As time passed, it was evident that Dad’s health was slowly failing. His work was far too strenuous for his damaged heart, but with the needs of his family in mind, he felt he could not stop working. Dr. Shafer often suggested to Dad that he give up tile work entirely. His quote was, “If you don’t stop working now, you’ll drop dead holding a box of tile in your hands.” But these words of advice fell on deaf ears. Work went on as usual.
Meanwhile, Paul was getting ready to graduate from high school, and was not quite sure yet what he wanted to do. In school he had enjoyed wrestling, and excelled in drawing and painting. With the encouragement of Dad and me and his close friends, he entered an oil painting in the local art competition. He won second prize! This was the beginning of what we considered a whole new and exciting field for him. He definitely had the talent to pursue it further.
After graduation, he enlisted in the navy during the Vietnam conflict. While in the navy, Paul was never inclined to write, so we were informed on his activities and whereabouts only when he would come home on leave. We learned that his ship was stationed in the waters of South America. I’m sure that he gained a lot from his experiences on board ship, and from the men with whom he served.
He did not serve for very long, and on his discharge began to make plans to attend ESU. He did not start immediately, but eventually was admitted there. Before starting classes at the college, he participated in the paraprofessional program there, working with Head Start children. He loved working with the kids, and they loved him and his gentle manner. He eventually completed three years of college, and for some reason never returned to finish his senior year.
Jean and John Jr. were doing very nicely staying with us, and still communicating by letter with John Sr., who was still in Rochester with his mother. After some time, Jean and John agreed to get together once more. Jean found a small apartment for the three of them in Delaware Water Gap. They hoped that this new beginning would improve their marriage. Although Dad would have preferred for Jean and our grandson to continue stating with us, we realized that it was worth a try for them to start back on their own again. Things went fairly well, and we were fortunate to see them quite often, since Delaware Water Gap was very close to us.
Meanwhile Rosemary’s situation did not improve much. She continued to experience threats of eviction, with little money to pay bills or buy food. Dad and I continued to help both of our daughters in their times of crisis, doing whatever we could for them and our grandchildren as the need arose.
In spite of all these concerns and anxieties, I was finally successful in becoming a full-fledged senior at ESU, which meant I was now ready to begin my student teaching. Since I had already been enrolled in the paraprofessional program there, I was required to teach for an entire year, not just the usual semester. My assignment was fourth grade in the lab school on campus. It was an exciting experience for me to be working with the children in the classroom, and I gained so much by doing so.
I had just barely begun my assignment when suddenly, on my birthday, September 19,1970, Dad suffered a heart attack which was further aggravated by emphysema. I immediately telephoned Dr. Shafer, who directed me to get Dad to the hospital emergency room right away. I phoned Sal and Joanne and asked them to come and take Dad to the hospital. Ironically, they were just getting ready to come to our house with a special birthday cake for me! God must have sent them a message. They must have flown, as it seemed they were with us in half the time it would ordinarily take to travel the ten miles. The birthday celebration had to be postponed, of course.
Sal and I brought Dad to the emergency room in our car, and Joanne returned home with the children in their car. This marked the first of nine heart attacks that Dad would eventually suffer over the next five years.
We were all in shock, though not surprised, at what had just happened. There was no doubt that Dad had aggravated his poor health over the years with his hard work and his excessive smoking. The lime dust that he inhaled daily on tile jobs did not contribute to healthy lungs, either. We anxiously waited while the doctor and staff of the coronary care unit worked him on. After a while we were told that he would remain in intensive care for a time, then to the recovery room where he would continue to be monitored, and finally to a private room. While in intensive care, he could have visits only by family, three times a day, with a ten-minute time limit.
We had requested a private room for Dad. He was always opposed to sharing a room with another sick person, as he could not tolerate hearing moans and groans next to his bedside. Our health insurance policy covered semi-private accommodations only, but we wanted him to enjoy the comfort and privacy he justly deserved, and we were more than willing to pay the difference in price. The private quarters worked out well for us, since we were not restricted as to visiting hours. The children and I could go in and out of his room whenever and as often as we wished. Our visits were a big boost to Dad, and he looked forward to our coming each day and night.
