In the interest of brevity, I have tried to minimize the events of my last 57 years, and accordingly have grouped them into ten-year periods. In each decade, I have expounded on those events which were most noteworthy at the time.
In contrast, you will note that I have devoted much detail of content to the events of the first 20 years of my life. The reasons for this are varied. First, one of my primary objectives in writing this journal is to describe to the reader what living accommodations were like for those whose families were large, yet whose financial resources were minimal. This was the environment in which I lived. Secondly, despite living under such disadvantages, I would suggest that a child growing up in a home filled with love and security could nevertheless enjoy a happy and healthy childhood, and could also achieve success in the career of his choice, whatever it might happen to be. Thirdly, living together as a well-knit family does help to develop traits of good character in each of us, while still gaining the ability to understand, to get along, and to share many things with one another. In essence, the family is the early beginning of community living, which later extends itself to the school, to the workplace, etc. I was most fortunate to have grown up in such a setting. And now, to continue with my story.
With our honeymoon now a wonderful memory, we were ready to begin our life together. Dad and I knew that there would be many adjustments for each of us to make. We knew also that we had envisioned many dreams and plans for ourselves in the years still ahead for us, in the hopes that most, if not all, would be fulfilled. With determination and high hopes, we were prepared to begin.
From the very first day of our occupancy, our little apartment was well used and shared not only by us, but by friends and family as well. I guess I inherited from my mother a love and interest in cooking dinners as she had done, and extending invitations to those who were available to come. What better way was there to fraternize with friends and family?
Of course, the first ones to be invited for dinner were my mother and father, and Grandpa and Josie. Because of the size of both our families and the limited space of our apartment, we could not have everybody at one time. But eventually everyone was invited as time progressed.
Dad and I both agreed that I would continue working at the real estate office, for a while anyway. Two salaries would help to add some extra dollars to our budget. Mr. Bisbee was happy to know that I would be coming back. However, the plan did not work too long. After six months of our marriage, I realized that I was pregnant, which pleased both of us very much, as well as both our families. Dad insisted that I quit my job after the first trimester, which is hardly the practice today. Most modern mothers work up until their ninth month. I suspect that Dad wanted me to be well-rested in preparation for our new addition, who was scheduled to arrive in early December.
It so happened that Dad and I were invited to my mother’s and father’s house for dinner on a particular Sunday, December 4th. It was while there that Mother Nature gave me notice that Baby Pappalardo was on its way. After telephoning our doctor first, he advised us that I should go to the hospital right away. Accordingly, Dad and I and my mother took off for South Nassau Communities Hospital in Rockville Centre. After I checked in and was properly assigned to a room, there were no immediate signs of a baby’ arrival just yet. On the doctor’s advice, Dad and my mother returned home, to play the waiting game there. On Monday they both appeared back at the hospital – still no baby. They both returned home again late Monday evening in the hopes that the baby would arrive momentarily. They waited patiently for the phone to ring signaling the good news, but to no avail. Finally, by early Tuesday morning, December 6th, the big event happened. We were blessed with a beautiful girl, Rosemary, named after her godmother (my sister Rose), and my mother. Of course, within the hour, Dad was at my bedside, as well as my mother and father and Dad’s family as well. It was easy to recognize that everybody was proud and happy to welcome our new addition.
Babies always bring about much celebration and excitement, and our firstborn was no exception. We had such a celebration for Rosemary’s baptism, which happened to be January 1st. The Pappalardos and the Vecchios were all present for the occasion. As for Rosemary, she slept through it all.
Without a second bedroom, we managed to make space for a crib for Rosemary in our bedroom, which was quite large and able to accommodate an extra piece of furniture.
From the moment we brought our baby home from the hospital, Rosemary was never lacking attention by any means. She was constantly being bounce from one lap to another. Family and friends made a fuss over her wherever we went, and she loved every bit of it.
Dad and I soon got into the routine of being a threesome without any difficulty, and I must say that Rosemary was a good baby. She did her share of sleeping, and when she was awake she was very pleasant. Meanwhile, our landlady, Mrs. Warreng, began to get very attached to her. So did we all.
In the late spring of 1940, I found that I was pregnant again. With a new baby on the way, we soon realized that, as much as we loved our apartment, it would not be suitable for four of us to live there comfortably.
Dad and I often thought of buying or building a home, but financially it was out of our reach. Our only assets were our car and a small amount of money in the bank. Grandpa and Josie were both very encouraging in this regard, and indicated they would help us to get started. I spoke earlier of the large parcel of property on Chestnut Street in Malverne, which Grandpa had purchased some years ago. They used a part of this parcel to build a new home for themselves to replace the Woodside Avenue home which they had sold. There still remained on this parcel ample room for two more homes.
