I was born Irene Adelaide Parker, to Hugh and Adelaide Gertrude Parker, at approximately 8am, October 6, 1924, in Detroit, Michigan, Wayne County, USA That makes me 71-1/2 as I start to write this autobiography.
My father, Hugh, was a jeweler, working at the J. L. Hudson Company in Detroit, at the time of my birth. My mother, Adelaide, or Addie, as she was called, was a housewife, which was quite a respectable occupation at that time. They had met in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.
Dad was born in Ballymena, County Antrim, Ireland, and was a veteran of World War II, having served as a private in the Royal Irish Rifles. He had been wounded in France, and after time in hospital in England, was given the option of emigrating to New Zealand, Australia or Canada. He chose Canada because he had relatives there. I was told there were cousins in Ottawa or Toronto as well as Winnipeg, but I never met any of them. Dad also never said much about his family, or home life, except that some of them were quite tall; this to explain his brother Robert’s tall son Clifford.
There was an older sister, Eleanor, called Nellie, who had come to the US with her husband at some point, and had settled on a farm in Iowa. Later, a brother, Robert, joined them and all did well raising hogs, soybeans and corn as feed. Other members of the family who stayed in Ireland, were two older half-sisters, Jenny and Maggie, with whom Mom had a correspondence, Cissie--I don't remember what her given name was, Elizabeth, called Dolly, and an older brother, Willie, who died at 19, playing hockey, Dad had said. In the 1940's, Dolly lost her husband and decided to move to the States with her children. They settled in Detroit. I didn't get to know Aunt Dolly, as I was married and living away from home by the time she and her family arrived. They kept to themselves quite a bit. The first Christmas they were in the States, we all met at 4603 Rosalie, and except for a visit with the Iowa relatives, that was the only time I saw Aunt Dolly. She had come with her oldest son Jack, who still lives in Dearborn, Robert (Robin), and Ronald (Ron). I didn't get to know them, either. Her daughter Elsie had married a US serviceman and lived in Texas. I met her and we got along right away when we all gathered at Uncle Robert's farm in Iowa. We corresponded for a while, and then she stopped answering my letters. Years later, Robin’s son Robert (Robbie) contacted me and said his Aunt Elsie had stopped writing because she didn’t feel we had anything in common. (Perhaps because she had no children and I had four?)
Dad was working at Ringwall's in Winnipeg, when he met Mom, who was working at Woolworth's at the candy counter. She said he ate a lot of candy whenever he came in to see her. Mom was born Adelaide Gertrude Scholz, in Leipzig, Germany. Her father had been in the service of the Kaiser, according to the story, and emigrated to Canada to avoid conscription into the German army. Grandpa, Emmo Bruno Scholz, settled on a farm in Beausejour, Manitoba, near Winnipeg. Grandma Ida Emelia Bessel Scholz, came over later with the children, Martin, Frieda, May (Emily), Walter, Adelaide and Wanda. I always liked the story, sad though it is, that Grandma Ida had been a fraternal twin. Her twin, a brother, was said to have thrown himself in front of a train when he was in his teens. I never heard any more than that about it. My thought was that perhaps some day I would have twins. As it turned out, Aunt Frieda's daughter, Frieda, had twins, but no one else that I am aware of.
Mom told of staying with her grandparents at some point, but I don't remember her talking about aunts, uncles or cousins. The family tree seems to start with their move to Canada. Mom often spoke of the ocean trip with other immigrants and how she missed her father. The story is that she cried so much for her father that immigration people thought she had an eye infection and almost wouldn't let her out of quarantine. How I wish I had asked more questions when she'd speak of those times.
I was baptized at St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral in Detroit, by the then presiding bishop, and later, Howard was baptized there also. My Godmother and father were people I hardly remember and don't believe they did any helping with my Spiritual education. Howard's Godparents were Aunt Augusta Tamm (Aunt Gusty). She was a cousin or something on Mom's father's side of the family. She lived with her bachelor son. They always had a dog or two and my fear of dogs started when one of them snapped at me during one of our Sunday afternoon visits with them. I remember my first and only ride in the 'rumble seat' of someone's coupe on the way home from Howard's baptism. There was a Cousin, too, always referred to as Mr. Summers (or Sommers). He had a family in far-off Washington State, which I pictured as a vast wilderness, having no knowledge of what it was really like. Mr. Summers always gave Howard and me money, which we promptly spent on penny candy at a nearby store.
St. Paul's Cathedral was quite a streetcar ride from our home, so we didn't go often. I remember it as a huge building with high vaulted ceiling. Mom took me on the occasional Sunday. Dad went on holidays--the family joke was that the church would fall if he went any other time. Mom wanted me to attend Sunday School, so I went with Juliamae O'Neil to a close-by church. It was a Pentecostal church of some kind that we called "Holy Rollers." They had crutches hanging all around from people who'd been healed. The services were pretty wild. Usually the children were sent to their classes before the heavy preaching started, but sometimes I'd miss the cue and sit through it all. Mother stopped me from going when I started having nightmares about it.
When Dad was a young boy, he was apprenticed to a jeweler. He never said much about his early life, and when I tried to get information for a "Grandfather's Book," he didn't have very much to say about his growing up years. His father was a beetler in a linen factory, and his mother, his father's second wife, worked there also. Grandpa Hugh was an alcoholic, as far as I can figure out, and I think was also an abusive person. Apparently, my father was happy to get away from him. In 1914, when he was 16, he volunteered for the Royal Irish Rifles and was accepted because he looked older. His mother tried to get him discharged but once in, he elected to stay, though he could have left because he was under-age. From what little he was able to tell me (by the time I was asking questions for the book, he was in his 80's) his childhood was lonely and poor. He was a gregarious man who made friends easily, but had no really close friends. He loved to party and he enjoyed his whiskey. Fortunately for him, alcohol didn't like him very much. He would reach the 'happy' stage and then throw it all up. To my knowledge, he never had a hangover. My memory is of Dad heaving in the bathroom, and of the smell left behind if I had to visit the room after him. Dad was an active member of the Canadian Legion, usually serving as Entertainment or Refreshment chairman. Sunday mornings after a Saturday night party would often find our family cleaning up the Legion hall. My memories of stale liquor have kept me from enjoying that beverage!