With the wonderful cooperation and understanding of my co-op teacher, Dave Cliff, I was allowed to spend my entire lunch hour, plus extra time if necessary, with Dad at the hospital. Each day, I would order lunch for myself from the cafeteria downstairs. We dined together privately, not by candlelight in a secluded romantic spot, but together nonetheless. The pleasure of our being together was written all over his face. It was heartwarming and encouraging to me. Needless to say, the path to his bed was well marked by all our children, from Rosemary down to our youngest.
The situation concerning the condemnation of our house and land for the Tocks Island Dam was devastating. Early on, the government had hired the Doral Construction Company to blast and test part of the land to be used for the dam. The objective was to determine the geological makeup of the land, and its ability to withstand the water pressure that its natural perimeters would have to sustain. Unfortunately the shock waves from the charges detonated from time to time hit our home with much force, not once but many times. Each time a blast went off, our windows shook and rattled.
Dad and I contacted the Army Corps of Engineers to report the damage that had been done, and was still happening. Soon we began to notice wide cracks in our basement wall through which we could see daylight. Our floors sank away from the baseboard molding, cracks appeared in the plaster walls of each room, and the tile floor in the main bathroom contained many cracks. We were very upset to see our home falling apart in front of our very eyes.
The Army Engineers replied that they would refer the matter to Doral for further review. After a long two-week wait, two Doral representatives finally arrived to inspect the house. We observed that both men were astonished to see the extent of the damages, but were cautiously mum about making any statements concerning liability. They offered no promise or hope of compensation. After waiting two more weeks with no response from the Engineers or Doral, Dad hired a lawyer to sue for the damages.
Prior to this, Dad had been advised to have our house appraised, so that we would be better informed when the time arrived to negotiate a sale. The appraisal value in 1971 was $51,000.
Our case finally came up in the courthouse in Stroudsburg. We were ecstatic to hear that we had won the case, but our joy was soon shattered when we learned that Doral had filed for bankruptcy and was unable to pay. We were devastated; not only were we denied compensation to which we were entitled, but we had to pay the lawyer fees as well.
Meanwhile, while negotiations continued with many of the property owners in the valley, the area was being inundated with squatters. They took over and lived in the many condemned houses, as soon as they became vacated. The squatters were a breed to themselves, with an identity all their own. They were unkempt in their attire and sustained themselves on welfare checks, food stamps and drugs. Some were known to carry guns, and all of them were antisocial and definitely anti-establishment. The grounds of the houses they occupied were littered with broken-down cars and piles of junk. The injustice was that they were living in these houses rent-free. They blatantly defaced the beautiful land that they illegally occupied, and showed no remorse for any of their actions.
Months after our court case was over, the appraiser for the government came to negotiate a price. We hoped that the price would be high enough so that we would be able to build another house for ourselves. I remember that day vividly. Dad and I greeted the appraiser warmly. He came well equipped with the usual paraphernalia briefcase, papers, printed requisites, etc. We exchanged friendly talk in preparation for the negotiations. When we were offered $23,500 I thought Dad would collapse on the spot. His face stiffened in anger, and yet he was in complete control. He told the appraiser in no uncertain terms that this was absolutely unacceptable, that we were being treated shabbily and unfairly, and that we would accept this price only under protest.
The appraiser felt very uneasy, yet he agreed that we had every right to contest the price. He hurriedly said goodbye and was gone.
The irony of all this is that the government appraised our home as damaged property. Yet, we were never compensated for those damages, which had been caused by work ordered by them in the first place. It was a Catch 22 situation. This whole affair understandably caused Dad a great deal of anguish and heartache. After all, he had put so much of himself into the construction of our home. Not only did we have to leave, we were being given a shabby amount of money for it. Of course no price, no matter how high, could ever justly compensate us for the labor of love that made it the home it was to all of us.
With little choice, we settled with the U.S. Government on their offered price of $23,000, under the condition of protest and further arbitration. Sadly, by the time our first mortgage was satisfied, there was a meager sum of $11,000 remaining to us hardly enough to purchase another home, at least right away.
