My Uncle Sonnie, my Mom, Doris and Aunt Lorraine when they were young..
The Diary of Doris Mead
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
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 ó. 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
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
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
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
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
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
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 sweettalked
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
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
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
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
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 ó 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
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
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
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 threeday-
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
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
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
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