Dad did say that when he was discharged he tried going back to jewelry in Ireland. One day, a brick came flying through the window, whistling past his head. He made the decision then to emigrate. Belfast is still having riots today!
Some of the things Dad told about his earlier life in Ireland may or not have been true. For example, he said his father had been married three times, his mother being the third wife. No information about any children from the second marriage, and no one else seemed to know anything about it. Dad was not above embroidering the truth if it would help him. He liked feeling important and often exaggerated things to enhance his image. Was that the blarney coming out? When his hair started showing gray at the temples (it was dark brown), he liked the idea that it looked ‘distinguished.’ Later on, when Mom’s hair went from ‘salt & pepper’ to gray to white, his didn’t.
I learned much later that he was using Grecian Formula to keep the dark brown!
Mom was raised on a farm at Beausejour. She loved those days and talked of them often. She did all the farm chores, loved driving the teams of horses. Her only disagreeable chore, she'd often say, was cleaning the chimneys of the oil lamps. Pictures from those days show a smiling, happy young woman. She told of the days when she was 14, and her father was diagnosed with a brain tumor. She delighted in wheeling him around the farm. It hurt her terribly when his mind would wander, lapse and he didn’t recognize her. She always said she was her father's favorite and she missed that so much when he died.
The farm then went to the oldest brother, Martin. Grandma Ida and the girls moved to Winnipeg, where the girls went to work to support their mother. Aunt Wanda was the only one to make it through school, as I understand it. She had beautiful handwriting and wrote wonderful letters. The family rather thought she 'put on airs,' but who knows for sure? She didn't want to acknowledge that her family was German, so when she married Mr. Severin, she said she was French. I don't know whether Uncle Ernie was French or not. It suited Aunt Wanda to say so. They had two girls, with at least one miscarriage in between.
Uncle Martin was taller than his brother, had sandy hair that didn't show gray, and he still had most of his own teeth when he died in his 80's. Aunt Mary was a small, dark woman, who worked very hard raising their nine children. One of them, Helen, was born with many problems, but Aunt Mary wouldn't put her in a home. She was somewhere near my age, I think. Uncle Martin wouldn't recognize her or have anything to do with her. Aunt Mary and the children had the care. When Aunt Mary couldn't take care of Helen any longer, they put her in a home, but she died soon afterward. It was thought she died of homesickness.
Uncle Walter became a dealer in furs and various things. He was quite an entrepreneur. He and Clara had three boys and a girl. Aunt Frieda and Uncle Louis ran a hotel, store and restaurant in Langenburg, Sask. They had two boys and two girls, and adopted a niece. Aunt May married Uncle Tony, who was a painter, and they lived in Winnipeg. They had one child, Joy, about three years older than I. Mom was the only one who left Canada.
Mom worked in a candy factory before the job at Woolworth's. She often told of being able to eat as many chocolates as they wanted, but soon grew tired of it. I always thought that was good thinking on the part of the candy people!
So now here they are, in the early 1920's meeting and being attracted to each other at Woolworth's candy counter.
Dad had job prospects in Toronto or Ottawa, I'm not sure which, so he went back and Mom followed him. They were married in the Episcopal Cathedral in Toronto on June 30, 1923. It was a simple ceremony with Mom wearing a blue suit. They went to Detroit for their honeymoon, Dad found a job at Hudson's and they stayed.
The first home I remember was a duplex house at 2248 Stanley Ave., in Detroit. Since the two halves of the house were quite different, I always imagined it had at one time been one large house and a wall had been built in the center of the stairway leading upstairs. Even then, I heard talk that the whole neighborhood was due for change when an expressway would be built through it. It took more than 25 years for that to happen, but it did, eventually.
My first school was Esterbrook Elementary, where I went to kindergarten and first grade. My first taste of ‘play acting’ in front of others came when I was a ‘raindrop’ in a kindergarten play. Mom made my costume out of gray and white crepe paper. I had some good friends to walk to school and play with. My best friend then was Juliamae O'Neil, who lived across the street. She was an only child of older parents. Being an only child myself for my first 5-1/2 years, we got along well. I often wonder what she is doing now; is she still living? did she marry and have a family? Well, I guess I won't know in this life.
During this time on Stanley Ave., things were going well for the family. I remember having an ice cream cone every day, nice clothes to wear, no problems at all. My Aunt May would send outgrown clothes from Cousin Joy. They were lovely, frilly clothes. I don't really remember what I thought about them. The main thing was that Cousin Joy was three years older, taller and more slender than I. The clothes didn't really fit or suit me very well. I was built more 'chunky' and was often referred to as 'healthy-looking.' Mother tried to alter the dresses. She did some sewing, but things always looked 'home-made.' I often felt embarrassed.
Mom and Dad enjoyed parties and were busy either giving or attending them at the homes of friends. They'd take me along when they went out, and put me to sleep on the bed with all the guests' coats, some of which were quite smelly. The odors were varied, mostly dry cleaning smells or stale perfume. Not very pleasant most of the time, but I went to sleep anyway. I was a very deep sleeper in those days and never remembered arriving back home or being put in my bed.
Mom was strict and believed in spanking. So did Dad. I remember one particularly strong spanking. I was supposed to pick up my toys and I didn't want to. You can believe I did after that and eventually, I didn't get any more spankings, but neither did I openly object to anything I was asked to do--that is, I kept my rebellion to myself more and became a very obedient, if resentful, child.
I have a vague memory of being taken up from my crib when I was quite small, and carried downstairs. I'm not sure whether this is a real memory or something that became real from hearing about it. Dad had a bad case of pneumonia about then, which then went to me. I was told that I was so ill they didn't think I'd make it. The family doctor, who by coincidence was named Dr. Parker, gave me Scott's Emulsion to build up my blood. I liked it and can still recall the taste! From then on I was the robust, sturdy child people called "healthy.'