By this time, Dad was forced to retire from tile work because of his health. Even though he was only 61 years old, he became eligible for total disability benefits under the Social Security program. Fortunately Aunt Martha encouraged Dad to develop and supervise the trailer park on Route 447. She had always relied on Dads good business judgement and experience. This would give Dad something to do that would not be too strenuous. Also he would have little time to worry about his health.
Martha also invited Dad and me and Josie to become partners with her in this venture. We gladly accepted, and accordingly contributed our share of money to help pay for the many things that had to be completed for approval by the Environmental department and the East Stroudsburg Zoning Board. The requisites included a septic system, a safe water system, electric service, paved or graveled roadways, etc.
Josie planned and eventually did move her house to a lovely spot of ground that she had selected. As for us, we made plans to buy a new furnished mobile home and after doing so, placed it on a designated lot as shown in the developed park plan, alongside the others.
But before dealing with the plans to move, Dad’s thoughts were focused on my graduation from college which was scheduled to take place in early May. Prior to my graduation, I had an interview and was accepted for a fourth grade teaching position in Hope, New Jersey. However, I refused the position, as Dad had suffered the same problems of heart and emphysema requiring another emergency admission, this time in late March. In my mind, I could not comfortably entertain the thought of being in a classroom, miles away from him, and always worrying that he would be alone should he suffer another attack. Of course, Dad was deeply disappointed learning of my decision, as he realized how long and hard I had worked for such on opportunity. However, I appeased him and assured him that whenever possible, I would substitute, which made him feel a bit better. As it turned out I did substitute for two and a half years before finally getting my permanent position a few years later.
Graduation day for me had finally arrived! Our entire family was on hand to witness the big event. How proud they all were to see Mom getting a diploma after a 37 year interval since high school graduation. It became necessary for Dad to beg for more invitations as the number of Pappalardos in attendance exceeded the amount of tickets each graduate was allotted. It was a beautiful and memorable occasion, and as my name was called and I was handed my diploma, I could not believe that this was actually happening to me.
Due to Dad’s poor health, we were not able to vacate our premises in Shawnee in May as we were required to do. The Army Corps of Engineers gives property owners a time limit of one year to move and strictly enforces it. With a doctor’s certificate for a valid postponement to move, we extended our stay another two months, but we were required to pay rent for those two months of our extended stay!!!. How ironic–our having now to pay rent for a house that was once ours for over 21 years, in contrast to the squatters who were living in homes they did not own, rent free, for two years and more, with no demands made on them to pay a dime.
By July, our move had been completed. Josie seemed to be quite satisfied with her move, as she was still in her same house, except in a different location. But poor Dad looked drained and dejected with the change that was forced upon us. I can vividly remember his comments as we walked into our trailer for the first time after our move. He looked around taking note of the abbreviated floor plan, and no doubt was mentally comparing it with our 51 foot ranch home we had just vacated. Still standing and still looking, he quietly said, “So now we’ve been reduced to a shoe box.” I shall never forget those words. They were coming from a man who had labored long and hard and now, somehow all that he had labored for was taken from him. His words said it all.
But thanks to God and our six children, in a very short time a beautiful, large attached and enclosed porch with heat was built and added to the side of our trailer. This new addition was a big improvement both cosmetically and spaciously and as weak as Dad was feeling at the time, he proudly supervised the entire project, and with much pleasure and gratitude, watched our six children carrying out his orders as they were busy building this new addition for us, but for Dad mostly.
After its completion, the porch was well used by all of us. Part of it became our son Frank’s bedroom, and for the most part we sat and ate there, including our annual Thanksgiving dinners with Johnny and Marie. Dad, too, seemed to be on the porch most of the time, sitting in his birthday rocking chair, and watching the beautiful birds that were always nesting in the many trees near the trailer. He always had the bird book on hand to identify the rare birds that appeared from time to time.
Despite the positive adjustments that we all made while living in the trailer, Dad with his tendencies toward dry humor, identified our new home with glued lettering pasted on the front of our trailer with the words “Half a House”. It was definitely an expression of his inner emotions and feelings subtly masked with his touch of humor.
