The Life of Anthony F. Tesar
As Told to
David P. Molinari
While my parents were having children, my uncle was studying for the priesthood, and he eventually took over the parish in Cejkovice. Because of the religious teachings that prevailed when the Communists came in, he was arrested and put in jail for 20 years. Thatís my uncle. His sister was married to a man called Aloysius Ridka, they had one daughter. During the time my uncle was in jail, Annaís husband was in jail. They both spent time in jail. She lived in the belfry of the church with her daughter and sustained herself with food and other things that were given to her by neighbors.
Which country were they in?
The shop and the business were in Czechoslovakia and my uncle and the grandparents were all Czech. Theyíre the ones that had the brickyard and the cooperage business. Thatís where my father met my mother and they eventually persuaded her father and mother to give them permission to marry. In those days, tuberculosis was a very bad illness. Women who married very often didnít live very long, and they even died from having children, or the tuberculosis just took over and they died just from that. In motherís case, it was a case of dying because having three children was too much for her system and thatís why she didnít survive very long.
How old was she when she died?
I canít tell you that, I donít remember it, but according to the other tape, (Sr. Hilarineís tape) we were pretty young. The last child born was three months old when she died so just how old my mother was when she married, I donít know, but this is my real mother you know.
My father, Kaspar Tesar, was a cabinet maker and he had a shop and a home in a mountain area over Cejkovice. In his employ, he had seven apprentices who were studying to be cabinet makers. They lived in the shop and they slept there, made their meals there, took care of everything that was to be done in the gardens where they grew vegetables. There were also pigs, goats, chickens, ducks, geese, and what not around the farm that were kept in that area. It was their responsibility to take care of these animals and also to take care of the growing of the various foods that were grown in the garden. There were also fruit trees as well as a grape arbor.
We had a woman, Filomena, who was the housekeeper who took care of my mother after my father had married because after the marriage the tuberculosis seemed to be further aggravated by her having several children. Like Sr. Hilarine said, we were four years apart. In other words, I was born in 1907 and my sister was born four years after that, and then little Joseph was born and died within three months. So with the death of my mother, my dad was very much concerned about the family and about the business prospering. He also, in conjunction with the cabinet making business, opened up a small grocery store for the neighborhood so people wouldnít have to go down into town to buy supplies for their homes.
Where did they get the stuff to put in the grocery store?
They bought it from the wholesalers and some of the things that they sold were things that they grew. My dad had sold on consignment some cabinets and they werenít being paid for so he took a trip to Vienna to visit some of the furniture stores where he had shipped materials on consignment. He had difficulty in obtaining payment, but in the course of his visit he met my stepmother. Sister Hilarine had explained in one of her tapes that she and my father had been associated in a loving manner before he met my mother, Frances. When he was in Vienna, he met up with her when she was working at that time as a cook in a hotel. From her he learned that she had just lost her husband. He had died from an appendectomy operation. They talked about their problems and he told her, look, Iíve got two children and I am a widower and youĎve got two children and you are a widow. However there are 15 years between us, but the situation for a woman to get married when she has a couple of children is not so very good. However, I like you very much because you and I were associated for a period of time before you were married, so, what do you think if the two of us got married and made a home for these four children? She took some time to think it over with her family. Then eventually she thought that the only solution for her was to marry my father even though she was 15 years younger than he. So between them they decided that the best thing was to be married and have a home for the four children.
Do you remember how old your father was at that time?
I donít know how old he was. Anyway, they were married in Vienna and Sr. Hilarine in her tape explains how Matilda left Vienna and came to live in my fatherís home in Cejkovice. I still remember the day that she arrived with the two children and she had a little dog with her and I also remember that she was dressed in the style that was prevalent in those days with the long skirts hanging way down to the floor, the large hats with feathers in them, and all, and she had this little dog in her arms. The little dog saw our cat and the minute he saw the cat he jumped and raced after the cat and the cat ran out from the outside of the house through the door, out through the back of the house. We never saw that cat again for an entire year until one day, the dog died and the cat showed up. So I remember that particular incident about the cat disappearing for that length of time. Not that it means anything very much but it kind of always struck me how peculiar it was that the cat disappeared and we never saw hide nor hair of her for well over a year.
Well, anyhow, to bring this situation to the point where my mother, my stepmother, that is, Matilda, was very unhappy that she had herself in a marriage when my fatherís business was not prospering at all. In fact, he was in debt and the people who owed him refused or were unable to pay. And of course, he had seven apprentices who also were dependent upon him plus our housekeeper. So there was a lot of discussion between the families what to do. Well, my father said, ďIíll tell you what, I have a brother in New York, my brother Gabriel, who has seven children and he seems to be doing pretty well. What if I went to New York and located myself, either working for somebody or a business, or start a business and then send for you and the children?Ē Well, my mother had a quick answer for that. She felt that many men had done this, that she was aware of, and they went off to the United States and that was the last some of their wives heard from them, or they never even remembered to let them know where they were or what they were doing. So my mother said to my father, look, Iím willing to go to America with you and the children but not just you because I donít want to be separated. I donít want to be left here with four children while you are in America and you will forget all about us. Well, my father thought that that was absolutely the correct thing to do. At that time we had a problem with the money that he owed and the situation was so bad that he was subject to arrest and whatever belongings they had would be seized. So on the QT they got together some of the belongings that they wanted to take with them to America. He borrowed money and he also made a list of the money that he owed various people and he gave that to the parish priest to keep a record of and he would start paying that off as soon as he was able to. And also he would repay all the other debts that he had eventually. In order to get out of town as one might say they had to do it on the QT. (Sr. Hilarine describes the event in her tape. They had to sneak away in the middle of the night, hiding under piles of hay in a horse-drawn cart. They escaped the grasp of the police who arrived the very next morning to arrest Kaspar).
So they spent one night in town putting their belongings together and they got ready for the trip to Hamburg where they were going to go on the ship to America. The ships was very late and they had to stay in a small hotel dockside, not dockside, but near the wharf because in Hamburg the ships didnít come into the dock, they stayed out in the harbor and you had to go down to smaller boats and they would then take you to the ship. So anyway, what happened when we were waiting for the ship on the particular day that ship was due to arrive, unknowing to us of course, my sister and I took a walk in a park and while we took a walk in the park, we got lost and we didnít know our way back to the hotel. In the meantime, the ship had arrived and because it was so late in arriving, they were bringing the passengers on board very rapidly. And in the meantime, the police started hunting for us to find out where we were. They already had my father and mother and the other two children on board the ship and our belongings also but still no children. But eventually we got picked up by the police and taken down to the wharf and put on a small police boat and taken onto the ship.
How old were you then?
I was seven years old then.
And you remember going on the police boat?
Oh yeah, yeah. Well, some of this is conversation that we picked up. I do know that I was seven and I know very well that they talked about how the police found us and put us on that police boat and took us out to the ship because they were very impatient in getting started because of the loss of time in getting to pick up all the passengers and everything else that had to be shipped with the people who were going to the United States.
Did you know anything about America at all?
Well, we didnít know anything about America except the correspondence that my father had with his brother, Gabriel, who lived in Brooklyn, and he was a carpenter. His wifeís name was Catherine. My sister Hilarine said in the other tape the he seemed to be doing pretty well, and my father felt that this was his only solution to escape being guilty of not paying his debts and awaiting seizure and possibly even prison.
We eventually got on the ship and it took off the next day. The trip to America was a very rough one. We had to go north to avoid terrible storms that were between Europe and the United States, I think I mentioned we were in Hamburg. We were all seasick except my mother. She was the only one that could go to the dining room and eat all she wanted and never get ill. We would sit down and start eating and very soon we were on the side of the ship throwing up. We had, I guess you would call a cabin, with six bunks in it just above steerage. Steerage was the area in the ship where there were a lot of people that just lived on cots in the lowest part of the ship and we were one story above that. In our so-called cabin, we had no facilities there. We had to go to a public bathroom and of course eat our meals at the tables. There was also an opportunity to stand outside of our balcony where our cabin was and watch the other people down in the lower area enjoying themselves dancing, singing, playing different instruments. So that was our entertainment. We used to watch them.
Were they from all over Europe?
Well, they came from various parts. Hamburg was the port of exit, see. I canít exactly remember the name of the ship. I thought it was the Kaiser Wilhelm but Iím not sure of that. I think the citizenship papers should show what ship it was.
We arrived in Ellis Island after a very
terrible fourteen days. There we were met by my fatherís brother, Gabriel,
who had to sign certain papers before they would admit my father and his
family into the United States. I donít remember too much about what took
place except from hearsay that it was a tedious performance that you had
to go through by the time everybody got registered, all the information
was supplied, and they wanted to make sure there were no criminals
escaping and like that.
you remember being on Ellis Island at all?
