The life and times of Doris G. Mead
By Doris Grace Werts Mead
Written in 1990 1923-2010
, New York where my mother lived in the house behind Pelham.
People are always saying to me that they remember back to when they were two. I find that hard to believe. I myself must have had a very dull, normal life because I can barely remember any thing until age six or so. I do have flashes her and there, but much of what I remember is what I pieced together later in life when I was tying so desperately to find myself.
One of my earliest memories was a birthday party for me at 5. I do not recall who was there or even what I received. That was the 1st and last birthday party my family had for me. The next recollection I had was my parents both meeting me at school one day and walking me home, which was highly unusual for them. I soon found out why, when I was beaten very severely. Here, I need to backtrack and explain that every day during rest period in school we had cookies and milk. This cost 1 penny. To get the penny, I climbed up into the sideboard each day I took 1 penny, no more, no less!! Well, my misdeeds caught up with me and that was what the beating was for. I was only 6 or 7 at the time. It was not until I myself was married that I found out the jar of pennies was being saved for a new baby.
Next, when I arrived home from school one day. I had to search the house before I found my mother upstairs in her bed with a nurse standing by holding a baby. She said, “You have a lovely little baby brother.” I still remember saying, “I don’t want a baby brother and running off back down the stairs. I really didn’t see him much since I was in school till 3 every day and my mother did not encourage us to hold the baby or talk to him or whatever. I already had a baby sister and barely even remember her as a small child.
What I didn’t know then, was that we were really poor, but so was every one else on our block. They did have cars and went away on vacations occasionally. We did not, but children can always find something to get into or keep busy with. There was sleigh riding in the winter and swimming in the summer or just sitting on the stoop at night and watching the kids play red light0green light or any number of street games. Life was much simpler back in the late 20’s and 30’s. There was no television, no computers, nothing complex. I loved going to school and learning. It came easy to me and I soaked it up. Then disaster struck. I came down with rheumatic fever, and back then they really didn’t have any cure or it or know too much about it. There was no school for me, nor would they send home the homework. No one was allowed to see me. I lay in the bed day in, day out and watched treetops. One day I would not be able to move my arms or legs or lift my head off the pillow and I am sure I must have been a difficult patient. But lo and behold, one bright day my mother arrived home with a load of books from the local library. I hurried myself in this world of make believe and it was the start of a long affair with the written word, which I still have to this day. Soon, I was well enough to be moved downstairs and I took center stage in the living room.
“Cousin George” (he wasn’t really a relative of min, but a distant cousin of my mothers) would come and prescribe pills for me to be given in tea. Every day Mom would give me my tea and when she left the room, I would pour it down the back of the couch. That must be why it took me so long to get better, but no one every did say anything to me about that couch. I didn’t drink tea again for years.
When I finally went back to school, I was dismayed to find that I was a term behind my classmates and in with a group younger than myself.
It was at this time I met Millie Sandgren in one of my classes, and this began a friendship that was to span 50 years and more. We actually had nothing in common but something clicked and we were to exchange confidences for many years to come. I had to work very hard to catch up in school, but life was pleasant for the moment.
Then my mother put my sister and myself on a grey house bus bound for Pa. and told us we were to see my father’s parents. I was all of 13; she (fritzie) was 9 ½. I disgraced myself by throwing up all the way to Pa. She threw up all the way back. We had never been away from home before. The kindly folks on the bus fed us at every stop and I promptly heaved it up again. It did give us a choice of seats in the rear of the bus. Everyone sat as far away as they could get!!
To this day, over half a century later I can still remember that magical summer when the city cousins met the country cousins. They expected sophisticated city-know all children and we looked for country bumpkins. But boy it was the other way around! These kids were around animals all the time. Fritz and I had never seen a cow even! I thought milk came in bottles delivered to the stoop by the milkman along with orange juice and butter. I was to find out differently.
The first night we arrived I politely asked where the bathroom was and was handed a flashlight and they pointed to a corner of the back yard. This was my first acquaintance with an “out-house.” I was terrified that something was going to jump out and bite me. After that I tried to keep my visits there to the daytime hours. It also had a Montgomery Ward catalog you could peruse before using it for more practical purposed.
Catalogs reminds me that one evening my aunt asked me if I’d like to go shopping. I eagerly agreed and she bought out a Sears Catalog and a pencil and pad. Their idea of shopping was to write down everything you wanted from the catalog and then pitch it out. They lived in a small mining town. There were no big stores. You charged everything at the County Store and they charged it to your account, even an ice cream cone.
From my grandmother’s house, they moved us to an aunt’s farm. This was another totally new experience. When my aunt said, “go get some mile,” she meant milk that big cow out in the barn. The cow looked at me as if to say, “What did you have in mind?” As I inched closer to it, my cousin said, “watch, it’s easy,” and pulled down on the udders and this thin milky blue stream came shooting out. I do remember complaining to my aunt that it was warm and didn’t taste anything like milk. They all roared with laughter.
Then my cousin showed me how to roll up corn silk and smoke it. Boy, did I ever get sick! What was great fun was eating watermelons right out of the field. I didn’t know we were stealing then ’till the farmer chased us with a shotgun!
If you wanted to get to the next town, you just hitched a ride with whom ever cam along. Everybody knew everybody else. We didn’t even know all the people who lived in our city block!
But soon the summer was at an end and it was time for the city kids to go back to where they belonged, far from the life the country cousins lived. I envied them and still do. They were a close-knit family and we were outsiders who did not belong. The offspring of a lady they did not car for that part I did not learn for many years.
So my father’s sister our Aunt Bern, took us out to the main road; we said our tearful goodbyes and climbed onto the greyhound bus with our heavy suitcases. It was the same driver we had on the way from N.Y. He looked at us and all the way to the back for you two! We never even made it to the next town before Fritz started to lose her breakfast.
We arrived at the bus terminal in NYC and there was no one to meet us. Also we had no money to take the train to Queens. Two forlorn kids explained our story to the trainman and he gave us 2 nickels and told us which train to take. We had led such a sheltered existence that we had never been on the train alone. My sister smelled so bad, that again, people gave us a wide birth.
We, we make it to Jamaica, but it was still over a mile to our house and we still had no money. There was nothing to do but start walking. We each had a very heavy case to drag along behind us and the sun was beating down on our unfortunate heads. At last our home came in sight, thank God! I rang the bell. No one answered and so we opened the door and went in. This was long before people started bolting them selves into their homes. They had nothing to steal anyway. I opened the back door looking for my mother and promptly fell into a big excavation, where our yard used to be. My mother looked up from where she was working and said, “Oh you’re home!” Nobody every did ask us how we got home and I was too peeved to explain.
It seemed that my father had finally gotten his bonus from WWI, and they were putting an addition on the house and converting the upstairs to a rental apartment. I lost my own bedroom and had to share with my sister and my brother goes the bedroom next to us.
Now, my sister was a very untidy person and her clothes would stack up on the rocker until the rocker was ready to cave in. She never could put anything away. I got a piece of string and tied it down the middle of the room. Once a week on Saturday when I cleaned my half of the room, everything of hers would be heaved over onto her side. I was a nut for cleanliness and must have been a real pain in the butt. It was about that time that awareness of furniture and room arrangements and food became a focus of mine. On a boring day I would heave the living room pieces around and polish and clean, but no matter what was done to the room, it never looked any better. Nothing matched and my mother could care less. I drove her up the wall.
Previously, she had given ma a booklet “Maryanne Mays 12th birthday,” which I read through and could not understand, so I flung it into my drawer and completely forgot about it. I am up to 7th grade by now and as I looked around me what did I discover but BOYS! They did not notice me though, but my friend Mil Traveled in a crowd of kids and I fell in with them. We went on picnics and to ball games and all the things young people do. Mil’s steady was Bill and she introduced me to his friend Ray. He was a sweet guy and we paired off and went everywhere together. We’re coming up to 8th grade and we had to make our own graduation dresses by hand. Sewing was not one of my talents and two days before graduation when I tried that dress on. It fit me and two other people. Mom said it would probably fall apart on the way down the aisle, so the night before graduation I sewed it up on her machine, which was a definite “No no” if I got caught.
Between trying to keep in step and worrying over any one noticing my dress, I was a bundle of nerves. Milly won the Valedictorian medal and Frank Green, the Salutatorian. I cam in third, which was nothing.
