AFTER THE WEDDING
I didn't tell my mother we were getting married until Sunday. I don't think she was surprised, because she knew we were in love. I think she also thought since I would be living sixty miles from home, I would need someone to look after me. I also knew she liked Stella.
There was a lot of my mother in Stella. My mother was smart and they both had the same no nonsense approach to problems. My mother was married at fifteen and her life had never been easy. Being married to my father could not have been easy, either and she knew no matter what miracles she accomplished; they were never appreciated.
I would like to say now that Stella always knew she was appreciated! And in all the days of our marriage I never failed to tell I her, "I love you" And it was wonderful for me to know it was reciprocated.
Stella's brother, Denny, drove us to Wellsburg in his car, and Stella's good friend, Helen Aldredge, also went with us. We went to the court house to get our license about 10 AM and we got the standard no frills one for $1.25. We could have bought one in a fancy leatherette Folder for $4.00 but who needs it.
We went to a Methodist Church parsonage near by, and the minister married us in his living room. I gave him $3.00 and I'm sure he was happy to get it.
By noon, we were on our way to McKeesport in our car. I told Stella we were on, our honeymoon and we were not coming back; except to visit. The date "June 12, 1933," is carved into my brain!
On the ride up I started to worry about what I had just done! And now I was taking a young girl to a strange city, where she knew no one; to share a house with people we didn't know; barely earning enough to exist, and not knowing if my job would even last the month!
We got to the house about 2PM and moved in her suitcase and my suitcase. I only had time to introduce Stella to the Bryces, change clothes, and hurry to my job, hoping it was still there.
PLEASE FORGIVE ME! I forgot to mention one very important item: Stella was wearing every thing new, and her dress was lovely, and that was how she looked, LOVELY.
I hadn't told my employers that I was getting married this Monday. I think I was afraid they would try to talk me out of it! But there was a lot of work to do and I got busy.
One of the first jobs I did was to install a refrigerator for an elderly couple who were celebrating their 75th wedding anniversary! They were a wonderful couple and I'll never forget them! I had a busy afternoon and evening. My last job was to install a water cooler in a wholesale grocery warehouse where the men work at night loading the trucks for morning delivery. I had to work in a three foot crawl space under the floor, running water and drain pipes and the wiring. I didn't get back to our rooms until almost one AM. Stella was in bed, crying. She must have bad a terribly lonesome evening! What a day! She forgave me for the first time, as she did many more times over the years.
There was no refrigerator in our kitchen. There was a metal window box which sat on the outside window sill. You had to raise the window to get anything in or out of the box.
It was useless! In warm weather, such as it was then, it could not be used, and of course in winter everything would freeze.
Stella would buy enough food just for the day. There was an A&P grocery store on the corner and Stella soon made a friend of Marie Beres, the clerk who worked there. They bad had a close friendship until Marie and her husband moved to California about ten years later.
Our landlords were named Bryce. They had a son and daughter of high school age and an older daughter and son-in-law living in the house. I don't know how they all slept because there was only one more bedroom. I think the attic was used as a bedroom.
It was a nice house, on a nice street, but Mr. and Mrs. Bryce were not very nice. It's difficult to explain, but we never felt at ease. We knew the Bryces would stand in the hall, outside our door and try to listen to our conversations. We opened our door suddenly several times and caught them listening to us. It was embarrassing, and we didn't like it at all. Stella could make friends with anyone, but she could never warm up to the Bryces. They may have guessed we were newlyweds, but we never told them.
The first thing we bought was a day bed. We used it as a sofa and as a bed at night, for our many visitors our first one was my mother. She seemed to approve of everything. Over the years, my mother visited us many times. She always seemed to enjoy our house and the children. I know she began to really love Stella, and learned many new things from her. She of ten said if she could live her life over, she, would make many changes. And as a husband, I think I was A surprise to her! As a bride, cooking, housework, and taking care of me, were snap for Stella. After taking care of the brood at brood at home, for the last few years; now it was as though she was on vacation.
In the school vacation time in the summer, there was always at least one of Stella’s sisters staying with us. After we, had lived at the Bryces for about two months, Marie, the A&P store clerk, told us about two rooms which had recently become vacant in a house just around the corner from the Bryce's house. Marie had become friendly with Mrs. Stella Kessler, who lived there. Marie said she was very nice. We went to see the rooms and met the family. Mrs. Kessler did seem to be very nice. WE liked the rooms and moved in at the end of the week.