I don't remember. At that time, I didn't know Ellis Island from a hole in the wall. All I know was that we were taken off the ship into enclosures where there were a lot of people lined up awaiting processing. And of course, like I told you, I was seven years old at that time and I think was sometime in the summer of 1914. (Editor's Note: According to Ellis Island records, they arrived on May 2, 1914)
For a while, we lived with my uncle who had seven children. But of course, seven plus six more so we couldn't possibly live together. So we were farmed out to two other uncles for a short while, while my father got some furniture together and go an apartment in Brooklyn. It was a wooden house and there we lived for a few months until he learned that there was a Czech parish in New York City on East 61st Street. The parish name was Our Lady of Perpetual Help. The parish had a rectory staffed by Redemptress Fathers and it was a Czech parish with some Irish and some Italian people and Slovak people mixed in. In 1907, they had built a beautiful school on 62nd Street. It was a large modern school much better than the public schools in that area. Teh public schools were all very old and pretty much dilapidated, so this was a very good school, and it was very excellent for the people in that neighborhood, especially of our nationality. The sisters that taught there were sisters of Notre Dame and the were able to, in a very short time, teach us how to speak and get around the language barrier, and eventually catch up on the English language to the point that soon we were teaching our parents to speak.
My father, especially, went to night school because in order to find a job, he had to be able to speak English. Now a lot of the cabinet-making shops in New York were German-speaking, fortunately. And in Otman, when we lived in Austria in the part that we lived in Austria and Czechoslovakia, it was compulsory for you while in school to learn German as well as Czech, or German and Slovak. There were some Hungarian areas too and the Hungarians had to learn to speak German and even some Poles. So my father, with the knowledge of German plus his knowledge of Bohemian, and then going to night school, he was pretty soon able to orient himself well enough going to different shops. There were a lot of small shops that were operated by German people and some Italian people. He was able to eke out a living for the six of us.
We had moved from Brooklyn into a tenement on 61st street right opposite the church. We first moved into a three-room tenement which was a cold-water flat which had no electricity and had no bathrooms. There were twenty so-called apartments in this cold water flat and there were four families on each floor. The front family, the front apartments had two bedrooms, a living room, and a kitchen, but we had been in a three room apartment with only one bedroom, a kitchen, and a living room. And so the first opportunity we had, we moved into the fron apartment where a man by the name of Horton died. S, my brother and I had one bedroom, and my father and mother had one, and the two girls slept on day beds as you might call them in the living room.
Would you have any idea how much the rent was then?
Yeah, and strangely, since the facilities were so meager, it was a cold water flat, there was no hot water, there was no bathroom. Out in the hall there were two toilets and each toilet was just a cast-iron toilet built in. That was used by two families and the one next to it was used by two families. So all you had was a... I don't know if you've ever seen these old-fashioned toilets that they used to have a pull chain for flushing? That's all you had.
Inside of the house, you had gas. There was no electricity and there was no other facility for bathing. There were two tubs in the kitchen where my mother did the wash and also washed us children. But later on she got a large, metal tub which could fit under one of the beds. She would get that out during the week once in a while on the gas stove or on the cook stove where she heated water and we took our baths one after the other. There was a meter in the kitchen where when you wanted to use the gas, you had to put a quarter in the meter and then the meter would go on and supply you gas until such time ran out, so we always had to have a few quarters ready to stick in the meter so the gas would continue because you cooked on gas or in a coal stove and you also had gas for lighting. No electricity at that time. Eventually, we discovered on 54th Street and 1st Avenue that the city had built a public bath where you could go and get showers for free. All you had to do was pay two cents and they gave you a piece of soap and a small towel and you took a shower and they even had a swimming pool down below, but it was not a heated pool so when you went down there to have a little swim you didn't have any bathing suits. You just went in there. There were certain days for women and girls and other days were for boys and then that's where we started to go to get ourselves a real bath.
Now you asked me what were the rents. Well, when we first moved into the three rooms in the back of the house, the rent was $5.00 a month. And a woman by the name of Satzer, I don't know exactly how to spell her name, something like S-a-t-z-e-r used to come around once a month to collect the rents. I don't know whether it was her daughter or granddaughter that accompanied her and so we paid $5.00 for the three rooms and later on it was raised to $6.00. And then when Mr. Horton died, we moved to the front of the house, and fortunately, we only had to pay $7.00 so we got one more extra room and we paid $7.00 a month. Now how long we continued with those prices, I'm not too sure, but anyway we continued there for a good number of years until my father was able to acquire enough money to buy a house in Astoria, Long Island.
The house (in Astoria) was just recently built. It was a brick home, three stories, and it had apartments of four rooms in the front, four rooms in the back, on each of the three stories, and a three car garage in the back. My father bought that. There were two houses just like it and it was a brick home and our family moved into the ground floor apartment right over the basement.
I remember you telling a story about how you used to look for coal and I remember a story about how you first got electricity.
I can tell you about that. You want me to inject that in there? In order to give you a more complete story, I'm going to answer this to you. We had a coal stove which was the cheapest way of heating and cooking and so my father made me a wagon and I used to go down... we were on East 61st Street between 1st and 2nd Avenue. We went east on 61st Street and you had to cross 1st Avenue and there were the docks. On the docks there were ships unloading coal. When they unloaded the coal onto the trucks which at that time were pulled by horses, and as they went and rumbled over the street, some of the coal fell off and I used to follow, not only I, but other kids like myself used to follow the trucks, pick up the coal, put it into our wagons and bring it home. Now we also used to buy coal sometimes from the coal man who use to deliver it in bags but it was more expensive to buy than for me to go with the wagon and pick it up following the trucks and bringing it home anytime when they were loading. I would go down there and load myself up. I would make several trips and we had a bin down in the basement where we kept our coal. We also kept wood there, and with the wagon I also used to go the other direction on 61st Street up 2nd Avenue and over towards Central Park. Over in that direction they were building a subway and there were a lot of logs there and I would bring those logs home and my dad and I would go down in the cellar cutting the logs up for firewood for the coal stove. Our only means of heating the house was in the kitchen. The living room had no heat and the bedrooms had no heat but it was open and so the heat kind of spread out and we kept ourselves very warm. This way continued until I don't know exactly what year it was.
The electric lighting company came down 61st Street, dug trenches and started putting in electric cables. They brought the junction of the cables into each apartment house and in the basement of the apartment they had 20 outlets that people could hook up to. But in order to hook up to them you had to get an outside electrician to hook it up and to run the wires up through an old dumbwaiter shaft up to your floor. Then, on your floor, he had run the wires into the kitchen, and from the kitchen into the bedrooms and into the living room and believe it or not, all they charged for that as I remember as being told, $25.00. So for $25.00 we got a hookup for the electricity and there was a light fixture in the living room, a light fixture in the kitchen and there were small light fixtures in the bedrooms. So this is how we lived for many years until my father got together his own money or borrowed money and was able to buy this apartment house which was the six-family house as I told you which we paid $27,000 for. We didn't pay all that, he took out a mortgage. Eventually, of course, he paid that mortgage off.
That was a lot of money back then.
It was a lot of money. The rents were pretty good at first. It was a new area, Astoria, Long Island. There were a lot of private homes, one family, two family homes and there were some apartments and there were some elevator houses. And there we lived in Precious Blood Parish.
Where was Grandma at this time? Was she still in Manhattan or in Astoria?
No she wasnít in Astoria. We moved to Astoria in 1927 so she already had been in the convent for quite a few years.
No, not Sr. Hilarine, Grandma...Marie.
Oh, Marie was not on the scene yet.
Let me backtrack again. In 1914, when we looked for a place to live, we found this tenement, several tenements in a row, and we moved into 322. First we moved into 320, then we moved out of that into 322. It was right opposite the church. In 1914, the year that we moved to New York and Marie was born, my wife, she was born. By luck, we moved into the same tenement where her mother and father and five children were living. So I knew Marie from the time we moved into that tenement, you follow me? All the years that we lived so close to each other, right through the time until the time my father bought the house, Marie and I would pass each other in the hallway and she was just a little girl, then she was a little older girl, and I was growing up, too and there were seven years between us. So I was seven and she was just born. So what happened later was that after we moved to Astoria, I was already finished with high school. Letís see, was I finished with high school yet? Just a moment.
So you graduated from high school in 1927?
No, 1920. 1916, I graduated from Our Lady of Perpetual Help. And then I went to Manhattan College Prep, a new college in the upper part of Manhattan, for four years I went there. I was supposedly studying accounting, but in my third year of classes, they discontinued the accounting class and so I had to look for a school where I could get my accounting education because I wanted to be an accountant when I graduated. But I found out through my English teacher, Mr. Brennan, he told me I could go to a school called David Clinton High, a public school in New York City that was on 10th Avenue on the West side. I went there three nights a week studying accounting for two years. I went to Manhattan in the day time and David Clinton High in the night time and this is where I got my accounting education. I was 20 years old. I was still living in New York when I got my first job at the Liggett Drug Company. It wasnít until approximately seven years later that my father was well enough off that we were able to buy the house in Astoria, Long Island. I, in the meantime, had spent seven years with Liggett Drug during which time they had gone into bankruptcy once and so I lost my job after about four years. But by luck, the judge assigned to the bankruptcy case needed several men to handle the bankruptcy proceedings in his office downtown on Pine Street. Fortunately, my boss selected me and some other female clerks to work down in the judges office and work on the claims. So, instead of losing my job and being completely out of work, I had this job at the office of Judge Joyce (J-o-y-c-e). It was in a high rise building, I forget how many stories, about 40 or 50 stories or so, and I worked there well over a year until the bankruptcy situation was resolved and the bankruptcy was settled. Then I was taken back to the company to work again. However, within a short time after I was taken back in the company, the company decided to discontinue the accounting department that I was working in and I then lost my job. However, three years later, the company realized they had made a mistake by discontinuing this department and I was again rehired. So altogether, I worked for Liggett Drug Company for seven years and actually it was 8 years with the one year I spent at the courthouse.