Now all those kids lived on the other side of the avenue and were going to Jamaica High and I was scheduled to go to John Adams High School. By going to the principal, I too got permission to go to Jamaica High.
Chapter 2-The High School Years
I am 14 now and so grown up I think, but actually I was wet behind the ears. We had our parties at Mil’s house and went to football games and cheered on our teams and rode our bikes all over and started dating as such. God was watching over me because I was such an innocent! No one had ever taken the time to tell me anything. Books were not sexually explicit in those days and each of us though the other knew all. What we knew would fit in a small thimble. I went to the movies one night and on the way out I felt blood running down my legs. I ran screaming home to my mother that I was bleeding to death. She was really exasperated with me and wants to know if I had read Maryanne Mays 12th birthday? You know, that booklet I flung in my drawer two years before. So now I ‘m a woman? I still didn’t get the connection. I needed some on to draw me a diagram.
I didn’t see much of Mil in class because we took different courses. She, commercial and myself Academic. About this time I met Fran Weber. Weber and werts-Seatmates we were always in the back of the room because our names began with W. One could hardly see the teacher from there. We struck up a friendship and although she lived in a completely different direction than I did, we still managed to see a lot of each other during the school terms.
Mil’s parents had a summer home on Sound Beach, Long Island, which back then was only a summer colony. She would invite me sometimes for weekends and two weeks in the summer. Thus, began my love affair with the water. I was I was ecstatic while I was out there and fell in and out of love with those lovely specimens of manhood, but just being an occasional visitor out there, no one said much attention to me. I had yet to gain any self-confidence and was painfully shy. Mil’s father would sometimes bring out Bill and ray on the weekends tour delight.
Ray and I continue to see one another. We took in the First Worlds Fair at Flushing Meadow (1939), and on weekends we would go to the movies or stroll in the park. I had no idea he was ever serious about me. I had no gifts from him, or cards, or flowers. I though he was my friend, since he never said otherwise. He was a gangling high school boy, who was always flunking his classes and never serious about anything.
One day, as I’m dressing my bedroom, I look up and here is this young boy peering in at me. Mom had hired him to clean our windows. We got to talk and I found that he had recently moved into the area. To make a long story short here, he was Nate Mead, broth to the man I married some years later.
I need to stop her and explain the reason I did not mention my sister and brother at all is they were so much younger than I, both being in grammar school when I was in high school. We only met at the dinner table and since they’re as almost no dinner conversation, we gobbled down our food and scattered in different directions. Nobody came to visit and we had no guests for Xmas. Thanksgiving or other holidays. I suppose we must have had birthday presents and Xmas presents but when I left the home at 118, I had nothing of any value. So whatever gifts I did get, made no lasting impression. We had clothes on our backs and food in our mouths. There were no visible signs of love, any sharing, communication, or joy in that household. We seemed to have no relatives and I knew nothing whatever of my parents backgrounds. It wasn’t till I met the mothers of my friends that I realized our household was very different. My mother did not ask any questions, nor even seem interested so I just went my own way and did my own thing. I brought home Greek boys, Jewish boys and Catholic Irish to get her attention, but she never raised an eye.
Now that I’ve put that explanation in here, I’ll go back to Nate Mead. I dated him a few times; we really did not hit it off well. He took me to a prom at his high School Harran Aviation way up in the Bronx and abandoned me there. Back in those days we girls always carried a dime in our shoes. I made my own way home with much trepidation.
I am 16 by now, reasonably attractive, but no Liz Taylor. I dated boys from school, blind dates and continued to see Ray and the kids in our crowd. I went out for a while with a Jewish boy from a well to do family up in the Jamaica Estates area. We had a common interest in singing, since we both belonged to the all city chorus. He brought me home to his house for lunch one day and almost gave his mother a heart attack she saw I was a Christian. The lunch was an orthodox Jewish meal and never having seen anything like it, I ate very little of it. I had been hoping for hamburger. Our friendship cooled after that and we each went our own way.
Wednesday nites my mother gave me a dine to go to the movies because I was lucky and usually won Bunco; A turkey or bag of groceries. Sometimes the minister of the church waylaid me outside, because Wednesday nite was choir practice. This particular Wednesday night I made it in and as usual won the prize. As we were crowding out I noticed Nate and a young man, maybe early 20’s with him. This was the first time I ever saw Pel Mead, although at the time I did not know he was Nates brother.
Nate asked me to a dance at Floyd Bennett field and I was reluctant to go, never having danced with him and not particularly wanting to go on a date with him again. He persuaded me and I reluctantly agreed. The dance was in a big hanger and at this Navy field and we were dancing when this other man cut in. he then introduced himself as Nate’s older brother, who by the way, Nate had never mentioned to me.
He managed to log the rest of the dances and Nate was forced to dance with Sally Benson, the girl Pel had brought. I don’t know to this day how he manage it, but Nate took sally home and Pel took me home. We started to date and the sparks flew. Here we had an older suitor, who had a job, brought me lovely gifts and took me to plays and fancy restaurants. Poor Ray never had a chance. He only had a paper route. I asked him over so I could explain to him I no longer wished to go out with him and was absolutely appalled at the scene that ensued. He stormed out of the house and I was not to see him again for some years. He enlisted in the Air Force after graduation, crashed on his first mission and was a prisoner of war for the duration of WWII. I never felt like such a hell in my life. I though I was doing him a favor. I had suggested he take up with this girl from our area who was nuts over him. She later became his wife.
I continued to date Pel Mead, who at that time was called “Ken”, but since were not engaged I also saw others. On of the fellows in our crowd had introduced MT to his cousin “Swede”, otherwise known as Louis O’Dell. Swede lived in Conn. and came to town several times a year. Well, one Saturday Ray informs me that his cousin would be in town Sunday and wanted to take me out. I already had a date with Ken, so I was in a guan dry. I dashed up to his families apt. Sunday and stuck a note in the mailbox to the effect that I was ill and couldn’t meet him. (My parents had no phone). Ken saw me leaving from the upstairs window and came dashing after me. A fight erupted and I slapped him. He slapped me back. I was stunned and turned and ran as fast as my feet would carry me.
From there I drifted into an engagement with Swede. He gave ma a family ring and I went to meet his family. Young as I was, in the back of my mind, I knew that this was not what I wanted honestly.
He was Irish and Catholic and worked in a factor and on Sunday the men went to the ball game and the woman cooked. Now today this wouldn’t be a big deal. They have birth control and religion is no big thing, but back in 1940 it sure was. I was a Lutheran. They expected me to change over. Although it was never really mention, he loved children. I was getting cold feet. I wanted to live in NY, he talked conn. but I was to chicken to start a debate. I let it ride.
Along about this time, Ken comes back into my life, perhaps six months after the blow up. My mother sends me to answer the doorbell one evening and before I could slam the door in his face, he had his foot in the door. He sweet-talked his way back into my good graces again, so naturally we started going out again. He and his brother had joined the Navy in the meantime. He said a war was coming I didn’t want to be seen with him in his uniform. This is before the War, WWII. During a war it’s patriotic, before: you’re a tramp!
Now I am back in the same quandary. I send Swede his ring back with an explanation letter. I never saw him again, but friends took great delight in telling me he started his own business, didn’t marry till he was 35 and had one child a girl. Well, you win some and you lose some.
I think it needs to be explained right here that I just found out, 50 years later, that my mother had called Ken to come around. She was concerned over my friendship with someone from Conn. Indirectly she changed the course of my life.
I continued to date Ken exclusively now. I went to school weekdays and when I wasn’t working weekends, we went out we saw the latest plays and movies and ate in my favorite restaurants.
Life would have gone on this way for a while, but events happened that moved up the pace of life. I was now a senior in High School and reasonably happy, except for periodic fights with my mother. She did not like Ken and lost no opportunity to tell me so. Late in September, I was in school one day when a tremendous pain ripped through me sending to my knees. I crawled down the hall to the nurse’s office in absolute agony. She let me lay on the cot and when the pain did not subside in an hour, she called a neighbor who contacted my mother. Some time later my mother arrived with our family Dr. “Cousin George.” They took me to the hospital and I was admitted for tests. They decided I had appendicitis and got me ready to be operated on. In the meantime, there had been a five-car accident and stretches started pouring down the hallways. I was on a stretcher almost asleep and they left me at the doorway of the OR. While everybody rushed to help all these seriously injured people, I was put back in my room and when I woke the pain subsided. They decided not to operate, but kept me the rest of the week to observe me. My roommate was a girl about my own age and in a rash moment I invited her over to visit me.