Accordingly, after much discussion, Grandpa offered to finance and build a house for us according to our own specifications. Needless to say, we were overjoyed and gratified when we learned of this generous offer. We realized that this would be our golden opportunity to own a home at long last, a place that we would eventually call “ours”. The understanding was that upon final completion of the house, we were to get the necessary mortgage money from our local bank. In this way, we would be able to pay Grandpa back for the building costs which he had personally paid on our behalf.
The total cost of the house was $6,500. After applying at the bank for a first mortgage, we were informed that the maximum amount they would give us was $4,000. It was a 20-year mortgage, with monthly payments of $26.40, not including taxes. We gladly accepted these terms. Home ownership never looked so good!! As for the $2,500 balance to be paid, Grandpa agreed to carry a second mortgage to accommodate us. This amount was paid off in three years. Grandpa and Josie were proud of our dependability in the handling of our responsibilities, and we were most appreciative of all the help they had given us at this special time in our lives.
Our new address would be 44 Chestnut Street, Malverne, New York. Grandpa’s and Josie’s address was 66 Chestnut Street, since their move from Woodside Avenue had already taken place. We would really get to be close neighbors now. (Before this we were about 2 ½ miles apart.) How lucky for all of us. This move to Chestnut Street solidified the beatutiful and warm relationship we had always enjoyed since Dad and I married. As grandparents, they doted on and adored Rosemary, and this continued with each and every one of the babies that were born after Rosemary’s arrival. As for my ratings with Grandpa and Josie, I was loved and highly respected by both of them. They considered me more as a daughter than a daughter-in-law. I too held both of them in high esteem and loved them dearly. They were on an equal plane with my own mother and father.
With Grandpa in charge of construction, it was easy to understand how our home was so sturdy and so well built. It was a 1 ½ story brick home, built on a 80′ by 100’plot on the corner of Chestnut Street and Willow Place. Our kitchen was all tile, bright, sunny, and very large. There was a large living room with a tile fireplace. Also on the first floor were two bedrooms and a full tile bathroom. Off the kitchen was a huge screened porch with a beautiful tile floor. This porch was over the attached one-car garage. Later, after Rosemary’s first birthday, we finished off the upper floor with two large bedrooms and another tile bathroom. The basement was high and dry, and we later finished off a recreation room there, suitable for gatherings which we often had from time to time. Our home was all we had hoped it would be and even more. It answered all our needs and it was an ideal setting for raising a family.
We moved from Aberdeen Street in early January of 1941. It was a sad time for Mrs. Warreng to see us leave, as she had become very attached to us, and especially to Rosemary. The three years we lived there were very happy, and we had always enjoyed Mrs. Warreng’s friendship as well as her excellent baking. She was employed at one time as a cook at the local high school cafeteria, and was considered an excellent baker. We always enjoyed her coffee crumb cake with the big crumbs on top; it was mouth-watering.
In worldly news, this was a time of much concern for everybody. Adolph Hitler, together with Benito Mussolini, were already recklessly invading countries in Europe, including Great Britain, disregarding the honor and dignity of human lives. Then, on December 7, 1941, Japan executed her sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. The announcement of the attack, as we heard it on the radio, stunned each and every one of us. We all realized the seriousness of the attack, and the loss of lives of our American sailors and soldiers who, without notice, had given up their lives with no just cause. World War II for America had just begun, and the next few years would affect all of us in many different ways.
The economic picture of our country had begun its transformation. First of all, private construction was almost at a standstill, as almost all the building materials were given to or bought by our government for our defense and military needs. This meant the end of Grandpa’s tile business, which he later dissolved. The building that housed Nation Tile and Marble Works was deeded over to the mortgage company, as Grandpa could not afford to pay the overhead expenses that steadily accrued. It was a sad way to end the many years that Grandpa had dedicated to develop the thriving business that he once owned and operated.
Employment was high in the numerous defense plants. All those who were unemployed or recently laid off from companies that could no longer operate because of the lack of materials soon found employment at places like Grumman, Republic and Sperry Gyroscope, to name a few. Wages were good, and overtime added to the take-home pay. Dad’s brothers Frank and Denny worked on an ammunition fleet of ships in Baltimore. Dad’s brother Joe worked at Grumman’s, and Dad worked at Republic. I do not know where Teddy was employed.