While living in our trailer, Peter was attending Juniata College, having graduated from high school in 1971. Paul was at ESU, and Frank was attending Notre Dame High School. When they were all home at the same time, together with their friends, it seemed like the walls were bulging at the seams, but it was good having them all together regardless.
Josie continued to have suppers with us as she had done in Shawnee. She continued to feel content being near us and enjoying the liveliness and activities of our children. I did a good amount of substituting in the East Stroudsburg School District and sometimes in the nearby Blairstown School District in New Jersey, which gratified Dad very much. It made him feel that the diploma I had earned was beginning to pay me back.
We continued to have a good share of company, although not too many at one time, due to lack of space to sleep. We did have a pull out sofa bed in our living room.
Dad kept fairly busy supervising the needs of the tenants in the trailer park which he seemed to enjoy. This worked out well as his responsibilities did not require any physical demands on his part; it was strictly supervisory. He felt good about being active, for as long as his health would allow.
As time went on, Dad continued to suffer the same heart problems requiring the usual emergency care and hospital confinement. During our stay in the trailer, he had four such sessions, all of which weakened him more and more as time went on. It increased the need for all of us to be with him at all times.
Somewhere during this time frame, we had learned from Jean that she and John had separated for good. Apparently, tensions and differences had escalated. She telephoned us from the west coast where she and our grandson John had joined the Krishna group there. She also assured us that they were both okay and we should not worry.
It is my strong belief that Jean no longer wanted us to be around the turmoil that she and John had been experiencing, and that making this move would eliminate our being exposed to these problems. She realized, too, that Dad’s health was very fragile, and he was not physically able to cope with these upsetting situations. Of course, Dad and I were apprehensive about the new setting Jean had just become involved with, but we were relieved to know that she and our grandson were safe and warm. We reassured her, as always, that our home was always open to both her and our grandson should things not work out for them.
With Dad’s heath deteriorating steadily, we followed Freddie’s suggestion to try Florida in the hopes that such a move would improve his health. We rented a very nice 2 bedroom apartment, furnished, in Dunedin. It was located close to Clearwater where Freddie and Mary lived. My sister Rose lived in Holiday, about 15 miles from us. Josie and Frank accompanied us, and we arranged to have Frank attend high school in Dunedin while there. We adjusted to Florida fairly well, except for the high heat and humidity at certain times. Freddie and Mary visited us quite often, and we likewise would visit there as well. My sister Rose and husband Tony, did not come as often, as the distance and heavy traffic discouraged them from driving.
While still in Dunedin, Dad was admitted to Mease Hospital twice more for emergency care and the usual ten day hospital confinement. By this time, we were beginning to feel the need to go back home and to be near Dad’s doctors, and most of all, to be near our family. We returned home by mid-June.
Upon our arrival home, we were swamped with lots of visits from both the Vecchios and the Pappalardos. In a sense, I think everybody realized that Dad was living on borrowed time and all of them wanted the opportunity to see him as much and as often as possible before the end came.
The last five years of Dad’s life were spent in and out of the hospital, with a total of nine emergency heart spells. Each time he was discharged, he always bounced back and was strengthened by the expert medical care he received from his qualified doctors, but most of all by the attention and encouragement and care he always received from all of us.
The ninth and final emergency heart spell happened in early November. On November 12, 1974, around 2 AM, Dad left us. Sal John was with him to the end. The doctor had sent Paul and me home around 12:30, as he could see we were very tired and in need of rest.
Dad’s death left us all in shock, even though we were well aware of the seriousness of his condition and had prepared ourselves in a way for the inevitable for some time now. Concerning his funeral, I felt I was not emotionally able to deal with the large number of friends Dad and I both had who would be appearing at the viewing to pay their last respects. I felt that it would be more than I could handle. The tensions of Dad’s illness right up to the end left me exhausted. After discussions with the family, I decided there would be no viewing except for family members. It worked out well for everybody concerned. After the mass and burial, we all met at Sal and Joanne’s where refreshments were served to everybody in attendance. Death is always tragic, but having your family at your side provides the comfort we all need at such a time.
I knew that as a widow, and a mother and a grandmother, I had to be strong, with the hopes that I could give strength and support to all of my loved ones. I did not want to worry them or burden them in any way. We were all trying our best to deal with the grief we were experiencing.