When I was released, Ken and I took up where we left off and one afternoon he informs me that he’s probably going to be sent overseas. I became very upset over this an after much haggling, we decided to get married. We were going to do it on the QT, because I wanted to finish school first.
I had assumed that I was being sent to College since I was taking an Academic course and when I asked my mother for the entrance fee for Queens College, she looked at me astounded. “We don’t send girls to college It’s a waste.”
Hearing this and arguing with her over Ken put me in the mood to be out of her house. Ken and Fran tried to talk me into waiting until after the war that was coming, but I could not be dissuaded, fool that I was. We picked Fran up and drove upstate NY to get a Marriage license We didn’t want it printed in the local papers where some one we knew might see it and tell my mother.
We decided to be married in the Church of the Holy Cross, Brooklyn, NY and made plans for Friday Eve. Sept. 26, 1941. With Fran as my Maid of Honor and Nate for Best Man, came those momentous days. I was a bundle of nerves. Ken showed up at the door promptly on time in his Ford roadster, rumble seat and all. If we had kept that car it would be a classic today. Fran had a large corsage pinned to her dress. My mother came out to the car to see us off and randomly remarked that it looked like we were going to a wedding! I almost choked
Dear Old pastor Williams led us into this magnificent old church and even had the organist there to play “The Wedding March.” Ken had been an altar boy in this very same church so many years before.
We stumbled our way through the service and went on our way with the Priest’s blessings ringing in our ears. Our next stop was dinner at an old nightclub in Brooklyn, which is no longer there. We endured the jokes of the M.C. and to this day I have no idea what we ate or drank. Fran and Nate were taken to their homes and we ourselves wound our weary way homeward. Ken to his bed and me to mine. Each to dream of that rosy future.
Saturday we all met again and went out for the afternoon and also on Sunday. Monday I was back at school as if nothing had happened. I wore my wedding band around my neck under my sweaters.
One day in Mid October, Ken came by for me and we stopped at his apartment for him to change as were going to the city. There was a ring at the doorbell and I stuck my head out the window and called down, “who’s there?” Oops Mom is standing down there so I ran down the stairs to let her in. That lady was in some rage. She said, “You get home this minute!” Well dear reader remember that girl I met in the hospital and invited over” She decided on the spur of the moment to come and visit me and since we had no phone, “Surprise.” I had no idea my mother even knew where Ken lived or that I would be there. This girl knew she had precipitated a quarrel and disappeared pronto. Mom let into me and forbad me to go in Ken’s car any more and did not want to see him any longer. I think even then she saw the handwriting on the wall and knew he had more influence over me than she did. I would not give in and stormed out the door. We barely spoke to each other for another week or so, when one Saturday afternoon, I was hurrying to get ready to go out with Ken and out of a clear blue sky, Mom says, “I forbid you to go out with that man any longer.” We got into a terrible argument . She started banging my head on the wall and was getting very violent. Well, stupid here loses her temper and shouts, “You’re too late, and we are already married.” I made a dash for the back doors as she shouted after me, “well I wish you all the hard luck in the world.” My father was out painting in the back and I stopped to tell him what had happened. He wishes me luck and I went off to call Ken and tell him. I had put both feet in my mouth and cooked our goose.
When he arrived he calmed me down and went off to look for apartments since I swore I would not go back home. In those days Navy pay was $45.00 a month and room and board. The rents were $30.00 a month or better and we had no belongings so there was no way we could afford a place at that time. We looked all afternoon in desperation and finally Ken called his father. He told us to come home and we would talk it out. I have to tell you Ken’s mother (Madeline) was less than thrilled to see me. With a wife, he would not longer be giving her his salary. We explained the whole thing to his parents and his father said we could stay there temporarily until we found a solution. The phone rant and it was Nate saying he had been in an auto accident and turned the car over. We all dashed into cars and drove off to the hospital. Luckily, he had taken Fran home first. He was not badly injured and we were permitted to take him home with us. Then, we had to go through all our explanations again. This was one hell of a long night!
Now here I am in the clothes I have on my back and nothing else. I moved into Ken’s bedroom and with him he lent me his pajama tops and he wore the bottoms. It worked out very well, just like the movies.
I went back to school but the principal called me into his office and told me I would have to transfer to night school as they did not allow married students in day classes. I suppose Mom alerted them. Night school just was not stimulating or challenging and I often found myself dozing off under those bright lights.
I was a bit in awe of my new mother in law so I stayed in my room as much as possible and I met Ken at the bus stop in the evening. Our funds were very limited with paying his parents board for the two of us. Come early November the tells me I am pregnant and to expect in July or so. Ken comes home with applications for a new Navy-housing going up in Brooklyn. Mrs. Mead drove me over there and we put in an early application. Then came every pay day (2 weeks), I would buy 2 dishes, 2 spoons, 2 towels, 2 sheets or whatever from this long list of what we needed.
One day, my little sister showed up at the apartment dragging a little red wagon behind her. My mother had seen my out grown clothes, old toys, etc., almost nothing I could wear. We never did every find out what she did with my fur coats and jewelry. My little 12-year-old sister in law, Madeline was in 7th heaven because I gave her all the dresses. Come December we were told we could move into our new apartment. I was jumping for joy. We moved in on December 7th with our brass bed, borrowed card tables and two chairs and an old radio that did not work. You readers who remember your history will know that December 7th the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. We didn’t know because we had no radio. Ken almost got put on report when he went in the next day. His CO said the story was to dumb not to be true.
Chapter 3-The War Years.
I find it almost impossible to explain how I felt about apartment. To me it was heaven on earth. At last I was my own person. We had a little place of out own. We were going to have out own baby to love. In all honesty, it was a very ugly apartment. The walls were white, the concrete floors were painted grey, the closets had not doors and the views were abominable, but I was floating on a cloud. My little sister in law, Madeline came over to help me clean windows and the tub and blinds. We giggled together all afternoon. This apartment was situated on the second floor of the 13 story high Navy apartments. On the roof were marines with machine guns. War seemed very far away. Navy families were coming and going all the time and we were able to buy several household items from them including a cheap rug for the living room. Xmas was almost upon us but we had very little money to buy each other anything. It was a struggle just to stay afloat. Our rent was $17.25 a month and food was about $10.oo a week. Right away you can see that’s more than he made a month. So Ken set to work studying to make the next rank. We also sold his beloved 32 Ford coupe to his brother for $50.00. There was no place to park it in busy Brooklyn, just a few blocks from the now closed Brooklyn Navy yard.
One day, I put on my best habbie psacho and skirt and sweater and set off to look for furniture. I must have looked all of 16 when I asked the salesman what he had for $9.00 a month. I was so very pleased with myself when I arrived back home, the new owner of a maple living room set, two end tables and a coffee table and lamp and one maple bookcase. Which by the way we still have. Also a porcelain kitchen set with four chairs.
Then Ken felt that I should go to see my mother and mend fences, so to speak. I got on the train and rode to Jamaica and took the bus to her house. I walked in and sat myself on the couch. When mom walked through I started to talk a mile a minute. I gave her the new address, told her I was expecting; which anyone could see and told her to come visit. Then I got up and left. I had done what I came to do.
Several weeks later she showed up at my door and we went off shopping together. We reconciled, sort of. Mom brought me a bedroom set in maple at auction and her iceman delivered it to our apartment. Each payday we brought some tiny item for our expected one. I did so want a girl. She would be Cynthia Ann Mead; “Cindy” for short. Mom bought the crib and we set that up on one wall in our bedroom. I sat and read everything I could on babies. Back then; Dr. Spock was the guru of baby books.
In the afternoons I sat out on a bench in front of the building. I think I had to be the youngest bride there. One day an equally ungainly lady sat down next to me, also expecting her first child. She wanted a boy. That is how I first met Lil Atwell and to this day we still correspond.