In 1938, Dad’s brother Freddie has already purchased an 80 acre parcel of land along both sides of River Road in Shawnee, Pennsylvania for the sum of $4,500. At today’s prices this was a steal!! Some of the land sat along the Delaware River, and some of the land across the road was mountainous property. Freddie started constructing his first beautiful home for himself and Mary on land that overlooked the river. Because of war priorities, he was not able to completely finish it. They were able to live in it, but had to use a coal stove in lieu of a heating system.
They were also without electricity and had to use oil lamps. In order to get the electricity, he had to apply for preferential treatment by registering as a farmer. He chose to be a farmer who raised chickens!! In due time, after approval by the utility company, he constructed a barn with material he already had on hand and lumber from his neighbor who had a sawmill. Many trees from Freddie’s property were cut to size at the sawmill. With the aid of the barn to house the chickens, Freddie and Mary soon developed a thriving chicken and egg business during the war years. He was now a successful farmer and he also had acquired the electricity he would need for future development of his land.
Besides the priority of materials for the military, everybody’s consumption of certain goods was rationed and regulated by our government. This included shoes, gasoline, and food items such as sugar, coffee and meats. All of this was controlled with the issuance of ration books to each member of every family. Ceiling prices were in effect to curb the sharks that were out there trying to get rich quick. Nevertheless, those who had the money to buy illegal “black market” stamps were able to buy as much as they wanted without suffering any wartime restrictions or deprivations.
By the beginning of 1942 in the Vecchio household, five more weddings had taken place, including my sister Rose. The only one remaining single was my brother Louie. It was hard to imagine how a home once filled with so many people and so much activity was suddenly changed to just three people and little sound. My father was beginning to show signs of forgetfulness and loss of memory. As for my mother, she was fighting high blood pressure, as well as hiding worry over financial problems that would surface from time to time. With just about everyone married now, there were no more weekly contributions coming in toward household expenses as my brothers, my sister and I had given when we were at home. Nevertheless, Louie did more than his share, not only financially, but also in taking car eof whatever needed to be done around the house. He was truly a dedicated son.
With the war in progress, there were some changes of employment in the Vecchio household. My sister Rose and her husband Tony were employed at Grumman’s. My brother Louie worked for Sperry Gyroscope. My brother Julie obtained a position as social studies teacher at the local high school where I graduated. My brother Jimmy still retained his job with Knickerbocker Ice Company. My brother Tony was now driving a cab in New York City. Johnny was still employed with United Parcel. My brother Eddie enlisted in the Navy as a Chief Petty Officer and was stationed at Camp Le Jeune, North Carolina. My brother Frank was now the mechanic and owner of his own lucrative gas station and garage. He and his wife lived next door to the business. My brother Charlie was engaged in the operation of big road machinery in and around the area where he lived in New York City.
I have reviewed and updated the employment picture of both the Pappalardos and the Vecchios to show how national conditions can affect the lives of so many. Living through World War II taught us many things, including the need to sacrifice and to help in any way we could to attain victory and peace once again.
Our second child, a son, Salvatore John, was born on February 28, 1941. It was a happy time for us, despite the gravity of the events of the war. Grandpa and Josie had just returned from Florida, and were greeted upon their arrival home by a raging snowstorm. Telephone lines were down in the area where Grandpa lived; thus Dad could not reach them by phone to give them the good news. Dad solved the communication dilemma by delegating the Malverne Taxi to go to Grandpa and Josie’s house to deliver the message personally that they were once again grandparents, and to a namesake (Salvatore) at that. As soon as roads were cleared, Dad arranged to pick them up, and brought them to the hospital to see the new baby and me. It was a wonderful reunion, as we had not seen them for several months.
Returning home with our new baby was a happy occasion. Rosemary was eager and anxious to hold her baby brother, and when she did, all the grownups of the family were on hand to make sure that she had a firm grip on baby Sal. She handled her brother very well, and from that day forward took on the role of “big sister” with much confidence.
With the Selective Service Act in force, all eligible men up to age 40 (I believe) were required to register at their local draft board for military duty. Dad accordingly registered at the Malverne Draft Board. He was 33 years old at the time. The registration numbers allotted to the registrants were selected at random, and the quota that was dictated by the Department of Defense determined the amount of men selected by the draft board.
With this cloud of uncertainty hanging over us, we continued to go on as usual with our daily lives. Dad faithfully continued with his job at Republic, and from time to time showed signs of exhaustion. He sometimes worked, if needed, seven days a week, and some were ten-hour days. He never complained, and on days that he came home late, I always made sure, after serving him a hot supper, that Rosemary was still available to him, so that they could enjoy a little time together. Being two years younger, Sal was already in bed and fast asleep.