Mr. Kessler was furloughed from his job on a railroad. He was a quiet man, much different from his jolly wife. There were also two teenage boys, Paul and Jack, who after a week or so, were both obviously in love with Stella!
We lived at the Kessler house for almost two years. Our first baby, a daughter, whom we named, June, was born there and died three days later, from a heart defect. The baby was born on June 25,1934.
Mrs. Kessler was an angel! She couldn't have been nicer if Stella had been her own daughter. Babe had been staying with us for several weeks, and surely helped a lot.
The Kessler home was at 1010 Atcheson St. in McKeesport.
During these two years I had been working six days a week, until seven or later so Stella had long days to spend by herself I would often go "downtown," to the Fifth Avenue district to visit the big stores to make small purchases and pass the time. She would often walk down the hill and ride on the street car back up to come home. She could ride the Versailles Avenue trolley for seven cents and the stop was a short block from the house, or she could ride the Evans Avenue trolley for three cents, but she would have to walk five uphill blocks to our house. She joined the Carnegie Library, and as she told me about it, the tale was hilarious. After she had filled out the application to join, the librarian directed her to take it home and have a parent sign it before they could accept it. Stella was very indignant and drawing herself up to her full height, she said very forcefully ''But, I'M MARRIED!" Of course the librarian backed off, and said she thought Stella was a young school girl.
I used to tease Stella about it, and sometimes when she wanted to go someplace, I'd tell her that she'd have to get her parents written permission, beforehand.
It was now 1935 and my salary was raised to $25.00 a week. although the depression and the economy hadn't improved very very much We decided to look for a house or apartment and
Found at 1-207 Vermont Street, in a section just outside he city limits known as Bryn Mawr, It is now part (if the Borough of White Oak
It was the center one of three apartments, which were built in a row against a hillside with their garages underneath. The garage was on the level of the street. It was the same as living on the second floor. Because of the hill, our back door from the kitchen, opened onto a nice porch, which was on the same level as our small back yard. Beyond our yard, the hill rose up for several hundred feet, and was covered with grass and trees. It was very, nice. The area was thinly populated and to us, it was like living in the country.
There were four rooms and bath in the apartment. There was a nice basement with stationary tubs for a laundry, something that Stella had never had before. We bought a new wringer washer at Montgomery Wards for $32.00, and a new four cubic foot Frigidaire refrigerator from Liberty, of course! We bought a used gas range for $15.00 that baked very well, and a used kitchen table and chairs for $5.00 (The table is in Lois' family room). We also had to buy a bed and bedding as well as a chest of drawers. I constructed a vanity from wood taken from a Frigidaire crate. I covered the top with pink oilcloth, and Stella draped the front with some pretty flowered material then bought a round mirror, about 24 inches in diameter, and fastened it to the wall, and it made a very pretty vanity.
We decided not to furnish the extra bedroom for a while but about six months later, we learned that was again pregnant, so we knew it would it would it become a nursery.
We greatly enjoyed living in our new apartment. We enjoyed our Privacy and not needing to wait our turn to use the bathroom. And my poor old Chevy had a garage for the first time.
There was also a trolley line into town, so Stella could shop, and there was a grocery store on the corner! Many times in the evenings, I would take Stella along on some service calls. She would read while she waited for me. She learned a lot about the area and we enjoyed spending the extra time together. I hadn't mentioned it, but we had made frequent Sunday trips to Steubenville to see the folks, and sometimes brought someone back to visit. We were the only ones from either family who lived away from home.
It was still 1935 and the depression was still with us, and for us it was going to get worse!
I took Stella home the weekend before Christmas to visit there for the week. I was going to go back down to celebrate Christmas and bring Stella home. The Saturday before Christmas when I got my pay, I was told that because of the poor economy they would have to dispense with my services, I WAS FIRED!
It was very difficult for me to give Stella the bad news. There were no jobs in the McKeesport area, so my mother said we should stay with her until I found a job.
We were sleeping in my old room and bed. Frank had married and moved out the previous year. I used the truck to move our furniture and possessions down to Steubenville. I should note the winter of 1935-1936 was the coldest and had the deepest snowfalls in weather bureau records.
