There were no special shopping trips at Christmas, or any other time in our family. My grandparents managed, but I can’t imagine HOW, with so many to care for. There was always a Christmas tree and usually a present for each kid. Fourth of July was family picnic day. Everybody turned out to go to Mud Lake (now Nesbit Lake, I think), to have a huge picnic, with all the Aunts contributing goodies for the spread. There would be political speeches, swimming (wading for us little tots) and fireworks. Maybe us little ones could have a sparkler apiece, but mostly we enjoyed the grub and the chance to run and play unsupervised.
Birthday gifts were unknown, birthdays not even acknowledged. I can remember only one birthday party for me, my 10th. It was just after four of us were put in the Summit County Children’s Home at 264 South Arlington St., Akron, Ohio. My mother came to visit that evening and brought cake and ice cream, and the Five Little Peppers book for me. My brothers and sister, my mother and I and the Superintendant of the Home ate the ice cream and cake in the big community dining hall. Mrs. Tuite, in charge of the kitchen, had made the table festive for us, with a table cloth and napkins. All our meals at the Home were taken at bare tables, so this was a real occasion and a long-remembered treat. I had another birthday party for my 20th birthday. A surprise party, given by my friend Stella Ostrowski and my mother, at the apartment we all shared in Cleveland, off West 14th St., on Kenilworth Ave. At that time I had a coat in lay-away and Stella paid the balance due on it and gave me the winter coat for my birthday.
I went barefoot in summer because Grampa could not afford to buy shoes for his whole brood. I wore my Aunts and Uncles outgrown shoes to school. My first pair of “my own” shoes I received when we went to the Children’s Home, and were each outfitted with new shoes. I was nearly ten years old at the time.
At the Home too, I could indulge in my passion for reading ALL DAY if I so desired. They had a huge library surrounded on three sides with floor to ceiling book shelves—well-filled too. The fourth side was all windows. Tables and chairs for reading and playing were scattered all over the room. We kids just loved playing jacks on those lovely big smooth-topped tables. I think I must have read every book there, boys and girls books alike. I rarely played games with other kids, I was too shy and insecure. I thought they wouldn’t like me, so made no attempts to be friendly—just stayed by myself and read books. And I never did learn to swim. On one of those family picnics at Mud Lake, Grampa set me up on his shoulders and waded out into the lake till the water was over his head, and dunked me in. I was about seven years old and that episode scared me half to death. I was so terrified, I’d never go NEAR water in its natural habitat ever after that.
Once, Johnny and my uncles ran away from me after school and I had to find my way home alone. Had to cross a wide sandbank stretch where there was a big pond. I either fell into, or blindly walked into that pond, in the dark of early evening. My clothes froze solid on me, but I did manage to get out of the pond, as it probably wasn’t very deep. I walked the rest of the way home, probably about a mile. Maybe that’s when I caught diphtheria; I was about the right age.
Went to Kindergarten at Lane School, Akron, then to old St. Mary’s on Main Street. St. Mary’s built a new church and school at Thornton and Cobu? I finished 2nd grade there. Third and 4th grades I was at Crouse School on Diagonal Rd. I finished 4th, 5th and 6th grades while at the Children’s Home, then back to Crouse school from September to January, to the last half of 6th grade. In between times, I don’t remember when, I also attended St. Bernard’s and Annunciation schools, perhaps for only a month or two, between moves from this rental to that rental.
My grades were fairly good, as I learned easily. While in 4th grade, had to write a book report on Miles Standish and Priscilla. I wrote my report on them in rhyme and the teacher was so impressed she wanted me to take it all over the school and read it in each classroom. I was too timid so she gave it to a little boy to take around to the other rooms. I don’t know whatever became of it, would sure like to have it now, as I’ve always been more or less inclined to write poetry.
Brother John had joined the Army at Fort Benning Georgia at age 16, from the Children’s Home. Also, from the home, brother Bill had been sent to the Columbus Ohio Institute for the Retarded. He was definitely not retarded, a slow learner yes, he was. When he was about ten years old he and some friends were playing on the upstairs rafters of an unfinished house grampa and Uncle Frank were building. He was tagged “it” and was knocked over the edge of the rafter and fell to the ground. He hit his head on a cement block down below and had to have surgery. A silver plate was inserted in his head. He grew physically to adulthood but remained mentally a 10 or 12 year old. But if he had been able to receive the proper teaching and help at that time, which is availably nowadays for injured people like him, he could have made his mark in the world, as he has a phenomenal memory. He possibly could have even been employed in a profitable way and even have been married and have his own family.
After John and Billie were gone from the Children’s Home, Grandma had to place us three girls under the auspices of the Catholic Charities organization. Grandma, Aunt Eva and Aunt Gen took us to the Good Shepherd Convent in Cleveland, at the urging of the caseworker from Catholic Charities. All this was going on around us girls but we never knew anything about it, neither then nor later. Grandma told us one morning that she was taking us on a picnic. (This was January 28, mid-winter and bitter cold.) We were put in the convent two weeks after my 14th birthday. At Easter, Grandma took Helen Rita back home again, she couldn’t bear it at home without little sister, as Grandma had called her since she was born. Ruth and I stayed at the Convent until I graduated from a two year commercial high school, at St. Bridget’s. Ruth was going to Cathedral Latin, where she spent a year. Then, she went to live with Aunt Gen and Uncle Lloyd, where she finished high school at St. Mary’s. She went into nurses’ training after graduation, at St. Thomas Hospital. After completing 1 ½ years of nurses’ training, Ruth joined the Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisterhood in Monroe, Michigan, on February 4, 1935.
After I graduated from St. Bridget’s two year Commercial Course, I went to work at St. Vincent Charity Hospital, as switchboard operator. I worked there until I was married at age 21, in 1932. Part of the time I was working at Charity Hospital, I lived with my mother where she was employed by Mr. Edwin Horst, as housekeeper for his 12 children. His wife had died of T.B. when his youngest was an infant. A sister-in-law was looking after his youngsters for awhile, until she too contracted T.B. Then Mr. Horst hired Mom to mother his little ones. One evening there was a phone call transferred from the hospital to me there at Horst’s. It was from my Uncle Pete, my father’s brother, to tell me my father had died and his body was on the train in Cleveland, if me and my mother want to come there and see him. My mother curtly told him she hadn’t seen her husband alive in 15 years, so why would she want to see him dead now. That was the last I knew of my father, as Mom never talked about him.
Mom got sick while working at Horst’s and had to be hospitalized. While she was laid up, Mr. Horst hired another housekeeper so Mom was out of a job. She found a 2 room apartment on W. 14th St., next door to Grace Hospital. We lived there, Mom and me, about two years, then we took a 3 room apartment further up the street, on Kenilworth Ave. John was being discharged from the Army, with ulcers, and Mom wanted him to stay with us. I was making only $60.00 a month and paying $9.00 a week rent on the 3 room apartment, so there was barely enough left to feed us. John couldn’t work, as he was ill. So we moved again, into another 2 room apartment and Mom went to work as the landlord’s cook. He kept a men’s boarding house and she cooked their breakfasts and suppers and packed lunches for them all, besides doing the housework. For this, we were allowed to live rent-free in his 2 room apartment next door. Then Mom was called back to work for a woman she’d been housekeeper for, for years. She was dying and wanted Mom to stay with her until the end, which Mom did. She then stayed on in Akron at various homes, as practical nurse and housekeeper.