With working long hours, and with the promise of a raise always denied him or put on the back burner, Dad had threatened many times to resign from his job at Republic, but he was successfully appeased by his bosses. They cited many good reasons for him to remain with the company, one of them being that employment in a defense plant would excuse him from military duty.
When I informed Dad that I was pregnant again, he was happy to hear the news. But he was more than sure, now that there would be another mouth to feed, that he must have that raise or else resign as he had threatened. Before handing in his resignation, he was fortunate enough to secure a position with the drafting department of the County of Nassau in Mineola, New York. This was a wonderful opportunity for him to use the background of learning he had acquired at Cooper Union in architectural design. The County needed draftsmen, as they were designing all streets and roads to accommodate plans for the installation of sewers. The salary was a little less than Republic, but the hours were less demanding, and the camaraderie of the office personnel was super.
Dad properly submitted his resignation to leave Republic, giving them the required two weeks notice, and they in turn gave him a letter of recommendation for his high quality of workmanship. Dad was now ready to begin his new position. From his very first day he was extremely happy working in his new surroundings, and in a very short time he developed many good friendships there.
On February 19, 1943, we were blessed with a darling baby girl, Jean. Now Rosemary had not only a brother but a sister, too. She was thrilled, as was Sal John. Our family was indeed growing. Jean was of lighter complexion than both Rosemary and Sal, and her hair was blonde in color. As I recall from stories my mother told me, some of the Costandinis were redheads and of fair complexion. This was typical of families who lived in northern Italy, where my mother was born. My brother Johnny was a redhead with light skin and freckles, and looked somewhat Irish. My sister Angelina who died at age 2 was of that same coloring. I, too as a child had blonde hair and a fair complexion.
Our new home on Chestnut Street was comfortable and amply large enough to take care of our growing family of five. As usual it was always full of people dropping in to visit us and to see the new baby. On weekends we often played cards after enjoying a dinner together. Sometimes it was with Julie and Carrie, sometimes with Teddy and Anna, and sometimes it was men only – my brother Louie and Dad’s brothers Teddy and Frank. When the men played it was always poker; otherwise it was pinochle.
Meanwhile, whenever possible, my mother always managed to have my brother Louie drive her to our house to spend a little time with us and all our children. Josie also arranged to come from next door to join us as well. Josie and my mother got along famously, and continued to remain close as the years went by.
In due time the inevitable happened. Both Dad and my brother John received their notices that they had been selected by number to join our armed forces. They were notified to appear at the designated recruitment location in New York City to undergo the required physical examination. Both passed their physicals, but the fact that Dad passed is still debatable. When Dad and I went to our family physician prior to our marriage for physicals and blood work, Dad was informed that he had heart problems, brought about by an undetected bout of rheumatic fever he had suffered when he was eight years old. Instead of the bed rest which was required to avoid serious complications, he was doing what all eight-year-olds do – running, climbing trees, playing baseball, and everything else imaginable. As a result his heart was damaged, and he suffered its effects as he grew older.
After learning that our husbands would be soon inducted and would be leaving us for an indefinite period, my sister-in-law Marie and I slowly began to realize that we would soon have to adjust to a new way of life, both financially and emotionally. Marie had Johnny Mike, age 3½, to be concerned about, and I had three little ones, ages 5½, 3½ and 14 months. It was mind-boggling, but like everyone else we had to be strong.
Ironically, both Dad and my brother were inducted on the same day, April 29, 1944. Johnny joined the Navy and Dad, with a background in construction, joined the Army Corps of Engineers. Dad and I could very well see many changes looming for all of us.
That day, April 29, 1944, was a day I shall never forget. At various opportune times, he and I had often talked about his coming departure with Rosemary and Sal (Jean was too young), but I don’t think that the seriousness of it or its implications had made any kind of impression on them. From time to time they had been exposed to pictures in the daily newspaper of sailors and soldiers in uniform engaged in military offensives, and seemed to accept it all as normal.
Dad’s notice for induction stated that he was to report at a location in Mineola where there would be a fleet of Army buses lined up and ready to transport the men. They were scheduled to go to Camp Upton, Long Island for further briefing and assignment, and to receive their uniforms.
It was agreed among us that Grandpa and I would accompany Dad to Mineola and Josie would remain at home with the three children. Little did we know that on that very morning the two oldest ones had come down with chicken pox and were running the usual fever that goes with it.