What did you do for those three years?
That one year I didnít do anything, I had no job. Things were very bad in New York . I had a place in Rockland Lake, New York where I had a small cottage that I rented and I had picked up a little money here and there and I spent some time with a friend of mine up there.
But I skipped something that I should tell about. While I was going to high school I was spending four summers running a boys camp for our parish up in Rockland Lake on the banks of the Hudson River. There was a lake on either side of town and the Hudson River, north and south, was on the other side of Rockland Lake. After four years, I was hired in the summer time to run the boys camp that our parish supported to get poor children a chance for a summer vacation. All they had to do was bring $2.00, a pillowcase, and a bedsheet. For that job, I got $25.00 a week and I was in charge of the boys camp. I had a cook who was paid $25.00 and I also had some boys who were studying for the priesthood who came up to camp to help us out because sometimes we had up to 50 or 60 boys in camp. So here I am, practically still a teenager and I worked there for four summers. I didnít have the camp the first year but the next year, they saw that I would be qualified to run the boys camp. I did so very well and continued for four years that I remained at my school. I still worked there one more time after graduation before I got the job at Liggett Drug.
During the time that I was working at the camp, we shut it down at the end of August. I used to go with some other men in town on the Rio Creo (?) Farm picking apples. That paid fifty cents an hour so I was making myself some money besides the $25.00 at camp until the tail end of August, and then in September I had to go back to school. That always helped because Manhattan College Prep wasnít cheap. It was a new school that had moved from 125th Street and Broadway into a nice, beautiful college up there in the northern part of New York City. When I transferred from the old school to the new school, there were three classes for each grade, the Freshman class had Freshman A, Freshman B, Freshman C. There were also two or three classes for each grade, depending on the number of boys. It was an all boys school. When I graduated from there, I worked my last year at the camp and the camp had to shut down anyway after that year. That was the last year they had it because it was difficult to raise money for the kids. There was also a girls camp connected with it which was uptown. I also used to supervise the swimming for the girls down at the beach on the Hudson because the two girls that they had in charge of the girls camp, neither of them could swim. Father Gilhooly(sp?), who was head of the camp, he hires two women to take care of girls in a camp when they donít know how to swim! So I had to take my boys from my camp for a swim in the morning and we stayed for the girls to swim again in the afternoon and then the boys would swim. So I actually, in the swimming area, performed two jobs. I also was responsible for getting all the supplies which we kept at the girls camp and we used to use my boys to go up there and bring the milk down, bread, corn flakes and all kinds of supplies, bags of rice and beans and potatoes and what not. It was a one mile hike from the girls camp to the boys camp to get these supplies because there was no road. So I utilized all the boys to help with the supplies to bring them from the girls camp to the boys camp. We got fresh milk everyday that way because there were large 40 gallon cans they used to have to get there first thing in the morning and bring those down. Weíd get the boys up at 6:00 in the morning. Anyhow, that was my school period and how I spent my vacations in high school.. I was very fortunate that I went to David Clinton High because some of the teachers I had in accounting and business law were actually teachers that had written some of the text books that we were using. I still remember Mr. Filtus(sp?) and Mr. Miller. They were very good teachers. It was a public high school and it was an evening school so I was very happy that I did very well. I got my accounting credentials at that school and my other high school diploma from Manhattan.
This was when you were still living on 61st Street?
This was still while I was living on 61st Street, yes. When I got my job, I was still living at 61st Street and still living in the same house. I donít know if we were next to Marieís mothers apartment or not, or one floor above. My mother and her mother were very friendly. It was all mostly Czech people living in that house, there were some Irish and I think an Italian family there, too.
Did you speak English to each other then?
Of course I spoke English to them because I graduated from Our Lady of Perpetual Help.
Did you speak to your neighbors in Czech?
Well hereís how it was. The children who went to school talked English because thatís what they were taught in class. And then the parents were learning from the children, and so my parents at home would speak in Czech among themselves and even to us. We would respond in English and try to get them to, but my father was going to school and he was learning English there, and especially was learning arithmetic and things like that also. If the parents wanted to speak something amongst themselves that they didnít want us to hear, they would speak in German because if you remember I told you, in Austria, it was compulsory to learn German in school as well as the language of whatever province you lived in, either Czech, Slovak, Hungarian or whatever. So anyhow, we lived so close to each other that eventually my father bought this house and we were separated from Marieís family because they remained in that tenement for a while until they moved to another house on 65th street which was a much better flat where they had better facilities. They even had a bathroom, believe it or not. The bathroom was right off the kitchen. What did you do with your free time, did you have friends that you used to do things with?
Which stage of life? When I had the boys camp, I spent the summers in camp.
But when you were back in New York ?
Sure, we had friends in school. I was in the Boy Scouts and the parish also had other societies, religious groups, and others were like athletic programs for men and women. They had this program where they wore blue uniforms. This was a Czech program and they had anything with girls from six years of age and into their twenties. And same with the men. They used to work on all the different equipment used in the gym in school. The monkey bars and everything else. The school had a very good area for activities. There was a stage where you could watch a play. They could clear away the seats and have dancing and we had a priest that was very excellent who taught the young fellas to be musicians. We had wonderful times. We had a close association with the parish. That's how we met each other. We continued that way right up to the time that we graduated from grammar school. When we graduated from grammar school, at that age, I was already 16 because first of all, when I was in Europe I was already in school so when I came to America, I had to start all over again in the first grade. My sister jumped a few classes but I had to start fresh, and then I lost a year when I injured my arm.
How old were you when that happened?
I was 12 years old and I was taken to the City Hospital on Welfare Island where I spent 13 months. Because the arm wasnít like this when they got finished with it. The arm got ruined this way by a number of factors. They fooled around trying to improve things but made things worse that eventually it got so bad I stopped going to the doctors and managed to take care of it myself. The more I used it, the better it became. I was able to do anything and everything with it as you know. I had no problem with it. But one time it swelled up and I went to the Veterans Hospital on Central Park West. These three doctors decided that the swelling was due to an infection. I told them it wasnít an infection because it has swelled up before and I just put ice packs on it and then it came back down. But then lo and behold, for some reason, they decided to operate. You can still see the scars where the operated, here, here, and there and the next thing the hand started to get real bad. But I was still able to, right up to about seven years, well even now, I can still handle things. But it was no longer good like it was for those long years where I didnít let the doctors fool around with things and just took care of it ourselves. Even after I got married when I had problems and it swelled up, I just put ice packs on it and everything was just fine. Well anyhow, Iíve had to skip things because there is entirely too much.
Letís talk about the Astoria place once again.
Eventually, my dad was able to accumulate enough cash to be able to put a down payment on a very nice, new, six-family brick home in Astoria, Long Island. It had six apartments and three garages in the back. We moved out of the 61st Street tenement into the new apartment house and we took the ground floor, rear rooms for ourselves. The five of us were able to manage very nicely. For the very first time in our lives, we had a very nice bathroom facility, electricity, steam heat, and all the other facilities that go with a modern apartment. The street was very nice with trees with one-family, two-family, some four-family and sixteen-family homes. Some elevator apartments were also on the adjacent street so it was a nice neighborhood, a nice parish, it was the Precious Blood parish. They didnít have a church at that time but they had a rectory and were building a new church, so we were in a very nice neighborhood at this time. The address of the Astoria house was 3112 36th Street. The adjacent homes to our home were also six-family homes and everything went along very well. However, when the depression got worse, almost every apartment house on 36th street and the adjacent areas had signs up, "apartments for rent." The apartment house that we had, my father first purchased it, the rent was $75 a month for the front apartments and $55.00 a month for the rear apartments. With the depression the way it was, the price of apartments fell way down so that the rear apartments finally dropped in price to $36.00 a month and the front apartments were about $55.00 a month from a former price of $75-85.00 a month. The house was a very nice house with marble stairways, wrought-iron railings and it was very easy to keep clean. My mother did most of the cleaning in the hallways but my father and I did a lot of work in the apartments. Because of the depression, people would move in and out, sometimes only staying for a few months as soon as they found another apartment that was cheaper someplace. We didnít sign anybody up on leases because people in those days would break the lease and move out so we were constantly refinishing apartments for a new tenant. It was a pretty rough situation. My dad was able to find work in the area. One of the jobs that he had was for a Rabbi who was establishing a home on the adjacent block and also a Temple for his parish. My father spent a lot of time preparing the former church into an appropriate Temple and refurbishing the home that the Rabbi purchased to a livable home for his family and reading rooms for the people of his parish.