I tried to find work. I did get a week of work at the Bell Telephone Company, cleaning and straightening up a lot where they kept their replacement poles and equipment; but when I finished, the job was finished. I had put in an application at the Wheeling Steel Company; the area's largest employer and checked there daily, without success. One night in January it snowed heavily and by morning there was an accumulation of 14 inches of snow.
I trudged down to the employment office at 6AM, hoping they would need someone to sweep and clean the railroad switches, so the switch engines could move the cars in and out. I was the only one there and I was hired!
I was put into the general labor pool, to be sent to any department of the mill that needed help, and luckily for me I was sent to work in a warm building where sheet steel was put into hot ovens to heat and then to gradually cool, to temper and soften it, so it could be pressed into different shapes such as an auto fender, without splitting. In the four months I was there I worked in every department of the mill except the blast furnaces. I learned a lot about the steel mill, from the making of the steel, in open hearth furnaces. In those days; then as it was poured into molds to make ingots; and the ingots were reheated and rolled into slab; slabs were reheated and rolled into coils or cut into sheets, according to how they were ordered.
I also worked a short time in the, warehouse, and one day only, in the tube mill, where steel pipes were manufactured. Almost everyone in the Pittsburgh tri-state area has heard of the 1936 St. Patrick’s Day Flood. The deep snows on the hills which had fallen and accumulated through the winter months because of the unceasing frigid weather, had never been permitted to melt. In the first ten days or so of March, before St. Patrick's Day, there was a sudden warm period with rain and subsequent thaw, which produced torrents of water pouring down all the creeks and streams that finally emptied into the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers which meet in Pittsburgh to form the Ohio River. Spring floods are common to this area and are taken in stride, but this was the granddaddy of floods. The water kept rising higher and higher, past every high water mark of the past. Every city and small town bordering the rivers was inundated to record heights of water. In Pittsburgh's Golden Triangle (it's business district) the flood rose to ceiling height in the stores and offices, and of course their basements as well. Trolley cars were stalled with water up to their roofs and automobiles were completely buried beneath the flood. Steel production in the many mills which lined the rivers came to a halt.
The cleanup was a Herculean job! When the water finally receded it left inches of thick mud on everything, and I mean on everything! It is difficult to imagine the task it was to remove it from streets, sidewalks, floors, walls, even ceilings in some cases.
All furniture, and merchandise in the stores, as well as valuable business records and books were ruined. In the mills and factories, all the machinery, cars, locomotives, furnaces, rolling mills, motors and switches needed extensive cleaning and repairs.
My job in the clean-up was concerned with the several hundred railroad cars on the many sidings through out the mill. All of these cars had been under muddy water for at least four days. Railroad freight cars have eight wheels, which run on bearings that have to be constantly lubricated. To accomplish this, there is a journal box at the end of each axle filled with a wool wick, which is saturated with oil. These boxes were full of water and mud that had to be cleaned out, and clean, oily waste installed.
I worked with a helper who turned out to be a cousin whom I really didn't know very well. He was Harry Coen, whose, mother was my Aunt Maddy, who is my mother's sister. He and I became pretty good friends by the end of the two weeks we worked together.
We loaded an oil drum full of oily waste onto a small, flat, push car that could ride the rails up to a line of cars and I
would work on one side and Harry on the other. We finished about twelve cars each day.
After the first week, they started to move out some of the cars we were working on that were only half finished. Every day more cars were being moved, and we could hear them squealing as they traveled through the mill yard. We tried to hunt down the "squealers", and finish them if possible. By the end of the end of the second week, so many cars were being moved that it became impossible for us to work; we were so often blocking the locomotive's progress and moving our little car to switch it out of the way, that we were often quite a distance from the cars we were working on.
I became ill from the constant cold and wet weather, I spent a week in bed and when I went back to work, I was helping to put a new floor down in the rolling mill department.
Stella's brother, Jack, had recently been divorced from his wife, Nora. He found a first floor apartment for rent on Summit Avenue and invited us to share it with him. We agreed and made preparations to move. It was then that I received a telephone call from Morris Benowitz, one of my recent employers in McKeesport.
He offered me a job in a new appliance store, he was opening in Duquesne, Pa. across the river from McKeesport; I decided to accept. He said the beginning salary would be, $25.00 for a six days week. The most I could earn in the mill was $17.40 for five days. I had been working full time because of the flood clean-up, but I had little faith that the job would be permanent. On many days in the labor pool, I had been sent home because there wasn't enough work for all of the men. I remember once only six men were selected out of about fifty –and I was one of them!