As the time drew nearer for us to leave and for Dad to say goodbye to our three little ones, you can imagine the tears and emotions that followed. Tears rolled down little cheeks that were dotted with red spots. It was not a happy picture to look at, making it difficult for all of us as we huddled together, hugging one another and trying to wipe away the tears. The fever and discomfort of the chicken pox certainly did not help the situation in any way, making it hard to part under these conditions. Dad tried very hard to keep his composure and managed to hug each of the children and Josie with a last goodbye. We left the room and proceeded to get into the car en route to Mineola. The picture of Josie standing at the window holding Jean in her arms, with Rosemary and Sal clinging to her side, is as clear today as that day in April. Grandpa, Dad and I waved goodbye from the car, trying to hold back the tears. At this emotional time, the only comfort for the four we left behind was their consolation of each other. At 14 months, Jean was the bravest of all – she was too young to comprehend the whole situation.
When we arrived at the embarkation point in Mineola, we witnessed a wide variety of people, expressing a wide variety of emotions. One could easily detect the young unattached soldier showing much enthusiasm and national pride in being an important part of the U.S. Army. He seemed to be very much in control of his composure, and perhaps at that moment was already thinking very seriously of making the Army his lifetime career.
In contrast were those men who were in love and were now forced to leave their sweethearts behind in answer to their call of duty. It was evident that every minute that remained to them before boarding the bus was precious, as the coupled lovers embraced for the last time.
And then there were the husbands like Dad, who were also preparing themselves for this painful separation, not only from their wives (some pregnant), but from their children as well.
Soon the long line of buses was ready to depart and, one by one, the men boarded, bound for Camp Upton, where each of them would be processed, assigned and outfitted with their proper uniforms. Grandpa and I stoically stood by waving to Dad, who by now had seated himself next to a window where he could easily see us. As we watched the last bus disappear from sight, Grandpa and I got into the car. The ride back to our house was very quiet – almost void of conversation. Many thoughts raced through both our minds, as we tried to figure out what was happening. But from that very moment I knew that I had to be strong for the sake of the children, as well as myself.
Several months before, Josie and Grandpa had decided that they would sell their home next door to us, as it was too big and too expensive to maintain. With the war still in progress, they were aware that building a replacement home was out of the question for the time being. In a very short time they had a buyer and needed to make arrangements to move. With Dad’s induction a reality, they suggested using the upstairs finished floor of our home, if that was OK with me. With Dad away, I thought this was an excellent idea, as it provided each of us the much-needed moral support during this difficult time. In addition, the $35 per month rent they offered to pay me would help stretch the $120 monthly stipend that I was receiving for Dad’s service.
With this income I managed to pay for the mortgage, taxes, heat, utilities, food, clothing, medical bills, insurance, etc. Needless to say there wasn’t a nickel left over after all the bills were paid, but fortunately every bill was paid on time, never overdue.
About a month after Dad left for the Army, Grandpa and Josie officially moved in with us. They squeezed in as much furniture as was possible, in both of the rooms upstairs. They also bought and installed a small cooking range, a kitchen sink, and a small refrigerator to take care of the light cooking for breakfast and lunch. The main dinner meal always took place in our big kitchen. Grandpa had done much of the cooking in recent years, and insisted on continuing the practice. As for their excess furniture, it was properly protected and stored in our basement.
We had always been close neighbors, but now that we were living together, we were even closer. It was an ideal situation during the war emergency. Josie and Grandpa had a convenient place to live until such time that building a replacement home was possible. And for the children and myself it was a comfort to know that I was not alone. Should any emergency arise, there was ample family support, and in close proximity.
Josie was always generous, as was Grandpa, but she was also wise in her thinking and frugal. She knew that the money realized from the sale of their home at 66 Chestnut Street could very well diminish over the years, before the time that they would be ready to build once again. To insure against this, she decided to earn money by working in a factory in Lynbrook, where army jackets were manufactured.
Josie was an excellent seamstress and well qualified for the work. She sewed the pockets on the jackets and was paid a piecework rate. Because of her speed, she was able to earn a very handsome weekly salary. Her boss was in awe not only of her speed, but also of the perfect workmanship she produced.
Josie’s employment left Grandpa alone to a degree. But being the very active person he always was as a businessman, he immediately occupied himself with a vegetable garden, did light repairs around the house, and of course did the cooking as well. He took great pride in making pots of chicken soup, as he felt it was satisfying and healthy for his grandchildren and all of us as well. He was right. Many times he would take the Long Island Railroad to Brooklyn to buy fish, bread, cheese or vegetables at the favorite stores which he had patronized over the years. We savored and enjoyed every morsel as well as the crispy loaves of Italian bread.
As for his cooking, it was super, but the drawback was that he could never operate without Josie by his side to assist him, or else a qualified substitute to take her place. Needless to say, I automatically became the permanent substitute. This was not always easy, believe me, with three young children demanding my attention, all at the same time. With Grandpa, the timing of his needs was unpredictable. A plan to can tomatoes on a moment’s notice was not unusual.