Do you remember what happened when the depression started?
Iím not exactly sure when the depression started. I think it really started in '27 or '28 and kept on. In '27, the apartment house that my father bought was considered to be a good quality home for many of the people and they were willing to pay the price that we charged. However, as soon as the depression hit, the situation changed and the man that my father bought the house from was very fortunate that he unloaded it onto my father and my fatherís friend who bought the adjacent house. Things didnít go very well and my dad worked at all kinds of jobs and my mother eventually also took a job. She regretted losing the job that she had when we were still living in New York where she was working for the Guarantee Trust Company cleaning offices. She regretted that she had given that job up in order to come to Astoria. And here it was not possible for her to travel from Astoria to the Guarantee Trust Company on Madison Avenue in New York to do the cleaning that she used to do. So she said, "Iíll never again quit a job unless I have another job available," because it does require at least two jobs to keep up the payments that are necessary on this apartment house that we bought.
Eventually, I got my job at the Liggett Drug Company from a man that worked there as a supervisor and he lived just down the street from where our apartment house was. He told me that they reinstated the department and are hiring back some of the people they had to lay off when they changed the procedures. So again, there I was back on my job. However, instead of getting the starting salary that I expected which would have been the last salary when I left there almost a year ago, but the very next week, they cut the salaries 10%. So there I was starting my previous job for 10% less than I was getting before that. There wasnít anything for me to do but continue on, so the next couple of years I continued to work for Liggett Drug. In the meantime, Marieís brother-in-law who was a Price-Waterhouse accountant working down in Florida completed his assignment down there when the company he had worked for went bankrupt. Not Price-Waterhouse, but the company that Price-Waterhouse was managing. He came back to New York . He was married at that time to Marieís oldest sister, Harriet and they had two girls, Helen and Evelyn. Because of family connections, I got to talking to Pete and he listened to my problems that I had with the Liggett Drug Company as far as will they be able to continue giving me steady employment or will something else happen again. In the meantime, Marieís parents had also moved out of 61st Street into a house on 65th street between 1st and 2nd avenue. At that time, all the girls in the family were already married and only she, the youngest, was still single and her brother Frank who was older, he was still single and living at home at that time. After leaving New York and moving to Astoria, we sort of lost contact with the Svoboda family, Marieís family name. It stands for Liberty, thatís the English translation.
It happened that after a lengthy separation of the families, my mother was up at the cottage in Rockland Lake with me and she had invited Marieís mother to come and visit. She wasnít anticipating that she would bring Marie along, however she did fortunately. At this particular stage Marie and I suddenly became aware of each other because over the years we lived at 61st Street, we seldom spoke to each other, only in passing back and forth in and out of the tenement.. Up at Rockland Lake that evening, it seemed like a miracle happened and that evening we started talking to each other about what we had been doing and we talked late into the evening. In fact, the conversation took place outside of Marieís window in the cottage. She was already in bed and there was a screen in the window so I was outside talking with her while she was in her bed. We talked for hours and believe me it was sort of a revelation for the both of us, I guess, that we seemed to be very compatible and we thought about things very much alike. By the time the weekend was over and it was time for Marie to return to New York , I also had to return to my job and I was planning to return to my job on Monday morning but she said she had to go back on Sunday evening. I said, well OK, as long as you are going this evening, I will also go back with you. I donít like you to be traveling by bus to New York by yourself so if you donít mind, Iíll go along. She said, ďOh wonderful. Iíll be happy to be together and we can talk some more." Well, after a wonderful weekend, taking her home was another revelation to me how much she meant to me in such a short time. I brought her home and I believe her father and Frank were home and they were surprised to see me and Marie show up. This was in the 65th Street house. Subsequent to this association which started with us at Rockland Lake, we started to date. It was really wonderful. I was amazed at how much she cared and she herself was so wonderful that I thought myself extremely lucky to have met up with her after so many years. From 1914 to the present time, we had little or no contact of a nature as a friendship or even thought of having a friendship with each other. There was a seven year difference between our ages which didnít seem to bother us.
She didnít have a telephone did she?
No, because of her lack of a telephone in her home, I was dependent upon making phone calls to neighbors who called her to their phone. That was how we made our dates and appointments. She introduced me to some of her friends and I of course introduced her to some of my friends that I worked with. We seemed to be well on our way towards an engagement. Plus my step-brother, who was at that time, keeping company with a girl by the name of Florence had planned to get married in the fall. At that time, the conversation between us was that maybe we ought to make it a double wedding. I wasnít quite ready for that so I talked to Marie and told her this, "We both realize that we are in love with each other and we realize that the love that we have must be an everlasting love. Now you know that I have this handicap and Iím a little bit concerned that eventually the love thatís between us will diminish somewhat because I have this handicap. I donít know why I have this inferiority complex about it." But she reassured me, "Look, I donít even consider you as being handicapped. You do everything that other people and even more so and I donít want to give the so-called handicap any consideration in our relationship. As far as Iím concerned I would be very happy if we made it a double wedding."
I, at this point, wanted to put off the wedding by one year. She was rather surprised, but I said, "Marie, I know what the conversation is amongst the family, that they are concerned about you and I being married because of the handicap primarily. So I think to satisfy myself and also to reassure you that I havenít changed in my love and I know youíve said you havenít changed in yours, canít we put it off for one more year?" And finally it was agreed that we would, so the wedding was postponed to the following year. On October 12, Columbus Day the following year we were married. It was a very nice wedding at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church and she had her family and I had my family. I had some friends of mine from the office and she had some of her friends there and we had a nice reception in a restaurant not far from the church and home.
I had a friend by the name of Jim Frasier who worked for the same company that I was now working for. I failed to advise you that in the interim between me working for Liggett Drug Company and the job that Pete offered me, there was a lapse of several years and I think I did not recite this the same way on the first tape. After I told Pete about the job that I had, he told me about a job that was coming up at the company that he worked for as controller of International Printing, which later on changed its name several times as they acquired other companies. He told me that there was a woman in charge of a department who had told them by the end of the year she would be leaving which gave them 5 or 6 months notice. So he spoke to me about the job and I had an interview with him and the office manager and the assistant treasurer, Claude Brown, Julian Strauss, and Pete Logel. The interview was in a restaurant near where IPI was at 75 Barrack Street which is near the Holland Tunnel. So we spent a couple hours over lunch describing the job and they questioned me about what kind of work I had done, what kind of education I had, and what kind of future I was looking forward to. Anyway, it all turned out very well because a couple of days later, Pete told me they were very impressed with me and that the job was mine if I wanted it. Naturally, I wanted it because I was concerned that the Liggett Drug Company may not continue to flourish as it had previously. There could be various changes and there maybe could be another bankruptcy which also developed years later and the company really folded up eventually. When I took the job, I worked for this woman, Paula Wachtel, and I was learning the intricacies of the job and waiting for the year-end when she would resign. However, before the year-end came, she had told the management people that she had changed her mind and that she wanted to continue working for the company. So here I was promised a job that would pay me more than I was making at the Liggett Drug Company and instead of that, they told me that Iíll have to accept an assistant job in the department. So instead of making more money, my salary was lower by $15.00 a week. But I was reassured by Pete that eventually my salary increases would overcome the salary I was making at Liggett Drug. But it took a couple of years before I was making what I made at Liggett. Eventually, it was evident that the woman was not going to quit even after there was some possible conversation that they move her around to another department and give me the job, but that never happened. Instead of that, I was moved around to different departments and I started getting good training of different sorts in various functions and I enjoyed the changes because I didnít want to continue working in a department where I wouldnít have a future.
Now to go back to Jim Frasier. Jim Frasier was a former associate of Peteís down in Florida. When the job down in Florida folded up and Pete went North and joined International Printing as Controller, he also brought with him some of the Price-Waterhouse men who had been working with him while they were down in Florida. One of them was Jim Frasier. We became very good friends. Jim was not married, his wife had divorced him, but he was a very good friend of mine. So after the wedding, Jim offered to drive us down to Luray, Virginia where we had reservations to spend our honeymoon. After the reception was over, we changed into travel clothes and we started out that evening with Jim driving us. He was taking some of his vacation because his family lived down that way so he wasnít going out of his way by taking us down to Luray, Virginia. The first night we spent at a very small hotel, in fact they didnít have accommodations for Jim. He had to sleep outside on a porch or patio while Marie and I had the only room available left that evening. We had kept driving into the night until it was almost midnight before he stopped to find a place for us to stay. So our honeymoon night was spent in a small room over a furnace, and here we were on our honeymoon and I was a little bit annoyed that we had not stopped sooner and stopped at some hotel or modern motel where the situation for a honeymoon evening would be more compatible. But it was wonderful and the next day we continued our journey down into Virginia.