Another memory that stands out is a time when my mother was sick with a bad cold, I think. She asked me to call the doctor. At that time, one picked up the receiver and spoke to an operator. I had a little trouble with the number, but I did get the doctor, and he came. Everyone was raving about my accomplishment--for a 4-year-old. I thought about that when I sent my first-born, Philip, to the store with his birthday money to buy what he had previously shopped for and picked out for his purchase. That was an accomplishment for a 'just-turned 4-year-old.'
Something I don't remember outside of people telling the story, is that at one party my parents had on Stanley Ave., I went around emptying the 'dead soldiers'. It was during prohibition, and these were bottles of 'home brew.' A bottle was usually left with a bit of liquid in the bottom referred to as the 'yeast.' This is what I was drinking. They put me to bed and later, when checking on me, my mother found a terrible odor in my room. On closer look, she discovered that I had thrown up on my pillow, turned it over, and went back to sleep! Maybe that's why I don't drink today?!
Dad smoked cigars in those days. Once, when he had left one resting in the kitchen, he asked me to get it for him. I thought I'd try a puff. I never got as far as the puff. Just the taste of the damp end was enough for me. And that's why I never took up smoking!
I had been cheerful, outspoken and happy. I liked school and playing with my friends. Over time that dimmed a bit and I became shy and rather withdrawn. My fifth birthday was a party with a lot of guests, mostly friends of my parents and their children, whom I didn't see often. It was quite a bash. The next party I had was when I was ten. We did that one for Halloween, and more of my own friends were invited. By that time we were living at 1499 Seward.
But back to Stanley Ave. While we lived there, life was good. We had no close relatives, but Mom had a friend from her school days, living in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. We'd take the street-car to the ferry across the Detroit River. I liked that. Elsie Reil was a wonderful lady with lots of energy a nice husband, Jack, and three children. Pauline was two years older than I, but we got along well and still keep in touch today. Her two brothers, Don and Roy, were fun, too. They all took walks in the country. I thought it was wonderful that 'country' was within walking distance of their home. I still use that family as an example of how children do not always resemble their parents. They didn't look as though they belonged together. Pauline and Roy had flaming red hair. Don was blonde. Elsie, their mother, had jet black hair, and Jack, their father had a ring of gray hair around the edge of his bald head. If he needed a shave, some blonde and red hairs could be seen in his beard. I never knew what color his hair had been. We'd visit them on weekends, too; have dinner, visit, and sometimes, when I was older, I'd stay over and come back Sunday night. They were our family away from family, so to speak. They visited us sometimes, but didn't really enjoy driving around Detroit much. Pauline and I would spend a week at each other's homes during the summer. There wasn't much to interest her at our house, but their place was full of interesting things to do.
(Note: Roy passed away last month--May, 1996. He had emphysema and other problems. It was a sudden heart attack.)
The Great Depression came and hit everyone hard. First, though, a baby brother came into my world. Howard Hugh, was born June 7, 1930. It was a rough birth. It was then, through overhearing conversations between my mother and her friends, that I learned what a hard time she'd had birthing me. Mom loved to play cards, and one day when the ladies were over, I was sitting on the couch with a book and they were having their 'female talk.' They talked about childbirth, menopause and other female things. At one point, one of the ladies asked about me. I heard her say, "Should we be talking about this with Irene sitting there?" Mom answered off-handedly, "Oh, she won't understand any of this.." or words to that effect. Those words seared into my 5-year-old brain, never to be forgotten. I am sure that was when I lost confidence in my mother and never really trusted her again. I resolved even then that if I ever had children, I would be more respectful of their feelings. She never knew that, and I couldn't tell her. She might as well have said that I was dumb and stupid. My little brain interpreted it that way. I've since come to realize that she probably didn't mean it the way I took it. But it hurt deeply at the time.
Mom had a difficult labor birthing me, and the doctor had told her she might never be able to have another child, so it came as a surprise when she did become pregnant with my brother. In those days pregnant women didn't even go walking during the day. She and Dad would take evening walks. They had used to go dancing occasionally, too. I would be taken along and loved to sit next to the piano player. I desperately wanted to play piano. For whatever reason, no one paid any attention to that thought. Well, anyway, Howard was another difficult birth. The doctor put Mom on a diet of crackers and milk. She hated milk, but she drank it then, anyway. Howard weighed 6 lb., as compared to my 8, but he was jaundiced and had a rupture. He required a lot of extra care.
There would be times, after Howard's birth, that Dad would make comments about how nice it would be to have another little one around the house. Mom didn't take well to those suggestions. She was angry and bitter about Dad's casual attitude about the whole thing. To my knowledge, he never helped with the babies.
Dad lost his job as a jeweler when real gold and silver and precious stones used in jewelry were too expensive and people weren't buying it as much. He sometimes held three part-time jobs to keep the family going. Gone were the daily ice-cream cones, attention from both parents, and I resented it a lot. I wasn't going anywhere with Dad any more. He used to take me swimming at Belle Isle, to amusement parks, and we'd have fun together. Now he was too busy making a living for us. Mom was so busy with Howard, she didn't have much time or patience left over for me. This was a time when babies were supposed to 'cry it out,' not be coddled or picked up all the time, but this was not the case with Howard. If he cried, the rupture would pop out. He was picked up and cuddled often. That was to his benefit, and he shows that love with his family now. At the time I didn't understand it at all, and if anyone had asked, I would have expressed extreme irritation with that little intruder.
Dad was a proud and vain man, good looking and aware of it. One of his part-time jobs was as a driver for the Detroit Police Dept. He felt important doing that and enjoyed it very much when anyone would mistake him for a plain-clothed officer. He would have loved to join the department, but by that time he was over age.
Howard was about a year old when we were invited to spend the summer with Uncle Robert and Aunt Beulah on their farm in Iowa. Things had become so bad for us that Dad accepted the offer and drove us out to Iowa. It was some trip! We drove through the night, no stops. I slept in the back seat; I'm not sure where Howard was. The hills were steep and sometimes our old car had a tough time chugging up the grade. Then we'd barrel down to get up speed for the next hill. We made it!