On Sundays, Dad Mead would come to take me to church and bring me a bagel to eat on the way. Sometimes he came by in the evening to eat with us, but he knew well enough to bring his own plate and food. We still only had two plates.
We were very lacking in money and furniture and the perks of life, but that year in the little apartment in Brooklyn was among my happiest memories. I made friends, we walked our fee off all over Brooklyn and on the nites our husbands had the duty we sat around and swapped life stories.
It’s getting to late June and I needed some last minute things for the baby so I took the bus downtown. The bus hit an open manhole and we were all thrown out of our seats. I scrambled back up again and got off; did my shopping and walked back home. The next day I felt terrible and where we called the Doctor, he suggested we go to the Navy hospital; eight blocks away. I was having terrible cramp like pains, but they said it was false labor. They did say since I was so close to time that they would induce labor with castor oil, etc.-ugh! Since I would be alone home and had no transportation, I agreed to stay. It was a difficult birth and I mangled Ken’s arm during the 18 hours I was in labor. It was boy-almost 9 lbs. and 21 inches. Because the long labor had weakened my rheumatic heart, they kept me two weeks and my orderly kept feeding me fatting foods, till I walked out of there two weeks later weighing more than when I came in.
Chapter 3-Pelham K. Mead III
We named the new baby Pelham Kenneth mead III after my husband. His parents were so pleased they brought us, what is known as an English coach. This carriage was so high I could not see over it. I particularly blessed it when I had to get it up and down the one flight of stairs. Life fell into a pattern of formula and diapers and walks as I slowly recovered. Lil gave birth to a girl in early July. They had wanted a boy. She had been due in June and I myself in July. We laughed over it. So now we walked all over with our babies. In the meantime Ken kept studying and going up in rank.
My mother came by occasionally as did some of my old friends and life was replete.
When Pel was four months old we had him baptized back in Jamaica in the Lutheran church where I had gone as a child. My sister was the Godmother. Ken was building him a toy chest in our kitchen on his evenings home. His first Christmas was coming up and we wanted it to be memorable. This was a very exhausting child; he walked at nine months and talked and had two teeth already and was into everything. I felt like I should sit in the playpen for some peace. I read to him constantly, played games, thought the sun rose and set on this child and dreamed big dreams. A doctor at least!
For me, it was actually the first time in my lie that I could say I was blissfully happy. I’d had parents who had never hugged or kissed us; never had any conversations with us; never encouraged us to voice our dreams. We were rarely spanked or chastised, but laid in an environment of mental and physical emptiness. It was to affect the future lives of the three of us, my sister, brother and I.
Ken had the duty every few nights and I had time to think of the future. All I knew was that my children were going to be loved and nurtured and is given every opportunity to be somebody, no matter what it took. Our baby had his first Christmas in that little apartment, but it was to be our last there. Ken made Chief Petty Officer and we were asked to move. Only seamen could live in that building. My friend Lil had moved across the street to the Fort Green Apartments and I were looking forward to moving over there also. Alas, this was not to be. Ken came home one evening and informed me that we were moving to my mother’s upstairs apartment. I was dumfounded at this news. After 18 years there I had finally escaped and in less than two years, I was going back. He was adamant. He was being sent overseas and wanted to be sure I was taken care of.
We got the iceman to move our few possessions to the apartment and I settled in as best I could. We began to renovate the place to our need. I sold off our living room set and made that the baby’s room. We pushed the bed into a corner; covered it with pillows; fitted a radio into a chest of draws and framed a set of pictures over my dresser. Viola’, we had a bed-sitting room. I made drapes and crib corner and pillows for the baby’s room all by hand. I didn’t even know I had that talent. Beyond that room was kind of a terrace and on warm nights we sat out there and viewed treetops and the stars. If we had a dollar, we walked up to the ice cream store and each bought a ½ pint of hand packed ice cream and a magazine and that was our entertainment for the evening. Life was simple; the war seemed very far away,
The day came when finally Ken was sent overseas. He was assigned to the aircraft carrier Antietam. I spent my late evenings writing him 20 and 30 page letters. During the days, we’d walk the parks; baby and I and I’d do my housework at night. Sometimes I’d freeze my hands off hanging clothes out in the evening. Laundromats did not come into being for a few years yet. I scrubbed my knuckles off on a scrub board. Now an antique I believe.
Again, money was becoming a problem and I took a job in a local department store. I really liked the jewelry department, but when I got home at night and had to wash baby clothes and make baby food and listen to my mother’s complaints, I just threw in the sponge and quit.
In the five years I live in that apartment my mother never once came upstairs to see it. She never set foot over the doorsill. As food become scarcer, I gave her my food stamps and shared my meals with the family. She charged me $1.25 a meal.
As little Pel grew I continued to read to him and taught him his alphabet, days of the week, tm and whatever his active mind would absorb. The child had a sponge for a brain. One day I looked out of his bedroom window to see if he was OK on the terrace and the child had climbed over the railing and was sitting way our on the lip roof “fishing” with the floor mop. Now, I’m terrified of heights, but I was over that railing and onto the roof in five seconds flat. I had to walk along the crown and it was a two-story drop to the concrete below.
After that scare, he was locked down in my mothers yard. Her dog “Annie” named after little Orphan Annie’s dog in the comics was not too pleased with him in her year. Also, being a chow, she wasn’t particularly friendly anyhow. One day she would turn on him and bite him. Pel was enraged and bit her right back. Annie went yelping into my mother. Amway after that, the two of them became bosom buddies. Every few years my mother would disappear and the reappear dragging a mangy mutt on a string. They were always Momma’s dog and we never too to any of them. I guess they were thankful to be saved from the dog pound?
All of the children in the neighborhood were grown up and Pel had no one to play with. I felt kindergarten would be beneficial and teach him to get along with others, so I enrolled him in the same grammar school I had gone to. Well, the premise was good, but I got called in a lot to see the teacher. It seems that Pel was telling her how to run her class. They kindly asked me to remove him; so that was it for learning to get along with others.
Ken and I had a code set up so I would know where he was and he let me know that his ship was coming into Philly for repairs. I packed a bag and baby and I were off to Philadelphia on the first train. We told Pel we were taking him to see Daddy’s ship, but even I was puzzled when I looked around for it. Ken painted out what appeared to be an enormous warehouse and that was the Antietam. I was in awe when we went aboard her. I wandered all over Philly with the other Chief’s wives and children. We were staying at the prestigious, St. James Hotel. I am sure they were shocked with all these children racing up and down the corridors; but soon the ship sailed away, and I had to go back to New York.
We just lived for each day and hoping the was would end. That glorious day finally arrived. V-J day they said and my sister and I decided to go to NY and celebrate with everyone else. It was a mistake in judgment because the crowds were out of control; people were dancing in the streets. On the return bus trip some man almost ripped the dress off my back. We jumped off the bus and walked the rest of the way home. When I see those scenes on old newsreels, I marvel that we were part of that crowd. My friend Ray had been a prisoner of War this whole time and a grammar school classmate of mine was killed.
Finally got work that Ken was coming home and he told me that his train would be passing through Jamaica and we’d be able to see each other. So little Pel and I were waiting on that train platform for the troop train to go by on it’s way to long Beach. My spirits sand as train after train passed us and I did not see my husband. Finally it squealed to a stop, and out of the last car stepped this deeply tanned mustached gentlemen. Could this be Ken? I hardly recognized him with the handlebar mustache and fifteen extra pounds. Little Pel started to squeal; he did not recognize him at all. He had his mother to himself for so long and he dad no intentions of sharing.
Ken was home only a few weeks when he went out job-hunting. He did not want to join the 20-20 clubs, which was $20 dollars for 20 weeks. Instead of giving himself time to become acclimated again, he came back with a job paying $45 a week. I was disappointed, but felt it wasn’t my place to say anything. Young Pel was becoming very self centered, and felt it was time for him to have a brother or sister so we presented him with a new brother, on the 30th of Sept. the following year. We had done everything we could to prepare him for a baby; but my mother refused to mind him while I was in the hospital, so we were forced to send him to my husband’s parents in Maryland. This was a bad move and mad him feel even more insecure. We had to watch him very closely after that. He tried to vacuum the baby up or bop him over the head or send the carriage careening down the sidewalk. What a charmer?