The place we stayed at was a Monteset(?) homestead and the area was a farm that the family had turned into a home for travelers and they gave us a very large room and we stayed there for two weeks while Jim continued to Roanoke to be with his parents. They were very nice people at the Homestead, and in fact, on Sunday during the rainstorm, even though they werenít Catholic, they offered to take us to church which they did. And we told them because of this large rainstorm it wasnít really necessary that they do this. But they said they wanted us to attend church and we donít mind doing this at all. I'm telling you that there were ten other workmen living at the Homestead who had been working across the road at a belltower. This area was full of caverns and they were also building a belltower and the men who were building it were living at the Homestead during the time we were there on our honeymoon. Every evening it was like Thanksgiving with the kind of meals they were serving and big breakfasts. They had a black lady who did the cooking and she was a marvelous cook and the food was absolutely delightful because most of it came from the farm that they had. They were a very nice family and we enjoyed our visit there extremely well. We were able to hike up into the mountains during the day time and we were able to visit the village and see what rural life was like down in Virginia where there was so much oppression of the blacks. It was amazing if that we walked down the sidewalk to go to the town and a black person was approaching us, they would step off the sidewalk into the street to let us pass. We were amazed but that was a rule down there. You had to give way to a white person when they were approaching each other. And we were very surprised about some of the things we heard up North about how blacks were treated. It was also the same situation down there. We could see at every place you went if you stopped at a coffee shop or something, you were not allowed to sit among black people and black people were not allowed to sit near you. If you were approaching a group of people and they happened to be black, instead of us stepping aside, they would step way out of their way in order to let us pass and they bid us good morning and were very polite. I was amazed that blacks were treated this way and so was Marie. Amazed at the situation down there.
What year was this?
(Grandpa figures out that they were married 55 years and we both start "struggling" with the math and concluded that they were married in 1937, you probably knew that already anyway.)
My progress with IPI continued satisfactorily and I was changed from various positions. I started with the company at 75 Barrack Street and the offices remained there for five years. After five years, we moved to the Empire State Building for another five years. There I had different jobs until we moved to the Avenue of Americas and there again I worked different jobs and assignments. And then they moved the accounting department to Newark, New Jersey and I was put in charge of the accounting functions in Newark where they had just purchased a company called Murphy Paint Company. It was made up of various companies which made house paints and paints for the exterior of food and beverage cans and beer cans. There were other divisions that made various products and chemicals so my progress in the company kept going along but I found it difficult traveling from Newark to Astoria everyday. In the meantime, Marie and I had three children. The first was Barbara three years after we were married and then after that, three years later, came Michael and then in 1950, came Chris. So you see, they were spaced somewhat apart but they were all born while we were living in Astoria, Long Island. The apartment that we had was absolutely too small. It was time for us to think about building a home. Now Marie had a part time job, but my job, of course, was full time and I was beginning to make good money and we were able to start saving and we did end up saving a nice sum of money. Although we didnít have a car, we did have a cottage up in Rockland Lake and the two other cottages in the group were occupied by other members of Marieís family so that our children in the summer time spent summers at Rockland Lake with their cousins instead of being in the hot city. But I kept traveling from Rockland Lake to the city every Monday morning and then back again sometimes on a Friday evening and sometimes on a Saturday. I was spending very little time with my family and this of course was very disturbing. So eventually, I told the company that I love my job, I like the supervisory position that they had given me and I was satisfied with the money, however, I was not satisfied with the travel that had to continuously be made back and forth which involved various modes of transportation. We had no car, we were saving our money. I told them that my thought was that we would like to move to New Jersey so that we could be near the Newark and Elizabeth plants and that I could travel to and from work on the bus. We wouldnít even need to purchase a car. I could even travel to work by train if we lived in New Jersey. But before we could make a move, I have to get some assurance from you that Iím not going to be moved to another place because Iíve already moved to several places. This last place is fine with me but I donít like to travel, so I would like to either buy a home or buy a piece of property and build a home. Well, they gave that some thought and eventually Pete suggested to me that it sounded like a good idea and he would see what could be done. Apparently, they discussed it and they gave me a promise that the assignment that they had, not necessarily the same assignment I would have in the future, but I would not be moved out of the Newark area or out of the Elizabeth area and they gave me this guarantee. New Jersey
So once they gave me this guarantee or promise that they would move me away, we located a piece of property in Cranford, New Jersey, we hired a builder and an architect and they designed a very beautiful home for us on the banks of the Cranford River. It was a nicely built-up area called Balmiere Parkway, I think it was 50 Balmiere Parkway and it took about a year to build the home and in the meantime we had also purchased a car. So by the time it was time to put money down on building a home, we had acquired mostly through my efforts approximately $13,000 for which we bought the car (and home). We searched all over New Jersey someplace close to where the plants were and made arrangements to buy the property, build a house, and move our family to Cranford, New Jersey. It was a very nice area. There was a beautiful St. Michael's Church there and school. We could get to New York just by hopping on a bus for 50 cents to Times Square. It was very easy for me to get from Balmiere Parkway even to the New York office for various conferences I had to attend from time to time. We made very good friends in Cranford. I took over scouting, I took over various church functions and Marie did too. We used to go to meetings in the evenings for studying the Bible and things like that. The children were in Cub Scouts and I was Cub Scout leader of the pack with about 100 Cub Scouts. Life was very good. For the four or five years that we lived there, everything was wonderful and we had improved our home and the grounds to such a degree that we had one of the nicest homes in the area. The children were happy in school. Chris, of course, still wasn't in school but the other two were. We had no further thought about ever living any place else but Cranford because we liked it so much. There was a beautiful park near us. There was a river and it was a very nice area. There were some problems with flooding during the heavy rainfalls, but we felt we eventually would be able to have the town of Cranford correct that situation to a degree that we wouldn't be flooded out or the other people who lived on that Balmiere Parkway Circle.
I knew that our life was too good to be true the way everything went in Cranford. However, I was summoned to the New York office to a meeting. At the meeting it was proposed that I move to California. I was stricken and they outlined the situation. They said that they had offices and plants in Los Angeles and other areas. They had offices that required the attention of a person like myself who had knowledge and the training to be able to run the accounting and all the other functions in the Los Angeles office. They also could take care of the other branch offices up and down California and clear into Oregon and Washington. The outline of the job sounded very attractive, however I told them, look, I don't know anybody on the West coast. Our families are all on the East coast, my wife's family, my family. We don't want to give up our families. I don't see how you could do this to me after you promised that you would not move me anymore. Well, anyhow, they told me that they had tried several men in that job and it didn't work out. They needed somebody with my experience even though it may sound like they were breaking their word, which they were. They promised me that it would be for my betterment and my family's betterment to take the assignment. Well, I was very saddened by all this and I talked to Pete about it, too. And he said that he can't help me in this situation because they need somebody there and you gotta make up your mind just like I had to make up mind several years ago to go down to Florida. Eventually we came back from Florida again close to our relatives, so maybe something like that will happen if you take that job in Los Angeles. But I said that we have a beautiful place that we have spent three years fixing everything up, landscaping and all, and the children are acclimated to their schools and everything else there and friends and we are so close to our families. I just can't find myself doing this and neither does Marie. Well, we had several meetings about this in New York.
Eventually, they said let's do this. This was August of 1955. We'll make a reservation for you at Hotel Stadler which is not too far from the office and you can try the situation out for one year. Go to the office and meet everybody, look the situation over, see what has to be corrected, see what has to be done in order to improve the situation and then give us a report after a month. Since this wasn't a firm commitment by me, I accepted the assignment for the month of August and I made some friends at the office and I also came across some who were not too friendly because they thought I was sent there in order to make out a report which would show them up as being unsatisfactory persons to run the office there. Primarily I was involved not in the manufacturing end of the business but I was involved with the office end of the business, the personnel, the payrolls, the accounts receivable/payable, everything pertaining to office management and all. But I wrote out my report and went back to New York and gave it to them. I told them that my suggestion was to hire somebody that is already living in California and I would be very happy to go there and train him. They studied that suggestion but eventually they said to me that they wanted a person that already had the complete background. At that time the company was called InterChemical. You have an InterChemical background and this is what is necessary because we are going to be buying some companies in California. This will be for your benefit also because you will be in charge of larger offices and eventually you'll wind up someplace besides Los Angeles. You may wind up in one of the other nice cities like Anaheim where we are planning on buying a plant. I of course told all this to Marie but we still resisted very strongly. The subject came up to Marie and myself that if I don't take this offer, my future at the company would be not as good as it was now and we had to do some thinking about this. I don't want to do it and you don't want to do it and we don't want to lose our families. So I went back and forth between California and the New York office once a month and I gave them reports of how things were progressing and eventually it came to November. And in November, they finally talked to me again and they said we will send your wife out to California. She could look for a house and so we thought, all right, maybe when she's out there she'll like it. So she came to live with me in the Hotel Stadler for a couple weeks while we searched for a house. We eventually found a place but we made no commitment until I went back again to New York and she did, too. We listened to the offer that they gave us. They were going to buy the house in Cranford and they were going to help us with all of the moving expenses. They were going to help us move the family and help us to purchase the new house. The house that we looked at that we were interested in was four years old and it was the same price as the house that they were going to buy from us in Cranford, $20,000. This was in November and there seemed to be a little bit of a hitch in the arrangement because the man who was in charge of the Los Angeles office, Jim Barkdahl, who was very friendly with the man that I was going to displace who wasn't doing a satisfactory job and who they felt that I would be able to do the kind of a job the place deserves since they already tried a couple people and none of them were satisfactory. So we talked things over, Marie and I, and we talked to the families. Of course everybody was pretty sad because it sounded like an ultimatum and so the net result was that we said, "OK, we'll go." They said we'll make all the arrangements to move you and fly your family to California and you will go see our lawyer and he'll help you make all the arrangements to purchase that house and whatever else is necessary, what you have to learn about California, what the rules are regarding automobiles, schools, and things of that nature. I said I had one request. I don't want to fly my children to California. What I would like to do is take the children and my wife in the car and drive across the country so they can see what the United States looks like. I figured that it would take two weeks, so I would like two weeks to drive the family from the East coast to the West coast. They agreed to that and they also told me that this move is costing them a lot of money and you're living at the Stadler. I said that this wasn't anything of my choice. If you want to spend all this money on me and there's no assurance that I'll do the job that you want done, but you say that you feel confident that I will, and I feel confident that I can do it, but there are people in Los Angeles that are not too pleased on you sending me out there. They said don't worry about that, we'll straighten that out.