Aunt Beulah was an excellent cook, but I'm not sure she was used to having this family staying with them. I followed Uncle Robert around like a shadow. He tolerated me quite well and even let me 'help' sometimes. Once I almost followed him into the 'outhouse.' I wasn't used to anything like a farm, and was constantly stepping in 'cow pies.' Both Mom and Aunt Beulah got pretty upset when I'd come in with messy shoes.
There was tension between Mom and Aunt Beulah. Aunt Beulah would bristle every time Mom would mention that she had been brought up on a farm. Aunt Beulah's parents were on another farm, and they invited us for a few weeks too. I liked being there. Aunt Beulah's younger sister Eunice was a teenager, I think, and very good to me. I loved watching her sew things on her sewing machine. She was an inspiration for me to learn to sew later on. They had a player piano I spent hours pumping away at. They never asked me to quit! I loved to go into the milk house and watch them process the milk fresh from the cows. Everything about the place fascinated me.
At some point during the summer, there was a huge barn fire. I received a lot of attention with my version of what happened. I had listened well and could recite every last detail. People were interested and let me relate everything as often as I wanted. It was a good time for me; I felt respect and acceptance that lasted for a while.
Mom, Howard and I spent some time with Aunt Nellie and Uncle Alex too. They had a big family who accepted me as one of them, even though the youngest of the five was three years my senior. We played house in the fields, making rooms and corridors in the tall grain stalks. I've wondered since whether that was good for the crop, but it was fun. One especially interesting time was when they were putting rings in the noses of young pigs. I don't remember much about it but the squealing of the pigs. Hectic!
At Aunt Nellie's my bed was a sagging, lumpy, smelly couch in the living room--uncomfortable even for a 6-7-year-old. And then there was Uncle Alex, who never seemed to be sober. He was always taking me on his lap and breathing his alcoholic breath in my face. He was nice enough, but I surely didn't like to sit on his lap. We didn't stay long with them.
Dad drove out from Detroit to visit once or twice. Once he brought our Victrola as a gift to his brother and wife for taking us in for the summer. Mom was very upset over that. She had bought it with money from selling her piano years earlier. Dad hadn't asked her, he just brought it out. I don't think she ever forgave him for that. It came up in the conversation often.
When we finally went back to Detroit, Dad's car was on it's last legs and finally gave out before we reached our destination. We got a ride from a truck driver along the way and just left the car. The driver made Mom, Howard and me as comfortable as he could on barrels and boxes in the back of the big van and we tried to sleep. Dad rode up front with the driver.
We came back to live at 1499 Euclid Ave., a five room flat in a two-family house. We had the downstairs. Above us lived a German family, the Fischers. They had a son, Henry, who was actually the nephew of Mrs. Fisher. They were very nice people. Henry was a little younger than I, and a good playmate.
For a short time, we shared this home with another family who had been in the other half of 2248 Stanley Ave. It wasn't long before the two women were on each other's nerves. Mom couldn't take it, and the other people left. I don't know what became of them. After that, we had a boarder for a while to help pay expenses. I had a room off my parent’s room, which had been added later, and Howard had a crib in the parents’ room. For a short time, after the boarder left, I had the boarder’s room for myself, and Howard had the room off our parents' room. I really enjoyed that!
The room at the back of the house was reached through my parents' room, so that meant walking between my parents’ bed and the crib to get to the bathroom. The room wasn't heated, and got pretty cold in winter. I remember flannel sheets and flannel pajamas and how hard it was to turn over between those sheets and try to keep my pajamas from twisting on me. I spent a lot of time there with colds and stomach flu which always seemed to plague me at holiday and vacation times. The doctor said I had a 'nervous stomach.' It was real enough, but I did get better attention when I was sick. I was very jealous of my brother, no doubt about it! When Howard was in the crib in our parents' room, it was here that he gave up his bottle. One night when Mom wasn't home, Howard threw his bottle out of the crib and it broke. Dad put the nipple on a beer bottle. It was heavy and Howard threw it out, and never wanted another--or something like that. It was at this time also, that
I did some sleep-walking. Apparently I got up in the middle of the night and walked out to the kitchen, turning on all the lights along my way. I was very afraid of the dark in those days and would always put the light on in a room before entering it. I was careful to turn it off when I left the room, but didn’t when sleep walking. I only remember that one time, and not much was said about it.
At some point Mom was very upset with me and locked me in the basement. This was very traumatic for me. I think the light switch must have been on the kitchen side of the door to the basement because I couldn’t turn on the light--either that or I couldn’t reach it. But then I would have had to go down the stairs in the dark to find the cord hanging from the light. I cried and screamed for a long time, with no response from Mom. I have no idea how long it was, but it seemed a terribly long time.
My other best friend during our life at 1499 Euclid, was Ruth Johnson. She was about 3 years older than I and rather chubby. She and her mother shared a room at her uncle's home. She was the second person I knew who had no father in her life. I think her mother was a widow. I remember thinking how strange it was that she and her mother lived in just one room. The uncle had some younger children, but I don't remember much about them. Ruth was taking piano lessons and I loved to sit at watch as she'd practice. I would ask her to repeat some of the pieces that I thought were especially nice. When we moved, I didn't see Ruth any more, but her name became my favorite. I've thought of her often and wondered what she is doing now--is she alive, or what. Her uncle's name was Uito, a Finnish name. I looked it up in the phone book once when, years later, I was visiting with my family, but I never found it.
When Howard had outgrown his jaundice and rupture, Mom took some jobs house cleaning while we were at school. She was an excellent housekeeper at home and people were pleased to have her clean their homes. She never backed away from hard work. She was a waitress at a hotel at one time also. Later she worked in a gift shop. Math was no problem for her, as it is for me!
It was at 1499 Euclid Ave., that Mom came down with Scarlet Fever and had to go to the quarantine hospital, Herman Keiffer (sp?). She was there about 10 days, I think, but it sure seemed longer. We'd had to go on Welfare during that time, too. It was a very hard thing for my parents to do, not the way people jump at it today. Dad was working all he could but it just wasn't enough. We had food baskets at Thanksgiving and Christmas, and one year there were clothes included. Anyway, Mom was gone during that time in the hospital. Howard was about 3 by then, I think. A woman came from Welfare to care for us during the day so I could continue with school, and Howard would have care. I remember that as a Welfare child, I got a snack of cookies and milk somewhere during the day at school. Lunch hour was long enough to walk home.