Chapter 4- Barrie Evan Mead-#2 son
I was all prepared for another Pel but oh miracles, this baby sat in his carriage, with his enormous brown eyes and quietly watched the world around him. He did not cry, nor talk, nor walk; just sat there and took it all in. We entered him in beauty contests and he won honorable mention in one. He was completely bald, with his little beret perched jauntily on his head and stole every ones hearts. Every one stopped to coo over him.
Once when we were taking him on a train trip to visit his great grand parents, he spotted a man eating his lunch across the aisle from him. He never took his eyes off that poor man, till finally the man asked us if he could place his sandwich with the boy.
By now, we were stretching the walls of this three-bedroom apartment with four of us in it. We decided to start looking for our own home. There was very little housing available after the war and very few guilders had started to build new homes. My girl friend Milly came to me about some new homes she’d seen out in Babylon Long Island. I rode out there with her and was pleased with what I saw. I took Ken back to see them and we picked out a Cape Cod and bought it on the G.I. Bill. On the train out to sign up for the V.A. mortgage, it felt like we were riding to the end of the world. You see, we had no car; we had to sell it after the war; to give my mother her money back. I supposed she was afraid Ken would not get a job. I never asked her. It was laid up during the war due to a gas shortage.
Ken borrowed his company truck to get us out to our new home and we had a mover take our belongings out there. The road was a mud hole and the men had to lie out boards from the main road to our home to bring the furniture in. It was a cold March day when we moved in; and the wind whistled right through the windows. The first rainfall, we had more rain in the basement than was outside and we had to bail it all out, but it was all ours mortgage and all-$7,250-$42.42 a month. These were the first homes to use the technique of assembling the parts at the site and the crew would go down the line raising frames. Levitt homes later used that system to build their huge developments on Long Island, Pa, and Florida.
I didn’t really know what hard work was till we started on that house. The property-1/4 acre was all oak tree roots and weeds. It had to be cleared and leveled for grass. We bought used posts and beams and put up a fence. First we had to take the old nails out. We raised brick driveway posts and a concrete driveway; bought a load of used bricks and laid a charming sidewalk, planted trees, bushes and shrubs. Inside we laid inlaid linoleum floors, build in all the furniture in the boys rooms, cowboy style, painted a mural on the wall, raised two rooms in the attic and finished part of the basement. Naturally all this kept taking more money so I sold aprons, collected delinquent accounts for Ken’s store and took in foster babies. Ken took a weekend job. We became active in the PTA civic assoc., church, boy scouts, etc. You name it, we did it. Barrie was 18 months old when we moved there. And shortly afterward started to walk and talk and has never stopped since. We used to say that his tongue was hinged at both ends. He was difficult to train and if his training pants became uncomfortable, he would just shed them wherever he was. I don’t know how many times, I would look down the block and see Barrie tottering home stark naked.
We were the first in the neighborhood to get a TV set. On any given night there would be at least one dozen little ones lined up in front of it. We were always amazed that no parents called up looking for them. Naturally they got hungry and sitting there we had to dispense cookies and milk.
One day as I was walking around the block, I met a lady sitting on her stoop with a little boy around the same age as Barrie. This was how I met Elise and Jeff and later her husband Ed.
We became friendly and made cookies together or walked with the kids. When we decided to learn to drive we took turns taking our cars on the back streets and practicing. One day we packed Jeff and Barrie into the back seat and took off to practice. Mind you we both had learners permits. It got dark, we got lost and the kids were out of peanut butter sandwiches and we did not have any idea where we were. So much for adventure. We had to call home to have some one tell us how to get back. We were all the way out by McArthur Airport. A long way from home.
We had put our blood sweat and tears into this Cape Cod bungalow and it’s property. But, always the money problem rose to haunt us. After seeing an ad on the TV for foster mothers, I went over and applied. My sons ere pretty big, I yearned for a daughter, but my doctor had told me that would be no more children. We agreed to take pre-adoption infants to 6 months. I hoped this would bring a little money. I could stay home with my sons and also be able to mother a poor abandoned baby. The first one was a little doll and my children loved her. She was put up for adoption at 6 months and promptly taken. The next one, a little Irish Italian baby stole our hearts. The reality of these babies was quite another thing. They come to you as newborns and they need care during the night and must go to the Doctors for shots, etc. Also if you bring them up, as you should, the money given to you is hardly sufficient. Little Maureen was also adopted quickly and we had a few months breather before they brought us a tiny three-day-old girl they called Sharon. She was yellow tinged and I was told she had yellow jaundice. It did clear shortly; but this baby was unable to suck on her bottle and by nine months she still did not coo or play or wave her arms and legs. I was becoming very suspicious and informed the welfare department they sent me to a specialist with her and my fears were confirmed. The child was mentally retarded. I had no experience with this so I read everything I could on the subject. We had to play it by ear since they had no idea to what extend she was damaged. Just at this time I started to feel pretty terrible myself and my Doctor informed me I was pregnant. The same doctor who told me I could not have any more! My eldest son Pel was 1, whined to me “what are my friends going to say?” I answered back “I’m more concerned what my friends are going to say.” Here I had one 9 month old on my hip that needed my constant attention and I was going to have my own. Well, I reasoned, maybe at last it would be a girl. We had always said we’d take what God gave us, within reason of course.
Unlike the other two, I was absolutely miserable the whole time, could hardly drag myself around and was losing weight instead of gaining it. Come August, we had a heat wave and I had a heat stroke. Naturally, our doctor was away for the weekend and had no one on call. I dragged myself in there on Monday, but he said I was fine. In the meantime, I went back to childcare asking them to take Sharon back. They had not orphanages on Long Island and in those days very few foster parents wanted a retarded child, so we kept her, much against my better judgment.
Come November on a bitter cold night, I felt the pains starting and leaving the children watching the TV, Ken drove me to the hospital and left me there. Having had previous experience with his first-born, he managed to make a fast getaway. In my lintel pea brain I figured this is my third child and it should be a snap. Wrong! It had vein so many years since I had a baby that it was just like the first one again. It was the early hours of the morning when I finally gave birth. The nurse kept prodding me awake. “It’s a boy,” she says. Aw shucks not again; at this rate we’ll have a football team.
Chapter 5- Timothy Charles mead- 3rd child
Time was born on a cold Nov. 16 morning and I promptly fell asleep. I woke in the ward of Southside Hospital with women and babies all around me. I waited and waited, but nobody brought me one. Having been through this before, you know the very first thing they do is bringing in that baby for you to admire. I waited all morning and finally nabbed a nurse. She says that as soon as I feel strong enough to get down out of the bed, I should come to the doctor’s office. I slide down to the floor and proceeded rather unsteadily down the hall. The doctor offered me a chair and then rather hesitantly explained that the baby was not well and unable to eat and that they were calling in experts and they would be able to tell me more in a day or two. He said I could go home in three days, but I ‘d be unable to take the baby with me. So, I did go home three days later and did have my little talks with the baby expert they had called in to trying to explain to a three children where the new baby was, was extremely difficult for us. The children did not understand the medical terms; as a matter of fact, I hardly understood it myself. In the meantime, I had a chance to get my strength back before the ordeal ahead of me. Two weeks later, we took our new son home with us. Thus was to begin the worst ordeal of our lives. You can read all about other people’s misfortunes, but until you actually experience them yourself, you can’t even begin to understand what it is like to try to keep a child alive until you can find help. The disease he had was so rare, that I had to read extensively to understand even the surface of it. It was called Herschsprung’s disease (after the German Doctor who had first discovered it). Because the hospital stated that he might not make it we rushed through a christening with my sister and her husband as Godparents. We called him Timothy Charles Mead, quite a moniker for such a tiny baby. He weighted 8 bless 11 oz. or so at birth, but was a losing fight to get him to gain any poundage. We had to feed this baby every 15 minutes or so day and nite just to get an ounce or so down him. My husband had to work to support his medical bills so the burden fell to me. In no time at all, I was exhausted and had three other children to care for also plus meals. At least three times a week we would head out to doctors looking for one who could help. We were sent to a leading Long Island Pediatrician. He examined our son and told us bluntly that the child would die, but that he would do what he could. Visits were $25 a visit, payable each visit. This man was one of the coldest people I have every met. He just did not care. Back to our local pediatrician we went and she in turn sent us to a renowned pediatric surgeon, who too shall remain nameless. He told me enemas and more enemas. Even the nurse we coming in to help us were unable to get these enemas to work. WE were getting frantic. Tim was rapidly losing ground and severely impacted. I called this surgeon and told him of our inability to bring this child any relief. He actually screamed at me over the phone and called me stupid, etc., etc. I was enraged. I picked up that baby and his equipment and drove to that doctor’s office and dumped them on his table. He tried and tried, also with no success and then suddenly a stool shot forward all over that doctor’s face and all. I couldn’t help myself, I just laughed and laughed. Then I wrapped up my baby and we never went back. We went through seven month of sheer agony and defeats barely keeping this baby alive. He now only weighed 7 lbs. Then the nurse were were using called to say that one of her other patients had this same disease and had been operated on in Boston by Dr. Omar Stevenson. I called this hospital immediately, verified that I had x-rays and they told me to get there as soon as possible and they would be waiting at the E.R.entrance for us. I assured them we would be there within six hours. We bundled up the children, took all three to my mothers; over her protests and set out for Boston. We strapped Timothy to pillows in the back seat. The child was dehydrating and running a 103 fever. I wasn’t sure we were going to make it in time, but I told myself that we had done everything we could and the rest was in the hands of God. In the short seven months of his life this baby was such a tighter, we had to be fighters too. We were deeply in debt, owed just about everyone, our floors and housed had not had a descent cleaning in all that time and we were so exhausted all the time that I could cheerfully had laid down on the floor and napped. When we finally fount our way to Boston floating Hospital, believe it or not, there were two orderlies sitting on a bench by the door waiting for us. They sprang into action and before I knew it we were in an examine room and I was helping too and explaining his case to the doctor. This child was pretty far-gone, but they gave him blood and sedate him. The doctor took us aside and explained that our baby was in very poor shape, but he would do his very best to keep him alive. I could not ask for more than that.