Well, it was finally settled that the company would allow me to drive my family across the country, and at the same time, they would stand all the expenses of hotel, food and everything else. And I thought this was a very nice way of showing our children what the country looks like, and we're going to take two weeks to do it in. And believe it or not, your mother must have consumed more pastries on that trip than I can imagine. Every time she had lunch, dinner, I think even for breakfast she would have pie. And the children of course enjoyed it, and they, when were going through the prairies, and we came across ranches that had cattle and cowboys on them, so-called cowboys, the kids were thrilled that they saw cowboys. Every evening we settled in a different motel, and we had a different variety of foods.
Is this when Chris lost his teddy bear or something like that?
I don't remember, possibly...
After 14 days, we finally arrived in Los Angeles, and then to our home in San Gabriel which at this time was still empty of any furniture. Because the furniture was arriving later, we settled in a hotel, settled there for a few days until the furniture arrived, and then we were able to furnish the house with the furniture. Some of it didn't arrive at the same time that most of the living room and bedroom areas and all came, so those came a little bit later because there was more than one truckload of possessions.
Well, anyway, fortunately, the people next-door had a little boy about the same age as Chris, and they became very fast friends right away. Chris was able to go to kindergarten and a bus would pick him up every day, and Barbara was already registered in high school, Michael was registered in St. Felicitas grammar school in San Marino, and Barbara was in the high school in the, uh, I don't think it was San Gabriel.. It was Mission High School
Yeah, Mission High School and so we settled down, and I took up my job in the office and somewhere along the line, they told me that the expenses pertaining to my stay, and Marie's stay in Los Angeles at the hotel, and all the trips back and forth east and west from August to December, all ran to over $17,000, and all the other expenses.
So I told them I said you can't count the trips I made back to New York as being made on my expense account. I went back to New York once a month at least, or every two weeks to give you reports. I said those were not personal expenses. So anyway, it cost over $17,000 and we know that you're going to do a good job. And gradually I selected certain people in the Los Angeles office who I felt could do certain jobs better than they were doing them before. I had a lot of talks with many of them. Gradually I won some people over to my side. But the most difficult problem that I had was the man who was the district manager. Actually, I wasn't supposed to be working for him because he was independent of my responsibilities, and he turned those responsibilities over to me. He at first was not too pleased with the change that happened because he had this other guy that was still working there, very friendly. However, we gradually got to know each other a little bit better, and he even took me to football games, and...
Well the Rams, of course.
When people came from the East coast, I was always present at all the meetings of all the top brass that came to check on what was going on, and sometimes they brought their wives with them. And gradually people in Los Angeles who were not responsible to me, but who were their own department, like the sales manager, I had nothing to do with the sale s manager. I helped him along with credit lines and other things like that, and other departments that I worked with gradually realized that I was only trying to help and Jim Barkdahl, the district manager, realized. He admitted it in writing to the East coast that he had made a mistake, when he expressed himself to the extent that I would not be able to assimilate myself among those people because there were too many people who were resentful of an Easterner coming in and taking over various departments where the people previously were more or less independent. But now they had to operate under my direction and to do the jobs that they had to do the way I wanted them done.
Do you remember how long you were in the San Gabriel house?
Well, let me try to think. We came to California in '55, and we lived in San Gabriel until I was moved to...until I retired I guess, until I retired. And, so, from '55, and I retired in, no, no, after I retired we continued to live in San Gabriel, and then, we met different friends, some of them from the company, like the Baruckers (sp?) and some of them like Jimmy Fogarty and his family who was living in Leisure World. So we looked around Leisure World and we decided that maybe that's the place we ought to be because Leisure World by that time had thousands of people and thousands of homes and the monthly payments were very reasonable. The monthly payments at Leisure World included one monthly payment which covered taxes, amortization of the mortgage, it covered all the outside repairs and painting to the house by Leisure World. It took care of all the trees and lawns and everything by Leisure World and anything inside of the house that needed replacement like if your refrigerator went on the blink you got a new one. You got a new stove, you got a new dishwasher, and we even eventually got new sinks for the bathrooms and the kitchen but we had to pay for the bathroom itself, the sinks themselves, but they installed them for free. They gave us free service on anything that needed repairs inside of the house.
Can I have you answer a few questions here? What was life like as a family in Los Angeles, once you moved there, what did you do?
Well, we didn't move to Los Angeles, we moved to San Gabriel
OK, well, once you got there, did it take you a while to like it?
Well, it's not a matter of liking it. We started to make friends with neighbors, naturally. Marie joined a sewing group of women that were neighbors. I think I went in to scouting and Little League, I worked on one of the fields. One of the public schools gave us a large tract of land where we were able to build a nice Little League field and we worked on that and made a lot of friends there. And naturally, we had the friendship of all the little league parents, and Michael was in little league, later on Chris too...
Was my mom involved in anything?
Oh, well, I told you she was in a sewing group.
Oh, my mom was?
Yeah, in a sewing group, the women in the area had meetings, evenings, and they used to meet together and sew.
And Barbara did that too?
No, no, Barbara was still in school
That's what I was asking, is that what Barbara did
Yeah, my mom.
Well Barbara, naturally she joined up with the girls in the classroom in her class at the High School and the girls went out, and some of them, they went out to different affairs that they went to. I really didn't keep that much track about where she went or what they did, that was more or less mother to daughter talk. And I wasn't home very much in those early days. In fact, for several years, I certainly spent an awful lot of time at the office. You can't turn over an operation like that in a matter of a year or two, it takes a couple of years before you accomplish what you were supposed to do. It also took time for me to travel up north to visit the district managers in Washington, in Portland, in San Francisco, Oakland, and also the one branch, our P.I. Branch in Los Angeles, at a different location than ours. Things went along fairly smoothly, and eventually I won the respect and congratulations, especially from the New York offices and I found my place.
I was able to go to New York on business trips where I was able to bring mother, so that gave her a chance to travel to New York and visit with families. I would usually arrange the trips so that I spent as little time in the office as possible and was able to visit my sister and her family in Staten Island and I was able to visit other members of the family and her family.
Also, there were times when Marie went to New York and she stayed with her family for a while and came back. In fact, the first year that we were there in San Gabriel, after the school year was over she and the children made a trip by bus, by Greyhound bus, to New York . They heard about what a wonderful way it was to travel. So having traveled across the country in a car, they thought that it would be, you know, nice to travel by bus.
Well anyway, she took Barbara, and Chris with her. For some reason Michael, I think we had Michael in camp. Don Bosco had a camp up in the mountains and Michael and I stayed behind and Marie went on a bus trip. She was no longer gone about, oh, half an hour or an hour or so, and I got a phone call and she said "where do you think I am"?, I said well, uh, "traveling in a bus to New York". She said "No, we got stuck, the bus broke down," and they were only about 5 miles out of San Bernardino.
Well anyway, later on she called me and she said, "Well, within a couple of hours another bus showed up, and we're stuck again." So to make a long story short on their way to New York, they must have been on buses, 7 buses, or 6 buses, (actually 3 buses) whatever it was, that broke down. Within a period of an hour or two another bus would come along and pick them up. So by the time they got to New York, because they were traveling day and night, they didn't really arrive in New York off schedule because the drivers always made up the time.