The woman who cared for us during that time was nice enough, but she didn't do much of anything the way Mom did. When Mom got home, she had to thoroughly clean the house, and then to top it off, I was sent home from school with a note saying I had head lice! We could only surmise that it had come from our Welfare caretaker. She'd used our combs and brushes on her own hair. Well, the treatment then was kerosene on the head with a cap. Periodically Mom would go through my hair and snap the nits and cooties. I can hear it still! The process smelled badly too, so I had to stay home from school till the lice were gone.
I attended Fairbanks Elementary School from 2nd to 4th grades, and made some good friends there too. Later on, some of them would attend the same Intermediate (or Middle) School that I did.
During this time, Dad started working at the Ford Motor Co., River Rouge Plant. He was on the assembly line and worked shifts alternating days, afternoons and nights. It was awkward when he'd have to be sleeping when the rest of us were awake, changing every two weeks. He eventually worked himself up to a supervisory position and was very proud of himself.
On Euclid Ave., we were surrounded by people I wasn't supposed to associate with: Catholics and Jews! I had friends in both categories and never did figure out what was wrong with them. Our neighbors on one side were Jewish and were very kind to me. Other Jewish families would ask me to light their stoves or turn them off when it was a holiday or some occasion when that activity was forbidden to them. I absorbed a lot about Jewish culture during that time. I remember Mother being rather surprised when she found she could understand some Yiddish spoken by a Jewish grandmother next door! The daughters, Sara and Rose Rosner were very nice. It didn't make her any more accepting of the people, though.
My best friend at Fairbanks Elementary was Mara Louise Mitchell. She was an only child who lived with her mother and grandparents a few blocks from Euclid, on Pingree. She was the first child of divorce I had known. Her father lived in Niagara Falls, NY, and she would spend time with him now and then. I enjoyed spending the occasional night with her. Her grandfather was a doctor and a very old man, with white hair (to me, at that time, anyway). She had an aunt who was quite ill and stayed in her room most of the time. When the grandparents and aunt were gone, Mara went to stay with her father for a while, and we began writing to each other. We still correspond today.
One winter, my very first 'boy friend' Edward Bolton, shoveled our sidewalk for us. Dad was upset and wondered what he wanted! Edward had a desk near mine in some class at Fairbanks, and had passed some 'love notes' to me. Mom found them in a pocket and she too was disturbed. What was I, about 8 or 9 at the time? Edward was a nice boy, but I didn't even think in terms of 'boyfriend' or 'girlfriend.' These incidents, I believe, were the beginnings of my actual 'fear' of boys. Somewhere along in these years, I was told to 'stay away from boys!' 'Don't let boys get close to you!' What did that mean? It got to the point where I would cross the street if a boy was walking toward me on the same side of the street. Looking back, I really didn't know what else to do. There had been no explanation of why I should stay away from boys.
All this 'protective' behavior may have come about because I started to menstruate at about 9 years of age. It took me by surprise. I thought something terrible was happening. Then to top it off, Mom gave me a booklet put out by Kotex that said something about a person's blood changing and that was the old blood being discarded, or some such nonsense. She didn't talk about it, just seemed to think the booklet would explain everything. By this time I wasn't questioning anything. That would have been considered 'talking back,' which was a 'no-no.'
When I was about 10 years old, I was scared when I found what I thought was a lump under my arm.
I was taking a bath and called Mom in to see it. She made an appointment with our doctor, who gave me some salve to put on it, thinking it was a growth. When that didn't help, we went to Children's Hospital, where it was x-rayed and found to be a dislocation. The ball of the shoulder joint was popping out of the socket. It didn't hurt except after the probing by the doctors! There wasn't anything to be done about it. The diagnosis said I had probably been injured as a very young child being swung around by the arms. I caution anyone I see doing that to little ones. As a result of that, I was excused from gym classes from then on. It has come back to haunt me in later life.
When we moved to 1955 Seward, the problem of 'acceptable' playmates was a little 'better,' but not much. We lived in one of the second floor apartments of a 4-family residence. I started 5th grade at Thirkell Elementary School, and Howard started Kindergarten. One day I was called to the Principal's office and asked about my father's 'accident.' Apparently, there had been some kind of occasion when fathers were invited. Rather than just say his father couldn't come, Howard told his teacher that his father had been hit by a car on his way to the school. The only thing I could tell them was that Dad had been wearing a bandage on his wrist for support during a bout of arthritis. Howard gained a reputation after that of telling lies 'small ones,' and getting into mischief. He apparently missed the interaction with his father that he wanted. Another incident was when he set a small fire in the garage back of the house. Fortunately, it didn't damage much.
There was an excellent summer recreational program at the school playgrounds in the summer then. I took part in their sewing projects and a pageant that was presented at Belle Isle at the end of the summer.
We had started to attend Grace Episcopal Church while living on Euclid, and our home on Seward was even closer walking distance. Howard and I attended Sunday School regularly. I still have my attendance pin collection. I joined the Girls Friendly Society there. I wonder if that organization is still going on? One year we did a play called "The Melting Pot." It told about the various ethnic groups that make up the USA. I was Miss Liberty and froze in the middle of my speech when the play was presented! I felt very embarrassed. Mom had been extremely patient in helping me learn that speech, and I felt I had let her down. She had also grilled me thoroughly through learning my multiplication tables back in the lower grades. She could show patience when she had to!
From the Seward address, I walked to Henry Burns Hutchins Intermediate School. I spent the entire three years in Room 233, third from the top of a dozen or so classes. I learned that when I worked in the school office instead of taking gym class. Later on, I had swimming every day, which was thought to be good for my shoulder. During 6th grade at Thirkell, I'd had a pretty good grade on a music ability test, and it was suggested that I have lessons of some kind. Well, no room or money for a piano, so I chose clarinet and started lessons at school. I was in the Orchestra at Hutchins through my three years there, and enjoyed it a lot. I could pick out popular songs by ear, but I was no Benny Goodman.