A team of doctors operated for seven hours the next morning, but little Tim’s heart could not take the strain and they had to stop. I was downstairs in the chapel while they were in surgery, and I made a bargain with God. “Please God if you save Tim’s life, I take care of Sharon as long as I can.” When I went back upstairs Dr. Svenson was waiting and he said that he thought the baby would live, but that they could not finish the operation completely, so they gave him a partial colostomy. Actually, it was just a hole in his upper stomach, through which ran liquid stool pour out. We had to leave Tim there to recuperate and we drove back to Long Island much lighter at heart. We gathered up our three children and went back home. I slept as much as possible, so I could be ready for the next ordeal. I really had no idea I would cope with two sick children, but a promise was a promise. My husband had also COM down ill. He was worrying so much, both over finances and the family that he started to smoke very heavily. The glands in the back of his throat swelled up and he started hemorrhaging. Then I have to run him to the doctors and they packed his nose and throat. It was really terrible, but as yet he was not aware of the damage cigarette smoking could doo and would not give it up. We burnt up the wires calling back and forth to Boston and finally we were told that we could come and get him.
He was alive, but oh such a long way to go get to good health. The doctors wanted him to get to 20-25 pounds before they would go ahead with the rest of the operation. Such a task they set us. He was a poor eater and very finicky. We finally settled on putting some of our food in the blender for him and this he ate. He was not yet 20 lbs. but the doctors wanted to go ahead with the surgery. So again we went back; waited to hear that the surgery was a success and left for home. Dr. Svenson or Dr. Fisher called twice daily, but out holy terror was pulling out his tubes and really not being cooperative and the doctors wanted me to come stay there. Sharon was boarded with a neighbor during the day, and the two older boys went to school and at night my husband fed them all and tried to be both mother and father to three very bewildered children. I went to Boston, found lodgings in a woman’s boarding house and presented myself at Boston Floating Hospital. This is one of the truly great hospitals for seriously ill children. They specialize in blue babies, children with cleft palates, burned children and of course Hirschsprungs disease. Dr. Svenson toured the world giving talks on this disease and training doctors on the points of surgery. A truly great man, if he is still alive.
The minute my little devil saw me, he actually knew me and started to improve. A worse patient I never saw. He pulled out feeding tubes as fast as the nurses put them in. He was strapped to the bed, but like a magician, he got out of the straps. He kept us on our toes he did. I had so much free time that I offered my services to the child recovery department. Soon I was learning what the signs on a baby’s back meant and how to carry them around and who got fed what. It was truly fascinating and when the doctors did their weekly tours, I got to trail along behind them. Some times we lost one and I could hard bear to look at the empty crib as I passed it. God giveth and he also takes away.
Tim was coming along by leaps and bounds and the publicity department asked if they could follow along behind me for several days to photograph Tim for their brochure. I agreed and they picked several snaps of him to print in this brochure, which went out all over the world.
Finally the day came when the doctor said Tim could go home and my husband said he would bring Barrie and he there as soon as possible. The recovery room offered me a paying job, which was very flattering, but there was no way I could do that for a living. It was enough to tear your heart out. Bless those dedicated nursed there.
Ken arrived with Barrie and wouldn’t you know it, Barrie had a raging toothache. We had to stop and get him mediation until we could get home to his dentist.
When we are part way home, we stopped at a diner for lunch. I was sipping my soup when I noticed the baby’s eyes glued to my dish. I put some in cup and that child, who would hardly eat in the hospital, finished the whole thing and also my tea. Then he slept the rest of the way home. I could suppose that even babies know more of what is going on than we give them credit for.
Life resumed but now we were really in debt. Out insurance hardly paid an out of state hospital, we had private nurses, several doctors, etc. We refinanced the mortgage on the house to pay the hospital bill and then it took 10 years to pay this marvelous doctor. We could not pay our phone utility bills or anything. We wrote each letter explaining our situation and that once in the next year did any of them harass us. The telephone number called us earlier and offered us blood from their blood bank. Who says they don’t have a heart?
Now it was Sharon’s turn. If we weren’t taking Tim to the doctor, we were rushing her off somewhere. She had skin problems, heat allergies, etc. You name it, she had it. As I said earlier in this book, when you take a retarded child, you are really on your own. I must be honest to say that if I had known she was retarded, I would really have hesitated about taking her, but she was only 3 days old when we got her and it was several months before it became known. Her expenses far out weighed what the social services dept. gave us but I had made this promise to keep her and so I would.
In our years out in Babylon we had become very active in church, civic organizations, PTS Cub Scouts, etc. I guess you could say we were well known. One day my best friend inadvertently mentioned to me that our church was going to give us a benefit dinner. I was absolutely horrified. We had no money, but we had pride aplenty. There was no way we could accept charity. I would never be able to hold up my head again. We decided to move on and the house really was too small for six of us. Pity was not something we could cope with. Lucky for us the loving work we had put into that first house sold it for us. Because, mostly every thing was built in, the rental truck we hired was enough to hold all our possessions. I drove behind them to our new home #2, 26 miles away, where we could start over again. I was almost 90 years old 10 rooms and enough work to keep us for the rest of our lives. It was $16,200.
This house, which soared up four-storied high, had belonged to a prominent neighborhood butcher. It even had servant’s quarters. I think, though that his wife must have been colorblind. The walls had a green paper with huge cabbage roses and the carpet was brown with red roses. My eyes used to cross just looking at it. It was a very old well build house with great possibilities. I couldn’t wait to get started on it. So many problems reared their ugly heads. We owed a great deal of money to the doctors and hospitals. Our checking account had $17 dollars left in after buying this place. So, after only two months in the house I decided I needed a job, if we were every going to remodel this monstrosity of a place. I had hardly worked in my life; as a teenager I had worked briefly in the famous Horn and Hardart restaurants no longer with us. As a child model and a brief stint as a sales woman, I had no skills to speak of and also had two very small children who needed me. One day as I was perusing the want ads I saw one that intrigued me. I dressed up and took the ad and went for the ad interview. Knowing my husband’s reaction, I did not bother to tell him first.
