In Her Words: Doreen’s Story

In Her Words header and images of Doreen throughout her life

In Her Words

Candid Profiles of Strength Told by the Women of Northbridge

Throughout the month of March we have collaborated to celebrate Women’s History Month and the rich history of the amazing women living in our communities. Their candid stories are brimming over with love, happiness, passion, family values and the markings of individuals who have truly lived well and loved life.

Doreen’s Story (as told by Doreen, resident of Carriage House at Lee’s Farm and her daughter, D’Ann):

What is your name and where were you born?

[Doreen] My name is Doreen Francis Roberts Zarba and I was born in Liverpool, England in 1939 to Mary and Robert. The sixth of 10 children: May, Bobby, Joan, Doris “Dolly”, Sheila, Ann, Pauline, Billy, Peter and Alan.

[D’Ann] World War II had started in England shortly after Doreen was born and her father left to fight the Nazis. He left behind his wife and 6 children for 5 or 6 years, only visiting when he had leave. During this time, bombs were dropping on Liverpool. The 4 older children were sent off to Wales to live with family for safety. Mary Elizabeth stayed in Liverpool with Sheila and Doreen (the baby). Sirens would go off and they would run for the air raid shelter. Many evenings were spent there with neighbors. Doreen talked about how their mother and the other women would sing and play games with the children so they wouldn’t be afraid. (To this day, however, Doreen has never liked fireworks.) Doreen has a happy memory about the day her father came home. She heard him outside yelling “toys for sale.” All the children ran out and he gave all of them toys and candy.


What did you and your family do together growing up?

[Doreen] We traveled to Wales quite often, our family had a house there. Our family would stay for a week. Walking, taking in the beautiful area, with mountains and rivers.

[D’Ann] Doreen and her mother and sisters used to like to knit together around the fire in the evening. Doreen could knit anything creating her own patterns and designs for sweaters. The family also went to the local theatre often to see live performances. They took buses and trains wherever they went as the family never owned a car.


What did you love to do with your friends?

[Doreen] Ride bicycles, dance, I did tap and ballet as well.

[D’Ann] When Doreen was very young she was small for her age and the doctor thought there was something wrong with her heart. She was told not to run around. (Because of this she didn’t learn to swim until she was married and had children of her own.) Even though she couldn’t run around she could do handstands and back-bends and splits and was quite good at it. Doreen also loved to take dance lessons with her friends. Doreen’s siblings tell stories about Doreen being full of mischief as a young girl.


What schools did you attend? What were your favorite subjects?

[Doreen] Chatsworth Street School. I loved art and English studies. I truly enjoyed school and all my studies.

[D’Ann] Doreen was good at math, but her favorite classes were art and French.


Did you marry? What was your proposal story if so?

[Doreen] My husband was Leo John Zarba but he went by “Tony”. He proposed in England, at my parents’ house. I was out for the day, came home and he was there, he got on one knee and asked me to marry him.

[D’Ann] Doreen and Tony met in England at a dance. He was an American in the Air Force stationed in Liverpool during the Korean War. It was love at first sight. Doreen’s father, however, had told all his daughters not to date Americans. Doreen came up with a plan: her older brother, Bobby, would bring Tony home as his friend. When her parents met him, they thought he was Bobby’s friend and liked him right away. They got married in about a year from the time they met. They lived in England for the first two years of their marriage before moving to the U.S. Their first child, Tony, Jr. was born in England.


What are some special memories you have about your children?

[Doreen] Tony, Doreen Ann (D’Ann) and Gina Marie. They are all beautiful, wonderful children, always good and well behaved. Could not ask for better children!

[D’Ann] We were always very active as young children. Playing outside all the time. She loved to watch us swim and play in the backyard. We turned out to be good athletes. Tony was an amazing college soccer player. Gina was an amazing gymnast in High School. I was always doing art. Now I am an artist and I teach art.

Doreen would love the memories of taking the family to England for a month to see her mother and siblings when the kids were young. We stayed right in her mother’s home. She also has very happy memories of when her mom came to the states to visit for a month at a time. Wonderful memories of seeing her mom play with us. We loved our grandmother who we didn’t see that often because of the distance.


What types of jobs did you have? Who did you work for and what did you do?

[Doreen] Tony and I owned businesses, I ran them. In the Wakefield, Stoneham area. We owned stores that sold clothing, shoes but mostly clothes. I would go to the different stores and check on them, sometimes work there, and do a lot of paperwork.

[D’Ann] When Doreen graduated school in England, she worked as a bookkeeper. When the children arrived, she stayed home to raise them. When Gina, the youngest, was about 14, Doreen went to work in the family jewelry and gift business. She worked alongside her husband and did the bookkeeping, retail sales and whatever else was needed.