Mary Jane and Marvin Howell were slightly younger than myself and Howard. They lived in the flat below us. Marvin played clarinet also, and he'd come flying up the stairs to ask if I had the music to some of the things I was picking out by ear. I'd say I didn't, and he was in awe. Mary Jane would tap dance, and I was envious of that. One day I went for a lesson with her. The teacher had us do back bends. I was so sore for days after that, that I never went back!
Down the street on Seward, lived Oscar and Florence Hollis, friends from the Canadian Legion. They had one son, Charles, about three years older than I. At one point I had quite a crush on him, and invited him to a Girls' Friendly dance. It was a disaster, but so it goes. He was very nice about it. When Howard came down with measles or some other contagious children's disease, I spent a week at the Hollis house so I wouldn't have to miss school. They ate junket, which I'd never heard of, and every possible variation of Lima beans. I still can't stand lima beans!
The years at Hutchins were good. I made several good friends. One of them, Catherine Ward, spent some time with us during our summers at Pt. Pelee, Ontario. We had a used tent and set it up for the summer when that was allowed. Mom and Howard and I would spend a week at a time every so often. Dad would come on weekends. Mom wasn't too thrilled about it because she still had to cook, and on a kerosene stove, at that. She didn't consider it a vacation at all. But it was better than staying in our house on hot summer nights. There were some nights during a hot Detroit summer, that we'd take blankets and pillows to Belle Isle. We'd spread the blankets to sleep on, and wake up surrounded by others with the same idea. I wonder if people still do that today?
Then came graduation from Hutchins and starting in at Northwestern High School. There weren't many black students at Hutchins, only one that I knew. Mom would tell a story about that, which wasn't true at all. I was excused from gym classes, but I did take swimming every day. I learned how to swim, though not well. Mom said something about my refusing to be in the class with the black girl. That wasn't true. There was some other reason that I don't even remember, that my class with the girl was changed. Mom didn't like black people.
Northwestern was about half black. They had some race riots, but I had early classes, so wasn't there in the afternoon when the riots took place. I walked to Northwestern rather than take the bus. I liked to walk. I'd stop by the home of another good friend from Hutchins, Betty Joanne Lloyd. I wonder what has become of her? She was always late, but I was always early, so it worked out. We'd start our classes with the first hour at 8am, and be out by 1pm, not staying for a lunch period, thus missing 'race riots' that sometimes happened in the afternoon. I was taking a 'commercial' curriculum, so was in Helen Keller House, as they called my group. I got on the Honor Society there. No math whiz, but doing well in other things.
I had really loved poetry in Jr. High, and had a lot of enjoyment out of putting reports in rhyme. I had one teacher who encouraged me and made me feel good about it. When I got to Northwestern, the English teacher belittled my efforts, calling them "just clever verse." Without the 'just,' I might not have felt so badly. I was crushed and never did verse again. Too compliant? It happened. These things seem to stick in memory more than the encouraging things.
During my first year at Northwestern, Mom and Dad bought a house in Dearborn. To finish out the school year, I stayed with the Fischers on Euclid Ave., going home for weekends. It was a slightly longer walk, but I enjoyed it. Dad was supposed to pick me up Saturday mornings and take me back Sunday night. Sometimes I'd wait all day Saturday for him to come. Over a holiday weekend they didn't have me, so I went with the Fischers to their weekend cabin by a lake. I really was welcomed by them, but I felt a deep hurt that my family didn't seem to want me with them for that holiday.
In Dearborn, at 4603 Rosalie Ave., I met Lois Wilson and her friend Vesta Coward. (I didn't get to know them very well--just didn't fit in, after a while.) Vesta enlisted with the Canadian Air Force later on, and was quite the envy of her peers. (I thought joining the WAVES would be good, but chickened out when I reached the enlistment age!) They were friendly and included me in their activities. Whether it was good or bad, I really didn't fit in with them. They had boyfriends and would go riding around in the boys' cars. I was probably a dud in their estimation because I wasn't used to any of that and didn't enjoy it at all.
Entering Fordson High School in East Dearborn, was different. No black kids there! Well, almost, that is. I continued with my 'commercial' course, but it was pretty 'general.' I was glad I'd taken typing in 8th grade at Hutchins, and having a typewriter, I really used it for homework and didn't take any more typing classes. Somehow I avoided shorthand too, and was sorry about that, later. I joined the Library Club, the Silver Quill, a writing club, played my clarinet in the Orchestra, and made the Honor Society again, but barely.
Lois and Vesta went their own ways and a new friend, Mary Pearl McGrew came on the scene. She was more like me, I guess. I considered myself an 'underdog' and gravitated to other 'underdogs.' Mary lived with her mother and wasn't treated very well at home. She was very sweet and I liked her.
At Fordson, my homeroom teacher was Mrs. Bottoff, who also taught play production classes and did the drama for the high school. During a practice in make-up, she once told me that my round face and clear complexion would keep me looking young. I would like to thank her for telling me that, since she surely was correct. I'm always surprised and flattered when people take me for almost 20 years younger than I am! Thank you, Lord! You gave me parents with good genes!
There was one black family in Dearborn. They lived about two blocks from 4603 Rosalie. One of the daughters played violin in the Orchestra, and we walked to practice together one night a week. Dad offered to drive me one night, and I asked if he would pick up Audrey too. When he learned she was black, he said he couldn't allow her in his car. I walked with Audrey.
Across the street from us on Rosalie was an Armenian family. They had a son in my grade, who often exchanged homework assignments with me. One night when I was walking home after a Silver Quill meeting, Aurel offered me a ride. He had been delivering papers. As soon as I got in the house, Dad said, without any preamble, "He's Catholic, isn't he?" I answered that he was and wondered what difference that made. I was given to understand that riding with a Catholic was forbidden. I have no idea what was going through Dad's mind, but that was the end of any further association with Aurel Muntean (sp?). He was a very polite and courteous young man, with no ulterior motives, I'm sure.