I was told many times, by Josie and others who knew Grandpa and his ways, that I was considered an unusual daughter-in-law, endowed with an endless supply of patience. Whether their evaluation was correct I do not know, but I do know that we were taught while growing up at home to always respect those older than ourselves, and to conform to their wishes, regardless of our own personal feelings. I always accepted anything Grandpa suggested that I do or not do, resulting in a close harmony between us at all times. He loved me as he would a daughter, and the feeling was mutual. We were fortunate indeed to have Josie and Grandpa as parents and grandparents. Our relationship continued to grow more and more, with much love, care and concern for each of us.
The routine of each day was the same and, much of the time was run according to the specifications of the “Grandpa Plan”. For example, by 5:15 PM the table was properly set for the six of us. The children were washed, seated and ready for supper, as we awaited Josie’s entrance through the door at precisely 5:15.If she did not arrive on time, Grandpa’s standard request was for me to call the factory and inquire whether Josie had already left. To appease him, I would always comply, but down deep I felt that this was an unnecessary request, as in due time she would be home. Upon calling the factory, I would get the usual response, “She already left.” Within minutes, Josie would arrive. Of course she had to give Grandpa an explanation of why she was detained, which satisfied Grandpa. At that point we were all ready to eat supper, and things were running normal again!
Life for everyone went on as usual, despite the daily tragedies of the war, which were difficult to read and hear about. We had become accustomed to the rationing that was well in effect, and we were well informed as to routine measures for defense as outlined by the Civilian Defense Authority. Meanwhile, many volunteers donated much of their time to work in hospitals and many other agencies that assisted in the war effort. They knitted, they rolled bandages, they served food, they drove cars for the motor corps, and provided many other worthwhile services. Because of home responsibilities, I was unable to volunteer. My responsibility, with Josie’s and Grandpa’s help, was to keep our home safe, warm and comfortable, and to lovingly care for our three little ones, who needed all the support and love they could possibly get.
My closing activity each night, despite my tiredness, was to write a letter to Dad. He was stationed at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri at that time, going through the necessary basic training. In each letter I recounted the day’s activities and assured him that all was going well on the home front. I am sorry and disappointed that these letters were lost during one of our various moves over the years. They would have supplied all of us with many interesting accounts of events that occurred at that time.
The big news in mid-September was that Dad would be granted his first 16-day furlough. Needless to say, we were all keyed up for this event. It was hard to believe that Dad would be on a train headed for home and would soon be sitting at the table having dinner with us once again.
We had no car of our own at that time. When a car was needed, I had the use of Josie’s two-door Chevrolet Coupe, large enough for two persons, three if they squeezed together. To eliminate any problems as to who would accompany me to meet Dad at the train station, I decided to go alone. I was there to meet the train as it pulled into the Malverne railroad station at 6:30 AM. Before the train had come to a halt, my heart started to race. Our precious moment had arrived. As he stepped down from the train I ran to him, and after he dropped his duffel bag on the ground, we embraced each other tightly, not caring about those who were walking about the station and witnessing our moment together. We were on cloud nine and in a world all our own.
By the time we arrived home the front door was already opened wide, and out came the children, running to Dad helter-skelter, almost knocking him over. They were so excited and happy to see their Daddy once again, and he was as happy as they were to be back home with the kids.
As each day passed, Dad and I and the kids did our share of visiting with family and friends. Each visit was a celebration in itself. We had a few reunions at our house as well. But as the saying goes, all good things come to an end, and as we had expected, it was now time for Dad to leave us again. We all handled the situation very well this time, and we were ready to resume our normal routine as we did before. Of course we all held on to our hopes that some day soon this war would come to an end, and that our servicemen could return once more to their loved ones at home.
Five months had already passed since Dad and my brother had left home for military duty. With all but one of my brothers and my sister now married and out of the house, life at our homestead in Lakeview was far different than it had been. The liveliness that once was present was no longer evident. My mother now cooked for three instead of eleven, which did not make her very happy. Cooking for crowds and serving them was her forte and always gave her much pleasure. But by now, hard work, worry and poor health had begun to take their toll on both my mother and my father. This gave all of us much concern, particularly my brother Louie who still lived at home with them.
On October 7, 1944 I received a distressing phone call from my mother’s neighbor, Gladys Matthews, informing me that while they were having their morning coffee together, as was their usual custom, my mother suffered a severe stroke. Louie had already left for work. His usual shift at Sperry was 5 PM to 1:30 AM, but he had been called in to work extra hours to fill some special orders for the defense department. This left my mother alone with my father, and Gladys.