But one of the worst problems was getting out of the bus to get in to a restaurant and get something to eat and get back on the bus before the bus was ready to, you know, take off and that was very difficult. And of course at that time Chris was very small so she had him on her lap part of the time and it was a very tiring trip. After I heard all the details, I said never again do I want you to travel to New York and back on a bus. But strangely on her return trip back from New York back to San Gabriel the trip was so uneventful, the bus that they started out on, had no breakdowns, whatever. If they did change buses, it was to change from one driver to another in another bus, you know, because they didn't always travel with the same bus all the way across the country. They had different places where they'd exchange buses. And so her return trip was really very good.
Was this in 1956?
Yeah, 1956. '55 we moved in to San Gabriel. '55. I want to touch on that a little bit too. When we were coming in by car, when we were coming in to San Gabriel, we came along the freeway, I forget which freeway it was again, and all of the sudden the kids said "Daddy, what's that up there?" It was all smog. I said, "That is smog, s-m-o-g, that's what you're gonna have to live with, smog." So I explained to them how smog was. So anyhow, right from the very beginning the children learned that Los Angeles itself was not a very good place to be living. Fortunately, we were living in San Gabriel, which was up towards the San Gabriel mountains. And so we were not affected by the smog to any great degree. I often drove to work, and at that time Marie always was taking care of the children. We, as I told you before, when we got married it was decided that she would be the housewife and mother until the children were old enough to be left by themselves, and that didn't happen until 1950, when, wait, I take that back, that didn't happen until Chris was 10 years old, I think I put it in the tape someplace
Yeah, you said that he was around eight to ten...
Yeah, until he was eight to ten years old, and then mother took a part time job in Los Angeles, working on custom millinery. To travel from home to the place she used to work, I used to often take her to and from work. Sometimes when I was down at the office for a long period of time, she would take the bus and ride over to the plant where I was working in L.A. and she would wait until I was finished and then I would bring her home from the plant, although sometimes we would stop in a restaurant on our way home and eat out.
But it wasn't like that before, but by that time the children were away, Barbara was away at school, and Michael was already, I think he was attending Don Bosco, too, and Chris was attending Loyola High School. He also had a delivery route, both of the boys had delivery routes, and we helped them deliver papers, especially when it was rainy weather, and I helped them with collections because the paperboys also had to collect. I taught them how to run their bookkeeping on their various customers that they had, and they often had customers who were very tardy in paying. There were also customers who sometimes would skip certain days that they didn't want a paper delivered, so that had to be subtracted from their monthly account. So, it was a little bit of a teaching them how to operate a business and they did that in order to earn money.
Michael also had a very good situation. I don't know if you know about this or not but he went to Don Bosco Tech, and Don Bosco Tech had a program wherein if a boy studied real hard during the month and achieved certain high marks during the month, and I don't remember exactly what they were, but anyway, almost every month he came in with very high marks which then entitled him to get his tuition back for each month. We of course paid the tuition, but we had him put the money into his bank account. So during the four years that he was at Don Bosco Tech, he built up a nice bank account from the monies he got back each month for the tuition that we paid. Now that was the only school that I know that did that. Now, Chris went to Loyola High School where we paid, I think the tuition was over a thousand dollars a month at that time, which...
...a year you mean?
Yeah, a thousand dollars a year I mean, not a month, I couldn't afford it.
Well, he participated in various events there and also one of the rules at the school was that the students attend all the ball games and various events. They also encouraged their parents to go to these games, and so we usually went to almost all of the Loyola High School sports events that they had, basketball, etc. Especially basketball. And the events were very nice because there was always a large crowd of students. Loyola High School had a very excellent reputation for education and a very good reputation in their sports program.
Did Chris play sports?
I don't remember what sports he played in school, but I believe he did, and I believe Michael did too. I don't remember the details so I'm not going to try to press myself to explain something that Iím not too sure about exactly. They were in sports but I can't remember exactly what sports or how they did. I know they were in Little League, as far as that, you know, and they were in scouting, things like that, before they grew up.
I know you probably did a lot of work in the yard. Were you the one that planted the fruit trees or were they already there?
Well, when we came to San Gabriel there were about nine orange trees. Six of them I think were in the back yard, and three of them were in the front of the house. The lot that we had the house on was very deep. It was 175 feet from the curb to the back of the house, and it was about 70 feet or so wide. So we had a lot of frontage and we had a lot of space in the back. In back of the house was a summer house that had been built, and so the summer house was all screened. We used that, and in there was a large table and benches, where we could barbecue. We had a barbecue there. I installed a sink and we had our barbecues there. We had our friends come for barbecues and we always did this inside of this summer house to avoid flies and things like that.
And also the house had a two-car garage, and on the right side, inside the garage, was a workbench and a workshop. That came in very handy because we had sometimes as many as four cars. Of course, as the kids grew up they had to have transportation, also. Anyhow, to make a long story shorter, one of the things that I planted was a peach tree in the back of the garage. This peach tree, which I got from the nursery, I fertilized it with some steer manure mixed up in water, and I'm telling you the peaches on that tree got to the size of tennis balls, and so sweet that nobody I ever knew of had peaches that delightful. I used to distribute them to neighbors, and to the Demeters, and to Michaelís family, and to others. Now, I'm telling you that peach tree had about 125 or more peaches on it every year. And I also planted various things in the back of the house. I also had a plum tree, and I had three different kinds of...three or four different kinds of vegetables, especially things like tomatoes and cucumbers. I even got Michael interested in planting and Chris also, they were interested in planting things.
Now, we had strawberries, and we had other berries and we also acquired a dachshund called Willy and Willy was a wonderful little dog. One of the girls that worked for me had a dachshund. Her dog had two of them, and so we picked one and I paid her $25.00 for Willy. Now he was such a lovely dog. Unnfortunately he only lived about 7 years. I think he had a liver problem or something and he had to be put to sleep. But he was a wonderful dog because when I used to come home from work and the family was already in bed, he would come out in to the kitchen and he would sit there waiting to share my dinner with him. Once he knew that I was finished eating, he would leave the kitchen and go around on the service porch and he had his bed where the shower room was, and he would go to sleep there nicely. I kept the back door open always for him so he could get out during the night when he had to. He was a lovely dog and he was one of those black and white miniatures, miniature dachshund, and Iím telling you when we lost him it was like losing a friend.
I'll tell you something peculiar about him. In the evenings, we, especially during the month of May and October, as a family, knelt together in the living room, took our rosaries out, and said the rosary. Well, when Willy saw us with the rosaries, he kept running from one person to the other. You know what he thought? He thought that was his chain, and that he was gonna go out for a walk! And he kept running from one person to the other, and nobody moved to put the chain around his collar. So after that happened so many times, I finally decided that when we got finished with the rosary I would always take him for a walk. So after that he realized that he had to wait until the real chain came along and I took him out for a walk in the evening.
But that was a very cute, little incident that we enjoyed. Our living room was very nice with a fireplace and all, and we had air conditioning in the living room, and there were 3 bedrooms and living room, dining room, kitchen, service porch, and let's see, what else was there. Oh, we enlarged the dining room by removing one of the walls between the dining room and Barbaraís bedroom, and we redid that so we would have a larger dining room. Then we also remodeled Barbaraís bedroom so that instead of coming into the bedroom from the dining room side, I had that door closed off and I had a new door so that she could walk out of her room right into the bathroom. We also closed off some other doorways and opened up others which made it more convenient for the way we wanted the house to be. We spent several thousands of dollars on altering the interior of the house and also we spent several thousand dollars on having some of the orange trees removed. Most of them required special attention, so by the time we eventually moved out of that house in to Leisure World, all the orange trees were gone except a couple that Joe Demeter had given us because he had several orange groves. So in the back yard, we had several orange trees that were producing very nicely. We had other plum trees, like I told you. In the back, we grew vegetables and we had that wonderful peach tree.
The house that we bought for $20,000, we eventually old for $60,000 when we moved to Leisure World. At Leisure World we had to buy out the people that were living there at that time. It was a Doctor and his wife and we paid them $31,000 for their investment in the house that they had.
What year was that, do you remember?
Well, I just don't remember exactly...
Now, when we got to Leisure World it was an entirely different lifestyle. She immediately got herself involved in artwork. And I believe everybody in the family knows what a beautiful artist she turned out to be. She went to art classes every week, usually I think her art classes were on Tuesday morning and she, as you know, painted some beautiful pictures and cards. Jennifer photographed and put them into print and these were later on given to Jennifer's customers. Also, Marie got many of them from Jennifer and distributed them to family and friends. I'm sure you saw some of them.
Yes, I have some.
Yeah, and, at the same time she was painting large pictures, like 16X20, like that and many of those we hanging on our walls in Leisure World. And on Mondays she attended a sewing group from the church, in the rectory of the church, where they sewed clothes for children in Mexico or in orphanages. And so these women in Leisure World met together on Monday mornings, usually from 8:00 to about 1:00. And that was one of Marie's hobbies and which gave her an opportunity to meet people in Leisure World and it was kind of a relaxing period too because you worked at your own particular convenience and speed. And that's what she did right up to the very end. As far as the art classes are concerned, she started to lose interest in art, art classes, and I continued to encourage her to continue because this bronchial asthma problem was bothering her, and also I had problems that took up some of her time. And even when your mother came to visit us, even your mother got involved and took me to the doctor and things like that.
