted privacy. They made that clear. The Lindbergh kidnapping was never mentioned.
What he did I couldn’t tell you. He would come in the kitchen a lot. He was a great walker and used to go off-Island a lot. Then he’d have dark glasses and wear his hat down, as if in disguise. He told me, “I never saw anybody cook as much as you.” I said I enjoyed cooking, but in truth, I’d rather clean any day.
Once the war started, they moved off the Island to Dearborn, Michigan, where he made blueprints for Ford Motors. They wanted us to come with them, but we had already given up the job. We thought Maynard would be drafted and go overseas, but it turned out he was 4-F. He had flat feet and a heart murmur. He died of a heart attack at forty-seven at the wheel of a car on his way with our son to a golf tournament in Worcester. So I was a widow with three children.
Living on Martha’s Vineyard changed me. I was brought up in Brockton, where you didn’t even know your neighbor. On Martha’s Vineyard everybody is so friendly and kind, and I 
found that out more and more as time went by.