I was amazed at my introduction to “answering Service” this was back in the days when they were in private homes usually in the upstairs guest room. The old-fashioned switchboards took up the whole room. The requirements were a good handwriting and a clean speaking voice. I was hired immediately and listened in with an operator for a few hours. My eyes were crossing from the different colored light flashing in my face and the noise of all the voices talking in the room. By the next day I was having second thoughts about this job and called in to say I had reconsidered. I had to wait until the older boys came home from school to look after the two babies. My husband had to make dinner for the family. On the other hand I was bringing home $40 a week to start. Forty dollars back then brought a great deal. I was able to give the boys an allowance each week we bought something for the house. I managed to survive almost a year on that shift. Then I heard the long time overnight operator was leaving and I jumped into her job. This worked out ever so much better for me, even though for the next 22 years, I just never got enough sleep. I learnt to sleep everywhere and anyhow; on my days off I just crashed. Had a ten room house, four children and a 48 hour a week job and never enough hands to do everything that needed to be done. Timothy and Sharon needed special care. Barrie was unhappy away from his beloved Babylon and kept running away. Pel was readjusting to school there and we had to keep bugging him about going to college. Life was full and busy. The house claimed our free time and money. We learnt many skills. We had a bathroom put in where the kitchen pantry was, beamed ceilings, paneled walls, hung wallpaper, scrapped floors and watched our pride and joy become a show place again. We developed talents we didn’t know we had. In the background though, neighborhood war clouds were gathering. One of our neighbors had gotten into a fight with his next-door neighbor and out of spite sold his house to a black person. Pure panic went up and down that street. Meeting were called, neighbors vowed to stay put and just looked on in absolute amazement. The very people who vowed to stay put, jus moved out and left their houses vacant. We had a big stake in this house, also our blood; sweat and tears were in it. Also I want to show my children that all races and creeds can live together in harmony. What we could not stop, were the welfare cased moving in, unsightly and unkempt houses, drugs, prostitution and other illegal activities. It goes to the point where we dared not go out at night. Tim’s friends would not COM to our area and he was attacked if he went out in the street. Finally we gave up the battle to keep or home. We were down to three whites in the whole area. Our mortgage only had six year to run. Sometimes discretion is the better part of valor and we quietly put the house up for sale, took a terrible loss on it and retreat to the far side of town to nurse our wounds.
This time we bought a sprawling Cape Cod, 20 years old and very shop worn and unloved. Now we’re up to double the cost of the second house and broke again. My husband’s company had closed down after the Brooklyn riots and he now managed a furniture store in town. I worked in the town and timothy want to finish high school there. We knew it was only a matter of time before we would have to move on again so this time we were very wary about sinking funds into this house.
Pel was gone, having finished college and married. Barrie had gone into the Coast Guard and at that time live in Maine with his wife and two children. Sharon was in a hospital, no longer able to live at home. I had kept her as long as I was able, but when she became violent and uncontrollable, I had to act. We went to visit her on Sunday afternoons and I always felt depressed when we returned home. I hope that we made her short life happy, as happy as she could be. Sharon died at age 21 from choking to death on teeth braces that were left in her mouth by the hospital.
After we had everything straightened out in this new house, I made arrangements to go into the hospital to have a hysterectomy, which I had been putting off for too long. I had a large tumor, which need to come out as it was causing great monthly problems and sapping my strength. Also the migraine headaches were unbearable. My doctor assured me that here was nothing to it that I would be out of the hospital in a week and back on my feet again. Fool that I was I believed him. The best laid planes of mice and men often go astray. By now, I really should know that you can make all the plans you want to but the fates are there ahead of you. I firmly believe you can plan your destiny, but it rarely turns out that way. These days I just wait for a “sign” to see which was it is going. No sense me making plans when God had other ideas. Karma that is what it is. Anyhow the night before my operation, my doctor had a heart attack. The next morning, in his place, was his young associate who I had seen around the office, but we did not know each other. I let him calm my fears, besides this man was handsome, that I was entranced. Now I knew why he had so many patients. They did all their usual tests and cam back to report that there was a spot on one of the chest x-rays. They took me down for more x-rays and did over 100 of them. I was exhausted. Next my family doctor shows up and explains to me that I have a “growth” on my right lung that will kill me if it is not removed. He, in turn, calls in two lung specialists. Now we have to decide which operation to do first. Actually it was decided for us. I have started bleeding when I entered the hospital and nothing they did could make it stop. That decided it. One Hysterectomy coming right up. Dr. Glynn operated the next morning; but he had not read in my file that I was a slow healer. All those tests they did on my lungs had me coughing my head off, trying to throw off the phlegm. My incision burst open and I was covered with blood. I sent Tim for a nurse and she came on the double. Not one of my doctors was in the hospital and I was going into shock. Several other doctors came to the rescue and sewed me up again with horse stitches. They didn’t know it but they were on my answering service and I had them talking with them for years. I thanked them profusely. Months later when I got back to work. Now, everything that could go wrong did so. I caught pneumonia and ran a very high fever. Now, I really hurt all over. My roommate was dying right in front of my eyes, and I was unable to get down to help her. When she passed away there came a succession of overnight adult tonsil cases. They all came in bright and cheerful and spent the nites screaming and keeping me awake. I was so exhausted and tired of hospitals by this time, that I just wanted to go home and die there or whatever. They agreed to let me go home after my husband promised to bring me back for the next operation. If I had the strength, I would just have run away from home. Instead I fell into bed and slept for two days. Hospitals are not for resting and sleeping. They wake up at 6 am to bath you and give you breakfast, such as it may be and every time you closed your eyes, there they were to perform some other medieval torture on you.
I rested at home for a week and thought over whether I really and truly wanted to go back for this next operation. While I lay in bed my whole life to date paraded before my eyes. I had married young, for all the wrong reasons, as many of us do. I though, was one of the lucky ones. We hung in there through poverty and strife and hard luck. All marriages are not made in heaven and you really have to work at them. Several times I was ready to give up but, I could not subject my children to that kind of a childhood, so I wading and kept trying until we get out problems straightened out. Than Heavens we did, because God then presented us with Time and we went through a two-year battle to save his life, inflicting everlasting scars on the rest of us forever. Now, as I lay in bed reflecting back on the past, had accomplished of everything I wanted to. Pel had mad it through college and was married with two children, whom we rarely saw. Barrie had joined the service at 17 to see the world and we saw him only occasionally and already his marriage was faltering. Tim was still home, but had not found himself yet and was difficult to get along with. I was at a time in my life when I really did not care whether I lived or died. I had met all the challenges in my life and I was really, really tired. We had almost 30 years of struggles behind us. I was so exhausted after my long difficult hospital stay that I didn’t think I could go back and face another operation, over which the doctors had been deliberately vague. By the end of the week as I caught up on my sleep, I cam to a decision. I would go back and have this lung operation and if I lived fine. If I died so be it.
When I went back, I found out exactly why they were so vague. I never would have had the surgery performed if I had known exactly what was going to happen. They could not get at the lesion from the front so they cut through a rib in my back, and went around under my arm, severing a nerve in the process and up under my right breast. I have never been in such agony in my live. I lived for the shots and pain pills. The least movement sent me into spasms. I came home unable to move my right arm, and even a small sneeze was too much pain for me to assimilate. Eventually, one begins to fight back and I started to do the arm exercises. I was called back to work before they fired me and I dropped files on my fee, fainted dead away on the floor and proceeded to have a horrible night. I took lots of pain pills. When the cold weather came I could hardly breathe. Come hot weather the scar on my back would tighten up and I would go berserk with pain. The there were the nosebleeds and earaches that I never had before. The doctor suggested I go to a warmer climate like Arizona, Florida, or Calif.
At this time Sharon was in a state hospital and we made the long drive out there on Sundays. We could not abandon her, we were all she had. Our town was changing; the shopping center was closing down. And my husband had to close up the furniture store he was running and take a job with Penny’s department Store in their furniture department. He was already past 60 and had to prove himself. Barrie by now was in San Diego and he invited me out to see it before we made any decisions about going to Florida. I loved Pacific Beach on sight and in mid August the temperature was only 80, much to my delight. His wife took me around and knew exactly what I would like.
Sharon died at age 21, because of their neglect in this State hospital. I am happy to report that our local prize-winning newspaper did a series on those State Hospitals that had retarded children and put them in with adults. The information that my friends and I provided them with did the trick and now the hospital is under much stricter supervision. Too late for Sharon, but in her particular case, I think she is happier in heaven; at least I hope so.