I had been wanting a typewriter ever since I learned to type, but there wasn't one on the scene till one Christmas. I saw a box that was about the right size that had my name on it. Can you imagine the disappointment when, picking it up and expecting it to be heavy, it practically flew out of my hands! It was a cedar box of stationery. Very nice, but not a typewriter--all I really wanted. Noting my disappointment, Mom and Dad finally did get me a very basic Underwood, I think it was. It didn't have a lot of features, but it had keys, letters, and numbers. I was thrilled and used it for everything I wrote. One Christmas holiday I spent the entire time typing a report for Social Studies.
Then came graduation and I wanted to have a party. Dad had done a lot of work on the Rosalie house. He finished off the attic to make a bedroom, which he and Mom had at first, but later was mine. We also had a finished basement recreation room, where Mom and Dad could have parties again. This they did quite often. Dad was doing much better with his work, and had lots of overtime during the war years. Life was good, on the surface, at least.
I invited a number of people to my party; it was quite a diverse group. Some were friends from other locations or activities. I think it was a success. I really don't remember a lot about it. The class had an end of school trip to Bob-Lo on the excursion boat. That was nice, but again, I don't remember a lot about it either.
The Senior Prom was something I wanted to attend, but I didn't have a boyfriend! Dad came to the rescue by asking several friends from the Legion. One boy was recruited, and we got as far as him asking what color my dress would be so he'd know how to select a corsage. Then at the last minute he backed out. I never knew why, but guessed that I was too dull for him. Whatever....
Dad then recruited a young man working under him at Ford's in an apprentice program. He was a farm boy, very nice, but I didn't really take to him. Arthur Carns, I think his name was. We went to the Prom with Mary Pearl and her date and had a good time, I think. I wasn't too impressed. At least I could say I'd been there. Mary Pearl started seeing my date after that, and they married. I often wonder if it all worked out well for them. I hope so.
Graduation was June 21, 1942. The weather was nice, so the ceremony was held outdoors on the sports field. Dad took home movies and showed them of me walking across the platform to receive my diploma. I have the movie and the projector now, but have never tried to view it. After years in Florida, the film is probably too brittle.
Mom, Howard and I boarded a Greyhound bus for Canada soon after the graduation. The trip was three days and two nights, I think. We slept on the bus, which stopped for meals and rest rooms. I wore hose and spectator pumps the whole time, which was a bad idea. My feet swelled up and I had to dig anklets out of my suitcase to wear by the last day.
Our first stop was Winnipeg, where we stayed with Aunt May, Uncle Tony and Joy. They had an apartment in the city. Mom delighted in showing us where she had worked in Woolworth's, and the streetcars she used to ride to get there every day. I don't remember a lot about our stay there.
I think we visited the farm at Beausejour, next, just for a day. Uncle Martin and Aunt Mary were there with some of their large family still at home. Most memorable was my cousin Helen, who had been born with multiple problems. She was a few years younger than I, but had no control of her muscles, no pallet in her mouth, and was completely dependent. She seemed to stay in a large crib most of the time. I remember a beautiful face with large blue eyes and dark buster brown haircut. Mom had told us about her. Apparently, Uncle Martin had refused to have anything to do with her and was sure it all came from Aunt Mary's side of the family. Aunt Mary was a very sweet, hard working little woman. We had a good day of visiting there, and that was it, I think.
Back to Winnipeg and on to Langenburg, Saskatchewan, where we settled in at Aunt Frieda and Uncle Louis' hotel. It was there that I learned to drink coffee without sugar. Mom, Howard and I had a room in the hotel. There was no modern plumbing there, so we had a chamber pot under the bed. These were beautifully decorated large porcelain containers with covers which were emptied by the maid every day when they cleaned the rooms. The hotel had an indoor outhouse kind of arrangement for guests too. This was like the outdoor version, but on the second floor. It was a long drop to a container at the bottom level, which was also emptied periodically. They encouraged us to use that as little as possible.
I was impressed with how hard my Aunt Frieda worked to cook and keep things going at the hotel. She was up early and down late. Their older daughter, Frieda, was married and living in Ontario by then, so I didn't meet her. The next daughter, Ruth, was about three years older than I and we got along well, I thought. She took me with her on a week's holiday at Clear Lake. I was supposed to help cook and all, but wasn't much help at all. She was kind to me even so. We swam and got tanned and went to a movie. They were much more sophisticated than I, and I'm afraid I was a disappointment to them.
The cousins thought their 'big city cousin' could teach them something. I'm sure they didn't understand. They also drove around in cars with their friends and drank beer, which was not legal to have outside of a saloon. That wasn't my idea of fun, then or now!
My grandmother Ida was still living in 1942, and had a room at the hotel with Aunt Frieda. Granny was ill with diabetes, but she was interested in Howard and me. I tried to spend time with her. It was hard for me; I didn't know what to say to her. She still had a strong German accent which was, at times, hard for me to understand. I wish I had spent more time with her--learned more about her life. Granny had visited when I was about 4, I think, when we lived at 2248 Stanley. I'm told she taught me some German words then, but I don't remember it. She could read English, but she wrote to Mom in German, which Mom could read. I wished I could have learned it.
Uncle Walter, Aunt Clara and their family lived in Langenburg too. He had four children, three boys and a girl. Walter, the oldest, was my age, and Clara was two or three years younger. I stayed with them for a few weeks. I had a crush on Walter, and Clara became a best friend and correspondent. We did some fun things like go swimming in an old quarry, I think it was. Uncle Walter didn't want me to go along. I think they usually went skinny dipping and having me along meant suits. Clara was away for a little while, or I'd probably have been doing something with her. I stayed in her room while she was gone. We drove to a neighboring town for delicious milkshakes, went to the town dance, and in general had a good time. Clara and I became good friends and still correspond regularly.
Howard was having fun with Herbie, the youngest cousin in Uncle Walter's house. There was also Paul, between Walter and Herb.