Do you have any hidden talents or hobbies?

[Doreen] I love to do art, paintings and drawings. Flowers, landscapes mostly, not portraits though.

[D’Ann] Doreen is an amazing Italian cook. She learned to cook from Tony’s great grandmother who was from Sicily. Her specialties include: eggplant parmesan, stuffed artichokes, a terrific sauce with meatballs and sausage, homemade pizza, etc. She also makes delicious cakes: chocolate with buttercream frosting was a family favorite.

Doreen could sew anything. She often made dresses and other clothing for us when we were growing up.

Doreen is a talented watercolor painter. Unfortunately, she stopped painting about 21 years ago when her husband, Tony passed away. Tony was a stained glass artist and the two of them often created art at home together.

Doreen has a hobby and an eye for flower arranging and has made many beautiful silk arrangements for her home.

A hidden talent is that Doreen is a green thumb with orchid plants. I often give her plants when they have stopped flowering and Doreen amazingly gets them to flower for years.

Doreen is a good listener and makes friends easily.

Doreen is a good traveler and always packed and ready on time with a smile on her face! Besides many trips to England, she also likes to explore new countries and she and her husband often traveled to Europe. She liked Germany and Italy best. Later she went to Paris (a life dream) with my family. She also liked going to California and Mexico once. Long drives with her husband were fun: places North like Canada and South like the Carolinas.


What did you do to get through the difficult times in your life?

[Doreen] I’m very fortunate, I did not have many difficult times. When you own businesses, there are a lot of people around to offer their help as well.

[D’Ann] Doreen uses her faith to get through difficult times. Her church and the community is an important part of her life and gives her strength.


Do you have holiday traditions? What do you do for the holidays?

[Doreen] We would get together in Wellesley for Christmas at D’Ann’s house. Years ago, I would do all the cooking and cleaning and after my husband passed the kids said, “Mom you don’t have to do all that anymore!” My husband was such a nice man, anyone he could help he would.

[D’Ann] Thanksgiving in the Berkshires with family. Making a traditional turkey dinner, pies, etc. Christmas with my family. Christmas Eve mass. Making cookies and pies. Exchanging presents on Christmas morning. Easter mass, hiding Easter eggs.


What are some of your favorite things? Favorite flowers? Favorite books? Favorite songs? Favorite foods? Favorite pets?


Flower: Rose

Song: I love them all!

Food: Pasta, ravioli. Tony’s parents were so great and sweet, the best in laws and would often cook for us. They had Italian accents. They called me “Doreen-a”!

Pets: We always had puppies and dogs. I loved them all.


Flowers: Lady slipper and other orchids, also roses.

Books: Stories about saints like Mother Theresa, St. Therese of Liseux, etc.

Songs: Doreen loves lots of music, music by Frank Sinatra, Tom Jones, probably anything from the 50’s. She also likes James Taylor, too!

Foods: Italian food is top, seafood is a favorite.

Pets: Lots of pets over the years, Chooch was Doreen’s first dog: a little Pekinese. Then a German Shepard named Penny, a cat named Smokey, a Bassett Hound named Skipper. Doreen also loved a corgi named Teddy and cat named Mocha (D’Ann’s pets). Tony’s dog named Fenway. My current Corgi named Mason.


What are some personal experiences that have especially touched your heart?

[Doreen] The birth of my children and the birth of my four grandchildren. I’m happy that my children are all doing well in life and are happy. It means the world to me.

[D’Ann] Being a mother is probably the biggest experience that touched Doreen’s heart. She loved nurturing her three children. (And has always been a great Mom!) Doreen has always been supportive and a friend to her three children no matter what they were experiencing. Being a grandmother to four is also a highlight. Her grandchildren are: Cori (Age 25), Jessica (Age 24), Danielle (Age 22) and Eric (Age 22).


What are your favorite things to do now?

[Doreen] Visiting my family, I love shopping and going out to eat with my daughter. All and all I am happy with my life. I miss my husband terribly and he told me before he died that he would always be with me and looking out for me. We never had a disagreement in our life. We were incredibly lucky to have each other.

[D’Ann] Being with family and friends are Doreen’s favorite things.


What are you favorite experiences to partake in at Carriage House at Lee’s Farm?

[Doreen] I love to sit and chat and spend time with the people here. Also, I enjoy the trips we go on here, they are always fun.

[D’Ann] All the fun outings and friendships.


What do you hope for your children and grandchildren?

[Doreen] The best, I wish them best! I love them and wish them all the best in life.


What is your biggest piece of advice?

[Doreen] Love one another as you would love yourself.


Sum your personality up in 1 word or phrase?

[Doreen] Happy!

[D’Ann] Upbeat, Cheerful, Positive, Sociable, Joyful

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