I was particularly concerned about Frank, who had just turned 17 and who was now a senior in high school. He had already been awarded a four year scholarship to Temple University, beginning with the 1975 school term. With such a wonderful opportunity ahead of him, I did not want him to postpone or cancel his plans. With the same thoughts in mind, I did not want Peter to interrupt his education either. He was still attending Juniata and had plans to obtain his master’s degree at Duke University. Paul at this particular time was working at the Pocono Hospital as an aide.
With much thought and deliberation concerning this situation, I decided I would arrange to have a dinner at the restaurant which Dad and I were fond of – the Beaver House in Stroudsburg. Whenever Dad and I were able to get an evening alone together, this is where we would go, to enjoy succulent lobster dinners. This dinner would be for our six children, their spouses and/or escorts, since our three youngest were still unmarried. My objective was to give reassurance and comfort to all our family.
There were ten of us (Jean was in California), plus Josie and myself. We were seated in a private room all to ourselves, which I had arranged with the Michaels, the owners of the restaurant. Wanting to assume and to reflect confidence and responsibility at this important time in our lives, I sat at the head of the table.
After greeting and toasting one another with our drinks in hand, I announced that I had two special comments to make. “First,” I said to each of them,”I just want you all to know that I do not want you to feel sorry for me. As long as I know, in the event I do need you, that you will be as close and as available to me as you are right now, then there is no need to worry about me or to offer me sympathy”. I emphasized the message with sweeping gestures of my hands and arms, projecting friendly and warm authority over my flock!
“Secondly,” I continued, while particularly looking at Frank, and softly banging my hand on the table as though I were calling a meeting to order, “I also want you to understand that I am still at the helm, and more than able to be in charge”. To see Frank smile at that very moment gave me much pleasure, and much relief as well. I felt very reassured that my timely statements at this very important occasion made them feel that I truly was strong and very much in control, and they really had no need to worry about their mother. This very first special family dinner became a precedent and continued once a year, usually near Mother’s Day, for 14 consecutive years. It was interrupted when I went to Florida in 1988 to assist my sister and live in her house during her confinement with Alzheimer’s disease. This involved a five year period during which time she died.
After we all left to go home following our special dinner that particular evening, I knew and felt that as family, we would survive through this time of loss and grief, and that Dad would have been as proud as I was, to witness the unity and the love that we all shared that night, and still continues to the present day.
After Dad’s death, I continued to substitute and managed to handle the responsibilities of the trailer park as well as keeping a watchful eye on Josie. She was a young 85 years old, but we were always concerned as she was all alone a good part of the day as well as at night. She kept herself active managing the upkeep of her little home, and particularly enjoyed doing laundry for herself. I would pick her up to go to the stores to food shop at least once a week. She did not require very much in the line of food, as she only had to plan on breakfast and lunch. She continued to come to our house for supper as per our orders ever since Grandpa died. She looked forward to being with all of us, and yet, it was always convenient for her to have a house to run back to, if ever the noise level at our house became overbearing. We always kidded her those few times that she made an early exit, telling her that she was anti-social and she didn’t love us anymore. Of course, this always brought a smile on her face. Each night, she was always escorted to her home by one of our boys, which made her feel secure, especially during the short days of winter with its early nights of darkness. In addition, Josie continued to spend her winters in Florida, as she had been doing for years with Grandpa. Dad’s brother, Frank, always arranged to take her to Kennedy Airport for her departure, and was on hand to meet her there on her return. Frank was always very accommodating and was ready to assist Josie in any way he could. Frank and Phyllis, whom he later married, came to the Poconos very often to visit with us. They always enjoyed visiting with us and all our kids and grandchildren, and we always looked forward to their visits whenever they came.