This left us free to move and we put our house up for sale and made plans to move to California. The very first people who saw it bought it. This was in January, but it was May before they were able to get a mortgage. This left us plenty of time to go through the rooms and one at a time disposing of a great deal of our belongings. We sold a few choice pieces to our dear friends. We had a successful year sale and sold some to the new owner. Originally Tim was going to stay behind, but at the last minute decided to come along with us. So he and his father drove and I flew out that May 7, 1979. Little did I know as I head west what further adventures awaited us in California? If I had a crystal ball an saw three divorces, two more moves, a triple by pass operation, etc. in my future, I would have gotten off the plane at the first stop and stayed in NY.
I arrived here in California on May 7, but Tim and Pel would arrive on May 10 driving at top speed all the way. The furniture did not arrive for two weeks so we were forced to stay with Barrie. I was there only one day and I knew there was trouble in paradise, but it was not my place to tell Barrie. It all came to a head on my birthday May 21. Barrie and his wife were taking us to dinner, but she supposedly had to fly north to see a sick parent, so we went without her. Later that night Barrie came up to our apartment. (We lived directly above him) and he was hysterical. His wife had left him and taken the children. We were devastated. Here we had hoped to watch his children growing up. The fates had stepped in again. Barrie got the children back, but as a man alone, he had taken on an impossible task. He worked all day and had to fee them at night, wash their clothing, shop for groceries and be mother and father. By the end of August he threw in the sponge and let his wife take them. My heart was broken. Those poor kids spent the next few years being pawns between these parents.
Pel and I were both working and keeping busy. Barrie moved away and after two years we also set out to look for new quarters. I think we must have looked at everything in Pacific Beach before we cam across a little attached house, built in the 50’s, that belonged to one of Peel’s bosses. We decided to take it and renovate it. It had lovely wooden floors big rooms. So again, one May Day Tim and Janet, Barrie and his friend Ivy and Pel and I moved everything from Oliver to Grand Ave. We had to buy a refrigerator and stove for it and assorted other items. We settled in for the next 8 years. Pel worked right next store and I traveled to La Jolla daily. The powers to be up there looked down at decided life and us was too peaceful. So in 1985, we (Barrie and I) rushed my husband off to Alvarado hospital and he ended up with a triple by-pass and nearly lost his life in the process. It was a difficult two months and when I finally took him home it was only to rush him back to Mission Bay Hospital. Three days later, it was his gall bladder. Tim and I sat through that one and again it was touch and go. It was a long recover and he only did do that first year. He went back to work but even I could see that he was not doing well in the job. He went to part time, and finally three years ago (1990) quit completely. I also felt my health slipping in my demanding job at the answering service. I had severe colitis and was warned to quit or suffer the consequences. So four year ago (1990) I gave my notice in just before Christmas. I really enjoyed not leaving to go to work after 30 years. I woke up automatically, but turned over and went right back to sleep.
Now we had to learn to get along with each other. Both of us had worked and our paths crossed only occasionally. Now we had to learn to communicate. It was hard work but we made it.
Then I decided my husband needed a dog as he was sleeping too much. Barrie went to loaf for me and came back with a darling Lhasa Opso puppy, already three month old. We called her Charlee Chan and she is my husbands pride and joy. Mine, also, I might add. She runs out household with a firm paw.
Tim’s short marriage had broken up cause unknown and he met Wendy Woody in 1985 and they have been together since. (He left Wendy for other women and eventually married Jennifer). Barrie met Ivy after his divorce from Carol, and it was not a marriage made in heaven. She was a lonely girl and God knows she tried, but she was young and there were just too many obstacles for her. She left one June day leaving only a note behind and went back east. She was always good to us and I wish her luck wherever she went.
Then Barrie met Sheryl and I do hope this time is for keeps. They do say the 3rd time is lucky. Life was moving along and those fates up there decided we were getting too complaisant and we needed shaking up so early one morning, a week before Christmas, Charlee would not stop barking so I get up to see what was disturbing her. Lo and behold a burglar was just leaving our storage area. He disappeared and I ran to look in. He had broken the lock on the door and cut the lock off the took chest. The police were called and given a full report when they arrived. Not a week later, most of our clothes were stolen off our line and a few days later our landlord was mugged in our alley. We decided that the signs were point for us to move, so right after Christmas, we set out to look for mobile homes. That is an education in itself. The ones we liked were either too expensive or would not take dogs, so every day we came back in disgust.
Finally, I saw an ad in the paper for an estate sale. We cam out to see it and the price was right, it had a nice yard, a fence and needed few repairs. We made an offer, it was accepted, and the rest is history. We decided to move in March and to carry out all the breakables every other day till then and have a mover haul the rest. What is it they say about the best-laid plans of mice and Men? Barrie called up mid-Feb., says he is back from Va. And we are being moved that coming weekend. I said no way, but naturally I was outvoted and Sat. morning arrives and Barrie and Sheryl and Tim and Wendy. I would like to say it could not be done, but come Sunday nite everything was out her in El Cajon, even the snails in the flowerpots had a new home. Of course, I had no idea where anything was and the boxes were piles as high as the ceiling. The first week, the toiled overflowed in the small bathroom all over the new carpeting. We had to put fans out to dry it. I worked till 12 and 1 am every nite for over a month, and finally could see the floor again. By April the place was perfect and we were ably to have a tea for my granddaughter Cheri’s engagement.
Living in a mobile home park is another one of those experiences I thin I can live without. Every month some one is dying and you realize how fragile life is. Here today gone tomorrow. A rumor will start at one end of the park and spread like wildfire. By the time it gets to this block, there is hardly a grain of truth in it. I find it amusing at times and other times annoying>
On the whole, we’re as happy her as we would be anywhere in Ca. My beloved belongs are around us. Each item has a story behind it and like most old folks; I can look at something here and remember clearly how it came to be in our possession. It’s rather hard to explain to one’s sons that you started with nothing and most everything we own is from our sweat and tears.
We had $2.00 between us when we married, no bit fancy wedding, and no wedding gifts. Yet, here we are 49 years later, probably going to make 50 years, and we did it on our own, yet, between us we never had a yearly income of even $30,000. I hope that when we pass on our rewards that each of our sons will keep some of the things that we set great store by. When my own parents passed away there were no photos and no mementos to remember them by, only a tea set of my grandmothers and I had barely known her.
I rarely mention my parents in this story, mostly because I still have not come to grips with the love-hate relationship we had. My parents almost destroyed the three of us, but by leaving young I survived. We will never know the story of why my brother walked away from his family, but maybe he had to do it to save his life? I hope he is still alive somewhere.
I was because of my own lack of family life that I so over compensated in raising my own children. They were going to have the best Christmas, the best birthdays; company visiting for holidays and whatever was in my power to do for them to show that we love them. We joined civic assoc., PTA, church groups, boy scouts and PAL. We sat in the broiling sun and cheered on our eldest son at ball games. WE were there when he got the God and Country Award, and we burst our buttons when Barrie was in the Honor Guard at President Kennedy’s funeral in Washington, D.C. The joy of saving the life on our last and youngest son, and seeing him today as a strong, intelligent, handsome young man on his way up the ladder of success. I hope he finds true happiness and contentment soon.
I have not mentioned the teenage years of my three sons except fleeting in passing, because basically this is my story and each of my sons would require a book of their own.
We found their teen years difficult, mostly because I myself never had been around young boys and their pranks that much. I was aware of their evasion and putting one over on us so to speak. We were terribly disappointed after all our sacrifices that Pel went off and got married and we didn’t get to share the glory with him. Then when Barrie left at 17, only a boy really, we were devastated. Lastly we come to Tim who by this time is practically an only child. A very difficult young teenager to live with and know. There are some of the reasons I’ve skipped over those years to painful to relive.
Yet on the other hand I am thankful that this were the years before drugs and beers, protests, AIDS, etc. I had enough to cope with. They all turned our well; I hope we are a close family cause in the long run, that is all we have. When we are gone from this Earth, I want our sons to remember that we were only ordinary folks, we did all for them and we truly loved each and every one of them. That is more than I can say for my own parents. I waited 65 years for one of them to say “I love you,” but they never did. That is why I want to make sure our know “We love you guys!! You’ve done good!!”
El Cajon, Ca.- June 1990