I knew I was the only employee and I had high hopes the store would succeed, I knew we could live very well with Stella managing the money. We also decided Stella should stay in Steubenville, until after the birth of our baby. The doctor said it could be expected about June 17th. We moved in with Jack and it was a very nice arrangement. Stella and Jack got along well together.
At the end of April, I rented a room in the McKeesport YMCA for $3.50 a week. It was clean and the toilet and shower were just down the hall. It was on the third floor and I would go in and out my window onto the fire escape that led to the parking lot below. It was very handy! I lived there for almost six months and as I never went through the lobby, except to pay rent, I didn’t know I was entitled to use the pool and gymnasium! I would have loved the pool.
I usually worked until seven o’clock or later. I often stopped at Eddie’s Restaurant where you could buy a sandwich with three weiners on a large bun for a nickel. I would buy two for them across the street at Isaly’s Diary. I would buy a quart of buttermilk for 10¢ and a paper for 3¢ and [I’d] go up the fire escape stairs to my room and enjoy my dinner and read the paper. Sometimes, if I was close enough, I would go to a Greek restaurant in Duquesne; everyone called it a greasy spoon. The meals were generous; you could get a pork chop, potatoes and gravy, and a vegetable, bread and coffee thirty five cent. A real bargain!
If I happened to be near the top of Versailles Avenue, in McKeesport, there was bar that sold sandwiches and you had the choice of ham, pork, beef, chicken or oyster on a small bun for a nickel! Another bargain!
I would always drive down to Steubenville after work on Saturday and spend the weekend with Stella. I would return to McKeesport late Sunday night or early on Monday morning. I continued this drill for over five months.
Stella enjoyed living with Jack; she had always loved her big brother and in many ways they were much alike. They were happy, friendly people and every one liked them. Jack was happy that he was going to be an uncle and bought a baby carriage in anticipation.
Jack loved gardening and didn’t mind yard work. He would get up at five and work an hour in the yard, before going to his job as a lineman for the Ohio Power Company. After work, he would work in the yard until darkness. The garden was beautiful and neighbors would stop to admire it and say what a change had taken place, because the yard was a dump before he started it’s transformation. A few years later, when Jack was 32 years old, he was killed in a tragic electrical accident at work. It was a great loss and terrible shock to all of us.
Jack had remarried several years previously to Olive Kalcrith, who was a registered nurse. She was always called "Sis." About a year before his death, Jack and Sis had adopted an infant son, whom they named John Robert. Tragically, John Robert (He was always called by both names) also lost his life while serving as a medical corpsman on a helicopter in Vietnam.
Meanwhile, Stella and I were both eagerly looking forward to the birth of our baby, although we had nagging fear that things might not go right, after our great disappointment and loss of our first child.
Stella’s doctor was in the neighborhood and stopped in to see her on June 16th (Doctors made house calls in those days). Stella reminded him that the baby would be born the next day, but after examining her, he said it wouldn’t happen for some days yet. But on the next day, June 17th, about 6 PM, the pains started and her water broke. Jiommy Fellows, who lived in the apartment upstairs, rushed her to the hospital, which was about half a mile away. She was rushed into the delivery room and the baby was born almost immediately.
There had not been sufficient time to alert our doctor, so the intern delivered the baby. It was the first time he had delivered unassisted and he was quite proud of himself. His name was Dr. John Smarella and it was just a coincidence that he was was a friend of mine whom I hadn’t seen for years. We had been in the Boy Scouts at the First M.E. Church and we had also walked to school many mornings to gether to Wells Grammar School. John was handsome and very nice young man. He is now retired and there is a Dr. John Smarella, Jr. taking his place.
I was at work in Duquesne, when the call came to the store that Stella had gone to the hospital. It was about 7pm when I came in and got the message. I immediately started for Steubenville. Mrs. Benovitz cautioned me not to speed, because the baby probably wouldn't be born for hours. Little did we know that Lois Jean was already here and in her mother's arms.
I'm glad she was born in Steubenville, because she was the first grandchild in either of our families and everyone was happy and excited about her birth.
I had the honor of naming the baby. I had always liked the name Lois, and Jean seemed to flow naturally with Lois.