Upon the recommendation of Rosemary McMahon (whom I knew ever since my days at the lab school while I was student teaching) I went to check on my files at the college placement office. As Rosemary explained to me, it was very important to check and make sure that papers pertaining to the student teaching were complete and in order. It is from these files that interested school administrators obtain the necessary information concerning the applicants in question. It was a great suggestion, because in looking over my file, I discovered that Ann Scrak, who was my co-op teacher the second half of the school year, had neglected to complete her report on my achievements, and recommendations, if any. When I contacted Ann, she apologized deeply for the oversight, and promised it would be completed by the next day, and it was. Both co-op teachers had given me glowing reports, and I had received an A grade from both of them. In addition, Rosemary volunteered to write up a wonderful letter of recommendation on my behalf. She had observed various things I had worked on with my students while I did my student teaching. She was particularly impressed with one unit I had prepared for my fourth graders concerning the Four Seasons. I prepared and wrote a suitable program including the music, and Rosemary’s kindergarten class were among our guests, watching the whole thing. It went over big, which made our students feel proud that their performance was successful. I knew, from my very first day of teaching, that learning can be fun, that teachers need to discipline and inspire their students with creativity and knowledge, and that students in turn will participate and respond with curiosity and interest of discussion, as they learn.
By good fortune, a vacancy for a 5th grade teacher in the Pleasant Valley school district became available. I applied, was interviewed, and was hired! (If only Dad were around to see it all happen.) I learned later on that interviews had gone on for two weeks, with interested applicants in the 20+ age group applying for the position. I was amazed that I was hired, after learning that I was the last applicant to be interviewed, and that I would be starting my teaching career at the age of 58!! As the saying goes, “It’s never too late”.
This position was a big boost for me, as our finances had been far from adequate ever since Dad was put on total disability. In addition, Dad’s hospital confinements with the added expense of private rooms plus medication each time he was admitted to the hospital added to our financial burdens.
As a widow after Dad’s death, I did not qualify to receive a widow’s pension as I was too young (57 years old). I did manage, however, to apply to the Veterans Administration for assistance for Peter and Frank. After the proper papers were filed, they were eligible to receive and did receive a monthly stipend for as long as they attended college. Regardless of the amount, it was good to count on receiving a check in the mail each month.
I began my permanent teaching career at the end of November. It was a challenge, as it is for all beginning teachers. But little by little, as time passed, the necessary adjustments were made, and soon the day’s schedule went smoothly and the children were responding very well.
I had a daily commute back and forth from the trailer park to the school in Brodheadsville which took about 25 to 30 minutes depending upon road conditions and weather. I began to feel the pinch, as I wanted to give Josie as much time as I could. In addition, there were the responsibilities of running the park, as well as managing the house, my job, our family, etc.
While all of this was going on, Martha felt that this was all too much for me, and she felt, too, that perhaps it would be wise for a real estate person to manage it for us, or else, to sell it. As per her suggestion, I arranged with Ted Kirk, Dad’s friend in real estate, to take over the management of the park (for a fee, of course). In the meantime, after discussing it with Josie, I decided to move and locate nearer to the school where I taught. We were fortunate in finding and renting a lovely split level home in Gilbert, PA, which was large enough to accommodate our three boys, as well as Josie and myself. After living in the trailer the past five years, it was wonderful to have lots of space once again. The house was only four miles away from the school were I taught. We proceeded to move in August, which was in plenty of time before the new school year was about to begin.
Events continued to happen. Ted Kirk informed us he was able to find a buyer for the trailer park, which meant that now there would be no need to have a management agent to run the park. Martha, Josie and I discussed the matter very carefully in great detail. In a week, we finally made the decision to finalize the contract of sale. The terms consisted of a very small down payment, and the balance would be held by the three of us as a first mortgage. This would provide each of us with a comfortable monthly income. Martha, being the partner with the most money invested, received the largest share, and Josie and I received equal shares but a smaller amount. All three of us were pleased with the outcome. Martha thanked me for taking care of the responsibilities of the park which had become necessary after Dad passed away. I was glad that I was able to do it, and enjoyed the experience of the challenges which came up from time to time.
With the move behind us, all of us were ready to adjust to our new home, our new surroundings, and our new neighbors as well. We were also ready and waiting for visits from all our family–the Vecchios and the Pappalardos–to spend some time with us in the beautiful surroundings of the West End as it is often referred to. They did come and took notice of our new surroundings. They commented that it resembled the Shawnee valley where we once lived but there was something missing–the Delaware River.