So you can see that I was beginning to have problems which required attention by Marie and like I say also by your mother when she came to visit. I still remember your mother pushing me in a wheelchair towards one doctor's office to the other and, I, we were always very happy when somebody could come and visit like that, especially from up there. It was an unfortunate situation for mother because she had not only her own health to be concerned with, which she didn't talk about very much. I'm quite sure that she must have somehow known that she had something more than bronchial asthma, because when the coroner examined her after she died, he picked out four items which the doctor should have discovered because she had either annual or semi-annual examinations. I blame a lot of that on the doctor and I even talked to Chris about suing the doctor but he told me it's kind of a hopeless task for this reason. By the time you find a lawyer that will take a suit like that you have to give them a lot of money down and it also takes a long time before you can get to court. By the time that would happen you'd probably be long dead.
So we gave up that idea, although I think that he was a very lousy doctor and I think that mother's premature death was partly due to him and I believe I told you in the other tape how mother died.
Well, we lost that...
We lost that. Well, anyway mother's health with her bronchial asthma was such that during the night she had difficulties in breathing and she had her medication with her in her room. The reason we were in separate rooms was because in her room she had a large bed and she also had her TV there and she could watch TV. Usually we watched TV in the living room while having dinner and her TV was right on a sewing machine in her room and she could watch TV as late as she wanted. She didn't disturb me and I didn't disturb her, but every day about 11:00 every evening I would get up and go into her room and make sure that she was okay. Because on several situations, I found her breathing with difficulty. and instead of knocking on a wall or calling out my name, she continued to medicate herself and very often that wasn't enough. So I had found out that black coffee was a big help, so I used to make a cup of hot, black coffee and have her drink that along with her medication, her breather, and her pills and what not that she had to take.
And a matter of fact, on two occasions we had to call the paramedics and they got her in to the hospital, so she was hospitalized with that problem a couple of times from home. In fact, at the time we had the wedding rehearsal for Chris and Jennifer's wedding, there were a lot of people at this rehearsal and during that time mother also had a spell and they had to run her to the hospital nearby but fortunately she got over it and she was able to attend the wedding with no problems. But I was always concerned about her during the night and by 11:00 each evening, I would always try to remember to go in to her room and see if she was okay. Well this particular evening, December 11th at 11:00, I'll never forget it, in 1992, I got up out of my bed and instead of going to her room to check on her I went to the kitchen and there was some Ensure in there that she used to buy for me to drink. One can of Ensure a day was supposed to be for my health, so I went in to the kitchen, I betcha I must have spent maybe ten minutes, you know drinking the Ensure and then I turned around and I went in to her room and lo and behold when I walked in there there's my darling lying on the floor on the carpet, not in bed, but on the floor with her head bent back. In one hand she had a flashlight and it was still lit. In the other hand she had the medication breathing device, and I went I tell you, I was so shaken up. When I touched her she was still warm so I wiped her lips which had some saliva on them and I tried to breath in her mouth and I held her head but her head would drop down backwards and I began to realize that she was warm but she wasn't alive. So I tried to get the paramedics on the phone but I was all confused. I finally got Michael and told him that he better hurry up and get the paramedics over here because he lived, you know, much further away and paramedics came and when they did, they declared her dead. Even though she was still warm. And it was a very, very sad night for me, and of course I think you know some of the stories about what happened afterwards because you came down for the funeral, too. Well, you know at that time I was pretty well out of it and I even had to be taken to church in a wheelchair, remember that?
Yes, I remember that.
And from then on my life was no longer mine and one of the things that I regret, very much regret, mother and I several times talked about, when we died, what did we want to do? And mother always used to tell me "I want to be cremated." I said, "Well, gee why, and why don't you want to be buried?" She said "No, I want to be cremated." Her feeling was something like mine too 'cuz once they bury you, who comes to visit the grave very often? That's what we used to see, very many people got buried and nobody every bothered to go visit the people in their grave except in New York. Many of the people went to all the cemeteries and they visited their families there and we did the same thing with our families when we were living in New York. Well anyhow Marie more or less said "Look, I want you to remember, I want to be cremated" so when it came time after mother passed away to tell the family what mother's wish was I was very sad about having to tell them that she definitely wanted to be cremated. I didn't really give it serious thought. I figured this one time that I should have not told the truth. I should have said please put Marie in to a grave where I can be beside her when I die, but instead of that, after she was brought to the church and the mass they took her away and eventually we got back an urn and the ashes are still in the urn in Chris's home and I've been begging them to find a plot in a Catholic cemetery where those ashes can be buried and a plot large enough that when I die, even though I told her I too will be cremated, I have changed my mind. I want to be with my darling entirely, I don't want to be cremated. And I even said this to Barbara. I said please try to remember this: When I die tell them not to, that I don't want to be cremated. I want to be buried wherever mother's ashes are buried. So I had a difficult time getting Michael who supposedly took on this task, but he hasn't accomplished anything along that line. The ashes are still in Chris's home so, if you want, ask him to show you the urn where mother's ashes are, and, see, they were at the undertaker's for a long time and finally Chris went over and got them and put them in their home. I even told your mother that they were now in Chris's home so she said "Well at least that's better than being in the undertaker's possession." And I would have taken them here but there's no place to have them. So I don't know when it's gonna happen that we'll find a burial place for those ashes but I would feel much more comfortable about it if a place is found and also that there is a place for me with her. And, not cremation, no cremation for me.
Well, anyhow, you wanted to know something about mother. And mother had so many friends. You could ask your mother how many people sent cards and your mother was kind enough to answer each and every one of them. She even took them back to Portland with her and I think you probably remember her working on those cards, writing to people, thanking them for their condolences.
And I have, I have been very unhappy laying here, but I'm only here because this was close to Michael. It's only five or ten minutes away. The situation is such that we don't get to see each other very much because he's extremely busy with Kathee and their business. He does take the responsibility for getting the medication for me here and so I should be happy about that. Chris has been visiting me quite regularly and handling a lot of the affairs of our estate, of Marie's estate and mine so that between your mother and Chris, they handle the financial matters and Michael handles the medication for me mostly. There's a lot of stuff that's in Michael's home that was taken out of the house and left there and many of Chris's family and Michael's family have taken some of the furniture and things and the rest of it was sold for almost nothing. We got very little for the beautiful furniture that we had. We got very little for the house, for which I thought we would get about $125,000. We were able to sell it for only $97,000. I forget how much we got for the furniture, about... $800, I don't know. But anyway it was a very, very, very low price and it was really a shame. Fortunately some of the things that were desired were taken by the family, especially the paintings and these are gonna be distributed between Chris's family and Michael's family and your mother. And... I tell ya, I can't thank your mother enough for the wonderful things she alone expresses to me when she says "Dad, I know you're going through the worst period in your life, it must be terrible for you." I say to your mom: "Sweetheart, you have a good idea of what it's like to lose a loved one. You lost Bernie, and so I don't have to... I don't have to explain to you how I feel. I certainly feel just as sad, just as bad as you probably did." And believe me, outside of that other event between your mother and I, our relationship has been excellent, and I hope it continues that way. So, because she was the first born of the family, and do you know when she was born, my dad was kind of a very strict disciplinarian. All of a sudden he changed and he used to love to take Barbara in the carriage and ride around the neighborhood showing off his granddaughter. I don't think he enjoyed the other two children, Michael and Chris, as much as he enjoyed Barbara. Well, of course she was the first born and he always looked forward to the opportunity of wheeling her around our neighborhood and sometimes Marie would be concerned "Where the heck has he gone already two hours and still not back!" (laughter)
But he was really... of course my stepmother too was so very fond of her and I think your mother spent so much time in my stepmother's kitchen downstairs because my stepmother had always good eats for her, and if she didn't have them down there she was bringing them upstairs to us. And living in the same house with my parents was really wonderful because I not only was able to help my dad with so many of the problems that he had, not only pertaining to that house on 36th street, but he brought another house, a nine family house, also a new house, and then later on he brought a forty family house. And so there he had superintendants in each of those houses, and eventually he sold the nine family house. When he passed away and when my mother passed away the property was put in to the hands of my stepsister's husband and he handled the entire estate matters, especially when my mother had to be hospitalized because after dad died she still found it very difficult to manage things and eventually they had to take over finances, housing, and everything else. Mattie's husband handled all of that, and believe it or not, for a couple with four children who came in to Ellis Island penniless, when my mother passed away I think the estate after taxes was worth something like a hundred... I'm trying to think of a figure... yeah, maybe a hundred and fifty thousand dollars. So you can just imagine, here's my father and mother, they never took a vacation, they never had an automobile. Everything that they did was for the children. And so even after all the taxes that had to be paid, they still left each of us a tidy sum of money which was a big help in building up our estate. And... I... don't know, what else you would like me to say...
Okay we can finish now.