Realizing the gravity of the situation, I telephoned my brother Frank at his garage, asking him to pick me up immediately. I arranged with Josie and Grandpa to keep an eye on the children while I was gone.
Frank must have put the pedal to the floor, because it seemed to me that he was at my door in minutes. When Frank and I arrived at my mother’s, we found her sitting on her favorite chair in the living room, with my father and Gladys standing on either side of her. Her first reaction on seeing us was to cry uncontrollably. I’m sure she already realized that something terrible had just happened to her. Her mouth was already twisted; she could not speak and her entire left side was completely paralyzed. It was a sad sight to witness. As for my father, he seemed very much confused and appeared to be in a daze, finding it very difficult to understand the things that were happening as each moment passed by.
Both Frank and I embraced my mother, trying our best to soothe her while reassuring her that she was soon going to be all right. In the meantime I lost no time at all in calling for a doctor to examine her. Yes, at that time doctors did make house calls.
As soon as the doctor arrived, he confirmed what we already knew, that it was definitely a stroke, which was triggered by the high blood pressure that she had been troubled with over the years. He informed us that with the war still in full progress, hospital beds were at a premium and were mostly reserved for emergency cases. In my mother’s case, her slow recovery would demand long time care. He suggested a nursing home where she would receive appropriate professional care, or, on lieu of that, keeping her at home with adequate home care and attention. Before leaving, he left prescriptions for medications to treat her present condition. In addition he suggested massage and therapy to be administered at home by a professional therapist, but it was a bit too early yet to start this procedure.
We thanked the doctor for his immediate response, as well as for his professional advice and suggestions. He assured us that he would be happy to take on my mother’s case for follow-up treatment, and we gladly accepted his offer. Having the doctor come to our home was a convenience for us, especially for my mother.
After the doctor left I walked over to my mother and held her hand tightly to give her reassurance. Looking directly at her with a warm smile, I said, “You’re coming home with me. I’ll be able to take good care of you. Just don’t worry, because everything is going to be all right.” These words seemed to comfort her, even though she couldn’t respond verbally.
At that point I put on a pot of coffee to help us get some renewed energy, and to help us come up with some idea as to how we were going to get this 185 pound woman into my brother’s car. After having our coffee, we decided to put my mother on an ordinary kitchen chair. It worked very well. We slowly pushed the chair to the front entrance. Frank pulled his car up on the lawn, right up to the doorway. Then we took the chair with my mother strapped in it and lowered her very carefully down the three steps. We opened the car door to the front seat, and lifted her from the chair to the front seat. My father and I sat in the back of the car with the empty chair between us. When we arrived at my house, we repeated the procedure with the chair. We were successful in getting her settled into her bed, and she soon fell fast asleep, exhausted. Josie and Grandpa and the children quietly looked on, coming to grips with the whole sad situation.
I knew that now, in addition to our three children, there would be the added responsibility of my mother’s care as well. As far as I was concerned, I was determined and prepared to give her all the love and comfort and attention which she justly deserved. But most of all, I wanted her to feel happy and “at home” in her new surroundings. The closeness my mother and always shared apparently contributed to her immediate acceptance of the idea of living with us. Having the children around her gave her much joy and helped her to forget her physical handicaps.
We all became accustomed to our new routine, now that my mother was living with us. After several weeks we realized that the stroke had been severe, and that she would never regain the use of her left side. She remained confined to bed until she died.
Besides doing the regular household chores, my typical day’s routine went something like this:
8:00 am – Breakfast for children.
8:30 – Bathe my mother, change bed linens, serve her breakfast.
9:30 – Wash and hang children’s laundry. For entertainment, my mother listened to the radio in her room. She thoroughly enjoyed programs such as Stella Dallas, John’s Other Wife, The Goldbergs, and many others. Josie and Grandpa would visit with my mother often, and of course the children were in and out of her room, making lots of conversation. By this time her speech had returned.
12:00 Noon – Lunch for children. My brother Louie would come for lunch, with my father, before leaving for work each day.
12:15 – Lunch served to my mother. After her lunch was finished, Louie and I lifted her out of bed into a rocking chair. We would then slide the chair to the back porch for her to enjoy the outdoor scenery: the trees, bushes, flowers, birds, etc. Before Louie left for work, he and I would return my mother to her room, lift her into bed, and freshen her up as well as her bed linens.
5:15 – The children, Josie, Grandpa and I (and my father, when he was there) ate supper in the kitchen.
5:30 – Supper served to my mother.