I remembered some of my first visit to Langenburg with Mom when I was quite young, before Howard was born. Things at the hotel hadn't changed much. I had liked playing in a sand/gravel pile behind the hotel, and that they had a store with a candy counter. Those things didn't interest me quite as much the second time around.
Aunt Frieda's family, the Schoepp's, thought it was great that I had made quite a few of the clothes we'd brought, so they had me showing them some of them. I wasn't a pattern maker, but I tried to make a halter top for Ruth along the lines of a shorts set I'd brought. Then they had me shorten a robe for Granny and use the cut-off pieces to lengthen the sleeves. The projects turned out fairly well, but I couldn't understand why they thought all this was so great. They could play piano and had beautiful handwriting!
At some point during that summer, Mom went to Saskatoon to visit her sister, Wanda, who was expecting a baby. Aunt Frieda put Howard and me on the train (which ran thru Langenburg at that time) so that we could visit Aunt Wanda and Uncle Ernie too. She packed a delicious lunch for us. I was impressed with the thinly sliced bread! I lost the pencil of my graduation pen and pencil set on that trip! I still have the pen. We had a pretty good visit. Cousin Charmaine could play piano too, and I picked out some simple pieces from one of her practice books. I think I can still do it! We stayed there till Aunt Wanda moved to a place closer to the hospital. She didn’t want another miscarriage. She had already had two, I think. Uncle Ernie was a strange man, and I didn’t like him. He hugged me too tight! We all returned to Langenburg together.
Soon it was time to go back home to Detroit. It was a cloudy, overcast day when we boarded the bus for Winnipeg again. Granny said the sky was crying because we were leaving. I had to fight the tears. We'd had a wonderful summer there.
A short time in Winnipeg with Aunt May, Uncle Tony and Joy again, and then homeward bound for sure. On the way back, one of my seat-mates was a very nice young man about my age. We talked and exchanged phone numbers and addresses. I was brutally honest with him and told him I probably would not be allowed to see him; he was Jewish. I regretted that because he was a very nice person.
The bus went right by the end of Rosalie St., so Mom asked the bus driver to let us off there, rather than go all the way in to Detroit and have to get a ride back again. He did, and we walked the short distance to our house.
It was a pleasant summer, and like all good things, had to end and we returned to reality. I had to find a job. I answered ads in the help wanted section of the paper. My first job was with the Charles E. Strelinger Co., in downtown Detroit. They made paper boxes. I worked in the office, typing up invoices. I was there about a month, when an opportunity came up with a government job in the Ford Rotunda in Dearborn. Another office job, filing invoices. I made some good friends there. One of them, Ann Chalk (now Lukosavich) is still a good friend and correspondent today. From there I went to the Dearborn Public Library, where I stayed the longest.
DPL was headed by Isabel Chaffin, an older lady, never married, and surrounded by other older unmarried women. Regis Daniel became a good friend. One person, a little older than I, Agnes Higgs, befriended me and we are still friends and correspondents as well. Working there was good. I loved books, and working with them made me wish I had gone on for a library degree.
For my first vacation from a job, I had no money for a trip, so I spent it sunning myself on a camp cot in the driveway of our house. It was June and sunny. I also had a very bad head cold. I soaked up the sun and tanned for the first time in my life! I was out about 2 hours each day and took a shower as soon as I went in. When I went back to work, people could see my tan from the opposite end of the City Hall Library! It lasted all summer, too.
World War II had begun by this time, and the local Service Men's Center had volunteers come in, usually once a week, to serve an evening meal and/or act as hostesses to the servicemen who came in. The library was one of the volunteer groups, so I thought it would be fun to join in with them. Another newcomer to the library, Helen Carlson (now Ness) became a close buddy during this time. We'd go to the Service Men's Center together, and joined as Jr. Hostesses with regular times to be there. We enjoyed going to the dances held at the Naval Base at Ford's. I made several formal gowns to wear to those dances. Ford was making aircraft engines by now and had an advanced radio school as well, so some of the servicemen there were returned veterans.
I was transferred to the City Hall Branch of the library, where I had some evening hours at the check-out desk. Eventually, one night a week I went to the Salina Branch. That's wasn't my favorite; the neighborhood wasn't considered very good. I didn't have any problems.
I met a lot of sailors at the Service Men's Center, all of them very nice young men away from home and good company within the confines of the Service Men's Center. The rules said we could not leave with a serviceman. What we did on our own time was different, so I did date some of them, and all were perfect gentlemen.
On March 17, 1945, at a St. Patrick's Day dance at the Service Men's Center, I met a handsome young Marine named Bernie Jacobson. He was a terrific dancer and we got along well. That is, after we figured out that we didn't have to be antagonists. I'm not sure how that came about any more. He liked me! I couldn't believe that at first, but he convinced me. He'd come to the library and wait till I was off duty, and just hang around if I wasn't. He was with the first group of servicemen going thru the advanced radio school to have been overseas. That made him different from the boys who were fresh out of boot camp. He was a Marine!
During March of 1945, my Grandmother Ida fell and broke her hip. She had been diabetic for some time when this happened, and she didn't come through the break well. Mom went to be with her, and stayed through the end of her illness and funeral. Mom didn't meet Bernie till she came back. By then, we were thinking marriage. I didn't look forward to telling her that Bernie was Jewish.
Bernard nmi Jacobson, was born in the Borough of Manhattan, in New York City, December 4, 1921, to Morris David and Sophie Goldstein Jacobson. Actually Morris didn't have a middle name, but thought having a middle initial would look better on his Optometry diploma. He was an excellent Optometrist and Optician in Jackson Heights, NY. Morris was extremely proud of his Doctor of Optometry degree. He'd worked hard to earn it, having held a job while attending college in Pennsylvania. Sophie was a homemaker. When I met them, she was also a new mother.
Bernie was 23 years old when I met him. In his wallet, he had a picture of himself holding his new baby brother, Donald Richard, then 6 weeks old. At first I thought he was showing me a picture of his brother holding the baby. But no, it was Bernie. Donald Richard had been born Dec. 4, 1944, and the picture was Bernie's first meeting with the new sibling.