7:00 – Children bathed and ready for bed.
8:00 – Bedtime for children.
8:15 – After September 1945, my brother Johnny would come each night to help me get my mother out of bed just as Louie and I did every afternoon. This change of position made her feel more comfortable, and she particularly enjoyed the mobility of getting out of the bedroom to other parts of the house.
9:30 – Johnny and I returned my mother to her bedroom, and the lights in her room were out for the night. Johnny then returned home.
10:00 – Daily letter written to Dad.
10:30 – Finished undone tasks, soaked children’s laundry overnight. I had no washing machine, and did laundry by hand. All other laundry that had to be done was picked up by the laundry truck and returned the next day, washed and wet. I hung them to dry on the line. This was considered the economy plan. You could have them dried, pressed and folded, but that was too expensive for my budget.
11:00-11:30 PM – Bedtime.
Needless to say, my mother had lots of company, mostly family, who cam to visit with her. Many of them were from out of town, which kept me quite busy cooking and preparing food for all off us. But all of it pleased my mother, seeing everybody together.
Concerning my father’s care, I suggested to my brother Louie that he could stay with us during the day and go home at night just to sleep. We tried this for a few weeks, but problems soon arose.
As I mentioned, my father was beginning to have memory lapses, and was becoming more and more confused as time went on. He had several episodes of getting lost and having to be returned home in a police car. My brother Louie was worried, as there was no one at home in Lakeview to supervise and care for him. I, of course, was fully occupied with the care of my mother and our children. After a family consultation, we all agreed that my father should be placed in a nursing home. Arrangements were made and finalized. He responded well and became acclimated to the transition. He remained there until his death in 1949.
Needless to say, I immediately informed Dad by letter of the whole situation concerning my mother’s stroke and her stay with us. Dad wrote back right away, expressing his deep sadness that she was undergoing so much pain and suffering. But he was happy to know that I made the decision to bring her to our house. He agreed with me that that was where she belonged – with us. This gave all of us involved a feeling of contentment.
As time passed, the U.S. continued to make progress and to gain more and more success in our war maneuvers. By May 1945, Germany had surrendered to the Allies on VE Day, and by August, Japan had surrendered as well, on VJ Day. There were numerous celebrations and ticker tape parades taking place in every city and town across our country. Excitement and national pride everywhere was high. Our soldiers would once more be reunited with their loved ones, ready to resume living their lives as before.
My brother Johnny was discharged in September 1945, and Dad was discharged on December 9, 1945. We were overjoyed to have them home again, and it didn’t take our children very long to realize that their Daddy was home for good. It was such a wonderful feeling.
My brother Johnny resumed his job with United Parcel. Dad was offered his former job as draftsman with the County of Nassau. He chose instead to go back into tile work, working independently for himself. He also helped hi brother Denny in the construction of his new home in West Hempstead, which had just been started.
Upon Dad’s return home, he lost no time in having wonderful talks with my mother during her convalescence. You could really see how much she enjoyed the conversation and his support. She was also happy and relieved knowing that her son and son-in-law were both back home once again, safe and sound.
My routine in caring for my mother continued at the same hectic pace, with one exception. On the advice of my mother’s doctor, I was able to obtain a washing machine with the presentation of a letter written by the doctor certifying our need for this appliance because of my mother’s illness. Appliances, like building supplies, were still in short supply. Accordingly, it was necessary to be put on a waiting list, and wait your turn for the next available appliance. Of course we were delighted to have this modern convenience. It eliminated doing the children’s daily wash on the scrub board, as well as the need for the laundry man to pick up our soiled laundry each week.
By September 1945, Rosemary had entered school. Although we lived in the incorporated village of Malverne, we were a part of the Valley Stream school district. The school bus stop was located two blocks from our house. Rosemary did not seem to mind the walk. As most children do, she soon adjusted to the new beginnings at school.
Besides getting used to school, she also seemed very willing to watch over her younger brother and sister whenever they were playing outside. She always kept a close eye on them, and took on the role of mother hen voluntarily. Of course, I was there as well, but it was gratifying to know that she was seriously taking on her job as “big sister”.
After having suffered several other “mini-strokes” in the course of time that followed, my mother passed away in our home on May 7, 1947. It was a devastating blow to all of us in the family, especially to me and Dad and the children. We had always had a very close relationship, but over the past few years, our feelings grew deeper and deeper. It would take some time for all of us to adjust to the silence in the bedroom that once was hers.
Her mission in life was now completed, having unselfishly given, without measured limits, love and care and comfort to all around her. We indeed were the beneficiaries to have had her in our midst for the years that she lived among us.